The coming of spring season in Toronto brought with it some nasty weather that continued the seeming winter without end. The only ray of sunshine was by way of some excellent theatre that warmed up the soul if not the body. What follows is an overview of the best of the spring season in Toronto.
Continuing with their excellent history of bringing into Toronto shows from abroad that might not have been mounted here in any kind of timely manner (The Laramie Project, Stuff Happens, Our Class), is Studio 180Ős production of Cock by British playwright Mike Bartlett.
Mr. Bartlett has found a new wrinkle within an old gambit, i.e. the sexual triangle dilemma of being torn between two lovers. In this case, Mr. Bartlett moves beyond the emotionality plaguing the hetero woman who must choose between the two men she is sleeping with, to a bi-curious man named John (Andrew Kushnir) who is in a long term (seven year relationship) with M (Jeff Miller). Their increasingly problematic bickering results in John leaving the apartment one day and meeting up with W (Jessica Greenberg) with whom he allows as how he might want to scratch his seven year itch. The final showdown between the three of them is inevitable but involves the investment of one more character, called F (Ian D. Clark) whose value added participation in the debate helps to clarify who really loves whom.
The abundant humor in the script is obviously derived from the fact that itŐs a new take on an old theme. But it is rendered well in this production with some top notch performances guided by the signature styling of Joel GreenbergŐs direction that lends a crisp, fast paced approach to the runway that is not without some turbulence before the safe and satisfying landing.
Somerset Maugham is a novelist and playwright who exploits the 19th century melodramatic form but tries to imbue within it the contemporary problems of his own time. His masterpiece, Of Human Bondage (written in 1915), was originally written off by many critics for this reason until other writers (Theodore Dreiser among them) began to champion the novel and indeed the form.
The stage melodrama is emotion writ large. The classic American melodrama, The Drunkard (or The Fallen Saved) is a good case in point. It portrays the degradation of a man who has lost all of his reason because he has succumbed to alcoholism and now makes a public spectacle of himself. I am writing this review in 2014 Toronto for pity sakes, need I say more?
Soulpepper Theatre artistic director, Albert Schultz, understands this and doesnŐt attempt to stand in the way of the powerful tale that Somerset Maugham has given him. From the brilliantly staged opening that has a group of medical students performing a radical dissection on a cadaver that turns out to be a double base in disguise (you really have to witness this in the theatre to appreciate the creative ingenuity that opens the play) to the ever declining fortunes of the protagonist, Philip Carey (Gregory Prest) and his gold digging lover, Mildred Rogers (Michelle Monteith) who almost manipulates his fragile emotions to the point of no return, the story never lets you go until the end when, of course, one must go - reluctantly - from the theatre.
The strength of the production resides in the power of the story and the power of its portrayal by a supremely gifted ensemble of artists. Eleven actors people the stage in a variety of roles, changing in and out of character while also providing mood music that underscores the scenes when needed. It is a remarkable achievement and one that can only be mounted by a repertory company such as Soulpepper. I honestly cannot fathom any theatre company in Toronto with the artistic chops or the financial resources to mount this level of work. The Stratford or Shaw Festivals would be the only comparators here to my mind.
All of this certainly hasnŐt come easy for the company but their tenacity over the years has paid off. Artistic excellence that will inevitably be rewarded with a slew of well deserved Dora Award nominations and an ever expanding audience base for a deserving organization.
Mirvish Productions 2013-2014 subscription season concludes with a winning Ňwhodunnit in the Vatican?Ó entre that I saw on the very day that Pope John XXIII and John Paul II were canonized. The Last Confession, written by lawyer turned playwright Roger Crane, provided a unique backstory to this occasion. The events in question are by now so well chronicled and documented to the extent that Mr. Crane need not fear reprisal or recrimination from the Vatican on the accusations contained within his play including the possibility of murder he wrote.
Personally, I always wondered about the death of John Paul I (played here in a nuanced and wonderfully understated performance by Richard OŐCallaghan). His death, after only thirty three days on the job, left a lot of questions unanswered. A whole lot of questions it turns out. Enter cardinal Giovanni Benelli, played by David Suchet, the much loved Inspector Poirot in the Agatha Christie television series. Call him Cardinal Poirot if you like because he is out to get to the bottom of what turns out to be a big bowl of lies, intrigues and outright deceptions.
stakes are high (it is the Vatican) and so are the characters. All of
them high placed cardinals operating within the curia, the administrative body that runs the Vatican
and sets policy for the Catholic church worldwide. The argument and the
accusations that begin the play never let up until the very end. Nota bene: the end is as stunning as it is dramatic.