Tarragon TheatreÕs artistic director, Richard Rose, continues to navigate through smooth waters with his 40th anniversary celebratory cruise. TarragonÕs broad mandate, which over the years has brought some of the best French Canadian writing to Toronto, while not hesitating to take a run at the international repertoire from time to time, is still a winning formula. This production of The Misanthrope adapted by Martin Crimp is a good example of combining the best of both worlds.
Crimp is a British playwright who was heretofore known to me only by reputation so itÕs a great pleasure finally to catch up to him. Although this Moliere adaptation (here translated in word and deed to the present day entertainment industry of London) does not capture some of the more provocative aspects of his writing, it is bright, witty and intelligent - brimming over with all of the fawning opportunists, talentless sycophants and vacuous poseurs who find such a natural home and welcoming environment in the world of popular culture. Crimp has a friendly way with the rhymed verse (I wouldnÕt call them metrical couplets exactly) that is smart but unobtrusive. In fact, it actually took me several minutes in the first act before I could hear the rhyme, it seemed that natural.
In an earlier play, Attempts on Her Life, Crimp structurally deregulates the very idea of a play. Everything about it in fact - the lack of characters, the obscure nature of the plot and the lack of certainty about how many actors it takes to even stage the piece - is a satire on dramatic construction. So for Crimp to have a go at adapting one of the worldÕs greatest satirists probably seemed like a good idea at the time. For those who have seen the Tarragon production let me just say that you will have a wonderful opportunity to compare it to the original when the Stratford Shakespeare Festival opens this summer with a production of The Misanthrope directed by Brian Bedford.
Rose has assembled a fine cast that keeps the pace up and the barbs flying. Especially strong are the women with Andrea Runge, Michelle Giroux and Maria Ricossa providing much of the zing. An added delight is the original contribution made by way of sound design and musical arrangements by Mike Ross and Nicolle Bellamy. Operatic treatments of YouÕre So Vain, Do Ya Think IÕm Sexy and other tunes, added a lovely sense of the pretentious during scene changes.
Zoranna Kydd (artistic producer, Birdland Theatre) and Arkady Spivak (artistic producer,Talk is Free Theatre) are two up and coming producers to watch in Toronto. Their impeccable sense of timing in the re-mount of their 2010 Dora Award winning production of the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical, Assassins (here directed by Adam Brazier) sets a high standard for political engagement that couples with entertainment. Somewhat chillingly, I saw the show on the same day that Jared L. Loughner added his name to this rogueÕs gallery of disturbed, limelight seeking individuals who believed that violence against the body politic was an acceptable way to file a grievance. With limited resources but plenty of talent, this ensemble is simply the best thing going at present for musical theatre in Toronto.
The local reviews surrounding the Studio 180 and Acting Up Stage Company co-production of Parade (book by Alfred Uhry with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown) by and large take basically two different positions. The first holds that the musical about the trial and subsequent lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish supervisor in an Atlanta, Georgia, pencil factory circa 1913 for the murder of a 13 year old child laborer, is a project that has greatness within it that simply was not realized by this Toronto production.
The second position maintains that the problem is not with this production but rather within the subject matter itself and the manner in which it is finally realized as a musical by its creators. I lean firmly toward the latter but, like any agnostic, leave the door open to be convinced otherwise at some future time and place.
DonÕt get me wrong, for lovers of musical theatre there are ample numbers of reasons to like this show (which originally premiered on Broadway in 1998) with its emphasis on social justice and juxtapositions of racism versus anti-Semitism. It is certainly one of those shows that deserved to be supported and produced but for various reasons (a litany of which I will not go into here) was (and is) not successful. The Canadian premiere of Parade remains pertinent even if it is only for archival reasons, giving one an opportunity to see a piece of work that will be rarely produced in the future, but is still worth the effort when it is.
Correction: In an earlier Aisle Say article I incorrectly identified this production as part of the Canadian Stage season. It is Studio 180Õs upcoming North American premiere of Our Class by Tadeusz Slobodzianek that is part of Canadian StageÕs Berkeley Street Project and will be presented April 4th through 30th.