The current theatre season in Toronto is certainly marked by some restlessness that is the result of an ailing economy but so far ticket sales and audiences are up in many theatres which may speak to the strength and variety of the current season to date. Of course, the flip side to an economic downturn is that the artists who make the art have always known a life of economic insecurity and so the current climate is nothing new for them. Let's just say their work improves with the age. Here, in brief, is a selected retrospective of several shows.
In the fall, Mirvish Productions (in co-operation with The Manitoba Theatre Centre) brought us a remounting of Medea featuring the outstanding Seana McKenna in the title role. Also previously seen at The Stratford Festival, this production proves an important point: that it is possible to take a strong show from the Stratford (or Shaw Festival) line up and bring it into Toronto for a late fall or early winter re-mounting and do so very successfully. The city is hungry for some classical fare mounted by the companies that do it so well and there is always one or two shows that would be attractive if a large enough theatre is available. Mirvish Productions is now programming the Canon Theatre which accommodated Medea very nicely.
Seana McKenna as the mother who "was sad, did bad then went mad" (to quote her own description of the role's challenges) was a delight to behold (well, delightful might not be the best way to describe the ending) in a production that emphasized once again that the Greek classics still have much to offer us especially when the staging (direction by Miles Potter) is not overly contemporized.
Also, thanks to David Mirvish for bringing The Color Purple to Toronto (playing until March 14 at the Canon Theatre). For those who love the musical theatre, the great lesson to be learned from this show is that, given the opportunity, the public will always prefer a challenging story of human compassion (with some great singing and dancing to boot) over the bland, the mediocre and the emotionally hollow stuff that so often passes for stage musicals these days. This production is blessed with Kenita Miller in the lead rule of Celie and the indomitable Felicia Fields as Sofia who was nominated for a Tony Award when she played the role on Broadway.
Mirvish Productions has also just announced its 2009-2010 season and so it is appropriate to offer kudos to our Aisle Say colleague, Joel Greenberg, whose powerful presentation of David Hare's play, Stuff Happens (presented last season at Berkeley Street), will be remounted as part of the upcoming Mirvish season. Greenberg's Studio 180 is currently doing David Harrower's play, Blackbird, at CanStage's Berkeley Theatre this season (playing March 9th through April 4th). (Click here for review.)
Frost/Nixon and Miss Julie: Freedom
(The Canadian Stage Company @ www.canstage.com)
The question does a movie release hurt the stage run of the play kicks in twice for Canadian Stage this year. Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon (now closed) and the upcoming Doubt by John Patrick Shanley (running May 4th - May 30th) are both included in the current season. When I saw Frost/Nixon it looked as though it really didn't make much of a difference. With a sensitive portrayal of Nixon done by Len Cariou (complimented by David Storch as Frost) it was the hit of the fall season.
Currently playing on the CSC Bluma mainstage (until March 7th) is Miss Julie: Freedom Summer written (and here directed) by Stephen Sachs. This flash-forward to 1964 Mississippi re-write of August Strindberg's 19th c. play, adds race to the issue of class but ultimately founders from its own poorly constructed pretense.
Here Miss Julie (Caroline Cave) is the daughter of a local judge and John (Kevin Hanchard) is the family chauffeur. The whole thing soon turns into Driving Miss Crazy with the (underwritten) role of the house servant, Christine (Raven Dauda) , John's girlfriend, thrust into the middle of it all. Although the actors deserve praise, in the end they can't save the script.
But the recent big news with the CSC is the appointment of Mathew Jocelyn as incoming artistic and general director who replaces Martin Bragg. Bragg leaves the CSC after 17 years of managing the company. Jocelyn has worked primarily in France over the past decade and brings with him the opportunity for a fresh start at a theatre who has had plenty of false ones lately.
Toronto the Good
(Factory Theatre @ www.factorytheatre.ca)
Over at the Factory
Theatre, Andrew Moodie's
the Good, takes a close look at contemporary race
relations in a city
that has seen its share of gun violence of late. His fast paced drama
handled by Obsidian Theatre's artistic director, Philip Akin)
made all the
stronger because it didn't try to conceal the city's identity by way of
generic take on life in any old urban centre. Moodie's strong character
development, thoughtful plotting and use of popular cultural tropes
adds to an
impressive body of work that includes his past two plays, Riot and The Real
McCoy. The strong cast (playing multiple roles) includes
work by Stephanie Broschart, Miranda Edwards, Sandra Forsell, Xuan Fraser,
Brian Marler, and Marcel Stewart.
(Tarragon Theatre @ www.tarragontheatre.com)
Tarragon Theatre and Neptune Theatre (of Halifax) in association with Theatrefront presented the world premiere of Ubuntu (The Capetown Project) in January at the Tarragon's mainspace. Although not entirely successful as a collective creation, the play does emphasize process as much as it does product and in this obsessive age of cultural commodification that's a good thing. To that end, the talented international cast was usefully aided by the great resources and generosity of the Baxer Theatre Centre in Capetown, South Africa. After seeing the play, which was not without some very emotional and moving moments, one got the feeling that the collective learning experience behind the writing and producing of the show was as important as the final product itself which centered on the search by a young black South African man for his lost father who came to North America as a graduate student and mysteriously disappeared. The community of artists ("ubuntu" literally refers to the spirit of community) included: Daryl Cloran (director), Mbulelo Grootboom, David Jansen, Holly Lewis, Michelle Monteit, and Andile Nebulane.
(Soulpepper Theatre Company @ www.soulpepper.ca playing until March 21)
Tom Stoppard's play, Travesties, ran for 156 performances when it opened at the Aldwych Theatre in London in 1974. I mention this because the play about a modernist author, a communist revolutionary and a founder of the Dadaist art movement who all hunker down in Zurich during the First World War and are brought together in a fictional meeting by a low level British diplomat might seem like a bit of a stretch with regard to dramatic action but therein lies the conceit of Stoppard's intellectual word play. It is not so much what the characters do as what they say.
Director Joseph Ziegler keeps the whole thing moving in spite of itself with Diego Matamoros properly droll (and funny) as the British functionary, Henry Carr; with David Storch as the b'deviled modernist Irish writer, James Joyce; and Jordan Pettle playing the more anarchistically inclined, Tristan Tzara, full of so many Dadaist manifestos and revolutionary slogans that Oliver Dennis (in the role of Vladimir Lenin) seems somewhat upstaged.
Also, much good supporting work from
Maggie Huculak, Krystin Pellerin, Kevin Bundy, and Sarah Wilson. As Carr,
sums up the whole thing perfectly at the play's end. And I,
absent minded Carr, only wish I could remember what he said.