Wednesday, 8 July 2015

FringeTO: The Women of Tu-Na House Deserve a Warm Welcome

Even in death, Nancy Eng's beloved cat lives on. Eng conceived The Women of Tu-Na House as a therapeutic medium to cope with the loss of her  pet after their nineteen year relationship. The piece has since evolved from its three actor stage to a solo show that has played to appreciative audiences in the US and now Canada, thanks to the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Exploring the private world of sex and massage trade workers, Tu-Na House focuses on the lives of several women and one man. The stories are varied and fascinating, and Eng plays them all with the individuality and clarity that is demanded of a solo show. With the ring of a bell, a quick costume change and interspersed with recorded poetry that lends further insight into the lives of each character, Eng moves from one persona to the next with ease.

All the characters resonate with me, but a personal favourite is the tea server with Peking Opera roots. His reminiscences about his artistic past made me long to hear more about his experiences, and I'm sure many in the audience have the same thoughts about each of the workers at the massage parlour. sex trade house. In Tu-Na (mispronunciation of "tuina" which means massage in Chinese) House as with every other job, there are moments of boredom and repetition.  As one character shares, everyone gets tired of doing the same thing day after day, and if she looks old it's because she is old, and tired is tired. Another worker pretends to be FOB (Fresh Off the Boat). Even though she was born in the United States and has degrees in academia, she finds pidgin English nets her more clients, and she likes the amount of money that she makes per hour. Sad and hilarious is the tale of the employee who has to serve a client while dealing with the death of her cat. From an audience perspective, crying on the job has never been so funny!

There are occasions where Eng's husky voice is a bit difficult to understand, but her overall presentation of these pan-Asian women and man afford a non-judgemental look at the community that develops among the inhabitants, and at the world of their chosen profession. I feel grateful that The Women of Tu-Na house ends its Fringe run right here in Toronto.

The Women of Tu-Na House
St. Vlads Theatre (just south on Spadina at Harbord)

Remaining Shows
July 09 at 12:00 PM
July 10 at 12:30 PM  
July 12 at 02:45 PM

For all things Fringe please visit

Monday, 6 July 2015

FringeTO: Twelfe Night or What A Romp...

William Shakespeare's Twelfe Night, or What You Will is one of my favourite plays, so naturally it was on my To See list for this year's Fringe. Then, when director Joshua Stodart revealed on my show that they were presenting the play on a thrust stage, I was sold.

It was a packed house tonight at St. Vlads Theatre, and as the actors tread the boards (literally in this case), there was laughter and applause aplenty. The manipulative triumvirate of Sir Toby Belch (Tim MacLean), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Matt Shaw) and Maria (Andrea Massoud) with the aid of Feste the clown (Jake Vanderham)  generate mirth with their on point line delivery and physical antics as they plot  mischief against the pompous Malvolio (Tal Shulman. The boisterous drunken "riding" scene, for example, induced belly laughs that filled the house.  As for Tal Shulman's Malvolio: priceless. Fooled into thinking
that Lady Olivia (Hilary McCormack) is in love with him, he makes a complete ass of himself by wearing what he has been led to believe she likes: yellow stockings with cross garters! What a fool! And what a talent is Shulman as he plays the lovelorn suitor to the hilt. The letter reading scene is a piece of theatre I won't forget any time soon.

Hilary McCormack has stage presence from head to toe to finger tips. Even if she wasn't playing a lead role, she would be noticed. She just has that command of the stage. Unfortunately for Peyton Lebarr (Viola/Cesario), she is outclassed by McCormack which means that there is just no believing that Olivia would have any attraction for the girl disguised as a man.  Like Lebarr and her characters, Tayves Fiddis is not credible in his role of Orsino. These two young actors demonstrate a noticeable lack of passion and a weakness of diction that reduces major roles to minor significance. They deliver their lines as if the words are hot potatoes burning their tongues, something to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the rest of the cast is so endearingly energetic and engaging that the action moves forward with uproarious success.

One tip I have for director Stoddard, is this: have the actors dress the stage if they find themselves facing someone down stage left. On a couple if key moments, everyone was lined up like soldiers in a diagonal formation which meant my area of the room saw the back of one character and no one else.

Despite the weaknesses I have mentioned, Ale House Theatre's Twelfe Night is a production I highly recommend.

Twelfe Night, Or What You Will
St. Vlads Theatre

Remaining Shows
July 7, 4:30 pm
July 9, 7:00 pm
July 12, 4:30 pm

Sunday, 5 July 2015

FringeTO: Becoming Burlesque is All Strip And No Tease

I was really looking forward to seeing Becoming Burlesque tonight, anticipating a rowdy titillating experience that I would be sharing  with a Fringe Festival audience--theatre goers who are up for anything; sadly, I have to report that the show just did not work.

Right away, upon walking into the Al Green Theatre, I wondered why director, Jackie English had decided to place action in the pit while the stage remained bare. In my seat near the back of the theatre, I was even more at a loss because I couldn't hear the pre-show dialogue that was happening in the pit/dancers' backstage dressing room. It was the equivalent of a cell phone call cutting in and out. As the house lights came down and the spotlight came up on the stage, I felt relieved that backstage was going to be just that--an area where the dancers would go after performing. Well, I was partiality right: they used the stage for the dances, but there was action in the pit as well. My guess from what I could pick up is that the backstage patter was about the dancers' lives and chatter directed at the new helper who will eventually unleash her "inner Burlesque-self." I was further confused by simultaneous backstage and on-stage action. There was a seductive bit of chair dancing happening on stage in the shadows that should have been given the spotlight over what was happening backstage--what a loss!

Writing off the backstage, I decide to concentrate on the dancing. The opening number with the girls in fringe dresses is fun--you can never go wrong with fringe--and the music is infectious and pumping. As the show progresses, I forgive the stage lighting which doesn't hit everything it needs to because that's just part of being in a festival where multiple shows have to share the same stage, and I look forward to seeing what each girl will do. Bobbing breasts with pasties, feathers, veils and gyrations keep my interest for a while, and the new girl trying to walk in heels and adjust to the brevity of her costume is amusing, but after a while, I realize that there is no tease happening, just strip.  There was no build up to a grand conclusion from either the storyline or the dancing. Choreographer, Pastel  Supernova, is an amazing dancer but the show itself doesn't reflect her ability to tantalize. Too much is revealed too early in the show--dances that should have been longer are truncated for dialogue, and there is no "wow" moment.

Want a real peep? Check out Pastel Supernova's enticing dance to  I Belong to You on Vimeo and her main website

Becoming Burlesque
Al Green Theatre (corner of Bloor and Spalding, inside The Miles Nadal JCC)

Remaining Shows
July 6, 3:15 pm
July 8, 11:00 pm
July 11, 9:45bpm
July 12, 4:00 pm

For all thing Fringe visit

Saturday, 4 July 2015

FringeTO: Waiting For Alonzo

As the title suggest, Waiting For Alonzo references Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, the mid-Twentieth Century absurdist play in which two characters endlessly anticipate the arrival of a third party.

Starring Victoria Urquhart as Doctor Zanita,  Hayley Malouin as Bielke and Kevin Chew as Andre, Waiting For Alonzo is set in a future where pollution and climate change has destroyed planet Earth and all that appears to be left of the home world are these three characters drifting through space: two human women, a scientist whose lust to create perfection has lead her to regenerate her body parts to the point where they barely function; her desperately lonely sycophantic assistant, and a sexy humanoid mainframe who runs the spacecraft.

Victoria Urquhart demonstrates an adeptness at physical comedy in the stilted movements of her character's vain attempts to defy age and gravity. Her robotic antics are displayed at their humorous best when, without the aid of Bielke, she has to manoeuvre her way around the ship with the help of a chair on casters. Hayley Malouin delivers her fatalistic asides with heartbreaking comic deftness and Kevin Chew gives new meaning to the word straight man, as he remains standing  immobile for the majority of the play.

While I appreciated the cast of Waiting For Alonzo, the pacing of this comic tragedy is frustratingly uneven. Absurdist plays demand a syncopated rhythm to match its dialogue, but in this offering, there are too many instances where the tempo is flat. I laughed on occasion, but I left the theatre feeling a bit disappointed.

Waiting for Alonzo
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace

Remaining Shows
July 5, 1:45pm
July 6, 3:00 pm
July 9, 4:00 pm
July 10, 7:30 pm
July 11, 5:45 pm

For all things FRINGE visit:

Thursday, 2 July 2015

FringeTO: My Thoughts on "A Nurse's Worst Nightmare"

I kicked off the Toronto Fringe Festival with Zabrina Chevannes's "A Nurse's Worst Nightmare." The comedian and nurse, who hosts and produces a regular show, "Things Black Girls Say" at the Comedy Bar, took an intimate audience at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace through the trials and tribulations of her life. The best part of the show is her imitation of her Jamaican father. "You called the wrong Black man!" is his response to a paying $30, 000 to get his son released from a Mexican jail. As a comedian, Chevannes shares with us the fact that she can't help but put these things in her show because while they are negative, they are just so bizarre that her comedian brain automatically saves them for her stand-up routine. This stance on sharing even includes such elements as the heartbreak of dealing with a husband whose mental illness changed the dynamics of their marriage to racist elderly patients who "don't like" people like her. While the flow of the material could be smoothed out for easier transitions, "A Nurse's Worst Nightmare" is a unique stand-up show that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

My Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5

Show: A Nurse's Worst Nightmare
Venue: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace,
16 Ryerson Avenue (north of Queen, 1 block east of Bathurst)

Upcoming Performances:
July 03 at 03:00 PM  
July 05 at 02:45 PM
July 06 at 09:15 PM
July 07 at 05:00 PM  
July 09 at 02:45 PM  
July 10 at 10:30 PM  
July 11 at 06:15 PM  
Show length: 55min.
Genre(s): Comedy, Storytelling

This performance is not accessible for non-English speakers

For all things Fringe Toronto please visit:

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Banksy Does New York

With the recent Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now's The Time exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, it's very timely indeed that Mongrel Media has released Chris Moukarbel's "Banksy Does New York" this week-end (check your local cinema). Graffiti-style guerrilla art continues to be the rage on the art scene, whether some art critics approve or not: street art is hot.  In a world where social media has become a sure-fire way to fuel excitement in the now, the furor over British artist Banksy is heightened by the fact that he/she/they continue to remain anonymous.

"Banksy Does New York"  is not so much about the artist as it is about the artist's work and his impact on the public.  In October 2013, Banksy announced a one month residency in New York. Artwork appeared all over the five boroughs, each one announced via social media and followed by New Yorkers eager to spot a Banksy before the work was stolen, painted over or removed by owners who saw the art as an act of vandalism. 

Moukarbel's pacing of the film aptly captures the hunt for the pieces as excitement builds with each siting. Who is Banksy? Where will the next piece be? Interviews with Banksy followers, some of whom are just in it for the chase, add to the film's treatise about Art and the perpetual conflict between its intangible and tangible value. On the one hand, you have the general public interested in art that has not been foisted upon them by the usual authorities, and, on the other, you have those who see Banksy as an opportunist lacking in talent whose work will not stand the test of time. Whichever side you are on, "Banksy Does New York" is a spirited film that will leave you thinking the inevitable: could I do that?  The answer for most of us will be a realistic, "no".

Photos/trailer courtesy of Mongrel Media

Friday, 1 May 2015

Hot Docs 15: Around the World in 50 Concerts

I am filled with bliss absolute after seeing Heddy Honigmann's Around the World in 50 Concerts!  Not  only was I treated to beautiful music by the Netherlands' Royal Concertbouw
Orchestra, I was also filled with the infectious joy of music lovers talking about how the art form fuels their everyday lives. From an Argentinian  taxi driver (left) sharing how classical music is a panacea to the vulgarity of his 12 hour days, to Soweto girls talking about how being part of a marimba band transports them away from a world where schoolgirls get raped, to a Russian man, who survived Stalin and Hitler, sharing how his mother passed on to him his existing love if music, Honigmann's film is a testimony to the importance of music to all levels of society.

The talented director, also takes us onto the stage of these talented orchestra members, with snapshots of their personal lives (hotel life, being away from family, and futbol passions), as well as chats about their love if their individual instruments and being part of a family of musicians. Brava, Heddy!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Hot Docs 15: The 100 Year Show, A Sinner in Mecca, Speed Sisters

There is a hidden gem of a film called The 100 Year Show. It plays with It's Me Hilary: the Man Who Drew Eloise and the teaming of the two short docs is perfect: two artists in their seniors years, one 99 and the other 88 expressing their thoughts about their work. Carmen Herrera, who will be 100 years old on May 15, is a discovery to me, just as she was to the larger art world in the early 2000s. A Latin American woman, whose body of work was finally acknowledged publicly in her 90's, her work should have been known decades ago. As one person in the docs says, she should have been celebrated with other hard-edged painters such as  Frank Stella and Ellesworth Kelly.

It's Me Hilary: the Man Who Drew Eloise delightfully amuse bouche of a doc because its subject Hilary Knight, the illustrator who drew the 6 year-old character created by author Kay Thompson. Both Thompson and Knight are larger than life which is probably why a severing of the ways lead to Knight not being permitted to draw Eloise until after Thompson died. Through questions from actor Lena Dunham, who sports an Eloise tattoo, and direction by Matt Wolf, what emerges from this doc the portrait of an incredibly talented  man who lives in his own illustrated world, where  life is fantasy.

I credit director, Parvez Sharma for taking us along on his personal journey as a gay Muslim man making his pilgrimage to Mecca, but his doc, A Sinner in Mecca, needs to be tightened up.  I was very interested in how a Muslim man negotiates faith and sexuality, and I applaud his courage as a gay man going behind the scenes to document the hajj, (where filming is forbidden); however, too many unnecessary shots slow down the pace of his internal and external voyage of discovery. His is a story that needs to be shared, and I am hoping that beyond Hot Docs the film gets edited so that the personal story is strengthened.

Do not pre-judge! Speed Sisters is not about cuties in cars. Director, Amber Fares, documents the story of Palestinian women involved in the racing circuit. Marah, Noor, Mona, Betty, and Maysoon (team captain) are all fascinating individuals which makes for a interesting look at how they each  juggle social expectations ( like marriage) while expressing their personal reasons for racing cars. For some, its a release from the stress of living in an occupied territory, for others its the speed, and for all it is for the pride of their country and respective home towns. Despite arbitrary rules (there is no official federation), these women show commitment to their sport as they  drift, drive, and extend the boundaries of femininity.

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
April 23 - May 3, 2015
For all details about Hot Docs, visit:

Photos courtesy of