Friday, 11 August 2017

SummerWorks 17 Review: Mother Sea/Manman la mer & What Do You See?

DOUBLE BILL: Mother Sea/Manman la mer teamed with What Do You See? Please note that you will be stamped for reentry as there is a changeover break between the two shows.

Mother Sea/Manman la mer
Written by Djennie Laguerre
Directed by Rhoma Spencer
Program Description: In the tradition of Haitian storytelling, Mother Sea / Manman la Mertakes us on a journey that joins magic, love, and redemption. It is the story of a woman who can see the future in her dreams but is cut off from her abilities by her mother’s fear. After healing from a mysterious sickness, her dreams disappear along with her sense of self. 25 years later, only her grandmother can restore her faith and her ancestral lineage.

Seasoned storyteller, Djennie Laguerre, always invites her audience to follow along on her journeys. When she says "krick" she invites you to respond "krack", meaning you hear and acknowledge what she sharing, whether its serious or funny. Djennie starts off well with the tale of a young girl discovering her difference, and we are invited into her world of Quebecoise and Haitian aunties. Krick. Krack. However, as the girl's power to see the future is suppressed by her mother (krick!) and depression follows, the responding krack! is barely heard from the audience: the call and response is missing its energy. Djennie is not seeing us, so there is no one guiding the collective. This may be an intentional decision to mirror her character's mood, but it's not an effective choice as it alienates us from the storyteller. Still, Djennie weaves a good tale, and I, along with the rest of the audience, fell in love with the strength and vibrancy of the Haitian grandmother. This is a work in progress, and as such, things are subject to change. Perhaps by your performance, Djennie will have gone back to embracing her audience with her usual warmth from beginning to end.


What Do You See?
Choreographed and Performed by Jasmyn Fyffe
Program DescriptionA new, intimate, probing solo dance-theatre work that seeks to explore a plethora of ideas around the female black body.
Before entering the space, we are encouraged to choose a label and stick in on Jasmyn's back as she stands in silence, naked torso facing the theatre wall. Once we are seated, she remains against the wall, silently, sinuously manipulating fabric, until her hip covering now enshrouds her body. We are then invited by flashing APPLAUSE signs to participate as cheering audience members to a game show a twist. We have become complicit in an ugly truth, and as theatre glides into a movement piece, we are magnetized by Jamyn's incredibly emotional countenance and dancing ability. The labels are revealed, and, even if you didn't select one, we all know how damaging some labels can be. As the title suggests, the piece is subject to your interpretation, so what you take away will be based on your personal knowledge and experiences. One thing that many will agree is that Jasmyn Fyffe is an extraordinary talent. 
REMAINING PERFORMANCES  
Mother Sea/Manman la mer AND What Do You See?
The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street W, Toronto, ON
Saturday August 12th 2:30pm - 3:45pm 
Sunday August 13th 12:00pm - 1:15pm

SummerWorks 17 Reviews: DIVINE, SPAWN

DIVINE 
Written by Natalie Frijia, 
Directed by Claire Burns
Program DescriptionOntario is out of water and a pair of bandits search for their last hope – a water diviner by the name of Penn. Stories say she can crack the world like a coconut and make water bubble to the surface with nothing but her hands. But the bandits aren’t the only ones hunting her down. nithungAnd what if there’s nothing left for Penn to divine?


My Thoughts: Amanda Cordner (Penn) has a self-assured stage presence that commands attention. That's what makes a great lead, but, even if she was playing a supporting character, your eye would still follow her, she's that captivating. Unfortunately, not even Cordner's talents can save this mess. The convoluted plot is compounded by affected Western accents that are often difficult to understand, resulting in a loss of thematic focus.  The acting ranges from excessively broad to stilted, and some of the  extraneous "bandits" contribute nothing to the story. What should have been an intriguing dystopian tall tale, instead becomes a comedy as dry as the deserts referred to in the play itself. 

REMAINING PERFORMANCES
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street
Saturday August 12th 7:00pm - 8:15pm
Sunday August 13th1:30pm - 2:45pm

SPAWN
Written by Cheyenne Scott
Directed by Gein Wong
Program Description: Theresa is haunted by the traditional Coast Salish story of the Salmon Spirit, and the death of her mother who drowned in the Pacific Ocean. Now that she’s pregnant, her disconnected family must prepare for a new generation.

My ThoughtsI enjoyed watching this young couple deal with an unexpected pregnancy and their need to create a family, something neither really had for various reasons. The production design, with natural wood as a stand-in for furniture and riverbanks, cascading blue fabric to simulate water, and the background projection of nature all work with the metaphor of spawning.  The inclusion of indigenous folktales and historic truths grounds the work, reinforcing what the young couple must build upon and struggle against as they create their new family. 

It may seem strange to say that a cast of 4 is too large, but in the case of SPAWN, I believe the story would have been more compelling if focussed on the two young leads (Samantha Brown as Theresa and Dillan Meighan-Chiblow as Mikey).  Yes, the main plot surrounds Theresa and her relationship with her father and estranged grandmother, but I found those characters slowed the pace of the action; their contribution could have been summed up through dialogue between the young couple, and an expanded role for the charismatic, Meighan-Chiblow.


REMAINING PERFORMANCES
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street

Saturday August 12th 9:30pm - 10:30pm
Sunday August 13th 3:45pm - 4:45pm

Tickets: (general admission $15) Complete details: http://summerworks.ca/tickets 
Photos courtesy of www.summerworks.ca




Thursday, 4 May 2017

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Its fascinating to watch the historic battle play out between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses in Matt Tyrnauer's documentary, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. Voicing Jacobs is Marissa Tomei while Moses is voice by Vincent D'onofrio. Archival documents and communication about city planning as well as footage of cities like New York and Chicago illustrate some of the damage created by architects and top down planners of the past. We are able to see what works and what doesn't, how the same issues are being repeated today (block towers again in China and India) and how citizens must mobilize in order to have a say in how cities are developed. The question of who gets to decide is still one that is being debated all over the world, especially as cites are growing at a never-before seen rate.

Using the term "housewife", a reductive term in the pre-feminist era, the powers that be thought they could reduce the impact that Jane Jacobs and her organized groups of like-minded citizens had on preventing the lower Manhattan expressway from being developed in the early 1960s. Boy, were the ever wrong! Yes, she was a housewife, and she used that power to do what housewives have always done, connect with each other and their community. The difference was that Jane was also a journalist who had investigated how her city and others worked. She saw things from the ground up, so she knew how important people were to the sustainability and growth of a city. She had written numerous articles about different aspects of New York from flower to fur district and had written the still-relevant, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". She knew that cities were living things that required diversity of people,  neighbourhoods, streets, and business.  As one woman says in the documentary, she felt safe walking down to the store at night because the old men in the cafes were out socializing and kept an eye on her. Their presence, meant that she was seen, and in their seeing, would know if any one was bothering her. These are the stories that Jane knew and the people with whom she was familiar, if not individually, than as a collective that made the city function. What her adversary, Robert Moses did not know, was the power and needs of such people.

While in the  pre-war years, Moses was an urban planner who developed public meeting and recreational  spaces, post-depression, post-World War II era Moses and his ilk thought that demolishing tenements and replacing them with high density apartment blocks was the answer to accommodate people and the growing car consumerist culture. What urban planners of the day didn't take into consideration was that in separating work from recreation and home, they developed blocks of isolation where people were no longer able to interact with the vibrancy of the streets. Expressways were seen as the "arteries of progress" where in fact, they were preventing stoop culture and community-building.

Jane Jacobs was instrumental in defeating Toronto's own Spadina Expressway plans when she and her family moved Toronto. Citizen Jane is now playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and in select theatres across the country, just in time for the global initiative Jane's Walk scheduled May 5, 6, and 7th. The festival consists of free citizen-lead walking tours where the emphasis is on people connecting within their communities and exchanging thoughts about their neighbourhood.  Details about a walk in your city can be found at www.janeswalk.org