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Baby, It's Cold Outside but GET OFF THE COUCH!

Yep. It's COLD outside, but come on! It's January. I'm no cold worshiper, but I came from Jamaica to Canada one January many, many years ago, so maybe that's why I don't fear the cold. Now, gray days? That's a different story, but as long as the sun is shining, I'm a happy go lucky gal. Do what I do: layer up. The Weather Network is my dearest friend, and I don't leave my house without checking for that wind chill. -15 and on go the thermals, public layers, and coverings for the extremities.

The Toronto Fringe wants you to think of them more often than just in July when they have their huge theatre festival, so they have devised a brilliant slogan to promote their Next Stage Theatre Festival: "January is the New July". Yesterday, I had the opportunity to connect with three festival participants: Tessa King (BURIED), Jordan Merkur (JUST EAST OF BROADWAY) and Justin Sage-Passant (QUITE FRANKLY). The Next Stage Theatre Festival (Jan. 6th - 17th) is affordable, varied and a great way to love winter, or make it less intolerable.

Australian writer, Tessa King and I had met previously; I interviewed her on my radio show mama when her play "One Last" was making it's debut at the Summerworks Theatre Festival in 2007. Like "Buried", that play was about death. King admitted she found the topic of death to be an interesting one that could be revisited in different ways. While "One Last" was based on monologues derived from interviews she had done with real people, "Buried" deals more with the issue of what emerges when the matriarch of a family has passed, the secrets, the impact on family dynamics created by her absence, and the inevitable loss of memory by the patriarch who is suffering from Alzheimer's. Directing the play is King's long-time friend and colleague, Andrew Lamb (they met while working at the Tarragon Theatre). Lamb's recent work, My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, started out as a fringe play that was picked up by Mirvish Productions and has gone on to become a big hit in 2009 (it will be back up and running this February). With their respective histories of success, "Buried" is bound to be one play not to miss. You can also listen to see if King's Canadian husband was successful in helping her to get the Canadianisms out of her script (except where required by one character who has been living Down Under).

I have never met Jordan Merkur (former artistic dir.Eclectic Theatre, Red Barn) but talking to him yesterday, I couldn't help but be infected by his enthusiasm for theatre and for the new play he is directing, "Just East of Broadway". Okay, I'm a sucker for those "let's-put-on-a-play" musicals, but Jordan Merkur has a wealth of experience behind him and a string of Dora nominations to boot. I'm expecting this play about a has-been star who goes to China to do a play only to find out he's performing to farmers, to be very worthwhile viewing. I'm also curious about the 12 songs in 90 minutes that Jordan says he wakes up singing, and, where there's music there's often choreography and how often do you get to see a musical for $15 that's got so much talent involved? Besides Merkur being at the helm, the book and lyrics are penned by Nicholas Hune-Brown (who also did the music with Daniel Lee) and Ben King.

Such a punim (face)! I couldn't help but think that phrase when I checked out the blog for the play "Quite Frankly". I have never met Justin Sage-Passant and have no idea whether his character Frank, a hen-pecked (by his mother) socially inept man is Jewish, but my head full of Toronto English immediately picked out those words to describe him. Talking to Sage-Passant via telephone yesterday, I couldn't help but feel that those words described his non-macho alter ego. Sage-Passant created the role with friend and director Juno Katz. The two wanted to bring to the stage an examination of masculinity as defined by someone who is not the traditional hero/leader type. Does strength of character only equate with the hyper-masculine image we have become used to? Sage-Passant says that the development of Frank, which was done over several years of successful portrayals at other Fringe festivals, has lead to a warming up of the character that audiences have responded to very well in this tragicomedy.

NEXT STAGE THEATRE FESTIVAL (runs until Jan. 17th)
125 Bathurst Street (between Queen and King)

TICKETS: 416-966-1962 or
$12 afternoon performances
$15 evening performances

See website for complete details:

Just because...still no reason to stay inside. Enjoy but get outside:-)


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