Tuesday, 31 July 2012

FringeTO Faves

Guest, HeidyMo (http://hyemusings.blogspot.ca/) and I discuss some of our favourite Toronto Fringe Festival faves:

With the Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival being unjuried, sometimes you will luck out and see great shows and sometimes you can bounce from a spectacular show to a bomb in the span of 60 minutes. When I go to the Fringe, I hope to see a mix of indie and professional passion. This year, from my perspective at least, there seemed to be a bumper crop of wonderful plays. Here are some o my avourite plays, not because they were technically excellent, as many were, but because they resonated with me.

Liza Paul and Bahia Watson
Liza Paul and Bahia Watson, past artist-in-residence grads from d'bi young's anitafrika dub theatre) are the creators and stars of Pomme is French For Apple, a play that dares to share the honest truth about the vagina, sexuality and platonic and non-platonic relationships. One of my favourite scenes, is the one in which Liza (playing the teenage daughter) asks her Caribbean mother (Bahia) if she can date. What follows is a hilarious diatribe that more than answers the question. I saw knee-slapping from beginning to end. A Caribbean show that is well-suited to Toronto's savvy audiences.

Seeing a title like pornstar at the Fringe could be a little dicey. I didn't know if I was in for stripper poles, or raunchy dialogue intended just to shock, but with Chris Craddock'ss name on the script and the team behind Fringe darlings Morro and Jasp, I joined the line that stretched around the Tarragon Theatre with less trepidation than I would if the production had been by unknowns. What I got was a smart script about religion, politics, and a young woman's claiming of her sexuality maturity. The comedy about a repressed Saskatchewan librarian's nomination for amateur porn (little did she know she was staring in one at the time) was intelligent as well as winningly acted by Amy Lee (Esther), and seductively performed by Lynne Griffin as sexpert, Sharon, whom Esther encounters when she lands in San Francisco. Rounding out this women-only quartet are Heather Marie Annis as the innocent, ethereal Kate, longing to reconnect with sister, Esther, and Sharah Menell, as Clarice, the Sarah Palin-loving politician and mother of Kate and Esther, played with cool fire by Menell. My Rating: 5/5 Stars

OTHER FAVOURITES, include The Dinner, which has an outstanding ensemble cast, and one that I have already reviewed is The Virginity Lost & Found, a perfect pairing with POMME! (see these reviews here) and The Ballad of Herbie Cox (see review)


Jim Sands
charlie: a hockey story. I love storytelling, and Jim Sands quickly drew me under his spell with this mostly autobiographical tale. As a kid, Jim was the kind of guy who wanted to watch a brand new series called Star Trek, with its phasers in action and women in short skirts than spend an evening watching hockey. A successful night for him was getting away with switching the channel (manually, back then), and hoping his Dad kept snoozing on the couch so he could make it through an entire episode. When young Jim finds out his father's brother was once part o the NHL, is the moment that sparks his interest in the game. Through his recounting of hockey's rock 'em, sock 'em history, Jim reveals aspects of his relationship with his father (one that never ran smoothly), and his love of Shakespeare. Yep, I said Shakespeare. Sometimes good shows get overlooked at the Fringe. At 75 minutes the show could be improved with a good 15 minutes shaved off its run time, but this "average guy" show is a good one that deserved more than the modest crowd that were present at my viewing. If you're out West try and catch Jim's other performances of charlie: a hockey story: http://www.jim-sands.ca/  My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Quantum Taxis
By: Paul Steinsland
Company: Punkture Wounds Productions
Company origin: Toronto, ON
Director: Paul Steinsland
Location: Honest Ed’s Parking Garage, 581 Bloor St. W.

FRINGE DESCRIPTION: Performed in an underground parking garage, the play is set inside two cabs. Each driver interacts with his passenger in a way which affects both lives. Yet what happens when a seemingly insignificant event causes each passenger to get into a different taxi? We see in an alternate reality how the smallest occurrence can profoundly change our trajectory.

My THOUGHTS: Kudos to this play for a)taking me somewhere I had never been, or even thought of going: Honest Ed's Parking Garage (I don't think many in my group had been to this site, either judging by their response), and b) making me think about Quantum Mechanics as it relates to everyday experiences of four characters (two passengers, two drivers) as they chit chat about life while headed to their destinations. God, the Universe, Fate, Coincidence, reggae music (Did you know every tune can be transposed into a reggae song?) are all explored with a casualness that nevertheless makes you ponder your own existence. At 80 minutes, the play does drag, especially when your Fringe time clock is tuned to plays below the 60-minute mark, but I was glad of the experience. My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Photo Credits: photo of Liza Paul and Bahis Watson, Taxi Cab by donna g; photo of Jim Sands courtesy o http://fringetoronto.com/

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Ruba Nadda Makes World Premiere at TIFF 2012

Toronto International Film Festival had its official launch with this morning's Press Conference at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey shared equal time in announcing the first slate of Gala and Special Presentation films. I was thrilled to hear that two Canadian women, would have Galas at TIFF in September: Ruba Nadda and Deepa Mehta. This is indeed a rare occurrence and one that I thought would elicit a noisy response from  media and invited guests; however, I had to remind myself that it was early in the morning, and that not everyone had had their coffee, at least I'm hoping that was the reason...

I've been a supporter of Ruba Nadda since interviewing her for her romantic comedy, Sabah, starring Arsinee Khanjian, and her romantic drama, Cairo Time, starring Patricia Clarkson. A true independent filmmaker, Ruba makes films that appear very simple at first glance but which stay with you long after you have seen them; they envelope rather than shout.

Director, Ruba Nadda, on her film, INESCAPABLE, a World Premiere Gala at TIFF 2012

I asked producer, Daniel Iron for a brief description o his role in INESCAPABLE. Many people are often unclear as to what a producer actually does.

Toronto International Film Festival
September 6 - 16, 2012
Ticket Packages On Sale Now
416-599-TIFF (8433) 1-888-599-8433

Monday, 23 July 2012

James Quandt on TIFF/Cinematheque's "Summer in France"

Small Change (L'argent de poche)
Courtesy of www.tiff.net
I love chatting with James Quandt, Senior Programmer for TIFF/Cinematheque. Even when I admit personal gaffes like thinking Small Change (L'Argent de poche) is directed by Louis Malle instead of François Truffaut, he may pause, but he politely lets it go. Some brain glitch of mine continues to assign credit for the film to Malle, no matter how often I remind myself of the truth! You can hear my mistakes as well as James' very qualified observations of the films and directors featured in Summer in France program (July 13 - Sept. 2).

Thursday, 12 July 2012

FringeTO Review: The Ballad of Herbie Cox

Real life marrieds, Victoria Chiu & Roland Cox.
Yes, Roland 
does execute this leap in the show
My Rating: 5/5
With over 100 shows in the Fringe Festival, it's impossible to see all of them, so when Roland Cox handed my his show postcard, I couldn't promise that I would see the show. Two things that Roland did, made me try and schedule the show, and I am glad I did because it didn't disappoint. Without any fanfare Roland told me (and gal pal, blogger Heidy Mo) that the woman in the postcard was his wife (Victoria Chiu) and that "Yes, she really is that beautiful."). He then proceeded to do  the leap (shown left) in the middle of Lennox Avenue in front of the crowd waiting to go into the Randolph Academy. 

The Ballad of Herbie Cox, is a highly personal story for Chiu and Cox, as it details both sides of their racially and culturally mixed families through  dance, puppetry, and recorded and live narration. From grandparents through to their present union, the couple continually share the stage with very brief pauses  for quick costume changes. They are great contemporary dancers, but I don't think they are great enough actors to fake the love that surrounds them like a palpable aura.When she dances, he's at the piano or making oral music to accompany her. When they dance together it's sheer magic, especially the final piece which involves a comic stint using the piano as instrument and prop. My favourite piece is the one in which the couple acknowledge his brother, a drug addict with Aspergers Syndrome, with whom Roland wishes he had a better relationship. Chiu use of a chalk covered banner and contemporary dance movements combine with Cox's vocalizations to communicate pain and despair. This piece, more than any, exemplifies the shows' marriage between storytelling, dance and music, as all the elements work together to create fresh and captivating theatre.  Bravo!

I wish that I had seen this performance earlier in the festival, so that I could have recommended it to you earlier. There are two performances left, so take an extended lunch break tomorrow, or mark it in your calendar to see it Saturday.

Spoiler Alert! The "Herbie" in the show's title is the couple's blond-haired, blue-eyed toddler. I met him after the show and he is adorable! 

Randolph Theatre (on Bathurst, 1 block south of Bloor)
July 13 12:00 PM
July 14 12:30 PM

July 4 - 15, 2012
TICKETS: at-the-door tickets ($10) Available at a show’s venue starting one hour prior to show time, cash sales only, limit of 4/person. advance tickets ($9 + $2 service charge) Available up to three hours prior to the start of a performance: Online at www.fringetoronto.com By Phone at 416-966-1062 In person at the Festival Box Office July 4th – 15th, 12 – 10pm @ The Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W.

These Fringe Shows Are Worth Your $10 Bucks!

There is only 4 more days of Fringing left so I wanted to make sure to let you know about these fabulous shows.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Morgonn Ewen has created a likeable, foulmouthed Annabelle, a Southern prisoner who hoots and hollers to cover a world of hurt. Out on a 1-hour pass to entertain you, Annabelle shares her life stories through songs whose upbeat chords will have you smiling until you catch the lyrics and hear the tribulations--that's when you'll start laughing hard! Because Ewen can actually sing, the songs have the additional impact of being a mellifluous treat for the ears.

Tarragon Theatre (Extra Space)
July 13 01:45 PM
July 15 07:30 PM

My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Texting and conversing in person are two forms of communicating, but Dina wants to remind us all that there is a time and a place for each form. Dina (Jenny Salisbury) encourages you to text during the show, but never while she is trying to show you how important and lovely human interaction is. Through physical comedy, some ingenious improvised props, and audience participation, Salisbury is able to deliver her message with non-stop humour that never sounds preachy or negative.

Theatre Passe Muraille
July 12 07:00 PM
July 13 11:30 PM

My Rating: 4/5 Stars
I don't know why a belly dancing production of the Hans Christian Anderson version of The Little Mermaid has never been done, but thank you, thank you, Sarah Skinner and the Sisters of Salome! My favourite scene (and there are several  to choose from) in the performance is the dance sequence where the Mermaid (Skinner) learns to use her legs for the first time. Her undulations and the expressions in "First Steps" of both pain and joy are simply and beautifully conveyed to Baed Anak's Far From You (vocals by Beat & Horatio). What a wonderful merging of dance and storytelling! 

Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse
July 13 11:00 PM
July 15 05:45 PM

July 4 - 15, 2012
TICKETS at-the-door tickets ($10) Available at a show’s venue starting one hour prior to show time, cash sales only, limit of 4/person. advance tickets ($9 + $2 service charge) Available up to three hours prior to the start of a performance: Online at www.fringetoronto.com By Phone at 416-966-1062 In person at the Festival Box Office July 4th – 15th, 12 – 10pm @ The Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

TO REVIEWS: Are These Plays Worth 10 Bucks?

YES! (I would see this again)
I've had bad experiences at the Fringe with plays that were longer than the average 55-60 minute performance. More often than not, I leave the theatre angry, demanding the universe to give me my time back.  Happily, with The Dinner and Antigone, I am thanking the universe for granting them the extra time to tell their stories properly.

My Rating: 5/5
If you have any reservations about seeing this play because you've heard a G-20 reference, then put those aside. Contrarily, if you are seeing this because you're expecting a G-20 remake of Sophocles' play, then you might be disappointed. In Soup Can Theatre's version of the classic play about a ruler more obsessed with his own power than the well-being of his family or subjects, the G-20 is an underlying metaphor that referenced in set (the Fence), contemporary clothing, and the occasional inclusion of modern English. Cydney Penner plays Antigone with the feisty conviction of today's young protester, defiantly burying her brother despite King Creon's (her father-in-law-to-be) decree that his body be left for the birds and dogs to ravage. Thomas Gough owns the role of the King Creon, dominating the Randolph Theatre stage as his character does Thebes. As Antigone's sister, Ismene, Leah Holder succeeds in demonstrating an emotional balance between the Penner's militant Antigone, and Gough's monolithic, Creon. Providing comic relief with a very winning laid back performance is Chloe Payne. My one complaint about this otherwise, well-directed production by Scott Dermody, is the vacillating performance of the chorus, who are sometimes strong in their delivery and whimpy at other times.

Antigone (90 mins)
Randolph Theatre (formerly Bathurst Street Theatre)
July 13 05:15 PM
July 15 07:00 PM 

My Rating: 5/5
Under the masterful handling of director, Jordan Merkur (former artistic director of The Red Barn and Eclectic theatres) this splendid ensemble cast (Scott Stephenson, Lisa Waines, Kristin Hinton, Jeff Madden, Dale Yim, Abraham Asto, Farah Merani, Jason Jazwary) live Jason Murray's script with their every inflection and movement.  This juicy piece of theatre sees four friends, whose high school past is the sole thread linking them together, gathered for Thanksgiving along with their significant others (married and unmarried). Even before the host couple doorbell rings, there is a sense that all will not go right, as the high strung hostess berates her partner for inviting six people to the dinner instead of the usual four from the past two years. As the invitees chat over yummy hors d'oeuvres, minor disagreements flare into friendship altering ones, as some long-held truths are revealed and feelings are hurt. Kudos to Merkur for his excellent blocking of eight actors, placing them in areas of the stage that make sense for their characters to be at each given point in the script. Bravo to Murray for fleshing out adult roles that depict the real strain that exists when people no longer have anything in common, be in their romantic or platonic relationships. Chad Stuber's props, and costumes by Alex and Carmen Amini are tools that help define the time and place, while Andre du Toit's lighting brings the living room set to life.

The Dinner (80 mins)
Factory Theatre
July 11 05:15 PM
July 13 12:00 PM
July 15 07:00 PM 

My Rating: 5/5
Written and performed by S. Bear Bergman, this performance is the usual Fringe length (under an hour), but there is nothing usual about this one person play in which Mary Pat (Bergman), an elderly white lady in sensible shoes dispenses information and referrals to young people at the government office of the Virginity Lost and Found, or as Mary Pat calls it, "the VLandF". Morgan Baskin's wardrobe for Bergman is perfect, creamy white patent flats, long loose skirt with a slight ruffle at the hem, and khaki bolero style cardigan worn over a plain pink cotton top. Bergman's iron gray wig is chin length bob and her face is framed with practical glasses. Bergman has powdered hir beard, and in so doing references post-menopausal hirsutism rather than drag. The poster for this show makes it seem rather vulgar, but Mary Pat is so sincere in her delivery and so circumspect, that you can't help but warm to her. Bergam perfectly performs the role of a well-meaning woman who truly want today's young people to be armed with the proper information in order to avoid such occurrences as Accidental Penetration. Mary Pat reminded me of my grade three elementary school librarian who used to share the joy of reading to us as we sat in a circle around her. This is funny play that uses explicit language relevant to the piece that evokes peels of laughter. This is not a performance of guttural coarseness for the sake of shock value. Mary Pat will have none of that!

The Virginity Lost & Found (50 mins)
Tarragon Theatre (Extra Space)
July 11 02:15 PM
July 12 10:30 PM
July 14 03:30 PM
July 15 12:00 PM

*Photo Courtesey of http://www.sbearbergman.com/
The Fringe photo really doesn't reflect Mary Pat, who I'm crazy about.

Are These Plays Worth 10 Bucks?
NO! (Really, don't even think about going!)
These plays all have the same problem: good intentions, not realized. It's very frustrating to sit in an audience and see the potential in a show that goes nowhere, or worse bores you into nodding off.

Legalize has impacted this fairy kingdom in which rhyming has become outlawed. Working the words "bro" and "superficial" into rhyming couplets isn't easy, nor is some of the other dialogue the actors deliver. The accompanying songs are the best part of this adult fairy tale, but this play will drag you off to dreamland with its slow pacing.

One in a Million
This musical about sperm trying to reach an egg needs to be re-worked. I can see the bones of a good show, but, boy is this one not ready for audiences. The first musical number feels late in coming as we watch a battlefield scenario play out, and some scenes need to be cut, as the sentiments are repeated too often. This is a show that demands significantly less dialogue, or even better, that it be sung through. I would really love to see what this could become after being workshopped.

The Judy Monologues
Film clips, a Judy Garland look-a-like primping at a dressing table, and three men recounting Garland's life (based on her own recordings) sounds like a fun time, right? Wrong. This is an example, "where less is more" would have made this even better. There is no distinction between the three men and the short segments with the mute look-a-like are so repetitive and dry that they become an annoying. A quick fix would be to have Michael Hughes (Mickey & Judy) do the entire monologue. Each time Hughes read, I felt the energy in the room go up. Judy Garland had her troubles, but she is remembered as a radiant performer. Unfortunately, this play doesn't reflect that brilliance.

The Princess of Porn
Not even good performances by the Fairy Godmother and the Fluffer could save this turkey about storybook princesses who are dissatisfied with their lives and make a trip to the Kingdom of Porn to see how the other half lives: the pacing is too slow, the story much too silly, and the singing off key. 

July 4 - 15, 2012
TICKETS at-the-door tickets ($10) Available at a show’s venue starting one hour prior to show time, cash sales only, limit of 4/person. advance tickets ($9 + $2 service charge) Available up to three hours prior to the start of a performance: Online at www.fringetoronto.com By Phone at 416-966-1062 In person at the Festival Box Office July 4th – 15th, 12 – 10pm @ The Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W.

FringeTO REVIEW: Samkon & Francis Go Swimming

Samkon & Francis Go Swimming 
My Rating: 4/5 Stars Lawrence and Kobonga are a dynamic comic duo. The politically incorrect Francis is deftly played by Shawn Lawrence, who delivers  Vladimir Jon Cubrt 's off colour (pun intended!) remarks and know-it-all opinions with an ease that immediately establishes his character. Like Samkon, actor, Emmanuel Kobonga is Congolese (or as Francis puts it, "Congolian"). Kobonga's portrayal of a newcomer to Canada necessitates a certain level of ignorance of some things said by Francis. Cubrt script has endowed Samkon with enough English to sometimes outwit and contradict Francis, and Kobonga's expressive face brings an innocence and awareness that prevents the role of Samkon from sliding into buffoonery. Actress Birgitte Solem rounds out the trio, as the stressed housewife who comes home to find an unexpected delivery in her driveway. The show belongs to the men, but Solem provides a nice balance between the duo, and even manages to hold the audiences' attention with her unexpected response to her situation.

Director, Vladimir Jon Cubrt on his play, Samkon & Francis Go Swimming.
Actors, Emmanuel Kobonga (Samkon) and Shawn Lawrence (Francis) talk about their roles.

REMAINING SHOWS: Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave., one block north of Dupont, east of Bathurst)
July 11 02:15 PM
July 13 03:30 PM
July 14 08:00 PM

July 4 - 15, 2012

TICKETS at-the-door tickets ($10) Available at a show’s venue starting one hour prior to show time, cash sales only, limit of 4/person. advance tickets ($9 + $2 service charge) Available up to three hours prior to the start of a performance: Online at www.fringetoronto.com By Phone at 416-966-1062 In person at the Festival Box Office July 4th – 15th, 12 – 10pm @ The Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W.

I was reviewing past coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and realized that as good as it is to use social media, I m...