Thursday, 16 August 2012

SUMMERWORKS REVIEWS: Breathe for Me, FACTS, Violent Be Violet

Real Eyes Theatre

Factory Theatre
Sat. August 18, 7:30 PM
Warning: Mature Language

Breathe for Me is a two-hander starring Deborah Kipp as Edith and Peggy Mahon as Edna, two characters in their seventies who have navigated the long road of friendship, interrupted at times by distance and at one point, prison.  Wheelchair-bound Edna has a respiratory illness and refuses, despite Edith's advice, to go to the doctor. Edith enjoys having her high school friend living with her but abhors her stubbornness. Both women have had a problem with booze, and made decisions that they regretted, but at this stage of their lives it's time to face up to those mistakes and lost opportunities, and Edna especially needs to know the answer to a burning question. Jesse Strong's script brims with the brash honesty and lies of aged friendship, with lines delivered with wonderful comic timing and rock solid seriousness as needed. Edna is the more colourful of the two women in costume (by Dora nomineeNina Owens) and salty dialogue, but Edith, with her bland clothing and tiny gold cross, also gets the opportunity to let loose some zingers of her own. Director, Ed Roy keeps the dialogue flowing at a quick clip, and while there is too much obvious stage left/stage right movement in the first ten or so minutes of the play, the blocking eventually settles into a more naturalistic movements for the characters. Jesse Strong has written a gem of a script, and when you team that with two mighty fine actors in a production lit by three-time Dora Award winner, Kimberly Purtell, you have a winner that audiences can approach, confident that they will be seeing something special.


Factory Theatre
Fri. August 17, 5:00 PM
Sat. August 18, 2:30 PM
Warning: Gunshot, Mature language

Part detective story, part philosophical treatise, and part moral dilemma, FACTS is a play in which there are no easy answers, set in an area of the world where easy is a cosmic joke. An American archaeologist has been murdered, and it's up to two detectives, one Israeli (played by Richard Greenblatt) and one Palestinian (played by Sam Kalilieh) to find out if the settler (actor, Alex Poch-Goldin) they have tracked down is guilty of the killing. Check points, Arab-Israeli cultural differences, and police procedural are expected in this play set in a politically charged arena, but throw in a question of belief that may or may not have been proven by the dead archaeologist, and you have a story that demands the audience question its own religious stance, be they Muslim, Jewish, Christian or atheists. Superb acting by this triumvirate.

Fine Wine Theatre Company

Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
Fri. August 17, 3:00 PM
Sun. August 19, 10:00 PM

Playwright/actress Tanisha Taitt is the reason to see this play. Her role as Violet calls for emotional extremes that could easily descend into caricature. Directed by Dora Award winner, Philip Aikin, the play deals with mental illness, guilt, and the stresses on a family when they have to be on guard, but ever helpful, to a loved one. Violet is the sole survivor of an incident that resulted in the death of several friends. Her coping mechanisms are her poetry and the sessions she has with her former professor, now a nun named Sister Genevieve (Sarah Dodd). The story unfolds well, with Violet's relationship with her steadfast mother, Yolande (Sandi Ross) being established and the jocular sibling interaction between she and her brother, Amos (Peter Bailey) providing some light moments here and there. Violet's flashes of anger and her suicidal attempts frustrates everyone, but as the play progresses, her memories are gradually unblocked revealing the horror that has been trapped within her for the past fourteen years.

Tanisha's effortless acting makes the other actors seem stage bound. I see Violet (Tanisha) in the kitchen, but I see the others as actors on a set. There is too much gesticulating by Peter Bailey and not enough movement from Sarah Dodd.  Sandi Ross does a good job as the mother, but it is Tanisha that draws your eye every time, and she is what makes this viewing of her first play very worthwhile.

HOW TO BUY ADVANCE TICKETS ($15 + FEES): Advance Tickets are available until midnight the day before and can be purchased as follows:

Online at
In person at the Lower Ossington Box Office (located at 100A Ossington Avenue) ($15 + Fees) 11AM – 5PM

By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747 for tickets & info during the hours listed above.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

REVIEWS: SummerWorks 2012

SummerWorks Performance Festival "is the place where dedicated, professional artists are free to explore new territory and take artistic risks." Besides juried plays, the Festival also includes Music, a Performance Bar, and Live Art. Here are my thoughts on a couple of plays:

photo by Amber Williams King 
MotionLive/cric crac collective or Warning: Strong and mature language, Smoking

Lower Ossington Theatre
Thur. August 16, 10:00 PM
Sat. August 18, 5:00 PM

The moment she steps onto the stage, you can feel the worries and exhaustion that cloud Amanda Parris' character Aneemah, as she takes off her shoes and sits down on the couch in her apartment. Soon, she is joined by Wan (Araya Mengesha), but not before director, Dian Marie Bridge gives us time to absorb Aneemah's silent burden. And there are more moments of silence in this play, moments that ring true when the situation concerns people on the day of a friend's funeral. The silent notes complement the characters natural movements, be it sitting smoking a joint, or preparing Ackee and Salftish and talking about their dead friend "G". What also elevates this play from the ubiquitous elements of "hood drama" is the realistic dialogue penned by MOTION, who captures Caribbean-Canadian youth speak ("chu seh" "mans dem" "still") while cleverly interspersing theme-forwarding lyrics through Aneemah (a poet) and beats dropped by Wan (an emcee). Amanda Parris is a quiet beast of an actor whose stage presence could easily have over-shadowed, Araya, but he manages to hold his own in this play thanks to impressive writing and directing. Toronto's theatre scene needs more youth-focussed theatre, not just to build new audiences, but to add story diversity to Canadian stages.

photo by Gein Wong
Eventual Ashes/New Harlem Productions

Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace
Thurs. August 16, 7:00 PM, Fri. August 17, 2:00 PM,
Sat. August 18, 4:30 PM Sun. August 19, 11:30 AM

Inspired by her parents own marriage, and including themes that impact many immigrant families, playwright, Christina Wong's A Song for Tomorrow is a drama that invites us to think about time and the evolution or devolution of relationships. Wong's use of English, unsurtitled Cantonese and Mandarin in her script, is a bold choice that lends flavour to this Toronto-based, but universally available show. Set in reverse chronological order, we meet Ping (Jeff Yung) and May (Jasmine Chen) on the day that May has decided to leave the marriage. With the clock set in reverse, key elements of the relationship is expounded: Ping's gambling, his love of Wheel of Fortune, his work place situation, and May's attempt to improve her English so she can get a better job, and her hard work inside the home preparing meals after battling her way home on Toronto transit. Promises are broken and made as the play ends with the happiness and expectations of a young couple starting their lives together in a new city; unfortunately, because we know how it will end, their hopefulness leaves us with a sad heart, knowing what is to come.

With minimal make-up and costume changes, Jasmine Chen brilliantly ages backwards as May--I actually thought she was a more mature actor at the beginning of the play! The multi-media production matches the theme and setting of the play, as does the lighting by David DeGrow. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane with references to Simpson's Department Store, Wintario, and Toronto's red and cream streetcars, and locales such as China Town, Spadina and Markham streets. If I have one complaint, it is that there are too many scene changes as the characters get younger. A couple of short scenes could have been combined into one proper scene without sacrificing plot.

HOW TO BUY ADVANCE TICKETS ($15 + FEES): Advance Tickets are available until midnight the day before and can be purchased as follows:

Online at
 In person at the Lower Ossington Box Office (located at 100A Ossington Avenue) ($15 + Fees) 11AM – 5PM

By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747 for tickets & info during the hours listed above.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Revisiting the Sistas: d'bi.young and Donisha Prendergast

In honour of Jamaica's 50 Year of Independence, I decided to rebroadcast two interviews I did in 2010. What better way to celebrate the island nation, than to showcase two young daughters who are doing so much to promote Jamaican culture, while establishing themselves as creative forces on the international scene. Up first is my interview with Dora Award winning playwright, dubpoet, actor and educator, d'bi.young, daughter of one of the original dub poets, Anita Stewart. In this interview, d'bi talks about creating the "wombanifesto" CD, the importance of giving back to community, and her future endeavours. Secondly, you will hear from Bob and Rita Marley's granddaughter, Donisha Prendergast (who joins the conversation from Florida), and producers Patricia Scarlett (Scarlett Media), and Marilyn Grey. At the time of the interview, the women were in the process of filming RASTA!-A Soul's Journey, a documentary that has since exploded onto the international scene. Enjoy.

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...