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.

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