Friday, 13 November 2015

Precisely Peter Production of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads Dark And Hilarious

Thank you John Shooter for leaving England and coming to Canada, or to be more precise Toronto. Because of your desire to create theatre in your new city, I have been delighted to attend plays by Mike Leigh (Abigail's Party) and Alan Bennett (Talking Heads).

Shooter is back with Talking Heads 2 and as the program notes state: "Step into the lives of six ordinary people, each concealing a far from ordinary secret!"

The 6 monologues have been divided into Part A and Part B. If you are able, I recommend  you see both parts.  At $25 per evening, $50 is all you will pay to see very talented Canadian and English actors performing the brilliantly witty, darkly-edged dialogue of Britain's preeminent author, playwright, and actor Alan Bennett (The Uncommon Reader, The History Boys, The Madness of King George).

I saw Part A last year, and recently took in Part B. The major contrast between the two parts is the difference in tone. The monologues in Part A are more dramatic, although, Bennett never lets the scenes get too heavy, using the catharsis of humour to direct us through each piece; the segments in Part B are more overtly humourous, but at their core, they are no less emblematic of life's challenges than his monologues in Part A.

Bennett's characters are everyday, relatable  people, and these monologues directed by John Shooter are expertly delivered by an outstanding cast. The scenes are presented in various rooms of Toronto's historic Campbell House, which gives each performance an intimate, voyeuristic feel, whether the character's experiences take place in a home, park, antique shop or church. Shooter's blocking moves the characters in such a way that the audience cannot escape the connection by proximity nor Bennett's quotidian soliloquises so perfectly rendered by each actor .

The Outside Dog in which Marjory, wonderfully captured by Naomi Wright shares her anxiety about a serial killer. Playing Sandwiches in which Jason Gray infuses his handyman character of Wilfred with both pathos and repulsion. A Lady of Letters in which Alex Dallas convincingly brings to life Irene, the neighbourhood busybody, who thinks her poisoned letters are for the good of society.

Remaining Performances
Evenings, 18, 20, 21
Door opens 7:30 pm; show begins 8 pm

Matinees, November 14
Door opens 2:30 pm; show begins 3 pm

The Hand of God in which Deb Filler artfully presents her antique shop owner character of Celia as a woman who is completely oblivious to her own middle class snobbery and greed. Shakespearean actor, Richard Willis deftly brings the right touch of empathetic neuroses to Mama's boy Graham in A Chip in the Sugar. Fiona Reid's matter-of-fact delivery is heartbreakingly humorous in Bed Among the Lentils in which Susan, a vicar's wife, struggles with her Godlike husband and her increasing lack of faith in Him and him.

Remaining Performances
Evenings, November 13, 14, 17, 19
Door opens 7:30 pm; show begins 8 pm

Matinees, November 21, 22
Door opens 2:30 pm; show begins 3 pm

Tickets: $25 (general admission)
Precisely Peter Production
Directed by John Shooter
Sound design by Evan Jerred
Set and costume designs by Rachel Forbes
Lighting design by Siobhan Sleath
Stage management by Laura Lakatosh
Production management by Christopher Douglas

Campbell House Museum*
160 Queen St. West, Toronto

* Please note that there will be no late admittance. Campbell House is not wheelchair accessible, patrons will be required to climb stairs.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Writer Spotlight: Julia Hart on her script for The Keeping Room

photo courtesy of Films We Like
I missed "The Keeping Room" when it was an official selection of The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last year, so was happy that the film was recently released and is presently screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The film tells the story of three women (two white sisters and their black slave) defending themselves against rogue soldiers at the tale end of the American Civil War. I love westerns and was intrigued by the female perspective of this film, especially since it brought back memories of my university days writing papers about women in the US south during this time period. When the opportunity arose for a quick interview with screenwriter, Julia Hart, how could I resist?

donna g:  Could you please tell me more about your script being selected for the Black List in 2012? This is not an area that the average film-goer is familiar with.

JULIA HART: A bunch of people in our industry - executives, producers etc... are asked to vote for their favourite unproduced screenplays each year and the scripts with the most votes end up on the Blacklist. The Blacklist is a wonderful organization and warm and inviting community of which I am truly honored to be a part. All the writers are just very supportive of each other's work and films and Franklin Leonard and Scott Myers are just the best.

Julia Hart at TIFF '14
donna g: "The Keeping Room" premiered at TIFF '14. That's an awfully quick turnaround from screenplay to film festival screen. You must have felt as if you were caught up in a whirlwind!

Julia H: I definitely did. I was teaching high school English when I wrote the script. I wrote it over my summer break and then it started going out to agents in October of that year and by June we had a director and a cast and I had quit my job. And now I'm writing full time, I directed my first feature and I have a baby. It's been quite a trip! 

donna g: Female-centred scripts with women as heroines are rare enough, but you've written one that's as rare as hen's teeth. Audiences are used to Scarlett O'Hara's Georgia, not your version that features two starving white women and their slave staving off "bummers". What triggered the writing of the script?

Brit Marling (forefront),
Muna Otaru, Hailee Steinfield (rear)
photo courtesy of Films We Like
Julia H: I was sick of exactly what you say -- I wanted to see real women instead of damsels in distress and I think we're starting to see that other people want that too. There's definitely a shift happening in terms of the types of films that are getting made and the way that women are portrayed on screen and I'm just excited to be a part of it. 

donna g: In the film there is a line "we're all niggers now" . Given our era of political correctness, did you ever consider revising that line or were you ever pressured to rethink the line?

Julia H: I think political correctness is an enemy to art. I think we have to ask ourselves is the character racist or is the artist? And if it's the character then it is an artistic depiction of a type of person from a certain place at a certain time. I think it's important to show racism and sexism in our art in order to expose it. That line is Augusta just completely misunderstanding her place in the world and the circumstances under which she's in. She thinks that her life is like Mad's life now, but it's not in the least and she learns that by the end of the film.

photo courtesy of Films We Like
donna g: These three women have had to redefine the social structure they were all raised with. Your script does an excellent job of showing us this new social order. One of the scenes that brings this home for me is the one in which Augusta, a white woman and Mad, her slave, share a drink and talk as equals. Was this part of your original screenplay or was it added during the film stage?

Julia H: That scene was in the very first draft of the script. I was actually inspired to write the film while sitting in a keeping room on a farm in Georgia drinking moonshine with some friends so that scene was one of the first scenes I found when I started writing the script. It was actually cut down quite a bit by the director -- there was a lot more of that scene that we shot that I love and miss when I watch the film. That scene is in many ways the heart of what I was trying to say about these women and I'm so glad it spoke to you.  

donna g: Will you be writing any more Westerns? There are so many untold stories about women and the American frontier.

Julia H: I couldn't agree more! I actually happen to be writing one right now. I also happen to find a way to turn a lot of what I write into a western even if it's not technically a western. There is something so potent and connected for me about coming into your own as a woman (no matter where or when you are) and the myth of the American West and Manifest Destiny. 

donna g: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing your thoughts.

Julia H: Of course! Thank you for supporting the film. 

Directed by Daniel Barber
Written by Julia Hart

Principal Cast
Brit Marling as Augusta
Hailee Steinfield as Louise
Muna Otaru as Mad

For showtimes at TIFF Bell Lightbox
416.599.TIFF (8433)

A Sweet Liar: Theatre Francais de Toronto's Le Menteur/The Liar

The tag line is  "Don't believe a word he says" , but you can believe me, Le Menteur/The Liar is a fun way to spend a night at...