The top 10 Toronto theatre shows of 2019

Most of these shows were either written or directed by women or both. So is it any coincidence that.

Most of these shows were either written or directed by women or both. So is it any coincidence that this was one of the boldest and most exciting theatre years in recent memory? Heading into a new decade with a couple of the women on this list at the helm of local theatre companies, the future looks promising.

In addition to restoring the reputation of Soulpepper Theatre after its biggest crisis, the companys new artistic director Weyni Mengesha helmed this game-changing production of one of the worlds best-known plays, making us see, feel and hear new things in the script: exactly what revivals are all about. Amy Rutherford, Mac Fyfe and a diverse supporting cast of actors and musicians made this play about sex and secrets throb with vitality.

Annie Bakers intimate epic about the underpaid employees of a small-town movie theatre became, in Mitchell Cushmans hands, a funny, poignant look at class, economic privilege and the changing of one type of life for another. Against Nick Blaiss hyper realistic replica of a movie house, the actors (Amy Keating, Durae McFarlane and Colin Doyle) got us involved in their ordinary lives in a way that felt truer than the artifice we often see on the big screen. Unforgettable.

Nina Lee Aquinos production of Jocelyn Biohs play about students in an exclusive Ghanaian boarding school in the 1980s was so smart, funny and moving, I stayed for the talkback session something I seldom do. But the more time spent in the company of gifted actors like Akosua Amo-Adem, Natasha Mumba, Tatyana Mitchell and Bria McLaughlin, the better. Seeing them spark off each other was, to quote the Whitney Houston song belted out in the show, the greatest love of all.

Alcoholism. Suicide. Incest. Drug addiction. In Jackie Maxwells hands, this excoriating production of Tracy Lettss Pulitzer Prize-winner resonated even more with the fucked up times than it did when the play premiered over a decade ago. The dysfunctional Weston clan convene at the Oklahoma homestead of a dead professor, and the mans dying wife and one of his headstrong daughters (Nancy Palk and Maev Beaty) battle it out for supremacy. Seldom has catharsis been so needed and so entertaining.

The personal met the political in Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan and Christian Barrys raucous, life-affirming musical inspired by the lives of Moscovitchs paternal great-grandparents. Between poignant vignettes about Chaim and Chaya Moscovitchs journey from Romania, the exuberant, over-the-top Caplan morphed into a sly emcee character who tied the Barry-directed production together and made us seriously think about the refugee crisis today. The show returns to the Tarragon in June.

Even if Drake hadnt shown up on opening night to support his former Degrassi castmate Mazin Elsadig, this show would have been newsworthy. Drawing on African myths and rituals, Mumbi Tindyebwa Otus production of Tarrell Alvin McCraneys poetic drama about two Southern brothers (Elsadig and Daren A. Herbert) and one of their prison friends (Marcel Stewart) trying to escape from their trapped lives was full of the kind of powerful metaphors and heartstopping drama that only exist in live theatre.

If you had told me a year ago that Id be mesmerized watching Jani Lauzon curl up with stones and talk to and listen to them, I wouldnt have believed you. But her solo show enhanced by Franco Bonis direction and Melissa Joakims environmental design was as unique and eclectic as the artist herself. Telling stories about her life especially her relationship with her daughter and touching on the mythology around Giant Rock in the Mojave Desert, Lauzon and her hundreds of rocks and pebbles got us unforgettably stoned.

Lots of recent art has dealt with the issue of police violence against Black men. But few works have done it with as much harrowing precision as Antoinette Nwandus play, which draws on Becketts Waiting For Godot to explore the absurdity of racial tensions. Philip Akins direction his last as artistic director of Obsidian and layered performances by Kaleb Alexander, Mazin Elsadig and Alex McCooeye made this riveting theatre. And Im still wondering how they pulled off that picnic basket scene.

How often does a play leave you wanting more, not less? Thats what happened with Ho Ka Keis cheeky and coolly contemporary take on Euripides classic about the exiled princess (an assured Virgilia Griffith) who, living in Tauris as a priestess, is tasked with killing strangers including her brother Orestes (Thomas Olajide). Jonathan Seinens diverse cast, clad in Christine Urquharts suggestive costumes, added layers of complexity to this play about cyclical violence and, in Hos version, colonial destruction.

Can you put a price tag on items associated with an ex-lover? That was the amusing premise of Haley McGees brilliant solo show, which included a display of things from former boyfriends and complex mathematical formulae about what those items should be worth based on factors like who broke up with whom, how long they were together and who suffered more. Directed with Rube Goldberg-like precision by Mitchell Cushman, the always watchable McGee was heartbreakingly honest in her exploration of the toll love has taken on her. Pay whatever it takes to see the Soulpepper remount in May.

No matter how vivid and realistic-looking, video shouldnt be used to compensate for the lack of a set.

From Sting (The Last Ship) and Bob Dylan (The Girl From The North Country) to the Ramones (Four Chords And A Gun) and Pink Floyd (Another Brick In The Wall), some of the years worst music-based shows were inspired by the songs of old white guys. Mix it up, will ya?


The top 10 Toronto theatre artists of 2019

Introducing… the breakthrough Toronto stage artists of 2019


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