Review: Tapestry Briefs: Booster Shots

TAPESTRY BRIEFS: BOOSTER SHOTS (Tapestry). At the Ernest Balmer Studio (Studio 315, 9 Trinity, Distillery District). Runs to November 16.

TAPESTRY BRIEFS: BOOSTER SHOTS (Tapestry). At the Ernest Balmer Studio (Studio 315, 9 Trinity, Distillery District). Runs to November 16 at 8 pm. $35. 416-537-6066. See listing. Rating: NNN

Tapestry, dedicated to the creation of new opera works, launches its 35th season with a series of short opera scenes in which the audience travels to various rooms in the Distillery District.

The company has been sowing the seeds of new operas for years by pairing librettists and composers in LibLab, a kind of creative speed dating in which the shifting duos write short scenes that are then put on their feet to see what works and what can be further developed.

Some of the more recent pieces are on display in Tapestry Briefs: Booster Shots, featuring 10 works by playwrights Nicolas Billon, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, Hannah Moscovitch, David Yee and Morris Panych, who collaborated in various combinations with composers Christopher Thornborrow, Ivan Barbotin, Nicole Lizee, Benton Roark, Dean Burry and James Rolfe.

In between the excerpts, directed by Michael Hidetoshi Mori and accompanied by pianists Christopher Foley and Jennifer Tung, viewers are treated to local food samplings: sake, beer, whisky and ice cream. We also get to fill out comment cards saying what we liked about what we saw and tasted.

Tapestry knows how to cast performers whose acting is as good as their singing. The quartet here are Alexander Dobson, Carla Huhtanen, Keith Klassen and Krisztina Szabo.

So what worked?

For me, the best piece of the evening is also the longest: three excerpts from Moscovitch and Roarks The Whisky Opera, about the 19th century Brooks Bush Gang, a group of Toronto outlaws led by the rough-edged Jane Ward. The numbers include a quartet praising liquor and sex, a solo in which Jane (Szabo) talks about her history and, in one of the funniest Briefs, Jane giving the young Gerty (Huhtanen) a lesson on how to give a guy (Klassen) a handjob. Performed in a freight elevator whose movement contributes to the action, the scenes raw and amusing.

The Whisky Opera feels like it could be extended into a full length piece, as does Yee and Rolfes the blind woman, about a dancer (Szabo) who has lost her sight talking to an earlier version of herself (Huhtanen). The womens voices blend in enticingly overlapping sections, and in their hands the short scene suggests theres still lots to explore about the central character.

Billon and Thornborrows 1984 The Note has strong dramatic legs, too. Based on George Orwells novel, the episode is set in the office where Winston Smith (Dobson) and the woman hes drawn to, Julia (Huhtanen), work she surreptitiously passes him a love letter.

Other scenes were fun but dont feel like they could be expanded into something more substantial. In Billon and Burrys You And Meme, a couple on a first date (Klassen and Szabo) go from bored to turned on when they discover their shared fixation on memes. Yee and Barbotins The Fetishist is an intentionally politically incorrect scene in which an Asian woman (Huhtanen) changes her looks to become Caucasian for her boyfriend (Dobson), whos disappointed because he secretly reveled in what he saw as her exoticism.

Both are enjoyable but should probably stay just the length that they are.

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