One of last week's most striking shows wasn't in a theatre, or even, in the usual sense, at a site-specific location.
The internet becomes the medium and dictates much of the style for rihannaboi95, the prolific Jordan Tannahill's latest script, broadcast live last Tuesday through Sunday, April 23-28.
Subtitled "a viral performance," the 45-minute monologue is a real-time event in which Sunny, a South Asian teen, makes what might be his last YouTube video for fans of the Rihanna-based figure he's created online.
A tale of bullying, homophobia and sorting out sexual identity, rihannaboi95 looks at a young man drawn to the pop singer diva without being sure why. Impersonating her in a series of YouTube clips, he builds a loyal viewing base but runs into trouble when schoolmates and family discover what he's doing.
Though Sunny vehemently denies he's gay, he drops lots of hints that something's prodding him to investigate his sexuality. A gay teacher, ironically, both complicates Sunny's life and makes him feel at ease by encouraging the young man's interests in videography and Rihanna.
The real problem, though, is a culture both at home and school that prevents Sunny from exploring whether he wants to be as masculine as he's expected to be.
The only truly sympathetic figure in his life is Keira, who works at Shoppers Drug Mart and not only helps him with his makeup but also offers him a haven. To complicate matters, she used to date Sunny's older brother, King, who has real trouble with gay people, an attitude he shares with Sunny's whole family.
The script is less nuanced than some of Tannahill's other pieces, but the immediacy of the presentation and material (the two aren't really separable) as well as the intensity of Sunny's emotions are probably best served by speed.
Directed by Zack Russell, Owais Lightwalla is a striking Sunny, whether glorying in lip-synching Rihanna's singing and dance moves in Umbrella, fantasizing about his teacher or shaking with fear for his own safety. By the end, he sees those coming after him to be a gang of Chris Browns aiming to beat up on his Rihanna. A scary image, that.
Arguably, the best interpreter of a playwright's work is the writer herself or himself.
We see this proven regularly in the twice-annual Playwrights Canada Press launch, the latest of which happens Monday (May 6) at the Tranzac.
Reading from their works are Michael Healey (Proud), MJ Cruise (Separate Beds), Florence Gibson MacDonald (How Do I Love Thee?), Christopher Morris (Night), Yvette Nolan (The Unplugging), Joseph Jomo Pierre (Shakespeare's Nigga) and Daniel Karasik (The Remarkable Flight Of Marnie McPhee).
It's a busy week for Karasik, whose play The Philosopher opens two days before (see below).
Joining the group is actor John Beale, reading from Daniel MacIvor's The Best Brothers. Beale starred with MacIvor in the 2012 Stratford production; the play will open the 2013 Tarragon season.
We finally caught Blue Planet, the Young People's Theatre revival of Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason's play about a world of ever-youthful children who learn about global responsibility.
The company first produced the show nine years ago, directed by Allen MacInnis, who's now head of YPT and again helms the production.
Its narrative, involving for viewers of any age, takes place on a world where the young populace (Jasmine Chen, Jakob Ehman, Darrel Gamotin, Jajube Mandiela, PJ Prudat and Aaron Stern) live by the slogan "Let there be fun."
The arrival of tempting, manipulative salesman Jolly Goodday (Rylan Wilkie) throws their society into disarray when he offers to make their dreams come true and promises even more pleasure than they're already having, notably the ability to fly. The only cost? A little bit of their youth.
As the six kids learn that their added merriment comes at a cost to children on the other side of the planet, Magnason adds a nice environmental and human touch to the tale. By coincidence, the play echoes the theme of human interconnectedness central to David Yee's Carried Away On The Crest Of A Wave.
Wilkie, who impressed us in Theatre Columbus's The Story at Christmastime, stands out in a production that features a magical design by Camellia Koo (a beach-style set and clever costumes), Jason Hand (lighting) and Lyon Smith (sound), with the flying a special treat.
The complex, sometimes troubling relationship between parents and children underlies a pair of shows opening this week.
Daniel Karasik, author of Haunted, The Innocents and several other plays and the winner of last year's CBC Literary Award grand prize, launches his newest work, The Biographer. In the play, a father searches for his lost daughter in the wreckage of an abandoned seaside carnival. Presented by Tango Co., it deals with the stories we recount about our own lives.
The production, directed by Alan Dilworth, features Stewart Arnott, Miriam Fernandes and Earl Pastko. It begins performances tonight (Thursday, May 2) at Videofag. See listing.
Across town, Actors Repertory Company presents the North Amerian premiere of British writer Mick Gordon's Bea. Its title figure (played by Bahareh Yaraghi) is a young woman who's been bedridden for years. Her protective mother (Deborah Drakeford), unable to give her the constant care she requires, hires the gay and talkative Ray (Brendan McMurtry-Howlett) to help, which changes the nature of the mother-daughter relationship.
The production, directed by Aleksandar Lukac, has its first performance Tuesday (May 7) at the Factory Studio. See listing.
Two established indie performers, Cathy Gordon and Chad Dembski, return to the stage with a double bill of intimate pieces sure to draw audiences into the artists' private worlds.
In HAMMER, Gordon uses bits of her earlier works to look at how our experiences live on in our bodies for years. Dembski's ok/ok/ok plays with live music, stand-up, manifesto and confession to create, using seemingly random elements, a story of the past and future.
The shows, presented by hub 14 and surprise performance, run Friday and Sunday (May 3 and 5). See listing.
For the past several years, the graduating class of Humber College's theatre performance and production department has come downtown to present an original work.
The current show, devised and performed by Third Panel, is Shadowplay: The Peter Pan Variations, which combines movement, song, shadow puppetry and a tickle trunk to look at whether growing up is something we might choose not to do.
It draws, of course, on the J.M. Barrie classic, but also on the lives of the Home Children of the 19th century, a migration scheme that involved sending poor or orphaned children from Great Britain to the colonies.
It runs through Saturday (May 4) at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. See listing.3