THE COOKING FIRE THEATRE FESTIVAL Dufferin Grove Park (Dufferin south of Bloor). Runs through Sunday (June 24) at 7 pm, dinner 6 pm. Pwyc ($10 suggested); dinner extra. 416-538-6084. www.cookingfire.ca. Rating: NNNNN
No need to bring kindling -- or food, for that matter - to the Cooking Fire Theatre Festival at Dufferin Grove Park.
There'll be plenty of provocative drama as well as some fine food prepared in the park's two wood-fired community ovens.
The fourth annual festival serves up a quintet of theatrical courses, with shows for the family and, later in the evening, for older audiences.
That sharing of a meal and an evening of theatre is a potent experience, one that bonds people on several levels.
Past years have had a marvellous grassroots flavour, with site-specific performances that take the audience from one part of the park to another. One of the exciting elements of this year's fest, says artistic director Kate Cayley , is that all but one of the pieces have been created specifically for the festival.
"That's something we're proud of, that the works are intended to be played outdoors. Except for the final piece, all the shows were made and rehearsed here in Dufferin Grove Park."
The venue has always been integrated into the theatrical presentations, and in fact the festival itself grew in part out of the fact that several of its founders including members of Stranger Theatre , which Cayley heads have been staff or visiting artists in Dufferin Grove.
"The festival grew organically out of Stranger Theatre, which began as a feminist theatre collective and has since made connections with other troupes creating in a similar fashion," recalls Cayley.
The park's use of the communal bake ovens fits in nicely with Cayley's idea of offering a meal to audiences who aren't necessarily regular theatre-goers.
Each evening begins with a community supper and continues into the performances themselves, with a dessert course between the kid-friendly shows and the more adult-oriented ones.
In the first piece, Golgi Apparatus 's Bigfoot , three explorers search for the legendary giant amidst the park's trees. Created by members of Stranger Theatre, Halifax's Zuppa Circus Theatre and France's Compagnie Houppz , the show is broad and physical, with lots of clown work.
Next up is solo piece Lear's Shadow , presented by Halifax's Spee Society , created by Kiersten Tough in collaboration with the wonderful John Turner of Mump and Smoot.
"It's King Lear in 15 minutes, as seen through the eyes of Cordelia and the Fool, who may originally have been played by the same performer," notes Cayley.
Then there's The Morbid Stranger , by Toronto troupe Les Trouvéres , a melodrama involving a selfless heroine, an evil uncle, smelling salts and a shipwreck.
Things stay in the storybook world with Independent Auntie 's Robber's Daughters , inspired by a children's book in which the son and daughter of rival gang chieftains become friendly.
Here, though, it's two daughters who bond. Playwrights Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry (Clean Irene And Dirty Maxine) have also woven in something of the history of Dufferin Grove.
Last up is How To Tie A Knot , by the American company Rain Machine . Rebecca Tennison and Kate Sheehy 's puppet-based piece relies on large-scale images that hide surprises beneath the surface.
The success of the festival has given Cayley some ideas about a complementary indoor spring event that would involve some of the same companies that have performed outside.
"We're putting out feelers now," she says, "and want to find a space where we can do a series of weekend shows with food as part of the evening.
"Ideally, we'd involve one Toronto company and one from outside the city, maybe even outside the country. It'd be a chance to develop works that can have life after the festival.
"My dream," Cayley offers with a smile, "is to have the indoor and outdoor shows be the flip sides of each other."