It's rare to see the production of a play we've never heard of, so we didn't know what to expect from George Brown Theatre's A Fond Husband (Or The Plotting Sisters), a 1676 play by English writer Thomas D'Urfey.
Better known for his songs, D'Urfey was also a playwright during the Restoration, a historic period of newfound license, in morals and other areas.
A Fond Husband, a tale of libertines, cuckoldry, amorous plots and counterplots, is a fast-paced work with over a dozen characters trying to bed or fool one another.
Under the guidance of Shaw Festival actor and director Blair Williams, the production is a treat: funny, well acted and filled with surprises as to who's going to best whom.
Its central characters are Bubble (Matthew Pilipiak) and his wife, Emilia (Kelly Defilla). She's sexually pursued by and encourages Rashley (Ryan Bommarito), right under the nose of her husband; the gullible Bubble even invites Rashley to live with them. At the time, "fond" didn't mean "affectionate" but rather "foolish," and Bubble is certainly that, pooh-poohing every piece of evidence of his wife's affair.
Pilipiak is a wonderful figure of fun, his verbal and intentionally large physical comedy a treat, and Defilla uses big-eyed, innocent expressions to keep him in the dark. Some of her best scenes are period bitch fests with Bubble's sister, Maria (Merritt Crews), the comedy aided by the difference in their heights and the gunshot sounds of fans flicking open and closed. On the surface a censorious upholder of morality, Maria in reality lusts after Rashley herself and plots with another of Emilia's admirers, Ranger (Graeme Black Robinson).
This is the kind of play in which the person with the sharpest wit usually wins the day; it's filled with clever and entertaining putdowns, which the young cast put across with confidence as they draw fully realized characters. There's memorable work, too, by Alexander Offord as the old, deaf, licentious Fumble (actors his age rarely capture such a convincing portrait of old age), Scott Farley as Sneak, a dull-witted, reluctant wooer, and, in a bright cameo, Gabriella Colavecchio as Mrs. Snare, whom Sneak's gotten pregnant.
David Wootton's costumes are as bright as the performances in this rarely seen work filled with sex, vengeance and laughs.
Soheil Parsa, artistic director of Modern Times Stage Company, is a recipient of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal, marking the end of Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee year.
The award is given to Canadians from all sectors of society for their contributions to and achievements in their community.
Born in Iran, Parsa studied theatre and worked as an actor and director. He came to Canada with his family in 1984, studied at York University and then founded Modern Times, one of Toronto's early culturally diverse companies. The troupe's shows have garnered Dora and other awards - its most recent presentation was a fine version of The Lesson - and Parsa has twice been shortlisted for the Siminovitch Prize.
Music in the air
You don't see many shows aimed at very young audiences, but Linda A. Carson and Cathy Nosaty's Here To Hear really turns on kids four to eight.
The Carousel Players production, directed by Pablo Felices Luna and currently running at Young People's Theatre, is a charmer, both entertaining and a lesson on cooperating, understanding other points of view and working together.
Its two characters are father and daughter, Len and Amanda, who make music in different ways. Len (Steven Gallagher) is an opera singer, while his daughter (Amy Lee), who also manages his touring show, is into found sounds and manipulating what she discovers.
The pair are at odds - he doesn't consider what she creates real music - but she wins him over to her point of view when they collaborate on a piece at the show's end. They're brought closer together by Sparky, a bouncing ball of sound and light that's one of the delights for the children; it moves all around the theatre as the characters try to capture it.
Gallagher's the prim, self-impressed professional, a comical worrier, and Lee's the free-spirited, energetic experimenter. Truth is, the audience is more drawn to her drumbeats, vocals and sound loops.
It doesn't hurt that before the lights go down, Lee goes out into the house to record individual and group sounds that she plays back during the performance, so each show is made to order.
Perfect for a Family Day outing on Monday (February 17).
There's a different kind of music on tap in The Tapestry Songbook, an evening of songs drawn from Tapestry's 33 years of new opera productions.
The concert features soprano Carla Huhtanen and up-and-coming singers from Tapestry's New Opera 101 program, accompanied by Christopher Foley. Huhtanen's always worth seeing and hearing; she's expert as a musician as well as an actor, a frequent performer in both contemporary and classical pieces.
Debuting company Safeword aims to stir up controversy and conversation, hoping to do it with the premiere of writer/director Brandon Crone's Turtleneck.
At its centre is Vicki (Kiran Friesen), a recovering sex addict being helped by Darcy (Leah Holder), who works for a recovery organization. Darcy hopes to fix Vicki up with her friend Louis (Jakob Ehman) and keep her away from Brian (Alex Dault), Darcy's brother, who has his own unsatisfied sexual fixations.
Then an old acquaintance of Vicki's, pornographer Roy (John Fray), enters the scene to confuse everyone's plans and desires even further.
Crone stages the piece in intimate Hub 14, the audience close to the action, with Claire Hill's clever shower-curtain backdrops moving us from one location to another. The director also makes good use of the theatre's doors and the space just outside them.
The piece is slow to involve us, and only really gets going when Roy shows up. Siblings Brian and Darcy and their relationship aren't as central to the action as they might be.
Friesen is fine as the recovering Vicki, emotionally true and focused in every scene. Fray, whose Roy is potentially the most dislikable character, sometimes turns on the charm in a winning way; he can then get scary, controlling and nasty, someone dangerous to cross.
Crone's written some good material, including a monologue for the shy Louis, well delivered by Ehman, about singer Adele's weight. Roy's memories of Vicki also stand out.
But is the play shocking and likely to start discussions about sex addiction and pornography? The audience seemed to be more entertained and inclined to laugh than to be upset or moved to think about the issues.