Seizing front-page news, The Wrecking Ball invites playwrights to address today's top issues in theatrical form. The results, understandably, are as much about politics as they are about drama (or comedy).
The 14th edition of the Wrecking Ball, founded by director Ross Manson and playwright Jason Sherman a decade ago, tackles one of Canada's most important contemporary events, the Idle No More movement.
Writers Waawaate Fobister, Falen Johnson, Andrew Moodie, Yvette Nolan and Jordan Tannahill have a week to create their plays; directors and actors then spend a further seven days rehearsing the scripts.
The result is sure to be rough-and-ready theatre, thoughtful and filled with questions about how to change a country that ranks 6th in terms of development globally yet 66th in terms of the development of its indigenous people.
Hosted by Andre Morriseau, the evening includes a hoop dance performance by Arik Pipestem and music by Cathy Elliot.
The pwyc event on Sunday (January 27) is sure to be standing room only, so don't be late. Aki Studio Theatre, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas East.
Daughter does well
The historic and emotional truths in Kenneth T. Williams's Café Daughter are sometimes overwhelming in the way they portray society's attempts to crush the human spirit.
Yvette, its central character, is the child of a Chinese father and Cree mother, raised in 50s small-town Saskatchewan. Her desire to be a doctor is initially dismissed by a school system that puts her, because of her Chinese heritage (she's been told by her mother never even to mention her native roots) in a slow learners' class.
A perceptive new principal guides her to a regular class and, later, a high school math and science teacher propels her toward a university scholarship. Or at least he does until he discovers that she's aboriginal. Still, Yvette succeeds in pursuing her passion after finding her own voice and accepting both sides of her heritage.
The Gwaandak Theatre production, presented by Native Earth Performing Arts as part of a national tour, features PJ Prudat in a dozen roles under Yvette Nolan's astute direction. Prudat is still growing into some of the male characters, but the arc she gives the main figure, whom we see at different points in her life, is finely and warmly drawn.
Wisely, Prudat defines Williams's characters both verbally and physically. The best moments involve Yvette and the fashion-conscious Maggie, a bold Metis teen who shows her there's life at school beyond textbooks. Scenes involving Yvette, her widowed father and her Cree aunt also touch the heart.
The show closed Sunday (January 20). Too bad the run was so short.
We couldn't miss an opportunity to watch Gavin Crawford try out new material, so of course we went to one of his two weekend sets at the Flying Beaver Pubaret.
The This Hour Has 22 Minutes alum began by sending up Stephen Harper's recent atrocities via a famous number from The Producers renamed Springtime For Harper. There's some savage and smart material there, but it needed tweaking.
So did his lengthy monologue by Silvain, a French-Canadian flight attendant who did impressions in awkwardly imperfect English.
The comic did much better with his dead-on take on Vinyl Cafe's Stuart MacLean, capturing his nasal, folksy musings hilariously juxtaposed with some softcore porn material.
He then hit his stride taking on Hugh Jackman in a series of songs and stories that played up the actor's heterosexuality, over-emoting and inability to properly sing the songs from Les Misérables.
A series of quick takes on the characters from Downton Abbey scored big laughs, although he couldn't quite fit the lyrics into the melody of Petula Clark's song Downtown.
And a salacious sequence about Scotty Bowers's recent book about the sexual secrets of old Hollywood paid off in the night's outstanding number, which imagined Cole Porter's experiences on the gay hookup app Grindr (via his novelty song Delovely).
Crawford mentioned afterwards that he might mount a full show during Pride. Book your tickets now.
Lola eats again
One of the hits of Next Stage 2011 was Sulong Theatre's Eating With Lola, written and performed by Catherine Hernandez and directed by Ann Powell.
Since then, the show toured to South America and through the United States before returning to Toronto for a repeat run in partnership with Brave New Girls Retreats, The People Project and Glad Day Bookshop.
The family-oriented, puppet-based work features Hernandez as Grace, who must spoon-feed her feeble, bedridden Filipina Lola (grandmother). Initially she resents her job and yet worries that she can't live up to Lola's expectations.
Learning her grandmother's history, though, gives Grace a sense of her family and the trials that Lola had to undergo during the Second World War and later.
The current run raises funds for Brave New Girls Retreats, which sponsors retreats for diverse queer femmes of colour from across North America. Hosted by Kim Katrin Crosby, the retreats provide a safe place to share skills, discuss issues, meditate and heal.
WORKplay tests the waters
Do you like having a hand in shaping new theatre works?
WORKhouse Theatre returns on Friday (January 25) with its fourth evening of original scripts, providing authors with a chance to see how their works play in front of an audience and also inviting audience feedback.
Participants include Jason Maghanoy and Peter Genoway, the latter presenting an excerpt from The Oak Room, winner of the 2013 Toronto Fringe new play contest. Also on the bill are new works by Newborn Theatre and Litmus Theatre. Can't wait for the latter piece, a version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, by the exciting troupe that wowed us with the garage-staged Matchbox Macbeth a few years ago.
Entrance is by donation, with refreshments available. Fringe Creation Lab, 720 Bathurst.