The first and last months of 2007 were some of the busiest we've had in years. But the quality was frequently high, too, and choosing a list of 10 shows was hard – we could easily have picked twice that number and still left out lots. Keep in mind that our number-one show, Scorched, returns to the Tarragon next fall.
(Tarragon/National Arts Centre, February 20-March 31)
A brother and sister seek the father and brother they never knew in Wajdi Mouawad's epic, time-twisting tale of family, displacement and the ironies of fate. Richard Rose's production shone with humanity and theatricality, and a stellar cast – including Janick Hébert, Kelli Fox and Nicola Lipman, playing the same woman at different points in her life – explored the depth and breadth of this extraordinary, poetic odyssey of discovery.
2 THE FOUR HORSEMEN PROJECT
(Volcano, February 15-March 4)
Theatre, dance or performance art? All of the above and then some. Kate Alton and Ross Manson transformed the Factory Theatre stage into a retro 3-D multimedia funhouse with video, text and movement, all in homage to the innovative 1970s sound poetry group. Jennifer Dahl, Naoko Murakoshi, Graham McKelvie and Andrea Nann moved, grooved and – for lack of a better word – vocalized, proving that great theatre can tickle the senses without explaining all its meanings.
3 MABOU MINES DOLLHOUSE
(Mabou Mines/New World Stage, January 24-February 4)
New York's inventive Mabou Mines deconstructed and then rebuilt Henrik Ibsen's classic, moving from shticky burlesque to heart-searing drama as the fragile Nora soared away from her possessive husband. Pairing statuesque women with men at least a foot shorter, director Lee Breuer gave a 180-degree flip to the play's traditional interpretation. Maude Mitchell's Nora, moving from squeaky-voiced, docile wife to resplendent, clear-eyed Valkyrie, offered the year's bravest performance.
Photo By Kathryn Gaitens
The Gladstone Variations provided suite stories at the Fringe
4 THE GLADSTONE VARIATIONS
(Convergence/Fringe, July 4-15)
You never knew the excitement you'd discover when you checked into this sold-out Fringe show – actually four different but intersecting scripts by Brendan Gall, Mike McPhaden, Rick Roberts and Julie Tepperman – which walked its audience through rooms in the historic Gladstone Hotel. Stairwells, bedrooms and even a tiny washroom offered surprise after surprise, with a first-rate cast ushering us into connected worlds of dreams, memories and lost loves.
(Nightwood, April 26-May 19)
Sarah Kane's moody, poetic series of speeches came to mesmerizing life in the hands of director Jennifer Tarver and a cast (Carlos González-Vio, Hardee T. Lineham, Michelle Monteith and Maria Ricossa) that gave an emotional wallop to a text that on the page has little narrative coherence. Without supplying a hard-and-fast story, the production used the writer's shards of imagery and memory to create a poignant, musically counterpointed tale that haunted viewers long after the house lights came up.
6 APRIL 14, 1912
(Theatre Rusticle/Harbourfront, September 21-29)
The sinking of the Titanic has inspired lots of large-scale works, but seldom has there been anything as elegant and imaginative as this movement-based piece from the superb Theatre Rusticle. Director Allyson McMackon kept the show, based on the lives of two Marconi officers (Patrick Conner, Matthew Romantini), afloat, making us believe Lucy Rupert as the grand boat itself and using the simplest of design elements to suggest deep themes like memory, hubris and courage.
7 LEAVING HOME
(Soulpepper, April 30-June 16)
Director Ted Dykstra and his actors reminded us of the brilliance of early David French in this rarely revived but seminal Canadian script. Though it could define kitchen-sink theatre, this 50s story of the Mercer family resonated with powerful emotions and the timeless tension between fathers and sons. Kenneth Welsh and Diane D'Aquila were perfectly cast as the passion-tied father and peacemaking mother, but Jane Spidell nearly stole the show as a salacious in-law-to-be.
8 LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK
(Canadian Opera Company, January 31-February 23)
If you thought opera was all about twittering canaries and silly melodrama, the COC's riveting production of Shostakovich's seldom performed work proved you wrong. This was
music theatre at its most savage and visceral, with Richard Bradshaw, in a too short career (he died in the summer) conducting with ferocious
energy. He'll be sadly missed.
(Factory/Luminato, June 1-10)
In the hands of directors Ken Gass and Nina Lee Aquino, the revival of George F. Walker's play about a trio of troubled teens – a couple who've broken up and the woman's best girlfriend – was both refreshing and spirited, not only because of the script's smart dialogue and tense undercurrents. The multi-ethnic cast of 12 morphed into a series of different characters, peppering the production with spicy energy. And what a chance to catch exciting young actors worth keeping an eye on, including Richie Guzman, Bethany Jillard, Stephanie Jung, Andrea Kwan and Tiffany Martin.
10 HOW IT WORKS
(Tarragon, November 6-December 16)
After leaving behind his boundary-pushing company, da da kamera, writer/director Daniel MacIvor ventured into more traditional theatrical territory with this moving yet funny play about a divorced Halifax couple (Tom Barnett and Fiona Highet) and their teenage daughter's drug problem. MacIvor layered movie-of-the-week material with lots of complexity about the power of storytelling, and the strong cast (which also included Bethany Jillard's authentic teen and Caroline Gillis's tough but empathetic friend) added texture to their rich roles. 3
The Sheep And The Whale; …and stockings for the ladies; Famous Puppet Death Scenes; Antigone: Insurgency; Bash'd; Conservatives In Love
Half Life; Monster; The Overcoat; The Danish Play; Léo; Nor The Cavaliers Who Come With Us; Revisited; A Whistle In The Dark; Danny, King Of The Basement; Kafka And Son; The Snow Queen
DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE Except for the words “The” and “On,” this title proved false advertising. Not that the thousands of women hoping to relive their teen years by ogling sleek bods minded.
STARSTRUCK STRATFORD Big names proved a bust at Stratford, as director/performer Brian Bedford offered a King Lear who was hardly kingly, and the hoopla over Graham Greene as Shylock was way off the mark. He never engaged us emotionally.