After four years of staging the Bard's comedies, this summer Humber River Shakespeare tackles its first tragedy, Macbeth.
The company captures much of the intense drama and many of the chills in this classic tale of ambition, murder and guilt.
It finished its month-long tour of parks and other venues around the GTA on Sunday (August 5).
Director Kevin Hammond's troupe of seven actors took on over 25 roles, clearly delineating their various parts and presenting the text in a way that made it clear to viewers who had little background listening to Shakespeare's language.
Hammond created a frame for the narrative, expanding the trio of witches (Kanika Ambrose, Shannon Currie and Sara Moyle) into a group of spell-casting women who gather a crowd of soldiers around them, cause the men to fight and kill each other and then draw the characters of Shakespeare's play from their ghosts. It makes an appropriately grisly beginning to this tale of bloody slaughter.
The director also has a clever take on the banquet scene in which Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost. The scene here ends the first act, with the ghost visible to the audience but to no other character except the man who ordered his death. After intermission the scene is repeated, but this time without a visible Banquo; we thus recognize the dark fantasies that fill Macbeth's head.
You can't stage a successful production of the show without a good title character. Eli Ham has the right combination of charisma, emotional power and physical strength for the role. He moves from the uncertain betrayer of his king, Duncan (Steve Coombes), and country to a man mad with ambition, increasingly aware of the horrors he has committed and able to face more, even in a showdown with the avenging Macduff (Neil Silcox).
Ham delivers his difficult monologues intelligently, letting us watch Macbeth descend into his own personal hell while he creates a parallel chaos in Scotland. The actor's initial sense of innocence and trepidation makes what comes later even stronger; there's a touch of desperation as he puts into effect his darkest plans.
He also has potent chemistry with Lady Macbeth (Currie), and the sensuality of their scenes together helps drive the action. Ironically, Currie is more successful in the public scenes in which she calms her husband than in their private scenes, where she goads him to trickery and murder.
The other memorable work comes from David Sklar, whose Banquo - like Macbeth given a prophecy of future glory by the witches - is simple, believable and a character with whom the audience can connect. Moyle, with her resonant voice, also offers a number of sharp cameos, including a turn as Malcolm, legitimate heir to the Scottish throne.
The Toronto Fringe festival wrapped up recently, but the much bigger Edmonton Fringe happens in a few weeks. We got a preview of Darryl Pring's Edmonton Fringe-bound show OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Darryl last weekend at the Comedy Bar. While the show was a little rough around the edges, it's got a lot of potential.
Pring, a veteran comedy performer and producer, begins very casually by asking whether people think he's crazy, and then in a Power Point presentation shows that our perceptions are based on context. For instance: see a picture of a woman with a dog and think: Aww. But pull back and see the woman with half a dozen dogs? Different story.
Then he launches into his own history with mental illness, which included being diagnosed with something called "acute anxiety disorder with thought depravation" (which didn't explain much to him). He insists he had to read a nightly prayer a certain way or the next day would be ruined, and he tried to avoid certain words or concepts that might trigger panic attacks.
Interspersed with all this is the recounting of his non-traditional family - his parents switched partners with another couple - and his early experiences with drinking, drugs and dating.
There's a lot of fascinating material here, especially involving an episode (nicely hinted at early on) that forces him to check into CAMH, which results in a life-changing discovery.
But Pring needs to shape the writing more artfully. And examining why he went into comedy in the first place and created a likeable, bearlike persona called Bubba Love in his daily life might provide a way to structure it.
And though it appears early on in a video segment, a story about Pring peeing on a cop car (talk about drama!) isn't developed. A callback to that could pay off.
The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival runs August 16 to 26. fringetheatre.ca
Native culture now
The largest international contemporary indigenous cultural festival, Planet IndigenUS, opens tomorrow (Friday, August 10) and runs to August 19 at Harbourfront Centre.
The multidisciplinary fest, produced by Harbourfront Centre and Woodland Cultural Centre, features music, food, film and visual arts as well as theatre and dance.
Among the Canadian dance events are Lara Kramer's Fragments, Dancers of Damelahamid's Spirit Transforming and the Canadian-Japanese co-pro Susuriwka - Willow Bridge, presented by Kaha:wi Dance Theatre and Yokohama Noh Theatre.
Also on the bill are Trade Winds, presented by returning Australian troupe Polytoxic, and a presentation at the closing ceremony by Taiwan's Tjimur Dance Theatre.
The trio of theatre works includes I, George Nepia, written by Maori playwright Hone Kouka and presented by Tawata Productions; it's the story of a native man who becomes a rugby superstar. Also look for two Canadian shows, Cheri Maracle's Paddle Song, about native poet and performer Pauline Johnson, and Falen Johnson's Salt Baby, dealing with what it's like being born First Nations but not looking "Indian."