Rhubarb!'s new roots
Buddies in Bad Times' fest of cutting-edge new works has nurtured lots of hit plays and artists. The 27th edition kicks off this week with everything from clown to a naughty gay opera. Here are some highlights. By JON KAPLAN
RHUBARB ! A festival of new works. Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Opens Wednesday (February 2) and runs to February 20, with weekly program changes, Wednesday-Sunday 8 pm (some productions begin earlier). $15, week pass $20, festival pass $40, late-night events $5. 416-975-8555, www.buddiesinbadtimestheatre.com. Rating: NNNNN
Yvette Nolan knows what it's like to deal with a coffin onstage. After all, she made her professional debut, in Joe Orton's Loot, as the body in a pine box.
So she understands that the coffin in Freeman's Wake becomes "a catalyst, a lightning rod" for the work's three characters, siblings who have come together to send off a brother.
The inspiration for the piece came from a news story about a native man who broke out of jail to attend a relative's funeral.
"How did we get to this point?" wonders Nolan, who's directing as well as writing. "Death has a certain import for the aboriginal community. People die early, and sometimes violently.
"But the piece has to be a comedy, because what I'm struggling with is so dire. There's no life for Frank, the central character, on the reserve. But at the same time, he can't fit into the city world and ends up in jail. There's no place he can call home."
Toronto audiences know Nolan's work for Native Earth most recently as director (The Unnecessary And Accidental Women), but she's been writing for years. In 2001 the company staged her play Annie Mae's Movement.
"I have three endings for the show - hopeful, not so hopeful and apocalyptic - and I'm not sure which one to use. Rehearsing with the actors and the mood I'm in will help me make a choice for this workshop version."
And why is Nolan developing the piece in Rhubarb! rather than in Weesageechak Begins To Dance, Native Earth's own creation festival?
"Running Native Earth isn't about doing my own work. Rhubarb! also offers a supportive atmosphere for trying out new things and beginning scripts.
"I love the way Toronto's small companies like Buddies, Native Earth and Nightwood work together. A script can move around in their festivals, proving that when a work requires more developmental resources than any one theatre has, you can use a village to bring something to life.
"It's also nice to be a brown play in a festival that's not about being brown."
FREEMAN'S WAKE written and directed by Yvette Nolan, with Lorne Cardinal, Michaela Washburn and Cliff Cardinal. February 16-20 at 8:30 pm.