Grist for The Mill
We spent four days last week at one of the most ambitious Toronto theatre workshops in years: a reading of The Mill, to be produced in 2009-?2010 by Theatrefront in association with the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
It's not one script but rather four - by Matthew MacFadzean, Hannah Moscovitch, Tara Beagan and Damien Atkins - set in and thematically focused on the mill of the title, built in a rural Ontario town and the home of troubled spirits not easily laid to rest.
The four plays cover a lot of time, from a 1600s segment in which native people and Europeans meet to the near-?future finale in which most of the world has been burned.
The order of the plays, though, isn't chronological; we move back and forth in time over the four evenings. No matter, for each script also works individually (but there's an added resonance if you've seen one or more of the previous presentations).
The mill itself is haunted, a symbol of the troubles that follow the characters throughout the centuries because of dark deeds hidden in the past. Thus there's a spooky quality to every play, though each owes a debt to a different genre.
MacFadzean's script has some of the feel of a gory 90s slasher film, while Moscovitch draws on the suggestiveness of a Victorian ghost story. Beagan's piece has the quality of a revenge tragedy, including a touch of Titus Andronicus, and Atkins's, both a conclusion to the story and a new beginning, is a post-?apocalyptic tale fused with something of Peter Pan's Lost Boys.
The shows - one's helmed by Theatrefront artistic director Daryl Cloran and the others by Christian Barry, Sarah Stanley and Jennifer Tarver - premiere next fall and continue throughout the year at the Young Centre, first individually and then in rep.
And given what we saw at the readings, this Mill will grind out good theatre. Plan to see it next season.
Improv troupe Slap Happy marked their 10th anniversary by reuniting for two Saturdays at the Bad Dog Theatre. We caught the final one last weekend. Of course the talented quartet - Kerry Griffin, Sandy Jobin-?Bevans, Dave Pearce and Tabetha Wells - provided some of the funniest comedy of the year. Like pro tennis players, they can lob back anything tossed at them, and even return a smash. Unlike sketch troupes rehashing old material, improv performers keep everything fresh.
What's revealing is how much they've improved as actors. Wells and Pearce especially aren't afraid to take on an accent or a physical tic to establish character. I'll never forget Pearce's Rita MacNeil as a French lesbian.
Jobin-?Bevans, meanwhile, broke out into song whenever he could, raising the bar for the others. May you guys reunite often, and not after another 10 years.
The award-?winning Morgan's Journey, one of this country's most successful shows for young audiences and the longest touring play in Canadian history, is on the road again.
Performed by Robert Morgan - founding artistic director of the Children's Peace Theatre and co-?founder of Roseneath Theatre - the show is the launch production for Sparrow in the Room Collective, comprised of artistic co-?directors Morgan and Edith Tankus along with producer Anahita Azrahimi.
Morgan's toured North America and several European cities with the production, and now he's taking it to Iran, Thailand, Nepal and Pakistan.
The tour marks the launch of the collective's First Flight Project, which seeks to reflect the complexity of human experience and establish a worldwide culture of peace through the arts. The presentation of Morgan's Journey is paired with workshops intended to "promote Canadian values of peace-?building, conflict evolution and intercultural harmony."