Jani Lauzon and an impressive cast take part in Scenes From The Canon.
We're aware of Toronto's multiculturalism on every streetcar, but that mix is rarely represented onstage. Then along comes someone like Ken Gass to show us what our theatre productions could be like if casting in local companies were as representative as our population.
Presented by Canadian Rep Theatre in association with the University College Drama Program and Factory Theatre (Gass's home base), Scenes From the Canon (Part I) offers a free afternoon of readings and performances from classic Canadian plays.
It's exciting enough seeing a bill that includes excerpts from David Freeman's Creeps, Judith Thompson's I Am Yours and Lion In The Streets, Leah Cherniak, Robert Morgan and Martha Ross's The Anger In Ernest And Ernestine, Andrew Moodie's A Common Man's Guide To Loving Women, Michel Tremblay's Hosanna and George F. Walker's Problem Child.
But then add a cast made up of a cultural rainbow of 19 actors, among them Salvatore Antonio, Sean Baek, Oliver Becker, Ins Choi, Caroline Gillis, Kevin Hanchard, Jani Lauzon, Tiffany Martin, Billy Merasty, Pamela Sinha, Karen Robinson, Sanjay Talwar and Jean Yoon.
And the representation of directors is just as diverse: Cherniak, Andre du Toit, Gass, Soheil Parsa and Nigel Shawn Williams.
In last week's issue we named the Comedy Bar Toronto's best "alternative comedy club." You can see for yourself this weekend, when the venue, finished with its many renovations, officially launches. As a bonus, every show Friday through Sunday is free.
Run by artistic director Gary Rideout Jr., the Bloor West club kicks off tomorrow (Friday, November 7) with an All-Time Best Of The Sketchersons show; on Saturday, there's a Comedy Bar sampler show; and on Sunday the new Sunday Night Live cast debuts.
Besides the weekly Sunday night Sketchersons show, resident acts include Catch 23 improv and ProjectProject. Look for the venue to be used in this month's Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival and the summer's Toronto International Improv Festival.
Besides a bar and free WiFi, the venue serves up a vegan-friendly menu of non-deep-fried snacks.
Seeding Banana Boys
You may have caught fu-GEN Theatre's premiere production, Banana Boys, in one of its two Toronto productions.
But if you didn't see the work presented by this Asian-Canadian theatre troupe - or even if you have - there's a chance to see it in a new version.
Adapted by Leon Aureus from the Terry Woo novel, the non-linear piece looks at five tightly bonded young Chinese-Canadian guys who have to deal with issues of identity and race.
Nina Lee Aquino again directs, but the cast is a new generation of Asian Canadian actors: Byron Abalos, Karl Ang, Darrel Gamotin, Christian Feliciano and Jeff Yung. The five actors auctioned off their various talents - and showed off their ad lib skills - last week as part of fu-GEN's annual fundraising dinner.
This seems to be the year that Greek myths take over Toronto stages. One of the best shows at SummerWorks was Erin Shields's If We Were Birds, based on the tale of Tereus, Procne and Philomela. Now Ryerson's graduating class tackles two plays that draw on that same story as well as a variety of other tales of gods and mortals.
Running in rep through the middle of November are Joanna Laurens's The Three Birds and Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, the first based on the same narrative used by Shields, that of the rape of Philomela by Tereus, her sister Procne's husband, and the terrible revenge the siblings exact on him.
In Shields's play, the chorus was a group of black-garbed women, war chattel, who resembled crows. Director Ruth Madoc-Jones first turns the chorus of two in Laurens's script into nurses in white, presiding over a gauze-drapery hospital set; the atmospheric visuals emphasize the characters' sense of sickness, either from love or violence. Later, when revenge is in the air, they and the other female characters turn red with anger.
The play's language is one of its most intriguing elements, with internal rhymes and playfully inverted syntax making the audience listen with special attention. As sisters Philomela and Procne, Ellen Hurley and especially Meghan McNicol stand out for the strong sense of their relationship and the emotional subtleties in their characterizations.
At the play's end, all three central figures are changed into birds. That shift echoes the theme of Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, based on Ovid's poems about the transformation of humans into animals, plants or natural elements.
Managing to be both poetic and contemporary in tone, the script offers such well-known characters as Midas, Eros, Orpheus and Eurydice as well as less familiar figures: the loving couple Alcyone and Ceyx, turned into seabirds when both die, or Myrrha, forced by a slighted Aphrodite to lust after her father, Cinyras, before becoming a myrrh tree.
Some of the myths get surprising treatment, like the dual versions of the Orpheus tale. But at times the writing is needlessly cutesy in its attempt to update the material, as in the story of Phaeton, set in a therapist's office.
Director Jordan Pettle's production has the feel of story theatre, and some actors stay on the narrative surface and don't plumb their characters' emotions. Others, like Anika Johnson and Claudia Yiu, are simple and honest in presenting the feelings of the mythic figures they portray.