Shakespeare's most famous play is about to be Angel'd.
Necessary Angel is staging a four-performance workshop of Hamlet, but the production won't be a traditional one. Instead, director and designer Graham McLaren from Scotland's Theatre Babel helms a version of the text that promises "a unique, immediate and violent 100-minute experience seething with amorality."
The cast is a strong one, with Gord Rand in the lead role, Tara Nicodemo as Ophelia and Laura de Carteret as Gertrude. By coincidence, two of the other actors are themselves past Hamlets: Tom McCamus starred in an adaptation by Theatre Plus Toronto and Stephen Ouimette played the role at Stratford. This time around, McCamus is Claudius and Ouimette takes on Polonius.
The company will mount a full production in the future, but here's a chance to catch what should be a fascinating look into the creative process.
Leading with his Lefty
Running as a late-night weekend show after Column 13's Unconditional (see review), Clifford Odets's one-act Waiting For Lefty is an historical curio, an example of 30s American agitprop theatre by the writer later praised for such works as Awake And Sing and Golden Boy.
The audience becomes union members along with the characters at a meeting of taxi drivers deciding whether or not to strike during desperate economic times. (Sound familiar?) We all await the arrival of union organizer Lefty to decide on strike action.
As background to the vote, we're shown a series of scenes in which common men and women bear the brunt of financial and social suffering while big-business fat cats and gangsters rake in the dough.
Director Jesse Ryder Hughes's production cleverly starts before the audience enters the theatre; we're leafleted with arguments pro and con the strike and greeted at the door by a union wrangler carrying a Tommy gun. Though the energetic cast get into their roles, they're often talking heads, offering a viewpoint but not a fully developed character, a fault partly of the writing.
Still, several performers give the working people an emotional life, notably Brandon Thomas and Megan Murphy as a husband and wife, she fed up with poverty and he a cabby agonizing over whether or not to stand up to corrupt union organizers, represented by Fatt (Luis Fernandes). David Lafontaine has an impassioned, eloquent scene as Sid, who realizes that marriage in these strained times would be a lead weight for him and fiancée Florrie (Melissa Foster).
One of the tests of a good play is being able to see it several times and discover new layers at each viewing.
That's the case with Leon Aureus's Banana Boys, revived by fu-GEN Theatre and Hart House last week for a short run.
What was exciting about the production, again imaginatively directed by Nina Lee Aquino, was catching a new cast in the roles memorably created by an earlier group of actors.
This time around, the play's comedy had a different strength, in part because of the actors' chemistry. It helped that the audience clearly identified with the young guys' relationship problems.
The actors created five strong figures, with Jeff Yung's cocky, fantasy-dwelling Rick a standout; he drew a fine line between Rick's slick exterior and the desperation beneath it. Darrel Gamotin as Shel, able to connect more frequently with his cellphone than with his girlfriend, mined the character's humorous pathos.
Byron Abalos made Luke a likeable, insecure loser, while Karl Ang turned Dave's perceived racist attacks into problems that were often of his own making. Christian Feliciano's Mike, pushed by his family into a medical career, discovers not only that he's Rick's lifeline, but that Rick has been his, allowing Mike to become the writer he's always dreamed of being.
The only problem with the production was the acoustics in Hart House, which often muffled the dialogue in this non-linear play.