BOMBAY BLACK by Anosh Irani, directed by Brian Quirt, with Deena Aziz, Anita Majumdar and Sanjay Talwar. Presented by Cahoots at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Previews through January 7, opens January 8 and runs to January 22, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2 pm. $15-$20, previews $10. 416-538-0988.
Anita Majumdar just can't get away from her background in Indian dance.
Even at the National Theatre School, the actor was asked to work it into, surprisingly, a production of Judith Thompson's Sled. Majumdar put movement to better use in her own delightful play Fish Eyes, which blended dance with a romantic coming-of-age tale.
In her current show, Anosh Irani's Bombay Black, dance is integral to the story.
Majumdar plays Apsara, a woman in present-day Bombay whose mother charges wealthy male clients to watch her daughter dance. Things become more complex when a blind man asks for Apsara's services.
"Dance always surprises people in a stage play," says Majumdar with a smile, "and I take joy in catching people off guard with the way I can manipulate my body.
Indian dance relies on a set series of expressions, and though my acting sensibility means I don't always adhere to the strict forms, I figure that if I can handle the basic expressions, I can do anything with them."
The play contains a fascinating element of magic realism, one the performer links to the imaginative games children play.
"If the characters didn't have that element of fantasy, they couldn't cope with the world."
At the same time, Apsara is an intense and adult figure, a woman who "wears a mask most of the time, like so many who are in the sex trade and have to sell parts of themselves to make a living. She always holds back a part of herself and can never share her feelings with clients, in part because the men aren't interested in who she really is."
Apsara is also in a difficult relationship with her mother, Padma, who has a hidden agenda for selling her daughter's services.
"It's a situation where one controls the other, using the other to fulfill her own needs. The two women are also roped together by the fact that each lacks the ability to allow love into her heart."
And do the central dances in Bombay Black, choreographed by Nova Bhattacharya, test Majumdar's skills?
"I did Fish Eyes for five weeks, but these movements are so different," she says with a sigh. "When we began working on the dances, I couldn't sit down without feeling it in my arms, abs and legs."
About A Boy
HUMBLE BOY by Charlotte Jones, directed by Richard Rose, with Michael Ball, Ian D. Clark, Sarah Dodd, Dean Paul Gibson, Nicola Lipman and Fiona Reid. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Previews through January 8, opens January 10 and runs to February 12, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday (except January 7) 2:30 pm. $28-$34, Sunday pwyc-$15, previews $17, stu/srs $18-$28. 416-531-1827.
Sarah Dodd is really glad that Charlotte Jones, the author of Humble Boy, was an actor before becoming a playwright.
"Jones said she was tired of performing small, superficial parts, so she'd never write them," says Dodd, who plays Rosie, the cast-off lover of Felix, Humble Boy's central character. "Every one of her characters has a rich story; no one is simply a messenger."
Set in an English summertime garden, the contemporary play never lets the audience forget its environment, with characters named Rosie and Flora and the near-constant presence of bees.
But there's also a more structural set of echoes. Felix, whose father has just died, comes home to find his father's friend flirting with his not-unwilling mother, and he can't confront his own feelings about death and love. If you catch a Hamlet-like drift, you're right.
"I see the play as being about love in its many forms," continues Dodd, who spent six years at Stratford and impressed Toronto audiences in A Whistle In The Dark. "Felix is a theoretical astrophysicist working on a superstring theory that will tie together everything in the universe.
"But love, like the superstring theory, can't be explained there are no visual proofs, no equations that can quantify it."
Dodd treats Rosie's relationship with Felix as a really good friendship that became sexual. When he left, without goodbyes or explanations, she needed time to get over her anger.
"But now, seven years later, she's come to terms with what happened. A survivor, Rosie is a down-to-earth person she's a midwife in training who's realized that when you go through something horrible and surprising, you deal with it, learn from it and become a better person.
"She wants to pass that on to Felix, since she sees him going through what she did when her own mother died years earlier."
The play has a dark, biting comedy that Dodd appreciates, just as she does Jones's ability to write about grief with humour.
Does the Hamlet connection influence her acting choices?
"I can see Rosie as a bit of Ophelia with some Laertes thrown in, but I don't play Ophelia. In fact, if you don't know that Jones has used Shakespeare as a model, you're not going to miss anything in this play.
"Anyway, I think of Ophelia" - here Dodds's voice goes high and innocent, sending up the ingenue stereotype - "with long, long hair, and she's all the things I'm not.
"I'd never be cast as Ophelia at a place like Stratford," she adds, returning to her usual speaking voice. "But since designer Charlotte Dean's given me that long Ophelia hair, it'll be fun to play with."
DEMOCRATS ABROAD written and performed by Chris Earle, directed by Shari Hollett. Presented by the night kitchen at the Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). Previews Wednesday (January 11), opens January 12 and runs to February 5, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $12-$25. 416-504-9971.
RADIO :30 by Earle, broadcast on CBC-TV, tonight (Thursday, January 5) at 8 pm.
Chris Earle is hoping things are okay in California.
The possibility of the big earthquake hitting the West Coast is one of the few things he can imagine that could prevent his play Radio :30 from being broadcast tonight on CBC-TV.
A year ago, when the award-winning play was originally skedded for broadcast, it was pre-empted because of the tsunami relief concert. A few months later, a documentary on the just-deceased pope bumped the program from its rescheduled April time slot. And then there was the CBC summer labour dispute.
"I don't want to make light of those events," says Earle, "but my confidence is pretty high it will air."
Earle has more than one reason to feel confident. Besides the work's small-screen debut directed by Mark Staunton Earle is still relishing its triumph as a play at last year's New York Fringe Festival. After the Chalmers Award-winning script got excerpted in the New York Times, it received rave reviews.
In a way, that experience in the Big Apple helped fine-tune his play Democrats Abroad, which he and director/dramaturge Shari Hollett debuted at last year's SummerWorks festival. A revised version previews later this week at the Factory Studio.
The play shows what happens when liberal American artists, fearing their country's conservative crackdown, decide to migrate en masse to Canada. Earle plays an actor who falls in love with a New York actor/activist named Angela.
"After the election, there were all those joke e-mails and redrawn maps of North America," he laughs. "I'd been thinking about a play about New Yorkers coming to Toronto and why that might happen. It was a big "What if?' scenario, and it was fun to imagine things coming to a head."
Earle was originally going to play an immigration lawyer, but soon gave up on the idea and decided to write what he knew about.
"A lot of artists and theatre people tend to be left-leaning, so I thought it would be fun to explore what would happen on the microscopic level of the theatre scene."
Earle finds room for lots of satire about artists, but at the heart of the piece is a discussion about the fundamental differences between Americans and Canadians.
"Americans are at heart optimists," says Earle, who was born in New York state and moved to Montreal at 10. "Like all generalizations, that can be dissected and disproved. But I think there's something to it. What's interesting about the situation now is that we might be in the middle of a shift. It's times like this when you see that optimism start to erode, as it did in the 1960s and 70s during the Vietnam War."
And does he think the play will travel as well to the U.S. as Radio :30 did?
"I'm curious to see how it does across Canada," he says. "But we might take it down to the Fringe. Remember, there are thousands of Canadians living in New York, and I'm sure they'd find it amusing."
HOMECHILD by Joan MacLeod, directed by Martha Henry, with Eric Peterson, Barbara Gordon, Brenda Robins, Patricia Hamilton and Tom Rooney. Presented by CanStage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Opens tonight (Thursday, January 5) and runs to January 28, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $36-$80, some rush seats and Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110.
Brenda Robins has just realized the link between being a mother and being a teacher.
The talented Robins plays Lorna, the daughter of 80-year-old retired farmer Alistair MacEachern, in Joan MacLeod's Homechild, which examines a family's buried emotions.
"Lorna's always felt emotionally boxed in," notes Robins, using her hands to show the caged feeling she's expressing. "Her husband's with someone else, her teenage son wants his own space, and she senses that her father doesn't need her; she hasn't been home for three years. She's turned to teaching, I guess, to deal with maternal instincts that have never gone away."
Now that her father's failing health has brought her home, Lorna wants to take care of him in some fashion, and Alistair's vague request to help find his long-lost sister gives her a cause.
"What she's been asked to do isn't as vital as the fact that he's asking her to do something, that she can turn her maternal caring toward her father," muses Robins, a regular at CanStage and Soulpepper. "The sense that he needs her is what she's longed for all her life."
A Vancouver native, like playwright MacLeod, Robins appreciates the "delicate family drama" in which she's appearing.
"Joan's writing is so careful and natural at the same time, with nothing that's manufactured for a climactic, dramatic scene. The relationships are beautifully drawn, and I think an accumulation of little gestures and looks between characters will fill out the play. Homechild is the kind of piece that will grow on an audience."
Robins thinks the challenge of the work is to make its small scenes fold seamlessly into each other.
"Just when you get the momentum going, a scene is over and you're on to the next. An actor sometimes feels obliged to make each scene in and of itself a little dramatic jewel. What our director, Martha Henry, has to do at that point is stifle the actor's impetus and remind us that a scene can be a first meeting, that there's no obligation to give the audience more than one colour in an episode.
"Martha is really good at seeing the whole painting we want to make by the end of the play."
YOURS TO BREAK created by Fides Krucker, directed by Mark Christmann, with Krucker and collaborator Dan Wild. Presented by Good Hair Day and Theatre Passe Muraille at Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). Opens tonight (Thursday, January 5) and runs to January 29, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $10-$30. 416-504-7529.
Fides Krucker is adding a new twist to the image of the deprived artist. For the past year and a half, during the creation of her erotic dance/opera Yours To Break, she stopped dating.
"I made a vow that I wouldn’t work on the piece and be in a relationship," she says a few days before the premiere of the work, which chronicles the intimate journey of a couple, played by Krucker and collaborator Dan Wild.
"I just didn’t think I could tell the story if I was falling in love with somebody, since that is not what the piece is about," she says.
"And more importantly, I wanted a kind of emotional chastity. I didn’t want to pull my punches as a creator. I wanted to follow through with a hit if I had to."
Those punches and hits, by the way, are literal as well as figurative. In addition to speaking dialogue – much of it from Helen Humphreys’s novel Wild Dogs – and crooning a few pop tunes, Krucker and Wild battle it out in a series of boxing matches.
"I always thought boxing would be great couples therapy," laughs Krucker, who’s got one of the most unique resumés in the country. She regularly performs in contemporary operas (Artaud’s Cane, Requiems For The Party Girl) and spends lots of time doing non-classifiable multimedia works.
"You can learn a lot by punching your partner, being as direct as a punch demands. On the other hand, you can discover a lot about defending yourself from receiving a punch. And I love that moment late in a match when the two fighters are clutching each other, exhausted. There’s incredible intimacy there. It’s like the end of a relationship, but they’re still holding on, still relying on the other to keep standing until one of them pulls apart and knocks the other down."
The work, directed by Mark Christmann, takes place over the course of one night. The couple, who lost a child earlier, come to terms with the past, and there are flashbacks to their teens, the beginning of their courtship and periods when they were separated.
Krucker is excited about merging all the visceral elements of the piece, which also includes video projections. But fans of her unique style of singing are most excited about the songs.
"There’s nothing literal like Hit Me With Your Best Shot," she says about the selection, which includes tunes by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Jann Arden and Peter Gabriel.
"We couldn’t afford any Rolling Stones or U2 songs," she says, adding that the rights to the songs have already amounted to what it would cost to commission a typical Canadian play. Although she, Wild and the three-person band perform the songs in an unusual way, audiences will still feel that shiver of recognition hearing them.
"We all associate songs with those falling-in-love or out-of-love moments," she says. "That’s why I didn’t want freshly composed stuff. It might just be one song, and you might not even recognize it till after the first verse, but I guarantee you’ll remember who you were dating."