Raven Dauda, one of the organizers of the rock.paper.sistahz Festival
Sometimes tweenagers, though still growing, are accomplished in a number of areas.
Take b current's annual rock.paper.sistahz (rps), which celebrates its 12th anniversary this year, from Saturday (May 25) to May 31. Originally a fest that highlighted the developing work of black women artists, the event began including the work of black men several years ago, and now reaches out to severala other other cultural groups as well.
Like most tweens, rps is interested in social interaction of all sorts, and this year's festival is created as a dozen different dating experiences.
Because artistic director and founder ahdri zhina mandiela is on sabbatical, rps has been organized by b current associate artists Nicole Brooks, Raven Dauda and Jajube Mandiela, with the assistance of Charmaine Lurch, Rehaset Yohanes and the young members of the rAiz'n Ensemble.
"It's been a real learning curve for me," admits Dauda, an award-winning actor most recently in 4.48 Psychosis. "In terms of theatre, we had about 25 submissions to choose from. I made a checklist of things to look for, like how engaging the subject matter was, could I hear the voice of the artist when I read the script and the clarity of the writer's vision. Creativity, originality and whether the festival could help the script to a further life were also on my mind."
The last is especially important. A show like Brooks's impressive Obeah Opera, which began in rps, had a full production last year and is looking toward a remount in the near future.
This year's rps features 11 theatre works by new and established writers over three nights. Each evening includes a Juke Joint, a multidisciplinary improv opener that pairs various artists.
On the first night, look for Catherine Hernandez's Femme Playlist, a solo show about being queer and raising a child. M. NourbeSe Philip's The Redemption Of Al Bumen looks at a producer/director doing a Show Boat-style musical and facing the racial stereotypes it includes. Buna!, by musician Yohanes, looks at the author's Ethiopian heritage through coffee (buna) as a means of bringing a community together.
Also that evening, the rAiz'n Ensemble presents The Wash, "a ritualistic cleansing of all the negativity that builds up as we grow" (May 28).
The second evening features Sebastien Heins's Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera, which uses hip-hop to look at sexuality and women while having fun with the form. In Made In Congo, Sabrina Moella blends dance, poetry and storytelling to look at her relationship with her grandmother in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Radha S. Menon's Learning To Swim features a South Asian woman trying to find her own voice in a traditional family (May 29).
The final series begins with multidisciplinary artist Nathalie Younglai's comic Gyneco-lo-lo-lo-gy: The Musical, about a woman wanting to get pregnant. A young gay man's life and dating experiences inform Lorenzo Pagnotta's Making Love With Espresso, which of course involves coffee, too.
Motion's Ora/Torio: A Spoken Word Suite draws on various musical forms, including folk song, blues, jazz, calypso, soul and reggae; it's billed as "an urban libretto based on the evolution and continuity of African culture through diasporic music." Mammy Queen, by Aisha Bentham, looks at sexual identity, abandonment and death in the tale of a girl who wants to be a soldier (May 30).
There's a lot more than theatre at rock.paper.sistahz. At a visual arts night, you can have one-on-ones with artists; a film night documents theatre work (including mandiela's on/black/stage/women and Goodness In Rwanda, about the experience of performing Michael Redhill's play about genocide, Goodness, in the African nation, by Gord Rand and Tara Hughes). There's also a dance night, and a final serenade evening features audience karaoke.
Ever see a moose in a lyrical if sometimes manic mood?
You'll find one in the Tarragon Extra Space, where One Little Goat Theatre, dedicated to presenting poetic drama, offers the English premiere of Quebec writer Claude Gauvreau's play The Charge Of The Expormidable Moose, in Ray Ellenwood's translation.
Absurdist, poetic and leaping wildly between madcap comedy and upsetting tragedy, the play was a flop in its original 1970 presentation. Regarded as a visionary writer, Gauvreau died in 1971, following years in a psychiatric hospital after the suicide of his muse.
That personal history most likely figures in the play, in which the central character, a poet named Mycroft Mixeudeim (Ben Irvine) lives in... a home? an asylum?... with four others (David Christo, Lindsey Clark, Lindsay Owen Pierre and Jessica Salguiero) who constantly play tricks on him. Unable to resist bashing down doors with his head to reach any woman he thinks is in distress, the naive Mycroft is regularly "called" by the planned shrieks of women, who then deny what they've done.
Are they four therapists trying to cure Mycroft's sadness over the loss of his girlfriend, since they keep trying to pigeonhole him using various psychiatric labels? Or maybe they're meddling, nasty friends who can't resist playing with his head and repeating the cruel joke over and over? Gauvreau doesn't say.
At the end of the first act, a helicopter pilot (Sochi Fried) crashes on the isolated property and becomes Mycroft's main defender, though she's not immune to being part of yet another attempt to cure him. And halfway through the second half, a sadistic man (Hume Baugh) takes over to make Mycroft's life an even harsher hell.
The writing is shot through with passages of grandiose language, bits of nonsense and gibberish and is occasionally reminiscent of Beckett; at one point, Mycroft delivers a speech that stylistically echoes Lucky's monologue in Waiting For Godot.
Director Adam Seelig's given a lot of thought to the demanding, overlong script, and the production has some fine moments. The first act could use some cutting, though, and we could be more involved with the quartet of "friends," who need more individuality. Fried makes a sympathetic figure, and her scenes with Irvine are the most moving in the production, even when they're discussing philosophical matters. Baugh's black-garbed, cold figure is properly powerful, hard for the others to resist.
It's Irvine who anchors the show with a bravura performance, whether speaking monologues to a mirror, or, when Mycroft is drugged, miming various absurdist scenarios (a camel becomes an elephant, a Turkish dancer morphs into a threshing machine, an orator changes into a grasshopper). Splendid work.
Jackie Chau contributes an inventive design, including a series of pastel doors whose handles are hands, suggestive of a surreal Cocteau film. She puts the quartet of housemates in variations on tennis whites, though the games they play are aggressive and not at all fun. In Chau's hands, the helicopter pilot becomes a vision in leather and parachute silk.
Harold Pinter's 1957 two-hander The Dumb Waiter is a discomforting and sometimes funny play, especially in Wordsmyth Theatre's intimate production.
Ben (Mark Wilson) and Gus (David Matheson) are two hit men waiting in a dingy basement for orders relating to their next unspecified victim.
Gus is the nervous one, not sure whether he's in the right profession and concerned about the last person, a woman, the pair erased. The dapper Ben's more tightly wound, reading out newspaper tales of tragedies and, at first, slow to anger.
They argue about semantics (how can you "light the kettle" for a pot of tea?) and get upset when the toilet doesn't flush. But things become more stressful when a dumb waiter at the rear of the room - arguably a third character in terms of the action - starts delivering requests for food, notes that are increasingly unexpected and bizarre.
Director Melee Hutton and her two actors nicely bring out the absurdist comedy in the script, the two men occasionally suggesting the traditional clown duo of boss and servant. Even here Hutton steps away from the expected by giving Matheson's Gus a rebellious note rather than just having him play the antic, acquiescing sidekick.
The tension grows as the work draws to an unexpected climax, tension helped by Andrea Mittler's claustrophobic, grungy set in a small studio space. It's possible to feel uncomfortable being close to the action, but Wilson and Matheson's commitment pulls us into this weird world of assassinations and off-kilter comedy.