Les Fourberies de Scapin
Comic confusion is the name of the game in Théâtre français de Toronto's season opener, Les Fourberies De Scapin (Scapin's Deceits).
One of Molière's last plays, the Naples-set script involves the youthful amours of two well-to-do friends; Octave (Philippe Van de Maele Martin) has secretly married serving girl Hyacinthe (Meili Ng), while Léandre (Lindsay Owen Pierre) has fallen for Zerbinette (Noa May Dorn), a Gypsy. Of course, their conservative fathers want to wed them to other women.
Enter Scapin (Nicolas Van Burek), Léandre's servant, who sets everything right by confusing and tricking Argante (Robert Godin), Octave's father, and Géronte (René Lemieux), Léandre's. Mollifying them one minute about their disobedient sons' actions and extracting money from them the next, Scapin is the spirit of disorder, enjoying the tricks he plays simply for the skill and fun involved in doing so.
No surprise that the curtain comes down on a happy ending for everyone.
Director Guy Mignault's production is all seaside bright colours in Marie-Eve Cormier's set, Simon Rossiter's lighting and Mélanie McNeill's multi-period costumes. The younger characters dress in contemporary clothes, while the old men wear period wigs atop costumes that suggest they want to be seen as part of their children's generation.
Claude Naubert's music also gets some laughs with its blend of Neapolitan songs and a comically melodramatic snippet from Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci.
There's lots of set-up in the first 20 minutes, but after that Mignault gets the comic engine chugging along nicely, especially in the scenes involving the fathers and Scapin. Even given the intentional largeness of the acting style, there's comic nuance in the interplay among these skilled performers.
The more youthful performers, including Sébastien Bertrand as Octave's servant, are more two-dimensionally drawn, with the exception of Dorn, whose Gypsy is full-blooded and richly portrayed.
The commanding Van Burek entertains whenever he's onstage, fooling the elders, manipulating the youngsters, playing at being other characters, delivering swift patter when necessary and clearly enjoying himself.
Since he's orchestrated much of the action, it's proper that Scapin conduct the production's final song, a choral number that parallels the narrative harmony he's organized.
Les Fourberies De Scapin runs through November 10, with English surtitles Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and the November 10 matinee.
Wrecked, a teen-focused play about substance abuse, is anything but a disaster.
Savvy, entertaining and accessible without being preachy, Chris Craddock's script - currently on a Toronto school tour in a production by Roseneath Theatre - is a fine show that deserves to be seen by general audiences.
You know Craddock's fine work from such pieces as Moving Along, Bash'd, BoyGroove and PornStar; he's also a prolific author for young audiences, able to mix comedy and lessons seamlessly. As he says, humour "makes the vegetables more palatable."
Roseneath Theatre is touring Wrecked for the third time; the production picked up two Doras in its first incarnation. Artistic director Andrew Lamb revived the show when he read the disturbing news that teen drinking-and-driving is on the upswing in Ontario; another stat reveals that 18 per cent of students, almost one in five, reported hazardous or harmful drinking.
Wrecked's central narrative involves two sibs - 16-year-old Lyle (Kevin Walker) and his younger sister, Susy (Jajube Mandiela) - whose mother, Sharon (Kimwun Perehinec), is an alcoholic who won't admit she has a problem. Sharon's abusive behaviour to her kids pushes the angry Lyle to want to move out, especially when his mother brings home a bartender (Justin Goodhand) for the night.
A fascinating analogy is drawn between Sharon's pre- and post-drinking states and Jekyll and Hyde; the connection leads to a potentially tragic plot twist.
It's not just liquor that's the focus of the play. Lyle's best friend (Goodhand again) is a pothead, and Craddock offers some insight into the result of constant marijuana consumption.
Interspersed with the main story are a series of vignettes in which a variety of teen characters turn to alcohol or pot to relieve their anxiety, isolation and other problems. Choral in nature, the early segments are filled with exuberance about getting stoned; by play's end, the reactions to a high are disappointment and sadness.
Richard Greenblatt's direction is fast-paced and exciting, Joanne Dente's simple but multi-purpose set as fascinating as the excellent performances.
It's too bad that shows like this are currently seen as extracurricular activities in schools. They should be part of the core curriculum, given the wisdom as well as the enjoyment they offer teen audiences.
Maybe October should be renamed Improv Month. A week after the Big City Improv Fest took over the Comedy Bar, the Toronto Improv Festival touched down, bringing together dozens of acts at Clinton's and the Factory Theatre. (The fest's plan to have its own theatre on Spadina has been put on hold.)
We caught about five shows and 15 acts at TIF, and - how should we put this? - the quality was all over the map. Some sets seemed like really bad exercises, but a few pros made it all worthwhile.
Chief among these was Rich Talarico, who brought a leisurely pace, soulful characterizations and a strong sense of story and structure to KPR&Me, his October 25 show with Impatient Theatre Co. artistic director Kevin Patrick Robbins.
The same night, he joined Trotsky & Hutch, Robbins and Sean Tabares's drive-around cop duo, and again he (and the others) made great choices involving some bizarre subjects like death-by-herpes, wallets doubling as guns and a pack of man-eating coyotes.
Local troupe 2-Men, No-Show may not have had the most verbally sophisticated act, but their obvious clown training made them the highlight of their October 27 show.
Traversing every inch of the Factory Theatre and forcing people to stand up so they could get through rows, they created a scene involving a bumbling Nazi (Isaac Kessler) trying to sniff out a possible rebellion (led by Ken Hall). Lots of fun.
On October 25, two other troupes set the bar high for improv ability. ImprovBoston brought four members to the festival, and they demonstrated a great sense of play, coming up with whimsical scenes involving alienated godzillas and people having test babies. They kept returning to scenes or even physical acts, tweaking what came before in imaginative ways.
But the highlight of the week for us was Len & Jen, the collaboration between L.A.'s Lennon Parham and Atlanta's Jennifer Caldwell. The two came up with four scenes, each one economically set up with authentic details and dialogue that was so sharp and full of subtext, it wouldn't seem out of place in a written play.
We'd hate to choose which scenario we preferred - the one in which a randy and precocious adolescent (Parham) comes on to his bored babysitter (Caldwell) while watching The Karate Kid, or the one where a woman (Parham) breaks up with her possibly racist boyfriend (Caldwell) while choosing an outfit for a special dinner with her parents.
Len & Jen work hard on developing characters, and that drives the situation - and, ultimately the humour. And the use of cheesy pop songs between scenes works terrifically to switch up the mood.
Can't wait to see them again.
For more on the Impatient Theatre Company, see impatientcomedy.com.
One of the best collective productions created by Theatre Columbus, The Anger In Ernest And Ernestine, shows that true love doesn't always run along the smoothest of paths.
First staged 25 years ago with actors Robert Morgan and Martha Ross and directed by Leah Cherniak, the clown-based Anger follows the trials of a pair of innocent lovers who move in together, sharing their basement space with a recalcitrant furnace that causes them no end of problems.
Barzotti Woodworking and pivotal(arts) revive the Dora-winning show under the direction of Morgan, who's joined by designer Glenn Davidson and composer George Axxon, collaborators on the original 1987 production at the now long-gone Poor Alex Theatre.
Starring are Canadian Comedy Award winners Daniel Stolfi and Jennifer De Lucia.
Lost is found
Winnipeg-based Scirocco Drama holds a book launch Monday (November 5), featuring a reading by Cathy Ostlere, whose play Lost: A Memoir is a finalist for this year's Governor General's Literary Award in Drama.
Reading with her are playwrights C.E. Catchalian (Falling In Time), Beverley Cooper (The Lonely Diner: Al Capone In Euphemia Township, staged this past summer at the Blyth Festival), David Gow (Relatively Good) and Gary Kirkham (Pearl Gidley, also a Blyth production).
Playwright Marcia Johnson (Courting Johanna, another Blyth show) hosts.
Behind the scenes
Want to get some insights from the creators of productions around town this fall and winter?
On Stage is a series of five discussions conducted by directors and writers intended to supplement the shows themselves.
Sponsored by the Toronto Reference Library, the talks begin Monday (November 5) with Studio 180's Joel Greenberg talking about the company's excellent production of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, currently running at Buddies in Bad Times.
Upcoming speakers are playwright John Mighton and the Tarragon's director of education and outreach, Erin Brubacher, on the Tarragon production of The Little Years (November 12); director Morris Panych on Canadian Stage's The Arsonists, by Max Frisch (November 26); director Philip Akin on Joseph Jomo Pierre's Shakespeare's Nigga, presented by Obsidian Theatre in association with Theatre Passe Muraille and 3D Atomic (December 3); and director Kelly Thornton on Nightwood's remount of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad (December 10).
Loosely based on playwright Claire Burns's experience as an egg donor, Hatched looks at an unusual single-parent family whose teenage son is in trouble at school.
Drawing on interviews with donors, donor children and recipient couples, the play focuses on Nicholas, a young man confused by identity issues and his upbringing.
Directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey, the Triangle Co-op production features Jakob Ehman, Lisa Norton and Astrid Van Wieren. Van Wieren previously collaborated with Burns on This Wide Night, in which they shared the stage; Van Wieren picked up a Dora for her performance in that production.