What better way to toast NOW's 25th anniversary than with the cheeky improv comedy show Monkey Toast?
The biweekly show's guest last Sunday was NOW's own Michael Hollett, who offered up stories from his own life and the paper's history to inspire a series of some of the cleverest on-the-spot bits.
Highlights included a long scene about the rise and fall of Pedro (Kerry Griffin), a lame Latino boy who rose from a community paper to megastardom. Recent Canadian Comedy Award winner Griffin also shone as a talking butterfly who warned people about ecological hazards (Lisa Merchant gave us unique ideas about recycling), while Naomi Snieckus triumphed as a woman who got to poke an evil alien in the (get it?) "eye."
Stand-up Nikki Payne knows that people judge others at face value. It's one of the reasons she developed a good sense of humour.
"Being funny was a survival skill," says Payne, who was born with a cleft lip and palate. "It helped me with bullies and helped me make friends. I became known as Nikki, that funny girl in drama class, and not Nikki with the harelip."
Now Payne is making sure others don't have to suffer the same way. She's producing a comedy show to raise funds for Making Faces, an organization that teaches performance skills to kids with facial differences.
"The organization is connected to comedy - it teaches acting and improv," says Payne. "The feedback from kids has been great. It builds their self-esteem so they feel more confident to speak up for themselves and make direct eye contact. Those skills sound simple, but aren't when you're different."
The night, called Live And Underfunded, which Payne hopes becomes an annual event, features comics Elvira Kurt, Alan Park, Craig Lauzon, Gilson Lubin and more. But we're most looking forward to seeing Payne, who now divides her year between Toronto and L.A. and made it a few episodes into the most recent Last Comic Standing.
"That experience was surreal," says Payne, who was featured prominently in the show's promos, covering herself up in duct tape, an old bit from her act.
"I don't do that much now, and I remember why. It hurts like hell."
Tonight (Thursday, November 16) at the Rivoli. See Comedy Listings, page 85, for details.
Siblings traditionally have their problems, but the knots aren't usually as twisted as those holding together the siblings in Austrian playwright Thomas Bernhard's Ritter, Dene, Voss.
The two sisters are actors, their brother a philosopher recently brought home from a psychiatric institution. Their conversations before, during and after a meal provide the focus - and the unsettling laughs - in Bernhard's play, named for the three original actors.
"I'm attracted to its language and earthy lyricism," says Adam Seelig, who directs Maev Beaty, Shannon Perreault and Greg Thomas in the One Little Goat production. "Bernhard has an ear for common speech, and his dialogue makes words like 'eyes' and 'no' pop out dramatically."
Though brother Leo is loosely based on the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bernhard isn't going the biographical route.
"He's creating three siblings who have had the same conversations throughout their lives. Each is in a state of arrested development, hasn't come of age sexually and therefore projects sexual fantasies onto the others."
Seelig sees the play's disturbing comedy emerging, surprisingly, from three fundamentally unhappy people.
"Their constant need to express that misery and the vociferousness of it make the exchanges comical. The games we engage in to cover up life's meaninglessness reflects the works of Beckett and Pinter, but here it seems more desperate, so every second has to be filled with speech or action.
"The most important word in the script, I think, is 'play. '"
See Opening, page 90.
Oedipus with the gore
If you know Oedipus in the familiar Greek telling by Sophocles, you'll be surprised at the twists in Seneca's later version.
Staging a workshop for Equity Showcase Theatre, director Alan Dilworth is using an exciting translation of the play by British poet Ted Hughes.
"Hughes's imagery, layered on top of Seneca's gruesome script, is relentless and rich, thick with blood and horror," says Dilworth, author of Ma Jolie and The Unforgetting.
"He picks up on the idea that Roman drama, unlike Greek, showed the visceral details. I think of it as Greek theatre with the mask torn off. Seneca's own uncomfortable relationship with the unstable emperor Nero, I believe, reflects that between Creon and Oedipus."
Unlike Sophocles, Seneca includes a vivid description of ritual sacrifice and the evocation of a horrific underworld.
Dilworth relies on ensemble storytelling, with actors stepping out of the chorus to become individual characters. His argument is that at a base level, everyone is capable of being an Oedipus.
"We're also using Andrew Penner's music and Emma Romerein's choreography to explore the text, emphasizing its stillness but also providing moments of highly stylized physicality."
The director places audience and performers together on the stage.
"If the cast is distant from the viewers, audience members can pull away from the work's intense imagery and psychological sharpness. We want that intimacy so they're compelled to be part of the experience."
See Opening, page 90.