All fired up
Hope you caught the fourth annual Cooking Fire Theatre Festival. It was the best one we've seen.
Some glorious weather helped the fest (which closed last Sunday), and we were treated to a bright crescent moon hanging over Dufferin Grove Park as we left the outdoor site.
Artistic director Kate Cayley scheduled four premieres for the five-show festival; those four, created in the park, made fine use of the space.
Bigfoot, a laugh-inspired hunt for the seldom-seen giant, began the evening, and the recently founded troupe Golgi Apparatus (Sandy Gribbin, Christina Serra and Dan Watson) has great chemistry that's worth developing further.
Lear's Shadow, a solo piece by Kiersten Tough in association with John Beale, Kerry MacPherson and John Turner, took a while to coalesce but had some funny moments that even involved the soccer players in a nearby field. And who'd have thought that characters in King Lear could be effectively represented by various pieces of cleaning equipment?
Les Trouvères' The Morbid Stranger took a stab at satiric melodrama, and while Bruce Beaton, Elizabeth Rucker and Jane Wells (the latter two also acting as the evening's hosts) milked it nicely - with nods to The Duchess Of Malfi, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams and British panto - the piece would be more effective in a shorter form.
The evening's highlight was Independent Auntie's Robber's Daughters, a sharp script by Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry. The company's first work for young audiences, it made great use of the park's trees and hollows in its tale of two rival gangs (the Luka Ladies and the Bjorka Broads) with a long-running feud. The two sides are finally united through the efforts of the female gang leaders' daughters; neither of the youngsters wants to be a robber, much to their mothers' chagrin.
There was lots of fun in the performances of actors Karin Randoja, Alisha Stranges, Claire Calnan and Chatterton, directed by Brendan Healy. Great design by Sherri Hay, too, including a Monty Pythonish costume that replicated one of the characters seven times, as well as some thieving, badger-like creatures that roamed the park.
Part cheeky fairy tale, part postmodern history of Dufferin Grove (including its community bake ovens and farmers market) and the mall across the street, part over-the-top comedy, Robber's Daughters reminded us how good it is to have the Aunties in our theatre community.
One thing, though - since there are two sets of robbers, shouldn't the show called Robbers' Daughters?
The only festival piece that didn't quite work was the one by visitors Rain Machine, whose How To Tie A Knot offered some striking visuals involving stilts, a series of white umbrellas and some shadow play by creators Kate Sheehy and Rebecca Tennison. But at the end of a three-hour evening, the poetically imagistic text about creation and transformation was hard to focus on despite its 15-minute length.
Live a lie and turn your life into a tragedy. That's the theme of Jon Robin Baitz's The Paris Letter, but the writing gives the stock theme some unusual and strong turns.
Baitz covers a 40-year span in the lives of two New Yorkers, Sandy and Anton, with one set of actors playing the characters in the 1960s and another in the later decades. It successfully shifts back and forth as wealthy investment banker Sandy explores his homosexuality and then rejects it, while Anton, always comfortable with his life and desires, never leaves Sandy's world even when their four-month relationship is over.
Some of the writing is laboured, and there's a touch of melodrama in the last few scenes, but Baitz captures the central pair strongly in both periods of their lives. There's real tension and tenderness in the 1962 wooing scene between Stevie Jay's mentoring Anton and Scott MacLeod's tightly wound-up Sandy.
Feeling that he must force himself into a straight lifestyle, the young Sandy goes to a psychiatrist (Alastair Love) who promises to help him but warns of conflicts ahead. He's right.
Sandy eventually marries, but his queer desires persist. The result is a series of disasters that pull his life down.
Director Victor Correia gets some good work from his cast, though Love as the older Sandy feels contrived at times. Anita de Yonge offers contrasting characters as Sandy's mother and his wife, Katie; the latter blossoms nicely in her later scenes.
Anchoring the show is Peter Higginson as the older Anton, the narrator of the piece and thus the one character privy to all its events. Though Baitz sometimes tells rather than shows, Higginson has the play's best writing, investing it with a rich warmth and humanity, always suggesting the depths of Anton's life and love.
See Continuing on the theatre listings page.