Hannah times two
If you first saw the fine writing of Hannah Moscovitch in last fall’s East Of Berlin, there’s a dramatic history you have yet to discover.
Factory Theatre’s Ken Gass had the idea of pairing Moscovitch’s earlier works The Russian Play and Essay, both of which premiered in SummerWorks and both of which deal, in different ways, with the maturing of a young woman.
A number of years ago Moscovitch and Michael Rubenfeld turned a writing group into Absit Omen Theatre, which started both their local careers as playwrights. Director/actor Rubenfeld helms Essay.
“What Hannah learned in SummerWorks was that she needed to learn more,” he says candidly. “The importance of knowledge, of awareness of the world around her, has always influenced her works. Her immersion in literature courses has strengthened her own writing, especially how she structures an argument.”
In fact, the playwright’s time at U of T suggested the material for Essay, which deals with a female undergrad and two of her teachers, one an eager, passionate tutorial leader and the other a tenured, self-assured patriarch. Issues of control, the flexibility of the academic system and finding one’s voice all feed into the piece.
“The earlier SummerWorks version had an open-ended feel,” says Rubenfeld, recently appointed SummerWorks’ new artistic producer. “Now it feels complete, its argument full.”
Rubenfeld marvels at the fact that he and the cast, three years after starting work on the show, still find the script engaging and challenging during the rehearsal process.
“That speaks to the complexity of Hannah’s writing. It’s deceptively simple, and just like Pixie, the undergrad in the play, keeps revealing new aspects to the audience.”
Essay’s companion piece, The Russian Play, directed by Natasha Mytnowych, looks at a young flower seller in the early Soviet Union and her relationship with two men, one a gravedigger and the other a party member. As with Essay, the script’s wit, irony and dramatic surprise engage the viewer.
“What binds Hannah’s work together is its thoughtfulness and emotional resonance,” notes Rubenfeld. “She’s concerned with what a theatre piece is trying to accomplish and the larger dialogue it might initiate.
“She never purports to have the answers, but I think she asks incredible questions.”
Our write-up on Opera On The Rocks last week mistakenly omitted director Liza Balkan from the kudos.
Skilfully shaping the action that moved around Paupers bar and through the audience, Balkan conveyed a fun, honest sense of relationship among the many characters and gave sparkle to the production as a whole.
You don’t lose the tragedy when you look at Shakespeare’s King Lear through the eyes of a clown, argues actor Susanna Hamnett.
In her new work, Nearly Lear, she turns Lear’s Fool into a clown named Norris. But in the Elizabethan theatre tradition of cross-dressing, Norris is really a woman, Noreen, whose relationship with her own father casts light on that of Lear and his daughters.
“This show is no send-up of the original, which I love and honour in my presentation. With its elements of the epic and the domestic, it manages to be both wide-sweeping and personal, a sign of Shakespeare’s genius.
“What strikes me most about this incredible piece of storytelling is that Lear, with all his flaws, gets to a point of clear-sighted enlightenment even though it’s at the end of his long life and almost too late to sustain. He realizes that life is all about love, and that moment is unbearably beautiful and hopeful.”
Hamnett, whose previous work includes The Cherry Orchard, Medea and the clown piece Fou, has worked with director Edith Tankus to slim Shakespeare’s narrative down to a multi-character, one-person show. She’s clear, though, that Nearly Lear isn’t an attempt at virtuoso performance.
“I find that tragedy is full of playing opportunities. The darker and more difficult a story, the more fascinating is the place where we can also recognize its humour and humanity.
“Laughter and horror can sit in the same moment.”
Ultimately, Hamnett sees her job to be that of a storyteller, one who has a clear relationship with the audience, taking them on a journey and experiencing the narrative with them. She’s discovered that even young audiences react strongly to her unusual take on the Bard.
“Devoted to Lear, the Fool is a clown, and therefore by nature always in the moment and emotionally honest. That grounding is the best way to tell this tale, I believe.”
Fun with Filler
Storytelling’s also at the heart of the work of New Zealand comic and performer Deb Filler, whose shows are based on the family characters she portrays and the outrageous nonsense they put her through.
Filler’s been touring the world with her material for the last quarter-century, and she’s played the very funny Punch Me In The Stomach and Filler Up in T.O. Her stock in trade is Jewish humour; it’s not by chance that in Filler Up she entertains the audience while baking a challah from scratch.
She’s back this week with two performances of Don’t Get Me Started, a recent show that’s been getting solid reviews.
Interested in music and fashion with your theatre? Obsidian Theatre holds a fundraising event in conjunction with its new production of Intimate Apparel.
Following the matinee performance of Intimate on Sunday (January 20), the Berkeley Street Theatre turns into a chic fashion house, complete with spa treatments, elegant nibbles and the song stylings of R&B talent Jully Black, nominated for Juno and MuchMusic Video Awards. Kendra Francis, recently featured on Project Runway Canada, offers the debut of her spring collection, concluding with a wedding gown finale.