Troubled by the increasingly erratic service on the TTC, combined with an upcoming fare hike?
Audiences had a much more pleasant view of our local transit system in The 501: Toronto In Transit, a collective piece that had a brief run at Theatre Passe Muraille; part of the fall season's Theatre Beyond Walls, it closed on Saturday (December 8).
Created and performed by Justin Many Fingers, Bob Nasmith and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, the show uses the Queen streetcar route from west to east as its narrative track.
Nasmith supplies the historic perspective, partly from his own experience, while spoken-word artist St. Bernard offers clever hiphop commentary and Many Fingers gives physicality to various episodes.
On a set consisting of four red TTC seats and a pole, the trio takes us along the 25 kilometres of the 501's journey; that trip takes, we're told, an average of 90 minutes, with 115 stops along the way.
Though it could be shorter and just as effective, the show has a number of strong moments. St. Bernard's face is so expressive, she sometimes doesn't need words to make a point, while Many Fingers tells a chilling, unsettling tale about gay-bashing.
It's Nasmith, a long-time Queen Street artist, who provides much of the evening's sly humour and emerges as the production's heart. His stories, impressions and memories are detailed nuggets of Toronto and personal history; they range from his working on home renovations to tidbits about theatrical recollections, both sparked by buildings along the Queen route. One of his ancestors, in fact, built a bakery at the corner of Ryerson and Wolseley; it's now Theatre Passe Muraille, and Nasmith's been involved with the company for over 40 years.
Of course, there are some customer complaints about service as well as having to put up with second-hand cellphone monologues. They're balanced by examples of kindness on the car.
One highlight is a pair of dramatic scenes involving racism and how passengers deal in a positive way with redneck remarks.
The three actors regularly replay a series of ritual gestures, one that's welcoming and inclusive, the other commemorative of people who have died.
The 501 deserves another run for a larger audience; shaped, edited and tightened, it would be a memorable ride.
Voicing the city
Local artists have their say in a new self-published book of theatrical monologues, City Voices, edited by emerging writers Jenna Harris, Anila Pant and Ronit Rubenstein.
Created as a reaction to local government's less-than-friendly attitude to the arts and a resultant lack of support, the anthology is a grassroots initiative containing the work of more than two dozen writers who offer their views on life in today's Toronto.
It's not only a forum in which the artists can showcase their work, but also a statement addressed to the powers that be about the strength of our city's arts community.
No surprise that the book's foreword is written by arts proponent and MP Olivia Chow.
The contributors include Spy Dénommé-Welch, Kate Hewlett, Emily Hurson, Marcia Johnson, Carol Libman, Jason Maghanoy, Melissa Major, Jessica Moss, Daniel Pagett, Kat Sandler, Jordan Tannahill, Hope Thompson, Evan Vipond and Chloë Whitehorn.
City Voices will be launched Wednesday (December 19) at Buddies in Bad Times; there's a reception at 7 and readings at 8 pm.
Hope runs high
A group of vocalists, bands, dancers and comics come together for Hope Night In T.O., a variety show in support of Free the Children.
Participants include Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Eclectic Revival, Donovan Woods, the Weathered Kings, Gotta Dance, Toronto Dance Vibe, Mezzo Forte and All Strung Up.
Want some mixed-religion laughs this season?
Join frequent collaborators Melissa D'Agostino and Adam Lazarus - or as they refer to themselves, a fallen Catholic and a cultural Jew - who are working together again in Dags And Laz F*$k The Holidays.
The event on Friday (December 14) also features Canadian Comedy Award winner Sandra Battaglini as well as Andrew Penner (Sunparlour Players), Jenny Young and Gord Bolan in their new musical venture, Local 165.
Also on the bill are Julian DeZotti, Cliff Cardinal, David Brock, Jesse Buck, Hart Massey, Phil Luzi and Mark Andrada.