THE NEXT STAGE: A FESTIVAL OF NEW WORKS AND REMOUNTS Presented by the Fringe of Toronto at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Runs to January 18. $12-$15, same-evening double bill $25, passes $48 and $88. 416-966-1062, fringetoronto.com.
DON'T LOOK by Daniel Sadavoy and Rebecca Applebaum (Steady State). Jan 16 at 9:30 pm, Jan 17 at 5:30 pm, Jan 18 at 7:30 pm. Rating: NNN
Jewish first cousins Daniel (Daniel Sadavoy) and Ariella (Rebecca Applebaum) find themselves attracted to each other in this charming if slight look at ostracism. Director Maya Rabinovitch finds lots of stage business for the actors to do, and some scenes are have real polish. The actors, who also wrote the script, bring energy and skill to their gallery of comic characters, who include relatives, neighbours and new boy/girlfriends.
More backstory, though, and some heart-pounding reason why the two are drawn to each other would make us care a bit more about the central pair and their love that dare not speak its name. GLENN SUMI
FIRST HAND WOMAN by Sarah Michelle Brown (Fire Up Cooperative). Jan 15 and 16 at 5:30 pm, Jan 17 at 3:30 pm, Jan 18 at 9:15 pm. Rating: NNN
A broken relationship fragments a woman's psyche into warring characters called Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance, who cope with their loss in various ways.
Sarah Michelle Brown's script, filled with imagery that suggests, among other things, drowning and baptism, sometimes has the feel of an Oprah episode or a self-help book. That instructional element is balanced by director Esther Jun's vibrant production and a strong acting ensemble that evokes laughter and approving, understanding nods from the audience.
While Anger (Patrice Goodman) has some of the best bitchy lines, it's Allana Harkin's engaging Acceptance who binds together not only the other characters but also the show. JON KAPLAN
HUMANS ANONYMOUS by Kate Hewlett (Anonymous Co-op). Jan 15 at 7:15 pm, Jan 17 at 9 pm, Jan 18 at 5 pm. Rating: NNNN
In Kate Hewlett's sharp, witty play, the outwardly in-control but inwardly insecure Ellen (Michelle Giroux) is anonymously wooed by Jenny (Mayko Nguyen) with the help of Ellen's friend and employee Peter (Philip Graeme). Things get more complicated with the addition of Gema (Hewlett), Peter's eccentric, cat-loving sister.
These are all people who talk and think quickly, able to play with words and enjoy each other's playfulness.
Humans Anonymous is a layered comedy of character that avoids one-liners, though there's lots of humour in director Andrew Hachey's fast-paced, well-acted production. Instead of going for easy laughs, Hewlett explores people's fears as well as their dreams, in the process effectively breaking the fourth wall. JK
L'ANGE AVEC LES FLEURS by Rocky Hopson (Beth Marshall). Jan 16 at 7 pm, Jan 17 at 6:45 pm, Jan 18 at 9 pm. Rating: NNN
A clown leaves the circus, wanders the world and discovers essential truths in this self-dubbed "junk melodrama," a play-within-a-play set in Nazi-occupied France.
Devised and directed by Rocky Hopson, the show presents philosophical musings that are sometimes trite and vague, but the musical and energetic company is welcoming and genial. The piece blends clown, puppetry, silent film and a big, bike-riding bear.
Most impressive are dynamic Christopher Lee Gibson as the Pierrot-like Baptiste and Rob Houle (who also designed the set) as narrator/musician Tabarin. JK
THE RAKE'S PROGRESS: DO YOU KNOW WHERE TOM RAKEWELL IS? adapted by Autumn Smith and Cathy Murphy (MacKenzieRo). Jan 15 at 5:15 pm, Jan 16 at 9:15 pm, Jan 17 at 3 pm, Jan 18 at 7 pm. Rating: NNNN
Drawing on both the libretto for the famous opera and the series of eight Hogarth paintings that inspired it, adapters Autumn Smith (who also directs) and Cathy Murphy (who also performs) have created a thrillingly theatrical look at the decline and fall of symbolic Everyman Tom Rakewell (David Christo) in 18th-century London.
The heightened performances are pitched just right for a play about good and evil. But there's subtle shading in Bruce Beaton's Nick Shadow, Julie Tepperman's Anne Trulove and Viv Moore's Baba the Turk. It's all enhanced by the design. Lisa Renee Reed's hoop dresses for the women evoke elegance and - at certain moments - prophylactics. Grant Hutchinson's set, meanwhile, makes clever, imaginative use of a literal framing device that helps structure the piece and direct the audience's eye.GS
REESOR by Erin Brandenburg and Lauren Taylor (Reesor Productions). Jan 15 at 9:30 pm, Jan 16 at 7:30 pm, Jan 17 at 9:15 pm, Jan 18 at 5:30 pm. Rating: NNNNN
This history of the northern Ontario town of Reesor, settled by immigrants in the 1920s and 30s, is filled with memories, music and practical matters - how to build a house in the wilderness or make zwieback, the activities and gossip at a women's group.
The central performer, Erin Brandenburg (who wrote the show with director Lauren Taylor) provides the work's heart and humour, blending a personal tale into the larger narrative, but there's equally strong work from musical director Andrew Penner and his fellow players.
Using the simplest of storytelling methods, including shadow puppetry and a soundscape played on traditional instruments and found objects, Reesor is grassroots theatre at its best. JK
TAKE IT BACK by JoDee Allen and Helen Simard (Solid State Breakdance). Jan 15 at 9:15 pm, Jan 16 at 5:15 pm, Jan 17 at 5 pm, Jan 18 at 3:15 pm. Rating: NNN
Think of Solid State Breakdance's show Take It Back, set to loops of 40s melodies and sampled contemporary-beat tunes, as gender politics on the dance floor.
Shifting back and forth between the partnered lindy hop and the solo self-expression of breakdance, the energetic piece looks at two women (choreographer/dancers Helen Simard and JoDee Allen) who want to lead, not follow, and the various competitions between them and their male counterparts (Christian Garmatter and Milan Panet-Gigon).
To call this Montreal troupe limber is an understatement. The show's funny, fast and fun - and the dancers are clearly enjoying themselves up there. JK
YICHUD by Julie Tepperman (Convergence Theatre). Jan 15 at 7:30 pm, Jan 17 at 7:15 pm, Jan 18 at 3:30 pm. Rating: NNNN
Rachel's getting married, but this time she's an Orthodox Jew engaged to the shy Chaim, with whom she's never been alone until the titular seclusion ceremony following their arranged wedding.
Writer Julie Tepperman and director (and real-life husband) Aaron Willis play the couple with a believable mix of curiosity and awkwardness. Her script offers layers of complexity in one scene about Rachel's parents' stalled marriage and another featuring a raunchy, telling exchange between Chaim's brothers and cousin.
Convergence Theatre's latest is expansive and terrifically atmospheric from the moment you enter the raucous lobby and are, according to custom, seated according to your gender. You'll laugh (the cow joke is hilarious), tear up and stamp your feet.