SUMMERWORKS an 11-day theatre festival of 46 juried shows and workshops. Runs to August 15. $10, festival pass (7 shows) $50. Tickets available day of performance at each theatre box office, which opens one hour before day's first show. 416-410-1048. Factory Theatre Mainspace and Studio (125 Bathurst);
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace and Backspace (16 Ryerson)
THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE MAINSPACE
ENOCH ARDEN ON SORAUREN by Judith Thompson, directed by Maria Lamont. Presented by Tract 6.4. Aug 12 at 9:30 pm, Aug 13 at 5 pm, Aug 14 at 6:30 pm. Rating: NNNN
Love stories spill from one gen eration to another in striking fashion in Enoch Arden On Sorauren . Re-imagining Alfred Tennyson 's sentimental love-triangle poem Enoch Arden and drawing on music that Richard Strauss later wrote for it, playwright Judith Thompson and director Maria Lamont set their engrossing work in a Parkdale rooming house.
Here, the troubled Jabber ( John Fitzgerald Jay ) draws parallels between his own life and those of the characters in the poem as he tries to convince the catatonic Ciel ( Kristin Mueller ) to be in a talent contest with him. Living up to his name, incessant talker and sometime street person Jabber is Ciel's polar opposite. She only communicates by playing the piano and singing German art songs.
Thompson's fascinating, often funny script never reveals what's real and what's imagined in Jabber's world, and co-creator Lamont gives the production a multi-layered emotional spin. Jay's mood-shifting monologue, mixed with bits of Tennyson, is always riveting and believable, while Mueller offers some incandescent moments, revealing the shy, fearful Ciel through body language and some insightful musical commentary. Fascinating theatre.
COEUR A DEUX by Guy Foissy, translated by Mariusz Sibiga, directed by Jennifer H. Capraru. Presented by Theatre Geminaï. Aug 14 at 11 pm, Aug 15 at 5 pm. Rating: NN
Foissy's 20-minute two-hander , performed first in French and then in English, is a 70s absurdist piece about a park-bench meeting between an unnamed man and woman looking for love. He's shy, she's prim, until fantasies carry them away to what-if lives where emotion rather than reality rules.
Director Jennifer H. Capraru gives the script a stylized production, but the staging (and possibly the script) generates only a few forced laughs and lacks charm. For a non-francophone like me, the first half is memorable for the expressive work of Loic David as Lui, the guy.
WHAT A CAD! written and directed by Celia McBride. Presented by Mirabai Productions. Aug 12 at 5 pm, Aug 13 at 8 pm, Aug 15 at 2 pm. Rating: NNN
Obsessions, whether they involve people or getting the laundry dry, are self-destructive in Celia McBride 's What A Cad! A quartet of characters (played by McBride, Megan Dunlop , Wes Berger and Pat Kelly ) try to sort out their amatory and washing needs in a script with a unique style (think of a Doctor Seuss story for adults, with four-beat lines and occasional rhymes) performed in an intentionally arch, presentational way. There's dancing, droll humour and wordplay, a large laundry dryer, seduction and talk of love both philosophical and practical. But while the performers are committed to the material, the show's rhythms need tightening, some added sharpness and a bit of lightness to move the piece along at high speed.
'37 written and directed by Bruce Beaton. Presented by Global Spring. Aug 12 at 11 pm, Aug 13 at 9:30 pm, Aug 14 at 5 pm. Rating: NNN
A fanciful history of 1837 Toronto on the edge of revolution, Bruce Beaton 's ' 37 brings together a budding playwright, her chambermaid, a lusty soldier and a rebel spy in a work that's both play-within-play and romantic drama. While the storytelling is involving and the cast ( Soo Garay , Todd Dulmage , Emily Hurson and Patrick Conner ) talented, we want more narrative and to know more about the characters. The final and best scene, a thoughtful and dramatic discussion about the effect that theatre can have on society, is the most complex in its weaving of narrative, character and theme.
THE SEAGULL by Anton Chekhov, directed by Levon Haftvan. Presented by Lemaz. Aug 14 at 2 pm, Aug 15 at 6:30 pm. Rating: NN
Director Levon Haftvan rightly refers to this hour-long version of the Chekhov classic as scenes from The Seagull , for you won't get the whole story or all the richness of the characters here. Still, he captures moments of the resilient work's power and atmosphere, even with acting styles that are all over the map and some flat deliveries that are teeth-grating. Haftvan's staging can be clever, and several of the actors convey the feel of their characters, even if only for viewers who know the play.
THE UNFORGETTING written and directed by Alan Dilworth. Presented by Belltower Theatre. Aug 14 at 3:30 pm, Aug 15 at 9:30 pm. Rating: NNNN
A wealthy bc couple during the Depression discover, through a railroading hobo, a secret that shatters their lives. From the opening three-part harmonies, writer/director Alan Dilworth evokes the period's feel and sounds, and his script cleverly uses various narrative styles to present an involving story. His cast - Maev Beaty and Patrick Robinson as the couple, Andrew Penner as the stranger - use movement, text and song with precision under Dilworth's beautifully detailed direction. Beaty and Robinson capture the tensions between the husband and wife, showing the fine cracks in their marriage even before the ground disappears from beneath their feet. The climax and its aftermath, though, feel too compressed and need more room to breathe.
CATCH and THE MOON BATH GIRL by Graeme Gillis, directed by Jennifer Roberts-Smith. Presented by 61 Grove. Aug 12 at 8 pm, Aug 15 at 3:30 pm. Rating: NNN
Two short pieces by graeme gillis examine once-strong relationships that have gone off the rails. The Moon Bath Girl presents two of the three corners of a romantic triangle with humour and compassion, as the jilted Anna ( Margaret Evans ) confronts Terry ( David Tompa ) over his new love for the unseen Colleen. Catch begins as a "boys" play, with two guys throwing around a baseball and pulling on brews. It turns out, in fact, to be about what love can mean to a pair of straight buds whose lives have gone in different directions, with both Jeff Margolis and Byron Rouse suggesting a surprising amount of unabashed feeling between the pair. Jennifer Roberts-Smith 's direction is solid and inventive.
PILLOW TALK by Booth Savage, directed by Allan Royal. Presented by Big Butt. Aug 12 at 6:30 pm, Aug 14 at 12:30 pm, Aug 15 at 8 pm. Rating: NNN
Booth savage's erotic look at one way of dealing with boredom in a long-term marriage is often funny and sensual, and sometimes both. Told from the wife's point of view, it begins in anger and ends in sweetness, though some of the long monologues could be shortened since their point is made early on. Still, having them delivered by the splendid Janet-Laine Green is a treat. Whether fantasizing about a young cop who pulls her over, railing against her second-rate status as a woman or cooing over the attentions of a stud, Green brings real dramatic fireworks to a sometimes overwrought text.
FRANCES, MATHILDA & TEA created by Anna Chatterton, Karin Randoja and Evalyn Parry, with Chatterton and Parry, directed by Randoja. Presented by Independent Auntie. Aug 13 at 6:30 pm, Aug 14 at 8 pm, Aug 15 at 12:30 pm. Rating: NNNN
Victorian sisters Rrances and Mathilda - the first mirror-obsessed and yearning for love, the second a passive-aggressive complainer - celebrate their dead mother's birthday with games and stories, carping in a comically savage fashion at each other and their housebound lives. Performers Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry have marvellous chemistry, and they and director Karin Randoja create a sororal relationship that's both emotionally moving and hysterically funny. I just wish there were more of a dramatic buildup to the tale's climax.
CHARLOTTE (UNFINISHED) by Kilby Smith-McGregor, directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones. Presented by Imaginary Alphabet. Aug 13 at 11 pm, Aug 14 at 9:30 pm. Rating: NNN
A young art student in 30s berlin is caught between her infatuation with her opera-singing stepmother and with a voice teacher who also loves the singer. Kilby Smith-McGregor 's ambitious work about art, emotions and creativity is inspired by and partly adapted from Life? Or Theatre?, by Charlotte Salomon. It succeeds best in scenes between the initially naive Charlotte and Amadeus, the philosophizing teacher, brought strongly to life by Lindsey Clark and Sean Dixon . But given the importance of Charlotte's pictures, more use needs to be made of them in the telling and the framing of the story.
THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE BACKSPACE
BLOOD (CLAAT) written and performed by d'bi.young, directed by weyni mengesha. Presented by wanza oomaan. Aug 12 at 8 pm, Aug 13 at 5 pm, Aug 14 at 9:30 pm. Rating: NNN
Mesmerizing writer/performer d'bi.young and director weyni mengesha , frequent collaborators, play out the theme of blood in the tale of a young Jamaican woman who discovers that her menstrual flow is a source of pride rather than shame. With the powerful help of vocalist and drummer amina alfred , they play out some fascinating changes on the idea of blood - it can, for instance, be spilt in violence or tie together generations - but the narrative and character links of this work-in-progress need some clarifying.
IN THE ANTEROOM OF MY DEATH written and directed by Simon Casanova. Presented by Knapsack Theatre. Aug 12 and 15 at 6:30 pm, Aug 13 at 11 pm. Rating: NN
With nods to beckett and sartre, Simon Casanova 's In The Anteroom Of My Death places a man and a woman in a prison setting - maybe real, maybe hallucinatory - to relive their troubled relationship over and over. The speeches and narrative are too often pretentious or cryptic (Cuban involvement in the Angolan war is the backdrop for the story, though you wouldn't know it from the writing), but Casanova invents striking stage images and offers some poetically powerful speeches.
What drives the show isn't the script, though, but performers Juana Awad and Carlos Gonzalez , whose passionate outbursts and equally loaded silences compel us to watch their interactions.
UNBECOMING written and directed by Corrina Hodgson. Presented by Out of Bawdy. Aug 12 at 5 pm, Aug 13 at 8 pm, Aug 14 at 2 pm. Rating: NNNN
Exploring the different ways of being a woman in our society - specifically, a young lesbian woman - writer/director Corrina Hodgson juggles time, place, characters and alternate realities in marvellously theatrical fashion. At the centre of the story is troubled, imaginative teenager Ginny (the terrific Jordana Commisso ), dealing with a prom-obsessed gal pal with whom she's fooled around ( Lindsey Clark ), a demanding mother and a manipulative lesbian lawyer (both played by Lesley Dowey ) and a psychologist with problems of his own ( Larry Smith ).
Hodgson imbues their various confrontations - all seen from Ginny's subjective viewpoint - with dramatic tension. Unbecoming is funny, sexy and, in part because of its strong cast, always intriguing.
WOODY by Michael MacLean, directed by Mark Cassidy. Presented by Optic Heart and Some Pig. Aug 14 at 12:30 pm, Aug 15 at 8 pm. Rating: NNN
Michael Maclean follows the now human Pinocchio into an adult life never dreamt of by Disney. The former puppet's now a porn star - it's not his nose that grows when he lies - but he's still searching for the Blue Fairy to give him happiness. Under Mark Cassidy 's direction, Hume Baugh gives a bravura performance as the at first naive, then disillusioned Pinocchio. But while there are strong moments of storytelling and humour, the script fails to deliver an emotional or narrative payoff.
SUSPENSION by Rachel Thompson and Sue Morrison, directed by Morrison and Nancy Beatty. Presented by Thunderchild. Aug 13 and 14 at 6:30 pm. Rating: NN
There's a fascinating idea some where in Suspension about the role of women in moviemaking during the silent era. Giving an intriguing clown turn to the story, performer Rachel Thompson and co-writer Sue Morrison present a red-nosed heroine who first sells us popcorn, gives us some period history and then tries her own hand at directing. At this stage, though, the show is little more than a few sketches, including some circus work (why is it used so little when all that rigging's there?), Thompson's engaging personality, agreeably tinkly banjo playing by Jayme Stone and both old and new grainy films that pay homage to the period. Since the show's called Suspension, how about developing that image further?
NO CULTURE! written and performed by Kurt Spenrath. Presented by Theatre Arts Generator. Aug 12 at 3:30 pm, Aug 14 at 11 pm, Aug 15 at 5 pm. Rating: NN
Inspired by a government letter that denied him charitable artistic status because he works in comedy rather than "serious" culture, performer Kurt Spenrath goes off on a rant about what culture means today. There are a few clever lines and moments when he sends himself up as well, but too much of the show isn't very funny or satirical enough. In the course of his attempt "to find my place in the national Petri dish," Spenrath tells us family stories, delivers quotes from various artists and philosophers, performs a ballet routine, reminds us of the earliest Canadian performance and takes shots at obvious targets, drilling home a point that could be made in five minutes.
SPAIN written and directed by Michael Rubenfeld. Presented by Absit Omen. Aug 12 at 11 pm, Aug 14 at 5 pm, Aug 15 at 3:30 pm. Rating: NNNN
Michael Rubenfeld's nuanced look at relationships follows a trio - two men and a woman - through the lies and ties that both connect them and break them up. There's a marvellous richness in the performances by Kimwun Perehinec , Gray Powell and Aaron Willis , especially in the scene of an awkward dinner party filled with ironic humour, an actual audience gasp and some extra curves thrown in for good measure.
As director, Rubenfeld plays with silences, scene transitions and rhythms as effectively as he writes words about the shifting power in this three-way though multi-sided story about needs and avoidances.
FISH SHACK by Bonnie Green, directed by Gina Wilkinson. Presented by Chip and Chuck. Aug 12 and 15 at 9:30 pm, Aug 14 at 3:30 pm. Rating: NNNN
You won't find a funnier play in SummerWorks than this noirish take on two buds and a possible murder, set in an aluminum ice hut during a fishing trip. Cliff Saunders and James MacDonald are splendidly clownish as the two guys, and Nancy McAlear and Adam Pettle play tongue-in-cheek as figures pulled into this winter world of - for the audience, at least - fun and games.
Gina Wilkinson 's razor-sharp direction gives extra kick to a quartet of lives caught up with power tools, paint chips and poodles.
FLY written and directed by Natasha Mytnowych. Presented by Companytheatrecrisis. Aug 13 at 3:30 pm, Aug 14 at 8 pm, Aug 15 at 12:30 pm. Rating: NNN
An apocalyptic fairy tale with touches of The Wizard Of Oz, Natasha Mytnowych 's script presents a trio of siblings ( Lisa Codrington , Daniel Karasik and Michelle Morgan ) trying to hold themselves and their town together after disaster strikes. An impressive production involving film, shadowplay, puppets and lots of chicken feathers, the surreal work ambitiously and dramatically blends split-action scenes as well as past and present. It features a talented young cast who make us accept - even if some sections of the writing aren't as well fleshed out as others - a world gone awry.
THE COUNTERFEIT MARQUISE written and directed by Kate Cayley. Presented by Stranger Theatre. Aug 13 at 9:30 pm, Aug 15 at 2 pm. Rating: NNN
Raised by his mother as a girl to save him from army life, a young 18th-century Frenchman has problems when he meets someone he wants to marry. Kate Cayley 's often charming and clever puppet fairy tale - she uses both shadow and hand puppets as well as actors - avoids archness and tells this gender-bending story simply. The shadow puppets are especially impressive, as is charismatic narrator Dalal Badr .