George Brown Theatre closed its season with Tennessee Williams's sometimes sprawling Orpheus Descending. It's a pleasure to see the graduating students, under the direction of Todd Hammond, deliver such a strong ensemble production, one that captures most of the script's moods and passion.
Lady (Tennille Read) has married the older, ill store owner Jabe Torrance (Jeffrey Dingle) after the death of her Italian father in a fire that burned down his bar. What she doesn't know is that the racist Jabe was instrumental in causing her father's death.
Enter Val Xavier (Edward Charette), a drifter with a guitar and a shady history; the sparks between Lady and Val are evident from the start.
Add Carol Cutrere (Hannah Anderson), a woman from Val's past, her brother, David (G. Kyle Shields), from Lady's, and a Greek chorus of women and you have a variation on the myth of Orpheus, with Val attempting to bring Lady back to life from her metaphoric death in a loveless marriage spent in a hellish community.
The show wouldn't work without chemistry between Lady and Val. Read and Charette supply it, with a passion that burns slowly but is dramatically palpable. Read, an actor to keep an eye on, plays Lady's various notes - jumpy, tender, fervent, uncertain, needy, distrustful - with involving clarity; watch how her protective stiffness melts away when Val finally touches her. Charette captures much of the enigmatic, erotic quality of Val, a difficult character to define. Their first scene together is filled with some beautifully suggestive, lyrical poetry.
Anderson catches the otherworldly and sympathetic in Carol, a visionary and outsider in this community.
The chorus of gossipy, judgmental women is also strong, notably Lesley Robertson as Beulah Binnings, who has lots of exposition to deliver at the top of the show and does so in an engaging fashion; that's often a hard thing to bring off.
Orpheus Descending, which closed last Saturday, April 21, ran in rep with Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Happy End, directed by Alan MacInnis.
Theatre Sheridan has always been a reliable place to nurture young musical theatre talent, but now it's become a place to develop exciting new musicals, too.
That's thanks to the Canadian Music Theatre Project, "an incubator for the development of new musical theatre works by Canadian and international composers, lyricists and book-writers."
The CMTP recently presented readings of two new works at two performances at the Panasonic and several at its Oakville campus.
Central Park Tango is a cute, occasionally clever show with lots of potential. It's inspired by the real life story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins in New York's Central Park Zoo who made international headlines when they coupled and tried to hatch a rock.
Robert Gontier (book and lyrics) and Nicky Phillips (music and lyrics) have made this amusing premise into a timely story touching on modern families, acceptance and adoption.
Some more character development - particularly of the passive Silo - would help, as would ratcheting the tension among the other penguins. One heterosexual penguin couple seems to disapprove of the pair merely because they're hogging the media spotlight.
But we're very curious to see how this develops - and what kind of design will be involved. A chorus of penguins (or even other zoo animals?) might make fun narrators, and it'd be interesting to suggest the presence of humans as well - perhaps via paparazzi.
Come From Away, with book, music and lyrics by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, the creators of the hit musical My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, feels like it's at a more finished stage.
Inspired by the true story of the thousands of airplane travellers forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, after the 9/11 attacks, the musical is already richly atmospheric and full of heart.
Hein and Sankoff take an episodic approach to the events, setting scenes in airplanes, coffee shops, crowded hotel rooms and even the claustrophobic hold of an airplane, where one woman from the SPCA looks for forgotten animals.
The generous hospitality of the Newfoundlanders comes across in some lusty songs (and dances), evocatively staged by director David Ferry. But there's lots of heart-tugging emotion here, too, as when passengers watch the news or when they desperately attempt to phone their loved ones.
And at this stage some strong narratives are emerging, like two strangers who strike up a possible romance, or a man named Mohammed who experiences difficulty with officials.
Come From Away has lots of international potential, and we can't wait to see future incarnations.
There were lots of fine performers in the cast. Some of them will likely show up in Theatre Sheridan's production of Rent, which begins playing at the Panasonic on May 15. 416-872-1212.
Another theatre program, at Humber, also proved that it's good at nurturing young talent.
Country Of The Blind, a collaboration between Budget Cut Collective and Humber Theatre, is the collective creation of 30 graduating theatre artists, performers and production people; it ran a brief four days at Theatre Passe Muraille and closed Saturday, April 21.
The H.G. Wells-inspired story follows Nunez, a South American explorer, who through a mountain-climbing mishap finds himself in the Country of the Blind, where sight is unknown, even as a concept. The inhabitants, who include talking llamas and mushrooms, prove as adept as he, maybe even more so, at living life to the fullest; these are people who can "hear the grass and smell tomorrow's weather." When the sighted Nunez falls in love with a local woman, he discovers there's a price to be paid for marrying her.
Working without a director, the large company divided into units and created individual elements of the story that were later sewn together. Using text, music (Three Blind Mice was key), movement, puppetry and some clever design work with sheets, the collective took over the two levels of the Backspace, rotating the central roles; there were six Nunezes by the end of the show.
Clever and entertaining, the hour-long piece was a good demonstration that this graduating class has a lot to offer theatre audiences.
Théâtre Français de Toronto (TfT) struck gold a few years ago with a production of Francis Veber's Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Party), which features the calamity wrought by François Pignon, a walking disaster, when he's invited to a dinner party.
Veber had introduced Pignon in his earliest play, which he later rewrote as L'Emmerdeur (The Pain In The Ass), the final production in the 2011-12 TfT season.
Here, Pignon is assigned to photograph a man who's going to name names in a government trial; instead, Pignon tries unsuccessfully to commit suicide because his wife has left him for her psychiatrist. In the adjoining hotel room, hit man Ralph Milan waits with a sniper rifle to kill the government squealer before he talks.
Nice set-up, but it's pretty much a one-joke concept stretched out to more than an hour. While a farce, Le dîner de cons still gives some depth to its two central figures. In L'Emmerdeur, Veber just races through the action, complete with the requisite slamming doors (and windows, too) as Milan tries as hard as he can to distance himself from Pignon; in the meantime, Pignon becomes an increasingly sticky glue that inhibits the killer from doing his job.
Happily, director Guy Mignault works with the same pair who helped make TfT's earlier play a hit: Pierre Simpson as Pignon and Paul Essiembre as Milan. Simpson's fine timing and innocent, ever-hopeful smile are instantly winning, even though you'd never want this constantly annoying man, a stickler for the way things should be done, as a friend.
Essiembre moves from cool and collected to frantic and stressed; he's great at conveying a slow comic burn that eventually explodes like a hand grenade. The actors have great chemistry, too, always enlivening the stage with their push-pull antics.
There are a few other characters as well - Stéphanie Broschart as Pignon's wandering wife, Manuel Verreydt as her smug new boyfriend, and Patrick Romango as a cop - but they're two-dimensionally written, mostly used to drive the action. Only René Lemieux's big-hearted bellman, who discovers several couples in various sorts of compromising positions, gets some legitimate laughs.
Still a Baby
One of the most energetic Toronto productions of the 90s, Baby Redboots' Revenge, returns with its solo performer, Sean Sullivan, intact and a new director, Anne Meighan.
Written by the late Philip Dimitri Galas and termed by the playwright "avant-vaudeville," the piece follows the frenetic life of Baby Fourstrings, a child prodigy now playing in a polka band. Remembering its rat-a-tat performance style, we're curious how Sullivan will tackle the show two decades or so after its previous incarnations.
Baby Redboots' Revenge plays three performances this weekend before heading off to New York City's soloNova Festival. Hope it'll re-emerge later here in Toronto.