Young People's Theatre closes its season with two plays that speak to different ages. One's a pre-teen piece of storytelling that charms with its narrative, visuals and music; the other's a more serious work exploring teen mental health issues.
Baobab, produced by Quebec's Théâtre Motus and Mali's Sô Company, draws on West African folk legend to tell about a boy who saves his people from drought by going on a quest and replenishing the land with water. Written and directed by Hélène Ducharme and presented in Leanna Brodie's English translation, the show is a vibrant piece of theatre, sure to win children (and their parents) with its blend of fascinating characters, puppetry and live music played on African instruments.
The actors - Ralph Prosper, Mireille Tawfik, Aboulaye Koné and Nathalie Cora - involve viewers from the start by including shout-outs of audience members' names. The audience responds just as warmly to the lively puppets, both shadow figures and three-dimensional ones, including a monkey that loves to shake its bum at us.
Writer/director Edward Roy's Beyond The Cuckoo's Nest focuses on a trio of teens (Miranda Edwards, David Patrick Flemming and Brendan McMurtry-Howlett) dealing with mental health issues. They've all suffered from being labelled and treated differently - that is, stigmatized - by their fellow students. Among the topics touched on are ADHD, anxiety disorder, paranoia, medication, schizophrenia and accepting responsibility for one's actions.
The three meet regularly as a group with Cathy (Soo Garay), a solid counsellor with whom they discuss and share their thoughts and experiences. When a romantic triangle develops, their close relationship inside and outside the group starts to splinter.
Roy looks not only at the specific issues the characters face but also at outside forces, including parental and peer pressure. He presents lots of information about dealing with disorders, but while the playwright is adept at capturing the language of these people, at times we want more details about their lives.
Flemming stands out as the group clown who uses humour to protect his emotions but is clueless about handling personal relationships. Another highlight of the production is Andy Moro's set, a series of irregular, moving panels behind which we see projections, visuals that provide not only a physical setting but also a sense of the characters' feelings and moods.
Welcome back, James Kudelka. The former artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada has been absent from local stages lately, but last week we caught his gorgeous adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel The House Of Mirth that shows he's at the height of his creative powers.
Wharton's novel about the rise and fall of society woman Lily Bart in turn-of-the-20th-century Manhattan was successfully made into a film by Terence Davies. You might call Kudelka's version for Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie a hybrid opera (with music by Rodney Sharman, libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin) and dance piece (choreographed by Kudelka), but that wouldn't do it justice.
Kudelka, who directs, has created a completely immersive experience that affects all the senses. As you enter the Citadel, a chamber group is already playing, and the singers and dancers, beautifully outfitted in period costumes by Hoax Couture's Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell, are milling about.
When Lily (Laurence Lemieux) dances, the rustle of her dress and the way she's lit by designer Simon Rossiter tell you as much about her characters as the choreography or Lemieux's affecting performance.
What's impressive is how swiftly the piece moves along. There's no traditional narrative, which takes a while to get used to, but Poch-Goldin establishes the various settings - a bridge game, a glamorous ball, a street - and the social milieu economically, and his libretto is filled with suggestive lines that resonate.
Sharman's music is effective, too, full of sumptuous lyricism or dissonant jabs, depending on the situation.
The performances are rich and full of subtle details, made all the more powerful because of the intimate space. Look at Claudia Moore's acid assessment of Lily as the latter steals the spotlight during one pivotal scene.
Kudelka's most clever move, however, is splitting up the performers according to gender. The singers are all male (countertenor Scott Belluz, tenor Graham Thomson, baritone Alexander Dobson and bass baritone Geoffrey Sirett), while the dancers (Lemieux, Moore, Christianne Ullmark and Victoria Bertram) are female.
That's appropriate, because in this society, it's only men who have a voice; women are merely objects to be admired.
From The House Of Mirth only had a run of a few days. Let's hope a longer run is in the works; more people need to see it.
Playing in the Dirt
The third and latest Soulpepper Academy makes its first stage appearance beginning Friday (May 18) with Dirt, a collective creation marking the culmination of the eight-member troupe's first-year training process.
A blend of contemporary urban stories, movement pieces and multimedia displays, the show explores dirt in its literal and metaphoric senses, "from grime under fingernails to dark, dirty secrets."
The performers are Akosua Amo-Adem, Qasim Khan, Sarah Koehn, Courtney Lancaster, Justin Many Fingers, Hannah Miller, Paolo Santalucia and Daniel Williston. Two alumni of the Academy, Ken MacKenzie and Lorenzo Savoini, design the production.
Two groups are looking for writing submissions of various sorts.
The cultural arts department of the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre seeks applications for the 2012 Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition. The winner receives a professionally acted and directed public workshop at the JCC next year.
The writer need not be Jewish but must be Canadian or have a strong Canadian connection; the play content should have a Jewish focus and depict some aspect of Jewish life.
For details, contact Esther Arbeid at 416-924-6211 ext 606, or email@example.com. Deadline is July 3.
With arts funding cuts and a municipal political climate that's not always friendly toward local artists, artists Jenna Harris, Ronit Rubenstein and Anila Pant are planning the December publication of City Voices: A Book Of Monologues By Toronto Artists.
They want to include monologues by people of all ages and backgrounds, novice and professional. They should be one to two minutes in length, on any topic that can be performed by an individual, and in any form, from traditional theatre piece to spoken word, from diary entry to poetry.
The aim of the book is "to juxtapose the currently arid political climate with the richness of creative expression in Toronto," facilitating a forum to have those voices heard and celebrate them.