Unconventional performance was the order of the evening. Dance piece Meeting used a series of custom mechanical percussion instruments as its soundtrack, while theatre/performance piece Endings used old-fashioned audio technology — tapes and record players — to explore themes of death and dying. Meeting, in particular, was simply amazing; I have never seen anything like it.
Sound of the Beast is a challenging, powerful work now on stage in Toronto
Theatre Passe Muraille‘s mixed-media production Sound of the Beast takes us on an intense, challenging journey that moves from Tunisia to Toronto and back. Solo performer Donna-Michelle St. Bernard uses a well-crafted mixture of rap, song, spoken word, and story to share her experiences at the intersection of race and institutional power.
This unusual show isn’t for the politically faint of heart; St. Bernard is forceful and direct in her condemnation of racist cops, racist power structures, and our racist society. But her message is so strong, and the issues she discusses are so important, that I found the show to be very rewarding.
Rob Kempson’s new play explores human relationships on Toronto stages
Trigonometry, a new play by Rob Kempson, takes to the stage at Factory Studio Theatre with an intriguing drama about relationships and power. Set in a high school and lightly associated with the mathematics from which the play takes its name, this was a well-acted and largely enjoyable exploration of human relationships.
I enjoyed revisiting the familiar domain of high school, centered in a visually interesting set filled with mathematical symbols and equations. The play benefitted from exploring the power difference between student Jackson (Daniel Ellis) and teachers Susan (Alison Deon) and Gabriella (Rose Napoli), though I wish the power dynamic had been pushed even further.
Environmentalism and Faith feature in Peace River Country, now on stage in Toronto
Tarragon Theatre’s production of Peace River Country takes to the stage with the story of a rural Albertan family whose life is progressively destroyed by incoming gas-mining companies. The family fights back, the situation escalates, and the result is a suspenseful, well-crafted drama that resonates with today’s ongoing environmental struggles.
I loved Peace River Country; I thought the performances were superb, the production design thoughtful and creative, and the dialogue believable and well-written. But Peace River Country also has a very strong theme of Christianity, and I can imagine the centrality of this theme might be off-putting to some audience members.
Kim’s Convenience is at times funny, emotional, and heartfelt, on stage in Toronto
Kim’s Convenience returns to the stage in Soulpepper‘s funny, heartfelt, and timely production. The members of the Kim family rise to meet their challenges — whether in the form of interpersonal tension or the gentrification of their neighbourhood — with an admirable combination of humour and heart. It’s surely impossible not to laugh all the way through, and perhaps shed a tear at the end.
Kim’s Convenience was extremely funny; in particular, Appa (the delightful Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) displayed a winning zest for life that was the source of many comedic moments. At the same time, much of the humour stemmed from serious social issues: Appa’s Korean accent, the racial profiling of thieves, and relationships between people of colour and the police. It is a true testament to the quality of this play that it made me laugh, feel, and think at the same time.
Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is often considered a “problem” play for the way its central story—Isabella’s quest to free her brother Claudio from a death sentence—shifts between comedy and tragedy.
Infinity is “memorable, compelling drama” on the Tarragon stage in Toronto
Tarragon Theatre and Volcano Theatre’s co-production of Infinity is a stirring philosophical drama that stays mostly grounded in the humanity of its characters — a play about the messiness of careers, relationships, and the troublesome notion of passion. I had high expectations of playwright Hannah Moscovitch, and I’m happy to say that Infinity did not disappoint.
Infinity offers an ambitious mixture of philosophy, physics, and music. For me, a particular highlight of the production was the beautiful series of performances by violinist Andréa Tyniec, who haunts the background of this play through the semitransparent back wall of the set.
Rock Bottom Movement’s production of MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS was my first experience of absurdist dance, and it was a ton of fun: energetic, frequently very funny, and extremely strange. Overall, this Next Stage Theatre Festival show is an exuberant, colourful exploration of — well, I’m not entirely sure, but it’s certainly exuberant and colourful.
Comfort weaves a horrific, beautiful tale with poetry and music for Toronto audiences
Red Snow Collective’s production of Comfort (playing at Aki Studio) is a lyrical, creatively staged, and outright heartbreaking drama about love and resilience in a time of horror and atrocity. I was spellbound by the complex storytelling and moving performances; this was a play that I will never forget.
Comfort is based on the true historical story of the thousands of “comfort women” — Korean, Chinese, Filippina, and others — brutally enslaved into forced prostitution by the Japanese army during WWII. As the previous sentence suggests, this play goes to some very dark places, but I loved the way it also cherishes the power of language to keep culture and human dignity alive.