All posts by Ilana Lucas

Ilana Lucas has been a big theatre nerd since witnessing a fateful Gilbert and Sullivan production at the age of seven. She has studied theatre for most of her life, holds a BA in English and Theatre from Princeton and an MFA in Dramaturgy and Script Development from Columbia, and is currently a professor of English and Theatre at Centennial College. She believes that theatre has a unique ability to foster connection, empathy and joy, and has a deep love of the playfulness of the written word. Her favourite theatrical experience was the nine-hour, all-day Broadway performance of The Norman Conquests, which made fast friends of an audience of strangers.

Review: Mixie and the Halfbreeds (fu-GEN Theatre)

Sharp, insightful, “unfinished by design” play explores identity on the Toronto stage

What is it like to be mixed-race in a society that seems equally fixated on getting you to choose a singular self and asking, “no, where are you really from?” That’s the question plaguing the central characters of Mixie and the Halfbreeds, now being presented by fu-GEN Theatre at the Pia Bouman School, Scotiabank Studio Theatre. As in the quest for identity, there’s no straightforward answer.

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Review: The Drawer Boy (Theatre Passe Muraille)

Canadian play talks memory, storytelling, and voice, now on stage in Toronto

Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy, currently running at Theatre Passe Muraille, is one of the most produced Canadian plays of all time. It features a familiar societal conflict: urban versus rural, actor versus tractor. Somehow, in all my theatre education, I had missed seeing this play thus far, and was excited to hear that Passe Muraille was bringing it back in honour of its 50th season.

What makes The Drawer Boy so enduringly popular with theatregoers, I think, is its exploration of the power of story and theatre; in particular, how story is so inextricably linked with memory and identity. When we change the stories we tell to and about ourselves, we can’t help but change who we are.

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Review: No Foreigners (fu-GEN/Hong Kong Exile)

No Foreigners Production Photo
A multimedia production of David Yee’s new play takes the stage at Toronto’s Theatre Centre

As I watched No Foreigners, a co-production between fu-GEN Theatre Company and Hong Kong Exile produced in association with Theatre Conspiracy and presented at The Theatre Centre, I was reminded of an essay by Wayson Choy, “I’m a Banana and Proud of It,” wherein he describes his long road to accepting “the paradox of being both Chinese and not Chinese.”

This is the same paradox the play explores, using the setting of Chinese shopping malls as “racialized spaces of cultural creation and clash.” Text writer David Yee asks us: what does it mean to be Chinese? What is it like to feel like a foreigner in your own country, or to your own background? Do you belong everywhere, or nowhere? The questions are universal; the way the play deals with them is unique, fascinating, and thoroughly amusing.

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Review: Dark Heart (Thought For Food)

Photo of Genevieve Adam and Michael Iliadis by John GundyDark Heart is a “brave new world of a show” playing on the Toronto stage

Dark Heart, a Thought For Food production now playing at the Assembly Theatre, is a prequel to an earlier work by playwright Genevieve Adam, Deceitful Above All Things, which is set in the same world of colonial New France. I haven’t seen it, but now I’m more than intrigued — this nuanced, captivating show inhabits a world worth visiting and revisiting.

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Review: Mustard (Tarragon)

Anand Rajaram and Sarah Dodd in Mustard, photo by Cylla von TiedemannTarragon Theatre brings the Dora Award-winning Mustard back to the Toronto stage

In Kat Sandler’s bright and offbeat Mustard, now being remounted at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace, the titular character isn’t supposed to be there. Yet he persists. Mustard (Anand Rajaram) is Thai’s imaginary friend, confidant, and protector. That’s all well and good, but most imaginary friends aren’t supposed to hang around until you’re 16. Thai (Rebecca Liddiard), however, is both blessed and cursed with a giggly, rambunctious, fully-grown imaginary man with a penchant for scatological humour, because she needs a little extra love. Her father deserted the family, her mother drinks and takes pills to pretend to cope – and, oh, she’s pregnant by her college-age boyfriend.

Mustard has already won Doras for best production and performance (for Anand Rajaram), and it’s easy to see why. It’s got the bones of a typical family drama with an appealing atypical spin. It’s got humour, heart and fantasy — and it’s got just enough dark-edged, brutal danger to spice things up.

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Review: Million Dollar Quartet (Drayton Entertainment)

Tyler Check, Gerrad Everard and Matt Cage in Million Dollar QuartetMillion Dollar Quartet brings musical legends together, now playing on the Toronto stage

Drayton Entertainment’s production of Million Dollar Quartet at the newly-renamed CAA Theatre is a fictionalized jukebox musical about a real once-in-a-lifetime jam session. On December 4, 1956, four men gathered in a room in a meeting that would never be replicated. The recording studio at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records was largely responsible for the birth of rock and roll, and the independent shop still had the sound bigger record companies wanted to emulate (or steal) at all costs. Past, present, and future Sun Records stars Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis would play there together for the first and last time.

More of a concert with a whisper-thin plot than even a jukebox musical, Million Dollar Quartet knows and embraces what it is: an easy and assured crowd-pleaser squarely aimed at the demographic that can at least vaguely remember 1956 (or the decade thereafter). If you like the music, you will have a good time. If you don’t, why are you there in the first place?

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Review: Moll (Randolph College)

Photo of Armando Biasi and Alexandra Grant by Raph Nogal Timely and engaging Moll arrives on the Toronto stage

In this current world of #metoo, when it comes to sexual violence and predation, there are a few common themes. One, people in power tend to get away with things. Two, women who are victimized are often seen as tainted, and three, the onus appears to be on the woman to prove she is good enough, special enough, trustworthy enough not to have somehow deserved it. Cue the very timely Moll, a world-premiere musical being presented by the Randolph College for the Performing Arts at the Annex Theatre. A loosely-inspired, modern Canadian update of the 1722 novel Moll Flanders, it’s about a woman trying to become self-reliant with the deck stacked against her.

Written by Leslie Arden and the late Cathy Elliott, with Anna Theresa Cascio, Moll is a complex, catchy, and consummately professional show that I hope will have a life outside of Randolph. Even if not, like #metoo, it reminds us of the importance of listening to women’s voices in the here and now.

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Review: Poison (Coal Mine Theatre)

Fiona Highet and Ted Dykstra in PoisonPoison explores the human relationship with loss, playing at the Coal Mine Theatre in Toronto

The Canadian premiere of the award-winning Poison by Dutch playwright Lot Vekemans, Coal Mine Theatre’s first commissioned translation, features a gaping hole at its core by design. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, it’s one of the most fulfilling plays I’ve seen this year. Continue reading Review: Poison (Coal Mine Theatre)

Review: Grab ‘Em By The Pussy (Theatre ARTaud/Filament Incubator)

Graphic provided by the companyTheatre Passe Muraille presents a politically driven ‘surrealist vaudeville farce’ on stage in Toronto

Watching “Grab ‘Em By The Pussy” – Or How To Stop Worrying & Love The Bomb, a “surrealist vaudeville farce” presented by Theatre ARTaud in conjunction with Filament Incubator at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, is like scrolling through the political parts of your Facebook feed. Alternately depressing and satisfying, it provides plenty of stimulation to keep the viewer entertained and feeling outraged, guilty or virtuous. However, after you look up and realize hours have passed, there’s the overarching feeling of emptiness: what have you accomplished in that time?

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Review: Tragedie of Lear (Tragedie of Lear)

Photo of Joella Crichton, Deborah Drakeford, Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster, and (Background) Walter Borden by Jon de LeonThe Tragedie of Lear presents a contemporary imagining of Shakespeare’s play in Toronto

The Tragedie of Lear, presented by the eponymous company at the Palmerston Library Theatre, seeks to help audiences connect to the supposedly “modern problem” of how adult children care for their parents, particularly those with mental illness, through the lens of a venerable tragedy.

Because of the age of the actor playing Lear, Walter Borden, the play has an alternate in case of illness. This was the case the afternoon I saw the play. If nobody had told me, I would have assumed Christopher Kelk was the original Lear all along. Surrounded by cast members who seemed to tower over him, he showed a mercurial disposition conflicting with subtle physical degeneration (the production worked with a neurological consultant). Moments of respite remind us that decline is not necessarily predictable or linear. I wish I’d been able to see both Lears for the full experience, but as Lear himself proves to us, time waits for no man.

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