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: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical (Showstopper Productions)

Improvised musical arrives on the Toronto stage

Earlier this year, I reviewed a Fringe show that promised a completely improvised musical over the course of one hour after just one suggestion from the audience. Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is that show writ large; instead of an accomplished local comedy troupe, the accomplished performers (The Showstoppers) are here on tour from England; instead of one suggestion, they incorporate several over the course of the evening; instead of a Fringe space, they must fill the cavernous Panasonic Theatre, and instead of one hour, they run a bit over two with intermission.

However, their challenge is the same: can they tell a complete story without leaving too many loose threads? Can they make catchy, harmonic music of varying styles, while rhyming? Can they run the gamut from The Sound of Music to Hamilton on the audience’s whim? Showstopper! does a great job with its constraints, it’s loads of fun, and it’s pretty easy on the ears.

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PREVIEW: SOULO Theatre Festival (Soulo Theatre)

Tracey Erin Smith took the Fringe world by storm in 2006 with her one-woman show The Burning Bush, about a rabbi who finds enlightenment through stripping. Since then, she’s made a name for herself as a solo player and teacher of Soulo classes, in which aspiring artists are encouraged to find their voices and create a personal performance piece. The classes continue, but in addition, Smith runs a five-day theatre festival that includes both performances of finished pieces and workshops for those who are inspired to tell their own stories. Now in its fifth year, the SOULO Theatre Festival runs from May 25-29 2017 at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. We asked Smith a few questions about the upcoming event.

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Review: The Dress HE Wore (Lift the Lid Theatre)

The title of The Dress HE Wore—a Lift the Lid Theatre production now playing at Red Sandcastle Theatre—alongside its billing (“a provocative and disturbing black comedy”) strongly implies that the show is going to be a focused exploration of the impetus behind crossdressing.

The dress is there – an oversized floral almost-muumuu worn by solo actor Alastair Love’s David – but it’s really incidental, almost ancillary to the plot. Though the character wears a dress, its trappings are merely symbolic, a representation of a dysfunctional relationship he can’t quite let go.

Running a scant 45 minutes, The Dress HE Wore is nevertheless a fascinating look into a nuanced but often unsympathetic character. It’s never boring, but disappointingly relies heavily on stereotypical commentary regarding male and female gender roles.

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Review: The Clean House (Alumnae Theatre Company)

The Clean House is comedy that is “polished”, “superb”, and “bitingly funny” on stage in Toronto

After seeing the opening night performance of Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, now playing at Alumnae Theatre, my companion put too much hot sauce on her Pad Thai. Tears streaming down her face, she assured me, “I’m crying, but I’m happy.” After a moment of careful consideration, she continued, “like the play.” It was a fitting statement, as The Clean House is a bitingly funny comedy with a wounded, glorious heart underneath; it’s a wonderfully, startlingly human play about weird love, family, devotion, class, and the funniest joke in the world.

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Review: Kiss (ARC and Theatre Smash/Canadian Stage)

Playing in Toronto, Kiss is a surprising, powerful show that could dive a bit deeper

Guillermo Calderón’s Kiss, presented by Theatre Smash and ARC and now playing at Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre, is a show that goes from 0-60 at lightning speed. Audience members are initially treated to a chuckle-worthy melodrama featuring an intense love quadrangle, seemingly inexplicably set in Damascus.

But not all is as it appears to be, and the twists and turns of the play rapidly change it from soap opera to something much deeper. Kiss is a powerful show that will keep you thinking about it long after the actors have left the stage, but its deceptions and pointed commentary prove to be both its greatest strengths and its greatest weaknesses.

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Review: A City (Necessary Angel)

Necessary Angel explores theatre through tableaus at the Artscape Sandbox in Toronto

A City, based on playwright Greg MacArthur’s experiences in Montreal with a group of young theatre artists, bills itself as a version of a “tableau vivant” (a silent arrangement of human beings that forms a still picture). If you’re worried that means a lot of dead air on stage, don’t be; the emphasis in Necessary Angel’s production at Artscape Sandbox is definitely on the “vivant,” with near-constant motion and intimate connection with the audience in 65 quick minutes.

It’s fitting that the so-called tableaux are in motion, because the show revolves around liminal states, those moments in between when you can feel an ending coming (a life, an era, a friendship), but the realization hasn’t quite arrived. It’s a comment on our desire but ultimate inability to freeze time.

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Review: Breath In Between (Crow’s Theatre)

Breath in Between vacillates between “artifice and symbolism”, on stage in Toronto

“I’m sick of all this artifice,” proclaims Roger, the main character of Anton Piatigorsky’s Breath In Between. Coming about two-thirds of the way through the Crow’s Theatre show playing at Streetcar Crowsnest, it’s a meta moment, as this is a show that trades heavily on artifice and symbolism.

In fact, it walks a fine line between artifice and painful earnestness, as it attempts to ponder the constantly-switching sacred and profane in human connection. It’s a complicated and dark show about deeply unpleasant people, with a philosophical bent that intrigues and irritates in equal measure. Breath In Between will stay with you, and it’s never boring, but for a show that’s all about the heart, it’s difficult to love.

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Review: In On It (emerGENce Theatre)

In On It is “powerful” experimental theatre, now playing on the Toronto stage

When I saw the first Toronto production of Daniel MacIvor’s In On It in 2002, it blew my high-school-aged mind. It was a piece of meta-theatre about the messiness of endings, living with disappointment, and how our expectations of life and of theatre share some uncanny similarities: we’re hoping things will satisfyingly come full circle, that they’ll work out, that we’ll leave on something pithy or fun or daring. In theatre, we can engineer an ending; in life, it rarely works out so well.

Nearly fifteen years later, I was eager to see emerGENce Theatre’s fresh production of the show at Theatre Passe Muraille. Some things about it have aged better than others, but with age comes wisdom, experience and melancholy. In On It has all of these things, and it’s a show you want to get in on. Continue reading Review: In On It (emerGENce Theatre)

Review: The Gut Girls (Alumnae Theatre)

Cast photo provided by the companyThe Gut Girls, on stage in Toronto, is “funny, philosophical and savage”

It was with a heavy heart on Inauguration Day that I sat down to watch Alumnae Theatre’s production of The Gut Girls, Sarah Daniels’ feminist play about British women who live at the top of the 20th century and the bottom of society. They hang on to a precarious livelihood and some shred of autonomy by taking jobs in the “gut sheds,” where they work in pools of blood, butchering animal carcasses and removing entrails.

The Gut Girls were the original Nasty Women: coarse, rude, fierce, and above all self-sufficient, they attempted to be the masters of their own fates, only to be cut down by a society that adheres to strict social and gender roles. The play was written in 1988 to combat Britain’s trauma from Margaret Thatcher’s election, and as the 45th American President is sworn in to the sound of mass, worldwide protests, it only appears more timely. It’s a vital work that demands to be seen today, to acknowledge the past and try to change the future.

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Review: Sister Act (Lower Ossington Theatre)

sister-act

LOT’s Sister Act brings the 90’s classic film to the Toronto stage in musical format

You will likely walk out of Sister Act: The Musical, now playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre, with a smile on your face. However, you might not remember anything ten minutes after you walk out that door. The show has a heartwarming message, but features some exceptionally bland book and songwriting, which energetic performances can only take so far.

The chemistry of the nuns’ sisterhood and the standout performance of the Mother Superior are worth seeing. The writing, is, well… nunsense.

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