A Room To Perform/YES, a double bill created by Katie Lyle and Shelby Wright and Linnea Swan respectively, and now playing at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, is an interesting duo. Both pieces have to do with restrictions in dance, but one embraces the restrictions, while the other rebels against them. It’s hard to be the clinical rules-follower when the cool renegade shows up, so I feel the former show suffers a bit from the pairing, even if it holds its own.
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the aisha of is, presented by Sasha John Technique and performed by Aisha Sasha John at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, is one of those performance pieces that you just have to cheerfully admit is not created for you, and that’s okay.
The only thing is, I’m not completely sure who it’s for. Primarily, it feels like hallmarks of mystifying ritual that culminate in a cathartic experience for a committed performer; a ritual that, for the most part, I was only allowed to glimpse.
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From its title, you might expect fantasylover, presented by Rock Bottom Movement at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, to be a fluffy, bright, shiny and candy-coated romp of a dance show. It’s not. It’s funny and quirky, but there’s a screaming, twitching violence beneath its veneer of butt-baring leotards; aesthetically, it’s the feminist dance equivalent of a Hieronymous Bosch painting. That artist, famous for his depictions of naked, contorted figures on a hellscape background, would have approved of these women who aren’t afraid to go grotesque.
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Truthteller, presented by Lady Janitor at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, is one of the final two shows in a series of works (the other, also at SummerWorks, is The Reckoning). This was my first Lady Janitor experience, and I believe the work stands alone. It’s Performance Art, with a capital P.A., that walks the edge of taking itself too seriously, but doesn’t quite fall off the cliff.
Part salon, part physical trust exercise, part crystals and glitter and part singalong, it succeeds or fails primarily on how willing you are to go with it and participate in the experience. If you want and are prepared for that, it’s a good time. If you’re looking for cohesion and structure instead of vignettes and moments, you may have a rough trip.
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…And You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next, presented by Pressgang Theatre at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, features Graham Isador telling us a story about stories. In showman’s jacket, he expertly recounts how he became Buzzfeed-ready, groomed as a purveyor of vulnerability by an editor named Sam (whose eye he caught via one popular article about overindulging at a Mandarin buffet).
Directed by Jiv Parasram, Isador details his failed and eventually successful attempts at storytelling spec work, as he gets closer and closer to the sweet spot that will elicit the most “clicks.” Wrapped up in all of this is an exploration and critique of narrative. In particular, it’s an argument about how the stories we tell and consume shape others’ perceptions of us, and our perception of our own identity. What is the face we show to other people? In Isador’s case, it’s a complex and thoughtful one.
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One Little Goat brings absurdist theatre to the Tarragon Extraspace in Toronto
Music Music Life Death Music — a One Little Goat production written, directed and composed by Adam Seelig and playing at the Tarragon Extraspace — describes itself as an “absurdical” about family relationships. Absurdist theatre is a funny beast, and hard to do well. Though this might seem a mutually exclusive concept, I find the best absurd theatre has a very clear rationale to its tangents, bizarre moments and repetition. Often, plays in the genre feel like absurdity for its own sake, or even a warm-up writing exercise, and this show does have those moments. Like life, its a mixed but ultimately positive experience.
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Amsterdam is an ambitious new play that gets lost in its execution, on stage in Toronto
Amsterdam, by Dan McPeake, presented by new company Wilde Bunbury Theatre and presented at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, is a 50-minute one-act play that speaks about the nature of time and its ability to shift identity, and the different personas we have at different times and for different people. It’s simultaneously linear and non-linear, asking us what it would be like if time merely ceased to exist. It’s a philosophical play by a young, developing playwright, and it shows. In the end, there’s an ambitious and interesting concept here that unfortunately doesn’t quite work in the execution.
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I and You is “powerful”, “gut-wrenching”, “beautiful”, on stage at the Tarragon in Toronto
Lauren Gunderson’s I and You, an Outlook Theatre production now playing at the Tarragon Extraspace, falls squarely into the teen “sick-lit” genre of books like The Fault In Our Stars, where chronically, seriously ill high schoolers are humanized and given a chance to speak, explore life and death, and even find love.
Gunderson was the most-produced playwright in America (save Shakespeare) by far this past year, and it’s clear why. Her play is witty and self-aware; it’s charming, well-constructed and features nuanced, likable characters that challenge our assumptions and stereotypes about both teenagers and the chronically ill. It feels very safe and comforting, with enough theatrical flourish to bely that safety and not seem generic.
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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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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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