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: 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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Review: how to drown gracefully (Filament Incubator)

Photo of Becky Tanton provided by the companyhow to drown gracefully is “captivating” and “strong” theatre playing in Toronto

Kat, the main character of Becky Tanton’s how to drown gracefully (presented by Filament Incubator at Kensington Hall) spends most of the play getting in and out of a bathtub. She’s having a hard time leaving the water, which represents both a safe haven and dangerous escape. Kat (played by Tanton) wants to drown, though not in a suicidal way, just to disappear for a while. A disastrous love quadrangle has her nursing hurt feelings while confronting her own less than stellar actions. While the navel-gazing angst in the show feels very familiar, the writing made enough of a splash to make me want to wade in.

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Review: Pets (Changeup and Shadowland Theatre)

Photo of Bilal Baig and Michael Ruderman by Neil SilcoxCompelling Pets takes to the Toronto stage

The opening night of Pets, presented by Changeup Theatre and Shadowland Theatre, started at a distinct disadvantage. The site-specific piece, set in a garage next to Trinity Bellwoods park, was wracked with winds and rain strong enough to blow over the box office tent. It was an evening suitable for the hardiest of theatregoers, as the play is presented both outside and in an unheated space, with a runtime of about two hours, and an intermission where patrons are asked to stand around in an alley. Nonetheless, those who stuck it out were rewarded with a visually inventive and passionate show about what happens when our furry and feathered friends are forced to make it on their own.

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Review: Lela & Co. (Discord and Din Theatre)

Photo of Jenna Harris and Graham Cuthbertson by Dahlia Katz

Lela & Co., on stage at Toronto’s Theatre Centre, is a powerful story of abuse

When Lela (Jenna Harris), the protagonist of Cordelia Lynn’s searing drama Lela & Co., (currently being presented by Discord and Din Theatre at The Theatre Centre), turned thirteen in her small village, her father ordered “the Messiah of Cakes” for her birthday party. The night before the party, a small strip of pink icing went missing, and Lela has been blamed for it ever since.

The story of the cake is told and retold, ever exaggerated, throughout Lela’s harrowing life of subjugation, as she experiences war, abuse, and forced prostitution. A tiny slice of life, it’s nevertheless a symbol both of what happens to a girl who steps out of line, and how the lies we tell ourselves to survive eventually become the truth. Lela, in direct address to the audience, wants us to know the real truth – and what a fascinating and stark truth it is.

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Spawn (Wild Woman Theatre) 2017 SummerWorks Review

Photo of Samantha Brown by Blair BouskillSPAWN, presented by Wild Woman Theatre and inspired by the Coast Salish story of the Salmon Spirit, got off to a bit of a rocky start as the first SummerWorks Performance Festival show in the Factory Mainspace.

Swimming upstream, it started nearly half an hour late. It was fitting for a show that is ultimately about surviving and even thriving through adversity.

SPAWN is a sweet (yet hard-edged) story of family, though the family is patchwork and at times either grudging or makeshift. It features complex characters and a refreshing lack of true villains, and it gets by on its earnestness and the genuine desire it provokes to see all its characters succeed. With all that said, I found myself wanting a second act from this tale.

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Reality Theatre (QuestionMark-Exclamation Theatre) 2017 SummerWorks Review

Photo of Krista Morin by Brynna Reilly

Reality Theatre (QuestionMark-Exclamation Theatre), now playing at the SummerWorks Performance Festival, begins with a fantastic framing device; Akosua Amo-Adem brings her own chair to the front of the stage and proceeds to watch the audience with great interest.

Popcorn bucket in hand, she appears the physical embodiment of a GIF signifying drama going down on the Internet. She coolly and hilariously surveys latecomers desperately trying to find a seat in the packed house (a strong argument for featuring the show in SummerWorks, which allows latecomers, instead of Fringe, which does not.) Things only get better when a second character enters the stage and is disconcerted by her hungry gaze.

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Review: Hogtown: The Immersive Experience (The Hogtown Collective)

Photo of Laura Larson, Karen Slater and Emma Wiechers provided by the companyImmersive play Hogtown opens its doors to the Toronto public

Hogtown: The Immersive Experience (The Hogtown Collective), now playing at Toronto’s historic Campbell House, embraces the concept of participatory choose-your-own-adventure theatre that has been so popular with audiences in such shows as Sleep No More. It’s a site-specific formula that works extraordinarily well: give the audience a set-up, and then let them roam around as stories unfold simultaneously, following whichever characters intrigue them. Hogtown delivers this intrigue in spades. Continue reading Review: Hogtown: The Immersive Experience (The Hogtown Collective)

The Clergy Project (SOULO Theatre) 2017 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, Reverend Shawn Newton and Father Daniel Brereton by Dahlia Katz

The Clergy Project, produced by SOULO Theatre, playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, tells us religion is theatre. Most familiar with both would probably agree. Both have narrative, thematic importance, and the whole range of human drama and emotion. Because truth can be stranger and more compelling than fiction, having a range of religious leaders tell us stories from their life’s work is rife with dramatic possibility. The project’s three clergy, Reform Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, Unitarian Reverend Shawn Newton, and Anglican Father Daniel Brereton, all trailblazers in their own right, share what calls them to the pulpit. As a very lapsed Jew, I wasn’t expecting this show to strike a major chord with me, let alone wreck me emotionally. Call me a convert, because it did.

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The Food Project (Theatre By Committee) 2017 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Veronica Barron by Owen Fawcett

The Food Project, produced by Theatre By Committee, playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, understands that it’s hard to talk about the convoluted ethical quagmire that comprises the choice of what we eat daily. After all, eating, they acknowledge, is one of the things we do most, and it’s one thing we can’t stop doing if we want to stay alive. It’s particularly hard to talk about this type of ethical choice without being didactic, the death knell of effective theatre everywhere.

The actors, therefore, deliver their lecture with a wink, obviously aware that a show on this topic can never quite lose the aspect of well-meaning lecture. There are a lot of hard truths to digest here, but they’re sure portrayed as entertainingly as possible.

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Interstellar Elder (Ingrid Hansen, SNAFU) 2017 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Ingrid Hansen by Laura Dittmann

Interstellar Elder, produced by Ingrid Hansen and SNAFU, playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, could be considered a very tenuous sequel to Hansen’s 2014 Fringe smash, Kitt & Jane: An Interactive Survival Guide to the Near-Post Apocalyptic Future. Kitt & Jane explored the destruction of our natural environment through the lens of two precocious and imaginative children on the verge of adolescence, and I loved its sparkling wit and touching character interaction.

In Interstellar Elder, Kit Peterson is back, but instead of being a small child, she winds up hundreds of years old in the semi-distant future, the only unfrozen passenger on a ship set to repopulate the earth after an actual natural disaster has made it uninhabitable. Despite the thematic connection, this is an incredibly different show, nearly silent and solo. However, Hansen manages to say a surprising amount about the human condition anyway; the incredibly aged Kitt still has that spark.

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