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: From The Water (Seven Siblings Theatre)

Photo of Will King by Will KingPlay balances speculation with comedy in Toronto

Believable science fiction is difficult to achieve on stage, a fact acknowledged by Eric Helle, director of Seven Siblings Theatre’s production of From The Water, which is now playing at the Tarragon Extraspace. Much of science fiction relies on the ability to create believable worlds and advanced technology, something that tends to require an enormous effects budget. Low-budget theatre knows it can’t really compare, so it has to concentrate its efforts elsewhere. Anyone who’s a fan of Star Trek: The Original Series and its cardboard sets, however, knows that it’s the characters and ideas that really matter in the long run. In these ways, From The Water largely succeeds in captivating our imaginations.

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Review: What I Call Her (Crow’s Theatre/In Association)

Photo of Michael Ayres and Charlie Gould by Dahlia KatzWhat I Call Her explores relationships through personality disorders, on stage in Toronto

In What I Call Her, Ellie Moon’s sophomore play presented by Crow’s Theatre/In Association, 25-year-old Kate’s mother, not that she calls her that, is desperately ill and near death. Kate (Charlie Gould) doesn’t seem particularly broken up about it. While her boyfriend Kyle (Michael Ayres) attempts to find the right pieces for his 3D puzzle – appropriately London Bridge, for things about to fall down – jumpy Kate, intense to the point of distress, breaks the silent companionship to announce her desire to write a tell-all Facebook obit about mom, ready to go for “when she croaks.”

Kate’s mother was a childhood sexual abuse survivor who tried to help others; she was also physically and emotionally abusive to Kate throughout her childhood. There’s a rift in the family. Kate’s father took her away from her mother, believing Kate’s accusations of abuse; Kate’s younger sister Ruby (Ellie Ellwand) sided with mom and refused to leave, believing Kate made up or was at fault for her experiences. Continue reading Review: What I Call Her (Crow’s Theatre/In Association)

Review: Vitals (Theatre Born Between)

Photo of Lauren Wolanski provided by the companyElectric performance anchors this revival of Vitals, now on stage in Toronto

Vitals, by Outside the March playwright-in-residence Rosamund Small, has received several productions and many accolades since its debut, including the 2014 Dora Awards for Outstanding Production and New Play (Independent Theatre category). New theatre company Theatre Born Between devotes its premiere production to the one-woman show, presented in stripped-down form at The Commons Theatre. Thanks to a strong performer and some unique staging elements, the company proves that this urgent script doesn’t need an elaborate production to remain vital.

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Review: Gods Like Us (Theatre Nidāna)

Photo of Vince Deiulis and Zazu Oke provided by the companyAn “insightful look at the moral complexity of an untold story,” now on stage in Toronto.

Most Canadian history classes, if my experience is any indication, teach very little about African involvement in the first World War – many of those important details tend to get lost under the narrative of Canada coming into its own as a nation. It’s those missing pieces in our knowledge that spurred Zazu Oke and Vince Deiulis of Theatre Nidāna to create Gods Like Us, now playing at the Factory Studio Theatre, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting.

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Review: Will You Be My Friend (Green Light Arts)

Photo of Janice Jo Lee provided by the companyJanice Jo Lee’s play tackles white supremacy with brutal honesty but also song and humour, is now playing in Toronto

The original title of Will You Be My Friend, a Green Light Arts production now playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, was Janice Lee and the White Supremacy Showdown. Both titles fit the work, but the former was used for marketing reasons, “so that you would come,” Kitchener-Waterloo playwright and solo performer Janice Jo Lee says. Lee’s brutal honesty, surrounded by appealing songs and humour, makes the show an iron fist in a slowly-removed velvet glove.

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Review: The Wolves (The Howland Company/Crow’s Theatre)

Amaka Umeh in The Wolves photo by Dahlia KatzSarah DeLappe’s stunning debut play takes the stage … er … soccer pitch in Toronto

The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe, shortlisted for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, features a demographic who has a very hard time being taken seriously while facing ultra-serious pressures: teenage girls. This teen girl squad is a highly-competitive soccer team, vying for the eye of university scouts while navigating their complicated interpersonal relationships and their place in the world. DeLappe’s adept hand with this complex world makes it hard to believe this is her first play, and its critical reception is justified. This production, by The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre, brims with vitality, humour, and heart; it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen in some time.

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Review: Talking Treaties (Jumblies Theatre)

Photo of Kitsune Soleil by Liam CooA site-specific promenade performance at Toronto’s Fort York is an interactive history lesson

One of the performers in Talking Treaties Spectacle, “a mobile performance artfully sharing Indigenous knowledge and history” presented by Jumblies Theatre at Historic Fort York, reveals that he used to think that treaties were large, ornate gilded papers preserved in books, argued over by lawyers from both sides and fairly agreed on by everyone. This turns out to be anything but the truth: treaties have often been unequal, deceptive, neglected, and even misplaced.

Talking Treaties is a mobile, interactive history lesson based on three main agreements: the Dish With One Spoon Treaty, the Covenant Chain, and the “Toronto Purchase” with the Mississaugas of New Credit (the last only legally “settled” in 2010).

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Review: Krapp’s Last Tape (Singing Swan/Theatre Passe Muraille)

Photo of Bob Nasmith provided by the company
Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille revives their production of Samuel Beckett’s play for its 50th season

Making it to 50 is a huge milestone for anyone, particularly a theatre company. To celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, Theatre Passe Muraille brings Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape back to the stage, remounting the popular Singing Swan production co-produced by VideoCabaret.

Instead of his 50th, Krapp is celebrating his 69th year, and from actor Bob Nasmith’s deliberate overemphasis of the haggardness and frailty of his visage, it’s a hard-living 69. When the curtain – rarely used in the small Backspace, but necessary to preserve the reveal of a dusty jewel box of a small period set (Chris Clifford) – rises, he is setting up to review a tape he made when he turned 39. Like a Russian nesting doll of reflection, that tape also contains a review of a tape made when he was in his twenties.

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Review: Gertrude and Alice (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre)

Photo of Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry by Jeremy MimnaghToronto’s Buddies in Bad Times remounts a play about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Gertrude and Alice, Buddies in Bad Times’ remount of Independent Aunties’ 2016 work about the lives of revolutionary writer and bon vivant Gertrude Stein and her “secretary,” Alice B. Toklas, doesn’t feature the traditional biopic structure. After all, as the characters tell us, if we want all of the facts in a timeline, we can simply consult the handsomely-appointed program, one of the most informative and attractive I’ve seen outside of the Shaw Festival, before or after the show. More to the point, Stein says, “what happened is only one part of what is important.”

So, what is important? We start with Stein (Evalyn Parry) welcoming us to the proceedings, part lecture, part party and part peek into the inner workings of Stein and Toklas’ (Anna Chatterton) decades-long working and romantic relationship. In a constant patter of audience acknowledgment, but not participation, she quizzes us as to whether we’ve read her works, and if not, why are we here? Are we interested more in the image of Stein and Toklas than in Stein’s ideas? Why are we much more likely to have read the work of those she mentored – all men – than hers? These questions hang in the air throughout the evening.

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Review: Gay Play Day (Alumnae Theatre)

Gay Play Day is Toronto’s festival of theatre featuring work by LGBTQ playwrights

Gay Play Day, hosted by Alumnae Theatre and now in its seventh year, is a play festival focused on premiering work by LGBTQ playwrights and on LGBTQ themes. There are two programs, presented at different times, which seem to be structured to appeal to different audiences.

Pink, comprised of Fade to Black, Labels, Diamonds on Plastic, and Point and Click skews toward an older, more conventional audience with more traditionally structured work; one play nostalgically venerates Old Hollywood, and in another, a shopaholic, drunken Southern belle monologist (Margaret Lamarre, tearing up Philip Cairns’ Diamonds on Plastic) is right out of a slightly crasser Tennessee Williams play. Lavender, made up of I’ve Just Seen a Face, Missed Connections, The End is the Beginning and Coming Clean, feels a lot younger and a little more chaotic and fun, much of it an evolution of standup or sketch comedy.

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