All posts by Jen Norman

Review: 1991 (RISER Project/Guilty By Association)

The RISER Project presents Cole Lewis’ unconventionally-staged coming-of-age play in Toronto

1991 is an inventive, intimate performance. Show creator Cole Lewis tells us a tragically all-too-common story about girlhood while eschewing traditions in theatrical performance and use of technology onstage.

We follow the account of 12-year-old Nicole, whom we soon realize is a younger, memory-distorted version of the playwright and creator. She spends a summer with her ill-tempered father in Delaware, ostensibly to protect her from the murders plaguing Southern Ontario. Although not stated explicitly, the lingering threat of a killer does seem to allude to notorious Canadian criminals Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, as well as one of their many victims Leslie Mahaffy. While Nicole survives her journey, we feel every bump and bruise she endures along the way.

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Review: Four Chords and a Gun (Starvox Entertainment)

Canadian premiere of punk rock memory play brings noise to Toronto

Four Chords and a Gun is a performance that we hear before we see. Fitting, considering it takes us behind the scenes of the iconic punk rock band the Ramones. After a rousing drum solo and some brief narration by sometime band member Marky Ramone (played by James Smith), we get to business. At least as much as a group of angry, self-medicating punks from Queens can.

The play is penned by comedian and actor John Ross Bowie, best known from roles on TV shows The Big Bang Theory and Speechless. This may cause trepidation for non-lovers of sitcoms, but untethered of television’s formulaic structure, Bowie proves himself a capable storyteller. He weaves a passionate, sharp, and informative account of the band, focusing on their trials and tribulations around recording the 1980 album End of the Century with flamboyant gun-toting producer Phil Spector.

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Review: William Shakespeare’s Shakespeare (Now I Am Dead Productions)

Intimate, thought-provoking biography of Shakespeare performs in east-end Toronto

After 400-odd years, we have a new Shakespearean play, thanks to Now I Am Dead Productions‘ innovative approach to The Bard’s work. Based on his writings and the (albeit limited) records of his life, this Toronto-based company present a new tragicomedy about the man behind many plays we now call classic.

The Most Humourous and Tragic Tale of William Shakespeare’s Shakespeare is a pseudohistorical drama that strips away the legacy and accolades of the playwright and looks at his life through lenses such as friend, lover, husband and father. In particular, the story is based on his creative process in staging Taming of the Shrew, his courtship of Anne Hathaway, and the deaths of loved ones such as his son Hamnet and his friendly rival Christopher Marlowe.

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Review: The Woods are Dark and Deep (Pulse Theatre)

A story from the dark side of Canada’s past told in a new ensemble-driven historical drama, onstage at Toronto’s Factory Theatre

At a time when our media is flooded with news reports on atrocities, political scandals, and war from our nation’s allies, it is easy to forget that Canada has a grim history of its own. The Woods are Dark and Deep is a reminder of what we must atone for, and how the actions of past generations linger today,

Set during World War I, this new play is based on the seldom-acknowledged internment camps that ran during wartime. Deemed enemies of the state, immigrants from countries Canada was at war against were treated as suspect and interned in labor camps.

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Review: Jersey Boys (Mirvish)

Mirvish brings retro pop to the stage starring Canadian-born talent in this true-enough story of Jersey’s own Four Seasons.

Mirvish plays host to a bit of sweet nostalgic comfort with a limited run of Jersey Boys, performing at the Ed Mirvish theatre for the next two weeks.

This jukebox musical tells the story of the American 1960’s group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, delving into the previously-unknown history of the band members, particularly the scandals that surrounded their personal lives. Each member of the quartet takes a turn narrating events, with each their own version of how things really happened.

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2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Cannibal (Scrap Paper Theatre)

In this new drama by Scrap Paper Theatre, Cannibal is a metaphor — barely. This is a visceral piece that captures the ugly side of fear, loss, and love with surgical precision, and the anesthesia we are given is fleeting. It performs at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, filling a modest studio setup with a staggering cocktail of emotions.

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2019 Next Stage Festival Review: Dinner with the Duchess (The Duchess Collective)

Fame. Power. Sexism. Dinner with the Duchess explores a lot of subject matter that usually doesn’t fly at the dinner table, but it’s delivery is so unflinching that you may not even blink during this 90-minute show. On as part of the 2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival, The Duchess Collective presents a thought-provoking and layered story about artistic passion, and its cost.

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Review: The Penelopiad (Hart House)

Herstory takes on classic mythology in this Canadian-penned theatre epic onstage in Toronto

Mythology gets modern in The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood’s alternate take on Homer’s Odyssey epic. Based on the 2005 novella of the same name, this pitch-black comic tragedy at Hart House theatre examines the life of Penelope, famed for holding court at Ithaca in her husband Odysseus’ twenty-year absence. In this version of events, she is much more than a dutifully waiting good wife.

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Review: Ghostbusters: The Movie Experience (The Secret Sessions)

Cult films and immersive theatre collide in innovative Toronto staging of 1980’s classic

The Redwood Theatre in Toronto’s Lower East Side, formerly known as the Centre of Gravity, has already made a mark on the local theatre scene by hosting sharply entertaining and one-of-a-kind performing arts events. That said, the giant inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man out front for the performance of Ghostbusters: The Movie Experience helps too.

The Secret Sessions is a local company that specializes in immersive reenactments of classic films, and their latest show is a romp through the 80’s classic, Ghostbusters.

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Review: Bat out of Hell (Mirvish)

Jim Steinman’s rock n’ roll musical Bat out of Hell returns to Toronto in time for Halloween

There’s a lot to unpack in Bat out of Hell, but this show prefers to throw the whole suitcase at you. Except, the suitcase is an exploding car engine. Based on the songs of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, the show is back at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre as part of its current North American tour.

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