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: 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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Hot Cuts (Birdtown and Swanville) 2018 SummerWorks Review

Photo by Slater Manzo

Hot Cuts, written and directed by Aurora Stewart de Peña and presented by Birdtown and Swanville at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival as a workshop presentation, reminds me of a moment in that most ‘80s of ‘90s movies, The Wedding Singer. Both that movie and this play have a great deal of fun with their over-the-top ‘80s style and references, though the play deals with the vagaries of small-town mall hairdressing rather than small-potatoes wedding performance.

The Wedding Singer, mostly fluff and sparkle, surprises with a bizarre, painful moment where the lead character has a rage-fueled existential meltdown in song. Though there’s no singing in Hot Cuts, it’s that feeling of existential menace that simmers constantly under the surface of the show, in an intriguing and uncomfortable way.

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A Room To Perform (Katie Lyle/Shelby Wright)/YES (Linnea Swan) 2018 SummerWorks Review

Photo of Linnea Swan by Tim Nguyen

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 (Sasha John Technique) 2018 SummerWorks Review

Photo of Aisha Sasha John provided by the artist

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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fantasylover (Rock Bottom Movement) 2018 SummerWorks Review

Photo of the company of fantasylover by Alyssa Martin

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 (Lady Janitor) 2018 SummerWorks Review

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 (Pressgang Theatre) 2018 SummerWorks Review

Photo of Graham Isador by Jillian Welsh

…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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Review: Music Music Life Death Music (One Little Goat)

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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