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Rants, Raves and Occasional Reviews

TORONTO, ON – Despite the title of my column, my week in Toronto left me with nothing to rant about (theatrically speaking) since I thoroughly enjoyed all the productions I saw, including The Government Inspector, Home Child, and Our Town.

Although, as for “Our Town”, we also saw “The Government Inspector” in preview, it was an excellent production. As my companion commented, “when Morris Panych hits the mark, he hits it with full force”.  His adaptation of Gogol’s play and his direction of this Soulpepper production is pure delight.    

Completed in 1836, The Government Inspector is based on the often used device of mistaken identity. However, as the program notes indicate, Gogol creates “characters of a depth and complexity rarely seen in farces”.   Since Soulpepper is a repertory company, many of these actors are also currently playing in Wilder’s Our Town, and this only helps to see their range of abilities and talents.  Nancy Palk again deserves special mention for her overbearing, sexualized and just plain cruel mother who looked like a Wonderland queen come to life. The contrast between the expressionless immobility of her face as the dead Mrs. Gibbs in Act 3 of Our Town and her over –the-top Anna was great to watch.

Ken MacDonald’ s angled set, reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Calgiari, created a quirky expressionistic ambience, amidst which the hilarity and meta-theatricality of Panych’s script played out perfectly, reminding us, as my companion observed wistfully as she pulled out a stack pf papers to be read before her next class,  that creating theatre is fun. It is ironic, that in this play which was great entertainment and quite hilarious in parts,, one of the best aspects was actually the scene changes, with their musical accompaniment, delightful choreography and broken fourth wall. 

Home Child, the new play by Joan MacLeod, directed by Martha Henry and playing at Canstage’s Bluma Appel Theatre, was a total contrast in style and texture to The Inspectpr General, but another superb theatrical experience. Commissioned and developed by the Play Development Department of Canstage, it is a poignant dramatization of aspects of the history of the 100,000 Home Children, sent to Canada from Great Britain between1868 and 1930. The haunting memories of Katie, a little girl parted from her older brother, Jackie, as he leaves for Canada, thread through the present day action as Lorna, daughter of the frail and elderly Jackie, now known as Alistair, searches for the long last aunt, that she had never before known about.

I found the first act lacking in tension and very slow to gain momentum. By intermission I was wondering where the play was going to go. But the second act redeemed the play and on several occasions I was moved to tears. Interestingly, despite the realism and historical roots of the play, the set with its imaginary walls delimiting the house and rooms, enhanced the impact of the memory theme that wove constantly throughout the play.

So all in all I had a fun week in Toronto, with some excellent theatre experiences.