Toronto. Summerworks 2011: Theatre Reviews Part 2.

So we come to Sunday, the last day of the Festival and I am planning to see four plays. The dilemma is how to chose what to see, juggling priorities, time slots and distances. And selection of what to see is a subject to which I will return later.

My first choice was Hannah Moscovitch's "Little One." I first heard of her when I saw "East of Berlin" and really loved her writing.  A year later  I saw Mexico City and The Russian Play, two short plays by Moscovitch and although I was not as "blown away" by them as by East of Berlin, I thought her work was well worth seeing.

My second choice was  "The Trolley Car" by Amiel Gladstone because I received a Facebook invitation, it was developed in Vancouver, and I had not had a chance to see it before.

That took care of the 4 PM and 10 PM slots, conveniently leaving me able to see White Rabbit, Red Rabbit at 7:30 PM. I was told by several sources not to miss this as it was a Volcano/Necessary Angel co-production and had to be good.

I figured I could also fit in a show at noon.  There were actually six options, none of which I had  already seen. In the end I picked Zugswang, mainly because I had been forwarded an email from a friend, who had received it from the grandparents of the writer, urging people to see his show.  A very scientific way of choosing but as I had no more information about any of the others, I said to myself "why not?'

So those were my four choices, and here are the mini-reviews.

Sunday August 14th.

Zugswang poster imageZugswang by Michael Atlin
Directed by Frankie Hall
Factory Mainspace at 12:00

Despite my reason for deciding to go to this play, I was very glad I did as it was the only one of my 8 selections that was good, humorous entertainment.

Centering around a club chess tournament, the play features five players, Bob (Matthew Gorman),  Igor (Dylan George), Karl (Josh Reaume), Sidney (Ephraim Ellis) and Susan (Nora Smith) and Simon the Arbiter (Andy Trithardt). With the exception of Susan, who seems relatively normal, each of the other four are nerdy caricatures. One has OCD tendencies, one whines about dirty tricks but uses them himself.  Then there is the tall skinny guy who eats non-stop - and of course stays tall and skinny. Not fair.

It's a fun play although there are suggestive undertones lurking if you care to look a little deeper. My theatre buddy commented that this was the first play of the five he had seen that was not about a dark subject.

I thought the whole ensemble did a great job and I enjoyed their show.

Montieth and Cobden. Photo by MytnowychLittle One by Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by Natasha Mytnowych
Theatre Passe Muraille at 3 PM

This show was superbly performed by Joe Cobden and Michelle Monteith who play adopted siblings, Aaron and his younger sister, Claire. Claire is a severely disturbed child and the focus of the parents attention,  to the complete neglect of the needs of Aaron. Aaron nevertheless seems to be surprisingly well adjusted. 

Much of the action occurs in a darkened playing space with flashlight effectively used to illuminate Claire's face. The aisles and upper balcony of the Passe Muraille Mainspace are also used with eerie effect. The tinkling piano notes played by thirteen year old Kaylie Lau add an otherworldliness to the scenes.

I was completely absorbed in the show which conveyed so strongly how misguided parents could be when trying to help one deeply disturbed child, yet failing to realize that the "normal" sibling needs love and care as well.  Where I got lost was in the story of the neighbour and his mail order bride. I am still not clear what actually happened to them and what role Claire played in that.

Overall it was a compelling piece, well performed.

White Rabbit, Red RabbitWhite Rabbit, Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour
Performed by Yanna McIntosh
The Theatre Centre at 7:30 PM

Of all these mini-reviews, this took me the longest to write. Given the premise and the hype around this show my expectations  were high but I was so underwhelmed by the experience that I kept wondering what I missed. This was in no way due to the performer but comes down to the script.

A sealed envelope is given to  the person who is to read the play. The conceit is that this script has been  written by  a 29 year-old Iranian who has no passport and is thus confined to Iran and that it is too dangerous for the writer or a company to perform this play in public. Hence the cloak and dagger sealed envelope, mystery performer bit.

As the script unfolds, the writer invokes issues of  societal brainwashing, mind and body control through the stories of the white and red rabbits. Audience members are pulled in to participate and both personal and mob culpability for events are raised with some by-play around a vial of poison.

Neither the metaphors nor the symbolism worked for me and I found the the whole toxic bit quite ridiculous. Several overheard post-show conversations let me know my reaction was not unique.

Interestingly this is the show  that won the Festival award for the Outstanding New Performance Text. It seems you either loved it or hated it.  I just did not get it!

My disappointment made me quite grumpy and irritable as I waited for the 501 trolley to take me back to Factory Studio for the final of the nine plays for which I had booked, and I thought about giving the 10 PM show a miss. But a chance encounter at the tram stop with a Vancouver actor who had just moved to Toronto, and the opportunity to talk theatre with a fellow enthusiast re-energized me, so I hopped off the tram at Bathurst and made my way back to the Factory courtyard.

Photo byTrolley Car by Amiel Gladstone
Directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones
Factory Theatre Studio at 10 PM

I really did not know what to expect for this play although  had glanced at the event on Facebook. As I learned , the theme is about choice - the choices we make in life and their consequences.

The Trolley Car refers to a psychological dilemma, where both alternate choices lead to a bad outcome.  Throw a switch and kill one man, don't and kill 5 people. Since the setting for this play is war-torn Paris, the vehicle of choice is a street trolley.

Florence (Monica Dottor) is a beautiful young Parisian woman who marries a Butcher (Matthew Ascot). She seems happy until his cousin Inez (Rosa Laborde) comes to stay. Inez, drawn from Sartre's sadistic character in No Exit, entices Florence to chose parties and fun, over life with her stolid boring husband. Scenes rewind and choices are played back and modified. The end ultimately is as in the Trolley Care dilemma. bad for all.

I thought this was well performed and interesting - although rather a depressing note on which to end my Festival selections.

It was late and a bit drizzly as I emerged from the theatre so I caught a cab on Bathurst and headed home. En route I reflected on my brief experience of Summerworks and the play selections. 

The question I wondered about is this. With 42 plays in the Festival, at  $15 a ticket, how do the new  small relatively unknown companies, without big name recognition or large local family or social networks compete for audience?

Looking at my own choices, five of my 8 plays were written, directed or produced by well known artists or companies. All the performances I saw were sold out. One was chosen for my personal connections, one I heard about because  local family members were contacting friends and family to support the play, and one I selected because the time and location worked for me.  None of these three were sold out.

By the time I heard about some of the excellent smaller productions, my time slots were already taken. This is a problem for which I am curious to know if there is a solution. Please comment below. And if you disagree with any of my mini-reviews- well I would love to hear from you.

For reviews of the other five plays see Part I.

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