Next Stage Theatre Festival

Next Stage Theatre Festival Preview

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Next Stage Theatre Festival, Reviews, Theatre | Leave a comment

Toronto – For those who keenly feel the bite of Winter, even during one as mild as this has been (no snow on Christmas? C’mon), and despair that summer is further away than it’s ever been, it will comfort you to know that everyone’s favourite annual summertime fest of theatre and wackiness, the Toronto Fringe, is bringing the Next Stage Theatre Festival to a stage near you once again.

Now in it’s fifth year, Next Stage brings you a selection of remounts of shows from recent Fringe’s and beyond to warm your hearts and minds in the dead of Winter from January 4 through the 15th. Plus there’s an outdoor beer tent, which may not warm you that much, but the tent is heated, so at least you won’t get too cold. The Panic Manual will have at least a couple of reviews, baby permitting (I think this is going to be my new catch phrase. “Yes, I’ll be at your house party – baby permitting, of course”), but until then here are some projected highlights of the festival.

Uncalled For Presents: Hypnogogic Logic

A hit not only at last summer’s Toronto Fringe, but an award winning show in Montreal’s Fringe as well, I reviewed Uncalled For’s offbeat show last summer. It’s funny, inventive, and polished sketch comedy from a seasoned troupe who really know what they’re doing. Watch for the sketch about the “Falling Wish Foundation,” who’s hardboiled officers won’t grant your wishes for money or power but will happily bring Freddy Mercury back to life in your body if you ask.

Living With Henry and Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go

Two shows that were also hits of the 2011 Fringe, though two I didn’t see myself, both these shows are musicals but slightly different in tone. Living with Henry is about living with HIV/AIDS; Tiki Bikini is a parody of 60’s beach party movies. So yeah, one is likely a bit heavier than the other, but they both got five N’s from NOW in the summer, for whatever that’s worth. See them both in the same evening and you might gain some insight into what it’s like to have a manic-depressive episode!

Love is a Poverty You Can Sell and Morro & Jasp: Go Bake Yourself

Next Stage is trying something new this year, staging a couple of shows in the Factory Theatre “Antechamber.” I don’t know exactly where that is, but I think it must be in the small bar space they have at the top of the stairs, near the entrance to the Mainspace. At the very least, it’ll be cozy. Anyway, Love is a cabaret show that apparently had a cast of eleven at the 2010 Fringe, so you’d have to think this is a somewhat scaled back version. Morro & Jasp are one of the city’s favourite recurring Fringe acts; this appears to be a new show, so if the space is small you might want to get advance tickets. Both should be worth checking out just to see how they use the space.


There is significant buzz at the moment around Theatre Brouhaha, who’s playwright/artistic director Kat Sandler won the Fringe’s 2012 New Play Contest. This is noteworthy, because last year’s New Play winner, Kim’s Convenience, was a runaway Fringe hit. LoveSexMoney is not the play that won that contest, which was a work called Help Yourself, but rather is a show that had a brief run last February at Factory. Based on a 2009 news story about a woman in Nevada who attempted to sell her virginity online, it’s said to be a comedy that explores “intimacy in the Information Age,” which sounds like a name for a line of really bad romance novels. Anyway, sounds like it could be good, and if you see it and Help Yourself is good next summer, you can be all “well, I heard of Kat Sandler WAY before you did” to somebody.

For a full listing of shows and the festival schedule, check out Next Stage’s website, and watch for a couple of reviews this weekend.

NSTF Reviews: Fairy Tale Ending and Tom’s A-Cold

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Toronto - This month, I was lucky enough to catch two shows at Toronto’s Next Stage Theatre Festival. It’s not often that I get to see two shows in one night, and I really enjoyed the contrast. Fairy Tale Ending was light and uplifting; Tom’s A-Cold was dark and gripping. The originality and innovation in these performances make them both definite go-sees in my book.


Fairy tales play a major role in our childhood adventures. We know the stories by heart: Little Red Riding Hood visits her ailing grandmother. The Billy Goats Gruff off to gorge themselves on fresh spring grass. The Three Little Pigs and their architecturally-diverse homes. As a standard, these tales rise with a challenging villainous climax and end with a positive, delightful finale. Little Red and her grandmother escape death. The little piggies beat the Big Bad Wolf. The trotting brothers Gruff outwit the hungry troll. Traditionally, the good guy always comes out on top, unscathed and happy as ever.

Fairy Tale Ending is an enchanting musical that explores some of the most beloved fables of all time – with a delightful and interesting twist. It chronicles Jill, a young girl coming to grips with the reality of growing up. With the help of a rigorous constable, Jill apprehends some popular fairy tale villains and launches a full-scale investigation of their fabled crimes.

The story unfolds as the villains – Goldilocks, The Ugly Troll, and The Big Bad Wolf – are put on trial for crimes like breaking and entering, several counts of ugly, and destruction of property. Complete with catchy, hilarious songs like “I, like, totally even give a care” and “You don’t know Jack”, Fairy Tale Ending is inventive and inspiring, with a fresh new take on a few well-known traditional tales.

Written by Kieren MacMillan and Jeremy Hutton, Fairy Tale Ending is a show with something for all age groups. It is fun and child-friendly, with a smart, witty overtone that satisfies an intellectual audience. The cast, including Meagan Tuck, Christina Gordon, Amanda Leigh, Andrew Moyes, Jennifer Walls, J.P. Baldwin, Carl Swanson, Mike Wisniowski and Maksym Shkvorets are an uber-talented bunch that make for a believable story. This show is a definite must-see!


Imagine this: you’re one of two survivors in a tiny lifeboat, lost in the freezing Arctic. Supplies are low. Weakened by hunger, you can no longer stand. You cling to scraps of hope, clutching them to your chest like invisible life-lines. The wind is cold and biting. The daylight never ends. What would you do to survive?

Tom’s A-Cold is a gripping tale by playwright David Egan, based on the historical recount of the HMS Terror and Erebus – two English ships lost at sea in 1845 during an Arctic voyage.

Tom’s A-Cold is the story of Tom and George, two men trying to make their way back to sanctuary and human life. Shane Carty and Matthew MacFadzean play a remarkable George and Tom, bringing the story to life and creating a stellar level of believability. On the surface, it’s a story of hope and friendship, and ultimately of survival. But underneath, it is a journey into the dark inner psyche of each character; a story of the most sinister definition of humanity. Expect a variety of topics to spice up the plot, from taboos like cannibalism, murder and prostitution, to present-day norms like homosexuality.

I, for one, enjoy a good intellectual work-out, something I appreciated about Tom’s A-Cold. But to be honest, I was a little lost by the end. *SPOILER ALERT* In the last 10 minutes, the audience is given the impression that George was killed and consumed by Tom at some point. It’s entirely possible that George was a figment of Tom’s guilt-ridden imagination all-along. Maybe it’s for the audience to decide what really happened. Or maybe the ending just missed the mark.

Over all, this incredible story is thought-provoking and smart, without being pretentious. There’s no doubt about it – this one’s a thinker. If you enjoy delving into the raw truisms of humanity and don’t mind a little grit, this one’s definitely for you.

NSTF Reviews: Eating with Lola & Swan Song of Maria

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Cast of Swan Song of Maria. Picture courtesy production website.

Toronto – It’s interesting when a festival gives you the opportunity to see two shows in one night that, at the core of their stories, share a lot of similarities. Eating with Lola and Swan Song of Maria are both basically about people getting old, both told in a reminiscing sort of way as the stories hit various high or low points in the lives depicted. One play is a whole lot better than the other, though, and much more inventive in it’s telling, and it isn’t the one with the puppet.

Eating with Lola features the puppet as the title character. Lola’s had a stroke and is living with her granddaughter, a reluctant caregiver who can’t seem to make any kind of food that Lola will eat. Lola’s life story is told largely in vignettes revolving around food, with her either cooking it, eating it, serving it or stealing it. But the whole thing is just not very interesting. Even though Lola grew up with interesting events and people around her in World War II-era Manila, like the destruction of the city and her American spy husband, Eating with Lola‘s story isn’t that interested in the other characters and the setting. Lola marries a spy, he’s depressed, then he dies, but he has just a few minutes of stage time. She has a child, the granddaughter’s mother, but her name isn’t even mentioned. She lives in Manila during WWII, but the city’s devastation is only mentioned in passing. She’s handed American citizenship and moves to California, but her adjustment to life there gets one brief scene in which she doesn’t have a line.

The one-dimensional aspect of the other characters is only emphasized by their representation on stage by just a single prop, like a hat or sunglasses, and a different voice from solo performer Catherine Hernandez. For a show where the lead character is a puppet, the presentation is surprisingly bland. The staging goes too far with the feeling of a girl playing on-stage with dolls; instead of it feeling imaginative and personal, it feels detached and trite.

Swan Song for Maria, meanwhile, is packed with imagination, and feels plenty personal thanks to great performances by Lili Francks and John Blackwood. It also features ballet dancer Stephanie Hutchison and jazz pianist Hilario Duran, and deals with getting old, the revolution in Cuba, Alzheimer’s disease, Swan Lake, creative inspiration, and euthanasia, among other things

It’s told in vignettes from different points in Joe (Blackwood) and Lillian’s (Francks) lives together, with the largely happy scenes from their early marriage standing in contrast to later scenes where Lillian’s mental state is deteriorating. Hutchison appears both in flashbacks as a beautiful dancer Joe knew in Cuba named Maria, and also turns up on stage in a more poetic way as Joe’s creative writing muse. And Duran underscores things from the keyboard with songs from Swan Lake and other tunes.

It’s a bit of a tear-jerker. Francks and Blackwood show Joe and Lillian’s marriage with an impressive amount of passion and authenticity, from their first days as an interracial couple in the 70’s to arguing about what they each gave up to be together to Lillian’s Alzheimer’s disease, first her fear of it, then his denial of it, then their living with it.

But while Hutchison and Duran are also impressive, everything doesn’t quite mesh. Hutchison’s ballet looks cramped on the Factory Studio stage. Duran feels underused, and sounds oddly restrained as a Cuban jazz pianist mostly playing songs from Swan Lake. And Joe and Lillian’s story just has too many things going on, which makes it feel like a 2+ hour play stuffed into 90 minutes.

That said, the ambition to put all this on stage together is worth supporting, and Francks and Blackwood are worth the price of admission alone. The ballet and piano are more of a pleasing bonus.

Next Stage runs through this weekend at Factory Theatre. Check the website for schedule & ticket info.

NSTF: Duel of Ages

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Image courtesy of

Toronto – Weaponry of any kind seems to be kind of phallus extension. At the end of the day, duels are like a formalized way for men to unsheathe their members and do some comparing. The only thing that seems to have changed over the years is the size and shape of the –ahem- sword.

Duel of Ages makes that point brilliantly, in a show that takes the audience through what can only be described as an evolution of the art of the duel. We are led through nine vignettes whose centre-of-focus is a duel fought through brilliant stage combat. Some of the scenes are based on the true stories surrounding some of history’s most famous stand-offs, and others have had their stories written to complement the duel. (In truth, as swords historically become pistols, the fights become far less intricate, and need a strong story so as to be more than people just shooting guns at one another.) Look out for La Maupin for its brilliant choreography and The Pistoleers for excellent writing, character creation, and comedic timing.

The real belly of this show is the stage combat itself. True Edge Productions exists to promote the craft, and while the acting is very good, and the production values are high, it is when swords are drawn and missteps have stakes that these performers really flex their skills. They are the best at what they do, they love it, and it shows. I’d almost like to see more action and less talk in some of the scenes. Strangely, I liked Duel of Ages for the same reason I like Jersey Shore – the fighting.

For show times, check out the main Next Stage Theatre Festival site