SummerWorks Reviews: Post-Eden, The Sad and Cautionary Tale of Smackheaded Peter, Ride the Cyclone

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Reviews, Summerworks | Leave a comment

promo photo for Atomic Vaudeville’s
Ride the Cyclone

As SummerWorks winds down for another year, I’d like to thank the festival on behalf of the Panic Manual for accrediting us again. Here’s a few more reviews, hopefully you were all lucky enough to catch one of these or a different show from this great festival.

The posters for Suburban Beast’s Post-Eden call it a live film. This is an apt enough term for a show where two large video screens dominate the stage and the cast monologues and acts for a while in front of filmed scenes of themselves. The concept is interesting enough, and the presentation is certainly innovative. But the story lets the production down; it’s a bit prosaic, and much as it struggles to tie a few disparate story threads together, it doesn’t quite manage it.

Susan (Sascha Cole) and Robert (David Coomber) are a married couple trying to sort out their lives after a messy affair. Their teenage daughter Ashley (Jenna MacMillan) finds herself drawn to local brooding teen Jacob (Kevin Walker) who’s convinced that the world is about to end. And Eden (Lindsey Clark) is the family dog, who died of a protracted illness. The attention the sick dog got left Robert feeling unloved; Ashley, meanwhile, is convinced that the deceased dog is restless under the ground in their backyard and has cursed the family.

Having a person play the dog is not nearly the weirdest thing in this show; a couple of the images that come across the screen are very odd, like the one where Ashley and Jacob have rubber animal masks on and make out in the street. Stuff like that is way too abstract for this show’s good, as it’s hard enough to believably mesh live acting with filmed scenes without trying to throw in that level of bizarre too. For such a central plot point, the “curse” of the dead dog doesn’t really get much play. The parent’s storyline ends up being a fair bit more interesting than that of the two teenagers. There’s some mumbo-jumbo about wildlife in the area acting up, but it’s all talked about a lot more than it’s shown and mostly seems extraneous to the plot.

Still, the production wins points for creativity in presentation, and the cast is pretty good, with extra credit to Clark, who gets partially buried in sand on stage, something I’d sure not want to be doing every other night for a week and a half.

(after the click: Smackheaded Peter and probable fan’s choice pick Ride the Cyclone)

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Summerworks Interview: Keith Barker [Homegrown]

Posted on by Wade in Everything, Summerworks | 1 Comment

Keith Barker from the Summerworks play Homegrown

A lot has been said already about the Summerwokrs show Homegrown. Good, bad, the Prime Minister. It is all out there. No matter what you think of the show, it has certainly raised some quesions about the arts, funding, terrorism and the media.

Keith Barker is a Toronto actor who plays the roll of Greg, the boyfriend, in Homegrown. I wondered what it was like to be an actor involved with a play that has gotten so much political attention. I sat down to ask Keith to talk about his involvement, as an actor, in Homegrown.

How did the opportunity to be cast in Homegrown come about for you?
I was contacted by Bea Pizano the director of the piece. We knew each other through Native Earth Performing Arts where I was the Artistic Associate for two years. She had seen me in The Making of St. Jerome by Marie Beath Badian at the Next Stage Festival in January and contacted me regarding a piece she was mounting at the Summerworks Festival.

How much did you know about the Toronto 18 story prior to accepting your role in Homegrown. How has your perception changed of the entire news story?
Only what i had heard on the television and read in the papers, which was very little due to the publication ban. I had seen the video of men loading a truck and a swat team storming in, but that was about it.

The fact that Catherine Frid (writer) is a lawyer has been very valuable to this process. She has been able to explain the legal details of the case in a way that makes them understandable. The Terrorism Act is something I knew little about before my involvement in HOMEGROWN and it is a very scary piece of legislation with very broad powers given to police and the government. I was reminded of the way the G20 was handled in Toronto and how if the people are scared enough there is a lot of room for the police, the government and the media to take advantage. I think HOMEGROWN is an important piece because it begins a conversation that few in Canada are having and it is unfortunate that the media coverage has chosen to take the direction it has and for the most part not engaged the public and taken the opportunity to grow the conversation.

What are some possible consequences for you, as a professional working actor, after being involved in such a controversial production? Benefits too?
I am not really sure at this point. I have had really positive feedback and support from my fellow artists and from family and friends. While everyone may not agree on the politics of the trial or the accused we are having positive debate and dialogue about something that is current and affects all of us.

As for my future as a professional actor it is difficult to think that this would be harmful in anyway but then again I didn’t think the Prime Minister of Canada, would make a statement denouncing the play, I didn’t think the Sun newspaper would put a cast member on the front cover with the words ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ printed underneath it or that this would be the beginning of a debate on funding for the arts and censorship. We need to be talking about these issues, absolutely, but i think an informed conversation is better than making assumptions.

Why did you ultimately decide to take part in Homegrown?
To be honest, I was nervous. I had friends who made very legitimate arguments about turning this piece down. I had a long conversation with my mom & my partner about it. As soon as I admitted to myself that the content made me uncomfortable I knew I had to do it.

What has been the hardest part about doing this play?

Summerworks: Diamond Rings, PS I Love You, August 11, Upper Ossington Theatre

Posted on by Ricky in Summerworks | 3 Comments

Toronto – A very good Wednesday night at Summerworks was spoiled when we walked to the House of Poutini after the show and realized it was closed. Having played a soccer game, going home, eating a quick and small portion of black bean salad and then going to the show, I didn’t have the chance for a proper dinner. The show was great and I wanted to cap it off with poutine. They were CLOSED. Amazing. I wasn’t aware it was Wednesday. Worse of all, I dragged fellow bloggers Jen Polk and Joe from Mechanical Forest Sound along with me on my quest to fill my stomach with potatoes, cheese curds and gravy. Now they were there standing with me, dejected, empty handed and probably hungry. I felt that perhaps this was my White Castle moment, only I wasn’t high. I wasn’t even drunk, despite sneaking in a small little bottle of cognac into the theatre.

The Diamond Rings set at Summerworks Festival ended with a new song for an encore, called Leftovers. With PS I Love You on stage with him, this song definitely had a strong almost new wave meets grunge rock vibe to it, and it was good. Each line of the song was punctuated by a WOOOOOAH that might have sounded contrived if it didn’t sound so good. I’ve concluded that John O’Regan can write a perfect pop hook in his sleep.

One of the beautiful things about local shows is that you know if their friends are in town or something, they’ll show up for the set and there will be some kind of collaboration. This was such the case for the last two songs of the Diamond Rings set, when PS I Love You was invited back up on stage to do the two biggest hits of each act – Facelove and All Yr Songs. Both songs sounded awesome and I marveled at how good the rock version of All Yr Songs sounds live. That song is probably the perfect pop song, the hook on it is amazing. You get the feeling if someone like Rihanna got a hold of it, it would become the biggest song of the summer. The drummer and guitar added a nice rock feel to it that I enjoy. PS I Love You’s Paul Saulnier is quite a talented guitarist and I enjoyed the nice guitar solo he added to that song. Luckily for us, Joe from Mechanical Forest Sounds recorded it so you too, can enjoy it.

Having seen Diamond Rings a few times, I was quite please to hear some tunes I had never heard before. All of it was good. I like how he occasionally incorporates 90s style mid song raps into his songs. I think that was influenced by New Kids on the Block, where during the middle of a pop song, Donnie Wahlberg would deliver a rap out of nowhere. The more I listen to Diamond Rings, the more I realize it’s a great homage to 90s style pop music, mixed in with the electronic DIY influences of the 2000s. It’s a great blend of nostalgia and freshness. Naturally, the singles Show Me Your Stuff and Wait and See got the best responses from the audience, which was, for once, a nice balance of girls and boys. Did I mention I love summers?

When Diamond Rings took the stage wearing some sort of makeup with a 1992 Blue Jays shirt, I was once again reminded of how much stage presence the dude has. It’s quite hard to be up there on stage all by yourself but John O’Regan pulls it off quite naturally and his appearance instantly commands your attention. The crowd, which was half sitting and half standing during the PS I Love You set, instantly crowded up a little closer when he took the stage.

I was so glad that the intermission between acts wasn’t as long as the intermission for the Hidden Cameras show on Friday. That intermission was so long, I could have went home, marinated some ribs, put it in the fridge for awhile, pulled it out, go to hardware store and buy a smoker, hike into the forest and cut down some hickory or mesquite wood, go home, set up the smoker, cook the ribs and then ate it. This intermission was nice and brief.

Openers PS I Love You impressed me with their set. As you may recall, I wasn’t overly impressed with their set at NXNE. I think that was partially because of who came before them (Japandroids) and the time of the night (1 am). This time around, I got a nice dose of 90s era grunge rock. I didn’t hear the track Facelove, but I guess that was a surprise for later. For a band with just one guitarist and one drummer, they made quite a racket and their songs while immersed in a dense guitar sound did have elements of pop to it, with Paul Saulnier showing us his different vocal ranges with some of his screams and yells.

In case you didn’t know, PS I Love You and Diamond Rings are two acts that are quickly rising through the music scene. Diamond Rings has been a Pitchfork endorsed youtube sensation with his videos All Yr Songs, Wait and See and Show Me Your Stuff and PS I Love You released a critically acclaimed single/EP last year as well. Both acts were playing at the Upper Ossington Theatre as a part of the Summerworks Festival.

I went into the Ossington Theatre on Wednesday expecting a good show and it was delivered as promised.

I re-watched the movie Memento earlier this week. It was good.

Diamond Rings feat PS I Love You – All Yr Songs (live 2010-08-11) by panicmanual

SummerWorks Reviews: All of Him, Hanging of Francoise Laurent, The Kreutzer Sonata

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Reviews, Summerworks | 2 Comments

promo shot of Ted Dykstra in The Kreutzer Sonata

We’re in the latter stages of the ten-day SummerWorks festival, and unfortunately I must report that I haven’t seen nearly as much theatre as I’d have liked. The stresses of adjusting to a new job after being unemployed for several months has put a damper in my fest attendance, and at this point I’m not sure if I can even commit to more shows the rest of the week. How does Ricky go to a half dozen shows a week, review them all, and find time for full-time employment anyway? This I will never understand.

Anyway, I have a few shows I did see that I haven’t reviewed yet, so I’ll knock those off one at a time here.

All of Him is less a play and more of a…well, to be honest, I’m not sure what to call it. A seminar, maybe? The subject is Pat Pillay, the playwright/performer Tanya Pillay’s father, and the challenge is this: how do you reconcile what you know about a loving father with accusations that he’s committed a terrible crime?

There’s no real answer in All of Him, but it’s not for lack of trying. Amidst an audience largely made up of her family and friends, Tanya Pillay tells the story of her father, encourages the audience to ask questions and express their opinions, and even tried to greet everyone before the show started (I had to admit, while sitting next to a friend of the family who I’d been chatting with, that I had no idea who she was, I just got a ticket because it sounded like the most interesting sounding in it’s time slot. She was thrilled).

Pillay has a projector and screen set up to show pictures and a handful of props that are passed around the audience. She tells her father’s story without shame, admits it took her years and a great deal of therapy to come to terms with him and the things he was accused of doing, and tries to get the audience to ask anything they can think of, no matter how unpleasant it might be.

On this night the audience seemed a bit reluctant, maybe because it was so full of people who knew the family, although it was interesting when Pillay’s mom and one of her cousins who had no idea his uncle had such a past spoke up. It’s a show that’s pretty raw, and could probably use another 5-10 minutes of stimulating content so that it doesn’t have to rely on a talkative audience to feel complete. Still, Pillay is an engaging performer, and it’s a show with potential.

(after the page break: a hanging, and my favourite show of SummerWorks)

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