Review: Sony Centre reopening food & Cirque Eloize, October 1

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Toronto – Originally, I was going to tack this on to Brian’s post but given my tendency to blabber on about things, I decided to spare his article from my drivel and create my own. Basically, me and Brian were both invited to the Sony Centre‘s Opening Night performance of Cirque Eloize

I love food. I love free food. I love hor deourves. These little finger size trinkets of deliciousness usually make my night at any media / pr party I am in. The pre party had five separate food stations set up representing various parts of the world. Each countries relation to this night is unknown. I was going to guess why each country was there, but that would make this article racist so instead I shall review each food station.

Russia: Caviar and Chicken Kiev + shot of Vodka
Caviar’s one of those foods you think should be good because only rich people seem to eat it, but for me, I didn’t get too much out of these little bits of fish egg. It’s just the bigger version of the roe you get when you order a dynamite roll or something. The chicken kiev was pretty tasty as there was a nice liquidy surprise for you when you bit inside it. It wasn’t so nice for people who didn’t know about the said surprise though. I skipped the shot of vodka, provided by Absolut, who probably sponsored the event.

Chinese – Spring Rolls and Various dimsum + sweet vodka drink
I hate how spring rolls is associated with Chinese food since its mostly a Vietnamese thing. No self respecting Chinese family would order spring rolls at a restaurant, let alone put it as one of the foods that would “represent” their country. This shocks me even more since the food was done by some dude named Stephen Lee. However, I am sometimes reminded that some people named Lee are actually not Chinese so maybe this is the case. Regardless of my complaints, the spring rolls were pretty good, I think they had duck in it. A more appropriate dish would have been Peking duck, I guess.

India – Shrimp on stick and Vegetarian Samosa + tamarind vodka drink
Shrimp is always good, so I wholly agree with this decision. The vegetarian samosa was most likely an attempt to appease the vegetarians in the crowd, who would have nothing else to eat otherwise. Curious decision by the chef to include only one tiny vegetarian dish for an artsy gathering. I think if you poll most vegetarians, I think most of them are in artsy industries. I wonder if samosa is to Indians as spring rolls are to Asians in terms of it just being a food to appease to colonials.

Japan – Sushi + Pear/Ginger/Vodka drink
Easily the longest lineup of the night, because you know, there aren’t enough sushi restaurants in the city. If I jump off a moving bus on any major street, do a tuck and roll and walk into store/place where I landed, there’s a 1/3 chance I would have landed in a space occupied by a Japanese restaurant. The lineup for this was nice and slow, because when people were finally up to the front, they would ask the servers what everything is. Everyone appeared to be going for the sushi (not the California rolls), which is what we did. I believe we got one red tuna, one white tuna and mackerel. It was tasty but not worth the long wait.

Canada – Meat Pie + Rack of Lamb (with crusted cheese) + some cranberry vodka drink
Of course Canada would have the best food of the night. The rack of lamb here was ridiculously delicious. I went back for seconds. Wanted to go back for thirds. I honestly just wanted them to give me an entire rack, and then I could just go sit in the corner and eat it. Lamb is so hard to get right, but props to Stephen Lee, because it was cooked just right and the spices were perfect. Easily the best bit of hor deourves I have had at any party.

Now here is my bit about the show. Brian already has given you a nice professional well written review on the night, so here are my thoughts.

- Some of the feats the performers do are astonishing. It makes me want to work out more. The one tumbler who did all the crazy strength stuff was so ripped he had muscles coming out of his muscles. Definitely, if I was to get into a fight with him. I would lose. But then again, I would have a gun. So I would win. That’s kinda the problem with society today isn’t it? I mean, you can work out all you want, take all the martial arts class that you can, eat the right diet, and if you ever get into a confrontation with someone, all that training goes nowhere if that other person has a knife or a gun. It’s not like the good ole days anymore.

- As much as I liked the female contortionist, every time she bent herself in an odd way, I could feel my back hurting and my hamstring crying. It’s such a weird sight. On the flip side, if she ever wants to travel for cheap, she can just curl herself up into a moving box and just ship herself with Fedex.

- It’s a testament to how much influence urban hip hop break dancing/poppin/hip hop dancing has had on our culture lately when a show featuring mostly that genre opens up one of the most prestigious venues in Toronto. To think it all came from a Julia Stile movie.

- I really really want a trampoline. I could potentially put it in my living room and use that to jump up into my bedroom on the second floor. How awesome would that be?

Overall, quite an amazing night with good food, good company and good show. I felt quite physically inadequate after the show since everyone in the act was stronger, bendyer and generally in way better shape then I am in. It inspired me to think about working out more, stretching more and maybe take up gymnastics or something. However, that inspiration was short lived as the night was capped off with some midnight mac & cheese along with a pint of beer. Still, good times.

SummerWorks Reviews: Miss Caledonia, Iphigenia at Aulis, Or,

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

There are a number of things I liked about Miss Caledonia. Set in the 1950’s, it’s a play about a young woman who badly wants to get off the family farm and dreams about show business. Melody Johnson, also the playwright, is joined onstage only by fiddler Alison Porter, who provides musical accompaniement while Johnson brings not only her young, naïve lead character Peggy to life, but also her father, mother, pageant judges, other contestants, Bing Crosby, and various other characters too.

Johnson’s skill at acting out all these characters by changing only her voice is certainly the highlight of the show. She’s a talented performer, and the two songs she does – the Crosby tune “Accentuate the Positive” and her talent show rendition of the Hank Snow song “I’ve Been Everywhere,” complete with baton twirling routine – both brought well-deserved rounds of spontaneous applause.

But the story’s pretty trite, and the relationship between young Peggy and her overbearing, all work and no play father that provides the dramatic tension is pretty standard. Occasionally it’s a bit jarring when Johnson skips forward in time in the story, and the voices she uses for some characters sometimes aren’t that distinct.

The live fiddler providing background and sound effects does add something, and the show’s worth seeing just for Johnson’s performance. But the story never really hits above the level of “cute,” and most of the references to 50’s pop culture went right over my head.

As I said in my SummerWorks preview, I wanted Iphigenia at Aulis to be good.

I have a degree in ancient history, you see. I have a book of ancient Greek plays on my bookshelf. I’ve read the Illiad and the Aeneid and Metamorphoses. For fun.

But this…

I hate to admit it, but maybe it really is that the source material  just doesn’t translate well to the modern day. It was written around 406 BC, after all. I mean, the Agamemnon and Menelaus characters (played by Stephen Bogaert and Eric Goulem, respectively) are meant to be very stoic and troubled men, with the fate of many men and women in their hands, but on stage they just come across as wooden, indecisive, and callous. Iphigenia (Eryn Murman) just seems odd, pleading for her life one minute, then gleefully going to her death for the good of Greece the next. Achilles (Stephen Gartner) and Clytemnestra (Sarah Orenstein) come across fairly well, but it’s not the best part for either one; Achilles is mostly a bystander in this play, while Clytemnestra’s job is mostly to weep for her daughter. The “Old Man” (David Fox) doesn’t have a heck of a lot to do after the first two scenes, though Fox does a good job with him. And the occasional intrusion of the chorus (Neema Bickersteth, Bronwyn Caudle, and Sarena Parmar), who stand at different spots around the theatre with little lights above their heads, is just confusing; does the rest of the cast see the chorus or what? Are they residents of Aulis or just some kind of wandering, singing nymphs or something who randomly spout expository information?

It doesn’t help that Iphigenia at Aulis really isn’t Euripides’ best work. But unfortunately, this production is just dull, and really doesn’t have a lot going for it besides the performances of Gartner, Orenstein and Fox.

In Or, meanwhile, a show where the comma is part of the title, befuddling grammar police everywhere, the story is about Aphra Behn, a notable 17th century woman who was, among other things, a playwright and a spy.

The strange part about Or, is the late 1960’s, summer-of-love sexual freedom and women’s lib themes that underly it. On stage, Behn is amorous with several people, both men and women, and it all leads to a lengthy “hiding lovers behind various closed doors” sequence like some kind of Neil Simon-esque late 70’s/early 80’s bedroom farce. It feels weird to come up with an obscure figure like Aphra Behn, then take some pretty big historical liberties by, for instance, making King Charles her secret supporter and lover.

Still, Behn is a pretty interesting figure, one I knew nothing about going into this show, and a cursory look at her history shows that there’s probably more truth than fiction in this play. Plus, Sophie Goulet is great as Behn, and her co-stars Damien Atkins and Melissa Jane Shaw do well in multiple roles, with some better than others. Atkins has the show’s best scene-stealer when he storms in as a female arts patron commissioning one of Behn’s works, who talks for five minutes straight without letting Behn get a word in edgewise, then leaves with a flourish. Shaw also managed to hold things together despite a wardrobe malfunction that required clothespinning as soon as she got off-stage, a pretty admirable feat in my book. If you can get past the free love vibe from the characters in 17th century costume, Or, ends up being a pretty good show.

Fringe Reviews: The Last Buffalo, [sic], Leacock Live!, Teaching Shakespeare

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

Fringe fatigue is setting in, and so I think this might be the last of my Fringing for the year. Here’s some brief reviews of the shows I saw on Wednesday. All these shows are on at Tarragon, and they all have one or two performances left.

Also, big congrats to Panic Manual friends PICK OF THE FRINGE! for being one of the Fringe patron’s picks.

The Last Buffalo

The brother and son of Jimmy Quinn (Don Berns) come together to mourn him after his death. This sort of “let’s reflect on the death of <blank>” plot is pretty familiar in dramatic theatre. The Last Buffalo tries for a father-to-son and brother-to-brother relationship/love angle as it’s emotional centre, but it never gets to the level of “tear-jerker,” try as it might. Berns is ok as the dead father/brother, who pops into memories the other two characters are having, and it’s funny to hear his voice on stage, as Berns is a pretty notable voice talent for commercials and TV shows (for fun, his demo reel from PNA Agency is in the mp3 attached to this post).

But the other two get most of the stage time, and what they say never really resonates. The brother (Greg Dunham) has a long monologue about a story where his uncle was mean to him that just doesn’t pop for me, while the son (Alex Fiddes) talks a lot about his up-and-down relationship with his dad but when the two are actually on stage together, it’s really not illustrated that well.

I felt bad that when I saw this play on Wednesday, it attrached only about ten people to the 200 seat Tarragon Mainspace, but I really can’t recommend it.


Three struggling creatives who are neighbours and friends hang around their apartment building being strange and lusting after one another in [sic]. And that’s it, really.

The appeal comes from the oddness of the characters and the quirky dialogue. The plot, such as it is, is a bit nonsensical and not the easiest to follow; to whit, I think their landlady is killed during the show, possibly by one of the three, but no one seems especially concerned about it. Every so often everything on stage will stop and the characters all look up to listen closely to what I think is meant to be their upstairs neighbours bickering, though it’s pre-recorded and not always easy to hear.

Still, the plot’s pretty secondary. All the enjoyment from the play comes from the eccentric characters and their odd interactions, marked by the staccato, smart dialogue.

Leacock Live!

Leacock Live! company Act II Studio is a Ryerson drama school for people over 50, and they’ve mounted this sort of group reading, or “reader’s theatre” as I guess it’s called, of a couple of Stephen Leacock stories. The 15 or so people on stage in period garb, ranging in age from 50 to late 80’s, tell two tales from the fictional town of Mariposa, one about the local bar’s efforts to keep their liquor license, the other about a day trip on the town’s crappy old cruise ship.

I can’t deny it’s got a certain amount of charm, and it drew a sellout crowd the day I went. I guess lot of people really love Leacock or find the idea of a bunch of older actors onstage at once reading from black binders, occasionally messing up and stepping on each other’s lines, especially compelling. I’m not sure I get the appeal. It did get a patron’s pick from the Fringe, however, so it must be doing something right.

Teaching Shakespeare

A remount of a show that’s had great success in the past by experienced Canadian playwright/actor Keir Cutler, Teaching Shakespeare is a very funny one-man play that parodies a college class on Shakespeare. Cutler’s frantic college professor on the verge of a breakdown is a great parody and I imagine a lot of people will see an old teacher of theirs in his performance.

Shakespeare is totally infallible and unquestionable; if there’s anything we don’t like in his work, it’s because we don’t fully understand it, he insists. Rhyme schemes and monosyllabic word choices are examined in ridiculous detail. He brings out the class’s student evaluations, which are full of negative comments about how he goes off on odd tangents and can never finish the assigned scene for the day, and demands to know who’s written them. Of course, he doesn’t finish the assigned scene for this “class” either, mostly because he keeps going off on wild tangents.

The funniest bit occurs when he wants to demonstrate Shakespeare’s device of having the main character of his plays disappear from the action for a while. He does this by leaving the stage. When he comes back, he gets the class, i.e. the audience, to tell him what they were thinking when it happened, the correct answers being “where is he going?” and “is he coming back?”, and then acts as though something really profound has been discovered. Cutler’s expressiveness, particularly his slightly crazed, wide-eyed expression, adds a lot, and it’s for good reason that this show, which Cutler premiered in 1999, has been a hit wherever it’s gone.


Posted on by Brian in Everything, Fringe, Reviews, Theatre | 2 Comments

You know, I told you people to go see this show. I told you before the Fringe even started. Judging by the very nearly sold out Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre on Tuesday evening, it might just sell out the rest of the run, so unless you’ve got an advanced ticket it might already be too late.

And it should be sold out the rest of the way too, because this show is amazing. Chris Craddock’s new one man play starts out with him playing three seemingly unrelated characters: a heroin addict with gigantism, a young woman with a sex addiction, and a self-help guru who’s mantra is “it’s not my fault, and I don’t care anyway.” As the stories coalesce into a tale of crime, kidnapping, and the self-help guru’s seminar, you can almost forget that there’s only one person on stage. Craddock’s capacity for voices is incredible, and the sound design from Dave Clarke is amazing, even if, as Chris pointed out in the comments section of our preview, the tech for it isn’t the way they want it yet.

I’m hesitant to reveal much of the plot here for fear of giving too much away; it’s pretty intricate, and once I start writing about it I’ll probably spoil it for someone. Suffice it to say, the sex addict is the daughter of the self-help guru, and she’s the one who’s kidnapped by the addict with gigantism. There’s some ancillary characters that Craddock plays too, like the giant’s fast-talking, three-fingered boss and a police officer who gets called in to work on the kidnapping. The giant is really the hero of the story, but I thought the self-help guy was the most enjoyable. His determination to always apply his “me first” philosophy, even in the face of his daughter’s kidnapping, is so over-the-top it’s funny, and his whole method – described by the cop character as “how to be an asshole” – is hilarious. It’s also kind of discomfiting in it’s plausibility; I could actually see a self-help guru telling people that “compassion is an outdated evolutionary mechanism that has to be overcome.”

I overheard one woman leaving the theatre say she felt like she’d just seen a movie with plot twists and diverse characters. The show was a huge crowd pleaser on Tuesday night; people applauded every scene of the dénouement that showed where each character ended up, the last few uses of the “it’s not my fault, and I don’t care anyway” tagline had the audience roaring, and the standing ovation was long and loud. I still have “Bananenhaus” stuck in my head after last night’s Die Roten Punkte show, so I couldn’t say yet which show I like more. However, that show and this one are definitely my picks of the Fringe right now.