NSTF Review: At the Sans Hotel

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

Toronto – How would you show a schizophrenic having a mental breakdown on stage? It’s hard to imagine what that would look like, but even if Nicola Gunn’s At the Sans Hotel doesn’t have it exactly right, I have to think it’s got to be pretty close.

Gunn, a Fringe veteran from Australia, took inspiration from the story of Cornelia Rau, a mentally ill German woman who was detained by Australian immigration authorities but turned out to be a permanent resident, in writing her new work. But At the Sans Hotel isn’t really about that story; it begins with a different character entirely talking directly to the audience about her life, drawing the “dramatic arc” on a chalkboard and discussing metaphors in playwrighting, and eventually revealing that the great artist Nicola Gunn isn’t here tonight because she had a breakdown writing her new masterpiece At the Sans Hotel.

It just gets weirder from there. “Sophie” says she has a questionnaire for the crowd, but only mimes handing it out (though she hands out real pencils), but then goes through the questions on stage like “How are you?”, “How are you enjoying the play so far?” and “What is hopelessness?” (“some of the questions are harder than others,” she says). There are several uncomfortable silences, during which Sophie stares straight ahead or sits behind the chalkboard. A light-up sign that says “Rescue Me” comes out at one point, and goes back and forth across the stage for a minute or so. She invites someone from the crowd on stage to play musical chairs with her to win a Nicola Gunn promo photo, then belittles him quite viciously when he loses.

“Sophie” also talks about how much she wishes we could see the great dramatic scene of Gunn’s masterwork, because it has a great sequence where Nicola sits at a table, all you can see is her legs, and asks herself questions. Then this sequence makes up the bulk of the second half of the show, with Gunn acting the part of both the mentally ill person and her interviewer, while the audience can’t see her face. Like Sophie said, it is very dramatic and haunting.

For a show so scattered and disjointed, At the Sans Hotel is surprisingly intimate. At several points it’s hard to tell if Gunn is talking about her schizophrenic inspiration or herself. You can’t help but think, at times, when “Sophie” talks about Gunn having a mental breakdown while writing this play that maybe she’s telling the truth. It’s an unsettling show, funny and creepy and personal and disconnected, all at once.

It’s so rambling and bizarre at times that it’s hard to get a grip on what you’re seeing at times. But Gunn is such a great performer that even when, by all rights, she should’ve lost the audience completely, she manages to bring us back in. Don’t go in expecting a tight narrative, and I certainly wouldn’t call it a “psychological detective story” like the Next Stage website does, but it’s an interesting show that’s well worth your time.

At the Sans Hotel runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week as part of Next Stage. See their website for schedule details and tix.

NSTF Review: The Apology

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

Toronto – Apologizing isn’t a big part of The Apology, running now as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival at Factory Theatre. In fact, while the characters continually jump beds, make grand statements and have melodramatic arguments about politics and polyamory and parenthood, and leave each other, come back, then leave again, the only thing they really don’t do to each other is apologize.

The Apology is a quasi-historical, fictionalized sex drama featuring Mary Shelley, most famously the author of Frankenstein; her lover, and later her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley; her half-sister Claire Clairmont; and romantic poet Lord Byron. In this story, the four young idealists decide to leave behind the trappings of England and their high society parents and run away together to write, do drugs, wax poetic about their visions of utopian society and have lots of sex with each other.

Sure, it’s sexy. It’s occasionally rather funny. It’s tragic, and it’s melodramatically over-the-top like an episode of Gossip Girl. The four actors are very, very good, particularly David Beazely as the smoldering, bisexual Byron and Sascha Cole as the ditzy, sweet Clairmont.

It’s also quite dense. It’s occasionally a bit confusing. It’s heavy-handed, and the relentless tragedy to end it off gets a bit tiring. Darrah Teitel’s script feels almost like it’s too smart for it’s own good, particularly when the characters deliver lines comparing the creative process with having children and monsters. In a “playwright’s note” in the program it says that anarchy and feminism are the “twin pillars of this play,” but feminism seems to only really come through the sexual liberation of the two women, and anarchy doesn’t seem to fit in at all, unless having sex with multiple partners is anarchy. The clothes seem to indicate a modern setting for Shelley and her 19th century peers, as do talk of photos in the tabloid newspapers and book launch parties, but it’s hard for the show to work as a period piece when you remove the characters from their time period; in other words, running from the Victorian era-values of their home lives and only communicating with the outside world by letter makes a lot less sense if they’re not actually in the Victorian era.

Still, the acting is quite good, and the on-stage chemistry between the four is worth the price of admission. If you’re turned on by on-stage nudity and almost-sex, then you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. But as a piece of theatre, it’s just ok.

The Apology runs Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week as part of Next Stage. Check their site for details and ticket info.

Best of 2010: Sarah F’n Wilbore’s Fave Albums and Shows

Posted on by sarahw in Albums, Concerts, Everything, Music | Leave a comment

2010 has been a pretty epic year musically.  It was difficult to narrow down my favourites.  But, without further ado, here are the top 5 albums and top 5 shows according to Sarah.

Top 5 Albums

Black Keys – Brothers

I was introduced to the Black Keys through this album, I subsequently acquired their entire substantial discography and have been in love ever since.  These guys have finally reached the proverbial pop culture tipping point with their tunes being featured in Gossip Girl, various commercials and even the theme song to Hung.  Go ahead, listen and try not to bop your head.  This album is infectious.

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare

There was so much hype behind this album I felt certain it would be a let-down.  To my surprise it is actually phenomenal.  This album is genre-bending, has superb musical guests (Jay-Z and Bon Iver) and samples music spanning multiple decades.  Kanye really knows how to please a crowd.

LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

James Murphy has done it again.  I love this whole album but two stand-out tracks for me were Dance Yrself Clean and You Wanted a Hit. Oh and these guys ROCK live.

Four Tet – There is Love in You

Experimental electronic perfection.  My biggest regret is not seeing the Toronto leg of his tour.  Love Cry has got to my one of my top tracks of the year, so beautiful.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

I think I listened to this album from start to finish more than any other album this year.  That is all.

Top 5 Shows

Holy Fuck

These Canadians released their sophomore album Latin this year and followed up with amazing live show.  You have to see them live to experience all the unconventional ways these guys make music.

Yeasayer

Apparently Yeasayer wrote their latest album in Australia high on LSD.  Well keep it up boys.  Not only is their sound original, but their live show is pretty hypnotizing.

Thom Yorke

Having never seen Radiohead live I was pretty stoked to see the frontman at Coachella.  Thom does not disappoint, playing The Eraser in full plus a few Radiohead tracks he was definitely my favourite of the festival.  One of the best live voices I’ve heard.

The Wilderness

One of the most entertaining, energetic live performances I’ve seen.  Sparkly, dancey, theatrical oh and great music.  I would highly recommend their new album .272 and catching these guys live.

Mayer Hawthorne

Swoon.  I saw this motown crooner twice this year but his Wrongbar performance was by far the best.  Mayer has bounds of energy with an amazing falsetto to match.  I cannot wait for his next album, oh and check him out on Twitter…very entertaining!

And finally, in case you were wondering.  The single worst show of the year was Tame Impala.  Awesome record, terrible live.

Concert Review: Monotonix, December 11, Sneaky Dees

Posted on by guestwriter in Concerts | Leave a comment

Toronto – Israeli troublemakers Monotonix still manage to surprise me, despite the fact that I have been in attendance for nearly all their Toronto shows.

As the band played an early Saturday night set at Sneaky Dee’s, I wondered if it was the only venue left in the city willing to have them back.

Last time at Dee’s most of the show was played in the air with the audience holding up the entire band and an encore that took place outside with the cops looking on.

Thankfully, the crowd seemed a little more tame than the audience at their last show at Wrongbar. They started at the front of the Dee’s stage, but it was only a matter of time before they were surrounded by an enthusiastic group. Singer Ami Shalev was soon crowd surfing and dancing with girls on his shoulders.

Monotonix played in every available space, pushing the drums and crowd further back into the bar until there was no place to go but the men’s lavatory. I feared for everything while I was trapped in a stall with a fellow photographer and Shalev climbing over us. Afterward, some pals pointed out the germs and how gross it must’ve been. But at the time my only concern was for my camera because sweat and beer were being sprayed and dripping from every direction.

Eventually, Monotonix ended up on top of the bar and back near the stage for the finale. A few members of the crowd, reminiscing of a simpler time, screamed for the band to go outside, but the band declined because after all, it was cold.

Monotonix – Give Me More by Crossfire Music