play reviews

SummerWorks Review: Greenland [The Greenland Collective]

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


It’s been a few days now, and aside from finding new and creative ways to put off writing my last couple of SummerWorks reviews, I’ve been thinking about Greenland, and trying to come up with reasons why it’s such an amazingly spectacular show. Certainly, along with Melancholy Play, it’s the best show of the festival, at least out of the ones I saw.

Really, it’s all about the characters.

Jonathan (Andrew Musselman) is one of the world’s leading glaciologists (yeah it’s a real thing, look it up). He’s discovered an island off the coast of Greenland, previously unknown because it was covered by a glacier. He relates his story of being interviewed about his discovery. He talks about his father, about getting his Dad ice for his belts of rye when he was small. He talks a little about his own family, particularly his wife Judith. It’s all quite interesting and funny and just a bit sad.

Judith (Clair Calnan) is Jonathan’s wife. She’s an actor, and desperately wants a kid by Jonathan. She talks about feeling like her ovaries are drying up. How she and her husband are not really a good match, that they don’t really understand each other’s occupations. And she talks about her sister an brother-in-law, and how they were killed in an accident, when a piece broke off a bridge and crushed their car while they were in it, orphaning their two teenage kids. About her and Jonathan taking them both in. And she smokes like a chimney while doing it. It’s really sad, rather sexy, and compelling as hell.

Tanya (Jajube Mandiela) is their niece and adopted daughter. She’s doing a school report on Greenland. She talks about her twin brother, about dealing with death, about living with Jonathan and Judith, and makes up a fable on the spot for Jonathan’s newly-discovered island. It’s REALLY sad, but also inspiring and stunning.

And that’s all there is to it, really. The three of them come up, one at a time, with a spotlight on each, and they tell their stories. They don’t interact with each other on stage, they don’t speak to each other. The story comes out through their respective soliloquies, and it paints a complex, sad family picture.

It’s just a terrific piece of work, and all three actors in it are wonderful. The details of their stories is fantastic and the performances so nuanced that’s it was impossible not to be completely drawn in.

The show was an hour long, but flew by.

If you see that there’s a production of this show upcoming, see it, especially if this cast is reprising their roles. Hopefully it’ll be in a bigger space, since the 55-seat Passe Muraille Backspace couldn’t accommodate everyone who wanted to see it (I felt bad, some people waited in line for an hour and still didn’t get in, while I had advance tickets).

SummerWorks: Capsule Reviews (Piano Tuner, Gilgamesh, Parrot/Tennessee, Apricots)

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Summerworks, Theatre | 1 Comment


I’m pretty behind in my reviews and SummerWorks is nearing completion. I’m also getting burned out on plays after seeing four plays yesterday (I was scheduled to see Doppleganger and Underneath today but am passing on both from theatre over-exertion, so I apologize to those shows and to SummerWorks for cancelling on them) and 15 in just 7 days.

I’m also getting a little tired of writing full-length reviews of shows I didn’t love. Contrary to what some might think, I really do wish I could write rave reviews of every show. It sucks to write poor reviews, it’s way more fun to write good ones. As such, I’ll have full-length reviews of Greenland and the Sunparlour Players show shortly, and here’s some quick thoughts and capsule reviews of four shows I’ve seen since Friday: The Piano Tuner, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Under the Parrot/Over Tennessee, and Apricots.

Read more

SummerWorks Review: Melancholy Play [Project Undertow]

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


Man, this reviewing gig is tough sometimes. How can I write a coherent review of a show when all I want to do is rave about it and call it the best I’ve seen at SummerWorks, at least so far? I think it’s easier to write a detailed review of a show you hated…

So what can I say about Melancholy Play? It centres around a woman named Tillie who is embroiled in a very deep melancholy. The funny thing about it is, during her melancholy she says the most enchanting (and absurd, but that’s part of the reason it’s so funny) things about her sadness and suffering and the world around her that the people around her, both men and women, can’t help but fall in love with her. These people include her psychiatrist, tailor, hairdresser, and a nurse who’s involved with the hairdresser. They all fall for Tillie, but when Tillie suddenly becomes a happy person, their love for her fades and they become miserable.

It’s silly, but it’s a show that has a lot of heart, too, with an understanding of the certain kind of sadness and depression that makes up melancholy. The kind of sadness that leaves one staring out the window in the afternoon, doing nothing more than observing the passage of time, or leads you to see the beauty in another person’s tears and makes you want to keep them forever.

There’s a lot of talk like that in the show (in fact, these two examples are relatively tame and straightforward), and it takes a very skilled cast to deliver those sorts of lines without sounding just ludicrous and totally beyond what a person would actually say. Fortunately, Melancholy Play has just such a cast. Ennis Esmer (Frank) and Pamela Rhae Ferguson (Frances) have a couple of scenes where they speak the same lines in concert without looking at each other, which is a whole lot harder to do than it looks. Anna Hardwick has some memorable lines as Joan. There’s a woman on stage, Cheryl Ockrant, who plays cello throughout the show, giving it some very proper melancholic ambience. Salvatore Antonio is a hoot as Lorenzo, Tillie’s psychiatrist, who speaks with an over the top accent (“I am from a eur-OH-pee-an country”) and keeps bringing up that his mother abandoned him as a child in a candy shop. And both actresses who play Tillie, Ingrid Rae Doucet as melancholy Tillie and Melissa-Jane Shaw as happy Tillie, strike just the right notes.

And if I can be slightly lewd for a moment, I don’t need a play to have several beautiful female cast members with very lovely legs who mostly wear short skirts throughout the show to enjoy it, with two of them in a relationship and living together and spending one scene trying to seduce a third. I don’t NEED that to enjoy a play, but it certainly doesn’t hurt…

Really, though, it’s a wonderfully absurd script by Sarah Ruhl, directed nicely by Rosa Laborde with a superb cast. I laughed the hardest that I’ve laughed all festival throughout, and don’t have a single bad thing to say about Melancholy Play. Sounds like a 5/5 to me.

Melancholy Play has just one show left at SummerWorks: August 15 at 10:30 at Factory Theatre Mainspace. See it if you can.

SummerWorks Review: I’ll Always Be There to Kill You [Pure Cassis Productions]

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

I_ll Always Be There To Kill You2

I really liked Patricia Marceau’s production of I’ll Always Be There to Kill You, or Je serai toujours là pour te tuer in its original French, for much of it’s hour-long running time. It’s a cute show, with an attractive, talented two-person cast with good on-stage chemistry.

The setup is quite cute too: Helen (Geneviève Trilling) decides she wants to die, but can’t do it herself, so she places a newspaper ad, answered by Simon (Christian Smith), and contracts him to kill her before the end of the summer. All she wants is to not see it coming and to go peacefully.

It sounds kind of dark, but it’s really not. Trilling plays her character’s resulting paranoia and fear of this stranger who’s living in her house and is supposed to eventually kill her to great comic effect. Smith, meanwhile, plays the straight man, but his character also not-so-subtly tries to convince Trilling’s that what she really wants is to live. Their interactions are, for the most part, quite cute, occasionally delving into the more serious matters like why she wishes to die and why he would accept such a job in the first place. And, inevitably, they fall in love. Aw.

Did you notice I said “cute” a whole lot in the preceding paragraphs? Ok, good.

Not that there’s anything wrong with cute, mind you. Sometimes I like a good piece of romantic fluff theatre, especially if the actors are good.

When I’ll Always Be There to Kill You falls down a little, though, is when it’s reach exceeds it’s grasp. It seems like at times, the play wants to be something more: a look at mortality, at the occasional desire that some people have to end their own lives vs. the fear of the unknown beyond this life. Which is great fodder for a play too, of course, and has been for centuries, but it seems like I’ll Always Be There to Kill You wants to explore this kind of heavy subject matter while at the same time keeping things as light as possible, and it’s a balancing act that doesn’t quite work. The characters are drawn in pretty broad strokes, with some fairly vague backstory offering few details about why Helen wants to die, or why Simon might agree to kill her, which is fine for a romantic fluff piece, but not for serious life and death talk. The ending, too, just doesn’t sit right; it goes from cute to serious in a split second and, without giving anything away, seems like a forced, concrete ending when something a bit more ambiguous might’ve been better.

It is distinctly possible that the play loses something in the translation from French to English, and if I knew enough French to follow it I’d probably see the French performance. Still, Trilling and Smith almost make it work.

I’ll Always Be There to Kill You or Je serai toujours la pour te teur has two performances left at SummerWorks, one in English on August 15 at 6 PM and one in French on the 16 at noon, both at the Factory Theatre Studio. See the SummerWorks website for schedule and ticket info.