SummerWorks Play Review: Elora Gorge, August 6

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

Toronto – On a hot, humid Saturday evening, inside the sweltering atmosphere of the Theatre Centre, Elora Gorge was a mystery show with a good enough hook to really reel me in, despite how much energy I had to expend to fan myself with the program. It got off to a good start, with nice usage of some hanging sheets as projection screens and some interesting lighting.

Unfortunately, it’s a mystery show with no payoff at the end, and as a result it’s a rather frustrating play.

In Elora Gorge, a man is discovered dead by drowning in the middle of a forest, nowhere near any source of water. It’s a mystery worthy of someone like Sherlock Holmes, or at least TV’s Adrian Monk, and it falls to the town of Elora’s small RCMP detachment to investigate. The same day this body is discovered, a young woman moves back into her mom’s house in Elora after some wild and troubled years on the road and begins having nightmares about the disappearance of her brother, which took place many years before. Her old flame is one of the officers on the case, and as they rekindle their relationship, her nightmares and visions get worse, and she starts to wonder if there’s a connection between this unidentified corpse and her long-lost sibling. At the same time, the people of Elora start acting very oddly and become obsessed with the dead stranger, beginning with the woman who found the body and the coroner who examines it. This oddness grows to the point that the town decides to have a festival in his honour, and to display the corpse for all to see.

What’s affecting the townspeople? Who was this dead stranger in the woods? How did he possibly drown miles from the water? Alas, none of this is actually explained. Elora Gorge goes to great lengths to build the suspense over these questions, then never bothers to actually answer them. It’s suspenseful, it’s got good design and some interesting characters, but to end the show without providing answers to the central mystery is just baffling. I suppose if you were more of a David Lynch and/or Twin Peaks person than I am you might enjoy this very much, but even though it’s got some slick design and some fine acting, the ending left me cold, despite the heat.

Elora Gorge runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.

SummerWorks Play Review: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, August 6

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Toronto – It is rare that an audience leaves a theatre with concern for an actor’s safety. I think most people who left Theatre Centre Saturday night with that feeling also left feeling dazed and stunned by what they’d just seen. I certainly did.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a play written by Iranian Nassim Soleimanpour. It’s a sort of monologue from the writer to the audience, and a way for Soleimanpour, according to his writing, can feel free, as his writing travels the world in a way that he can’t, as he’s unable to get a passport. Soleimanpour also addresses a fair bit of his monologue to the actor reading it; in this production, the actor performs the play cold, actually receiving it on stage in a sealed envelope, and is different each night. For this performance we had the pleasure of having Eric Peterson on stage, an accomplished stage actor who’s probably best known for playing Brent Butt’s dad Oscar on Corner Gas.

Whether or not the play would be as good performed by someone else, I couldn’t say. Peterson has the kind of pacing and timing you can only gain with experience, and is remarkably steady even when the script calls for a vial of what may or may not be poison to be poured into one of two cups of water, with the intention that later in the show he will drink one of them. He shows off his talent for comedy often, at one point playing his interpretation of a “cheetah impersonating an ostrich” to great audience delight and delivering some of the funniest lines in the play in a perfect deadpan.

As for the play itself, well, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. Soleimanpour’s metaphor for oppression, his uncle’s “rabbit training” where the rabbit who is the first to figure out how to climb a ladder to get to a carrot is painted red and eventually ends up getting torn apart by the other white rabbits for standing out, is chilling.

Soleimanpour shows a sense of humour, while at the same time making a point about how, even writing as he is from Iran a couple of years ago, he can still manipulate a room full of people when they’re willing to let him. The audience participation roles are quite apropos and not too embarassing (I got picked to be in one of them, too), and one audience member practically jumped onto the stage to read the last few pages of the script, as Soleimanpour’s direction demanded. Later on, when I lined up with a group to shake Peterson’s hand and make sure he was ok, that audience member was telling Peterson that he’s Iranian himself. Apropos indeed.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is some of the most powerful, captivating theatre I’ve seen in years.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.

Cover Song of the Day: Choir! Choir! Choir! – Cum on Feel the Noize (Slade)

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Toronto – Apparently there is a Toronto choir collective who have been getting together every week since February to sing covers of classic rock songs. They are called Choir! Choir! Choir! and I first encountered them on Thursday for the Summerworks Opening Party. Comprising of over thirty individuals, Choir! Choir! Choir! is what it is, a bunch of people singing songs you enjoy loudly. I found the experience to be completely charming (except for the drunk theatre people screaming at the band) and I like the idea of a choir covering classic tracks. They have done many covers which you can find on their soundcloud page. This is a cover of Slade. Check it out.

SummerWorks Play Review: ONE, August 5

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

Toronto – ONE, a show from Alberta-based RedtoBlue Performance, has a few things going for it, but above all is this: It’s got to be one of the most visually interesting theatre festival shows I’ve seen in a long time. SummerWorks is a bit more forgiving than, say, Fringe in that there’s an hour and a half of teardown and setup time between shows, rather than the Fringe’s standard hour or less, but still, to get this much design detail not only in limited setup time, but also with a show that’s travelled across the country, is impressive.

According to the program notes, “every element…had to be considered a storytelling component,” according to the show creator, Jason Carnew, and that sort of ambition definitely shows. The detail, the sleight-of-hand with some of the props, the costuming, the excellent sound design…it’s all very impressive, even though the house lights came up unexpectedly and for no reason several times during the performance I saw.

The storyline, well, that’s not quite as impressive. ONE is purportedly a re-telling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, only with the woman, Philistine (Amber Borotsik) in the Orpheus role, in search of her lost love George (Cole Humeny). Along the way she comes across Charon (Keith Wyatt), who manages a storeroom of all the memories of humankind, kept in the form of vinyl records, which is quite a cool idea and makes for the best scenes in the show as he tries to ignore her, then toys with her before finally spinning the recording of Philistine and George’s love. Charon tells her George has drowned at sea, and to find him she must travel to hell, which is pretty much where the close resemblance to Orpheus and Eurydice begins and ends. I hate to say the story is complicated because it’s really not; it’s a fairly straightforward “descent to the underworld” tale. But large parts of it are told through allegory and contemporary dance, particularly Philistine and George’s love and her trip to hell, and many of these bits tend to go on a little too long for my tastes.

Still, it’s a cool production, even if it’s a little too poetic and metaphorical for it’s own good at times. Well worth seeing.

ONE runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.