SummerWorks Festival: Theatre Preview

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Reviews, Summerworks | 7 Comments

pictured: the National Theatre of the World cast

If you haven’t read Ricky’s preview of the music side of this year’s SummerWorks festival, I suggest you do so now. I’m of the opinion that SummerWorks really stepped up the music side of the festival this year with some great acts. With the music taken care of, and keeping in mind that all the plays at SummerWorks are largely new works and thus it’s nearly impossible to say whether or not they’ll be good with any great accuracy, here’s six SummerWorks shows that I personally guarantee confidently predict am totally guessing think will probably be worth seeing. Maybe. Click the show titles for the schedules and details.


If you’ve been following news about the Festival at all, you know that the Sun has printed three articles now expressing their distaste for Homegrown. Their problem? The play is about Shareef Abdelhaleem, a member of the “Toronto 18,” and as Don Peat so melodramatically puts it, “tax dollars from the very governments he’s convicted of plotting to blow up” went into this play in the form of grant money (Metro has a more balanced take here and SummerWorks has written about it extensively on their blog). I could write a whole post about this, but suffice to say that I’ve always thought the Sun newspaper chain sucks (Canwest rules!), and that I think tax money spent on arts sponsorships is money well spent. That aside, this sounds like it could be one hell of a good show. I mean, a play about a man who went to trial on bomb plot charges from the perspective of a lawyer, who “becomes obsessed with separating fact from hype in the face of the uncertainty, delays and secrecy in his case” (quote from the show listing) and it’s written by this lawyer herself? Sign me up. Get a seat in advance if you can, this is already in danger of selling out.

Iphigenia at Aulis

You may recall that I saw an adaptation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, my favourite ancient myth, at SummerWorks last year, and that I didn’t really care for it. Why, then, would I set myself up for disappointment again by getting my hopes up for Iphigenia at Aulis, an adaptation of a work by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides? I dunno. I didn’t learn my lesson, I guess. It could be good though, right? Man, I hope so. I’d really love to see a good staging of an ancient Greek play. No seriously, I would. Stop snickering at me.

The WITCH of Edmonton

“In the tightly-knit community of Edmonton, Mother Sawyer is falsely branded as a witch. Rejected and shunned, she takes revenge by selling her soul to a demonic hellhound.” This is the promo text for this play. More interestingly, it’s venue is listed as Trinity Bellwoods Park. Spooky stories in the park? Sounds cool.

The Kreutzer Sonata

A staging of a Tolstoy novella underscored by the Beethoven sonata of the same name, which is where Tolstoy got the title. An interesting concept from the director/playwright/sole actor Ted Dykstra, to be sure, this show played to sold out houses at the Harbourfront Centre for both of it’s runs in March of 2009 and 2010. I’m not sure if the music will be live or not, but if it is, expect this to be quite good.

The Hanging of Francoise Laurent

Apparently, in 1751 in Montreal, a woman could escape a death sentence if she could convince the executioner to marry her, or so says the promo for The Hanging of Francoise Laurent. Did you know this? I couldn’t verify this as historical fact after two minutes of Google searching, but it sounds like a pretty good basis for dramatic theatre. Worth a look.

The National Theatre of the World Presents: Fiasco Playhouse!

In a slightly confusing entry, the National Theatre of the World (past show reviews here [2010 Fringe] and here [2009 SummerWorks]) is going to be at the SummerWorks “Performance Bar” every night from 9 PM until around midnight. You may recall that the Performance Bar is also where a number of the fest’s music acts are playing, including Maylee Todd, Ghost Bees, Laura Barrett, and Grand Analog. I truly have no idea how this is going to work, and the web page is no help, except to say that it’s apparently going to feature “the newest and most dangerous innovations in improvisation!” I do know that Ron Pederson, Naomi Snieckus and Matt Baram put on a very good show, and that the music will be good, so that’s at least two reasons to check this out at least one night of the festival.

Keep an eye out throughout the festival, which runs August 5-15, for our reviews.

Concert Review: Sunparlour Players, August 14, Theatre Centre

Posted on by Brian in Concerts | 2 Comments

Sunparlour Players Photo

I realized the other day that while I’ve talked about the Sunparlour Players a lot, I’ve only written about a show of theirs once on this blog. Ricky reviewed their show at Pop Montreal a while back and I wrote about them as part of my Hillside Festival coverage, but that only had a couple of brief mentions. I’ve written reviews of a couple of plays lead singer/guitarist/banjoist Andrew Penner’s been a part of, The Book of Judith and Reesor, I’ve mentioned them in podcasts, I’ve written comments about them on other posts…but no full-on show review.

But at the same time…I really don’t know what I can say about these guys I haven’t said before. So I guess I’ll say this: Sunparlour Players are fantastic, and if you haven’t seen them play live you’re doing yourself a disservice. Especially if you live in Toronto, because that’s where they’re from too and they play around here a lot.

And their new album, Wave North, which came out in May and I picked up last month, is great, with at least as many really well-done songs as their first one, Hymns for the Happy.

And their live cover of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck must be seen to be believed.

The August 14 show at Theatre Centre, part of the SummerWorks music series, made it the fourth time in 14 months my partner and I had seen Andrew, bassist/keyboardist/clarinetist Dennis Van Dine and drummer/glockenspielist/accordionist Michael Rosenthal play, and they were every bit as spellbinding as the first time.

Featuring the same three kick drums as they did the first time I saw them in Calgary those many months ago, but a bit worse for wear, SPP came out and beat on all three of them as they started the show with “O’Captain” off Wave North. While they didn’t play the wonderful title track from Hymns for the Happy (though they did tease it at one point, singing the opening lines, then launching into another tune) or “Bless This City,” a great track they contributed to the soundtrack for This Beautiful City, they played very nearly everything else during a hot, sweaty set at the sweltering Theatre Centre.

A particular highlight was when, during “Talk It To Death,” the top screw of Andrew’s mike stand came loose, flipping the mike sideways, then upside down, then straight up in the air as he tried to butt it back into place. Instead of taking a break from the song at it’s rowdy “La-la-la-la, La-la-LALALALALOLO” chorus, Andrew instead cortorted himself in different ways while playing guitar to keep it going. He broke at least five guitar strings, he and Michael sweated buckets, and at one point the three of them were playing five instruments at once.

As good as their two albums are, this is a band that’s meant to be seen live. Go see them if you ever have the chance, you’ll be glad you did.

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