Toronto Fringe Preview: Brothers and Arms

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

The Toronto Fringe Festival starts next week, so between now and the start of the fest, and in between seeing and reviewing Jazz Festival shows, I’ll be previewing some plays that I’m particularly excited about seeing. Yes, I’m covering the Fringe, which starts June 30, and also covering the jazz festival with Mark, so I won’t be sleeping much the next two and a half weeks or so. If you see me napping during someone’s Fringe play, try to be understanding, and wake me up gently…

First up: Brothers and Arms, a brand new work on war, love, and best of all, comic books. From the show’s press kit:

“Set during World War Two and the current Iraq fighting, Brothers And Arms explores the conflict between the world of comic book war propaganda and the realities of war.  Two brothers, separated by opposing views and the love of a woman, face off one afternoon in an apartment confrontation with dire consequences. In this captivating debut, award winning playwright Steven Jackson offers a drama filled with richly drawn characters and a production that will radiate with intensity.  Brothers And Arms is a play not to be missed.”

In the interests of disclosure, I must tell you that the playwright is a friend of mine, and as a result I’d really like his show to be sold out every night with great success. This is my ulterior motive in previewing his play first. I also know that Stephen is a talented guy with good taste in theatre, so I’m going to go ahead and say that his show will be really, really good and that everyone should go see it. I will admit, I’m not entirely sure how comic books fit into this play from reading the press release, other than it’s “dealing with the changing roles of comic books and the realities of war,” but I’m interested in finding out.

The Fringe runs between June 30 and July 11. Check the Fringe website for passes and advance tix. Brothers and Arms is at Venue 3, the Royal St. George Auditorium, just north of Bloor and east of Bathurst. Tickets are ten bucks at the door. Here’s the schedule:

Wednesday, June 30th @ 10:30pm

Saturday, July 3rd @ 7:30pm

Monday, July 5th @ 3:00pm

Tuesday, July 6th @ 8:30pm

Wednesday, July 7th @ 2:00pm

Thursday, July 8th @ 10:30pm

Sunday, July 11th @ 4:30pm

Gary’s Hot Docs 2010 Primer

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Toronto – The 17th annual Hot Docs (much more enticing a title than “Canadian International Documentary Festival”) is just around the bend. Since Toronto is our main base of operation, panicmanual would be very ignorant if we spend the next week dillydallying in the sun at Harbourfront while other people engage their brains with current, worthwhile and beautiful imagery and sounds. Which is why we’re NOT. Watch out for previews and reviews from us that will give you a helping hand in choosing from the 171 flavours that Hot Docs has to offer. Here’s a list of films that I think will be interesting (see links to the respective sites or visit Hot Docs for showtimes. Like TIFF’s during its peak, the loading can tax patience):

Bhutto – A biographical sketch of the recently assassinated, former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. From the hippie movement of peace and love to counter-terrorism in modern Pakistan, witness how the politics reared Bhutto, and how it all relates to the rest of the world.

Made in India – Unable to foot the US$100,000 bill for a surrogate mother, a Texas couple move to the reproductive economy of India for a cheaper option. Ethics and political issues abound, this film might also shine light into the psychology and natural selection of our species… hopefully.

Wasteland – Artist Vik Muniz travels to the outskirts of Rio de janeiro. His project: building social conscious pieces of art with nothing but another man’s garbage and the help of “pluckers” – men and women whose living depends on picking out recyclables. This might make you think the next time you throw out that Starbucks paper cup.

Grace Milly Lucy… child soldiers – The story of three Ugandan women on being transformed into killing machines and wives for rebel commanders. Their role as activists in the community promises to be an interesting psychological portrait. (Actually, see Ricky’s preview just below!)

House of Suh – A loyal and promising young man murders his sister’s boyfriend and shocks a whole community.

The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke island – By telling the story of how Green peace’s famous ship and its crew came to rest on the New Zealand island in their old age, we take a closer look at what was a social movement and what is now a multinational entity. How should protests and environmental “injustices” be dealt with in the face of other, more broad-reaching forces?

Casino Jack and the United States of Money – How does a Republican lobbyist rise to and fall from power? This film goes through the paces and tries to convince you that even playwright can’t do better than real life, American politics.

Human Terrain – This film exposes the counter-insurgency program of its namesake. Is it an academic study of social interactions and how best to approach other cultures, or a intelligence program geared towards the exploitation of these “best practices” for military ends?

Kings of Pastry – A documentary on the mouth-watering creations from chefs at the pastry olympics Meilleur Ouvrier, also held every 4 years. It’s no iron chef, but the concentration and devotion is arguably more intense.

The Corporation – Corporations are legal entities. What are they like, as a “person”? Do they visit their grannies with pies or let the dogs poo all over the neighbour’s lawn? This is an old documentary, but I haven’t seen it and its message may be ever more poignant in the face of the recent economic crisis.

Well. That’s my shortlist – add and subtract as necessary. See you around the cinema!

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 Festival Preview

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


Toronto – This week sees the beginning of the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto, a growing theatre/music/multimedia performance expo from August 6th (hey, that’s today!) until the 16th. Centred mostly around the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst), Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave, near Bathurst & Queen), and The Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West), with performance gallery events at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West) and a handful of events going on at a few other venues, SummerWorks is celebrating their 19th year by giving us a media pass. It’s also their second year under Artistic Director Michael Rubenfeld, he of the excellent production The Book of Judith. Did my favourable review of that show help facilitate our media pass? Eh, probably not, but I’m in a conspiracy-seeing kind of mood today…

Anyway, Panic Manual will have reviews of shows all festival long. Currently on my schedule is something like 18 theatre shows and a couple of music shows, this alongside a trip to Niagara Falls this weekend, starting tonight with a show called Montparnasse at Theatre Passe Muraille (if you’re going to it and you see a guy there by himself looking tired and daunted by just what he’s gotten himself into, come over and say hey).

Since these are all new shows, I’m not sure how many recommendations I can make. However, since this is primarily a music blog, you might be interested in The Nick Drake Project, a play with music and inspired by 60’s folkie Nick Drake. You may also be particularly interested in the music portion of the festival, which features, in order of performance: Miracle Fortress with Karkwa (tonight), Think About Life and DD/MM/YYYY (tomorrow), The Got to Get Got with Oh No Forest Fires (Saturday), Still Life Still and Kids on TV (Sunday), Boys Who Say No and Foxjaw (August 11th), Matthew Barber with Claire Jenkins (12th), The D’Urbervilles and Forest City Lovers (13th), Panic Manual favourites Sunparlour Players with Josh Reichmann Oracle Band (14th), and Germans and Great Bloomers (15th). All music shows take place at the Theatre Centre.

New this year is SummerWalks, a series of three Queen West walking tours leaving from the Factory Theatre courtyard both weekends of the festival. For only $5 you can get a guided tour of the area based on a different theme. Also, spend a day checking out the Performance Gallery at the Gladstone, a series of performance art events that are 5-8 minutes long, cycle throughout the night, and is pay-what-you-can.

As I said, a lot of these plays are new so I can’t really recommend many without seeing them, but some of the stuff I thought sounded most interesting from their descriptions on the SummerWorks website are Apricots, Toronto Noir, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Piano Tuner, The Middle Place, and I’ll Be There to Kill You, all of which are among the shows I’ll be seeing, so if you want some guy’s recommendations for things to see, keep checking in here for my show reviews.

Oh, one show you should see is Impromptu Splendor, put on by The National Theatre of the World. An improvised play put on by three cast members, the guy to watch for is Ron Pederson. A cast member of MadTV for a couple of seasons, I used to see Ron do improv every week when I lived in Edmonton with the city’s legendary live improvised soap opera Die Nasty. He’s a funny, funny guy.

Check out the SummerWorks website at and keep watching this space for play and show reviews.