Stage Write: David Mamet’s RACE at Canadian Stage

We just love going to the the-a-tah. Last night, we were thrilled to attend the buzziest opening night of the 2013 season, the much-anticipated Canadian
Stage
production of RACE. In fact, we loved it so much, you should probably stop reading this and go book your tickets now (pro-tip: check out Canadian Stage’s Facebook ticketing app to score $10 day-of rush tickets between 10 a.m. and noon). Seriously. It was intense, controversial, very well-acted and the 90 minute production flew by.

A new Canadian production featuring some of this country’s top talent (*cough* Jason
Priestley
*cough*) take the stage in this provocative drama written by David Mamet (who you may know as the outspoken and award-winning playwright who wrote classics like Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna, or as the father of Girls star Zosia Mamet).


Brandon Walsh goes from sweet to gritty. We like.
Image courtesy of Canadian Stage.*

Sharply written with wit and incendiary dialogue, Mamet
crafts a social commentary on race relations, prejudices and gender politics. The play
is bound to spark plenty of debate, as well-off white guy Charles Strickland (Matthew Edison) embarks on a legal
battle
after being accused
of raping a young black woman.



The cast feeling some tension in RACE.
Image courtesy of Canadian Stage*



The one act play takes place in the office of cut-throat interracial legal team Jack Lawson (played by Priestley), Henry Brown (Nigel Shawn Williams) and legal associate Susan (Cara Ricketts), as they find themselves the attorneys of record on a controversial case that no other lawyer in town will touch with a ten-foot pole. As the case unfolds, it exposes much more than a vicious crime. 

Jason Priestley and Nigel Shawn Williams command 
the stage as legal duo Jack and Henry.
Image courtesy of Canadian Stage*

The dialogue-driven drama delivers heavy subject matter (with some quite spicy language) in a way that is thought-provoking and challenging without being intimidating. The incredibly talented cast knock it out of the park under the guidance of director Daniel Brooks
Don’t miss RACE at the Bluma Appel Theatre until May 5.
Image courtesy of Canadian Stage*
One of the best moments from opening night happened after the show – you may have heard about a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother on which Priestley appeared as a guest star. In the episode, he fantasized about a strawberry jelly doughnut stuffed with a chocolate Timbit as his dream doughnut. The restaurant responded in a savvy way by tweeting a photo of a mock-up doughnut they created. A win, all around. 
As a surprise for Priestley last night, Canadian Stage got a few The Priestleys made and presented to them to the visibly surprised star of the show. He took a bite and pronounced it delicious. A sweet surprise to cap off an amazing evening!
Tickets for the show start at $22, and will be on stage now until Sunday, May 5 at the Bluma Appel Theatre. 

*Production photos by David Hou. Set design by Debra Hanson.

Stage Write: Dachshund UN

“It’s a dog eat dog world.” A phrase commonly applied to business or politics, it has never sounded more appropriate than after checking out the North American premiere of Dachshund UN last night. Part of the World Stage programming, this show features a group of dachshunds representing the Commission on Human Rights. 



Dachshund UN was first created by Australian sculptor and installation artist Bennett Miller. Miller’s works regularly feature live animals as performers, such as in last night’s show. Dachshund UN was first developed for Next Wave Festival in Melbourne, Australia. Its run at Harbourfront is the first time it’s being presented indoors and on North American soil. 

We didn’t know quite what to expect when we went over, but it wasn’t hard to sell us on puppies. When the curtain went up, a gasp of delight went through the audience – DACHSCHUNDS WERE EVERYWHERE! Unlike at most theatre shows, Dachshund UN encourages the audience to take photos and share their experience via Twitter/Instagram. We also engaged in a lot of squealing and catcalling to the dachshunds. 


We suppose that there’s some greater meaning that we should’ve gleaned from the show; perhaps a commentary on civics and citizenship? The program notes suggested that the chaos of animal performers in a live theatre environment is about surprise and is an experience worth observing. For us, it was more about self-restraint – do you have any idea how hard it is to resist running up and petting puppies after watching them for 40 minutes??



Some highlights of the night included when Pakistan started to hump Slovenia, the United States would not stop howl-barking the whole time, the Netherlands lazily rested his head on his nameplate and France and the Ukraine were nuzzling besties! Is this a commentary on each of the countries they represent? Perhaps. Or they’re just puppies being puppies. 

Pro tip: Be sure to hang around the stage door following the performance to greet the actors as they head out. If you ask extra nicely, their handlers will even let you pet them. Finally! 

Dachschund UN is on-stage at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre with performances tonight at 7 p.m. or Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is free, on a first come first serve basis. 

All images courtesy of Harbourfront Centre. 

Stage Write: Next Stage Theatre Festival

January. Ahhhh, January. Post-holidays, we can be a bit slow moving but in our ‘hood, there’s always
something exciting happening that helps us pick up the pace. The first month of every year, in the icy cold of winter,
The Toronto Fringe Festival warms us up with the hottest indie theatre in the
city AND a heated beer tent. In true Fringe style, the tickets are cheap, the
beer is cold, and the shows are hot.


Held
at the Factory Theatre and called the Next Stage
Theatre Festival
, this mini-theatre-fest is a curated line-up of the best independent theatre in Canada that runs from today until Sunday, January 13. In its 6th season, at #NSTF, you’ll see raw, uncensored and exciting
new work from the city’s most vibrant up-and-coming talent. Plus, since the
diverse line-up is chosen by a panel of industry pros, you can trust that the
shows will be solid. Past Next Stage hits have gotten Dora Award nods, remounts
at leading theatres across the country and off-Broadway productions in NYC. Oh,
and have we mentioned tickets are just $15 and box office proceeds go right
back to the artists you see on stage?

Our resident drama queens pick the shows you shouldn’t miss this
week:

Image courtesy of Toronto Fringe Festival

Written by brilliant (and award-winning, NBD) playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, Sudden
Death
examines the dark underbelly of Canada’s
national pastime to uproariously tragic effect. With the dashing (and super
talented) Tony Nappo starring as hockey legend John “Rambo” Kordic
and the stunning (rock-it promo alum) Melissa Jane Shaw, we can’t wait to see
this one.

Factory Theatre Mainspace: January 2 to 13.


Image courtesy of Toronto Fringe Festival

Fan of Game of Thrones or not, audiences will love Throne of
Games
, a hilarious and unscripted interpretation of the bestselling
medieval fantasy novels that inspired the award-winning HBO series. Directed by acclaimed
actor and improviser Colin Munch and featuring a tour de force cast of Canada’s
most brilliant comedic performers, this one promises belly laughs and even
possible nudity (awesome).

Factory Theatre Mainspace: January 2 to 13.


Image courtesy of Toronto Fringe Festival

One of the hottest shows at Summerworks 2010, Post Eden is
a ‘live film’ about a fantastical day in the life of a fractured suburban
family. Inspired by interviews conducted with actual
residents of Richmond Hill, playwright/director Jordan Tannahill creates a
multimedia production that is a blur between a
documentary and a live theatre show. 

Factory Studio: Thursday, January 3 to 13.


Image courtesy of Toronto Fringe Festival

The 2012 Best-of-the-Fringe hit is back a sold-out run. This comedy (with guts)
about fate, pheromones and the TTC follows Anabel, who gives her heart to a
stranger who disappears with it. With playwright Julia Lederer playing the lead
role alongside Martha Ross and Robin Archer, this show touches on a bunch
of things we like: GoogleShrink, purple plaid and
rom-coms. 

Factory Studio: January 2 to 13.


Image courtesy of Toronto Fringe Festival

Originally performed in a church during Fringe 2011, AWAKE is a
current, cutting show that takes you deep into the heart of one of Toronto’s
most violent neighbourhoods. Set during the funeral of a victim of gun
violence, the production explores the ripple effect of gangs within a
community. Developed over three years, the script was created entirely based on
interviews with mothers who lost sons, gang members, outreach works and police.

Factory Theatre Mainspace: January 3 to 15.

With ten plays on three stages over twelve days you might as well
kick off 2013 by seeing some of the best theatre you’ll see all year. For full
festival listings, to book tickets, or more details, visit http://fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/ or call 416.966.1062. Hell, while you’re at it, why not donate to The Toronto Fringe… didn’t you resolve to be a better person this year? 

See you in the beer tent for a hot toddy (or something colder) between shows!

For complete Next Stage Theatre Festival listings click here.







Stage Write: The Arsonists

Life on the fourth floor can get pretty dramatic (urgent request! interview cancelled! event emergency!), so we love the opportunity to sit back and watch the theatrics unfold on stage, rather than in our everyday lives. Last night we hit the opening night performance of  Canadian Stage‘s wickedly funny farce, The Arsonists, on stage now through December 9 at the Bluma Appel Theatre.


 The Arsonists set, designed by Ken MacDonald. Photo by Bruce Zinger


The play is set in an unnamed town plagued by a group of arsonists who charm their way into houses and then burn them down. Biedermann (Michael Ball) is a well-to-do homeowner whose evening is interrupted when a mysterious and burly stranger named Schmitz (Dan Chameroy) knocks on his door. Cunningly praising Biedermann’s humanity, the stranger appeals to his humanity (or guilt) and is invited into the home.



Schmitz soon invites his even stranger friend Eisenring (Shawn Wright) to join him and the pair move into the attic, blatantly setting the stage for a fire. They up the creepy factor as Eisenring cackles about setting up detonators and purchasing fire starter. Biedermann,  suspecting (or maybe even knowing) the strangers are arsonists, chooses to ignore the signs, even as they become indisputable. Neither Biedermann nor his wife, Babette (Fiona Reid) want to risk offending anyone or igniting the spark that will (literally) blow up the entire house.

Shawn Wright and Michael Ball. Photo by Bruce Zinger
What makes the play most interesting is the context. It was written by Max Frisch, a Swiss writer, less than a decade after the second World War. As Biedermann and his wife Babette watch the arsonists set up camp in their attic and are too mannerly, afraid or self-conscious to pass judgement or do anything about it, the parallels between Swiss neutrality, or even a modern contexts where people stay silent or complacent when faced with evil, are unmistakable.
The cast of The Arsonists

Now, don’t let the serious message or the fact that the script was written in 1953 fool you: written as a political farce, the play is funny. Actually funny, we promise. We were laughing out loud, and there are plenty of smart (albeit dark) jokes during the performance.

Shawn Wright and Dan Chameroy. Photo by Bruce Zinger



We especially loved the on-stage musicians, led by local songwriter Justin Rutledge, who act as a chorus throughout the play. The music has a Brit-rock feel, and provides a fun and unique narration between the scenes. Have a listen:





The set is the beautiful home where the Biedermanns and their maid (Sheila McCarthy) whisper about the arsonists from their living room, while you watch the arsonists (up to no good) in the adjacent attic. The changing lighting on the backdrop reflects the activities outside the house, and the sound of distant sirens echoes throughout the theatre, reinforcing the atmosphere of fear and chaos in the town.


We highly recommend the play for a night out. The show runs until December 9 and tickets begin at $24 (available by phone 416.368.3110, in person at the box office or online at canadianstage.com). Also, Canadian Stage has just introduced a ticketing app that lets you buy tickets – and reserve seats for your friends – through Facebook! To celebrate, they are offering $20 tickets for tonight’s show, and buy-one-get-one-free tickets for shows this weekend. Only available to Canadian Stage’s Facebook friends, so “like” that shit! 

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0cm;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:10.0pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”,”serif”;}

Sheila McCarthy in The Arsonists. Photo by Bruce Zinger.



Stage Write: Fall Theatre Lineup

Every now and then, things get a little bit
dramatic up in hurr. With a few resident drama queens in our
midst, we’re thrilled to be working with some incredible performing
arts clients this year, like Canadian Stage  and Art of Time Ensemble (not to mention some great past shows like Potted Potter and Love Lies Bleeding) To stay on top of the season’s buzziest openings and hottest shows, we’ve enlisted
theatre-blogger-extraordinaire, Christine Gresham of Theatre Isn’t Dead for a new monthly column called Stage Write. She’ll lend some theatre expertise each month and give you the goods on the latest and greatest theatre shows in Toronto.



To start, here’s what we’re most excited about this fall on the city’s stages.



Fall is one of my fave times of year –
the leaves change colour, the weather becomes cooler, so my wardrobe options
increase, and, Halloween arrives, bringing with it the self-mutilating urge to
increase my sub-zero tolerance for scary things.



At the moment, I still can’t handle scary
movies, stories or even photos. Case in point – someone told me the plot of Paranormal
Activity
, and I couldn’t sleep that night. I hadn’t seen a trailer for the
movie, let alone ANY image from it and I woke up multiple times in the night
convinced an (spoiler alert!) invisible hoofed demon was standing over my bed
waiting to possess me.


So this year I’m looking to the theatre
(where else?!) to help me become a tougher, more down-with-the-gore, more
supernatural-loving person.


Here’s where I’m starting:

Tear The Curtain! an Electric Company production, presented by Canadian Stage.

Sunday, October 7 to Saturday, October 20 at The Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front. St. E.)

A jaded theatre critic in a gritty film noir rendition of 1930s Vancouver falls for the screen siren Mila, and is
caught dangerously between two warring mob families – one controlling the
city’s playhouses, the other its cinemas. As the action moves from screen to
stage and back again, Tear the Curtain! blurs the boundaries between film and
theatre in a stylish psychological thriller that’ll knock your socks off.

Canadian Stage’s Tear the Curtain! will knock your socks off. 
Image source.

Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare, a Theatre 20 production presented as a bonus in the Mirvish Productions subscription season.

Tuesday, October 9 to Sunday, October 28 at The Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St.)

Watch the true story of two 19th century
Irish serial killers, who go into business selling corpses to anatomy schools
in Edinburgh. Reminiscent of Sweeney
Todd
, this eerie tale of deceit, murder, and mayhem is told in memorable song,
macabre humour, and compelling lyrics.




Bloodless: The Tale of Burke and Hare tells the story of two Irish serial killers. 

Jekyll and Hyde, a Mirvish Productions musical.

Wednesday, November 14 to Sunday, November 18 @ The Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St.)


The classic tale of good and evil is
re-vamped and re-mounted with all of the chilling Broadway songs that first
grabbed audiences by the throat and transformed the show into a
theatrical phenomenon.
This production stars Grammy Award nominee Deborah Cox
and American Idol Star Constantine Maroulis, which, depending on your
point-of-view, could also add to the creepiness factor.

Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox star in the classic production of Jekyll & Hyde
Image source.

War of the Worlds, an Art of Time Ensemble performance.

Tuesday, October 30 to Sunday, November 4 at The Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay W.)



Aliens have landed! Again! In the return of the sold-out 2001
production of the play based on Orson Welles’s infamous radio broadcast. The
all-star cast of Sean Cullen (The Producers) joins Nicholas Campbell (Da
Vinci’s Inquest
) and Marc Bendavid (The Border) is accompanied by an
on-stage radio orchestra and remains chilling enough to cause Margaret Atwood
to tweet “Brilliant! Not 2 miss!”.


Tickets: http://tickets.harbourfrontcentre.com

Even Margaret Atwood thinks you should see Art of Time Ensemble’s War of the Worlds

Shows that are currently running and are scary
GOOD are Nightwood Theatre’s Between The Sheets (at the Tarragon Extra Space now until October 7) and Soulpepper’s production of Arthur Miller’s faux/real witch
tale (depending on how you view Abigail), The Crucible (at the Younge Centre
for the Performing Arts until October 6). 
Wish me luck (and sound sleeps)!