Friday, February 9, 2018

Factory presents
Written and Directed by Kat Sandler
January 27 – February 18, 2018
A Factory Commissioned World Premiere
Performed by:
S├ębastien Heins as Jackie Savage
Jeff Lillico as Tim Bernbaum
Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah as Lila Hines
Karen Robinson as Karen Hines
Richard Zeppieri as Tony Capello
Set design by Nick Blais
Costume design by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Lighting design by Oz Weaver
Sound design by Verne Good
Dramaturgy by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard

Photos by Joseph Michael Photography

Kat Sandler's newest play is presented with impeccable direction suited to a fast-paced dramedy focused upon current events surrounding particular racialized communities. Sandler's dense writing bravado and clever play with popular culture and troubling debates regarding the artists  domain, matches her knack for moving actors around the stage like individuals trapped within devastating social queries that can become a matter of life and death.
Featuring a perfect ensemble cast where supporting characters do not seem to exist ... instead they frequently take centre stage and act as crucial elements of over-arching, complex issues raised throughout this two hour (one intermission) tour de force of rapid-fire, witty, and intelligent writing.

Sandler'as script acts as unsettling provocateur as audiences, actors, artists, and playwrights are asked, relentlessly, to carefully examine their race politics as they enter into each and every life - and art - interaction.
As  both playwright and director, she bravely goes into this hotbed of maze-like word&action with her eyes wide ___, and yet overstates the meta-theatricality of the situation when the second half of the play becomes a kind of play within a play - featuring a white playwright who just cannot get enough of the sound of his own desperate rants regarding artistic freedom.  And yet this is perhaps part of the point in a narrative about the nature of representation as it repeats itself over and over again, making headway slowly and painfully as racism gradually unravels and progress is made - much too slowly. Given recent events focusing on North American racism,  however, it is clear that progress can be painfully erased when political climates change and dismantle decades of grass roots anti-racist projects.

Jeff Lillico is brilliant as the fumbling writer eager to find fame beyond his plays - attempting to move into to a Hollywood realm of child actors turned self-promoting  adult artists struggling to succeed within a bigger, more lucrative, realm of the entertainment industry - film.
Sebastien Hein's Jackie moves and speaks with a confidence, both musically and vocally, as his take on the role displays the traits of an artist testing the waters of adult acting after a successful and decidedly populist part as a young teen idol. Heinz's Jackie has a commanding skilful presence that simultaneously charms and bewilders as his performance represents the sincerity of a character paying an actor craving a blockbuster career.

Karen Robinson as Karen, the protective mother and professional therapist, brings a unique strength to her role as she matches every bit of aggressive bravado that merrily tips the ensemble balance to three men and two women. Her analytic tone moves seamlessly into perfectly delivered, socially adept dialogue that competes, and ultimately dominates, the frequently whiny pleas of the white playwright. And yet there is a kind of compromised dignity in Lillico's  portrayal that wants one to feel some kind of sympathy for him. That is up to individual audience members to decide.
Richard Zeppieri's Tony is a dream supporting role that allows him immense comic relief moments, as well as moving - but always tinged with comic  timing and sensibility - with all of the cast members as he straddles his position as bodyguard and ex-police officer in touch (by degree), emotionally and professionally, with the situation the main character finds herself trapped within.
Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah's Lila is a wonderful study of a young woman in a position of compromised and deadly power. When that position becomes profoundly and legally challenged she retreats to the comfort of her family home, only to be confronted by the memory of trauma by two men who want to take her story away from her, remind her of its brutality, and leave her very little in return.
The final moments of the play emphasize this position of deadly power when it leaves one alone to face the complex consequences. BANG BANG is dramedy at its finest - and most problematic - with the two women left to face the past present and future - culminating in a form of stoic solitude  broken by a very ordinary detail about staying alive in a racist world.

Monday, January 22, 2018

World Premiere
In Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace
written by William Shakespeare
directed by Richard Rose
music by Thomas Ryder Payne & Ensemble
featuring Noah Reid, Nigel Shawn Williams, Rachel Cairns, Brandon McGibbon, Jack Nicholsen, Jesse LaVercombe, Tiffany Ayalik, Tantoo Cardinal, Beau Dixon, Greg Gale, Cliff Saunders
January 2 - February 11, 2018 (Opens January 10, 2018)

Young Prince Hamlet seeks to avenge his father’s death in a world torn apart by political deception. Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy is reimagined on the Tarragon stage through the powerful lens of rock and roll.

The current rock and roll production of Hamlet, at Tarragon Theatre, is an exciting mixed bag of musical styles, and held together by hard hitting instrumental rock, fine acting and a unique structure. Enabling audiences to listen to each and every speech from the famous disillusioned young prince with a focused, fresh approach, the concert version gives this production of the classic play a contemporary look  and feel - and a timeless power.

Noah Reid's star turn as the young prince is a scrappy, high pitched, intense portrayal that captures a kind of streetwise energy throughout. His clear and measured delivery belies the rough, messy temperament of a young man dealing with family tragedy. This mixture of physical appearance and beautifully delineated performance style makes for an always engaging experience with the many gorgeous soliloquies and quip'ish dialogue designed by Shakespeare to both enlighten and enthral.

Nigel Shawn Williams as Claudius is an exceedingly strong study in power and surprise. He takes command form beginning to end, a believable character with a touch of the pageant host taking charge and then falling brutishly into his own trap.

Tantoo Caridnal's Gertrude, an underwritten and much misunderstood Shakespearean character, like so many of the bard's hapless maidens and matriarchs, lends a skilful subtlety and melancholy grace to the proceedings as she gradually moves from the manipulated 'woman behind the man' syndrome into a frightened and flawed pawn unable to rise above her play-written status - all the time holding her own and ultimately standing by the only character - her son - who is able to see through the eyes of a ghost as he tries try to unravel the murderous familial mayhem that prevails.

Tiffany Ayalik's Ophelia takes on a similar role as a younger version of the woman scorned by circumstance and male power. Ayalik's musical moments and her overall genuine quality is a wonderful study in innocence, and the struggle to overcome the male dominated company she is forced to keep. Ayalik portrays Ophelia's madness with a great subtlety and wandering confidence as she sinks into the depths of her only possible dramaturgical escape - given a text that never allows her any real power.

Cliff Saunders as Polonius rounds out the central cast with a standout performance. HIs vocal nuance takes n a comic tone as the doting father and court conspirator attempting to unravel the mystery of Hamlet's discontent. In a double role as the gravedigger he lends great musical skill to the infamous playwright's words, breathing new life into timeless verse.

Other standout performances come form the always onstage presence of a backup band. Jack Nicholson (Player King) and Beau Dixon  (Player Queen) come downstage centre for a delightful and powerful moment when the players sing their lines and create the play within the play that becomes the undoing of the current King. Dixon utilizes diverse vocal tones that convincingly portray the players task - to both mock and dramatize the events that surround them through the use of a socially induced Shakespearean staple - male actors playing female roles.

The entire ensemble is outstanding, and brings this concert version to life in a rapidfire/breakneck way that makes three hours (one intermission) of Shakepsearean drama seem like an effortless and entertaining exercise in pure poetry and powerful music.

And the fight scene between Laertes and Hamlet creates an intriguing stylistic contrast to the realism of death and drama that marks the ending of a supremely dysfunctional royal families greatest misdeeds... 

Friday, December 8, 2017


The 2017 instalment of Ross Petty Production’s pantomime - A CHRISTMAS CAROL - is a non-stop laugh filled ride through a beloved seasonal narrative - with a contemporary twist that takes us from the indecisive chill of Canadian weather to palm-lined, sunny Jamaican shores. The geographic, fantasy-filled shifts allow for comic and musical narrative citations including Bob Marley - among others...

Combining topical humour with a well-known story, and sprinkled with gender crossing roles, the origins of pantomime, dating back to Commedia dell’arte and beyond, Ross Petty productions A Christmas Carol offers a relatively well-rounded menu of pantomime delights. Audience participation and faintly bawdy humour find a place in this mixed bag of all-ages fare. 

My bias within this variety of iconic performance would be the drag role. A CHRISTMAS CAROL not only rises to the occasion, it makes the ‘drag queen’ into a star turn that holds the overall narrative together and paves the way for a virtuoso performance by Dan Chameroy as the beloved Plumbum. 

A cross between an aging TInkerbell and Dame Edna Everidge, Chameroy’s stage agility and immense musical skills give the character an incredible depth and loveable mischief maker appeal. Plumbum becomes a kind of gender bent ‘Everyman’ figure who both defies and defiles gender in a loveable bumbling manner, and gets his/her romantic quest included in the action by the end of the pantomime with a kind of diverse panache.

Nevertheless, strong performances by Chameroy as Plumbum,with the versatile Eddie Glen as Bob Crathcit, Cyrus Lane as a powerful moody Scrooge, a star turn by vocal powerhouse AJ Bridel as Jane, and Kyle Golemba’s buoyant and engaging Jack make for an enormously entertaining evening of seasonal fun.


One Toronto reviewer has made a strong point by suggesting that the gender diversity needs a great deal more balance here, and one might add that this much needed balance could extend to the gender relationships where women playing men might couple in a more complex manner, giving the overall story an almost Shakespearean comedic presence along the lines of Twelfth Night or As You Like It. This could expand both the musical and storytelling aspects of these productions and afford a more layered effect for both children and adults to enjoy.




Friday, November 17, 2017


“Mr. Shi and His Lover carries the full impact and provocative power of a grand theatrical drama”, “Jordan Cheng is mesmerizing” – Toronto Star

“An engaging, provocative evening for mind and ear that will intrigue lovers both of theatre and of opera”, “fiercely committed performances” – NOW Magazine

“Musically delightful”, “a constant delight”, “A show for the musically adventurous” – The Globe and Mail


Mr. Shi and His Lover is an elegant and powerful addition to the Madame Butterfly narrative, ranging from citational gestures toward  Puccini's iconic version and David Henry Hwang's queer take (M Butterfly) on the story of a diplomat and his affair with a performer from the Beijing Opera. And yet, despite it's presence as an intensely moving extension of gender queer politics found within the core narrative of a feminine character caught within a complex relationship with a man who seems unsure of his lover's gender identity, Mr. Shi and His Lover also stands alone as an even more complex contemplation of the fine lines between performance and reality, sex and love, and even the political construction of nations for political and economic purposes. The production is a 75 minute long exploration, written with exquisite philosophical queries that, once sung, and at times spoken, create a kind of exercise in gender politics that never feels didactic or academic. Instead the beautiful varied tones and the emotional prowess of the actors and musicians as they infuse the score with great passion and subtlety creates an incredible intimate salon-like experience within music theatre and opera.

The music is a continuous and gorgeous onstage delight, and is the key to the success of the overall piece - with layered and beautiful performances by both actors and two onstage musicians.


Thursday, November 9, 2017



Factory production in association with b current performing arts

trace follows three generations of mother and son from the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong to Canada in the 21st century. Combining virtuosic original piano compositions with an incredible performance and lyrical text, this exquisite and stimulating one man chamber play offers a new look into the lasting implications of sacrifice across generations.


could you talk about how the story/play began in your mind as a playwright, and how the concept became a reality with the support of a director/dramaturge 

JEFF: The core story of trace stemmed from various myths and memories from family - a collection of mysteries that my mother shared with me when I was a child. One particular memory, of my Great Grandma's exile from China to Hong Kong during WWII stuck with me. She had two sons, and during her journey, something happened to her youngest son and he disappeared. My Great Grandma was a resilient, powerful woman and shame is a very thorny subject in our culture, so she simply dismissed any conversations around her missing son. My mother took a similar journey (though not during war times) when she uprooted her life in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada with my brother and me, so I became fascinated with these parallels within our family, and wrote this play as an attempt to trace the stories of survival, sacrifice, and strength in my bloodline. 

Initially, I wrote this piece as part of a 2nd year project at the National Theatre School: it was a long form piece of poetry, dealing with the imagined scenario of what could have happened to this missing son. I shared it with Nina while she was teaching there, and we began our working relationship on the piece from then on. Under the guidance of Iris Turcott, Matt McGeachy, and Nina, I began to expand upon these initial myths to three generations of women (Great Grandma, Grandma, and Ma), and we begun to piece together these memories (both imagined and true) to what it is today, with classical piano becoming a huge part of the structure and motion of the piece. 

how did the director approach this script in order to make it a staged reality 

NINA: - Always with love. Always from an authentic, therefore vulnerable, place.
- I like looking at plays from the outside-in, that’s how I access the work. If I understand the container of the words (text), then my understanding of how the characters and why they operate the way they do in the world of the play opens up immensely.
- From there, then my designers and I can build the theatrical world of the play and my rehearsals become discovering that world, inhabiting it (and all its laws), mining it deeply.

how did the playwright approach the construction/representation of the female characters, i.e. what nuances speech patterns etc. were you able to tap into in order to bring these characters to life - and how might this have been a consideration for the playwright and director during the dramaturgy and/or directing process

JEFF: In doing research for the writing period of the piece, I interviewed my mother quite a bit, and recorded her storytelling. Because my partner (who's anglophone) would come to these interviews with me, my mother always felt compelled to articulate these memories in English (her third language). I noticed the rhythms, succintness, and grammar of her stories, and noticed how factual the memories became. It was hard for her to articulate the depth of emotion in many of the harsher tales, simply because of the limits of a learned language - for example, in one interview, she said: "Your uncle. he was just a boy. he swam and swam and swam across the ocean. then, he was safe." This was fascinating to me, as one can imagine all the horrors, and terror, and all that involved in the story, but the simple facts of the narrative was what she could articulate... and that was enough. This lack of sentiment is something I've attempted to capture, this surgical precision to speaking deep pains in the simplest way possible. 

NINA: - Again, we approached everything with love, authenticity but with great theatricality.
- Even though this is lifted and inspired from Jeff’s history, I didn’t want it to be just an autobiography on stage. I did not want it to be a documentary on stage. We needed to find theatrical elements and magic that represented his emotional journey -- that to me is more interesting; more powerful.
- It was important for me to allow Jeff to express his fullest self in this piece, embracing all the facets of the man he has become because of all these women.

what was the inspiration for the idea of the pianos as representation of the male characters

JEFF: Initially, and pretty early on, we landed upon the piano acting as various periphery characters in the play, men and women alike. However, for claritys sake (since what the piano speaks is never literal, and can never be as clearly articulated as language), we came upon the idea that all the pianos represented the men. I also felt jazzed about this idea, because the men in my family have often been the homewreckers/the troubled ones, and the women were the survivors that simply brushed away their nonsense, to live their lives to the fullest, with or without these men. 

what is the underlying theme/message of the piece

JEFF: For me, the core theme for this piece deals with the reckoning that life is only possible because of the joys, woes, and sacrifices of our ancestors. This feels obvious as I type it, but laying out each thread of my familial past has given me a deeper gratitude and perspective on what it means to live... to survive. 

trace runs at Factory Theatre 
November 16th until December 3rd 





“to take a photograph is to participate in another person's mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.” 

“To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more - and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize.” 

In the current production of Theatre Gargantua’s Reflector the notion of “time's relentless melt” that Susan Sontag spoke of in her controversial text On Photography (1973) appears as a series of overwhelming screens that continuously present some of the most distressing and iconic photos in contemporary history. They are not easy photos to view, and the many assertions throughout the script regarding how these photographs affect history and consciousness, and our ability to resist and work against the violence of war, mass migration born of political conflict, and all of the ensuing issues, create an engaging and arresting eighty minutes of complex, socially conscious theatre.
Gargantua’s signature physicality, integrating elaborate choreography into the action, varies the program with intense moments that respond to the violence of the background image, and yet the integration, unlike other Gargantua productions, does not meld into the action and the text as seamlessly as it might have. There are notable exceptions when intricate hand and body movements take photographs being represented on a series of illuminated hand held devices and turn them into a somewhat harrowing, relentless, and very effective representation of the use of the image as it inundates the senses and ultimately cannot be avoided - or fully comprehended - by the human eye.

The four character ensemble takes on the physical and vocal challenges with great skill with a standout performance by Michelle Polak as a woman tackling her exceptional yet frequently problematic ability to remember absolutely everything she experiences. She becomes a distressing yet engaging counterpart to the camera itself as her persona becomes entrapped within a reservoir of even the smallest, relatively insignificant details of her daily life.
Michael Spence as the photographer suffering from his exposure to his own photograph of a war-torn street, and a lone inhabitant, delivers a profoundly moving monologue that dissipates a little through a cliched ending, yet brings the overall piece to a sobering conclusion. There is no resolution, there are only photographs, and memories, and neither has the capacity to tell the full story.
Louisa Zhu brings a fine intriguing & interrogating light to the photographers gaze as she presents a character in search of the man who created the image, while Abraham Asto gives a very effective and finely measured performance as a therapist in search of a way of aiding the beleaguered individuals who have found memory and  images from the near and distant past to be complicated, problematic human phenomena to be tackled and resolved on a daily basis.

Gargantua’s 25th anniversary production was inspired by the global response to the photograph of the drowned Syrian child whose image had a profound impact upon the plight of war and the people most tragically affected by it - 

“Although we had initially been prepared to embark on a completely different project, this remarkable incident two years ago inspired us to change our course and instead explore the extraordinary power of images and how and why they can affect us in the profound way that they do.”
Jacquie P.A. Thomas & Michael Spence
Thomas’s direction and Spence’s script work together well as artists instinctively aware of how to create text, image, sound (Thomas Ryder Payne) and lighting (Laird MacDonald) that seamlessly address complex social, political, and aesthetic issues that create a kind of history based physical theatre - always engaging and always thought-provoking.

Although there are times when the opacity and inconclusive nature of the script may appear to be a flaw in this production, one may choose to see the ultimate product as a reflection of the very opacity and inconclusiveness of a photograph - as it may attempt to reveal everything and yet, in the end, say very little about what we are able to do - in the face of human conflict - in order to stop the atrocities that some photographs record.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Men's Circle


                                        photos by Olya Glotka

Given the somewhat comical and awkward beginnings of Men’s Circle, as the character of a folky, guitar welding therapist tries to explain in song what is about to take place, nothing can prepare the viewer for the gradual elegance and intense poignancy that evolves over the course of this unique ninety minute arrangement of dance, theatre, and music. And yet the awkwardness one may initially acknowledge could be considered part and parcel of the very narrative premise that brought this piece into existence. Being a man, in a men’s group therapy session, in the midst of strangers, all tangled up within their complex notions of masculinity, or lack thereof, can be a very daunting, awkward encounter - frequently silent and withdrawn, frequently volatile and threatening. 

Kathleen Rea’s remarkable career as a dancer, choreographer and psychotherapist has given her the ability to bring many disciplines together and meld them into a seamless act of physical and emotional courage on her part and the part of the dancers involved in this particular piece. The vulnerability we are often taught to erase in men is fully realized throughout the piece in a variety of gorgeous choreographed modes. Written by Rea and dramaturged by Tristan Whiston, the script is an at times subtle and explosively 'out there' melange of effective textual accompaniment, nuanced with that delicate mixture of the frequently comic and tragic expressions of emotional turbulence and distress.

All of the participants have a distinct contribution to make, and they do it onstage as actors, musicians, and dancing subjects who are, at times, unable to express verbally what they are going through mentally and physically. When they are at a loss for words - words that frequently take on a kind of rhythmic Chorus Line monologic effect - then they show it in diverse dance modes that vary from the buoyantly meditative movement of a silent, overseeing angel (Bill Coleman) to the basketball, rap, jazz inspired athleticism of Rudi Natterer’s streetwise character. 

When Natterer collaborates on piano with Kousha Nakhaei on violin, framed by their equally impressive dance abilities, the multi-disciplinary aspect of this joyous at times tear jerking spectacle takes one by surprise and moves the program into a layered and thoroughly engaging experience. 

Mateo Galindo Torres brings a lithe, powerful presence to the character of a man suffering from poorly managed meds, and his skill at both acting and expressing physically this manic experience, becomes a beautiful and distressing expression of mental health struggles. The layered muscularity of Allen Kaeja’s strip club 'escape'-narrative is a fascinating physical and verbal contrast to the integrated dance/theatre theme, while Kousha Nakhaei’s character effectively displays the effect of a somewhat obsessive personality in the face of tentative first dates leading to lovely neophyte  romantic encounters. Deltin Sejour’s graceful and powerful way of inhabiting the character of Hercules lends a balletic athleticism to several strong sequences throughout.

A beautifully staged highlight occurs when a naked character is supported and surrounded by the ensemble - through the use of a billowing parachute-like prop that stands in for the scene of sexual experience, and frees all of the men as they take part in a simultaneously group-supportive gesture, as well as allowing for the privacy of individual experience. And this is precisely what a good men’s circle can achieve - both singularity and collaborative support - and precisely what Kathleen Rea at the helm, and her collaborators, in full control of their own respective mentalities and abilities, do achieve in this painful, joyful, moving, and unique form of dance theatre as both therapeutic and cathartic.

And the silent angel who dwells beneath all of the onstage action is a diverse and gestural joy to watch as the freedom and elegance of his dance narrative threads seamlessly throughout - all the time representing the saddest and the happiest movements in a dominant, overseeing, and endlessly supporting role.