Back in 2008, a documentary was made by Dori Berinstein about a basketball halftime dance team that was made up of performers over the age of 60. It was titled, “Gotta Dance“, and somewhere in that setup, an idea was born that this story could and would make a great feel-good musical. The premise worked really well with the sweet and emotionally charming movie “Calendar Girls” and a similarly themed concept for the blue-collar workers in the musical Full Monty, so the wonderfully witty book writers, Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, “Slings and Arrows”) and Chad Beguelin (Disney’s Aladdin) with music composer, Matthew Sklar (Broadway’s Elf, The Wedding Singer) and lyric writer, Nell Benjamin (Broadway’s Legally Blonde) rightly must have thought that this idea might just have the right kind of legs to carry this new musical, Half Time. In some ways, it does just that, filling the stage with sweetness and charm, but unfortunately overall, it comes out of the gates feeling like a poorly constructed 2nd cousin to those better stories. You smile at the lovely kind stereotypes but also, you can’t help but cringe a bit when the stereotypes aren’t given much depth beyond the obvious. It loudly asks us to pay attention to these people, in the same way, back in the 1970’s we were asked to pay attention to those hopeful souls in the groundbreaking A Chorus Line. Half Time is the grandchild of that better musical, that somehow lost its way as it moved to the Paper Mill Playhouse. They did line up these seniors straight across the stage, taking us back to that iconic moment of that historic musical, and asking us to come to the same place of connection. The only things missing were the head shots held up in front of their faces, and the deep emotional engagement we felt with their struggle and need of approval.
The creators have assembled a pretty wonderful team of top acting professionals to bring this to the musical stage. They have filled out the chorus hip hop line of dance seniors with stellar older actors and dancers ready and willing to show us why they still rock. The younger cast members, to varies degrees of success, try to match their charismatic shoe filling, mostly doing a fine job playing their flat cameos, although Garrett Turner as the TV Host needs to dial his posing and over the top portrayal way down. Kay Walbye (Broadway’s Titanic) as Muriel, Lenora Nemetz (Mazeppa in Broadway’s Gypsy) as Fran, and Madeleine Doherty (Broadway’s The Producers) as Estelle bring their two dimensional characters to a more full life than the writing deserves as, one by one, they get their moment in the spotlight to tell their little slice of a life story. Tony nominee André De Shields (Broadway’s The Wiz) as Ron and Tony winner Lillias White (Broadway’s The Life) as Bea play older versions of similar characters they have played before, but with a whole lot of heart and style. They are all wonderful and work overtime selling us their emotional sincerity. De Shields’ song “The Prince of Swing” and White’s numerous reprises of “Princess 1, 2, and 3” exude skill and charm even though each aren’t given enough personal back story to elicit much depth of feeling.
Donna McKechnie does almost the same character that won her a Tony Award winner for her performance in A Chorus Line, playing an older dancer trying to remain relevant and regain some of her past glory by returning one more time to the stage. This time though, she’d not older than all the rest, but just one of the crew. She does get a number that almost seems like an aged carbon copy of the former seen through a different lens when she sings and dances her way through the less exhilarating “Too Good for This” in front of a wall of mirrors. Yes, a dancer dances, but does it have to feel so specific to McKechnie and her past achievement for this character to be relevant? The audience chuckles to themselves at the equivalence, but for me, the number leaves a bitter aftertaste, as it seems that the creators desperately need some sort of connection to a better piece of musical theatre while installing a piece of internal conflict into act two. The stereotypical evil corporate lady, played with a slightly uncomfortable no-nonsense attitude by Tracy Jai Edwards (Broadway’s Hairspray), sporting a killer body in a pair of stilettos, wasn’t deemed sufficient enough, I guess. They needed McKechnie’s Joanne to turn around on her own character and demolish the always upbeat and smiling sweetheart Mae, played adoringly by Lori Tan Chinn (Broadway’s Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen). She basically throws her under the bus because of a conversation she overheard between the evil corporate troll and the coach, Tara. As played with spunk by Haven Burton (Broadway’s Kinky Boots), coach Tara is the former young dancer who has been aged out of the dance troop and into a coaching job, and over the course of this musical, the engaging Coach slowly begins to shift her allegiance, starting to love the older dance team more and more as she whips them into shape. She basically has to, as this is a crowd-pleasing “Grease mixed with the movie Cocoon“, where all seniors are capable and crowned adorable, or so this and those stories tells us. It’s true in many ways, as these older actors are the glue that hold this piece together, with talent and energy to spare. Without them, Half Time would be more half empty than half full.
The surprising stand out charmer of this crew though is Georgia Engle (Broadway’s The Drowsy Chaperone) playing a version of the same character she seems to be always playing, the sweet and child-like role that brought her to fame in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” so many years ago. And god help me, but it works spectacularly. This time there is a slight twist. Engle plays a somewhat bipolar character, Dottie and Dorothy, a split personality comic creation containing both a breathy voiced innocent kindergarten teacher who walks with a cane and is gentle and sweet, but who has inside her a hip-hop loving dancing grandma longing for the electronic beat of Biggie Smalls, Tupac, and Run-DMC. With a slightly generic looking arena-styled set by the usually much better David Rockwell (Broadway’s Lobby Hero), with obvious costumes by Gregg Barnes (Broadway’s Mean Girls), stadium style lighting by Kenneth Posner (Broadway’s War Paint) and sound design by Randy Hansen (Paper Mill’s The Sting), it’s ridiculous but fun, breathing some life into the straight forward structure and simplistic formula that runs rampant through the musical. I thought the genius writers of such magnificent pieces; The Drowsy Chaperone, “Slings and Arrows”, and Mean Girls, could have found some authentic heart in this rather tried and true formulaic structure, but alas, no. Sadly, this is not a wise senior version of A Chorus Line, as the heart is superficial, and the emotionality doesn’t dig deep enough.
As directed with an often too obvious attempt for almost cringeworthy humor by Jerry Mitchell, who created the far superior Broadway hit, Kinky Boots, the piece falls on to the charm of the talented senior dance crew to really pull us in and keep hold of us. Act 2 is surprisingly better at keeping to the beat, but the overall effect is not as good as the idea that brought this musical to the stage. Like all the seasoned pros lined up on stage, the wonderful Nancy Ticotin (Broadway’s Damn Yankees) as Latina fireball Camilla dancing with her young hot latin lover boy (Alexander Aguilar), has the last laugh, when she plays both sides of the coin with the funny line, “You’re stereotyping me. I’m always being stereotyped… Hand me my castanets!” You need a pro to pull off that line, and pros are what you have here in this band of energetic 60+ year-old dance squad trying hard to sell us on the tag line about not acting your age. They show us all how it’s done. Now I just wish the rest of the artistic writing team could have risen to their heights as well.
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The Innocence of Seduction Will Seduce You
The Innocence of Seduction, now being presented in a World Premiere Production by City Lit Theater in Chicago, is the second installment in an ambitious trilogy of new plays by actor, director, and playwright, Mark Pracht, about the comic book industry and the individuals who created it. Although not as interesting a human drama as was the first play in the series, The Innocence of Seduction remains a fascinating glimpse into a little known aspect of pop culture history.
The Innocence of Seduction revolves around a group of artists, writers and publishers who were producing the lurid, violent, and sexually provocative comic books which lead to a congressional investigation into the comic book industry in the 1950’s. The claim that comic books were corrupting our young people and contributing to juvenile delinquency lead to the creation of the Comics Code. That was censorship solely at the personal discretion of one man, Judge Charles Murphy. In a sad parallel to our current times, legislators back then sought to repress access to ideas by their children, rather than teach their children how to think for themselves and live in a world with opposing viewpoints.
The whole story is framed with narration by by Dr. Frederick Wertham, whose book, The Seduction of the Innocent, warned that comic books contributed to juvenile delinquency. In Pracht’s play, Wertham, played with oily, Germanic smarm by Frank Nall, keeps things moving with a creepy comic book gestalt of his own.
The first play in the trilogy, The Mark of Kane, was an excellent, character driven drama. That story was shaped by the personal ambition of artist Bob Kane, creator of The Batman, who stole the credit for all the key story elements added to Kane’s very basic idea for the Batman character by his writer-collaborator, Bill Finger.
In The Innocence of Seduction, largely unchanging characters are dragged through the events swirling around them. That formula, called melodrama, has been around ever since the bad guy twirled his moustache as he tied poor Pauline to the railroad tracks. The focus is on the dilemma rather than character development.
But it takes a long time to get to the central conflict between the creators of early comic art and their would-be censors. When we finally do get to the bad guys, in the person of a grandstanding senator, Robert C. Hendrickson, played with appropriate bluster by Paul Chakrin, and Judge Charles Murphy, the creator and administrator of the Comics Code, played with self-righteous indignation by the fine Chuck Monro, neither antagonist is given enough stage time.
Pracht has no apparent interest in giving the opposing point of view equal time. So both antagonists are quickly reduced to one-dimensional cartoons. What is interesting, however, is that such simple mindedness is frighteningly close to today’s reality, when you look at the behavior of those who are leading the call for censorship in our own times.
The central figure in this story is William Gaines, Jr., a failed teacher who reluctantly assumes the helm of Educational Comics. That company was established by his father, Max, who had created the first American comic book, Famous Funnies, in 1934. Max, embodied by bellowing actor Ron Quaide, visits his son, William, like Hamlet’s ghost, haunting his dreams and stoking William’s feelings of inadequacy. William’s passivity until the very end of the story frequently feels like a big hole in the action instead of moving it forward.
Realizing that nobody wants to buy the illustrated bible stories his father created, William rebrands the company as Entertainment Comics, better known as “EC”. Their bread and butter would be stories with dark, twisted, graphic, sexually provocative and violent imagery. The artists and publishers in this story just see their work as innocent fun, until they run into censorship under the nascent Comics Code.
One of those artists is Matt Baker, played with sincerity if not complexity by Brian Bradford. Baker was a closeted, black, gay artist, who drew the sexiest female characters in the industry. Matt has a clandestine affair with his bisexual publisher, Archer St. John, played with sensitivity by John Blick, while hiding his real sexual preferences from his long suffering lady friend, Connie, played honestly by Latorious Givens. Despite the potential of the juicy ménage a trois, Pracht’s sketchy rendition of their interaction comes off as simultaneously simplistic and overwrought.
Apart from that relationship, the production features a gaggle of really fine character actors who bring lots of individual color to their roles. They include Laura Coleman as Gaines’ wisecracking secretary, Shirley; actor Robin Treveno, who is especially engaging as the good hearted publisher, “Busy” Arnold; Paul Chakrin as Senator Robert C. Hendrickson, who led the congressional investigation against the comic book industry; and affable Andrew Bosworth, doubling both as Max’s friend, Frank, and as artist Jack Davis, whose work would later define the look of Gaines’ greatest success, Mad Magazine.
However, for me, the shining star of this production is Janice Valleau as Megan Clarke. Ms. Valleau was a talented female artist trying to get a foothold in a male dominated industry, and the creator of a pioneering female detective character. Ms. Clarke is an absolutely riveting performer, full of heart, smarts, depth, and personal fire. See her while you can, as Chicago off Loop theater will not be able to contain her for long.
The set, lighting and projection design by G. “Max” Maxin IV is the best I’ve seen from him in this space. Beth Laske-Miller adds some nice, accurate period elements to a slim costume budget. Music composition and sound design by Peter Wahlback were a great enhancement of the foreboding atmosphere. Finally, Tony Donley’s program cover and poster art captured the tone of the story brilliantly.
As his own director, Pracht does a very good job weaving all the elements of his production together, and giving his work a fine showcase.
As with the previous play in the trilogy, you don’t need to be a comic book nerd to enjoy this tale of creative expression battling conservative oppression. The Innocence of Seduction will seduce you as well.
With The Innocence of Seduction, City Lit Theater continues a 43 year tradition of bringing intelligent, literate stories to the Chicago stage. In conjunction with this presentation, they also are presenting readings at libraries across Chicago and the suburbs of works from the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which have been identified as the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books” facing censorship in libraries and schools. That series is called Books on the Chopping Block. If you live in the Chicago area, be sure to check for a presentation near you.
The Innocence of Seduction continues at City Lit Theater in the Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 West Bryn Mawr in Chicago, through October 8th. For ticket information call (773) 293-3682 or visit www.citylit.org.
“speaking of sneaking” Spins It’s Queer Folktale Web Fascinatingly at Buddies In Bad Times Toronto
Weaving and bobbing, drawing chalk lines with a focused gyrating audacity, a fascinating dynamic radiates out from the central core of an all-encompassing plastic spider web. The actor/playwright squats and shifts his black-clad body close to the ground, teasing us almost to enter the web, and maybe get caught in its arms. It’s a sharply defined space to walk into, fantastically intricate but straightforward in its plastic sensibilities, created with thoughtful intensity by set + costume designer Rachel Forbes (Canadian Stage’s Topdog/Underdog). It makes us feel that we are inside something intimate and intensely important as we make our way to our seats in the main theatre at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto to see and get enveloped by the unveiling of speaking of sneaking.
The new play, performed and written by theatre artist Daniel Jelani Ellis (Buddies’ First Stone), comes alive slowly, seizing the stylistic moment that takes its time connecting. Deep inside this queer Black man’s ultimate navigation through folklore and reality-based hardship, the play shifts itself inward, as directed and dramaturged with a fiery fluidity by d’bi.young anitafrika (Trey Anthony’s ‘da kink in my hair) with a strong sense of movement and momentum by choreographer Fairy J (Obsidian/Canadian Stage/Necessary Angel’s Is God Is), from his youth in one “Yard” to another “Foreign” place, Canada. The tension and engagement are as tricky to outsmart as a folktale spider, that weaves out captivating stories with wisdom, knowledge, and power. The formula engages, even when it loses some captivating focus along the way.
Yet, it is a compelling web that is woven, ultimately feeling important and personal throughout the intersectionalities of identity and culture, playing with the deep multidiscipline unpacking of complicated self-discovery drawn from his familial Jamaican roots and the complexities of gender, sexuality, and class that creep out of the “Yard”. The performance is vivid and vital, frenetic and feisty, combining aerial light-footedness with dance, poetry, and all that lies in between. It attempts with a true heart and unending energy to captivate, and Ellis, as the determined Ginnal, manages, maybe not at first, but eventually, to take us in and snag us, as the web he weaves gets more grounded in the complications of survival alongside familial expectations.
Surrounded by barrels of regret and disappointment in himself, Ellis needs to keep weaving and weaving, “for me, not for you!” He shifts himself around the space, throwing his arms off balance but fully in control, collapsing his past and future from a spider-framed creation from Jamaica to a video web call rubbing his feet and seeing the future for a few PayPal donation dollars. The playful but ancient guide, “Anansi” lifted up from an Akan folktale slides in to the perspective to illicit shouts of “That’s enough” to the symbolic quarreling married sky and earth, trying to weave a web that will keep the collapse from occurring.
These folklore spider tales, which I knew little about, long ago sailed their way to the Caribbean by way of the transatlantic slave trade, and became a mythical model about skill and wisdom, giving praise to Anansi and his ability as a spider, to outsmart and triumph over any and all powerful opponents through the wise use of cunning, creativity, and wit. It’s no surprise Ellis as Ginnal digs into these formulations and folklore, basking in the delicately crafted light designed by André du Toit (Stratford’s R+J) with a strong sound design by Stephon Smith (B Current’s Wheel of the Year Walks). It will take all that cunning creativity to unpack the complexities of culture, homophobia, and ideas of masculinity that are weaved into his Jamaican “Yard” and the family that celebrates unity and care from way over there.
Wrestling with the fraught and trickster dynamics of survival in this new “Foreign” land, the expensive city of Toronto, Ginnal struggles with empty barrels waiting to be filled with donations of a different kind, feeling guilt and shame each time the phone rings. The spider steps in, initiating a journey towards liberation and freedom, after leaving one home to find another. The web is a complex construct, sometimes captivatingly embodied, sometimes not, with Ellis shifting from one well-formulated character to another, generally drawing us in as he straps himself in from above for this aerial journey, bungee jumping and creeping towards a new sense of home and acceptance.
Anansi was seen as a symbol of slave resistance and survival, turning the constraints of those plantation power dynamics around onto the controlling oppressors. Ellis embraces that energy, as he finds his way to generate dancehall-infused formulations by igniting cunning online trickery of his own. Through a compelling examination of colonial imprints on queer Jamaican identities by all those involved, as well as utilizing Afro-Caribbean-Tkarontonian storytelling aesthetics to elevate the spider mode of behavior and performance, the details of the intricate interweaving of bodies and family transcend the battle for survival and shifts it all into the flight for authenticity and identity. It has been written that the symbol of Anansi played a multifunctional role in the enslaved Africans’ lives, inspiring strategies of resistance to establish a sense of continuity with their African past and offering a context and formulation to transform and assert their identity within the darkened boundaries of captivity. It’s fairly clear how that energy resonates throughout the piece.
As he asks for world peace from a bachelor pad base camp created by new family members by choice, the weaving in of Granny Luna to “Petty Labelle” offers itself up into the sky wonderfully, ultimately capturing us in its complex web. Groundwork Redux and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre‘s production of speaking of sneakingdelivers, working its magic, eventually, fulfilling the folktale form with chaotic care. Through a Black queer lens, with the support of Buddies, Obsidian Theatre, and the Toronto Arts Council Black Arts Program, this new weaving finds its way into our collective consciousness, navigating itself through portals of neo-colonial contexts and out of the escape room axe throw party that might have destroyed him. The archetypal Jamaican Ginnal and the mythical African Anansi, together, discover and embody something akin to survival and connection. And in the weaving of that web, we find a different kind of soul rubbed true all for our wonderment and enlightenment.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
The Argyle Theatre Encore! Gala and You Are There
The Argyle Theatre held its Gala, Encore! A Musical Celebration, hosted by Artistic Director Evan Pappas with musical direction by Jeffrey Lodin, on September 22, 2023, at 7:30 PM. Long Island’s premier theatrical showcasing the remarkable talents that ha graced its stages over the past four seasons.
The one-night-only special event featured Becca Andrews (The Argyle’s Legally Blonde, Honky Tonk Chicks)
Tyler Belo (The Argyle’s Spring Awakening, Hamilton National Tour)
Dana Costello (The Argyle’s Cabaret, Broadway’s Finding Neverland, Pretty Woman)
Hana Culbreath (The Argyle’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Annie National Tour)
Alex Grayson (The Argyle’s Spring Awakening, Broadway’s Parade, Into The Woods)
Jack Hale (The Argyle’s Rock of Ages)
Elliott Litherland (The Argyle’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Opera North Carousel)
Michelle Mallardi (The Argyle’s Elf, Footloose, Broadway Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Les Misérables)
Ellie Smith (The Argyle’s Grease, Miracle Valley Feature Film)
and Ryan Thurman (The Argyle’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid, The Producers).
“It brings me immense joy to celebrate the exceptional talent that has graced our stage over the past four years. Encore! A Musical Celebration is a testament to the dedication and artistry of our alumni, and it’s an opportunity for us to express our gratitude to both the performers and our loyal audience for their unwavering support in creating unforgettable moments.” The Argyle Theatre Artistic Director, Evan Pappas stated.
Loving the Love of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at the Stratford Festival, Canada
“Why do we do that? Why do we do that? We do that to find love. Oh, I love to be in love. Don’t you love to be in love? Ain’t it just great to be in love? Ain’t it wonderful?”
I know. A strange way to begin a review of Stratford Festival‘s sweet and stylistically funny turn on Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, but I couldn’t help myself. I had those immortal lines, spoken so true and magically by the magnificent Bette Midler as she is about to launch into “When A Man Loves a Woman” in the film, “The Rose“, running through my head on repeat as the lights began to dim in the Festival’s intimate 260-seat Studio Theatre. It couldn’t be helped, as this structured tale of love and desire, caught between the head and the heart at strikingly funny odds with one another, rings forward with a blow of air from a gardener trying to bring neat order to the nature of nature. It’s a clever beginning, celebrating the eternal effervescence of the human instinct to find love, while also mocking our structural, logical, and intellectual desire to control that impossible impulse.
As directed with a modernistic approach to love and humor by the inventive Peter Pasyk (Stratford’s Hamlet), Love’s Labour’s Lost plays with our mad attempts, joking at the performative notions when it comes to the matters of the heart, while also giving honor to our instinct to find love. Berowne, played strongly by the engaging Tyrone Savage (Crow’s 15 Dogs) who was recently seen serving up coffee at the Grand Magic, emerges out of the sidelines of this manicured space to become somewhat the play’s lead, giving solid question to King Ferdinand, played royally by Jordin Hall (NAC’s The Neverending Story), and the pact he has created to agree to avoid the female sex for three years. What was he thinking?
The King wants him, and his two fellow scholarly companions, Langaville, played strong by Chris Mejaki, and Dumaine, played true by Chanakya Mukherjee, to sign a demented document that would remove the idea of love and romance from their lives for a period of three years, and replace it with intellectual and undistracted study. Berowne had agreed to this earlier, but he proclaims, at the moment of reckoning, that he had “swore in jest“, as any wise person would, but eventually agrees to agree. They all sign, and dutifully don scholarly white robes to show their unity, courtesy of costume designer Sim Suzer (Shaw’s Everybody), but for what reason, you may ask, does Berowne agree to this? “Why do we do that?” comes back into my head, thanks to the Rose. To find love? Cause we do love to be in love. Or because, quite possibly, he never really believed in his heart of hearts that any of them would be able to honor this ridiculously signed contract. Berowne may be the wisest one of them all. Or is it because he has already found love in the form of Rosaline?
“I am betrayed!” An understandable framework. You see, arriving soon into this quant land of Navarre (a medieval kingdom that borders Spain and France), just moments after this ridiculous document is signed by the four, there is a royal arrival of the Princess of France, played beautifully by Celia Aloma (Arts Club’s No Child) and her three ladies-in-waiting, Rosaline (Amaka Umeh), Katherine (Elizabeth Adams), and Maria (Gianna MacGilchrist), along with their trusted Boyet (Steve Ross). They show up, looking splendid and colorful, outside the castle gates for a vague diplomatic mission and conference with the King. The question is, how will he do that and fulfill his obligation and signed oath? Well, that’s beyond me, but it is clear they are all going to give it a good, solid, although obviously doomed, try, casting the women out into the fields, yet promising discussion to satisfy their diplomatic mission a wee bit later.
And in typical Shakespearean fashion, love easily enters the room – or should I say, the field, blown in as forcibly as those leaves were blown out by the feisty groundskeeper, Costard, played gloriously well by Wahsontí:io Kirby (Stratford’s Hamlet-911), who steals almost every scene they blow into. Words may fail us when it comes to love, but pheromones never do fail the formulations of desire, especially for Savage’s Berowne and the lustful interaction he has with the fair and fiery Rosaline, played with firecracker feistiness by Amaka Umeh (Stratford’s Hamlet). “I heard your guilty rhyme,” one soul proclaims, and there is no going back, “by heaven“.
Structured in symmetrical order, void of any chaos and natural wildness, designed impeccably by Julie Fox (Stratford’s R+J) with gentle lighting by Arun Srinivasan (Tarragon’s Cockroach), director Pasyk sends the piece galloping forward like dogs on a hunt, condensing the five-act love comedy into a one-act intermission-less engagement without giving up any of the pleasantries and musical fun. This is thanks to composer and sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne (Factory‘s Wildfire) and choreographer Stephen Cota (Stratford’s Frankenstein Revived), who find plenty to beautifully and distinctly revel in from beginning to end. The framework isn’t the sharpest of stylistic remodeling, feeling lackadaisical and random, feeling somewhat flattened even with the splashes of color and the fine performances bounding about. But the modern approach does enliven these aspects, blurring the lines between artifice and general authenticity within moments of one another, giving way to love and fireman hijinks without ever really missing out on a laugh.
Savage and Umeh ignite the play, and themselves, almost from the get-go, but the flames of love soon envelop all the others quickly and easily as if Ross’s wonderful droll Boyet was singlehandedly ushering Cupid forward into the gleeful mess. Naturally, letters are mislaid, and given to the wrong young lady, while stripper-like costumes and love-identifiers are cross-pollinated to add to the confusion and merriment of all involved. There are leaps over hedges, called-out poetic love-bombs, and layers of comedy ushered forth with dutiful aplomb by a cast that is so magnificently able that the overall effect is far greater than the stylistically challenged rendering.
The Spaniard, Don Armado, played to the high nines by the wonderful Gordon S. Miller (Stratford’s Grand Magic) flexes his comic lisp with determined hilarity. He is matched with equal bits of musical heart, humanity, and humor by the not-so-Herculean Moth, portrayed perfectly by Christo Graham (CS’s Unsafe). The songs burst forth, tenderly and lovingly by a soft falsetto, reminding us all of the melancholy arc that love can bring, as well as the wonder and joy that lives around the corner from it.
Kirby’s comic Costard almost steals the show, mechanically blowing hard letters in all the wrong directions, including in the direction of the playful Jaquenetta, lovingly portrayed by Hannah Wigglesworth (Stratford’s Richard II and Richard III). Michael Spencer-Davis (Grand’s Art), has fun with the fussy schoolmaster Holofernes, as does Matthew Kabwe (CS’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) with his Nathaniel. But it is in the facade of Dull, played exactly as required by the wonderful Jane Spidell (Coal Mine’s The River), where pleasure and performance truly find its bluster, and we couldn’t be more pleased to be dulled by this drumming constable.
“What is love?” the play asks, in song and dance, just like the Rose when she asks her own burning questions about the whys and the hows of love. All we do know is we can’t help ourselves. Because it is great, grand, and absolutely wonderful, even when a document is signed trying to proclaim it away. It enlivens every pore of our being when we do find it and feel it. We don’t need nine worthies to stab us with laughter to know love’s intent. We just need to embrace it when it comes, just like we should with Stratford’s tightened-up and modernized Love’s Labour’s Lost which truly understands that level of joyful engagement. Even if the style that is delivered isn’t as sharply defined as Stratford’s other comic love story, Much Ado About Nothing, a show that gives us everything we could possibly hope for from Shakespeare and the Stratford Festival. Their Love’s Labour’s Lost is just another layer of frosting on an already delicious Festival cake. So go, devour it all, with love. How could you not? Cause, “don’t you love to be in love?” I know I do.
Stratford Festival‘s Love’s Labour’s Lost runs through October 1 at the Studio Theatre. For information and tickets, click here.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Studio 180 Toronto’s New 2023/2024 Season Announced
Studio 180 Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, announced today its 2023/24 Season, which includes the Canadian premiere of the Olivier Award-nominated play Four Minutes Twelve Seconds by James Fritz (Parliament Square; The Flea) as its Mainstage production running at Tarragon Theatre from April 20 to May 12, 2024. The company’s popular Studio Series continues this fall with the first IN DEVELOPMENT readings of two new works-in-progress by award-winning Canadian theatre artists Rebecca Auerbach and Camille Intson.
Studio 180 Co-founder Mark McGrinder will direct James Fritz’s taut, darkly comic, and deeply provocative drama. Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is a thrilling exploration of issues of consent, privilege, and the insidious opportunities new technology offers.
“Our finest work has always found a way of tackling issues through a deeply human lens, and Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is no exception. Fritz’s play functions first and foremost as a thriller, taking audiences on a narrative and emotional journey. It grips from the very first moments and doesn’t let go. Our contemplation of complex topics like toxic masculinity, privacy, and consent is the organic outcome of living in the heightened world of these characters. I can’t wait to share this dark, funny, and engrossing play with audiences and to be a part of the conversations that are sure to follow.”
– Mark McGrinder, Director
The season begins with a launch party and IN DEVELOPMENT reading of Discount Dave and the Fix on October 12 at 7:00 PM at Factory Theatre. Seen on stages across the country, award-winning actor Rebecca Auerbach (The Pigeon King; Your Side, My Side, and the Truth) now brings her powerful story-telling skills to this deeply personal solo show, directed by Aviva Armour-Ostroff (Coal Mine’s The Effect). Auerbach’s first play examines our obsession with celebrity, how addiction can bury our wounds, and what it takes to heal.
PGC Tom Hendry Award-winning playwright Camille Intson (We All Got Lost) joins IN DEVELOPMENT in the winter with her newest play, Death to the Prometheans. The reading will be directed by 2022/23 RBC Emerging Director 郝邦宇 Steven Hao(Tarragon’s Cockroach) and explores youth revolt and resistance, intergenerational teachings, and the quest for knowledge and truth.
Camille Intson and Rebecca Auerbach join Studio 180 as RBC Emerging Playwrights for the season, with Chantelle Han (Tarragon’s Post Democracy) as RBC Emerging Director and Assistant Director on Four Minutes Twelve Seconds.
Learn more about the season at studio180theatre.com.
STUDIO 180 THEATRE’S 2023/2024 SEASON:
FOUR MINUTES TWELVE SECONDS by JAMES FRITZ, directed by MARK McGRINDER
A Studio 180 Mainstage Production
April 20 to May 12, 2024, in the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace
Di and David have devoted their lives to giving their son, Jack, every opportunity they never had. But a startling incident outside the school grounds threatens to ruin everything they’re striving for.
As events begin to accelerate, Di and David begin to question whether they can trust Jack, his closest friends, or even themselves. The Canadian premiere of James Fritz’s taut, darkly comic, and deeply provocative Olivier Award-nominated drama and a thrilling exploration of issues of consent, privilege, and the insidious opportunities new technology offers. “Riveting” – The Times
DISCOUNT DAVE AND THE FIX by REBECCA AUERBACH, directed by AVIVA ARMOUR-OSTROFF October 12, 2023 at Factory Theatre
A Studio 180 IN DEVELOPMENT Reading
When a rockstar crashes a backstage party at a Shakespeare Festival, a thrill-seeking young actor is set on a path of self-reckoning. A provocative blend of truth and fiction, Discount Dave and The Fix is a suspenseful, hilarious, and harrowing examination of our obsession with celebrity, how addiction can bury our wounds, and what it takes to heal.
DEATH TO THE PROMETHEANS by CAMILLE INTSON, directed by 郝邦宇 STEVEN HAO Winter, 2024
A Studio 180 IN DEVELOPMENT Reading
Zinnie, Hannah, John, Thea, and Yannis are five international performing arts students indoctrinated into an elite artistic training program at a(n unspecified) world-leading conservatory, navigating as best they can the perils of young adulthood, institutional demands, and finding purpose in making art in a world on fire. At the same time, in a play-within-a-play, the young Titan Prometheus and his siblings plot an assault against Zeus at his annual sacrificial Blood-Bash, unbeknownst to the rest of the Olympians. But can authority really be challenged from within? How can young people imagine systems of education, governance, and political power outside of that which they were taught? What does it mean to break the shackles of tradition? And, at the end of the world, how much is art really worth?
ABOUT STUDIO 180 THEATRE
Studio 180 Theatre is a Toronto-based company with a mission to engage, provoke, and entertain through dynamic theatre and innovative Beyond The Stageexperiences that delve into social and political issues. Since 2002, Studio 180 Theatre has evolved from an informal artistic collective into one of Toronto’s most respected independent professional theatre companies, expanding to include a robust new play development program and an extensive IN CLASS workshop program with almost 2,000 students annually. The Laramie Project, Stuff Happens, Our Class, Clybourne Park, The Normal Heart, The Nether, Oslo, Indecent, and The Chinese Ladyare among the many plays we have produced in the past twenty years.
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Metropolitan Opera’s Opening Night Live In Times Square
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