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Smokey Joe’s Café

As the leaves begin to turn from green to rust, and the smell of pumpkin spice takes over, well, everything, the suburbs of Chicago are housing some really fantastic theatrical options. Out at the Drury Lane in particular, is a refreshed and spectacular revival of the jukebox musical, Smokey Joe’s Café, proving itself is a toe tapping and foot stomping romp of a good time. I am happy to report this show truly is so much better then it needed to be. This revue celebrates the work of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who may not be household names, however their array of classic hits certainly are.  39 pop standards make up the soundtrack of the entire show, sung almost the entire way through. It is important to note there is no overall narrative collectively linking the songs. Each three to four minute novelty song, dreamy ballad, or infectious melody is its own self-contained tale. Cleverly directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgram Dodge, the impressive scenic design of Kevin Depinet mesmerized. This update is set in Chicago’s 100 year old historic Maxwell Street Market, included on stage, the Café, a bus stop, a fire escape, and additional intimate alcoves where this troupe of triple threats shake, shimmy and sing their collective faces off, to an array of rock and roll and blues anthems peppered throughout this tribute to 1950’s and 1960’s pop culture.  For a little history lesson of the show itself, when Smokey Joe’s Café initially played on Broadway, it became the longest running musical revue in Broadway history, playing a total 2,036 performances between 1995 and 2000. Not bad for a show with no noticeable narrative. Café went on to be nominated for seven Tony awards, including Best Musical and won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show album. This is clearly no dusty walk down memory lane. Vital, fresh, enthusiastic and a great deal of fun, the cabaret extravaganza that is Smokey Joe’s Café is Baby Boomer nirvana!

Smokey Joe’s Café

This revival is a crossroads of philosophies, blended together with tight, crisp, delicious harmonies. While performing “Neighborhood” and “Stand By Me”, each member of this melting pot of cultures had equal opportunity to shine. Little Walter, The Bum  (Justin Keyes) brought the laughs while Pearl, the Street Performer (Carrie Abernathy) added a touch of class, giftwrapped in lavender.  Rod, The College Boy (Will Skrip) sang of his passionate devotion for his…..car, while Annette, The Waitress  (Amy Orman) begged to be taught how to shimmy, while exuberantly rocking out in her form fitting crimson fringe dress. The always enjoyable Meghan Murphy returned to the Drury as the soulful Ruth, The Maxwell Street Dweller often partnered with another returning  Drury musical theater veteran, Sean Blake, playing Sonny, The Hustler.  Doc, The Mechanic  (Tyron Robinson) utilized his powerful, wall-shaking bass and giggle inducing comic timing, especially during “Charlie Brown” while Cornelius, The Soldier  (Chris Sams) displayed his washboard abdominal musicals, much to the delight of several female audience members, based solely on the range of constant cat calls from multiple women in attendance, while keenly crooning “Spanish Harlem”.

Smokey Joe’s Café

While everyone served their individual material well, the true standout amongst this crew was Donica Lyn as Willie Mae, The Café Proprietor. Jeff Award nominated for her recent portrayal of Effie White in Dreamgirls, her powerfully epic, almost spiritual, vocal runs demonstrated she may be on her way to yet another, well deserved, nomination.  Lyn’s spectacular singing style, riffing a gospel fueled version of “Hound Dog”, had us all but forgetting about Mr. Presley. Although he did get his due too. “Jailhouse Rock” with its Elvis inspired, hip swiveling and knee jerking choreography, all but had members of the audience jumping out of their lush, comfortable seats. Backing up these amazing singers, The Maxwell Street Band, including conductor and keyboardist Chris Sargent, baritone saxophonist Alex Beltran, guitarist Buddy Fambro, bass player Chuck Webb and percussionist and drummer Ben Johnson.

Smokey Joe’s Café

Additional musical soundtrack highlights included “Fools Fall In Love”,  “Poison Ivy”,  “On Broadway”,  “Yakety Yak”, “Love Potion #9” and a rousing rendition of “There Goes My Baby.”  My personal favorite, “I’m a Woman” an exceptionally powerful, lusty, unapologetic feminist anthem, brazenly belted out by the cunning quartet, Murphy, Abernathy, Lyn and Orman, whose pooled voiced “girl power” was more than worth the price of admission. Wrapped in costumes crafted by Sully Ratke and carefully swathed in lighting designed by Paul Mille, Café added strong visuals to enhance the familiar music.  The visible chemistry between cast members was delightfully and overly abundant.  Do yourself a favor and book a reservation for the highly enjoyable Smokey Joe’s Café while you still can. The service displayed here will leave you with nothing but a smile.

Smokey Joe’s Café

Smokey Joe’s Café is now playing at the Drury Lane Theatre through October 23, 2016

Smokey Joe’s Café

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.

Out of Town

Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre Company’s “seven methods of killing kylie jenner” Kills It, Elevating the Dissertation with a Precise Brilliance

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Dragging their baggage in with a determined force, these two, dressed in fake fur and leather, enter the space at Crow’s Theatre with manic laughter and a forceful narrative. Sharply and expertly written by British playwright, Jasmine Lee-Jones (Curious), the play dives in with a tightness and fortitude that elevates and enlightens the darkness of its exploration. With a hypnotic frustrated energy, the play masterfully rolls out the seven methods of killing kylie jenner without missing a beat, unpacking the intricate exploration of cultural appropriation and queerness with a sharp precision. Delivered in a modern vernacular that excites, it circles around its formula with a careful carefree existentialism, becoming deeply entwined in the pervasive influence of social media and celebrity culture that can do mental damage to those around them, especially in the arena of the ownership of black bodies online and IRL, as well as the connecting energy and complication of female friendships.

Déjah Dixon-Green in Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre’s seven methods for killing kylie jenner. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

It’s completely hyper-engrossing and thrilling, giving power back provocatively to our heroine, Cleo, dynamically portrayed by Déjah Dixon-Green (Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing), a young black woman who, after a confessional breakup with her cheating boyfriend, expresses her fevered frustration and anger via Twitter using the profile name @INCOGNEGRO. She dives in with gusto, flying into the fray with an aggressive rage that rarely fizzles. The play unwraps the seven methods in a layered unhurried manner, giving space and time to the framework, while also delivering engagement energy to her forever friend, Kara, fascinatingly well-played by Jasmine Case (Tarragon’s Black Girl in Search Of..), a queer person who has lots to say, both positive and negative, about Cleo’s unpacking online.

Dixon-Green is solid and on point throughout, with Case finding engagement at every turn somewhat brilliantly, and together, they excel in every way possible, finding attunement and synchronized energy throughout. Veering somewhere between real life and the virtual space, the play, as directed with exacting intent by Jay Northcott (Tarragon’s A Poem for Rabia), spirals in a rich media space, focusing its lasers on the framework that the born-wealthy media personality, Kylie Jenner, can call herself “self-made“, basking in the positive warm glow of what that label means to a woman like her, and how it can be felt by a woman like Cleo. The unwrapping is expertly intricate and verbally captivating, forcing us to dive in with these two and pay close-close attention to this vivid exploration of Blackness, queerness, and the way the online world can spiral one way and then another in an instantaneous flash of engagement and brutality.

You think you’re funny, don’t you?” as her tweets spiral into the abstract world of death threats and verbal violence enlightening the space, designed with inventive flair by set designer, Nick Blais (Factory’s Trojan Girls…), with well-formulated video graphics, designed by Laura Warren (Outside the March’s No Save Points), helping guide us through the dynamic experimental argument that expands the needed structure addressed. Jones’ dialogue radiates quick, sharp, clever constructs, expanded in thought, and reduced to a parade of letters in caps most brilliantly. The sexual undercurrents are both hilarious and brazen, giving us ample reason to connect as she fastidiously piles up all the injustices against Black women that are woven into the wording of this expert play, and we find ourselves forever invested in her outcome and ultimate safety.

Jasmine Case and Déjah Dixon-Green in Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre’s seven methods for killing kylie jenner. Photo by Dahlia Katz

Steeped in the language of internet culture, assisted strongly by the sound design of Maddie Bautista (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs), straightforward lighting by Christopher-Elizabeth (CS/Bluebird’s Maanomaa, My Brother), and precise costuming by Des’ree Gray (Coal Mine’s Appropriate), the delivery and online reaction to Cleo’s escalation pushes the agenda outward and upward. Embodying numerous online characters, the two flawless performers combine as an exacting unified force, showcasing Cleo’s viral methods for murder and the resulting pushback from the unseen faceless community that has a lot to say about her tweets. The recitation and debate are raw and deliberate, finding truths and the complicated echoings of racism and rape threats that are honestly horrifying and troubling. It’s a terrifying landscape, displaying the vile and horridness of the internet culture that we all play a part in, either as an active participant or abject denier.

Cleo’s tweets and dissertation gain momentum and the back-and-forth conversation becomes more drenched in blocked anger and hurt, with the two reclaiming their time when needed, as they navigate the difficult cloud space filled with personal dredged-up resentment and smoky spaces of connectivity. Demanding to be heard, yet also needing to find the empathy to apologize when required, these two friends work hard inside the vividness of this captivating play so they don’t get swallowed up whole by the racist violence of the world, even as Cleo vocalizes the seven methods of killing kylie jenner one after the other. Its high-minded viewpoint is crystal clear, and delivered with an expertise that is both thrilling and epic, finding inventive casualness in its meticulous unified delivery.

Gripping tight to our emotional attention with a brilliant determination by writer Jones, the play, while feeling a bit trapped by the body bag hidden in the back, seven methods of killing kylie jenner, produced by Obsidian Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre, Toronto, finds its sharpness and quick wit in the end, reinventing the meta imaginative exit with the weight of history and cleverness. “What are you going to do now?“, they ask. Well…., I’m going to tell you all that this play is something to engage with, learn from, and completely celebrate, but more importantly, I’m going to tell you to get your tickets and dive into this inventive striking new play without delay or hesitation.

Déjah Dixon-Green in Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre’s seven methods for killing kylie jenner. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre Company’s seven methods of killing kylie jenner. For tickets and more information, click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Out of Town

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents tick, tick…Boom!

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We are so pleased to announce our guests this week are Director Eric Rosen, Andy Mientus and Krystina Alabado about tick, tick…Boom! at The Cape Playhouse this summer. Join us Wednesday May 22nd at 5pm.

Andy Mientus as Jon in Tick, Tick…BOOM! at Bucks County Playhouse.
(© Joan Marcus)

Artistic Director Eric Rosen brings his acclaimed production – hailed as a powerful and bold new interpretation of this show – for his Cape Playhouse debut. Rosen directed the original production of A Christmas Story: The Musical, which opened on Broadway in 2012 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical. He co-wrote and directed Venice at the Public Theatre. He is also known for his reimagining of classic musicals including Sunday in the Park with George, a punk rock production of Pippin, and Hair: Retrospection in collaboration with and starring members of the original Broadway companies of Hair

As a playwright, his work includes the play Dream Boy which won a Chicago Jeff Award for Best New Play and Best Direction.

In 2000, he co-founded About Face Youth Theatre, one of the nation’s foremost arts and advocacy programs for at-risk LGBTQ youth, and the 18 year old program continues to serve thousands of young people in Chicago.

Director Eric Rosen

Andy Mientus toured with the first national touring company of Spring Awakening, appeared in the 2012 Off-Broadway revival of Carrie: The Musical, He made his Broadway debut in the 2014 revival of Les Misérables as Marius Pontmercy. In February 2015, he was cast as journalist Brett Craig in Parade, for a one-night-only concert presentation at the Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. In LA he appeared in the show Bent at the Mark Taper Forum. He also reprised his role as Hänschen in the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening, directed by his partner Michael Arden. The production then transferred to Broadway. In 2013, Mientus was cast in season two of the musical drama television series Smash as series regular Kyle Bishop. Following the cancellation of Smash, Mientus and co-stars Jeremy Jordan and Krysta Rodriguez joined the cast of Hit List, the real-world staging of the fictional rock musicalcreated for season two of Smash

Mientus appeared in several episodes of the ABC Family series Chasing Life as Jackson, the CW series The Flash as the Pied Piper (Hartley Rathaway), having previously auditioned for the lead role of Barry Allen. Mientus made history with this role by playing the first openly gay supervillain ever. He was in GoneGrendel, an eight-episode Netflix series based on Matt Wagner’s Dark Horse comic books.

Andy Mientus

At the age of 18, Krystina Alabado joined the national tour of Spring Awakening and made her Broadway debut in 2011 as a replacement ensemble member and understudy in American Idiotlater reprising her role in the show’s first national tour. In 2013, she joined the national tour of Evita (based on the 2012 Broadway revival) playing Juan Perón’s mistress. In 2016, she appeared in the short-lived Broadway production of American Psycho.  In  2019, Alabado joined the cast of Mean Girls as Gretchen Wieners, replacing Ashley Park. In March 2020, Alabado started a YouTube channel to explain to her followers different aspects of how Broadway works and interview her fellow castmates during the COVID-19 pandemic that temporarily closed Broadway

Krystina Alabado

“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents ”, is a show filmed at the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. To see our past episodes; First episode click here second episode click here,  third episode click here, fourth episode click here, fifth episode click here, sixth episode here, seventh episode here, eighth episode here, ninth episode here, tenth episode here, eleventh episode here, our twelfth episode here, thirteenth episode here and fourteenth here

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Another Barricade Visit for Mirvish Toronto’s “Les Misérables”

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I was apprehensive and excited, all at the same time, as I entered the touring company staging of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s  Les Misérables, now taking form at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto. The production, brought to us by Mirvish Productions, transported me back to that time, about forty years ago, when I first saw this glorious musical over in London’s West End. Twice actually, with the magnificent Patti LuPone. Lupone was divine, broking my heart at every moment given. This might have been the show that somehow created this theatre junkie, so much so that I had to return again a few weeks later, spending more than this young man could really afford. And I believe I also returned to see that same beautiful revolving stage design when it made its award-winning debut on Broadway, about two more times before it closed.  It was heavenly and forever memorable.  I remember being swept away by the intensely moving story, and sumptuous music and songs. Tears were in my eyes at so many emotionally heart-breaking moments, that I left fully satisfied and happy each and every time.

The staging this time around, with set and projected image design created by Matt Kinley (25th Anniversary Production of Phantom of the Opera) is said to be “inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo”, and with a stunning musical staging by Geoffrey Garratt and directed most beautifully by Laurence Connor (Mirvish’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and James Powell (London’s The Witches of Eastwick), the production still found its way into my emotional heart. It carried forth all of the same powerful moments, even without that famous revolve. It was different, and in some ways, it felt smaller and not as expansive and connecting, but maybe, with time and an awareness that I didn’t have when I first saw the same touring revival on Broadway back in 2016, this familiar staging fully engaged, taking me happily on that same emotional journey, even while missing the expansive previous revolving set design.

The music and those powerful tragic moments still deliver with a vengeance, mainly because of the incredible vocal performances of this touring cast. Tears came to my eyes at numerous moments, and I knew that I would enjoy myself from the moment the Bishop of Digne, played by a wonderful Randy Jeter (Public’s Parable of the Sower) told the constables that he had in fact given Jean Valjean, embodied by a magnificent Nick Cartell (Broadway’s Paramour) the church’s silver (that he, in fact, had stolen). And furthermore, he had forgotten to take the more valuable pieces of silver during the epic Prologue and ‘Soliloquy’. That and each subsequent moment, lasting all the way from the beautiful ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ sung with such loving sadness by Haley Dortch, the saddest of all sad songs; the engaging ‘On My Own’ by the powerful voiced Mya Rena Hunter; to Valjean’s stunningly rendered of ‘Who Am I?’ and all points in-between, moved me most generously. The songs, delivered graciously by these glorious-voiced actors brought it all back to life, and embedded itself inside my soul once again.

The glorious “Bring Him Home“, sung with incredible intensity and love by the gifted Cartell, felt as tender and angelic as ever. Understudy Cameron Loyal (Broadway’s Bad Cinderella) as the determined Javert couldn’t match the heightened level of expertise that Cartell climbed himself up to and was maybe the weakest link in this beautifully performed construction, but it never tarnished the overall effect. The Thenardier husband and wife team, gorgeously well-played by Matt Crowle (Mercury Theater’s The Producers) and Victoria Huston-Elem (Goodspeed’s Gypsy), performed the wonderfully crafted ‘Master of the House’ number with great comic timing and delivery, and the Student’s songs, ‘The People’s Song’ and ‘Drink With Me to Days Gone By’ were also lovingly performed, although there were a few over-done attempts of humor and inauthentic drunkenness. Marius, lovingly portrayed by the handsome Jake David Smith (Off-Broadway’s Between the Lines) delivers a tender (but not so well stage-designed) version of one of my favorite songs, ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’.  His voice graced us with its loving tones, lifting us in its softness, and working well our emotional heartstrings with this sad sweet song.

All in all, my friend and I had gathered together to hear all these aforementioned, beautifully crafted, and much-loved songs, sung with care, expertise, and love. Les Misérables sounds as glorious as ever, and I must add that I was happy to have had the chance to insert these songs back into my head. I’ve been humming these numerous melodies, all of which brought me great joy and happiness, all weekend long.  This small simple staging still packs a musically beautiful and powerful punch, and I’m forever grateful for that gift, revolving or not.

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Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” Burns Hot and Cool at Coal Mine Theatre

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With homecoming flowers and the sound of strings, Coal Mine Theatre‘s revival of the classic Hedda Gabler gets underway. It’s a captivating runway set-up, giving intimacy to the struggles of Henrick Ibsen’s anti-hero and namesake by placing the audience on three sides of its wood-planked rectangle. Played with wild abandonment by Diana Bentley (Coal Mine’s Detroit), her Hedda finds herself sitting in the moonlight at the piano, hunched over in some complicated state of anguish, trapped and caged in a backless gown. It’s clear, from that first image and the music that comes, that this production, adapted with tinges of modernity by Liiisa Repo-Martelli (Crow’s Uncle Vanya), is aiming itself directly at the naked soul of Hedda Gabler, now Hedda Tesman, the married woman who had once enchanted the men of this town with her beauty and cool exterior. But in what time frame does she come from and live within? That is a complex question that doesn’t actually have to be answered because as directed by Moya O’Connell (Actor: Coal Mine’s The Sound Inside) with a fierce passion that sometimes overflows the sparsely-used space created by set and costume designer Joshua Quinlan (Crow’s Theatre’s The Master Plan), this Hedda is from no distinct era, floating and fighting against her position and place in the world that never fits her frame.

Fiona Reid and Diana Bentley in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer.

When the sweet Auntie Julia, played lovingly by Fiona Reid (Shaw’s Dance of Death), is ushered into the living room by an overwhelmed nervous Berta, played quietly by Nancy Beatty (“The Shipping News“), it is clear that there is tension in this newly acquired home of Hedda and her newlywed husband, Jorgen Tesman, played a bit too obviously by Qasim Khan (Canadian Stage’s The Inheritance). Jorgen is forever oblivious, even when prompted by the sweet maternalness of Auntie Julia. He doesn’t seem to see much beyond his books and personal interests, even when addressing the woman he has married and is completely spellbound by. Khan’s Tesman is a bit dense about marriage and what comes next, sailing in worlds that are oceans apart from his wife, especially when it comes to sensuality and seduction. It all flies over his head, but not ours.

Trapped in a marriage and a house that she does not want, Bentley’s Hedda is a heap of contradictions, struggling with her new life and the timeframe she must live in. Devoid of any excitement or enchantment, she battles with an inner demon that only comes out when she finds herself alone on that stage. Her fighting spirit erupts in those moments, making it clear that when she is in the room with others, she is mostly insincere and putting on whatever face is required. This is especially true when it comes to her interactions with the timeframed women who float in and out of the room in a more traditional tone. She belittles them, slyly, for no other reason than knowing how. Playing nice, when she needs security or information, but shifting gears the moment she is no longer in need. Hedda’s tragic flaw, as we all know, is her willful narcissism that latches itself on to a destructive force within. Her only focus is getting whatever she wants at any given moment, even if it comes at the expense of another person’s feelings.

Diana Bentley in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer.

This Hedda, passionately portrayed by Bentley, needs to manipulate others as an undercurrent form of power and control, forcing those frameworks forward, most likely, because of societal expectations and norms. Ideals Hedda can’t abide by. Bently does a fascinating job at flinging herself into the role, flipping back and forth from insincere politeness and care to manipulative and suggestive power dynamics, usually involving one particular way of sitting on that lounge chair. Unfortunately, those two aspects get used repeatedly without much variance or subtlety added. Where is the steady climb to destruction? And where is the fall from grace? She is supposed to be a woman born into a higher class than the one she finds herself in; more her regal father’s daughter than her intellectual husband’s wife. Thus the play’s focus on her maiden name. But rather than class consciousness, she simply comes off as a hungry smooth sociopath, with no empathy and an impulsive streak that stings all that get too close. This Hedda sometimes falls into the form of a one-page, two-sided narcissist without a soul, and with nowhere to go, she doesn’t hold our interest as sharply as she is supposed to.

A sense of subtlety seems to be the key that is missing in much of this production of Hedda Gabler. Everyone is hitting their marks, doing what is required of them at any given moment, raising their voice when they are told to, but the deeper depiction of the manipulative nature feels a bit hurried, as we watch the characters move with urgency around the space. Within this patriarchal society, Hedda pushes a bit too hard and obviously, trying to gain some agency or control over her existence. It’s clear that she is forever disturbed by her marriage to the boring Tesman, now that she has found herself caged in a new house that, while being more extravagant than they can really afford, “smells like old lady” and death. And it will never bring her any contentment unless she seizes control.

(L to R) Andrew Chown, Diana Bentley (back), and Leah Doz in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer.

So when she hears from a former classmate Thea Elvsted, portrayed tense and uncomfortable by Leah Doz (Coal Mine’s The Effect), that a former lover, Eilert Lovborg, handsomely portrayed by Andrew Chown (Crow’s Bad Roads) has resurfaced, her focus shifts. “He’s nothing to me“, Hedda delivers, but a shaking, dynamic need has been awakened. A spark has been lit inside this trapped animal, and this spark leads all to chaos and a sea of drunken madness and despair. “No one trusts a tea toddler,” Hedda says, tempting and creating her own manifesto for the future, one of manipulation, deviance, and a roaring fire of pages destroyed. Why, we may ask? Because something must happen in this woman’s new world order, and she must find a way to take control. “This night will be the making of him,” she says, for someone, or herself.

Hedda is smug and cruel, out of boredom and shallow emotional connection to others. She moves through the space like a caged lioness, under captivating lighting by Kaitlin Hickey (Factory’s Wildfire) with a strong sound design by Michael Wanless (Coal Mine’s Appropriate). Hedda initially only finds excitement in the eyes of their family friend and helper, Judge Brack, played suggestively and a bit overtly by Shawn Doyle (Canstage’s A Number). But that triangle only works with one rooster in it, the Judge tells the woman he wants to control, and once he sees the glint in Hedda’s eyes for the firebrand that is Lovborg, a different tension climbs up and out of its box. And like any caged animal unleashed, destruction must come for all those who get too close and demand too much.

Diana Bentley (back) and Shawn Doyle in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer.

The ending is legendary, complicated and raw. A different fuse has been lit, as we witness what happens when Hedda discovers that the intended destruction did not go how she had conceptualized it. She must take control of something, but unfortunately, after such a solid buildup, the end disappears into the depths in a far too quick undynamic fashion with an inauthentic mayhem following soon after the firing. The symbolic bodily unleashing is fascinating, but doesn’t actually carry the emotional weight and magnitude that is intended. It’s overwrought and disconnected from the heart, even with the thought-provoking physicality thrown out with wild abandonment. The tragedy doesn’t connect to the desperation that is underneath in Coal Mine‘s Hedda Gabler. It’s distinct and electric, but doesn’t manage to shoot itself deep into the soul.

Qasim Khan and Shawn Doyle in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer. For tickets and more information, click here.

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Studio 180’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds Ignites Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space

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The sharpness and pointedness of this new play, Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is signaled quickly within the first few minutes and unknown seconds when the first of many lies are told from one partner to another. The lie, once revealed, seems simple enough, protective even, but as directed with a diligent focus to detail by Mark McGrinder (Studio 180’s Oslo), the unpacking that follows is anything but simple. This play, written to make us sit up and take notice by James Fritz (Parliament Square, Start Swimming), is as unrelenting as peeling an onion in tight quarters. It seeps inside, igniting a myriad of emotions that will stay with you long after the 85-minute play comes to its final resting place.

Megan Follows and Sergio Di Zio in Studio 180 Theatre’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Do you really want to do this now?” asks the husband as he watches anxiety grow in his concerned wife and mother. The production, by Studio 180 Theatre in association with Tarragon Theatre, revolves with intent around the actions or inactions of a couple around the unseen son’s state that starts with a nosebleed, which isn’t exactly a nosebleed. “It’s the circle of [bloody] life in Scarborough.” But it’s not just teenagers being teenagers. Nor is it “kid’s stuff” that ignites the forever-shifting dynamic. Their teenage son has either found himself, or placed himself in an unforgiving framework of sexual assault rumors, that are seen one way and then another as the plot thickens.

His parents, Di and David, expertly portrayed by Megan Follows (Soulpepper’s Top Girls) and Sergio Di Zio (Coal Mine’s Between Riverside and Crazy), find themselves at a crossroads, faced with a dilemma of the highest, most complicated order. Forever fencing with one another, skirting the formalities of truth and deception, they must come to terms with actions that are hard to take in, let alone process or understand. Impossible, in a way. They have devoted their whole lives to the care of their prized son, Jack, ushering their “good boy” through the world so that he may have every opportunity they never had. He must succeed, they think, after all they have done for him, but within an instant, some Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, a startling incident outside of school escalates into something they can’t quite seem to wrap their heads around. The gravity is huge, threatening everything they have tried to achieve, while also, more importantly, possibly destroying their faith in each other and the family unit.

Jadyn Nasato and Megan Follows in Studio 180 Theatre’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Who are they to trust, inside and out of their family unit? “Are people always gonna believe her?” they ask, and as the play sharply progresses forward, questions of a huge magnitude are asked; to us, to them, and to those around them. The framing thrusts Follows’ concerned and confused Di into a number of possibly ill-advised one-on-one interactions with both Jack’s “idiot” friend, Nick, played beautifully by a tender Tavaree Daniel-Simms (New Harlem’s The First Stone), and Jack’s now-ex girlfriend, Cara, powerfully embodied by a wonderful Jadyn Nasato (Canadian Stage’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), who represents everything the parents have tried to keep Jack away from. She makes regrettable accusations one after the other, and the interactions dig deep holes in the outlook of almost everyone around. It’s tense powerful stuff, beautifully played out in two angled pathways to light and understanding, orchestrated with distinction by set and costume designer Jackie Chau (NEPA’s HUFF), with precise lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell (Bad Hats/Soulpepper’s Alice in Wonderland) and a solid sound design by Lyon Smith (Soulpepper’s Pipeline).

Tension lives and breaths in this production, deftly produced by Studio 180 Theatre, with important ideas and questions hanging in the air just long enough for us to breathe them in and sit inside them. The answers aren’t easily given, as we watch these two parents lie to one another for purposes unknown at the time. Each moment meticulously unveils more problematic ideas that lead to larger questions of morality and responsibility, while also shining a harsh light on how we engage with one another, and maybe on how we try to use each other. There are no easy straightforward answers to be had in Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, but it sure will linger in your head and heart for a much longer time than that.

Megan Follows and Tavaree Daniel-Simms in Studio 180 Theatre’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
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