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Soulpepper’s King Lear & Queen Goneril Glitters Partial Gold in its Grouping

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It’s a big undertaking, these two slices of golden royalty. One from the past; old and well formulated. The other from the present; young and ambitious. Makes sense, as in a way, this is what it is all about. But it is in the coupling where this unraveling works best, and placed together, one after the other like I did last Saturday, Soulpepper Theatre and their lined-up productions of King Lear, a classic by Shakespeare, and Queen Goneril, a new play by Erin Shields (If We Were Birds), unearths all the magic required to turn this on its head and expand our understanding. On their own? I’m not so sure. The King will forever stand the test of time, but I’m not quite sure the same could be said of the Queen.

Tom McCamus (center) and the cast of King Lear. Presented by Soulpepper Theatre.

First off, for our Saturday Soulpepper undertaking, is the Bard classic, King Lear, a study in blind love, infantile arrogance, fairytale narcissism, and the resulting madness that sends him railing against a storm that he has brought upon himself. With big stone columned archways flanking the throne, the solid red lines of passion, power, and blood line the floor and the wall behind, all courtesy of the majestic work by set designer Ken MacKenzie (Soulpepper’s Where The Blood Mixes) and lighting designer Kimberly Purtell (Soulpepper’s Mother’s Daughter). The moveable edges and intensity envelop us, as the sound of fury, thanks to composer and sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne (Soulpepper’s Kim’s Convenience), leads us towards the seated King in a strong pool of intense light. All is not ok in this realm. The imagery and the artistry shine profound as directed with stealth by Kim Collier (Electric Company’s Magic Hour), with hints of modern gadgetry and dress teasing us with what is about to come. The faulty King stalks forth with vigor, marking up the map that is his ultimate destiny, as a flurry of movement begins, masking the fragility and making the intent strong and willful, all before the first words of text are even spoken.

Embodied most powerfully and magnificently by the intensely talented Tom McCamus (Stratford’s Coriolanus; “Sweet Hereafter“), this aging King missteps logic, and falls victim to his own fairytale narcissism and his childlike need for overt flattery and adoration. His two older daughters, Goneril, played intensely by Virgilia Griffith (Stratford’s Serving Elizabeth) and Regan, strongly portrayed by Vanessa Sears (Obsidian/Canadian Stage/Necessary Angel’s Is God Is), see clear in his need and intention. They profess their love for him most extravagantly, giving him exactly what they believe is his need. Their two faces tell tales we have yet to unearth, but the shock is groundbreaking and shape-shifting (Shields will have more to say about this later).

His youngest daughter, Cordelia, starting out strong by Helen Belay (Citadel’s Heaven), stands more firmly in the real authentic world, and forgoes adoration, much to her demise. “Nothing will come of nothing,” he says, “speak again.” He says it playfully at first, as the two sisters look on in amazement, baffled by what is transpiring. But this isn’t jovial play, yet Cordelia continues to answer honestly, that she only loves her father as much as any daughter should. She doesn’t join in with the same transparent game as her sisters. But the logical clarity doesn’t get past Lear’s fragile infantile need. It pushes the needy arrogant King into a rage, disowning his one truly honest daughter, and dividing his kingdom in half, for the two who flatter. This blind outrage, fought hard against by the strong but tactless Kent, portrayed wisely by Sheldon Elter (Soulpepper’s Where The Blood Mixes), blunt in his advising of Lear, ultimately brings the King to his knees, destroying almost all of those around him.

Virgilia Griffith, Helen Belay, and Vanessa Sears in King Lear. Presented by Soulpepper Theatre.

McCamus delivers the sad and rageful truth within every action and word. He’s utterly bold and demented, deepening our empathetic understanding of his flaw as he descends into chaos and madness. It’s an astounding performance, that electrifies the stage. The women that surround him do their royal duty as well, giving us hints and sly nods to what might be in store later that evening in the new play, Queen Goneril. The compelling ideas fling themselves around in our heads as we watch for those clues, expanding our interest in Grittith and Sears as they unpack their Goneril and Regan portrayals with glee and assurance. Belay finds clarity in her innocence, but sadly loses her complexity and authenticity as the madness moves through the three acts. Yet, we watch their bonds shift strongly into rivalry and betrayal. The art is in the details with these two older siblings, so pay close attention and lean in strong. It truly is fascinatingly smart and wondrous watching them weave a web that we will only understand later, if we stay the course.

The smart flash-bulbed portrait of a family unitied is taken early on, before the declarations of love are displayed and unpacked. Yet, some of the jewels of thy father are flawed, but we haven’t discovered the ‘why’ quite yet. We must wait until later to glimpse what is under the robes. But it isn’t just in the ‘daughters at play’ here, as we know. Edmund, the illegitimate son of King Lear’s main trusted attendant, the seemingly honorable Gloucester, played solidly by the wonderful Oliver Dennis (Soulpepper’s Of Human Bondage; “Slings and Arrows“), is also playing a very different game than what is expected of him. There is another storm forecast in the horizon, quickly approaching, and ready to topple the legitimate if all goes according to plan. Jonathon Young (Coalmine’s Knives in Hens) dazzles as the devious Edmund. He is both villainous and sly to perfection, pulling us into his plot with delightful ease while ushering us forward against the foolish honesty of his brother, the legitimate Edgar, well played by Damien Atkins (Soulpepper’s Angels in America), but it is his illegitimate brother we can’t take our eyes off of, even with Atkins’s sublime descent into madness of poor Tom.

Tom McCamus (center) and the cast of King Lear. Presented by Soulpepper Theatre.

All involved deliver with abundance though, particularly McCamus, Dennis, and Young. We watch the storm swirl strongly around the arrogant fathers, blinded by their faults and their misguided faith, discarded and punished quite severely by their children out onto the unforgiving heath. What would Freud have to say about that? The Fool, somewhat too quietly portrayed by a held-back Nancy Palk (Soulpepper’s A Delicate Balance), is overshadowed by the raging King, not catching enough steam in the rain to find her footing. The mad lead the blind and the fool here, through the stormy villainy of flattering daughters and a scheming son.

The play somehow loses some of its urgency and drive with each subsequent Act in the three and half hour production. It never completely derails or loses our devotion, but the electricity does soften, even as the artistry remains remarkable and undeniable, both dynamic and detailed. And the tale rings true and profoundly sad, almost as clear as the beautiful formulation that is being presented on the Young Centre for the Performing Arts stage until October 1.

But the deep dive isn’t quite over and done with, even as the dead line the stage from all sides. Soulpepper has another hand to play here in their and our attempt to understand the faultlines of a mad aging King, his children, and his followers. Shields’ new play, Queen Goneril is waiting in the wings, just out of sight of King Lear, teasing us with a time jump, and the grab that we might learn a thing or two about those that have inflicted and received the pain of love and betrayal. The ideas swirl hard, as hard as that storm we just witnessed, and a dinner in the Distillery District can’t be ingested quick enough for my liking. But a few hours later, I was back, impatient and excited to unpack the unknown undercurrent that is living inside Queen Goneril.

The cast of Queen Goneril. Presented by Soulpepper Theatre.

The second play, the new, modern, and original one, deemed as the one that will explain the roots of all the traumatic response mechanisms that exist in the Shakespearian text, has a big responsibility in its making. And I will say, from the outset, that Queen Goneril succeeds admirably, although not entirely. My companion for the two plays was of a different opinion, suggesting as a title: “Shakespeare Lives, but Gonderil Dies in the Distillery.” But we are not on the same page in that summation. I understand and comprehend the complex disturbance at hand, but can’t get behind the overall complaint. There’s too much to take in and unpack for the play to be considered a failure, because, inside its complexities, there lies some nuggets of gold, much like what that Old Woman (Palk) conveys most beautifully as she rummages through a bucket looking for treasure.

It all begins with a filmed dialogue between the actors who are the leads of these two plays, Virgilia Griffith and Tom McCamus. They teasingly discuss their take on the two plays and their characters, while playing, most creatively, with our understanding of reality and scripted construct. It’s a fascinating abstractionism, listening to these two as they take on questions about internalized drive and construction. It forces us to witness the underlying frustrations of Goneril and the controlling aspects of a privileged King, all through the modern lens of privilege, oblivious interruptions, and condescending dismissal. The canopy of what lies ahead is dutifully laid down by Shields, man-spailing and spoken over with deliberate fearless determination. We are ready and prepared now for the peeling back of time, and to find at least some of the original roots of behavior that exist inside the secondary characters of King Lear. Without the historical underpinnings of the past mucking it all up in that bucket of shit.

Directed with determination and purpose by Weyni Mangesha (Soulpepper’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train), Queen Goneril delivers the goods in basic abundance, almost too well. The play sets the clock back seven years in order to uncover the forms and feelings that brought forth the personages that manipulated Shakespeare’s Lear. It’s a bold and definitive recrafting by the playwright as she throws Lear’s eldest daughter, Goneril, played once again by Griffith, forward into a storm of her own. It’s a dramatic undertaking, this dynamic investigation of a woman who believes, most honestly, that she is destined to be Queen. Rightfully so. Making me wonder what it is about the Shakespearian play, its history, and myself that never really saw this outright dismissal of Goneril before. Of course, she thought she would be crowned Queen. She is the eldest, and even in a time of male domination, that look on her face that we see in King Lear is completely reasonable and utterly honest. Why did I not ever recognize or comprehend that before?

Maybe its because we know Shakespeare’s play all too well, never questioning the motives or the actions, but dutifully accepting the insulting dismissal. This woman, and many who surround and have grown up with her, all of whom have been relegated to small supporting roles within Shakespeare’s royal tragedy, have finally been given the honor of understanding by Shields. We are treated to a different lens, to look at Goneril’s ambition and sense of duty, as well as her frustrations for not being seen as the rightful heir to the throne. Imagine King Charles’s face if he had to split his intended kingdom with his other siblings. The outrage would be deafening. Inside and outside of the man. Why would it, or should it, be any different for this woman?

Vanessa Sears and Jonathon Young in Queen Goneril. Presented by Soulpepper Theatre.

Shields has done this Queen and Regan proud, giving them a whole new vantage point of understanding and contemplation, all with their own raging storm to withstand. Utilizing the same cast in pretty much the exact same roles, just seven years younger, on the same beautifully orchestrated set, the women find their way into the emotional back hallways of the palace, shifting our view of them with each insult and assault. Spoken in plain English, without any of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, the sisters take center stage with a vengeance after being ignored and unheard from for centuries. Griffith’s Goneril is unsurprisingly ambitious and determined, while guarding secrets that explain her unspoken, somewhat broken heart well, specifically, and most dynamically around the impeccable origin story of loyal Oswald/Olena, finely crafted by a strong Breton Lalama (Neptune’s Rocky Horror).

The middle daughter, Sears’ Regan, gets her own backstory, one where she feels forever trapped in the in-between; playing the clown and forever desperate for love and to be seen as more, specifically in the arms of the surprisingly caring Edmund. Yes, you heard that right. He is her dutiful and loyal admirer, and it is her story that upends the Gloucester house with a vengeance, thrusting forth a compelling idea around the disturbing complexities of what honorable means in its totality. Gloucester’s dishonor is known only within, and more interestingly, his persona is only perceived as honorable in the eyes of other men who sit in the position of privileged power, not to those who don’t. A very clear and clever connection to our time and the #MeToo space. But what lies underneath the man’s honor is something quite different, thanks to the fine work of Dennis and his Gloucester. Atkins’ Edgar, by the way, is wasted here; an afterthought that fails to rise to any importance. More importantly within the constructs of this play is the question that swirls around as we watch this restructuring: Does the Gloucester house reversal of character work? I’m not quite sure, as the reality of character change does seem to be a bit too large of an undertaking, even for this fine talented actor, but the ideas around what could possibly shift loyalties stays and remains intoxicatingly compelling, even if just on the level of a psychodynamic intellectualization.

The youngest daughter, Belay’s Cordelia, isn’t given the same restructuring and focus as Shields gives her elderly sisters. She has been relegated to play much younger, in a puffy young girl’s white dress, courtesy of costume designer Judith Bowden (Shaw’s Gaslight), and given the task of growing up quick before our eyes, trying hard to develop an understanding of the world around her so that we may understand her a bit more. The ploy explains some of the later states of being, but as played by Belay, never becomes all that compelling. Palk, on the other hand, is finally given the breath and the space to be the Fool, but oddly, it is in the role of the Old Woman. In that position, she grabs hold of the stage and air around her, and takes charge, regardless of who is standing beside her.

Virgilia Griffith, Nancy Palk, and Tom McCamus in Queen Goneril. Presented by Soulpepper Theatre.

This play is all about causation and struggle, but more importantly, the young women that line the backstory of King Lear. And it is in their fine sibling chemistry that Queen Goneril is brought to life. It is captivating and intense, yet never fully flies forward completely. The heartfelt dynamics remain overt and self-consciously constructed, sometimes feeling like the main order at play is to check a number of modern analytical boxes and required sentiments. The realm is filled with trauma and psychoanalytical responses, many well-formed but others that don’t always deliver authentically beyond the simplistic, obvious, and sometimes opaque. When it feels true, as it does with Regan and more importantly, with Goneril, the ideas spark enlightenment, empathetic concern, and a realignment in the way the two are perceived, but with Edmund and his father, the play stumbles with a reactionary framework that feels less powerful. Edmund’s shift in honorable in a way that unearths his parentage, but does it explain his ruthless King Lear persona strongly enough? I’m not quite sure I can board that big-leap causation bus completely there. Yet, even when the overall conceptualization remains foggy and overly simplistic, the women’s fine rage against a different kind of storm tracks ideologically, explaining subsequent heartlessness in a more complex way than what Shakespeare might have intended; an emotional guarding of self that is generally fascinating and intellectually engaging.

Seen together, with only a few hours for contemplation in-between, the result is emotionally awe-inspiring, giving empathetic understanding to some that have always been seen as villainous. It unpacks layers of love and loyalty that we didn’t know existed, particularly and surprisingly around Lalama’s Olena, Goneril’s maid and lover, and Olena’s transition to becoming Oswald. That, and the play itself are both mesmerizing and compelling, easily worth the time that one needs to devote to this undertaking and examination. Seen together, with King Lear first, followed by the time-jump back to Queen Goneril, the reformation is detailed and dynamic, a must-see for anyone compelled to dig deep, deeper than we ever even thought about when it comes to those secondary characters, especially those sisters. This says a lot about how the world likes to and has always taken in privilege, honor, and betrayal. Now keep digging around in that bucket, ’cause I know you’re going to find some treasure if you look hard enough.

The cast of Queen Goneril. Presented by Soulpepper Theatre. Running on stage in repetory with King Lear until October 2nd. For more information and tickets, click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Times Square Chronicles Presents The Hamptons

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Since “Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents” is so popular, we decided to do a summer edition called “Times Square Chronicles Presents The Hamptons”. We started with the Bay Street Theatre  Gala because it is what we know.,,,,,theatre. The Gala honored Neil Patrick Harris, David Burtka, and Dr. Georgette Grier-Key.

In this episode you can see Richard Kind, Marc Kudisch, Scott Schwartz, Tovah Feldshuh, Lena Hall, Tracy Mitchell, Rose Caiola, Stewart F Lane, Lliana Guibert, Kate Edelman Johnson, Steve Leber and Bonnie Lautenberg and Riki Kane Larimer.

You can watch us here

 

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Soulpepper’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” Clashes Hard and True Against the Backdrop of Jazz and Booze

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It’s the quintessential sound of New Orleans that draws us in. Starting with the iconic rattle of that Streetcar Named Desire, clanging and banging its way through the streets, the unraveling, beautifully unpacked here at Soulpepper, brings a clearly out-of-place, white-clad sister to the door of a home filled with a rough and tumble energy that is as red as she is white. It’s a classic beginning, seeing her stand there, out-of-place and out-of-sync with a subtle modernist flair courtesy of director Weyni Mengesha (Soulpepper’s The Guide to Being Fabulous). It is that visual that delivers Tennesse Williams’ iconic damsel to the door of sister Stella, and we see it in her contemporary touch that this is an undoing worthy of our watch.

The big easy New Orlean chaos is rolled out and unmasked, here and there from time to time (with an energy that I wished I got to see a bit more), as the clashing of types overpowers and fills the stage and down the aisle. Meat is thrown from outside in, by a wife-beater-wearing Stanley, played with blue-collar deliverance by Mac Fyfe (Howland C0./Crow’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning), and caught by the love-struck Stella, played with a straightforward deliberation by a very game Skakura Dickson (Mirvish’s Dear Evan Hansen). Their engagement is effortlessly of that space, etched in the way they look and touch one another before she runs off to watch him bowl. And then she comes, dragging a hard-cased rollie bag down the aisle, banging the floor at each step as if to signal her approach. Or maybe an alarm. Possibly to her own self as much as to the others. It almost screams out, I don’t belong here. That I am a visitor, from another time and place, and this arrangement is a distinct contradiction to the word ‘easy’.

Mac Fyfe in Soulpepper’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo by Dahlia Katz

This Soulpepper Blanche, played timelessly as if a relic from some other world by the captivating Amy Rutherford (Segal Centre’s Fifteen Dogs), is worthy of the look the neighbor, Eunice, played to perfection by Ordena Stephens-Thompson (Soulpepper’s Three Sisters), gives as she leaves Blanche to her requested privacy and her secret consumption of Stan’s liquor. Rutherford’s Blanche is vibrant in her false framing, modulating her drawl for full manipulating effect, moment to moment. She gives us a magnificent creation based on nervous intention and supreme denial, pivoting this way or that, depending on the requirement that hangs in the thick air. It’s the smoothest of simulated posturing, that conveys a deft and disturbing downfall waiting in the wings, just behind another type of curtain drawn to protect and hinder inspection under a harsh unforgiving light.

Her statuesque framing is in harsh objection to all that runs around it, swinging and engaging in the smooth wildness of modern New Orleans. The sounds rise up from the edges and behind closed walls, singing and laughing in their jazz-infused joy, but they find no home in Rutherford’s Blanche. Here is the hot-blooded underlying surrounded by hard metal that reveals smokey sexuality when required, that breathes extra life and fire into the roughness of the room, designed to deliver by Lorenzo Savoini (Soulpepper’s De Profundis), with captivating lighting by Kimberly Purtell (Tarragon’s Withrow Park) and a strong sound by Debashis Sinha (Stratford/Soulpepper’s Casey and Diana). This hot musical energy is what I was waiting for as Soulpepper revisits A Streetcar Named Desire, which comes clanging back to their main stage (after a very successful 2019 production). Blanche’s downfall is clear and predetermined, mapped out from the moment Fyfe’s Stanley first sees her, and from the faulty flirtation she throws his way. Blanche is out of her dimmed-light element, and even though Dickson’s Stella tries her best to serve her in the way she likes to be cared for, the escalations of love, lust, and fury will have their way with this damsel in self-created distress. And she won’t have the strength to see her way through the smoke into the reality of the modern world that swirls around them.

Clinging to her distorted past that we hear glimpses of, playing in the background until the shot ends the fantasy, A Streetcar Named Desire delivers magic and the cruelty of realism balanced in abundance. The visuals and the musical energy, courtesy of both Mike Ross (Soulpepper’s Of Human Bondage), the original music director, and Kaled Horn (Shakespeare Bash’d’s As You Like It), the music director of this remount, emphasize the clash, excluding the delusional Blanche from the rest, even as she entices, for a moment, the kindly Mitch, played engagingly by Gregory Prest (Can Stage’s The Inheritance). The costumes by Rachel Forbes (Can. Stage’s Topdog Underdog), push forth the same cultural and societal clash. Stanley and his buddies, played well and true by Sebastian Marziali (“Dark Side of Comedy”) as Pablo, and Lindsay Owen Pierre (“Jack Reacher”) as Steve, are outfitted in your standardized blue-collar constructs, that feel curated from a different era then Blanche, although I never really understood the collection of coats and jackets these guys carry around with them on these hot humid nights. Stella finds herself straddling the timeframes in short shorts that bridge the gap that Blanche’s ensembles don’t. They engage with both, to different effects, igniting Stanley’s passion while also cementing a subtle connection to Blanche and her past life.

The cast of Soulpepper’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

But it’s Rutherford who our eyes are glued to, and she is a marvel inside her performative Blanche, weaving lies upon lies in hopes of escaping the trap she has created or found herself in. She tries her best to hold it all together, taking hot baths on steamy hot days to calm her nerves, and weaving tales of Southern elitist privilege often in comparison to Stanley’s less refined heritage. It makes her hard to feel much for, on the surface, as she lies and throws attitude, but Rutherford finds her way through the text pretty brilliantly, delivering a woman who is perplexed, anxious, and confused. It’s all wrapped up in one intense performance by one amazing actress. Dickson’s Stella doesn’t stand a chance in that rosy dim spotlight.

It’s no wonder this part is coveted by so many performers, and I’ve seen a few, including Cate Blanchette at BAM, Jessica Lange on Broadway, and Gillian Andersonat St. Ann’s Warehouse. It’s an emotional and deeply complex role that gives an actress such a deviating journey to move through from entrance to heart-breaking exit. Rutherford’s Blanche finds her way into the room inside a unique framing, taking us through an emotional journey that is epic, devastating, and deeply affecting. It’s an extremely complex and modern take on the role, weaving in layers of addictive energy and validating anxiety that feels so deeply integral to Blanche, especially during the incredibly uncomfortable interaction with the young newspaper collection boy, played captivatingly cute by musical director Horn.

Amy Rutherford and Gregory Prest in Soulpepper’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo by Dahlia Katz

The time flies by as we watch Rutherford’s wounded, flailing, and righteous-sounding bird struggle to save herself, but Fyfe’s Stanley is too brutal of an animal force to be caught in Blanche’s desperation. He’s also difficult to ignore. He plays it more subtle than loud, unpacking unknown layers that intrigue, even when they don’t add the required heat. The same could be said of Dickson’s Stella who finds her space, but not always the right amount of heat.

At times we are drawn into Blanche’s flawed pain, especially the dramatic sad story of the love that seemed to break her apart. That famous monologue, as it should, destroys, but she’s also too difficult to love and to take. During many of those tense moments, we feel for her sister, Stella, who has no idea how to take care of her or even deal with Blanche’s grandiose facade. The only one who can actually save Blanche from Blanche and her situation is Mitch who attempts to balance the sweet suitor with the desperately defeated man. Prest’s Mitch is far more gentle than most I’ve seen tackle the part, bringing his own dreaminess to the role, but it doesn’t actually mesh well with the resulting pivotal provocative scene that erupts from inside him brought to the surface because of her lies and deceit.

The tension and the rise to violence does float in the air over and within, matched by the music that erupts from behind that wall. And with the loud crash of bed posts against the same, the loud collision elevates the heat and the heaviness, sometimes too fast and furious, changing direction and speed as if the anxiety and the alcohol levels fuel the fire and the fury, without enough underlying formulations. This idea includes the final inevitable collapse of Rutherford’s Blanche, and her disconnect from reality.  It’s a jarring, majestic, and heart-wrenching full-speed crash, and one not to be missed, but somehow it doesn’t hold the framing together as well as I expected.  I wanted more of a build-up; a long fuse leading from one room to another, lit by claustrophobia and an insulting fantasy world. But this one, pushed forward by Fyfe’s Stanley is short, popping up hard and violent into the hot humidity. Yet, as expected, we watch her walk out on the arm of the stranger; a gentleman doctor who is to commit her to a mental asylum, with compassion and sorrow.  Her disintegration into shattered collapse is complete, but the mystery and deluded fantasy of her grand self still holds even if it’s as wobbly as the legs that carry her forward into the night, and up the aisle before our very eyes.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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A Wickedly Fun Gothic Horror Play, “The Bluffs” Storms the Toronto Fringe Festival

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This might be the first time in decades that I was in town and available to catch at least a few shows at Toronto’s exciting and diverse Fringe Festival, a ground-breaking theatrical platform for indie artists founded in 1989. It’s a wildly popular early-summer extravaganza with more shows than I can even comprehend, let alone take in. I hope to see at least two or three shows this time around as I settle into my new sublet in downtown Toronto, and it all started out extremely well.

I was lucky enough to make my way over to Toronto’s Theatre Passé Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 2P3) to see a brand new gothic horror play called The Bluffs. Written with a knowing wise wink by Sarini Kumarasinghe, the one-act play is surprisingly strong in its pulling in. “If it’s not a comfort, it’s a cage,” she writes in the program, “And that is terrifying.” And that is the structuring we find ourselves in, following Eleanor, played captivatingly well by Shelayna Christante, as she reenters a space filled with grief and memories, and a few other surprising visitations. The heaviness is clear and intentional, complicated and vibrating. It’s been six months since her wife had a tragic fatal accident on the lake below their summer Muskoka cottage. And the time seems to have only elevated her dispair and anxiety.

But a podcast, delivered in front of a (far too) blinding light, delivered by Justine Christensen (Let Me In’s The Miserable Worm), is the coping mechanism Eleanor holds tight to, calming her down and easing her through the night. But on the day of her return to this lakeside cottage, she discovers that her frustrated and damaged brother-in-law, delightfully portrayed by Malcolm Green, has been squatting in what once was their familial summer home. Eleanor has entered looking for a way out, as he might be looking for a way in. Yet, she has invited a mysterious neighbour, deliciously played by Cydney Watson, to come take a look at the property in hopes that the woman will take it, and her memories and grief, off her hands. But her brother-in-law has a few choice things to say about her plan, as does the house it seems, and together, trapped by a quickly approaching violent storm, reminiscent of the one that caused the muddy deadly tragedy six months prior, the three must find a way through the flickering of lights and the dark presence that seems to dwell in those very cottage walls.

The playwright wrote that the play “began as a critique of myself and my efforts to be unbreakable, examining how my many misunderstandings of ‘strength’ have coloured my relationships. I struggled to parse two seemingly contradictory versions of strength in my head: the first being bold, brazen demands of respect, appearing as confidence but veering into vanity, and the second being quiet resilience, kind and compassionate but a slippery slope into leniency. It was only by planting flags at both extremes that I was able to recognize the existence of a middle ground and understand that strength has no blueprint; the strongest version of yourself is just the one that keeps going.” And that framework really resonates within this festive gothic horror play, elevating the piece and the performances.

The Bluffs is a whole lot of fun, with a few good chills that caused some hilariously well-timed sounds of shock from the audience, thanks to the finely tuned direction by Jacqui Sirois. The set is a bit cardboard shaky and simple, designed with solid intention by Mike Sirois, with a sound design by Connor Wan and lighting by Vishmayaa Jeyamoorthy (Buddies’ Zom-Fam) that could use some fine-tuning and balancing, but this is a fringe show, and we happily accept the limitations that the rotating scheduling and finances put on these creatives. I did sit in a seat directly in line with the podcast’s blinding light, which was uncomfortable and required constant shading of my eyes, but that was just some bad luck on my part.

But I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the clever construction of this campy gothic horror play, and hope that it has a life beyond these Fringe Festivalwalls to expand and be elevated. I also hope that I’m as lucky with the next few shows that I intend to get into over the next week or so – although I must admit tickets go fast and furious for this event, which is also the pleasantest of surprises. You gotta love how Toronto embraces this festival, with crowds lining up and snatching up tickets like hotcakes, with a robust schedule of events from Wed, Jul 3, 2024 – Sun, Jul 14, 2024. And hope it continues long into the future, so buy and tap that donation box to keep this wonderful event thriving into the future. For more information, click here.

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The Toronto Theatre Report: Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Season 2024-25

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Ted Witzel, Artistic Director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, announced the company’s 46th season, a full year of programming, held by the phrase “Queerness is Divine Mystery,” co-curated with Buddies’ Artistic Associate Erum Khan.

The works in this season, witzel’s first at the helm of the mainstay queer institution, seek out queerness not only as identity but as a way of being and acting in the world. Together Khan and witzel have pulled together works that gesture at audacious, poetic expressions of queerness, reaching toward the expansive and the divine.

The season features: rarely performed masterwork Roberto Zucco by Bernard-Marie Koltès translated by Martin Crimp; the world premiere of Oraculum created by drag artists and Canada’s Drag Race finalists Denim and Pythia; the Toronto premiere of There is Violence, There is Righteous Violence, and There is Death or; The Born-Again Crow by Caleigh Crow; Genrefuck, a series of curated, movement-driven solo pieces; and the 46th iteration of the Rhubarb Festival. Plus, New Ho Queen moves in as Buddies’ first-ever party-in-residence.

The season also includes the Canadian premiere of Shedding a Skin by Amanda Wilkin in association with Nightwood Theatre, and the world premiere presentation of Last Landscape from Bad New Days.

Buddies will also launch I Won’t Envy a new podcast series where artist Vivek Shraya leads intimate one-on-one conversations with fellow artists who disclose their experiences with professional jealousy.

All of our anchor works this season touch on transformation and ascension to the level of the mystic, gesturing toward a transcendent energy inside of queerness,” says witzel. “Buddies is the world’s largest and longest-running queer theatre company. Locally, we’re known as a sacred venue where Toronto’s queer creative heart beats (and flutters, and pounds). We know that these shows and artists will push us to dream big, and help (re)introduce Toronto to Buddies as a place to encounter the pleasure of a disobedient, experimental edge within an otherwise well-mannered artistic landscape.”

This is Buddies’ first full season under a new vision and leadership team, helmed by witzel, with Artistic Associate Erum Khan, Operations Director Kristina Lemieux, and Producer Aidan Morishita-Miki. Visit BuddiesInBadTimes.com to learn more.

THE SEASON
Proud Season Partner: BMO

Roberto Zucco
By Bernard-Marie Koltès translated by Martin Crimp
September 15 to October 5, 2024 | Opens September 19

ted witzel directs the season opener, a neo-noir masterwork from legendary postmodernist French writer Bernard-Marie Koltès. Set in France in 1989, and written as Koltès was dying of AIDS, the play traverses the realms between true crime and mythic fantasy. It delves into the criminal underworld of Europe, offering a critique of rampant capitalism and liberal family values.

Witness the living through the eyes of the dead. Roberto Zucco lures us into the wet streets and gloomy rooms of 1980s Europe, where a charming antihero battles his cosmic urge to kill. Koltès’ sordid swan song is Greek tragedy kissed by Gregg Araki—breathlessly violent but with a pitch-black wit and occasional syrupy sweetness that leaves you disarmed. It shines a blistering sun on our darkest impulses; by the end, you’ll wonder if we’re just flightless birds in the face of our fates.

Nuit Blanche
October 5, 2024 | All night long
Buddies and Nuit Blanche have been eyeing each other across the dance floor and finally hooked up—and obviously, the result is sexy. We’re bringing you a full-facility function that bridges underground scenes.

The intersecting and overlapping projects taking over the theatre’s historic building echo the makeouts and sweat stains of years of parties and performances. We’re serving you ballroom with performances by FakeKnot and DJ sets by Karim Olen Ash, and a touch of whimsy with pop art performance duo xLq. Leave a love letter to your missed connection in Buddies’ glittering bathrooms before you crawl home. You won’t sleep a wink (but if you did, this is the party you’d dream of).

Next Stage Theatre Festival
October 16 to 27, 2024
Presented by the Toronto Fringe
Next Stage is Toronto Fringe’s curated, boutique festival—an elevated performance experience where audiences can access artistically rigorous work from new producers ready to bring their shows to the “next stage” of development. Returning to Buddies for a second year, the festival once again offers six dynamic pieces across a range of forms, alongside community programming, parties, and professional development opportunities. Visit FringeToronto.com to see the full lineup.

Oraculum
December 1 to 15, 2024 | Opens December 5
A Buddies in Bad Times and Denim and Pythia co-production
Get a glimpse into the enigmatic imaginations of two of Canada’s premier drag artists. Denim and Pythia take you on a journey of self discovery and divine mystery, as filtered through the crystal ball (or computer screen rather) of an online psychic reading website. Combining performance, puppetry, and projection into an otherworldly spectacle, Oraculum pulls back the velvet curtain on gender and spirituality.

Last Landscape
January 12 to 26, 2025 | Opens January 14
Bad New Days, in partnership with Common Boots Theatre
In a sometime somewhere devoid of nature, clownish ‘workers’ enter an empty space and assemble a series of artificial landscapes, striving to recreate the natural world from memory. But are we seeing the deep past? Or some genetically modified future? The world premiere of Last Landscape, conceived and directed by Adam Paolozza, employs Bad New Days’ signature brand of physical theatre, offering a playful meditation on extinction, ecological grief and interspecies care, where colossal puppets of prehistoric megafauna roam free. On the brink of environmental collapse, it offers brave new possibilities for how we might share this big green miracle/marble.

Rhubarb Festival
February 13 to 23, 2025
Rhubarb is Buddies at its rawest—a hotbed of unruly creatives queering what it means to make and experience art. Multi-disciplinary curator Ludmylla Reis helms this 46th iteration of Canada’s longest-running genre-bending live arts festival. Make sure you stay hydrated (Tallulah’s Cabaret can help with that).

There is Violence, There is Righteous Violence, and There is Death or; The Born-Again Crow
March 9 to 29, 2025 | Opens March 13
A Buddies in Bad Times and Native Earth Performing Arts co-production
Directed by Jessica Carmichael
Queer Métis theatre artist Caleigh Crow tends towards themes of metaphysics, class struggle, magic, and serious whimsy. This is the Toronto premiere of her Indigenous Voices Awards-nominated play, directed by Jessica Carmichael.

In There is Violence, Beth wants to burn it all down: the coconut milk section, the lady razor section, the healthy snacks section. The whole damn superstore. She only makes it to the magazine rack, but her act of resistance (or “public breakdown”) gets her fired and lands her back with her mom in the suburbs—where a talking crow shows her how to harness her powerful political rage. A cul-de-sac gothic with a searing punk sensibility, There is Violence reads like an unearthed X-Files episode the suits were too afraid to air. It demands that we acknowledge our fury. Because how else can we feel real?

Shedding a Skin
By Amanda Wilkin
April 22 to May 4, 2025 | Opens April 24
A Nightwood Theatre production in association with Buddies in Bad Times
On the 15th floor of a London tower block, a revolution takes place. Myah has ejected herself from a corporate hellscape only to crash-land in the spare room of an elder named Mildred—an evasive auntie with laminated house rules and hidden wounds. But healing takes many shapes, and sometimes it looks like sneaking your roommate’s duckanoo.

Shedding a Skin is a one-woman buddy comedy for the heartbroken—a series of exquisitely observed, quietly radical scenes that offers a hand to those feeling the weight of the world. Drop your baggage at the door. Connection is resistance.

Canadian Premiere. Directed by Cherissa Richards.

2020 Winner of The Verity Bargate Award.

Genrefuck
May 14 to 31, 2025
Never Walk Alone by Julie Phan | Goner by Marikiscrycrycry | Reina by Augusto Bitter & Bijuriya by Gabriel Dharmoo
A Buddies in Bad Times performance series in partnership with fu-GEN Theatre, PNSNV, and Pencil Kit Productions
Four movement-driven solo pieces. Four audacious artists. Buddies offers space for intimate works to converse and collide through a series of rolling double-bills pairing local works with touring shows. This new platform features work from Julie Phan, Marikiscrycrycry, Augusto Bitter, and Gabriel Dharmoo.

Bitter’s world premiere Reina envisions the many lives of the anonymous woman depicted on a bag of Harina P.A.N. corn flour, as Phan’s world premiere Never Walk Alone uses endurance pole dance to spin a story of family, burnout, and economics. Dharmoo’s Bijuriya code-switches between drag, song, and sound as it navigates its creator’s dual personas, while the Canadian premiere of Goner reimagines Black horror aesthetics for a live context through fearsome and sensuous choreography.

This is art on the edge of gender and genre. Welcome to Genrefuck.

AND MORE!…

Vivek Shraya’s I Won’t Envy
A podcast by Vivek Shraya co-produced with Buddies in Bad Times

I Won’t Envy is a new podcast series where award winning author and artist Vivek Shraya has intimate one-on-one conversations with fellow artists working in various fields—including performance artist Alok, musician Sara Quin (from Tegan and Sara) and writer Alicia Elliott—who disclose their experiences with professional jealousy.

In Season 1, launching this October, we’ll talk about when artists have felt most triggered, how they have managed (sometimes poorly) this feeling, and what they have learned from their jealousy.

I Won’t Envy will change how you think about jealousy being an emotion that we must feel ashamed about.

Party in Residence: New Ho Queen
An event should suspend time and create worlds. If you think that’s too high a standard, just watch us. We know that parties are an art form—and so does New Ho Queen, our first-ever party-in-residence. With Queer Asian Love at the heart of all they do, New Ho Queen is a collective of artists, leaders in design, performance, film and fashion, that work together to produce joyful, new dance floor experiences. If you were lucky enough to be at their Lunar New Year party last year, you know what we’re talking about. They’ll be celebrating the Year of the Snake at Buddies (so we suggest you start prepping your look now).

Tallulah’s
Like its ambisextrous namesake, Buddies’ in-house bar and performance space Tallulah’s Cabaret does it all. It’s throbbing club nights and community tap dance lessons. High-concept drag and low-stakes open mics. Go for pre-drinks but stay late for the post-show discourse—maybe even spark that next collaboration. With local brews and sober options that aren’t an after-thought, Tallulah’s is the come-as-you-are bar for old friends, new lovers, partiers, poets, and curious passerby. See you under the chandeliers.

Tallulah’s Cabaret is open Wednesday to Sunday from 6:00 p.m. to midnight (or later). Check out buddiesinbadtimes.com/events or @tallulahscabaret for the upcoming calendar.

Tickets for the 2024-25 season go on sale this August.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is the world’s largest and longest-running queer theatre. For 46 years, Buddies has carved out a sexy, disobedient edge in Toronto’s theatre scene and has been a world leader in amplifying queer voices and developing their stories for the stage. In its year-round theatre season, Buddies is a home for artistic risk—a place where emerging talent hone their radical visions, and where established artists to do the daring works other theatres might shy away from. Since 1979, Buddies has welcomed over one million audience members and premiered over 1,000 new works for the stage.

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Hampton’s Events: Bay Street Gala Maybe They’re Magic

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Tonight is the Bay Street Theater’s Summer Gala, at the theater in Sag Harbor. The evening is a fundraiser to support Bay Street’s numerous educational programs with this year’s honorees: Broadway show stopper Neil Patrick Harris, star of stage, screen (and food!) and his husband, Broadway actor David Burtka, and community leader Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, the executive director of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor.

In addition to delectable food, creative cocktails and a live auction with celebrity auctioneer Richard Kind, the evening will feature an all-star performance. This year’s gala is titled “Maybe They’re Magic” and it will focus on the magic of Stephen Sondheim, as Harris and Burtka have both performed in Broadway shows by Sondheim.

Echoing Harris’s love of magic and magicians, the theme of magic will continue throughout the evening in the decor of the theater as it is transformed into a place of wonder, merriment and enchantment in the presence of a professional magician who will mystify guests as they eat and drink. The magical performance will be directed by Bay Street’s associate artistic director Will Pomerantz with musical direction by James Bassi, and will feature host/performer multi-Tony nominee Marc Kudisch, Broadway sensation, Tony Award-winner Lena Hall and many more. After the performance, celebrity auctioneer Richard Kind steps up to the block to wrangle bids on some epically fabulous experiences including: A walk-on role for Bay Street’s upcoming production of Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein — The Musical,” a dinner for eight created by Chef Matteo, formerly of Ristorante Le Cirque, and a brunch for 20 with a view of the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City from a Central Park West windowed apartment and much more.

“The gala is always THE biggest and most important fundraising event of the year as it helps support all of the artists who work at Bay Street as well as the educational programming that lie at the center of Bay Street’s mission,” says Tracy Mitchell, Executive Director. “Bay Street works hard to create inclusivity for everyone including ‘Pay What You Can Nights,’ ‘Free Student Sundays,’ free theater for schools every fall, and so much more. Bolstered by a policy that “Anyone who wishes to have access to the arts will have it, we promise you that your investment will go far at Bay Street Theater.”

For more information and tickets, visit baystreet.org or call 631-725-0818. Bay Street theater is on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.

Check out our covrage in our newest columns and podcast in the next coming day on “Times Square Chronicles Presents Live From The Hamptons”.

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