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Soulpepper’s Where The Blood Mixes Swims Strong in the Rough Muddy Currents of our Trauma.



This was one of those ‘hard to take in’ and ‘difficult to let go’ experiences that happens sometimes when you see something so smart, dynamic, and meaningful in theatre. The number of metaphoric layers that are formed inside the first play written by Kevin Loring (Battle of the Birds) is utterly astounding. And Where The Blood Mixes feels ever so effortless, especially as it slowly dips its toes in the current. It swims in so easy, with the sounds of guitar, played by the talented sound designer, James Dallas Smith (Soulpepper’s Our Town) sitting on the sidelines, and merges with the mystical chanting of the opening refrain. The play projects us, casually yet wisely, into the deepest parts of our inner sanctuary, pulling us into the rough current with such simple force. Swimming and rotating in the emotional clarity of where two rivers collide, it’s no wonder that this 2008 play won a Governor General’s Award in 2009. It is also not surprising that Soulpepper Theatre, co-producing with Native Earth Performing Arts, decided to bring this subtle and beautifully intense play to the stage. For that, we should be eternally grateful.

James Dallas Smith, Sheldon Elter, and Craig Lauzon in Soulpepper/Native Earth’s Where The Blood Mixes. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Directed with a straight-forward ease by Jani Lauzon (Shaw’s Rope), Where The Blood Mixes pushes forth the lived experience of those on that stage, mirroring, we are told, the experiences of the playwright. There is an unpacking that happens on stage, one that boils and churns around, most tenderly, the colonial oppression of the Indigenous communities in North America and the intense impact that the residential school system, something we are hearing more and more about, had on the community as a whole. It’s breathtakingly hard to take in at certain moments in this lovingly caring play, but as displayed here, the insistence to take notice is as naturally spoken and understandable as one could hope for. The generational trauma is undeniable, and painful to bear witness to, but it never feels forced or pushed upon.

Tara Sky in Soulpepper/Native Earth’s Where The Blood Mixes. Photo by Dahlia Katz

When the discovery of the mass grave yards at the sites of these residential schools started to become big news here in Canada (and in the U.S.), my mother, a Mohawk woman who lived and grew up on a reservation in Ontario, turned to me and said, “I wonder if that is why my father, your grandfather, moved us off the reservation so suddenly one day when we were kids.” It’s a striking narrative (to say the least), one that suggests a universal fear of a parent, my mother’s parents; the taking of a child. But while watching the deep gutteral pain that resides inside of this play and its characters spill out, I couldn’t help but let that terrifying idea float through my brain. I listened to these damaged and traumatized souls try desperately to navigate the turbulent waters where those two rivers collide, and wondered about the sudden move my mother experienced, and what it might have saved her from. The outcome of her life, her family’s, and mine (if I ever even came into existence) would have been forever altered if maybe she was one of the many children in that reservation “who got took.” The land underneath my feet felt unsteady as I wrestled with the idea.

The play floats around a similar but decidedly different playing field. Around a drunken daydream by the play’s central figure, Floyd, who is deeply portrayed by the fantastic Sheldon Elter (Citadel’s Evangeline). He was one of those children “who got took“, along with his now-deceased wife; his difficult and troubled sidekick, Mouch, deviously well played by Craig Lauzon (TPM’s Drawer Boy); and Mouch’s girlfriend June, organically and emotionally delivered by the wonderful Valerie Planche (Citadel’s The Crucible). They are living out their existence, post-trauma, battling with the pain while trying to survive, find rebirth, and reconnection in this troubled dangerous land that was once their own. They act out, and drink too much beer at a bar owned by a well-meaning George, played solidly by Oliver Dennis ( the amazing “Slings and Arrows“). They are trying the only way they know how to save “the world one beer at a time” alongside the people they are forever attached to somewhere deep inside a well of love, need, and pain. They stumble and fight with each other, as a way of doing battle their internalized demons, maybe in a way to feel like they can take back some internal power. But there is never enough beer to save them. Or maybe there is only too much, and not enough bridging from the spirit world to the land of the living.

Craig Lauzon, Sheldon Elter, and Oliver Dennis in Soulpepper/Native Earth’s Where The Blood Mixes. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

But it all comes to a head when Floyd’s daughter, Christine, tenderly played by Tara Sky (NAC’s Nativity) who was taken away from Floyd after his wife, her mother, died, asks to come back and reunite with her father. It happened so long ago, not for the same reason the four were taken, but because of what those residential schools did to the children’s spirit, and to their ability to find a peaceful connection in their adulthood. The trauma of Christine, her mother’s death, and how it impacted Floyd (and the whole lot of them, including Christine) when Christine was a child floats up from the surface, mixing the dirt and muck in almost a violent manner. It can’t be submerged anymore, especially with Christine standing there asking to be seen and heard. A reckoning and an acknowledgment of that very generational trauma that seeps through them all needs to be looked at and unpacked for there to be any journey forward.

The pain and the hurt of those stories told are felt throughout the space, and on that simplistic, but somewhat clumsy and overwrought set designed by Ken MacKenzie (Soulpepper’s Jesus Hopped…), with well-formed costuming by Samantha McCue (Stratford’s I Am William) and lighting by Arun Srinivasan (Crow’s MixTape), the play finds its way into our head, delicately and surprisingly. The projections, designed by Samay Arcentales Cajas (Roseneath’s Mischief) enhance the very instinctual symbols that swim inside Where the Blood Mixes, delivering a message of peace and turbulence within. The feeling is strong, and emotionally powerful, digging in even when the furniture and the hanging letters gets in the way. The tug of the current lies in this play’s simplistic, yet strong mystical journey, one that is guided by the smooth soundtrack delivered by musician James Dallas Smith. His presence elevates and expands the space. The sounds stir up the messy emotionality that tends to sink to the bottom of the river and rot. It’s a tense idea, but the stories of the river settle us, leaving us connected, even when overwhelmed by the pain and discomfort that exists inside and down below.

Tara Sky, Valerie Planche, and Sheldon Elter in Soulpepper/Native Earth’s Where The Blood Mixes. Photo by Dahlia Katz

Where the Blood Mixes finds its way in beautifully, leaving its mark on our understanding and our shared pain. The layers and layers of symbols and metaphors are both dynamic and engaging, and they will not leave you as you walk out of the Soulpepper theatre. This is storytelling at its best, echoed in the strums of a guitar and in the heartbeat of those on stage. Talking about what happened at those schools and to the community over generations is the ultimate key to unlock and release the pain within down into the streams of consciousness that swirl at our feet. Playwright Loring is in essence, begging us to swim into that muddy water and dive down deeper and deeper together with these brave souls. He writes, “…people can become ghosts, hanging on to their old pain…Until they let go, they can’t grow.” Where the Blood Mixes asks us, most beautifully and poignantly, to be present with these damaged characters, to bear witness to their pain and trauma, to hear their stories so that the past haunting in the depths of that turbulent water can be released. I for one am eternally grateful to have discovered this play, and bear witness to this story, regardless of how many ghosts float up from the depths.

For more information and tickets, click here or go to

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 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

Out of Town

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.

Amaka Umeh as Rosaline and Tyrone Savage as Berowne with members of the company in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

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?

From left: Qianna MacGilchrist as Maria, Celia Aloma as Princess of France, Elizabeth Adams as Katharine, and Amaka Umeh as Rosaline Photo by David Hou.

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“.

Amaka Umeh as Rosaline (centre) with Steve Ross as Boyet (left), Elizabeth Adams as Katharine (rear centre), and Wahsontí:io Kirby as Costard (rear right) Photo by David Hou.

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.

Christo Graham as Moth (left) and Gordon S. Miller as Don Armado Photo by David Hou.

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.

Hannah Wigglesworth as Jaquenetta and Christo Graham as Moth

Stratford Festival‘s Love’s Labour’s Lost runs through October 1 at the Studio Theatre. For information and tickets, click here.

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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



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.

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?

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.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz,

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De Filippo’s “Grand Magic” Amazes in a Sharply Constructed Sleight of Hand at Canada’s Stratford Festival




The seagulls squawk and cry out overhead, drawing us down into the sunkissed scene of striped umbrellas and beach chairs. We bathe in its warm glow, happily, as we take in the lux surroundings of the beautiful seaside Hotel Metropole, waiting, alongside all the other well-heeled vacationers for the arrival of tonight’s entertainment. It’s Grand Magic that is about to arrive, but questions about the man at its center swirl around like those seagulls up above. Is it something far greater than some fancy card tricks? Or are we being misled; tricked down a fool’s road to believe or maybe imagine the unimaginable? Surrender to our instincts, we are instructed, but is that really the game or is there some other twist waiting for the applause multiplier to enliven the moment and the man?

Gordon S. Miller (left) as Calogero Di Spelta and Geraint Wyn Davies as Otto Marvuglia with Andrew Robinson as Waiter in Grand Magic. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

Standing firm and unshakable (or so we at first believe), the arrogant and dismissive Calogero, played to perfection by the impressive Gordon S Miller (Crow’s A&R Angels), fights with that idea, at least in the beginning. Accompanied by his unhappy captive wife Marta, beautifully embodied by Beck Lloyd (Stratford’s R+J), Calogero barely can contain his disregard for the main magical attraction; but even more so for all those guests who gather, playing cards and gossiping about all that approaches and surrounds them.

Lucky for us all, we don’t have to wait too long for the main event; the grand magician, Otto Marvuglia, magically portrayed by Geraint Wyn Davies (LCT’s King Lear), to arrive. And with a flourish, he saunters in, dressed to impress, thanks to the talented work of costume designer Francesca Callow (Stratford’s Three Tall Women), flinging his hat and walking stick around like magical acrobats overhead. We can’t help ourselves. We must lean it, wondering what tricks Otto and his spectacularly feisty wife, Zaira, magnificently portrayed by Sarah Orenstein (Stratford’s Wolf Hall), have in store for us. But more so, will we be able to see the trick inside playwright Eduardo De Filippo’s gorgeously rendered Grand Magic at the Stratford Festival‘s intimate Tom Patterson Theatre.

From left: Sarah Orenstein as Zaira Marvuglia, Jamie Mac as Evening Waiter, and Geraint Wyn Davies as Otto Marvuglia in Grand Magic. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

Although unknown to me, playwright De Filippo is considered by many as one of the most important Italian artists and playwrights of the 20th century and the author of many theatrical dramas staged and directed by the man himself. La grande magia(1948), renamed Grand Magic by co-adaptors John Murrell and the play’s dramaturge Donato Santeramo, is the third of De Filippo’s plays that have been staged at the Stratford Festival by the artistic director, Antoni Cimolino (Stratford’s Macbeth) who digs, with grand determination, into the luminous artifice with a magic all his own. It breaks through the walls of our perception, as we watch with glee, playing with philosophical ideals of time and reality under a magician’s cloak of manipulation and deceit. It’s clever in its construction, and captivating in the ultimate unraveling, as we watch a fascinating game played perfectly to the highest level of inventiveness, or possible insanity, questioning faith and reality at every turn. But to what end?

The game begins with an outward deliberate flourish of gifts and refreshments, and an internal deceptive dance led by a few pretend-hotel-guest accomplices, portrayed purposefully by the always good Steve Ross (Stratford’s Chicago) as Gervasio; and a father and daughter team, Arturo and Amelia Tuddei, played a bit too dramatically by David Collins (Stratford’s The Tempest) and Qianna MacGilchrist (Stratford’s Hamlet-911) [in a part usually portrayed by Germaine Konji]. But the core of the ultimate con is dispatched more privately, out of sight, in the financial arrangement between the strapped and desperate magician, Otto, and Marta’s determined secret paramour Mariano, dutifully portrayed by Jordin Hall (Driftwood’s Othello) who’s dying to get the unhappily married and pseudo caged Marta away from her jealous husband. Even for fifteen minutes. Or more.

From left: Gordon S. Miller as Calogero Di Spelta, Emilio Vieira as Brigadiere, and Geraint Wyn Davies as Otto Marvuglia in Grand Magic. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

Calogero, as played most miraculously by Miller, is thrown off balance in a heartbeat by the disappearance, but more so because of his own lack of faith; in his wife and his heart. Somehow in that boxed-up struggle, he is caught in a magnificent trap of construction and deception, thanks to the magnificent phrasing of this illustrious playwright. Questioned and challenged by the desperate magician, who sees his own cage’s ceiling dropping fast if he doesn’t think even faster, Calogero becomes enlisted and entangled in a head-tripping construct that plays with his, and our own heads in the most captivating way. It’s a wordplay of formulations, juggling with ideas of time and reality, after Calogero’s wife, Marta, in a trick of corrupted theatricality, somewhat lazily crafted by set and lighting designer Lorenzo Savoini (Soulpepper’s Mother’s Daughter), disappears into the night.

The sets are exacting, beautifully crafted, and expertly designed, don’t get me wrong, with a strong sound design by Ranil Sonnadera (Theatre Aquarius’ The Extinction Therapist) and musical composition by Wayne Kelso (Stratford’s The Rez Sisters) adding to the appeal of the seaside, but I guess I was hoping for a bit more actual magic here, and throughout the play from magic consultant, David Ben. Not just the emotional fragrance of magic. But real awe-inspiring magic. Marta steps out from inside the locked trick, clear as day, void of any vanishing flash, leaving the sarcophagus, the hotel, and her husband all behind in a hilariously played-out boat ride to Venice with her pleased lover. But what she leaves behind is a complication, worthy of some intellectual magic to make right. Otto hears the boat motoring off into the distance and realizes, quite rightly, that he has to play an instantaneous game of dangerous deception. Or else something more dangerous could happen, so he has to play it well and for the long haul. He has no choice, but maybe, somehow, it will help him rise up out of his financial troubles, at least until he can manipulate his way out the other side of his own personal sarcophagus.

Members of the company in Grand Magic. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

Otto, as played most spectacularly by Wyn Davies, in a mad creation of metaphysical wordplay, convinces Calogero that Marta, after vanishing, has been caught, trapped within an adorned small box waiting for her release, very much like the marital enclosed space she just ran away where she was literally locked up in her room inside a marriage by her husband. Otto tells Calogero that Marta will only be released and returned to him if he opens the box with a strong believing heart and soul in her fidelity and faith. A clutched aspect and angle that takes the jealous husband by surprise and gives him pause. A pause that lasts years and years in tortured psychic constipation.

De Filippo’s Grand Magic doesn’t disappoint, even with its tiny amount of actual magic being performed. It is filled to the brim with clever manipulations and some very entertaining characters and complications unpacking roundabout ideas that captivate and enliven the material. In particular, one sharply performed roll of the dice enhances the momentum with astounding efficiency in the form of a strongly enacted policeman, hilariously portrayed by the amazing Emilio Vieira (RMTC’s The Three Musketeers) who arrives in a fantastically funny flurry, giving clever depth and delivering delight to the magician and all those who might accuse. Otto’s wife, as portrayed by Orenstein, is also a hat trick of the highest order, delivering lusty and withering lines that invigorate the air around her, and give greater depth to a part that could have easily vanished into thin air.

Geraint Wyn Davies (left) as Otto Marvuglia and Emilio Vieira as Brigadiere in Grand Magic. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

But these are just two fine examples in a cast overflowing with daft and delicious frivolity, giving the utmost entertaining pleasure to all that stay tuned into the way we all can deceive our own selves if it serves us. The play overflows with frameworks and angles to appreciate all that stride across the stage, even when some of those scenarios, especially the sad sick tale of Arturo’s young daughter, and her love of little purple flowers, feel somewhat unneeded and overstuffed. Much like the arrival of Calogero’s intruding greedy family.

You can’t help but think that the playwright had some good intentions in the brewing of this magical spell he was weaving, but as played out on that glorious thrust stage, intimate as all get out, some of those plot points go up in a puff of smoke, bewildering the audience as to their ultimate use and inclusion. The same could be said of the ending of Grand Magic. It does keep us guessing right up until that oddly un-thirst quenching final unveiling, as we watch the fourth wall fall away, becoming the insane sea of one’s own perception and need. The box remains as closed as the construct, leaving us wondering where we all are, and where this final “perfect” game ultimately left us. It was a completely enjoyable ride, I will add, much like that boat ride to Venice, but in the end, as the game is forcibly played forward, your guess as to what it all means is as good as mine. Probably better.

Members of the company in Grand Magic. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

Grand Magic is being performed at Stratford Festival’s Tom Patterson Theatreuntil 29 September. The Festival runs until 29 October.

Sarah Orenstein (left) as Zaira Marvuglia and Geraint Wyn Davies as Otto Marvuglia with members of the company in Grand Magic. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

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Out of Town

The Master Plan Unravels Brilliantly and Hilariously at Crow’s Theatre Toronto




Definitely, a lot to unpack here,” says one soul to another as Crow’s Theatre‘s magnificently tuned-in production of The Master Plan, gets underway, diving deep and hilariously into the corporate politics and City Hall antics with the sharpest of wit and wonder. Based around the Globe and Mail reporter Josh O’Kane’s nonfiction book ‘Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy‘, this captivatingly funny, smart play spins a strongly focused web around a slice of Torontonian history that I had completely missed out on – I guess it didn’t make its way down to NYC. But I sure wish it had.

Adapted most brilliantly into a fiercely funny play by Michael Healey (The Drawer Boy; Generous, Courageous, and Proud), the fantastically fictionalized non-fiction story dives headfirst into some captivating city developmental processing that both signifies all that is right, and most wrong in Canadian politics and public office dynamics. In a way, it sounded sorta educational and possibly stiff, going in, but as unwound here by this most excellent team of theatre makers, it certainly made me lean in and listen, in a way that one of the characters, even though he claims to be “a listener” never actually seems to. Yet, as the structuring and the history begin to unravel before our very eyes, the sordid tall wooden tale certainly is one that pulls you in most happily.

I must admit I didn’t know much about it all; that time when Google, by way of its Sidewalk Labs division, tried with all its mighty might to buy and develop a parcel of land sandwiched way down between the lake and the Gardiner Expressway. It was a slice of Toronto waterfront land that was seen, at least by the Waterfront Toronto organization, as an exciting place to develop and experiment with an idea for a better place to live; a carbon-negative neighbourhood and a “city of the future,” based on a progressive idealized tech-dream filled with affordable housing and state-of-the-art efficiency. But the partnership was a complex one, made clear from the get-go by the way a slick Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, played strong and stompy by Mike Shara (Canadian Stage’s Take Me Out), moves around the space with a dismissive, and untrustworthy loud air. Standing in as the symbolic figurehead of one of the largest conglomerates in the world, Google (which is wonderfully unpacked for us in an avalanche of facts and names by a tree – more on that later) was never going to engage cooperatively with the Canadian system of doing things, as “adorable” and confusingly difficult as it is. Dan, and the company, were always going to try to bulldoze their way through the system, just like Dan proudly explains he did in NYC. So why wouldn’t it work here as well, Dan believes.

(l-r) Philippa Domville, Ben Carlson, Mike Shara, Christopher Allen, and Tara Nicodemo in Crow’s Theatre’s The Master Plan. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The doomed-from-day-one fiasco all began optimistically in 2017 when that small parcel of long-forsaken land on the city’s underdeveloped lakeshore was made available for development and Google co-founder Larry Page and his chairman Eric Schmidt saw an opening. The two began to lean in and pitch a progressive idea through the framework of Sidewalk Labs for the property, and with the pushy and determined Doctoroff as the urban-planning company’s CEO, profit and power were seen written in the future. Sidewalk’s bid dutifully crushed the competition, as seen in the dynamically presented and played-out Master Plan contest. But as soon as that initial bid was won, the team building between Doctoroff and the determined Waterfront Toronto’s team started to evaporate in a cultural power play that left a P.R. gap that was soon filled in with public fear and outspoken suspicion.

The partnership, as you can well imagine, didn’t go as planned. And as the systematic story of corporate greed slammed itself full force into this country’s governmental structuring, The Master Plan finds its fantastic formula in the outrageous details and dynamics that brought this short-lived partnership to its untimely and ultimate deathbed. Thank god, I imagine, as the play, brilliantly directed by Chris Abraham (Crow’s Uncle Vanya, Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing), continues most fantastically forward, the unraveling is filled to the brim with humourous takes on so many aspects and absurdities of Toronto and this country, with sharply focused lines being dutifully delivered by the play’s most excellent cast. There isn’t a bad egg in the group, donning numerous hats of extraordinary personas to document and deliver O’Kane’s detailed account of this disaster. And what a ride it is.

Narrated, to great effect, by a surprisingly talkative tree, portrayed with a clever disposition by Peter Fernandes (Crow’s Fifteen Dogs), the painfully funny and well-crafted battle to reel in the hungry power-seeking of Sidewalk Labs has deep roots in its structuring, setting up the city’s ultimate failure of futuristic urban development carefully and with humorous determination. Formated cleverly by set and props designer Joshua Quinlan (Stratford’s Casey and Diana), with a spectacular assist by costume designer Ming Wong (Bad Hats’ Alice in Wonderland), lighting designer Kimberly Purtell (Crow’s The Chinese Lady), sound designer Thomas Ryde Payne (Crow’s Red Velvet), and video designer Amelia Scott (Porte Parole’s The Assembly), the play’s commission, rooted in real-life political unravelings, finds and delivers the ridiculous and the arrogance with the clearest of clever strokes. The broadcast streamings of executives and bureaucrats, filmed and refocused on screens around the doomed Quayside project, roll out as tearfully brilliant as what the young Sidewalk designer Cam Malagaam, touchingly portrayed by the excellent Christopher Allen (Tarragon’s Redbone Coonhound), has to say in his dynamically delivered utopian speech that ultimately gives the project, and the whole piece, its strongly felt emotional heart and soul.

Ben Carlson and Peter Fernandes in Crow’s Theatre’s The Master Plan. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

And when the resigning texts start coming in, alarmingly one after the other, detailing the conflictual unraveling of the project, it is the team at Waterfront Toronto; Philippa Domville (Tarragon’s If We Were Birds) as Meg Davis, Tara Nicodemo (Planet 88’s Cringeworthy) as Kristina Verner, Ben Carlson (Stratford’s Richard III) as Will Fleissig, and Yanna McIntosh (Obsidian’s Ruined) as Helen Burstyn, Waterfront Toronto’s board chair, that elevate the frenetic moment that is at the core. Domville and Nicodemo are particularly blazingly good, holding their own most powerfully against that “drunk baby with a pistol“; i.e. the corporate clowns of Sidewalk Labs.  They fight and smash their literal faces into cake in the hope of staying true to their, possibly too grandiose idea of formulating and building something unheard of, brilliant, clever, and new, much like, pretty much, everything about this production of The Master Plan, which is high praise, indeed.

With director Abraham’s smashingly good cast unleashing their excellence all over those finely crafted and hilarious lines, the show revels in its comedy underpinning, rolling out sharply defined quips, like John Tory’s bad French, that, to be honest, flew over my head in their referential tone. Sometimes the formulation is a bit too busy, loading and unloading wooden models over and over again, for seemingly no solid referential purpose, but the quips and the jabs made me laugh even if I wasn’t tuned in to the factual landscape they were built upon. The play engulfs, creates, enlivens, and excites, mainly because of the clever delivery of the equally clever play. But at its core, it’s the tightness of its structural formulations that sold me on The Master Planat Crow’s Theatre, Toronto.

Mike Shara and Ben Carlson in Crow’s Theatre’s The Master Plan. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The Master Plan runs at Crow’s Theatre until October 8. For information and tickets, click here.

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Out of Town

Opening Night Beautiful: The Carole King Musical



The John W. Engeman Theater’s production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical opened and T2C Genevieve Rafter Keddy was there to capture the moment.

Stephanie Lynne Mason

Stephanie Lynne Mason

Stephanie Lynne Mason

The Cast of Beautiful

The Cast of Beautiful

Laura Leigh Carroll and Devon Goffman

Noah Berry

Noah Berry, Stephanie Lynne Mason and Sarah Ellis

Stephanie Lynne Mason and Sarah Ellis

From the chart-topping hits she wrote for the biggest acts in music to her own life-changing success with Tapestry, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical takes you back to where it all began–and takes you on the ride of a lifetime. Featuring such unforgettable classics as “You’ve Got a Friend”, “One Fine Day”, “So Far Away”, and many more. This Tony and Grammy Award-winning show is filled with the songs you  remember and a story you’ll never forget.

Stephanie Lynne Mason

The cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical features Stephanie Lynne Mason as  Carole King (Broadway: Fiddler on the Roof; Off-Broadway: Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish; National  Tours: Million Dollar Quartet; Regional: George Street Playhouse, Wallis Center, Virginia Musical Theater)

Noah Berry

Noah Berry as Barry Mann (National Tour: Spamalot, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story; Regional:  Highlands Playhouse, Laguna Playhouse, Maples Repertory Theatre, Cincinnati Memorial Hall)

Jack Cahill-Lemme

Jack Cahill-Lemme, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Sarah Ellis and Noah Berry

Jack Cahill-Lemmeas Gerry Goffin (Broadway: Moulin Rouge! The Musical; National Tour: Moulin  Rouge! The Musical; Regional: North Shore Music Theatre, The Marriott Theatre, Timberlake Playhouse;  The Rev; Film/ TV: “FLOATS”)

Sarah Ellis ad Brad Putz

Sarah Ellis as Cynthia Weil (Engeman: Million Dollar Quartet;  National Tour: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder; Regional: The Gateway Playhouse, Stages St.  Louis, Gena Theatre, Ogunquit Playhouse)

Devon Goffman as Don Kirshner (National Tour:  Jersey Boys, On Your Feet, Motown, Titanic, Grease, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story; Regional: Virginia  Repertory Theatre, Dodger Theatricals, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre; Film/TV: “Law & Order Organized  Crime”).

Cory Simmons, Dwayne Washington, Damien DeShaun Smith and Leron Wellington

Justin Waite, Cory Simmons, Dwayne Washington, Damien DeShaun Smith and Leron Wellington

Damien DeShaun Smith

Dwayne Washington

Cory Simmons

Leron Wellington

Zuri Washington

Zuri Washington, Renee Marie Titus, Cece Morin, Cecily Dionne Davis and Alaysia Renay Duncan

Renee Marie Titus

Laura Leigh Carroll

Cece Morin

Alaysia Renay Duncan

Sean Widener and Renee Marie Titus

Cecily Dionne Davis

Jillian Worthing

Justin Waite

Justin Waite and Leron Wellington

Justin Waite, Cece Morin and Leron Wellington

Cece Morin and Leron Wellington

Devon Goffman

Devon Goffman and Jack Cahill-Lemme

Joe Caskey

Jack B. Murphy

Sean Widener

Kate Coffey

Katie Goffman and Devon Goffman

Julia Bogdanoff

Justin Waite and Jeff Cox

Devon Goffman and Paul Stancato

Paul Stancato and Zuri Washington

Leron Wellington and Paul Stancato

Leron Wellington and Zuri Washington

The Band that includes Jeff Cox (Musical Director), Nathan Dame, Lucas Colon, Joel Levy, Bob Dalpiaz, Matthew Herman, Russell Brown, Teddy Motz and Jim Waddell

Sarah Ellis, Noah Berry, Paul Stancato, Jack Cahill-Lemme and Stephanie Lynne Mason

Zuri Washington, Renee Marie Titus, Cece Morin, Paul Stancato, Cecily Dionne Davis and Alaysia Renee Duncan

Dwayne Washington, Renee Marie Titus, Justin Waite, Zuri Washington, Cece Morin, Damien DeShaun Smith, Leron Wellington, Alaysia Renay Duncan, Cory Simmons and Cecily Dionne Davis

Paul Stancato joins Dwayne Washington, Renee Marie Titus, Justin Waite, Zuri Washington, Cece Morin, Damien DeShaun Smith, Leron Wellington, Alaysia Renay Duncan, Cory Simmons and Cecily Dionne Davis

Justin Waite, Kate Coffey, Alaysia Renay Duncan and Sean Widener

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is directed and choreographed by Paul Stancato (Engeman Theater: The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Bronx Tale, Aida, In the Heights, Grease, Jekyll & Hyde,  Sound of Music, Hairspray; National Tours: The Wedding Singer, Disney’s The Lion King, Flashdance The  Musical, Jekyll and Hyde; Off-Broadway: Friends! The Musical Parody, ROCKSHOW, Happy 50-ish;  Regional: Drury Lane Chicago, The Public Theater Joe’s Pub, Timber Lake Playhouse, Grand Ole Opry,  Palm Beach Dramaworks & The Mint Theater).

The Cast and Creative of Beautiful The Carole King Musical


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