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Stratford’s Streams The Magical Martha Henry in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

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Martha Henry as Prospero and Michael Blake as Caliban. Photography by David Hou.

I honestly don’t know if I have ever seen Martha Henry on stage before. She is probably one of the most respected actors on the Canadain stage, and continues to contribute to the vibrant scene in Toronto and throughout Canada. She joined the Stratford Festival company  in 1962, playing Miranda to William Hutt’s Prospero in The Tempest. She became a well-loved member, appearing in over 65 productions at the Festival, 30 of them by William Shakespeare. She won acclaim for several roles including Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1969), Isabella in Measure for Measure (1976), Olga in Three Sisters (1976), and Paulina in The Winter’s Tale (1978). In 2018 during her 44th season, at the ripe old age of 80, Ms. Henry found herself once again on that main stage, but this time playing The Tempest‘s lead male character, Prospero. And if I had my way, I would have gladly been there for opening night. From what I hear (and I know someone who worked with her when she played Mary Tyrone in the film version of her acclaimed and widely respected 1994-95 production of Long Day’s Journey into Night), she is one of the best in Canada, and one of the most loved.  I almost got to see her a few months ago when she was starring in the wonderful smart Marjorie Prime, but the timing didn’t quite work out, sadly. So I feel somewhat blessed when I saw that her Prospero was included in the Stratford Festival 0n Film. And it finally arrived for viewing as one of the second category of themes, “Isolation“, pertinent at this time of pandemic to hopefully spark further thought or conversation amongst viewers: the first was “Social Order”, and the last two are “Minds Pushed to the Edge”, and “Relationships”.

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Members of the company. Photography by David Hou.

As directed with the clearest of vision by Antoni Cimolino (Stratford’s King Lear), Henry claims her throne on that same stage in the same play that she made her debut at Stratford. And even a bomb threat that delayed its opening night for more than a week couldn’t stop this powerfully astute performance from entering into our stratosphere. She occupies the Stratford space with a regale air, bringing life and gravity to the part without overshadowing the text or the fantasy. Henry’s performance commands attention simply and seemingly without effort, as she sits up high surveying her orchestrations like the Duchess of all things wonderful. She delivers her lines and maneuvers her delicate plot points with agile delicacy and intent, controlling the fair outcomes as if the power of the heavens was stationed in her staff.

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Martha Henry as Prospero. Photography by David Hou.

Prospero, as written by Shakespeare, is the ultimate puppet-master sitting strong in the center of the joyful and jovial The Tempest. As the sorcerous architect of all the winds and the spirits within, the once-Duchess of Milan, exiled with her young daughter to this island, has a plan dipped in metaphoric poetry to deliver revenge. Many years ago, her brother, Antonio, played well by Graham Abbey, set in motion a treacherous conspiracy that took all power and title away from Prospero and set her adrift in the sea. She sees  vengeance on the horizon when a ship carrying Antonio and the other conspirators, including the King of Naples, sails near Prospero’s sanctuary island. The grand sorceress calls down a great storm through her self-taught magic, seeking to punish her enemies, but thoughtfully ensures that there are no injures on board. She has wilder plans for them all. She firstly, commands the spirits of the island to assist her in separating her brother’s son from his father, while also delivering her sorted enemies to her through a series of calamities and dangers. Prospero will get her revenge and we marvel at the solid sight of this figure standing tall over the storm and her island.

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Mamie Zwettler as Miranda and Sébastien Heins as Ferdinand. Photography by David Hou.

Henry finds warmth and care securely inside her magnificently powerful performance, commanding all to sit up and take notice. She charms and breathes wisdom from the first moment, commanding the stage as clearly as Prospero commands the magnificent storm, beautifully orchestrated by the artistic team lead by designer Bretta Gerecke. The wild tempest delivers those enemies ashore, but it is in her scenes with her daughter Miranda, played by the sweet Mamie Zwettler, where Henry finds the maternal edge that brings her Prospero into the fine formulation of love and affection. Maybe because of Henry’s familiarity with the role of Miranda or just the altering of the gendered perspective, but here, unlike most other productions, Prospero talks to Miranda with genuine tender love and compassion, and not a pawn to be manipulated for the grand scheme. We hear their story and discover Prospero’s wide emotional strength lodged within that first interaction., and with a subtle fondness and humanity, she also shows her duality. There is a courageous power in regards to the fascinating lizard-like creature, Caliban, played adroitly by the intense Michael Blake, and a stern but caring affection is on display for the magical sprite Ariel, majestically portrayed by André Morin.

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André Morin as Ariel. Photography by David Hou.

The captivating creation of the character, Ariel follows her command at every turn, and wisely trades his service for personal freedom at the end of the folly. Morin finds music in his movement, enlivening the marvelous sprite into a wondrous fairy force to be reckoned with. He musically teases and draws the players into their positions for the game, like pieces on a chessboard, and delivers Propero the winning stance to strike down that self-imposed Duke/King. It’s clear Ariel’s character has conflicting emotions within the vengeful scheme as he is both desperate for freedom and feels unflinching loyalty to Prospero, but he also has earthy compassion and sympathy for the shipwrecked men, and will do what the can to protect them from one another.

It’s in the moments of tenderness that turn this Tempest into something genuinely grand and dynamic. As Prospero finds success in her orchestrations, Henry’s performance conveys a gradually building remorsefulness for the plot against her enemies. “But this rough magic I here abjure.” The lines are weighted with the realization of something bigger, better, and of higher value, and in that subtle shift of perspective, we find the magic of Martha’s Prospero and of Stratford‘s production.

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From left: Stephen Ouimette as Trinculo, Tom McCamus as Stephano, and Michael Blake as Caliban. Photography by David Hou.

The rest of the players in this remarkably charming Tempest find equal magic in their meanderings across the island stage. Zwettler radiates sweetness and innocence in her performance as Miranda, although her delivery doesn’t match the perfection of her counterparts. Sebastien Heins is adorably charming and handsome as the young lovestruck Ferdinand, the son of Prospero’s brother. Prospero’s plan of the two falling in love is almost too easy for Propero to achieve, putting shirtless tasks and mundane complications in their way, almost strickly for our, and her, pleasure. Stephen Ouimette, one of my personal favorites (particularly for his “Slings and Arrows” performance) and the wonderful Tom McCamus (both are also a formidable pair in Stratford’s Coriolanus) find drunken gold in their roles as Trinculo and Stephano, especially once they take up with the scheming monstrous Caliban to murder Prospero while she sleeps, and rule the island. They find every possible laugh in their ridiculous characterizations as only these two glorious actors could unearth and provide.

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Michael Blake as Caliban. Photography by David Hou.

The unrepentant Antonio, alongside the devilish King Alonso, portrayed by David Collins, the devious Sebastian, played by Andre Sills, and the other well-crafted nobles fulfill their wandering player parts, fighting and sleeping their way blindly through the tricks and figments placed before them by Ariel at Prospero’s request. The Tempest is often thought of as one of Shakespeare’s most fantastical of creations, and through the magic of Stratford Festival‘s fine design team, the spectacles are a pure visual delight. Gerecke deserves praise at every turn for the twisting roots of the background, elevated by lighting designer Michael Walton’s own spot-on sorcery, but it is the design of the glowing red-eyed beast that flaps its massive black wings terrifying the once-proud nobles that is most deserving of applause.  The shrieks, thanks to the fine work of sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne, seal the deal, hypnotizing us all with this dreadfully magnificent and ferocious beast. 

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Members of the company. Photography by David Hou.

One of the scenarios I most love about The Tempest, while simultaneously being a bit ridiculous, is the other beautiful gift from the design department. During the union between Miranda and King Alonso’s son, Ferdinand, Prospero summons up three gorgeously adorned spirits by the names, Juno (Lucy Peacock), Ceres (Alexis Gordon), and Iris (Chick Reid), to sing the masque’s contract of love. Overflowing with color and light, the ceremony dazzles the senses, with Juno riding in on a peacock-feathered throne while the two other goddesses float out with sweeping long trains of delight. The visual is organic and awe-inspiring. making one want to stand and give applause for all those who worked so diligently in the costume department of Stratford. They certainly know how to deliver the sumptuousness required. And on a lovely little side note, it is said that Prospero’s robe has incorporated pieces of fabric from all the robes of every actor who has played Prospero at Stratford before the magnificent Martha Henry, as well as a sliver of the dress she wore so long ago when she portrayed Miranda. It’s a fitting tribute to a gorgeous production ruled over by the delicious Queen of Stratford swirling with pride within Shakespeare’s The Tempest. May she rule for many years to come.

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Members of the company in The Tempest at Stratford Festival. Photography by David Hou.

For those who are able in these trying times, please consider donating to this or any arts organizations near you, as they strive to continue to provide artistic beauty and intellectual stimulation in a world shaken by this pandemic. My hope is that this streaming event will remind people just how vital the arts are to our communities, our sense of self, and (for many of us) our sanity.

So stay tuned in to Stratford Festival‘s line-up. It is most worthy of our time and interest.

The next filmed production in Stratford Festival on Film series is Timon of Athens, one of Shakespeare’s that I am not overly familiar with, so I’m doubly excited.

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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.

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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.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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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.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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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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