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The Show Must Go On – Even in the Dark!

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For those of us who live by the mantra “the show must go on,” this pandemic is gnawing at every fiber of our body and souls. Our raison d’être has been shut down and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel yet. So, while we must adhere to “on hold” mode for the time being, I will at least take comfort in sharing some of the more memorable instances of our actors exemplifying that time-honored mantra. There are many such moments that have occurred over the years, so perhaps “The Show Must Go On” will become a bit of a sub-series in my diary entries. Today, I’ll put a spotlight on two short tales that recount what happened when the lights went out.

This was written by New Jersey Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s Artistic Director, Bonnie J. Monte.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dates and times for all performances in the 2020 Season will be released over the coming weeks as we solidify calendar adjustments for your safety. Tickets, Subscriptions and Memberships for the 2020 Season are still on sale, and we encourage you to continue to visit our website for calendar updates and information on performance schedules.

Click here to read The Shakespeare Theatre’s recent press release on the upcoming 2020 season!

Enchanted April

Adapted by Matthew Barber
Based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim
Directed by Bonnie J. Monte

The Metromaniacs

By David Ives
Adapted from Alexis Piron’s La Métromanie
Directed by Brian B. Crowe

Waiting for Godot

By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Bonnie J. Monte

The Dresser

By Ronald Harwood
Directed by Paul Mullins

Macbeth

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Bonnie J. Monte

A MidWINTER Night’s Dream

An adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Bonnie J. Monte and Joseph Discher
Directed by Bonnie J. Monte

Out of Town

Tarragon’s El Terremoto Rises and Faulters Inside its Cracks

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The Latin music and the birds chirping draw us into the scene, that is, before the tremor sounds blow their nose all around us. We feel the vibrations throughout our bodies as we sit up and take notice of Tarragon Theatre‘s compelling but ultimately disconnecting El Terremoto, written with an earnest determination to engage by playwright Christine Quintana (Someone Like You; As Above). “Why do you get so tense?“, one caring neighbor asks the oldest of three sisters, Luz, portrayed by Mariló Núñez (Aluna’s La Communion), as she busies herself preparing for a sweet birthday party that no one really seems to want to be at, beyond a few outsiders. And it’s no wonder, with the energy that exists at the core of this half-interesting, half-disjointed play that is trying to tell us a lot of things, without having a stable foundation to stand on.

Rosalba Martinni, Monica Garrido Huerta & Juan Carlos Velis in El Terremoto – Tarragon Theatre 2024 – Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Directed with an unfocused vision of constant movement by Guillermo Verdecchia  (Tarragon’s The Jungle), the fault lines appear way before the foundations of this familial home are shaken to its ghostly roots. A grandmother, Abuela, played with heart and nuance by Rosalba Martinni (Nightwood/Aluna’s The Solitudes) stands before us, paying dear homage to the lost parents of these three Jurado sisters who will come together like a different kind of terremoto. The set-up sizzles with possibility, but somewhere along the road to reconciliation, which is clearly the desired outcome in this messy play, too many inauthentic cracks and travels take place for one to fully engage with these three. Based on the way these sisters argue and attack one another, the faultlines that become visible from the onset make me care more for those poor souls who hang around hoping for some breadcrumbs of love and affection. A connection that is in short honest supply in this family’s East Vancouver home.

 Margarita Valderrama, Caolán Kelly, Miranda Calderon, Michael Scholar Jr., Rosalba Martinni & Mariló Núñez in El Terremoto – Tarragon Theatre 2024 – Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

It’s been twenty years since the parents of these three died suddenly in an automobile accident, but rather than bringing them together, the crash has only made them more fractured and distant. Núñez’s Luz tries with all her anxious might to hold and keep the family unit working, even as she forgets to care for her own self along the way. She needles and micromanages those who have come together, pushing them away and reaching out for them like a desperate yoyo. The middle sister, Rosa, portrayed conflictually by Miranda Calderon (Stratford’s Birds of a Kind), is clearly the mess of the family, lashing out relentlessly at almost everyone who looks her way, including the man who got away (maybe luckily), Henry, dutifully portrayed by an engaging Michael Scholar Jr. (Alameda’s The Refugee Hotel). Like a lot of this play, the relationships are clear from the very beginning, leaving little to fully understand except maybe why one would travel across town, and kayak across dangerous waters to see, only to be told to go home with a wave of a messed up wrist. And leave without question. That exit didn’t make any emotional sense, like a lot of the comings and goings in their home.

Shooting back shots that taste like lost youth, the birthday party of the late arriving youngest sibling, Lina, played with an air of disconnected desperation by Margarita Valderrama (Roseneath’s Meet Cute), along with her well-meaning and lovestruck partner, Tash, engagingly well played by Caolán Kelly (Stratford’s Hamlet-911), pull us into the dynamics of the family, and because of Tash’s openness to the engagement, we can’t help but notice that the structural ideals of the play make us want to lean in and hold on for support through their trauma. Yet somewhere along the road, past a failed and ignored proposal to Luz by the family’s neighbor, Omar, played compassionately by Sam Khalilieh (Studio180’s Stuff Happens), this dramatic comedy tries with an almost too diligent force to throw us off balance. It shows us its complicated value while never feeling completely true, all before the interval earthquake envelopes us. It’s a tremor of epic proportions, felt by all, that nearly destroys the city of Vancouver, taking down bridges and buildings in an almost unimaginable way, and leaving us wondering how this will throw them off their destructive combative course.

Caolán Kelly & Margarita Valderrama in El Terremoto – Tarragon Theatre 2024 – Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

On a well-crafted set, designed by Shannon Lea Doyle (Soulpepper’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train), with distinct costuming by Fernando Maya Meneses (NAC’sNigamon/Tunai), strong lighting by Michelle Ramsay (Theatre Rusticle’s The Tempest), a sometimes clever projection design by Samay Arcentales Cajas (Native Earth’s Where the Blood Mixes), and an environmentally powerful sound design by Alejandra Nuñez (Two Birds/Common Boots’s Apocalypse Play), El Terremotomoves with frantic supernatural (and unnatural) movement forward, delivering the message that nothing really matters, “so everything matters.” So when the doors fly forward and the aftershock releases the parental visuals by Monica Garrido Huerta (lemonTree Creations’s Private Eyes) and Juan Carlos Velis (Alameda’s The Refugee Hotel), we work hard at staying connected to this dysfunctional family. Because we want to see understanding and reconciliation, even with all the acts of inconsistency.

Their urgency in their manic movements, decision-making, and sparring never feel organic or honest, even as the actors work hard to find honest connections with one another. But only in the outsiders do we find the much-needed thread of connectivity. Kelly’s Tash, a beautiful creation that could have easily been a stock figure, finds the formula of play that unpacks the complications of feeling love with a wide-eyed honest observance. They register, that even with the strong feelings attached, this family is too much. The work to find stable connection that feels honest is elusive and probably not possible. I wanted them to find unity and some sort of authentic understanding, but the aftershock of the play El Terremoto at Tarragon Theatre was of sad disbelief.

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Events

Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame to Celebrate 20th Anniversary Honoring Billy Joel

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G.H. Harding

The Long Island Music and entertainment Hall of Fame (LIMEHOF) will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a concert gala in honor of Billy Joel at Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post (720 Northern Blvd., Brookville, NY) on June 7th, 2024, at 7:30 p.m.

“We are thrilled to celebrate the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame’s acclaimed 20-year history with an extraordinary benefit concert honoring Billy Joel,” said Ernie Canadeo, LIMEHOF Chairman. “This spectacular evening will showcase Long Island’s creative talent and impact on the world, with historic performances by many of our 120+ inductees, exciting induction ceremonies, and highlights of our organization’s educational mission to preserve Long Island’s unparalleled music and entertainment heritage for future generations. It is the perfect complement to the much acclaimed “Billy Joel-My Life” exhibit, currently on display at the Hall of Fame in Stony Brook.”

This epic concert will feature an impressive lineup of musicians who are scheduled to perform, including Alexa Ray Joel, Debbie Gibson, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, DJ Johnny Juice (from Public Enemy), Felix Cavaliere (from The Rascals), Jimmy Webb, Mike DelGuidice, Philip Edward Fisher, Albert Bouchard and Joe Bouchard (former members of Blue Oyster) joined by current band members Jules Radino and Danny Miranda, and the full band Zebra (including Randy Jackson, Guy Gelso and Felix Hanemann).

“It’s an absolute privilege and certainly fitting that LIMEHOF’s 20th Anniversary Concert Honoring Billy Joel take place here at Tilles Center,” said Tom Dunn, Executive and Artistic Director, Tilles Center. “Billy is a longtime friend and supporter of Tilles’ impactful mission, and we are thrilled to celebrate his unparalleled and legendary career with this star-studded group of music luminaries.”

Legendary Music Agent Dennie Arfa, Chairman of Independent Artist Group, will be inducted in the “Music Industry” category. Additionally, Tilles Center for the Performing Arts will be inducted in the “Venue” category.

Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post is honored to be inducted into the Long Island Music Entertainment Hall of Fame,” Dunn said. “For over 40 years – from Bruce Springsteen’s iconic recording of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” to Tony Bennett, from Jerry Seinfeld to James Taylor, Tilles Center has been home to a who’s who of performing artists creating and delivering unforgettable and lasting memories. In the last year alone, we’ve been honored to bring Samara Joy, Brandi Carlile, Trevor Noah, John Legend, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Dancing with The Stars Live to our great and diverse Long Island community.

The show will be hosted by Hosted by LIMEHOF inductee Bob Buchmann (WAXQ, WBAB). Catholic Health is the presenting sponsor for this event. Advanced pre-sale tickets will be available starting March 25th on the LIMEHOF ticket page (https://www.limusichalloffame.org/tickets-and-gift-cards/) and Tilles Center ticket page (https://www.tillescenter.org/events)  .

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Canadian Stage Scores Powerfully with Matthew López’s Epic Play, The Inheritance

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Arriving at the Canadian premiere of The Inheritance, I could barely contain my excitement (just ask the press person whom I’ve been hounding for months for opening night tickets). Produced by Canadian Stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto and opening on World Theatre Day, The Inheritance holds one of the greatest places in my theatrical heart, enveloping my soul with its clever and emotional writing and captivating spiritual connection to the ideas of life-long friendship, love, and loss. Hanging out in a focused bubble on the wide sparse stage, around a long table with an assortment of chairs, matching the assortment of men, they sit, processing and tuning themselves into the written task before them and before us as we take our seats.

L-R: Aldrin Bundoc, Breton Lalama, Hollywood Jade, Ben Page, Antoine Yared, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Qasim Khan, Landon Nesbitt, Gregory Prest, and Salvatore Antonio in Canadian Stage’s production of Matthew López’s The Inheritance. Photo by Dahlia Katz

The play, after premiering at London’s Young Vic in 2018, where it was called “the most important American play of the century,” transferred to the West End later that year, and then opened on Broadway in 2019. The Inheritance quickly became one of the most honored American plays of this generation, sweeping the “Best Play” awards in both London and New York including the Tony Award, Olivier Award, Drama Desk Award, Evening Standard Award, London Critics Circle Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama League Award, WhatsOnStage Award, and the Southbank Sky Arts Award. It is often compared to Angels in America in both a positive and negative light, and rightly so, as it clearly is a homage-creation based on the same epic proportions of its predecessor. It pushes itself solidly before us, somewhere to the right of Kushner’s far more ethereal exploration of AIDS in America back in the day. Engaging with a slightly more aggressive and political stance, playwright Matthew Lopez (The Legend of Georgia McBride, Some Like It Hot; “Red, White, and Royal Blue) dares us to look deep into its imperfect but devastatingly emotional six acts and seven hours.  Angels is considered by many as the “most beautiful and far-reaching introduction to a place and time representing the History of Gay America in the 1980s “, and to even attempt to align himself and his play with that signpost is a brave act of determination. But even in that weighted comparison, The Inheritance is most decidedly a masterpiece, almost measuring up to Kushner’s triumph as it dives head-first into 21st-century queer politics and the economic discrepancies that plague modern culture and society through the eyes of a pack of well-intentioned gay men in New York City.

I just had to watch, read, and rewatch the magnificent Howard’s End, the classic novel by E. M. Forster, before seeing The Inheritance once again (3rd time’s the charm, I might add), after falling in love with the 1992 movie many years ago. That beautifully orchestrated film, produced by Merchant Ivory stars the amazing Emma Thompson as Margaret Schlegel, Helena Bonham Carter as sister Helen, Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox, Anthony Hopkins as her wealthy husband, Henry, and Samuel West as the pitiful but lovely Leonard Bast. It has been described as a touching deconstruction and examination of the three social classes of Edwardian England at the beginning of the 20th Century. The Wilcoxes are considered the Victorian capitalists, with the Schlegel sisters as the enlightened bourgeois brimming over with humanistic and philanthropic tendencies, and the young Bast standing in for the struggling working-class intellect fighting hard to survive in London as a mere clerk.

The dual plot of the novel and film delicately revolves around a deathbed wish by Ruth, the sickly and ignored wife of Henry Wilcox, a man of significant wealth, who bequeaths her beloved country house, Howards End, to her dear friend, Margaret, and not one of her children or husband. The Wilcox family deems this request as financially non-binding and decides to not give the house away, nor tell Margaret, even with the knowledge that she has become, over the last little while, a new and very dear kindred spirit to Henry.

Meanwhile, Margaret’s sister Helen has taken a strong interest, mostly philanthropic, in Leonard Bast, a poor married working-class clerk, who slowly descends the ladder of success, mainly because of Henry Wilcox’s un-asked for advice at Helen’s insistence and interference. As Margaret gravitates towards Henry Wilcox after Ruth’s death, eventually becoming engaged to the man, Helen becomes more and more aligned with Leonard. The parallels to The Inheritance are striking and extremely well formulated, thanks to the diligence of playwright Lopez, with clever shifts and alterations that make complete sense, but with a connective depth that really pulls us all in from this very modern and gay-male perspective.

It’s no wonder that the ambitious Lopez was struck by the political and social layers of Howards End, seeing within a construct that could fit somewhere inside the psyche of this new generation of gay men, especially taking into account Edward Morgan Forster’s own personal battle with visibility, authenticity, and hiw own hidden closeted sexuality. Paying a certain homage to the fore-bearers of gay culture, The Inheritance tackles, with aplomb, a tremendous amount of complicated territory, diving headfirst into the political landscape of the last ten years or so in modern America. It owes itself more to the closeted E. M. Foster than Kushner though, delivering a monumental piece about the turbulent lives of a group of young, ambitious gay New Yorkers floundering and excelling, just like the Schlegels. This go-round, Forster’s engaging sisters are now Lopez’s complicated lovers, sometime after the peak of the AIDs crisis in New York City, living the life of the somewhat privileged, even if they don’t realize it.

They are unconsciously strutting proudly through the newly informed gay frontier of sexual liberation and love relationships, with marriage equality readily at hand, and the upcoming and disturbing loss of fellow travelers to addiction with abandonment standing just outside their door. Spanning generations of attachments and the entanglement of lives and loves, The Inheritance bridges the themes of E. M. Forster’s novel and attaches itself to the past and present New York City, while trying with all its might to understand the legacy that threads the two together and what the two worlds owe one another in the realm of care and thoughtfulness.

Qasim Khan with Stephen Jackman-Torkoff behind in Canadian Stage’s production of Matthew López’s The Inheritance. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

One by one the men at the core of this drama find their place in this fantastic unraveling. The space easily serves up this deliciously prepared feast. We aren’t exactly sure who the main storyteller is in those first few moments, but all these men seem to be in need of some guidance to write the stories of their lives. “Let’s have a look“, and so they turn, most delicately and decisively to the wise and structured E. Morgan Forster, played with sweet composition by the glorious Daniel MacIvor (Tarragon’s White Biting Dog). With his steady and kind repressed hand most beautifully crafted and delivered, the hounds of a rethought Howards End are released into the space. Directed with impeccable care, the oral history of flawed engagement goes strongly forward, diving in full force while following the antiquated Queensbury rules as it attempts to know thyself, the mythical story of the healing bark, the implanted pig’s teeth, and the tangled web of The Inheritance.

It all starts with a voicemail, a few of them actually, to introduce us to the gentle and kind Eric Glass, played to perfection by the wonderful Qasim Khan (Stratford’s The Miser) and his boyfriend, the pleasure-seeking Toby Darling, a writer of narcissistic impression, played fully by the captivating Antoine Yared (Groundling’s King Lear). “Eric Glass did not believe he was special“, we are told,  and while that personal affliction never enters the mind of Toby,  Yared’s sensual young writer saunters with an entitled, falsely-created pride, although his past doesn’t support his construct. Toby has written an acclaimed and self-described autobiographic novel, based on that same insincere construct, and then quickly started to adapt it for the stage. He believes in his power far more than the gentle Eric does in his own, and even as they are presented initially as the love-struck couple, we see the cracks and the mismatched puzzle pieces fighting to fit together far before the foreseeable destruction that comes in the form of a duality thrust upon them, reminiscent of Forster’s Leonard Bast. But not exactly.

L-R: Daniel MacIvor, Hollywood Jade, Landon Nesbitt, Aldrin Bundoc, Qasim Khan, Salvatore Antonio, Breton Lalama, Gregory Prest, and Ben Page in Canadian Stage’s production of Matthew López’s The Inheritance. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The contrast expands, especially in that deliciously sexual interaction between these two with the observant MacIvor’s Morgan on the side. The wry wonderfully inventive moment encapsulates all that this play is attempting to lay out; the levels of advancement and the traps we all can fall into. With Lopez replacing umbrellas with Strand Bookshop bags, the introduction of Adam McDowall, portrayed with breathtaking awkwardness by Stephen Jackman-Torkoff (Stratford’s Richard II), one of the threads that will lead to destruction and enlightenment, is off and running with a clarity and authentic-ness that is appealing and forever heart-breaking. Jackman-Torkoff does an excellent job playing the leading man-to-be, a stand-in of half sorts of Forster’s Bast, although dramatically and financially not one and the same. He is basically a hat-trick sleight-of-hand that will become apparent later on. His initial introduction to the cast of found-family:  the proud activist Jasper, dynamically portrayed by the solid Salvatore Antonio (CS’s Domesticated); the best friend Tristan, played somewhat flat by the show’s choreographer Hollywood Jade (Drayton’s Beautiful); the appealing husbands, Jason #1 and Jason #2, joyfully and wittily portrayed by Aldrin Bundoc (Buddies’ Body Politic) and Breton Lalama (Soulpepper’s King Lear/Queen Goneril); and the other young passionate men: Landon Nesbitt (Odyssey’s The Miser), who also beautifully portrays the young Walter; Ben Page (Bad Hats/Soulpepper’s Alice in Wonderland) who also plays the young Henry; and Gregory Prest (Soulpepper’s Of Human Bondage) who also aggressively portrays Charles Wilcox and Toby’s frustrated agent;  leaves us all, including Eric and Toby, wanting more and more of the complex Adam creation. He’s a lucky orphan adopted into wealth and privilege, in a way that only Toby could dream of, but also as manipulative and seductive as the blind and willing writer can be. The impressiveness of Jackman-Torkoff also presents itself later on, ratcheting up the drama most determinedly by playing the other slide of Forster’s Leonard Bast, the downtrodden and emotionally abused and discarded Leo with a powerfully emotional delicacy that makes it harder and harder to see them personified by only one person. It’s a forceful creation, this bipolar splitting of Bast, and one that flowers wildly and beautifully the deeper we go into the unfolding history of The Inheritance.

Jim Mezon and Qasim Khan in Canadian Stage’s production of Matthew López’s The Inheritance. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Another thread that most beautifully transcribes Howards End into this modern and complicated century is the moment we are given the phenomenal MacIvor as the Ruth stand-in, Walter, the ignored husband of Henry Wilcox. “I’m the man who fell in love with Henry,” he says, as he ushers forth a pitch-perfect portrayal of love emerging and being discarded by the powerful and wealthy Henry, played most elegantly and intelligently by Jim Mezon (CS’s The Other Place). Backtracking effectively alongside, we are given a glimpse into the formulation of the love between the Young Walter and Henry, deepening the unfathomable attachment most majestically, compassionately, and intelligently. Their love and bond are given spiritual meaning in that paralleling, and because of that, it also becomes one of the core heartbreaks. Mezon’s Henry doesn’t actually enter into the gathering until much later, but Eric Glass and Walter’s friendship, a beautiful recreation of Redgrave/Thompson’s Ruth and Margaret, finds beautiful form and depth with a tense ease. His dinner party unpacking of what it was like to live through the AIDS pandemic at its height is devastatingly brilliant in its unwrapping, giving the play its strongest moment of emotional heartache and pain. It will truly take your breath away.

In one of the other, most delicious re-imaginings of the dinner scene, lifted straight from the Merchant/Ivory film when Redgrave struggles to understand Margaret and her friend’s feisty involvement in the Suffrage movement, the internal bond between Eric and Walter seems to materialize organically within the political activism of Eric’s friends. Lopez does this alignment a solid slice of justice with a gay oral history told passionately by a greek chorus of gay male friends at Eric’s 35th birthday party brunch. This Camp discourse is full on and deliberate, hitting hard and wide, even when not exactly feeling completely authentic or organic. Lopez can get preachy and informative at times, in a way that feels unnecessary for half the crowd, but possibly very important for the others, like the young artistic Tucker, lovingly portrayed by Nesbitt who stands in for all the young gay men who have no clue. It is left up to Walter and ultimately Henry later on, to make these young men understand the agonies that his generation faced when AIDS devastated a whole swath of their generation, a result that I personally know and carry as deeply and strongly as many others my age. “THERE ARE NO GAY MEN MY AGE. Not nearly enough,” states Henry, and rightly so. It’s a thought that puts a huge lump in my throat every time that truism passes through my brain. Even as I write that line. It squeezes my heart, which lives somewhere between grief/loss and the deep complication of survivor guilt.

Finishing out Part I of The Inheritance, Lopez vividly propels us into the dynamic theatrical destruction of their caring narrator; a device that served the first three acts so well and is somewhat missed in Part II (although it makes complete sense). The emotional tear in our collective hearts that flow testify to the delicacy of the writing and the poignancy of the truth that Lopez is trying to enlist.  It sometimes feels manipulative yet profound, but the depth of disappointment in Henry and his two sons (Antonio, Prest) is magnificently inflamed by their decision to ignore Walter’s deathbed request, and the imbalances of empathy and emotional thought are blatantly exposed. He throws forward the further collapse of our faith in humanity with the Hilary question, “Are you sure she’s going to win?” That scene, election night 2016, and other interactions pile on the parallels between the superficial decadence of the modern gay man’s lifestyle of prosperity and the rigid class system of Edwardian England, stomping forth the complicated inequalities that define our own need for external validation and instant gratification. The social system, although less cleanly defined, still does just that, with Henry Wilcox as the billionaire gay Republican at one end, and the homeless rent boy, Leo addicted to crystal meth at the other, even as the thin thread of disavowed connection between the two comes to the surface for a grasp of air. There is “a difference in morality“, Jasper (Antonio) defiantly declares, but does wealth and privilege, sprouted forward quite remarkably by Wilcox at his brunch meeting with Eric’s friends, negate the advances of civil rights and the gay movements forward? Does this imbalance demolish the concept of equal opportunity for all, even those without a huge bank balance to buy their influence?  Leo’s poverty rings true, but it’s really inside Toby’s destruction of Morgan that decidedly brings Part One to an emotional close. Somewhere, thanks to the beautiful writing, the cruel and ultimately deadly blow to the narrator, Forster, hits hard.

Antoine Yared and Stephen Jackman-Torkoff in Canadian Stage’s production of Matthew López’s The Inheritance. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

It’s difficult to even discuss the last few moments of Part One. It floats in with the strongest of punches, introducing and delivering the pain of loss and lives ending far too soon and too young. The Canadian Stage production takes on a different stance than the West End and Broadway productions to differing results. On Broadway, we are enveloped in the emotional loss of lives cut short as a sea of young, beautiful men surround the dumb-struck and honored Eric. It transports the grief and sense of loss as the youthful air of promising futures fade before us. But here, in this delicately crafted and utterly thoughtful production, we are shown the infinite vastness of the disease’s destruction and the wide scope of the affected/infected. It’s a strong compassionate positioning, that unpacks a construct different than its predecessors. It may not have overwhelmed me with tears like the Part One finale did when I saw it before, but it did expand something else. An idea that is worth engaging with, and even when prepared for what floats in, the moment still demolished my heart and senses.

The next night, arriving back for the continuation of The Inheritance, Morgan is gone, for the most part, and the meaninglessness of faux art and Fire Island Pines partying is all the rage. Civil rights have advanced, far beyond the closeted Forster’s era, but trouble remains as clear and disconcerting as ever, with friendships fracturing, partnerships dissolving, and the abandonment of one another being the biggest disease of the modern gay man. The familial gathering of community is fractured, going from communal table to dance floor to graveyard, as the pack finds themselves fighting for our Nation’s soul, while leading us to a ghostlike apparition that digs deep into our hearts and breaks all resistance down. Toby makes his re-entrance in style (“Did you miss me?”) dragging the beautiful, tender, and damaged Leo down a beach boardwalk to destruction, crashing a wedding and himself in that order. “Who said anything about falling in love?” is the phrase of the sun-drenched, awkwardly staged dance party. Leo’s stumble and fall is as scary as they come, but it’s in his engagement with the returning Morgan looking down from up above that makes an appointment with emotional heartbreak.

There are no role models for gay men anymore, no one to pass down the inheritance of history or the bitter inheritance of death and destruction. The responsibility of gay men to care for one another; this is what has not been taught, passed on, or learned. It’s only when Eric removes his high-end dress shoes and returns to himself that salvation comes before us all. It is in the care of the house that forever truly belonged to Eric where we become emotionally transfixed, long before any of us are even aware how perfect a fit it all is.

That return also ushers in the engaging Louise Pitre (Broadway’s Mamma Mia!) as Walter’s upstage house caretaker Margaret, a part that was wonderfully portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave when it first opened in London’s West End, completing a circle of engagement that is deliciously sweet. Margaret’s story is thoroughly engaging and utterly brutal, traversing all that is at stake in The Inheritance. It’s a ‘passing-down’ moment, an Inheritance of history, love, pain, and connectivity with the likes of Forster and Kushner, neatly encompassing all the themes of community, engagement, art, dysfunction, and the alignment of love and care. “You’ve seen them too,” she says to Eric, and in that moment of connection, the play acknowledges all and more of the young men whose lives have been unnecessarily cut short. They arrived at this house with their complicated and tragic need for salvation, and found forever peace inside- although I didn’t love the overly symbolic structuring of the house and its open book visual. Still, it’s heartbreakingly haunting, and deftly unwrapped for us as we struggle to retain what it’s like to be hopeful.

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff (center) with L-R: Salvatore Antonio, Landon Nesbitt, Hollywood Jade, Ben Page, Aldrin Bundoc, Breton Lalama, and Gregory Prest in Canadian Stage’s production of Matthew López’s The Inheritance. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The performances, even with the occasional Canadian “sorry”, revel in the brittle difficulty of this modern age, finding truth and togetherness against the force of humanity and this difficult time we find ourselves living within. “How much do I matter?” is where the power and thought-provoking center lives. Surrounded by ghosts of men who were lost before their time, The Inheritance is guaranteed to bring forth tears, even when put off a bit here and there with its overly simplistic dive into crystal meth, sexual addiction, and internal political and personal exploration. Those tales are complicated ones, clinging to our flesh like unwanted bacteria, but it’s also an important invader that must be rectified in order for our community to come together. “Heal or Burn“, states a desperate Toby. It’s a rallyingcry that’s as important as any.

Forster’s Howards End, much like his Maurice, is gorgeous and deep, and as told in the beloved Merchant/Ivory film and reformulated by Lopez into this epic masterpiece, The Inheritance delivers on so many levels of observation and deconstruction on class structure and sociopolitical decrees that it is a wonder that it works as well as it does. Lopez finds his way through these themes expertly and constructs them delicately and compassionately into a different time and place while simultaneously holding true to the questions the story raises. It plays on Forster’s Maurice and the gay civil rights movement with clarity and sweet charm, opening up a dialogue on diversity and privilege while developing ideas of prosperity and poverty that impact our fearlessness and pride.

The Inheritance is an exhausting and exhilarating way to spend a few nights in the theatre, whether it is in London’s West End, on Broadway, or at the Blume Appel Theatre in Toronto. The journey is well intended, containing truths that need to be told and a message to all of us to try to do better. The ending struggled to enter my soul as much as the rest of this long “400-page” play that seems to be co-created by its ancestors and predecessors. They speak of a future that we know nothing about, one that feels too rosy and optimistic, especially with all the dreadful realness of the world that we see around us, where the Orange Monster still terrorizes and “faggot” is still a hostile and purposeful snarl. I hope they are right, though, and the difficulty to see brightness and clarity in our collective future is misguided. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

L-R: Antoine Yared, Qasim Khan, Louise Pitre, and Stephen Jackman-Torkoff in Canadian Stage’s production of Matthew López’s The Inheritance. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
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Front and Center with Magda Katz

Paper Mill Playhouse’s New Musical Gun & Powder Meets The Press

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The Paper Mill Playhouse production of the new musical Gun & Powder. Inspired by the true story of sisters Mary and Martha Clarke, met the press yesterday.

T2C’s Magda Katz was there to capture the event with musical numbers and interviews.

Ciara Renee and Liisi LaFontaine

Liisi LaFontaine (West End’s Dreamgirls) as Martha Clarke, Ciara Renée (Waitress) as Mary Clarke

Aaron James McKenzie and Jeannette Bayardelle

Jeannette Bayardelle (Girl From the North Country) as Tallulah Clarke, Aaron James McKenzie (A Beautiful Noise) as Elijah, and Hunter Parrish (To Kill a Mockingbird) as Jesse Whitewater.

Completing the cast are: Rickens Anantua, Jisel Soleil Ayon, Reed Campbell, Carrie Compere, Meghan Olivia Corbett, Joann Gilliam, Francesca Granell, Mary Claire King, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Rayshun LaMarr, Zonya Love, Tiffany Mann, Aaron James McKenzie, Tony Perry,  Adam Roberts, Hank Santos, Christine Shepard, Katie Thompson, Aurelia Williams, Jason SweetTooth Williams

Angelica Cheri and Ross Baum

Featuring a book and lyrics by Angelica Chéri, who is a descendant of the Clarke sisters, and music by Ross Baum, Gun & Powder follows Mary and Martha Clarke, African American twin sisters who take extraordinary measures to settle their mother’s sharecropper debt and save her home in 1893 Texas.

Tiffany Rae-Fisher and Stevie Walker-Webb

Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, choreographed by Tiffany Rea-Fisher and musical direction is by Austin Cook.

Gun & Powder plays at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milbrook New Jersey April 4-May 5 with an official opening April 14.

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Out of Town

An Interview Dive In With Some Creatives Who Are Bringing Forth Pencil Kit’s White Muscle Daddy at Buddies Toronto

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The provocative title of Pencil Kit Production’s new play opening up at and in conjunction with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, has an energy all to itself, daring us to look in at our own reaction and response. It definitely elicits a response, on many levels, and draws on our curiosity through sexual tension. This gritty new play by Raf Antonio (Rope Running Out, Salvador: A Latin-Canadian Fantasia) is a horror/thriller piece that blends theatre and film–using projection art, live camera feed, and shadow play to create the compelling and enticing White Muscle Daddy. The new play will attempt to explore the pervasive effects of white supremacy on the politics of desire in queer communities, an examination that is very much needed and whose time has finally come. With a QTBIPOC-led team, White Muscle Daddy will strive to weave a chilling yet campy tale of lust, power, and predators, and I can not wait to see it.

Horror can be a really malleable genre and also feels rarely performed in live theatre,” says playwright and co-director Raf Antonio. “We’ve taken its tropes and mashed them into a hybrid of cinema and theatre. Our goal is to subvert expectations of the genre itself, of what theatre can be, and of what film can be, creating an experience that will leave audiences chuckling, a little spooked, a little provoked, and maybe even a little bit horny.

Developed through the Buddies Residency Program, the psycho-sexual thriller White Muscle Daddy is the final mainstage production in the company’s historic 45th anniversary season. Co-directed by Antonio and Tricia Hagoriles (Lola’s Wake [film], Boiband the Boyband), White Muscle Daddy is brought to life by an ensemble cast featuring Ray Jacildo, Jaime Lujan, Frankie Bayley, Chel Carmichael, and Shaquille Pottinger.

This cinematic-theatre piece features a blend of live and pre-recorded footage, working with director of photography Khanh Tudo (Insomniac Film Festival) and projection designer Nicole Eun-Ju Bell (Ga Ting 家庭). The design team also features set designer Echo Zhou (Between a Wok and a Hot Pot, The Chinese Lady, The Year of the Cello), costume designer Cat Calica (stylist for Buddies’ 2022-23 season promo), lighting design Alia Stephen, and frequent Pearle Harbour-collaborator Stella Conway on Sound Design (Agit-Pop!)

Frontmezzjunkies was lucky to have the opportunity to (virtually) sit down (via email) with co-director Tricia Hagoriles, co-director/playwright Raf Antonio, and one of the actors, Ray Jacildo from Buddies in Bad Times/Pencil Kit Productionof White Muscle Daddy, to discuss the production in greater detail. Here’s what we explored:

Q: Director Tricia Hagoriles, when thinking about directing this play for Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, what was the process like for you? And what enticed you to the project?

Tricia Hagoriles (co-director): Reading an earlier draft, what initially enticed me to White Muscle Daddy was the visceral imagery that Raf’s writing evoked. That version hadn’t evolved into the Film/Theatre Hybrid that it is now, but it certainly felt cinematic. My work as a filmmaker lives in the realms of genre and surrealism and so the idea of tackling that in theatre was very appealing.

For this version, where it firmly became a film-theatre hybrid, the process for me started with collaborating with Raf; getting on the same page as them, discovering the story they were trying to tell, and figuring out how best to use my voice and experience to exploit both mediums.

Q:Playwright and director Raf Antonio, the title of this play is very provocative. What does it all mean to you and why is it important to bring a horror/thriller to the stage?

Raf Antonio (co-director/playwright): Our show most pointedly critiques gay cis men, the culture that surrounds them, and how that culture affects the wider community, so the title represents some of the qualities that would most likely be attractive to the majority: whiteness, masculinity, and patriarchy. It’s representative of societal structures which have been and continue to be really damaging, not just to the queer community, but to everyone, including those who benefit. A fun layer: the initialism “WMD” is used as shorthand for “weapon of mass destruction” which I think applies really well to these structures and the damage they can cause. As for horror/thriller… what’s exciting is that it’s not very commonly done on stage. It’s one of my favourite genres because it can metaphorically reflect the worst parts of our society and let us work through the relevant emotions in a space that we can temporarily exist within and then, in theory, leave behind. Of course, everyone has different tolerances but there are also many different subgenres/eras to horror and while WMD has spooky, unsettling moments, there’s also a lot of camp and humour mixed in.

Pencil Kit/Buddies’ White Muscle Daddy cast: Jaime Lujan, Frankie Bayley, Chel Carmichael, Shaquille Pottinger, and Ray Jacildo. Photo by Raf Antonio.

Q: As one of the actors in White Muscle Daddy, Ray Jacildo, who plays the part of Eugene – the anti-hero fitness influencer who in a way is the catalyst, tell us about your role in WMD, and what it was like for you to unpack a play that critiques gay cis men? What has been your experience with this? And how does that framework feel to you? Your reaction to the material?

Ray Jacildo (actor): To Jeremy, Eugene is seen as the apex, the A-gay, the idolized version of what he is attracted to, or wants to become. My experience with the play is very similar to how we walk through our community today. Whiteness and fitness are still in some parts the ‘ideal’. But seeing it from the other side, our community also perpetuates this ideal. In our media, in our friends, in our unconscious attraction to the power structures that have been put in place in our society. I’ve realized it is not enough to just put a lens on those who get put on a pedestal, but also on those who put them there. At the end of the day, it is very rare for me to see roles putting an Asian body at the forefront of the ideal. I was ecstatic to be able to represent that complicated intersection of our community.

Q: Tricia, tell me a bit about how you unpacked this play? In your vision and in your imagination? And the mashing together of cinema and theatre?

Tricia: I first unpacked the play by reflecting on my own experiences of desire, being desired, and violence as a Filipinx person that is read as a woman in the varying queer communities. Then I considered whether I could lend anything to the script.

Approaching the play in a cinematic language played a huge role in that.

Once the creative ideation was underway, we quickly learned how technical the show was going to be. Working with our cast began as a more traditional theatrical process in rehearsal, but as soon as we introduced cameras into the process, not only would our actors have to adjust their performances, but the entire team had to change how they were used to working.

Ray Jacildo + Shaquille Pottinger in Pencil Kit’s White Muscle Daddy at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh.

Q: So Ray, what was that process like for you, an actor in this creative adventure?

Ray: It started off as a typical rehearsal process, but as we delved more into the play it became a lot more complicated. Both technically and personally. To act for a theatre and, at the same time, for a camera lens takes some getting used to! And our awesome camera ops, Khanh and Kat became our partners, and our audience’s view into that. In addition, as my physical look started to change for the role, I started seeing how idolatry of the physical body is still very much a part of our community. It’s a combination of flattering and dangerous, because it can reduce a fully fleshed person to just a sexual object.

Q: The idea of “the pervasive effects of white supremacy on the politics of desire in queer communities” is a huge topic for discussion and understanding. How can this play be a part of that much-needed conversation?

Raf: We feel pretty strongly that no piece of art can ever provide definitive answers to such big questions or be everything to every person so our hope is that the show will function as a conversation starter or the beginning of a reflection on how each individual experiences those effects. Whether folks feel we achieved what we hoped to achieve is much more interesting as an after-show debate amongst friends over drinks (maybe even at the Buddies bar if it’s open!) than as a neatly laid out explainer from the artists.

Q: Very true, and Ray, do you have anything to add?

Ray: My job is to portray my character to the best of my abilities. To help raise those questions. Eugene is in part trying to rise above that white supremacy, but ultimately is still very much inside of it and continually damaged by it.

Jaime Lujan in Pencil Kit’s White Muscle Daddy at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh.

Q: Tricia, tell me about the team that you have compiled? The actors you have gathered, the creative team you have brought in, and what was it like to develop this project?

Tricia: Our team is made up of some young, bright, talented designers that come from strictly theatre, strictly film, and a few that have a foot in both.

Alia Stephen, Nicole Eunju Bell, Echo Zhou and Sabrina Pye, Taylor Zalik-Young, respectively make up our lighting, projection, production design, and stage management departments.

On our film side: Khanh Tudo, Katerina Zoumboulakis, and Hayden Salter make up our camera department.

Our pre-production chats were very conceptual and we felt confident that we could pull off these ideas, but as soon as production started, we had to break and create our own processes.

Q: What is the process of taking and combining those features and spaces? And the act of bringing them all to the stage? How would you like us to take it in?

Raf: It was a fun layering process. Our first week was with the actors only. We did table work and blocking. Then the following week we brought in the camera operators and folded in their blocking. That continued for week three. On the last day of week three, we moved to Buddies in Bad Times where our very first day in the space was all filming for pre-recorded sections of the show. Then we continued on into a not-so-traditional cue to cue. It’s been really collaborative, exciting, and a bit chaotic to bring it all together. We do hope the audience will feel more like they’re in a movie theatre than a traditional theatre space. Meaning mostly that you can sneak out to use the washroom at any point and come right back in. Other than that there’s no prescribed way to view the show. Well, except for phones. Those should be turned off or silenced. Oh, and no photography whatsoever, please :).

Chel Carmichael in Pencil Kit’s White Muscle Daddy at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh.

Q: How difficult has it been to navigate the play onto the stage? The best moments? The largest challenge?

Raf: There are the tech issues that we expected, but what we didn’t completely anticipate was that in addition to the live broadcasting, we’d also be live editing. I always thought light cues were the theatre version of that, but it’s completely different when you mix in pre-filmed elements and cut to live moments. Which for thematic and budget reasons, we had to do. Those were the most challenging and best moments for me.

Q: What about you, Ray, as one of the actors?

Ray: The most difficult was the repetition. Some scenes have Eugene as the object of desire and as a result: leered and ogled at. Some days it was difficult to separate his objectified body from my own. But our intimacy coordinator Burcu Emeç was a huge part of how I approached personal self-care. The best was working with so many creatives of colour! Especially our incredible costume designer Cat Calica. We found subtle ways to weave our Filipino culture into Eugene’s costuming and that was a huge part in grounding me.

Q: What is the power or main construct you want us all to understand in this play, to walk away with?

Ray: Haha, I’ll defer to Raf and Tricia for that.

Raf: We’d actually rather not explicitly underline any one thematic takeaway for the audience to come prepared with. That can too easily sway the viewing experience in one direction or another and there’s a deliberate ambiguity to many of the characters’ actions and many of the images we’ve chosen to stage. This isn’t a show that exists within a tidy morality and so it’s much more exciting to turn that question back on the audience: what was the main construct you, dear viewer, walked away with? How did it make you feel? Did you see yourself in these often messy characters and if so, what does that ask you to consider? Hope to see you there!

For tickets and more information: visit buddiesinbadtimes.com/show/white-muscle-daddy/

On Instagram: @jaimeintheradiator & @rayjacildo in @pencilkitproductions / @buddiesTO ‘s White Muscle Daddy. Photo by @mimnagh.ca.
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