Only two shows into my search for new musical theater treasures at the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival 2020, I’ve struck gold with Wonder Women – the Musical by triple threat composer, lyricist, and librettist, Gregory Becker. Mr. Becker’s singular vision and talent has given us what I predict will be a hit of the festival.
Wonder Women is the astonishing true story of the people, relationships and events leading to the creation of the Wonder Woman comic book character in 1941. History credits Harvard educated psychologist, BDSM afficionado, and polyamorist William Marston with her creation. But as we learn, Marston was really the front man for a trio of smart, sexy, feminist women who all lived with him, and envisioned a heroine whose strength was in her female sexuality.
These women consisted of his equally brilliant wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Laura Sportiello) who is called Sadie in this show, his bi-sexual student turned lover, Olive Byrne (Sydney Richards) who was also the niece of pioneering feminist Margaret Sanger (the eventual founder of Planned Parenthood), and a librarian-turned-dominatrix, Marjorie Huntley (Jayla Williams-Craig). It was their combined personal and sexual experiences which spawned and shaped the future feminist comic book icon. As the song goes in this show, “Behind every man there’s a woman who stands,” or, as in this case, three of them.
All these historical tidbits have been well chronicled elsewhere, including Jill Lepore’s 2014 book The Secret History of Wonder Woman and the 2017 film, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. But I was not familiar with either before last night. So I sat like a wide-eyed and delighted child, as Mr. Becker deftly laid out the facts of the story, and wove them into an irresistible songfest of sexual freedom and female empowerment.
The show opens with a trio of smart, funny, classically draped muses (Jasmine Lacy Young, Cortney Dane Mize, and Alli Atkenson) singing in glorious 40’s harmonies. They serve brilliantly as both supporting characters and narrative guides throughout the evening.
The story begins at the creation of Ms. Magazine in 1972, when Marston’s widow, Sadie, comes to argue that the first cover of the magazine should feature Wonder Woman herself. We then flash back to 1911, where young Sadie, a fervent suffragette, is arguing with her father (Noah Berman) that she deserves a chance to have a career, not just a marriage.
Sadie is further inspired by sex education pioneer Margaret Sanger (Jenny Rudnik), whose frank discussion of women’s bodies and their right to control them was quite scandalous in its day. As Ms. Sanger sings, “It’s your body, so explore it. Find a pillow, and just go for it!”
We meet young scientist William Marston (Shea Pender) in high school, preparing to apply to Harvard. Sadie is smart enough to go with him. But Harvard turns down her application just because she is a woman. So they marry, and she helps him create a device to measure changes in blood pressure, which becomes one component of the lie detector. But when he straps young women into it in order to test whether blondes or brunettes have more fun, he gets fired from his university post.
Marston then goes off to teach at Tufts, and Sadie starts law school at Boston University. While teaching there, Marston meets a student, Olive Byrne. She describes being inspired by her aunt Margaret, who seems to her to be like an Amazon. Those were the women of Greek myth, followers of Aphrodite, who lived alone on an island without men. They believed women could only learn the ways of love from one another. Olive also casts an eye on Sadie romantically. She becomes Marston’s research assistant, and then becomes pregnant by him.
Marston also becomes romantically involved with a sexy librarian, Marjorie Huntley, who harbors a whip cracking, dominatrix side.They all go to live together in a private ménage a quatre on a remote estate in Rye, New York. No wonder his character is always smiling!
They take note of the success of the new comic book heroes, Superman and Batman, whose victories celebrate the use of brute force. Margaret tells them that the younger generation prefers comic books to reading. The women decide that young girls need a different kind of superhero as a role model, who uses her sexuality as her strength. But they need Marston to draw her, and pitch her to the male run DC Comics. And so, Wonder Woman is born.
As Sadie, Ms. Sportiello has a lovely soprano and endearing style, but a very small voice that struggles to fill the stage. Ms. Richards is sincere and appealing as Olive, but isn’t a great singer. Also, surprisingly, she does not age or change in her performance as Ms. Sportiello does for the scenes in 1972. Ms. Williams-Craig, dressed in red leather as Marjorie, is as sexy as Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman without even trying. Noah Berman slips effortlessly into the various characters and dialects required as he plays all the supporting male characters. Jenny Rudnick as Margaret Sanger is a Sophie Tucker-esque powerhouse. The three muses (Courtney Dane Mize, Alli Atkenson and Jasmine Lacy Young) all harmonize like angels.
But special praise is due to Shea Pender as William Marston. First, He fills the theater with his voice and his presence. No microphones needed here. His Boston accent makes him sound hysterically similar to Peter on Family Guy. His perpetual smile and positive energy make me want to see him on Broadway as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. Strapping, handsome, young non-Equity leading men like this don’t last long in Chicago. Catch him while you can.
Director Chris Pazdernik deftly juggles the shifts in time and tone, always keeping his talented cast moving at a smart clip, with the help of fine, period inspired choreography by Kayla Boyle.
The music, which requires a range of mid century styles, is delivered well enough under the musical direction of Matt Salvo, with the notable exception of a surprisingly reductive piano part. As played by pianist/conductor Hana Fujisaki, the keyboard was never as interesting as the work of bassist Jeffrey Smith and drummer,Janet Kramer. No credit for arrangement was given, and it appears to have been a case of every man (or woman) for himself.
Mr. Becker is to be congratulated for compressing all this history into a coherent and always entertaining show. He has a great sense of humor, which is particularly evident in his consistently witty and well crafted lyrics. Almost all the songs are comedy numbers revolving around sex, which suits the show just fine. There are a couple attempts at ballads which are musically turgid, and don’t say anything really moving in the lyrics. But the show succeeds on every other level that’s important. Even if it gets better as it moves forward, it’s already a polished and professional work.
If you only know the butt-kicking Wonder Woman of Gal Gadot, or the heterosexual fantasy girl Linda Carter from the 70’s Wonder Woman TV show, you will be surprised to see the early comic book panels depicting Wonder Woman in the kind of kinky bondage scenes which Marston enjoyed personally, or celebrating erotic love between women. When the men running DC Comics eventually ousted the sexually liberated creators of the character, the essence of the original Wonder Woman got lost. I’m so happy that this musical has found it again.
Remaining performances of Wonder Women are February 14 at 7 p.m., February 16 at 3 p.m., and February 20 at 8 p.m. For tickets, go to www.cmtf.org.
The Innocence of Seduction Will Seduce You
The Innocence of Seduction, now being presented in a World Premiere Production by City Lit Theater in Chicago, is the second installment in an ambitious trilogy of new plays by actor, director, and playwright, Mark Pracht, about the comic book industry and the individuals who created it. Although not as interesting a human drama as was the first play in the series, The Innocence of Seduction remains a fascinating glimpse into a little known aspect of pop culture history.
The Innocence of Seduction revolves around a group of artists, writers and publishers who were producing the lurid, violent, and sexually provocative comic books which lead to a congressional investigation into the comic book industry in the 1950’s. The claim that comic books were corrupting our young people and contributing to juvenile delinquency lead to the creation of the Comics Code. That was censorship solely at the personal discretion of one man, Judge Charles Murphy. In a sad parallel to our current times, legislators back then sought to repress access to ideas by their children, rather than teach their children how to think for themselves and live in a world with opposing viewpoints.
The whole story is framed with narration by by Dr. Frederick Wertham, whose book, The Seduction of the Innocent, warned that comic books contributed to juvenile delinquency. In Pracht’s play, Wertham, played with oily, Germanic smarm by Frank Nall, keeps things moving with a creepy comic book gestalt of his own.
The first play in the trilogy, The Mark of Kane, was an excellent, character driven drama. That story was shaped by the personal ambition of artist Bob Kane, creator of The Batman, who stole the credit for all the key story elements added to Kane’s very basic idea for the Batman character by his writer-collaborator, Bill Finger.
In The Innocence of Seduction, largely unchanging characters are dragged through the events swirling around them. That formula, called melodrama, has been around ever since the bad guy twirled his moustache as he tied poor Pauline to the railroad tracks. The focus is on the dilemma rather than character development.
But it takes a long time to get to the central conflict between the creators of early comic art and their would-be censors. When we finally do get to the bad guys, in the person of a grandstanding senator, Robert C. Hendrickson, played with appropriate bluster by Paul Chakrin, and Judge Charles Murphy, the creator and administrator of the Comics Code, played with self-righteous indignation by the fine Chuck Monro, neither antagonist is given enough stage time.
Pracht has no apparent interest in giving the opposing point of view equal time. So both antagonists are quickly reduced to one-dimensional cartoons. What is interesting, however, is that such simple mindedness is frighteningly close to today’s reality, when you look at the behavior of those who are leading the call for censorship in our own times.
The central figure in this story is William Gaines, Jr., a failed teacher who reluctantly assumes the helm of Educational Comics. That company was established by his father, Max, who had created the first American comic book, Famous Funnies, in 1934. Max, embodied by bellowing actor Ron Quaide, visits his son, William, like Hamlet’s ghost, haunting his dreams and stoking William’s feelings of inadequacy. William’s passivity until the very end of the story frequently feels like a big hole in the action instead of moving it forward.
Realizing that nobody wants to buy the illustrated bible stories his father created, William rebrands the company as Entertainment Comics, better known as “EC”. Their bread and butter would be stories with dark, twisted, graphic, sexually provocative and violent imagery. The artists and publishers in this story just see their work as innocent fun, until they run into censorship under the nascent Comics Code.
One of those artists is Matt Baker, played with sincerity if not complexity by Brian Bradford. Baker was a closeted, black, gay artist, who drew the sexiest female characters in the industry. Matt has a clandestine affair with his bisexual publisher, Archer St. John, played with sensitivity by John Blick, while hiding his real sexual preferences from his long suffering lady friend, Connie, played honestly by Latorious Givens. Despite the potential of the juicy ménage a trois, Pracht’s sketchy rendition of their interaction comes off as simultaneously simplistic and overwrought.
Apart from that relationship, the production features a gaggle of really fine character actors who bring lots of individual color to their roles. They include Laura Coleman as Gaines’ wisecracking secretary, Shirley; actor Robin Treveno, who is especially engaging as the good hearted publisher, “Busy” Arnold; Paul Chakrin as Senator Robert C. Hendrickson, who led the congressional investigation against the comic book industry; and affable Andrew Bosworth, doubling both as Max’s friend, Frank, and as artist Jack Davis, whose work would later define the look of Gaines’ greatest success, Mad Magazine.
However, for me, the shining star of this production is Janice Valleau as Megan Clarke. Ms. Valleau was a talented female artist trying to get a foothold in a male dominated industry, and the creator of a pioneering female detective character. Ms. Clarke is an absolutely riveting performer, full of heart, smarts, depth, and personal fire. See her while you can, as Chicago off Loop theater will not be able to contain her for long.
The set, lighting and projection design by G. “Max” Maxin IV is the best I’ve seen from him in this space. Beth Laske-Miller adds some nice, accurate period elements to a slim costume budget. Music composition and sound design by Peter Wahlback were a great enhancement of the foreboding atmosphere. Finally, Tony Donley’s program cover and poster art captured the tone of the story brilliantly.
As his own director, Pracht does a very good job weaving all the elements of his production together, and giving his work a fine showcase.
As with the previous play in the trilogy, you don’t need to be a comic book nerd to enjoy this tale of creative expression battling conservative oppression. The Innocence of Seduction will seduce you as well.
With The Innocence of Seduction, City Lit Theater continues a 43 year tradition of bringing intelligent, literate stories to the Chicago stage. In conjunction with this presentation, they also are presenting readings at libraries across Chicago and the suburbs of works from the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which have been identified as the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books” facing censorship in libraries and schools. That series is called Books on the Chopping Block. If you live in the Chicago area, be sure to check for a presentation near you.
The Innocence of Seduction continues at City Lit Theater in the Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 West Bryn Mawr in Chicago, through October 8th. For ticket information call (773) 293-3682 or visit www.citylit.org.
“speaking of sneaking” Spins It’s Queer Folktale Web Fascinatingly at Buddies In Bad Times Toronto
Weaving and bobbing, drawing chalk lines with a focused gyrating audacity, a fascinating dynamic radiates out from the central core of an all-encompassing plastic spider web. The actor/playwright squats and shifts his black-clad body close to the ground, teasing us almost to enter the web, and maybe get caught in its arms. It’s a sharply defined space to walk into, fantastically intricate but straightforward in its plastic sensibilities, created with thoughtful intensity by set + costume designer Rachel Forbes (Canadian Stage’s Topdog/Underdog). It makes us feel that we are inside something intimate and intensely important as we make our way to our seats in the main theatre at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto to see and get enveloped by the unveiling of speaking of sneaking.
The new play, performed and written by theatre artist Daniel Jelani Ellis (Buddies’ First Stone), comes alive slowly, seizing the stylistic moment that takes its time connecting. Deep inside this queer Black man’s ultimate navigation through folklore and reality-based hardship, the play shifts itself inward, as directed and dramaturged with a fiery fluidity by d’bi.young anitafrika (Trey Anthony’s ‘da kink in my hair) with a strong sense of movement and momentum by choreographer Fairy J (Obsidian/Canadian Stage/Necessary Angel’s Is God Is), from his youth in one “Yard” to another “Foreign” place, Canada. The tension and engagement are as tricky to outsmart as a folktale spider, that weaves out captivating stories with wisdom, knowledge, and power. The formula engages, even when it loses some captivating focus along the way.
Yet, it is a compelling web that is woven, ultimately feeling important and personal throughout the intersectionalities of identity and culture, playing with the deep multidiscipline unpacking of complicated self-discovery drawn from his familial Jamaican roots and the complexities of gender, sexuality, and class that creep out of the “Yard”. The performance is vivid and vital, frenetic and feisty, combining aerial light-footedness with dance, poetry, and all that lies in between. It attempts with a true heart and unending energy to captivate, and Ellis, as the determined Ginnal, manages, maybe not at first, but eventually, to take us in and snag us, as the web he weaves gets more grounded in the complications of survival alongside familial expectations.
Surrounded by barrels of regret and disappointment in himself, Ellis needs to keep weaving and weaving, “for me, not for you!” He shifts himself around the space, throwing his arms off balance but fully in control, collapsing his past and future from a spider-framed creation from Jamaica to a video web call rubbing his feet and seeing the future for a few PayPal donation dollars. The playful but ancient guide, “Anansi” lifted up from an Akan folktale slides in to the perspective to illicit shouts of “That’s enough” to the symbolic quarreling married sky and earth, trying to weave a web that will keep the collapse from occurring.
These folklore spider tales, which I knew little about, long ago sailed their way to the Caribbean by way of the transatlantic slave trade, and became a mythical model about skill and wisdom, giving praise to Anansi and his ability as a spider, to outsmart and triumph over any and all powerful opponents through the wise use of cunning, creativity, and wit. It’s no surprise Ellis as Ginnal digs into these formulations and folklore, basking in the delicately crafted light designed by André du Toit (Stratford’s R+J) with a strong sound design by Stephon Smith (B Current’s Wheel of the Year Walks). It will take all that cunning creativity to unpack the complexities of culture, homophobia, and ideas of masculinity that are weaved into his Jamaican “Yard” and the family that celebrates unity and care from way over there.
Wrestling with the fraught and trickster dynamics of survival in this new “Foreign” land, the expensive city of Toronto, Ginnal struggles with empty barrels waiting to be filled with donations of a different kind, feeling guilt and shame each time the phone rings. The spider steps in, initiating a journey towards liberation and freedom, after leaving one home to find another. The web is a complex construct, sometimes captivatingly embodied, sometimes not, with Ellis shifting from one well-formulated character to another, generally drawing us in as he straps himself in from above for this aerial journey, bungee jumping and creeping towards a new sense of home and acceptance.
Anansi was seen as a symbol of slave resistance and survival, turning the constraints of those plantation power dynamics around onto the controlling oppressors. Ellis embraces that energy, as he finds his way to generate dancehall-infused formulations by igniting cunning online trickery of his own. Through a compelling examination of colonial imprints on queer Jamaican identities by all those involved, as well as utilizing Afro-Caribbean-Tkarontonian storytelling aesthetics to elevate the spider mode of behavior and performance, the details of the intricate interweaving of bodies and family transcend the battle for survival and shifts it all into the flight for authenticity and identity. It has been written that the symbol of Anansi played a multifunctional role in the enslaved Africans’ lives, inspiring strategies of resistance to establish a sense of continuity with their African past and offering a context and formulation to transform and assert their identity within the darkened boundaries of captivity. It’s fairly clear how that energy resonates throughout the piece.
As he asks for world peace from a bachelor pad base camp created by new family members by choice, the weaving in of Granny Luna to “Petty Labelle” offers itself up into the sky wonderfully, ultimately capturing us in its complex web. Groundwork Redux and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre‘s production of speaking of sneakingdelivers, working its magic, eventually, fulfilling the folktale form with chaotic care. Through a Black queer lens, with the support of Buddies, Obsidian Theatre, and the Toronto Arts Council Black Arts Program, this new weaving finds its way into our collective consciousness, navigating itself through portals of neo-colonial contexts and out of the escape room axe throw party that might have destroyed him. The archetypal Jamaican Ginnal and the mythical African Anansi, together, discover and embody something akin to survival and connection. And in the weaving of that web, we find a different kind of soul rubbed true all for our wonderment and enlightenment.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
The Argyle Theatre Encore! Gala and You Are There
The Argyle Theatre held its Gala, Encore! A Musical Celebration, hosted by Artistic Director Evan Pappas with musical direction by Jeffrey Lodin, on September 22, 2023, at 7:30 PM. Long Island’s premier theatrical showcasing the remarkable talents that ha graced its stages over the past four seasons.
The one-night-only special event featured Becca Andrews (The Argyle’s Legally Blonde, Honky Tonk Chicks)
Tyler Belo (The Argyle’s Spring Awakening, Hamilton National Tour)
Dana Costello (The Argyle’s Cabaret, Broadway’s Finding Neverland, Pretty Woman)
Hana Culbreath (The Argyle’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Annie National Tour)
Alex Grayson (The Argyle’s Spring Awakening, Broadway’s Parade, Into The Woods)
Jack Hale (The Argyle’s Rock of Ages)
Elliott Litherland (The Argyle’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Opera North Carousel)
Michelle Mallardi (The Argyle’s Elf, Footloose, Broadway Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Les Misérables)
Ellie Smith (The Argyle’s Grease, Miracle Valley Feature Film)
and Ryan Thurman (The Argyle’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid, The Producers).
“It brings me immense joy to celebrate the exceptional talent that has graced our stage over the past four years. Encore! A Musical Celebration is a testament to the dedication and artistry of our alumni, and it’s an opportunity for us to express our gratitude to both the performers and our loyal audience for their unwavering support in creating unforgettable moments.” The Argyle Theatre Artistic Director, Evan Pappas stated.
Loving the Love of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at the Stratford Festival, Canada
“Why do we do that? Why do we do that? We do that to find love. Oh, I love to be in love. Don’t you love to be in love? Ain’t it just great to be in love? Ain’t it wonderful?”
I know. A strange way to begin a review of Stratford Festival‘s sweet and stylistically funny turn on Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, but I couldn’t help myself. I had those immortal lines, spoken so true and magically by the magnificent Bette Midler as she is about to launch into “When A Man Loves a Woman” in the film, “The Rose“, running through my head on repeat as the lights began to dim in the Festival’s intimate 260-seat Studio Theatre. It couldn’t be helped, as this structured tale of love and desire, caught between the head and the heart at strikingly funny odds with one another, rings forward with a blow of air from a gardener trying to bring neat order to the nature of nature. It’s a clever beginning, celebrating the eternal effervescence of the human instinct to find love, while also mocking our structural, logical, and intellectual desire to control that impossible impulse.
As directed with a modernistic approach to love and humor by the inventive Peter Pasyk (Stratford’s Hamlet), Love’s Labour’s Lost plays with our mad attempts, joking at the performative notions when it comes to the matters of the heart, while also giving honor to our instinct to find love. Berowne, played strongly by the engaging Tyrone Savage (Crow’s 15 Dogs) who was recently seen serving up coffee at the Grand Magic, emerges out of the sidelines of this manicured space to become somewhat the play’s lead, giving solid question to King Ferdinand, played royally by Jordin Hall (NAC’s The Neverending Story), and the pact he has created to agree to avoid the female sex for three years. What was he thinking?
The King wants him, and his two fellow scholarly companions, Langaville, played strong by Chris Mejaki, and Dumaine, played true by Chanakya Mukherjee, to sign a demented document that would remove the idea of love and romance from their lives for a period of three years, and replace it with intellectual and undistracted study. Berowne had agreed to this earlier, but he proclaims, at the moment of reckoning, that he had “swore in jest“, as any wise person would, but eventually agrees to agree. They all sign, and dutifully don scholarly white robes to show their unity, courtesy of costume designer Sim Suzer (Shaw’s Everybody), but for what reason, you may ask, does Berowne agree to this? “Why do we do that?” comes back into my head, thanks to the Rose. To find love? Cause we do love to be in love. Or because, quite possibly, he never really believed in his heart of hearts that any of them would be able to honor this ridiculously signed contract. Berowne may be the wisest one of them all. Or is it because he has already found love in the form of Rosaline?
“I am betrayed!” An understandable framework. You see, arriving soon into this quant land of Navarre (a medieval kingdom that borders Spain and France), just moments after this ridiculous document is signed by the four, there is a royal arrival of the Princess of France, played beautifully by Celia Aloma (Arts Club’s No Child) and her three ladies-in-waiting, Rosaline (Amaka Umeh), Katherine (Elizabeth Adams), and Maria (Gianna MacGilchrist), along with their trusted Boyet (Steve Ross). They show up, looking splendid and colorful, outside the castle gates for a vague diplomatic mission and conference with the King. The question is, how will he do that and fulfill his obligation and signed oath? Well, that’s beyond me, but it is clear they are all going to give it a good, solid, although obviously doomed, try, casting the women out into the fields, yet promising discussion to satisfy their diplomatic mission a wee bit later.
And in typical Shakespearean fashion, love easily enters the room – or should I say, the field, blown in as forcibly as those leaves were blown out by the feisty groundskeeper, Costard, played gloriously well by Wahsontí:io Kirby (Stratford’s Hamlet-911), who steals almost every scene they blow into. Words may fail us when it comes to love, but pheromones never do fail the formulations of desire, especially for Savage’s Berowne and the lustful interaction he has with the fair and fiery Rosaline, played with firecracker feistiness by Amaka Umeh (Stratford’s Hamlet). “I heard your guilty rhyme,” one soul proclaims, and there is no going back, “by heaven“.
Structured in symmetrical order, void of any chaos and natural wildness, designed impeccably by Julie Fox (Stratford’s R+J) with gentle lighting by Arun Srinivasan (Tarragon’s Cockroach), director Pasyk sends the piece galloping forward like dogs on a hunt, condensing the five-act love comedy into a one-act intermission-less engagement without giving up any of the pleasantries and musical fun. This is thanks to composer and sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne (Factory‘s Wildfire) and choreographer Stephen Cota (Stratford’s Frankenstein Revived), who find plenty to beautifully and distinctly revel in from beginning to end. The framework isn’t the sharpest of stylistic remodeling, feeling lackadaisical and random, feeling somewhat flattened even with the splashes of color and the fine performances bounding about. But the modern approach does enliven these aspects, blurring the lines between artifice and general authenticity within moments of one another, giving way to love and fireman hijinks without ever really missing out on a laugh.
Savage and Umeh ignite the play, and themselves, almost from the get-go, but the flames of love soon envelop all the others quickly and easily as if Ross’s wonderful droll Boyet was singlehandedly ushering Cupid forward into the gleeful mess. Naturally, letters are mislaid, and given to the wrong young lady, while stripper-like costumes and love-identifiers are cross-pollinated to add to the confusion and merriment of all involved. There are leaps over hedges, called-out poetic love-bombs, and layers of comedy ushered forth with dutiful aplomb by a cast that is so magnificently able that the overall effect is far greater than the stylistically challenged rendering.
The Spaniard, Don Armado, played to the high nines by the wonderful Gordon S. Miller (Stratford’s Grand Magic) flexes his comic lisp with determined hilarity. He is matched with equal bits of musical heart, humanity, and humor by the not-so-Herculean Moth, portrayed perfectly by Christo Graham (CS’s Unsafe). The songs burst forth, tenderly and lovingly by a soft falsetto, reminding us all of the melancholy arc that love can bring, as well as the wonder and joy that lives around the corner from it.
Kirby’s comic Costard almost steals the show, mechanically blowing hard letters in all the wrong directions, including in the direction of the playful Jaquenetta, lovingly portrayed by Hannah Wigglesworth (Stratford’s Richard II and Richard III). Michael Spencer-Davis (Grand’s Art), has fun with the fussy schoolmaster Holofernes, as does Matthew Kabwe (CS’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) with his Nathaniel. But it is in the facade of Dull, played exactly as required by the wonderful Jane Spidell (Coal Mine’s The River), where pleasure and performance truly find its bluster, and we couldn’t be more pleased to be dulled by this drumming constable.
“What is love?” the play asks, in song and dance, just like the Rose when she asks her own burning questions about the whys and the hows of love. All we do know is we can’t help ourselves. Because it is great, grand, and absolutely wonderful, even when a document is signed trying to proclaim it away. It enlivens every pore of our being when we do find it and feel it. We don’t need nine worthies to stab us with laughter to know love’s intent. We just need to embrace it when it comes, just like we should with Stratford’s tightened-up and modernized Love’s Labour’s Lost which truly understands that level of joyful engagement. Even if the style that is delivered isn’t as sharply defined as Stratford’s other comic love story, Much Ado About Nothing, a show that gives us everything we could possibly hope for from Shakespeare and the Stratford Festival. Their Love’s Labour’s Lost is just another layer of frosting on an already delicious Festival cake. So go, devour it all, with love. How could you not? Cause, “don’t you love to be in love?” I know I do.
Stratford Festival‘s Love’s Labour’s Lost runs through October 1 at the Studio Theatre. For information and tickets, click here.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Studio 180 Toronto’s New 2023/2024 Season Announced
Studio 180 Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, announced today its 2023/24 Season, which includes the Canadian premiere of the Olivier Award-nominated play Four Minutes Twelve Seconds by James Fritz (Parliament Square; The Flea) as its Mainstage production running at Tarragon Theatre from April 20 to May 12, 2024. The company’s popular Studio Series continues this fall with the first IN DEVELOPMENT readings of two new works-in-progress by award-winning Canadian theatre artists Rebecca Auerbach and Camille Intson.
Studio 180 Co-founder Mark McGrinder will direct James Fritz’s taut, darkly comic, and deeply provocative drama. Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is a thrilling exploration of issues of consent, privilege, and the insidious opportunities new technology offers.
“Our finest work has always found a way of tackling issues through a deeply human lens, and Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is no exception. Fritz’s play functions first and foremost as a thriller, taking audiences on a narrative and emotional journey. It grips from the very first moments and doesn’t let go. Our contemplation of complex topics like toxic masculinity, privacy, and consent is the organic outcome of living in the heightened world of these characters. I can’t wait to share this dark, funny, and engrossing play with audiences and to be a part of the conversations that are sure to follow.”
– Mark McGrinder, Director
The season begins with a launch party and IN DEVELOPMENT reading of Discount Dave and the Fix on October 12 at 7:00 PM at Factory Theatre. Seen on stages across the country, award-winning actor Rebecca Auerbach (The Pigeon King; Your Side, My Side, and the Truth) now brings her powerful story-telling skills to this deeply personal solo show, directed by Aviva Armour-Ostroff (Coal Mine’s The Effect). Auerbach’s first play examines our obsession with celebrity, how addiction can bury our wounds, and what it takes to heal.
PGC Tom Hendry Award-winning playwright Camille Intson (We All Got Lost) joins IN DEVELOPMENT in the winter with her newest play, Death to the Prometheans. The reading will be directed by 2022/23 RBC Emerging Director 郝邦宇 Steven Hao(Tarragon’s Cockroach) and explores youth revolt and resistance, intergenerational teachings, and the quest for knowledge and truth.
Camille Intson and Rebecca Auerbach join Studio 180 as RBC Emerging Playwrights for the season, with Chantelle Han (Tarragon’s Post Democracy) as RBC Emerging Director and Assistant Director on Four Minutes Twelve Seconds.
Learn more about the season at studio180theatre.com.
STUDIO 180 THEATRE’S 2023/2024 SEASON:
FOUR MINUTES TWELVE SECONDS by JAMES FRITZ, directed by MARK McGRINDER
A Studio 180 Mainstage Production
April 20 to May 12, 2024, in the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace
Di and David have devoted their lives to giving their son, Jack, every opportunity they never had. But a startling incident outside the school grounds threatens to ruin everything they’re striving for.
As events begin to accelerate, Di and David begin to question whether they can trust Jack, his closest friends, or even themselves. The Canadian premiere of James Fritz’s taut, darkly comic, and deeply provocative Olivier Award-nominated drama and a thrilling exploration of issues of consent, privilege, and the insidious opportunities new technology offers. “Riveting” – The Times
DISCOUNT DAVE AND THE FIX by REBECCA AUERBACH, directed by AVIVA ARMOUR-OSTROFF October 12, 2023 at Factory Theatre
A Studio 180 IN DEVELOPMENT Reading
When a rockstar crashes a backstage party at a Shakespeare Festival, a thrill-seeking young actor is set on a path of self-reckoning. A provocative blend of truth and fiction, Discount Dave and The Fix is a suspenseful, hilarious, and harrowing examination of our obsession with celebrity, how addiction can bury our wounds, and what it takes to heal.
DEATH TO THE PROMETHEANS by CAMILLE INTSON, directed by 郝邦宇 STEVEN HAO Winter, 2024
A Studio 180 IN DEVELOPMENT Reading
Zinnie, Hannah, John, Thea, and Yannis are five international performing arts students indoctrinated into an elite artistic training program at a(n unspecified) world-leading conservatory, navigating as best they can the perils of young adulthood, institutional demands, and finding purpose in making art in a world on fire. At the same time, in a play-within-a-play, the young Titan Prometheus and his siblings plot an assault against Zeus at his annual sacrificial Blood-Bash, unbeknownst to the rest of the Olympians. But can authority really be challenged from within? How can young people imagine systems of education, governance, and political power outside of that which they were taught? What does it mean to break the shackles of tradition? And, at the end of the world, how much is art really worth?
ABOUT STUDIO 180 THEATRE
Studio 180 Theatre is a Toronto-based company with a mission to engage, provoke, and entertain through dynamic theatre and innovative Beyond The Stageexperiences that delve into social and political issues. Since 2002, Studio 180 Theatre has evolved from an informal artistic collective into one of Toronto’s most respected independent professional theatre companies, expanding to include a robust new play development program and an extensive IN CLASS workshop program with almost 2,000 students annually. The Laramie Project, Stuff Happens, Our Class, Clybourne Park, The Normal Heart, The Nether, Oslo, Indecent, and The Chinese Ladyare among the many plays we have produced in the past twenty years.
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