I, Animal, I Like.

richie wilcox, ingrid risk, antonio cayonne, kathryn maclellan & stewart legere

A large crowd came out last night to the Opening of Daniel MacIvor’s new play I, Animal, presented by Kazan Co-Op as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s SuperNova Festival. It runs at Neptune’s Studio Theatre until Sunday May 20th and then heads to Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival in August. You should all stop reading and order your tickets now, because this is absolutely a Festival sell out and you won’t want to be disappointed on Sunday Night.

 I, Animal is comprised of three characters who each connect to the audience through a beautifully crafted monologue. Of all the great playwrights in this country, and there are many, I think Daniel MacIvor is the master of creating the most vividly profound and poetically irresistible monologues in the theatre. What continually amazes me about MacIvor’s writing is that he is able to write hilariously and perceptively about the human condition with an obvious literary sophistication and yet it always seems to come from the depths of the truth of each of his characters, whether they are a nurse, a high school student or a worldly woman in her prime.

Our three unnamed protagonists, Man in Scrubs, Boy in Hoodie and Woman in Prada, are not obviously connected to one another. They do not share the stage at the same time and their stories do not intersect. The relationship that builds throughout I, Animal is the relationship between each of these three with us in the audience. Yet, there are a few recurring themes to tie these stories together. The man, the boy and the woman all speak about their love for a particular animal and they each comment on the beauty of the moon. As MacIvor’s title suggests, the fact that we are all animals and interact with other animals in a myriad of different ways, along with our communal experience of the moon, is something that binds not only these three people together, but all of humanity.

The man, the boy and the woman each tell us a story, but they are all very specific stories, told about one particular time in their lives. So, rather than experiencing the full journey of someone’s narrative or the “most important” moment of their lives, we are dropped right into the middle of a story, one that may not necessarily be THE story, for a limited amount of time and then our perspective is shifted into the life of someone else. I loved this delicate balance that MacIvor maintained of giving us enough of a taste of these three individual personalities to be captivated and invested in what happens, but also that he leaves us wanting to get to know these people better, to hear more of their stories, eager to see what happens next.

Monologue-based plays require exquisite actors and I, Animal has three. Antonio Cayonne plays Man in Scrubs, a nurse who identifies as Queer, as well as Halifax-born with a Jamaican mother. Too often we see stereotypes of sexual orientation, race and ethnicity in film, in theatre and on TV, and it is so refreshing to see that in bringing these three things to one character, through Cayonne a unique individual is born. Man in Scrubs is the perfect example of how much more fascinating individuals are to watch onstage. There are beautiful complexities, contradictions, surprises, great humour and unmistakeable humanity at play here and it makes his story so compelling to experience.

Stewart Legere plays Boy in Hoodie, a music aficionado who loves photography but got into a heap of trouble for a photo of a cat he once posted on his website. Legere brings a beautiful innocence to this boy, a sweetness surrounded by a shell of shy indifference. He also has this lovely restless energy and a slight mischievous streak to him which makes his boyishness all the more endearing. Kathryn MacLellan plays Woman in Prada, an easily exasperated wealthy powerhouse woman of the world who finds herself in an airport with gorgeous luggage unsure of what she is leaving and no idea where she is going. One of my favourite things about watching Kathryn MacLellan is that she is not afraid to push her characters into the terrifying waters of absolute vulnerability. There is a moment at the end of the play when she begins to laugh and cry simultaneously and it is just effortless. As an audience member you really feel like you are witnessing a real moment unfolding, nothing canned, no tricks, just a spontaneous moment of the beauty of life. That is brilliant theatre. The best part about MacLellan doing MacIvor characters like Woman in Prada is that there is an immediate tension between that gorgeous inherent vulnerability and the chic, sleek, confident and urbane facade of the character. It is this tension that hooks you immediately and keeps you clinging along for the ride.

Likely thanks to Daniel Brooks my immediate connotation with Daniel MacIvor’s plays is people (or a person) in a room in deep darkness. The director of this production, Richie Wilcox fulfills my expectations to great effect in this piece, with the talents of lighting designer Ingrid Risk. I think one of the reasons that keeping the stage intensely dark works so brilliantly for monologue-based shows is that it channels the audience’s vision toward the person who is speaking. They become swathed in the darkness and suddenly it doesn’t matter how big the stage or the theatre, the room shrinks and you are immediately on intimate terms with the people who are telling you their stories. Wilcox also manages to create a shared ambiance for these three unaffiliated characters, their stories and their shared themes without it ever seeming contrived or obvious.

I, Animal is a beautiful play beautifully done by a Halifax-based company. I am sure that it will be received very warmly in Toronto this summer, so I hope that you all will run to check it out while it is here through the weekend!

I Animal plays at the Neptune Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street next to The Argyle Grill) as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s SuperNova Theatre Festival at the following times: For more information or to book your tickets please call 902.429.7070 or click right here

Thursday May 17th at 9:00pm

Saturday May 19th at 2:00pm

Sunday May 20th at 4:00pm

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A Letter to Canada’s Theatre Community From Michael Healey

Michael Healey

Acclaimed and Beloved Toronto based playwright and actor Michael Healey is calling on all theatre companies across the nation to stand in solidarity for the SummerWorks Festival, the largest juried theatre festival in Canada, that has been producing approximately 40 plays, 10 nights of music, performance and more from Toronto and across the country for the first two weeks in August since 1991. The SummerWorks Festival has launched the careers of dozens of critically acclaimed Canadian playwrights whose works have reached national and international exposure since debuting at the Festival. SummerWorks did not receive government funding this year, an action that is seen by many as an attack on the artists of this country and an attempt to punish the SummerWorks Festival for producing a play that Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not see or read, but objected to anyway, last summer. Read more about the Homegrown Controversy here and read more about how important it is for the future of Canada and Canadians to have a government that respects and invests in its artists and its culture here.

Here is a letter to the Canadian Theatre Community from Michael Healey.

As you are no doubt aware, the Summerworks Festival in Toronto, having raised the ire of the PMO by staging a play last summer it found objectionable, has suddenly seen its federal funding withdrawn. This act of naked contempt, described by the Finance Minister essentially as a coincidence, should send a chill through any arts organization currently receiving money from the federal government. In my opinion, the government needs to be shown that this kind of baseless, petty and unconscionable intervention will not get a free pass from the nation’s cultural institutions. After all, if it happens to Summerworks, it could happen to any other company.

Western Edge Theatre, in Nanaimo, BC, is staging a public reading of the play in question, Catherine Frid’s Homegrown, on July 15th. Proceeds are being donated to Summerworks. I’m writing to ask every artistic director of every theatre across the country to stage a reading of the play on that date.

Companies in a given city could band together to produce the event. The fundraising aspect is optional. The point is that we all announce, loudly and with one voice, that this kind of cabinet censorship is not acceptable. To that end, a press release announcing your company’s solidarity with Summerworks is vital. The more theatres that stand up and speak, the stronger our message.

The more news hits we can generate with this event, the further from the government’s goal of isolating and punishing one small theatre festival.

Catherine Frid has authorized me to distribute her script to participating companies. Email me to obtain a reading copy. And be sure to let me know when you decide to take part — the sooner we can create a list of participating theatres, the more momentum for the event we create. If the PMO continues to describe these events as coincidental, we can describe the public airing of this play, in dozens of theatres across the country on the same night, as another kind of coincidence.

And if you find yourself anxious about the potential ramifications for your own company’s federal funding as a consequence of taking part in this demonstration, I can think of no better reason for participating in it.

All best wishes,
Michael Healey


adam lazarus
When you enter a darkened theatre and hear a resonant male singing voice, regardless of how open minded you are, your brain spins certain expectations and you develop an idea of what you think you are going to encounter when the lights go up. Chances are the last thing you are envisaging is Eff, Adam Lazarus’ foul mouthed, grimacing, legless bouffant creature, who seems to feed off his audience’s discomfort. This is Wonderland, a fascinating ride that seeks to push the boundaries of what can happen in the theatre beyond the realm of the play and into murky unchartered waters.
Lazarus is an incredibly bold performer. He throws every ounce of his energy into unleashing and intensifying all the most grotesque attributes of the human condition, which polite “civilization” and our knowledge and adherence to societal norms has conditioned us to keep repressed and sequestered, often in the deepest, most primal entrails of our being. Yet, Eff is not satisfied simply with exploring his own hindered physicality, his own voice and other bodily functions and his (often) offensive musings about the state of the world. No, he is mostly intent on connecting in a very immediate way with you, the audience. Indeed, it is not Eff, as bold and bouffant as he is, that is so fascinating in Wonderland, but the tension and continually changing dynamics that emerge, entirely different for each performance, between this character and his audience.
Wonderland, which was directed perfectly by Melissa D’Agostino, has a magnificently Brechtian construction, as not only is the audience continually alienated by Lazarus’ continual breaching of the fourth wall convention, but, figuratively, the spotlight is always shining directly on the audience. We are meant to be examining our own response to Eff and he, quite harshly, criticizes our inclination to ignore him, our repulsion of him, and the fact that expressing an honest first impression of another person makes us feel uncomfortable while we consider ourselves to be behaving with more propriety when we are lying. Eff may be a vulgar, repugnant, undesirable creature, but Wonderland confronts the reality that, in judging him as so, in feeling wary and wanting to reject his pleas for love, comfort and openness, we are the assholes. Yet, what is our alternative? Eff also proves that sweet intentions are not always met with respect or limits.
It is to Lazarus’ credit that the audience can be made to feel so alienated and so uneasy and yet, like a horrific car wreck, Eff captivates and compels even the most awkward among them to be fixated on his vivacious, sexually charged free-for-all romp, complete with molesting headless mannequins, humping wheelchairs, singing popular tunes and making insanely strange noises. Oddly, there is a genuine heartfelt component to Eff, that while constantly undercut in caustic cynicism, I think also lures the audience back to Lazarus and makes Eff, although disturbing, also strangely endearing. After all, ultimately, this creature is looking for the same thing we all are, the ability to connect with other people and to feel validated and cared about by them.
As Eff says, “you gotta be original in this life” and Adam Lazarus is certainly one of the most innovative and daring performers that I have seen in this city. Wonderland is a tremendous risk, and one that, while it won’t appeal to all audience members, is theatre that demands a visceral reaction. It makes your heart beat more ardently and engages every ounce of your body, holding you hostage and enthralled until the curtain call spits you back into reality. Yet, even after the lights have dimmed, Eff is a haunting wretch who will likely leave you contemplating your experience long after the magic of the theatre dissipates.


amy rutherford
Out of a society obsessed with creating perfection, or at least the illusion of it, where carefully constructed “reality” shows have transformed the ordinary citizens of America into Hollywood’s nouveau riche comes Evan Tsitsias’ new play Aftershock, which played as part of the 2010 SummerWorks Festival at the Factory Theatre Studio.
Aftershock tells the story of Anna, the recent recipient of an extreme makeover at the hands of a team of Los Angeles Executives, as she struggles to reintegrate herself back into her dysfunctional life, with her deranged working class family. Throughout this harrowing and emotional piece, Tsitsias explores the sudden disparity between the superficiality of Anna’s seemingly perfect appearance and the far more ugly and sinister feelings of self doubt, self loathing, despair and the scars from years worth of physical and emotional abuse, that new clothes and plastic surgeries have not resolved. Indeed, Anna is still very much broken and her helplessness has rendered her, reminiscent of Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, literally unable to move.
The fact that Anna is frozen is of little concern to her family members, as they bustle around, fawning over her for the first time, wanting to keep her like a china doll on a pedestal, as a beacon of light to aspire to be; proof that escape from their drudgery is possible. As Anna realizes the true depth of her pain and longs to connect once again to the true image of herself, refusing to deny her battle scars and seeking to renounce the media’s cliché of beauty and to embrace her own inner self, she begins to brutally destroy herself physically.
Rod Ceballos directs this play with electric intensity, highlighting nicely the black humour that encases Anna’s severe pain. With fight director Kara Wooten, the threat of violence is always imminent and Anna’s graphic attempts to injure herself are just gory enough to be disturbing, but not enough to seem alienating or absurd. Aftershock is one of those rare shows that combines an intelligent, dramatic examination of our society, genuine witty dialogue and gruesome moments, almost cinematic in their realism, that make the audience wince.
The cast of Aftershock is uniformly strong. Amy Rutherford gives an appropriately restrained performance as Anna, outwardly with her family members she behaves as one might imagine a Barbie Doll come to life, but Rutherford manages to make her character’s inner turmoil subtlety palpable throughout. Patrick Garrow is sleazy, manipulative and explosive as Gary, Anna’s husband, who, even in his most mundane actions, is always too loud and lacking all gentleness or grace. Allana Harkin is brilliantly pathetic as Anna’s sister Becky, a jealous woman who behaves like an overgrown eleven year old and has to wear a helmet to protect herself from panic attack-induced blackouts. Harkin is able to milk Becky’s absurdity for all her comic potential, while also eliciting empathy for her, as it is clear that she has been conditioned to believe that she is the family’s walking joke. The star of Aftershock is undeniably the powerhouse of comedy, Lynne Griffin, who plays Anna and Becky’s tawdry, caustic, merrily miserable mother, with distinct auras of Roseanne Conner. She may be the villain of this piece, but she is one that the audience derives much glee from hating.
Aftershock is a powerful piece of theatre. I think it could benefit from some further exploration, the concept of Anna being immobilized is not as clear or as powerful as it could be, and the relationship with her daughter Quinn, played earnestly by Catherine Rainville, deserves to be strengthened and enriched. In all, however, Aftershock raises some fascinating questions about the consequences of our society’s obsession with artifice, with the illusion of perfection and Tsitsias refuses to offer us a simplistic solution. Can self mutilation be empowering? Must our traditional conception of “beauty” be destroyed to reclaim a healthier or more genuine ideal? Are we the sum of what the world has done to us and, then, how do we escape when the abuse becomes too much? Aftershock seeks to cut to the bone and, stripping away all pretence, examines that which keeps, even the most broken among us, somehow moving forward.
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