pool (no water)

oyin_oladejo-allison_price-daniel_roberts-chy_ryan_spain-_sarah_illiatovitch-goldmanpool (no water) is a dark and highly intelligent play by Mark Ravenhill which is given a riveting production at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

We are introduced to a group of artists, four that stand before us, two more that we hear about only through the other four. They have all been avant garde and passionate in their work, using such muses as the HIV epidemic and heroin babies, living as Bohemians, slaves to an art that romanticizes being poor, being addicts, and feeling extraordinary emotions that careen from adoration and love to the desire to kill in instants. The one named character, Sally, who we never see, dies of cancer, while the other has become so successful that she has risen out of their world and their group and their city and now lives in a grandiose house, in a life full of wonderful excess, with a pool.

And while she is still their friend, and while she is generous to them from her new life, the four friends begin to hate her. They begin to hate her and to feel jealous and all the emotions merge together into a muddle of feeling when suddenly she has a horrific accident that pushes all these emotions to their extreme. While she is lying unconscious at the hospital the four artists, at first, relish in the opportunity to care for her, and then realize that they have been given a muse for an exhibition that could catapult them to the successful life of riches, at their friend’s expense. The result is an interconnected teeter-tottering of feelings, experiences and perceptions, showing how often one person’s success can be tied to another person’s misfortune, and vice versa.

Ravenhill’s play comes alive with riveting performances by its ensemble: Chy Ryan Spain, Sarah Illitovitch-Goldman, Daniel Roberts and Allison Price and it is directed exquisitely by Jill Harper with fantastic physical choreography by Patricia Allison. The result is that the way in which the play is performed captures vividly the state of mind of these four friends. As they drink and take drugs, the entire world of the play morphs further away from the plane of reality and becomes more ephemeral. Each one admits to horrible thoughts and each of them do selfish things, but pool (no water) honours the humanity in is, to be so deeply flawed, yet irrevocably connected together.   



Cue 6 Productions’ pool (no water) plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the following times:

show times
July 11 at 04:00 PM  buy tickets

Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness

perceptions_of_love_joel_fishbane_genevieve_degraves_tim_cadeny_andrea_brown_shelly_antony_katherine_fogler-1Three relationships in Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness, which plays as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. that dip into abusive territory and a sense that playwright Chantale Forde got there accidentally, quickly reversed as fast as she could, and capped a happily ever after on her play in the hopes that no one would notice.

The play begins with promise with a beautiful performance by Andrea Brown as Nika, a chef dating her husband again while they work out their issues, and she struggles to heal after his infidelity. This is the strongest pair in the bunch but Nika’s strength keeps getting undermined when her husband, Marcus, continually finds new ways to blame Nika for their relationship’s destruction, and Nika continues to shrink and apologize under his accusations, which is interesting considering he’s the one who had the affair. It’s a great situation upon which to comment on how even with well-meaning men who love them women are still often apologizing for their valid emotions and allowing their husbands to chastise them like children. Yet, one keeps getting the feeling in this play that Brown in encouraging her audience to root for all three of these relationships to succeed, and that is where things get problematic.

Damon has protected Jessica since they were High School sweethearts, he rescued her from their small town and now she is pregnant with his child and wants to have a life and a personality outside of their relationship. This infuriates Damon, who insists that he must control every aspect of Jessica’s life and ensure that she and the baby are completely dependent on him for the rest of their lives. Jessica makes a commendable attempt to free herself from this archaic temper-tantruming tyrant but when he brings up the fact that she wouldn’t be able to make enough money to live (in the real world) without moving back in with her parents she crumbles under patriarchy and they live happily ever after.

Even more problematic is twenty two year old Lise (Genevieve DeGraves) and 45 year old Stephen (Joel Fishbane) mostly because DeGraves and Fishbone have absolutely zero romantic or sexual chemistry, and most of their scenes involve Stephen being condescending and DeGraves trying to seduce him and it’s almost unbearably awkward to watch them. The fact that Stephen is a marriage counsellor who doesn’t understand why Lise is upset that she hasn’t been introduced to anyone he knows and that their dates never venture beyond his office or his house also completely undermines any legitimacy in his being a psychiatrist. It doesn’t make sense why Lise would let any man, let alone her boyfriend, treat her like she has the brain function of a goldfish, while objectifying her body. 

I really wanted the crux of this play to be building up to the dining party scene where the big reveal was that Jessica was pregnant with Marcus’ baby, and for the cathartic explosion of these character’s lives and three horrific relationships.

Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness is like reading an article that you really, really hope was written by The Onion and then realizing at the end was completely in earnest and feeling really depressed about what that says about mankind.



Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street) at the following times:

show times
July 11 at 07:30 PM  buy tickets

Klondyke: Standup Straight from the Yukon

jenny_headshot_gary_bremner_photographer-1Klondyke: Standup Straight From the Yukon, is a standup show by Yukon native Jenny Hamilton, that plays at the Tarragon Mainspace as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Hamilton is a captivating storyteller and the stories that she chooses to tell are either so specific to the Yukon, that they are fascinating in how unbelievable they seem to the urban Torontonian, or so joyfully familiar because they capture part of what binds so many Canadians together across this great, vast land, such as fucking with bigots and making fun of “Mericans” (our neighbours to the South of the Tea Party variety who visit the Yukon via Alaska and are confused by its Canadian currency, their inability to tote guns around, and its plethora of “Mexicans”).

From sonic poops, to roadkill, masturbation and bear repellent, Hamilton really knows how to make gross things, things many people don’t discuss in public and strong opinions about children, genuinely funny and endearing at the same time.

I will fully admit to my ignorance of the Yukon, and Hamilton’s depiction of it raises it beyond stereotype and makes it sound like an awesomely absurd place to visit, and a little bit magical in its strangeness. One glaring omission from Hamilton’s set is a clear ending with comic punch. Yet, in all I found Hamilton likeable and Klondyke: Straight From the Yukon an entertaining set of storytelling and comedy.



Klondyke: Standup Straight from the Yukon plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the following times:

show times
July 11 at 09:45 PM  buy tickets
July 12 at 02:15 PM  buy tickets

The Merry Wives of Windsor

merry_wives_of_windsor_-_lynne_griffin_sean_sullivan_-_photo_by_madison_golshani_daniel_pascaleThroughout Shakespeare BASH’d’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which plays at the Victory Cafe as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, I was continually struck, loudly, by one nagging question: Why are they yelling?

The cast of this production yell all their lines (fluctuating from between an 8/10 in volume to an 11/10) for the entire 90 minute play. There is nothing that robs an actor of the ability to create nuance, character development and realism like having them yell all their lines. There is nothing that robs a play of its sense of stakes and pacing like having the actors yell all their lines. There is nothing that makes an audience tune out as swiftly as a play where the actors yell all their lines. I have been wondering what James Wallis and Catherine Rainville’s concept was here. Are they yelling because Shakespeare’s own players may have yelled (because they performed in giant theatres, mostly outside, for rowdy lower class Elizabethan audiences who were allowed and encouraged to eat, drink, sword fight, talk, copulate, relieve themselves, leave and enter the theatre at will, and heckle and throw rotten food at the actors while the play was in progress)? Or were they yelling to show that most of the characters in this play are idiotic misogynists and that by yelling it makes it easier for the audience to tune them out?

It seems like Shakespeare BASH’d doesn’t trust that Shakespeare’s play is clear enough to resonate with the Toronto Fringe audience. The Merry Wives of Windsor is a farce that pokes fun at men for not trusting their wives, for flirting with married women, for trying to force their will on their daughters tyrannically, and gives the women in the play (who would have been originally played by men) the agency to take revenge. Wallis and Rainville work SO HARD here to make the men look moronic, when Shakespeare has already done a commendable job of it. If you don’t trust that Shakespeare can speak, on his own merit, to a contemporary audience, why would you create a theatre company that performs Shakespeare? 

What is most frustrating is that there is perfect proof in this production that in the hands of the right person Shakespeare’s words are crystal clear. For some reason Rainville and Willis allow Lynne Griffin to play Mistress Quickly with depth, intensity and the basic emotional range one would expect from any character in a play that has subsisted for over four hundred years. I don’t know whether this was part of the concept, that the character who is the smartest and arguably the most progressive, gets to be played as though she is a human being or if Griffin is just getting away with good acting here on a fluke? I don’t know.

I wish the concept here was clearer or, if there isn’t one, perhaps this company should change their name to Shakespeare SCREAM’d.



Shakespeare BASH’d’s The Merry Wives of Windsor plays at the Victory Cafe (581 Markham Street) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the following times:

show times
July 10 at 07:00 PM  buy tickets
July 11 at 07:00 PM  buy tickets
July 12 at 05:00 PM  buy tickets

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