THE CENOTAPH PROJECT

THE CENOTAPH PROJECT

“And what the dead had no speech for, when living,

They can tell you, being dead…”

— T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

History records facts, dates, and events. Individuals are rarely noted, except on monuments to the dead, a listing of those killed in war. The towering stone cenotaph to the fallen in Barrie, Ontario, is one such monument, dedicated to the sons of the city who lost their lives in great conflicts.

The Cenotaph Project is a new play inspired by Clint Lovell’s book, The Boys From Barrie. The project began in late 2018. Theatre by the Bay artists worked with Eastview drama students to investigate the legacy of WWII in 2019. Analyzing the stories of real soldiers who fought for their country, these students lifted their stories off the page. The Cenotaph Project is an attempt to remember history, generations after the events have passed.

But who were those men, whose names are listed, carved into the towering stone monument in downtown Barrie?  Most died young, before they had lived long enough to achieve their dreams. The details are scarce. And though women’s names are missing, many rendered service.

Photo by Laura Joy Photography

The Cenotaph Project, created by Danielle Joy Kostrich, and directed by Leah Holder, has opened in Barrie, Ontario, at the Five Points Theatre.

In the drama, we watch several of the students given their assignment, to research the names they are given, mostly of the soldiers who died during World War II. This group is told to comb the archives, books, letters, etc, to see if they can dig up information and understand the deceased better. And provide material for a drama.

In the opening scene, it’s apparent the young students know little of World War II, its causes and how the conflict spread like wildfire across the world. Few understand that an estimated 80 million people died, a number greater than double the present population of Canada. This great conflict, that ended less than 75 years ago, is now all but forgotten. It’s barely recalled that World War II nearly resulted in the end of all the democracies, replaced by a global police state, carved up by various ruthless dictatorships.

Photography by Laura Joy Photography

Initially, the students/actors are mostly indifferent to this task. As a refresher course, they act out the surface actions and events that led to war, waving the flags of the various nations and how they eventually divided up into two major and opposing alliances, the Allied and the Axis forces.

But as the students delve deeper into the facts about the men who gave up their lives in this titanic struggle, the dead begin to reanimate in odd ways, assert their presence. The students soon find themselves haunted, troubled, and even possessed by those who have lived in an earlier time. As the young begin to feel empathy with the fallen, they also find themselves, and their own personal awakening.

The cast is relentless in exploring the details and emotions of the ones who died in the war, which includes the thousands who died in training, merely being prepared for combat. It’s also discovered how many women worked as auxiliaries, joining the war effort in every area, their heroic work barely noted.

Young actors (students) preparing to play those who died in World War II. Image by Adrienne Callan Photography

The students enact a series of war scenes. There is one where a nurse has to perform an emergency medical operation on an officer. There’s a harrowing scene in which a warship sinks and a soldier drowns.

The total scope of The Cenotaph Project is epic, and the drama itself stands as a monument to the hard work of the playwright, actors, and director. Still, there are imperfections in this script, production, and performance. There are moments when the actors’ voices don’t carry in a theatre the size of Five Points. The actors shift from the present into characters of the past, and the number of storylines can become confusing. The play is long at two hours and a half, and it sometimes lacks the tension needed to grab one’s attention and hold it. But overall, it’s a highly worthy effort, and one must congratulate Iain Moggach, Theatre by the Bay’s new Artistic Director, for taking on this formidable enterprise.

Iain Moggach, new Artistic Director of Theatre by the Bay in Barrie, Ontario, Canada

It is often said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But the truth is, learning isn’t an intellectual exercise; it’s an emotional experience. We are changed by our experiences and our stories, and The Cenotaph Project belongs firmly in that realm.

© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

The Cenotaph Project is a new play inspired by Clint Lovell’s book, The Boys From Barrie.

Written by Danielle Joy Kostrich
Directed by Leah Holder

Starring:
Keelan Ballantyne
Alyssa Bartholomew
Drew Carter
Gabriella Circosta
Alex Clay
Alex Hurst
Avi Petliar
Madison Stewart

2019 Season Artists:
Production Manager: Rochelle Reynolds
Technical Director: Brittany-Ann Halbot
Set Designer: Joe Pagnan
Head Carpenter: Diane Frederick
Lighting Designer: Elizabeth Richardson
Sound Designer: Joshua Doerksen
Props Master: Brenda Thompson
Assistant Stage Manager: Lesley Coo

Cenotaph Project Creative Team:

Stage Manager: Khaleel Gandhi
Costume Designer: Claire McMillan
Assistant Director: Valeria Bravo

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SEX T-REX ROARS

49444791_1895038563924941_7219206834727419904_nSEX T-REX ROARS IN CRIME AFTER CRIME (AFTER CRIME)

Toronto theatre team scores in a phenomenal parody of crime film genres.

Period genres in the movies carry markings as distinct as leopard spots. For example, in film noir of the 1940s and 50s, everyone on screen smokes cigarettes, which adds to the look of the movie, creating a particular atmosphere. One thinks of the black and white crime flicks like the Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and a Touch of Evil. In films from the 1970s, the fashions are clingy and slinky, and the moves on the disco floor are highly identifiable. Movies like Saturday Night Fever or even the controversial Cruising, exposing the interior of a gay leather bar, come to mind .

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Kaitlin Morrow, in Crime After Crime, by the SEX T-Rex Theatre Company, Toronto

Parodies of such works give a wink and nod to nostalgia. This make us laugh, but such “gags” won’t hold our attention for long. They’re fun, as in a short skit on Saturday Night Live, but the joke quickly wears thin. To create a sustained parody is much harder. The storyline must grab us, and each gag must top the next, raising the stakes, driving the narrative. For a parody to succeed, it must be as interesting as the material it sends up. Think of the movie Airplane that brilliantly spoofs all the disaster films of the 1970s.
Sex T-Rex is a small Toronto-based theater company. Recently, I saw its sold-out show Crime After Crime (After Crime), staged in a large room, complete with pre-show “atmosphere” to get you in the mood. This includes a gaming table, speakeasy bar, and line-up where you can get “mug shots”.

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Julian Frid, Seann Murray, Conor Bradbury, and Kaitlin Morrow

The play, Crime After Crime is an extended parody of several crime genres, rather like three integrated plays, all wildly comic, and astoundingly inventive. The work is a three-part parody, composed of a Film Noir, a Heist Film, and a Buddy Cop movie. All the action takes place in fictitious Crime City, U.S.A., over a period of 50 years, including the 1950s, late 1960s and 70s, and the top of the 1990s.

Part of the sheer glee of watching Crime After Crime is recognizing the look and specific lingo of the genres, which reference a given epoch. As an audience, we’re jacked up by the nostalgia of the music and songs, along with the period lighting that propels the action. Crime After Crime is hilarious, robust with snappy dialogue.

But what makes Crime After Crime work is its careful construction. There is a wondrous glide to the dialogue, the narrator’s running commentary, the nonsensical storyline, until the whole audience gets punch-drunk laughing. The action is so fast and furious, so inspired, so inventive and theatrical, it makes us giddy. The stage is mostly bare, except for a rack of costumes, and a chair. Four dexterous actors move so quickly, we imagine we’re watching a cast of thousands.

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Seann Murray, Kaitlin Morrow, Julian Frid, and Conor Bradbury fill the stage with hilariously funny antics. The Sex T-Rex team is practiced so that even at high velocity, everything runs like clockwork. The actors know their lines, and all of their moves are as choreographed as dance. The team’s sheer physical prowess is key to their comedy. The whole show runs on imagination and a few basic props.

The cast collectively creates all the special effects. For example, they mime the wind that visibly flaps their overcoats as they dash about. Or, the troop rushes on stage in the dim, holding white clothes hangers to conjure an aerial combat battle, complete with gunfire. Finally, the cumulative lunacy causes the audience to lose it, and there is unstoppable cheering all round.

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I can only pray that Sex T-Rex lines up an American producer who tours them everywhere. The company would make a fortune performing at college campuses alone. This is a politically dark epoch, and people will pay good money to laugh without the fear without restraint.

Hats off to:
Alex Dault and Victoria Laberge, producers; Connor Low, technical director; Kyah Green, LX technician.
Sextrexcomedy.com
All Photos: provided by Sex T-Rex.
©Text by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

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THE SUDDEN RISE OF IMPRESSIVE TALENT

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Iain Moggach: New Artistic Director at Theatre by the Bay, Barrie, Ontario

In 2015, Iain Moggach was a theatre arts student at George Brown in Toronto, mostly centred on acting. But in 2018, only three years later, he would be named the new Artistic Director at Theatre by the Bay, in Simcoe County, about an hour’s drive from Toronto. Moggach’s rapid rise from student to running an established theatre company is a dramatic tale all its own.

Born in 1990, in Ottawa, Iain Moggach had an unusually intellectual childhood. His father is a well-known academic, in the area of political science and his mother is an English teacher. Even as a child, Iain spent time in Pisa, Italy, and Cambridge, England, travelling with his family on sabbaticals. As a boy, he was exposed to Europe’s rich cultural landscape. Abundantly literate, by the age of 16, he had read all of the 38 plays of William Shakespeare. As a teenager, he attended the Foundation Year Programs at King’s College in Halifax, immersed in all the great literary works. This was a classical education, at its finest.
With such a pedigree, one might imagine Iain would have pursued a purely academic career. But Moggach has an unconventional bent. While attending courses in the humanities at Carleton University in Ottawa, he began working in theatre, his secret calling. At Sock ‘n’ Buskin, the university’s theatre company, he handled marketing, publicity, as well as a wide range of errands. After Carleton, he came to the realization that “Theatre is what I need to do.” He decided to enroll in the theatre program at George Brown College in Toronto. Shortly thereafter, an extraordinary opportunity occurred.

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Iain Moggach (left) Alex Dault (centre) and Samantha Holland in Barrie, Ontario

One day, in 2015, while Moggach was in school at George Brown, Alex Dault, the Artistic Director at Theatre by the Bay (TBTB), walked in. Theatre by the Bay is a professional theatre company focused on developing community stories and artists, producing plays that deal with current issues as well as historical events that have affected the local area. Dault explained that the theatre was starting what was called an Independent (indie) Producers Co-op, in Barrie, Ontario. For those selected, this venture offered hands-on training in the production of plays. Iain was aware that to enjoy a sustained career in theatre these days, it’s essential to have a working knowledge of producing drama. As Dault spoke, Moggach saw his chance.
Visiting Barrie in the summer of 2015, Iain discovered the natural splendour of a booming city built around water. There, along with another recruit, Samantha Holland, they worked on the production of Nine Mile Portage, a historical play about Barrie by Alex Dault. Performed outdoors, along the shoreline, Nine Mile Portage did well. Further, Moggach directed Romeo and Juliet in nearby Port Perry.

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Outdoor staging of Nine Mile Portage, Barrie, Ontario

After the summer, and unexpectedly, the post of General Manager became vacant at Theatre by the Bay. A phone call from Alex Dault persuaded Iain to move to Barrie for a year, filling the job. In 2016, Moggach was promoted to the company’s Executive Director.
The 2016 TBTB season proved to be momentous, with two shows produced in Barrie. One was the epic play, Faust, the masterpiece by the German playwright Goethe, directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey, with original music by Leslie Arden. The cast was astonishing and Faust was a sell-out.

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Also, the newly minted play “We Must Have More Men!”, co-written by Alex Dault and Danielle Joy Kostrich, about how local life in Barrie was affected during World War I was a smash hit. In 2017 came The Five Points, a dramatic work drawn from interviews with the townsfolk of Barrie, many of which Iain conducted. The Five Points provided a surprising look at the growing pains a small city suffers as it transitions into urban sprawl. In this large ensemble production, Iain Moggach played one of the more poignant roles. The drama itself made Barrie, Ontario, a symbol of a community struggling to hold on to its identity while undergoing disruptive expansion.
Making Barrie a Hub of Theatrical Activity

In Barrie, Moggach found himself working non-stop not just on main stage productions, but also on one of the major initiatives of TBTB, the Barrie Theatre Lab (BTL), which began in January 2017.

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Iain Moggach worked to bring the BTL to life, overseeing the monthly event. Moggach reads all the submissions, ensuring that each gathering showcases a diverse collection of scripts, in various styles and genres. The Barrie Theatre Lab isn’t just about reading plays. It’s a key way of connecting to the community, in terms of programming and outreach, allowing those attending, including theatre management, to hear all the scripts and view a large number of actors who might wind up in future productions. So far, there have been 24 Labs that have workshopped plays, musicals, film scripts, script breakdowns/concepts and poetry. There have been 66 pieces read over those 24 Labs by 44 playwrights from Haliburton to Toronto, but mostly in Simcoe County.

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As it has evolved, the Lab is a natural social environment where talent mingles with talent. Having personally attended several readings, the range of playwrights and scripts is astonishing. The Lab has also led to the doubling of the number of local actors auditioning for the TBTB season, and also tripled the theatre’s volunteer base. The local reaction to the Lab has been very positive, but as attendance grew, so did expenses. Additional financial support was needed for snacks, printing, and space for those attending. Anna Small, a local patron, learned of this need and stepped in as Title Sponsor. Again, this is the kind of community support that often appears when a theatre’s management shows genuine commitment.

Additional funding from the City of Barrie has also expanded the Lab’s activities. The Barrie Theatre Workshops were conducted in November and December of 2018. Instead of simply sitting and reading plays, the casts were sent copies of the scripts ahead of time, and acclaimed Canadian directors were brought in to workshop the script on its feet, with the actors moving about. Two such workshops were conducted by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey and Eli Ham, respectively. This allowed those attending to see more clearly what a professional rehearsal environment looks like. Since the Lab’s creation, with all these engaging activities, the number of local actors auditioning for the theatre’s season has doubled, and the number of volunteers has tripled.

A Turning Point for Theatre by the Bay

2018 turned into a triumphant season for Theatre by the Bay. Mary of Shanty Bay, written by Leah Holder and directed by Brandon Nicoletti, was sold out. Also, Alex Dault’s wildly comic farce, Northern Lights, was a huge hit. The play, based on the notorious raid of North America’s largest grow-up, in Barrie, was a critical and financial success.

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Poster for Alex Dault’s wild comedy Northern Lights. Photo by Jordan Probst.

In 2018, riding on a high, Dault stepped down as AD, pursuing other opportunities, and Iain Moggach was named new Artistic Director of Theatre by the Bay. Only 28 years old, Iain Moggach now heads the theatrical enterprise. Genial by nature, he has abundant energy and a will to succeed. Also, his hands-on qualifications and genuine enthusiasm attracts support and resources.


Under Alex Dault’s vision, Theatre by the Bay pushed a mandate to write local shows, and use local artists whenever possible. This mandate will continue, and as Iain notes, “This model has spread to other theatre communities.” Regarding his new tenure as leader of Theatre by the Bay, Moggach remarks, “I’m excited about being Artistic Director here because the Barrie community is becoming more diverse and the stories here more complex. We have a new community of artists and we’re discovering what a strong local culture can mean.”

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But local history isn’t always squeaky clean. Throughout its history, Simcoe County has nurtured a dark underbelly filled with nefarious activities. The land was mostly wilderness, barely populated, and criminal gangs enjoyed fair pickings. At present, Moggach is busy writing a musical destined for the stage dealing with the shadier and more sinister elements of what was referred to as “uncivilized land”. This is just one of many projects. In March of 2019, Moggach will be busy directing the beautiful and haunting play Dancing at Lughnasa, by Brian Friel, at the South Simcoe Theatre.

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Iain Moggach and Alex Dault chatting before a show premieres.

Theatre by the Bay isn’t just a company. It’s a true “grass roots theatre movement”, deeply connected to its community. Iain Moggach is now in charge of it, and he is certainly an artist worth watching.
https://theatrebythebay.com/

All photos by Burke Campbell. Poster shot for Northern Lights by Jordan Probst.

© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

Posted in acting, actors, arts, Barrie, Canada, comedy, drama, Entertainment, Ontario, play writing, playwright, theater, Theatre, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CHRISTMAS PANTO ROCKS SANDCASTLE

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Cast of Excali-Purr, the new Christmas pantomime at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, Toronto, Canada.

RED SANDCASTLE launches the New Year with theatrical fireworks!

A pantomime or panto is a kind of musical comedy, developed in England and performed during Christmas and New Years. Every year, Red Sandcastle Theatre premieres a newly-minted holiday pantomime. Originally, the panto was performed by family members involving zany costumes, music, dancing, bad word-puns, cross-dressing, and improbably plotline, referencing folklore or fairytale. Each year, playwrights Rosemary Doyle and Jane A. Shields collaborate, creating a new and dramatic comedy. At the Red Sandcastle, the art form has taken a giant leap forward. At this show, we see real actors putting on a first-rate production. These productions are SO splendid; the audience should be able to see them all year long.

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Jackie English as “The Cheshire Cat”

These annual pantos are always narrated by one permanent character, the Cheshire Cat. The Cat is always played by Jackie English, all in pink, with a distinctly French accent. Across the years, this feline character has become as famous as Canada’s moose, loon, or beaver. Hopefully, one day, the Cat’s familiar silhouette will grace this country’s flag, its paw on the maple leaf.

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Linette Doherty (left) and Rosie Callaghan (right)

This year’s panto, Excali-Purr, seems inspired by the legend of young King Arthur of England who must discover, through trial and error, his true lineage and destiny. In this, he is aided by the magician Merlin, and others. There are of course, counter-plots, to put Arthur’s brother on the throne. There are chivalrous knights, heroes, villains, and even awesome cupcakes available at intermission, home-made by one of the show’s super villains. (OMG they are addictive!)

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Taran Beaty

The cast consists of Jackie English, Matthew Donovan, Linette Doherty, Andrew McGillvray, Rosie Callaghan, Taran Beaty, and Farid Yazdani. These are all professional actors and they know how to entertain. The cast hits the stage running and the audience goes nuts with excitement. The adults and kids squeals at every tremendous costume change, and all “cheer” and “boo”. And with Deborah Ann Frankel at the technical helm, special effects sizzle! One minute the stage fills with smoke. The next, bubbles float from the ceiling. Gigantic emojis suddenly swirl about the stage. The very air throbs. Suspense is everywhere, as the whole cast slip and slide into dance numbers that astound.

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Taran Beaty

I must draw special attention to Taran Beaty, who appears in the panto annually, wearing increasingly spectacular costumes. Mr. Beaty not only acts, but he is the first Merlin that I’ve ever seen play an electric guitar.

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One of many dance scenes in Excali-Purr, all highly choreographed.

Everyone on stage is a slave to the music, such as Matthew Donovan, in full armour, playing a trombone and dancing up a storm. All the women, Jackie English, Linette Doherty, and Rosie Callaghan, gyrate and jive with delicious dexterity. In particular, I must mention Farid Yazdani, who pushes the boundaries of dance beyond anything imaginable. Anatomically, I had no idea a man’s gluteus maximus could undulate at that velocity, transcending the laws of physics. He also does an Elvis impersonation that left me with my jaw on the floor.

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Andrew McGillvray (left) and Rosie Callaghan (right).

Andrew McGillvray plays “Twanky of the Lake”, some type of cheerful “witch”. His character is the worst at spelling, inadvertently setting in motion much of the play’s intrigue. Mr. McGillvray sports a lean, athletic physique, and looks better than any man I’ve ever seen in a bare-shouldered evening gown. He looks particularly ravishing in an abundant wig he wears of a color not found in nature. I believe Rosemary Doyle has had a hand in the selection and creation of many of the show’s costumes, which spawn a near hallucinatory effect on the spectators.

I forget if this is the 7th or 8th panto at the Red Sandcastle, but I do wish that someone would collectively publish the works as a part of Canadian theatre. You’d be surprised how easily manuscripts get lost these days and it is imperative that the text be preserved and performed worldwide!

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Farid Yazdani

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Linette Doherty (left) and Jackie English (right) in Excali-Purr

Excali-Purr is great entertainment for adults and children, and personally, I think if you brought your cat, it would have a terrific time, as well. (You’d have to clear that with the management, I suspect).

God bless you all!

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Matthew Donovan

© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved. All photos by Burke Campbell

Posted in actors, arts, Canada, Cats, comedy, culture, Dance, drama, Entertainment, Literary, Music, musical, Ontario, playwright, theater, Theatre, Toronto, tourism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UNHOLY FINDS A PERFECT SETTING

UNHOLY FINDS A PERFECT SETTING AT ZOOMERHALL

UNHOLY is a play about whether or not today’s women need religion. Primarily this is because most organized religions, dominated by men, have institutionalized virulent misogyny. These religions have mostly failed to promote women’s rights, causes, or aspirations. This is a controversial issue and therefore, ripe for dramatic conflict.

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Playwright Diane Flacks is a serious thinker. She does her homework, creating characters that represent the different points of view. She conjures four women, placing them in the context of a TV debate panel, three who believe in God and one avowed atheist. The women are played by Barbara Gordon (an ex-nun), Niki Landau, an orthodox Jew, Bahareh Yaraghi (a Muslim), and Diane Flacks, a Jewish atheist. Blair Williams plays the male referee of the debate, posing questions and working to keep the debate upbeat.

This production of the work is ideally adapted for and staged in ZoomerHall, perfectly rigged for broadcasting and taping TV shows, in Liberty Village. In this incarnation of Unholy, the audience is actually part of the taping of this production.

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The debate commences and the characters spar and verbal sparks fly. Flacks has fashioned characters who are more complex than mere mouthpieces for their various arguments. We get background on each woman. For example, Barbara Gordon plays a Catholic nun who was defrocked immediately after her male superiors discovered she had permitted a hospital abortion, in order to save the mother’s life. As the feisty ex-nun, she retains her Catholicism, and continues to fight the restrictions of her religion. As with all the women, we discover their private secrets during the debate, and off. We see what drives them to believe the things they do. We even look in on a behind-the-scenes lesbian affair.

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The actors are all accomplished and turn in convincing performances. In Unholy, it becomes apparent that the intellectual arguments support each woman’s emotional needs. Whatever a person says they “believe” is really an explanation for what they require to fill the emptiness they all seem to share. The way each woman “interprets” the Bible or the Quran depends on what they need to support their beliefs.

On the surface, Unholy is a drama concerned with matters of the soul. But somehow, it doesn’t feel that way. While the central tension of the play rings true, the conflict between belief and practice, some intangible ingredient is missing. Perhaps spiritual matters are best revealed through more dramatic action , not through discussion or debate. The play is full of verbal pyrotechnics. Still, the heated exchanges contain little of the power and clarity of a simple parable. The work is clever, but lacks a certain resonance.

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The only religions covered in Unholy are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, perhaps the most male-dominated and sexually repressive faiths around. In these male-ruled religions, women have traditionally played a minor role. To put this work in historical context, not all religions are as sin and guilt-ridden as the three “desert religions” described in Unholy. Watching the play makes one mindful of earlier pagan religions, populated by vibrant and powerful female gods. These include goddesses such as Artemis, Aphrodite, Athena, and Isis, the mother god of Egypt. Before Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the pagan world was a landscape filled with marvellous deities, both male and female.

Adapting centuries-old dogma to fit the yearnings of 21st century women is a major task indeed. If one is passionate about religious beliefs, either pro or con, one should find this show engrossing.

Photos from ZoomerMedia website

Copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

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STONER FARCE FOR THE AGES

NORTHERN LIGHTS POSTER

Hit ‘stoner’ comedy takes off!

FARCE ON A GRAND SCALE

In January, 2004, the decent folk of Barrie, Ontario, had their innocence shattered. On a far-fetched tip, the police swarmed a huge building, once the site of the Molson’s brewery, and discovered that the vast space had been secretly converted into Canada’s “biggest indoor marijuana farm” or “grow op”. The police and the entire country were stunned by what was uncovered.

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Apparently, and unbeknownst to all, teams of workers had toiled 24 hours a day, endlessly, “caring for more than 30,000 high-grade marijuana plants that produced an annual cash crop worth an estimated $100-million.” All this had gone on a few feet from the major highway, making it easy to ship the product. Barrie was scandalized. And the whole mess made national news.

Now, Alex Dault, artistic director of Theatre by the Bay, and a skilled creator of historical plays, has penned Northern Lights, a wild comedy, inspired by this amazing “mother of all police raids”.

While the idea for Northern Lights springs from the original drug bust, the work quickly vaults into classic farce, full of mistaken identities, misunderstood motives, unravelling strategies, and adventurous escapes.

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Farce, by its nature, is revelatory and perverse. It shows human society as having a thin surface of reason, decorum, and balance. In fact, that brittle surface can snap at any given moment, madness drowning all. Human institutions and personal aspirations are mocked. With farce, not much is sacred.

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In addition to a seditious plot, Dault imaginatively creates a wide array of screwy characters, everyone from respected townsfolk to the more sketchy types who labour away in the dank and purgatorial dope factory. Further, as the play unfolds, the successful drug business seems linked to other activities, implicating the exalted world of high art. All scandals are discreetly connected, and when one breaks, they all roll into full view, like pearls scattering across the floor.

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While specific to Barrie, Northern Lights is gleefully universal, and a tremendous amount of fun. You don’t have to love weed to love this play. The comedy also celebrates one of Canada’s most honored traditions, that of marketing illegal contraband. Lest we forget, many of the country’s most respected families got rich during the American Prohibition, smuggling whiskey into the U.S.A.

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Northern Lights begins when one of the young workers in the indoor farm gets caught crossing the American border. A great deal of marijuana is found concealed in his car’s tires. The frightened worker makes a call to his Mom back in Barrie, and asks her for an astronomical sum of money to get him out of mischief. Instead, she feels her son’s employer should bear the responsibility for his “work-related” problem. Angered, she marches right down to the “office” and confronts “management”. There, Mom is mistaken as the always unseen and murderous drug lord who remotely runs the grow op. From this point on, things get sorely out of hand and the lunacy escalates.

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Both set and lighting, designed by Joe Pagnan, are latent with subtle and shocking ambiance. We see only a row of low stools, each stool in the shape of an alphabetical letter, spelling out the name “MOLSONS”. The painted stage floor starts to undulate, if you stare at it long enough. With liftoff, Northern Lights is rather like Alice in Wonderland laced with all kinds of acrobatics, dance scenes, and visual tricks so unexpected, your eye brows nearly shoot off your face in amazement. While the play opens in the “grow-op” and it isn’t long before the whole audience is sucked down the rabbit hole, and dropped in Mad Hatter Land.

Alex Dault, who both wrote and directs this work, has assembled a wicked cast that works well together. One remembers each actor, but I must mention Tim Fitzgerald Walker, playing an incompetent American drug agent. Walker, a well-known Toronto actor, is surely a comic treasure. It’s worth the price of admission just to see his on-stage antics, not to mention the costumes he wears. As well, John Fray is an incredible chameleon playing the part of the intensely manic plant manager, Long Legs, not to mention another character, Fish Farm Johnson, who seems to have pioneered some type of fetishistic obsession. Barbara Clifford, Janet-Lynne Durnford, Joanna Keats, Tom Ketchum, Frank Kewin, Vivian Or, and Chloe Payne all bring high voltage energy to their parts. In particular, Chloe Payne is incredible at mime movements, so well suited to this kind of comic venture.

To me, Northern Lights is a breakthrough for Alex Dault, as an artistic director, playwright, and director. With meagre resources, and the hard work of the producer/general manager, Iain Moggach, Theatre by the Bay has created this wonderfully fetching and commercial comedy. I can only hope this cheeky farce makes it to Toronto, and every other city where audiences love to laugh.

Northern Lights Poster 8

Crew of Northern Lights:
Director/Playwright: Alex Dault
Iain Moggach: Producer
Production Manager: Beth Elliot
Assistant Production Manager / Assistant Set Designer: Rosalind Naccarato
Stage Manager: Becky Wong
Assistant Stage Manager: Jenn Burns
Set Designer: Joe Pagnan
Costume Designer: Claire McMillan
Composer / Music Designer: Joshua Doerksen
Production Assistant: Emily Bradford
Voice Coach: Leah Holder
Fight Choreographer: Erin Eldershaw
Choreographer: Brandon Crone
Dramaturg: Emma McKenzie Hillier
Props Master: Vera Oleynikova
Assistant Director: Richard Varty

Photos by: Jordan Probst
Tickets:

https://secure1.tixhub.com/barrie/online/b_otix.asp?cboPerformances=1848&cboEvent=785

 

 

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MARY OF SHANTY BAY

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Glowing Production of New Work

“The dancers are all gone under the hill.” – T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

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Leaving home, or making a new one, is an essential part of human history. But if you ask anyone what home “is”, you’d get a thousand different answers. Home is really a state of mind. It can be where family is, or it can be a location on a map. One might even find “home” in another’s arms.

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Left to Right: Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic, Siobhan O’Malley, Leah Holder, Cesare Scarpone. Cast of Mary of Shanty Bay. Photo by Bryan Harris.

This notion of home lies at the centre of Theatre by the Bay’s new drama, Mary of Shanty Bay. The work, written by Leah Holder, is drawn from the diaries of Mary Sophia Gapper, who lived 200 years ago. Holder has taken these scribblings, creating both an adventure and romantic drama out of them, a tale of a woman and a man in love, and allowing their sturdy alliance to help found Shanty Bay, a village just outside of Barrie, Ontario. The resulting drama, Mary of Shanty Bay, is not only engrossing, this particular staging sets in motion ripples across time and imagination.

 

Mary of Shanty Bay photo

Foreground: Leah Holder and Cesare Scarpone. Background, left to right: Siobhan O’Malley, Isaish Thomas Kolundzic, and director Brandon Nicoletti. Photo by Bryan Harris.

The play is staged mere feet from where Mary and her husband lie buried, in the graveyard of St. Thomas Anglican Church, a church they helped to build. The play, in this setting, becomes timeless, and has echoes of a “village pageant”, a re-enactment of history that is really a continuation of generations. One is very aware, especially at the start of the play, that Mary is torn between leaving family and history in one land, and creating new ones in another. At the start, it’s as if her soul is being ripped apart, immigrating to a new country. But instead of dying, her spirit reaches outward, opening a new chapter in Canada.

 

The drama is taken from passages in Mary’s journals, which are details about what she sees, her feelings, her travels, and of the people in her life. Originally, her plan is simple. She intends to have a singular “adventure”, coming to Canada for a year, visiting her brother, and then, returning to England, to live with her sister. Her destiny, she believes, is to help raise her sister’s children and live life as a spinster, forever unwed.

But in the course of the year, all that changes. She is approached by Benjamin Thorne, a wealthy merchant who wishes to wed her, and then by the man she falls in love with, Edward O’Brien, a retired officer. In settling on Edward, she sets in motion their mutual destiny, helping to found Shanty Bay, and building a church.

Held in the community centre next to the church, this production is memorable, due to the committed work and imagination of everyone involved. The play’s language is articulate and eloquent, as Mary is of the gentry and is fluent in reading and writing. It’s always dicey to turn literary prose journals into living drama, with interesting dialogue and action. It can come off as stiff, forced, and boring. But with Mary of Shanty Bay, everything works. Director Brandon Nicoletti has taken this long work, which runs over two hours, and moved it at a swift pace, without losing any passion.

 

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Leah Holder and Cesare Scarpone. Photo by Bryan Harris

Leah Holder, the playwright, also plays Mary Gapper with a lovely mix of genteel curiosity and grit, giving us a woman who is tenacious enough to live in what is really a wilderness. But on stage, Leah Holder really comes into her own when she is matched with Cesare Scarpone, who plays her husband, Edward O’Brien, a retired officer on half pay. In this role, Scarpone displays an easy confidence, cheer, and masculine grace on stage. Together with Leah Holder, these two actors communicate a patience, respect, and enjoyment of each other that adds a terrific sparkle to the whole drama. They seem so genuine and determined, the audience believes such a couple could found a town, or survive any struggle.

 

Photo by Bryan Harris - Mary of Shanty Bay

Siobhan O’Malley and Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic in Mary of Shanty Bay, by Leah Holder. Photo by Bryan Harris

Siobhan O’Malley and Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic play several and distinct characters so convincingly, I forgot the entire cast consists of only four actors. Director Brandon Nicoletti shows a special talent here. He knows how to pick actors and he knows how to bring out the best in them. I’ve seen scores of historical productions that would put anyone to sleep, but Mary of Shanty Bay is alive with details, dramatic tension, inventiveness, and atmosphere that hold your interest. For much of that, one must credit Natalia Tcherniak (set design) and Claire McMillan (costumes), as well as sound designer, Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski.  Others essential to this successful venture include Jason Thompson (lighting designer), Vera Oleynikova (propsmaster), and Rosalind Naccarato, the assistant set designer.

By the way, tickets have sold extremely well for this show, and I urge anyone who can to make every effort to see it. Theatre professionals in particular would benefit from catching this little jewel.

 

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Director Brandon Nicoletti. Photo by Burke Campbell

St. Thomas Anglican Church
28 Church Street, Oro-Medonte (Shanty Bay), Ontario
May 25th- June 10th
(Previews May 23rd, May 24th)
7:30 PM and 2:00 PM performances available.

http://theatrebythebay.com/
Photos: Bryan Harris, of Bryan Harris Photography

 

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