A FASCINATING THRILLER PREMIERES

 

 

(Left to right) Kyle Bailey, Alexander Thomas in Stephen Joffe’s Letters to Annabelle. Photo by John Gundy.

Last night, I took in Stephen Joffe’s new play, Letters to Annabelle, at the MAY Cafe, premiering during the Fringe festival. The Fringe offers around 100 theatrical events, all of them  now running at venues across the city. But Letters to Annabelle stands out, for several reasons. When the play starts, you think you are about to watch a sentimental cliché. But rather quickly, conventional characters grow more complex, there are twists and turns, the mood grows darker, and a mature narrative opens seductively, like a poisonous blossom.

Vanessa Trenton, Kyle Bailey

Vanessa Trenton and Kayle Bailey in Letters to Annabelle. Photo by John Gundy

 

The play is staged in a real bar, so you can order drinks, as well as food. The atmosphere of the MAY Cafe adds beautifully to the ambiance of the work. Even better, lovely dance girls loll about the room in filmy lingerie and negligees, and piano music fills us with cheer. Soon the audience feels part of the play’s fabric.  Director Yehuda Fisher knows pacing and he allows solid actors to listen to their instincts. The work unfolds both briskly and slowly, creating its own rhythm.

Vanessa Trenton, Anne van Leeuwen, Alexander Thomas, Kyle Bailey,

Cast of Letters to Annabelle. (left to right) Vanessa Trenton, Anne van Leeuwen, Alexander Thomas, Kyle Bailey. Photo by John Gundy

As noted,  Letters to Annabelle begins as a familiar story. It’s the end of World War I. A young handsome Canadian soldier, Pt. Liam Crane, well played by Kyle Bailey, returns to a bar in Montreal. There he searches for a girl, the beautiful Annabelle, played by the vivacious Anne van Leeuwen. Although they met only for a short time, Annabelle remains the love of Crane’s life, a treasure in his memory.

In Montreal, Pt. Crane questions the bartender and owner, Louis-Andre, but finds no girl named Annabelle. Louis-Andre is philosophical, gruff; evasive.  The actor Alexander Thomas gives us Louis-Andre, a grand mix of sly negotiator, gentlemanly manners, and a generous heart. As with all in this play, nothing is as it seems, and we begin to see the more sinister aspects of the bartender’s pragmatism. This is one of those noteworthy characters that a gifted actor can awaken, and Alexander Thomas rises to the occasion. He both enchants and repels.

Anne van Leeuwen

Anne van Leeuwen in Stephen Joffe’s Letters to Annabelle. Photo by John Gundy.

Pt. Crane’s quest for Annabelle is stalled by his predicament. The soldier has empty pockets, bad memories of the war, and secrets of his own. Louis-Andre supplies him with food, clothes, shelter, and employs him for ‘errands’.  One of the bar’s entertainers, a girl named Maggie May (Vanessa Trenton), in fact, a childhood acquaintance of Crane, tries to help him solve the mystery that surrounds Annabelle. Trenton is very good in this part. She knows how to put on a bright face, while hiding her own heart, information, and obsessions.

Letters to Annabelle is a well-crafted thriller, in fact, a film-noir written for the stage. Playwright Stephen Joffe pays attention to every detail, and as the mystery unfolds, the audience knows they are in the hands of a careful writer. We fall willingly under his spell, as he closes his velvet fist around us.

 

Joffe is a diverse, interesting, and accomplished artist. He has acted since his youth, is presently the lead singer of a successful band, Birds of Bellswoods, and he writes beautifully. But what makes him unique is that he does all of it with astonishing skill. As an actor, he has the potential for true greatness. And his writing demonstrates an economy and virility that most would not attempt.

Without a doubt, play writing is the most difficult of the literary art forms. Even a small play can have a hundred moving parts and each must coordinate with the other to form a unified story. Information must be delivered seamlessly so that all of it is heard and understood by a live audience. Any good playwright knows it is hard as hell to take a worn out story, make it new, give it depth, and surprise an audience. And that’s what Stephen Joffe has managed to do with Letters for Annabelle. One feels he could easily turn out a screenplay for a movie that would have broad appeal.

 

I’ve seen Stephen Joffe sing, perform in a band, act in plays, and I’ve attended his plays, performed by other actors. Clearly, Mr. Joffe has an abundance of talent. But even more than that, there is a fascinating perspective that travels through his written work. The playwright operates from a vantage beyond his years. He looks boyish and innocent, but there’s too much experience in his eyes. And what he has observed surfaces in his use of language, its music, and the way he deploys it.

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Stephen Joffe. Photo by Burke Campbell

The author of Letters to Annabelle should be congratulated on his success. It was no easy task to get this drama up and running, and the entire crew should be celebrated. This includes Panfish Productions, Director/Producer Yehuda Fisher; and Assistant Producer Ashley Groves.

Other Members of the Crew:

Lindsay Lowes, Stage Manager; Sydney LaForme, Assistant Director, Assistant Choreographer; Melanie Nablo, Assistant Stage Manager; Danielle Oswald, Choreographer; David Robert Leslie, Fight Choreographer, Knox Harter, Assistant Choreographer; Melanie Garros, Set/Props Designer; Sarah Arrunategui, Costume Designer; Sadie Johnston, Assistant Sound Designer; John Gundy, Photography; Dahlia Katz, Graphic Design; Jesse Fraser, Pianist; Burlesque Performers: Knox Harter, Esther DeVille, Miss Reason.

Special praise to the MAY Cafe for its wonderful hospitality. It’s places like MAY Cafe that make Toronto a great city.

Photos by John Gundy

Tickets:

https://fringetoronto.com/festivals/fringe/event/letters-annabelle

Venue:

http://www.maytoronto.com/

© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

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Posted in actors, arts, Canada, drama, Entertainment, Literary, Ontario, playwright, theater, Theatre, Toronto, tourism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE MAGIC OF PRIDE

Burke Campbell 003

Pride. In Toronto, Canada. 2017. What began years ago as a small political event on Church Street has grown into one of the most massive carnivals in North America, with well over a million attendees. Historically, it’s a “gay pride”, but it has morphed into a gigantic extravaganza where people of every race, color, creed, and sexuality fill the downtown to dance, party, and feel the groove. It’s proud and pagan.

Burke Campbell 002

Tens of thousands of people flood Yonge Street, Toronto’s Main Street, for Pride.

Originally, it was a public display, a show of force, and an attempt to secure homosexual and lesbian equal rights under the law. It was a call to end fear, and to free gays from having to live their lives in a closet, their relationships hidden from view.

Burke Campbell 007

Now, at least in Toronto, Pride has become solidly mainstream. The downtown is filled to overflowing with celebrants— gay and straight couples, single men and women, kids, and even pets wearing rainbow flags.

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While the Pride Parade is often viewed at the “big spectacle”, it’s really the fun of just walking around the downtown, especially Church Street, which is cordoned off for three full days. There, crowds wander up and down, checking out the information booths, shopping, buying meals at food wagons, and gawking at the incredible costumes. There is even public nudity which is accepted without a word.

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While many cities still shun gays, the money generated by gay events is staggering. In Toronto, Pride dumps millions of dollars into the local economy. And favourable word-of-mouth keeps them coming.

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Marketers have noted that gay tourism is “recession proof” and is, in general, quite steady through economic ups and downs. Friendships are made here, which encourages return trips and personal networks blossom.

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I took a few pictures. Thought I’d post them. Hope you like them.

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MAN IN GASMASK

Burke Campbell 001 - fireman

 

Burke Campbell 002 - shirtless

© Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

 

Posted in Canada, culture, Gay, Media, Ontario, Photography, PRIDE, Toronto, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EVEN MORE PRIDE

 

Burke Campbell 001 Trojan group

Trojan models at PRIDE in Toronto, Canada. Photo by Burke Campbell.

 

Pride. In Toronto, Canada. 2017. What began years ago as a small political event on Church Street has grown into one of the most massive carnivals in North America, with well over a million attendees.

Burke Campbell 003 - rainbow

Historically, it’s a “gay pride”, but it has morphed into a gigantic extravaganza where people of every race, color, creed, and sexuality fill the downtown to dance, party, and feel the groove. It’s proud and pagan.

Burke Campbell 001 - closeup
Originally, it was a public display, a show of force, and an attempt to secure homosexual and lesbian equal rights under the law. It was a call to end fear, and to free gays from having to live their lives in a closet, their relationships hidden from view.

Burke Campbell 001 - Faerie
Now, at least in Toronto, Pride has become solidly mainstream. The downtown is filled to overflowing with celebrants— gay and straight couples, single men and women, kids, and even pets wearing rainbow flags.

Burke Campbell 004 - Nathaniel
While the Pride Parade is often viewed at the “big spectacle”, it’s really the fun of just walking around the downtown, especially Church Street, which is cordoned off for three full days. There, crowds wander up and down, checking out the information booths, shopping, buying meals at food wagons, and gawking at the incredible costumes. There is even public nudity which is accepted without a word.

Burke Campbell 001 - men in uniform
While many cities still shun gays, the money generated by gay events is staggering. In Toronto, Pride dumps millions of dollars into the local economy. And favourable word-of-mouth keeps them coming.

Burke Campbell 010

Marketers have noted that gay tourism is “recession proof” and is, in general, quite steady through economic ups and downs. Friendships are made here, which encourages return trips and personal networks blossom.

Burke Campbell 001 - Tall guy
I took a few pictures. Thought I’d post them. Hope you like them.

 

Burke Campbell 003 - TD shot

Burke Campbell 003

 

© Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

 

Posted in Canada, culture, Gay, Media, PRIDE, Toronto, tourism | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE ALL CAME FOR PRIDE

Burke Campbell 013 - crowds

Massive crowds fill Toronto’s downtown core for the Pride Parade 2017. Photo by Burke Campbell

Pride. In Toronto, Canada. 2017.

What began years ago as a small political event on Church Street has grown into one of the most massive carnivals in North America, with well over a million attendees. Historically, it’s a “gay pride”, but it has morphed into a gigantic extravaganza where people of every race, color, creed, and sexuality fill the downtown to dance, party, and feel the groove. It’s proud and pagan.

Burke Campbell 007

Originally, it was a public display, a show of force, and an attempt to secure homosexual and lesbian equal rights under the law. It was a call to end fear, and to free gays from having to live their lives in a closet, their relationships hidden from view.

Burke Campbell 013 - hot girl

Now, at least in Toronto, Pride has become solidly mainstream. The downtown is filled to overflowing with celebrants— gay and straight couples, single men and women, kids, and even pets wearing rainbow flags.

 

While the Pride Parade is often viewed at the “big spectacle”, it’s really the fun of just walking around the downtown, especially Church Street, which is cordoned off for three full days. There, crowds wander up and down, checking out the information booths, shopping, buying meals at food wagons, and gawking at the incredible costumes.

Burke Campbell 012

There is even public nudity which is accepted without a word.

Burke Campbell 005

While many cities still shun gays, the money generated by gay events is staggering. In Toronto, Pride dumps millions of dollars into the local economy. And favourable word-of-mouth keeps them coming.

Burke Campbell 006 - two strong guys

Marketers have noted that gay tourism is “recession proof” and is, in general, quite steady through economic ups and downs. Friendships are made here, which encourages return trips and personal networks blossom.

Burke Campbell 004

I took a few pictures. Thought I’d post them. Hope you like them.

Burke Campbell 001 - police

Burke Campbell 006

Burke Campbell 003 - jockstrap

© Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

 

Posted in Canada, culture, Gay, Media, Ontario, PRIDE, Toronto, tourism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

BRIGHT POCKET OF MUSIC

© Burke Campbell 044 - Hands of Donavon LeNabat - b&w

The hands of Donavon LeNabat on keyboard at Statler’s, Toronto, Canada

 

Statler’s is a bar on Church Street. Recently, I started to hang out there. The place is especially amazing on Monday and Thursday nights, around 10:00 pm. Monday night is SINGular Sensation, a show hosted by Jennifer Walls, with Donavon LeNabat on keyboard and Jamie Bird, on percussions. SINGular Sensation focuses mostly on Broadway songs. On Thursdays, LeNabat runs his own “Open Mic”, which lets anyone get up and sing. But usually, only the best voices in Toronto show up and entertain brilliantly. Occasionally, both evenings are “subbed out” to different hosts and musicians. For example, recently, Monday nights are headed by Jenna Warriner, who can belt out any song and acts as a glamorous ringmaster. But whichever of these two nights you go, there is stellar entertainment. The place just rocks!

© Burke Campbell 006 - Statler's Sign

I should mention that Donavon LeNabat is a brilliant pianist, and along with Jamie Bird, they make a phenomenal combo. Both are wonderful singers in their own right. In addition to these two, incredible musicians often just show up, and you’ll find yourself listening to a full band sound, spontaneously conjured. Statler’s is a window on Toronto’s complex network of musical talent. And if anyone is a true talent scout, this is the place to install a permanent chair.

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Donavon LeNabat at Statler’s, Toronto, Canada

Statler’s sits in the middle of the gay village, but music accepts all, on Monday and Thursday nights, the crowd is a mix of attractive men and women. The whole tone of the show is light, sophisticated, and SO much fun!

© Burke Campbell 058 - Mel singing at Statlers

MeL Côté – Chanteuse at Statler’s, on Church Street, Toronto

Toronto is splitting at the seams with gifted performers, and Statler’s is an easy showcase for both established and new singers. The type of music is all over the map. You can hear newly-written songs, pop, Broadway, and every type of classic, no matter the style. It’s all good and the atmosphere is cheering.

© Burke Campbell 064 - Daniel giving it up - b&w

Daniel Abrahamson, singing up a storm at Statler’s

 

So I do urge you, if you like to listen to the best in Toronto, live, you must go to Statler’s and try it. Summer is coming, and the sound will spill out onto the street, scribbled in neon. Warm nights and hot music. Who could ask for anything more?

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Scott Neary at Statler’s, Toronto, Canada

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Jahlen Barnes singing at Statler’s

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Jeff Beauchamp at Statler’s, in Toronto

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Matt Dell at Statler’s, Toronto, Canada

© Burke Campbell 007 - Jamie Bird 2 - b&w

Jamie Bird at Statler’s

© Burke Campbell 004 - Michael James

Statler’s owner, Michael James MacDonell

Check out Statler’s

http://statlers.ca/

All photos by Burke Campbell

Posted in Canada, Entertainment, Gay, Music, musical, Ontario, tourism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A TURN OF THE PAGE

© Burke Campbell 095 - hugs

Closing party of The Storefront Theatre at its 955 Bloor West location. Photo by Burke Campbell

After a few brief years, The Storefront Theatre closed at its location, 955 Bloor Street West, near the Ossington subway stop. Rather scruffy looking, and on a corner, the small space become home to some of the most talented directors, actors, and designers of the independent theatre movement. In its short life it staged playwrights, ranging from Shakespeare, to David Mamet, to amazing new talents like Kat Sandler. The little theatre came to represent all that was fresh, and wonderfully youthful in the Toronto entertainment scene. Sadly, The Storefront was in mid-season when its lease came to an end and the place was rented to others.

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The Storefront is just part of the desperate plight that threatens Toronto right now, as rent and housing prices soar everywhere. The city is now carpeted with sterile condos and there is a lack of affordable space for small businesses and those offering entertainment.

© Burke Campbell 001 - Rosemary & Adam

 

The closing at 955 was a shock to the various budding companies that have produced at the location, including the Red One Theatre Collective, Theatre Brouhaha, and others. There is a search for new venues going on now. Hopefully one can be found.

The Storefront had a major closing party in January, and just about everyone showed up. I took some pictures, and rather than write about its history, productions, and personalities, I just wanted to post a few images of that last great night of revelry.

© Burke Campbell 011 - Claire Burns & Brandon Crone - cropped

© Burke Campbell 204 - Amanda - & poster

© Burke Campbell 102 - Benjamin & gang - Copy

All photos by Burke Campbell.

 

Posted in acting, actors, arts, Canada, Entertainment, Ontario, Photography, theater, Theatre, Toronto, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ANTON & OLGA

 

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I Take Your Hand in Mine… is a drama, based on the letters exchanged between the Russian literary giant Anton Chekhov and his wife, the important actress, Olga Knipper.  In a script created by Carol Rocamora, and directed by Dmitry Zhukovsky, we view the intimacy of their marriage. We also glimpse moments of when and how some of the greatest drama ever created came into being.

Anton Chekhov was already famous when he met Olga Knipper. Though still young, he had only eight more years to live, and was to die at age 44, in 1904. Consumption would finish him, but his life was far from tragic. The play is inspirational because Chekhov’s decline was also his most productive. His love of Olga and his own insight into human life triggered a great volley of masterworks. In those closing years, he created The Sea Gull, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard. Any good writer is humbled by Chekhov’s subtlety, how he uses the ordinary door to open onto a panoramic view of human nature.

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Rena Polley and Richard Sheridan Willis in I Take Your Hand in Mine…

I Take Your Hand in Mine… is wonderfully cast with Richard Sheridan Willis as Chekhov and Rena Polley as Olga Knipper. Willis gives us the look of a man who sees more than he tells, a wise observer of people, and how they use words to hide their true feelings, even from themselves. Chekhov was of course a practicing doctor, and Willis plays him as a man who is both warm, and yet maintains a certain clinical detachment. Willis also portrays a shy man, who continues to hide his affair with Olga until she finally gives him an ultimatum. Then and only then does he offer to tie the knot.

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I should confess I have a special fondness for Rena Polley, especially when we see her rehearse a scene from Three Sisters. In the scene, she plays Masha, a woman who is in love with a married man she cannot have, and she does so with a lightness that tears your heart out watching her. Whether you know anything of Chekhov’s life or his works, I believe you’d still enjoy watching these two fine actors communicate this marriage, through the couple’s own words. I Take Your Hand in Mine… is a play that has a strange resonance to it, of sadness and a larger joy.  It’s a perfect “date drama”.  Like fine wine, it’s a drama to savour.

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This play is running now at Tarragon Theatre Extraspace. April 6-23, 2017.

Tuesday – Saturday, 8:00 pm

Saturday and Sunday matinee, 2:30 pm

You can order tickets at:

thechekhovcollective.com

 Tarragon Theatre

30 Bridgman Avenue

Toronto, Ontario

Presented by:

The Chekhov Collective in association with Theatrus

Produced by Yulia Rubina and Rena Polley

 

Posted in acting, actors, Canada, culture, drama, Literary, Ontario, playwright, theater, Theatre, Toronto, tourism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment