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Archive for the ‘Jen Handley’ Category

Review: Imprints

Posted by art On November - 23 - 2011

Theatre Gargantua in association with Factory Theatre
Written by Michael Spence
Directed by Jacquie P.A. Thomas
Starring Stephanie Belding, Cosette Derome, Conor Green, Ron Kennell, Kat Sandler, Michael Spence
Runs until November 26 @ Factory Studio Theatre

By Jen Handley

Although some of the publicity for Theatre Gargantua’s latest piece, Imprints, suggests that it is a ghost story, don’t go to see it with the expectation of finding the usual transparent disgruntled ex-beings in period garb; Hallowe’en and its cliché-heavy attendants have come and gone. Theatre Gargantua’s production has not only started from scratch to create its version of exactly what a ghost is, the company has set up the haunted house inside the unconscious mind of its heroine. In fact, Theatre Gargantua has managed to repurpose an Alice in Wonderland format to create something few ghost stories can: a sincere meditation on death. It’s unpretentious, inventively-premised, and, most surprisingly of all, with exuberant playfulness.

In the first moments of the play, the faces of a doctor and nurse, looming hugely as projections on a screen at the edge of the stage, are reassuring their patient as she drifts into what we soon find out is a medically-induced mental and physical “standstill” she has chosen in hopes of surviving until medical science can find a cure for a congenital disease which has killed every one of her paternal ancestors and is now coming for her. They promise the patient, a woman named Lily, that this suspension will seem like the blink of an eye, that she will experience nothing during this temporary death (a prediction many of us might find reasonably likely for regular death). However their masked faces blur into sinister, unfamiliar shapes, and as darkness envelopes Lily’s mind, we hear a horrified whisper, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Something’s gone wrong. I’m still here.” Moreover, she’s not alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: In The Next Room or the vibrator play

Posted by art On September - 30 - 2011

Ross McMillan, David Storch, Trish Lindström, Elizabeth Saunders, Melody A. Johnson. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

In The Next Room or the vibrator play
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Richard Rose
Starring Marci T. House, Melody A. Johnson, Trish Lindström, Ross McMillan, Elizabeth Saunders, David Storch, and Jonathan Watton
Run until October 23 @ Tarragon Theatre Mainspace

By Jen Handley

While In the Next Room or the vibrator play might not be one you’ll want to see with anyone whom you’d have to explain the concept of a vibrator to, Tarragon’s (Canadian premiere) production is an extremely enjoyable version of Sarah Ruhl’s Tony and Pulitzer-nominated play, and well worth the viewing and occasionally awkward intermission talk.

The play centres around Dr. and Mrs. Givings, a well-to-do New York couple in the late nineteenth century. The dawn of electricity has had a tremendous effect on their lives—not only are they the proud owners of more than a few electrical lights, but Dr. Givings has entered (my apologies for this and all subsequent puns) the field of electrical massage, the nature of which should be fairly clear from the play’s title, for the treatment of hysteria in his well-to-do female (mostly) patients. The play takes place in their living room and, directly opposite, Dr. Givings’ operating theatre, in which stands a table covered with a lavish throw, and a contraption that looks a lot more like a prototypical dentist’s drill than a sex toy. Nevertheless, it seems to improve the moods of his patients tremendously; and soon his wife finds herself longer content to stay in the parlor. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Aleph

Posted by art On May - 31 - 2011

Diego Matamoros. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

The Aleph
Directed by Daniel Brooks
Featuring Diego Matamoros

Runs until June 18 @ The Young Centre for the Performing Arts

By Jen Handley

For all the richly detailed characters and emotionally resonant moments Diego Maramoros creates, the most impressive aspect of his performance in The Aleph is that you’ll believe anything he tells you.

And that’s saying a lot. Matamoros and Daniel Brooks adapted The Aleph from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, a slow burner that might bring to mind a mid-twentieth century, Argentine version of one of Poe’s ideas. Without giving away too much, it’s safe to say that the play runs into a mind-bending twist, but it gets there so gradually and stealthily you barely recognize how fantastically outrageous it is even when it’s right in front of your nose. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Double Bill

Posted by art On May - 12 - 2011

Ins Choi, Brendan Wall, Jason Patrick Rothery, Mike Ross, Karen Rae. Photo: Sian Richards

Double Bill: (re)Birth: E. E. Cummings in Song & Window on Toronto
Created by the Soulpepper Academy
Window on Toronto Directed by László Marton
Featuring Ins Choi, Tatjana Cornij, Trish Lindström, Ken MacKenzie, Abena Malika, Gregory Prest, Karen Rae, Mike Ross, Jason Patrick Rothery, Andre Sills & Brendan Wall

Runs until June 18 @ Young Centre for the Performing Arts

By Jen Handley

Double Bill, which opened this week at Soulpepper, consists of two pieces on seemingly disparate topics: the poetry of E. E. Cummings, and the brief interactions with strangers that urban life involves. What ties the two sections of the show together, and what makes them both so compelling, is the intensity of creative collaboration that runs through each piece. The performance is in itself as much a comment on the surprising and beautiful moments that come from sincere human interaction as some of the poems it borrows, and the meetings it imagines. Read the rest of this entry »

Tom Barnett and Tony Nappo. Photo: Bruce Zinger

The cosmonaut’s last message to the woman he once loved in the former Soviet Union
By David Greig
Directed by Jennifer Tarver
Featuring Tom Barnett, Raoul Bhaneja, Fiona Byrne, David Jansen, Tony Nappo and Sarah Wilson
Runs until May 14 @ Bluma Appel Theatre

By Jen Handley

One of the big challenges of putting on a play about human beings that can’t connect with each other is that it’s hard to get them to connect with the audience.  In The cosmonaut’s last message to the woman he once loved in the former Soviet Union, playwright David Greig begins with a fascinating premise: two cosmonauts are marooned on a broken space capsule with nothing to do but desperately try to re-establish communication with the world, at first with their damaged technology, and eventually with their desperate imaginations. But the cosmonauts are only one part of the story; Greig recreates new versions of their situation in the everyday lives of characters down below. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Art of Time Ensemble’s The War of the Worlds

Posted by art On April - 4 - 2011

Nicholas Campbell in The War of the Worlds. Photo: John Lauener.

Art of Time Ensemble’s The War of the Worlds
Starring Nicholas Campbell, Don McKellar and Marc Bendavid with foley artist John Gzowski
Directed and conducted by Andrew Burashko
Music composed and arranged by Don Parr
March 31 – April 3, 2011 @ Enwave Theatre

By Jen Handley

“And if someone rings your doorbell,” murmured Don McKellar to a mesmerized audience on Thursday night as The War of the Words came to a close, “Remember, it’s not Martians—it’s Hallowe’en.” And although the performance was utterly convincing, it pretty much proved that whimsical point. That’s because this War of the Worlds isn’t just a restaging of the classic Orson Welles Martian invasion radio play, it’s a staging of the staging of it. Art of Time’s production manages to tell the story not just of an alien invasion, but also of a bid for notoriety that was both an artistic and professional gamble, and, in doing so, the ensemble adds a second cast of heroes to the original play without changing a word. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Time of Your Life

Posted by art On March - 23 - 2011

Stuart Hughes, Kevin Bundy and Joseph Ziegler. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

The Time of Your Life
By William Saroyan
Directed by Albert Schultz
Featuring Douglas John Alan, Derek Boyes, Kevin Bundy, Ins Choi, Tatjana Cornij, Oliver Dennis, Stuart Hughes, John Jarvis, Trish Lindström, Jeff Lillico, Alyson MacFarlane, Abena Malika, Toby Malone, Krystin Pellerin, Gregory Prest, Karen Rae, Brenda Robins, Mike Ross, Michael Simpson, Denzal Sinclaire, Jane Spidell, Brendan Wall, William Webster and Joseph Ziegler
Runs until June 15 @ Soulpepper

By Jen Handley

In 1938, The Time of Your Life, which is being remounted at Soulpepper this month after a successful run two years ago, was first performed, it won a Pulitzer Prize. To a public that had just undergone the Great Depression and was gearing up for World War II, playwright William Saroyan offered a celebratory portrait of mid-century American culture, set within the secure confines of a friendly bar, with representation from almost every type of beloved stock character in the book and ending in a quiet affirmation of the States’ righteous military strength. Soulpepper’s choice to produce The Time of Your Life for contemporary audiences is an interesting one, and the performers bring a lot of intelligence and passion to the show. However, The Time of Your Life often wobbles on the line between nostalgia and schmaltz, and I can’t help but think that it must have been a lot more poignant when ideas like “prostitutes deserve compassion” and “capitalism can result in theft” were juicier propositions. Read the rest of this entry »

Dispatch from Buddies’ 32nd Rhubarb Festival

Posted by art On March - 2 - 2011

Bruce Dow as Leigh Bowery in Of A Monstrous Child: a gaga musical. Photo by Alistair Newton.

By Jen Handley

In keeping with Buddies’ “Sublime Outcast” motif this season, many of the pieces produced at the 32nd Rhubarb Festival these past two weeks over explore the challenges of claiming and defining your identity, especially when you’re a repressed farmer’s daughter or a fugitive in an totalitarian fantasyland or Lady Gaga.

Godwin’s Law is an extraordinarily complete portrait of deeply religious person living in secular culture, but both the play and the character have a dark and outlandish streak that isn’t completely visible until the very last word.  The play is also extremely funny, in large part thanks to Claire Calnan’s subtle and increasingly anxious performance.

Run Like Hell is a two-man Dadaist (or at least Dada-ish) piece that cuts from idea to idea as quickly as possible.  Beginning with an intricately-worded speech muttered by a man who claims to have met God and to have learned how to “save all mankind—you ladies too,” it goes on to tells the story of a world traveler constantly on the run. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Eternal Hydra

Posted by art On February - 1 - 2011

David Ferry and Liisa Repo-Martell in Eternal Hydra. Photo by Monica Esteves.

Eternal Hydra
By Anton Piatigorsky
Directed by Chris Abraham
Featuring David Ferry, Sam Malkin, Liisa Repo-Martell and Cara Ricketts
Produced by Crow’s Theatre in association with Factory Theatre
Runs until February 13 @ Factory Theatre

By Jen Handley

Appropriately enough for a work that explores different manifestations of plagiarism, Anton Piatigorsky’s Eternal Hydra, whose remount by Crow’s Theatre opened last weekend, is an extremely quotable play. One of its characters, a James Joyce doppelganger named Gordius Carbuncle (David Ferry), tosses around quips such as “nowadays writing has little to do with being an author” like clockwork every couple of minutes. But the sharpest one-liner of the night, delivered by a character who never gets much credit as an author—“why bother to walk in someone else’s shoes if you can buy them off her feet?”—momentarily pins down two of the play’s central concerns. Eternal Hydra not only questions the validity of dealing with art as property, it questions whether the vicarious knowledge we get of another person’s experience through art can ever be completely true to the real thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Silicone Diaries

Posted by art On December - 1 - 2010

Photo by David Hawe.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents
The Silicone Diaries
Created and performed by Nina Arsenault
Directed by Brendan Healy
Dramaturgy by Judith Rudakoff
November 25 – December 11 @ Buddies in Bad Times

By Jen Handley

“What do you say to God if you die during plastic surgery?” asks Nina Arsenault as she leans back in a white plastic chair. She pauses just a second before finishing the sentence—“that you paid for by jerking off online?” Arsenault, a transgendered writer and performer, opened her remount (see last year’s review here) of The Silicone Diaries last week at Buddies in Bad Times. The play consists mostly of Arsenault talking directly to the audience as she tells the story of her life and transformation.

Nina Arsenault’s beauty characterizes her life so much that it’s impossible to talk about her without describing what she looks like. She is rail thin and stands well over six feet tall in stilettos, with a magnificently curvy torso and honey-blonde hair so huge it looks almost weightless— the only other place I’ve only ever seen her silhouette is animated Disney movies. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Graffiti

Posted by art On October - 5 - 2010

Continuing in the fine tradition of years past, the MONDOarts department dispatched three writers to cover this year’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche and their escapades during said event. Enjoy!

By Jen Handley

“Is it just me or has Nuit Blanche gotten to be more work over the years?” asked my friend Sophia as we huddled for warmth in one of the zillions of eagerly-formed lines that sprung up around the city last Saturday night. She was completely right: seeing as how the last five years have seen the festival turn into all but a public holiday, and as we wanted to check out some of the higher-profile events this year, we spent a lot of the evening standing in line. But that part actually wasn’t dreary — standing around, barging into conversations with tipsy strangers end exchanging stories as we waited for exhibits wasn’t too different from the experience of standing outside on New Year’s Eve waiting for midnight. For all the flack art projects get for being elitist, I had the feeling of being part of a mob that night, and that was what made it exhilarating. And coincidence or not, most of the projects we saw required us to engage with strangers. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Blasted

Posted by art On October - 2 - 2010

Photo of Michelle Monteith by Omer Yukseker.

By Sarah Kane
Directed by Brendan Healy
Featuring David Ferry, Michelle Monteith and Dylan Smith
Runs until October 17 @ Buddies in Bad Times

By Jen Handley

Buddies in Bad Times, where Sarah Kane’s Blasted had its English-Canadian premiere this week, has made much of the fact that when the play first opened in London in 1995, it was roundly rejected by critics in general, and by the Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker in particular as “a disgusting feast of filth.” Plenty of playwrights, including Harold Pinter and Edward Bond, whose essay on Kane Buddies has included in the show’s program, have since come to her defense as an extremely courageous and innovative artist. After seeing the production at Buddies in Bad Times, I totally get where Tinker was coming from. Read the rest of this entry »



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