I believe very strongly that everyone has to find their magic. You have to love something. Anything. If you hate Christmas and believe it to be a religious and capitalist brainwashing nightmare, maybe focus on the fact that seeing your family is fun. If your family makes you nuts, maybe relish in the fact that eggnog is available on the shelves. If eggnog gives you stomach aches, maybe the green and red decorations are grin-worthy. And if those make you want to vomit… well, there’s always theatre (if you hate the theatre I give up, you’re just not trying).
Theatre is magic. Even if you don’t love a show, you must admit that you still kinda like it, the ritual of it. I will never hate it because I applaud what it takes and stands for – the work, the energy, the collaboration, the discussion, the emotion, and often very little payoff other than the job itself. You can’t hate on that, it’s really like hating on snowflakes, and why would anyone hate on snowflakes?
It blows my mind when I understand that someone has rehearsed a play countless times and the energy and emotion with which they deliver the lines is as powerful and raw as if it were utterly spontaneous. How can you maintain that intensity night after night? Where does that come from? I met Ben Turner while I was in Brooklyn, I thought he was beautiful and awesome and completely adored him from second one, so I went to see his show, The Jungle. I think my utter ignorance to the fact that this show is a complete phenomenon taking over the theatre world was a plus, otherwise I might have been intimidated by the whole ordeal and not bothered. People were audibly sobbing during the show (my boyfriend nearly being one of them – he left the theatre looking like he was hit by a truck). Ben Turner was absolutely astounding. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Yes, it’s an ensemble cast and very poor form for me to not focus on the fact that everyone was great (which they absolutely were) but he’s undeniably the lead and he carried it like a champ. That’s a powerhouse performer right there, Toronto needs to experience this. I am now obsessed with what it would take for something like this to come to my city (and where? Crowsnest? I need to talk to someone about logistics).
So as happens always when I see something I love, I now am trying to convince everyone I know to see it. And I do have to thank Netflix for bringing theatre to my parents, who can no longer be dragged around by me to wait in rush lines and for whom simply running around downtown is becoming less and less feasible every day. They were able to enjoy, from the comfort of their coziness, Steve Martin and Martin Short, Bruce Springsteen, and several other Broadway goodies.
I’m loving the availability of Hannah Moscovitch plays in Toronto right now. I saw Bunny at the Tarragon last week and enjoyed it – it certainly spurred a heated debate afterwards, so that’s always a sign of an intellectual winner – and have a date with Candace to see Things A Young Wife Ought to Know… since, well, she’s getting married and she OUGHT TO KNOW. Jeffrey, the Patron Services manager at Streetcar Crowsnest, said it was absolutely amazing, his “favourite show so far”, so now I’m doubly intrigued (update: terrific choice, she absolutely loved it, said that she had forgotten how much she enjoys theatre and that this rekindled something in her. Success. One down, a few to go…).
Also made a mental note to check out Bloom at Buddies (update: I loved it, found myself completely absorbed in the lead storyteller, and the set was fantastic with a particularly awesome manhole cover gobo that nailed the ambiance for me).
Near-April showers bring May flowers, and I think spring may have sprung, so we’ll see what the blooms bring.
Factory Theatre commissioned a terrific work by Kat Sandler, great aerobics for the brain, who somehow managed to pull off the near impossible task of making an audience laugh – guffaw, even! – while watching a piece about gun violence. In Canada. In 2018. In downtown Toronto. She’s basically a genius. Take a listen to some of the opening bits here.
Oh!, and I basically danced home after listening to Musica Nuda yesterday. This woman is a rock star. They both are. I hope to see more of this kind of magic. And this kind, too. It’s good shit. Like Farrah Fawcett hair.
Is there anything as exhilarating as live theatre? My mind is blown each time I experience 2+ hours of flawlessness, devoid of broken ankles, flubbed lines, or coughing fits. John and I took a chance and waited outside the Apollo Theatre to see if any of the sold out run tickets would somehow make their way back to the Box Office and into our hot little [tin roof] hands, and they did indeed. A young student whose friends could not go passed to us absolutely fantastic seats – and John can now die a happy man, having seen the most naturally beautiful woman of our generation – that would be Sienna Miller, of course – in the most seductive performance he’s seen from her to date. There’s this tomboyishness about her mannerisms and her gait that makes it impossible to take your eyes off of her, and her acting was superb. Colm Meaney’s Big Daddy I hated with all my soul (which just confirms what an amazing job he did) and the set – ah again, those glorious set designers – was great.
Try to see it, somehow.
What do you do when you love theatre and you have four nights alone in New York City?
You binge. Oh baby, you binge, on theatre and on food (and it’s also partly a trick question, because you’re never really alone in New York City).
Night 1: Grabbed a great last-minute ticket to 1984, and since we’re in a dystopia and times are tight, 99¢ pizza. My interest in seeing this show was mainly to see Tom Sturridge (whom I loved in American Buffalo), Olivia Wilde (whom I’ve met in person at Artists for Peace and Justice events and really like, so I wanted to applaud her in her Broadway debut), and the fact that I loved the book. I quite enjoyed the play, but it was really violent and had tons of strobe effects, which distracted me from the story.
Night 2: Despite everyone telling me I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting any kind of rush seats to it, I actually got a fantastic last-minute ticket to see Hamilton, and in the process met the two sweetest Puerto Rican ladies in line that couldn’t have been prouder of Lin-Manuel Miranda. This show truly is everything that everyone says it is – I’ve never seen the public this happy and energetic at the theatre (ok, maybe Book of Mormon was a bit like that). Choreography was mild-blowing. Performances were astounding. There was no weak link. For me, Brian d’Arcy James as King George and Gregory Treco as Burr totally floored me, James for his comedic delivery and Treco for his vocals. Afterwards, starving and singing, I had trainwreck fries at Virgil’s because it’s a medley of everything from everywhere and well… it seemed fitting!
Night 3: Sweeney Todd at Barrow Theatre was fantastic, again, chatted to the box office before showtime and they had “secret seats that they rarely use” that were the only ones not sold, and gave them to me pretty cheap. The play came as a recommendation from the staff at Joseph Leonard, where I popped in for dinner, and darling Drew (who let me sit there way past my welcome and offered tips on great NYC spots) found out for me what the hot ticket in the area was.
Night 4: I thought that perhaps with the luck that I’ve been having grabbing tickets to difficult-to-snag shows that maybe I could see Oscar Isaac in Hamlet at the Public Theatre in Noho. Alas, it was an invite-only opening night event, and not even with my charm could I schmooze my way in. “Don’t you know who my father is?” I joked to the staff. They smiled that smile where you like someone but you’re not 100% sure that they’re not insane. I did see John Turturro in the lobby, and smiled broadly, hoping that it would translate into “you’re fantastic, I love you” without disturbing him during his private time.
I have much respect for Apple, by the way, for adding a theatre mode to the Apple Watch that minimizes disturbance during performances. I need to talk myself out of a snarky remark whenever I see a theatregoer activating their phone screen when the house lights are dimmed, so this is at least a nice gesture (although fifty bucks says no one ever remembers to actually enable it).
A small lobster meal at Lobster Place at Chelsea Market. Have been eyeing these babies every time I’ve been there, and resisted the urge. This time I treated myself, and as I sucked every last morsel out of every foot, crevice, and antenna, passersby looked at me with genuine amusement.
My flight home was interesting. Trump had shut down the airspace around NYC to fly to a golf game in the afternoon, so flights were completed messed up. Mostly cancelled, though some delayed, but basically no airline could recover afterwards, since once a chunk of day goes, delays just cascade down and it all falls apart. Newark International was complete chaos, filled to the brim with seething, self-important travellers, and in my calmness I did manage to somehow get hooked-up as a standby passenger on the last flight out (at 23:30, landing in Hamilton, which had me home at 3am). In all the screaming and threatening and customer service calls and apologetic service personnel that madly swirled about what I noticed was this: the way people come together and connect in times of disruption can be awesome. Completely overlooking the jerks, the remainder of folks kind of laughed it off, knew there was little that was in their control, sat together at the airport restaurant, had some drinks, met strangers, compared notes on where they were going, where they had been, where they were from. Typically, it’s such a cold, solitary environment – everyone in their world, on their phones, having somewhere to be, in their bubble. In this situation, there was nothing to do but wait and see, so people put their phones down (which contained wholly inaccurate information anyway) and chatted, met each other, commiserated. What stood out to me was people helping each other, comparing notes on what information they had, which flight was cancelled and which wasn’t, where to get some food, where they could charge their phones, where free coffee and water was, what remaining flights still had seats. Years and years ago, I met a man with his wife in a pizzeria in Tuscany, and without my asking for advice on life or anything, he looked at me and said “remember this one thing: always talk to people”.
That’s always stayed with me.
Theatre lovers living on a dime take heed – Factory Theatre has launched their Toonie Tuesday preview extravaganza. Now there’s seriously no excuse to not go and enjoy these amazing Canadian productions.
Last night Mom and I saw David Yee’s “Acquiesce”, a play about a young man who must go and bury the father he barely knew in Hong Kong, and all the emotional turmoil that the experience brings up. I really enjoyed the performances, and for Mom and I it was good catharsis, as it deals with issues of abuse (Mom’s father, though a “good man”, was physically and verbally abusive to his family), the anger that comes from abandonment (I know my dad, but I don’t know my dad. I’ve seen him a handful of times in my life. My memories of him include a pizza and ice cream trip when I was a child and him being really angry at me for putting on nail polish before falling asleep and trying to kill everyone in the house with poisonous vapours) and the frictions that arise from straddling two vastly different cultures your entire life.
I have to give a giant thumbs up to the crew, who put together a fantastic modern, functional set, eerie musical interludes and terrific props and effects. Wonderfully done.
Playing now until March 13th at the Factory, this beautifully uncluttered production of David French’s play left me in tears. Kawa Ada (whom I’ve already encountered this season in Bombay Black) is just breathtaking, as is his partner, the wonderful Mayko Nguyen, plus a remarkable supporting musical role by Ania Soul. Run folks. Run. The Globe and Mail reviewer loved it so much he bought himself a second ticket.
Arguably THE most difficult part of living in Holland for me has been the absence of quality English theatre. I still choose to believe that it is here and I just don’t know how to find it, but what I have seen has not been good. I remember reading an article in a Dutch online theatre publication that quoted director Ivo van Hove saying essentially the same thing, and nodding vigorously in agreement. I went to see an experimental play called Recovery by Florentina Holzinger at the Frescati theatre, and definitely didn’t get it. I went to see Angels in America at Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, excited that it was content that I was familiar with and maybe I would enjoy it. I didn’t. Ditto for English-speaking productions at Ostadetheater and Badhuistheater. Of course, there is always some fan base for any type of production, but generally speaking the “experimental” and “minimalist” shows so adored by Amsterdammers is just not my thing. I guess I’m too conservative. Or closed-minded. Whatever. What it has made me appreciate is the wealth of beautifully, creatively and passionately crafted productions that Toronto boasts, even at the “amateur” level, but I think I’ve said that before. I think Toronto theatre is top-notch.
What is super cool about living here, however, is that it’s thisclose to London, so basically whenever the opportunity presents itself for me to snag some kind of rush seats to a play (and a ride with a friend), I do it!
April has been an exceptional month for theatre for me, and makes me miss my alma mater Claude Watson – and its theatre program – immensely. First, Juliette Binoche led a spectacular cast in the Barbican/Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam production of Antigone (standouts were absolutely Kirsty Bushell, Finbar Lynch and Samuel Edward-Cook). And tonight, Damian Lewis, John Goodman, and Tom Sturridge performed David Mamet’s American Buffalo. It was Press Night, and we were quite lucky to grab the last two tickets available. The always amazing Rowan Atkinson was in the audience, as were Sienna Miller and Kit Harington, and it was great to see actors supporting each other’s work.
Lewis’ physicality and voice stunned me – I actually couldn’t quite believe it was him at the start, and Sturridge was heartbreaking as a young sidekick to John Goodman’s dreamer pawn shop owner. The thing that struck me most about both productions, however, was the set design, and I cannot stress how integral this component is to the world that theatre is meant to create for the audience. I have never fully enjoyed any production that omits set design and opts solely to put to use the audience’s imagination. Great set design doesn’t have to break the bank, some great sets were done using creative tactics on a shoestring budget (I vaguely recall one production where the set was made of toilet paper symbolizing cedar trees and it was great). The “American Buffalo” set was absolutely killer, and as much a character as any one of the men.
Theater is my drug. I don’t think I could live in London or New York, I wouldn’t be able to control myself. Or, I just have to get a job as an usher or an assistant to a theatre critic. Anyone got any leads?