Cabaret thrills Hart House

I was shot down by a girl not long before I saw the UC Follies’ production of Cabaret. Now, before we go any further, I’m not looking for sympathy here—heck, I’m practically overflowing with charm, wit, good looks, and modesty. The point of the story is that I was not predisposed to enjoy Cabaret.

My preferred activities that night probably would have been laying in bed stuffing my face with Cheetos, and listening to Alanis. Furthermore, Cabaret adds insult to injury with its sexed-up nature, packed to the gills with scantily clad lovelies and dance sequences (particularly “Two Ladies”) that contain all the thrusting and groping that I would not be indulging in that evening.

Ah, but as we all know, there’s nothing to mend a broken heart like a night of musical theatre, and this production of Cabaret was a very good one.

The plot should be familiar to anyone who has spent too much time in the Catskills. The play is set in Berlin during the early 1930s, when the city, as noted in the program by director Stephen Low, was “an artistic and cultural centre ahead of its time,” plagued by the growing Nazi movement. The protagonist is Cliff, an outof- work American writer who arrives in Germany to develop a new novel. Bored, Cliff ventures to the decadent Kit Kat Klub, encountering British singer/dancer Sally Bowles. The pair hit it off, and soon are living in sin under the prudent eye of the boardinghouse owner, Fraulein Schneider.

Meanwhile, Fraulein Schneider finds herself being courted by Herr Schultz, a kindly Jewish man, and the two plan to marry. Unfortunately, their love, and the fate of the world at large, is challenged by the growing power of the Nazi party.

The most striking quality of this particular production of Cabaret was its strong sense of atmosphere. A lot of the credit goes to the lighting (designed by Simon Miles), as scenes at Cliff’s boarding house are given a smoky, amber-hued appearance that looks almost cinematic. Interior club scenes were more vibrantly coloured, with an emphasis on a vivid, Chicago-esque red. The most effective moment came when crimson was employed during the “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a powerful conclusion to the first act.

I found the acting sufficient. Thomas Davis is fine as Cliff, though he’s cursed by playing the least interesting character in the show. Claire Rice, who has stage presence and the cast’s strongest singing voice, was very fine as Sally Bowles. As Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, Meredith Shaw and Neil Silcox brought a strong element of pathos. Both Geoff Stevens (as the emcee) and his package do a credible job.

The dance choreography was excellent throughout, particularly during the “Don’t Tell Mama” sequence. But at Thomas’s boarding house an awkward set construction caused confusion, and ill-placed doors and characters’ movements sometimes disrupted the action as they exited the stage. The final scene lacked the requisite emotional wallop, perhaps because it featured the emcee in distress, a character with whom the audience cannot claim to have much emotional investment.

Minor quibbles aside, Cabaret was a consistently entertaining show. The production is polished and convincing, the dramatic scenes have weight, and the comic and musical moments are done very nicely. Just know that if you were planning to spend any of the next few nights alone sobbing into your pillow, desperately clutching onto the sheet music for Phantom of the Opera, there is an another entertainment option.

Cabaret runs Feb 13 to Feb 16 at Hart House Theatre. For info and tickets visit

Robbers wraps successful run

It’s not often that I revisit my highschool self to recall how self-righteously angry I was, and how I was determined to change the world, my way. Now, only shortly removed from adolescence, I tend to avoid the stark black-and-white worldview that I once held. Like all of us here at U of T, I’m trying to learn to see the world in delicate shades of grey.

So what made the University College Drama Program production of Schiller’s The Robbers so enjoyable? For me, not only was its creative exploration of the stereotypical “loss of innocence” trope successful, but that it did so in a creative way, one which did not force me to wallow in the shadows of my former self, but rather observe with the perspective of someone older.

Written in 1781 by German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller while he was stuck in a military academy, The Robbers follows the story of a group of young German vigilantes who fight injustice with more injustice as a Robin Hoodesque band of brothers. The play was Schiller’s first published work, and represents the late “Storm and Stress” period in 18th-century German literature.

In this production, director Johanna Schall’s choice to cast men and women worked well, adding an element of sexual tension as the cast explored the gender dynamics of anger. It also satisfied the audience’s desire to recall their own adolescent sexuality, a crucial part of growing up.

The story takes place entirely within the confines of a high school classroom, running for two hours with no intermission. For the first 10 minutes of the play, I was reminded just how confining it felt to be trapped in a high school classroom. Each actor fulfilled some archetypal high school role, but did so with such youthful enthusiasm and talent that no character really fell flat, although they were all more or less one-dimensional.

This production was a triumph of acting. Each character fit in to the setting so that it did not matter that the plot was secondary, and occasionally difficult to follow. Franz (Ted Witzel) is the younger son of Count von Moor (Marcel Dragonieri, hilarious as always) who schemes against his older brother, Karl (Luke LaRocque). Karl forms the band of robbers to channel his anger into a struggle for justice as chaos and blood ensues.

Witzel plays an excellent villain, reminiscent of many jealous misfits. LaRocque clearly worked hard for this role, and it shows, making young, self-righteous anger seem natural and justified. My favourite character was the scheming Spiegelberg (Jennifer Dowding), a character who is seriously fucked up.

Perhaps the reason I enjoyed The Robbers so much, and the reason they did so well, is that this is a show that demands reflection on youth, perfectly suited for young actors, and especially resonant for young viewers. It has an unmistakable innocence, shrouded with enlightened ideas and ideology easily held by the young.

Getting Godot

When Samuel Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot was first staged 55 years ago, it opened in a basement of a Paris pub. In conscious homage, The Victoria College Drama Society staged theirs in the Cat’s Eye, a dark and small performance space in the basement of the Wymilwood building. The space had the potential to limit the actors and the audience (then again, so does the play), but instead the entire space was filled with Beckett’s presence and a full house of spectators, watching and waiting.

The show takes place on a desolate country road, where Vladimir (Anthony Furey) and Estragon (Robin Toller) are waiting for someone—or something—named Godot. Furey and Toller inhabit the space fully, as first-time director Michela Sisti allowed the actors a great deal of personal development, occasionally at the cost of a more developed dynamic between the characters.

Furey, a well known actor in the Toronto theatre scene, lacked the full maturity that Vladimir requires, especially in contrast to the comedic and childish Estragon. Despite this, Furey did deliver a strong performance, enjoying the role to the fullest.

Toller’s character was more developed, but it is also the easier part to play. After all, who wouldn’t want to draw laughs in a play in which, essentially, nothing happens twice.

The real comic relief, however, is Pozzo (Mike MacKinnon) and his servant/slave Lucky (RJ Hatanaka). MacKinnon exuded the larger-thanlife personality necessary, but at times his timing was off, which affected the humour of his interactions with Lucky.

Hatanaka’s Lucky is perhaps the greatest source of intrigue. The clear Christ comparison was fully exploited, and the Nietschean master- slave dynamic was good, but again, lacked a full scope of vision, as Hatanaka was at times too slow in his response to his master.

The original score set a haunting tone to this production. No elements of clowning were present, and the mood was serious, dark, and sombre. The music and lighting design matched. While the cues were too slow, it did not distract from the quality of the production greatly.

At one point in the play, Vladimir says to Estragon, “This is becoming very insignificant.” I’d like to echo that sentiment here: not only did this production force us to come to terms with the superfluity of theatre as art, but it’s also a reminder to me to quit writing, shut up, and enjoy the show!

CFS-BC leak exposes referendum ‘war plan’

Ever sent an email to the wrong person? What about a few hundred wrong people? Imagine that the email lays out your plans for a major referendum campaign with tens of thousands of students’ dollars at stake, and that the unintended recipients were hundreds of student politicians throughout your province, and you might understand the predicament of the Canadian Federation of Students-BC.

The leaked document contains a spreadsheet outlining CFS-BC’s plans to defeat the Simon Fraser Student Society’s attempt to leave the federation. SFSS, based in Vaninside couver’s Simon Fraser University, will hold a referendum on March 18 to 20, asking students if they wish to leave CFS-BC. Two other unions are considering leaving CFS-BC as well: The Kwantlen Student Association and the University of Victoria Graduate Students’ union.

The KSA released a statement calling the leaked document “war plans.”

“In my three years on the CFS-BC Executive Committee, I never saw a campaign strategy document this methodical,” said KSA’s chair and director of external affairs Laura Anderson.

The leak reveals the names of hundreds of potential volunteers at student unions nationwide, along with timelines and detailed lists of resources CFS-BC could marshal in their referendum campaign.

According to the University of Alberta’s newspaper the Gateway, the document was intended for Lucy Watson, CFS national director of organizing. It was mistakenly sent to a large mailing list including every CFS member union in the province.

The CFS-BC is now maintaining that the document was the work of a single staffer, Summer McFadyen. At press time, McFadyen was not speaking to reporters.

CFS-BC chairperson Shamus Reid said that McFadyen had “brainstormed” the document independently, without consulting any of the politicians detailed in the file or coordinating with CFS’s national branch.

“Summer was preparing with her own personal notes. My understanding was her notes were around people’s perceived availability and what she expected people’s availability was for the campaign,” Reid said. The list contained the full names of more than two hundred CFS staffers across the country, with an accompanying letter grade. The meaning of that grade is not clear. Reid said he was unfamiliar with the document and believed the grade represented each person’s availability. While a calendar grid for the dates March 3 to March 21 accompanies each name on the list, their highlighted availability does not seem to correlate with the letter grades.

Gilary Massa and Loveleen Khan, for example, both of the York Federation of Students, are shaded in for the week of March 17 to 21. However, Gilary got an A grade and Loveleen a C.

U of T’s CFS workers received a range of mystery grades. For example, Dave Scrivener, VP External, received an A. Alice Wu, UTSU board member, was assigned a C.

“It’s news to me that I got a C or that my name showed up at all,” she said. With files from Allison Martell

Evolving and eclectic

Sometimes you have to take an opportunity when it arises. That’s why Charlene Irani is leaping feet-first into the heady world of gallery proprietorship as the owner/operator, coordinator/perpetrator of Charlie’s Gallery, a newborn art house just off the U of T campus.

A little over a month ago, Charlene’s brother, the acting realtor of 112 Harbord St., suggested she take her creative energy to make use of the recently emptied space in the building’s storefront. In a couple of weeks, Irani filled the place with art, crafts, and hand-picked goods made by artistic friends: paintings in watercolour, acrylic, and spray-paint, sculpture, redecorated suitcases, and a selection of vintage clothes and shoes. The gallery opened with a bash, hosting a live-art-and-jazz fundraiser to keep the place afloat.

The feeling inside is eclectic and friendly. Bright colours pop off the walls and sunlight streams through the large front window. The mood is relaxed, confident, and inclusive. Charlie’s Gallery isn’t looking to shock and upset people with the art they promote—they just want to hang out. Irani, whose background is in party promotions, has big ideas, and is keeping a hopeful eye on the scads of U of T students that stream by her window every day. She’s thinking cakes and coffee, couches, and a place for students to hang out in a hip, creative atmosphere.

The gallery’s address has been in the Irani family for years, in fact, they can claim status as one of Harbord Village’s first business owners. Irani herself grew up in the very building that is now fronted by her gallery, and feels her history in the neighborhood will be helpful in promoting and cementing her venture.

You can get involved too. On Feb. 16, Charlie’s Gallery is hosting a clothing show with live music, sushi, and sake. The gallery is also calling out to new Toronto artists to join in on the fun. The underlying message here, for anyone ready and willing, is to get involved, evolve, and be creative.

For more information, email Charlie’s Gallery at harbordgallery@ or visit them in real life at 112 Harbord St.

Campus food workers dish out dissent

Food service workers are the lowest paid of all staff at U of T’s campuses, and U of T should be held accountable for the company it contracts out to for essential services, says the workers’ union. On Feb. 11 UNITE/HERE, which represents food service workers at U of T’s St. George and Scarborough campuses, will hold a rally outside of Sid Smith to protest what it argues are unfair labour practices on the part of food services giant Aramark Corporation.

Organizers of the rally, which is supported by the University of Toronto Students’ Union, say they would like the university to outright end its contract with Aramark. “Aramark has consistently been a problem,” said Alexandra Dagg, Canadian Director of UNITE/HERE. “We had to have a strike vote at Scarborough campus to get them to treat the workers seriously […] That’s a pretty strong move to get attention.”

Aramark replaced Sodexho as the university’s main food service provider in 2006. Dagg says that the union’s relationship with the former company was better, and that supervisors at Aramark have treated workers poorly, not allowing some to take their scheduled, legally required breaks. Of most recent concern, however, is the company’s attempt to renege on the collective agreement it ratifi ed in November to pay Scarborough workers the same rate as workers downtown. Now, says UNITE/HERE, Aramark is refusing to implement the negotiated wage increases.

“We’re coming back to the university again because they were the ones who picked the client, and when Aramark doesn’t treat it’s workers properly, we say the university should get involved,” Dagg said, adding that the labour issue also strikes home with students. “You use our services, you eat food on campus, you buy coffee on campus, maybe you live in residence and have three meals a day that are made by these workers.”

VP external Dave Scrivener says that the UTSU supports the rally out of solidarity with the food service workers, but also because a number of student issues are at play. He gives Aramark credit for listening to student concerns on issues such as using local produce, but says the company has not addressed the lack of diversity of food options, the cafeteria hours that do not match student schedules (most cafeterias close by 6 p.m.), and what Scrivener calls Aramark’s “tradition of avoiding student hires.” After looking into their membership, Unite/Here says it cannot find a single student hired at St. George in food services.

“They’re not entirely evil, but there are concerns that we’ve had that we’ve brought up repeatedly, especially around diversity, that we haven’t seen addressed in a meaningful way,” Scrivener said.

Unite /Here has staged similar protests in the United States, where Aramark has faced a number of disputes with district school boards, universities, and state agencies on issues ranging from financial management to public health to poor treatment of workers. In one instance, the company, which is the largest food service provider in the U.S., was dismissed by the Philadelphia School District two years into a five-year contract after it burdened the district with a $7-million deficit.

Representatives from the university were not available for comment at press time.

Indie Interview: MGMT Rox, Rly

If you think you haven’t heard MGMT’s breakout track “Time to Pretend,” you actually probably have. Either it’s been in the background at a bar or trendy brunch place, you streamed it on MySpace or Hype Machine while high, or you’ve heard it bleeding through your hipster roommate’s wall. It’s got that ubiquitous quality that all too-catchy indie-pop seems to achieve today. It sounds like it could score a hip car commercial, but the lyrics wouldn’t pass the censors (“I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars”).

“There was a time in 2006 when we stopped talking and weren’t making music,” says MGMT guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden over the phone. At that point, the duo (which also included vocalist Ben Goldwasser) had just graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, recorded an EP, and gone on tour opening for Athens, Georgia spaz-poppers Of Montreal. By the end of the year the two were living in different cities in New York state, and Goldwasser was on the verge of moving to California. That’s when they got an email out of the blue. It was an offer for a major label record deal with Columbia. “We thought about it for a good two months… it was pretty crazy,” admits VanWyngarden “Signing with them would mean we’d have to start acting like a band.”

After finally deciding to ink the deal, their first order of business was to record their first LP, the recently released Ocular Spectacular, with Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann. Next, the duo expanded to become a quintet as Goldwasser and VanWyngarden recruited old friends from high school and summer camp to fill out their live show.

Now MGMT (pronounced as just the single letters, VanWyngarden tells me) is in the throes of a major tour of the U.S. and Canada. Yesterday night saw them play to a sold-out crowd at the El Mocambo. But between the spectacle of shows lies hundreds of miles of frozen roads. How are MGMT coping with life on the highway?

“We all have cabin fever, and it’s easy to have little panic attacks,” admits VanWyngarden. “What I would like to be doing on the road is reading a lot and drawing, but what I end up doing is putting music on and looking out the window for like four hours.”

MGMT plans to spend the rest of the year touring Ocular Spectacular hitting up Europe in the spring. Watch for them to sweep back through Canada sometime in the summer

Listen to MGMT at:

UBC scared shut—twice

The RCMP has issued a campus-wide warning at UBC and launched an investigation after prank threats twice brought campus activity to a halt,

On Jan. 29 the Biological Sciences Building was locked down after someone phoned in a “threat.” On Feb. 6, another threat was made against UBC, although this time no particular building was specifically mentioned. Nevertheless, classes in the BSB were cancelled and the media told to stay away. Police have not yet disclosed the nature of the threats, or whether they targeted a specific group of people.

The campus stayed open both times, but students were warned of the possibly dangerous situation.

“It’s ridiculous to cancel classes in this building when the supposed threat is all over campus,” student Elshan Valipour told the Province.

The RCMP said that the two threats may be linked. Police have publicly appealed to whoever made the threats to seek professional counseling.

This week, UBC plans to test a new security system. At a cost of $30,000 per use, the Aizan system notifies the entire university community via email and voicemail of suspected threats. Only 38 per cent of students have provided their cell phone numbers.