University of Toronto’s Drama Festival 2019

Another year of excellent student theatre

University of Toronto’s Drama Festival 2019

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The beginning: Hart House hosts the annual U of T Drama Festival

Ranking from best to worst: The 2nd Annual 2018 McGill Drama Festival took centre stage, with An Other Tries To Speak: A Theatrical Mixtape and Jews in Baseball: The Musical following closely behind.

The U of T Drama Festival is a wonderful showcase of student talent, with one-act shows entirely written, produced, and performed by students, who give up whatever free time they have outside of classes to create dramatic art. But, as often as such restrictions produce incredible creativity, the three shows that kicked off this year’s festival did not rise to the occasion.

Jews in Baseball: The Musical — independent submission by Angelo O. O’Leary and Lenny Rosenbloom

The first show of the night and of the festival was Jews in Baseball: The Musical, an independent submission from audience favourites Tristan Bannerman and Leo Morgenstern, operating under the pseudonyms of Angelo O. O’Leary and Lenny Rosenbloom. The show functions in the realm of metatheatre, beginning with the musical’s ending, and morphing into a pseudo Q&A with the playwrights, led by New York Times theatre critic Noah Goldman (Funké Joseph), who does a good job of keeping his cool while Morgenstern and Bannerman play comedians. If it sounds a little messy, that’s because it is.

There are funny moments, certainly, but Morgenstern and Bannerman’s comedic efforts are overall hit-and-miss, and it is unclear what the show is ultimately about, if anything at all. Is there a comment on Judaism and Judaic identity buried somewhere within? If so, it is truly buried. A misplaced Holocaust joke that could have functioned as commentary on the lack of knowledge that millennials polled about the genocide display merely served as yet another attempt at generating rather inappropriate laughter. Perhaps the show is meant to be ‘theatre for theatre’s sake,’ in which case it has its funny moments, but even those feel forced.  

Morgenstern and Bannerman are clearly talented writers and actors who work well together, but this show fails to exhibit the full extent of their abilities. While Jews in Baseball can be funny and creative, it can also feel like a vanity project. Overall, it feels like the show needs more time in the workshop stage before hitting the stage stage. In terms of production, there are no notable elements; the set is sparse save for a few chairs, a table, and a carpet for the interview portion of the show. A brief shining moment is the appearance of Gianni Sallese as the charismatic mayor in the musical Jews in Baseball that opens Jews in Baseball: The Musical. I know — it’s confusing.

An Other Tries To Speak: A Theatrical Mixtape — Ember Island Players

Following the attempt at metatheatrical comedy was the Ember Island Players’ drama, An Other Tries To Speak: A Theatrical Mixtape. This performance was composed of a series of vignettes, each of which seemed to question the grander theme of identity — particularly, Asian identity. Unfortunately, the Ember Island Players chose a very difficult form to portray on stage. Vignettes function well if there is a clear overarching theme that comes through, such as in Amazon’s TV series The Romanoffs, or if they are given a framework within which to make no sense. Of these vignettes, Nam Nguyen’s “F*ck the Ch*nks” and Sam Zhu’s “PTA” most clearly asked questions of how past experiences and other people’s actions influence our own identities while Wilfred Moeschter’s “Clean Whites” provided an amusing commentary on the often racist content available on networks like Fox News. Although their attempts to portray the intangible aspects of identity are appreciated, Priyam Balsara’s “Farramoor” and Shi Yi’s “Cafe au Lait” were the most confusing by far.

While An Other Tries to Speak is commendable for its attempts to embody the grand themes of identity and belonging, it falls short of this goal and leaves the audience in a state of confusion instead. The production does not clearly ask questions of yearning or discovery, thus failing to induce such self-reflection in the audience. Perhaps with some refinement, these questions could come through more clearly. Staging is overall strong, with a good use of sparse props. An enjoyable musical performance concludes the show, and perhaps most clearly articulates what it means to be Asian-Canadian: a phenomenon of both knowing and not knowing your own culture — the song is sung in an Asian language that the onstage narrator admits he cannot understand. A strong performance by Moeschter stands out, but is lost in the overall confusion of the drama.

The 2nd Annual 2018 McGill Drama Festival U of T Improv

Concluding the evening was a production by U of T Improv titled The 2nd Annual 2018 McGill Drama Festival. It must be noted that it is challenging to compare improvisational theatre performances with other productions that have been written and repeatedly rehearsed for the purpose of this festival. Improv is, well, improv. Nonetheless, this show managed to rise to the top of the evening. Another metatheatrical commentary, this time on the drama festival itself, the show was structured as an evening at the McGill University Drama Festival, where three dramas would be performed.

The show began with a welcome from the McGill Drama Festival coordinators, mimicking the very opening of this year’s U of T Drama Festival. As is typical of improv, the audience was enlisted to determine what the three performances would be. “Lesbian Speed Date from Hell,” “The Bottomless Pit in the Back Corner of Nick’s Speak Easy,” and “Arcadia” were selected from the six possibilities listed in the program, although none of these titles were in any way suggestive of their content. Regardless, each skit was quite funny, and the performers played off each impressively. Backgrounds were projected onto the screen at the back of the stage for a rough idea of location, although these settings were prone to change, as is the style of improv. Apart from these projections, the show did not make use of any props — again, in the style of improv. The performers mimed any necessary props, a tactic that functioned perfectly well and left no yearning for stage props.

Due to the nature of the show, nonsense was to be expected, and it overall worked quite well. The skits were followed by pseudo-adjudications, cementing their metatheatricality in a coherent and amusing manner. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine this production qualifying for any of the awards that will be presented to festival performances. Best direction? It’s there, but merely as a guiding framework for the performers. Playwriting? Again, pretty minimal. The reproducibility of this show is highly questionable. Best performance, maybe? No one is on stage long enough! It is perhaps ironic then that The 2nd Annual 2018 McGill Drama Festival still managed to rise to the top in terms of quality for the evening.

So, the Drama Festival began with a few bumps along the way, but what truly matters is that it exists as a platform for students to showcase their creative energies. There are strong elements in all of these shows that could find a better outlet in a different production.

— Hannah Lank, Varsity Theatre Critic


The middle: three new productions took to the stage Friday night for the festival

Ranking from best to worst: After Icarus, Statistics, Outstretched

The second night of U of T’s annual drama festival was held at Hart House Theatre on Friday, with three new one-act plays performed.

For one weekend every February, the drama festival provides a showcase for young talent to present original work by writing, directing, producing, and performing their own plays. It is an important and accessible way for students to see their ideas come to life and showcase them to an audience on a large stage. In this way, inspired young artists are able to create and share in a remarkable few evenings of art.

This year, the festival was adjudicated by Autumn Smith, an artist, innovator, director, curator, educator, and former adjudicator of the National Theatre School. As a professional in the industry, Smith was on hand every night to offer valuable feedback for each performance. Smith also conducted the awards ceremony after the final performances on Saturday night.

The shows are competing for a number of awards, including the IATSE Local 58 Award for Technical Achievement, the Donald Sutherland Award for Best Performance, the Robert Gill Award for Best Direction, the Robertson Davies Playwriting Award, the President’s Award for Best Production, and Awards of Merit. There is also a Viewer’s Choice Award, which gives the audience the chance to vote for their favourite production from each night.

The three hour-long plays featured on Friday were Statistics, Outstretched, and After Icarus, which covered a range of topics and themes, from scientific discovery and perseverance in Statistics, to loss and relationships in Outstretched, and resilience and the fight for freedom in After Icarus. Identity and memory played large roles in all of the plays.

After Icarus — the UTM Drama Club

Written by Max Ackerman and directed by Mackenzie Burton, this show is a parable on captivity and how it can be both a blessing and a curse. In After Icarus, the two main characters, Abe (Kael Buren) and Moe (Mo Zeighami), leave the dystopian regime that they’re living in to pursue a life of freedom in the outside world, while recalling the good and bad memories of their old home.

The show feels more like a movie than a play and is reminiscent of post-apocalyptic films like the Hunger Games. It portrays the struggle for power between people and government through war and death, and effectively demonstrates how, in some situations, we must leave the comfort of our homes to be safe. The actors were confident and comedic in their roles, while a moody set design and sound effects added interactive elements that made the audience feel like a part of the story.

Of the performances on the second night of the festival, After Icarus stood out as the most noteworthy show overall. The production was cinematic and captivating from beginning to end, with incredible performances by Buren and Zeighami. I believe it deserves to win the Donald Sutherland Award for Best Performance for its high quality in delivery, character development, interaction, and overall performance.

Statistics — SMC Troubadours

Where Shreya Jha’s script and gorgeous score were accompanied by Anastasia Liu’s direction, Statistics tells two interconnecting stories. At King’s College London in the 1950s, scientists work to discover the structure of DNA; the scientists are mostly male, apart from bright female scientist Rosalind Franklin (Violet Allmark). In 2017, U of T students Rose (Chloé Gétaz) and Angie (Elena Matas) are dealing with medical school applications and other university responsibilities. Rose looks to Rosalind as inspiration, as both are faced with the pressures of learning, growing, and pursuing science.

The show was performed as a musical, complete with a full orchestra at the back of the stage and characters singing for much of the dialogue. The storyline was a familiar one for university students, especially for those studying life sciences. Accurately reflecting the misogyny of the previous era, the script was smart and empowering, paying close attention to the details of its scientific subject matter while also proving that science students can do art too.

With its relatable story plot and musical components, Statistics was the second-best show of the night . I predict that this play will receive the Robert Gill Award for Best Direction for its achievement in artistic and technical quality of direction and transitions, as well as its clearly articulated storyline.

Outstretched — Trinity College Drama Society (TCDS)

Structured in five memory monologues, Outstretched was directed by Jennifer Dufton and written by Emily Powers. It follows Hyatt (Ezera Beyene), who delves into the past of his late sister Diana (Tuhi Sen) to learn more about her and find closure after her death. This leads him to Kate (Hannah Fleisch), Diana’s first love, and both characters are forced to come to terms with the death of their loved one.

Centring on loss and how we grapple with loss as human beings, the play was well-written and poetic in its use of language, although it could have integrated some more upbeat and lighthearted tones. While Outstretched was enjoyable and well done, it came in last out of the three plays for its repetitive scenes and overall lack of entertainment.

—  Khyrsten Mieras, Varsity Theatre Critic


The end: And just like that, it’s over

Ranking best to worst: Lone Island Lovers stood out alongside the magical Cordelia and the heart-wrenching Honey Lemon Green Tea

Alongside its clear skies, Saturday night marked the end of the trilogy of evenings dedicated to the showcasing of ambitious young talent eager to make their debut upon the Hart House Theatre stage.

Rather than the throat-cutting clash one might expect from the offspring of our university, the modest gathering of actors and audience assembled as a community in a commendable effort to support artistry.

Abby Palmer, one of the two festival coordinators, began with a land acknowledgment for the ground upon which Hart House Theatre stands. She spoke about the importance of the drama festival to encouraging students to find their voices and giving them professional tools to make their ideas accessible and understandable to a wider audience.

When asked in an interview by The Varsity afterward about the importance of the event, Palmer wrote, “Each show has so much heart bursting out of it, and that feeling alone is worth dozens of tickets. Additionally, shows that have been in the festival have gone on to have long and flourishing lives outside of U of T, so it’s actually pretty great theatre, too.”

Cordelia — UC Follies

Director Nicole Bell and playwright Lauren Lacey invite the audience on a journey of dynamic interpersonal relations where we encounter our first protagonist, Cordelia. A young woman with questions that come to burden every being endowed with reason, Cordelia is concerned with the burden of choice in the face of the inevitable tensions created by a culture of responsibility and agency constantly confronted by uncertainty and endless possibility.

Likewise, the minimalism of the setting as well as the easygoing humour both support the essence of the production to reflect the culture of a time when the fleeting nature of every moment propels one along, with eyes to the stars, all the while trapped on the ground with constrained motion. Perhaps it is from this that the necessity to appeal to perspective and constellations arises; it is an attempt to locate substance and depth upon the plane of reality.

Scene after scene, each is acted with enough presence to capture the audience’s attention for an instant, none endowed with the power to make them stay — intermission is almost reminiscent of a further installment of the play.

Lone Island Lovers — SMC Troubadours 

Following the short break, we come face to face with five figures seated before a self-designed space demarcated by white canvas tents, each a segregated island with a resident desperate to forge an identity of their own by establishing relations with the world outside themselves.

And yet, in spite of the relations we cultivate through ties of time and space, ultimately, we remain but islands of our own, loose clusters of sand drifting along the waves, yet never entirely in control of what is to come our way. Lone Island Lovers reflects this reality through the exploration of desire in the form of repressed sexuality.

Mick Robertson’s intricately woven writing illustrates our innate desire to extend our possibilities and surpass the limits of the individual. Through the collective, one hopes to inherit the abundance of the other as well. One after the other, through their rapport with one another and in passionate confession, Lady and her loved-ones unveil their longings and attempt to negotiate a space for themselves once unrooted from their dormant states.

Honey Lemon Green Tea — Victoria College Drama Society

The festival concludes with similar sentiments in Honey Lemon Green Tea, an exploration of mental illness and identity written by Bailey Irene Midori Hoy. Despite these sombre themes, the audience remains cheerful as warm applause fills the auditorium; the merit of the undertaking and the significance of its participants supplants that of the content itself.

Yet, beyond mere entertainment, if we are to notice the concerns addressed by each production and take into consideration their intentional selection, we may gain a clearer perspective into the concerns of the youth of today. Viewing these youth beyond the millennial imagery, a neat justification for symptoms that have only come to take shape from an environment over which they have little control and did not create comes to form.

Through theatre, we may amend the perceptions acquired from representation through representation itself, for art alone expresses the inexpressible and offers a voice to those who seek to convey that which goes beyond speech. Amid this shared language, perhaps we can at last begin to forge a path towards understanding, of both ourselves and that which lies outside us, to eventually establish new possibilities surrounding a reality in which we find ourselves in a constant struggle to find place.

AND THE AWARDS GO TO…

  • IATSE Local 58 Award for Technical Achievement: UC Follies’ Cordelia
  • Donald Sutherland Award for Best Performance: Frosina Pejcinovska — Lone Island Lovers
  • Robert Gill Award for Best Direction: Will Dao and Ahlam Hassan — Lone Island Lovers
  • Robertson Davies Award Playwriting Award: Emily Powers — Outstretched
  • President’s Award for Best Production: Lone Island Lovers

The highlight of the night, Lone Island Lovers, directed by William Dao and Ahlam Hassan, brought home three of the five awards, including best direction, best production, and best performance to the electrifying Frosina Pejcinovska. SMC Troubadours’ triumph leaves little surprise, for the application of every aspect of the production suggests that they have much deserved their prize, instilling the audience with hope that one day we may recover some of the texture sacrificed in our everyday haste.

Past politics and theory, lamentation and ideology, the drama festival hosted by the university is the coming together of a community, an assembly of individuals from across the nation to pursue a shared passion for theatrical expression — a conglomeration of actors, directors, writers, and artists to whom a chance to speak is at last granted. In the end, the festival reflects the very necessity of establishing relations in a world that has come to prize individuality and offering spaces within which one may pursue one’s exploration of boundaries.

— Elaine YJ Zheng, Varsity Theatre Critic

Hair is taking over Hart House this January

From the Vietnam War to body hair in the media, hair has always been political

<i>Hair</i> is taking over Hart House this January

Hart House Theatre is once again straying from the traditional formula of staging one musical, one Shakespearean play, one Canadian drama, and one classical drama, which has been seen at Hart House for many past seasons. Indeed, this season Shakespeare is absent, but not missed, replaced by Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad.

Another exciting change: two musicals instead of one. The first, Heathers: The Musical, opened the 2018–2019 Hart House season. The second, Hair, premiered January 18 and is running until February 2. Hair is a relevant piece, set in 1968 but reaching through time to speak to modern audiences.

Performer Katie Miller and assistant choreographer Nathan Sartore are excited not just about the performance, but also about working with the team at Hart House Theatre, which they both describe as a “very safe” space. The fact that Hart House fosters this kind of atmosphere for its performers is evident to the audience through the quality of its shows, which are often inventive, immersive, and exciting adaptations of new and classic productions. Hair appears to be shaping up to be no different.

Originally from Calgary, Miller’s Hart House debut will be as Jeanie in Hair. Miller notes that she was “drawn to the energy of the show,” especially after she saw the 2009 Broadway revival. She describes the musical as being about “a group of hippies in Central Park just before the Vietnam War, their protests, and decision to burn their draft cards. It follows the story of Claude, who goes through the decision as to whether or not to stay with his tribe or go off to the war.” She goes on to explain that at its heart, the show focuses on the “pressure of social norms, parents,” and themes of “race, peace, [and] anti-war sentiment.” Miller notes that these themes continue to be “really important in this day and age,” making the musical a very “cool piece of theatre to bring to the public.”

Sartore helped to choreograph Hair. PHOTO COURTESY OF HART HOUSE THEATRE

Sartore also hails from the west coast — Vancouver — and is part of the Hart House production team for the first time with Hair. It is likely that many students on campus have never seen Hair before, and Sartore shares that he was in the same boat, having never seen the show before becoming involved. However, he was excited to discover “how relevant the show continues to be on its 50th anniversary. It’s a really special show.” As a young performer early in his career, Sartore praises Hart House for bringing in people like director and choreographer Julie Tomaino, also appearing in her Hart House debut. Sartore explains that it is “amazing for young professionals to work with this calibre of people.”

Indeed, the quality of the performers and production team often shines through in Hart House productions, but so does the subject matter. Hair was no doubt selected because of its continuing ability to resonate with contemporary audiences. Sartore notes that, for example, there is an emphasis on the individual in the choreography: “There are moments when 20 people are on stage and no one person is doing the same thing as someone else, which is really special to watch.” This is a stylistic choice meant to reflect the central theme of the musical: the continuing question of individuality that we all must face, especially when confronted with difficult topics such as racism and war.

Of course, hair itself can be political, and that is a concept that Miller and Sartore say was discussed early in the production of the show, during table work. Miller notes that the team discussed hair as being related to “freedom and rebellion,” especially as young men were required to shave their heads when conscripted during the Vietnam War. According to Miller and Sartore, the team particularly identified with the politicization of body hair in 2019. As Sartore explains, “Body hair is an issue we struggle with still. Maybe we’ve become more comfortable with hair on our heads, but there’s still a long way to go in these societal views on how body hair should be.” Miller echoes this response, saying that “there’s so much societal pressure on women to have shaved body hair. We were encouraged at the beginning [of the production] that body hair was great, which was awesome.”

Hair features Katie Miller. PHOTO COURTESY OF HART HOUSE THEATRE

Hair appears to be shaping up to be another intriguing Hart House Theatre production. Miller notes that the show is “very immersive,” with the fourth wall being broken all the time. The intended effect is to make the audience feel like it’s a part of the show, says Miller. How will audiences respond?

If the energy reflected by Miller and Sartore is any indication, likely very well. Half a century may sound like a long time, but it will be interesting to connect our current era to that of many of our parents’. And, if for nothing else, students should enjoy the opportunity to see a classic musical performed on stage with a large cast, all at student prices. The fact that it’ll likely be a unique and thought-provoking show is a special bonus not to be missed.

Hair opened at Hart House Theatre on January 18 and runs every Wednesday to Saturday until February 2.

Theatre review: UC Follies’ Les Frères

The show represents the culture of Haiti through family struggles

Theatre review: UC Follies’ <i>Les Frères</i>

Rating: 4/5 stars

The UC Follies’ ended their 2018 season with the outstanding production, Les Frères (The Brothers). The play was met with resounding cheers and a standing ovation during the opening night on a snowy November Thursday.

Les Frères is a dramatic and cultural story that integrates loss and personal obstacles, but one that follows a Haitian-American family in New York and is performed in English. Written by Sandra A. Daley Sharif, directed by Abigail Whitney, and inspired by Lorainne Hansberry’s Les Blancs, it depicts the struggles of a family and country against the effects of colonialism.

“This play has provided me with the chance to stage a story that mirrors scenes in my life. Scenes that I know so intimately growing up as part of the Haitian diaspora,” Whitney wrote in her director’s note.

The show’s focus is on three brothers who are forced to confront each other after spending years apart. Upon being reunited with each other when their father becomes ill, Christophe (Kato Alexander), Jean Caleb (Kwaku Adu-Poku), and Fedji (David Delisca) must navigate the aftermath of their father’s death, recall their mother’s earlier suicide, and face the tensions between the three of them.

The brothers are of Haitian descent and grew up together in Harlem, New York. However, they have all taken very different paths in life: Christophe is a scholar who now studies at Harvard University and has met Barack Obama, Jean Caleb has his own family and is out saving the world as a doctor, and Fedji is a Jehovah’s Witness who lives nearby in Brooklyn.

Despite the challenges of a small cast size, the actors were able to carry the show with constant dialogue and quick-witted exchanges to keep the audience interested. Rob Candy gave a compelling performance in his role as Mr. Brent Ewens, a family friend, adding energetic and compelling conversations to the poignant storyline.

Alexander, Adu-Poku, and Delisca deliver their lines with the perfect amount of emotion which allows the audience to effectively empathise the pain and trauma of the young men. This is particularly apparent during the scene when the three brothers argue among themselves directly following their father’s death.

Traditional music connected Haitian culture and the sombre mood of the show. especially during intense scenes and discussions Instruments, like a bongo drum and rain stick, were played by Mosa McNeilly to create matching sound effects.

The set design is conventional, detailing the kitchen and living areas of the brothers’ childhood apartment. It is complete with a fully stocked fridge, bookshelves, and a table filled with Christophe’s endless awards and trophies.

While the various scenes of loss are not easy to watch, rare moments of humour and the closeness of family offer some respite. The production is impressive in its adaptation of the original play, enhancing minor moments while keeping the key elements and true message of the story intact.

As a whole, the show succeeded in bringing the story and its significance to life through the drama of the scenes and strong actors onstage. The culture and heritage of Haiti was well represented and accessible for such a diverse Toronto audience.

UC Follies’ B-Side rocks the Stage at Hart House this November

The show’s creator discusses making a show about records in the digital age

UC Follies’ <i>B-Side</i> rocks the Stage at Hart House this November

From November 30 to December 1, the UC Follies will be at Hart House for a two-night performance of B-Side: A Rock Cabaret. The show is a grand musical experience that will take you back in time with classic rock records you love and lesser-known songs for you to discover and fall in love with.

The Varsity wrote to Jocelyn Kraynyk, the show’s creator, about her inspiration for the show, nostalgia for rock music, and listening to records in the world of online streaming.

TV: So many people listen to music digitally, on Spotify and Apple Music — why did you decide to create a show about records instead?

JK: The simple answer as to why I created a show inspired by records is that I find digital means of listening to music passive. Don’t get me wrong, I am in love with my iPod and I might actually die without my Apple Music, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how easy it is to become complacent about listening. Many a time, I have found myself in a playlist loop where I don’t realize I’m listening to music that I don’t really like or care about. With records, the act of listening becomes so active. You carefully choose what record you want to listen to. You engage with the music in the ceremony of putting the record on and the needle down. If your mind is focused on other things, the record waits for you to reengage at the halfway mark. I think that level of immersion lends itself well to a theatrical endeavour.

TV: Where did you get your inspiration for B-Side?

JK: I was so thrilled when the Follies asked me to create a show and I celebrated by going to my favourite record shop and picking up a heap of new music. When I got home, I put on my new Pat Benatar and rocked around my living room basking in the amazing vocals and bopping tracks. Two things happened while I listened to that record: 1. I found a couple songs that I had never heard before but fell totally and completely in love with, and 2. I heard songs that I forgot that I loved and it felt like coming home. That is how I found the concept for this show — thanks Pat. For me, B-Side is all about celebrating the songs of amazing artists that don’t get the same amount of play as other classic rock, as well as celebrating better known songs that were put on the B-Side of their record. Some of the songs in this show are ones few people will know — but everyone will love — some are songs everyone will know and can sing along to, and some are songs that people will hear, be flooded with memory, and fall in love [with] all over again. 

TV: How did you choose what songs to include in the show and why did you choose rock music?

JK: Listening to hundreds of classic rock songs to find the perfect setlist was torture — just kidding, I was in my glory. I love that shit. I ended up deciding to centre this show around songs that explore young love and relationships – the good, the bad, the ugly, the horny. It connects every song and performance and reined me in — if I didn’t have that connecter, the show would be hours long instead of the sleek 55 minutes it is now. B-Side has an unclockable flow and energy. It’s dynamic. It’s energetic. It’s magnetic and it demands to be seen!

As an artist and a consumer, I love the feeling of nostalgia. For me, it serves as escapism and when I perform or listen to music from or reminiscent of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The flow and intensity of it allows me to let go and live in its palpable energy. That feeling is what I want for my audiences and that is why I gravitate towards rock. 

TV: What is a song or performance in the show that stands out to you? 

JK: As far as what song or performance stands out, I’m going to give a pageant answer: every single song and performance stands out. When creating this show, we wanted to make sure that every performer got their moment to shine, and shine they do! We have been incredibly fortunate work with this incomparable group of people. Every single one of them owns the stage and I challenge anyone watching not to be warmed to the core by the joy and energy that radiates off of them when they sing. They are a beautiful unit. Hart House is an intimidating space. It is huge and can be daunting for performers — I say this from experience: that stage is scary — but we don’t fear the stage, we dominate that stage. The passion and excitement from our cast fills the theatre from the dressing rooms to the very last row. 

 

Theatre review: VCDS’ The Importance of Being Earnest

Student theatre cleverly tackles the theme of identity in its second play of the season

Theatre review: VCDS’ <em>The Importance of Being Earnest</em>

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) received resounding laughter and applause from pleased audiences with director Rachel Bannerman’s interpretation of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Arguably one of Oscar Wilde’s finest plays, it is his playful response to William Shakespeare’s serious question to audiences: “What’s in a name?” Wilde’s answer? Everything.

In Earnest, Jack Worthing, our main protagonist, is in love with Gwendolen Bracknell, but he has been passing off as Ernest Worthing instead — a lie which, it seems, comprises a large part of Gwendolen’s love for Jack.

Meanwhile, Jack’s friend Algernon Moncrieff has plans to secretly go visit Jack’s ward Cecily in the country so as to woo her — a plan that ends up with him also passing himself off as Ernest, a name that Cecily, like Gwendolen, places much importance upon. What happens when their real names are found out? That, of course, is much of the fun of Earnest, as are its other characters, namely Lady Bracknell, a typical Victorian mother character exposing both the monotony and falsity of Victorian morals. Add in a black handbag, a lot of muffins, and a couple of diaries, and you have the wonderful play that is The Importance of Being Earnest.

What makes Earnest so hilarious is that it is a world where everything is inverted: characters say the opposite of what you would expect them to say, but with all seriousness. For example, Lady Bracknell, who has been visiting a friend of hers who is recently widowed, notes that the woman looks “quite 20 years younger.” The play is chock-full of such clever bits, and this comprises its hilarious nature.

Bannerman’s production understands that Earnest is ultimately a play of identity, where the central question is “Who am I?” It is a play that laughs at the absurdity of nothingness, of a purposeless existence, and fills that void with beauty and wit.  In assembling a cast of mostly women and changing the character of Mr. Jack Worthing to a Ms. Jack Worthing, Bannerman brings the play into the twenty-first century in a manner that is quite fitting for the play’s central question of human identity.  

The cast is, overall, quite strong, with some standout performances. Gianni Sallese as Algernon Moncrieff is an excellent decision, and his skill with the character often outshines Sylvia Woolner’s Jack, with whom he is often on stage.

Kara Austria’s Lady Bracknell maintains the veneer of Victorian high society while treating the character with just enough irony to result in a truly wonderful performance. Carmen Bezner Kerr’s Gwendolen Bracknell and Kenley Ferris Ku’s Cecily Cardew also both display the actors’ full awareness of the wit of the dialogue, which they play into very well.

A clever set design, which changes three times during the show, helps to keep the stage interesting and the audience engaged. Overall, Bannerman makes good use of the stage, and characters are constantly moving, sitting, running, and taking up space, which is very entertaining.

Some moments that could have been further emphasized include the classic encounter between Cecily and Gwendolen during tea, which is quite hilarious but could have been further drawn out. This is, of course, a minor detail, and is outweighed by the many other clever directions, including the very funny aside when Algy and his servant Lane plug their ears.

As is often the case, the VCDS offers audiences a well-rehearsed, clever production of a classic play that is well worth seeing. You’ll leave with many good laughs and an appreciation for the clever wit of Oscar Wilde that is not lost upon this production team.

Theatre review: A modern take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The retelling of this classic story captured humour, whimsicality, and dreamlike themes

Theatre review: A modern take on <i>A Midsummer Night’s Dream</i>

“Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer,” sang Nam Nguyen, a guitar-playing fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of William Shakespeare’s most well-known comedies.

The Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) opened its 2018–2019 season on Thursday night with a dreamy performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Directed by Abby Palmer, the play was adapted to suit a contemporary audience and ran for 2.5 hours with a 10-minute intermission. Some of Shakespeare’s original text is still used, but much of the convoluted words and language have been edited and translated into modern English.

More interestingly though, is that Palmer’s adaptation is set in 1968 America. The new setting is brought to the forefront with the inclusion of swapped gender roles, LGBTQ+ people, and people of colour, as well as snazzy costumes, lively singing, and dancing. In multiple scenes, characters dressed in bold miniskirts, platform heels, and tie-dye break out into popular songs like the ‘60s hits “I’m a Believer” and “Stand by Me.” This specific directorial adaptation is more relevant than ever in today’s political climate of social movements and regressive leadership.

Midsummer focuses on four interconnected plots: the relationships between the characters of Hermia (Eiléanór O’Halloran), Lysander (Rachel Leggett), Helena (Mitchell Byrne), and Demetrius (River Oliveira). Against the law of Theseus (Devon Wilton), Hermia and Lysander intend to get married, while Demetrius attempts to win over Hermia, and Helena tries to win Demetrius.

In the forest and the realm of Fairyland, Oberon (Wilton), king of the fairies, and his assistant Puck (Nicole Eun-Ju Bell) concoct a special potion to set things right among the couples. Meanwhile, a group of hippie actors rehearse a play of their own that they hope to perform at Theseus’s wedding. Things go wrong and chaos ensues, but everything seems to have a funny way of working out in the end.

This hilarity balances the commotion of the many different and deep themes and scenes in the play. Characters in serious conversations in the foreground are met with amusing moments between characters in the background. In one instance, Hermia and her father argue over her arranged marriage to Demetrius while Lysander and Helena secretly fight behind them. The audience was constantly having a laugh at these actions and other witty one-liners.

Visual elements helped to bring the dream world even more to life, with a colourful set design, hilarious sound effects like the characters’ car driving behind the audience, and lighting effects that featured prominently throughout the show.

The play was performed at the Emmanuel College Quad, which added to the ambience and fit seamlessly with the forest scenes on stage. Most of the seating was on tarps on the grass, although some chairs were provided.

Audience interaction was a large part of the show. It was a bit startling when characters suddenly walked up and down the aisles, and even across the tarps of people on their way to the stage. Puck spoke directly to the audience several times throughout the show, as if talking to a friend. For a small outdoor theatre, this truly enhanced the intimacy and sense of community, especially in the chilly fall evening.

Overall, the musical performances of the cast and the modern dream world setting made for a magical night.