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

Theatre review: TCDS’ Art

Friendships are akin to art: they help fill the voids within us

Theatre review: TCDS’ <i>Art</i>

Rating: 3/5 stars

Last weekend, the Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) performed Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play, Art. The play, set in Paris and written in French, premiered in 1994 and was quickly adapted and translated, before making its way across the Atlantic and onto Broadway in 1998.

Performed at Trinity College’s George Ignatieff Theatre, curator Liana Ernszt made a conscious effort to integrate the performance with a gallery of boundary-pushing student artwork, providing an altogether more interactive experience.

By presenting opportunities for more direct engagement, Ernszt encouraged audiences to step outside of their comfort zones and provided a more visceral account of the play’s major themes: drifting friendships, weak bonds, senses of taste, and identity. This challenged audiences to consider the value and purpose of art and greatly enhanced the communication of Reza’s message in art.

Art follows three friends, Serge (Ezera Beyene), Marc (Kody McCann), and Yvan (Brendan Rush), who’ve unwittingly grown apart and suddenly find their friendship under considerable tension. Catalyzing the end of their friendship is Serge’s wildly exorbitant purchase of a painting that, rather humorously, is just a completely white canvas with white lines.

Marc disparages the painting, and it is this disagreement in taste between Marc and Serge that forces Yvan in the middle. Naturally, this devolves into a no-holds-barred contest of mockery, cynicism, and disillusionment, ultimately spiralling out of control and into referendums on taste, character assassinations, and a pervasive mood of indifference. Just when it’s most important for them to pull together, they instead push themselves even further apart.

The play, directed by Ryan Falconer, brought out a unified and true-to-form communication of Reza’s Art. The production was well-orchestrated with timely, effective lighting and use of the stage to entwine the audience in an intimate affair of theatre and drama. The band, with Shreya Jha on keyboard and Mira Riselli on bass, helped execute seamless transitions of scenes, building and releasing tension to complement the mood of the cast.

The cast succeeded in captivating the audience by effectively conveying the emotional rifts between their characters. Beyene’s performance of Serge as an eccentric art connoisseur left the impression of a focused approach to his role, by projecting his emotions not impulsively but sincerely. This was nicely juxtaposed by McCann’s performance of Marc, whose condescending demeanour and language really broadcast a sort of austerity that reached beyond the confines of the stage and into the minds of the audience. This contrast worked especially well in heightening the tension between the two characters. Rush’s performance of Yvan was ambitious and intense, though certainly not lost because his character was the most difficult to portray. Rush successfully supported the unfolding interactions between Serge and Marc, which would unravel even more to crash down like a game of Jenga.

The more salient point in Art and the blank canvas is not the trivial senses of taste, but the understanding that friendships are to be nurtured and not taken for granted. As with anything that is abandoned or neglected, if we lose sight, we also stand to lose clarity and, ultimately, the confidence of our friendships.

Friends are a sort of artwork in themselves; like art, friends help us overcome times of adversity and suffering by making light of dark situations. They fill the voids within us to cure our emptiness.

Ultimately, I wish to congratulate Falconer and the TCDS on a great show and laud their commitment and passionate dedication to storytelling, art, and the audience.

Theatre review: TCDS’ Sunday in the Park with George

A visually stunning production following the life of George Seurat

Theatre review: TCDS’ <i>Sunday in the Park with George</i>

The Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) opened its last show of the 2017–2018 season with a visually stunning production of the musical Sunday in the Park with George on Wednesday, March 21.

Directed by Shannon Dunbar, the play examines the creation of real-life artist Georges Seurat’s masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” which features Parisians promenading at a park on the riverbank. It is a theatrical look at the artistic process, told with honest and humorous truths about life and love, and set in both the past and present.

The story loosely follows the artistic endeavors of George (Winston Sullivan) as he struggles to create meaningful art and maintain a relationship with his partner Dot (Jocelyn Kraynyk). George is obsessed with achieving perfection in his artwork and strives for the approval of the artistic community; in the process, his art thrives while his love fades.

Sullivan and Kraynyk are talented in the lead roles, giving strong performances in their acting and singing abilities. Kraynyk in particular carries the show with compelling vocals that clearly convey Dot’s frustration with George’s preoccupations.

The supporting cast, whose characters are included in the painting, is also skillful in bringing comic relief to the show in song and dialogue. Ethan Raymond as Jules, a successful artist, Olivia Thornton-Nickerson as George’s forgetful mother, and Cole Currie as the rowdy boatman provide contrast to the visceral portrayals of George and Dot.

While seemingly ordinary at first, the set includes a large projector screen that serves as the backdrop. The screen comes to life in brilliant animations of George’s famous painting in its various stages, from a simple pencil sketch to the final coloured product. These animations are powerful in visualizing George’s artistic development, and they add depth to the actors’ performances in the foreground as well.

Another highlight was the show’s accompaniment by a live band onstage, with music from the original production by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim. Musical director Michael Henley’s score complements the vibrancy of the scenes as they occur, as well as the pointillism style of George’s painting.

Sunday in the Park with George has a striking juxtaposition of musical and visual art aspects, especially in its animated set design. It’s an enjoyable theatre-going experience, one that gives a poignant examination of the lives of the people in the painting.

Disclosure: Ethan Raymond is one of The Varsity’s Lead Copy Editors; Cole Currie is The Varsity’s Deputy News Editor.

Theatre review: VCDS’ lady in the red dress

The show explores discrimination against Chinese-Canadians, both past and present

Theatre review: VCDS’ <i>lady in the red dress</i>

The Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) began 2018 with its production of lady in the red dress on Thursday, January 25 at The Cat’s Eye Student Pub & Lounge. The show examines the anti-Asian racism surrounding the Chinese head tax imposed by the Canadian government, as well as issues of sexism, violence, and death.

The play takes place in Toronto, and loosely follows the timeline of the Chinese head tax, alternating between present day and the early 1900s.

A talented young cast was on hand for this adaptation of David Yee’s play, portraying their characters in dramatic, yet realistic and comical ways. Max (James Hyett), a lawyer negotiating the head tax redress, encounters Sylvia (Kenzie Tsang), an enigmatic woman in a red dress looking for vengeance.

Sylvia drags him into the history of the Chinese-Canadian struggle, and her search for the elusive Tommy Jade (Nam Nguyen). Along the way, Max is shot, stabbed, suffers a heart attack, and discovers that his son Danny (Cy Macikunas) has been taken hostage. As the show progresses, Max experiences the discrimination against Chinese-Canadians and the effects of the head tax firsthand.

While the show is at first insensitive to these disparities, he comes to the realization that everyone has a collective responsibility to do the right thing and draw attention to the harsh history endured by past generations.

Gianni Sallese gives brilliant performances in the roles of Hatch and Coogan, and Alice Guo and Victoria Ngai’s non-speaking roles in the chorus also added to the dramatics.

Overall, lady in the red dress is an extraordinary play that portrays the diversity of a predominantly Chinese-Canadian story well with mostly Chinese and mixed actors. It reverberates the significance of Canada’s diversity today, especially in Toronto, and helps us to shift our perspectives on critical issues of injustice.

lady in the red dress runs at The Cat’s Eye until Saturday, January 27.

Theatre review: TCDS’ Rumors

The Neil Simon production is a farcical descent into chaos

Theatre review: TCDS’ <i>Rumors</i>

The best way to sum up the plot of Neil Simon’s Rumors is this: the dinner party’s host shoots himself, and hilarity ensues. The Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) presented a rendition of the 1988 play from November 22–25, directed by Vanessa Perruzza.

The setting of the play is the 10th anniversary party of Mira and Charles, although neither character actually appears in the show. Charles is unconscious and wounded from a shot to the ear and Mira is missing.

Rumors is a farce that combines slapstick humour and witty commentary on upper-class life, as well as the dinner party/murder mystery trope. It is full of big personalities and big misunderstandings. At times, neither the audience nor the characters know exactly what is going on, a recurring theme throughout the show.

The play opens immediately after an accident has occurred, although what exactly happened remains unclear. Through a conversation between two of the characters, Chris and her husband Ken, we find out that the host has suffered a minor bullet wound, perhaps attempted suicide.

As guests begin to arrive, the characters try to piece together exactly what has happened. Where are the hosts? Where is the help? Is a scandalous affair involved? Why were there gunshots?

Those who know try to keep the secret from those who don’t, and the miscommunications and rumours become increasingly elaborate and far-fetched. The characters spend the party trying to save their reputations, marriages, and the dinner itself, while their level of intoxication increases.

Gianni Salese gave an excellent performance in the role of Len, as did Kenzie Tsang as Chris. Perruzza did an outstanding job as director. The set and staging made the audience feel as if they were sitting in the dining room with the guests, experiencing the commotion firsthand.

Simon originally wrote Rumors to cheer himself up during a period of depression, and the dark comedy definitely lived up to this goal. Although it carries an undertone of sadness, Rumors was funny, smart, and featured some great talent.

Campus theatre preview: Love’s Labour’s Lost

Trinity’s Shakespeare in the Quad production focuses on the right to love

Campus theatre preview: <em>Love’s Labour’s Lost</em>

Trinity College’s iconic quadrangle was once home to one of the largest outdoor Shakespeare festivals in Canada. The Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) has continued this tradition with an annual Shakespeare in the Quad production each fall to begin their season. This year, the TCDS is shaking things up by staging a modern musical retelling of the Bard’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, written by Alex Timbers and with music by Michael Friedman.

The musical is set in front of a hotel in a university town, where alumni students from said university are visiting for a school reunion. The King and his buddies swear an oath to stay away from women, which becomes increasingly difficult when girls from their past arrive. In classic Shakespearean comedy style, the story is filled with hijinks, miscommunication, and the chase for love.

Director Nicole Bell, a third-year theatre student, revealed that she was drawn to this show after listening to “Love’s a Gun” off the soundtrack. While the lyrics provide a commentary on heteronormative relationships, she realized that the songs in this show “are so easily steeped in queer narratives” as well. “I picked this show because it’s fun and it’s goofy, but I found meaning in it,” Bell said.

“This show is about love, [but] what I wanted to do with the show is ask the question ‘who has the right to love?’” Bell continued. By casting the show completely gender-blind, the production attempted to show that everyone has that right.

Moreover, most of the show’s five couples are queer and interracial, aspects that were particularly important for Bell to have represented on stage. “I really wanted to try to accent one or both, and I’m very lucky that I got to accent both,” she shared.

Bell mentioned that there are moments when actors break the fourth wall and interact with the audience, and these won’t be the only instances where reality and fiction intermingle. After Bell got a hold of the libretto, she discovered that the original production was also set outside, in New York City’s Central Park, and that the band had doubled as the one for the university reunion as well. This will be replicated in the TCDS production. “I’m glad that I have the opportunity to take some of the original aspects of the show and bring it into this space,” she added.

The Trinity College Dramatic Society’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost opens Wednesday, September 27 and closes Saturday, September 30.

Cabaret

A superb rendition of the Broadway hit with no one there to see it

Cabaret

Not many people showed up to see Cabaret, which was put on by the Trinity College Drama Society (TCDS). The George Ignatieff Theatre is a small, intimate space, but I still felt rather lonely occupying one seat in the otherwise vacant left side of the theatre. It was only the centre section that had more than one occupant. The trickling turnout was disappointing, considering that it is certainly one of the best shows I’ve seen at the university this year.

In Cabaret, financially and creatively destitute American novelist Cliff Bradshaw (played by Kevin Matthew Wong) travels to Berlin in the dying days of Weimar Germany to find inspiration for his novel. Upon arrival, he falls in love with British singer Sally Bowles (Rachel Hart), who works at the Kit Kat Club, a decadent, gratuitously racy cabaret with a mysterious, polyamorous master of ceremonies (Shak Haq).

Sally, Clifford, Clifford’s landlord Fraulein Schneider (Jocelyn Kraynyk), and her close admirer Herr Schulz (Jeffrey Kennes) must confront the political tension and growing hatred brought on by the rise of the Nazi party. 

With its sin city setting and dramatic historical backdrop, Cabaret has no shortage of shocking moments. The show’s real haymaker, however, is a romantic song and dance between the Emcee and one of the cabaret dancers (Alice Guo), who is dressed in a gorilla suit.

“I understand your objection,” the Emcee sings (it’s a gorilla, for goodness sake). The metaphor becomes clearer when he elaborates, “but if you could see she through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” Cabaret is a defense of love and a defense against hatred — a theme that sounds trite but is hard to pull off convincingly.

It’s all the more impressive that TCDS’s production deftly handles those themes in a polished, confident, and gorgeous manner. Haq’s Emcee really holds the show together. He has a colourful sense of showmanship, and the true spirit of his character comes out in his moment of vulnerability toward the end. Kevin Matthew Wong’s performance is more puzzling, in neither a good nor bad way. There’s something overzealous about his acting, which is not ineffective but definitely inconsistent with the style of the rest of the cast. When he speaks, he seems to address the audience rather than the other characters. He acts very earnestly to the point of awkwardness.

The set’s centrepiece is a gauze-like, sequined curtain that veils the band and hangs from a metal frame. Low round tables are added to make up the Kit Kat Club or the armchair and desk that represent Clifford’s room. Generated fog, coupled with the small size of the stage, expressed a smoky, claustrophobic atmosphere appropriate for the setting.

Costumes are detailed, evocative, and bountiful. Most characters get at least three full costume changes (except for Clifford, who never seems to change his clothes), including various cabaret performance dresses, sailor outfits, Nazi officer uniforms, and plenty of fishnet tights. The costumes look expensive, too, which makes it even more disappointing that there was such a small turnout. 

The tech crew assembled a thoughtful lighting design, complete with window-frame gobos for “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” and evocative green lighting during “Money.”  I also appreciated the live percussion sound effects that accompany Clifford’s fight scene with Ernst Ludwig (Matthew Fonte).

The confidence of the performers alongside the support of the tech crew created a strong, stable performance. The set transitions and general infrequency of actors exiting the stage lent the show a certain honesty. All of this combined with the homeliness of the George Ignatieff theatre made for quite an intimate experience. It certainly deserved a full house.

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Rope

TCDS’ latest production strings Nietzsche with murder

Rope

Have you ever encountered a classmate so stupid that you wanted to strangle them? So did Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, the two main characters in TCDS’s latest production, Rope, a play that is part thriller, and part cautionary tale of what can happen when you take your philosophy readings too seriously.

The story, adapted from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film, is about a real-life murder case that took place in Chicago in 1926. The two students (who, in the staged version, attend Oxford University) were said to be obsessed with Nietzsche and the philosophy of the Übermensch. In the words of director Marie Trotter, the characters become “fascinated by the idea of dominating a weaker human being, and so decide to do this through murder.” The murderers then proceed to celebrate their own cleverness by vainly throwing a dinner party for their friends over a large wooden chest, where the bloody remains of the victim are hidden.

The TCDS version of this gory tale captures the 1920’s schoolboy atmosphere perfectly. The play is chock-full of ritzy costume designs, static gramophone music, and a book-covered dining room set, which evokes a gothic, Brideshead Revisited-esque aesthetic. 

Much of the story’s set-up relies on establishing the characters that are sharp and those that are vapid. Unfortunately, the vapid characters have a hard time standing out in the production, and aside from delivering a few funny lines here and there, largely fall to the background.

Instead, much of the tension comes from the interactions between the two murderers, Brandon and Granillo, played by Joanna Decc and Max Levy respectively. Decc especially, whose looming presence and slow mental deterioration — which occurs as her character begins to lose control of the situation — delivers meritoriously and constitutes much of the driving force behind both the plot and the performance. This deterioration is consciously reflected in the general state of the set, which grows increasingly turbulent as props are moved, shoved, and thrown out of place as the dinner party progresses — a factor that helps the audience see the transition from order to chaos.

The most outstanding performance, however, comes from Jonathan Dick, who plays Rupert Cadell. The most perceptive of the aforementioned ‘sharp’ characters, he is the only guest present who suspected there was something “queer” about the evening. 

Cadell smoke, drank, and discussed philosophy at the same pace as the play’s ostentatious murderers, and Dick portrayed this expertly by maintaining the same conduct as his counterparts, while keeping the audience guessing as to whether or not he would show himself to be the leads’ moral superior. 

Overall, the production is a valuable addition to TCDS’ season, as it no doubt gave many a young Trinity student — who may still be determining whether the philosophies they learn from the dusty tomes have any worth in our day-to-day lives — something to think about.

The trailer from Hitchcock’s Rope: