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: VCDS’ Twelfth Night, Or What You Will

The final show of the 100th season pays homage to an early production

Theatre review: VCDS’ <i>Twelfth Night, Or What You Will</i>

For the final play of its 100th season, the Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) chose a production of Twelfth Night, Or What You Will. The show runs for two and a half hours, with a 15 minute intermission.

Notably, the same show was first put up by VCDS a century ago, with an all-female cast. “We re-mount it to celebrate our past and to look to our future as we continue to grow,” Executive Producers Alyssa DiBattista and Leora Nash wrote in their producers’ note.

During their introductory statements, DiBattista and Nash also pointed out how appropriately coincidental it was for opening night to fall on International Women’s Day.

Directed by Maya Wong, VCDS’ Twelfth Night is aesthetically cohesive, thanks to the clean and naturalistic set designed by Wong and Artistic Designer Abby Palmer. Often, student productions use similar ‘classic’ sets that are meant to be timeless. It was refreshing to see VCDS use wooden furniture, IKEA chairs, and even plants to create a modern stage.

The plot of Twelfth Night revolves around Viola (Kashi Syal), who falls in love with Orsino (James Hyett), who is in love with Olivia (Jasmine Cabanilla), who mistakes Viola for a man and falls in love with her. Madness, of course, ensues. Ironically, the chemistry between Syal and Cabanilla is palpable, perhaps more so than either of their chemistries with Hyett.

Admittedly, the show’s modern context is a bit confusing, as the hierarchal relationships between the characters are never fully explained. The blocking of the play also falls lacklustre at times, with multiple actors simply standing in a line during certain scenes.

However, Cabanilla sparks laughter every time she used her cell phone as a prop, and Wong creatively modernizes the traditional Shakespearean sword fights written into the play, with choreography by Jade Elliott McRae. 

Maria (Nicole Bell) and Sir Toby (Jacob Levitt) are especially strong characters, thanks to Bell and Levitt’s performances. The two deliver their lines with such ease that the audience can clearly understand Shakespeare’s jokes. The scene with Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew (Braden Kenny), and Fabian (Maher Sinno) tricking Malvolio (Ryan Falconer) is particularly delightful to watch.

An original score composed by Music Director and Composer Sam Clark and Assistant Composer Wilfred Moeschter also makes this classic love triangle story unique. With the harmonizing voices of Percy Thomas and Yasmine Shelton, the musical interludes are gorgeous.

Overall, Twelfth Night is an aesthetically pleasing production featuring strong actors and a uniquely creative production team. For the love of VCDS, do not miss the end of this historic season.

Twelfth Night, Or What You Will will run at Isabel Bader Theatre until March 10.

Disclosure: Kashi Syal is The Varsity‘s Associate Arts & Culture Editor.

Disappearance of funds at VCDS stirs suspicions of theft

$800 missing from cash box in locked VCDS office

Disappearance of funds at VCDS stirs suspicions of theft

Sometime between October 31, 2017 and November 10, 2017, $800 in cash went missing from the Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) cash box, located in a locked office. According to the society, eight members of VCDS have access to the office, located within the larger Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) office, as do housekeeping staff and the VUSAC president. VCDS believes the money was stolen.

While cleaning their office during the fall reading week, VCDS co-producers Alyssa DiBattista and Leora Nash discovered the empty cash box, but they originally thought nothing of it.

“We assumed that our Chief Financial Officer, George Wilson, must have deposited the revenue from our first show into our bank account. Later in the month (before our second show), however, George went to count the amount in the money box, to be used as a float for our second show, only to find that there was only the small amount I had seen during reading week,” wrote DiBattista.

Wilson wrote that much of the money allegedly stolen had been “inherited by past years executives who often kept cash from shows in the office,” assuming the cash was revenue from past shows. Most of that money was deposited into VCDS’ bank account, but the money in the cashbox at the time of the supposed robbery was kept as float for the VCDS production of Colours in the Storm, which ran in mid-October of last year. The $800 consisted of the float cash and one night’s revenue from the show.

DiBattista clarified that the VCDS exec assumed that the money was stolen because only she, Nash, and Wilson deal with money or the cash box. “We didn’t want to conclude that the money had been removed illicitly but it became more and more clear to us; no one else had used the money box on official business since the end of our first show. At some point, it just disappeared, and the only reason we could conclude was that someone got access or had access to the office, and took the money.”

The incident has resulted in the VCDS employing stricter policies regarding how it handles its cash. “While there have always been official policies on money handling and counting, there had never really been anything specifically addressing money in the locked VCDS office,” said Wilson. According to Wilson, the new policy is that no cash will be left unattended in the VCDS office, and the drama society will now be using VUSAC’s safe or VCDS’ own bank account whenever possible.

Additionally, non-VCDS members will not be allowed in the office outside of normal hours, and keyholders will only be allowed to enter the office for VCDS purposes. “Our fall production of The Drowsy Chaperone occurred under these new policies without incident, and we believe the policies will continue to succeed,” said Wilson.

DiBattista claimed that there was a history of stolen money within the VUSAC office. “However, this was the first time money was stolen from inside a private, locked office at VUSAC and it was also the largest amount of money stolen, so we felt the need to respond thoroughly. We feel extremely disappointed because the purpose of having an office for our organization is to have a safe and useful space, but that’s been compromised, and it feels violating,” wrote DiBattista.

The co-producers brought up the matter at a VUSAC meeting but were advised that there could not be an investigation. They were asked to consider more secure methods for storing funds that must remain in the office for short periods of time.

As to why there was no investigation, VUSAC President Zahavah Kay said, “Ultimately it was decided that the best and most practical solution was to improve security moving forward. VUSAC has supported this decision by recommending all levies purchase safes for their offices, limit key sharing, and keep the office locked at all times.” VUSAC itself has also increased security by decreasing the number of office keys distributed, as well as limiting after-hours access to the office.

As of press time, there is no update to the identity of a perpetrator, and Campus Police have not been informed of the alleged theft.

Correction (January 8): a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that only eight people have access to the VCDS office, and that the cash box was locked. In fact, the cash box does not have a lock, and eight members of VCDS, as well as the VUSAC president and housekeeping staff, have access to the office. 

Theatre review: VCDS’ The Drowsy Chaperone

A look at a world more glamorous than our own

Theatre review: VCDS’ <i>The Drowsy Chaperone</i>

The Victoria College Drama Society’s (VCDS) recent production of The Drowsy Chaperone was absolutely incredible. The show was written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar in 1998 as a parody of musical productions from the 1920s, and it featured music by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.

Directed by Meredith Shedden, the production combined the magic of a bygone era with comedy, singing, dancing, romance, danger, satire, and blindfolded rollerblading antics.

The play’s events took place on the day of the wedding between star personality Janet and her fiancé, George. The central premise of the show was keeping the groom from seeing his bride, and this is where the cast of quirky characters play their part.

The set transformed from a 1990s living room to a glamorous 1920s wedding mid-show; it continued to switch back and forth throughout the play, pulling the audience in and out of the fantasy created by the narrator, Tom Fraser, who pulled the show together with his witty commentary.

The set’s French doors opened and immediately engulfed viewers in a magical time. The detailed costumes were particularly notable, full of lace frills, elaborate wedding dresses, luscious velvets and furs, coats and tails, and sequins.

Drowsy‘s incredible cast pulled off iconic numbers, like “Show Off,” wonderfully. Ryan Falconer was perfectly sleazy in the role of Aldolpho the ‘Latin lover,’ with his self-titled solo, “I am Aldolpho,” drawing rowdy laughter and applause. Arin Klein and Jamie Fiuza were excellent as a gangsters-turned-pastry chefs vaudeville duo, and Lucinda Qu was a show-stopper with a wonderful vocal performance as Trix.

Best of all, Olivia Thornton-Nickerson, who played Drowsy herself, was truly a star. She was funny and glamorous, showing off her incredible voice and stage presence in an enchanting red velvet ballgown. Her rendition of “As We Stumble Along” was hilarious and awe-inspiring.

Drowsy was a complete pleasure to watch, and it transported the audience into a world more glamorous and more musical than their own.

Victoria College Dramatic Society celebrates its centennial

Theatre organization commemorates milestone with a seasonal focus on Canadian heritage

Victoria College Dramatic Society celebrates its centennial

The Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) is celebrating its centennial season by focusing on bringing the works of Victoria University and University of Toronto alumni to life. Since its founding as the first drama society of Victoria University in 1918, the VCDS has developed into a platform that strives to provide the experience of drama to U of T community members of all disciplines, ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds.

The selection of plays for the centennial season leans heavily on drama, exploring the development of Canadian heritage and the meaning of a uniquely Canadian identity. Leora Nash, one of the VCDS’ two Executive Producers, told The Varsity that the idea to focus on a celebration of Canadian theatre and its relevant themes came alongside the Canada 150 celebrations this past summer. Nash and co-Executive Producer Alyssa Dibattista began planning the centennial last year.

Of the many diverse play proposals submitted by potential directors, Colours in the Storm, written by  Jim Betts and directed by Shannon Dunbar, was chosen to kick off the season on October 19. The musical follows Tom Thomson and his struggles as a painter, from his debut in Algonquin Park to his mysterious death. The show focuses not only on an “iconic” Canadian artist, wrote Nash, “but also looks at the evolution of conservation… and the beginnings of what we might consider some of Canada’s iconography (lush nature, outdoors).”

Contrasting with Colours in the Storm, which inhabits a more traditional perspective on Canadian identity, the play Lady in the Red Dress will display a more contemporary representation of our culture. Written by David Yee and directed by Jasmine Cabanilla, the play is a modern-day noir unfolding within the context of the Chinese-Canadian redress movement. “[It] comments on the state of diversity and inaction in our history,” Nash stated.

The season will also include a production of Bob Martin and Don McKellar’s musical The Drowsy Chaperone, a parody of American musical comedies centring on the wedding of an oil tycoon and a Broadway star. Despite the show being a late addition to the season, Nash believes that it complements the other selections well, as it embraces a classical musical spirit. The final production of the VCDS’ 2017–2018 season will be a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the first production ever put on by the society.   

Nash stated that the VCDS is “very proud” to be including so much Canadian theatre in its season. The group has also been working in conjunction with Victoria University alumni on outreach efforts, including advertising, and on a centennial subcommittee focusing on planning and event logistics. A closing gala, to be held in March, will honour both alumni and current students involved in the VCDS and Victoria University theatre.


If you missed VCDS's production of Rent, it was at the expense of some exceptional performances


In its final production of the year, the Victoria College Drama Society took on a staple of the Broadway canon. Jonathan Larson’s Rent is a rock musical that has found its place in history as the quintessential depiction of bohemian life in late-1980’s Manhattan. 

The action focuses on roommates Mark (Katie Pereira) and Roger (Michael Henley), and their neighbour Mimi (Mirabella Sundar Singh), who takes a liking to Roger. The guys are in conflict with their ex-roommate and now-landlord Benny (Winston Sullivan), who found wealth through marriage and abandoned his bohemian lifestyle. Benny demands that his former friends help him to suppress a rally planned by Mark’s recent ex-girlfriend, Maureen (Nithya Garg), against the clearing of a lot occupied by homeless New Yorkers in exchange for forgiveness of their rent. 

With the help of her current girlfriend Joanne (Hannah Lazare), and recent couple Collins (Roddy Rodriguez) and Angel (Aaron Hale), Maureen’s rally continues, causing Mark and Roger to be locked out of their building. A series of conflicts ensue, as the group struggles with poverty, HIV diagnoses, drug addiction, and encroaching injustices brought on by consumerism and intolerance of their gender and sexual identities. 

The production unfolded on an unassuming yet appropriate set. Adorned with graffiti and distinctly unkempt, the stage evoked a sense of New York City non-conformity. The pop-art computer projections behind the stage were hard to miss, as they often obscured the actors’ faces. 

Director and choreographer Shak Haq succeeded in lending a politically charged, slightly anxious energy to the production. Media clippings from the time that the musical was first staged added authenticity and political weight to the plot.

The greatest strengths of Haq’s direction and choreography revealed themselves in large group numbers. The intimate physicality by the company in “Contact” pulled on all the viewers’ senses. “La Vie Boheme” and “Rent” also profited from a passionate sense of solidarity and a fearlessness of the slightly obscene. 

The show lost energy at moments of transition where it relied too heavily on blackouts, and cast members frequently exited and entered the stage with no apparent motivation.

The show could have used many more technical runs to iron out glitches; Henley’s microphone was dysfunctional for the first act, and lighting queues often lagged, compromising the pace of what should be an energetic show.

Garg delivered a standout performance as Maureen. She portrayed the rash, self-absorbed siren convincingly, while never failing to delight listeners with her polished, energetic singing. The questionable blocking of “Take Me or Leave Me,” which involved an office chair and a stripper’s pole, was saved by the superior singing of both Garg and Lazare. 

Sundar Singh’s Mimi found her stride in the second act, where her coy charm and vocal talent captivated the audience as well as Henley’s character. Hale stole the show with his dance performance in “Today 4 U,” while he and Rodriguez brought chemistry to the stage early on in “I’ll cover you.” Despite microphone problems, Henley delivered a consistent performance as Roger. Pereira’s acting as Mark shone, and they tied the production together nicely with thoughtful, well-executed monologues.