Tag: Daniel Karasik

This Is What I Mean By “Play”

The key word for the inaugural New Waves Festival (running as part of Luminato) at the Young Centre this past weekend? Playful. Yeah, “play” as in theatre and performing -but “play”also, equally, as in playing-around. Comme un enfant.

Take the Artists in the Closet series. A limited number of people were invited into a weensy little space –okay, a bathroom –to sit and chat with an upcoming Canadian artist for five to ten minutes. My friend and I had the pleasure of being part of Toronto rapper Theo3’s little ‘crib’ –he introduced us to the artists who influenced him growing up (vinyl album covers lined the small perimeter of the loo) and talked about how being in such an intimate environment made him feel both inspired and intimidated. Ha. Says you, I thought, perched on a little makeshift bench (apparently the real “throne” was off limits, with a big ‘DON’T SIT HERE’ scrawl written across the bowl in red sharpie. Art? You decide.).

The rapper also presented his own unique take on Coldplay’s monster-hit “Clocks.” Love them or loathe them, you have to admit, the tune has a good, catchy intro. Theo used it to full effect, playing a loop of it on a boombox as he launched into a rap about his background and interest in rap. Kind of neat to hear him smoothly integrate the past with the present, even introducing his girlfriend, standing shyly around the corner from the entrance with a big, proud grin. Aw.

Equally affecting was the Bedtime Stories feature, in which a violinist/singer serenaded a roomful of strangers, all of us laid out on cots.

“This is like something out of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort,” remarked my friend as the harsh, flourescent-lit room transformed into a dark cave with swirling projections of stars and galaxies overhead.

The scene reminded me of having sleepovers with my childhood buddy, who had a veritable galaxy stuck up on his own bedroom ceiling. We’d hit the lights and walk around with light sabers (okay, empty wrapping paper rolls) as the stars twinkled overhead. Yup, playful, and a direct route back to childhood.

One of the most interesting activities was Seven Singing Structures, featuring, among others, Canadian singer (and YC Resident Artist) Patricia O’Callaghan. The seven entertained onlookers in the Young Centre’s palatial lobby by singing in harmony, with huge, architectural headgear balanced precariously on the performers’ lids. Huh? One singer had the Eiffel Tower balanced atop his head. Talk about your overbearing culture. No matter. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it, and the singing was damn beautiful.

Once the Towering-Headgear Singers finished, fellow YC Resident Artist David Buchbinder played his trademark mix of klezmer-meets-Cuban sounds with a quartet at the other end of the lobby. To quote Jenny Holzer, contradiction is balance.

Outside the Young Centre, Cellular was being presented by actor/director David Ferry and a troupe of Canadian playwrights and performers including Maja Ardal], Florence Gibson, Catherine Hernandez, Kate Hewlett, and Daniel Karasik. the art machine, one of the works under the Cellular banner, and written by Marjorie Chan, involved dialing a number with a cell phone, before following a series of commandments by a disembodied voice (the “Jump up and down” bit seemed to really amuse passers-by, natch).

The voice also queried participants with questions like, “Have you ever stolen anything?“, “Have you ever lied?” and required a public show of hands. You think I’m going to reveal this stuff in public? Ha.

The last question was for the participants to reveal a secret they’d never told anyone before. Ooooh, what a dandy. After a long, awkward pause, one brave participant revealed he’d once … (drumroll)… pinched a baby.

My own mobile unfortunately died midway through (irony, perhaps?) and one of the hosts for the mini-show loaned me his. What my dead-mobile did allow was to note the reactions of participants –glancing at each other for validation, laughing awkwardly, and being generally involved in communicating with a machine, as opposed to one another -which, all told, was (is) probably the point of Cellular itself. It was an interesting juxtaposition of modern communicating and theatre community.

Walking around the Young Centre Saturday, it was hard to believe this was the same building that had housed (and produced, via Soulpepper Theatre) such serious works as Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Shakespeare’s King Lear, and Marsha Norman’s ‘Night Mother. The Centre’s resident artists have created something that allows for participating as well as communicating, juxtaposing, and –perhaps most importantly –playing. Play, what it means and how it’s perceived, is what’s being examined -an celebrated. Hell yeah. Play on.

Addendum: For more photos from the New Waves Fest, check out my Flickr photostream.

A Taste of Peace


Oral sex and peace. What do the two have in common?

Apparently plenty, according to the young protagonist of Jonathan Garfinkel‘s intriguing work, The House of Many Tongues, currently running at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre through to this Wednesday. Playing since the end of April, this magic realism-esque piece touches on sex, family, history, politics, fantasy, art, age, and… uh, toilets. All at once. It’s a tall order indeed, and it doesn’t always succeed, but it makes for some interesting, challenging viewing nonetheless.

The plot revolves around fifteen-year-old Alex, a sexually curious Israeli living with his ex-Army-officer father, Shimon. Alex thinks he has found a fail-proof method to bring peace in the Middle East: Jewish men should go down on Palestinian women, and Palestinian men should go down on Jewish women. He wants to test his theory on his cousin, Rivka, who’s set to enter the Israeli army. She doubts Alex’s theory and suggests he hold her instead, to which he earnestly responds, “Why?” (which elicited some telling guffaws from the male members of the audience). Into their lives comes the Arab Abu Dalo, who claims he once owned their house, and eventually, his angry fiften-year-old daughter, Suha. Before you can say salaam (or is that shalom?), the four are attempting a co-habitation, as Dalo methodically types out Shimon’s history, eventually incorporating the ugly bits he’d rather his son didn’t know.

The House of Many Tongues is clever on several levels; its title plays on the twin puns of oral sex and linguistics, and its writer, Garfinkel, has anthropomorphized the house itself -into the person of actor Fiona Highet. The house “speaks” to various characters without sides -it simply offers suggestions and ideas. House also seems particularly delighted by Dalo’s appreciation of her/its genuine cedar toilet seat, noting that few, if any, ever appreciate such trivialities. Enter a talking camel who tries to woo House, in the form of actor/musician Raoul Bheneja, and a bit about traveling to Paris that is shown via video clip. Camel has his own theories about peace, family, and love.

It’s all very cute, if equally disjointed and disconnected, and some of the best bits involve the scenes between Shimon and Dalo. Actors Howard Jerome and Hrant Alianak, (respectively) give wonderful, heartfelt performances, playing men who’ve been bent and twisted by tragedy and loss, and who only want the best for their children. As Suha, Erin MacKinnon captures all the spitting venom and aching rebellion of a daughter desperately seeking her father’s love and attention, while actor/playwright Daniel Karasik is deeply charming and affecting as the curious, probing son who is relentless in his pursuit of the truth about his past. Bheneja and Highet share a few memorable scenes, their flirtation a kind of dance for the ages, though with Bheneja’s considerable musical gifts, I sort of wished he’d been given more instruments with which to woo. Alas.

The House of Many Tongues is interesting for the ideas it presents in terms of the Middle East -some funny, some profane -but it isn’t the kind of show to bring your Gran to (unless she’s one of those really cool grannies). It also asks a bit of patience, a lot of suspension of disbelief, and an open heart with which to absorb the poetry and flow of Garfinkel’s words and ideas. Director Richard Rose gives a nice soundtrack to accompany while you’re chewing over the possibilities. There’s a lot that could still be done with a work like this -somehow, it doesn’t feel finished -but starting down the road feels like a good first step. It’s true in life, as in … um, oral sex, that the destination somehow isn’t as important as the journey getting there. Right?

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