Tag: Factory Theatre

Mixing Past and Present

As regular Play Anon readers know, I really love theatre, though I must confess, much of it doesn’t touch me, way, way down in that murky sub-world of real, lived experiences and ghost-like memory very often. Where The Blood Mixes is different. The work, penned by Kevin Loring and on now at Toronto’s Factory Theatre through April 18th, is the story of a native Indian community and the memories that haunt its inhabitants. Set during the salmon run at the meeting point of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers, the work offers a riveting look at one community’s attempts to come to grips with its tragic past. Alternately funny, sad, irreverent and thought-provoking, it’s one work you won’t easily forget, particularly if you have a lot of ghosts wafting around the dusty parlour of a forlorn past.

Floyd (Billy Merasty) and Mooch (Ben Cardinal) are longtime friends who are also native survivors of the horrific residential school system. Director Glynis Leyshon cleverly uses the long Factory stage to transfer between time, memories places, and character experiences. Robert Lewis’ clever stage design is wonderful in conveying easy locale shifts between the outdoors and indoors, and the outer and inner lives of the characters. Live guitarist Jason Burnstick sits to one side, offering musical counterpoint to to the action; he’s a deeply gifted player and intuitive artist, though his additions occasionally muddle or make maudlin scenes that are better left in silence. Still, Burnstick’s music is a compelling complement to Loring’s beautiful writing; each works in harmony to render the tender hurts of past and present with careful precision and delicate feeling.

I’m not native, but I definitely, deeply related to twin themes of abandonment and reunion in Where The Blood Mixes. Loring uses contemporary native history in tandem with family drama to devastating, moving effect. I caught myself sighing wistfully during the scene in which Floyd’s wide-eyed, city-dwelling daughter Christine (Kim Harvey) confronts her father after years of separation. It was all so familiar: I made a journey myself years ago to see a father I was estranged from, with a similarly curious attitude. Floyd’s embarrassment, shame, guilt, and halting awkwardness were eerily, painfully familiar to me, as was Christine’s eagerness, vulnerability, courage, hurt, and longing. Actors Merasty and Harvey beautifully capture the ties that bind, the wounds that separate, and the blood that inevitably mixes between generations, cultures, histories, and experiences. This is theatre at its most powerful, honest, and cathartic.

Beyond the personal sphere however, Where The Blood Mixes is an important piece of theatre for many reasons: its questions around the quality and future of contemporary native life ring as true as ever, and its exploration of Canadian native history as it relates to the present is grippingly, tragically real. Loring’s writing, together with Leyshon’s masterful direction and a uniformly strong cast, makes this work one of the must-sees of the 2010 Toronto theatre season. Just make sure you bring lots of tissues.

Where the Blood Mixes runs to April 18th as part of Performance Spring 2010 at Toronto’s Factory Theatre.

Photos courtesy of Belfry Theatre.

walk good, children

Director/Playwright ahdri zini mandiela‘s moving theatre work who knew grannie? a dub aria is currently on at Toronto’s Factory Theatre. I went to the show unsure of what to expect; I had seen mandiela’s other work (notably her inspired direction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Stage Company) and I was also aware she’d founded the ground-breaking b current Performing Arts Company.

Now, I’d been told grannie is “more of a song” than a formal play. Well, what a beautiful song -and what a delightful, wholly satisfying, of theatre it is! Exploring ideas around family, community, loss, and black identity in the 21st century, the work carefully, masterfully incorporates musical elements into its rich, poetic dialogue; it reminded me of Beat poetry, of jazz, of Caribana, of church, of things intimate and epic and singularly, defiantly boundary-crossing -all elements that, to my mind, should be playing a part in humming the tune of contemporary Canadian theatre.

Characters like the bespecled likklebit (Miranda Edwards), the cellphone-addicted vilma (Andrea Scott), yuppie kris (Marcel Stewart), and rebel tyetye (Joseph Pierre), as well as grannie herself (Ordena) are all well-drawn and eagerly performed. Despite their different journeys, mandiela has created a vital thread of connection running between them, a thread that’s given physical manifestation in the form of multi-coloured lines of cord running across the Factory’s wide stage expanse. Used alternately as clothing lines, cages, lines of demarcation and nationality, Julia Tribe’s inspired design is a beautiful compliment to mandiela’s writing and direction, demonstrating the twin notions of separation and connection, distance and intimacy, past and present (and even future) all at once.

Combined with the live percusison of Amina Alfred, who knew grannie: a dub aria is masterful, moving theatre that salutes the past (be it conventions, generations, people or places) while moving boldly into new, exciting realms of performance possibility and the outer reaches of the human heart. I had the opportunity of interview ahdri zhina mandiela about the work; her answers are, unsurprisingly, every bit as poetic as her show.

What inspired who knew grannie: a dub aria? Was it a specific person, or situation?

the aria is inspired by my mother, who is the eldest daughter of her mother, the grannie on whom the central character is based. my mother is in her mid-80’s and may pass on soon; this is my way of facing that impending loss.

How did you decide on the show’s format? Was music always a major part of it?

as a performance poet, most, if not all, of my writing is poetry, and the musicality of language has always been present in my work. this piece demanded that the music be highlighted in the telling of who knew grannie; hence the coining of the term ‘dub aria’.

How does the language inform and shape the narrative and characters?

verbal language is just one of the communication principles in the narrative. emotional language, language of space & movement are others; each contribut(es) to shaping the characters personalities, journeys, and interactions.

Why did you include drums?

the ‘languages’ needed to have their music highlighted/enhanced/embellished.

plus, the drum is a primal musical instrument, and very much represents grannie’s voice: that’s the musical instrument she would play if she was a ‘musician’.

Who is this for?

everyone: we all have a grannie still living or on the other side. and we all have some memories of relating to a grannie or grandmother figure.

who knew grannie: a dub aria runs at the Factory Theatre in Toronto through April 4th.

Photo credit: Nicola Betta Photography.

Eternal Factory

Toronto’s Factory Theatre announced their 41st season today, with works by puppeteer Ronnie Burkett, playwrights Anusree Roy and Adam Pettle, and the Factory’s Ken Gass featured as part of the program.


Also included is the incredible Eternal Hydra by Anton Piatigorsky. I loved this Crow’s Theatre piece when it premiered in Toronto last spring. As the video piece I hosted and co-produced (for Lucid Media) demonstrates, Piatigorsky’s play is challenging, but it doesn’t abandon emotional interaction entirely, either. Rather, it nicely balances the head and the heart within a fascinating, Borges-esque piece of existential drama that touches on questions of creativity, authenticity, and identity. Eternal Hydra won a bevy of Dora Awards (Toronto’s equivalent to the Tonys) back in June, and for those who didn’t get the chance to see it at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre last year… well, get thee to Factory. It’s going to be a great season.

What Goes Around


WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

These simple, powerful words could be a Holzer truism, a piece of graffiti, a philosophical query, or all three.

It’s a sign worn by actor Peter Donaldson, playing a woebegone father in Canadian playwright George F. Walker‘s latest work, And So It Goes. The work revolves around Ned and Gwen, a couple who must deal with their mentally ill daughter’s demise and eventual death; their downfall is where they come to know themselves and one another in new, sometimes disturbing ways. It’s a powerful, moving piece of work with solid performances by its cast of four, who are directed with great sensitivity by Walker himself.

The title of the work is a reference to Kurt Vonnegut, who figures into the happenings by way of being the imaginary mentor to first Gwen (played by Martha Burns) and later Ned, as the play progresses. Vonnegut’s saying from Slaughterhouse Five -“so it goes” -is, according to The A.V. Club, notable for “how much emotion—and dismissal of emotion—it packs into three simple, world-weary words that simultaneously accept and dismiss everything.” The character of Vonnegut (played by Jerry Franken) is especially poignant considering the writer’s own son was schizophrenic; the “sh*t happens”-esque stance takes on a whole new meaning when placed within the context of the dark world Walker creates.

The playwright is known for his gritty depictions of down-and-out people in desperate circumstances (the Suburban Motel series is a good example), but I’ve always found much of his work to have an equal acidly dark humour. None of that humour figures into And So It Goes, however. The work is as much about survivors as it is victims; incidents are presented as simple facts of life, with minimal fanfare, for maximum emotional effect. Director Walker has wisely chosen to use music (by John Roby) strategically, allowing actors time within the wide, long parameters of the Factory Theatre‘s stage to reveal a deeper emotional reality. Daughter Karen (Jenny Young), sitting saucer-eyed, frightened, and dirty, looks especially alone in such an environment; the effects of her illness on her -and her family – is made especially visceral. The need for connection couldn’t be made more plain.

The role of connection figures prominently when the Karen returns in the second act, along with Vonnegut, offering insights, observations, and… silence. She simply hears Ned and Gwen out, and that’s important. If The A.V. club is right, that Vonnegut’s “so it goes” saying “neatly encompasses a whole way of life“, it’s also accurate to note how that encompassing involves acceptance, because that’s the work’s overarching theme. By the play’s end, the once-affluent pair have accepted their daughter’s passing, their role in her demise (in that they could not prevent it), and their current circumstances. Who is responsible? Everyone and no one, all at once and nevermore. So it goes.

And So It Goes has been held over by popular demand at the Factory Theatre to March 6th.

Photography by Ed Gass-Donnelly.

Toronto The Good… ?

So, there I was, writing about how I wasn’t going to be covering theatre so much anymore… and I went and saw an awesome work lastnight I felt compelled to write about. Naturally!

The formal review of Andrew Moodie’s Toronto The Good will be posted at New Theatre Review tomorrow, but in the meantime, I can tell you… I loved it. Why? Fully fleshed-out characters, strong dialogue, an involving story about important themes. But it was never preachy, never judgmental, never pretentious. Nothing turns me off faster than going to the theatre and getting a finger wagged at me. That isn’t helpful, not is it dramatically involving.

Northrop Frye said you should always describe what is there… so? Toronto The Good is smart, funny, sad, thoughtful, and really well-acted and staged. And deeply relevant to the times and conditions we’re living in. That’s huge for me, and, I suspect, for a lot of other people that might find theatre to be a bit too… uh, thee-uh-tah-ish. Toronto the Good brings all the issues of modern, urban living up close and in your face -and there’s a rap scene too (how often does this happen in the theatre?). You’ll find yourself thinking, more than once, “I’ve seen that” or “I’ve done that” or “I know someone like that” or even “Oh Gawd, that’s me…” Such is the power of Moodie’s writing; he manages to raise some really important issues around ideas of race, ambition, opportunity and modern relating, but at the same time, keeps the personal touch that makes good drama so appealing.

Kudos to everyone. Bravo.

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