Thursday Theatre Review: Summerworks

If you haven't been checking out the Summerworks Theatre Festival, let me ask you this: what the heck have you been doing? Standing around in the rain? Putting a lot of effort into a summer romance that, let's be honest, isn't going to work out? Seriously, people. Go check it out. Great theatre, music, dance, art...and you have four days left to take it all in.

Ever your faithful servants, we have been hitting the tarmac and sniffing out the best bets. Continue reading for reviews of Dust, Flux, If We Were Birds, Kid Cosmic, Pelee, Rendevous With Home, and The Performance Gallery.

(Reviewed by Megan Mooney)

A love story set in Abu Ghraib prison, only, really, so much more than a love story. The two actors brought this intimate space and essentially bare stage to life. The show is really bloody good. I would even say excellent. The actors were bang-on, the script was interesting, the directing was good.

The show weaves a set of complex and conflicting emotions which are fascinating to watch develop through the nuances of the story and the acting. John (my show-partner) pointed out that the actors not only had the emotional aspects down, but they also nailed the technical parts of acting, things like keeping your cues tight, really listening to the other person talking, things like that. It was very impressive to watch. It's nice to watch actors and end up forgetting that they're actors.

This is definitely one to check out - with the caveat that it's not an 'easy' play. It's great to watch, but sometimes it's hard to hear the words and think about the content. There are laughs, but this show isn't a comedy.

Dust continues at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace on with shows on Aug 14 (8:00PM), August 15 (10:00PM), and August 16 (4:00PM). For more info, visit the Summerworks website.

(Reviewed by Megan Mooney)

The easiest way I can come up with to describe this is a Celtic opera. The music seemed pretty operatic, but had an edge of Celtic to it. I enjoyed it. It wasn't what I was expecting, but, it was good. It didn't blow me away, but, to be fair, I'm not a huge musical/opera person, I enjoy them, but don't fall all over myself for them.

The bit that I didn't expect was the staging. All the players faced the audience the whole time, except for a very few interactions the actors never once looked at each other. The set up made it hard for me to connect with any emotion in the piece. That said, it made everything very emotive, which matched the style of the music.

Flux continues at the Factory Theatre Mainspace with shows on August 15 (8:30PM), and August 16 (2:30PM). For more info, visit the Summerworks website.

If We Were Birds
(Reviewed by Graeme Stewart)

Erin Shield's darker-than-dark play explores the devastation wreaked upon woman by war and the men who fight it. If We Were Birds wields its subject matter like a cudgel, pummeling the audience with one brutal image after another. It would all be a little heavy-handed, if it were not for the importance of the material and the commitment of the cast.

Anchored by passionate and physical performances by Rose Cortez and Phillap Domville, the ensemble does a fine job with a difficult and disturbing story. This is one of the most polished and tight Summerworks shows I have ever seen- Director Alan Dilworth deserves praise for constructing a taught hour of theatre. Highly recommended.

If We Were Birds continues at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace with shows on August 15 (4:30PM) and August 17 (8:30PM). For more info, visit the Summerworks website.

Kid Cosmic
(Reviewed by Megan Mooney)

A sci-fi comic book musical. Sheesh, if I had a nickel for every one of these I've seen I'd have, oh, um, 10 cents... (nope, I haven't seen We Will Rock You, too bad, then I'd have 15 cents...). But when the collective of blue-faced big-brained aliens came on stage and started singing, I knew I was in for something that I haven't seen before. The bottom line is it was a bit weird, but good.

The singing was great, and the music, although not what I would call 'hum-able', was nice. It felt a little bit like it was trying to be the next Rocky Horror Show, but without the (really fun) "sexual perversion" bits, but I'm a fan of sci-fi, and a fan of the Rocky Horror Show, so I didn't mind one bit. It's not conventional, but it is enjoyable.

Kid Cosmic continues at the Theatre Centre with shows on August 15 (7:00PM) and August 17 (3:00PM). For more info, visit the Summerworks website.

Reviewed by Graeme Stewart)

This charming combo of music and storytelling is all about Ontario's strange little Pelee Island. The performers do as a nice job of weaving together some pretty disparate narrative elements, but the real star here is the music. Played on a variety of old and fancifully homemade instruments, it somehow manages to be simultabeously evocative, haunting and exuberant. Freaky.

Erin Brandenburg and Gordan Bolan do most of the heavy-lifting performance-wise, though musicians Andrew Penner and Dave McEathron do a nice job on support. Be sure to check out Penner's band, The Sunparlour Players on August 16, as part of the Summerworks Music Series.

At times, the play feels a little loose and unfocused, likely due to the breadth of material. A little editing would go far in tightening this show up. Still, a very creative and compelling piece of Canadiana.

Pelee continues at the Theatre Centre with shows on August 16 (5:00PM) and August 17 (1:00PM). For more info, visit the Summerworks website.

Rendez-Vous With Home
(Reviewed by Megan Mooney)

This one-woman show has very nice interaction/participation, which is set up by the actress as she walks into the theatre. Also, it was cool to learn a bit about Haitian culture. My show-partner John said that he wanted to see the actress more committed to the character, or perhaps more confident. He felt that her performance could have had more power behind it, but that said, he enjoyed the show overall. Once he mentioned it, I could see what he was talking about, but during the performance I didn't notice a lack in commitment/confidence while I was watching, so it didn't lose anything for me. We were both happy to have gone. It was totally worth an hour of our time and the $10 admission fee. It is one of those 'in the moment' shows, because, although I enjoyed it, it hasn't had a lasting effect, I haven't really thought about it since I left the theatre.

Rendevous With Home continues at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace with shows on August 15 (4:00PM) and August 17 (8:00PM). For more info, visit the Summerworks website.

The Performance Gallery

Every night of Summerworks, the Gladstone Hotel is the stage for a series of short performance pieces by prominent artists. Last evening, I swung by to see what it was all about. My experience ranged from the weird (In the Hotel Garden) to the sublime (Daniel MacIvor's The 83rd) to extremely uncomfortable (You Are Invited. The piece was cool, I just don't handle audience participation with touching very well).

It's a neat idea, and a cool few hours. Plus, it's pay-what-you-can and there's a cash bar. Performance art and beer? Yes, please. More info can be found on the Summerworks website.

Photo: Pelee's Erin Brandenburg and Andrew Penner. By Ed Gass Donnelly.

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