SummerWorks Festival Theatre Preview

The 2011 SummerWorks Festival kicks off this week with new plays from a number of talented Canadian writers. The festival is under the spotlight even more so this year after losing its federal funding, which had amounted for 20% of its annual budget.

The consensus in the arts community is that the withdrawal of funds is in direct response to Catherine Frid's controversial play Homegrown, presented at the festival last year. The play considers the author's friendship with Shareef Abdelhaleem, a member of the Toronto 18, convicted this February of participating in a bomb plot.

The play caught of the attention of the PMO where last year a spokesman commented, "We are extremely disappointed that public money is being used to fund plays that glorify terrorism."

The response from the arts community and its patrons has been overwhelming. In addition to a robust fundraising campaign, over seventy theatre companies in fourteen different locations participated in a cross-country reading of Frid's play in support of the Festival.

The controversy has provided a spark to this year's festival that highlights the immediacy of live theatre. Here are my festival picks for this year:

Combat / The Theatre Centre / SummerWorks Guide, Page 8

The talented trio of Adam Underwood, Claire Calnan, and Allison Cummings present Combat, the description of which reads like a manifesto: "We believe in a universal love. We will hunt down all our enemies. We believe in the Art of War. We will punch you in the face." Half dance, half theatre, Combat explores pain on a variety of levels. The first rule of Combat is, you don't talk about Combat.

Elora Gorge / The Theatre Centre / SummerWorks Guide, Page 9

Christopher Stanton, Dora Winner for his performance in last year's The New Electric Ballroom, directs his solo playwriting debut Elora Gorge. When a man is found drowned in the woods, a community becomes spellbound as the mystery grows darker. Promising to be a haunting story, Stanton's assembled a strong ensemble to tell his tale.

Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl / Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace / SummerWorks Guide, Page 9

This retelling of the Orpheus myth is sure to be interesting. The playwright, Sarah Ruhl, has the myth unravel from his dead bride's point of view. The shift in perspective should give this classic story a fresh take--loss, grief, and love. The story has it all.

Freda and Jem's Best of the Week / Factory Studio Theatre / SummerWorks Guide, Page 10

The complexities of family are at the centre of this new play, written by Lois Fine and directed by Canadian theatre virtuoso Judith Thompson. The parents are Freda and Jem, two women who meet, fall in love, and have kids. This portrait of their partnership, parenting, and negotiation of roles should be a funny yet poignant look at being a lesbian mom in Canada today.

Little One / Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace / SummerWorks Guide, Page 11

Brought to us by acclaimed playwright, Hannah Moscovitch (The Russian Play), Little One follows adopted siblings Claire and Aaron who grow up in an affluent part of Ottawa in the late 90s. For this brother and sister, as all too often can happen, the line between love and hatred is a thin one. Intriguingly described as a "lullaby-nightmare," Moscovitch's play is one to line up for.

Mr. Marmalade / St. Mary Catholic School / SummerWorks Guide, Page 12

This one has creepy written all over it. Mr. Marmalade is a play about a four year old named Lucy who has an abusive relationship with her imaginary friend, a violent, sex-obsessed drug addict. That's not all, it's performed inside a kindergarten classroom. Come September, little tots will fill the homeroom with laughter and snacks, but until then, the site-specific piece will invite audience members to sit among the small chairs and artwork on the walls.

The Particulars and in General / Factory Studio Theatre / SummerWorks Guide, Page 13

This dark comedy from playwright Matthew Mackenzie takes us to some of the largest and smallest crises of our time. It considers the plight of the Pygmies, the hunting of Albinos in dark Africa, and one man's plight to stay in control in Alberta. But who knows what else might be included in this look at high stakes conflict. With Mackenzie penning the comedy, it's a good bet.

Shudder / The Lower Ossington Theatre / SummerWorks Guide, Page 14

Award-winning choreographer Susanna Hood takes the vivid imaginings of Francis Bacon as her inspiration for this dance piece. Capturing the intensity of his paintings is a tall order, but Hood offers a fractured narrative of family complicated by all the violence, sexual tension, and jealousy that bubbles under the surface. Hood stars alongside Danny Wild and Alanna Kraaijeveld.

The Safe Word / The Theatre Centre / SummerWorks Guide, Page 14

There are a wealth of talented artists premiering work at this year's festival, and one of the shining stars is playwright Nicholas Billon. Best known for The Elephant Song, Billon's newest play is a dark comedy about a young man's bourgeoning love life made up of encounters with women he meets online and his cynical and witty roommate.

The Trolley Car / Factory Studio Theatre / SummerWorks Guide, Page 14

Originally commissioned and premiered by Solo Collective from Vancouver, The Trolley Car is a three-hander uses overt theatricality to explore the choices made in high pressure situations and the consequence of those choices. The time and place in question is Nazi-occupied Paris where the impulsive Florence finds herself in a forbidden love triangle with her husband's cousin Inez.


The SummerWorks Festival runs from August 4 - 14. Visit the SummerWorks website for tickets, event times, and additional arts programming that runs throughout the festival. Download a complete SummerWorks Festival Guide to plan your own viewing schedule.

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