Category Archives: theatre

Theatre Review: “Brimful of Asha” Brings You Home to the Theatre

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in "A Brimful of Asha"

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in “A Brimful of Asha”

Toronto’s Ravi Jain is at home in the theatre, and with A Brimful of Asha, at Soulpepper till Saturday during its national tour, he and his mom, Asha, make everyone feel at home, greeting each audience member with a fresh samosa and a “Thank you for coming!” Are they getting into character or just being themselves? “I’m not an actor,” begins Asha. What they present, with more reality than The Bachelor, is “not a play” but “a dispute” over the attempt to arrange Ravi’s marriage.

Asha and Ravi give contrasting perspectives on what happened when Ravi, at age 27, went to his parents’ homeland India to give an acting workshop in 2007 and they decided to come along to find him a bride. On each side of the generational and cultural divide, the question seems so clear cut whether it is for the parents to choose when and to whom their child will be married. But there are points to be made on both sides. As Apu says on the Simpsons, “Mother, come on, you know that 1 in 25 arranged marriages ends in divorce.”

Asha wears a vibrant fuchsia sari; her son wears a traditional Indian shirt with jeans and sneakers. No costume designer is credited, as the two are surely wearing their own clothes. The simple, homey set is a dining table and two chairs on a rug-covered platform, framed by a curtain in the centre of which is a wide-screen monitor where Jain periodically refers to family photos, maps, and video clips (set designer, Julie Fox; lighting and video designer, Beth Kates).

Ravi Jain is the director of this show he created with his mother primarily through improvisation, and he is an experienced, thoroughly trained actor and award-winning director (2012 Pauline McGibbon Award; founding artistic director of Why Not Theatre; an artist in residence at Soulpepper Theatre Company; inaugural artistic director in residence at The Theatre Centre), but while it is sometimes evident that Ravi is stepping in to keep a scene on track, it is untrained Asha, a self-described “dedicated housewife and abused mother”, who steals scene after scene. This is the role Asha was born to play.

Although the duo has performed this show many times in many cities since its premiere at Tarragon in 2012, it does not feel over-rehearsed, in fact it feels perpetually spontaneous, and it probably is a little different every night. The show is primarily humorous but with an undercurrent of tension always ready to pull you in. There is little by way of overt action and the simple production looks easy, an occasionally heated conversation as mother and son sit at the table drinking tea, but the story they tell is a rollercoaster ride, a contentious and intimate conversation to which they welcome us as witnesses. Asha very much seems to be enjoying being herself, and yet the two of them are going over a lot of emotionally charged memories and it must be a taxing experience to relive such painful and personal conflict in front of a packed audience night after night.

As early as age five, Ravi regularly entertained the “extended family” that was his community by mimicking India’s legendary film actor Amitabh Bachchan. Asha teases that, by pursuing a life in the theatre, Ravi is not allowing himself to move on from the first of life’s four stages, establishing a “real” profession, onto the next stage of finding a wife. The debate is real, but so is the love. At least in the context of the Jain family, the intent of arranged marriage is not to dictate but to ensure a secure and happy future for the child. Fittingly, the name Asha means “hope”.

 

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Soulpepper’s head honcho Albert Schultz is ready to go to war – Toronto Theatre 2014

Soulpepper’s head honcho Albert Schultz is ready to go to war – Do – January 2014 – Toronto.

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Theatre Review: The Sacrifice Zone

The Sacrifice Zone

photo by Michael Cooper

Theatre Review: The Sacrifice Zone

If David Suzuki and Tim Flannery collaborated with Cirque de Soleil and the Fifth Estate, they might come up with something like Theatre Gargantua’s new drama The Sacrifice Zone. Toronto’s Theatre Gargantua is a hearty theatrical feast—contemporary, multi-disciplinary, multi-media. In collaboration with Aussie/Brit playwright and human rights lawyer Suzie Miller, they have developed a challenging show which examines how much people might sacrifice for justice, their families, their jobs, and other sometimes conflicting priorities.

The story—which seamlessly incorporates mystery, social commentary, and philosophical dialogue—is conveyed through a collage of dialogue, movement, acrobatic dance and image projection. It’s not one of those things you watch and whisper to your companion “We could totally do that”.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/November-2013/Theatre-Review-The-Sacrifice-Zone/

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I’ve Been at the Theatre

Take a look at what I’ve seen so far this month:

Theatre Review: Yukonstyle at Berkeley Street Theatre

The most intensely Canadian play you are likely to see, Yukonstyle is not sentimental or didactic; it is a deep gaze into the soul of Canada. And it’s not just for Canadians. It’s being staged this year not only in Montreal and Toronto, but also in Paris, Brussels, Innsbruck and Heidelberg. Packed with Canadian context but devoid of cliché, Yukonstyle would be compelling fiction, yet much of the content is taken from too-soon-forgotten news reports and too-readily-dismissed police investigations. Over the past two decades, 600 native women in Canada have disappeared or been murdered.

On a cold Yukon night, with the gruesome details of the Robert Pickton trial unfolding on television, a rebellious and entitled white anglo teenage girl hitchhikes into the lives of a Japanese immigrant and her roommate who is tormented by questions about his native mother who disappeared from Vancouver when he was two.

English language premiere runs until October 27th.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-Yukonstyle-at-Berkeley-Street-Theatre/

 

Theatre Review: Venus In Fur

Based on the 1870 erotic novel Venus in Furs by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from whose name is derived the word “masochist”, David Ives’ 2010 play Venus in Fur is a sex-charged gender politics comedy bridging the 19th and 21st centuries. It’s like Oleanna meets Pygmalion meets Dan Savage meets bell hooks. Closing October 27th.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-Venus-In-Fur/

 

Theatre Review: The Best Brothers

Daniel MacIvor’s latest play continues at Tarragon Theatre until October 27th. When a couple of very different brothers learn their mother has died, they have to find a way to deal with each other, and her dog. You can tell it’s a comedy because the death comes at the beginning rather than at the end.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-The-Best-Brothers/

Theatre Review: Les Misérables

Les Misérables! Again? Isn’t that so 25 years ago? And yet, themes from Victor Hugo’s epic story — the Law versus the People, the 99 per cent versus the powers that be — continue to be reflected in the news. Do you see a parallel between the barricade in Les Mis and the G20 barricade? Do you hear the people sing, “Idle No More?” Even if not, the music keeps the audience coming back. Canada’s Iranian-born Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean is worth the price of admission.

This gritty new rendition of the world’s longest-running musical, with physicality in the performances evoking, more than previous productions, the brutality of the epoch and the story, has no gigantic Lazy Susan rotating the set and actors, which was a pivotal feature of the previous productions. Now the performers are the spectacle.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-Les-Misrables-at-Princess-of-Wales-Theatre/

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CBC Radio Interview About My Play Father Hero Traitor Son

Father Hero Traitor Son
“Would you strike your father?” “Would you hang your son?” Photo by Elizabeth Sawatzky
From the CBC website:
“The Fundy Fringe Festival Opened This Week”

Evan Andrew Mackay is a playwright and actor who’s home from Toronto to stage his new play Father Hero, Traitor Son.

http://www.cbc.ca/informationmorningsaintjohn/2013/08/23/the-fundy-fringe-festival-opened-this-week/

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Premiere Turns Out to Be 71st Anniversary

A chilling discovery in my ongoing research for my play “Father Hero Traitor Son” which is to premiere in a few hours, on August 21.

My play refers to an escape attempt by four Canadian POWs; and while drafting a dedication I was looking up their full names, and discovered the date of their ill-fated escape attempt.

“On Friday, August 21st, 1942, four members of our group escaped from North Point including Sgt. John Payne H6016, L/Cpl. George Berzenski H6700, Pte. John Adams H6294 and Pte. Percy Ellis H6771 .” http://www.hkvca.ca/historical/accounts/williambell/chapter5.htm

Seventy-one years to the day. Let us remember them.

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One Final Blog Post About My New Play

Father Hero Traitor Son is opening on Wednesday, so I probably won’t do another blog post before then. By the end of the month, I hope to resume regular blogging on Good Evaning.

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/a-piece-of-history-on-stage/

Father Hero Traitor Son poster by Tim Maloney

 

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My New Play: Father Hero Traitor Son

New play, new blog!

The play and the blog are in progress. Please, read the blog, tolerate the self-promotion, and get ready to see the play at the Fundy Fringe Festival in Saint John, NB, August 21 to 25!

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/about/

Fundy Fringe Festival 2013

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Casting Around for the Fringe

While spending the winter in my hometown Saint John, New Brunswick, I was doing research for my new play, Father Hero Traitor Son. Pondering how and where I might stage this historical drama, I wondered about the possibility of starting a theatre festival in Saint John, maybe even a Fringe festival. I thought, “That’ll never happen, or at least no time soon.” I came back to Toronto and theatre friends asked me if I was going to enter the new Fringe Festival in Saint John. I said, “!???!??!?” And so it was, and so I did. http://www.fundyfringefestival.com

Fundy Fringe Festival 2013

Almost the only thing Father Hero Traitor Son has in common with the play I co-wrote and performed in at Toronto Fringe 2012, Eat, Poo, Love, is that it is based on real people and events.

Eat Poo Love review

Typical review of Eat Poo Love

Father Hero Traitor Son is about a decorated Canadian hero of the First World War, who had immigrated from Japan to British Columbia in 1905, and his son—born and raised in Kamloops—who was in Japan when World War Two broke out. At the end of the war, the son was on trial for war crimes.

This is a play about choices, fate, and identity. What defines a person as a Canadian, a hero, a traitor, a father, a son?

One might say it is audacious for a hakujin such as myself to write a play about complex sensitive issues central to Japanese-Canadian identity. To a certain extent it is an audacious undertaking. However, I am doing so at the suggestion of, and with input from, a direct descendant of the characters depicted, and furthermore, I am a Canadian writing about Canadians, and I am a son writing about father and son. (I did not take my research so far as to have a son.)

Father Hero Traitor Son will go into rehearsal in July. It will premiere in Saint John from August 21 to 25, and I am currently in Toronto. Rehearsals will happen either in Toronto or Saint John, depending where I find actors to play the lead roles:

  • male, 50s, issei (Japanese immigrant to Canada), speaks with Japanese accent
  • male, 31, nissei (Canadian son of Japanese immigrants), native English speaker

As time is short and the land is wide, I am asking auditioners to contact me as soon as possible so we can communicate by Skype or by submitting a video.

Please post your questions, suggestions or comments below, or contact me by email: evanwrites (at) gmail (dot) com

The Fundy Fringe Festival is looking for volunteers. Please help make this inaugural festival a success! http://www.fundyfringefestival.com/volunteers.html

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Marina Nemat’s Memoir “Prisoner of Tehran” Now on Stage

Just as Marina Nemat and director Maja Ardal had to be selective when adapting Nemat’s astonishing memoir Prisoner of Tehran for the stage, so did I have to be selective in adapting a half-hour interview with the author and human rights activist to a brief online Q&A format.

One point I wasn’t able to include was part of Nemat’s response to my question about how she can balance addressing the wrongs committed in Iran against the misconceptions and general negativity many North Americans may harbour about Iran. She said,

“The world is talking about Iran having a nuclear bomb? …The people of Iran have not been losing their children to the nuclear program; they have been losing their children to the terrible disregard for human rights in that country. …the problem of Iran is the struggle for human rights, and it is hurting the Iranian people more than it is hurting anybody.”

She also spoke about the role of the arts in addressing human rights issues. She spoke of how theatre, painting, and so on, shed light on the shades between black and white that are see in the media. “CNN and the news fail to introduce the human side of the story. And this play and [my] books and talks try to put a human face to this very difficult situation.”

Please read what did make it into the published interview here:

www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/April-2012/Prisoner-of-Tehrans-Marina-Nemat-We-wanted-to-make-people-in-the-theatre-really-feel-uncomfortable/

Marina Nemat,  Prisoner of Tehran

Marina Nemat, human rights activist and author of Prisoner of Tehran

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