Tag 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”.

 

1 Comment

Filed under cross cultural understanding, documentary, family and relationships, perspective, theatre, theatre reviews, tradition

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.

2 Comments

Filed under interviews, theatre

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/

Leave a comment

Filed under cross cultural understanding, family and relationships, theatre, theatre reviews, Uncategorized, writing

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/

1 Comment

Filed under family and relationships, interviews, perspective, theatre, writing

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.

3 Comments

Filed under documentary, theatre, writing

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

 

2 Comments

Filed under ethics and morality, family and relationships, perspective, theatre, Uncategorized, writing

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

Leave a comment

Filed under cross cultural understanding, ethics and morality, family and relationships, perspective, theatre, tradition, writing

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

5 Comments

Filed under cross cultural understanding, family and relationships, theatre, Uncategorized, writing

What Is Theatre?

World Theatre Day  was on March 27. (See Stratford Festival message.) In fact, it was the 50th World Theatre Day (although John Malkovich’s brief message at UNESCO was trifling compared with Jessica A. Kaahwa’s 2011 message, A Case for Theatre in Service of Humanity).

Wait a minute, World Theatre Day? No one could challenge the validity of World Water Day, because water is a precious resource we all need and which is in a state of crisis and neglect. Who needs theatre. Wait, that is a question, and not a rhetorical one.

Who needs theatre?

I’ve heard it argued that the invention of photography made the art of painting obsolete. “Adios, Picasso; no use for you!” And some would say movies have made theatre obsolete. “Look at the size of that screen! So much bigger than life!” That is what theatre has that movies never will: life.

What is theatre?

Theatre is not just entertainment. Theatre is communication. A movie doesn’t respond to you, but a stage presentation does. Theatre responds to an audience and develops according to that response, over the course of an evening and over the course of the show’s run, and throughout the lifetime of the theatre company. Theatre is immediate and theatre changes. Theatre is change. A movie can get remade, but it will never be a living thing; its changes are static. Change in theatre is organic and interactive.

What I just saw.

I don’t go to see theatre often because, being an unknown playwright, I can’t afford to leave the apartment (in fact, I can’t afford the apartment). But at Word On The Street book festival last year, after agreeing to an exhibitor’s unexpected request that I read with her a scene from a script—out loud to passersby, who passed us by—I was rewarded with tickets to Tarragon Theatre, any show this season. I wanted to see their first show, Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or ‘the vibrator play’, which sounded good, and was nominated in 2010 for a Pulitzer and a Tony Award—but it was a busy month and I couldn’t make the dates.

Nicole Underhay and Rick Roberts in "The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs"  Cylla von Tiedemann

Nicole Underhay and Rick Roberts in "The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs"
photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Now a show is on which is expected to win awards (for whatever that’s worth). The English premiere of The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs, by Quebec playwright Carole Fréchette, inspired by the tale of Bluebeard, deserves any award it can get, as far as I’m concerned. Not that it was my favourite play, not that I was moved to tears, not that I would recommend it to everyone; but it “worked”, it entertained, and it made sense.

But what did it mean?

The full 200 seat audience was not stingy with applause, but there was no standing ovation or curtain call. Some gave each other puzzled looks as they put on their coats. On the way out I heard one person ask another “Not to your liking?”

It is easy to dismiss anything that is unfamiliar. And what was unfamiliar about this play was that it didn’t spell things out Hollywood-style. It was like a good poem. It said things in a way that requires a bit of cogitation. It might mean different things to different people, but it should not have been meaningless to a native English speaker. To me, the characters were not the disturbed oddballs that they seemed to be on the surface; they were entirely ordinary people and alarmingly familiar, like some specific people close to me. It helped me reflect on how I, my friends, my family members, may often seem to one another like disturbed oddballs. But that is just on the surface (in many cases).

“Who has time for that?”

Lots of people don’t have time for lots of things that are important. Most people don’t sleep enough, don’t chew their food enough, don’t communicate enough. Yawn, chew, “No time to talk,” chew, yawn. If I don’t make time to make sense of Shakespeare or my parents or siblings, that will be my loss. Theatre is communication. Like understanding family, it is not always easy, but making an effort to understand is time well spent.

3 Comments

Filed under family and relationships, languages and communication, theatre

Finishing a First Draft for Fringe Festival

Brrr! Is there a draft in here? Damn right there is! First draft of my Fringe Festival eFfort. Cool!

The title of this work is yet to be confirmed (but stay tuned!). It is a comedic drama (as in, “if you don’t laugh, you cry”), which must not exceed 60 minutes in length, to be premiered at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival from July 4th to 15th. It will be my* third play to be staged, (and my first not to be workshopped by Theatre New Brunswick with actors from Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal). *Unlike my previous plays, which were entirely my own ideas and developed with no outside contribution prior to rehearsal, this Fringe show is based on the writings of Paul Clement and conceived of as a stage show by Daniel Mackay. It is an adaptation and it is very much a collaborative effort. The three of us have met several times to experiment with different approaches to the material, and we will continue to do so now that this draft is finished.

Playwright Tavern, photo Tim Carter

Playwright Tavern, photo Tim Carter

It’s funny to use the word “finished”, though. Any first draft is more like a foundation to build on than a house to start filling with furniture. But this is even more the case with theatre than with other types of writing. A playwright is more of an architect than a painter. Write a piece of prose and you can get feedback, but no matter how many suggestions you heed, the changes are made by the writer. A script, on the other hand, gets filtered through actors and a director. (The exception would be a monodrama scripted and performed by a single creator. And even then, if such a solo artist engages a director or dramaturge, the work becomes a collaboration.)

So, “finished” is misleading. What is finished is the preparation. This stage is not quite the laying of the foundation but the sketching out of the blueprints. Now our creative triumvirate has something to compare notes on. Up to this point, what we had was a wild stallion of a concept which we corralled into a chicken coop of ideas. Now we have a crude block from which we can hew away the chunks that impair a clear view of a vision we hope to share. (Hmm, could I cram another metaphor into this paragraph?)

The significance of having a completed first draft is that we have something tangible to work on. This would be equally true if I were developing this script all on my own, but it is all the more urgent when there is a creative team waiting to get their hands dirty.

For writers who haven’t yet learned the hard way, take it from one who did: It is counterproductive to discuss a partially written draft. (I spent 12 years getting feedback on a partially written novel which I consequently kept re-inventing. Once I stopped discussing it, I finished the draft in six months.) If your baby is not yet able to stand on her own, you can’t ask her to dance for an audience of even one. If she still needs you to hold her up, the onlooker won’t see her dance but will just see her dangling there. You can discuss an idea, and you can discuss a first draft—which has a thread you can pull on and twist and tie in knots and still follow how one end connects to the other—but you can’t discuss a partial draft because it is as vulnerable as a half-born fetus.

Showing a half-written draft would be like showing a half-finished haircut, so hold off the unveiling until there are no more “and then a miracle happens” gaps that need filling in. Especially in a play, you need to be able to explain why this happens at this point and that happens at that point because, if not, even the most well-intentioned listener can crush your fetal idea by asking what your point is.

The draft has been presented. Will it be tackled by builders or the wrecking ball?

2 Comments

Filed under beginnings, theatre, writing