Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My top 13 shows of 2013

A few people asked me on Twitter, so here is a list - personal and idiosyncratic - of my 13 favourite productions of 2013. They weren't necessarily new in 2013, just new to me. You can still catch nine of them somewhere if you're willing to fork out for plane fare. Now, in no particular order...

1. Passion Play. Written by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Aaron Willis, Alan Dilworth and Mitchell Cushman. Closed in Toronto. Read Martin Morrow's review. 

2. Lady Windermere's Fan. Written by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Peter Hinton.

Closed at the Shaw festival. Read my review.

3. Once. Written by Enda Walsh. Directed by John Tiffany.

At the Royal Alexandra in Toronto until Jan 5. Read my review. 

4. Les Miserables. Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil. Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell.

At the Princess of Wales in Toronto until February 2. Read my review. 

5. Needles and Opium. Written and directed by Robert Lepage.

Returns to Canadian Stage in Toronto in May 2015. Read my review. 

6. The God That Comes. Written by Hawksley Workman and Christian Barry. Directed by Christian Barry.

At the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton in January, and Tarragon Theatre in Toronto in June. Read my review.

7. Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata. Written by Veda Hille and Bill Richardson. Directed by Amiel Gladstone

At the High Performance Rodeo in Calgary in January, and the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton in February. Read my review. 

8. Post Eden. Written and directed by Jordan Tannahill.

Closed at the Next Stage Festival. Read my review.

9. Pippin.

Still running on Broadway, touring soon. Read my review. 

10. Mary Stuart. Written by Friedrich Schiller. Directed by Antoni Cimolino.

Closed in Stratford. Read my review. 

11. Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald (Tales from the Vienna Woods). Written by Ödön von Horváth. Directed by Michael Thalheimer. 

In rep at Deutsches Theater in Berlin. Watch a video. 

12. Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant) at the Residenztheater in Munich.

In rep at the Munich Residenztheater. Watch a video.

13. The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Drama. Adapted by Punchdrunk. In London

There seems to be a backlash against the British theatre company, Punchdrunk right now. They'll weather it - this Woyzeck-inspired show, complete with its own mirror universe, was their incredible work yet.

In London until the end of February. Read my review... one of these days.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

First impression review: Sudden Death

Written by: Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Directed by: Matthew Mackenzie
Starring: Layne Coleman, Brett Donahue, Greg Gale, Tony Nappo, Melissa-Jane Shaw,
Andrew Shaver, Maria Vacratsis
At: The Factory Theatre for the Next Stage Festival

Reviewed by: Ashley Williamson

Play at a Glance

Former NHL enforcer John (Tony Nappo) is getting ready for a big meeting with the Oilers that might resuscitate his nearly dead hockey career.  As he psychs himself up with steroids shots, cocaine and his new "creme" suit, he is alternately visited by the women in his life (his mum, played by Maria Vacratsis, and his girl, played by Melissa-Jane Shaw) and by hallucinations of his Junior Hockey coach (Layne Coleman) and the Great One himself (Brett Donahue).  The audience follows along with the enthusiastic help of sports broadcasters, Bob (Greg Gale) and Larry (Andrew Shaver).

First Impression

Nappo's performance of the insecure, drug addled John is excellent.  He manages to balance the frenetic energy of an angry hockey goon with genuine charm and softness.  His performance made me believe that John just might pull himself together in the end.  Shaver and Gale are pitch perfect in their send up of cliché-mangling, stats-spouting sportscasters. They offer before-show banter (complete with an audience-participation rendition of O Canada), between-period interviews with the cast, and a final comment on the play's events.  Finally, Donahue's satire of Gretzky as the Jesus of Hockey is delightful if not a bit sacrilegious for a hockey fan who is old enough have owned a child-sized 99 jersey.


The stripper-club flashback scene in which Melissa-Jane Shaw's Cindy delivers an acrobatic but totally impassive dance set to Warrant's Cherry Pie to a chatty, vulnerable, and disarming John was the best scene in the play.

The nitpicks

Initially it was not clear if Maria Vacratsis as John's mum was actually in his hotel room or only a hallucination.  Although the sportscasters claimed that the first hallucination of  the play was the coach I still wasn't convinced the only real people in the hotel room that night weren't just John and Cindy.

Audience's instant reaction
To start:  A willing and boisterous singing of the national anthem.
To finish: A Whoo hoo, with a scattered but enthusiastic ovation.

Critic's instant reaction:

Three and a half stars

First impression review: Sudden Death

Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Directed by Matthew MacKenzie
Starring: Layne Coleman, Brett Donahue, Greg Gale, Tony Nappo, Melissa-Jane Shaw, Maria Vacratsis, Andrew Shaver
At Factory Theatre’s main space, part of the Next Stage theatre festival

Critic: Matt Jones

Play at a glance

John Kordic is a washed-up former NHL hockey player, but not the heroic, Cheerio-advertising Wayne Gretzky kind. Egged on by an overly sadistic and under-scrupulous coach, the well-built Kordic has made his name bashing the faces of the league’s best and brightest. Although fighting is a well-loved aspect of the sport, Kordic’s dependence on violence has left him with Oedipal angst (his father is a hockey purist who has stopped talking to him) that requires abundant consumption of cocaine to live with. We share an hour with Kordic’s coked-out psyche as he prepares for a meeting to relaunch his gloves-off NHL career, a move that puts him in opposition to his pregnant stripper girlfriend who prefers him unemployed and domestic rather than bloodily employed on the ice. As he agonizes over whether to become a father or take another shot at cheap superstardom, he is visited by ghosts of his hockey past, including his mother, his coach and the Great One himself.

First impression

Despite some fine acting by Tony Nappo, who smashes walls, writhes around drunk and stoned, the play descends quickly into a moral argument about the importance of listening to one’s father, caring about your girlfriend, not doing cocaine and not using violence as a substitute for athletic ability.


Tony Nappo is baddass enough to make an appealing unrepentant coke-snorting hockey jock and it’s a shame that the script doesn’t allow him to stay in this role for long, instead of making him tone down and become a vulnerable, apologetic dweeb. The charisma of Greg Gale and Andrew Shaver as TV commentators Bob and Harry pulls the action along (their synchronized foot kicks are excellent), but style does not entirely distract from the banality of the main arc of the play.

The nitpicks

Despite the impressive performance by Nappo, his character is quickly embroiled in a banal domestic drama complete with walk outs, face slaps and arguments about being a good dad. The female characters are one-dimensional. Kordic’s mother is a resentful and over-mothering immigrant while his girlfriend, Cindy, is the kind of stripper-out-of-necessity victim that women become in after-school specials. Brett Donahue, as Wayne Gretzky, gets laughs for playing the all-Canadian hockey saint, but his obnoxious do-goodiness make him a somewhat repellant role model.

Audience’s instant reaction

The audience needed little prompting to be goaded into singing Oh Canada (with the whole house standing up when asked to) at the opening of the play and about half of the house rose for a standing ovation at the end.

Critic’s instant reaction

Two stars
First Impression review: Sudden Death

Written by: Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Directed by: Matthew MacKenzie
Featuring: Layne Coleman, Brett Donahue, Greg Gale, Tony Nappo, Melissa-Jane Shaw, Maria Vacratsis

Produced by Pyretic Productions at The Toronto Fringe’s Next Stage Festival.

Critic: Jenny Salisbury

Play at a Glance

John Kordic (Tony Nappo) is a washed up NHL enforcer with a decision to make. He's been offered a chance to get back on the ice and return to his glory days. But an addiction to coke and steroids, and the news of becoming a father, leaves him in a seedy hotel room, fighting with the ghosts of his past. Will the pressures of an overbearing mother (Maria Vacratsis), a career-obsessed coach (Layne Coleman), the shadow of The Great One (Brett Donahue), and the demands of an expectant mother (Melissa-Jane Shaw) be too much? Or will this bully of the ice finally fight for a future?

First Impression

Based on a true story, this smart, funny and hard-hitting production reveals the darker side of hockey. Featuring a strong script and a stellar cast, it showcases what we've come to expect of The Next Stage Festival: a night of new theatre, still in a process of development, but well on its way to a full-scale production. MacKenzie's direction and Corbeil-Coleman's script weave together perfectly, setting the stage for the player who doesn't get to be a hero, and showing what happens when the fight is against yourself.


Tony Nappo's performance is one for the books, masterfully portraying a coke-addicted, broken bully as the unlikely hero we want to see win. Greg Gale and Andrew Shaver keep the audience laughing in their quick-witted parody of sportscasters, their slapstick humour offering a great balance to the grit of this story.

The Nitpicks

Nappo and Shaw's romantic duo get caught in moments of poetry that fall flat and run counter to the grit and liveliness of the rest of the production.

Audiences Instant Reaction
Warm and welcoming, endin'g in a standing ovation.

Critic’s Instant Reaction

Four stars out of five
First impression review: Sudden Death

Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Directed by Matthew MacKenzie
Produced by Pyretic Productions at the Next Stage Theatre Festival
Starring: Layne Coleman, Brett Donahue, Greg Gale, Tony Nappo, Melissa-Jane Shaw and Maria Vacratsis

Review by: Martine Plourde

Play at a glance

Meet John Kordic (Tony Nappo) former NHL hockey player who is now dealing with a cocaine addiction and some inner demons as he prepares for an interview that could mean a new contract with the NHL. Harry (Andrew Shaver) and Bob (Greg Gale) are the commentator duo who guide the audience through the game that is John’s internal battles: confronting his mother, Regina (Maria Vacratsis), “The Great One” (Brett Donahue), and his former coach (Layne Coleman). Adding to the list of problems is the real-life predicament with his girlfriend and soon to be baby mama, Cindy (Melissa-Jane Shaw). Can John make it through the game of his life and manage to pull it together, beat his addiction, to get the contract as well as the girl?

First Impression

Shaver and Gale manage to kick-start the show by getting the audience involved in a rendition of the national anthem. The pacing is at times awkward as the commentators slip in and out of the plot, however towards the second half of the performance the transitions move more smoothly setting up a neat rhythm.

From the entrance of Nappo in his (arguably non-existent) costume, we get the sense that this is not a family-friendly performance – definitely not a night with the CBC and Hockey Night in Canada.


Some great moments with sharp writing and clever one-liners. The commentators played by Andrew Shaver and Greg Gale have great chemistry, charisma and wonderful comedic timing. Brett Donahue is also quite good as the wholesome “Great One,” while Tony Nappo gives an interesting and moving performance.

The Nitpicks

Although the crude humor is, for the most part, quite clever, the profanity does get a little excessive.

Audience’s Instant Reaction

Moments of rousing laughter, silence, ending in a dispersed standing ovation.

Critic’s Instant Reaction

Three and a half stars

First impression review: Sudden Death at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Directed by Matthew MacKenzie
Starring Tony Nappo
At the Factory Theatre

Critic: Gina Brintnell

Play at a glance

An original and wholeheartedly Canadian dark comedy. Tony Nappo plays John Kordic, “a man at breaking point,” an unstable, former hockey enforcer looking to get back into the game after a seven-year career on four different teams. We find him on the eve of his last big fight - and when the buzzer goes, not even the world's greatest ref could call the immensity of Kordic's wins and losses.

First impression

Nappo begins violently celebratory in his underwear in a seedy motel room - his own gritty and fun spirit sets the mood of the show well. He revels in an unlikely coupling of cocaine and potential paternity - an uncomfortable contradiction that the audience rides along with. He is soon joined by his hallucinatory, drug-induced co-stars who spill out of unlikely and compelling places, alive and surprising. MacKenzie steers his cast well; the production team only helps the show to score.


- Greg Gale and Andrew Shaver, the very Canuck hockey commentators, bad ties and cheap suits and slippery glibness kept the audience engaged.

- Brett Donahue rolling out of a well-used motel mini-bar, as the clean-cut and irritating cliché of Wayne Gretzky.

- Nappo's fight with the air was enthralling, a skilled performance in both his portrayal of wounded tenderness and rampant violence. He shows a vulnerability battling for the love of a dead father; he fails to realize he is only throwing knuckles at himself.

The nitpicks

Gale and Shaver's comedy was commendable but the slapstick antics got schlocky fast. The camp was effective but the pace dropped.

Audience’s instant reaction

First, half-hearted chorus of the national anthem - but it picked up, with the thrumming energy of a hockey crowd on game night, when the home team keeps scoring.

Critic’s instant reaction


Monday, December 24, 2012

Top ten theatre productions of 2012: A personal list

This end-of-year list-making season, for the Globe and Mail, I put together an idiosyncratic top ten - strangest circus act, biggest Broadway bust, etc - and an article about the theatre newsmakers of 2012 (boards behaving badly). 

But a few folks have asked me: OK, but what were your favourite shows of the year?  So, here, on my semi-defunct personal blog, is my personal list - which includes shows I saw while off duty.

NB: In 2012, I saw theatre in Chicago, New York, Avignon, London, Montreal, Ottawa, Stratford, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Gananoque, Winnipeg, Calgary and Fredericton - but I spent most of my year in Toronto, so that's why it's so Torontocentric.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blast from the past: Quebec anglos - 'Divided we stand'

Long before I worked at the Globe, Tu Thanh Ha interviewed me about being a young Montreal anglophone for the newspaper. Given that anglo angst is back in the news of late, I thought I'd post the article he wrote from July 2, 1999. My politics have changed vastly in 13 years, but I still feel this way: "A separatist is not a scum - but someone with a different political opinion."

Montreal -- On a sticky, toasty afternoon, people gathered amid the flower beds at Westmount Park on Thursday of last week for an event unprecedented in the history of their posh, mostly English-speaking enclave.

With Mayor Peter Trent holding court in top hat and 19th-century tailcoat, the Westmounters held a picnic and lit a bonfire as their city marked St. Jean Baptiste Day -- the provincial holiday that has become a controversial showcase of francophone nationalism.
"Westmount is such a symbol of anglo-felicity," Mr. Trent later said. "I knew it would create some stir. I wanted that to happen. It's a positive message to send. It allows people to see that even the staunch bastion of Westmount feels part of Quebec."

St. Jean Baptiste Day used to epitomize Quebec as the home of two solitudes -- the French speakers celebrated while the English speakers kept a low profile.

This year, both solitudes could be found within the anglophone community alone.

Across town, another crowd assembled at La Maison du Egg Roll, the famed federalist gathering place. They had paid $35 each to tuck into spare ribs, chicken balls and fried rice at a fundraiser organized by the English-rights group Alliance Quebec.

Alex Mocella had no doubt that he was better off at the fundraiser. "I'd rather spend time on much more valuable situations," said the 49-year-old machine-oil sales representative.

Traditional fault lines among anglophones have widened since the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty -- especially since journalist William Johnson became head of Alliance Quebec last year.

His leadership has been marked by exceptional rancour pitting his supporters, often dubbed radical hard-liners, against the more conciliatory activists they derisively describe as "the lamb lobby."

The feuding has led to defections from the 17-year-old Alliance Quebec and shattered the idea that any one person can speak for the anglo community.

"I've always been a proud member of the lamb lobby," Westmount's Mr. Trent said. "The in-your-face attitude that Alliance Quebec has adopted is representative of part of the community, but not all of it. . . . Name calling won't get us anywhere."

One Westmounter who supported his mayor's initiative is Morton Brownstein, who runs a well-known chain of shoe stores.

"I think what Mr. Trent did was a very sophisticated and strategic way to show francophones that we want to live in Quebec, in a compatible manner with the French, but with self-respect for the English," he said.

Mr. Brownstein, an Alliance Quebec founder, has a key place in the history of Quebec English-rights activists. In 1984, he was among a handful of business people who challenged the Quebec law that banned English commercial signs. They fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and won, forcing the province to invoke the notwithstanding clause to override the ruling.

Oddly, however, Mr. Brownstein has been attacked recently by members of his own community. Radio host and anglo activist Howard Galganov recently tried to place an advertisement in the local English-language daily that read: "SHAME ON YOU! Morton Brownstein."

Why? Because now his stores are accused of not displaying enough English signs. (The Montreal Gazette refused the ad because it singled out a person rather than a group or company.)

Mr. Brownstein denies the allegation, and described the failed ad as "bizarre -- I don't think that served a purpose."

His case isn't isolated. As their discourse has grown more muscular, some English-rights activists have taken fellow anglophones to task as readily as they do their traditional foes among francophone nationalists.

When the Black Watch Scottish Regiment's pipe band agreed to take part in the St. Jean Baptiste Parade last week, Mr. Johnson said that to avoid becoming a separatist propaganda tool, the pipers should fly the Canadian flag. They declined.

David McAusland, president of the Metropolitan Montreal Board of Trade, told Mr. Johnson in a private conversation that he did not want to make a public stand on the issue of the rule of law in the separation debate.

A few days later, Mr. Johnson repeated his comments in a public speech, and then remarked on "the silence of the lambs." He later objected to a newspaper that said he had singled out Mr. McAusland.

When John Trent, a University of Ottawa professor, ran against Mr. Johnson for the Alliance Quebec presidency, Johnson supporters booed him at a public meeting, called him "liar" and "brown-noser," and laughed as someone bleated like a sheep in the background.

When Mr. Johnson held a news conference this spring to comment on the mass resignation of half of the alliance's board of directors, who accused him of being too confrontational, one of his supporters displayed a packet of lamb meat to mock them.

Then, when the former directors met the media, they asked all reporters to show their credentials, mindful that Johnson supporters had crashed Mr. Trent's news conferences to jeer at him. As the meeting began, there was a commotion at the door and organizers were told that a Johnson supporter had materialized. The session went ahead to the accompaniment of loud arguing outside.

Mr. Johnson, meanwhile, said he has not engaged in a public display of ill will, and can't understand why people are so hard on him. "I've never broken any laws in my life. I'm a dignified senior citizen of 68," he said. "It's easy to demonize someone."

The hard feelings and controversies stem from two pillars of Mr. Johnson's philosophy:

First, federalists should present a united front and be better prepared and more unyielding in resisting the separatist threat.

Second, they must challenge what he considers a francophone nationalist orthodoxy that expects too many axioms about language and politics to be taken at face value.

Despite what he calls his drive to rebuild and consolidate Alliance Quebec, his approach has sparked nasty infighting.

At the Maison du Egg Roll fundraiser, he told the crowd that "we have to talk to the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens." But almost in the same breath, he slipped into hyperbole, saying English-speaking Quebeckers are being "treated like pariahs, like a contamination," and have, because of Quebec's langauge laws, "been sacrificed to the false god of the French state."

Earlier, he had told reporters that St. Jean Baptiste Day has become "a symptom of a nationalist sickness that infects Quebec."

Such language may explain why Mr. Johnson's views are too hard to swallow for the fence-sitting francophones he says he wants to win over. That, and the fact he is lumped in with such controversial, unbending federalists as Mr. Galganov, lawyer Guy Bertrand or former Equality Party candidates Brent Tyler and Don Donderi, is why many francophones seem to have a visceral distrust of him.

Many anglos are also turned off by his tactics. Mr. Johnson often cites a poll showing that most in the community share his belief that access to English schools should be widened.

The poll does not, however, reveal whether people believe it's worth launching a messy legal fight -- the reason Alliance Quebec was holding the fundraiser.

Perhaps the organization's greatest weakness is its diminished appeal to younger anglophones -- joining Alliance Quebec is not exactly hip.

The young have fewer memories of a time when English took pride of place in Quebec. They are more likely to be fluently bilingual -- and to have empathy with the other side. They do not want to revisit old battlefields.

The increasingly vociferous rhetoric is one reason that Kelly Nestruck never renewed the $5 Alliance Quebec membership he took out as a high-school student in 1995.

"Listening to them, you'd think we are completely repressed, undergoing some sort of ethnic cleansing," he said. "They don't listen to young anglophones. The average young anglophone is not bothered if the sign that says '3 per cent discount' is written in either language. It's all the same for us."

Mr. Nestruck, 18, moved back to Montreal from Winnipeg this spring so he could attend McGill University. He could have enrolled elsewhere, but chose Montreal because he enjoys the French presence in his city of birth.

He and his friends are at ease in French, have francophone friends and find that the English-rights activists' doomsaying has little bearing on their lives.

Furthermore, his mother recently remarried, which means that he now lives with a francophone stepfather -- and a separatist stepbrother. [Note: My mother actually remarried about seven years before this article.]

The brothers don't agree on politics, but their nascent friendship has allowed each to put a human face on the other's community.

Now, when Mr. Nestruck hears someone like Mr. Galganov, the radio host, dismiss separatists as "bastards," he is irked. "A separatist is not a scum -- but someone with a different political opinion."

All the acrimony among rival anglophone groups comes just when they have to sit down together and talk about money.

As a linguistic minority, they receive financing under the federal Official Languages Act. The Heritage Department agrees to a global figure for the 15 main anglophone groups, which negotiate under a common umbrella, the Quebec Community Groups Network. The network then is asked to advise Ottawa on what criteria should be used to divide that lump sum among themselves.

This year, however, the process has become a diplomatic minefield. Several groups in that umbrella network -- including anglophone associations from the Eastern Townships and Quebec City -- are among those who severed ties with Alliance Quebec because they didn't agree with William Johnson's views or leadership style.

In addition, Coalition Quebec, the splinter movement started by foes of Mr. Johnson, is also hoping for a share of the pie. "We want fair treatment," said its acting chairman, Harold Chorney.

Asking competitors to divide money among themselves is touchy, and one federal official conceded that "it's awkward for us."

Nonetheless, the competing groups are trying to keep a polite face in their behind-the-scene jostling and vying, in the fear that public bickering will turn off their federal benefactors, who are not eager to have to play King Solomon.

Mr. Johnson's group used to get the bulk of the funding, with more than $922,000 a year. That funding makes up the major share of Alliance Quebec's budget and has become even more crucial because other revenue sources have shrivelled.

This year, corporate and private donations dropped to $130,000 from a high of $165,000. The decrease would have been more acute but for a first-time donation of $50,000 from one of the companies owned by media magnate Conrad Black, according to former treasurer Lynn de Grace.

The number of donors also shrank to five from 15, with the loss of some donors who had been giving for 10 years, she said.

A face-saving solution would be for Ottawa to increase the overall budget for Quebec groups so that it could hand out more money to Mr. Johnson's rivals without having to lop Alliance Quebec's share.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Statement from the Toronto Theatre Critics Association on Stratford and Lynn Slotkin

"The Toronto Theatre Critics Association deplores the recent decision by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to revoke media ticket privileges to critic Lynn Slotkin for the remainder of the 2012 season. The TTCA believes critics should not be penalized for expressing opinions that might not please a theatre's management."

Robert Cushman, The National Post
Martin Morrow, The Grid
J. Kelly Nestruck, The Globe and Mail
Richard Ouzounian, The Toronto Star
Glenn Sumi, NOW Magazine

UPDATE 5:51PM: The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has emailed Lynn Slotkin to reinstate her media tickets. Writes Ann Swerdfager, publicity director:

"Please accept our regrets for any over-hasty action on our part regarding your media tickets for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Upon reflection, we realise that critical debate is an essential part of any vibrant theatrical culture and that we should continue to provide you with reviewer's tickets."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Nina Kaye

Play at a Glance: A mash-up of numerous beach party films from the 1960s, Tiki Bikini Beach Party is a vitamin-D infused flashback that's a perfect remedy for the winter blahs. The musical is a self-referential recreation of 1960s beach party flicks, with pop culture references to Scooby Doo, Gilligan's Island and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer to bring it up to date. Jeanette Funicello, her steady, Freddy, and the gang all want to throw a beach party to mark the end of the summer. Unfortunately, the local leather-clad bully, The Big Tuna, is hogging the best part of the beach. The only solution: a surfboard contest with lots of hotdogging, shimmying, hula dancing, grass skirts... and of course bikinis!

First Impressions: Tiki Bikini Beach Party, in a remount at the Next Stage Festival, circumvents the Fringe-imposed lighting and set restrictions by relying on inventive costumes, live music, exposition, strong visual choreography and a sense of humour. The musical numbers were well-rehearsed and executed, if not particularly original, consisting mostly of covers such as "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini". The costuming was excellent, as it was visually pleasing and established the beach setting. The five-piece band was talented, never missing a beat. The actors were great, they cheerfully hammed up their roles and were always fully present onstage.

The Highlights: When technical complications led to a too-early black-out, The Big Tuna (Evan Dowling) and his sidekick, Mini Minnow (Stephen Dickson) saved the day with a quick witted improvisation in which they shared a comic confession about their fear of the dark.

The Nitpicks: Unfortunately, the gentle parody and good humour of Tiki Bikini wasn't enough to transcend the misogyny, stereotyping, and bizarre repressive/exploitative sexuality of the 1960s source material. Additionally, while intentionally bad jokes and puns accurately reflect the Archie comics humour found in the Beach Party movies, it does quickly grow stale. Still, running for 60 minutes, the show cut itself off before it became tiresome.

Audience reaction: The audience, ranging from children to seniors, all seemed to love the show, laughing and applauding after each dance number. The show's sunshine seemed a vacation from the cold winter weather.

Reviewers reaction: 4/5

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Kyle Turner

Play at a Glance:
What do you get when you mix a little bit of 60s surf icons Frankie and Annette, a dash of the wacky mystery-solving team led by Scooby Doo, and a pinch of Gilligan’s Island? A pretty nifty afternoon at the theatre, I’d say. The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! spins a fun, upbeat web of song, dance and carefree beach antics as a group of young Hawaiian surfers and their girlfriends’ plans for an end of summer beach party is met with opposition from the leather-clad ‘tough-guy’, The Big Tuna, and his sidekick, Mini Minnow.

First Impressions: Freddie Babbleon, played by Thomas Duplessie and Jeannette Bowlajello performed by Sarah Kuzio were a lively duo mingling with a cast of cheerful and often absent-minded young adults in the throes of youthful innocence and humourous naiveté. Strong performances were also given by Nick Nasrallah as the lovable and audaciously eccentric Slim Melvin and his summer crush, the Widget, played by Amelia Sirianni.

Highlights: The Von Drats musical accompaniment and the cheerful dance numbers accentuated the bubbly atmosphere at the festival matinee performance. The colourful costuming reminiscent of the 1960s surfer culture and an era redolent of youthful bliss on a white, sandy beach captures and exploits the very visually-engaging aspects of the dance numbers and, of course, finds humour in a bygone era’s obsession with those characters who lived, perpetually, under the sun. The performances were strong and engaging – definitely a warm welcome on this cold Toronto afternoon.

Nitpicks: For those of us in the front row, the songs and visual aspects were clearly audible and visible, but for some further back, the fast-paced nature of the party-themed music seemed a bit strained and unavoidably incoherent. The professor’s role, played by Stan MacDonald, also seemed to be superfluous, and although the part was strongly acted, seemed to be an aside that the main plot could do without.

Audience’s Instant Reaction
: All in all, the production received a healthy applause, if not for the glimmer of summer it presented on this cold January day, then for the cheerful collection of song, dance and fun for audiences of all ages.

Critics Review: 3/4

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Kelly Lynn Kirk

Play at a glance: This musical is about teenage love and the ultimate beach party. Bikini Beach is the place with the ‘choice’ waves, but the Big Tuna (Evan Dowling) controls the beach and will ‘pound’ those who step foot on it. Freddie (Thomas Duplessie) challenges the Big Tuna to a surf off so his crew can hold the Tiki-tastic party on Bikini Beach.

First Impression: The play is entertaining, but it is overkill on the "woody" jokes – we get it already, it is a surf board. Solos were hard to hear, especially by Freddie, Sugar (Rory Bray) and Jeanette (Sarah Kuzio). Even the speaking voices had me missing lines. The cast was great at keeping up the energy in those fast and peppy dances. While the play is upbeat and energetic, the writing has holes that need to be looked at. The band is absolutely fabulous and does not overshadow the action onstage. I just wish the actors could project their voices over the music.

Highlights: The dances are probably the best part of the play. The cast is great with the upbeat and bouncy moves. Lovely chemistry exists between the Big Tuna and Mini Minnow (Stephan Dickson). Some beautiful little moments occur between these two, especially at the end of the play.

Nit picks: Besides the quiet voices and the overkill of the woody jokes, the cameo of Alvin the Chipmunk is pointless and amateur. There is no point for it, just cheap laughs.

Audience instant reactions: The audience seemed to enjoy the entertainment of the play. Applause at the end was gracious, but not deserving of the second curtain call.

Critic instant reaction: I give it 2 out of 4.

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: Tomasso's Party at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Mark Rochford

Play at a glance: A stunted bedroom exchange between the restless, bath-robed Hugo (Simon Bracken), searching for the last word in a book title, and half-asleep Madeleine (Leah Doz) whose back faces the audience for the entire hour. The birthday party for Madeleine's boss looms, and the couple apparently have a lot to work out before they venture to the event. If Hugo decides to go.

First impressions: An attempted examination of relationship dynamics that throws some winning lines out there, yet gets mired in Hugo's incessant whining and grumbling. Madeleine makes much of her perceived lack of sex appeal, yet displays a comely figure and vocal vivaciousness, and any commentary implied by this disconnect fails to land. After Madeleine makes a rather significant admission, the play ends disappointingly with the two seemingly in much the same place as at the start.

Highlights: Leah Doz does admirable work making her character feel fully fleshed even though we never see her front, her voice conveying an endearing combination of self-deprecation and sensuality; she makes good use of her one free arm without resorting to overdone gesticulations. Hugo's recounting of an afternoon watching the work of an adult film star and the tipsy first meeting between the pair provide some welcome laughs.

The Nitpicks: Lewis works his sniveling nebbish as hard as he can, yet the script leaves him few options to make Hugo palatable or relatable. The askew string-hung window suggests a surrealistic quality that seems unsuitable for the bed-clothed antagonism on display.

Audience's instant reaction: Enthusiastic roars from a consistently amused group around me, yet reserved overall.

Critic's instant reaction: 2/4

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Allison Leadley

Play at a Glance: In an homage to the musical teen comedies of the 1960s, Freddie (Thomas Duplessie) and his “Pineapple Princess”, Jeanette (Sarah Kuzio) want to throw one-last summer shin-dig before returning to school in the fall. Their dreams of a Tiki Bikini Beach party are derailed when the local beach bully Big Tuna (Evan Dowling) refuses to surrender his stronghold - prime beach party real estate with the best waves. The dueling teens end up battling for the beach in a surfing showdown where Big Tuna and Freddie face-off not only for the beach, but for Jeanette’s heart.

First Impressions: The typical television tropes and stereotypes are all present and accounted for (from the muscle head to the geek) as they sing about surfing, parties and summer flings in campy send-up of the beach-party genre. It’s a fun piece that plays up its own stereotypes. While there is only so much dramatic potential one could mine from surfing and bikinis, the script is fully aware of the limitations of their dramatic inspiration mocking the vapid stereotypes of the beach bimbo or wacky professor in a campy homage. While certainly not the most cerebral or challenging theatre I have seen, it’s a fun hour that evoked my nostalgia for the Saturday syndicated television re-run.

Highlights: The lover’s duet “I Think You Think” was certainly the highlight of the show. A sweet ditty between Duplessie and Kuzio, their chemistry was palpable and despite their cheeky take on the trope (narrowly missing death as they cuddle in the car) the moment was surprisingly endearing.

Nit Picks: There were significant projection issues that made it difficult to hear. Furthermore, the “woody” jokes were starting to run a little thin by the end of the hour.

Audience’s Instant Reaction: Judging from the laughs, the audience seemed to be having fun; however, there was no standing ovation or a second curtain call. A definite highlight for audience members was the live band the von Drats who received a significant swell of applause and a shout out from a fan sitting nearby.

Critic’s Instant Reaction (out of four stars): 2.5/4

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Johanna Lawrie

Play at a Glance: In Allison Beula’s “The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go,” beachwear, sun and the surf are re-imagined retro-style, accompanied by a “Sixties Surfer to English Dictionary” in the program to “better help you understand [their] whacked-out lingo Hodads!” To celebrate the end of summer, Jeannette Bowlajello (Sarah Kuzio), Freddie Babbleon (Thomas Duplessie), and the whole gang want to throw the party to end all parties...a-go-go! Unfortunately, they must win a surfing competition against Big Tuna (Evan Dowling) to score the ultimate beach location. With catchy songs and energetic choreography, this show brings summer fun to the dark, cold winter days.

First Impression: Though the jokes and characters were well delivered, the humour gets a little old at times. Buela’s staging and choreography are imaginative and keep the audience entertained during this hour-long performance. This may not be the next Tony-award winner, but the playful show is a lot of fun; a great way to pass the afternoon with some friends.

Highlights: The tight cast maintain their exaggerated characters through the show, drawing jokes out of the cheesy script and their over-the-top stereotypes. Jeffrey Straker’s music is well incorporated, performed live by The von Drats. The ‘keenest’ performance was definitely Kuzio’s Jeannette, demonstrating vocal chops and a charming character. The energy and catchy tunes are contagious, providing a nice relief to the drab winter.

The Nit-Picks: The inclusion of some pointless and repetitive jokes certainly slows down this fast-paced show. The performances are strong but even with the ‘cheesy sixties’ vibe, the script was a little repetitive and predictable. Of course, this is part of the charm of the show, but the painfully large smiles and obvious jokes were at times just that: painful and obvious.

Audience Instant Reactions: Everyone seemed to enjoy being out of the blistering cold, humming and laughing along with this energetic, summer party.

Critic’s Instant Reaction:
3 stars out of 4

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party is A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Spencer Smith

Play at a glance: Freddie, Jeanette and the gang sing and surf under the sun and try to throw a copesetic end-of-summer beach party before bearish bully Big Tuna and his loyal henchman Mini Minnow can stomp all over their sand castle.

First Impression: Allison Beula's Director's Notes frankly admit that the Beach Party movies of the 1960s - which this musical attempts to mimic - were terrible excuses to show off bikini-clad teens dancing to the latest tunes and, if that is the case, Beula hits the mark. The show delivers exactly what it sets out to: simple, skimpy, heterosexual fun. The gender stereotypes are ten-fold, but a product of the time, I suppose. With its catchy songs, kitschy dancing and corny dialogue, the aimless plot and 'shmacking' are actually refreshing because the actors so clearly do not take themselves seriously.

Highlights: Nicky Basrallah's show-stealing square, Slim Melvin, and his dedication to over-acting every minute emotion that passed through his tiny frame.

Nitpicks: Lack of perspective. The subversive possibilities were endless.

Audience Reaction: Hoots, hollers, and whistles.

Critic Reaction: Four stars

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: Tomasso's Party at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Peter McLaren

Play At A Glance: Hugo (Simon Bracken), a self-loathing, weak man in a bathrobe pathetically demands answers out of his lover, Madeleine (Leah Doz), who reveals a collection of admissions he'd rather not hear.

First Impression: A puzzling, unsettling, meandering dialogue between a man and a woman's back. Lewis draws out the play with a collection of clever, reiterative sentences peppered with a handful of witty lines. Doz, holding all the power, gets as much play out her back, left arm and hand as she possibly can, never revealing her face until the curtain. All the while, Bracken wanders, barks and whines through his teeth, like a mistreated, sorry puppy.

Highlights: Doublessly, the highlight of the play is Doz, who straddles the line between blatant eroticism and playful charm. The play picks up the pace towards the end, the focus shifting towards Doz's oppressive, controlling sensuality, a welcome relief from the histrionics of Bracken's Hugo.

Nitpicks: Unfortunately, the play ends as soon as this new tone has been obtained. It all seems rather unfair for Mr. Bracken, who is clearly trying as hard as he can, but Hugo's insufferable fixations on his own inadequacies get old quickly.

Audience Instant-Reaction: The audience politely giggled at the Lewis's smart, well-executed jokes, but seemed distracted by the stomping feet coming from upstairs (which is absolutely not the fault of the production). Appreciative.

Critics Instant Reaction:
2 Stars

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party is A-Go-Go!

Critic: Rolla Bahsous

Play at a glance: Going up against the tough, leather-wearing Big Tuna, a group of bikini-clad teens decide to have a bees-knees beach party to end the summer in Hawaii in this musical set in the 1960s!

First Impression: Like the actual 1960s beach movies with no real plots, this musical also lacks a significant plot. Breaking out in random songs about pine-apple dances, blue muu-muu's (bikini covers), and partying, this show is exactly what it promises: a simple, fun show parodying the beach party movie genre of the 1960s, including the nifty lingo and wordplay.

Highlights: The cast, especially Kuzio as Jeanette and Duplessie as Freddie were a delight to watch. The lingo breakdown in the opening and closing song was a great way to kick off the party. The choral singing of the girls dressed as trees during the "The Tiki Man" number and the guys' choreography in "Hawaiiannette" was also visually appealing to watch.

Nitpicks: It was a little bit difficult to make out the words in most of the numbers where the accompanying background music drowned out some of the lyrics. The "woody" joke was also way too overdone!

Audience's Instant Reaction: Though there was no standing ovation, the continuous laughter among the audience and the cheers and applause after each song suggests that they enjoyed the party!

Critic's Star Reaction: Though not as sophisticated in plot (as it shouldn't be if it's supposed to mimic a 1960s beach movie), I enjoyed the show and would recommend it for a feel-good, fun night out. I give this production 3 hoola-hoops out of 4!

Note from Nestruck: This review was filed as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.

Monday, September 19, 2011

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Diane D'Aquila's night out with Tennessee Williams

With my interview with Diane D'Aquila in the paper today and Daniel MacIvor's play about Tennesee Williams about to open in Toronto, I was reminded of this interview I did with Diane D'Aquila back in 2005 for the National Post...

STRATFORD, Ont. - "It's a dreadful portrait," admits Diane D'Aquila of the gaudy painting of her that hangs on the wall of her home. "I look like a kind of anorexic Jacqueline Onassis."

But what the oil painting lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for in story: The portrait of the Stratford Festival actress was painted by Tennessee Williams during rehearsals for a 1980 production of his play Red Devil Battery Sign at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Lately, D'Aquila has had much occasion to think back on the time Williams spent in Canada near the end of his life. This season, the Stratford Festival is putting on two of Williams's plays: Orpheus Descending and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in which D'Aquila is understudying Lally Cadeau as Big Mama.

With his career in the doldrums, Williams -- whose classics include The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire -- accepted an invitation to be Distinguished Artist in Residence at the University of British Columbia and consult at the Vancouver Playhouse, which was then under the artistic direction of Rodger Hodgman. "[The university] was paying him something like $2,000 a week, which in those days was a lot of money," recalls D'Aquila, who is starring in The Donnellys: Sticks & Stones and Measure for Measure at Stratford this year. "And the Playhouse was picking up everything else -- the apartment, the chauffeur, the living expenses."

During his first year in Vancouver 25 years ago, Williams chose to co-direct Red Devil Battery Sign at the Playhouse with D'Aquila starring as the oddly named Woman Downtown.

His most political and least naturalistic play, Red Devil Battery Sign had flopped during Broadway try-outs in Boston in 1975. "When the chance came to go to Vancouver, where no one was going to see it except for people from Vancouver, he rewrote it," recalls D'Aquila, who won a Gemini in 2004 for her portrayal of Elizabeth I in the film Elizabeth Rex. "Massive rewrites."

Though she is unsure why, D'Aquila was one of the few cast members who got to spend any time with the ageing alcoholic playwright outside of rehearsals. Their social acquaintance began one night at about 11, when she received a call from Williams's latest chauffeur -- he switched them when he tired of them -- that her presence was requested. Moments later, Williams and his driver picked her up and they drove to a local gay bar, where D'Aquila was the only woman in the place.

"He drank creme de menthe and he ordered me one, too," recalls D'Aquila, imitating Williams's gentle Mississippi drawl. "I hate creme de menthe. I hate it with a passion. But he liked it and drank it over ice. And he just sat and watched everyone in the bar."

The two exchanged few words during what sounds like an awkward night out -- though at one point Williams urged D'Aquila to call him Tenn. "But I never called him Tenn again back in rehearsal," says D'Aquila. "I felt it was the creme de menthe talking."

Soon after, Williams asked D'Aquila to pose for a portrait, a photo reproduction of which is currently on display in the lobby of the Avon Theatre. "He was straight out of Night of the Iguana ... with the smock and the little palette," recalls the actress, who did several sittings for the amateur painter.

According to D'Aquila, Williams -- who misspelled her name as Dianne D'Acquila -- remained artistically open to suggestion even at the end of his career. During one difficult rehearsal, she recalls messing up her lines and shouted "Fuck!" over and over. "By the end, Tennessee was just roaring," remembers D'Aquila, who apologized profusely to Williams. "He said, 'No, that's all right darling.' And the next day, the rewrites came back and 'Fuck' was written in. And it stuck and was in the show."

Williams, despite mixed reviews, was very satisfied with the Vancouver run -- he wrote that it was the definitive production -- and returned the next year to premiere a new play: The Notebook of Trigorin, an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull in which D'Aquila originated the role of Masha. It was his penultimate script; he died choking on a bottle cap at the age of 71 a year later.

"What I love about him near the end is he was still working, still trying," recalls D'Aquila of her strange encounters with Williams. "Yes, he was drinking too much. Yes, he wasn't taking care of himself. Yes, he was a very lonely and in many ways a sad man. But he didn't let that keep him down."

- From the National Post, June 2, 2005.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dear Joe Pantalone supporters: Don't vote strategically. Do vote rationally

Strategic voting is a term that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I get it. I'm not a big fan of it myself because I've seen it backfire. Some NDP supporters voting in the 2004 election, for instance, voted Liberal "strategically" and ended up helping a Conservative get elected.

I am a big believer in voting rationally, however, with a full understanding of how the electoral system you are participating in works.

Which brings us to the Toronto municipal election 2010. Here is a hypothetical situation I would like to ask all Joe Pantalone supporters to consider.

Imagine, please, that we had a more rational electoral system for determining the mayor of Toronto - one involving run-off elections.

In this Torontopia, all candidates would stay in the mayoral race until election day. Then, if no single candidate got more than 50% of the vote, we'd lop off the candidate(s) who got the least votes and head back to the polls. This process would be repeated until a candidate for mayor got more than 50% of the votes - and we'd have a mayor who the majority of voting Torontonians could at least stomach.

OK, now imagine we have this system in place and there was an election today and the results were exactly what the latest Nanos poll suggests:

Rob Ford: 43.9%
George Smitherman: 40.5%
Joe Pantalone: 15%

Now, in this hypothetical Toronto, Pantalone would be removed from the list of candidates for mayor and a final vote would held.

My question to Pantalone supporters is: What would you do in this situation?

Would you go and cast a vote in this final election?

Or would you stay home and not vote for either Ford or Smitherman?

Think it over.

OK, now let's return to real Toronto with its actual, unideal electoral system with your answers.

If you would not vote in Torontopia's final round of voting between Ford and Smitherman, then by all means go out and vote for Joe Pantalone on election day in real-life Toronto.

If, however, you would vote for Smitherman over Ford, or Ford over Smitherman in the Torontopia election, then you really should vote for that person - either Ford or Smitherman - in the upcoming election in real-life Toronto.

In real-life Toronto, there are no run-off elections, but we do have polls that function as unideal substitutes. They're why Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thompson have dropped out.

Polls are not 100% accurate, of course, but it's fair to say that it is almost impossible for Pantalone to actually win this election. Something really significant would have to happen between now and election day.

There's nothing wrong with parking your support with Pantalone and waiting for something really significant to happen in those days, of course.

If nothing really significant does happen, however, then treat this election as a final round of voting after a series of run-offs. You won't be voting "strategically"; you'll be voting rationally.

Now, I would never disrespect anyone who votes for Joe Pantalone fully cognizant of the limitations of our electoral system; a vote is a personal choice and you may get a personal sense of satisfaction out of casting a ballot for him. It may be a protest. It may be a performance. You may just find it more fun than staying home (or a kick in the Pants).

But if you would vote in the hypothetical vote just between Ford and Smitherman that I outlined above, then please don't vote for Pantalone. That would be a waste of your vote.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I won't let the Sun go down on me.

The Sun's Brian Lilley wrote a blog post defending his newspaper chain's coverage of the Homegrown "story" last week against my Tweeted criticism of it. His response is fairly maddening right from the top - saying someone is "ignorant of the realities of the arts" is not the same as saying they're ignorant. To set the record straight on that point, I'm sure Mr Lilley is not ignorant about many subjects and I look forward to discovering which ones now that I've started to follow his Twitter account.

Anyway, I've been trying to post a comment to Lilley's blog post since last week and it hasn't appeared. So I'm posting it here on my long-defunct personal blog rather than my Globe one, because it's was never intended as a full-on blog post and, well, it's a bit dated now.

Mr Lilley, can you honestly tell me with a straight face that, shucks, all the Sun has been doing is reporting facts and asking questions?

The Sun's stories about Homegrown, right from that Saturday cover story titled "Sympathy for the devil", have had an obviously negative slant. They have exaggerated the extent of - and tried to incite outrage over - the trickle of government funding that may have reached Homegrown through funding for the festival that is presenting it and 41 other plays, plus a series of concerts and other events. (The only direct funding was a $6000 grant from the Toronto Arts Council for a workshop of an earlier, fictional version of the play that was never produced.)

Remember how the Sun printed a list of telephone numbers of government and corporate sponsors of SummerWorks last week so readers could let them know how they felt about a play neither they nor any Sun reporters had seen or read? Does the Sun usually provide helpful lists of contacts for the subjects of its stories? How can you deny this was a campaign against the alleged funding of this play?

Here, in this blog post, you correct note that "the federal government and a couple of banks were sponsoring, indirectly, the presentation of this play". Why did you not use the word "indirectly" in your oh-so-objective news report? The lede for the story you contributed to the Sun's coverage was: "There will be no review and no withdrawal of federal funding for a play that gives a sympathetic portrayal of convicted terrorist Shareef Abdelhaleem." Well, how could there be a review or withdrawal of federal funding for the play, where there was never any federal funding for this play?

That's one of the aspects of this "controversy" that irritates me the most. I have a certain understanding of people who say: I can't believe my tax dollars went directly to support X work of art. I've said that myself from time to time. But questioning money going directly to Young People Effing, for example, is a different thing from questioning all of the money that goes to the Toronto International Film Festival because it presented Young People Effing along with a couple hundred other films.

The Sun articles have tried to blur that distinction. At the very very most - and this is based on a no-doubt false assumption that SummerWorks's Canadian Heritage grant was divided equally among the plays - Homegrown could be said to have got $840 or so from the feds, as you've said in your blog post, indirectly.

I might as well write an outraged series of stories about how $3-million in federal tax money went to support the Sun's attack on Homegrown. Indeed, I have seen several ads for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival next to the Sun's articles about Homegrown. The SSF received $3-million dollars from Ottawa's Marquee Tourism Events Program to support its marketing initiatives. That money is what likely paid for those ads on the Sun's website, indirectly. Where's the review and withdrawal of federal funding for Toronto Sun articles?

The Sun's preemptive campaign against Homegrown was unfair from the start, taking two words from an interview with a fairly green playwright - "sympathetic portrayal" - and using them to harass her then-unseen play and impune the SummerWorks festival, one of the most vibrant theatre festivals in the country, the launching point for so many of the most exciting new plays of the past decade, and one of the few artistic endeavours in this country unafraid to take risks.

That sums up my objection to your paper's coverage. Things got a bit better once David Akin was on the story (and it actually became a story when the PMO commented).

As to what you say in this blog post, you've taken one of my tweets out of context and ascribed opinions to me that I don't hold. I certainly don't believe there's "a right to arts funding" or that "just because a play is written it should be funded". Who thinks that? That's certainly not the case right now in Canada, nor should it be.

Our democratically elected governments have chosen to help fund the arts to a limited degree and I agree with that decision - in fact I'd like us to increase funding for the arts.

If someone has a problem with funding, take it up with the politicians - don't attack artists, the vast majority of whom live in or near the poverty level, for applying and getting some of that funding. Why not go after the Prime Minister who is oh-so-concerned about funding plays that "glorify terrorism" (which Homegrown, misguided as it may be, does not), but is too afraid to actually take concrete action on that front for fear of political backlash. He, like the Sun, is just rousing the rabble. Sorry, but I expect more from journalists and politicians.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dumont and Dumont

No comment necessary.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Help! Should I buy a house/condo in Toronto right now?

Any advice would be helpful. I started looking in May, but stopped when it looked like we might go on strike at the Globe and Mail.

Now I'm starting to look again and... I've lost my nerve a bit.

It some ways it seems like the perfect time to buy: House/condos in the Toronto neighbouhoods I like are more affordable now, interest rates are really low and the market seems to be headed back up.

But I have this friend, we'll call him The Pessimist, who believes Canada's bubble hasn't burst yet. Low interest rates are artificially stimulating the market right now, he says, and when they go up in 2010, demand will drop and house prices will drop too. (He believes another 10%.)

The Pessimist is not the only one. According to a recent Globe story:

[L]ow rates are also one of the reasons analysts are worried about the surprising surge in the housing market. “It's all happening because of the crack cocaine of housing, which is rock-bottom interest rates,” said Garth Turner, author of Greater Fool: The Troubled Future of Real Estate . “They're so irresistible, especially to inexperienced first-time buyers. That's what's propelling the market.”

Mr. Turner's concern is that rising rates will eventually propel the market lower by making houses less affordable. His level of confidence that the boom will last? Zero.

In his book, published in early 2008, Mr. Turner warned that the Canadian housing market was in a bubble just like its U.S. counterpart. After a peak-to-valley decline of almost 14 per cent in Canada's national average price, he's predicting another plunge for home prices that will be triggered in large part by rising interest rates.

“We're now into the housing bubble, Part Two,” said Mr. Turner, a former member of Parliament who now gives financial seminars and promotes his books. “I think this bubble is going to burst later this year. It's going to be short and intense.”

Yikes! That's my concern. And why I'm beginning to think I should rent for another year and see what happens.

But those low interest rates are so irresistable!


Any advice?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Billy Bob Thornton pwned by Jian Ghomeshi!

From Willie Nelson:

It has been reported that Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters will not be continuing the Canadian tour with Willie and Ray. At this time, no reasons have been announced but the remainder of the tour will continue as scheduled without The Boxmasters.