Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Body & Soul, The Eco Show, The Drawer Boy and The Birthday Party

Catching up on a few things this morning, after a theatre-free weekend on a houseboat tooling around the 1000 Islands...

Last week, I went to see Body & Soul, the Judith Thompson creation about aging women that was commissioned by Dove. I don't really have a problem with soap companies commissioning plays, though I did recoil at bit at the invitation that arrived on my desk inviting me to "a new play by dove pro-age". The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like continuity rather than change:
There's a real hunger for empowering plays about women's lives, as the success of Trey Anthony's Da Kink in My Hair demonstrated. That play originated at a Fringe festival; Body & Soul was created by a multinational corporation.

Canada's funded theatres, I suppose, think it's beneath them to commission uplifting plays that simply and directly address the concerns of women.

But, then again, the task of entertaining women has long fallen to soap manufacturers. Along with Proctor and Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, Lever Brothers (which merged with Margarine Unie in 1930 to form Unilever) was one of the original companies that sponsored the radio serials aimed at housewives that became known as "soap operas."

Unilever's involvement in Body & Soul - so crudely proclaimed in the invitation that arrived in my mail box - is still much subtler than the frequent mentions of Spry shortening that accompanied their long-running serial Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories (1937-1956).
Read the rest.

Daniel Brooks' The Eco Show opened last week, too, and it gets three stars from me:
While Brooks has an excellent track record as co-writer alongside the likes of Daniel MacIvor, Guillermo Verdecchia and Rick Miller, he has had less success flying solo as a playwright. His default mode of writing is the lecture, and he hammers his themes home relentlessly at the expense of characters and relationships. "That was terribly overstated and at the same time oblique," says Hamm after one of his eco-maniacal rants. You get the feeling that's Brooks's succinct diagnosis of The Eco Show's shortcomings.

Brooks remains English Canada's foremost director, however, and his production of The Eco Show is a masterpiece of apocalyptic atmosphere.
On the other hand, Robert Crew gives it 100% of his star lovve in the Toronto Star, while Christopher Hoile gives just 60% in Eye. The Sun's John Coulbourn splits the difference and comes up with an intriguing possible reading:
[J]ust as possible, it might be set in some post-modern version of Olympus, where a once-mighty god, now crippled, hides out with a long-suffering Mother Nature, raising their illegitimate progeny and hoping against hope for some sort of future redemption, despite the fact that their children are already infected by their parents with the humanity that is already destroying them.
Elsewhere, catching up, Robert Cushman has some positive things to say about Misery at CanStage, as does Glenn Sumi in Now, which makes me feel a little less like a heretic for my three-star review.

Overseas: I wrote about the special relationship between Scottish and Canadian theatre recently when Traverse Theatre's production of Damascus visited Toronto. Today, I learn that the new A-D of Tron Theatre in Glasgow, Andy Arnold, has started his first season there with Michael Healey's The Drawer Boy. The production gets 4/5 stars and a joke about Canadian beer from the Guardian.

Also in the Guardian, The Birthday Party by Pinter celebrates its 50th birthday.

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