Stuff I Seen

February 21, 2010

February snuck up and became the greatest month ever in the history of Toronto theatre. This city is so chock full of amazing shows right now that, for the first time I can remember, I don’t have time to see everything I want to see (like Acting Upstage‘s A Light in the Piazza and The Thistle Project‘s Peer Gynt).

I did get to see Birdland Theatre’s Assassins (which I wrote about here) last week, which was awesome. That show benefits so much from an intimate theatre, and this production featured some of the strongest performances I’ve ever seen on a Toronto stage. Plus it’s rare to see Sondheim on Toronto stages, so it was a nice nerdy treat for my inner 15-year-old. (Fine, and my outer 28-year-old had a pretty decent time herself.)

And speaking of nerd time, a week and a half ago, Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone came to the Royal Alexandra Theatre to blow us all away with a blatant lack of subtlety. To be fair, you know what you’re getting into with Mandy and Patti: An old-school over-the-top diva-fest. It’s like watching two living caricatures. And they re-enact out-of-context scenes from South Pacific, Carousel, and Merrily We Roll Along with no apparent sense of irony or awareness that they’ve both been too old for any of these roles for a couple of decades at least.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved every second. Every time Mandy opens his mouth to sing, his distinct and cartoonish mannerisms crack me up. He has to know, right? Is it put on, or is he actually incapable of just singing normal?

Excessive vibrato aside, though, Patinkin and LuPone put on a great show, and they sang a bunch of songs that you don’t often get to hear (all that stuff from Merrily, plus “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors). It’s just a style of performance that is so foreign in Canada, so un-self-consciously grandiose; fueled, perhaps, by that subliminal American entitlement and excessivism. Not that Canadian performers don’t have stage presence, or big voices, or talent – of course we’ve got all of those things up here. But it’s not the same. We’re a bit too tentative and apologetic to produce a Patinkin or a LuPone.

But the greatest thing I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, and one of the greatest things I have EVER seen, was an avant garde movement piece about adolescence written and performed by a dozen unknown Belgian teenagers. Once And For All We’re Going To Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen was part of Harbourfront World Stage‘s season this year, and the last performance ended about 10 minutes ago, so if you didn’t see it this week it is too bad for you.

At the risk of sounding even more pretentious than usual, Once and For All makes such effective use of repetition in blocking. It’s hard to describe, but the show opens with a sequence that at first seems like an improvised staging of some teenagers goofing off. Turns out it’s actually an intricately choreographed sequence, as it is repeated and broken down in different variations and effects until it builds into the most joyous finale I’ve ever experienced in a theatre.

I’m always impressed when blocking is used in such an original way, partly because it’s rare, and partly because I don’t have the strongest spatial skills – I think in words, not movement. The only other example I can think of, where the blocking was such an integral part of the theatrical experience, was a show in the 2002 Toronto Fringe Festival. I can’t remember what it was called, but it knocked my socks off – it was actually three (or four?) shorter plays performed in sequence. Each play was wildly different in genre and style (one was an arch Noel Coward-esque comedy, one was about a family of trashy redneck types), but had the exact same blocking, which got richer in meaning and hilarity as each play went on.

Finally, I just booked my tickets for Convergence Theatre’s Yichud (Seclusion) at Passe Muraille. It closes on Saturday, so you should do that too. How many shows are there where you get to dance a hora?

2 Responses to “Stuff I Seen”

  1. seenonflickr Says:

    I really liked Assassins – though the chairs killed all feeling in my lower half for at least 45 minutes – but The Light in the Piazza didn’t do much for me.

  2. Rachel Says:

    I was exclaiming on Friday night (after seeing Assassins) that this has been an awesome, awesome year for musicals in Toronto. That makes me incredibly happy.

    Also, if The Light in the Piazza is still playing you should see it! It was a beautiful production of a show that’s rarely performed.

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