At the outset, a minister (yes, the venue is an Anglican Church; no, there are no weighty religious overtones) explains that two types of theatre exist: one depicting perfection, or the divine; the other, humanity at its most raw.
In Pop Goes the Opera’s 2017 production of Pagliacci, we are treated to the latter. Shedding the need for elaborate set pieces, this abridged production of Leoncavallo’s esteemed work, tells the story of love, jealousy, and the blurred lines that separate art from reality.
While the set is little more than scaffolding flanked by LEDs, it should be said that there are few signs that these are (mostly) amateurs. The singers, right down to the townsfolk, are consummate performers, with stunning voices and an obvious passion for the work.
The standout among the players is Bertrand Malo, playing the manipulative fool, Tonio. His approach is a delightful mixture of tragedy, one that can only be truly appreciated in person.
The most important thing, however, is that this is an accessible opera—you don’t need to be Frasier Crane to applaud this phenomenal little production. You’ll never be happier to watch a clown cry.
Reviewed by Buchanan Hunter
This play was great for all the wrong reasons. While one can sympathize with what the writer/director had in mind and what the cast attempted to perform, this play is backwards. It’s a brutally visible case of putting the message before the story. It’s about a Jewish couple moving into a house that belonged to an oppressed and forcibly evicted Palestinian family—and God help me the husband is hilarious. His character was written for the best Curb Your Enthusiasm season that never aired.
First, he doesn’t understand why his wife is visibly and vocally incensed at the plight of the people who now live in tents visible from the house window. Also, she doesn’t want to have sex on the evicted people’s bed. Then he eats their jam from the jar with a spoon and doesn’t get why she’s angry with him. This is a show for those who want to see the incredibly complex geopolitical and sectarian realities that underlie Israel and the occupied territories treated with all the moral subtlety of David and Goliath. Souls set an incredibly far goal and fell at nearly every attempt to reach it.
Reviewed by Lucas Provencher
Bash’d! A Gay Rap Opera
It’s been 10 years since Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow’s 2007 fringe super-hit (with a savvy soundtrack from Aaron Macri), Bash’d! A Gay Rap Opera. Then, gay marriage was new, and the backlash was both terrifying and real. Rappers Feminemin and T Bag, narrators of the opera, rap out a love story about star-crossed lovers pitted against a homophobic society.
The alchemy of explosive political content, deft lyrics, and astute commentary propelled the original to the New York Fringe and then to off-broadway—netting awards wherever it went. (Also the script was also canonized in book form.) Ten years later, while the references to pop music feel a tinge dated, the political message does not. Bigotry still is, and the two performers of this rendition, Jezec Sanders and Kael Wynn, charmingly and engagingly prove Bash’d!’s enduring relevance. It’s well on its way to becoming a classic of Canadian theatre. Don’t miss it.
Reviewed by Jay Smith
White Rhino Comedy
In an unconventional take on improv, Toronto-based White Rhino Comedy ask for only one audience prompt before freestyling away. The four dudes—who could benefit from some female energy for balance—showed flashes of brilliance, but unfortunately had more misses than hits. The show existed in a strange limbo between improv and sketch: lacking the “yes-and” openness of improv (too often a potentially funny suggestion was brushed aside unexplored) and also missing the polished timing of a developed sketch.
The group didn’t always click—could’ve been opening night jitters—with some scenes struggling to find an ending and others interrupted too soon. Thankfully, improv is never the same twice—and there was evidence of enough talent on stage to leave hope for funnier, tighter shows to come.
Reviewed by Josh Marcellin
Courage and comedy go hand in hand with Blindside, a delightful story of a young woman’s one-eyed childhood.
Written and performed by Stephanie Morin-Robert, Blindside explores her diagnosis of retinoblastoma and her subsequent childhood.
She takes command of the stage with a performance both genuine and humorous. While her use of a camera, contemporary dance and a series of unexpected props prove to be charming, the show does go on a tangent or two when she engages with her audience.
That itself isn’t a bad thing (especially with the intimate nature of a one-person show) but it does interrupt the rhythm of an otherwise fantastic performance.
Reviewed by Chris Berthelot
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