James Ryan Gobuty
The Theatre Centre inaugurates their BMO Incubator Space with an innovative approach to theatre production: The Independent Creators Cooperative. The Theatre Centre offers a wonderful bill of three one-hour plays, with a 15 minute break in between each, complete with snacks and refreshments in the lovely open concept design of the lobby. The inviting space is the perfect setting for the cooperative experiment that they are undertaking.
The Independent Creators Cooperative consists of three burgeoning theatre companies – Ahuri Theatre, Play it Again Productions, and ZOU Theatre – sharing the cost, space, and audience under the mentorship of the more veteran producers: Theatre Smith-Gilmour and Why Not Theatre. The project provides the newer companies with a creative freedom that is often stifled by the financial constraints of producing theatre, allowing these three disparate physical theatre productions to develop and thrive. Somewhat surprisingly, the “variety show” feel of the night is extremely effective, and none of the plays overwhelm the others.
The first show of the night was Ahuri Theatre’s Ralph + Lina – a heart-warming play about the lives of Christina Serra’s grandparents. Written by Dan Watson and Christina Serra and co-written by Michele Smith, Ralph + Lina is a testament to the fact that the human body can articulate something beautiful that the human voice can often miss. The show opens with Ralph (Dan Watson) and Lina (Christina Serra) waking up to a new day. The duo creates a classic effect when they use a sheet while standing to simulate lying in bed; the sweet hilarity as they roll on top of one another and awake immediately sets the tone for the rest of the production. The first part of the play shows the couple in their daily routine, where the actors demonstrate both their talent and their deep bond as they move acrobatically across the stage to get dressed and set the stage. The effortlessness of their performance theatricalizes, through their movement, the love of the couple as they move about like a well-oiled machine. The play looks back through Lina’s memory as she recalls the trials and hardships the couple had to face to come together and move from Italy to Canada; this is facilitated by the brilliant lighting design of André du Toit, and the actors’ masterful use of the space. This is the kind of play that never stops tugging at your heart strings – the kind that makes you laugh then cry and then laugh again.
The second production of the evening was Play it Again Production’s Death Married My Daughter, a show that, above all, proves that feminism can indeed be funny. Co-written by the directors Michelle Smith and Dean Gilmour, and performers Danya Buonastella and Nina Gilmour; Death Married My Daughter resurrects Shakespeare’s Desdemona and Ophelia to deconstruct the patriarchy within the Bard’s work, as well as in our own times. The performers hilariously undo the mystique of these classic ingénues, by combining their feminine wiles with the physicality of newly resurrected corpses. The play mocks the hero worship of Shakespeare’s most violent protagonists, and the ridiculousness inherent in the “tragedy” of the deaths of these women at their hands. The Shakespeare business is interspersed by parodies of more modern phenomena, such as the ranting of the oft hated Ann Coulter, layering caustic critique upon caustic critique. Unfortunately for the fantastic performers on stage, the audience seemed resistant to laughing at the hyperbole of the whole production, which is a sharp contrast to the uproarious laughter that saturated the show throughout its run at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Nevertheless, Death Married My Daughter remains bitingly funny and thoroughly entertaining throughout.
The final performance of the evening was ZOU Theatre’s Business As Usual, co-written by the three performers – Viktor Lukawski, Nicolas Di Gaetano, and Adam Paolozza (also directed by Viktor Lukawski). The show thrives on a combination of superb movement, a well-designed set, and absurdity. The play focuses on the dark underbelly of the financial world, exploring a wave of suicides after the financial crisis. The performers show off their acting chops by allowing the humour of the piece to stand out against the absurd intensity that pervades the show. Viktor Lukaski perhaps shines the most, as he moves fluidly between several different roles throughout, with consistently hilarious, spot-on, deadpan delivery of his lines. André du Toit must be given further kudos for his lighting design on this piece, which contributes as much to the tone of the piece as the actors’ fine performances. Furthermore, Ken Mackenzie’s brilliant set design allows the performers to create amazing stage effects and seamless scene changes. Business As Usual was the perfect end to a night of excellent theatre that left this reviewer newly enthusiastic about the future of theatre in Toronto.
As far as I’m concerned, The Theatre Centre’s experiment with The Independent Creators Cooperative is a resounding success. Not only does the project allow for independent theatre to thrive on its own terms, but also creates an inviting space where theatre lovers can gather and support their favourite art.
The Independent Creators Cooperative shows run from April 17 - May 18, 2014, running in repertory Thursday-Saturday evenings at 7pm, 8:15pm and 9:30pm and Sunday afternoons at 2pm, 3:15pm and 4:30pm. Tickets are $23 per show and $55 for a three-show pass. Show schedule and info at www.3shows.ca Purchase tickets online at www.3shows.ca or call the Theatre Centre Box Office at 416-538-0988.
Photo credit: Johnny Hockin