A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

 

UPDATED MONDAYS

Updated: August 29, 2016

NOTE: There will be no blog entry for the week of September 5-11 in observance of Labour Day. The blog will resume on September 12. Apologies for any inconvenience and see you back real soon. Your support is truly appreciated! - JB .

EDITION #102 - WEEK OF AUGUST 29-SEPTEMBER 4, 2016

Film fest courts Nollywood, rock royalty and controversy

Clockwise from top left: Nigerian gritty crime-com Oko Ashewo (Cab Driver) ; rock-doc The Rolling Stones Olé! Olé! Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America and the pre-U.S. Civil War drama The Birth of A Nation make some waves for the 41st Toronto International Film Festival.

Toronto International Film Festival 2016 Preview

For the forty-first edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the organizers have their three hundred-plus films to run from September 8th to the 18th choosing some bold moves in bringing in this year’s City to City guest on Lagos as a coming-out party for Nigeria’s booming film industry into a wider global perspective, a new world-premiere concert documentary on the Rolling Stones; plus two films that have already garnered some welcome praise and unwelcome baggage to the fest (more on those later).

The Galas line-up has eighteen films, among them are Montréal filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s close encounter SF/thriller Arrival; disaster docudrama Deepwater Horizon on the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster; Antoine Fuqua’s inclusive remake of The Magnificent Seven; Rob Reiner’s look at the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, LBJ; teen romance-drama The Edge of Seventeen; true-life biopic of a young photojournalist cut down in his prime in The Journey is The Destination; Snowden, Oliver Stone’s highly-anticipated exposé at the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden; family-based dramas Queen of Katwe about a Ugandan teen who aspires to become a world-class chess master and A Monster Calls about a preteen boy struggling to deal with his mother’s illness until a monster comes along to teach him courage and inner strength; British WWII comedy/drama Their Finest; Richard Gere geopolitical drama vehicle Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer and the love triangle story The Promise, set in pre-WWI Turkey.

Also in the line-up are two interracial real-life love stories A United Kingdom, about young African tribal king Seretse Khama who dared to marry a British woman in 1947 and unsettled both his native Buchanaland (present-day Botswana)’s neighbour apartheid South Africa and England’s social and political mores; and Loving of Virginian couple Richard and Mildred Loving who spent a decade fighting their state’s anti-miscegenation laws that eventually were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

Two documentary concerts get their Gala world premieres: Jonathan Demme’s return to the genre on Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids’s 20/20 Experience World Tour Las Vegas closeout performance simply titled Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids and The Rolling Stones Olé! Olé! Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America, following the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band on their most recent South American tour that concluded with their historic first-ever date in Havana, Cuba earlier this year.

The camera eye goes on the Nigerian capital of Lagos’ film industry – known popularly as Nollywood – by getting the red carpet treatment in the fest’s City to City programme. “Hundreds of films are made every year in Lagos for a voracious audience around the world,” said TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey. “Our City to City spotlight brings some of Nollywood’s most popular filmmakers together with new voices who are introducing an alternative indie spirit to Nigerian cinema. We’re excited to share this unprecedented showcase of talent from Lagos with our Toronto audience.” Films included in the showcase will be 76, based on the failed 1976 military coup d’etat in the wake of Nigeria’s Civil War and the effect it has on one coup plotter’s pregnant wife; crime-comedy Oko Ashewo (Taxi Driver) of a young cabdriver reluctantly caught up in the seedy underworld of Lagos; the coming-of-age drama Green White Green and rom-coms The Wedding Party and Okafor’s Law.

In the Platform series that has the contested juried Toronto Platform Prize of $25,000 up for grabs will be twelve filmmakers; among them are Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s French ghost romantic-fantasy Daguerrotype; Australian outback thriller Goldstone; the Shakespearean-inspired period piece Lady Macbeth; topical drama Layla M. of a radicalized Moroccan-Dutch teen who later ponders the consequences of her beliefs; Jackie, the brave historical-drama of Jacqueline Kennedy’s recovery to carry on after the murder of John F. Kennedy and retain her dignity and husband’s legacy; drama-thriller Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves about four revolutionary Québécois youths who graduate from common radical graffiti artwork to borderline terrorism and Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) is back with his Northwestern revenge tale Maliglutit (Searchers).

For Contemporary World Cinema, it ranges from period dramas to today’s headline grabbers: Death in Sarajevo sees an aging hotel caught in a ideological crossfire during the centennial marking of the outbreak of World War I from Bosnia; the Haitian post-2011 earthquake neorealist fable Ayiti Mon Amour; Singaporean prison drama Apprentice about a state executioner re-examining his country’s death penalty when it personally effects him; timely French socio-cultural drama Heaven Will Wait looks at two teens who are first drawn to go fight in the Syrian Revolution and those who try to stop them before it’s too late and the Romanian moral drama The Fixer where a novice journalist caught up in a political sex scandal tries to make it work to his advantage, only to find it getting more complicated as it grows enough to gnaw at his conscience.

Two films that are bringing a little headache to TIFF before they even get screened are Walter Hill’s latest, (re)Assignment, a bloodied revenge-thriller of a contract killer out to get payback on the vengeful plastic surgeon who forcibly changed him from a man to a woman, has brought out the trans-gendered community to call for a boycott of the film for perpetrating stereotypes and The Birth of a Nation, the talked-about docudrama about the Nat Turner Rebellion twenty years before the American Civil War and a critical darling at this year’s Sundance Festival; currently beset by revelations about its filmmakers Nate Parker and Jean Celestin over a campus rape allegation in 1999 which both were eventually acquitted of. Yet the accuser committed suicide in 2012, and this now threatens the film’s wide release in October and possible awards season chances, especially with its presence at TIFF and the organizers’ continuous stand to present the film come what may.

Up on the documentary block are Steve James’ ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail of a Chinatown bank in New York City during the onset of the 2008 Great Recession; Errol Harris’ new film The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography; the James Baldwin doc on his unfinished final novel I Am Not Your Negro from Haitian director Raoul Peck; María José Cuevas’ examination of aging Mexican burlesque stars in Beauties of the Night; The Ivory Game delves into the illicit ivory trade; Morgan Spurlock taking a unusual look at the worldwide culling methods on rats with the Midnight Madness offering, Rats; Michael Tucker’s Karl Marx City uncovers the East German Statsi secret police during the Cold War and three docs that fêtes at music legends, Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, I Call Him Morgan on the late jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan’s tragic crime-of-passion murder and The Sixth Beatle about Sam Leach, the band’s near-forgotten manager.

For families, TIFF Kids will show The Eagle Huntress about a Mongolian teenaged girl becoming the first female in twelve generations to become an eagle hunter and her skills are put to the test out on the steppes of northwestern Mongolia in this Daisy Ridley-narrated/executive produced documentary; Netherlander road tale The Day My Father Became A Bush as a ten-year old must travel across a war zone to her mother when her baker father is called to service; French teen romance-melodrama Miss Impossible and the animated My Life as a Courgette where a nine-year old French orphan ends up in a orphanage and learns to make the best of his lot among the other kids who have similar situations worse than his own.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens breakout star Daisy Ridley narrates The Eagle Huntress about Mongolian thriteen-year old Aisholpan and her goal to be the female Eagle Hunter in the sport’s two-thousand year history and up against 70 male competitors at the annual Golden Eagle Festival, which Ridley co-executive produced along with Morgan Spurlock, who is also premiering his latest documentary, Rats, at this year’s TIFF.

TIFF sits down with their In Conversation With… programme with the industry’s movers and shakers with the likes of Mark Wahlberg (September 13), Palestinian actor/filmmaker Haim Abbass (September 13), Nollywood rising stars Kunle Afolayan and Genevieve Nnaji (September 11), Brazilian legend Sônia Braga (September 12), French icon Isabelle Huppert (September 10), Bollywood Renaissance man Karan Johar (September 10) and international superstar Zhang Ziyi (September 15).

The seven-day Industry Conference (September 9 to 15) talks shop with today’s filmmakers from the role of women in the industry with the documentary The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem followed by a roundtable discussion with its director Caroline Suh and executive producers Laura Michalchyshyn and Stacey Offman (September 12); the TIFF Doc Conference (September 13) on documentary filmmaking with several keynote speakers and a special focus of filming in Europe in the wake of first Brexit vote and the future of financing international film projects there.

And the free street party Festival Street for the first weekend of the fest (September 9 to 11) along John and King Street West and University Streets near TIFF Lightbox (350 King Street West Street) coming back for its third popular year, has musical acts, food truck vendors, virtual reality booths and two free screenings of ‘80s cult classics celebrating their thirtieth anniversaries, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Labyrinth and a exclusive TIFF Members-only September 10th screening of Hidden Figures, based on three African-American women who were the unsung heroes behind the American space race program in the 1960s, that includes a cast Q&A and mini-concert with one of the stars of the film, hit maker singer/songwriter Pharrell Williams, who also contributed to the soundtrack.

***

Individual tickets go on sale to the public September 4 at 9 a.m. For information, call 1-888-599-8433 or visit tiff.net/festival.

Outdoorsy Tragic Dane barks and bites

Hamlet (Canadian Stage/York University Theatre)

Amphitheatre at High Park, 1873 Bloor Street West

Saturday, August 27; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

After thirty-four seasons, it’s hard to even fathom that up until this year Canadian Stage has never done a Shakespeare in High Park presentation of one of the Immortal Bard’s most famous plays, Hamlet. Under the direction of Birgit Schreyer Duarte they take a few creative liberties in eschewing some of the supportive scenes, characters and dialogue, yet it’s just as intense as a full-fledged production can carry on its timeless tale of madness and revenge.

Danish prince Hamlet (Frank Cox-O’Connell) isn’t too happy when his uncle Claudius (Alon Nashman) ascends to the throne and marries his queenly mother Gertrude (Rachel Jones) after the sudden death of his beloved father. He gets even more upset when his father’s ghost (also Nashman) approaches him one night to reveal that he’d been murdered by the ambitious Claudius and vows retribution with his best friend Horatio (Qasim Khan) being his witness.

In feigning insanity to cloak his plans, it spirals deeper and deeper into his darkness when it draws in the court aide Polonius (Nicky Guadagni), her fragile daughter and Hamlet’s beloved Ophelia (Rose Tuong) and distraught son Laertes (Kaleb Alexander) in the vortex where even he starts to question his own state of mind and whether the costs that comes with vengeance is worth the price for justice.

This adaptation of Hamlet is the sharpest one I’ve seen in ages with Cox-O’Connell’s titular antihero being deep and moody in all his soliloquies and rages most appropriately when he does throughout; Tuong as the confused love well performed with all her despairs attached; Nashman as the inwardly guilt-riddled yet unbowed Claudius pulls his own weight as does Jones’ conflicted Gertrude. Two interesting changes are the gender-flipped roles of Polonius by Guadagni, Mina James does Fortinbras as a Norwegian she-warrior and from Raechel Fisher playing Rosencrantz, now a royal psychiatrist here (the Guildenstern role got axed) are unique and refreshing takes on the characters.

Canadian Stage does a fine first take on the tragic Dane tale in pace with steady nerve in the casting and direction that also includes some folk music and a little cinema and everything else from the costume design of Michelle Tracey and Oz Weaver’s lighting on Teresa Przybylski’s gorgeous stage layout to the eerily dark score by Lyon Smith to punctuate the moods, not to mention some underlying comedy that appears organically fluid with timing by the cast. It’ll be ending this summer run soon, so see this one while you can – along with its alternative double-bill All’s Well That Ends Well – for goodness knows when the company will do another one again.

***

Hamlet continues through to this Saturday (September 3) on alternative days Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, PWYC ($20 suggested). For tickets and information, call 416-368-3110 or visit canadianstage.com.

Cathartic Nicolas

Nicolas

by Pascal Girard; translated from French by Helge Dascher

106 pp., Drawn & Quarterly/Raincoast Books

Hardcover, $16.95

Graphic Novel and Comics/Literary

Book Review

The loss of a child weighs an eternal heavy burden on any family member as Québécois cartoonist star Pascal Girard opens up for his most personal work to date, Nicolas. From the acclaimed author of Reunion, Bigfoot and Petty Thief, he’s taken work that he did from a previously published work from 2008 over the death of his brother twenty-five years earlier as he was just making his professional debut and adds new material that was already emotional and enhances it as his catharsis he’s still yet to deal with.

When Girard was nine, his five-year old brother Nicolas suddenly died from congenital lactic acidosis, a rare disease of lactic acid build-up in the body; that had a major impact on his life. Throughout the book, we see varying stages of him questioning on Nicolas’ passing first as a simple childlike demeanour on death when he’s entering his tweens before it goes into other behaviours of drowning his sorrows in the heady adolescence experiments with drugs and alcohol to the hauntingly ironic reminder of his death date during the September 11th attacks.

Notably it affects Gerard’s relationships with his first adult girlfriend he’d been with for almost a decade at that point, his surviving youngest brother Joël who was born sometime after Nicolas’ death and sometimes while at the drafting table. Now with a new girlfriend, he searches for peace with himself and others whenever he grapples with anxiety disorder through therapy, bridging a better bond with Joël and looking for closure every day as it comes through positive means.

Keeping the usual Jeffrey Brown-style vignette narration, Girard doesn’t whitewash his feelings of confusion and grief mixed in with anger over a beloved sibling’s death. By not redoing the earlier work to keep the rawness pure and undiluted to what he had drawn a decade before is a smart move here whereas a more perfectionist cartoonist would have done it all over again, but probably wouldn’t get the same kind of results.

In the Afterword section that picks things up to the near-present, the polished work is deftly honest on revealing his fears and unfinished mourning that he may never get over with, but can live with it in the passage of time of healing that he hopes will make it better. Nicolas is Gerard at his frankest depth as a cartoonist story-wise yet and while it may not be a lengthy piece of work, the scale and subject of it speaks volumes.

EDITION #101 - WEEK OF AUGUST 22-28, 2016

Oy, to be goy at Ashkenaz

Left-right: The American-Canadian Jewish-funk supergroup Abraham Inc. and iconoclastic author Michael Wex both make return appearances at this year's biennial Ashkenaz Festival.

The Eastern European Jewish festival returns with a 500-year old exhibit on Venice’s Jewish Ghetto and a Yiddish version of the Arthur Miller classic, Death of a Salesman

Ashkenaz 2016 Preview

The biennial Ashkenaz Festival of that is everything from the Judaic diaspora of Eastern Europe and beyond is back at Harbourfront Centre for the Labour Day long weekend (August 30-September 5, 235 Queen’s Quay West) has a full plate of entertainment of theatre, dance, cinema, literature, food and music that has a few surprises, new and familiar; in store for the whole family and those seeking something different on a cultural scale in ticketed and mostly free events.

One of the major events involved is Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opus magnum Death of a Salesman (Toyt Fun A Seylsman), all done in Yiddish with English surtitles at North York’s Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts (1040 Yonge Street) August 31-September 10. Performing in the role that he’s recreating from the acclaimed off-Broadway production for Ashkenaz is veteran actor Avi Hoffman as Wally Loman, the epitome everyman of endlessly and unsuccessfully pursuing the elusive American Dream.

Hoffman is also part of the fest’s literature line-up with his acting career memoir Life of a Seylsman: Five Decades in the Yiddish Theatre (September 5), along with musicologist/klezmer music pioneer Walter Zev Feldman’s latest on the genre, Klezmer: Music, History and Memory (September 4); local restaurateur Zane Caplansky and his smoked-meats empire Save the Deli (September 4); Galeet Dardashti on Israeli rock music, From Pulpit to Pop Charts: Contemporary Mizrachi Music (September 5); Katka Reszke with her book, The Meshugene Effect of the rediscovery of Polish Jewish roots since the end of communism twenty-five years ago (September 4); Born to Kvetch author Michael Wex is back with his newest poke at Jewish culture Rhapsody in Schmaltz (September 5); Ester Reiter’s examination of the secular Jewish left Zingen far Sholem, Zingen far Broyt: Culture and Political Activism in the Jewish left in Canada ; Italian historian Shaul Bassi talks about the nearly-forgotten five hundred-year history of Italian Jewry for The Venice Ghetto, 1516-2016 and a discussion on the iconic Theodore Bikel led by the Theodore Bikel Artist-in-residency expert Daniel Kahn and Bikel’s widow Aimee Ginsburg Bikel (September 4).

As the Venice Jewish Ghetto marks its half-millennium this year, it will get a special presence in the visual arts program in the photo exhibit The Venice Ghetto at 500 at the Artsport’s Marilyn Brewer Community Gallery space; Montréal musician and DJ Socalled makes his debut as a visual artist with 18 Years in the Yiddish Revival: A Socalled Photography Exhibit at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (750 Spadina Avenue; through September 6), including the Ontario Jewish Archives’ Mandel’s Dreamery about a 24/7 window gallery installation celebrating the food history of one of Toronto’s first Jewish neighbourhoods at Fentster at Makom (402 College Street; through October 30).

The musician will also be part of the dance section with his own Socalled’s Retro Dance Party spinning the sacred and the sacrilegious together on September 3 and 4 at the Brigantine Room; master dance classes from contemporary Misnagdic Jewish dancer Zev Feldman (September 4) as well as Avia Moore’s Yiddish dance workshop (September 3-5) and a late night Shtiler Tants concert on September 4 at 11 p.m.

For the film component, the Studio Theatre will screen a series of documentaries, Sholom Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness on the legendary American Jewish author (September 5) and Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem on both the author and his mentor Aleichem’s similar philosophies (September 4); Leo Spellman’s Lost Rhapsody: A Documentary Film-in-Progress (September 4) about the late Toronto musician’s “Rhapsody 1939-1945” that he composed during his internment at a concentration camp he survived from and Chava Rosenfarb: That Bubble of Being on the noted Holocaust literary figure and survivor (September 5).

Foodies will delight with the culinary skills of locals Zane Caplansky (September 4) and culinary tour guide Bonnie Stern (September 5); Brooklynite Liz Alpern, the co-owner of The Gefilteria, an Ashkenazi Jewish restaurant that re-imagines the cuisine itself and co-author of The Gefilte Manifesto (September 4) and Baltimore food writer and convert Michael Twitty doing his hybrid Judaic-soul food demo “Kosher Soul” (September 4); and a series of family-related events like the Caravan Puppets’ Sholom and Motl about Jewish immigration in the 20th century in Europe and America (September 4-5) and Avi Hoffman reading Dr. Suess stories in Yiddish (September 4).

Then the music section ranges from the collaborative Israeli-Iranian Music Initiative (September 4), Zev Feldman Trio’s neo-traditionalist klezmer (September 5), Winnipeg folk-classical chamber music sibling act The Mayors of Sambor (September 4), Istanbul Ladino group Janet and Jak Esim Quartet (September 4), Ukraine’s Zhenya Lopatnik (September 3), Torontonian acts Beyond the Pale (September 5) and Lemon Bucket Orkestra (September 3),returning Jewish-funk supergroup Abraham Inc. (September 3), the Tokyo-based world music ensemble Jinta La-Mvta (September 3) and the ever-popular Ashkenaz Parade that will close out the fest on September 5.

***

Ticketed events now on sale. For information, call 416-973-4000 or harbourfrontcentre.com (Harbourfront events), 416-250-3708 (Toronto Centre for the Arts box office) or 1-855-985-2787/ticketmaster.ca (Death of A Salesman) or ashkenaz.ca.

The Tragically...Hyped?

The Tragically Hip’s farewell concert was a momentous event in Canadian music history. But was the over-saturated media coverage necessary?

Arts Commentary

As the hometown crowd roared its encore for their rock gods made good, The Tragically Hip ended their Man Machine Poem tour and possibly their touring days in Kingston on August 20th that was broadcast on radio, television, online and broadcast parties across Canada and for their fans around the world, as a chance to say goodbye and thanks to the band and its headman Gord Downie, who announced this past May of being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer; who gave so much to the national character in their thirty-plus year history and fourteen studio albums, five of them all number one in a row.

In its wake, I had to wonder to myself to the mass media consumption that had been building up to that apex since Downie’s cancer became known and the nationwide farewell tour that followed to which I’ve observed with scrutiny from musicologists, commentators and fans alike: did it really had to go, as one of the Hip’s classic hits would say, to the hundredth meridian?

Before I get a massive hate-on from this, just hear me out first. I’ll admit I’ve never been a huge or casual fan of the Hip and never seen a concert or bought any of their albums, yet I’ve heard them in passing and pretty much enjoyed songs like “Ahead By a Century,” “Bobcaygeon” and the aforementioned “At the Hundredth Meridian” (and still do). They definitely deserved to be our answer to R.E.M. and their contributions to the Canadiana songbook sit right up there with the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

And never, ever would I knock on all this recent attention drawn to the Hip because of the malady Downie is now facing with such bravery and conviction, although the odds are very much stacked against him at this point.

It’s not the way this genuinely heartfelt tribute to the Hip is being done. It’s how it was being done.

The media has swarmed all over this story and the tour in a manner that smacks of an American-style consumption to the point of obsession that any particular subject must be attached to it unfortunately, like talking to Downie’s doctor on tour to make sure he’s okay to perform (and being a Hip fan himself). Or culture critics telling their personal stories of when they first got turned on by the Hip’s lyrical content that spoke to them ranging from the frustrations of teenage angst to coping with the postmodern existence in one’s young adult lives. I get it. Don’t believe for a moment that I don’t.

But when it starts becoming almost 24/7, one has to stop to think and say: “Wait…how this is get all out of control?”

Does it have to get to a point when there’s some online petition to have Downie invested in an deserved Order of Canada before he eventually dies (Terry Fox got his months before his death)? Or getting over-analytical on what Hip guitarist Gord Sinclair had stated on tour that this may not be the last hurrah for the Hip as of yet from one fan’s Twitter feed, sending the Twitterverse – and fans’ hopes – all aflutter? Or that it brings Prime Minister Justin Trudeau onstage at the final concert not just only to praise the Hip’s contribution to the nation, but as a fan?

This reminds me of that time in 2009 when Michael Jackson died and the whole world went into a collective mourning. Some weeks after his memorial and the media buzz still hadn’t died down, an aunt of mine commented on how fatigued she got every time the TV or press mentioned some Jackson-related story that she had to get away from it for a little while. I knew what she meant then, and it still holds resonance with me now on this.

I have nothing but complete respect for the Hip, their fans and the music that spoke of us, by us and for us all. Yet even the most diehard of diehard fans must be feeling the weariness and overexposure from the media so caught up in all of this and maybe the band members themselves, especially Downie. We Canadians are proud of our musical heroes, from Oscar Peterson to The Guess Who to Bryan Adams to Drake and they’ve earned out attention. It doesn’t necessarily have to get to out of hand to show how much we love them like this.

Beatles 50 T.O. exhibit twists and shouts

When the Beatles Rocked Toronto: Metropolitan life and music in the mid-60s

Venue: Market Gallery, St. Lawrence Market, 95 Front Street East, 2nd Floor

Dates/Times: Through November 12; Tuesdays-Thursdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Fridays 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Mondays and statutory holidays

Admission/Information: Adult $10, Seniors (65+)/Youth (13-18)/Child (6-12) $5, Child (under 5) FREE; Call 416-392-7604 or toronto.ca/beatles50

Gallery Review

Has a half-century really gone by since four Liverpudians lads last taught Toronto how to play? The city of Toronto has jumped on that bandwagon (no pun intended) in commemorating their last performance here on August 17, 1966 at the long-defunct but not forgotten Maple Leaf Gardens (now the refurbished Ryerson Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens) before they decided to quit doing live performances with When the Beatles Rocked Toronto at the well-hidden St. Lawrence Market Gallery space touches on a lot of nostalgia and a intriguing peek not only at the changing music scene of the day, but also of the city as well.

Broken into three sections, the first one How We Lived focuses on the growing demographics of the postwar baby boomer generation of a town dusting off the conformities of the 1950s with a detailed timeline of how the social, political and cultural mores were changing from urban renewal to the birth of Canadian Tire money to the blossoming of hippie culture in the Yorkville area, almost culminating with the first airplay of the Fab Four in 1963 with a Canada-only album release and five singles.

It also comes with a slight reproduction of a typical rec room of the day with the modernist designs by local furniture makers like Spanner Products Ltd. with a biomorphic sofa, a throw blanket and a Beatles print curtains adds a certain kitsch to it, teak furniture, vinyl albums, a uniquely handmade Beatles knit sweater that still holds up years later and has actually aged good.

Where We Played looks at the Yorkville area, long before it became the glossy high-end shopping enclave of today, when coffee shop poets and balladeers would make their names like Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot at the Penny Farthing to long faded-out legends The Dirty Shames and The Ugly Ducklings at the Riverboat. Some artwork captures that period like Clark McDougall’s 1964 “View of Yonge Street” depicting the busy street life through roughhewn brushstrokes in vibrant oils, a cartoon-like map of the area by Joseph Sherman in 1997 but neatly updated for this exhibit of where all the coffee (and head) shops existed, plus surviving relics of a Colonial Tavern swizzle stick and the rescued Riverboat entrance sign.

Various Beatles memorabilia includes almost everything you could think of to capitalize on the Beatlemania, including a cheap (50 cents!) pulp novelization of their second film Help! to a unopened package of black micromesh nylon hosiery depicting their images and guitars. An interesting piece here is two covers of the Yesterday and Today album with the original “butcher” version of dismembered mannequin parts and slabs of meat are posed with them as Paul McCartney’s “warped joke” commentary on the Vietnam War. Controversial at the time but a popular cover in Europe, it was pulled out of circulation by Capitol Records’ North American division and was replaced by the suitable “trunk” version, is a rare find indeed to which the original cover was in the collection of a van driver working for Capitol for years given to him secretly as a gift.

When the Beatles Rocked Us gives the documented events in question of the band’s only three tour stops in that era when Beatlemania was at its height from 1964 to 1966, the clean-cut moptop hairdos that drove fans nuts and older people to distress before their later psychedelic period further immortalized them. Through known shots by local photo-journo legends Boris Spremo, Lynn Ball and John Rowlands are honest and straightforward; two slideshows feature rarely-seen photos – a couple of them in rarer colour print – from official media coverage to fan POVs of them are a surprise to the phenomenon they created, including three photos of a female Beatles tribute band to the line-up premiere screening of A Hard Day’s Night.

The things that are constant in all these photos are the police presence in riot gear outside Maple Leaf Gardens, the throng of teenyboppers, medics helping out frenzied passed-out fans (catalogues included have the numbers of each concert breakdown, set lists, opening acts, etc.) and a armoured truck transport to move them back and forth to the venue is stupendous and still shocking to view again, even now. You wouldn’t see this kind of thing much at a Justin Bieber or Beyoncé concert tour today.

Small and humble as it may be in stature, When the Beatles Rocked Toronto looms greatly in how much it packs the counterculture of the time when rock’s first boy band managed to capture the hearts, souls and sounds of millions worldwide and how the Toronto music landscape and mosaic had changed with them. Rustically charming, this exhibit will make new and old fans twist and shout over it, yeah-yeah-yeah!

EDITION #100 - WEEK OF AUGUST 15-21, 2016

Psyching out and jumbled juxtapositions

SummerWorks 2016 Reviews

Part 2 of a 2-part series

Left-right: SummerWorks Music series coordinator Adam Bradley leads the discussion on how artists can and cope with social anxiety at the Factory Theatre with screenwriter Crystal and musicians Kurt and Kallie on August 10.

Social Anxiety in the Arts Community (SummerWorks)

Factory Theatre Lobby, 125 Bathurst Street

Wednesday, August 10; 2 p.m.

Why does anyone want to become an artist, other than to be able to visually, verbally and physically express oneself? Talent often plays a part, but also it’s used to function within society when one is unable to socially connect like regular people can. In the Conversations forum “Social Anxiety in the Arts Community,” the music series curator Adam Bradley brought three other SummerWorks artists who share the same psychological affliction of social anxiety, which is often misunderstood by the general public and given labels like “shy,” “introvert,” “loner” and unjust titles of “misfit” and “weirdo.”

For about an hour running the panel was treated like a free-for-all format with no basic direction in guiding the talk being mostly musicians with an agoraphobic drummer Kurt, who suffers from panic attacks; Crystal, the soft-spoken screenwriter/arts therapist and extrovert musician Kallie, who hides her anxieties by being more outspoken as a façade than a character trait.

Bradley was able to bring up some related topics to the forefront, seeing that the arts can be instrumental to interact with the audience from social media usage, turning music jam sessions into “group therapy meetings,” learning to get over it is as “part of the job” as artists, fixating on other people’s anxieties to calm your own and being aware of one’s limitations to the classic psychology trick of imagining everyone in the audience in their underwear (sometimes it works, not always).

Despite the topic as presented, the lobby area of the Factory Theatre was not a decent choice location to hold it since there was stage rehearsal going on nearby and the acoustics weren’t that great for the well-attended small audience that participated. Still, advice on conquering social anxiety when performing and at receptions were given out near the end but they’re never easy to put into practice since every situation can differ when you have to force yourself out of your shell or “psyche out,” as it were.

[decoherence]/NEW RAW (Vazari Dance Projects/Mutable Subject/SummerWorks)

Theatre Centre Mainspace, 1115 Queen Street West

Saturday, August 13; 9 p.m.

An experimental dance double bill featuring the Vazari Dance Projects’ [decoherence] and Mutable Subject’s NEW RAW was a mixed bag of ideas displayed with the same type of results. First is [decoherence], performed and choreographed by Jessie Garon and Jarrett Siddall; is meant to be about quantum entanglement, a scientific theory of when particles interact in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently, giving into a system as a whole. In layperson terms, if you move one particle on one side of the universe, its entangled partner will mirror that movement at the same time.

For twenty minutes, Garon and Siddall mostly run around, tumble, convulse, tremble and wither to Lyon Smith’s gangly ethereal sound design to the theme in question, yet the conceptual production leaves one empty, even if Shannon Lea Doyle’s minimalist set/lighting design fits the mood enough to make sense of the constant subconscious’ playing field.

NEW RAW offers some better coherence, yet just as daunting to follow. Creator-dancer Deanna Peters with Elissa Hanson, Alexa Mardon and Jeanette Kotowich does this dance party/variety act/fashion show about voyeurism, gender politics, identity issues empowerment and desire while creatively manipulating the speed of a record turntable to tunes by Fritz the Cat, Rose Melberg, Art of Noise and Nitzer Ebb.

Peters’ choreography feels nuanced for all its juxtapositions in the first half then picks up in the latter half to be kinetic, if unfortunately subdued to save it face in the thirty-minute production. Under James Proudfoot’s lighting to the costume/set designs of Natalie Purschwitz, they all seemed like good ideas and do work when they do but these measures feel too little, too late to make amends with it.

Festival Summary

SummerWorks 2016 had a lot to offer with the issues of the day we’re coping with now, be it immigration (Amanah), sex education in schools (SExT) or the increase of urban violence in our cities (Nize It); and there were lots the artists involved did bring to make it a varied and progressive one. Some could have been better than others, but all in all there was heart in the making and presentations of them.

My only real complaints were a lack of visual arts offerings, compared to the last couple of years and a better space to hold the Conversation series since the acoustics in the Factory Theatre Lobby space is rather poor and wireless mikes would have helped big time. Otherwise, SummerWorks allows works that probably wouldn’t get the ample opportunities of mainstream theatre they’ve been doing for about twenty-six years.

Lofty family remake flutters along

Pete’s Dragon (Walt Disney)

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence

Director: David Lowery

Producers: James Whitaker

Screenplay: David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks; based on the screenplay by Malcolm Marmorsite, based on the story by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field

Film Review

Pete’s Dragon, probably one of Disney’s underrated projects from the 1970s done in their live-action/animation formats; gets a remake minus the songs like most of their revamps of late like Cinderella and Maleficent this time around. As a family film, it works for the most part and upholds the traditional wholesomeness they’re best known for, yet it feels just a touch average seemingly missing its vibe from the 1977 original.

Set in the present-day Pacific Northwestern small town of Millhorn, park ranger Grace (Howard) discovers a ten-year old orphan Pete (Fegley) living out in the forests that she’s trying to protect from the expansionist ambitions of Gavin (Karl Urban), who also happens to be her fiancée Jack’s (Wes Bentley) brother, the town’s lumber mill manager. Trying to figure out how the boy managed to survive all alone in the wilds, Pete tells her a furry green dragon that’s been part of the town’s folklore for decades that he named Elliot has been his guardian and best friend for the last six years.

Rather skeptical at first, she employs her tall tales-telling father Meacham (Redford) who claimed to have run into the same dragon years ago whether this is some kind of kids’ game. As Pete tries to reacquaint himself with civilization which includes befriending Jack’s daughter Natalie (Laurence), Gavin plans on catching Elliot for fame and glory Pete is determined to save from his clutches.

Some things going for this modern-day fantasy update are the cast’s roles here of Howard playing the motherly type that needs to be more open to the unexpected with warmth; Redford as the grandfatherly Meacham in brief parts hold some levity to the film; Fegley’s wildness moppet is cute by maintaining all the innocence, wonder and adventurism a kid can pull off in a fare like this and even Urban is kind of fun being the film’s benign antagonist.

It’s almost a pity that co-director/screenwriter David Lowery with Toby Halbrooks aren’t able to make the middling second act of the film as interesting in regards to the pacing but rescues it in the third act when the action really begins and partly redeems itself. There’s quiet humour displayed, so the chuckles are well earned and one notable feature of this remake is that Millhorn sticks to being pretty much having an old-school feeling without turning the film into a period piece. You won’t find any computers, cellphones, internet or iPads – a rarity in current cinema – seen in these here parts, that is a refreshingly humbling and homey touch.

The friendly dragon itself, all in its CGI form, does provide some charm in a klutzy comical fashion and the special effects impress, however Pete’s Dragon runs on the sentimentality laced in the script that might keep the younger kids entertained at best but some adults might find it plodding sometimes although they won’t get really bored with it either.

Nairobi Masala

Who Will Catch Us As We Fall

by Iman Verjee

442 pp., OneWorld Publications/Publishers Group Canada/Raincoast Books

Softcover, $15.95

Fiction

Book Review

For her second novel on the East Asian diaspora in Africa, Iman Verjee’s Who Will Catch Us As We Fall dressed up as a romantic melodrama without many clichés involved to off-put any reader interested in seeing a contemporary Africa with its basic problems as it looks at the country’s social, cultural, class and racial divisions of modern Kenya void of any stereotypes.

Returning home from her university studies in England after a four-year absence, Leena Kohli arrives in 2007 Nairobi as the nation prepares for general elections which are usually fraught with political rioting to follow while her fellow Indo-Kenyans try to leave to avoid them. Being from a well-off mercantile family, she’s also home to finally come to grips over a traumatic moment which led to the self-imposed exile and to rebuild her shattered life.

She goes back and forth over that incident while remembering her preteen years in the mid-1990s when she and her elder brother Jai lived with their mother Pooja and father Raj in their palatial home with their carefree lives as children not caught up in the cultural taboos imposed by their mother against the African populace that isn’t always welcoming to anyone Indian, whom they feel act privileged and separated from the political and social realities left behind by the British during and since independence.

Among those who feel that way is Jeffery Omondi, a police constable in the Kenyan Police who once joined the force in order to provide for his aging mother in the urban slums he grew up in and idealistically dreamed of cleaning up the corruption within. But now he’s pretty much part of that rotted system and does almost anything to maintain a certain lifestyle from bribery to peddling influence, that makes him emotionally dead inside and his conscience conflicted.

There’s also the sensitive mural artist Michael, Jai’s best friend since his mother used to be the household domestic help as kids and a adult partner-in-crime as they graffiti the city walls at night about the country’s ills that simply can’t be handled by the unwilling political process to improve the democratic institutions.

As they grow up together, Michael and Leena feel a connection that runs deep despite Pooja’s fearful prejudices and neo-colonialist attitudes (ironically) as well as from the Hindi community, while Jai and Raj ever remain the idealists that Kenya belongs to all those born, raised and live there to build a better society, even after the incident that somehow involved Omondi years ago; refuses to create the barriers between them.

Verjee writes of a cosmopolitan Nairobi – where she also was born and raised in – on both sides and all of its characteristics and various characters from hustlers, ambitious student leaders, artisans, crooked cops and party henchmen trying to survive daily living and ethnic rivalries so richly detailed of late-2000s Kenya and more with a flair and certainly has tapped into its pulse to be believable.

It’s a love story about Kenya and of two people done in realistic and grounded terms and doesn’t get too flowery or mushy thankfully for all the obstacles the characters endure in Who Will Catch Us As We Fall’s pages, and yet is uplifting all at once that eventually they’ll be conquered by hope and in faith that human nature will prevail.

EDITION #99 - WEEK OF AUGUST 8-14, 2016

Bourne at the right time

Jason Bourne (Universal)

Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

Director: Paul Greengrass

Producers: Paul Greengrass, Matt Damon, Frank Marshall, Ben Smith, Jeffery M. Weiner and Gregory Goodman

Screenplay: Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse; based on the characters created by Robert Ludlum

Film Review

Like anything else, espionage thrillers have come a long way from the days of invisible ink and trench coats but the tricks of the cloak-and-dagger trade remain the same in regards to intrigue and suspense that Jason Bourne upholds, along with Matt Damon back at the helm of this popular action-spy film franchise to give it some grit, as well as leave something left over.

Nine years after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum – and the relatively good 2012 spin-off The Bourne Legacy – former CIA operative Jason Bourne (Damon) has maintained himself off the grid but still feels troubled over one last chunk of memory that he’s struggled to reconcile with. Then an old associate from his Treadstone days, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), shows up to fill in the missing piece she’s recently hacked from their ex-employers back at Langley.

Still not entirely pleased with all the trouble he created in exposing and dismantling their black ops programs, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Jones) sends in a ruthless agent known only as the Asset (Cassel) to take Bourne out permanently as he criss-crosses the world to find the answers he needs to resolve his demons over his identity and conscience.

Also involved is Heather Lee (Vikander), a young cyber-ops division head who may (or may not) be a credible ally for the rogue agent in stopping Dewey from launching a brand new black ops unit called Ironhand, which involves reluctant metadata tycoon Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) whom he’s strong-arming on to tap into his social media platform Deep Dream; in order to extend the agency’s surveillance on the unsuspecting public.

Co-writer and returning director Paul Greengrass keeps Jason Bourne as taunt and visceral as he has done previously in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum in every scene, as well as throwing in the standard hidden agendas, vendettas and plenty of double crosses for the all the characters involved, as much as it does discusses about personal privacy in the post-Edward Snowden era it eerily brings up in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando and Nice.

Damon is older, wiser but just as directed and intense playing the eponymous anti-James Bond, yet is more angrier at his targets for making him the man that he is and the system he now rebels against to make him the hero we desperately need in these times when democracy is threatened by the ones we’ve entrusted to maintain our freedoms not to be violated.

Jones’ crusty mannerism makes him the ideal main antagonist Dewey corrupted by power and control in the name of national security and not above screwing over anyone getting in his way; Cassel’s cold-hearted assassin who has a serious bone to pick with Bourne is the best and worthiest heavy the series has ever had in years; Vikander displays an icy cool veneer over the underling Lee and her ambitions with Machiavellian designs and Ahmed, Ato Essandoh as Dewey lieutenant Craig Jeffers, Scott Shepard as a cautious intel director and Vinzenz Kiefer’s questionable Berlin hackivist Christian Dassault all do well in their supportive roles.

Jason Bourne fully honours Robert Ludlum’s superspy series and the film franchise for all its set pieces from the anti-government street riots of Athens to its climatic Las Vegas showdowns and the real-world topical issues they contend with on who watches the watchers that watch over us into an incredible and smart adrenaline rush.

Beautifully eclectic Mexico found in LÙZIA

LÙZIA (Cirque du Soleil)

Grand Chapiteau, Port Lands (51 Commissioners Street)

Thursday, July 28; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

Like the running woman artisan who unfurls her Papillion butterfly wings as she opens LÙZIA, Cirque du Soleil does a beautifully eclectic showcase of Mexican culture, flora and fauna unlike ever seen to show that they haven’t lost their touch yet in finding and exploring new themes they bring to the forefront with a brave conviction and dazzling array.

A clownish Eric Fool Koller parachutes and undertakes a surreal, uncharted trip through the Mexican landscape for all of its wonders whenever he’s trying to referee a beach ball through a whistle instrument or his ever elusive search for water. Among the many other acts encountered over its two-hour-plus run, be it the way-tricky and exciting hoop diving on treadmills by a group of hummingbirds meant to symbolize reincarnated Aztec warriors; a swinging lucha libre wrestler going all 360° rotation literally; a tribute spoofing the Golden Age of Mexican cinema via a hand-balancing act by Ugo Laffolay to a couple of footballers Laura Biondo and Aboubacar Troaré doing pok-ta-pok, a Mesoamerican precursor to soccer; from juggling to moonwalking as a ode to their national obsession like hockey is to us Canadians.

Creator/director Daniele Finzi Pasca has mostly outdone himself with this thirty-eighth production of Cirque in maintaining the right balance of myth and modernity since his last outing with the Montréal-based neo-circus with Corteo over a decade ago, is also tinged with a hint of bittersweetness over his co-author/director wife Julie Hamelin Finzi, who passed away during the initial run of LÙZIA this past spring at age 43 from heart disease; which the show is dedicated in her memory to.

No more is the intricate beauty of the show more seen in the indoor water wall they’ve specifically made for this show to create amazing patterns or simply to show the significance of rain in the desert Roue Cyr wheel and trapeze act of Angelica Bongiovonni, Rachel Salzman and Emily Tucker, Benjamin Courtenay on aerial straps or the comic foil to Koller’s antics on occasion. Other highlights include a percussions parade around a decoratively patterned curtain and a puppet jaguar and horse, both serenaded by Majo Cornejo and Aleksei Goloborodko doing the most nimble contortionist act I’ve ever seen from Cirque since Zumanity.

As helped by Eugenio Caballero’s elaborate set and prop designs, the majestic puppets of Max Humphries, Martin LeBrecque’s lighting and exuberant costuming by Giovanna Buzzi to the Simon Carpentier’s lushy soundtrack (see review below), LÙZIA stands out as another masterpiece for Cirque weaving a respectful and colourful dreamscape of Mexico awaiting to exotically deluge the senses.

***

LÙZIA continues through October 16. For tickets and information, call 1-877-924-7783 or visit cirquedusoleil.com/luzia.

Loaded Latin LÙZIA OST

Cirque du Soleil

LÙZIA (Cirque du Soleil Musique/RED Distribution/Sony)

Producers: Ramón Amezcua and Pepe Mogt

Soundtrack/World Music

Album Review

Québécois composer Simon Carpentier embarks on his fourth Cirque du Soleil project with a flourish for LÙZIA with some help from the Tijuana collective known as Botisch+Fussible in doing the remixing of the show tunes involved with the production of traditional mariachi, cumbia and flamenco with the sounds of electronica into a flavourful mix.

Bouncy dancefloor material can be heard about “Así Es La Vida,” “Pez Volador” and the album’s best track “Los Mosquitos;” whereas a dramatic structure keeps “Flores en el Desierto” in check and warped techno trickery grounds “Pambolero” firmly. Show lead singer Majo Cornejo carries her voice on record as well as onstage on selected tracks (“Tiembla La Tierra”), but for the most part Azzul Monraz sings throughout the album diligently in her place.

With the ever-present trumpet and trombone of Jorge “Zorrita” González and accordionists Juan Téllez Zavala and Gerardo Espiricueta to give a Ennio Morricone-like feel to “Tláloc,” the inspired soundtrack is quite flamboyant as it captures that flavour and soul courtesy of the Luis Elorza and Botisch+Fussible’s own studios in Tijuana. It’s danceable and listenable fun.

Cat-tastical Wildings’ conclusion

The Hundred Names of Darkness

by Nilanjana Roy

400 pp., Random House Canada

Softcover, $22.95

Fiction/Fantasy Adventure-Thriller

Book Review

Continuing where she left off with her bestselling cat fantasy The Wildings (click here for previous review), Nilanjana Roy’s neatly wraps it all up in The Hundred Names of Darkness in a dark and dangerous adventure that supersedes the first one in a more expanded and intriguing universe of the unseen world of street animals that isn’t akin to The Secret Life of Pets, but more like the realities seen in Watership Down.

Set about almost several months after the events of The Wildings, life is slowly returning back for the stray cats from the Nizamuddin district of Delhi after the horrendous battle of the Shuttered House with the dark feral feline Datura almost annihilated them all. However, urban renewal by the Bigfeet – the book’s name for humans – in the area is expanding and is threatening the ancient cat clan to the point of going extinct.

Their only hope in getting them out of this potentially looming crisis is the young telepathic Sender, Mara, who’s broadening the extent of her powers yet still has a problem relating to her clan since she’s an indoor cat reluctant to deal with the outside world and other outdoor cats that view her with suspicion like clan leader Katar, with the exceptions of her somewhat troublesome boyfriend, Southpaw and mentor/clan co-leader, Beraal, currently tending to her new litter of kittens.

Her highly-developed powers have attracted the attention of the Circle of Senders, a nationwide network of telepathic cats that communicate via a mind-link; who unexpectedly become her new teachers and allies by instructing her on her duties and obligations of a clan Sender, in particular to Magnificat over in Goa, which at first seems doesn’t to want to fulfill her responsibilities.

That changes with Southpaw getting injured during a hunting raid, then mysteriously vanishing en route from a veterinarian’s visit by her caring Bigfeet and a little humility lesson for Mara when she gets lost in Nizamuddin quite by accident does she understand the scope of life on the harsh streets and her destiny. As well as learning about the Sender heritage she carries upon her whiskers, Mara again becomes a crucial part in saving the clan, with the further help of new friends gained and more dangers lurking on the horizon.

Roy once again taps into the psyche of the cat and the animal world into a plausible story for Hundred Names filled with adventure, thrills and humour guaranteed to leave readers quite satisfied in the outcome with its character-driven arcs and the mystical trips it takes them into with Mara’s abilities to experience the dark as well as the light within her powers. It also sees to a couple of subplots regarding Tooth the cheel’s son Hatch learning to overcome his fear of flying to an overambitious bandicoot rat quest for power that could lead to his undoing complimenting the main story quite adeptly.

The Hundred Names of Darkness is a worthy follow-up to the series and gives its author a more than credible standing in the world of global literary fiction for her first two novels. Would love to see what Roy she will come up with next to add credence to her storytelling prowess she has acquired for herself.

Stunning Silence and a womb with a view

SummerWorks 2016 Reviews

Part 1 of a 2-part series

Osia (Kukua Productions/SummerWorks)

Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst Street

Saturday, August 6; 6:30 p.m.

Playwright Jijo Quayson makes a remarkable debut in her debut work Osia about the perspective of hopes dashed in this drama surrounding a Ghanaian family with a universal concept in a bright and bountiful pace as performed by an enthusiastic cast of characters in a mixture of folklore, music and reality.

In present-day Ghana lives Harmosia (Nicole Nwokolo) – Osia for short – with her mother (Chemika Bennett-Heath) who eagerly awaits for the return of her brother (Paul Ohonsi) from America so they can immigrate there for a better life, while her best friend Bernice (Chiamaka G. Ugwu) likes to keep tabs as much as being the neighbourhood gossip. A preteen with the mind of an eight-year old, Osia is a vivid and rambunctious storyteller who is the light in her mother’s and her smooth-talking uncle’s eyes, who is seemingly flushed with the trappings of success overseas.

However, not all is well as it looks as he gets involved with some shady dealings upon arrival as he brings his storekeeper friend Kwefi (Roshawn Balgrove) into that gets him into hotter and hotter water while constantly making promises he’s unable to keep. Worse of all, some deep dark secrets slowly surface that will shock all they effect and become undone as the veil is lifted to find something completely disturbing about this family.

Director Brad Fraser handles this material that mixes humour and drama of a girl about to be thrown into the adult world a lot sooner than expected and trying to keep her carefully constructed world together in the 90 minutes-long study about broken dreams and ugly truths beneath. The cast performs diligently, especially Nwokolo playing the headstrong if not all sound in mind young girl in her worlds of fantasy and reality conflicting each other; Ohonsi plays it cool as a silver-tongued figure with a nadir personality hidden in the layers and Bennett-Heath’s Mama with a loving soul, if imbued with a tragic naivety, as Balgrove and Ugwu become the unwitting victims and witnesses to this familial discord.

Quayson certainly has great potential to bring Osia into the forefront with a bit more polish for a full production to go on the theatre circuit and for future endeavours onstage as she aims directly at a common theme here on the portrait of souls who learn about the complexities of life.

IN UTERO OUT (Drawing With Knifes experimental shadow puppetry company/SummerWorks)

The Drake Underground, The Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen Street West

Saturday, August 6; 8:30 p.m.

In its 40-minute state of avant-garde, IN UTERO OUT wants to take the viewer back into the womb with a boom through its ethereal musings and large-scale puppets conceptual-wise, but it tends to veer into that otherworldly ether which gets a bit murky and quirky for the uninitiated and lags a bit in reaching certain points in the birthing experience.

Broken into three different stories starting with “Twilight Sleep” of a Francophone centenarian grandmother explaining her origins and childbirth drenched in a hallucinogenic dream-like state; a rural mother of two who surprisingly delivers twin sons in the era before ultrasound came into being in “They just thought it was a boy” and “One of Many” has a expecting transgender lesbian who finds herself conflicted from her own identity issues and the imbalance of emotions she comes to grips with between her biological and adoptive mothers; and in between are the transitional interludes of fluids of amniocentesis and blood intermingling with these themes.

Creators/puppeteers Brescia Nember Reid and bloodbeard have some interesting ideas kicking around and they do their best to bring these things to be aware to what we owe of our very existence in the haunting songs, shadow puppets creations and certainly the visuals and a little humour (ending song “Oh My Placenta” is amusing) does work for the most part including Nic Murr’s technical support.

However, IN UTERO OUT tends to be a bit incoherent in parts, except for the third act “One of Many” having more clarity than the first two; and the illustrative introductory part could have been a bit shorter. It’s really admirable to make recognitions to the First Nations and the primordial analogy between oceanic life and swimming within our mother’s womb, but that’s kind of unnecessarily long even for an experimental theatre piece.

Trophy (STO Union/SummerWorks)

Shaw Park, CAMH Grounds, Queen Street West/Shaw Streets

Saturday, August 6; 10 p.m.

Much like life itself, Trophy kind of defies description or destination it being an ongoing interactive play-cum-art installation where you get to add a bit to what is going on through your mind and life at that point as the five personalities from all walks of life inhabit each semi-translucent tent and for about fifteen minutes or so in the 45-minute production, they describe a moment in their personal lives that have made them or the circumstances around them change, for better or for worse.

In this one-day only production (although for some reason, the creators stated they’ve been onsite at the CAMH Grounds for three days), these five had some tales to tell: living with a boyfriend’s cat from hell and doing the right thing in a emergency situation; an arts administrator who wanted to pursue his passion; the lesbian clown having to be a reluctant underling to a Mexican clowning legend; turning the tables on a unruly neighbour in an example of wielding power and a artist’s believing to be approaching a near-death experience – then writing down on a Mylar sheet of an experience about or near-to theirs afterwards.

Trophy is an interesting human experiment on swapping stories as director/co-creator Sarah Conn puts these into practice about transformation and its positive benefits on how one can overcome personal obstacles to find and/or better themselves (in)directly. It may be off-putting or uncomfortable for some to engage with as some of these stories are outrageous, but it does bring its point across through all these stories can we call relate to at one time or another on the human condition.

A Moment of Silence (Nowadays Theatre/Modern Times Stage Company/SummerWorks)

Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst Street

Sunday, August 7; 9:15 p.m.

Some could wish to sleep away from all the unpleasantries life can bring. But what if doing so made things even worse? For writer/director Mohammad Yaghoubi, the first English language translation for his celebrated play of the turbulence his country underwent in the early days of the Iranian Revolution, A Moment of Silence, is a triumph although a very doleful one at that for a lone woman’s experience and a battle cry for freedom itself.

Awakening in 1980 Tehran, Shiva (Sarah Marchand) finds herself in a empty apartment and phoning for a husband and her brother who have mysteriously disappeared, but soon learns from her sisters Shirin (Parmida Kakavand) and Sheida (Melanie Pyne) much to her shock she’d been asleep for three years and slept through the downfall of the Shah and the rise of the ayatollahs that have permeated all aspects of Iranian life.

Also learning that Sheida had married her husband during her absence just to have a child plunges her back into another deep sleep and awakens in 1983 to a country at war with Iraq and a new shade of paranoia creeps into the life of a playwright Hasti (Lara Arabian) and her husband (Paul Van Dyck) when they become targets of the regime’s crackdown on dissent from the country’s artisans and intellectuals, resisting to be silent or go into exile.

By the time Shiva reawakens in 1987, all are driven to depression by the war and the ongoing crushing of civil liberties that are kept at bay, thanks to Shirin’s cabdriver husband Jimmy (Maxime Robin) with his twisted sense of humour and outlook at life that’d rather be the lighted single candle than to curse the darkness enveloping them. Or, is this all in the mind and pages of Hasti’s script she writes in while she’s being hounded with verbal death threats from the Revolutionary Guard?

Torange Yeghiazarian makes an intelligent translation out of Yaghoubi’s book and characters to follow, slipping in some projected surtitles to fill out the surrealism parts evenly and puts the cast on their toes with its sharp dialogue and fluid direction from drramaturg Matt Jones’ doing. Marchand as the Rip van Winkle trying to make sense of a world she barely can make sense of and looks for a way to keep her sanity from going overboard is brilliant and tragic in her portrayal; Robin keeps it light at the play’s court jester and consumes his role with a flourish; Pyne manages to present selfishness and guilt to be believable and Arabian and Van Dyck make for a loyally fine if somewhat foolhardy artisan couple managing to stick through thick and thin against the odds.

A Moment of Silence is a moving and stunning commentary on an Iran still grappling over the mistakes made in the name of revolutionary zealotry Yaghoubi unabashedly aims with a glaring spotlight at for audiences to ponder over what our basic civil rights should mean to us and defended over in this unflinching human drama.

***

SummerWorks 2016 continues through to Sunday (August 14). For tickets and information, visit summerworks.ca.