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.

EDITION #84 - WEEK OF APRIL 11-17, 2016

Capitalist comedy takes slapstick route

The Boss (Universal)

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson

Director: Ben Falcone

Producers: Will Farrell, Adam McKay, Chris Hency, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone

Screenplay: Ben Falcone, Steve Mallory and Melissa McCarthy

Film Review

Birthed from a character she created from her stand-up comic days as part of the famed Los Angeles improv and sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings, Melissa McCarthy brings a cutthroat capitalist alter-ego to the big screen in The Boss that strictly follows her brand of raunchy and physical comedy she’s comfortable playing in that gets the laughs, if seemingly a bit too comfortable in not wanting to branch out further like she did in last year’s superspy spoof Spy or her breakout spot in Bridesmaids.

Super-wealthy Chicago businesswoman Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) rides high and lives large on her popularity as well as her super-inflated ego until she’s charged and convicted to six months at a Club Fed penitentiary for insider trading and when she gets out, she’s totally broke, homeless and friendless since she backstabbed her way to the top, including her business rival/ex-lover Renault (Dinklage) and a former mentor (Kathy Bates).

As her last resort, she shows up on the doorsteps of her former harried personal assistant Claire (Bell) and her young daughter Rachel (Anderson) who reluctantly allows her to temporarily stay with them. Getting a great idea after taking Rachel to her Girl Guides-like Dandelions group meeting about their cookie sales, Michelle ups it further with a partnership to sell Claire’s homemade brownies by creating her own quasi-militant group Darnell’s Darlings with tough girls to sell the product and regaining her fortune.

Renault looks for ways to undermine her from making a comeback, plus baggage from Michelle’s past assists the process as she finds herself bonding to Claire and Rachel that proves a little too much for comfort and their enterprise and friendship gets seriously tested to whether the bombastic entrepreneur will return to her old ways.

One has to give credit to McCarthy in trying to introduce female empowerment and independence as a learning tool – if through a corruptive example of a Donald Trump-esque role model– for this film is a hilarious one in its satire on aggressive capitalism, as scripted with Steve Mallory and her director/co-writer husband Ben Falcone. Yet at times it wraps around some sentimentality when it gets to those tender moments feels a little dry and let’s face it, the script rings a little close to that 1980s Shelley Long vehicle, Troop Beverly Hills.

McCarthy is rightly the centre of attention with her profane comedic talent which aims rightly on target, which includes going head-to-head with uptight Dandelions den mother Kristen Schaal; Bell makes a decent straight person as a timid single mother learning to jump into the unknown and gain self-confidence, especially in striking up a relationship with nice guy co-worker Mike, played by Tyler Labine with such sweet sincerity and humour.

Dinklage’s also good as the comic villain here with his love-hate issues over Michelle who isn’t afraid to get physical either, but it’s kind of a shame Bates, tough Darlings recruit Eva Peterson and Parker Young as Renault’s quirky right-hand get little screen time here as they shine well on camera, too. The Boss is formulaic and will reel the McCarthy fans in, just don’t expect to walk away anything deep from it since it’s strictly out for laughs.

Epic play cycle fights a good fight

The Great War: The History of the Village of the Small Huts, 1914-1918 (VideoCabaret/Soulpepper Theatre)

Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane

Saturday, April 9; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

History may seem like a dry and uninteresting subject to some, especially when played out on stage and it’s almost shameful that most Canadians know so little about ourselves and our country. Michael Hollingsworth and Deanne Taylor’s VideoCabaret company makes it come alive and more fun of their 21-part historical seriocomic cycle The History of the Village of the Small Huts with their latest entry about how we came of age as a nation in World War I, The Great War.

Paced like vignettes and character arcs over the course of its two-hour and fifteen minute run with their seven-member cast playing a variety of historical and fictionalized figures, it opens with Prime Minister Robert Borden (David Jensen) who’s more interested in his golf game with his wife Laura (Linda Prystawska) than hearing the news of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo, the powder keg that will soon turn Europe into a bloodbath; and follows England’s lead to enter the fray before too long.

As young men eagerly volunteer to join the army, discourse comes in many forms over the next four years in the corridors of power with the Governor-General Duke of Connaught (Mac Fyfe) being questioned over his German-born wife’s (Aviva Armour Ostroff) loyalties; Opposition Leader Wilfred Laurier (Rick Campbell) quarrelling with media giant Henri Bourassa (Jacob James) about possible conscription and Québécois nationalists refusing to fight an English “imperialist war” to Borden trying to rally the war as a just cause while laying the cornerstone of what will become the first usage of the War Measures Act.

And across the battlefields of Belgium and France, the horrors of war knock the stars out of the conscripts’ eyes as they suffer and die by the thousands under vainglorious British generals – 59,000 dead and 170,000 wounded Canadians by war’s end – and the homefront growing slowly war-weary that will not only establish voting rights for women in Canada, but also a newfound awakening to break away from London rule for Ottawa.

It may seem hard to believe that dry humour and octane drama can come from a history lesson like this, yet writer and co-director Hollingsworth puts in the notable moments of the war and the unknown tidbits in between to amuse and ponder over one of history’s greatest carnages and the human elements involved, which makes his series probably one of the best interpretations of our contemporary history ever put on stage.

Confined within the boxy Tank House Theatre venue, it fully suits its needs of the chalk-white faces of the all brilliant cast playing the multi-roles surrounding the day-glo video projections of Adam Barrett, Brad Harley’s props and drawings, vibrant costumes done by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill under Andrew Dollar’s lighting, as the ethereal score of Brent Snyder weaves its haunting spell throughout.

One hundred years after the start of the “war to end all wars,” VideoCabaret definitely makes The Great War something to see for its satire on the military-industrial complex, Canadian politics and society stand tall amidst the senseless destruction and disillusion out of war itself. Can’t wait to see the company’s boldest feat for next year: four plays that witness the birth of the nation (Confederation, The Red River Rebellion, The Canadian Pacific Scandal and The Saskatchewan Rebellion), all in time for Canada’s sesquicentennial year, so get acquainted with their take on history with this one first.

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The Great War continues through May 14 ; for tickets/information, call 416-866-8666 or visit soulpepper.ca.

One big acrobatic enchilada

Performers give a taste of Cirque du Soleil’s LÙZIA at the April 7th media conference in Montréal before its April 21st world premiere run, coming this summer to Toronto.

Cirque du Soleil brings a dreamlike Mexico to audiences for their latest touring production, LÙZIA.

Theatre Preview

Perhaps it’s just coincidence talking here when the Québec-based circus behemoth Cirque du Soleil has been cutting deals in Mexico of late inspired their 38th production, LÙZIA (pronounced loo-ZEE-ah), what with launching their successful Cancún dinner theatre residency show JOYÀ two years ago and their long-time dream of running a theme park in Nuevo Vallarta set to open in 2018, both courtesy of their partnership with the time-share hotelier/resorts conglomerate Grupo Vidanta. So it should come as no surprise that the show is a cornucopia of Mexican culture rolled up into one big enchilada that their audiences will hopefully take a bite into, as it prepares its premiere run in Montréal April 21st before coming to Toronto this summer.

Getting them to make the weaving of both contemporary, mystical and traditional elements south of the border for a touring show has been left in the hands of an old friend, the Swiss-born theatre master Daniele Finza Pasca who was also behind their recently-retired 2005 masterpiece Corteo, and this time with his wife Julie Hamelin Finzi as co-writer here; of how they describe it in the tagline “where rain predicts the future, and light reveals the truth” with fusing both the Spanish words luz (light) and lluvia (rain) into the show’s title.

Left-right: Dress rehearsal for the Mexican-inspired production, LÙZIA, reunites Corteo creator/director Daniele Finza Pasca with Cirque du Soleil after a decade-long wait.

Among its many inceptions of legends and animals that will banter about is the resilience of its pre-colonial Mesoamerican native populations Pasca found some inspiration of the north-western peoples the Rarámuri, also known as the Tarahumaras; noted for their long-distance fastness on barefoot in one part of the show.

“That’s because we thought of speed as the essential point we wanted to start from,” he explained. “Light of foot, these are the men who run. There may still be a few in Africa, but not many can run non-stop from up to two hundred kilometres [in a day] barefoot or wearing sandals. Here we have humans doing things and making such a great effort that only certain animals – (like) migrating birds – are capable of. But for us on Earth, finding people – or even (land) animals – who can run for so long is unusual. And they get there.”

Design has always been one of Cirque’s greatest strengths in their productions for their performers and in the aesthetic eye. Bringing onboard as the set/props designer to capture the essence of Mexico is Eugenio Caballero, the noted Mexican film designer who won an Academy Award for his work in the 2006 Guillermo del Toro film Pan’s Labyrinth; of everything from the larger-than-life props, including the Aztec Calendar-like disc hovering above the stage to monitor space and time and an actual indoor waterfall curtain representing a cenote – a natural sinkhole, once thought by the Maya as a gateway to the spirit world – among the many challenges he faced in pulling it together.

“The style I’m trying to handle for the nature of the show is not to try to be so realistic,” he said. “I actually made my career in cinema and the cinematographic codes are different from the theatrical. In theatre, there’s a lot of evocation and it’s interesting, the fusion of both languages, but I tend to think creatively as a filmmaker.

“In the show we have some sheets of tinplate that are quite big. One day, I was going crazy with the texture [of the metallic sheets] because what we had tried wasn’t working, but then I saw this (mirror in my bathroom at home) and thought it could be a beautiful thing and we’re actually making some sheets with the same technique of embossed tinplate, which is working very well.”

LÙZIA’s decorative perforated paper-inspired stage curtain depicts and salutes the intricate and painstaking artform of Mexico’s folk artists.

In regard to the elaborate papel picado (decorative perforated paper)-inspired curtain surrounding the stage, Caballero sees this as a tribute to his country’s folk artists. “One of things I connect the most with Mexico is the amazing skill set of the Mexican craftsmen. There’s a very high level of art, of meticulousness [and] of tradition. (Although) that’s what I wanted to show on stage, I didn’t want the images to be too accurate, even though the show will travel all over the world. I didn’t want them to be the ones we usually see in Mexico. Even the use of colour is very moderate. We actually decided to have a mostly blue environment, which gives us the feeling of the theatrical black box.”

He also sees this project, in wanting to meld all these elements that are Mexico’s history and culture, as a natural for Cirque. “What happens in Mexico is that everything really collides like ‘boom!’. It’s like particles really clashing and forming new ones that doesn’t really excludes those (different) things, we include it and make it ours. This mixture that I’m talking (about) – this mestizaje – is reflected in the cast, in the costume design, in the props and in the stage itself.”

New to the Cirque world is Giovanna Buzzi, famous for her design work for operas and theatrical projects in her native Italy and around the world to the closing ceremonies costumes for of the 2006 Turin and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, also both directed by Pasca. Here she’s created 1,115 costumes in reflecting LÙZIA’s anthropomorphic beings in a limited sense, like the Running Woman’s butterfly wings to represent the migratory flight of the Monarchs and hoop-diving hummingbirds, she also drenches them in subtle colour schematics that match the aesthetics of the show’s theme.

Filling in the intensity for its boisterous soundtrack is Cirque veteran composer Simon Carpentier (Wintuk; Zumanity; Banana Spheel) with the Latin Grammy-nominated Tijuana techno duo Bostich+Fussible to give it a dance ambience, as Carpentier himself states in shuttling between Tijuana and Cirque’s home base recording studio with Mexican musicians of the North-South cultures: “You build bridges, and the oldest way you can build bridges is through music. It’s all about communication…you don’t need to speak [the language], you just need to be there and you need to share a little. And all of the sudden, it’s happening.

Left-right: As show composer Simon Carpentier looks on during a dress rehearsal, he allies with young Mexican ingénue Majo Cornejo who is one of LÙZIA’s lead singers in the touring show and popular Tijuana-based techno duo Bostich+Fussible to underlay infectious beats for its soundtrack.

“You start with a rhythm, and then you have a response. You create something bigger than yourself and this is what really drives me,” he says, laughing. “It’s (music) always evolving, that’s the beauty of what we are doing. Creation is never a stable thing; it has to be boiling all the time. When you listen to music, I think the music has to go very fast into the heart.”

Helping out in the production is another old Cirque hand, Patricia Ruel, who’s done other productions earlier in her career as a set designer for variety of their shows like the ongoing Las Vegas residencies “O”, LOVE, KÀ, New York holiday show Wintuk, which ran from 2007 to 2010 and Amaluna, and is now the show’s director of creation.

“What is Mexico for me?” she ponders in perspective and the concept behind LÙZIA. “Well, I fell in love with Mexico before falling in love with a Mexican (husband). So now I am partly a Quebecer, but also a Mexican at heart. The word ‘Mexico’ comes from the Aztec for ‘a place at the centre of the moon lake.’ Cirque du Soleil was named after the sun by (founder) Guy (Laliberté), so the (moon) link between Mexico and Cirque du Soleil is quite like a union of two stars.”

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LÙZIA begins its Toronto engagement beginning July 28 at the Port Lands (51 Commissioners Street). For tickets/information, call 1-877-924-7783 or visit cirquedusoleil.com/luzia.