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 #87 - WEEK OF MAY 2-8, 2016

Star Wars parody a couple of parsecs off

One-Man Star Wars Trilogy (Starvox Entertainment)

Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front Street East

Wednesday, April 27; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

Over a decade ago, I saw Charles Ross’ One-Man Star Wars down at Harbourfront and was enthralled with the writer/actor’s comedic take on the beloved George Lucas universe. In the long, long-awaited return engagement of its recent run of this sanctioned parody of that galaxy far, far away, I was just as anxious to see this unfold again in a larger venue and somehow, it’s kind of lost its magic this time around.

Mind you, I’m a huge Star Wars fan and the franchise’s resurrection from last year’s The Force Awakens has increased its popularity – not that it ever waned to begin with – and trying to compact all three films of the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) by packing the major highlights from them into 90 minutes is no easy task. And bless him, Ross has the courage and stamina to pull it off, not to mention his interaction with the audience whenever he adlibs with puns and snatches from the prequel trilogy and Force Awakens into it.

The main sticking point is that it feels like you’re watching all of this in fast forward mode and if you’re not familiar with the saga, you’ll be lost in some of the rapid-fire dialogue. Most of the time he’s humming John Williams’ score and themes from the films from its epic battles and incredible space heroics that feels like unnecessary filler, which I certainly don’t remember before.

But it’s not to say it isn’t fun watching a grown person in what is pretty much child’s play in recreating the series, where he does some good impersonations of Yoda, Darth Vader, Jabba the Hutt and Emperor Palpatine. While it would virtually be impossible to do it all word-per-word which is understandable for the rushed approach here (and perhaps some copyright laws Ross can’t stray from), so it’ll appeal to the Star Wars crowd out there willing to laugh at the space-fantasy opera and its place in popular culture.

anthony goes matriarchal

‘da Kink in My Hair creator trey anthony returns with her newest play How Black Mothers Say I Love You

Theatre Preview

She made us and the whole world aware about African hair with her highly successful stage musical-comedy (and its shortly-lived television adaptation) ‘da Kink in My Hair back in 2001 and now playwright/actor/motivational speaker trey anthony world premieres her latest work How Black Mothers Say I Love You in Toronto (May 7), dealing with the separation of African-Caribbean women from their families to work elsewhere, while at the same time touching base on mother-daughter relationships. The playwright gave a phone interview from her home in Atlanta to discuss How Black Mothers Say I Love You, her reasons for relocating to the United States after several years in Toronto theatre and the status of African-Canadian theatre today.

What prompted you to write this play?

I started to write it when my grandmother got cancer and she was ill, so I began writing the piece ‘cause I wanted to really speak to her about the regrets that she had in her life. And one of the things that she mentioned, and she had a lot of them; was leaving my mother back in Jamaica for six years and she went to England (to work). So I decided to start to write the piece as a love letter to her about the regrets that she had about them, being a mother who had to leave her children behind.

Do you feel that the legacy of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism has played on why African-Caribbean women are (sometimes) forced to make a choice in becoming domestic labour in North America and Europe?

Oh, definitely! I think we cannot take a look at the choices that these women make and not see how most of these decisions are based on economical decisions, right? And colonialism definitely affected that these women had to make these choices because those resources weren’t available in their homes for them to take care of their children efficiently, so then a lot of women then were forced to make those decisions, yes.

Back in 1988, there was a Genie Award-winning film Milk and Honey that basically ran on the same themes of a West Indian single mother who sacrifices the care of her own child to take care of another woman’s children. Do you see any similarities to this play to that one?

I’ve never saw that film. I have heard of it, but I haven’t seen it, to tell you the truth. (The film) sounds very similar, but I guess that’s the only thing. There are several original ideas [in the play], and I’m sure that the theme of black Caribbean women leaving their children is so prevalent I’m sure a lot of people have thought about maybe exploring the idea in different art forms.

It’s been about fifteen years since ‘da Kink in My Hair brought you worldwide attention. Do you feel that it’s been helpful or has changed for the African-Canadian theatre scene since that time?

Sadly, I don’t think there’s been much progress or as much progress as it really should be. As successful as ‘da Kink was, even for myself, in trying to get the play produced I went to five different theatre companies in Toronto trying to get it produced and none of them wanted to add it to their season(s). I had to independently produce (it) myself, so I think there’s definitely a lack of openness to creating black-themed work and producing them, so we have a long way to go. Yes, I think ‘da Kink opened some doors, but I still think that we got a lot of progress left to make in Canada around [bringing racial] diversity into the theatre industry.

I’ve read once that you’re scaling down your presence in theatre circles awhile back. Is this leading to eventual retirement and is Black Mothers your swan song?

(Laughs) Oh, no! What I’m doing currently is that I’m scaling down my presence maybe in Canada and moving my branch to the U.S.. I’ve been doing a lot of projects and work in Atlanta and that’s where I’m mostly based at [these days]. I’ve also been doing a lot of public speaking and wellness, which has been a big interest for me. Theatre will always be, like my biggest love. But I am definitely doing more work in the U.S. versus Canada, so maybe that was what was portrayed in those interviews, but I’m definitely far from retirement and still quite young! (laughs) So I don’t think I’m retiring yet.

Do you feel that the American market is a bit bigger than the Canadian one?

I think there’s a lot more openness to diverse work in the U.S., especially black work. Let me give you such an example: I went down to the U.S. to shop Black Mothers and in less than two months of being down there, I had a workshop production of it, I’ve had three theatre (companies) asking to produce it in their seasons (and) I’ve been offered two playwright residencies, so it’s been just the opportunities (here) that I have not been given in Canada. So it made me question like, why do I continue to work in a place where I’m always trying to get my work done? Whereas in the U.S., it’s much more open and welcoming to my work, to my voice and to my talent.

Are you looking forward to How Black Mothers Say I Love You will be received here in Toronto?

I really am. I’ve workshopped it twice here and people really loved it, they’ve responded very favourably to the piece. And I think it’s a very timely piece, I think a lot of us from Caribbean backgrounds can relate to the piece and we’re really excited about seeing ourselves onstage. I think it’s not very often that we get to tell stories from our vantage point and so I know that the play will be very well received here and people are excited.

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How Black Mothers Say I Love You runs in Toronto May 5-15 at Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). For tickets/information, call 416-504-9971 or visit factorytheatre.ca.

Superb superhero smackdown

Captain America: Civil War (Marvel Studios/Walt Disney)

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

Producer: Kevin Feige

Screenplay: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; based on the Mark Millar graphic novel and characters by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Film Review

As last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and more recently Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice had demonstrated, you can have way too much of a good thing when you’re trying to best yourself by unnecessarily going over the top in the process. For Captain America: Civil War, it grounds the superhero ensemble film back with a heavily structured script uncluttered from the aforementioned films with some serious food for thought to ponder over without skipping the thrills or fun.

Picking up after the events of Ultron, the Avengers team is brought onto the carpet after a mission in Lagos, Nigeria led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Evans) with Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Johansson), Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) while successful in deterring a theft of a deadly bio-weapon, ends up with some serious collateral damage.

Headed by Secretary of Defence Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) and sanctioned by Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Downey Jr.), they’re about to be regulated by a United Nations accord in order to monitor and control their actions, bringing division amongst the team members. Just as the agreement is about to be signed at a Vienna conference, a terrorist bomb goes off and it’s pinned on the former HYDRA operative Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes (Stan), still recovering from his brainwashed state.

Believing his reformed childhood friend to be innocent, Rogers goes out of his way to protect Bucky from the authorities, his comrades and the vengeful talons of newcomer African superhero Prince T’Challa a.k.a. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), whose diplomat regal father was killed in the Vienna attack. The stakes get upped when those siding with the Captain versus those with Iron Man on whether the former questions the policing methods leading the restriction of freedoms outweigh the latter’s need for security against the very forces that threat them come to blows, all being manipulated by one Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) with his own personal agenda at play.

Director brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who also helmed Captain America: The Winter Soldier; do a excellent job again in balancing the drama, humour and action in getting their sequences together from screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely who’ve adapted Mark Millar’s 2006-2007 masterpiece comic book series/graphic novel born out from the wake of 9/11 that questioned what price for peace during the so-called War on Terror with competence and believability that even superheroes can do wrong for the right reasons. The themes of revenge, loyalty and familial discord loom heaviest but evenly distributed by the filmmakers, which is fair to say at this point, makes Civil War the strongest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far.

Both Evans and Downey Jr. have come a long way in creating some complexities not only in their characters as the film’s leaders here, as much as they’ve done for the relationship that teeters on the edge for the once-dutiful super-solider who’d never questioned authority before against the billionaire playboy tech genius that contravened every rule in the book but now weighted by guilt, yet still cocksure with his zippy comebacks that amuse throughout.

Johansson sits on the fence between the two sides in this family feud is an interesting aspect here as is Stan as the ex-villain who’s unsure he’s completely free from HYDRA’s control, while Boseman makes a great debut as the Black Panther (can’t wait for the solo film come 2018) of carrying the conflict of learning to dispense reason as the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda over wanting to avenge his wizen father’s senseless death. Also in bit parts is Jeremy Renner as master archer Hawkeye brought in from retirement, Don Cheadle as Stark’s old buddy James Rhodes/War Machine, Paul Bettany voicing the android Vision by blending a sense of Star Trek’s Data’s naivety and intelligence with wonder to be the other voice of reason with Black Widow, along with Paul Rudd as Ant-Man to add a little comic relief and Emily VanCamp as CIA agent Sharon Carter as a ally and possible love interest with Evan’s Cap.

And yes, oh yes, Tom Holland is definitely perfect as the latest actor to step into the Spider-Man/Peter Parker role since Tobey Maguire with that gee-whiz youthful innocence, wit and heroism for the future reboot of that franchise, not to mention Marisa Tomei looking to be the hottest Aunt May ever to hit the screen.

Among the onslaught of superhero films to come out this year, Captain America: Civil War stands out as a frontrunner while still preserving some questions for future MCU films that leaves one wanting more to come with this type of calibre filmmaking to tap the surface of timely and topical subjects sorely needed for discussion long after you leave the cinema.

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Captain America: Civil War opens in cinemas across North America on May 6.