Dan Watson and Christina Serra in Ralph & Lina
Reviewed by James Karas
Toronto’s Theatre Centre makes up in ambition what it may lack in space. It has Three World Premieres, in title and in fact, playing now in its BMO Incubator Space. Success and quality are divided in the black playing area that holds not much more than a couple of dozen spectators.
The first offering is a one-act play that has three creators and three performers (the same people) and one of them, Victor Lukawski, also directs. In addition, Lukawski is the Artistic Director of ZOU Theatre Company, the producer of the play. The other performers/co-creators are Nicolas Di Gaetano and Adam Paolozza. They are not identified by the characters that they portray.
The three actors perform mime, monologues and dialogues in the fast-paced and ruthless world of business. Several people jump out of windows on the 187th floor and there is some Chaplinesque mime. The men in well-pressed shirts and ties are seen in the office, the gym, the elevator and a club in scenes that are not particularly memorable.
There is one scene with a difference. A loud-mouthed executive is haranguing two of his juniors and we hear a bodily noise. The executive announces that he defecated and the other two men unzip his pants, hold up, smell and pass around a large turd.
In another scene, we see a man sitting at his desk. He puts on rubber gloves and wraps his head in pantyhose. He then starts manipulating two desk lamps for several minutes. This may be a modern illustration of the Myth of Sisyphus, as announced in the programme, but it is neither effective nor convincing.
The play may be suffering from two too many “creators” and may have been much better with a single writer. As a satire on the modern business ethos or a commentary on bankers who jump out of windows, most of it was lost on me.
The actors have tough roles to act and they must switch characters swiftly and the play is is a terrific training ground for that.
The second one-acter is Ralph & Lina written by Michele Smith, Dan Watson and Christina Serra. Michele Smith directs Watson and Serra in a production by Ahuri Theatre.
Ralph and Lina are an Italian couple and we see their story from their first meeting in Italy before World War II and into their old age in Canada. It is a story about immigrants, told unconventionally, sometimes poetically and quite entertainingly. We first see Ralph and Lina in old age arguing about breakfast, taking their pills and after some nice theatrical tricks (like raising her into her dress) take us to their youth in Italy.
There are times when the four writers can’t let go of a good joke even if it is past before its best before date. Ralph and Lina are having lunch and she grabs his sandwich and starts eating it voraciously. That is cute and funny but it goes on for simply too long. But it is an entertaining piece that tells its story imaginatively.
Death Married My Daughter boasts four writers, (Michele Smith, Dean Gilmour, Danya Buonastella and Nina Gilmour), two directors (Dean and Michele) and two performers (Nina and Danya). The latter two portray Ophelia and Desdemona and the play speculates about Shakespeare’s famous victims of males would say about men if they came back from the dead.
The play, produced by Play It Again Productions, attempts to mimic the bouffon style of wild, mocking, exaggerated comic acting popularized by Jacques Lecoq. (Both Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith studied at Lecoq’s school in the 1970s).
True to bouffon style, Nina and Danya, have excessive amounts of make-up, wild hairdos and engage in physical comedy and mockery of men. They look as if they escaped from a lunatic asylum. They make snappy and snarky remarks about a large number of world leaders, engage in feminist arguments and in the end have the heads of men skewered and raised in revenge.
There are scenes from several operas including The Ride of the Valkyries, excerpts from Othello and Hamlet together with a sarcastic recitation of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Nina Gilmour and Buonastella show great resilience, energy and joy in their acting. The problem is that the play simply does not work as well as we would like. The play mocks Desdemona and Ophelia the most and that makes their attempted mockery of men and everything else ring hollow.
The writers, creators and directors involved in the three plays are not the only collaborators. The three production companies list Theatre Smith Gilmour and Why Not Theatre as supporters. To its great credit, the Theatre Centre seems to inspire cooperation and collaboration to an extraordinary extent. The appropriately named Incubator Space will no doubt provide us with more and better theatre.
This is fresh, young, ambitious, inventive, innovative and energetic theatre. If it does not always work, so be it. The sum of its virtues is greater than its shortcomings.
THREE WORLD PREMIERES: Business as Usual, Ralph & Lina and Death Married My Daughter opened on April 17 and will play until May 18, 2014 at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West, Toronto. www.theatrecentre.org Tel: 416 538-0988