York stage talent featured in two summer theatre festivals

Summer is festival season in Toronto and theatre lovers are in celebration mode with the recent culmination of the Toronto Fringe Festival and the upcoming excitement of SummerWorks. York University thespians abound in both popular fests.

The Fringe is Toronto’s largest theatre festival and it celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. With over 135 unique productions in more than 25 venues, it hosted over 800 artists from Ontario, Canada and around the world.

Rachel Blair (BA ‘06) penned Wake, which won the 2008 Fringe New Play Contest. This new drama delves into the lives of three brothers who reunite for their father’s funeral after a terrible crime tore them apart. A “five star” production, according to Eye Weekly, it was remounted at the Best of the Fringe showcase at the Diesel Playhouse in mid-July.

Playwright Tony Berto (MFA ‘03) offered up Four Ways ‘Til Rain, which featured recent acting grads Cole Alvis (BFA ‘06) and Justin Darmanin (BFA ‘05) in a cast of six men. They performed the series of interconnected monologues exploring a wide range of gay male attitudes towards sex.

Left: A scene from Four Ways ‘Til Rain with Toronto actors Neil Adams (left) and Graeme Gerrard. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Sky Gilbert (BA ‘77) wrote a one-act play called Ladylike, which starred another playwriting graduate, celebrated transsexual Nina Arsenault (left) (BFA ’96, MFA ‘00), and explores our cultural relationship to femininity. Gilbert and Arsenault wonder “if being masculine means being strong and brave and outspoken, what does it mean to be feminine?”

Gilbert also directed Tyrolia, a play in which five people are trapped in a cabin in the Austrian Alps. Eye Weekly tagged it as one of the “Best of the Fest” and said the production was “cute and clever… this study of love, lust and ideal beauty is thoroughly entertaining.”

Right: A scene from Tyrolia. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Current undergrad Rena Reddie wrote Community Centre, which was directed by Taylor Graham (BA ‘08). In the play, five outcasts from the gym are forced into the dubious comfort of a community centre fitness class and share insights on the female condition.

Victoria Kucher (BA ’08) directed (416) 476-7263, a solo performance that explores the lengths travelled by a once-quiet man, driven by insomnia, to make meaningful connections with the strangers around him.

South of the border, theatre Professor Robert Fothergill’s The Dershowitz Protocol will be produced in the 2008 New York Fringe, Aug. 8-24. This thought-provoking work about torture and terrorism premiered at Toronto’s SummerWorks in 2003 (see YFile, Aug. 5, 2003).

Now in its 18th year, SummerWorks is Canada’s largest juried theatre festival, offering up 42 plays, plus offsite performances, concerts, workshops of plays-in-development, youth activities, and a host of free happenings. Events are concentrated in the Queen West neighbourhood from Aug. 7 to 17.

Mark Cassidy (MFA ’99) directed the premiere production of The Dershowitz Protocol in 2003, and this year in SummerWorks he directs Crush, a three-handed tale of troubled relationships set in an Ontario trailer park.

Left: From the Summerworks play Crush, pictured from left are actors Siobhan Power, Ryan Kelly and Julia Dezotti

York grads comprise the entire team behind Bryan Oliver’s Night Breath, including director Olivia Delachanal (a graduate student) and cast Laura Jayne Nelles (BA ‘84, MFA ‘07), Olivia Olsen (graduate diploma in voice teaching, 2008) and Laurel Paetz (MFA ‘07).The drama takes us into civil war and looks at the lives of people after it is over. During a night of confession and confrontation, three women uncover the truth about a devastating experience that changed their lives forever.

Right: Bryan Oliver’s Night Breath  features, from left, actors Olivia Olsen, Laura Jayne Nelles and Laurel Paetz. Photo by Jon Gal.

Current MFA student Alan Dilworth directs If we were birds, starring Tara Rosling (BFA ‘93) and Rose Cortez (BFA ‘06) in a cast of nine. It is a re-telling of Ovid’s gruesome masterpiece Tereus, Philomela and Procne, the story that inspired Titus Andronicus. Occasionally humorous and always harrowing, Erin Shields’ adaptation features a chorus of ravaged women, each a victim of 20th-century conflicts.

Dawn Nearing (BA ‘06) performs in Arm’s Length, an organic and unpredictable blend of performance and cinematic projection. It is a fantastic tour of love in the imperfect body, using birthmarks as guideposts, emotional bone structures and the history lessons of scar tissue.

Jason Jazrawy (BFA ‘96) stars in Khalida, winner of the 2008 Enbridge Emerging Canadian playRites Award. This bold new work combines a poetic narrative and striking physicality to chronicle one man’s flight from a war-torn homeland. Khalida is a timely and compelling tale of love, loss, and survival.

Rhoma Spencer (MFA ‘01) directs Rendezvous With Home, the tale of two Haitian-Canadian sisters who travel back to their homeland to bury a father they barely knew. Solo performer/creator Djennie Laguerre tells the story through a dazzling combination of traditional Haitian dance, interactive West African storytelling and even a little voodoo.

After his turn on the Fringe stage, Cole Alvis goes behind the scenes to direct The Kente Cloth, a one-handed exploration of identity and the meaning of a name. Only hours before a wedding, the groom is grappling with whether to say “I do” as William Victor Osei-Pearson or Nana Oto Kwabena Adjei.

Left: From The Kente Cloth, Tawiah M’carthy is the lead actor and playwright. Photo by Mary MacDonell.

Theatre Professor Erika Batdorf is the director and dramaturge for Serena Parmar’s Through the Lens, part of SummerWorks’ Youth Reading Series – a program that pairs talented emerging writers with mentors to develop new work. Originally conceived at the One Yellow Rabbit Lab in Calgary, Through the Lens is a physical theatre piece which takes us on a moving and darkly funny journey. The plot follows a reporter trying desperately to put the past behind her, letting her drive to get ahead as a journalist come before all else.