Provocative and promising, York theatre artists are in the spotlight

York’s theatre artists are showcasing their creativity on stages in Toronto and beyond this month.

Hot on the heels of her two-hander Roshni, which played at Theatre Passe Muraille late last year, earning a three-star review in the Toronto Star, Dora Award-winning playwright actor and York alumna Anusree Roy (BA Spec. Hons. ’06) has yet another production poised to take Toronto by storm.

Right: Anusree Roy

Brothel #9 makes its world premiere on Feb. 26, and runs to March 27 at the Factory Theatre, which commissioned the play. It’s billed as a powerful drama about young South Asian woman who leaves her village for a factory job in the big city, only to discover she has been sold to a brothel. Ken Gass, Factory Theatre’s artistic director, hails it as “Anusree Roy’s most mature and provocative work to date.”

As in her previous, critically-acclaimed plays, including Letters to my Grandma and Pyaasa, Roy not only wrote Brothel #9 but also performs in it. Set and costume design is by York theatre Professor Shawn Kerwin. Other York talent associated with the show includes alumni Joanna Barrotta (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘04), who serves as stage manager; Sharon Hann (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘06), head of wardrobe; and Aaron Kelly (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘01), the company’s production manager.

Left: Shawn Kerwin

Tickets are available online or by calling 416-504-9971. Factory Theatre is located at 125 Bathurst Street in Toronto.

Another playwright/performer, recent York theatre graduate Evan Vipond (BA Spec. Hons. ’10), will be showcased in Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s 32nd annual Rhubarb Festival. He is one of four promising artists participating in Buddies’ Young Creators’ Unit, which offers queer artists under the age of 25 the opportunity to create a solo performance under the mentorship of the program’s director, Evalyn Parry.

Vipond’s new work, The Border, is a narrative play about a trans-man crossing into the US from Canada. It explores the struggle for self-identity amid gender stereotypes and societal pressure to assimilate into the mainstream. “It’s about creating new territory rather than trying to fit into a restrictive system,” Vipond said.

Right: Evan Vipond

The Border will be presented Saturday, Feb. 26 at 6pm and Sunday, Feb. 27 at 2:30pm at Buddies’ Tallulah’s Cabaret, 12 Alexander Street in Toronto. Tickets are available at the door and are pay-what-you-can, with admission free for people 25 or under.

Alan Dilworth (BEd ‘96, MFA ‘09) is the director of a groundbreaking collaboration between Theatre Passe Muraille and Canadian Stage. The Middle Place is gripping piece of verbatim theatre crafted from interviews with residents and employees of a Rexdale youth shelter. Akosua Amo Adem (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘09) is one of the five actors who bring to the stage the extraordinary voices of 16 homeless youth, three tireless caseworkers and one outsider in this disquieting, yet humorous and hopeful play. Choreography is by York dance alumna Monica Dottor (BFA Spec. Hons. ’98).

Left: Alan Dilworth

Commissioned by Project Humanity and created by Andrew Kushnir, The Middle Place received rave reviews in its previous incarnations at the 2009 Summerworks Theatre Festival and at Theatre Passe Muraille in fall 2010. Canadian Stage now completes this “rolling opening” with the official premiere production, which opened February 17.

Critical acclaim for this latest iteration of The Middle Place continues unabated. “Theatre just doesn’t come more engaging,” said in its four-star review. The Globe and Mail theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck praised Dilworth’s “striking staging” and Adem’s “fantastically natural” performance: “…she speaks the strangers’ words as if they are straight from her heart and consequently sends an arrow right through yours.”

The show runs to March 12 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, located at 26 Berkeley Street in Toronto. Tickets are available for purchase online or by calling 416-368-3110.

Farther afield, York alumna and Siminovitch Prize-winning director Jillian Keiley (BFA ‘94) is celebrating the success of Oil and Water, the latest creation of her company, Artistic Fraud. The play, written by Robert Chafe, is a theatrical retelling of the true story of Lanier Phillips, the only African American survivor of the shipwreck of the USS Truxton off the coast of Newfoundland in 1942.

Oil and Water was one of four theatre productions on The Globe and Mail’s national “must see” list for 2011, published five weeks before it opened. Praised as “stylish and ingenious” by the St. John’s Telegram, the sold-out show ran February 9 to 20 at LSPU (Longshoremen’s Protective Union) Hall in Keiley’s hometown, St. John’s Nfld.

Right: Jillian Keiley

York theatre Professor Shawn Kerwin designed the production and alumnus Andrew Craig (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘93) was commissioned to compose an a capella score blending traditional Newfoundland folk tunes and African American gospel. Craig, a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer, music director and broadcaster, is equally at home both idioms: his credits include touring internationally as a band member with East Coast alternative rock fiddle sensation Ashley McIsaac and creating, conducting and recording the CBC’s Gemini-nominated Gospel Christmas concert.