by Colin Thomas
Bob Dylan has written a musical—sort of. Actually Irish playwright Conor McPherson (The Weir) has written a play and put 21 of Dylan’s songs into it. According to critic Dominc Maxwell of The Times: “The result is a show that transports the soul.”
Set in Depression-era Duluth, Minnesota, which is where Dylan grew up, Girl From the North Country unfolds in a struggling guesthouse. The manager’s wife has dementia. His adopted daughter is pregnant.
In Financial Times, Sarah Hemming says that, together, the script and songs, are “original, beautiful and moving, combining the starkness of Steinbeck with haunting lyricism to create something restless, desperate, hopeful and sad.”
Colin Mochrie, who is best known as a star of the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, got his start with the Vancouver TheatreSports League. Now he’s portraying the Fool in Groundling Theatre Productions’ mounting of King Lear, which has been renamed Lear for this occasion, in Toronto.
Seana McKenna joins a succession of women who have taken on the title role. Diane D’Aquila played the troubled monarch for Toronto’s Shakespeare in High Park this summer. And, as an apparently genderless Lear, Glenda Jackson returned to the London stage after a 25-year absence last season. Lest we forget, Vancouver is always ahead of the curve: directed by Jane Heyman, Joy Coghill became Lear in a 1996 production for Women in VIEW.
McKenna’s undone sovereign is female. Martin Morrow notes in The Globe and Mail, “Making her a woman results in a subtle but significant shift in the play’s dynamics. This is now a mother-daughter tragedy… And there’s something especially terrible in the enraged Lear’s blistering curse of sterility upon Goneril when it comes from the mother who gave birth to her.”
“Mochrie acquits himself well as the Fool,” Morrow goes on, “delivering his mordant wit in an innocuous guise that’s just this side of silly. Wearing a large white smock and a coxcomb of red wattles, the lanky comedian reminds you of a giant chicken—all the better to soften the hard truths with which he needles Lear.”
A new service called PlayME is podcasting Canadian plays to earbuds near you—potentially the ones you’ve got stuffed into the sides of your head.
Since Chris Tolley and Laura Mullin, who are co-artistic directors of Expect Theatre, launched PlayME in 2016, they have totted up 500,000 downloads of 10 Canadian plays and several short stories.
According to this article by Kate Taylor in The Globe and Mail, participating theatres “will start recording the podcasts during their final rehearsals of new shows so that they can offer the audio plays to audiences as soon as the physical plays open, hoping the podcast will advertise the show and the theatre—and vice versa.”
The initiative started with smaller companies, but this year’s contributors will include the Tarragon and Factory theatres in Toronto, Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company, Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, and Artistic Fraud in St. John’s.
No Vancouver companies are playing along—so far.
Actor John Cassini, who appeared onstage most recently as the title character in Haberdashery Theatre’s 2016 production of The Motherfucker with the Hat, has received the Ian Caddell Award for Achievement from Vancouver Film Critics Circle.
In this article from YVR Screen Scenes, Cassini talks about how acting was a lifesaver for a kid who had been hanging out with the tough guys in the Christie Pits neighbourhood of Toronto: as an actor, he finally felt seen.
“One of the reasons why I probably was running with the wrong crowd when I was young was we all want to be seen,” he says, “and I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus—my mother was incredible—but my father was a bit of a distant man, rest in peace, and I was acting out. I had not been seen, and when I got into acting, I thought people were seeing me a bit: not just on stage, ‘look at me, look at me,’ but seeing me, because I was working at revealing my true self, and people were seeing that, and acknowledging that.”
The stage has always been part of the picture. After talking himself into acting classes at SFU, Cassini became a member of the Actors Studio in both New York and Los Angeles.
In New York, he studied with legendary acting teacher Julie Bovasso: “She changed my life in her fierceness for the truth.” Partly as a way of paying it forward, Cassini teaches at the Railtown Actors Studio, which he co-owns with Kate Twa.
Hot Brown Honey, which is playing the York until January 27, delivers loud, proud feminist burlesque from Australia. The politics are sometimes sloganeering, but the set and costumes are jaw-dropping. Here’s the full review. And here’s where to get tickets.
The whirlwind of the PuSh Festival will be spinning people into venues all over town until February 4. Here’s the full schedule.
One of the many shows I’m looking forward to is Pi Theatre’s production of David Greig’s The Events, which features Luisa Jojic as a priest who has survived a mass shooting.
Greig wrote The Events in response to Anders Behring Breivik’s violent attacks in 2011. Detonating a car bomb and gunning down participants in a Workers Youth League (AUF) summer camp, Breivik killed 77 people, many of them teenagers, and left 319 injured.
In Greig’s play, Jojic’s character searches for hope and affirmation.
Starting right now, Fresh Sheet will only come out every two weeks. Colin Thomas’s Newsletter, on the other hand, will keep publishing every week, week after week, weekly, week in and week out. So, if you want to keep getting your regular dose of theatre news, sign up here.
Today’s edition of Colin Thomas’s Newsletter kicks off with “How To Become a Black Man” an item about how British racism taught Nigerian-British playwright Inua Ellams, author of The Barber Shop Chronicles, how to “act black.”