It’s time to shine a spotlight on the good news from the Toronto theatre season.
At the end of a 12-month period overshadowed by shocking allegations of sexual misconduct at Soulpepper, those theatre reviewers that remain in this city gathered on Monday night to vote on the 2018 Toronto Theatre Critics Awards (TTCAs).
And the record 4.5 hours it took to pick the winners made clear that − even aside from the off-stage #MeToo dramas − the 2017-18 theatre season was one for the books.
Everywhere, it seemed, plays and musicals were getting four-star reviews, selling out or extending their runs − and deservedly so.
Fun Home, the latest and largest undertaking yet from the indispensable Musical Stage Company, picked up the most TTCAs. Its Off-Mirvish production of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s Tony winner was named best production of a musical − and won three other gongs.
Robert McQueen was deemed best director of a musical for his work on the moving show, based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s memoir, about coming out of the closet just months before her father took his own life.
In a break with past practice, Fun Home’s Hannah Levinson, Sara Farb and Laura Condlln were collectively named best actress in a musical by the unusually indecisive critics; these three actors worked together to play the lead character of Alison, portraying her as a child, a university student and in middle age, respectively.
That left the TTCA for best supporting actress in a musical open for a fourth Fun Home performer: Cynthia Dale, the past and future Street Legal star, who played Alison’s mother.
A smaller two-person musical surprisingly swept the rest of the musical-theatre categories. Mr. Shi and His Lover, Wong Teng Chi and Njo Kong Kie’s philosophical opera − performed in Mandarin with English surtitles and based on the real-life tale of a French diplomat who fell in love with a Peking opera performer without knowing he was a man (or a spy) − was named the best new musical of the year.
Jordan Cheng won best actor for his riveting portrayal of the gender-bending Shi Pei Pu, while Derek Kwan was named best supporting actor for his performance as duped diplomat Boursicot in the show, which was part of the Tarragon Theatre season and an international collaboration between Macau Experimental Theatre, Music Picnic and Point View Art Association.
In the play categories, the TTCA competition was even fiercer. Indeed, the quality of the new writing this year made it too hard for the critics to settle on a single script to honour as the best Canadian play of the season.
Instead, Bunny, playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s drama about a young woman’s struggle with her sexual desire, will split the prize with Bears, Alberta-based Matthew MacKenzie’s inventively staged monologue about a man on the lam in the Western Canadian wilderness.
Former Shaw Festival artistic director Jackie Maxwell’s production of The Humans at Canadian Stage was named best production of a play, however − with Stephen Karam’s script also named the best international play of the season.
The Humans and Bunny and Bears, oh my!
Outside the March and The Company Theatre’s hit, critically acclaimed production of Jerusalem at Crow’s Theatre, starring Kim Coates of Sons of Anarchy fame, eked out a single win: Nick Blais (sets), Lindsay Dagger Junkin (costumes), Andre du Toit (lighting) and Richard Feren (music and sound) share the award for best design.
The acting awards, meanwhile, were split between four other shows.
Lovell Adams-Gray was named best actor in a play for his show-stopping turn as the troubled trumpet player Levee in the August Wilson classic Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom − which was just extended at Soulpepper to June 9. Best supporting actor in a play went to Maxwell Haynes for his sweet, heart-rending turn in Annie Baker’s future classic The Aliens at Coal Mine Theatre.
Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory was named best actress for her performance in Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools − which included a Greenlandic mask dance that was unlike anything previously seen on stage at co-producers Buddies in Bad Times or Theatre Passe Muraille.
Carolyn Fe, meanwhile, was named best supporting actress for her quiet and piercing performance as the maid Precy in Calpurnia, Audrey Dwyer’s new satire premiered by Nightwood Theatre and Sulong Theatre.
Best direction of a play was perhaps the most hotly contested category − and the critics ended up splitting the prize between Erin Brubacher (for Kiinalik) and Jani Lauzon (for The Monument at Factory Theatre).
Finally, Bob Nasmith, the 74-year-old actor who was brilliant in a sold-out production of Krapp’s Last Tape at Theatre Passe Muraille this winter, is getting a special citation from the critics. Nasmith, who still does drywalling and plastering between gigs, is being honoured for his “untraditional, decades-long theatre career and his spirit of adventure and enquiry.”
Founded in 2011, the Toronto Theatre Critics Awards are voted on by a group of critics, including this one, from The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and Now magazine as well as online outlets such as the Slotkin Letter and Stage Door. Winners will be honoured in a ceremony at the Robert Gill Theatre on June 18, sponsored by the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies.