Season-announcement season continues apace out west, with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg revealing its 2020/2021 lineup on Friday afternoon.
This was a particularly notable season announcement because it marks Kelly Thornton’s first as artistic director of what was Canada’s very first English-language regional theatre. Last summer, the former Nightwood Theatre artistic director took over at MTC from Steven Schipper, who ran that particular ship for an astonishing 30 years.
Thornton’s first kick at the can is an exciting mix of untested with the tried-and-true.
As a critic, I’m naturally more excited about the risky shows than The Sound of Music and The Three Musketeers. Joining those two on the mainstage next season are Burning Mom, a new comedy by Mieko Ouchi based on the true story of her mother’s first trip to Burning Man at age 63; and Children of God, a “must-see” musical (see our 2017 review) set in the residential-school system that had inexplicably not yet toured to Winnipeg (or Toronto).
But most intriguing to see on the mainstage is Calpurnia, a comedy about class, race and To Kill a Mockingbird written by MTC’s associate artistic director Audrey Dwyer, in co-production with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. This is a play that I thought had great potential to be a regional-theatre hit when it premiered in Toronto in 2018, but it needed work. Winnipeg will see a revised version, and that’s just swell. Too often new Canadian plays like this only get one shot then disappear.
The lineup on MTC’s second stage for 2020/2021 looks strong as well, and I’d love to travel out to see Pamela Mala Sinha’s new play, New, a “coming-of-age story of a group of immigrants from India in Winnipeg, 1970.” I was stunned by Sinha’s debut play, Crash, and her second play, Happy Place, has been adapted into a movie that shot this fall.
Both Dwyer and Sinha are theatre artists born in the 'Peg whose careers have mostly played out elsewhere. It’s wonderful that Thornton is repatriating these talents to their hometown.
(An aside: I was born in Winnipeg, too. I grew up mostly in Montreal, but I did spend summers on the Prairies and the entirety of Grade 12 there, during which my part-time job was working front-of-house at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. I changed the toilet-paper rolls in the bathrooms while the first act was on, then sold snacks at intermission. It’s a place close to my heart.)
This is the last week for the 20th edition of the Master Playwright Festival in Winnipeg, incidentally. In fact, it is the last week ever for this MTC-sponsored festival, which began in 2001 with a Samuel Beckett showcase and mixes professional, student and amateur productions.
Thornton felt the concept had run its course, and indeed it had. While I had an enlightening time bingeing on August Strindberg (in 2011) and Michel Tremblay (in 2005), this year the playwright being honoured was William Shakespeare, not exactly neglected on our stages.
This week, there is also an unofficial Hannah Moscovitch festival on in Toronto. Her play Secret Life of a Mother – nominated for best new play at last year’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards – opens in a remount at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, just as her latest play, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, wraps up its run at Tarragon Theatre.
My colleague Martha Schabas reviewed Secret Life of a Mother last season, so I won’t be rereviewing. She wrote then: “There’s a fearlessness and irreverence to Moscovitch’s writing that’s consistently refreshing.”
While it’s rare for a Canadian playwright to have two shows on at two different theatres in a single city at the same time, that’s not it for Moscovitch this week. Her hit indie musical Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story opens this week in Calgary at Alberta Theatre Projects; The Globe has given that show a four-star review.
This week in Toronto, I’ll be headed to see Caroline, or Change, a co-production between Musical Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre. I was impressed by this musical, featuring lyrics by Angels in America’s Tony Kushner, when those two companies first co-produced it at the 200-seat Berkeley Street Theatre in 2012. Now they’ve sized the show up – adding R&B star Jully Black and opera star Measha Brueggergosman to the cast – for the beautiful Winter Garden.
I’ll also be at the Tarragon Theatre to see a new play by Ellie Moon (best known for the verbatim play Asking for It) called This was the World. It’s about “old power and new ideas, academia and decolonization, language and authority.” Sounds spicy.
Look for my reviews of both these plays online later this week.
Stay tuned for a new theatre newsletter launching soon from The Globe and Mail’s critic J. Kelly Nestruck.