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Two international plays inspired by the most terrible of true events are opening in Toronto in the next week – and, to be honest, I’m approaching their media nights with trepidation.
On Friday, Us/Them – a play by the Belgian writer Carly Wijs about the 2004 Beslan, Russia, school siege that left 334 people dead, including 186 children – has its Canadian premiere at the CAA Theatre in Toronto as part of the Off-Mirvish season. Mirvish Productions is bringing in the acclaimed BRONKS production of this show, which played at the National Theatre in London, where it was called “a remarkable, harrowing piece of theatre.”
Then, on Sunday, at the Streetcar Crowsnest, the Necessary Angel theatre company will open (in previews) its new production of The Events, a play by Scottish playwright David Greig inspired by the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway that culminated in an assault at a youth summer camp and left 77 people dead. Alan Dilworth, newly appointed artistic director of Necessary Angel, has put together a cast that includes a couple of wonderful Toronto actors not seen enough on stage recently: Raven Dauda and Kevin Walker.
As a new parent, I now find stories about violence against children more difficult to watch than ever. But I also know that theatre is the space where the unimaginable has been considered since the art form’s origins in ancient Greece – and that some of the most transformative theatre-going experiences of my life have involved artists peeking into the darkest corners of humanity. Look for my reviews of both shows next week.
Other productions opening in Toronto this week: Writer/director Taliesin McEnaney’s Brain Storm, a show about brain injuries explored through historical, personal and metaphysical perspectives; and, at Buddies in Bad Times, Box 4901, in which novelist Brian Francis follows up on a personals ad he placed in 1992, described as “a hilarious, strange, sweet and awkward look back at how gay men used to find one another." Both these shows have been revamped from previous runs at the Toronto Fringe Festival and SummerWorks Festival.
If I could teleport anywhere in the country this week to see just one past Fringe hit being revamped for a full production, however, it would be to Winnipeg to see the world premiere of the new full-length version of Frances Koncan’s comedy Women of the Fur Trade at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (produced in association with the Indigenous Theatre at the National Arts Centre). Though set in “eighteen hundred and something something,” the three women at the centre of Koncan’s irreverent play (running Feb. 26 to March 14) speak in dialogue that’s an unusual mix of period and contemporary as they discuss love and Louis Riel and the fur trade. I knew Koncan was an original theatrical voice from the moment I saw her dramatis personae – which specifies both the background and star sign of each character. (“Louis Riel: Métis Libra.”)
A couple of shows I’ve previously written about are on stage in Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal this week.
Théâtre la Seizième – British Columbia’s foremost French-language theatre company – is presenting a new local adaptation of Le NoShow from Feb. 26 to March 1, with English surtitles. This playful show is about “the cost of theatre and its value as art” and allows the audience to choose their own ticket price; you can pay what you would to enter Butchart Gardens, or to see a Canucks game or … nothing at all.
I saw an early version of Le NoShow at Montreal’s Festival TransAmériques in 2014 and called it a “clever mix of comedy and complaint.”
The Assembly, a piece of verbatim theatre from Annabel Soutar’s Porte Parole company that brings real people together to discuss politics and examine our polarized times, is now at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa until March 7, while the French-language version of the show, L’Assemblée, is at Espace Go in Montreal until March 8 (before heading off on a Quebec tour).
I had a, well, strong reaction to The Assembly when I saw it in Toronto, but that’s kind of the point of the show – which has evolved and, since it includes a participatory segment, is able to incorporate critiques of itself. (I’ve heard that parts of my review have been read aloud at other performances of the show.)
The Assembly has elicited a lot of interest as both a series of shows and as a format. Director Chris Abraham tells me both the English and French versions are headed to a festival in Germany in the spring, and there are brand new chapters of the show in development specifically for Germany, Brazil and Lithuania.