People in the performing arts refer, euphemistically, to the “pandemic pause”: the period where venues were shuttered and performances either banned or inadvisable. This tends to conjure thoughts of pause button, which, once pressed a second time, sees things pick up right where they stopped.
If the theatre and its other live cousins, indeed, went through a pause, however, it was more of a Harold Pinter pause: full of menace, of uncertainty; a pause followed by a long tail of anxiety and the possibility that things might never be the same again.
So, it’s really worth celebrating the fact that Canada’s city-based theatre scenes have finally made it through a full fall-to-spring season, for the first time since 2018-2019. The challenges are far from over for many companies and artists, but that’s a huge accomplishment.
On Monday at 10 a.m., Toronto theatre artists will start a well-earned post-season party when the Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations are announced, honouring the best in plays, musicals, opera and dance now back on their regular schedule.
What might Toronto theatre observers expect to find nominated next week? My crystal ball is cloudy these days, but here’s some of what I think we’ll see celebrated.
Chekhov off? It seems entirely possible that two productions of Anton Chekhov might be competing against each other in a number of categories in the Dora’s general theatre division (that one the bigger not-for-profits compete in).
Chris Abraham’s poignant near-perfect fall production of Uncle Vanya at Crow’s Theatre was an early hit with unusual reach; I saw it on a night PK Subban and Nelly Furtado were in attendance.
But certain critics felt director Daniel Brooks’ cheeky and cutthroat production of The Seagull at Soulpepper was even more sublime. A late-season talker, I certainly will be surprised if certain cast members are not nominated – notably Hailey Gillis for her haunting performance as Nina.
New plays all ablaze: The question isn’t which excellent new plays will be nominated in the general theatre division at the Doras, but which excellent new plays will be left out because of an unusually highly competitive line-up of fresh scripts. 2022-2023 was, above all, the season of the Toronto playwright.
Fifteen Dogs at Crow’s Theatre was the biggest hit new play of the year – and deservedly so. Director and adaptor Marie Farsi deserves full credit for shepherding André Alexis’s novel about dogs and gods to the stage so hilariously and powerfully, but may not get it owing to a storytelling approach that kept so much of the Giller-winning novel’s beautiful writing intact. (Ultimately, the Doras don’t matter to this show: It already has a long life lined up on tour starting next season at Montreal’s Segal Centre.)
The Hooves Belong to the Deer by Makram Ayache (a co-production between Tarragon Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times) really won me over with its smart, poetic and ambitious script. So did another Tarragon show: Jeff Ho’s Cockroach, a significant, complex and brave piece of stage writing. Actually, there are several other plays that premiered at Tarragon this season that I would not be surprised to see nominated; Mike Payette’s off to a strong start in his job as artistic director.
Strong contenders elsewhere include Marie Beath Badian’s swoonworthy second-gen romance The Waltz at Factory Theatre and Paolo Santalucia’s wild and funny Rosedale romp Prodigal, which the Howland Company premiered at Crow’s Theatre.
Punching above its weight of late under artistic director Tanisha Taitt is indie theatre company Cahoots: Its fine production of Kanika Ambrose’s our place, a powerful realistic drama about a pair of undocumented workers, is competing in the general division as it’s a co-production with Theatre Passe Muraille.
Bobby Theodore’s tradaptation of Olivier Choinière’s disturbing Public Enemy and Erin Shields’ epic Shakespeare prequel Queen Goneril at Soulpepper are certainly in the conversation, too.
Not much musical theatre: Because of the way the Dora eligibility period was extended last season, there are only five qualifying contenders in the musical theatre division this year. (Broadway hit & Juliet, Talk is Free Theatre’s immersive Sweeney Todd, and Fatuma Adar’s Dixon Road were all considered last time around.)
So expect a ton of nominations for More Entertainment’s new production of Rock of Ages, Bad Hats’ family holiday hit Alice in Wonderland, the Al Purdy song cycle The Shape of Home seen at Crow’s, Musical Stage Company’s RETOLD and Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah.
Short, but sweet runs this week in Toronto
Rising star Fatuma Adar’s comedy-concert hybrid She’s Not Special is at Tarragon Theatre this week, May 24-28.
Wayne & Shuster Live!, a revue of sketches by the classic Canadian comedy duo directed by Paul Bates, is on at Hart house Theatre courtesy of Bygone Theatre, May 25-27. Here’s hoping Rinse the Blood Off My Toga made the cut.
God of Carnage, Christopher Hampton’s hit 2008 translation of French satirist Yasmina Reza’s play about two sets of parents meeting to discuss a playground fight between their children, is getting a new production at the CAA Theatre, May 23-28. It’s from a start-up commercial company called The Toronto Stage Company. (I don’t know why folks in this city keep setting up new theatre outfits with such nebulous names – but break a leg! )
What else is opening this week across the country
Subscribe or Like is a new play by 2018 National Theatre School of Canada playwriting grad Liam Salmon about a couple of young people who attempt to break free of the gig economy by launching an online video channel. Kate Ryan directs at Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre in Edmonton, May 24 to June 11.
First Métis Man of Odesa, a romantic comedy invaded by war, makes its next stop at The Cultch in Vancouver from May 25 to June 4. I reviewed Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova’s play in Toronto earlier this year.
What the Globe and Mail is reviewing this week
I’m off to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., to catch up on the latest news from Narnia in Prince Caspian – and catch the first available-for-review performances of Tom Stoppard’s On the Razzle and the classic Jules Styne/Stephen Sondheim musical, Gypsy. Keep an eye out for reviews.