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Soulpepper artistic director Weyni Mengesha.SUPPLIED

Weyni Mengesha, the in-demand director who runs Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company, got to open a show in front of a full house once again last Thursday, following two years of working on shows that were digital or for limited audiences.

“There were so many audible audience reactions and claps throughout the show,” Mengesha wrote in an e-mail on the weekend, describing the experience. “The excitement of being together again experiencing a story side by side was palpable.”

That excitement wasn’t, alas, in Toronto. Power of Sail, the topical play by Paul Grellong about freedom of speech and safe spaces that Mengesha directed, opened at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

Bryan Cranston, the Tony-winning star of stage and screen, is playing the lead role of a Harvard professor who is a free-speech absolutist in the play – which meant Mengesha’s first major opening since the start of the pandemic rose to the level of international theatre news.

Among those in attendance were Vince Gilligan, creator of the TV series Breaking Bad (which, of course, catapulted Cranston to his current stratosphere of fame), Andy Garcia, James Franco and Katie Couric, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Reading the coverage up here in Toronto, I couldn’t help but be a little depressed that such an event remains illegal up here. In Ontario, theatres like Soulpepper are still not permitted to have full capacity audiences until March 1 – even though capacity restrictions on cinemas and restaurants and bars have been lifted.

I don’t really have it in me to get angry about the inconsistencies and unfairness any more; I am just praying that the era of sudden theatre shutdowns is truly coming to an end in one week’s time and we can start seeing large-scale work directed by Canadians, you know, in Canada again.

Back to Cranston: An electric, versatile performer (as those who’ve followed his TV career know), he’s spoken highly of Mengesha (”fabulous”) in interviews promoting Power of Sail. Any chance she might be able to lure him up to Toronto to perform, perhaps at Soulpepper?

Mengesha did not rule out the possibility. “I loved every moment working with him,” she wrote. “He is a wonderful collaborator – a brave and passionate artist that gives everything he’s got. It was a true pleasure and I look forward to the chance to do it again.”

Canadians will get a chance to see Mengesha’s work on stage in Canada next in April. Her production of Pipeline by Dominique Morisseau will be the show that re-opens Soulpepper in earnest then.

I keep getting Google alerts from Los Angeles and surrounding area lately: There seems to be a small Canadian theatrical convention in California right now.

Last week, Paul Alexander Nolan, the former Stratford Festival star who’s been in demand in the United States for a decade now, opened in Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles as well. Toronto’s Outside the March Theatre Company is set to open Lessons in Temperament to the La Jolla Playhouse this April as part of the Without Walls Festival; La Bulle, from Toronto’s Corpus Dance Projects, is also a part of that festival.

I recently spoke briefly with Crow’s Theatre artistic director Chris Abraham from Kaunas, Lithuania, where he is directing a new Lithuanian version of Porte Parole’s hot-button play about polarization, The Assembly. Anyone else feeling like there’s a creative brain drain out of Ontario as the province has lagged behind much of the country and most of the world in opening up theatres?

Ottawans, now that you’ve been liberated, give yourself over to the Blissful State of Surrender.

That’s the name of the new dramatic comedy that the Great Canadian Theatre Company is presenting this week. Written by Sanita Fejzic, it concerns a Bosnian-Canadian family and their secrets. It opens tonight and runs to March 6. Here’s hoping audiences in the capital get out and support their doubly afflicted arts organizations.

Much has been made of the so-called cancellation of the pioneering queer playwright Sky Gilbert, a topic that’s resurfaced on social media of late as Buddies in Bad Times, the Toronto theatre company he co-founded, went about rebooting its board and general manager at the same time.

Well, Gilbert is back on stage this week with a new play – more quickly than most Canadians playwrights who have had shows literally cancelled owing to the pandemic.

Pat and Skee, Gilbert’s new play, inspired by his parent’s divorce and in which he will co-star, is at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, from Feb. 25 to March 10.

Theatre Aquarius is also opening Farren Timoteo’s Made in Italy this week (running Feb. 23 to March 12). Daryl Cloran’s production of this 1970s-set play about a second-generation Italian teen struggling to find his place in Jasper, Alta., was supposed to first play at the Arts Club in Vancouver earlier this year, but, rescheduled because of Omicron, it will now play there second from March 17 to April 17.

With capacity limits lifted in British Columbia, theatre is indeed exploding on Canada’s West Coast. Critic and commentator Jerry Wasserman wrote this week that he’s counted more than 30 live shows playing between now and the first week of April in Vancouver and surrounding area alone.

There are several well-known Canadian plays opening this week there: Kim’s Convenience, the Ins Choi comedy that led to his long-running TV series, at the Arts Club (Feb. 27 to March 27); Beautiful Man, Erin Shields’s ferocious critique of the golden age of TV, at Pi Theatre (Feb. 24 to March 5); and Mary’s Wedding, Stephen Massicotte’s perennially produced First World War two-hander, is on at the Firehall Arts Centre (Feb. 25 to March 13).

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