Monthly Archives: April 2023

A gay community and an era and two lives, through ten funerals

Jake Tkaczyk and Josh Travnik, as Younger Jack and Young Maurice, in 10 Funerals. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

Occasionally I am watching some fictional characters on stage (or on screen, or in a novel), wondering what’s going to happen to them next. And suddenly I’m astonished to realize that these characters do not even exist outside of the scenes that I am seeing. That happened to me tonight, partway through the performance of 10 Funerals, Darrin Hagen’s new play directed by John Hudson for Shadow Theatre. I wondered about some things between the scenes, and about what was going to happen after the final scenes had played out, and I had totally forgotten that these characters were not real outside of this script – because they felt so real, so believable, so irritating and stubborn, so consistently themselves throughout the 35+ years spanned by the storyline. Which is particularly impressive, because each character is played by two actors alternating. Young Maurice is played by Josh Travnik and Older Maurice is Doug Mertz, and Jake Tkaczyk and Nathan Cuckow play younger and older Jack, respectively.

One fascinating thing about watching this production is working out which young character grows into being which older one, and learning about why. Some mannerisms continue, and some of the couple’s habits and rituals and petty arguments recur. I won’t point them out, because it’s more fun to notice them.

And at the same time we are watching this particular couple through the years of their life together and the various funerals they attend together, we’re seeing the personal effects of various aspects of gay men’s lives through the last 40 years. Not just the community funerals of the early years of the AIDS crisis, but the experiences of leaving small judgemental towns for cities with their own dangers, the various relationships with families-of-origin, the issue of not having a good word to describe what they are to each other, or the legal recognition of their relationship – and also the bars, hookups, drugs, drag queens, music, and style. Oh, the style! – costume designer Leona Brausen has done an amazing job of capturing the changing fashions in clothing, hair, and facial hair over the periods, and illustrating the differences between the characters, even in the understated situations of dressing for funerals.

Parts of this play are sad. Parts of it are horrifyingly illustrative of how the injustices of our lifetime have not all gone away, but we’ve become accustomed to them. But some of the dialogue and physicality is absolutely hilarious. 10 Funerals is playing at the Varscona Theatre until May 14th – including Pay what you can, Two for one, and Safe Sunday performances. Tickets here or at the door.

A Hundred Words for Snow is lovely

Dayna Lea Hoffman in A Hundred Words for Snow. Photo by Epic Photography

I’m not sure what adjectives to use to describe the current Northern Light Theatre production. Because I don’t want to diminish its significance and power if I call it charming, satisfying, thoughtful, or delightful. But it is all of those things, too.

Tatty Hennessy’s script is a more realistic narrative than many of the works Northern Light brings us. Its 15yo narrator (Dayna Lea Hoffman) is Rory, a recently-bereaved 15yo Londoner, relating her experiences and observations in a tone both unique and familiar. After her father’s funeral, she notes the problem of her father’s ashes being in an urn on the kitchen table and her mother being disinclined to do anything about this immediately – so she gets the idea of taking the urn on an adventure that the father, a geography teacher and armchair explorer, had daydreamed about with her and fantasy-planned in a notebook. Of course! She will borrow her mother’s credit card and go scatter the ashes at the North Pole – this makes complete sense to her.

As you should expect from a Northern Light show, brilliantly-executed design elements enhance the narrative. Alison Yanota is credited as production designer, taking care of set, costume, and lighting. Matt Schuurman designed projections on the floor, and Daniela Fernandez was sound designer. Trevor Schmidt directed. The performance is done in the round – I picked a side randomly and did not feel like there was any advantage to being on any side.

The script said some things about grief and about growing up that I am still thinking about. In particular, the concept of trying on grief responses to find what felt appropriate. I also really appreciated that the writer didn’t punish the teenage girl for not thinking things through and for trusting the people she met. As I think I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’m tired of stories where teenage girls (and, by extension, the audience) are “taught a lesson” by having their risk-taking and initiative result in disasters, whether physical, social, sexual, or legal. Rory’s quest didn’t work the way she’d thought it should – but it still worked out.

Northern Light Theatre requires its patrons to wear masks in the Fringe Studio Theatre – and in the performances I’ve attended this season I’ve seen 100% compliance with this. The play runs until Saturday May 6th, and tickets are available here. I recommend it highly.

Calendar full of performance, again

Before the pandemic started, I would often have so many theatre events on my wishlist that I’d have to iterate with my calendar to fit in everything I wanted to see. Like keeping the Fringe energy year-round.

Three years into a more careful and frugal era, I’m looking at a calendar again and thinking about everything I want to see in the next three weeks. I’d love to fit in everything — but this time, I probably won’t. Still, though, it’s worth sharing the exciting list with you, because maybe you’ll want to see the same things. Or different things. Or at least read about plays that you won’t be able to see.

A Hundred Words for Snow – this afternoon I’m going to the matinee of this Northern Light Theatre production. Trevor Schmidt directed and designed this solo to be performed by Dana Lea Hoffman (recently the principal performer in Shadow Theatre’s production of Karen Hines’ All the Little Animals I Have Eaten.) It was written by Tatty Hennessy of the UK. As usual for a Northern Light show, the teaser glimpses of design elements and character on line are intriguing. Tickets here. Masks are required at all performances.

10 Funerals – Shadow Theatre had programmed this new Darrin Hagen play before the pandemic started, and it’s finally going to meet audiences later this week. It’s the story of a gay couple who meet in the 1980s, told through the funerals they attend together through the years, so it documents the milestones in a relationship and in gay culture. I get the impression it’s going to be funny and poignant. Opens Thursday April 27th. Tickets here. Shadow Theatre has adopted Safe Sundays – the matinee performances are limited to 60% house capacity, masks are required, and vaccination is recommended.

The Penelopiad – Walterdale Theatre is tackling this Margaret Atwood play, adaptation of her novel, feminist adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey from the point of view of Penelope, the wife who stays home. An ensemble of 14 performers portrays Penelope and a chorus of her maids, but also portrays all the other characters in her story – her family and household, her suitors, her son, her husband … In this production directed by Kristen M. Finlay, there is original music, and a set design by Joan Hawkins. Opens Wednesday May 3rd. Tickets here. The second Thursday of the run, May 11th, is reduced-capacity night – with about 65% of the seats for sale, this should allow elbow room comfort and improved air quality for audience members.

A Grand Night for SingingFoote in the Door‘s season wraps up with a short run of this Rodgers and Hammerstein 2014 musical revue. Opens Thursday May 11th at Théâtre at La Cité Francophone. Tickets here.

Die-Nasty – this very-long-form improvised soap-opera is continuing last year’s custom of breaking their season into three shorter shows. I saw the first night of the current one, Doctors, and was intrigued by the possibilities of stories in a hospital struggling with budget cuts (re-washing surgical sponges?) and incompetence (leaving the sponges in the patients?) and an administrator (Stephanie Wolfe) planning to take the hospital private. The story runs every Monday night until May 29th at Varscona Theatre. Tickets here.

First Métis Man of Odesa, Prison Dancer, Collider Festival – the Citadel Theatre season wraps up witth a focus on new works celebrating various cultures. Collider is a new-works festival with some workshops and discussions and staged readings. Citadel tickets are here. Collider information is here. Each Citadel production this season has one masks-required performance.

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – Grindstone Theatre’s production of this popular musical is running until at Faculté St-Jean. Tickets here.

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes – Theatre Network opens this Hannah Moskovich play April 25th, with Gianna Vacirca and John Ullyatt. Tickets here.

So, what are you going to watch?