Culture & Conversation

The best of SummerWorks

Madam Mao tells the story of JIang Qing, wife of Mao Zedong and head of Gang of Four

Madam Mao tells the story of JIang Qing, wife of Mao Zedong and head of Gang of Four

SummerWorks in Toronto is the largest juried performance festival in Canada. Spread over several venues, it has a Fringe-like quality, but with a more reliable likelihood of quality than the first-come-first served un-juried Fringes.

Since 2008, artistic producer Michael Rubenfeld, a Montreal National Theatre School grad, has increased the quantity and quality of the shows even more.

The majority of the presentations are culled from Ontario, but there is always an important component of Montreal-related content. In 2012, Johanna Nutter’s My Pregnant Brother and Jeremy Taylor’s Big Plans were among the most acclaimed entries.

I managed to see 16 of some 41 juried shows. Here are the seven I enjoyed the most.

Kafka’s Ape Infinitheatre’s creation adapted by Guy Sprung from a Kafka short story. Features Howard Rosenstein’s amazing transformation into a man-ape, performed in the ballroom of the artsy Gladstone Hotel, Toronto’s answer to Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel.

The Container Clare Bayley’s Edinburgh Festival hit. Involves 19 audience members jammed into a metal container with 5 “refugee”actors trying to reach England, as food, water, and tempers grow short. The ultimate in “immersion theatre.”

He Left Quietly National Theatre School teacher Yael Farber’s true story of Duma Kumalo, a young black man wrongfully convicted of murder in South Africa, and on death row for 7 years before a last-minute reprieve. Features bravura performances by Tawiah McCarthy as the young Duma and Conrad Coates as the present-day Duma.

Madam Mao The story of Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong’s wife and head of The Gang Of Four, who was imprisoned after Mao’s death for being the power behind the cultural revolution. Interesting biopic factoids enhanced the whirling dance of Samantha Wan to punctuate Janet Lo’s portrayal of the title character. A collective creation of Lo’s and Wan’s long with Passe Muraillle legend Paul Thompson and director Severn Thompson.

Antigonick McGill classics prof Anne Carson has reworked the legend of AntigoneSophocle’s version of the sister who insisted upon burying her brother has been played over many times and in many places. A few years ago, the McGill Players performed The Three Antigones, wherein his ancient Greek original was contrasted with Anouilh’s French World War II take and Bertol Brecht’s 1948 adaptation. In Carson’s effort, non-speaking Nick wanders about, taking measurements of the 14 strong cast. Not sure of that intent, but fine acting by all, especially Sascha Cole, fresh from the Diary of Anne Frank, in the role of the title character. Recent ex-Montrealers Trent Pardy as her affianced, and Pippa Leslie as a chorus member, are included.

The Good Story Pippa Leslie stars in this true story about a young Canadian lady do-gooder encountering the realities of dealing with the situations on the ground in India. This realization is somewhat reminiscent of Lindsay Wilson’s wonderful Blind set in Africa, which recently played at the MAI.

Thus Spoke… Montreal Groupe Gravel/Lepage, a dance-theatre synthesis popular in Québec and continental Europe and featured in the recent Festival TransAmérique, has now added the rest of Canada (and the USA?) to its sights by developing an English text to house its unique dance style. Performers Frederick Gravel, Frederick Lavallée, Marilyn Perrault and Anne Thériault won a lot of hearts in Toronto.

The SummerWorks juried series included a number of ethnic community oriented shows, including Chicken Grease is Nasty Business, (Afro-American), El Jinite, (Mexican), Maracatu You (Brazilian ), and Paradise Red (Chilean). There were also 13 music acts and 14 Live Art series.

SummerWorks ran August 7-17 in Toronto. Visit their website for more info.

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Byron Toben is a regular Rover theatre reviewer


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