Skin Flick by Norm Foster: Book Review

Skin Flick

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 112
Publish date: March 13, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

Middle-aged couple Daphne and Rollie and their friend Alex are out of work and out of luck when they get the idea to make their own porno film for some quick cash. The only problem is none of them want to star in it. As if on cue, a birthday telegram messenger arrives on their doorstep…

Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

I wasn’t sure what the tone of this play was going to be when I picked it up, but as soon as I started reading, I could not stop chuckling to myself. Rollie narrates the story to the audience directly, telling the story of how their idea to make a porn film came to be, and these narration often influence the characters acting out the story. Rollie decides to censor their language, and the characters become aware of the fact that their “F-words” get bleeped out. He also changes details mid-story and they get confused as to why they’re saying one thing when they wanted to say another. I thought the narration and breaking the fourth wall was extremely clever and entertaining.

I also enjoyed how dynamic and fun the characters were to read. I didn’t feel like any of them were particularly flat or conventional, which was refreshing for a comedy. And on a bit of a deeper level, I really liked the way the play addressed the topic of sex. Each character had their own viewpoint that wasn’t right or wrong. Sex wasn’t just meaningful, and it wasn’t just a meaningless act.  It was dependent on the situation and the individuals involved, and I thought that was a really great approach to the topic.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

Honestly, there wasn’t any part of reading this play that I didn’t enjoy. The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 is because I wasn’t totally blown away (pun intended?). It was funny and I had a great time imagining the staging of this production, but it isn’t going to go down as one of my all-time favourites. And that is what a 5-star rating is reserved for, in my books.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You’re looking for a great, live comedy;
  • You’re open to learning about various opinions on sex;
  • You have an hour to kill and want to laugh.

Skin Flick is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Huff & Stitch by Cliff Cardinal: Book Review

Huff & Stitch

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 112
Publish date: March 27, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

Huff is the wrenching, yet darkly comic tale of Wind and his brothers, caught in a torrent of solvent abuse and struggling to cope with the death of their mother.

Wind’s fantastic dream world bleeds into his haunting reality, as he’s preyed on by the Trickster through the hallways at school, the abandoned motel he loves more than home, and his own fragile psyche.

-from Native Earth Performing Arts

Kylie Grandview, single mom, and one of the nameless faces that blip across the screens of internet pornography is seduced by her dreams of starring in a main stream movie. In a twisted, turning series of self-sabotaging decisions ultimately resulting in the loss of her child, Stitch is Kylie’s last ditch effort to tell the truth about what happened to her face.

-from Native Earth Performing Arts

WHAT I LIKED

I’ll say right off the bat, I enjoyed reading Stitch more than I enjoyed reading Huff. They evened out to four stars because one earned 3 stars from me, while the other was a 5. Both plays utilized the idea of characters that were personifications of things (in Huff, a character represented smell, while in Stitch, there was a character representing a yeast infection – yup). Which I really liked – I love that theatre has the ability to make visual things that typically aren’t visually accessible.

I found that Stitch was a more interesting read for me, because it addressed a lot of feminism and gender issues. It was really disturbing to think about Kylie’s daughter stumbling upon the porn starring her mother and even reenacting the scenes with her friends, but it also made me feel sad that women kind of fall into the expectation that their worth is dependent on their appearance and their sex appeal. There are many more things I could write about regarding this play, but for now I’ll leave it at this: if you’re interested in reading about women’s issues, this is a great read.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I don’t think I particularly didn’t like anything about either play, I just don’t think I related much with Huff, so I felt more disconnected reading that one. I think I’d like to see it on stage before coming up with a final opinion on the play.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You like reading theatre; and
  • You can stomach reading disturbing scenes.

Huff & Stitch is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Black Dog: 4 vs the Wrld by Matthew Heiti: Book Review

Black Dog: 4 vs the wrld

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 112
Publish date: March 14, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

A darkly comic story of four teenagers struggling with death, depression, and the shadow of a black dog.

Two is fraught. While dealing with the impossible expectations of her parents, she is trying to understand why her brother has taken his own life. It’s not until a fateful school detention that she meets three other students as lost as she is.

-from Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

I loved the fact that this play breaks the fourth wall. Heiti doesn’t invite the audience to think about mental illness, but forces them to. The play begins with the cast members in the audience. People who suffer mental illness aren’t “those people over there”, they’re everyone and anyone. The characters don’t even have names: they’re Two, Three, Four, and Five. It allows the reader to relate to them, rather than distancing them with a name that isn’t their own.

I’m sorry, when I read theatre, I automatically go into “essay” mode. Because to me, theatre is just smart and much more fun to analyze. Which I definitely did the entire time I was reading this piece.

I loved the realism of the characters. I loved the way that Heiti incorporated technology and the screen into the play; I thought that was particularly interesting.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

My only complaint is my usual complaint about what happens when I read theatre: it was too short. I wish I could have seen a production of the play to see how it was interpreted from page to stage, but I guess reading it gave me the freedom to come up with my own ideas of what this story looks like.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You liked The Breakfast Club;
  • You like literature that breaks the fourth wall; or
  • You are interested in stories about characters who have to overcome intense internal struggles.

Black Dog: 4 vs the Wrld is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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You Are Happy by Rebecca Deraspe: Book Review

You Are Happy

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 128
Publish date: October 11, 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

SUMMARY

Bridget finds her brother Jeremy in a closet attempting suicide. Again. Determined to help him find some kind of happiness, she searches grocery stores looking for his potential wife, which affirms what she already thinks: there are couples practically everywhere. Eventually she meets Chloe, and her plans to stage a happily-ever-after are finally set.

-from Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

You Are Happy was the first piece I’ve read in a while that blatantly makes a statement. It was honestly really dark, but I just kept laughing at the absurdity of it all – the absurdity that I realize surrounds us, but we take for granted as normal. There are not couples everywhere. Being in a relationship isn’t the one thing that will save you from being depressed. It won’t change your life and give you purpose. But that is the premise of this play.

I also laughed at how fast Jeremy and Chloe fall for each other. Bridget just decides that the two of them should be together, and immediately, they just are. As though deciding to be together equates to falling in love. It was uncomfortable to see how the couple goes from just having met to full-blown long-term relationship in a matter of seconds. I loved the comment on how our society expects relationships to be one thing, when really a partnership should be built on the two personalities involved.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I loved everything. If I had one complaint, I’d say I wish it was longer. I wish I could see it on stage.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You enjoy satires;
  • You want to read something short but powerful;
  • You don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy.

You Are Happy is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Waiting Room by Diane Flacks: Play Review

Waiting Room

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 128
Publish date: March 14, 2017
Rating: ★★★

SUMMARY

Chrissie and Jeremy have spent a great deal of time waiting—for news of their baby daughter’s post-operation recovery, for weekly scans to show that her tumor is gone, for forty-five-second updates from Dr. Malloy, their brilliant but arrogant pediatric neuro-oncologist. The hospital waiting room has become a second home where they constantly struggle with a series of difficult decisions.

-From Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

Oh, how I have missed reading plays. I love that I can imagine this being acted on a stage; in a lot of ways, that makes the story even more real to me. Waiting Room is dramatic and makes me feel like I’m reading an episode of House, honestly. The play similarly addresses issues about the philosophy of medicine and how the doctors look at a patient, vs. the concerns of the patient’s loved ones.

The play sort of hit home for me, because I’ve been through a sort of similar experience recently. Sitting in a waiting room, hoping someone I loved would be okay. As much as you want to stay logical and follow the issue from the doctor’s standpoint, you’re being emotionally tortured as you sit and wait tirelessly for an answer to the nagging question. Will they be okay? Will they be okay? Will they be okay? The medical jargon doesn’t make it easier to deal with. And Flacks really captured the struggle with this family.

As a side note, I love reading Canadian content, because it feels even closer to home for me. I love being able to read about a character saying something like, “Going to Tims – do you want anything?” just because I’m pretty sure it’s a thing every Canadian has said at least once in their lives and it adds to that realism, for me.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I feel like it would have been better to watch this play rather than to read it. There was a lot of medical jargon and there were parts I was just sort of pushing through to get to the more emotional stuff. But I guess that’s the situation with most plays – they’re meant to be watched.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You like watching medical dramas (like House);
  • You want to support Canadian playwrights .

Waiting Room is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Disenchanted Tour: Theatre Review

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I accepted my friend’s invitation to join her in seeing a musical that was touring to Toronto called Disenchanted. I was expecting something like Disney Princesses gone wrong, or an adult take on our childhood favourites – something you really don’t want to bring you kids to – but what I got was a whole lot more.

Disenchanted is a very self-aware show hosted by Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, who are all simply tired of living in the Princess Complex – a world where they’ve been written by men, so all they really have is big boobs and the dream to get married to a handsome prince.

Each of your favourite Disney princesses will make an appearance in this show and sing their story to you in a way you’ve never thought of that story before. Cinderella just wants to eat something, but princesses are trained not to eat. Rapunzel sings about the crazy commercialism of these princesses. But my absolute favourites were sung by the actress playing Mulan/Pocahontas/Jasmine, who belted emotional songs about the issues of racism and why girls have to be prettied up and be hyper-feminine to have their story be interesting.

Disenchanted was satirical, funny and insanely smart. It’s the musical you go to for the laughs and then stay because you’re literally using the raise-the-roof emoji in your head a million times and saying, “YES THANK YOU FOR SAYING THAT OUT LOUD.”

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Because it was their last show in Toronto, the princesses spent some time in the audience afterward and took some princess selfies (see below mine and Christine’s photo with Snow White – what a bad ass woman). I was crushed to hear it was their last show in Toronto; there were  quite a few people I wanted to recommend the show to, but I’m glad I was able to catch the show just in time. It was phenomenal.

Ladies – keep spreading the awesome that you are with this show. I left the theatre feeling so inspired, and I’m just so proud to know that this show is gaining success, and touring, and that more and more women have the chance to see it, hopefully leaving the theatre feeling as empowered as I did. Incredible.

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Event Recap: Kathryn Hunter on A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ TIFF

Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend another fabulous #BooksonFilm event at TIFF. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream introduced the All the World’s a Screen: Shakespeare on Film summer series.

I was really excited for this one, because as many of you may know, I am a huge fan of Shakespeare. I voluntarily took a handful of Shakespeare-based courses in university – one of them specifically rooted in studying adaptations of his work – so being able to watch a film adaptation of one of my favourite plays that I’d never seen before was quite interesting.

Not only that, but actress Kathryn Hunter (who plays Puck in the Julie Taymor adaptation that was screened) introduced the film and then stuck around after to discuss acting techniques and the Bard.

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The film itself was incredible. It was a taping of a live performance, but it was also so much more than that. The theatrics involved were quite spectacular; it’s definitely something that I would have loved to see on stage. It was dark and eerie, but didn’t lose the play’s original comedy elements.

Following the screening, Kathryn Hunter – Julie Taymor’s Puck – spoke with Eleanor Wachtel about her performance in the film (which was utterly perfect) and what it’s like to take on roles in Shakespeare pieces.

Hunter told stories about how she creates characters by drawing them out, and really wanted her Puck to fly – a suggestion to which Taymor was hesitant, but accepting. She also spoke about how she originally wanted to play the character of Bottom because of the wonderful writing, but enjoyed playing Puck, and creating that image of the shape-shifting trickster.

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I’m so glad I got to take part in this magical evening, and I’m really looking forward to hopefully seeing some of the films in the rest of TIFF’s Shakespearean summer series!

TIFF’s All the World’s a Screen: Shakespeare on Film runs from June 9th to July 3rd with some of the most iconic Shakespearean film adaptations, such as West Side Story, various versions of Hamlet, and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet.

Top 5 Tuesday: Musicals

I haven’t talked about theatre on this blog in a very long time, which is unsettling to me, considering how big a role theatre will always be in my life. I’ve been going to see plays and musicals on a regular basis since I was 13, and I’ve been obsessed with movies like Grease and The Wizard of Oz since I was 2.

But today, I’m going to share with you my top 5 favourite musicals of all time.

1. Next to Normal Logo 1

Next to Normal

I fell in love with this show when I first heard the cast recording. I didn’t even really grasp the story just from the music, but I knew it talked about mental illness (depression, anxiety, etc.) and therefore would be something I’d love. When the tour with Alice Ripley came to Toronto, I got great seats and I cried the entire show. I just have so many feelings towards Next to Normal because I feel I can relate to all the crazy happening on stage. It’s emotionally powerful and honestly my favourite musical of all time.

2.

rent-logo

RENT

I will go see RENT any time it’s on a Toronto stage. I could listen to the cast recording all day long and never get bored. The writing is fantastic, and the feeling of community and love for “la vie boheme!” that you get coming out of that show is unbelievable. It makes me proud to be a writer, and inspires me greatly. If I could write something half as wonderful as RENT, I’d be set.

3.

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Wicked

The first time I saw Wicked, my sister and I cried because we couldn’t believe we were finally seeing this show. It wasn’t just a musical for us at the time, it was an experience we’d been anticipating ever since it hit Broadway. We saw the Toronto tour, but even still, just sitting in the theatre was giving us chills. To this day, I will never forget the feeling of soaring in my heart when Elphaba takes flight during “Defying Gravity”. It made me feel like I could do anything in the world – and that’s why I love theatre.

4.

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Rock of Ages

I’m typically not one to go see “funny” shows, but this one had an 80s soundtrack to go along with it, and let’s get serious – I’ll do anything if I get to hear another rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing”. The music drew me to this show, but it was the laughs that kept me going back another handful of times. Breaking the fourth wall, feeling as though I was involved in the show, was something I really appreciated. Rock of Ages did a great job at keeping the entire audience upbeat and rocking along with the cast.

5.

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Green Day’s American Idiot

I couldn’t have a musical list without including American Idiot. Green Day is my band. I’ve seen this show a couple times, and at first I wasn’t sure how much I liked seeing the story I’ve heard so many times on the album play out before me. It was like when a fan of a book is offended by the movie version. Well, I got over it and saw it again, and had a huge appreciation for what they did to transform the rock opera into a rock musical. The story becomes a spectacle, and the music becomes an anthem.

What are some of your favourite musicals? Plays?

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – Play Review

When my sister told me that she was going on a class trip to a nearby theatre to see a local theatre group put on a musical, I was mostly joking in my suggestion that I should follow along. But she asked her teacher; and next thing I know, I’m in a seat with my sister’s class about to watch a small production of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. And it was definitely worth going through the trouble.

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee tells the story of a typical spelling bee competition among a group of young children. Each child, of course, has his or her own back story regarding how they became competitors aiming for first place. Some children are smart and value this knowledge, others have parents who encourage them to study more than they perhaps choose, while others do it to possibly distract themselves from their home life.

Despite the emotional plotline, the script itself is absolutely hilarious. I found myself crying with laughter, and having to tell myself to calm down as a more emotional scene approached. Songs such as “My Unfortunate Erection” really sum up the musical; children who are so determined to succeed that they end up failing, sometimes in the most horrifying of ways.

If I ever got a chance, I would most definitely see this musical again, and I would encourage anyone who needs a good laugh to go see Spelling Bee.

Complete Plays by Sarah Kane: Book Review

I read Kane’s play, Blasted, for my Modern Drama class and immediately fell in love with her writing style, so when school reading was over with, I headed straight to the library to take out her complete works. If you’ve watched my YouTube video about Sarah Kane, you know exactly how I feel about her.

Kane’s full works are comprised of the plays BlastedPhaedra’s LoveCleansedCrave4.48 Psychosis, and a short screenplay, Skin. If you read through this book from beginning to end, you’ll see just how she transitions from expressionism to full on abstract theatre. Blasted has some sort of plot that gets diminished as you move on, but once you get to plays like Crave, you’ll notice you’re not in Kansas anymore. You have to start reading with a theatre-mind, and not a plot-driven one; read with your heart, not your head.

She is violent, she curses, she is controversial and in-yer-face, and Sarah Kane is one of the most interesting playwrights I’ve ever read. I’ve read her works at least six times now, and each time, I discover something new to marvel over. She keeps me thinking outside the box, and reading things from multiple perspectives.

If this sounds at all interesting to you, I highly suggest you read this compilation of works by Sarah Kane.