2016 has been tumultuous in so many different ways. But one of the bright spots (at least for us) was how much smart, creative, and engaging theatre played out on Toronto’s stages. In the end-of-year spirit, we asked some of Intermission’s regular contributors and core team members about one of their favourite theatre experiences of the year.
Please know that this list is far from exhaustive—just about everyone we asked expressed how hard it was to narrow it down to one pick, and one of our editors changed her mind three times.
TomorrowLove (Outside the March)
I spent two evenings at the Aorta, slipping in and out of the lives of eight couples, riding waves of human feeling over the course of each night. In all of the stories every character inhabited me, and as I watched them fall in love, struggle to communicate, spill their hearts, get hurt, and find beauty, I felt what they felt. Their emotions reverberated through my body: I was crushed with heartbreak and despair, my spirits were lifted with bliss and optimism. I left the building, both times, with a greater awareness of the complexities of love and an understanding that I had just experienced something profound.
Come From Away (Mirvish)
As of December 1, I’d seen over 300 shows (thank goodness for spreadsheets), so choosing my favourite was challenging. But at the end of the day, it had to be Come From Away. I loved everything about this show, starting with its story, about the thirty-eight international flights that had to be diverted to the small town of Gander, Newfoundland after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The songs are glorious—mainly Celtic-influenced folk-rock numbers performed by the full ensemble with a tight ten-piece band. It’s a gorgeous Canadian musical that is all heart, celebrating the kindness and generosity of ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances, without ever being overly sentimental or idealistic. While the event that inspired this musical is now over fifteen years past, the message presented seems timelier than ever.
4 1/2 (ig)noble truths (zeitpunktheatre)
4 1/2 (ig)noble truths used effective theatrical ways to make the audience experience some part of what clinical depression might feel like. I sat on the edge of my seat, holding my breath with anxiety, through parts of this show. Thomas McKechnie gave a potent performance, allowing me a window into a disease that so many of my loved ones struggle with.
Salt Water Moon (Factory Theatre)
Anderson .Paak sings “Your heart don’t stand a chance” on one of the best albums of the year, Malibu, and that rang true for Factory Theatre’s Salt Water Moon.
This show has been done a lot all over Canada but not quite like this. Ravi Jain simplified everything with a candlelit set, and the melodic voice of Ania Soul sharing stage directions painted the world of our two lovers Jacob Mercer (Kawa Ada) and Mary Snow (Mayko Nguyen, in one of my favourite onstage performances ever).
When Salt Water Moon opened in that cold month of February (which holds a certain “holiday” that celebrates love), my heart was in a bit of a dark place. I went to see Salt Water Moon a couple of times to be reminded of the power, the pleasure, the aches and the pains, that is true love. And to celebrate the artists who were so honest and vulnerable in their sharing of it.
The Adventures of the Black Girl in Search of her God (Shaw Festival)
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t get to see every show I want to see. However, I have been able to fit in approximately 280 performances in 2016. There are any number of shows that qualify as favourites, but after much thought I’ve decided to choose one starring an actor whose work I didn’t know and whose excellence blew me away. Natasha Mumba, in the title role, was stunning. She was the anchor of the show, and her stage presence, charisma, and formidable talent along with her equally talented collaborators made this show one of the best experiences I have had in my fifty plus years of theatre-going.
Lisa Codrington’s play is multi-layered and forces us to question our beliefs: what we take for granted, how our self-esteem is affected by how others see us, how we see others and how we see ourselves. Whatever our beliefs and our version of what we understand God to be, that spirit is within all of us.
I continue to think about what this play says to me, particularly with respect to recent events in our world and how to cope with them. The show resonates and reverberates and is absolutely relevant today. Beats me if this is what the artists involved wished to convey, but I believe that once they present a show, it is mine to keep and use in any way I need.
4 1/2 (ig)noble truths (zeitpunktheatre)
I decided last minute to run over to 4 1/2 (ig)noble truths after work one day because I had heard, in that sort of vague and nebulous way you sometimes do, that it was good. I was expecting a halfway-decent look at one man’s take on depression and anxiety, and I walked out feeling that discomfort that you only feel when someone has shown you something so true that now you, yourself, somehow feel exposed.
Writer/performer Thomas McKechnie and director Michael Reinhard shone a light on this darkness that exists in all of us and asked us just to look at it for a moment, clearly, without romanticizing or condemning it. And they did so by telling us their own truth, completely and without judgement. It was, quite possibly, the most honest piece of theatre I saw all year. For someone who’s relentlessly chasing down honesty in the work I do and the work I love, there’s nothing better than that.
Salt Water Moon (Factory Theatre)
Factory Theatre’s production of Salt Water Moon, directed by Ravi Jain, was almost meditative in its beauty and simplicity. I loved the design, I loved the musician/narrator, and I loved the detailed, delicate performances by Mayko Nguyen and Kawa Ada. I was transported. It was a warm, lovely, inviting piece and it really stayed with me.
Incident at Vichy (Soulpepper)
Arthur Miller wrote Incident at Vichy in 1964, but I can’t think of anything I saw this year that felt more chillingly timely. It was tense and taut to watch as the characters, who have all been rounded up in Vichy, France, in 1940 for unknown reasons, consider what might be happening to them. They reject the sinister explanation at first, until ultimately, horrifyingly, reality makes itself plain. But this production went further than reflecting the frightening divisions of our current political landscape. In casting actors of different races and genders, it responded to them, by reminding the audience how vulnerable we can all be to easy, ugly prejudice in its many forms. I wish everyone could have seen this play.
Rocking Horse Winner (Tapestry Opera)
Father Comes Home From the Wars (Soulpepper)
I was blown away by Father Comes Home From the Wars. I love classically structured plays, but it’s rare to find modern writers who have the talent and ambition to even attempt to write one, let alone to write a great one. For me, Suzan-Lori Parks’s three-act play set during the American Civil War belongs in the same breath as the best plays by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, or Eugene O’Neill. I think it’s a modern masterpiece, and I definitely don’t use that word loosely. Soulpepper’s production was exquisite: fine direction from Weyni Mengesha and extraordinary performances from the entire cast. Oliver Dennis has given many outstanding performances over the past decade and a half, but his performance here was the most disturbing and memorable I’ve seen from him. And Peter Fernandes was the most impressive and memorable messenger I think I’ll ever witness.
S h e e t s (Videofag)
May 19 of this year: my wife Marjorie and I get onto our bikes and ride down to the Value Village at the bottom of our street in the east end. For no real reason other than time to kill. Afterward, we say to ourselves, why don’t we get some ice cream. Marjorie says she doesn’t feel like we’d deserve ice cream unless we rode further, and why don’t we go to Sweet Olenka’s, which is in Kensington Market. So we bike across town. Turn north on Augusta off of Dundas, and there’s Videofag. And there’s Derrick Chua, and we say, “Hey, is there a show on tonight?” Derrick says yes, Videofag is closing, and this is the last show that will ever play here, and he happens to have an extra ticket. We take the ticket and put ourselves on the waiting list. We get and eat our ice creams. We come back and are blown away by Salvatore Antonio’s beautiful, intimate, sexual, funny, touching show, S h e e t s.