Derrick Chua’s Top 12 SummerWorks Picks

The SummerWorks Performance Festival is soon upon us, with its sixty-nine theatre, dance, live art, and music projects. I’ve offered twelve suggestions for shows I’m particularly looking forward to seeing. These (alphabetical) suggestions are solely based on my review of show descriptions and people involved as listed on the SummerWorks website and my familiarity with the artists involved. While I did look carefully at every show description, I admit a natural bias towards the theatre projects, since those are the ones I’m most familiar with. I strongly encourage you to read over the whole SummerWorks program and see whatever strikes your fancy, appeals to your sensibility, or just whets your curiosity. There’s sure to be a lot of great work happening. Happy SummerWorks-ing!

1 – BLEEDERS

Written and directed by d’bi.young anitafrika. Musical director and composer Waleed Abdulhamid. Composer tuku. Choreographed by Nickeshia Garrick. Performed by Aquila Rootz, Sashoya Shoya Oya, Raven Dauda, Najla Nubyanluv, Olunike Adeliyi, Aisha Bentham, Nickeshia Garrick, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Raven Wngs, d’bi.young anitafrika.

After recently winning a Dora Award for her Outstanding Performance in She Mami Wata & The Pussy Witchhunt, the second in her new triptych The Orisha Trilogy, the electrifying d’bi.young anitafrika returns to SummerWorks with Bleeders, the culminating play of the trilogy. This is an Afro-futurist dub-opera set in a future Ontario, where the Pickering Nuclear Plant has exploded, and a group of Black womxn form a small council. How in the midst of government oppression, repression of the gender revolution, and ecological degradation do we still find hope? Each of the first two parts of The Orisha Trilogy thrilled me as has most of d’bi’s past work, so I’m looking forward to this piece doing the same.

 

2 DON’T TALK TO ME LIKE I’M YOUR WIFE

Written by Andrea Scott. Directed by Andrew Lamb. Performed by David Christo, Lisa Karen Cox, Kimwun Perehinec, Paula Wing.

Andrea Scott follows up last year’s SummerWorks hit Better Angels: A Parable with this latest, a time-jumping drama. It’s set partially in a French prison cell in 1917, where courtesan, dancer, and accused spy Mata Hari tangles with her Senegalese-French cellmate about which voices deserve to be seen and heard mere hours before she is to be executed, and partially in 2017, where a self-described feminist male history professor tangles with a student who challenges his ideas of what it means to be a feminist and a black woman in contemporary North America. The wonderful Kimwun Perehinec (Studio 180, Roseneath, Eldritch Theatre) stars as Mata Hari, alongside a strong cast in this piece which asks: When is slut-shaming okay? Can a woman today disavow herself of feminism? And is it all right to get married and not put a ring on it? Sometimes you have to look back in order to move forward.

 

3 – EXTREMOPHILES

Written and performed by Georgina Beaty. Directed by Megan Watson. Dramaturged by Karen Hines. Live Visuals by Caterwaul Theatre.

The last time I saw Georgina Beaty perform in a solo show was Cliff Cardinal’s Stitch. I loved both the play and her performance, so I’m looking forward to seeing her in a vastly different solo piece that she has written herself. This one is described as a darkly funny meditation on a world past the precipice, an unconventional dissertation, a eulogy and a mid-apocalyptic bedtime story. It’s Toronto in the year 2020. There’s a spontaneous pregnancy epidemic, and only Margaret gives birth—to a very unusual baby. She is quarantined in the far North with her child when April, an eager anthropologist, arrives to chronicle their struggle to survive and becomes more entangled than she anticipated.

 

4 HIGH BLOOD (DATU x HATAW)

Created and performed by DATU and members of HATAW. Musical Direction by Romeo Candido. Technical direction by Alexander Punzalan. Artistic direction by Jodinand Aguillon.

Personal note: I was born in the Philippines and raised Catholic. So I suspect I’ll feel a strong personal connection with this piece (which is certainly partly what drew me to it), but I also believe that it will be a must-see for the general SummerWorks audience. High Blood is a participatory theatre experience inside an immersive world of Filipino superstition, mythology, and ritual that clashes ancient Philippine customs with North-American swagger. Mixing music, dance, multi-media, and spiritual rituals, putting a unique twist on a traditional Catholic mass, the performance explore the roles that colonization, superstition and indigenous ritual play in Philippine culture. This is a collaboration between DATU, a modern Filipino electronic RnB pop tribal music crew, and all-female Filipina modern dance collective HATAW. Note that there are only two performances of this one-night-only piece, at 7 pm and 9:30 pm on Saturday, August 13. If you’re interested, you’ll want to book immediately.

 

5 LESSONS IN TEMPERAMENT

Written and performed by James Smith. Directed and developed by Mitchell Cushman.

Recent Dora Award winner for Outstanding Sound Design/Composition of La Chasse Galerie, James Smith (Soulpepper Academy, Shaw Festival) performs this piece in a different venue for every performance, because each involves the tuning of a different piano. Because each piano is unique in its imperfection, and it’s impossible to perfectly tune a piano, the job of a piano tuner is to tame this imperfection into an even balance, known as Equal Temperament: a game of constant compromise and a lesson in disappointment. Each mind is also unique in its imperfection. In Lessons In Temperament, Smith tunes pianos in various public and private spaces throughout Toronto while exploring theories behind Equal Temperament as well as his three older brothers’ mental illnesses: obsessive compulsive disorder, autism, and schizophrenia. Part autobiographical story-telling, part performance art, part tune-up, this site-specific show directed by Outside the March’s Mitchell Cushman, offers a unique theatrical experience, and a singular glimpse into the lives of those living with troubled, beautiful, distempered minds.

 

6 – MR. SHI AND HIS LOVER

Text by Wong Teng Chi. Music and musical direction by Njo Kong Kie. Directed by Johnny Tam. Performed by Jordan Cheng, Derek Kwan, Carol Wang, Njo Kong Kie. Surtitle translation by Derek Kwan. Surtitle Operated by Bobo Leong.

SummerWorks’ first-ever Chinese language production features an international cast and is performed entirely in Mandarin with English surtitles. Inspired by the real-life story of a Chinese opera performer and his French diplomat lover who believed him to be a woman, this intimate musical illuminates their enigmatic affair and the ensuing espionage scandal that rocked the political world. The same story has previously inspired at least one book (Liaison), a play by David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) and a movie based on the play (directed by David Cronenberg), so I’m excited to see and hear this version with a score by Njo Kong Kie (Music Picnic, La La La Human Steps) inspired by opera, musicals and vintage pop from both East and West, and storytelling of modern Chinese Theatre.

 

7 OSIA

Written by Jijo Quayson. Directed by Brad Fraser. Dramaturgy by Djanet Sears, Brad Fraser, Andrea Donaldson (Nightwood Theatre). Performed by Roshawn Balgrove, Chemika Bennett-Heath, Nicole Nwokolo, Paul Ohonsi, Chiamaka Ugwu.

Apparently this is Jijo Quayson’s “theatrical debut.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but she certainly has a great vote of confidence, considering the superb supporting team surrounding her. The piece is directed by Brad Fraser, who also dramaturged along with Djanet Sears and Andrea Donaldson, and has a compelling cast, with strong design and production team. Osia was part of Nightwood’s Write From The Hip series, and is the story of a Ghanaian family who struggles to find a better future. The youngest of the family, Harmosia, straddles two worlds—real and fantasy—as she tries to understand her surroundings. The play uses Ghanaian language, traditional music, storytelling and imagined folklore to weave together the story of Osia and the eccentric neighbours that surround her family. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced any of Ghana’s culture, so I’m especially eager for that opportunity here.

 

8 – THIS IS HOW WE GOT HERE

Written by Keith Barker. Directed by Eli Ham. Performed by Peggy Coffey, James Downing, Deb Drakeford, Martin Julien.

The description for Métis playwright Keith Barker’s new piece is scant: Lucille and Paul have lost their son Craig to suicide. Through a non-linear narrative, the broken pieces of a story come together in a heartbreaking journey to find a way forward after the death of a child. But based on his previous play The House That Remains, Keith Barker has a voice that deserves attention. He has gathered a particularly strong veteran cast, each of whom has more theatre credits than there is room to mention on a page. This Is How We Got Here is about the enduring resilience of the human spirit in times of sorrow, and the capacity we all have for forgiveness. Might need some tissues, but can’t wait to see it.

 

9 THIS IS THE AUGUST

Written by Hillary Rexe. Directed by Megan Piercey Monafu. Performed by Lauren Beatty, Kimberley Huffman, Heath V. Salazar.

This piece about the intersection of our real and online selves involves live music, painting and YouTube videos. Sigh of relief that it deals with YouTube, since I’ve at least progressed that far in today’s technology (just don’t talk to me about Snapchat or Pokemon Go—I’m still hoping those go the way of MySpace before I have to pay attention). I still don’t really understand what being a “YouTube star” means, but I hope to get a better idea from this piece about Edie, who has just gone viral. Her girlfriend Bea, who is also her professor and a documentary filmmaker with a focus on marginalized women, wants Edie to stop vlogging about her sex life and focus on more “important” work. Conflicts of identity then come to a head when Edie meets Sam—a multimedia artist who defies definition, played by Heath V. Salazar (part of the Dora-winning ensemble of La Chasse Galerie.)

 

10 TOMORROW’S CHILD

Based on the short story by Ray Bradbury, adapted by Eric Rose, Matthew Waddell, David van Belle. Directed and sound design by Eric Rose and Matthew Waddell. Dramaturgy and additional writing by David van Belle. Original music by Jesse Osborne-Lanthier (Noir) and Sarah Albu. Performed by Anna Cummer, Tyrell Crews, David van Belle.

I’m a big fan of science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury, so I was already excited about a stage adaptation of one of his short stories, but became utterly intrigued to learn that this is an audio-only theatre experience. Audience members are blindfolded and then guided into the theatre to a swivel chair where they listen. But unlike a radio play, here the quirks of 50s sci-fi are reimagined for a highly immersive sonic environment, created with the latest in sound technology. An unforgettable sonic journey that has to be heard to be believed. As for the story itself, it’s a futuristic tale about a couple whose child is born into an alternate dimension, so appears to his parents and the “regular” world to be… different, and how his parents react and cope.

 

11 TROMPE-LA-MORT, OR GORIOT IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Written by Anthony MacMahon. Directed by Ted Witzel. Performed by Mark Crawford, Farah Merani, Lindsay Owen Pierre, Ewa Wolniczek, Jeff Yung.

Director Ted Witzel continues an incredible summer that has seen him direct Shakespeare in High Park’s All’s Well That End’s Well and win the inaugural Kevin Spacey Foundation Artist of Choice: Canada Theatre award, with this new work from Anthony MacMahon (Wild Dogs on the Moscow Trains, The Frenzy of Queen Maeve) loosely adapted from Honoré de Balzac’s Le Père Goriot smashed up against Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. An anarchist holds the world’s secrets on a hard drive. Three developers try and disrupt stagnant markets, missed connections and freedom of speech. A venture capitalist finds his profit in the rubble. The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters. This digital age thriller performed by a terrific cast, explores what happens when your work life, relationships, and ideas are reduced to data processed in an app.

 

12 TWO INDIANS

Written by Falen Johnson. Directed by Jessica Carmichael. Performed by Yolanda Bonnell and Darla Contois. Dramaturgy by Yvette Nolan. Original music by Patrick Bramm.

Four wonderful, talented women are the writer, director, and performers of this show, and each also happens to be an Indigenous theatre artist. I am really looking forward to this tale of two women: Win who lives on the rez and Roe who lives in the city. After years apart the two cousins meet in a Toronto alley to recreate a ceremony from their childhood, but can they remember how? Has the world changed too much? Have they? When the words missing and murdered, truth and reconciliation, occupation and resistance are everywhere, how do two Mohawk women stand their ground? Two Indians is a darkly comedic look at the landscape of being Indigenous.


Written By

Derrick is an entertainment lawyer and independent theatre producer. He was president of the Toronto Fringe for ten years, and holds the record for most shows seen at a single Toronto Fringe: 76.