Flora & Fawna’s Field Trip! Earns All The Badges


Flora & Fawna’s Field Trip! by Darrin Hagen & Trevor Schmidt runs May 2 – 21 at Lunchbox Theatre. Pictured, left to right: Trevor Schmidt (Fawna) and Darrin Hagen (Flora). Photo Credit: Ian Jackson, EPIC Photography.

Given that I participated in Flora & Fawna’s Field Trip!, I figured I break away from the usual third-person to write about this hilarious, although very emotional comedy playing now at Lunchbox Theatre until the 21st.

Created by Darrin Hagen & Trevor Schmidt, with Schmidt directing, Flora & Fawna’s Field Trip! is everything I wish my years in Cub Scouts had been. Hagen and Schmidt play two pre-teen girls named Flora and Fawna, respectively. Upset by the mean girls in their Girl Guide’s troop, Flora and Fawna have taken it upon themselves to form their own group called the NaturElles. The NaturElles is an all-inclusive group that welcomes everyone, except mean girls – like “Louise Hobson!” The only other member is Fleurette (Chris Enright), a young Francophone girl.

The audience participates in the NaturElle’s first membership drive, as a group and otherwise. I was pulled from my seat by Fawna to play a trivia game about wilderness survival, where I answered two of three questions correctly. What I learned from the experience is that I’m not very good at choking the chicken – we used rubber chickens as our buzzers.

Before this, Flora and Fawna asked the audience to take the friendships bracelets from the bags handed to them before the show and tie them around each other’s wrist. The circle widened, and it continued widening as the girls’ activities – like learning how to pee in the woods – brought everyone together through laughter, like laughing-so-hard-it-hurts laughter.

The show is a lot of like camp, well it’s more like the version of camp that adults promise you before shipping you off for the weekend. Personally, I hated my time in Cub Scouts, primarily because I was bullied by the other boys. Sure, we were asked to adhere to a set of golden rules, principles, and values, but none of that mattered when the adults weren’t around.

But it’s not just kids who are mean, but also adults. There are revealing moments that suggest that all is not right in Fawna’s home with her mom and step-dad. If you want to talk about risk, let’s talk about how Hagen and Schmidt, after nearly an hour of sexual innuendo and quirky humour, end the story on a very heavy note. There’s a place where fantasy and reality meet, and the two take the story there, on the precipice of adulthood.

And so, the show is about several things, but it’s mainly about the fantasies kids create to escape their problems. The NaturElles is a very real group for Flora and Fawna, because they need it to be.

Lunchbox Theatre has a knack for staging plays that hit something very real deep down inside, and Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip! is no different. Hagen and Schmidt have created a show that speaks to the kids inside all of us, and let’s us escape into a world of play. A must-see.

Darrin Hagen & Trevor Schmidt’s Floral & Fawna’s Field Trip! runs May 2 – 21 at Lunchbox Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/flora-and-fawna/


Get Thee to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)


Left to Right: Braden Griffiths, Aaron Coates, and Geoffrey Simon Brown. Photo courtesy of Lunchbox Theatre.

A co-production by Lunchbox Theatre and The Shakespeare Company, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) blasts through the Bard’s 37 plays in one single evening with hilarious results.

Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a parody of all things Shakespeare performed by three actors. Braden Griffiths, Geoffrey Simon Brown, and Aaron Cotes perform the play as themselves, well really exaggerated versions of themselves. Preeminent Shakespearean scholar Coates carries all 37 plays in an enormous book, acting as director to the actors who sometimes get away from the original source material. Through slapstick and improv, the actors set out to accomplish the amazing feat of capturing all of Shakespeare’s works in one single theatrical experience.

Everything about the performance is deliciously over-the-top and absurd. Shakespeare’s tragedy Titus Andronicus is parodied as a very bloody cooking show. Then, the three white actors agree that neither one of them can play the character of Othello without being racially insensitive, so they decide to rap Othello from beginning to end. The histories are performed as a football game, with the actors tossing the crown from one king to another on the gridiron with sports commentary.

And Brown’s female characters are keen to vomit on the audience.

Director Kevin McKendrick’s firm hand makes for a well-tuned production. There is method in the madness, although sometimes there are moments or gags that fail to hit the mark. Even still, the sheer hilarity of three actors trying to perform 37 plays in under 90 minutes is enough to forgive minor missteps.

Griffiths, Brown and Coates would fit right in with the acting troupe from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The energetic trio are a lot of fun to watch as they rip through Shakespeare’s plays, smashing the fourth wall along the way.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) runs at Lunchbox Theatre until the 24th. As part of Lunchbox Theatre To Go, the play will be presented The Beddington Community Arts Centre (Storybook Theatre) starting April 27th.

Get thee to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), the silliest Shakespeare show around.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) runs April 19 – 24th at Lunchbox Theatre. The production runs April 27th – May 6th at The Beddington Community Arts Centre (Storybook Theatre). 

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/complete-works



The Strangely Sweet Charm of MacIvor’s In On It is Hard to Deny

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Left to Right: Mark Bellamy and Stafford Perry in Daniel MacIvor’s In On It, running now at Lunchbox Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Audiences may not exactly get ‘in on it’ by the end, but there’s no denying the strangely sweet charm of Daniel MacIvor’s metatheatrical play.

Running now at Lunchbox Theatre, MacIvor’s In On It stages two characters named This One (Mark Bellamy) and That One (Stafford Perry) trapped in liminal space – an in-between place where life has yet to disappoint. Really, it’s a rehearsal for a play underway in front of the Lunchbox audience. Going through various scenes, the actors take turns playing the play’s different characters, interpreting them as they see fit. The play-within-a-play deals primarily with an average somebody named Ray who has a terminal illness, at least until the tests say otherwise. Ray’s son is a self-centered adman, his wife is a boozy adulterer, and his father can’t recognize him due to memory loss. Lonely, Ray contemplates ending his life.

There’s also a young boy who’s abandoned by his step-dad, or more accurately his mom’s boyfriend. Ray and the boy have more common with each other than they know.

The scenes are frequently interrupted and criticized by the actors who just can’t see eye-to-eye creatively. The audience eventually learns that the actors are gay partners. Their differences are both creative and personal, shaping the scenes and their characters’ motivations accordingly. And so, the constant editing that occurs between them becomes more about what they want from each other in their relationship than the play itself. The stage acts as a place of reconciliation between the roles we play and the faces we hide.

(MacIvor would later use the same metatheatrical device in his 2006 play A Beautiful View, which Sage Theatre produced during its 2014-15 season.)

MacIvor playfully subverts audience expectations by opting for reality – which some audiences like to escape from by going to the theatre – than comforting fiction. The liminal space mentioned earlier is an imagined place from the future that comes full circle to a car accident. There are the stories we tell, and then the stories we would like to tell. The truth lies somewhere in-between.

In On It is a play about opposites, namely two opposite people trying to meet in the middle. What unfolds here is that struggle for human connection.

Director Samantha MacDonald finds and brings out the oddly inspiring essence of MacIvor’s play. MacDonald’s energetic, yet precise direction makes clear the connective tissues of this play, a challenge given that MacIvor doesn’t exactly spell out the whole thing. MacDonald demonstrates a clear and confident vision for this play that features multiple threads running at once.

What’s remarkable about this production is that Perry stepped into his role just one week before opening. Christian Goutsis was originally scheduled to play That One but had to withdraw from the production due to a family emergency. The cast and crew rehearsed the play in five days with Perry. For five days rehearsal, the result is truly incredible. Perry and Bellamy are absolutely wonderful together. The actors bring out so much from one another in this play of emotional highs and lows.

MacIvor has a knack for writing plays that stay with you on the drive home, and In On It is no different. Some audience members may feel lost trying to connect the dots, while some will appreciate MacIvor’s open-to-interpretation approach. Regardless, there’s no denying the strangely sweet charm of this play about life, relationships, and regret.

Daniel MacIvor’s In On It runs March 21 – April 9 at Lunchbox Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/in-on-it/


It’s Always Wine O’Clock at Book Club


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The cast of Meredith Taylor-Parry’s Book Club at Lunchbox Theatre. Pictured (left to right): Anna Cummer, Cheryl Hutton, Kira Bradley, Arielle Rombough, Kathryn Kerbes. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Moms go wild in Meredith Taylor-Parry’s Book Club.

Enjoying its world premiere at Lunchbox Theatre, Book Club stages a group of moms who meet weekly to talk about some book no one ever bothers to read. The thing about book club, it’s just an excuse to have a glass of wine (or two) in the afternoon. Everyone’s in the loop except for Ellen (Anna Cummer), an uptight helicopter parent whose children follow a strict gluten-sensitive diet.

This week’s meeting is hosted by Lisa (Cheryl Hutton), an easy going mom with a not-so-easy time cleaning up her house for the ladies. Ellen arrives with her mother Mary (Kathryn Kerbes) just as Lisa finishes cleaning the kitchen floor with baby wipes. A very pregnant Kathy (Kira Bradley) arrives soon after, a relief for Lisa who can’t tolerate Ellen’s bragging about her perfect children. To the group’s surprise, Jenny (Arielle Rombough) is late. Supermom Jenny is never late.

A couple of drunk texts later from Jenny, and the women are off to find their missing friend in all of the unlikeliest places – a strip club, a tattoo parlour, and the airport.

Taylor-Parry’s Book Club is a comedy of familiarity, of knowing nods and quiet agreement from its mainly female audience. Lisa’s frustration at trying to tidy up while keeping an eye on her mischevious children draws big laughs as it’s one of those “yup, been there, done that” moments. For Taylor-Parry, however, it’s not just about showing the stresses of motherhood, but also talking through them, no matter how difficult the conversation.

Beneath the play’s rich humour are layers of anxiety and insecurities towards motherhood. Even Ellen doubts her parenting, and she does everything by the book, or whatever research study is trending. As the women discover, there is no manual for mothers and mothers-to-be. A lot of it is trial and error, that’s how it was for Mary whose “old school ways” were exactly that. With this uncertain territory comes a need for support, ideally in the form of friendship and maybe not a glass of wine (or two) in the afternoon.

Taylor-Parry’s serious concern for mothers and their mental health is beautifully expressed by Rombough in the play’s last moments. Rombough’s erratic, party girl behaviour is anchored by a genuine sincerity that offers plenty reflection on the work-life balance some mothers struggle with daily.

Director Shari Wattling is gifted with a truly outstanding cast for this book club meeting that’s anything but boring. There’s plenty of great things going on, from Cummer’s signature hyper-neuroticism running against Kerbes’ elegant maturity to Hutton’s splendid talent for physical comedy. Add in Bradley’s hilarious maneuvering of her comically-sized belly (costume design by Deitra Kalyn), and the laughs are non-stop. Watting’s snappy direction gives the actors room to play, while also being mindful of the final destination. Excellent direction for a ‘journey play’, which can sometimes drag and lose the audience along the way.

Scenic & Lighting Designer Anton de Groot’s versatile set changes from messy kitchen to strip club to rough street area with ease. Allison Lynch’s robust sound design brings the club alive with heart-pounding beats.

A brilliant script, strong direction, and outstanding cast make Meredith Taylor-Parry’s Book Club worth signing up for.

Meredith Taylor-Parry’s Book Club runs Feb 8 – 27 at Lunchbox Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/book-club


Paddle Song Stages Life of E. Pauline Johnson

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Cheri Maracle stars as E. Pauline Johnson in Paddle Song, written by Dinah Christie with Tom Hill. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

If any famous Canadian deserves a Heritage Minute, it’s poet E. Pauline Johnson.

The daughter of a Six Nations Mohawk Chief and an English mother, Johnson toured across North America and England in the late 19th century, earning recognition everywhere she went. Audiences and literary critics, both contemporary and modern, praised Johnson’s poetry for its evocative imagery and urgent voice. Through her poetry, Johnson brought attention to the struggles of women and First Nations people.

Johnson’s life is chronicled in Paddle Song, written by Dinah Christie with Tom Hill. From her childhood days spent on the Grand River to the early days of her prosperous career, and beyond, the one-woman show stages an elegant presentation of the poet’s life. Canadian actress, singer-songwriter Cheri Maracle stars as Johnson, delivering a performance best summed as genuinely captivating.

The set-up is fairly straightforward, as most biographical plays are. Paddle Song takes the audience through the poet’s upbringing, her inspirations, and most importantly, her insecurities. Johnson’s insecurities stem from her entering into a field historically dominated by (white) men. The praise written about her in the papers is uplifting, but also the cause of much anxiety as she feels burdened with expectations (magnified by her status as a woman of mixed heritage).

Johnson also deals with the difficulties of touring, specifically the physical strain on her body. Perhaps fueled by a desire to prove herself, Johnson continues touring despite her body telling her otherwise.

Maracle’s wonderfully nuanced performance makes clear the magnitude of Johnson’s accomplishments. In Maracle, we see a young woman who is both excited, but also terrified at the revolutionary path she has set herself on. From Maracle’s performance, the audience gains a sense that Johnson truly appreciated every moment of her fame, as maybe she thought it might disappear at any moment – fearing she might be a fad in the literary world.

Maracle’s performance also sees lots of sharp quips and asides that radiate confidence. Her stage presence is marvelously magnetic. Her performance is a true delight.

Over the course of the play, Maracle recites a selection of Johnson’s poetry, including one of her most well-known works The Song My Paddle Sings. Maracle performs Johnson’s poetry with tremendous grace and power. The emotion in her words during A Cry From An Indian Wife is volcanic. Her talent brings Johnson’s poetry to life, and will undoubtedly lead many in the audience to seek out more of the poet’s work.

Christie’s energetic direction sees this humorous, touching play move effortlessly. The director goes for simplicity here, following the adage of ‘less is more’. Johnson’s canoe is nothing more than a bench, and that’s all Maracle needs (besides her paddle) to transport us to the river.

Often the literary contributions by women are overlooked or obscured by those made by (white) men. And so, staging plays like Paddle Song is critically important to the task of exploring and establishing a well-represented canon of Canadian literature. (Which is why the Heritage Minutes were mentioned, as they shape and influence the public’s cultural knowledge bank).

Co-presented by One Yellow Rabbit and Lunch Box Theatre, Paddle Song is a beautiful production that audiences should make every effort to see at the 30th Annual High Performance Rodeo.

Paddle Song runs Jan 11 – 23 at Lunchbox Theatre , as part of the 2016 High Performance Rodeo. Paddle Song is a co-presentation by One Yellow Rabbit and Lunchbox Theatre.

For more information about the show, including ticket information, visit: https://www.hprodeo.ca/2016/paddle-song

For more information about Cheri Maracle, visit her website: http://www.cherimaracle.com/


Naughty But Nice is A Fun Fling, Despite Some Flat Notes

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The cast of Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s Naughty But Nice. Pictured: Scott Olynek, Selina Wong, Katherine Fadum, and Ahad Mir. Photo Credit: Kristian Jones.

There are only so many times a person can listen to the same holiday album before wanting to tear their hair out. Sorry, Sinatra. What’s worse is that nowhere seems to be safe from the classic jingles, not even the local Safeway. So, what remedy is there for the jaded listener this holiday season, besides becoming a total shut-in? Well, there’s always Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s Naughty But Nice, running now at Lunchbox Theatre.

Directed by JP Thibodeau, Naughty But Nice is a musical revue that lampoons the holiday season with original songs from Canadian and international composers. The songs are performed by Katherine Fadum, Ahad Mir, Scott Olynek, and Selina Wong. Although fun and certainly sassy, the show falls flat at times, despite great performances from its cast.

For sure, the evening’s highlight is Dan Perrott’s Requiem for the Corporate Christmas Party. It’s no secret that the oil slump has forced companies to significantly scale back their christmas parties. What were major events are now, essentially, paper bag lunches. How’s that for getting into the Christmas spirit, eh? Perrott’s lyrics certainly hit a nerve given the downturn, but is it ever hilarious.

The ensemble sing in ridiculous French accents, with cigarettes barely hanging from their mouths. Lauren Thompson’s choreography sees the actors do a weird sort of full body wobble as they lament the current state of affairs. Everything about the number is deliciously over-the-top and wonderful.

Not all the toys in Santa’s bag are winners, though. For every batmobile, there’s a pet rock.

Frank Loesser’s Baby It’s Cold Outside, arr. musical director Joe Slabe, is given the naughty treatment by staging it as a blooming threesome. The “say, what’s in this drink?” line takes on a different meaning when we realize that Mir is being seduced by Fadum and Olynek, a couple looking for a third to join them. The number is funny enough, but it just feels too easy considering that some already think Loesser’s song is ‘creepy’ to begin with. (That’s a whole other discussion).

Then, there’s Matthew Hardy & Robert Maggio’s Bling, a song about Christmas bling. Wong breathes life into an otherwise forgettable song. Another forgettable number is Grant Tilly’s Thank You, Christians, a song about atheists and non-Christian faiths who see Christmas in an entirely different light.

The problem is, some of the songs feel too tame for a show titled Naughty But Nice. Perrott’s Requiem works great because it is definitely naughty to write and perform this type of song during a downturn, but he doesn’t go too far crossing the line. People can laugh without feeling (too) bad about doing so. The other songs come off as either kind of cheesy or just not very memorable, because they lean too much on the ‘Nice’ side of things.

The show picks up when the ensemble take the stage individually to deliver some really funny monologues.

Fadum destroys Hans Christian Anderson’s The Match Girl, a super depressing book she can’t believe parents read to their children. It’s a glorious takedown by Fadum as she gives us a play-by-play of the story, while angrily waving the book around like a ragdoll.

The War on Christmas is real, and Wong lights up the stage as she rages against red seasonal cups and people who wish her ‘happy holidays’.

Olynek recounts the very funny story of how he found out Santa wasn’t real and, at the same time, learned about the bees & the birds.

Mir, playing Jesus, tells us why it sucks to have Christmas and your birthday fall at the same time, and how it feels to be overshadowed by Santa Claus every year (“The Original Headline Act”, Edward Bell & Richy Hughes).

Perrott’s Requiem is the show’s bread and butter, with everything else being generally hit or miss. Thibodeau’s direction brings plenty of earnest zest to the staging, but the show never quite lifts off. And if it does, the show dips right back to square one, or somewhere awfully close to it. Some audience members may, in fact, find themselves asking, unenthusiastically “okay, what’s next?” after songs end.  If nothing else,  Naughty But Nice is a fluffy distraction from the winter weather.

Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s Naughty But Nice runs at Lunchbox Theatre, Dec 8 – 20.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.fortemusical.ca/#!upcoming/cfvg

Dave Kelly Shines Bright in Epiphany



Dave Kelly’s Epiphany runs at Lunchbox Theatre, Nov 30 – Dec 23. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Webster’s Dictionary defines epiphany as “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” What Webster’s leaves out is that the road to epiphany is not always easy, in fact it can be really, really challenging. And what could be more challenging than trying to survive the holidays?

Enjoying its world premiere at Lunchbox Theatre, Dave Kelly’s new comedy Epiphany tells the story of Steve, played by Kelly, a middle-aged father whose world is turned upside down when he learns that his only daughter Amelia is pregnant. See, Steve isn’t ready to be a grandfather, not yet anyway. For one, he and Amelia don’t really get along, and then there’s the fact that Steve’s just too young to be a grandfather. In Steve’s mind, he’s still the young, promising musician who rocked the Ugly Buffalo so many moons ago with his buddy Danny (Tim Williams).

To add more stress to the holidays, Steve volunteers to play Jingle Bells at his wife Ruth’s Christmas pageant. The thing about that, Steve can’t actually play the whole song from start to finish. He’s lucky if he can play the first few notes!

There’s something very Canadian about this story that Kelly tells about a family who could very well be our own neighbors. A major reason for that feeling is the honesty of Kelly’s storytelling. In any other hands, Steve might fall under the tired ‘bumbling father’ trope, but here Steve’s shortcomings are presented with heart. Although he may not have everything all figured out, Steve tries anyway to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t always pan out. There’s something to admire about that sort of devotion in a person, and in a father especially.

It’s easy, isn’t it, to think of our parents as having all the answers when really, they’re only human. And that’s really what Kelly animates in this holiday comedy. Some audience members may go back and understand differently moments where they were at odds with their parents, or children. While no one is perfect, the best thing we can do is try, and always keep each other close. The life lesson is punctuated by delicious musical interludes from Williams, an accomplished blues musician, on guitar.

Director Christopher Hunt eases Kelly’s character transitions well enough considering the number of characters that make an appearance. Costume designer Rebecca Toon treats the audience to a real doozy of a pageant costume that makes the show’s finale all the more hilarious. (Seriously, the finale is a real hoot).

All in all, Epiphany feels like sitting beside a crackling fireplace on a cold winter’s night. There’s a lot to enjoy about a show that uncovers gems of truth through genuine, heartfelt humour. It’s no surprise that the show is almost sold-out, because audiences know Kelly is a charming and formidable storyteller. Audiences will not be disappointed by Kelly’s latest offering.

Dave Kelly’s Epiphany, with music by Tim Williams, runs at Lunchbox Theatre, Nov 30 – Dec 30.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/epiphany/