Wilde Fun: Sherlock Holmes Cracks The Case at Vertigo Theatre

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Left to Right: Chantal Perron, Paul Welch, Karl Sine, and Haysam Kadri in Katie Forgette’s Sherlock Holmes and The Case of The Jersey Lily, playing now at Vertigo Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Oscar Wilde walks into Sherlock Holmes’ office and – no, it’s not the set-up of a joke, but rather the premise of Katie Forgette’s Sherlock Holmes and The Case of The Jersey Lily, playing now at Vertigo Theatre.

Sherlock Holmes (Haysam Kadri) meets Irish playwright Oscar Wilde (Paul Welch) and famed Victorian actress Lily Langtry (Chantal Perron) in Forgette’s comedic play that blends reality and literary fantasy. With the help of his assistant Dr. John Watson (Karl Sine), Sherlock sets out to retrieve Lily’s private letters to the Prince of Wales, letters that threaten to destroy both her’s and the crown’s reputation. The case of blackmail turns deadly when Sherlock’s nemesis Professor Moriarty (Christian Goutsis) reveals himself to be the mastermind behind the plot against Lily.

Directed by Craig Hall, Vertigo Theatre’s production can be best described as goofy, campy fun. Who will enjoy the production most are literary nerds who will undoubtedly pee themselves laughing at jokes like the working title for Oscar’s latest play, The Importance of Being Forthright. But it’s Hall’s staging that really brings the production alive as the script itself is so-so on serving an interesting Sherlock Holmes mystery. Halls’s eye for theatricality, like Moriarty’s absurdly dramatic entrance, elevates this literary farce to a howling night out.

And David Fraser’s sets are simply striking. Sherlock’s office reflects the detective extraordinaire’s refined tastes, while also hinting at the character’s eccentric persona. Likewise, Moriarty’s lair teeters on  “cartoonish supervillainy” – to quote Mr. Smithers from The Simpsons, especially with Fraser’s dramatic lighting.

Vertigo Theatre, as it often does, has brought in a superb group of actors for this farce. Kadri’s Sherlock is cool and collected, but very cocky. Why shouldn’t he be? The man is practically a supercomputer (which sucks some fun out of the play, honestly). Sine’s Watson is a bit of a bumbling, yet capable, assistant, especially when Lily is involved. The banter between Kadri and Sine’s star-struck Watson is highly amusing.

Perron plays Lily, an actress with plenty of secrets to her name. Perron’s tough persona is impenetrable, with her upright posture and sharp delivery, proving a real challenge for the oafish conspirators John Smyth (Michael Tan) and “Mrs. Irma Tory” (Natascha Girgis). Goutsis’ comically evil Moriarty is a formidable opponent – when he’s not struggling to open giant steel doors, that is.

And then, there’s Welch as Oscar Wilde, a foppish character if ever there were any. The character has perhaps the best lines in the play, and Welch’s comedic prowess knocks them out of the park.  Welch’s performance is the cherry on top of this deliciously fun production.

Vertigo Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes and The Case of The Jersey Lily is farce done right. A must-see.

Vertigo Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes and The Case of The Jersey Lily runs May 14 – June 14.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.vertigotheatre.com/mystery-series/#sherlock-holmes


The Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth Conjures Wicked Suspense

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Haysam Kadri (Macbeth) and Anna Cummer (Lady Macbeth) in The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth, presented by Vertigo Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

In the entirety of William Shakespeare’s works, Macbeth (Haysam Kadri) and Lady Macbeth (Anna Cummer) are likely the most dysfunctional power couple. And it is all about power with the Macbeths, dominance and royal authority by any means necessary. There are other forces at work, too, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, forces that stare back from the abyss.

Presented by Vertigo Theatre, The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth conjures wicked suspense through its striking lighting design, direction, and performances.

Directed by Craig Hall, Shakespeare’s Macbeth stages the rise (and fall) of its titular character as prophesied by a trio of witches. Here, the witches are a strange family whose members are a Child (Keelen McCauley), Mother (Julie Orton), and Father (Joel Cochrane). Returning from battle, Macbeth and Banquo (Nathan Schmidt) meet three witches who tell Macbeth that he will climb the ranks until finally becoming king of Scotland. Banquo’s descendants will become kings, the witches prophesy, but he will not. The witches disappear into the night, leaving the two men to wonder what truth, if any, their prophecies carry.

Unlike Hamlet where the main character mopes around until the very end, Macbeth cuts straight to the chase, making it one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays. Like Prince Hamlet, Macbeth is severely troubled by the idea of committing regicide. Lady Macbeth has to not only push her husband to take the crown, but also devise the plan to murder King Duncan (Stephen Hair) in order for him to do so. Macbeth greatly differs from Hamlet in that the play explores what happens when a seemingly good person takes innocent life, rather than focus solely on the act of killing itself. (Maybe if Hamlet hadn’t wrapped up so fast, audiences would have seen a young Prince Hamlet deal with that newly discovered part of himself). Macbeth doesn’t stop at King Duncan, but continues killing anyone who stands in his way, including his friend Banquo. Shakespeare seems to caution that once the threshold is broken, darker sides of a person are released.

Interestingly, Hamlet and Macbeth start off in almost the same way, with the appearance of supernatural forces that guide the (tragic) hero’s journey. While the witches count on Macbeth’s overconfidence to be his downfall, none of that is possible without Lady Macbeth, arguably the play’s main villain. She runs with the idea of Macbeth becoming king. Once Macbeth shows weakness in front of his wife, Lady Macbeth is quick to shame her husband for ‘not being a man’. Here, the director emphasizes that there is a genuine, if intense, love that exists within the relationship, making its corruption by Lady Macbeth even more poignant. Initially, Macbeth acts out of love and obedience to his wife, but then takes a path of his own, causing Lady Macbeth to severely regret her actions.

Speaking about corruption, Set Designer Hanne Loosen’s Scotland has a bit of a wasteland vibe to it with the heavy, brooding fog that fills the stage. The trees that loom overhead in the back hide secrets (and a dead body). Anton de Groot’s lighting design casts the Macbeth residence in hard light for the most part, with some soft light for the good guys like Macduff (Karl Sine). The lighting is very atmospheric and telling about the state of Scotland and the characters on stage. There is a general sense of dread that comes across with the way actors’ faces are shadowed.

What’s refreshing about Kadri’s Macbeth is the humour that the actor brings to the role. It’s welcomed relief from the grimness of the production. The humour works, too, with just how twisted, unhinged, and unpredictable Macbeth becomes near the end. Make no mistake, however, the actor is more than adept at playing the monster Macbeth soon becomes. Kadri delivers a compelling performance that slays, in more ways than one.

Cummer is absolutely enthralling as Lady Macbeth. The emotionally nuanced performance really digs itself deep under the character’s skin to bring out the darkness that lurks inside a seemingly good person. And who better to flesh out that darkness than Cummer, a magnificently articulate actress. Her power over Kadri’s Macbeth is absolute as her words sting like the most venomous snake in the jungle. The sleepwalk scene is made even more interesting by the fact Lady Macbeth’s crushing power turns against her, destroying her in the process.

The production runs 90 minutes, and in that 90 minutes Hall is able to establish a great number of things, particularly the supernatural/occult presence. Since the play is staged during the mid-late 19th century, there are no cauldrons or pointy witch hats, but instead the occult and symbols associated with it. Hall achieves great results with these elements as the supernatural not only feels otherworldly, but also as if it should not be summoned to begin with (like a Ouija board in the attic). Andrew Blizzard’s earth trembling sound design grants the supernatural even more terror.

The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth is a thrilling night at the theatre.

The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth runs March 30 – April 16 at Vertigo Theatre’s The Studio.

For more information about the show, including how to buy tickets, visit: http://www.shakespearecompany.com/current-season/macbeth/


Drip, Drip, Drip: Vertigo Theatre Wades Through The Turn of The Screw

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Myla Southward and Braden Griffiths in Vertigo Theatre’s The Turn of The Screw. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Henry James’ 1898 ghost story The Turn of The Screw is steeped in ambiguity. Are there spirits alive in the countryside or are the demons more psychological in nature? Both explanations are terrifying, but unfortunately the terror of James’ tale is watered down at Vertigo Theatre.

Adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher, The Turn of The Screw tells the story of a young governess (Myla Southward) hired to take care of two orphaned children living in their uncle’s country home. The children’s uncle (Braden Griffiths) asks the governess not to bother him in London with any sort of communication. Given total charge, the inexperienced governess does the best she can with Miles, a troubled boy discharged from school, and Flora, a young girl who chooses not to speak. Strange events begin not long after the governess’ arrival, namely the appearance of ghosts. The housekeeper Mrs. Grose confesses that the previous governess, Miss. Jessel, died on the grounds, along with her lover Peter Quint. Fearing the children’s safety, the governess tries solving the mystery of the apparitions before evil overtakes the household.

Common to ghost stories, the wilderness hides many evil things, and here it is no different. The supernatural lurks in the garden and outer limits of the estate. Set designer Scott Reid has constructed a unique set where the gothic estate shares space with a flooded downstage area. The presence of live water works marvelously in showing the encroaching wilderness, or darkness. Narda McCarroll’s striking lighting work adds layers to the water by making it appear soft and still in some moments, then hard and violent in others. Yes, the actors become absolutely drenched by the end of it, and that’s delicious symbolism for any English majors in the audience. The trouble is, the inventive staging does little for Hatcher’s weak adaptation.

Hatcher’s stage adaptation calls for only two actors, with the male actor taking on multiple roles. Griffiths plays the uncle, Miles, Flora, and Mrs. Grose. Griffiths goes on his knees to play schoolboy Miles, then leaps up to play Mrs. Grose, a shrill old woman. The actor’s character transitions are more comical than anything, winning (perhaps) unintended laughs from the audience. They also become messy as the narrative nears its climax, since now all the characters come into play together.

And with fewer players, the narrative’s possible outcomes become limited too, taking away some of James’ original ambiguity.

Director Ron Jenkins keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, but even still the story never quite hits its groove. Hatcher’s adaptation has difficulty bringing together all its elements in a cohesive, compelling manner. The payoff rests in the spectacular visuals than in the plot. Nonetheless, Jenkins displays a good eye for blocking actors and producing frights.

Southward delivers a strong performance as the young governess thrust into a world of spirits, demons of the past. A little water does little to stifle Southward’s intensity as her character’s own sanity starts to crack under pressure. Transitions aside, Griffith plays the menace well here with his deep, booming voice. He stalks and creeps like a shadow.

Hatcher’s adaptation suffers from a limited cast of actors, and a loose delivery of James’ classic ghost story. Vertigo Theatre’s production of The Turn of The Screw delivers in the visual department, but fails to produce intrigue worthy of a visit.

Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Turn of The Screw runs March 12 – April 10 at Vertigo Theatre (The Playhouse).

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.vertigotheatre.com/mystery-series


World Premiere: Vertigo Theatre Visits Calamity Town

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Tyrell Crews as Ellery Queen in Joseph Goodrich’s Calamity Town, based on the novel “Calamity Town” by Ellery Queen. Calamity Town is part of Vertigo Theatre’s BD & P Mystery Theatre Series. Photo Credit: Tim Nguyen.

Based on Ellery Queen’s 1942 novel of the same name, American playwright Joseph Goodrich’s Calamity Town is everything idyllic about small-town America with the exception of one small thing – murder.

Enjoying its world premiere at Vertigo Theatre, Calamity Town tells the story of mystery author Ellery Queen (Tyrell Crews) who travels to the fictional town of Wrightsville, USA to work on a new novel. In order to properly study the community and its residents, Ellery uses the name Ellery Smith to conceal his true identity from the townspeople. (In real life, Ellery Queen is itself a pseudonym for cousins Frederick Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee!).

Once in town, Ellery decides on renting Calamity House for the duration of his visit, fascinated by the history behind the supposedly jinxed home. The story goes, Jim Haight (Curt McKinstry) ran out on Nora Wright (Julie Orton) on the couple’s wedding day, disappearing for years. Ever since then, Calamity House, a name given by the townspeople, has sat empty beside the Wright family home.

Empty until Jim returns, unannounced, after three years away.

Jim and Nora marry, much to her mother’s chagrin, but their marriage is soon disturbed by a sinister discovery. Ellery and Nora sister’s Patty (Lindsey Angell) find letters that suggest someone is going to poison Nora.

Directed by Craig Hall & Nathan Pronyshyn, Goodrich’s adaptation of Calamity Town feels very similar in tone to Our Town by Thornton Wilder, a contemporary of Queen. Like the people of Grover’s Corner, the cast, acting like a chorus, establish details about the town of Wrightsville, and other narrative points. John Webber’s minimalist set reinforces the similarity between both works, as does Jamie Nesbitt’s slick projection work. In place of set pieces, Nesbitt’s projections display the various locales around town, zooming in for interior scenes when necessary. The projections are not only visually fascinating, but also effective in creating smooth, cinematic scene transitions.

While Ellery and Patty’s investigation is central to the plot, there is a strong emphasis on the various relationships between characters – much like Our Town. Audiences expecting a drab murder-mystery will be pleasantly surprised by the show’s genuine humour, which a few times leans awfully close to sit-com territory.. A good deal of the play’s humour comes from Ellery’s Big Apple wit, or arrogance depending who you ask, that fails to properly adjust itself for life in the easygoing town of Wrightsville.

Although the mystery itself is fairly thin, Hall & Pronyshyn manage to stage Queen and Patty’s investigation in a highly engaging manner. At various points, details of the investigation are examined via tableaux, or frozen picture, where Queen points to the particulars of the scene. Hall & Pronyshyn’s direction is abundant in theatrical play, with hints of cinematic influence, resulting in an enchanting production that hooks the audience from the start.

Crews’ charm is certainly a highlight in this group of outstanding talent, but it’s Angell who really stands out in the mix. Angell’s pep as the youngest Wright daughter is reminiscent of another fictional small-town character – Scout Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Patty is much older, of course, but the same rebel energy is there. In any case, Angell is wonderfully entertaining, especially when she plays against Kyle Jespersen’s hot-headed Carter Bradford. Angell and Crews make an exquisite pairing. Chris Hunt and Karen Johnson-Diamond are delightful as John and Hermione Wright. Both veteran actors really get a chance to display their comedic chops in not just their primary roles, but also secondary roles. (Johnson-Diamond gets right just about every dance/drama teacher ever).

Contrary to its name, Calamity Town is anything but disastrous. What Vertigo Theatre has here is a real winner. Gifted with a stellar cast, Hall & Pronyshyn’s ingenious staging add layers of theatrical excitement to an already brilliant adaptation by Goodrich.  A must-see.

Joseph Goodrich’s Calamity Town runs Jan 23 – Feb 21 at Vertigo Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.vertigotheatre.com/calamity-town/


A Worthwhile Tradition: The Mousetrap is Set At Vertigo Theatre


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The cast of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, playing now at Vertigo Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts and Photos, 2015.

Vertigo Theatre has a long history with Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Since 1980, the company has returned time and time again to Christie’s classic murder-mystery. This season, The Mousetrap returns for its 14th production at Vertigo Theatre, where the play was last staged in 2008.

Directed by Kate Newby, The Mousetrap finds Mollie and Giles Ralston (Anna Cummer, Devon Dubnyk) waiting for their guests to arrive at Monkswell Manor, a newly opened guest house in the country. Just before any of the guests arrive, the radio reports that the police are still searching for the killer who recently claimed the life of a local woman.

One by one, the guests arrive, beginning with a young, free spirited man named Christopher Wren (Geoffrey Simon Brown). Mrs. Boyle (Laura Perken) is instantly displeased with Monkswell Manor, and argues she was misled by Mollie and Giles’ advertisement. Major Metcalf (Duval Lang) arrives just behind the unpleasant woman, and fortunately he is far more jovial than her. The last scheduled guest is Miss. Casewell (Genevieve Paré), a well-travelled, yet reserved, woman. Mr. Paravicini (Cam Ashcroft), a strange man whose appearance seems disingenuous, joins the party after his car overturns in a snowdrift.

The guests are trapped indoors by a violent snowstorm, leaving no one able to get in or out. The only person able to reach the manor is Sergeant Trotter (Stafford Perry) who arrives by skis. The policeman is there to protect the guests, he reveals, as police have reason to believe the killer is on his or her way to the manor – if the killer is not already in their midst. When one of the guests is murdered, Sgt. Trotter must find out who among them is the killer and stop them before they strike again. And with no contact with the outside world, there is no time for anyone to withhold any secrets from the investigation.

By now, the whodunnit genre has been well-played, but there is something to appreciate about the classics. And here, we are not involved with just any mystery writer, but the Queen of Crime herself. Christie’s ability to build intrigue is second to none, and her attention to detail is impeccable – the radio report on the mechanics of fear comes to mind. The fun of a good mystery endures in this thrilling play where isolation pulls tension to the surface.

Newby’s lively, but measured, direction makes this production feel like an exciting game of Clue. There is almost a hint of camp, and that is not a stretch by any means. Via Mr. Paravicini, played by a very funny Ashcroft, the play already pokes fun at itself and the logic common in murder-mysteries. Christie had a good sense of humour about her work, and Newby emphasizes that for an audience well-familiar with the tropes Christie helped establish during her career.

If grizzly murder were not afoot, set & lighting designer Narda McCarroll’s gorgeous Monkswell Manor would be the envy of any traveller. The snow falling outside the spacious manor’s large window adds very nicely to the atmosphere. Add in April Viczko’s colorful costume design, and the audience is fully absorbed into the period.

The evening’s tension is heightened by Perry’s furious commitment to apprehending the killer. Perry’s Sgt. Trotter is intent on leaving no stone unturned during the investigation. Unfortunately, the guests are less like stones and more like boulders. Brown’s enigmatic, oddball Wren delights as he makes a joke of the whole thing, making everyone in the manor feel uncomfortable while doing so. Brown gives Dubnyk’s stuffy Giles more than enough reason to dislike him. Cummer’s Mollie tries desperately to keep the house running smoothly, while also trying to keep the peace between the guests. Cummer knows how to make small physical moments sing. Perken’s aristocratic Mrs. Boyle stirs the house like a witch at her cauldron. Paré plays Miss. Casewell with a firmness that stands well against Perken, and that cuts through much of the swirling around by the other guests.

There are some projection issues, as in the audience strains to hear bits of dialogue, but the cast is largely on point delivering the material. The accents could use some differentiation, however, as they all sound just a touch too similar to each other, an odd thing considering the guests come from all over.

The production has a vibrant energy surging through it, from start to finish. And the same energy carries during intermission and after the show where the audience buzzes about all the various clues. There is a seriousness to it all, which Newby is interested in exploring, but the show is mainly a lot of fun thanks to the strengths of its cast.

Ultimately, Vertigo Theatre’s The Mousetrap reminds us why Christie is the master of mystery, and why the company keeps returning to this classic play.

Vertigo Theatre’s The Mousetrap runs Nov 14 – Dec 13.

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


I’ll Be Back Before Midnight Conjures Up Big Laughs, Big Scares

Ah yes, there’s nothing quite like the isolation of an old farmhouse to help calm the nerves. Who cares about the grisly murder from years ago, the ghost that haunts the home, and the madman still on the loose, they’re just stories, right? Well, time will tell.

Vertigo Theatre, in association with Western Canada Theatre, presents Canadian playwright Peter Colley’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight as its 2015/16 season opener. Celebrated as one of Canada’s most widely produced stage plays, Colley’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight conjures up big laughs and big scares in this thrilling tale of sanity and spirits.

Directed by Daryl Cloran, I’ll Be Back Before Midnight tells the story of Jan (Brieanna Blizzard) and Greg Sanderson (David van Belle), a married couple reunited in the country after Jan’s nervous breakdown. Greg, an archeologist, has rented the farmhouse so Jan can recover while he pursues his studies at the nearby quarry. Unfortunately for her, farmer George (Paul Cowling) has plenty of gruesome stories to share about the area and the house itself, disturbing an already spooked Jan. And when Greg’s manipulative sister Laura (Alana Hawley) comes to visit, Jan’s situation only goes from bad to worse.

With the play being set in the early 1980s, audiences will immediately notice the lack of modern technologies to not only debunk the supernatural (through an effective Google search), but also provide comfort, say via Skype, in this remote setting. And so, like campers around a fire, the audience is drawn into a world at the mercy of nature, the supernatural, and whatever horror lurks in the darkness of rural Ontario. The terror of the unknown is alive and well within these walls of a supposedly haunted house.

And there are plenty scares to be had, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Jan’s state of mind. Colley steers the audience between reality and fantasy in this narrative ripe with twists and turns. And there is no greater (stomach) turn than the unsettling relationship between Greg and Laura, which raises the eyebrows inside the theatre very high as it unfolds. Audience members will have fun deciphering the clues and questions that surface, though some might find the ending unsatisfying given the buildup.

The scares are made more effective by the humour found in Colley’s script. One moment, the audience enjoy the good, if slightly odd, nature of farmer George, played wonderfully by Cowling; the next – well, that would be a spoiler, but be assured that it is a visually exciting moment that has the audience jumping out their seats. Colley’s ability for both humour and horror, and the interplay between the them, is top-notch.

Precise direction by Cloran keeps the action light on its feet inside set designer Scott Reid’s cozy farmhouse. Jonathan Lewis’ sound design contributes greatly to the evening’s creepy atmosphere with its measured control.

Hawley delivers both menace and an eerie allure as Laura, a most unwanted house guest. Van Belle’s vitamin-obsessed, rational thinking Greg is played with superb timing and gesture. (Perhaps Van Belle will keep his truly retro running attire since he seems so confident in them!). Unfortunately, Blizzard has difficulty in riding the emotional ups and downs of her character, lacking the sort of nuance needed in such a dynamic script as this. Blizzard does shine, though, is in her scenes with Cowling, which are real gut busters, thanks to their great chemistry together.

Overall, Vertigo Theatre’s production of Colley’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight is an enjoyable romp full of thrills and laughter. Colley proves himself a fine storyteller, demonstrating why this play is so widely produced. Those looking for a strong, early start to Halloween need look no further than Vertigo Theatre’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight.

Vertigo Theatre’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight runs September 19 – October 18th at Vertigo Theatre’s Playhouse.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.vertigotheatre.com/ill-be-back-before-midnight/

“If Only We Could Let It Be What It Is”: MacIvor’s A Beautiful View Asks What’s In A Name

Would a rose be as sweet if it had no name at all? Presented at The Studio (Vertigo Theatre), Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View criticizes our need to label relationships. Thanks to the chemistry of its two leads, Sage Theatre’s production of A Beautiful View, directed by Jason Mehmel, captures MacIvor’s signature wit.

The play begins with L (Stacie Harrison) and M (Monice Peter) who, rather cryptically, decide to revisit their past together, all the while being aware of the audience. Their story begins when they meet each other in a store while shopping for camping gear. From this meeting, an attraction develops between the two. The attraction, though, is neither totally friendly or romantic; it just simply is. But, as the years go on, the question of defining what they are soon makes its way to the forefront of their relationship and, as a result, breeds tension between the two.

MacIvor confronts his audience with a deceptively simple question: what is in a name? For the playwright, the act of naming something, especially something so personal as a relationship, is political. Continue reading