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Step into the Wildside

by admin January 12, 2010

Shake your grove thing at Dance Animal
by Adam Avrashi

A humorous mix of monologues and dance sequences, Dance Animal will have you hooting and hollering once the 11-member dance troop busts a move on the Centaur stage.

Each dancer has a story as to why they joined the Dance Animal troop, and why they found its leader, Dance Tiger, so alluring. You see, once you join, you leave your life behind and devote yourself to dance. Also, you get a kick-ass name, like Dance Banana.
The characters range from the zany (Dance Ladybug- the malcontent French Quebecer) to the awkward (Dance Salmon- the gawky McGill student). Rounding out the cast are two Concordia students, one former and one present, who steal the show hands down. Joseph Bembridge as Dance Pony, lights up the stage with his glow-sticks and shares his story of growing up gay and attending raves while living at home with his square parents. Current Concordia student, Vannessa Kneale, plays a mute with a passion for contemporary movement as Dance Hippo. She is also assistant choreographer for the show. All eyes were on Kneale’s facial expressions, which drew laughs from even the rearmost part of the theatre – especially while playing a Parisian mime in love who comically rummages between her breasts for a cigarette lighter.
The dance contingent of the show is exhilarating and at times hilarious to the point of burst out-loud-laughing. A jazz-dancing Spider-Man fights off the bad guys in an aerobic number, while mice fight evil kitchen chefs in a slow motion dance-off. The dance numbers are also intertwined with skits performed by the entire cast. A sketch involving a perverted old man in a nursing home who tries to have sex with any and every old geezer in sight, is Saturday Night Live worthy.

Only one skit, with a stripping bunny rabbit, didn’t go over too well since it ran a bit long and lacked the humour and zeal the other skits possessed. It would also have been nice to learn a bit more about the elusive dance captain- Dance Tiger (Robin Henderson) – but perhaps that is a different dance show all together.
All in all, Dance Animal is an entertaining 90 minutes of dance and sketch comedy, that will no doubt have you in the boogie-oogie mood for the next couple of days.


Pregnant man is surprisingly funny through sister’s perspective
by Adam Avrashi

“Hiding a pregnant man is like hiding a pregnant gorilla.”
Or at least, that’s what it felt like when Johanna Nutter first saw her brother with a baby bump.
Nutter lets all her feelings hang out in her one-woman show, My Pregnant Brother, and doesn’t spare anyone in the process. In case you’re wondering, the pregnant man in question is not Thomas Beatie, who appeared on Oprah and was interviewed by Barbara Walters. Although, after seeing My Pregnant Brother, its hard to discern this fact, because the play and its marketing campaign mention Beatie, but never disassociate themselves from him. In fact, the name of the pregnant man is curiously never revealed.
My Pregnant Brother takes place a few years before Beatie’s pregnancy was announced, and long before Oprah was toting him as the first pregnant man. Nutter’s brother, the unofficial first pregnant man, started out as a woman, then came out as a lesbian. One day, without telling her mother, he had a mastectomy and began taking hormones. Officially transgendered (but with female reproduction organs intact), it was a shock to everyone when he was impregnated by a homeless squeegee boy.

Nutter, who is at the centre of the story, tries to be supportive of her brother, but is struggling to make it as an actress and is in the process of leaving her long-term bartending job. However, Nutter confronts her biggest fears when she finds out that her brother gave his daughter away to a woman he found over the Internet.
For such serious subject matter, the play is surprisingly funny, with enough transgender jokes and anecdotes to cut through the tense story. Nutter is brave enough to let the story unfold naturally, so the audience is in step with each emotion, whether laughter or heartache, portrayed onstage.
Although the main attraction is the pregnant man, Nutter also crafts an interesting portrait of her unstable family, notably her mother. A passionate hippie who brought her daughters to live in communes, and didn’t believe in school, her mother once asked her then-12-year-old daughter whether she should abort a pregnancy after a one night stand with a biker. Certainly not your typical mother-daughter coming of age story.
To illustrate her ideas onstage, Nutter uses chalk on the black floor. She also maps out the Plateau neighbourhood she grew up in, indicating all the different streets she’s lived on. The chalk is a cute tactic, but the story is so interesting, it doesn’t need any visual support.
My Pregnant Brother concludes on an off-beat, as if the proverbial curtain fell prematurely onto the stage. Perhaps further reworking and a tighter ending will result in an even stronger piece, but the show is certainly a must-see.

A dirty issue; Dust sympathizes with abusive prison guards

by Sarah Deshaies

Dust is a romance between two ordinary, American folk &- who happen to be prison guards at an Abu Ghraib-like prison in Iraq.
Jenny and Jon are plucked from their comfortable homes and dropped into jobs in the army where they routinely torture and humiliate detainees. To create an escape from the bleak and terrible reality that is their daily lives, they concoct theme nights and other fun activities. Jenny (Jessica Moss), the chipper one, also decorates their environment with bright chalk drawings.
Jenny misses her hometown and its three McDonald’s franchises, especially the chicken McNuggets, “which taste different at each one.” She is bored with her office job at the prison, and pursues Jon (Brandon Coffey) who can’t help but fall for her.
Armed with a camera around her neck, she snaps photos of everything like a typical tourist. Her memory card is filled with photos of her and Jon playing and posing, and images of the men they humiliate.

The images of the Abu Ghraib scandal are still fresh in many people’s minds, and it was a wise choice not to replicate them onstage. However, subtle references remind the audience: Jenny posing with her arms cocked, Lynndie England-style, Jenny with a sunshine yellow duvet her mother sent her over her head (chalk and sheets appear to be the props of choice this time at Wildside). But it’s clear that the twosome is affected by the horrors they are witnessing, and helping to perpetrate; Jon has nightmares that make him scream at night.
It would appear that Jenny and Jon are both prisoners and captors in Abu Ghraib.
Written and directed by Jason Maghanoy, Dust is the lone Torontonian play amidst a Montreal-friendly repertoire at the Wildside festival.
With whispery indie rock transition music, including breathy Sufjan Stevens and Emily Haines playing between scenes, it seems like Maghonoy would like us to feel sympathetic towards Jenny and Jon, to see their love blossom despite the cruel surroundings and the realization that they both commit torture. But it doesn’t work for me.
Jenny coos and chuckles when she returns from torture sessions and is devoted to her daily routine. Jon remains fairly tight-lipped about the torture he’s witnessing, though he clearly doesn’t enjoy it.
As Jenny says defiantly, “I came here to get rid of monsters.” This play kind of makes you wonder who the monsters are in Abu Ghraib prison.

Penumbra is not the sexy you expect
by Adam Avrashi

After the rave reviews it received at the Montreal Fringe Festival this summer, Penumbra was a surprising let-down.
The play follows David and Constance (Christopher Moore and Catherine Bérubé), two teens beginning to explore their sexual desires. The problem is Constance isn’t ready yet, at least not ready to have sex with David. She posts a sex ad online posing as a 24-year-old, asking to be part of a threesome. The couple across the street who have sex in plain view of their neighbours, Justine and Thomas (Michelle Boback and Howard Rosenstein), respond to the ad, inviting the underage Constance to a night of debauchery. After discovering that she is underage, Justine encourages Constance to have oral sex with her husband, as she has developed a distorted desire to please her ever-demanding husband. However, things get complicated once Constance and Thomas decide they want to continue having sex on their own.
Penumbra tries to pull off sexy, with love scenes performed behind a back-lit white sheet, but the results are awkward and disjointed. The fact that some of the performances are monotonous and the subject matter so risque, makes the show feel more sleazy than avant-garde.

Moore and Bérubé, both talented actors, are miscast as 17-year-olds, roles they could have played a decade prior. Rosenstein, as the pompous philanderer, delivers his lines with the same enthusiasm one uses to read a grocery list. The real standout is Boback as the troubled Justine, who sees her marriage heading in a direction she isn’t comfortable with. She packs an emotional punch towards the end of the play when she discovers what her husband has been up to behind her back.
Penumbra, written by Concordia student Katherine Dempsey, feels like watching an unedited episode of To Catch A Predator, leaving the same uneasy, dirty feeling in its wake.
The play does redeem itself when Bérubé spews key words from online sexual solicitation ads, where unsatisfied individuals post their desires in ad form.
Also, Penumbra’s lighting, by Jody Burkholder, gave the play an edge while also creating the right amount of tension.
The problem with Penumbra, aside from some flawed performances, is that the dialogue feels scripted, as if the characters aren’t speaking to each other, but at each other.
The show isn’t bad, but it’s certainly flawed.

Ties has a few emotional knots
by Philip Fry

Ties combines flawless lighting, set design and musical accompaniment to provide the perfect stage for its performers to tell a beautiful story of self struggle and letting go of close bonds and personal baggage. Put on by Odelah Creations, and directed by its co-founder Arianna Bardesono, Ties keeps the audience gripped and curious throughout.
Illuminated by a single light on stage, Ties opens with the character Christine onstage, unravelling neckties of all sorts. Then, in an “out-of-character-in-character” dialogue, Christine, a young Lebanese woman played by Christine Aubin Khalifah, begs her hesitant co-star, Greg Hale, cast as a much older 61-year-old man, to agree to continue in the role. As the dimming light casts a dark shadow on the stage; the two immediately begin to unravel the multi-faceted tale of Christine, who explores both her past and present following the death of her father.

The audience is treated to a tour of what appears to be the present day as she totes around her seemingly docile father. Christine’s relationship with her father is central to Ties and although undeclared, through means of rejecting romantic offers and cheeky friends, it becomes clear that her father is representative of thwarted dreams, omnipresent in Christine’s life. Frustration, unhappiness, and woes of unaccomplished desires are followed by an abrupt rainstorm accompanied by strums of an acoustic guitar, creating a sense of Christine’s devastation. Christine’s commands her father to go away, to disappear. The performers reveal a timeline of the father-daughter relationship via a series of real-time, non-linear ?ashbacks and flash forwards. The audience is bombarded by childhood memories, teen angst, and struggles with cultural identity, which leads to climatic emotional outpouring.
Perhaps the most riveting element of the production is the passion for the tale itself, evident in both of the actors’ performances. Khalifah is sincere, and her every move meaningful. Hale, while playing the role of a man nearly thrice his age, is believable, and compassionate. Their versatility and execution of their roles are beautifully intertwined and charming. The play’s use of freedom of imagination and inventiveness leave the audience pondering the rendition of the relationship itself. Ties manages to be metaphorical, literal, and symbolic at the same time, providing an engaging and thought-provoking experience for the audience.