When a threesome veers off track

Honesty Rents by The Hour, a play produced by Infinitheatre, is more than just a hook-up story

The play Honesty Rents by the Hour tells the story of three mismatched strangers who meet at a seedy motel in Montreal for an anonymous threesome. Danny, a student living in the McGill ghetto, is joined by two other carnal pleasure-seekers: Chantal, a wife and mother from St-Eustache, and Pinchas, a Hasidic Jew living in Outremont.

Produced by Infinitheatre and written by Michael Milech, Honesty Rents by the Hour is  a provocative play about the complexity of human nature, relationships and identity.

“They all have comfortable lives that are filled with all the objective markers of happiness, but clearly something is missing. They want more and they have that in common with each other,” said Milech in a phone interview. “As much as they are from different backgrounds, they all have difficulty expressing their unfulfilled needs to their loved ones.”

Honesty Rents by the Hour tackles issues of sexual, religious and linguistic identities and their corresponding prejudices. According to Milech, the play raises questions about “who is our real self—the person that we show everyday, something we keep hidden, or is there any such thing as a real self?”

Faced with these difficult questions, the characters’ desire for a sexual encounter quickly starts to wane.  They strike up a conversation that helps peel away inhibitions, revealing truths previously suppressed. Chantal is cheating on her husband, who she finds boring. Pinchas is still coming to terms with his bisexuality, and his parent’s reaction to it. Danny keeps a cool facade, which hides his lack of confidence. This proves to be liberating and encourages reflection on the reasons for keeping these secrets.

About his character Danny, actor Patrick Keeler said, “Danny questions things about himself that he is uncomfortable with, things that he hasn’t dealt with fully for a long time … He thinks he’s got everything figured out.”

“I think he has to come to terms with his own shortcomings and the fact that he is not as honest as he thought he was,” Keeler added.

Honesty Rents by the Hour was featured at the 2016 Montreal Fringe Festival, where it snagged an award for best text. This is Milech’s first professionally-produced play, and features a bigger set than when it premiered at the Fringe Festival.

“Last time, it might have felt a little lighter and a bit more on the side of comedy,”  said Matt Jacobs, the play’s director. “There are still plenty of laughs, but now it’s got a real grounded feel and a realness that we were not able to reach before.”

The characters are well crafted, interesting and easy to relate to, as are the dilemmas they face.  “I really think one of the reasons this play is so strong is that we, the audience, do not necessarily relate to the characters on the outside immediately, but throughout the play each of them reveal pieces of themselves that I think are universal and really reach out in that way to many, many people,” Jacobs added.

Jacobs hopes Honesty Rents by the Hour will help the audience “look inward and consider the choices that one makes on a day-to-day basis in order to live a happy life.”

Honesty Rents by the Hour runs from March 10 to March 26 at Rialto Infinitheatre Studio. Tickets can be purchased for $17-$25.


Welcome to your worst nightmares

Concordia’s theatre students bring their much-anticipated collective Underbelly to the One-Act Play Festival

Filled with strobe lights, choral speaking and aggressive physicality, Underbelly explores themes of animality and fear. This one-act collective creation is the result of eight months worth of research.

The show was created by Camille Banville, Julian Duarte, Deborah Hartmann, Wilson Menary, Mariam Nazaryan, Lukas Reinsch, Madeline Smart, Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards, Leyla Sutherland and Luisa Zap, a group of both Concordia theatre students and students from Erlangen, Germany. It is part of the exchange program offered to theatre students at Concordia. Students travel to Erlangen, Germany for four months to attend classes, and begin to work on a show. Afterwards, the German students do the same and come to Concordia for the following four months. At the end of the process, the group debuts their collective at Concordia’s One-Act Play Festival.

Underbelly focuses on monsters and hybrids (mythological creatures). The show explores people’s inner monsters and what they can become, through scenes of abuse and control. A particularly difficult scene to watch was one of abuse that features three couples who, in a synchronized sequence, appear to abuse their partners, both physically—by twisting their arms—as well as psychologically and sexually. It ends with a somewhat long segment of erotic and suggestive movements, and the three victims smearing vaseline on a plexiglas board and licking it off. While rather difficult to watch, it also leaves the audience wondering what is happening, especially when watching three people lick vaseline. Although it is a powerful image, it is quite unpleasant to observe.

The show’s transitions often featured a strobe light and a group of actors walking across the stage posing in various positions. Sometimes they engaged the audience with choral speaking, sometimes the transition was simply covered by music. Either way, it made for a more refreshing take on the typical transitions of a collective. The show is mostly about audience interpretation, as not many of the scenes are explained, due to the strobe light it was sometimes difficult to see what was happening. However, after attending a rehearsal of the show, it became clear that that was the point. If the audience is questioning what’s happening, and wondering if what was happening was real, then the actors seemed to be content. The One-Act Play Festival ran at Concordia’s D.B Clarke Theatre from November 9 to 13. It was composed of five student acted plays, some original some not.

To see what performance is coming up next for Concordia theatre, be sure to check out the Fine Arts department calendar.


Puppets make light of Canada’s dirty little secrets

Paul van Dyck’s latest offering tackles the reality of Japanese internment camps

The Nisei & The Narnauks is an outlandish play set in a historical Canadian context. In the guise of an Alice in Wonderland-like coming-of-age adventure story, this play examines the distressing treatment of Japanese Canadians during World War II and juxtaposes it with the overall treatment of First Nations people.

Rising playwright and director Paul Van Dyck states that the idea for the play came during his exploration of Canada’s “real” history.

“In school I was taught that Canada was a ‘melting pot,’ a happy multicultural utopia. I was lied to. When I later learned about the internment of Japanese Canadians, the treatment of First Nations, and the ever present racism in my own community, I was perplexed and angered. I wondered how this could happen in my own country. But mostly I was afraid at how easily these events could be swept under the rug, for when our mistakes are forgotten, that’s when they’re repeated,” he said.

However, this play is a guaranteed pleasure for all ages and all walks of life. Life-like puppets (sometimes giant-sized), live music, lively actors and a magical storytelling experience will captivate you, move you and transport you to a fantastical land where a young girl makes sense of her world.

The Nisei & The Narnauks uses captivating visuals to illustrate difficult themes.

“I believe this will be an important play. I think it will educate a lot of people, and it will do so in a delightfully subversive way. It will take them on a journey of magic, and beauty, and adventure. And at the end of it all hopefully they won’t want to put their heads back in the sand. They may even want to know more and demand more of the country we live in,” he continued.

And at the very least, Van Dyck says that if you’re not learning anything, you will still be very entertained!

Persephone, once again, has given opportunities to emerging artists. The play features four young, energetic and vibrant actors playing multiple parts through mask and puppets, while also providing all the live sound effects and music. Dawson College alumna Stefanie Nakamura plays young Kimiko. From John Abbott, Michael Briganti takes on the role of Kimiko’s side kick, Raven. Concordia University gives us the final two actors in Jimmy Blais and Brefny Caribou.

Blais tackles the physicality, the voice and the focused performance of a     myriad of characters, ranging from princes to wolves. He said that the experience is an “opportunity to tie down to his native roots,” and that the puppets form a bridge that allow the audience to enter the story, while the engaging use of live music helps to tell “a multi-layered show,” allowing this mythical story to be “carried along.”

On the production side, Peter Vatsis provides designs for both set and lighting, while Melanie Michaud takes on costume design. Persephone welcomes the chance to work with puppet and mask maker Zach Fraser. Assisting Van Dyck with direction is Sara Rodriguez, all under the helm of stage manager, Isabel Quintero Faia.

The MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels) presents, in collaboration with Persephone Productions, The Nisei and The Narnauks by Paul Van Dyck from Feb. 5 to 22.


The Way You Tell Them doesn’t look for laughs

Playwright Rachel Mars analyzes the nature of comedy in her one-woman show

The Way You Tell Them is a solo show about comedy but it is not, at first, meant to be funny.

Presented as part of the Centaur Theatre’s 18th annual Wildside festival in its first Canadian run, the show was written by Rachel Mars, a theatre performer from London, who promises to “[look] at the internal world of the joke teller.’’ She recounted the story of her Jewish family’s history and their relationship to humour. The result was experimental comedy that is at once personal, intuitive, and thoughtful.

Her study of humour takes a documentary theatre form, and she invited us into a living room setting.

She directly addressed the public, asking to be told offensive jokes. The audience’s participation created an informal atmosphere. The integration of piano and accordion music, as well as a laugh track, eased the transitions throughout her piece. Everything in the show is there for a specific reason.

Mars strives to understand the dichotomy between the funny and the serious. She warned the audience that the show would become more and more serious as it unfolded. She reminisced about the first time she thought she was funny, as a three-year-old,  and how she got a kick out of the rush of endorphins. She spoke about her addiction to being funny and about how some of her family members were notoriously hilarious.

She remembered going through many children’s joke books when she was a kid, including Leo Rosten’s Giant Book of Laughter.

Mars wore a white T-shirt with a drawing of lungs on it and comical red shoes, along with her black pantsuit. The lungs are a symbol of laughter and of life, and this theme came back several times throughout her show, playing a central role in The Way You Tell Them and taking on multiple meanings. Mars drew interesting parallels between lungs and her family, the Holocaust, and comedy.

She explained her research on the effects of laughter, and how humans are prone to involuntary laughter at the most inappropriate times. She presented archival audio footage of an interview with J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is known as the father of the atomic bomb. Her analogy between human atrocities and laughter was astonishing. Mars also used an excerpt from a video interview with a person living with AIDS. The show’s twists forcedspectators to reflect on comedy and laughter as a coping mechanism.

She spoke in a conversational tone, and used a stand-up setting as a vehicle to get her point across. Mars spoke about not being a serious person, and how comedy allowed her to say just about anything.

Wearing a grey one-piece wolf costume, she left us with her personal reflection on the contradictions of humanity in a clever way.

The show will be presented on Tuesday, Jan. 13 at 9 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m., and on Friday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m.

Tickets cost $50 for a four show “superpass,” or $40 for subscribers, students, seniors or people under 30. Single show passes are $15, or $12.50 for subscribers, students, seniors and people under 30.


Family ties explored in fun quirky production

Social Studies tells the story of one somewhat unconventional family

It’s hard to believe that Social Studies, a new comedy playing at the Centaur Theatre, is the first play that Tricia Cooper has written. The University of Winnipeg graduate has worked mainly as an actor and a sketch comedy writer in Winnipeg and Toronto. Social Studies is her first full-length play, and she has managed to craft a beautiful, believable piece about Canadian life.

Tricia Cooper’s play takes an original look at familial relationships

Directed by Paul Van Dyck, Social Studies is about a somewhat unconventional family that has taken in a lost boy from Sudan. The play begins when 27-year old Jackie arrives at her mother’s house just after leaving her cheating husband. She is ready to curl up in the safety of her childhood home when she discovers that her mother, Val, has opened it to a Sudanese boy named Deng, who is now living in Jackie’s bedroom. Jackie is left to sleep on the couch and wallow in her own self-pity while her teenaged sister, Sarah, is keen to have Deng visit. The play is strung together with snapshots of Sarah doing a class presentation about Sudanese lost boys.

Deng, who at first brings perspective and light into the family’s world, soon begins to cause some confusion and uneasiness. The entire show offers a comfortable, homey feel, but there is always an underlying layer of mystery.

Jane Wheeler, who has appeared in many past Centaur productions, portrayed the character of Val, the mother of the two girls. Val is a holistic, spiritually-driven woman who is all about good feelings and deep breathing. Wheeler played the part with an enormous amount of energy while still keeping the character grounded. The exchanges between Val and her daughters seemed completely genuine and true to those of a real family.

Emily Tognet, fresh out of Concordia’s theatre program, played the part of Sarah. Tognet’s portrayal of a Canadian teenager was superb, particularly through her physicality on stage. She brought excellent energy to the show and delivered some great comedic lines.

Montreal native Eleanor Noble played the role of Jackie. This character is a tricky one because Jackie is always looking for attention. She is onstage for much of the show and must constantly be at a high level of energy. Noble did a great job with the role, but there was a slight disconnect between the actor and the character, perhaps because of the dialogue she had to work with. In most of her scenes she gives out many negative thoughts and few positive ones.

Jaa Smith-Johnson, a theatre graduate from Dawson College, portrayed Deng. Somewhere between his big smile and his not yet perfect grasp of English, he got the audience on his side from the start. Smith-Johnson did some good work with the part and played it quite convincingly. At times, he was a bit tense physically, but this worked well to depict his uncertainty in the new home he’d become a part of.

Filled with vibrant characters, a gorgeous set, and masterful technical work, Social Studies ended up being a magnificent piece of theatre.

Social Studies is playing at Centaur Theatre until Nov. 30. For more information, visit


Venus in Fur has gender roles all tied up

The Centaur Theatre’s newest play is a spectacle of sadomasochism

Sex and power: the two are inextricably linked. Sex and relationships may always boil down to power games, though never quite so obviously as when there are gags, whips, and consensual sexual humiliation involved.

Venus in Fur, the Tony-nominated play by David Ives, currently at the Centaur Theatre until Nov. 9, uses the subtext of sadomasochism to reveal the politics of gender roles and fluidity of power in sex play.

The story, which is a self-aware and very meta adaptation of the 1870 novella Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. And yes, as the character of Thomas in the play reveals, Sacher-Masoch gave his name to what we now know as masochism, a theme that prevails throughout his novel.

Thigh high boots, crops, binds, and gender politics are all part of Venus in Fur. Photo by David Hou.

In Sacher-Masoch’s original version, he tells the story of the relationship and power play between characters Severin and Wanda. He is infatuated with her, though more so with the idea of a dominant and unforgiving embodiment of Venus, and he offers himself as her slave. Thus ensue scenes of female-dominant sexual humiliation, which encounters a blip when Wanda meets a handsome and ruthless Greek man to whom she wants to submit. At this juncture, Severin loses his submissive kink and we see the power return to his hands.

The play opens with director Thomas auditioning an actress for a role in his upcoming adaptation of Venus in Furs. Vanda (not-so-coincidentally sharing almost the same name as the play’s titular character) is a rough-around-the-edges modern-day Venus who comes to audition for the role of Wanda. Thomas, the on-stage writer-director, reads the part of Severin for the audition.

As they go through the scenes as Wanda and Severin, their own power struggle develops, and the audience becomes increasingly aware of just how much each of them mirrors the characters they are portraying—much to Thomas’ objections.

Wanda/Vanda, played flawlessly by Carly Street, dashes seamlessly between the two Venus types: the regal and majestic Wanda, and the flighty, down-to-earth, rough-speaking Vanda.

Rick Miller injects stoicism into his portrayal of the submissive Severin, and of Thomas, who is reluctant to admit he shares the same desires.

Spoiler Alert: In the final, pivotal scene where Wanda and Severin fall out over her desire to submit to the Greek man, as their established power dynamic comes crashing down and becomes reversed, Ives interestingly has Thomas and Vanda switch roles, at her request. This makes it so that when Severin finally becomes the dominant party, his character is being played by a woman, while the submissive Wanda, played by Thomas, gets tied to a heating pole and begs for forgiveness.

It is here that not only the gender roles, but the character roles of Wanda/Vanda and Severin/Thomas become exceedingly blurred. As the director of the play Vanda is auditioning for, Thomas holds the power, though she surprises him at every turn in her portrayal. In suggesting edits and improvising his scripted dialogue, it is perhaps she who is really in control.

On the other hand, Wanda is dominant throughout her relationship on-stage with Severin, though by the fact that he is the one who requested the contractual arrangement of being her slave and effectively convincing her to agree, the audience wonders, as Vanda does, if perhaps he was always the one in control.

The emotional finale does not, as one might expect, culminate in Thomas and Vanda finally succumbing to their desires and having sex. Instead, she takes full Venus-form and makes him join her in a chorus of “Hail Aphrodite,” accompanied by sounds of thunder booming.

Venus in Fur is an intelligent and provocative investigation into sex and gender politics, infused with feminist wit and a lot of kink.

Tickets are available online through or in person at the Centaur.


Break a leg Mrs. Robinson

The Segal centre kicked off their new season on Sunday with it’s premiere of The Graduate. The play is an adaptation by Terry Johnson based on the novel by Charles Webb and the iconic motion picture screenplay by Calder Williams and Buck Henry.  As you may know, it is the story of Benjamin Braddock, a young man that, after graduation, finds himself in the middle of what will end up being one of the most defining moments of his young adult life. This sad, precarious and very significant moment involves being entangled in a dangerous love triangle and being torn between the mother and daughter of his father’s business partner. Seduced by the magnetism of experience, but mesmerized by a hopeful future, Benjamin is caught in a tidal wave of events that will shape the course of his life.

The play is dropping the audience directly into the universe of the ‘60s. In this era of social, political and cultural transformation, the young brave baby boomers seek to break from the old monotony and the plastic facade of happiness of the post-war Silent Generation. From its kitschy-looking carpeted floors to it’s glamorous jungle-like dresses, The Graduate evokes this liberated generation. It also portrays an earlier world surfing on beautiful revolutions and personal discoveries which successfully relate to today’s issues. A stellar cast and crew are included in the play, notably Stratford’s young leading man Luke Humphrey as Benjamin and Shaw Festival’s favourite Brigitte Robinson as Mrs. Robinson. Also, an original score of live music composed by Matthew Barber and Justin Rutledge and inspired by Simon and Garfunkel’s soundtrack of the famous motion picture will surely charm the audience. Andrew Shaver’s direction also gives the play a promising value.

The Graduate will be presented from Aug. 31 to Sept. 21 at the Segal Center for Performing Arts. Also, for you theatre lovers out there, on Aug. 31 at 11 a.m., the Segal Theatre will be hosting Sunday-@-The Segal: Talkin’ ’bout my generation The Graduate, with guests Andrew Shaver, Justin Rutledge and Matthew Barber. Furthermore, you should check out Class Act Theatre Club, Sept. 3 at 7 p.m., a pre-show conversation with Andrew Shaver, and Monday Night Talkbacks, Sept. 8 and 15 after the 7 p.m. performances, with members of the cast.


What does it mean? What is RED?

Mark Rothko (left, played by Randy Hughson) and his young new assistant, Ken (Jesse Aaron Dwyre). Press photo.

“What is red?” shouts Mark Rothko, as he begins on another of his impassioned, belligerent speeches.

Indeed RED, by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and playwright John Logan, is riddled with so many torrential philosophical speeches that the audience nearly drowns in them. If you can follow Rothko’s vehement rants on the faceted layers of art, his own work and the work of his contemporaries, then you may walk away from RED enlightened.

However, you may also leave disappointed, as any person would who experiences as many climaxes in 96 minutes as RED presents, but no real satisfaction.

RED, directed by Governor General Award-winning actor and director Martha Henry, takes place over the two-year span in which it took abstract expressionist artist, Mark Rothko, to create a series of large scale murals for Manhattan’s Four Season’s restaurant. The play opens in 1958 as Rothko (played by Randy Hughson) is joined by a young new assistant, Ken (Jesse Aaron Dwyre). A fictionalized account of Rothko’s first attempt to create a space where one might interact and contemplate his artwork, RED portrays Rothko’s struggle with the idea that this project is an insult to his artistic integrity. Throughout the play, Rothko’s notion of art and meaning is challenged by Ken, a dilettante artist with a tragic past.

Hughson as Rothko is vivid and enigmatic. His portrayal of Rothko, the aging, frustrated artist struggling with his own significance is three-dimensional and lively. He commands the stage, shadowing the less dynamic Dwyre. Initially, this overpowering seems intentional, juxtaposing the dominant character of Rothko against the submissive character of Ken. However, when the focus shifts to Ken, as his character begins to come into his own, Dwyre’s emotional portrayal pales in comparison to Hughson and the audience is unable to engage with him as much.

The play takes place in a single location, the studio Rothko rented when he was painting the Four Season murals. Eo Sharp has constructed a set that is said to be accurate to the actual studio Rothko used. Indeed, Sharp’s set is reflective of what one would presume an artist’s studio to look like, down to the worn, dirty furniture and the amalgamation of canvases in various stages of completion.

There is no intermission and the scene changes are done in a half blackout, flowing seamlessly with the rhythm of the play. Time’s passage is marked by comments pertaining to the progress of the series of murals. Costume changes are, for the most part, done on stage, but with a naturalness that is easily accepted by the audience as organic to the world of the play.

Logan has created a philosophically heavy play that seems to serve as a biography of Rothko, an illustration of his methods and mentality. The audience is berated with speeches that preach on all manner of subjects, from the work of Nietzsche, to the reasoning of Pollock, to expostulations on the nature of Rothko’s work and the meaning of the colours red and black. These speeches are thought provoking, but the sheer number of them and the way they are angrily thrown out at the bewildered audience results in the alienation of said audience. Indeed, as the play ran on, the speeches became monotonous and some audience members were seen to be dozing off.

“You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting,” quotes Rothko from Rembrandt’s painting “Belshazzar’s Feast.” Verily, Logan’s RED has been weighed and found wanting.

RED runs until Dec. 16 at The Segal Centre. For showtimes and ticket information visit

Watch the play’s trailer:

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