The View Reviewers weigh in on the 2019 theatre scene. Each one has created their own special award to honour their favourite of the year.
ALLISON JONES’ PICKS
The “Levy, Thomas and Short Award,” recognizing Hamilton born comedians Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas and Martin Short. Long before Schitt’s Creek or Father of the Bride, my humour was shaped (and irretrievably warped) by sketch comedy show, SCTV.
Promise and Promiscuity (Auckland, New Zealand) Full disclosure: I was hired to promote all ten shows of The Staircase BYOV during Hamilton Fringe, and Penny Ashton’s solo show, Promise and Promiscuity, was one of them. I’d never met her nor seen the show, but saw one of her last performances once my View reviews were printed and Fringe was in its final weekend. (I bought my ticket, though she did later gift me a set of her adorable magnets). Ashton is on another level. She handled latecomers with aplomb, then led a mesmerizing romp through an off–kilter version of Jane Austen’s bookscape. Her timing? Impeccable. Her transitions? Nimble. Her commitment? Wholehearted. She bowled me over.
Last Supper (Hamilton)
A short, site specific drama, Last Supper at Frost Bites was tense and cinematic. An American ‘Dreamer’ has taken refuge in a Canadian church, and her fate depends on its sanctuary and its priest, as the net of an immigration official tightens. Written by Marilo Núñez, Last Supper was beautifully designed by Peter Riddihough to combine live action, projection and voiceover. It raised my heart rate, and left me wanting more.
Black Wool Jacket (Toronto)
Another Fringe one woman show, Natalie Frijia’s Black Wool Jacket was on my ‘must see’ list from the first time I pored over the schedule. I just liked the premise: a grad student gets a coat check job at a Toronto nightclub; she has tales to tell. There’s the good, bad, gross and petty, then Frijia confides a story that had me shaken with its devastating ‘what ifs.’
BRIAN MORTON’S PICKS
If I am to coin an award, it would be the “Julia Arthur Award” for bad–ass empowered female theatre creators. Arthur was the Hamilton born 19th century Shakespearean actor, who by 1898 was heading her own company on Broadway. This year I think it should go to Camille Intson.
We All Got Lost by Camille Intson was presented at the Westdale Theatre as part of the 2019 Hamilton Fringe Festival. Her play, basically “won the 2019 Fringe”, getting awards for the best new play, and the highest box office gross. Intson is twenty–two, and is currently studying at the Central Drama School in the UK. Her company was comprised of emerging female artists, breaking into the professional world. For my money, Camille is the real deal, someone who is articulate, with some real insight into the art of live performance.
Claudia Spadafora’s production of Twelfth Night, presented byTottering Biped Theatre at the RBG in August. A LBGTQ2S+ take on Shakespeare, Spadafora, was the heart and soul behind this Queerre–imagining of Twelfth Night. Shakespeare’s text is full of examinations of gender. It’s rare to get to write a “rave review”, but this production earned one.
Artword Theatre’s production of Whoever You Are, adapted from ashort story by Canadian “sci-fy” author Judith Merril. The play was directed by Ron Weihs at the sadly now closed, Artword Artbar on Colbourne Street. It featured a live soundscape by Dave Gould and the wonderful acting talents of Pamela Gardner hanging suspended in zero gravity for more than an hour.
RACHEL MOORE’S PICKS
As we say goodbye to the second decade of the 2000s it can seem difficult to find anything to celebrate about what an apocryphal curse calls “interesting times”. Luckily for me, I live in Hamilton where the 2010s were an exciting and fertile time for local art and culture, theatre included. I saw a lot of great things last year; standouts include Mercury Man and Bedwetter, both Fringe offerings and a wild genderqueer production of Comedy of Errors at the Stratford Festival. It’s hard to compete against Stratford, but I have to award this years “Shero” award to Tamlynn Bryson for Bedwetter. Funny, poignant and surprisingly informative, Bedwetter exemplified indie theatre at its best and made me a confirmed Bryson fan girl.
GREG CRUIKSHANKS’ PICKS
re:mind (McMaster University Honours Performance Series) Created by McMaster students Winnie Wu and Olivia Gaudino–Korosak as their final project in McMaster’s theatre program, this set the standard for every other piece of theatre I saw this year. A beautifully choreographed, dynamically performed, hauntingly scored movement piece that explores the dynamic of Emotion (Wu) and Reason (Mykola Paskaruk) and how those two concepts collide and interact in the wake of trauma, this piece was thoughtful and amusing and heartbreaking all at once, the kind of show that reminds you what great theatre is capable of.
Hairspray (Theatre Aquarius) I described Aquarius’ production of Hairspray as “perfect” in my official review, and I stand by that. From the performances to the choreography to the set and costumes and lighting, this show, smartly directed by Mary Francis Moore, was everything you could want from a big–budget musical: energetic, vibrant, colourful, and emotionally resonant.
Einstein’s Gift (Dundas Little Theatre) Under the direction of Ryan Trepanier, whose understanding of how characters fit both in their world and in the theatrical space that world inhabits is masterful, Vern Thiessen’s reflection on the culpability of Haber and Einstein for what others did with their scientific discoveries was thoughtful, palpable, and expertly staged, with strong performances from the entire cast, and gorgeously effective lighting from designer David Faulkner–Rundle.
DANIEL GARIEPY’S PICKS
The “MacNabby” award has been created to honour excellence in local theatre. It can be conferred upon a single acting performance, outstanding direction, technical or other creative achievements.
Choreographer Katlyn Alcock created stunning stage pictures with her dance routines for HTI’s Rocky Horror Show, pulling the entire production up a notch. The cast were in top form, making the sequences picture–perfect in unison, timing, energy and clean movement. Her “Time Warp” was a marvel of energetic precision, and inspired much chair–dancing in the audience.
Both Mark Ellis and Mischa Avarena added so much to The Pearl Company’s production of Glengarry Glen Ross. Elllis, with unmatched yet subtle technique emanated frustration from every pore, and painted vivid word pictures and making the audience see through his eyes. Avarena made of his character a feast of delightful douchery.
But this year’s coveted inaugural “MacNabby” award goes to a single performance. In The Players’ Guild production of The Gentleman Clothier, actress Gail Edwards, although a veteran performer, burst onto the stage in a fresh and authentic interpretation of Norm Foster’s Alisha Sparrow character. Winning over critics and audiences alike, she imbued the production with a naturalness and electricity all her own, making for an unforgettable evening in local theatre.
SARA CYMBALISTY’S PICKS
My award for favourite show of 2019 is “The Molly” named after Molly Yearham a local treasure of an actress who acted with almost every theatre company in the Hamilton area. She battled cancer for many years and was a great inspiration to me and others. “The Molly” goes to The Day They Shot John Lennon by James McLure produced by The Players’ Guild as my overall favourite show of 2019. The play is about eight Lennon “devotees” who come together in Central Park the day after the murder. Set in 1980 they each explore the troubled times in America reflecting upon war, racism, gun violence, politics and poverty that seems even more relevant in present day. It was beautifully and sensitively directed by the very talented Willard Boudreau and associate director Gary Smith. Leading an excellent cast whilst dealing with his own health issues Boudreau also had to come to terms with losing a central character days before Tech week, who sadly subsequently died and he had to recast and rally the support of all involved in the production. I really applaud the whole company for an entertaining and insightful play. My second choice is Freaky Friday, Theatre Aquarius’s stunning production telling the story of a mother and daughter who through a broken hour glass come to inhabit each other’s bodies the night before the mother’s wedding to her second husband. The show was fast paced and hugely entertaining with a great set, wonderful cast and ensemble who ate up the stage. At intermission I asked a young audience member if she liked the show to which she replied “I am loving it!” Special mentions go to Robin Hutton playing Mom, Jenny Weisz as the daughter and Hutton Patterson as the son. Finally, Theatre Aquarius’s Renovations for Six a metaphor for three couple’s troubled relationships was also an entertaining show written by our own Norm Foster who is always a crowd pleaser with his warm and witty writing. Stealing the show was Mary Long with her top–notch comedic timing and natural delivery of her lines. There were many laughs in this show but more angst than Foster’s usual work.
TAMARA KAMERMANS’ PICKS
For my best of 2019, I have created “The Hedy” in honour of Hedy Ross, a long time Hamilton actress who graced many community theatre stages in her day. She passed too soon and left behind a community full of memories of her natural comedic talent.
I bestow this award on Leila Live! starring Izad Etemadi. Once again Leila steals the Fringe with impeccable comedy combined with cultural truth telling. He scarcely gives you a moment to breathe.
In second place, I nominate, David Brennan Exhumed which made a huge impact on full
houses at the Fringe this summer. Brennan is a storytelling, comedian extraordinaire. Both he and Etemadi take comedy to higher level with their wit and intelligence.
Finally, also from the Fringe, Penny Ashton in her one woman show Promise and Promiscuity. She dance, she sang, she impersonated and swept the audience away into her Saturday Night Live version of Jane Austen. V