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SCRUTINY | Three Productions That Light Up Toronto Stages In April

By Paula Citron on April 7, 2023

L-R (clockwise): Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutove in First Metis Man of Odesa (Photo: Alexis McKeown); Neena Jayarajan & Daniel R. Henkel in Metamorphoses (Photo: Lyon Smith); Jonathan Cullen in Rock of Ages (Photo; Raph Nogal)
L-R (clockwise): Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutove in First Métis Man of Odesa (Photo: Alexis McKeown); Neena Jayarajan & Daniel R. Henkel in Metamorphoses (Photo: Lyon Smith); Jonathan Cullen in Rock of Ages (Photo; Raph Nogal)

Punctuate! Theatre & The Theatre Centre/First Métis Man of Odesa, written and performed by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova, directed by Lianna Makuch, The Theatre Centre Upstairs, Mar. 30 to Apr. 8. Tickets here.

First Métis Man of Odesa is an absolutely endearing play, although it is not without its poignant moments of darkness.

Edmonton Métis playwright Matt MacKenzie met Ukrainian actor Masha Khomutova at a workshop in the Ukraine. The play follows their whirlwind courtship and marriage, the ups and downs of their relationship, the problems of a two-country romance, and the birth of their son Ivan.

The play is honest, raw and, in a word, captivating. The structure follows the format of the performers portraying themselves in scenes, and talking to the audience as narrators. The best part is when they talk about each other. The play addresses humour and pathos in equal measure, as all is laid bare, and believe me when I say that interest never flags.

Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova in First Métis Man of Odesa (Photo: Alexis McKeown)
Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova in First Métis Man of Odesa (Photo: Alexis McKeown)

Classically-trained Khomutova is a brilliant actor whose performance enchants at every measure. There is no justice if she doesn’t find a fabulous career in this country. She should be at Stratford and Shaw. MacKenzie, who is really a playwright, is a bit of a stiff as an actor, but he delights with his sense of iconic and satiric delivery.

Kudos to director Lianna Makuch, who has found a way to make a stand-and-deliver play visually interesting in her movement choices, and to designer Daniela Masellis for her superb and surprising set.

The play is currently on a Canadian tour, and Toronto is the furthest east it comes, so thanks to The Theatre Centre for helping to bring First Métis Man of Odesa here. How lucky Edmonton, Vancouver, Saskatoon and Winnipeg are to get the play next.

Danya Buonastella, Neena Jayarjan, Dean Gilmour, Daniel R Henkel, and Rob Feetham in Metamorphoses 2023 (Photo: Lyon Smith)
Danya Buonastella, Neena Jayarjan, Dean Gilmour, Daniel R Henkel, and Rob Feetham in Metamorphoses 2023 (Photo: Lyon Smith)

Theatre Smith-Gilmour in association with Crow’s Theatre/Metamorphoses 2023, written by Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour (in collaboration with the performers), adapted from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, directed by Michele Smith, Guloien Theatre, Streetcar Crowsnest, Mar. 21 to Apr. 9. Tickets here.

I remember Ovid’s Metamorphoses from my high school Latin class, but those words on a page never conjured up any images like this highly imaginative Smith-Gilmour production.

At the heart of this Roman classic (8 CE) are the Greek myths and the various transformations that take place, primarily engineered by the fickle Mt. Olympus gods. It’s the perfect literary vehicle to incite inventive, even ingenious, stagecraft.

Since 1980, Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour have been mounting plays using the principles of French visionary theatre guru Jacques Lecoq. The two, in fact, met at the Lecoq school in Paris in 1978.

Lecoq is synonymous with physical theatre, meaning the actor and their body creates all the character/animal illusions through mime and their own sound effects. Metamorphoses also uses the spoken word, and new to this production, the Indian classical dance and mime of bharatanatyam. The excellent performers include Rob Feetham, Daniel R. Henkel, Neena Jayarajan, Sukruti Tirupattur and Gilmour.

The script employs many of the well-known myths and their transformations, as well as the not so well-known, and what unfolds on the stage is five performers using the magic of just their bodies (with the help of minimal props and costumes), creating pictures in the space. It is creativity unfolding before your eyes, helped immeasurably by Simon Rossiter’s colourful lighting, Tiana Kralj’s clever costumes, and Johnny Hockin’s music and sound design. Michele Smith’s clear and precise direction can’t be lauded enough.

For audiences locked into realism, physical theatre might not be your bag, but if you suspend disbelief, Metamorphoses 2023 can be an enchanting experience.

AJ Bridel in Rock of Ages (Photo: Raph Nogal)
AJ Bridel in Rock of Ages (Photo: Raph Nogal)

More Entertainment and John Hauber/Rock of Ages, book by Chris D’Arienzo, arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp, directed by JP Gedeon, choreographed by Sean Cheesman, Elgin Theatre, Feb. 23 to May 20. Tickets here.

Rock of Ages is a monster-hit jukebox musical that played on Broadway from 2009 to 2015 making it the 32nd longest running show on the Great White Way. Apparently there was a successful Canadian production that ran in Toronto in 2010/11 for eight months. Since then, this musical has literally had productions all around the world.

The story incorporates classic hits of the 1980s from the so-called glam metal bands like Styx, Bon Jovi and Pat Benatar. To say I am not the ideal audience is an understatement. I recognized just one song — “We’re Not Gonna Take it” — and I don’t even know the band that sang it. (Upon looking it up, the band was Twisted Sister.)

The story revolves around a Midwest girl who comes to make it big in L.A. (AJ Bridel), a wannabe rock star (Trevor Coll), a drug-addled real rock star (Jonathan Cullen), the owner of a rock club about to be redeveloped (Kent Sheridan), his assistant (Dave Comeau), the owner of a strip club (Louise Camilleri), a woman against the redevelopment (Steffi Didomenicantonio), the German developer (Larry Mannell) and his son (Tyler Pearse).The story, as lame as it is, is just an excuse to hang the songs on, and that is what the audience came to hear.

I may not be up on my glam metal bands, but I do recognize talent, and this huge Canadian cast canbelto. The four member band (which sounds like a gazillion musicians) includes two wailing guitarists, Gino Del Sole and Sean Kelly, who are outstanding, along with bass Michael Pellarin and Sean Killbride on drums. Nick Blais’ set of interlocking scaffolds is dazzling, as is the assault lighting design of Erroll Reinart and Narda McCarroll.

Kudos especially to Sean Cheesman who has come up with diverse choreography that isn’t always tits‘n’ass. The movement is as hard edge as the music and is really eye-catching. Director JP Gedeon keeps the pace moving at a frantic velocity, up down and all around the scaffolding. There is always something to watch.

In short, Rock of Ages is a show that rocks, and is a testament to Canadian talent.


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Paula Citron
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