YEV- Sasha Samar, Alison Darcy, Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre sm

Yev (Alison Darcy) has a difference of opinion with her neighbour Savorin (Sasha Samar). Photo credit: Helena Vallès Escolà

Presented by Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre at MAI Centre, March 14 – 24.

It’s too late to catch Yev, Scapegoat Carnivale’s play about solitude in the vast wilderness of the Siberia Taiga, but I have a feeling that this compact little gem will be turning up again in the future.

Scapegoat Carnivale have become one of Montreal’s most original and enjoyably eccentric companies. Their mounting last year of the 10th century oddity, Sapientia, written by ultra-devout nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim, showed a commitment to the peculiar way beyond the call of duty. What took it even further out of the way was the company’s treatment of that obscure piece (apparently Europe’s first ever female-authored play), with the Christian heroine, her three martyrdom-seeking daughters and their Roman persecutors all played by household objects. The result was one of the most wickedly funny and strangely powerful productions of the year (it picked up a Most Outstanding Independent Theatre Production gong at the METAs).

In some ways, Scapegoat’s latest show touches on the religious themes of Sapientia.  Its heroine, a member of the Russian sect of Old Believers, has fled into exile to escape Stalin’s purges. But it also returns to the territory of Scapegoat’s 2016 show Bar Kapra Squirrel Hunter, an intriguing if not wholly successful play about bizarre goings-on in a remote forest involving a savage conflict between said hunter and his wife.

Yev, which is loosely based on real life Siberian hermit Agafya Lykova, is a marked step forward from Bar Kapra. For one thing, unlike the rather sprawling structure of that play, Yev utilizes a strict commitment to three distinct theatre styles.

The first part is an epistolary dialogue between Yev (Alison Darcy) and McGill student, Matthew (Trevor Barrette), their long-distance communications mediated, with some amusing misunderstandings and gently stern corrections, by forest ranger and translator Nikolai (Davide Chiazzese). Matthew has been pondering a life of solitude, so his fascination with, and idealizing of, his strange pen pal have personal resonances which reverberate throughout the next two sections.

Section 2 sees Nikolai providing a running translation of the correspondences to Matthew from ageing geologist Savorin, played with a real flair for comic rage by Sasha Samar. Savorin, hobbling around on crutches after an unfortunate encounter with a bear trap, is Yev’s neighbor. And, according to him, he has the real goods on her as he spins a garish yarn involving murder, incest and other dark doings in the forest. Can we believe him? Yev’s description of him having an evil soul suggests perhaps not.

But then comes the eerie and darkly funny section 3, which gives a sense of the primal desperation that might well provide a fertile soil for the horrors described by Savorin. A wordless slice of physical theatre wonderfully choreographed as a mixture of slapstick and savagery by fight director Andrew Turner, this section sees Yev and Savorin locked in what looks like an eternal struggle over scraps of food, alcohol, territory and, it seems, sexual dominance.

It all ends with a shocking abruptness which, weirdly enough, gave me a similar sense of disorientation as the finale of The Sopranos, my initial thought being: “Really? That’s it?” But it’s left an echo in the air which is still resonating more than a week later.

If Darcy and Shragge’s sometimes poetic, sometimes stark script takes us deeper into the conflicting realities of Yev’s world one section at a time, Rashomon-style, then so does the set, which Darcy designed herself. At first, we get a narrow strip of playing area in front of black curtain. Then, for Savorin’s Russian monologue (and Nikolai’s translation), we get a blue-tinted diorama of the Taiga landscape. Finally, Yev’s cottage, surrounded by birch trees, bursts into view. Its realism and solidity suggests that this is the only part of the play we can trust as the truth. Yet there’s something surreal about it, as if it’s a part of some ominous fairytale.

What Yev all adds up to, I’m still not sure. But it feels this sense of lingering uncertainty and disquiet is exactly what Scapegoat were after with this beautifully-constructed curiosity.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two Marcel Dubé Productions: Bilan and Les Beaux Dimanches


Bilan at Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Nov. 13 to Dec. 8, 2018

Les Beaux Dimanches at La Chapelle, Dec. 6 to 15, 2018

Two Marcel Dubé revivals played in Montreal almost concurrently recently, with Benoît Vermeulen directing a 50th anniversary production of Bilan at Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, and director Christian Lapointe collaborating with National Theatre School class of 2018 students for a reinvention of the 1965 play, Les Beaux dimanches, at La Chapelle.

Both productions used remarkably similar stage language in their strategies to keep Dubé, who died in 2016, relevant for our times. Both used Greek chorus-style DJs to comment on the action; both referenced the TV versions of the plays; and, to get really specific, both had a moment when a character walks on surreally wearing a full head mask — a glitterball in the case of Beaux dimanches, a Godzilla mask in Bilan’s case.

Godzilla also gets some screen time in Bilan: scenes of him laying waste to a city are projected onto an overhead triptych, along with nostalgic images of 1960s Quebec and video portraits of the main players recorded on stage by tablets. The Godzilla reference seems to be to imply that William Larose (Guy Jodoin), the antihero businessman who fancies himself as Duplessis redux, is gleefully laying waste to the gains of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution (the play was televised at the birth of the Revolution, and first adapted for TNM’s stage in 1968).

Bilan remains an enjoyably old-fashioned play about boardroom and bedroom venality, with William, a kind of corporate King Lear attempting to control his three unruly grown-up children (Mickaël Gouin, Rachel Graton and Jonathan Morier). Rather than relinquishing power, he’s hoping to expand it into politics by becoming a major player in the forces of reaction against what he sees as the decay of good old fashioned conservative values. The rot, though, has set in, and William sees his empire crumble along with his sham of a marriage: his pill-popping wife Margot (Sylvie Léonard) still harbours feelings for William’s old army pal and business colleague Gaston (Philippe Cousineau). There’s also a pivotal death in the family, which leads to the youngest characters, hitherto seen as the best hope for a way out of a stagnant present, haunting the stage as if from a far off future (circa 2018).

Vermeulen emphasizes the plays three-act structure by splitting the evening into three distinct styles: the first, an extended party scene, sees all the players amusingly dancing their way on and off the stage; the second mimics a recording studio, reminding us not only of the play’s televisual beginnings but also acknowledging, and maybe sending up, some of the soap opera developments in this section (big revelations, unexpected tragedies, sexual machinations, etc); and the final act is set in a kind of existential no-man’s-land, with characters adrift in a smoky waystation to that uncertain future.

A Dubé revival, or at least a testing of his continuing relevance, has been on the cards since his passing two years ago. Bilan doesn’t quite stand the test of time. It’s an overwrought and not very subtle tale of a mouthy self-made-man elbowing his way through life seems stuck in the era of Room at the Top and the kind of corporate melodramas the BBC used to churn out in the 60s and 70s. But it does provide for some enjoyably old fashioned meaty drama and this eclectic, if sometimes technical effects-heavy production does manage to blow off some of that 1960s mustiness.

BeauxDimanches w. © MaximParéFortin-6

New Montreal company Collectif Quatorze 18 (whose brief is to reinvent classic Quebecois plays) go even further in attempting to reclaim Dubé for a modern audience, with its cast of eleven recent National Theatre School students playfully bouncing off the dialogue rather than committing to delivering it naturalistically. It’s played in what seems to represent an empty swimming pool presided over by a DJ, all the players wearing numbered sports tops, the numbers corresponding to the characters’ age. The sports reference extends to penalties being dealt out (cue klaxon and red light) every time someone makes a misogynistic remark or racist joke.

At first, the 2-hours-plus playing time looks as though it’s going to stretch far and tediously into the night, as each of the actors sardonically distance themselves so much from the meaning of each line they threaten to become unmoored from the source material completely (the play is about several bored suburbanites trying to get through an after-party Sunday).

But Christian Lapointe, a strikingly inventive director (as anyone who caught his Pélleas et Mélisande at TNM can testify), builds up layer upon layer of meaning so that we gradually get to Dubé’s melancholy vision of Quebec society at a crossroads by a completely different route.

The performances are choreographed almost like interpretive dance, with patterns of synchronised gestures becoming more and more complex throughout the evening (mirroring, perhaps, Artaud’s systems of gestures: Lapointe read aloud Artaud’s complete works in a heroic days-long endurance test during 2015’s Festival TransAmériques)

As well as Dubé’s play, the cast reads extracts from his unpublished writings, some of which are profoundly powerful meditations on the morality or otherwise of armed resistance as the Quiet Revolution became more noisily confrontational.

Neither this production nor TNM’s are completely persuasive that Dubé is about to get his place reclaimed in Quebec’s contemporary repertoire. But they’re both interesting, clever experiments which provide a fascinating insight into the style, sensibilities and concerns of Québécoise theatre before Michel Tremblay came along and changed everything.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Gratitude- P. Abellard, L. Pitre, M. Di Cesare

Patrick Émmanuel Abellard, Laurent Pitre and Michaela Di Cesare in Gratitude.

Written by Oren Safdie. Directed by Oren Safdie and Amy Blackmore.

Produced by Mainline Theatre and Hyper-Allergenic Productions, Nov 21 to Dec 2.

Here in the close confines of Mainline’s Mini-Main studio theatre, it smells like teen spirit. And it ain’t pleasant. Oren Safdie’s Gratitude is an unflinchingly dark (and darkly funny) exploration of sexual powerplay in a high school locker room, where 15-year-old Dariya allows herself to be passed around for the amusement of hormonally-unhinged boys.

Dariya is first seen slipping some exam answers to school stud Drew in the hope that, out of gratitude, he’ll go out with her. Maybe he will, but he’d just like Dariya to do him one more little favor, ie, make herself available to one of his friends. And then another. Eventually, things come back to Drew and soon he’s the one on his knees, figuratively and literally.

Thus the gratitude of the title is passed around like the implied venereal disease in Max Ophul’s film La Ronde, with psychologically rather than physically corrosive results – not that everyone comes out of it physically unscathed either.

Gratitude is an immensely uncomfortable play to watch, especially in this #MeToo era, with what amounts to underage sexual exploitation being played, initially at least, for laughs (a clumsy grope here, a double-hand-job there, several premature ejaculations everywhere). There’s also the dodgy matter of Dariya threatening one of the boys with an accusation of attempted rape to get her way.

Safdie is clearly not a playwright to gingerly approach controversial issues, as he showed with his last play in Montreal, Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, a bloodily farcical comedy whose politics seemed mostly fueled by Safdie’s animus towards fellow playwright Tony Kushner’s perceived anti-Israel stance. His earlier play, Unseamly, about sexual harassment in the clothing industry, also furiously picked at threads others, including one or two of his own family members, would have preferred left alone.

“Uh-oh,” I thought for the first 20 minutes of Gratitude, “here he goes again”, with some moments pushing so hard against the boundaries of good taste it seemed like he was setting out to shock just for the sake of it. But as the play proceeds, it becomes clear that Safdie, who is dredging up ugly memories from his own high school days, is raising queasy expectations only to confound them.

Dariya is no quivering victim; she uses her sexuality like a weapon, though her own upbringing in a stiflingly conservative community, and a relationship with an abusive boyfriend, further muddy the waters. Drew, for all his alpha male swagger and loathsome machinations, is in the process of discovering surprising things about himself – not least that he’s not so in control of things as he thought. As for Josh and Ben, the boys whose gratitude Drew is cultivating, they’re too clueless and clumsy not to be immediately put in their place by Dariya.

The provocations in the play are very much in line with those of Neil La Bute at his most caustic. One stand-out scene in particular, which has one character transforming gay desire into a means to brutally dominate, has strong echoes of Jason Patric’s brilliant and horrifying speech in Your Friends and Neighbors. (It’s also reminiscent of the famous robbery-negotiation scene in Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, which played in this space earlier this month).

The production is tightly co-directed by Safdie himself and Mainline boss Amy Blackmore – perhaps it’s her background in choreography which sees the sex scenes cleverly combining concealment with the most extreme graphic content.  And it’s a pleasure to see four excellent performances from some of Montreal’s finest so up close in this tiny space. Patrick Émmanuelle Abellard (fresh from Centaur’s Choir Boy) as oafishly naïve Ben; the ubiquitous Laurent Pitre as decent, morally confused Josh; Patrick Keeler (seen to excellent effect in Infinithéâtre’s threesome comedy Honesty Rents by the Hour) as the wolfishly grinning Drew. And combining grit, wit and vulnerability as Dariya is playwright/actor Michaela Di Cesare, whose Successions recently won a META for Outstanding New Text.

It’s a short run and its appearance in this tiny space makes it an almost under-the-wire world premiere. But I suspect it will be back. It’s well worth catching, but don’t expect an easy time of it; in fact, you might have some strong post-show words for Safdie. What you won’t be able to say is that he doesn’t know how to put together a bracingly provocative and ferociously entertaining 75 minutes of theatre.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Glengarry Glen Ross

GGGR (1)

The cast of Glengarry Glen Ross check their brass balls. Photo: Olivier Ross-Parent

Produced by Acts to Grind Theatre at Mainline Theatre, Nov. 7 to 18.

Notoriously fueled by “the heat generated by men”, David Mamet’s searing 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winner Glengarry Glen Ross might be considered an outdated relic in this #MeToo era. Or is its exposé of the devastation wrought by toxic masculinity more timely than ever? In any case, it is, on first glance, an unusual – and on second glance, pretty apt — choice for Acts To Grind Theatre, whose repertoire usually revolves around Queer-centric themes, the kind of diversity, in fact, mocked and excoriated by Mamet’s panic-stricken, misogynistic, homophobic and racist wannabe Alpha males.

Mamet’s glitteringly filthy dialogue has earned his play the nickname Death of a Fucking Salesman, and it’s a telling sign of the times that its depiction of capitalism as a seething piranha pool has been performed more often, at least here in Montreal, than Arthur Miller’s equally critical but much more genteel approach. Glengarry got a Segal production back in 2014 (which I didn’t catch) and a superb francophone production at Théâtre du Rideau Vert in 2016. Last year, Brigitte Poupart brought her all-female version to Usine C.

Acts to Grind Theatre, then, is the fourth Montreal company to tackle the play in as many years, though squeezed finances have forced it into a much smaller space than those others. No matter — the Mini-Main at Mainline Theatre is just the kind of space that should capture the pressure cooker atmosphere of the characters’ situation as they fight to survive the play’s famous sales competition (first prize: a Cadillac, second prize: a set of steak knives, third prize: you’re fired).

Sometimes it does. One of the strongest scenes is that between Aaronow and Moss, here played by Michael Aronovitch and Jake Caceres respectively. The disgruntled Moss is planning to rob the office of its file of most promising leads, and he cajoles the relatively honest (read “weak” in this context) Aaronow not only into going along with the heist but potentially taking the fall. The way it’s played here makes Moss’s masterfully amoral gamesmanship and Aaronow’s hapless entanglement as clear and as compelling as I’ve seen it.

The scene is one of three First Act duologues all set in a Chinese restaurant, all demonstrating the salesmen’s capacity for combining ruthless combativeness with shameless wheedling. In the first of them, one-time hotshot but now ageing has-been Shelly Levene is trying to persuade slimy office boss Williamson to slip him some of those precious leads. On the night I saw it (to be fair, just a day after the show’s opening), Zag Dorison, as Levene, lost control of Mamet’s seemingly chaotic but actually unforgivingly precise dialogue, throwing the all-important rhythm of the scene out of wack. Overall, Dorison made a strong stab at suggesting Levene’s sweaty, whiny desperation, but didn’t really convey the grit that had once earned him the nickname Levene the Machine. Bryan Libero, who was terrific as a troubled, potentially murderous teen in the company’s production of Brad Fraser’s True Love Lies, gets Williamson’s stiff arrogance just right, but looks ill-at-ease in his “reaction shots.”

Izak Benrobi is silky smooth as star salesman Ricky Roma  (is he channeling a bit of Brando there?), but could do with a bit more connection with his co-performers too, nowhere more so than when he’s sharing the space with the show’s director, Davyn Ryall, who plays customer and easy mark James Lingk. No doubt budget constraints forced Ryall to step in to what might be seen as a largely reactive role, but his under-powered performance leaves a seduction/selling scene with Roma falling flat, and undermines what should be the tightening tension of the second act when Lingk begins to wriggle on the hook that Roma has baited for him.

As with most productions nowadays, this one borrows the famous scene added in the movie version where Alec Baldwin’s motivational speaker brings along his brass balls to pulverize the under-performing losers of the Mitch and Murray sales office. It works nicely here, Olivier Ross-Parent making for a repellent and reptilian Blake, staring down his victims who sit there like sulky children. The inclusion of the film’s exposition-heavy phone calls works less well and interferes with the play’s carefully calibrated structure. It’s missteps like this that prevent the pressure cooker from generating enough heat, but it’s an enjoyable enough production with some individual moments of power and vicious comedy.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

An interview with Birthmark author Stephen Orlov

Birthmark-D. Charafeddine, N. Tannous photo by Jaclyn Turner

Dalia Charafeddine and Natalie Tannous in Birthmark. Photo: Jaclyn Turner

Boston-raised, Montreal-based playwright Stephen Orlov is the author of Birthmark, a new play currently showing at the MAI Centre in a production from Teesri Duniya Theatre. It’s the second part of his trilogy of plays about members of the Jewish-Palestinian Diasporas living in Montreal and revolves around David Stein, a secular Jew whose son, Nelson, is drawn to Orthodox extremism.

The first part, Sperm Count, premiered in London, UK, in 2001 and was published two years ago in the groundbreaking anthology Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish-Palestinian Diasporas (Playwrights Canada Press), which Orlov edited with Samah Sabawi. He is currently working on the third part, Engagement.

Orlov joined me for a coffee to talk about Birthmark and other related matters. A part of this interview was published in the Montreal Gazette.


Tell me about Birthmark.

It takes place 20 years after Sperm Count, so that the “sperm” character is now a 21 year old McGill University student called Nelson who’s drawn to ultra-Orthodoxy and wants to go and join a settlement in a remote area of the West Bank. Which of course sends up fireworks for his father who’s a secular liberal Jew.

There’s also a carry-over to a Palestinian mother, Jamila, who, in the first play, is part of a telephone conversation but we never hear her voice or see her as a character. It was her egg that was part of a mix-up the fertility clinic that created the suspense in Sperm Count.

When Nelson tells his father his plans to quit McGill and go to join the settlement, David plays his last trump card and says ‘you can’t go, you might not even be a Jew’ and finally reveals the family secret. And so Nelson has to go off and find Jamila to try and do a DNA test. She won’t do it, partly because she and her husband (who is deceased) adopted a Palestinian girl from a refugee camp and she doesn’t want to confuse her identity.

So you have this situation between a Jewish and a Palestinian family, which feeds the tension, which is intensified when Jamila’s daughter Karima ends up mysteriously disappearing, provoking an RCMP investigation.


Do audiences need to have seen or read Sperm Count to appreciate Birthmark?


Birthmark does emerge from Sperm Count, but it does totally stand on its own. There are only a few references and absolutely no repeating of snippets from the first play. It deals thematically with settlements and with the issue of Jewish radicalism, but ultimately the politics is the backdrop. The heart of the play is family drama with some dark comedic moments.


Part of the humour of Sperm Count revolved around a wisecracking sperm character. Is there a similar touch of surreal humour in Birthmark?


I would say that both plays have surreal scenes in them. There is a nightmare scene, as there was in Sperm Count.  I think in terms of comedy and drama, I would say there’s probably a similar balance, but I would say that the stakes are higher.


The unprecedented nature of your anthology, Double Exposure, suggests the rarity of putting sympathetic Palestinian characters on stage. Do you see progress being made?


It was a toxic situation after 9/11. You could write a play with an empathetic Palestinian character, but the chances of getting it produced weren’t high. There were two bomb threats when Sperm Count opened in London. But there has clearly been a shift, and it’s reflected in public opinion. There’s a more balanced attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And companies like Teesri Duniya have not shied, during any period, from tackling this on stage. But what’s significant now is that you have some major theatres that are staging plays on the theme, like the Lincoln Centre’s premiere of Oslo, which Théâtre Jean-Duceppe just did in French. That, and the anthology, definitely reflects a change, but it’s still very difficult to get plays about the conflict on stage in major theatres, even if there has been a breakthrough with Oslo.


The issue of cultural appropriation is obviously very much in the air. Did this give you pause when tackling Palestinian characters?


As a Jewish writer, my greatest challenge is creating Palestinian characters with an authentic voice. That voice has to be true to their world, their culture and their times. I don’t want to write plays about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Jews talking to themselves. That’s not theatre. Theatre is dramatic conflict, and so if I can’t create Palestinian characters I just fall short of my goal of trying to write plays that, hopefully, contribute a better understanding by giving voice to both. But having said that, you have to pay your dues, so it means that you talk to Palestinians, and you listen, and you read the poetry. It’s not just about the politics. The challenge is to go beyond rhetoric.

What’s difficult is creating characters with authentic voices in a non-stereotypical way that also understands family relations between generations.

These are Diaspora plays, so I’m not writing about Palestinian characters in Gaza, I’m writing Palestinian characters who came from Gaza, and the West Bank, and I have to find the rhythm of their language, the syntax of their language. How they speak in English is reflected by the lyricism of their Arabic.

I also had to cross the ghetto wall into the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. In the community I was brought up in, there were no Orthodox Jews, it wasn’t until I came to Montreal that I met some. So that world was foreign to me too, and I also had to cross that wall.


What’s the most significant political development in Jewish-Palestinian relations since you wrote Sperm Count?


The Settlements. It’s a major stumbling block to any kind of peace negotiations, much more so than when I was writing Sperm Count. Of course Sperm Count was set after the Carter administration — when they negotiated with Begin and Sadat they moved 5000 settlers out of Sinai. Now there are 750,000 settlers on the Palestinian land of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. So the settlement issue is really at the forefront. I regret that Birthmark is more timely than Sperm Count was, because of that reality.


What’s next in the lives of David Stein and Jamila Hassan?


The third of my trilogy, Engagement, which I’ve got a Canada Council grant to write, is set in the past May, during the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem. The same four characters appear, but the stakes are even higher. It’s set partly in Montreal, and partly in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.


Birthmark plays at the MAI Centre to Nov. 18, 2018. Read my review here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Birthmark- H. Rosenstein, P. Keeler, photo by Jaclyn Turner

Howard Rosenstein (left) and Patrick Keeler in Birthmark. (Photo: Jaclyn Turner)

Written by Stephen Orlov. Directed by Liz Valdez and Michelle Soicher.

Produced by Teesri Duniya Theatre. MAI Centre, Nov. 3 to 18.

Last seen as a cocky little sperm wondering about his future, the only begotten son of David Stein has come a long way since Stephen Orlov first conceived him in Sperm Count, his 2001 play set amongst the Jewish and Palestinian diasporas in Montreal.

Now 21 years-old and burdened with the uncertainty of a mix-up at the infertility clinic, Nelson Stein is a 20-something McGill student with Zionist convictions and a hankering to go and live on an illegal settlement somewhere on the West Bank. That’s a problem for his father David who is secular, left wing and wholeheartedly opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

Although Birthmark is technically a sequel, it can be enjoyed in its own right as Orlov quickly brings us up to speed with the Steins’ backstory: Nelson came about through in vitro treatment, his mother died soon after due to complications with the birth, and he has, thus far, been kept in the dark that his biological mother might well be a Palestinian woman called Jamila Hassan.

The production, mounted by Teesri Duniya Theatre (who recently won a META for their tireless championing of diversity), reunites Howard Rosenstein and Patrick Keeler, last seen working wonderfully together in Infinithéâtre’s Honesty Rents by the Hour. There, they were two men who meet up as part of a casual threesome in a seedy motel. Here, there’s obviously an entirely different dynamic going on as they play a father and son drawn closer by family trauma but driven apart by bitter political differences. There are some powerfully charged moments as the two of them hammer out those intractable differences.

Natalie Tannous gives a strong, heartfelt performance too as Jamila, a Palestinian single mom torn between resisting and granting Nelson’s search for the truth of his origins. If he is, after all, Jewish, he’ll be accepted into the settlement — chalk up one more victory to the Zionist occupiers. If he’s her biological son, then he’s related, awkwardly enough, to her daughter, Karima (Dalia Charafeddine), a Concordia student and a radical champion of the Palestinian cause. Keeler and Charafeddine also have an entertaining and provocative set-to over the politics of suffering, which is given an amusing twist by their realizing that she once kicked him in the balls during the chaos of a student protest and counter-protest.

The story also becomes a mystery when Karima disappears, possibly under ISIS-related circumstances (Stephen Spreekmeester playing a churlish RCMP agent as well as Nelson’s radicalizing rabbi).

Those searing debates are the main strength of Orlov’s writing, but their impact is muffled by the scattered structure with which he’s chosen to tell his story. Characters constantly walk into and out of scenes which sometimes last no more than a line or two. Knocks on doors, skype alerts and telephone calls add to the bitty feel and impair the flow and focus. Some topping and tailing, and perhaps some merging, of scenes would tidy things up no end and focus the play on what matters: that unending death-struggle between Israel and Palestine and how its dark gravity is drawing a new generation of the Diaspora back into its orbit.


Sperm Count, which was published recently in Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas, is one of the finalists in a new drama category added this year to the Quebec Writers’ Federation awards. The other finalists are When Memories Have Us (Paul Van Dyck), Truth and Treason (Rahul Varma) and Paradise Lost (Erin Shields). The winner will be announced on Nov. 20.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment



Written and performed by Cliff Cardinal. Directed by Karin Randoja. Produced by Cunning concepts and creations.

Théâtre La Licorne, Oct. 29 to Nov. 3, 2018

However much most Canadians might have been indifferent to life on the reserves down the decades, audiences are unlikely to maintain a dispassionate air throughout the first few minutes of Huff, Cliff Cardinal’s one-man play about an Indigenous boy called Wind who, along with his two brothers, is struggling to cope with the suicide of his mother. Cardinal appears with a plastic bag duct-taped over his head, his hands bound, describing in casual but chilling detail the process of death by auto-asphyxiation as his oxygen runs out.

It’s a tricksy attention grabber, with the suggestion that Cardinal is being a bit of a Trickster, the character of Indigenous folklore whom he introduces and who is responsible for the twists of fate, rotten luck or just every day absurdities. But in a tale that involves suicide, arson, sexual abuse, solvent abuse (the huffing of the title comes from the practice of sniffing gas from a paper bag), parental cruelty and the tribulations of a generation lost to the residential school system, there’s nothing facile about that gut-wrenching opening image.

If all this suggests the next 70 minutes or so will be a misery fest of unrelenting proportions, you can gasp a breath of relief that Cardinal is a playful performer with a keen sense of physical comedy. There’s something of a young Robin Williams (granted, that’s a bit of a downer of a name-check nowadays) in the way he manically shape-shifts from one character to another: Wind and his brothers, their dad and stepmom, a rat-faced residential school teacher, a Looney Tunes-style skunk, even the skunk’s smell, embodied as a sad lisping loner who just wants to hang around for a spell.

Cardinal wrote Huff while still a student at the National Theatre School, and it sometimes feels as though he’s chucking everything in to make an effect as he races through twenty or so characters and conjures up family rows, surreal game shows, Sega sessions and the like. But he has a real instinct for juggling with a myriad of moods, knowing just when to rein things in or break a somber moment with a sudden burst of wacky humour.

The show is perhaps at its most moving, and most hopeful, when Huff enjoins an audience member to help him out of that Ziploc-bagged predicament, and later quietly thanks him when he refuses to hand back the instrument of his own destruction.

Huff, which won two Dora awards, is playing as a rare English production at Théâtre La Licorne, with surtitles translated by Étienne Lepage.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment