Three Sisters (Soulpepper & Obsidian Theatre Company)

For Inua Ellams’ adaptation of Three Sisters set during the Nigerian Civil War, two of Toronto’s most prestigious theatre companies and acclaimed director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu (also the Artistic Director of Obsidian, one of said prestigious companies) have assembled the all-starriest of all-star casts, bringing together an incredibly strong array of some of the country’s best Black artists to breathe life into a new play built around the recognizable tentpoles of Chekhov’s famous one. Amaka Umeh, as always, steals every scene they’re in as the mercurial Igwe, and Akosua Amo-Adem is particularly effective as no-nonsense eldest sister Lolo. Oyin Oladejo makes a spectacular return to Soulpepper as Abosede, a demanding character to whom the actor brings wonderful charm and insecurity in the first act though the extremity of how the character is written as the play progresses lets her complexity down a bit. At three hours and twenty minutes, the text needs a trim and the wealth of complex ideas presented are perhaps presented a bit too plainly, consistently spoken more than felt. The superb cast lifts a heavy script full of hard realities.


Dana H (Crows Theatre at The Factory Theatre)

In a dark month of sad programming, Lucas Hnath’s unadorned docuplay about his mother’s kidnapping is one of the harshest offerings. Presenting the original staging by Les Waters in the intimate Factory Theatre (a last minute rental to accommodate the extension of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812), this Crows show is an unfamiliar thing to Toronto audiences- a presentation of an existing production (specifically a Goodman Theatre/Centre Theatre Group/Vineyard Theatre production) brought in from New York pretty much exactly as-is (a concept we only often see in the form of Mirvish’s big musicals). Imported star Jordan Baker does a remarkable job of capturing Dana’s emotional experience and conversational style in a deceptively demanding performance that is mostly comprised of sitting in a chair and mouthing along to the recorded track of interviewer Steve Cosson’s conversation with the real Dana. It’s an intriguing theatrical trick but the allure wears quickly and it’s difficult not to wonder if this wouldn’t have been better as a podcast. A story this harrowing, or any story really, deserves to be in the right medium and it feels as though Dana H is a piece of theatre mostly because the subject’s son is a theatre-maker.


No One’s Special at the Hot Dog Cart (Erroneous Productions & Theatre Passe Muraille)

Similarly, there are concepts and stories in this true-life solo show about a teenage late night hot dog vendor that I’m sure make for really valuable, informative, moving workshops and training seminars. In fact, Theatre Passe Muraille was hosting one after the show I attended. But with awkward direction and a lack of solid dramaturgical structure, it doesn’t quite work as a piece of theatre.


Utopiverse/Islands/Suite En Blanc (National Ballet of Canada)

The National Ballet’s well-balanced winter mixed bill showcases three premieres (one world, one North American, one Canadian) of short ballets in contrasting forms. Act one abandons pointe shoes for William Yong’s sprawling Utopiverse and Emma Portner’s Islands. Both ballets feature innovative formations and thrive in quiet moments between two tightly connected dancers (Islands is entirely a duet between prima Heather Ogden and rising star Emma Ouellet, Utopiverse features a large corps but is at its best in Ben Rudisin & Koto Ishihara’s strong pas de deux that makes intriguing use of their massive size difference). After intermission, Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc is a return to a more classical style with pointe work and tutus, though formations and memorable tableau are still very much a focus. The company hasn’t been as technically superb in recent years and a lack of corps synchronicity and reliable execution from soloists across the whole evening is highlighted by the appearance of Svetlana Lunkina in this final piece, one of the company’s only remaining experienced ballerinas. Her finesse recontextualizes expectations and reminds the audience of how high this company can soar with the right dancers.


White Muscle Daddy (Pencil Kit Productions & Buddies in Bad Times Theatre)

An ambitious mixed-media horror extravaganza, White Muscle Daddy has a lot of good ideas and mixed success bringing them to life. With a blend of fully produced film content, live broadcast, and stage performance, it feels as though no technical vision is explored as fully as it could be despite a confusing runtime of two hours and fifteen minutes with no intermission (the play is broken into three section, why not make it three acts?). The tone, similarly feels unfocused, as though contrasting ideas are getting in each other’s way. The play begins quite seriously and leans heavily on stating its theses but eventually descends into wild camp where the larger philosophical concepts of racial and physical ideals in the queer community are explored more thoughtfully through metaphor and subtext. Choosing one of these directions and abandoning the other will undoubtedly make the piece stronger but as-is it’s a disorienting array of ideas never fully realized.