Dear Hannah Moscovitch (Or, Is Love The Limit?)

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tn-500_infinity5Dear Hannah,

What’s the “common sense” definition of gifted playwright, a definition that would be accepted by those without highly specialized (“scientific”) knowledge of theatre? I’d say it might go something like this: a person who writes compelling scenes of drama that feature convincing human action and dialogue.

A theatre specialist might argue, rightly, that that definition is too limited. She might also, again rightly, point to the scarcity of Canadian artists whom that definition fits. In Toronto, for instance, we have a number of skilled monologists, able Lecoq- or Gaulier-trained physical performance-devisers, talented etchers of sketch comedy so-labeled or not, writers of vivid poetry and prose inserted willy-nilly into onstage characters’ mouths, but few dramatists who can write a credible, active, witty, high-stakes dramatic scene.

You can.

Infinity, your new play at Tarragon Theatre in a Tarragon-Volcano Theatre co-production directed by Ross Manson, is in large part about the tension between the “common sense” understanding of things — time, for example, or love — and the technical or specialist understanding of those things. A family drama that’s ostensibly about physics in general and the concept of time in particular, your play calls to mind Augustine’s famous quip about time, a profundity that’d be at home in a Groucho Marx routine: “What therefore is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I’m asked and wish to explain it, I don’t know.”

What therefore, I wonder, is a play about time? When no one asks me, I know; when I’m asked (albeit by myself) and wish to explain it, I’m stumped.

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Dear Richard Rose (Or, A New Moment For Theatre in Toronto?)

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An Enemy of the People,Tarragon TheaterDear Richard,

Did you ever read or hear Obama’s January 2009 inauguration speech? I remember my delight as I read the transcript that the New York Times posted online, how moved I was by its complexity of argument and its elegant, quite high register, with echoes of Emerson and the King James Bible. Here’s a man, I thought, who’s speaking not to the “unwashed masses” but to the enlightened citizens of the country he’d like to exist. And he wasn’t just speaking to them: he was also willing them into existence.

Maybe history doesn’t bear such gestures out; probably a country’s people don’t change their character because of a leader’s good intentions. But that doesn’t make his gesture any less noble, to my mind, or less important.

I felt much the same way towards the end of your production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People at Tarragon Theatre, or rather your revision of Thomas Ostermeier’s production of Ibsen’s play in Florian Borchmeyer’s adaptation and Maria Milisavljevic’s translation (to put it simply). A contemporary update of Ibsen’s story of a man who speaks out about his town’s contaminated water supply and runs afoul of the local economic elite, it struck me as perhaps the most important production I’ve seen at the Tarragon in years.

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Killer clones and spiritual inquiry in art

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A God in Need of Help at Tarragon Theatre and Space Network/BBC America’s Orphan Black. Bizarre to compare a meditative play about religion in 17th century Europe with an episodic TV drama about a murderous clone conspiracy, but compare I do, because my life this week included both.

I admit I had a better time with Orphan Black, a sci-fi thriller about a woman who discovers she’s a clone and has to figure out what to do about it. This bugs the thinker in me, because while Orphan is very good at what it does and features a jaw-dropping central performance from chameleon-from-Regina Tatiana Maslany, it has an anti-intellectual streak you don’t have to be Susan Sontag to spot. Continue reading

A complicated self-congratulation

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????????????????????????????????????????Playwright Erin Shields is a very funny lady. I’ve known this for a while, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised to discover that her play Soliciting Temptation, which just opened at Tarragon Theatre in a production by Andrea Donaldson, is a very funny play. Deceptively so, since for its first half it’s not at all funny, is instead an earnest two-hander that consists of arguments volleyed between a would-be sex tourist in a South Asian country and his would-be prey, a young girl. The arguments and the language that frames them are boilerplate, textbook. He’s a smiling tornado of bourgeois self-justification, “contributing to the local economy.” She’s a Fury, decries him as a pervert, chastises him about the extreme vulnerability of child prostitutes in her country. Except it’s not her country. She’s a young activist from the West.

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