Toronto is the place to be this month if you are a North American theatregoer looking for a fix of theatrical works by international artists, writers and companies.
The biennial du Maurier World Stage festival, April 10-30, is one of the world's major convergences of varied theatre talent. The festival plays on various stages in Toronto, where the work of Peter Brook, Robin Phillips, Robert LePage, Laurie Anderson and others will be seen.
World Stage is considered North America's largest international festival of contemporary theatre, a 21-day event featuring 21 mainstage productions and 50 special events.
Artistic director Don Shipley called the collection of work audacious and innovative: "This showcase represents a once-in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy the finest theatre on the planet," Shipley said earlier this year, when the fest was announced.
Among companies presenting work are the Royal National Theatre (U.K.), the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg (Russia), Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg (Germany) and Canada's Soulpepper Theatre Company (Toronto) and Ex Machina/Robert Lepage (Quebec). The festival also features internationally renowned artists such as Anderson, Brook, Ronnie Burkett, Lev Dodin, Lepage, Katie Mitchell, Thomas Ostermeier, Phillips, Christopher Plummer and Julie Taymor. *
Legendary theatre director Peter Brook, who made audiences look at Shakespeare in new ways in the 1960s and 1970s, is represented with the North American premiere of The Suit from the prestigious Centre International de Créations Théâtrales (France). Director Brook (author of "The Empty Space") offers a play that emerged from the South African townships and features Academy Award nominee Marianne Jean Baptiste from Mike Leigh's film "Secrets and Lies."
Brook's last major production to play Toronto was with his famous staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream some 30 years ago.
Another landmark production is the North American premiere of The Home Guard (The Oresteia, Part 1) and The Daughters of Darkness (The Oresteia, Part 2). The world renowned Royal National Theatre (U.K.) makes a rare Canadian appearance with this work by Ted Hughes, the late Poet Laureate of Britain. Hughes' two-part adaptation of the masterpiece by Aeschylus is said to be eloquent and full of vivid, disturbing imagery. It is directed by Katie Mitchell, with performers in modern dress. By April 7, the performances were nearly sold out.
Gaudeamus, adapted and directed by Lev Dodin and presented by the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg (Russia), gets it Canadian premiere. The troupe is world-renowned for its richly visual productions. Artistic director Dodin and his 40-member company command an inexhaustible arsenal of talent and resources, mixing song, dance, disciplined action, daring acrobatics, passion and pure fun. This award-winning signature production is billed as "a thrilling testament to humanity's indomitable optimism."
This so-called "millennial edition" of du Maurier World Stage includes milestone shows from some of Canada's brightest talents.
The English-language world premiere of The 12th House, written, directed and performed by French Canadian Robert Lepage, features an original score by American musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson. The new work gravitates around what many believe to be the ultimate dream of the past millennium: the voyage to the moon. Lepage returns to the festival after having created the award-winning productions The Seven Streams of the River Ota, Needles and Opium and Tectonic Plates.
Also from Canada, Soulpepper Theatre Company brings the North American premiere of The Mill on the Floss, directed by Robin Phillips. The innovative new adaptation of George Eliot's beloved novel is brought to the stage by a company that is one of Canada's leading interpreters of the classics. Featured are Roberta Maxwell, Tom McCamus, Stephen Ouimette, Brenda Robins and Steven Sutcliffe.
The festival will also present North American premieres from two of Europe's most reputable companies.
Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg (Germany) presents Fire in the Head, a disturbing portrait of a family's disintegration. This production has won many European festival awards and is a phenomenal piece of theatre by two of Germany's hottest young talents: writer Marius von Mayenburg and director Thomas Ostermeier, who at 29 followed in the footsteps of Bertolt Brecht and Peter Stein as the new artistic director of the prestigious Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin.
The festival entry from Belgium, Anonymous Society, a deconstructed Jacques Brel cabaret piece set to open April 10, had to withdraw due to an international scheduling conflict.
Britain's acclaimed Shockheaded Peter, the British "junk opera" from Cultural Industry, has its Canadian premiere at this year's festival. Based on the hilariously dark and gruesome cautionary tales by Heinrich Hoffman, this exclusive Canadian appearance features live music by cult cabaret band The Tiger Lillies.
Calgarian Ronnie Burkett has created some of the world's most elaborate and provocative puppetry and introduced adult audiences to a new brand of puppet theatre. Happy, a millennium commission co-produced with Harbourfront Centre, makes its world premiere at the festival, and it was nearly sold out by April 7. Burkett's much anticipated new creation, following Street of Blood, examines the question of whether happiness is the lucky domain of a select few or the result of constant struggle and striving beyond the layers of human despair, according the festival announcement.
One of Latin America's most innovative theatre groups, Teatro Buendía (Cuba) brings two North American premieres. The critically acclaimed Otra Tempestad (Another Tempest), inspired by William Shakespeare's The Tempest, is a magical mix of storytelling and physical virtuosity, conjured up by a company of 20 musicians, singers, dancers and actors. La Vida en Rosa (A Musical Tragedy) is a witty, dramatic, cabaret-style performance that provides an fresh portrayal of everyday life in Cuba -- hardships, politics and the rhythms and songs.
In association with Canadian Stage Company and Centaur Theatre Company (Canada), the festival presents For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, the latest work by Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay. This Toronto premiere is a powerful tribute to Tremblay's mother, painting a portrait of the woman who delighted, bewildered and infuriated him throughout his childhood, inspiring such masterpieces as Les Belles-soeurs and Hosanna.
Harbourfront Centre's du Maurier World Stage and Tarragon Theatre presents Motel Hélène, from a haunting new voice in Quebec theatre, writer Serge Boucher (in an English version by Judith Thompson). At the Tarragon Extra Space, 15 years after its world premiere, the surrealist spectacle Dali remains as controversial and intriguing as the artist himself. Written and directed by Crow's Theatre artistic director Jim Millan, the award-winning Dali is a landscape of the past century as seen through the eyes and paintbrush of the outrageous and intellectual artist.
In a co-production with Nightwood Theatre, Harbourfront Centre presents Anything That Moves, a new work from one of Canada's most talented actor-playwrights, Ann Marie MacDonald. Her first play since her novel Fall on Your Knees swept the bestseller lists, this world premiere hits the stage 10 years after the Nightwood Theatre national tour of MacDonald's Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). As in all great romantic comedies, everyone falls in love.
Canadian theatre legend John Neville, once artistic director of the Stratford Festival, will star in Krapp's Last Tape, one half of a double bill of Samuel Beckett's work. Elizabeth Shepherd stars in Footfalls.
The American entry in this year's du Maurier World Stage is the Canadian premiere of Nixon's Nixon, the Edinburgh Festival award-winning production that has just completed a sold-out U.K. tour.
From the U.K., the North American premiere of Berkoff's Women features Linda Marlowe at her best in this award winning compilation of some of the most rewarding, exciting excerpts from Steven Berkoff's plays. Catalpa, a North American premiere from Red Kettle Theatre Company, demonstrates Donal O'Kelly's versatility as writer, narrator and actor in this Edinburgh Festival award-winning production from Ireland. The festival also includes the black comedy White Mice from Mammalian Diving Reflex of Toronto. Both provocative and utterly original, this Dora Award-winning production gets a highly-anticipated revival.
The mainstage lineup is complemented by the fourth biennial Stephen Godfrey Series of performances, forums, exhibitions, workshops, readings and tributes.
The series kicks off with a tribute to Canadian theatre legend William Hutt, winner of the first-ever Governor General's Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Performing Arts. Also honored in performance is the late playwright, writer and intellectual Yukio Mishima, "the Japanese Hemingway," on the 75th anniversary of his birth. Peter Brook will appear in the Speakeasy series 5:30 PM April 29.
The du Maurier World Stage is produced by Harbourfront Centre and generously sponsored by du Maurier Arts, with support from the Westin Harbour Castle and with the assistance of groomecapital.com, Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council, the Toronto Arts Council, the British Council, the Consulat Général de France à Toronto and the Goethe Institut.
Tickets for mainstage productions range $25-$85. For more information, call (416) 973-4000 or try the Harbourfront Centre website at www.harbourfront.on.ca.
-- By Kenneth Jones