With the openings of Them & Us, Bear With Me, and East of Berlin, it could easily be argued that Toronto's theatre scene is in the throes of an all-out estrogen fit. And that's not even counting the works in this year's edition of the Next Stage Festival; Julie Tepperman, Sarah Michelle Brown, and Kate Hewlett all have works being produced there.
Tracy Dawson is the woman behind Them & Us. Opening at Theatre Passe Muraille this week and directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones, it explores the ins and outs of relationships in 30 different vignettes. I can hear the guys (and some gals) yawning: Oh great, another woman writing about relationships. But wait... Dawson's caustic, funny, and sarcastic. She freely admits she isn't Dr. Phil. In fact, in a recent interview, she named John Cassavetes as the single-biggest inspiration on Them & Us. She also said her work isn't shying away from one big aspect of relationships: sex. "Oh yeah, we're going there," she told me. Good. About time a woman playwright did -with gusto, passion, ferocity, joy and hilarity. Sex should involve those things, onstage and off.
Over at the Berkeley, Diane Flacks is doing a solo show about her first pregnancy (Flacks is now a proud mum of two). Bear With Me started out life as a series of columns, and then a book. It turned into a play when Nightwood Theatre AD Kelly Thornton approached Flacks about the possibility of adapting Flacks' work for the stage (Thornton also directs). Will Flacks pull it off? Solo shows can either be great or dreary; as an audience member, you only have one person to guide you through the sometimes-labyrinthine world of the writer. As well as being curious about how the show will be presented, I'm also wondering what the play offers non-moms in the audience, beside an insight into the wonderful worlds of big-belly-sex, flatulence, and epidurals. Hmmm.
The Tarragon Theatre is remmounting East of Berlin, Hannah Moscovitch's hugely acclaimed 2007 show, with the same cast and director (the awesome Alisa Palmer). For me, Moscovitch's writing is a neat mix of classical and contemporary; she freely, easily mixes recognizable elements of modern life with more classical structures and ideas, and the result makes for great, capital-D drama. East of Berlin is the story of Rudi, a young man forced to deal with his Nazi parentage. I'll be interviewing Moscovitch Friday morning on CIUT's Take 5; we'll discuss the work, and the surprising reaction it received during its first run, particularly from Toronto's Jewish community. Tune in.
And, among the many goodies at this year's Next Stage Festival is Kate Hewlett's Humans Anonymous, which details what happens when "a businesswoman who prefers lattes to love meets a sexually experimental young genius looking for Ms. Perfect." First presented as a Fringe show and then in New York City, the work has garnered serious praise. You might know Hewlett from her work on Stargate: Atlantis, or from Don't Wake Me, which ran at last year's Next Stage Fest. As mentioned, this year Festival also features Julie Tepperman's Yichud (Seclusion) and First-Hand Woman, by Sarah Michelle Brown. Reports as I see 'em.
Add the various productions from this past year that featured the incredible talents of Anita Majumdar, Anusree Roy, Brooke Johnson, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, Marcia Johnson, Tara Beagan, Oonagh Duncan, and Jennifer Tarver (to name only a few) and I'm left asking the same question I have for a while: when is Toronto getting a Women In Theatre Festival? There is a surfeit of amazing, inspiring talent here, and so many great stories worth sharing -and not just of the "if-my-vagina-could-talk" variety, either. These are stories for men and women alike -for children and parents and families of all kinds, that has a meaning and relevance everyone can dig. Talent is talent, and it's time the female theatre artists of this city had a proper festival in which to fully, loudly, proudly promote and celebrate theirs. C'mon now. You know both Aphra Behn and Bill the Quill would heartily approve. What are we waiting for?