Andrew Kushnir with Julie Tepperman, Mayko Nguyen and members of the Ensemble in Passion Play. Photo: Keith Barker
The Canadian premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play begins tonight! Produced by a tryptic of indie theatre companies Outside the March, Convergence Theatre and Sheep No Wool, Passion Play explores the collision of religion, politics and theatre and the impact playing iconic biblical roles has on individuals and communities. Outside the March’s Katherine Cullen explores the meaning of the word ‘passion’.
The word Passion is an ambivalent word. It has a few somewhat contradictory meanings. According to ye olde, Online Etymological Dictionary Passion can mean the following:
Passionate (adj.): “early 15c., “angry; emotional,’ from Medieval Latin passionatus “affected with passion,” from Latin passio. Specific sense of “amorous” is attested from 1580’s. Replaced Old English polung, literally “suffering” from polian (v.) “to endure.” Sense of “sexual love” first attested 1580’s; that of “strong liking, enthusiasm, predilection” is from 1630’s.
Maev Beaty as Queen Elizabeth. Photo: Keith Barker
Suffering, pain, emotional, desire, love. That’s a real cross to bear for one word. Its various meanings bring forth a varied pallet of human emotions that speak to a duality of experience. It is possible that the word Passion contains in it, then, a promise of what it means to be human: to live in a state of utter ambiguity and vulnerability.
In many ways, Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play explores this social and historical drive of human beings to eradicate this ambiguity from our experience. One way to clean up the mess of human nature is to impose rules and order through various ideologies (organized religion, monarchy, political systems), icons (Jesus, Queen Elizabeth), and leaders and dictators (Hitler, Ronald Reagan). That way we don’t have to feel our passionate discomfort. To be told how to think and act can be easier than thinking for yourself.
To legitimate and sanctify only certain modes of being closes down the countless ways that we perform our humanness. There is a massive ethical price to be paid for the eradication of our inner diversity. Some of the characters in this play step outside the boundaries of arbitrary power and pay for it with their sanity or their lives.
For such an epic play, the show has a real humility to it. For one, it is very funny and never takes itself too seriously. There is a lot of room for humor when people are trying to fulfill roles they are not suited for. Maybe it is in these moments of laughter where ambiguity can live unencumbered by our desire to separate the black from the white.
(L-R) Mayko Nguyen, Julie Tepperman, Jordan Pettle & Katherine Cullen. Photo: Keith Barker
On a personal note, this play reminds me of being a child. Child-logic is different from adult logic. I remember accepting all kinds of ridiculous notions to be true (i.e. imagining that if I held my breath I would become invisible and could eat as many cookies as I wanted with my mom in plain sight. Didn’t work out the way I planned). I miss that way of thinking, even if it didn’t get me the results I wanted.
In the world that Sarah Ruhl has imagined, there are “big beautiful fish puppets” that carry people off in “enormous boats.” It reminds me of lullabies and bedtime stories. It reminds me that dreamland can merge with reality, and magic feels strangely possible. Maybe this is the place where we are best equipped to handle ambiguity.
Passion Play runs June 6-30th. For tickets visit: outsidethemarch.ca
The Carlaw will be home to a new theatre being put together by Crow’s Theatre
A new year has brought some new developments to Toronto theatre:
The Wrecking Ball has a new Facebook page.
Outside The March has a new website.
Hannah Moscovitch has a new mini-festival of her plays.
SummerWorks is accepting applications for shows in the festival of mostly new works.
Red One Theatre Collective is starting a new storefront theatre in Toronto’s west end.
Crow’s Theatre is building a new theatre in Toronto’s east end.
When will Factory Theatre and Necessary Angel have new Artistic Directors?
(l-r) Adam Wilson, Ava Jane Markus and Maev Beaty are directed by Mitchell Cushman in the SummerWorks darling turned Mirvish hit Terminus
by Michael Wheeler
I haven’t seen Terminus yet – going with my Mom next week. I don’t want that to stop me from writing about it here though, as we don’t do reviews in this space in any case.
It bears mentioning though that local indie theatre has created a genuine artistic and commercial hit, and that this comes in the form of Terminus. The production is the first show in a pretty big risk Mirvish is taking with their new indie-focused, Off-Mirvish season.
One of our most read and commented discussions this year was, Mirvish Blows Up Downtown Theatre in which I argued that A) A Mirvish interest in regularly and commercially producing the work of indie artists could be significant in an awesome way and B) the Mirvish re-development on King St had the potential to bring a net benefit to Torontonians and theatregoers if it included a smaller venue than the Princess of Wales, which will be demolished.
Since that post, The Off-Mirvish season has probably gone even better than anyone at Mirvish or their indie partner Outside The March could have imagined. It has received stunning reviews, social media buzz is at a fevered pitch and shows are selling out. Hope you don’t want to go this weekend Friday – as tickets are not available.
Anyone who has paid a casual interest in our industry knows it has been tough times as of late. Theatres are closing, deficits have been posted, boards are overstepping their mandate – questions of relevancy abound. To see a potential upswing, a positive sign that artist-driven independent work is viable and can excite not just our own community, but the city at large, is worth noting. Not only can this thing get turned around, we’re the ones who can do it.
Certainly there is value in much of the other work our community creates that is not commercially focused. God knows I wouldn’t be running this company with Aislinn and making this work if I didn’t think so, but what gives theatre its intrinsic value isn’t really what is at stake here. Theatre will always exist and address core questions of humanity as long as humans can get together somewhere. What’s at stake here is establishing a viable sustainable professionalized urban theatre industry.
If you remove the artists who work at our major non-urban festivals, that is something we don’t have in Toronto currently. Those artists that do work regularly here almost all have secondary focuses. By creating a regular link between independently produced and created work and commercial theatre, Mirvish threatens to redefine this paradigm. Not because we will work on Mirvish shows, but because it has the potential to reignite interest from audiences and other producers in what we do.
So hats off to Outside The March Artistic Director and recent Praxis blog writer Mitchell Cushman. We all really needed this to go well coming out of the gate, and you are passing off the baton with an early lead.
David Mirvish with the Terminus team