Post-Fringe theatre binge

This week in theatre: Socalled’s Tales from Odessa , a Ukrainian gangster musical at the Segal and nine short plays about gay marriage at Théâtre Ste-Catherine.

Tales from Odessa cast ensemble. Photo by Andrée Lanthier.

Fare thee well, fair Fringe. It’s been a blast, but the show must go on. Starting July 4, Zoofest expands its mandate to include theatre, cabaret, alternative comedy and music, bringing back some Fringe favourites like Gerard Harris (Let’s Start a Country), Jon Bennett (Pretending Things are a Cock), Birdmann (In the Events of Momentous Timing) and the duo of Yanomi and Cherry Typhoon (Bad Ladies and the Detective). July 3, Montreal Complètement Cirque sends in the clowns, acrobats, magicians and contortionists.

Here are a few things for the week ahead to tide you over between festivals.

Tales from Odessa.

The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre production Tales from Odessa opened last week at the Segal to an appreciative crowd. Based on the stories of Isaak Babel, this charmer tells how turn of the century Odessa no-goodnik Benya Krik becomes “king” of the gangsters. Benya’s greatest battle, though, is not against a rival faction but his abusive, alcoholic father Mendel “the Pogrom.”

The production has grandeur, right from the start. A large cast pours onstage to celebrate the wedding of Benya’s sister, when a message arrives that the new police chief plans a raid. We move back in time to see Benya’s “career” development, thieving and extorting the local bigwigs. We also learn that Mendel has thwarted not only Benya’s aspirations, but his brother’s and sister’s as well.

So much is likeable about this polished work. Benya is a very appealing anti-hero. The complexity of the Odessa neighborhood is presented through its cross section of characters. The music and lyrics are fresh, with an appropriate pinch of nostalgia. The leads and supporting cast are a joy to hear. However, the story itself starts to flounder. Benya needs a stronger antagonist to create sharper drama, but, more importantly, many of the wonderful characters are back-burnered almost as soon as they are introduced. Benya’s brother, sister and feisty wife disappear too quickly from the story. Continued development of the secondary characters would make this a more satisfying show. Nonetheless, this is a delightful production. With a bit more plot development massaged in, this musical could become a classic.

Standing on Ceremony

Brave New Productions celebrates its tenth anniversary with Standing on Ceremony at Théâtre Ste-Catherine, nine short plays about gay marriage. The pieces were written by eight different authors, including Neil LaBute and Moises Kaufman, and directed by Brave New Productions alumni under the oversight of artistic director Emma McQueen, who took a few moments to tell us about the show.

“All the plays revolve around the theme of gay marriage from different viewpoints. You meet a lot of different characters and get different perspectives on the issue,” McQueen says. “They go from farcical to dark, to deeply emotional. They run the gamut.”

The production began a grassroots project in Los Angeles and has a canon of possible pieces. “It was first written about two years ago,” she says, “Different plays can be added or taken out.”

Even though the unifying theme is gay marriage, she says that the real heart of the show is relationships. “Not just romantic relationships, but relationships with family and friends. Also, how society sees relationships. Anyone can relate to these plays. The show is not so political that it loses sight of its humanity.” ■

Tales from Odessa plays at the Segal Centre (5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine) through July 7, $24. Standing on Ceremony plays at Théâtre Ste-Catherine (264 Ste-Catherine E.), June 28–29, 8 p.m., 2 p.m. matinée June 29, $20

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