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Studio Theatre Shows – Stratford Festival Canada: Playwrights Sunil Kuruvilla, Morris Panych, George F Walker

Published by Nelson Misik

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It’s been a grand 2009 season for The Studio Theatre at The Stratford Shakespeare Festival as the late Richard Monette’s 250-seat intimate theatre space continues to flourish. The Trespassers, from Canada’s avant-play scribe Morris Panych, (The Overcoat, Vigil) is a world premiere, Sunil Kuruvilla’s Rice Boy features an East Indian cast, and George F. Walker (Suburban Motel, TV’s The Line, This is Wonderland) makes his long-overdue Festival debut.

Rice Boy by Sunil Kuruvilla

Rice Boy by Canada’s Sunil Kuruvilla, is an enduring, exotic, whimsical tale of cross-cultural family love and loss, through three generations, definitely one of the Festival’s most original plays this season.

Rice Boy takes place between the small coastal town of Cochin, and other little villages in India’s South and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, aiming to be Silicone Valley North – a globally competitive hi-tech haven.

Rice Boy centres on 13 year old Tommy, (Araya Mengesha) who only knows life in Canada.

But Tommy will never forget the summer of ‘75 when he and his father, (Raoul Bhaneja) went back to India, to meet his extended family with their all crazy customs and ethnocentric idiosyncrasies including Grandfather (Sam Moses) and his Uncle (Sanjay Talwar).

Tommy’s world transforms after he meets intoxicating 16 year old paraplegic cousin Tina (Anita Majumdar) ,doomed to an arranged marriage, who longs for life “beyond the porch.” Directed by Guillermo Verdecchia, like the powerful all black cast of Djanet Sears Harlem Duet, Rice Boy features a superlative predominantly East Indian ensemble cast – making it another historic first at Stratford.

The Trespassers by Morris Panych

“Everything I do is slightly illegal”.

That’s why 15 year old Lowell (Noah Reid), who lives in the Okanagan Valley, loves his curmudgeon Grandfather Hardy (Joseph Ziegler) be it learning how to shoot guns, stealing peaches from the adjacent orchard, doing tequila shots, getting the chance to sneak a peak at the “passage of miracles” via nude centrefolds, or being taught about the birds and bees up close and personal from Hardy’s streetwise accomplice Roxy (Lucy Peacock)

This unorthodox mentorship from Hardy upsets Noel’s morally uptight single mother Cash (Kelli Fox) to no end. Like Rice Boy, The Trespassers is about the complexity of the family dynamic. Picture small town BC, with no work due to the mill ( the burg’s main industry) closing down, and a harried woman in a menial musuem tour guide job trying to raise her possibly bipolar son, stymied at every turn by her irascible father.

When life changing events occur, the audience is reminded through Panych’s heart renching and haunting poetic insight, that when it comes to family there is no black and white … just shades of gray. Directed by Morris Panych and beautifully acted by his ensemble cast, especially Noah Reid in a phenomenal Festival debut.

Zastrozzi by George F Walker

Thwwwwwwap! to quote Zastrozzi’s fish-net stocking, whip wielding siren/confidant Matilda. It’s about time the works of Walker (Suburban Motel, Nothing Sacred, Heaven) were performed at Stratford and Jennifer Tarver (2008’s Krapp’s Last Tape – Brian Dennehy) does a savvy job cracking her own directorial whip.

The play begins with a single white square of light shining in the middle of bare stage. Fade to black. Rick Roberts appears in a single white square of light, as Zastrozzi, criminal genius / revenge-laden anti-hero who swears he will vanquish his ultimate foe Verezzi, (Andrew Shaver) a self-important insipid artist of all trades who now thinks he is a saint. For Zastrozzi has an old score to settle and he is joined by sex wench whip-crazy Matilda (Sarah Orenstein) and thug Bernardo (Oliver Becker)

Though the crazed mastermind has his plot in place, his plans are thrown when he meets the virginal Julia, (Amanda Lisman) and Victor (John Vickery) Verezzi’s protector. With his characters delightfully all on the edge of chaos, Zastrozzi brims with Walker’s ebony wit through a surreal looking glass as he skewers religion, politics and the arts. It’s not the usual Walker, but based on 1810 novel Zastrozzi: A Romance by Percy Bysshe Shelley, this ultra-hip gothic operatic revenge tragedy with sardonic one-liners, makes it great fun to guess who is more delusional, Zastrozzi the hunter, or Verezzi the prey.

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