The Ward Cabaret, which opened at Harbourfront last night, is an exuberant celebration of the Ward; a Toronto neighbourhood that once covered the area bounded by Queen and College and Yonge and University. From the mid 1800s until well into the 20th century it was far from the highly respectable quartier it’s become. It was the first landing place for immigrants; Irish, Jews, Chinese, fugitive slaves, Italians. A neighbourhood of low rent housing, cheap restaurants, the factories that fed Mr. Eaton’s catalogue and a bunch of rather more dubious businesses. The City Fathers hated it but it had a life of its own that David Buchbinder (he of Yiddish Glory) and his team have turned into a spectacular evening of theatre/cabaret.
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Alice Ping Yee Ho’s The Lesson of Da Ji, to an English libretto by Marjorie Chan, is an ambitious piece. It tells the story of the concubine Da Ji who is having an affair with the son of a local lord, Bo Yi, who is masquerading as her music teacher. The king covets the young man’s father’s land and finds out about the affair when Da Ji’s maid betrays her. He invites Bo Yi and his parents to dine. Bo Yi doesn’t show because he’s been intercepted and killed by the king’s agents. The king, painted as a rather cartoonish villain, serves the boy up as a stew to Da Ji and his parents before killing them and presenting Da Ji with the boy’s heart. Thus is order restored and betrayal punished!
In 1986 a French diplomat was sentenced to six years in prison for spying for China. It began with an affair with a Chinese opera singer who the diplomat claimed to believe to be a woman. Mr. Shi and his Lover is a piece exploring the relationship and the inner thoughts of the two characters. It was developed by Macau Experimental Theatre between 2013 and 2015 and got its North American premier in Toronto last night as part of SummerWorks.
I got a last minute invite to a workshop of Lisa Codrington and Kevin Morse’s WIP A Modest Proposal at Tapestry yesterday evening and I am really glad I could drop everything and go. It’s based on the Swift essay; updated to a modern city where the mayor fears defeat at the upcoming election if something isn’t done about the poor who are swarming the streets. It’s kind of reminiscent of when Toronto was “terrorized” by squeegee kids. Anyway the mayor’s staff come up with the response that you’ve already guessed and the first victim is the pregnant beggar who has been bugging the mayor. There’s also a street meat salesman who is having an affair with the mayor, of which more later. Fast forward a year to where the newly reelected mayor is giving a press conference and eating tasty baby treats provided by the succesful babybites entrepreneur and former street vendor that she’s doing in the loading bay. There’s one of those giant cheques for ten grand (of the kind that Sick Kids, ironically, is so fond of) for the public spirited former beggar and child donor. The former beggar is, unsurprisingly, not happy about the situation and when the mayor is discovered to be carring Mr. Babybites’ child and disgraced she is the one who shops her as a poor person in posession of an illegal baby…
The Play of Daniel (Danielis ludus) is a 12th or 13th century Latin liturgical play from Beauvais in nothern France. It appears in the liturgy for January 1st, The Feast of the Circumcision, and appears to have been an attempt to channel the traditional post Christmas disorder into more acceptable channels. It was probably performed by the sub deacons of the Cathedral; young men in minor orders. Alex and David Fallis have run with this setting and tried to create a piece that would evoke the same sort of reactions from a 21st century audience as the original did for those who saw it in Beauvais. That’s a huge ask but, to my mind, they succeeded admirably.
Last night Toronto Masque Theatre presented a double bill entitled The Lessons of Love. First up was John Blow’s 1683 masque Venus and Adonis and it was followed by the premier of The Lesson of Da Ji; a fusion of Western and traditional Chinese elements by composer Alice Ping Yee Ho and librettist Marjorie Chan.