It looks like seeing two plays on a Saturday is quickly becoming a tradition for me (if something happening twice in a row constitutes a tradition).  And before I start, I’ll put a little disclaimer here: I’m not a theatre critic. Nope.

I didn’t leave the city this weekend, but I did see a couple of shows that have travelled far to be here, in one sense or another.

The first, Chess, not only literally travelled from England (Craig Revel Horwood’s full-on production is touring from the UK) and sort of from Sweden (its tunes were written by  ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeu), but it also time-travelled from the mid-1980s.  Although it seems to be having a spot of trouble adjusting to 2011, it ended up pulling the audience back in time, which was actually pretty fun.  And retro is in, I hear.

Chess UK Tour 2010. Photo Keith Pattison.

Despite the awkward and confusing plotting and pacing, the whole thing was quite a spectacle and I’m really glad I got to see it.  I don’t know if I loved it.  But it was definitely an experience.  Lasers light effects! Hot horse-men (or knights? but no, they were actually horse-men)! Chess-playing! Catchy tunes!

The extraordinarily multi-talented cast/orchestra blew my mind.  Being able to play the violin flawlessly while singing, dancing, lying on the floor, and engaging in unspeakable acts is pretty impressive.  As is Tam Mutu’s command of the stage and ability to belt the roof off the theatre.  And it doesn’t hurt that the leading lady reminded me of Cyndi Lauper (in the best possible way).

In the evening, I traded my relatively dressy high heels for my comfy Blundstones and walked to the Tarragon Theatre for what was the theatrical opposite of Chess.

It was a treat to be at a preview performance of Theatre Smash’s The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg.  It tells the tale of a great but “unspeakably ugly” engineer who, when finally told the truth about his appearance, gets surgery that transforms him into a gorgeous piece of work and somewhat of a rock star (if you replace rock music with talk of plugs and other engineering stuff).  But when everyone starts getting the same surgery and looking exactly like the sexy new him, life becomes a little nightmarish.

Photo of Jesse Aaron Dwyre and Naomi Wright by James Heaslip

The play itself already had lots going for it (short, absurd, satirical, strange, and funny… it’s German theatre after all), but the production presented all that in a grounded and playful manner.

Despite the fact that the stunning David Jansen was losing his voice to illness that night (I hear he’s all better now) and that I was pulled out of the play every time an actor used a wheelie-chair to climb on or off the large boardroom table/stage*, the excellent and dedicated performances, gruesome details (helped disgustingly by live foley), and thought-provoking material all made for a great night.

If you’re in Toronto anytime until October 16th 2011, check out The Ugly One! Details here.

*as funny as it can be, I don’t usually like seeing people fall on their faces or break an ankle.

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