Rhubarb’s Rebel Drama Returns


This article was originally published in The Varsity, page 19, on Feb 12, 1991.

by Ray Deonandan,
Varsity Staff

In the big pink building on George street, the Rhubarb Festival has returned. This spanking new home of the Buddies In Bad Times Theatre is also the home of the thirteenth installation of this annual festival dedicated to providing a showcase for “new and/or innovative theatre”. In a venue that specializes in gay and lesbian thespianism, Rhubarbdom claims to “push the intellectual, aesthetic and political grounds of what defines ‘art'”.

This year’s focus is on young performers who have never before experienced professional stage life in Toronto in the capacity of writers or directors. The opening week’s line-up features five exceptionally well-crafted offerings: Gilligan’s Thailand, Hulla Baloo, Chaos, Dead Man’s Penis and Blonde.

Gilligan’s Thailand was what Calvin Klein’s Obsession commercials should have been. With persistent references to safe intercourse, latex concertos (numbers one through four), and an earnest solicitation of condoms from the audience, this play takes on an undeniable sexual bent; there are investigations of interpersonal relationships, romance, all manner of pleasure and all extremes of sex, including rape. And there is, of course, lots of slick music.

Hulla Baloo is almost a one-woman performance by writer/ director Susan McLay. It is the story of a schlock television variety show, complete with the mandatory berating of the entertainment media and the egotists who compose it: “We don’t need money, we don’t need anybody, we’ve got talent!”

Hulla Baloo‘s crowning achievement is a compelling phone seduction scene ending with the buzzing line: “please hang up and try your call again”, driven relentlessly by excellent hypnotic music. A good sound system,it seems, goes a long way toward convincing an audience that there is great relevance to an otherwise shallow

By far the brightest star of this fine collection is Chaos, an unforgiving dissertation on disorder and upheaval. From suburban angst through homy housewives to grammar school politics and psychiatric therapy, all dimensions of personal chaos are shown to interweave. The shadows of rape, cruelty and insanity are projected powerfully, and always — of course — there is the recurring infatuation with sex. Heroic performances all around.

The remaining fare is light and meaningless comedy to help diffuse the dark power of Chaos. Dead Man’s Penis is the story of a bereaved scientist’s theory on how a “dismembered member” changed history. Supposedly, this penis has appeared at all events of great historical relevance, from the burning of ancient Rome to the Last

Blonde is a superficial laugh about how easy life can be for the blonde-haired woman. With a set displaying giant icons of Madonna, Marylin Monoe and Jean Harlow, Blonde is prefaced by the disclaimer: “There are women who have blonde hair, and then there are The Blondes. You know who you are. ”

Both comedies are good entertainment, but Blonde makes use of a strobe light which is always a questionable choice of techniques, especially three hours into a visually challenging drama festival.

The Rhubarb Festival runs until Feb. 17, with a different set of plays offered each week. It is an excellent opportunity to see inventive youthful theatre in a vibrant new venue.


Firearms abound in raucous Tape


This article first appeared in The Varsity, page 9, on Jan 17, 1991. 

by Ray Deonandan


Written by Daniel Brooks, Don McKellar, Tracy Wright. At the Poor Alex Theatre until January 27

It’s amazing the way loud raunchy music can make anything sound cool. If you insert a wailing electric guitar behind a drab monotone newscast, the effect is a convincing simulation of standard coolness.

Red Tape, the Augusta Company’s new play at the Poor Alex theatre, looks and sounds pretty darned cool— due mainly to loud raunchy music. This three-person show is, more or less, the story of a murder of passion. It’s about lust, love, adultery, work, bureaucracy and gun control.

Somewhere in this miasma and juggled chronology of space-time events, a woman has killed a man without apparent reason. Somewhere she has been romantically involved with him. And somewhere her weird husband has bought her a gun.

With simple though powerfully innovative sound and lighting effects. Red Tape is a solid hour of entertainment. Furniture, sex, yoga and general weirdness are abundant throughout; and always there is the peculiar spectre of the power and virulence of personal firearms.

The loud sounds and stage antics project the feel of a music video, which can be both a plus and a minus. It’s a minus for theatre as a whole because, frankly, if I wanted a music video I’d stay home and watch MuchMusic. It’s a plus for the audience because the format makes even the most ordinary and meaningless phrase interesting and strangely compelling.

But there’s one thing in particular that concerns me. Why are local drama-types so obsessed with the yuppie experience? This vision of shooting clubs, office parties and extra-marital affairs is something we see weekly on ThirtySomething. It’s an experience that does not speak to the average individual, and certainly not to the typical audience one would find in the Poor Alex. To tell the truth, it’s starting to get a little boring. For sure, there is something to be found in observing the doings of standard cardboard television characters, but it’s been done so many times that it has ceased to be interesting. If I see another play in which an extramarital affair figures prominently I’ll probably run off to get married just so I can be unfaithful.

Yuppies aside. Red Tape’s most powerful moment is the eventual production of real handguns on stage. It’s an Eerie and nervous moment. The classical “suspension of disbelief is shattered as dangerous looking weapons are brandished before our eyes, reminding us that all of the violence and glorification of guns that we see regularly on television are mere shadows of the power and lethality of the real thing.

Had the guns been wielded by policemen or even trained soldiers, 1 would have felt a lot safer. But somehow seeing real handguns being shown off by stage actors who’ve probably just recently completed a mandatory crash course on firearm safety just didn’t make me feel as safe or as comfortable as I’d have preferred.

But as far as the intrinsics go. Red Tape benefits from strong performances and a good script. It’s difficult to glean an overall message from the affair; and the relevance of certain segments is definitely in question. However, bent comedy, audiovisual power and general coolness make Red Tape an entertaining experience.



Italians mock fascist Disney


This article first appeared in The Varsity, page 15, on Jan 8, 1991.  Please note that I did not choose the title, and protested when the Editors published it.

by Ray Deonandan

Allegro Non Tropo
Directed by Bruno Bozzctto
Bloor Cinema Jan 4-10
Fox Beaches Cinema Jan 11- 13
Revue Cinema January 16-17

What bothered you most about Walt Disney’s Fantasia? Was it the annoyingly cute Mickey Mouse crew trying to be operatic and respectable? Or was it just having to put up with bored and misled children in a theatre full of acidheads? Whatever it was that may have made it an unfulfilling experience. Fantasia was a great idea, but lacked introspection and self-parody.

So that’s why we have Allegro Non Troppo, Bnino Bozzetto’s vision of the Three Stooges directing a serious animated epic. Touted as “a Fantasia for those who wouldn’t be caught dead watching Fantasia, Allegro is completely unlike the Disney stereotype.

The animation is not as technically sound nor as complete as the high-budget

Disney production, but Allegro‘s choice of classical music accompaniment is apt and entrancing. Even a baroquial moron (like myself) will recognize Stravinsky, Sibelius and Ravel, all performed hypnotically and set to amusing visual features.

Allegro‘s major departure from Fantasia is in its moments of live black & white action interspersed among the animated performances. Maurizio Nichetti (The Icicle Thief) portrays the stoogey animator who is berated by the music conductor and the film’s director. This hokey, excessive addition actually serves to add continuity to the string of otherwise unrelated musical pieces -an element the Disney production lacked.

There was only one point at which the temptation to nod off seemed unusually compelling. It was during the dinosaurs’ march into the city, set to Ravel’s Bolero; and the effect was more akin to pleasurable hypnosis than to unwanted anaesthesis. In contrast, admission must be made to having dozed off at several points during Fantasia, despite noble and proper intentions to the contrary.

Bozzetto makes no apologies for his film’s resemblance to the Disney classic, nor are any attempts made to conceptually separate the two. Indeed, comedic reference is even made to other Disney staples.

Where Fantasia was gradual and graceful. Allegro is sudden and chaotic. Its humour is base and its messages unconcealed. Unlike the Mickey Mouse affair, the aid of serotonin-based hallucinogens are probably not required to fully appreciate the qualities of Allegro. One may even go so far as to recommend paying the full $7.00 for admission.

But beware. Because of the necessity of English subtitles, the profusion of tiresome slapstick antics and the use of poor quality European celluloid, it may be advisable to bring to the theatre either a soft pillow, a sympathetic date or a large bottle of Tylenol.

See it anyway, though. It’s something to talk about at cocktail parties.


The intelligent glow of Patricia Rozema


This article originally appeared in The Varsity, page 12, on Sep 17, 1990

by Ray Deonandan
Varsity Staff

“I believe that what’s really good In people Is really fragile, and is fucked up all the time. It’s broken when kids are little. The really truly beautiful element of the human personality is the most delicate fragile little thing.”

Patricia Rozema is a beautiful woman in every sense. The writer/director of the acclaimed I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing glows with an obvious creative intelligence and a faith in what she does. With a concern for expressing the truth in all things, she brings an uncomfortable realism to modem cinema, and it shows in her mannerisms. Continue reading


New Canadian films excel at Festival


This article first appeared in The Varsity on page 6, Sep 13, 1990

by Ray Deonandan,
Varsity Staff

What is the future of Canadian cinema? Peter Goddard seems to think that there is no future as long as local films are made to sate a particular special interest group. Patricia Rozema thinks that the industry’s focus should remain where it is, in the margins of entertainment rather than in the mainstream. Regardless of where it’s going or where it’s been of late, Canadian film’s present is well represented in this year’s Festival of Festivals.

Continue reading


Festival lunacy set to smother city once again


This article first appeared in The Varsity (page 9) on Sep 4, 1990

by Ray Deonandan,
Varsity Staff

Break out that cappuccino maker and those twenty bucks you’ve been saving for silly selfish things like food – it’s Festival of Festival time again! From September 6th to 15th, the world’s film elite converges upon poor little Toronto to celebrate one of the industry’s biggest and most important events: The Fifteenth Annual Festival of Festivals. Continue reading


Heros On The Half Shell: Turtlemania In T.O.


First published in The Varsity on Apr 2, 1990, page 9

Varsity Staff Writer

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
Cineplex Odeon Theatres

The line-up outside the theatre for the sneak preview was humongous, chock full of snotty-nosed little brats cloaked in florescent ski jackets and toting baseball caps and little green figurines. Someone in the line-up accurately described them as “having their parents by the balls, while the toy companies have got them by the balls.”

And we thought to ourselves: is it better to be abused by annoying children in the theatre lobby, or to be trapped inside a dark theatre with these same aforementioned irritating little capitalists. There was no alternative option, really. I had accepted the assignment: I would review the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

But no, I will not sink to using Turtle language (e.g. “gnarly movie!” or “totally awesome fight scenes!”, although both would be accurate). I will, however, admit to owning a Turtle figurine (It was a gift – really.)

Now, this is a live action flick, complete with muscular martial artists encapsulated in green styrofoam costumes. As the billboard reads: “This ain’t no cartoon, dude!” It’s the first of the coming summer onslaught of comic book motion pictures (in the fine tradition of last year’s Batman), which includes Dick Tracy and The Amazing Spiderman.

The Turtles came into being fifteen years ago, when the escaped pet rat of a Ninjitsu master adopted four baby turtles after having found them wallowing in radioactive sludge. All five of them mutated into sentient humanoid creatures: the Turtles and their sensei, complete with domed emerald skulls and irremovable carapaces. Their first word in the English language: Pizza.

Thus, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo – sounds like Super Mario Brothers 4! – grew to become slimy but stout warriors of the ninja style, dedicated to fighting evil and preserving their invisibility.

The setting for the movie is quite familiar to those of us who tune in to YTV to consume our daily dose of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. The city is being terrorized by a youth crime wave of Torontonian proportions, completely coordinated by an ancient Japanese martial arts cult. Street kids are snatching purses and turning them over to their Japanese crime lord. In return, the crime lord teaches them to be ninja assassin. Oh woe is we. The Ninja Turtles must come to our rescue.

This is the ideal munchkin movie. It’s got their favourite toy heroes (a tetrad of teenage Turtles); plenty of action lots of terrific turtle trouncing); witticisms (trite testudine  tautologies); a message (“trust your teachers, tots”) and the obligatory emotional content for their psycho-social development (terribly tender and touching Turtle togetherness).

Strangely, there is no brutal violence, sexual explicitness, or coarse language such that you need not consider prohibiting your small child or household pet from seeing this movie.

For the adults, the turtle trouncing is tight. There’s nothing like seeing a short green cold-blooded being executing a perfect spinning reverse roundhouse kick for getting the old Chuck Norris neurons firing. And nobody twirls a set of nanchaku like a bipedal reptile.

While there is no sexual tension per se, and the needless romance is kept to a minimum (thank God), there is a bit of sexual innuendo in that the Turtles’ friend and reporter April O’Neill appears in every scene baring the teenage Turtles her two thin though thought-provoking thighs. The sensuality is entirely lost on thesnotty brats, I’m sure.

One could say the flick is one part Star Wars, two parts Bloodsport and six parts Muppet Show. That’s a total of nine parts, and has absolutely no relevance to what I’m talking about (no mystic ninja secret encoded in the number nine). And even though there are many cliches borrowed from elsewhere, Ninja Turtles comes out looking like a creative tour de-force, thanks to the comic book / cartoon / figurine mega-industry backing them up.

But the one word that describes this fine cinematic adventure is “innocent.” Sure, there’s lots of fighting and miniskirts and fungal growth on pizza, but when viewed as a comic book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is truly a big screen classic. The Turtles are tough teens with pure hearts, and bad guys are real bad. (They give away cigarettes to kids – for free!)

And the best part is that, next year, Ninja Turtles will surely win the Oscar for best make-up – despite the reams of snotty kids in the theatre lobby.


Remembrances Of Scooby Doos Past


First published in The Varsity on Dec 7, 1989, page 4


I remember waking up really early on Saturday mornings, crawling downstairs very quietly so as not to wake anyone, and gorging myself for many hours on that priceless media opiate: t.v. cartoons. I don’t slither out of bed quite that early anymore, but I still manage to ingest my weekly bolus of television candy.

Things have changed, however. The quality of Saturday morning fare and its intended audience have been altered.

I find that the last two decades of animated television readily divides into three defined phases: the Fun Dumb Adventure phase; the Video Game Sellout phase; and lastly the Unimaginative Dumb Adventure phase. Running contemporaneously alongside all three phases are the Pseudointelleciual cartoons.

The Pseudoiniellectuals include classics like The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show, George Of The Jungle, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and the unforgettable Underdog.

There is substantial overlap with another type called Cartoons With Really Neat Theme Songs. This fifth heading honours Roger Ramjet, Rocket Robinhood, Spiderman and the first real t.v. comic book, Star Blazers.

The first phase (Fun Dumb Adventure) is what I consider to be the Golden Age of television cartoons, probably because its timeline corresponds well to my childhood years. How many of us lost sleep to watch The Superfriends, just to see how many more visible minorities ABC could hope to cram into superhero costumes?

But the undisputed heavyweight champion of cartoons at this time was the one and only ‘Scooby Doo‘ (and Shaggy, too). Imagine the state of the world without those meddling kids and their dog.

Scooby’s reign came to an abrupt end when the industry big-wigs discovered that, all of a sudden, pre-teens had lots of money to spend. The second era of television cartoons was thus ushered in: the Video Game Sellout phase.

Cartoons stopped appealing to kids’ minds and started patronizing their parents’ wallets. The microchip revolution saw some really horrible cartoon creations like Pac-Man, Pole Position, Care Bears and the truly outrageous Jem.

Japan’s domination of world economics was seen by children first, and mirrored in adult comic book stores. Japanese comics and cartoons were released simultaneously to attack the market on two fronts. Asia is still locked into this obsession with the machine as a source of power and enteriainment.

The robot ruled the second era, returning from the 1950s in a new form machines that turned into vehicles. The Transformers had arrived, along with their sickly first cousins The Gobots. For the first time ever, machines were cast as good guys, their mechanized states now enviable conditions.

Violent Japanese robots were in vogue, as were the toy counterparts to the cartoons that were now just extended commercials. An avid fan could predict next month’s episode by watching yesterday’s toy advertisements. This trend climaxed with the advent of the first animated soap opera, Japan’s Robotech.

Network officials were eager to make existing cartoons more accessible to a new breed of children with expensive clothes and short attention spans. Hence poor old Scooby-Doo was made to look like an illiterate imbecile with the introduction of his highly evolved and eloquent nephew Scrappy-Doo.

It was sacrilege.

Luckily, this annoying new type of child quickly grew larger, discovered crack and semi-automatic weaponry, and joined preppie street gangs. Cartoons were thus free to resume their normal course of evolution.

Europe’s The Smurfs did well with moralistic fairy tales concerned with characters rather than objects. It also provided a brand new drinking game (downing a shooter every time the word “smurf” is heard).

Enter the third and present phase of cartoon evolution. The shows I’ve labelled Unimaginative Dumb Adventures are cued from movies and sitcoms, but are several quantum units better than those based on video games.

The first season of The Real Ghostbusters, featuring the voice of Arsenio Hall, was a terrific romp through high fantasy, science fiction and Lovecraftian horror. It was the best campy cartoon since Underdog himself. Weekly instalments were in the flavour of the original megafilm — except with better plots.

Today’s best fares are Alf (surprisingly) and Beetlejuice, two entertaining offerings based on partly organic counterparts.

Indeed, I believe, for Young Adults, the wise-cracking Alf series consistently presents intelligent stories, reasonable animation and a moralistic edge: many of the stories are clever re- workings of traditional fairy-tales.

Beetlejuice is a rarity. Not only is purgatory the setting, as in the original movie, but its bizarreness has not been attenuated for kiddie consumption. And its hero is a bad guy, a great leap forward for producers of animated TV. Perhaps they’ve finally realized that more adults than kids watch these shows.

The mindless violence continues with Robocop and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (despite the great name). Meanwhile our jazz age hero, Bugs Bunny, has been desecrated. While Elmer Fudd still fires his gun at Daffy Duck, Daffy’s head now fails to explode, and his beak fails to spin like a gyroscope.

That’s right, folks, The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Show has been censored.