Thursday, 17 May 2018

ONstage Tonight at Festival: Toronto Irish Players

Toronto Irish Players' production of Little Gem
For the fourth consecutive year, last year’s Festival Elsie Award winner for Outstanding Production returns as their region's representative. The Toronto Irish Players—who won last year’s Festival with their performance of Outside Mullingar—represents the Association of Community Theatres—Central Ontario (ACT-CO) with their production of Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem.

In 1975 a group or recent Irish immigrants presented a production of William Butler Yeats’ one-act Kathleen ni Houlihan at the Shannon Pavilion at Toronto International Caravan, with its talkative patrons and their hyperactive kids. The Toronto Irish Players was born. Lacking in polish but full of energy and love of Irish theatre, the early TIPsters presented classics by writers such as Sean O’Casey and John Millington Synge on a poorly-equipped high school stage. The repertoire quickly expanded. Theatre festivals like ACT-CO were discovered and enthusiastically supported. No more bare stage, the Alumnae Theatre has now been the TIP home for almost 20 years. And somewhere along the way, the polish emerged. TIP is a small group and still has its core group of Irish immigrants who are now surrounded by multi-generational Irish. Passports are not required and the original enthusiasm and love for the theatrical aspect of Irish culture has been embraced by both non-Irish actors and audience alike.

Toronto Irish Players are proud to bring Little Gem, the debut script from Dublin’s Elaine Murphy, to the 2018 Theatre Ontario Festival. Little Gem debuted at the 2008 Dublin Fringe Festival before winning “Best in Edinburgh” at the Edinburg Fringe in 2009. Loosely based on stories gleaned from the playwright’s time working at a women’s health organization, Little Gem tells the story of a year in the lives of three women of three generations in the same family. At times hilarious and at times poignant, Amber, Lorraine and Kay speak in a series of interwoven monologues revealing their lively north Dublin personalities and the cycle of challenges that they face. Like any other nineteen-year-old, the sassy, impetuous Amber loves to party but is not so big on communication, especially with Mum. Lorraine worries about her daughter’s silence, has changed the locks on the doors, and is anxious, very anxious. Salsa lessons seem to help. Grandmother Kay, “on the wrong side of sixty, not dead”, is concerned about her family and misses the intimacies which she can no longer share with her stroke-stricken husband. Amber, Lorraine and Kay meet their age appropriate situations with courage, humour, growing family strength and salty language.

At ACT-CO Festival 2017-2018, Toronto Irish Players won Best Presentation of a Comedy, Best Direction (Cliona Kenny), and Best Performance by a Female in a Leading Role (Billy Jean Shannon as Amber), with nominations for Best Stage Management (Kristin Chan), Best Performance by a Female in a Leading Role (both Rebecca De La Cour as Lorraine and Barbara Taylor as Kay), Best Lighting Design (Mary Jane Boon), Best Costume Design (Bernadette Hunt), and Best Sound Design (Dan Schaumann).

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