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Your Guide to Soulpepper’s 2018 Summer Season

May 11, 2018 by Michael Gioia
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Alana Bridgewater in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at Soulpepper. (Photographed by Cylla von Tiedemann)

New Yorkers may remember Soulpepper from when their ensemble of 65 artists took over the Pershing Square Signature Center last summer with a festival of new works, including 12 plays, musicals and concerts. But for Canadians, they’re known around town as Toronto’s largest and most prolific multi-theater troupe. Located in the Distillery Historic District’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts, the not-for-profit theatre company is chock-full of summer excitement for Canadians and tourists alike.

Founded in 1998 by 12 Toronto artists who dreamed of a company that would produce lesser-known theatrical classics, Soulpepper presents Canadian interpretations of works by noted playwrights such as Harold Pinter, Thornton Wilder, Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, and Anton Chekhov alongside exciting original work by emerging Canadian artists.

Check out a snapshot of Soulpepper’s summer season below, and get your tickets now.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
An essential work for any theatergoer, the Tony Award-nominated Best Play is part of August Wilson’s Century Cycle and is the only piece in Wilson’s ten-play series that is not set in Pittsburgh. Running now through June 2, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” deals with issues of race, art, religion, and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers. Things go awry when blues singer Ma Rainey, brought to life on the Soulpepper stage by Alana Bridgewater, arrives in the recording studio late, and the new album of her songs has fallen badly behind schedule.

“Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott
For the Canadians who closely followed the Steven Truscott criminal case that rocked the country for decades, you have from May 14 through June 23 to see Innocence Lost. In playwright Beverley Cooper’s riveting take on real-life events, the piece will take audiences back to 1959 Ontario, when Steven Truscott was arrested in association with the rape and murder of his 12-year-old classmate, Lynne Harper. Truscott, the last suspect to see Harper alive, was sentenced to death; however, the federal cabinet reprieved him, and he was sentenced to life in prison and released on parole in 1969. Five decades later, though, in 2007, his conviction was overturned. Further questions can be addressed to the playwright, when Cooper attends audience talkbacks on May 15 and May 30.

“La Bête
If you’re a fan of Molière, this “modern comedy of classical insanity” may be the play for you. Running May 16-June 22, audiences will be excited to escape into the world of the Olivier Award-winning Best Comedy for a hilarious two hours. Set in 17th century France, “La Bête” revolves around an upheaval in a famous acting troupe. When the Royal Patron grows weary of the troupe and forces street performer Valere upon them, Elomire, the troupe’s renowned leader, is outraged. Elomire and Valere fight for survival in “La Bête,” as art squares off with ego in a theatrical showdown for the ages.

It’s the first time that the exciting work by Sarah Ruhl will play in Canada. Based on the popular 1928 novel by Virginia Woolf, the Canadian premiere will only run for one month, July 6-29, so catch it while you can. As fans of the book will remember, the eponymous hero goes to bed one night as a duke and wakes up as a duchess. Orlando’s fantastical journey crosses continents, centuries, and genders to find true happiness. Considered a feminist classic, Virginia Woolf’s timeless masterpiece, starring Sarah Afful in the title role, comes to life this summer at Soulpepper.

“The Secret Chord: A Leonard Cohen Experience
Known for his iconic song “Hallelujah,” Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen is celebrated yet again at Soulpepper. Get to know more of Cohen’s work and the legacy of the Canadian icon at one of Soulpepper’s most popular concerts. Created by Frank Cox-O’Connell, Marni Jackson and Mike Ross, “The Secret Chord: A Leonard Cohen Experience” returns July 7-29. The concert evening will feature an extraordinary lineup of Toronto musicians bringing his timeless words and music to life in a way you’ve never heard them before.

“The 27 Club
From iconic singers and songwriters such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix to Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, the list of great musicians who have tragically left the world at the young age of 27 is staggering. Created by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, Mike Ross, and Sarah Wilson, director and performer Mike Ross leads a group of artists to explore their music, stories, and legacies. Catch Ross, Alana Bridgewater and Beau Dixon in performances of “The 27 Club” from July 14-28 at Soulpepper.

“Bed and Breakfast
Playwright Mark Crawford explores gay life in small-town Ontario in his two-person play, “Bed and Breakfast,” running Aug. 11-Sept. 2. Starring Gregory Prest as Brett and Paolo Santalucia as Drew, the play centers on a gay couple who inherits a family home and decides to set up a B&B. When Brett and Drew move out of fast-paced Toronto and into a picturesque tourist town, they quickly realize things are much different there. Two actors portray dozens of hilarious characters in “Bed and Breakfast,” a heartwarming comedy about “being out” in a small town and finding a place to call home.

If you’re looking for something completely new, try the world premiere of playwright Rosamund Small’s Sisters, inspired by Pulitzer Prize winner Edith Wharton’s pioneering novella Bunner Sisters. In the new work, according to Soulpepper, “Anne and Eveline create a corner for themselves in New York at the turn of the century. When a handsome clockmaker comes to call, the powerful bonds of sisterhood are put to the test.” Running Aug. 23-Sept. 16 and starring Laura Condlln and Nicole Power as the titular sisters, this new play will shows the hidden heroism in everyday life.

“A Moveable Feast: Paris in the ’20s
Act fast if you’d like to attend the “Moveable Feast.” Soulpepper’s sold-out concert will return September 14-23. Created by Frank Cox-O’Connell, Mike Ross, and Sarah Wilson, audiences are invited to post-war Paris, the global capital of art, music, literature, and Baccanalia, in the concert series starring Troy Adams, Neema Bickersteth, Divine Brown, Travis Knights, Amélie Lefebvre, and Ross alongside band members Jesse Barksdale, Jacob Gorzhaltsan, Scott Hunter, and Lowell Whitty. According to Soulpepper, “Artists like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Picasso, and Josephine Baker shaped a new era of modernity, and set the stage for the Lost Generations of musicians who followed.”