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Text/Book: SummerWorksTime
Literary-ish selections from the annual theatre/performance/music/etc festival

Text/Book, the Toronto Standard‘s books column, is written by Emily M. Keeler and Chris Randle, plus occasional guests.

Although SummerWorks is still primarily known as a theatrical event, it calls itself a “Performance Festival,” perhaps to try and encompass the sheer breadth of offerings there. This August, the new plays are accompanied by a music series (celebrating its fourth year), the late-night Performance Bar cabaret, and the introduction of a Live Art segment. You could question whether theatre fits within the bounds of some books column, but this has tended to be a digressive one, and I was struck by the literary aspect of a few 2012 SummerWorks productions. There’s a lot of them, too: after recovering from last year’s politically motivated loss of a federal funding grant, the festival has recovered and revivified itself, thanks to both supportive audience response and restored Heritage Canada money. Here are a few recommendations.

France (or, The Niqab): performances on Saturday, August 11 (5:30 pm), Monday, August 13 (10:30 pm), Friday, August 17 (10:30 pm), Saturday, August 18 (3 pm) and Sunday, August 19 (8 pm), at Theatre Passe Muraille

It’s hard to imagine newspaper op-eds inspiring very much drama, aside from aggrieved letters to the editor, but Tabatha Southey’s Globe and Mail column about Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s crackdown on niqabs was a tart, stylish exception, and the local playwright/novelist/actor Sean Dixon used it as inspiration for this fashion-fixated burlesque. France takes place in, um, France, where the Islamic veil has been banned for some years now, but the promise that it leaves “the rules recently enacted in Canada entirely alone” sounds a little mischievous. You can lose grants for that sort of thing.

Terre Haute: performances on Saturday, August 11 (5 pm), Sunday, August 12 (7:30 pm), Wednesday, August 15 (8 pm), Friday, August 17 (10 pm) and Saturday, August 18 (12 pm), at the Lower Ossington Theatre

A rare theatrical piece by the American novelist and critic Edmund White, Terre Haute takes the correspondence between Gore Vidal and domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh and fictionalizes their letters into a more intimate, probing and ultimately agonized relationship. The older aristocratic type who becomes drawn to a violent tough guy recurs throughout gay literature, but rarely with a political charge like White’s jailhouse setting – one whose enduring relevance was confirmed by recent grim events, including the death of Vidal himself.

Dumbo Squid: performances on Saturday, August 11 (10 pm), Monday, August 13 (5 pm), Wednesday, August 15 (7:30 pm), Saturday, August 18 (7:30 pm), Sunday, August 19 (2:30 pm), at the Pia Bouman Theatre

Full disclosure: Aurora Stewart de Peña, who wrote Dumbo Squid, is not just a friend of the author but also a contributor to this site, with her wonderful Creepin’ series. But Birdtown & Swanville, her company with Nika Mistruzzi, has produced a disproportionate amount of Toronto’s best theatre in recent years, and this play sounds like a departure for them, eschewing darkly funny surrealism for plain dark. The oblique synopsis calls it a “psychological portrait of viciousness; innate, inherited and applied.”

The Magic, playing on Friday, August 10, at 10:30 pm

Okay, I lied. There is nothing especially literary about this sibling duo. But they’re surely the funkiest band that ever came out of Guelph, and watching them collaborate with writer/director Jordan Tannahill will be a unique pleasure.


Chris Randle is the culture editor at Toronto Standard, not the guy who played Harry Potter. Follow him on Twitter at @randlechris.

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