Review: Drama & Desire (Art Gallery of Ontario)

By Crystal Wood

If you’re the kind of person who has ever gone on a behind-the-scenes tour at a theatre and thought “Neat!  I want to see more!”, you will probably enjoy Drama & Desire: Artists and the Theatre at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

This show is a look at how art forms bleed together, featuring music, paintings, costumes, theatre sets, live performance and more.  Since it’s set at the AGO, visual art is obviously key, but the show makes a couple of good points. 1) Theatre has long informed visual artists, and 2) theatre actually is visual art in its own right.

The walk-through exhibit starts with a display of classical art pulled from the AGO vaults.  There are paintings and drawings from the French Romantics and English Victorians, many of which focused on classical theatrical stories.  (Think Sophocles, Virgil, etc.)  When I entered the room, an actor in classical dress was telling the story of Iphigenia and Achilles.  It was a fun addition, and he got the audience involved by asking them questions – thankfully, I didn’t get asked.

As the exhibit continued, there were more paintings, as well as books, audio recordings, theatre programmes, set dioramas, and costumes.  The exhibit is heavy on the Shakespeare, which I happen to like, and which is not surprising with Stratford just a train ride away.

One fun touch was the old-fashioned theatre sound effects machines that you can operate to create thunder and wind.  (I say “fun” because I have been scolded on more than one occasion for getting too close to the art.  They actually encourage you to play with these machines!)

But as fun as the sound effects were, my favourite part would have to be the Degas room.  I can’t help it.  I know they’re available in reproduction prints everywhere, but I like Degas’ ballerinas.  Always have.  And there is quite a good collection of about a half dozen of them here.

I’m a little sad that there was no live performance when I attended.  The web site offers select dates that performers from Canadian Stage and Opera Atelier perform inside the exhibit.  I think that would have brought the production alive for me (no pun intended), but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Although I could have done without the up-close shot of John the Baptist’s severed head from Salome. Weak stomach.


– On display until September 26 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West
– Prices: Adults: $25.50, Seniors: $21.50, Students: $14.50, Families (2 adults and up to 5 children): $65.00, Youth (ages 6-17): $14.50, Children under 5: Free
– For more information and hours, visit