Review: The 32nd Annual Rhubarb Festival, Week One (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre)

By Dorianne Emmerton

When receiving accreditation to cover Rhubarb, I was told “Please note: because the work is experimental/new we ask that critics not review the work, but enter in a conversation about themes and forms etc.”

As much as that instruction seems difficult to put into practice, it didn’t surprise me. I’ve been to many Rhubarbs (I even performed in one once), so I’m well aware that this isn’t conventional theatre with conventional aspects to “review.” Most of these shows are more “performance art” than “theatre.”

For those unfamiliar with Rhubarb, it is a festival of short experimental works running concurrently in both Buddies spaces: the Chamber and the Cabaret. Each show is no longer than half an hour and at the end of each you can stay in the space you are in to see the next show or change to the other room.

I started the night with How To Survive While In Exile by re[public] in/decency in the Chamber. This was definitely more performance art than theatre. There was no dialogue except for recorded voiceovers. The voice work was done very sotto voce so it wasn’t something that you listened to as much as something that wormed its way into your brain while you watched the action on stage.

The action onstage involved black clothes on clotheslines, rolling flashlights on the floor, a juxtaposition of sequined heels versus cowboy boots, and modern dance.

They also introduced an olfactory aspect with the smell of baking bread permeating the space.  The program says “Exile manipulates the senses and asks participant-audiences to experience themselves in space and time toward understanding the connectivity between the personal, political and conceptual experiences of exile.”

But, what do bread and footwear and flashlights have to do with the concept of exile? I have to admit, I’m not sure.

I stayed in the Chamber for the next show, time 2b fame us by out of line theatre. This was a whacky send up of the culture of celebrity, manifested by personifications of Madonna and Tom Cruise.

The premise is that we’re on the set of a talk show where celebrities bash other celebrities. The host has invited Tom Cruise on the show to talk shit about Madonna. The Tom Cruise character is, however, out of control: jumping on couches, going on anti-psychology tirades, abusing a blowup doll dressed like cone-bra era Madonna and exposing his genitals.

At least some of that has been done by the real Tom Cruise.

It is, however, too stressful for the talk show host and she has a breakdown that exposes very conflicted feelings towards Madonna.

Both performers/creators (Ian Mozdzen and Mia van Keeuwen) had incredible energy. And there was more meat to this than a mere spoof: there were some very real questions raised – and sometimes answers were demanded of us, the audience. One such was “is Madonna a feminist?” It seems like a simple question until you try to unpack it to answer right away, because the house lights are up and the performer onstage wants to hear your answer.

I then decided to switch venues to the Cabaret to see Jesus Chrysler, by Praxis Theatre, since I had read about it before and was interested in a high concept depiction of a real historical activist, Eugenia “Jim” Watts.

It is a good thing I had read about it before as there is very little set up in the show to tell us who this character is. If I didn’t know from previousJesus Chrysler coverage I might have wondered if Jim was a male historical person being played by a female for Caryl Churchill-type cross-gender casting.

It also helps to know that she was a theatre director as well as an activist, as the crux of the piece turns on her becoming very directorial indeed. It then becomes meta-theatre which is very fun and makes you think about the place of theatre – and different forms of theatre – in activism.

Unfortunately I feel I lost a lot of the show as I was sitting right at the back near the door and people were allowed to go in and out during the piece.


– Rhubarb Week One played at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street) until February 20th, 2011. Week Two will play from February 23 – February 27, 2011.

– Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, ticket price $20. Sunday Social are PWYC with different programming from the evenings shows.

– Tickets are available online via, or through the box office at 416.975.8555 or at the venue noon to 5 pm on Saturday s and noon to 5 pm on Sundays.