Fringe BYOV: Charly’s Piano, nine shows July 18-27, 2019

July 18 to 28, 2019: Artword Artbar, a Hamilton Fringe Festival BYOV, hosts Artword Theatre’s 60-minute version of Charly’s Piano, performed by Charly Chiarelli. The show is written by Charly Chiarelli and Ronald Weihs, directed by Ronald Weihs, with songs by Charly Chiarelli.
Charly’s Piano tells the true tale of Charly as a young hippie looking for work in Toronto in 1972. He gets a job in a psychiatric hospital, and organizes a fundraising concert by patients and doctors to buy a piano.
Tickets: $12 Tickets: hamiltonfringe.ca/shows/charlys-piano/
Runs 60 mins. Showtimes: 18 Jul Thu: 9:00 pm, 19 Jul Fri: 7:00 pm,
20 Jul Sat: 9:00 pm, 21 Jul Sun: 7:00 pm, 23 Jul Tue: 9:00 pm, 24 Jul Wed: 7:00 pm,
25 Jul Thu: 9:00 pm, 26 Jul Fri: 7:00 pm, 27 Jul Sat: 9:00 pm.

Charly Chiarelli and Ronald Weihs originally developed Charly’s Piano back in December 2017 as a two-act play. In 2019, the Fringe 60-minute time slot offered a challenging opportunity to develop a shorter version. They took out the Christmas carols and tightened up some of the songs. They cut out a few of the anecdotes about the patients that Charly worked with. And there we have it, a fine new version of the show. The projected image sequences are still there for all the songs:

Something About Toronto
Winter Time Blues
I Ponder
The Magic of Cats
Down and Dirty Blues
A Simple Minstrel’s Tune
Have a Good Time
When the Well Runs Dry
Pills they keep popping…
Something About Toronto


Fringe Press and Reviews  2019:

Charly’s Piano, Fringe advance article by Gary Smith, Hamilton Spectator, July 12, 2019

Hamilton favourite Charly Chiarelli brings back his wonderful remembrance of falling in love with music as a young hippie on the streets of Toronto. He takes us inside his complex world as he organizes a concert for patients and doctors in a psychiatric hospital. A warm, touching 60-minute show by Chiarelli and Ron Weihs that provokes laughter and more than a few tears.


Charly’s Piano 2019 review Raise The Hammer
July 25, 2019 https://www.raisethehammer.org/fringe/3144/charlys_piano

By Marianne Daly

Charly’s Piano is the interesting, inspiring and funny true story about Charly Chiarelli’s time working in a psychiatric hospital in 1972. This version of the story is terrific, with direction and background guitar by Artword Artbar’s own Ronald Weihs and black-and-white photos of Toronto projected on the back of the stage.

Charly is an animated and expressive storyteller who plays a mean harmonica. This show features Charly acting out many of the people he met when he worked at the Clark Institute. The story is packed with Charly’s self-deprecating humour and his open-hearted acceptance of quirky characters, and conveys a good-natured feeling of “hey, we’re all in this together, trying to figure it out as best we can.”

It also has a healthy dose of “fake it till you make it” when Charly organizes a variety show fundraiser to buy a piano for some informal music therapy.

Charly’s story ends on a rather sad note, when Charly goes back to visit the hospital several years later. It is a powerful ending, but Yours truly – ever the optimist – hopes the future is brighter for music therapy in psychiatric programs. Two recent visits I made to the psychiatric departments at St. Joseph’s give me faith that there is reason to hope.

This is a show that can inspire mental health professionals – and advocates like myself – to see how important music therapy is. In the meantime, go see Charly’s Piano, for wonderful stories and music guaranteed to make you feel better!

Marianne Daly is a writer, storyteller and retired high school teacher.


Charlys Piano,  ViewMagazine 2019 online Fringe Reviews

By Arthur Bullock

Charly’s Piano is a charming true story of empathy and compassion, set in early-1970s Toronto. The protagonist and storyteller, Charly Chiarelli, recounts his time at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, working as a psychiatric assistant. Throughout the course of the story, Charly gets to know the staff and patients of the institute, forming close bonds with all of them. Each patient is treated like an individual, with the dignity and respect that they rightfully deserve. As a Fringe storyteller, Chiarelli is friendly and energetic, speaking to the audience as though he was having a warm conversation with them. Chiarelli also incorporates live music into his act: he will periodically sing a blues tune and play the harmonica, while Ronald Weihs accompanies him on the acoustic guitar. Charly’s Piano is not just a story: more than anything else, it is an invitation to step into someone else’s shoes. It sheds light on the lives of mental health patients just as much as it recounts Chiarelli’s own life, and it reminds us of the incredible potential for change that one person can have.


 

Whoever You Are, a science-fiction play, May 14 to 26, 2019

May 14 to 26, 2019. Artword Theatre presents Whoever You Are, a play written and directed by Ronald Weihs, based on a 1952 science fiction short story by Judith Merril.

The human race has built a web around the Solar System that traps alien life forms. A SolSys scout ship returns with aliens aboard and is caught in the web. When a young recruit boards the ship and investigates, it becomes evident that the aliens have what may be an irresistible weapon: they love everybody.

Do we dare let them in? On Phobos (one of the moons of Mars), three people must decide what action to take: two men, a military commander and a psychologist, and one woman, the public information officer.

Performed by:
Jordan Campbell, Paula Grove and Jay Shand as the team at Phobos Base,
and Pamela Gardner as Private Fromm, the new space recruit.
Live soundscape by Dave Gould (and voice of Sergeant Bolster).
Video effects by Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford.

Show times: May 14-18 and 21-24 at 8 pm.
Matinees: Sat May 18, 25, at 3:30 pm. Call 905-543-8512.


Written in 1952, Whoever You Are was Judith Merril’s answer to the “Fortress America” paranoia at the beginning of the cold war, and her protest against the emotional and sexual repression that fueled it. Although the lines today are less sharply drawn, fear of the alien is as prevalent today as it was then.
Like most of Judith Merril’s work, Whoever You Are has fun with the science fiction setting, but uses it to make some serious points. Merril had a major influence on science fiction as one of the main voices for more human themes and complex issues. In her own fiction, and in a series of key anthologies, she championed the position that Science Fiction was about exploring alternative realities.

The play by Ronald Weihs was first developed in 1997, when Ron asked her permission to adapt one of her short stories for the stage. Judith Merril died on September 12, 1997, when the project to put Whoever You Are on the stage was well underway. Just before she went to the hospital, she read a draft of the script. Her most significant comment was that the play must convey the sense of inward-looking paranoia, fear and sexual repressiveness that underlies nationalism and xenophobia.

It seems even more urgent to revisit these themes now, in 2019, 22 years after our first presentation of the play (in our first Artword Theatre on Portland Street in Toronto), and 67 years after Judith Merril wrote the original story.


Whoever You Are review by Allison M. Jones. View Magazine Issue MAY 23 – 29, 2019

Theatrical productions at Artword Artbar are always multifaceted and ambitious. Whoever You Are, on now until May 26, is no exception. With multiple screens, pre-recorded dialogue, live action, images and aerial acrobatics, the play unspools within an otherworldly soundscape created with both pre-taped and live instrumentation.

Whoever You Are is derived from a 1952 short story by Judith Merril, written and directed by Artbar co-founder Ronald Weihs. It’s science fiction, and yet little of it is farfetched, particularly in the current geopolitical climate. To ensure their safety, humans have built a protective ‘web’ around the solar system. Alien outsiders cannot penetrate that barrier, while exploratory scouting ships venture into the great galactic void to find new habitable spaces to place humankind’s burgeoning population. Everything is under perfect control; the system is so effective that Sergeant Bolster (Dave Gould) and Private Joanne Fromm (Pamela Gardner) can play long games of checkers while keeping watch over their sector. Bolster is on the cusp of retirement and that, as any reader or viewer knows, means all hell is about to break loose.

When a scouting ship returns with aliens (but none of its human crew) aboard, it’s caught and held in stasis. It’s up to Bolster and Fromm to investigate while three officials, military Commander William Hartson (Jordan Campbell), ‘Information Officer’ Lucille Ardin (Paula Grove), and Psych Officer Dr. Bob Schwartz (Jay Shand) determine how best to manage the situation and package it for public consumption.

Weihs first developed and presented Whoever You Are in 1997, the year he reached out to Judith Merril, shortly before her death, to gain permission to adapt one of her stories into a play. Merril’s original story Whoever You Are was inspired by the protectionist paranoia of America’s Cold War era, but as the show’s program alludes, fear of the alien ‘Other’ has become a tense preoccupation yet again.

But as Private Fromm discovers, the aliens may not be as imagined and promoted by the higher ups. They are unexpectedly humanoid. I was reminded of the quote, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us,” used by a Walt Kelly comic strip in the Vietnam War era, and derived from the words of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the War of 1812.

There’s reason to believe these aliens mean no harm; they may literally be ‘coming in peace,’ offering goodwill in exchange for help. Tor Lukasik Foss and Taylor Sutherland relay opposing accounts of the alien encounter in pre-recorded segments as Captain James Malcolm and George Gentile, Birdman 1st Class, members of the ‘doomed’ scouting ship.

Is the aliens’ lack of aggression a trick? Are they manipulating the humans’ minds? When the paranoia is this strong and embedded, truth becomes trick and hope becomes hallucination.

I liken this play to an old time radio drama come to life, in mostly good ways. The drama is high, the characters are clearly drawn, and it gives the audience something to think about. From time to time the dialogue verges on a bit wooden (particularly among the three officials), and perhaps the script is a little too on the nose in some areas and light on character development. Rather than hear Sergeant Bolster call Private Fromm a nutty misfit yet again, I’d have liked to have learned more about what motivated her.

Dave Gould is Sergeant Bolster, but also master of the soundscape. It was odd to see him on screen while simultaneously offstage playing his antler stringed instrument. Gould’s programmed and live music played nicely off one another, evoking emotion, tension, and the peculiar sounds of space

As Private Fromm, Pamela Gardner uses her aerial skills to great effect, tumbling and twisting to suggest the weightlessness of space. It was magnetic to watch her mimic movement in zero gravity while images of a space capsule floated gently behind her. When I heard that Whoever You Are would feature an aerialist, I was surprised. The Artbar is modestly sized with a relatively low, drop ceiling. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and the folks at Artbar have plenty of heart. Throughout, Artbar co-founder Judith Sandiford captains the sound, projection and lighting cues in quietly capable fashion.

Whoever You Are is original and timely, a philosophical story built within a multisensory environment. It’s worth a look.

***

Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy, Mar 9-17, 2019

March 9 to 17, 2019. Artword Theatre is bringing back its timely and sensitive piece of documentary theatre, Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy, written and directed by Ronald Weihs and produced by Judith Sandiford. Dancer-choreographer-actor Learie Mc Nicolls plays the role of Langston Hughes and character actor Howard Jerome plays The Interrogator.

Permission for the use of the poems has been granted by Harold Ober Associates Incorporated, for the Langston Hughes Literary Estate.

LHvsJM_Learie_poem_dance_Harlem

Is poetry subversive? U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy thought so.

On March 24, 1953, Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, was summoned before the Senate Committee on Investigations. Did his poems contain communist ideas? In reply, Langston Hughes tells about his personal encounters with racism in America. The script is based on the actual transcript of his testimony, interwoven with the controversial poems, and incorporating dance, music and powerful images of the era.

Only 8 performances! Runs about 60 mins. All tickets $15.
*Sat March 9 at 7:30 pm, OPENING Special, stay for the Beg To Differ concert at 9 pm  (no extra charge) .
*Tuesday to Friday, March 12-15 at 7:30 pm,
*Three matinees at 3:00 pm Sun Mar 10, Sat Mar 16, Sun Mar 17 mat, final show.


*** Read Gary Smith’s review in The Hamilton Spectator, March 13, 2019:

Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy is a moving and probing drama

Howard Jerome as The Interrogator

“Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy,” playwright Ron Weihs’s probing drama, packs a lot of power into an hour. This short play, interspersed with elegant stage moves, as well as haunting poetry by the iconic Hughes, is a fusion of art forms that sits neatly on the Artword Artbar stage. The room is small. So is the stage. But the ideas are large.

It’s 1953 and we’re immersed in the aggressive rhetoric of a select American committee that hounded intellectuals and artists. The fiefdom of Joe McCarthy and a band of loutish interrogators, these folks ultimately became the genesis of playwright Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” with its comparison of witch hunts in Salem and the persecutions by the infamous McCarthy Committee in the ’50s.

Weihs’s play, based on Congressional records, presents some of the actual language used as McCarthy struggled to nail the elegant black poet Langston Hughes, suggesting his poems had a communist beat.

Witch hunters were behind every wall and tree in those days, seeking out communist sympathizers unfaithful to the U.S.A.’s increasingly tattered red, white and blue mantra that suggested liberty for all.

Weihs’s play goes beyond the documentation of Hughes’ interrogation, however. It suggests the times, depicted clearly and powerfully in the images of pain that set designer Judith Sandiford projects onto a stark white screen. We see hunger, joblessness, fear and desolation. And we see the segregation and denigration of black citizens, particularly in romantic old Dixie, where they were forced to sit at the back of buses, refrain from drinking from whites-only water fountains and barred from most hotels, dining rooms and movie theatres.

These images, along with the always elegant language of Hughes’s poetry, summon a vision of a world of haves and have-nots. That such a world could be defined simply by the colour of someone’s skin remains as ugly and reprehensible today as it was in the times of Hughes’s powerful poetry.

Fearing the face of communism was about to undermine American values, McCarthy frequently picked on artists and the intelligentsia.

As an important leader in the “Harlem Renaissance,” a movement that celebrated the writers, musicians and intellectual black artists who would shape the diversity of American culture, Hughes was a target. Playwrights such as James Baldwin, musicians such as Duke Ellington, and singers Billie Holiday and Mabel Mercer were faces of this movement, too. The times were changing. Lovely Lena Horne would no longer have her image cut out of prints of Hollywood musicals playing in the Deep South because she was black. Sammy Davis Jr. would soon become a huge star in films, television and Las Vegas.

In a sense this is the background for Weihs’s moving play. It is the kaleidoscope of change that was about to sweep across America. It’s not just about Langston Hughes and Joe McCarthy. It’s about so much more.

Weihs has wisely refused to make his play a virtual confrontation. He has interpolated movement from actor-dancer Learie McNicolls that suggests such yearning, such illuminating thought that Hughes’s poems sing physically as well as aurally.

You long for McNicolls to go on dancing to the throbbing sounds of “Lady Be Good,” “Sunny Side of the Street” and “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.”

The play moves gracefully from the probing questions of McCarthy, a gnarled presence with a rumbling rasp of a voice intoned by Howard Jerome, an actor of infinite colours. He makes McCarthy a hard man who finds dark and sinister meaning behind every sweetly constructed phrase of poetry.

McNicolls is a handsome presence with a voice as warm as honey. He makes the confrontations between art and intellect in Weihs’s self-directed play quiver with truth.

Quibbles? Hardly any. The transitions from poetry to dance might be more seamless, and the broad space between the actors to allow for visual projections could be tightened now and then.

Mostly, the play reminds me of the glory days of New York’s Greenwich Village, where poems were read to live jazz and the elegant dance steps of folks like Willy Blok Hansonat the Café Wha? created entertainment that was glorious, yet bizarre.

This one’s for people who like their theatre to be different.

Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 37 years. gsmith1@cogeco.ca