Air Farce fans expecting a night of comedy from Luba, Simply Luba are in for a dramatic surprise.
Luba Goy’s one woman show opened Wednesday at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto and runs though May 26.
I went to the sold out opener expecting more shtick, more of a Carrie Fisher “Wishful Drinking” kind of celebrity vanity show. I’ve heard Luba’s one woman show before, sitting across from her at a cafe on the Danforth; she has so many colourful stories she could wing her way through a different show every night. Instead, Luba, Simply Luba is staged and structured, with author Diane Flacks squeezing Luba’s crazy, dramatic life into a tight, surprisingly moving, 90-minute performance. By the end, Goy’s journey builds to a powerful punch.
The show opens (a little too) quietly with Goy mocking her own well earned reputation for always being late. (It would have been funnier if Dave Broadfoot had arrived 20 minutes into the play, but that’s a whole other story.) The tone quickly shifts as mass is said and Goy gets right into her challenging childhood. Her Ukrainian heritage looms over the entire show, bringing tales of joy as well as sorrow. A stint in an orphanage, where she is raised by the Grey Nuns in Ottawa, as well as her comedian father’s tragic end, suggests comedy was always a way out for Goy.
The gifted clown within Luba does shine through in spots. There is a brief moment of Charlie Chaplin pantomime that magically captures the essence of the Little Tramp. Goy has great stage presence, and never loses command of the intimate Berkeley Street Theatre stage.
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Fans who came to hear her Air Farce impressions are rewarded past the half way mark, with Goy goofing on prime ministers Trudeau, Clark, Chretien and, of course, Kim Campbell.
The lighting is very effective, transforming the three flats behind Goy into a church interior, Ukrainian Christmas motifs or national flags. Director Andrey Tarasiuk pulls the most out of a minimalist set, allowing always expressive Goy to be the centre of attention.
Musician Victor Mishalow, who has known Goy for years, can really strike up the bandura. I spoke with him after the performance and was astonished to discover he coaxed all of the sounds heard throughout the production out of a single instrument. His 67-string, lute-like bandura sounded like the harp from The Friendly Giant in one scene, the zither from The Third Man in another.
Attending opening night was Luba’s supportive fellow Farcer Don Ferguson, former CTV CEO Ivan Fecan and his producer wife Sandra Faire (Fecan launched the Air Farce’s 16-year run on CBC), Friends of Canadian Broadcasting founder Ian Morrison and former fifth estate co-host Hanna Gartner–one of Goy’s favourite Air Farce impersonations.
Tickets to Luba, Simple Luba are available here.