Ed Gass-Donnelly

Oh, Canada: This Beautiful City

“When we are onstage, we are in the here and now,” said the famed Russian acting coach — and Method-acting innovator — Konstantin Stanislavsky, by way of arguing for acting as an exercise in emotional verisimilitude. If the titles at the 10th Annual Method Fest — a thesps-front-and-center selection — are any indication, this advice has gone from his lips to Canada’s ears. Several titles in this year’s otherwise USA-heavy program hail from the Great White North and showcase performers who have made body-and-soul commitments to their roles. Toronto playwright Ed Gass-Donnelly’s This Beautiful City inventories multiple crisscrossing miseries in his hometown’s famously skeezy Parkdale neighborhood; the schematic screenplay reeks faintly of Haggis (Paul), and the male leads (Noam Jenkins, Stuart Hughes and Aaron Poole) occasionally fly over the top, but the distaff side of the ensemble does fine work. As an unhappily married woman trying to make sense of her own failed suicide attempt, Toronto stage veteran Caroline Cave (who was remarkable in countryman David Christensen’s underrated domestic chiller Six Figures) plays literally and figuratively naked, while Kristin Booth (recently seen rocking a strap-on in the Canuck sex farce Young People Fucking) does almost distressingly intense work as a junkie. Equally superb are the teenage girls at the center of Portage (which has since been retitled Crooked Lake). This tale of a Canadian Shield canoe trip gone horribly awry indulges in its share of survival-flick clichés, but the characterizations are uncommonly credible — the unknown quartet of Alysha Aubin, Candice Mausner, Morgan McCunn and Stephanie Richardson have adolescent interpersonal dynamics down pat, and the improvised-sounding dialogue eschews Juno­-style verbal gymnastics. Speaking of which: Ellen Page pops up in writer-director Kari Skogland’s adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s Canadian national-treasure novel The Stone Angel, which features a nicely matched pair of lead performances by newcomer Christine Horne and Ellen Burstyn, who play prairie heroine Hagar Shipley at either end of her relentlessly eventful life. (Louis B. Mayer Theatre, 23388 Mulholland Dr., Woodland Hills; Carlson Family Theatre, 23620 Mulholland Hwy., Calabasas; thru Thurs., April 3. www.methodfest.com)

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