What to see, do, hear and read in Toronto this November
Including a retrospective on pop art legend Keith Haring and Aaron Sorkin’s theatrical take on To Kill a Mockingbird
1 Growing up, R. H. Thomson found a cache of letters written by his ancestors in England who fought in the First World War. Initially, the young actor dismissed them as irrelevant old family heirlooms. A lot of people, a lot of relatives—Who cares? he thought. Besides, he had more interesting things to do. In the 1980s, his stage career took off, with leading roles at Stratford and Toronto Free Theatre, and soon he was landing major film roles as well, winning a Genie Award for his part in the 1982 Tom Sullivan biopic If You Could See What I Hear.
Then, in the late ’80s, the AIDS crisis devastated the theatre community. All of his friends who were gay were suddenly dying. His cousin, Peter, was one of them. Sitting by Peter’s bedside, Thomson recalls, “It struck me: this must have been what it felt like in 1916—so many young men, so much talent, just wasted.” He began to see the old family letters less as stuffy historical records and more as glimpses into a lost world that could teach him something about the current one. “When I looked at the space around the letters—When were they written? What was the regiment doing?—they started to come to life.”
His relatives’ wartime reports form the core of By the Ghost Light, Thomson’s non-fiction debut, out October 31, which combines his interpretations of the texts with meditations on the meaning of remembrance and its place in Canada’s cultural imagination.
Thomson had a lot of material to work with. His great-uncles, Jack, Art, George and Joe Stratford, all fought in the First World War. Two of them were ultimately killed, and the others had brushes with death. Meanwhile, the women of the family battled on the home front. Writing from her stately residence in England, Thomson’s great-great-aunt Isabel maintained the jingoist posture that kept the guns firing: “I wish [the British] would use [poison] gas,” she wrote in the summer of 1915. “We’ve been too humane and too polite.”
Twenty years later, the stories coalesced into The Lost Boys, Thomson’s 2000 play that dramatizes his family’s accounts. Five years after that, it expanded into The World Remembers, the author’s ambitious quest to document the names of every soldier who fought in the war and project them at the Canadian War Museum every year. Much of the book is devoted to this mission, tracing Thomson’s visits to archives and war memorials across the world.
If By the Ghost Light has a thesis, it’s that remembrance is about respecting the sacrifices of our ancestors while rejecting the clan mentality that patriotism demands of us. For Thomson, the First World War provides the ultimate warning: a pointless spectacle of death in service of nationalist pride. To prevent it from happening again, he argues, we need to honour friend and foe alike. If we don’t, Thomson thinks, we’re just preparing for the next war.
2 Aaron Sorkin, the Academy Award–winning writer of The West Wing and The Social Network, brings his stage production of the classic American novel To Kill a Mockingbird to Toronto after touring the US and smashing records on Broadway. For this adaptation, Sorkin has compressed Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning story into its key courthouse scenes. He also added new layers of nuance to the character of Atticus Finch, whose respect-the-bigots attitude seems less virtuous in a modern light. The Mirvish production is directed by Tony Award–winner Bartlett Sher and stars Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch, Maeve Moynihan as Scout and Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia. November 21 to 27, CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre
3 Feeling craft-curious? The One of a Kind Winter Show is the place to explore. Taking over the CNE’s Enercare Centre for 11 days, this festival of artisanal wares—including Algonquin campfire-scented wicks and sophisticated knee-length cardigans—promises a generous variety of homemade goodies in an environment that celebrates local makers and small-scale shopping. It’s the perfect opportunity to holiday shop for gifts you won’t find anywhere else. November 23 to December 3, Enercare Centre, CNE
4 Want to see that famous painting of a UFO zapping a dancing polka-dotted cartoon dog? It may not sound highbrow, but that’s sort of the point. This new AGO exhibition features the collected works of American pop artist Keith Haring, whose colourful line drawings and recurring characters, “barking dog” and “radiant baby,” are often praised for their approachability. It’s the only Canadian stop for Art Is for Everybody, which features more than 120 works by the late, great artist. Opens November 8, AGO
5 Toronto singer-songwriter and actor Noah Reid is best known for playing Dan Levy’s sweet boyfriend, Patrick, in the beloved Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek. Now, he’s in the midst of a world tour to promote his 2022 album, Adjustments (after a pandemic delay), and this month he’ll make a pit stop in his hometown. Expect a lineup of highly relatable, locally flavoured tracks like “Another Fuckin Condo,” in which Reid pledges allegiance to his city—despite how much it’s changed. November 30, Danforth Music Hall
6 Award-winning poet and writer E. J. Koh’s debut novel, The Liberators, is a sprawling saga about memory and inheritance that spans two continents and four generations. A couple by way of an arranged marriage make a fateful flight from 1980s South Korea, then under a military dictatorship, to California, where they find homesickness, heartbreak and an illicit romance whose consequences reverberate across time and space. The book follows Koh’s 2020 memoir, The Magical Language of Others, which traced the stories of women in her family. Out November 7
7 American artist, writer and saxophonist Yusef Lateef is best known as a virtuoso of jazz. He won a Grammy and a Lifetime Achievement Award for his multi-instrumental talents before his death, in 2013, at 93. Now, Night in the Garden of Love, a new exhibition presented in collaboration with British artist Shezad Dawood, seeks to recast Lateef as a polymath by showcasing his drawings, paintings and textiles. Set in a garden, the exhibition places the artists in conversation as they engage with topics like creativity, ecology and the power of music. November 10 to May 5, Aga Khan Museum
8 Sandra Caldwell has had quite the life. After running away from home in Washington, DC, to New York several times as a teenager, the actor transitioned when she was around 19. She kept her background a secret through the successful film and stage career that followed—which included performances at Paris’s Moulin Rouge and roles in Canadian TV shows like The Book of Negroes—until she publicly came out as a trans woman in 2017. In her new musical, The Guide to Being Fabulous, Caldwell tells the whole story: pickpocketing in her youth, serving prison time in Montreal and New York, fighting on the front lines at Stonewall, and performing on some of the world’s biggest and brightest stages. October 24 to November 12, Soulpepper Theatre
9 Despite not releasing an album in nine years, rock trio Blonde Redhead have kept themselves on the radar, perhaps most notably by providing the background music for Evil Morty’s character arc in Rick and Morty. Now, after touring with prog-rock legends Tool in 2022, they’ve returned with a full-length album, Sit Down for Dinner, released in September, plus their own world tour. The lead single, “Snowman,” features fuzzy, drawn-out melodies with a familiar shoegaze vibe, but an insistent, stumbling beat propels the song into the realm of dream pop. November 2, The Concert Hall