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See Venus in Fur, Canadian Stage’s seductive and sophisticated hit

(Image: David Hou)

(Image: David Hou)

Canadian Stage’s production of Venus in Fur, the darkly sexy comedy from American playwright David Ives, leaves no space for filler. The set is little more than chairs and simple New York City backdrops, and the cast is limited to solo-show master Rick Miller and homegrown film and Broadway star Carly Street. The bare-bones production highlights the complexity of Ives’s twisty script: in his search for the perfect actress to star in his adaptation of the erotic German novel Venus in Furs, a chauvinistic playwright unexpectedly discovers a talented and ambitious candidate . As they begin to act out the racy relationship between the characters of the play-within-the-play, the boundaries between script and real life begin to dissolve, upending their pre-determined gender roles and power dynamics. Street’s shapeshifting turn is dazzling—she took home a Dora Award and a Toronto Theatre Critics Award for best female performance. After two sold-out stints under Toronto’s veteran theatre and opera director Jennifer Tarver, her performance will surely be as captivating as ever.

To Dec. 28. $29–$59. Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St., 416-368-3110, canadianstage.com.

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Check out Austra’s thrilling, trilling pop operatics

(Image: Matt Lambert)

(Image: Matt Lambert)

No one sounds quite like Austra. The Toronto synth-pop trio has cultivated an innovative sound that blends theatrical vocals with danceable electronica. On their Polaris-shortlisted 2011 album, Feel It Break, and its 2013 successor, Olympia, the band throws disparate sounds together to create a catchy, body-moving end product: there’s Afrobeat percussion, analog synthesizers and blaring horn sections, all anchored by the powerfully trilling voice of lead singer Katie Stelmanis, who trained with the Toronto Children’s Opera Company. Austra’s live shows sound like an opera and a Nine Inch Nails gig wrapped into one—only a whole lot more fun. The group takes the Opera House stage this Friday alongside Montreal glitch-pop duo Blue Hawaii, local solo songstress Petra Glynt and a Chinese opera troupe from Markham’s Soong Kam Wing Music and Arts Centre (only at an Austra gig).

Fri. Dec. 19. $21. Opera House, 735 Queen St. E., 416-466-0313, ticketweb.ca.

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Relive the entire Harry Potter saga in just 70 minutes

potted-potter-best-bet

Harry Potter’s popularity is as durable as a lightning-shaped scar. Two actor-writers have cashed in on the perma-fandom by stuffing all seven volumes of the series into Potted Potter, an “unauthorized” 70-minute comedy act. The performers are Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, who are —known in the U.K. as Dan and Jeff. They’re —a vaudevillian pair of former BBC kid-show hosts who began messing around with J.K. Rowling’’s wizarding epic as a piece of satirical street theatre. The resulting stage show has toured the world, and is now returning to Toronto for a month-long run. Turner, in a pair of fat-rimmed Warby Parkers, is an exaggeratedly earnest Harry, while the stringbean Clarkson races around the stage as every other character. It’’s a tart, zany take on the wizarding world, without the time commitment.

Dec. 17 to Jan 11. $29.95––$99.95. Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St., 416-872-1212, mirvish.com.

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Discover the surprising story of Wonder Woman’s feminist, polygamist creator

(Images: Wonder Woman: courtesy of Random House; Lepore: Dari Michele)

(Images: Wonder Woman: courtesy of Random House; Lepore: Dari Michele)

The Secret History of Wonder Woman, the new book by Harvard history prof and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, is much more than the genesis story of a beloved superhero. Behind the Amazon warrior princess’s invincible bracelets, star-studded tiara and Lasso of Truth is the tale of her creator, William Moulton Marston, an American psychologist and writer. Using unpublished diaries and letters, Lepore’s impeccably researched, century-spanning volume documents Marston’s improbable existence, which somehow included both writing a magazine column that celebrated conventional family life, and, in private, polygamy and BDSM. (Ironically, Marston’s other claim to fame is the invention of a blood pressure test used in modern lie detectors.) At the Lillian H. Smith Library Lepore will converse with Globe and Mail columnist Nathalie Atkinson about how Marston channelled his suppressed identity into the pages of his series, and how his feminist superhero became an embodiment of the women’s rights movement in America.

Thurs. Dec. 11. FREE. Lillian H. Smith Library, 239 College St., 416-393-7746, beguilingbooksandart.com.

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Start a strange new Christmas tradition with Henri Fabergé’s holiday rock opera

(Image: Madi Chambers)

(Image: Madi Chambers)

The avant-garde enigma Henri Fabergé (real name: Henry Fletcher) has been hovering around the city’s art, music and theatre fringes for years: he’s best known for The Adorables, a secretive supergroup featuring members of The Bicycles and Born Ruffians, who play surreal live shows that feel like East Village ’80s performance art. His latest creation, Crisis on St. Creskins, is a site-specific holiday rock opera that transforms the great rooms and hallways of the Campbell House Museum into an Edwardian naval academy, where students are staging a Christmas pageant while stoking a long-held rivalry with a nearby arts college. The show is arch and absurdist, combining cabaret, improv and punk into an irreverent new holiday tradition.

Dec. 13 to 15. $20. Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St. W., 416-597-0227, henri-faberge.com.

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Go beyond the Grinch at Liss Gallery’s Dr. Seuss exhibition

(Images: courtesy of Dr. Seuss Enterprises)

(Images: courtesy of Dr. Seuss Enterprises)

Searching for a perfect complement to the obligatory annual viewing of How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Head to Yorkville, where the Liss Gallery is hosting a touring exhibition of the work of beloved American cartoonist and storyteller Theodor Seuss Geisel—that is, Dr. Seuss. The Art of Dr. Seuss consists of more than 50 limited-edition prints (not originals) released by the artist’s estate. Items on display will include images of preliminary sketches from Seuss classics like The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and The Lorax. Meanwhile, prints of items from the artist’s surreal “secret art” collection will provide a darker, more nightmarish take on his career. The exhibition continues until Christmas Eve. Admission is free, but offerings from un-Grinchlike donors will support Autism Speaks.

Dec. 6–24. PWYC. Liss Gallery. 140 Yorkville Ave., 416-787-9872, lissgallery.com.

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Get chills at Cold Specks’s haunting hometown show

(Image: Steve Gullick)

The Etobicoke-born singer-songwriter Cold Specks was barely in her 20s when she first caught the attention of producers with a set of innovative early demos. Before long, she was collaborating with Swans and Moby, touring the world with pop paragon St. Vincent and local folk rockers Great Lake Swimmers, and headlining her own shows. She specializes in what she calls “doom soul,” a brand of dark, brooding gospel-meets-goth music steeped in the legacy of Tom Waits; check out the single “Absisto” from her latest album, Neuroplasticity, for a taste of her commanding alto, evocative lyrics and brooding instrumentation. Her live shows are haunting and intimate, blending a cappella ballads and band-backed anthems. See for yourself when Spx returns to Toronto’s Lee’s Palace this weekend.

Sun. Dec. 7. $15. Lee’s Palace, 529 Bloor St. W., 416-532-1598, leespalace.com.

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Join a riot at Death From Above 1979’s Sound Academy show

(Image: Death From Above 1979/Instagram)

(Image: Death From Above 1979/Instagram)

After an acrimonious split in 2006, Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler—known collectively as Death from Above 1979—have picked up almost exactly where they left off: their first reunion show, at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, caused an actual riot, complete with cops on horses. The Physical World, their long-awaited sophomore album, begins with a bass guitar—a forbidding, fuzzed-out rumble, like an explosion heard through a cheap phone. Then we’re right back to the visceral, frantic dance-punk template laid out a decade ago by the group’s wildly successful 2004 album, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. Like a happily unhappy marriage of Queens of the Stone Age and LCD Soundsystem, DFA 1979 makes music that throws club kids, headbangers and indie rockers together on the dance floor and lets them fight it out. Grainger and Keeler’s sound is heavy metal without the kitsch, dance music without the camp and coke. Catch them this Friday at the Sound Academy.

Dec. 5. $36.50–$59.50. The Sound Academy, 11 Polson St., 416-469-5655, ticketfly.com.

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Discover Arcadia, Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece of a play

(Image: David Cooper)

(Image: David Cooper)

There are many gems in Tom Stoppard’s catalogue, but Arcadia—a comedy that effortlessly intertwines disparate threads of Romantic poetry, landscape gardening, physics and academia—stands out as the British playwright’s masterpiece. It tells two stories in the same English country manor, 200 years apart. In 1809, a tutor teaches a 13-year-old prodigy. In the present day, a pair of researchers delve into the mansion’s past. And across the centuries, the characters’ rigid rationality breaks down against the messiness of human emotion. The audience is privy to both timelines, watching as the storylines correspond, contradict and finally align. The Toronto production is a transplant from the 2013 Shaw Festival, where it sold out 30 consecutive shows under the prolific Toronto-via-Texas director Eda Holmes. It’s lofty, light and moving, with a terrific cast of Shaw veterans plying the brilliantly witty script. Here’s your chance to see Stoppard’s masterpiece for yourself—no two-hour drive into wine country required.

To Dec. 14. $25–$99. Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W., 416-872-1212, mirvish.com.

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Make Soulful Messiah part of your holiday routine

(Image: Peter Lear)

(Image: Peter Lear)

Soulful Messiah, the R&B-inflected dance production from mainstay Toronto company Ballet Creole, is a hot-blooded, high-energy antidote to the lethargy that usually accompanies the onset of winter. Now in its 13th year, the show pairs various genres of dance—tap, jazz, ballet and modern—with Quincy Jones’s funky 1992 take on Handel’s Messiah (for a taste, see “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” a divine combination of classical music and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song). The production, choreographed by Trinidadian-Canadian Ballet Creole founder Patrick Parson, leaves an abstract yet beautiful mark on the classic oratorio through solo performances and synchronized group routines—the high-flying performers effortlessly leap, slide and twist their way around a sparse black stage. It injects a dose of joyful African-Caribbean culture into a round of holiday festivities that likely involves more in-laws than artistic innovation. Grab a ticket to one of this weekend’s three performances here.

Nov. 28 & 29. $20–$45. Fleck Dance Theatre. 207 Queens Quay W., 416-973-4000, balletcreole.org.

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Head to the homecoming of Soulpepper’s Kim’s Convenience

(Image: Bruce Monk)

(Image: Bruce Monk)

When Kim’s Convenience premiered at Soulpepper almost three years ago, it broke box office records in spectacular fashion—playwright Ins Choi created an instant Canadian classic, packing a powerful family drama under a comfortable exterior of sitcom-style humour. The play is set in a convenience store in Toronto’s rapidly gentrifying Regent Park neighbourhood, and it spins the tale of a Korean-Canadian family’s struggles with fractured love, intergenerational differences, immigrant identity and the beckoning of real estate developers. The compelling story, workaday setting and remarkably believable characters will be familiar to many Torontonians—and seeing them played out onstage is what makes the production so refreshing and resonant. This week, Kim’s Convenience returns to its hometown under the direction of local stage star Weyni Mengesha, the sensitive director best known for her work with Da Kink in My Hair. After two years of condo construction and cultural change in Regent Park, the neighbourhood has taken on a whole new character. No doubt the play has, too.

Nov. 27–Dec. 28. $57–$89. Young Centre for the Performing Arts. 50 Tank House Ln., 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca.

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Catch up with Caribou at the Danforth Music Hall

(Image: Thomas Neukum)

(Image: Thomas Neukum)

Whether Dan Snaith is creating retro-pop, shoegaze or dance music, the Ontario-bred, England-based DJ and producer—who at various times has gone by Caribou, Manitoba and Daphni—does it well. Caribou’s Andorra won the Polaris Prize in 2007, and its follow-up, Swim, won a Juno for best electronic album. It’s not hard to imagine Snaith’s latest release, Our Love, bringing in the same sort of accolades. Referencing early house music and featuring Owen Pallett and Jessy Lanza , the record is packed with sonic subtlety. Hear it when Snaith, as Caribou, stops at the Danforth Music Hall for a show alongside Lanza. Regular tickets are sold out, but anyone willing to cough up a couple extra bucks should have no trouble getting in.

Mon. Nov. 24. $30–$32.75. Danforth Music Hall, 147 Danforth Ave., 416-778-8163, ticketmaster.com.

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Find your winter soundtrack at Ryan Hemsworth’s Opera House show

(Image: Conrad McGee)

(Image: Conrad McGee)

Ryan Hemsworth seemingly came out of nowhere. Though the Halifax-bred producer has been incredibly busy for the past four years releasing a steady stream of singles, remixes and EPs, he only became a part of Canada’s collective musical consciousness after the release of his solo debut, 2013’s Guilt Trips, and its subsequent Juno win earlier this year. No more than 12 gig-packed months later, Hemsworth is releasing Alone for the First Time, a seven-track LP that proves that the DJ has a subtler, more intimate charm than his everything-all-the-time electro contemporaries. As its title implies, the new album is introspective, melancholic and lethargic. It draws on 8-bit inspirations and underground artists like Dawn Golden, who sings on the record’s lead single, “Snow In Newark.” Welcome in the cold weather—or momentarily escape it—when Hemsworth brings the rest of his wintry new tunes, along with his old hits, to the Opera House this week.

Nov. 15. $17.50. Opera House, 735 Queen St. E., 416-466-0313, ticketweb.ca.

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Learn to distrust your eyes at an exhibition of Charles Bierk’s impeccably photorealistic paintings

Learn to distrust your eyes at an exhibition of Charles Bierk's impeccably photorealistic paintings

(Images: photo of Bierk: Evaan Kheraj; paintings: Charles Bierk)

The portraitist Charles Bierk is a professional trickster: what look like black-and-white photographic portraits are actually impeccably rendered paintings. In his Niagara Street studio, Bierk photographs his friends, blows up the images and uses them as references for large-scale oil paintings on canvas. He studied painting under his father, the landscape artist David Bierk, who taught him to divide his canvas into a grid and paint square by square, millimeter by millimeter. In his debut solo exhibition, which starts today at Metivier Gallery on King West, he shows a series of images that transform depending on where you’re standing. From 20 feet away, they’re stark, striking portraits, coated in an eerie gloss of perfection. The closer you get, the more fascinating and flawed they become, as the stubble, pores and freckles take on gritty, abstract texture. We asked Bierk for a preview of some of his most arresting shots—and to tell us the stories behind them. Click through the image gallery to read what he had to say.

Nov. 13–Dec. 13. FREE. Nicholas Metivier Gallery, 451 King St. W., 416-205-9000, metiviergallery.com.

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Spend an afternoon with Margaret Atwood and William Gibson at Toronto’s new book fair

(Image: Atwood: George Whiteside; Gibson: Michael O'Shea)

(Images: Atwood: George Whiteside; Gibson: Michael O’Shea)

After a disastrous year for this city’s quickly vanishing bookstores, Toronto bibliophiles have at least one thing to be optimistic about: a new literary festival. Filling the void left by the defunct BookExpo Canada, the weekend-long Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair has a packed inaugural schedule. Apart from an array of writers’ workshops and events, the fest offers readings and appearances from 400 Canadian and international authors, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid creator Jeff Kinney, Saskatchewan Métis writer Lisa Bird-Wilson and local food writer David Sax. One of the main attractions, though, is a Saturday appearance by CanLit hero Margaret Atwood. She’ll be presenting her short story collection Stone Mattress for the first time in Canada. Appearing earlier in the day will be cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson, supporting The Peripheral. Also on the main stage on Saturday: romance writer Sylvia Day, with the New York Times bestseller Bared to You. For those who believe the author is dead, there will also be dozens of exhibitors selling actual books.

Sat. Nov. 15. $15. Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North Building. 255 Front Street W., 647-775-8181, torontobookfair.ca.