The Mountain Top: Martin Luther King’s last hours are grippingly evoked at the Shaw Festival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Kevin Hanchard as Martin Luther King.  Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — We’re in a run-down motel room in Memphis. It’s the night of April 3, 1968, and we’re watching Martin Luther King, a few hours after he has delivered his “we’ve been to the mountaintop” speech and has reaffirmed his vision of the promised land.

It’s also a few hours before he will be assassinated on the motel balcony.

The Shaw Festival’s tiny Studio Theatre provides the venue for its gripping production of Katori Hall’s award-winning play, The Mountaintop, and it helps contribute to a sense of claustrophobia and containment. There’s a startling moment when King, beautifully portrayed by Kevin Hanchard, attempts to leave the room — but when he throws open the door, he finds his way blocked by a monstrous snowdrift. Are we getting a dose here of the magic realism that encircles Hall’s brilliant re-imagining of the events leading up to a real-life tragedy? Perhaps. On the other hand, as Alana Hibbert’s cheerfully resilient chambermaid reminds King, Tennessee is prone to snowfalls, even in April.

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Turcaret or The Financier. A Beautiful World Premiere in English That Shows the Limits of Contemporary Commedia Performance.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo. Barb Gray for Capital Critics Circle.

Odyssey Theatre’s presentation of Turcaret or the Financier, an 18th Century classic, is a world premiere of the English translation by Joanne Miller and Laurie Steven. Delicate set and luscious costumes by James Lavoie, Almut Ellinghaus’ beautiful masques and wigs, the presence of excellent actors, a precisely Commedia direction that at times became a collective choreography as the actors displaced their expression away from the masked faces to the bodies that floated, skipped and flowed among each other with much grace, beauty, impudence and comic energy. Director Laurie Steven is back among us and her excellent command of the Commedia dell’arte technique that shone through this performance, as each of her characters integrates the conventional Commedia types. In a masterful convergence of lighting effects, dance, and orchestrated destruction, Turcaret’s world of the greedy rising middle class, comes crashing down, opening the way for the next generation of crooks. The French Revolution is not there yet but the middle and lower classes are already showing their teeth, these are still types that do not dare rise beyond their social status.

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Stratford Unveils A Provocative New Take On Shakespeare’s Dream Play as Chamber Theatre.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Chamber Play. Photo: Michael Cooper. 

STRATFORD — Forty years ago, a movie called Earthquake arrived in cinemas, its impact heightened by a new system called Sensurround. The aim was to give audience members a truly shuddering experience — not just earth tremors but as close to the equivalent of a full-fledged quake as possible. So if you were an audience member, you felt as though both you and the auditorium were in danger of being shaken to bits.

Indeed, the legendary Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard started losing pieces of ceiling plaster when Earthquake opened there. And in Chicago, alarmed city authorities imposed severe restrictions on the use of Sensurround in its movie houses.

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The Screwtape Letters. C.S. Lewis’ chaotic morality play creates magic theatre.

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

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Photo.Victoria Salter.

They say we all have our demons to fight against. Of course, rarely does anybody believe in such creatures as  demons, ghosts, devils, products of someone’s imagination, like , CS Lewis’  for example. Still, who knows? After seeing 9th Hour Theatre Company’s version of CS Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters,” one begins to wonder.  But, let’s start from the beginning.

It all started on Sunday afternoon, in the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre’s  Studio space, where Lewis’ imaginative and philosophical narrative about good and evil, seen from the devil’s perspective and told through Screwtape’s Letters to his nephew Wormwood, came alive.

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The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare. Off to Edinburgh with David Warburton.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo. Andrew Alexander.  David Warburton.

David Warburton faced a mammoth task in taking on the role of the player in Brian K. Stewart’s one-hander.

The premiere two years ago received many well-deserved accolades. In addition, the performance of Greg Kramer, the actor who originated the role, gave the impression that this was THE way to play the part. Sadly, he passed away. His death added a further level of emotional difficulty for an actor presenting The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare.

No matter, Warburton appears to have decided. In the current production of The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare, now on its way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, he offers a totally different and equally mesmerizing character. His actions are more reasoned as his player remains the great actor telling a story of his time, explaining how he, a former member of Will Shakespeare’s company, happens to be in the Tower of London, waiting to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

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The Financier: Charming choreography does not change the fact that the physical performance is at odds with the content.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo. Barbara Gray

The choreography is charming. The masks and movement are effective. The backdrops and lighting are attractive. The scene changes and cleanups are a delight. In fact, every aspect of the periphery enhances the commedia dell’arte style imposed on The Financier.

All this is as expected from Odyssey Theatre with the return of company founder Laurie Steven as director of a newly translated version of The Financier (Turcaret) by Alain-René Lesage.

But, despite its similarities to Molière’s Tartuffe and its designation as a comedy, this play is hard to fit into the style that is the company’s trademark. In The Financier no character is honest or shows a modicum of heroism and each individual is out to swindle all the others and thinks only of the WIFM (What’s in it for me?) principle.

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The Great Divorce: 9th Hour Theatre’s adaptation is magical, thought-provoking

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Photo: Victoria Slater

Photo: Victoria Slater

The Great Divorce, originally by C.S. Lewis, is a work that reflects on the Christian ideas of Heaven and Hell. 9th Hour Theatre has taken on the mammoth task of adapting the work for the stage, with seven actors portraying all 22 characters. The show, although firmly rooted in Christianity, transcends both religion and philosophy. At its core, it’s a story about the way humans live their lives and the road-blocks all of us cling to on our path to self realization and happiness. Therefore, although it deals with many a heavy theological question, it also manages to be infinitely approachable, entertaining, and beautiful. Most importantly, the show makes the audience think and challenges them to take a critical look at their own lives. If art is supposed to promote discussion and to make you ponder life’s more tricky questions, then 9th Hour Theatre’s production of The Great Divorce is art in one of its purest forms.

In The Great Divorce, a man finds himself in a desolate, grey town, representing Hell, surrounded by suitcases and passengers waiting to jostle and complain their way onto a bus. As our Narrator chats with his fellow passengers, it becomes clear that the motley crew each carry their fair share of psychological baggage. The bus arrives at its destination, a picturesque countryside, which turns out to be the foothills of Heaven. This place, while beautiful, is also more dense than the reality the ghosts are used to. The audience follows each character as their guide tries to convince them to walk toward the mountain, with its abundant light and love. Nothing worth having comes easily, though, and our willowy ghosts find themselves poked by the grass that won’t give way under their scant weight. As their spirit guides try to convince them that the longer they walk, the easier it becomes, the Hell that each of our bus riding characters carry inside themselves starts to and fill them with doubt. Few have the courage to take the first painful steps toward salvation. (more…)

Turcaret or The Financier. Commedia style changes the focus of the play.

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

 

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Photo. Barb Gray 

Highly influenced by Moliere’s witty, sharp and ironic criticism of French society’s many vices, Alain René Lesage follows in his footsteps, only he takes Moliere’s comedy even deeper into the dark side of human nature. In his famous classic “Turcaret” there is not a single positive character. The time when the King’s funds are exhausted and those close to the king scheme with his tax collectors to swindle the country’s treasury is a perfect moment for financiers to make remarkable fortunes. Turcaret is a representative of that new class – the “nouveau riche,” who acquired tremendous fortunes by various means – most of them illegal. What these new rich upstarts do not have is class or social prestige, so they are after any possible way to buy that last obstacle they face on their way to high society.

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The Tempest in a Teapot at Prescott.

Reviewed by Connie Meng

 

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Photo. Andrew Alexander. David Adams as Prospero, Claire Armstrong as Miranda.

The current production of “The Tempest” at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival is a perfect example of a strong directorial and design concept hi-jacking the play. This can happen with Shakespeare and sometimes an off-beat concept works. This one doesn’t. The conceit of a travelling side-show troupe sets a lively boisterous tone that’s completely at odds with the play’s atmosphere of mystery, revenge and magic. Director Craig Walker refers to the troupe’s leader, ultimately Prospero, as “part mystic and part con artist.” This cheapens the character and we’re left with a tawdry mountebank instead of a wise philosopher magician.

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Turcaret ou le financier :

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo: Barb Gray.

Compte rendu  bientôt, en français.

Patience!!!