Moss Park: Exaggeration kills credibility

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

MOSS PARKIn George F. Walker’s dark comedy “Moss Park,” Tina (Emma Slipp) and Bobby (Graeme McComb) are a young couple who fell in love, made love and, consequently, became parents as teenagers. It’s now three years later and, although they no longer live together, they still love each other. Now, they meet in Moss Park in Toronto to figure out whether there is a future in store for them, their three-year-old daughter, and – whoops- another one on the way. Yes, Emma is pregnant again, as a result of a night of passionate reconciliation between her and Bobby.

Walker puts all imaginable obstacles in their way. Not only are they as poor as church mice, but they also come from very problematic families. Emma is the third generation of immigrants whose dreams of a better life have been going to pieces ever since her grandfather came to the country.  Bobby grew up with an alcoholic father, who recently replaced drinking with smoking weed. As if that weren’t bad enough, it seems that at least half of his relations and friends have a criminal record. He is incapable of keeping any decent job more than a day, but has been proficient at committing petty crimes since his early teens. (more…)

Two: The Performances Rise Above The Material

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Two_vMere silence on stage can sometimes be as arresting as an explosion. That’s what happens at the Gladstone Theatre during the most memorable moments of its new production of Lancashire playwright Jim Cartwright’s pub drama, Two. We have a woman sitting quietly at a table. There’s a tentative smile on her face — she’s relaxing into a moment of serenity. In the background there is the noise of other customers, but for the moment she’s occupying her own, private secure world. But only for a moment. Reality intrudes, the smile vanishes. and those brief glimmerings of happiness yield to anguish bordering on despair. There’s also fear.

Michelle LeBlanc is the actress here, her face and body language signalling an unsettling gamut of emotions. We start realizing that this is someone in deep trouble, and when her boyfriend shows up with the drinks, we know why. We have front-row seats for a glimpse into an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend, played with swaggering cruelty by Richard Gelinas, is as much an emotional tyrant as he is a physical menace — toying with her anxieties and fears, threatening her with the jealousies and possessiveness which hide his own insecurities. You know the scene will have a bad ending — and it does.

Director John P. Kelly has staged this sequence with the care and nuance this treacherous material deserves. He and his performers must do their best to disguise the fact that the two characters are stereotypes and that their sad little drama is playing out predictably. Gelinas, truly discomforting here, manages to bring out the awfulness of the boyfriend, getting beyond the elements of caricature in Cartwright’s script. And it is LeBlanc’s brilliantly modulated characterization that conveys the young woman’s ultimate anguish of spirit. (more…)

Shaw’s Saint Joan Still Relevant Today

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: A.R. Sinclair

Photo: A.R. Sinclair

The Central Square Theatre in Cambridge Massachusetts has brought in Bedlam’s unusual production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, written in 1923. The New York-based company, now in its second year, has specialized in performing large cast classics in meager spaces with a small number of actors, sparse scenery and minimal technical effects.

Few cuts have been made to the three-hour work written, in Shavian fashion, as a debate in which Joan has the last word. Shaw is true to the well-known tale of the medieval country girl, who by dint of religious belief, patriotism, and love of warfare, almost succeeds in driving the English out of France, is tried by the Inquisition for heresy, and burnt alive. However, his Joan is a female version of Shaw’s übermensch, a person whose superior intellect entitles him/her to lead.

Joan is played by the extraordinary Andrus Nichols, co-founder of the company. Nichols, dressed in plain contemporary clothing in lieu of armor, her hair long, contrary to the script, plays with all facets of Joan’s personality. She is warm, naïve, proud, playful, lucid, brave, as the text would have it. By turns, she elicits laughter and tears.

The twenty-three male roles – soldiers, plain folk, nobles, churchmen – are in the hands of three talented actors, Edmund Lewis, Tom O’Keefe, and actor/director Eric Tucker, the other co-founder. (more…)

Two: A solid production about human frailty

Reviewed by Iris Winston

IMAGEThink of ordinary folk at a local pub in northern England in the vein of Coronation Street or The Eastenders.

As the (unnamed) landlord and landlady bicker between serving assorted regulars on a busy night, the audience meets the customers through a series of vignettes. As directed by John P. Kelly, who breaks down the fourth wall by having some audience members seated at cocktail tables on stage, the audience is pulled into a kaleidoscope of short character sketches about human frailty. Alongside the occasional happy thought, they are presented with a series of images of drudgery, disease, domestic abuse and loneliness, even a child left behind when his drunken father forgets him outside the pub.

All 14 characters in Two are played by the publicans, who find various excuses to leave the stage and return in a new guise for the next segment. (more…)

Clybourne Park: A worthy production despite a shaky second act

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Racism, economic concerns and human tragedy sound unlikely themes for humour. Yet Bruce Norris’s savage satire, Clybourne Park, frequently prompts laughter — perhaps partly because of audience discomfort with being forced to face uncomfortable truths.

The title is taken from the fictional white neighbourhood in Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun. The address of the house that has just been sold to a black family is the same. Even Karl, the smarmy head of the community association, who tries to block the sale, has the same name and official reason for his attitude. (It will bring the property values down, he says.)

From here, the multi-award-winning Clybourne Park draws back the curtains of any political correctness and goes into attack mode. Before the veil of politeness is ripped away — particularly in the first act — things move slowly. Inane chatter about the origin of the name of a type of ice cream or a discussion about capital cities take a disproportionate amount of time, until the antagonism and fear of “the other” is laid bare.  (more…)

Karen MacDonald Gives a Helluva Performance in Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Mark S. Howard

Photo: Mark S. Howard

Molly Ivins was a leftist journalist who wrote in and about the politically conservative state of Texas for most of her career. Her brash, biting, mocking, satirical columns ultimately brought her to the attention of American liberal ideologues. With the ascendancy to the oval office of George W. Bush, whom she nicknamed Shrub, Ivins reached the height of her notoriety. Her favorite Texas political chump had become big news.

Now at Boston’s Lyric Stage, the one-woman show, Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, assembled by first- time playwrights Margaret Engel and Allison Engel, is composed of political commentary, biography, and anecdotes. Since much of the material is taken directly from Ivins’ writing, it is generally funny, intelligent, and thought provoking. (more…)

Freezing leaves a chill

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Freezing is the kind of show that leaves me cold. It is low on original storyline, high on stereotypes and clichés and irritatingly silly.

Both hollow and exploitive, Freezing relies heavily on other genres to give the illusion that it has substance. It includes a dame (traditionally played by a man in English pantomime), a villain, complete with cape and moustache (drawn from melodrama), a couple of princesses (one of whom is apparently intended to look like the snow queen from the television series Once Upon a Time.) The general impression is that the creators have chosen to throw anything into the pot without regard to delivering a cohesive drama at any level. (more…)

Narnia: A flawed production with lots of spirit

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

NarniaEarly on in Narnia, a cranky housekeeper tells the four Pevensie children, sent to the English countryside during World War Two, that they all “have that ‘I’m going to explore Marbleton Manor’ look. Forget it. The Age of Exploration is over. Understood?” Thankfully, the four completely ignore her and, as a result, are transported to the magical world of Narnia. The story, by C.S. Lewis, is a childhood classic and combines allegory and adventure into an exciting and thought-provoking work. It’s a big bite for any company to take and 9Th Hour Theatre makes a valiant effort with the complex, often quite dark subject matter. The performance has its flaws, but manages to respect the depth of Lewis’ work while still keeping it appropriate and fun for the younger members of the audience.

The story takes the Pevensie children – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – to the land of Narnia, a frozen wasteland of perpetual winter (but never Christmas) ruled by the White Witch, Queen Jadis (a wonderfully expressive, over-the top Gabrielle Lalonde). After stumbling into this land, the four meet magical talking animals, as well as their once king, Aslan. The children are informed of a prophecy stating that, as sons of Adam and Eve, they are to be the future kings and queens of Narnia. They join the revolution and, with the help of Aslan, defeat the White Witch. Other than an entertaining adventure, the story is also an allegory for Christ’s sacrifice. Aslan gives his life for the wayward Edmund, who betrays his siblings and joins the White Witch, becoming her prisoner. (more…)

The Arabian Nights comes to Cambridge: Spinning Ancient Tales for a Modern Audience.

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Christopher James Webb and Andrew Tung - Photo A. R. Sinclair Photography

Photo: A.R. Sinclair

The Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts is currently presenting Arabian Nights as their holiday show, making the festive season more welcoming to all. This universal classic compilation, which has its roots in tales that originated across centuries in Persia, India, and Arabia, among others, is fittingly played by a multi-racial cast. Out of the hundreds, if not a thousand and one stories, adapter Dominic Cooke selected five, two of which, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “Sinbad the Sailor” are well known. Familiar character names are somewhat exoticized; Schahrazad instead of Scheherazade, for instance.

Advertised as a family show, it contains sexism, abuse of power, and violence that in 2014 have a disconcerting pertinence to current politics, given recent news accounts of beheadings in Muslim countries. The framing story tells of the King’s vengeance against all women because of his dead wife’s infidelity. Each night, he rapes a virgin and has her beheaded the following morning. In this version, however, Schahrazad volunteers as a victim in the belief – validated in the end – that she will be able to change his thinking through the power of storytelling. She is willing to risk death to be able to save the lives of young women. Her ploy is to entertain the King with tales so that he will spare her to hear another.

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Alice Through the Looking Glass at the National Arts Centre: nonsensical sense and visual wildfire for the contemporary gaze.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photographer: Barb Gray. Karen Robinson as the Red Queen, Natasha Greenblatt as Alice.

When Jillian Keiley meets Lewis Carroll and James Reaney, I’m tempted to say that the witty story and vastly playful language of Carroll that hinges on all sorts of sly social comments (“words mean what you chose them to mean” says one of the characters) are soon taken over by a bouncy and colourful staging that plays directly to children’s fantasy. There are balloons, flying things , and all sorts of unimaginable props, with Bretta Gerecke’s complexly designed and striking costumes , Kimberly Portell’s magical lighting , John Gzowski’s sound, Jonathan Monro’s orchestrations and especially Dayna Tekatch,s choreography, all taking us in various directions at once . The production team stars in this fantasy that leads to pure visual chaos and muddles the narrative but it certainly holds the audience’s attention because of the visual excitement it generates, almost for its own sake where staging is based on non-stop gags and costumes that take your breath away.

Obviously the spirit of Carroll has been relocated in the visual which suits a theatrical language for young people because much of the book’s wit has a whole level that is not for children.

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