How iRan: A thoughtful and intriguing production

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Disruption and reconstruction: That’s the experience of regular immigrants and refugees alike as their lives are first scrambled and then rebuilt in a new land. It’s also to some extent what those in the host country experience as the existence they’ve always known is challenged by people with different perspectives, beliefs and languages.

Now disruption and reconstruction come to the Ottawa Public Library’s main branch thanks to How iRan, a site-specific iPod play – well, actually three plays – by Calgary-based playwright Ken Cameron. The Ottawa Fringe Festival is presenting the production.

Based on interviews with new Canadians and a prisoner of conscience, Cameron’s text is about an Iranian man named Ramin who leaves behind his wife and son when he comes to Canada. Once here, he lands a job as a security guard in a library where he meets the librarian Emily. Complications, some serious and some humorous, ensue including the eventual arrival of his son Hossein and Ramin’s wife.

Cameron, who also directs, has made an audio recording of the narrative, which is played out in 25 scenes. He’s put the play on three differently coloured iPods, each containing about one-third of the entire piece. Audience members get an iPod with the narrative order shuffled and then, prompted by the recording, go to different stations in the library to listen to scenes in a random order. In effect, each audience member hears a customized play. (more…)

Spring Awakening The Musical: Orpheus Musical Theatre is now in the big leagues!!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo: The Orpheus cast and production team.

The original German version of the play was published in 1891 and then performed by Wedekind’s own company in 1906. Because of the subject matter where adolescents were concerned, it created much controversy and was not staged in German until after WWII while the American musical was first staged in 2006 based on a new English language translation that followed the one that appeared in 1917. Such a long and controversial history which also includes a movie, makes it difficult to keep track of this show which appears nowadays to fuse two time periods, two visions of the theatre, nevertheless producing a most stunning story and perfectly constructed scenario, built around a tragic vision of young people .

The play shows how a society that represses young people, brings with it all forms of destruction, even after the moment when the central sexual taboo has been transgressed, the downfall of all those who have grown with a sense of guilt in relation to their bodies, cannot be avoided. Tragedy is inevitable because the evil worm has been planted too deeply in their minds. . This devastating critique of the stern bourgeois society at the end of the 19th Century, is represented by the way young people listen to the needs of their bodies, and their most natural desires , but this awakening of sexuality is repressed by parents who imposed a military-like regime on their young ones at that time. And this in depth analysis of sexual repression relies on Freud’s news notions of the psyche that started appearing at the same period. The performance becomes a fascinating mixture of sexual fantasy, and real confrontation with unyielding social institutions that wield their power over natural human instincts.

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The Last Romance. A slight play well performed.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

 

Operas don’t have happy endings. So don’t expect one from The Last Romance, which is punctuated by the protagonist’s memories of operatic arias.

Playwright Joe DiPietro, the author of the highly successful Over the River and Through the Woods and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (with composer Jimmy Roberts), again focuses on the flowering of an unlikely love connection in The Last Romance.

Even more, this is a play about loneliness from three different perspectives. The recently widowed Ralph Bellini, once an aspiring opera singer, is searching for human companionship in someone other than his embittered sister, Rose. Meanwhile, she harbours the vain hope that the husband who left her 22 years earlier will come back to her. Carol, alone since her husband’s massive stroke, devotes her time and love to her small rescue dog, Peaches (played with ease by Navi, herself a rescue dog). Since Ralph saw Carol at the dog park, he determines to meet her…a step on the way to his last romance.

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Kanata Theatre’s Last Romance: Good actors coping with an inadequate script

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

The best reason for seeing Kanata Theatre’s production of the 201l play, Last Romance, is the performance of Brooke Keneford as a  lonely widower who strikes up a friendship with a stranger in a dog park.

Keneford communicates a rough-hewn charm as Ralph Bellini, an opera-loving Italian American who’s desperate for companionship — and maybe, just maybe, a late-flowering romance. He’s gregarious yet vulnerable. His social skills are rusty — and, in an era obsessed with  political correctness, his initial overtures to the aloof dog-walking Carol could be seen as sexual harassment.

But Keneford gives Ralph an outgoing likeability that is irresistible while also making us aware of the aching personal loss he continues to experience as a result of his wife’s  death.
It comes as no surprise that a friendship takes root, followed by a sense of closer companionship that ultimately leads to a romance of sorts. But before the end, Joe DiPietro’s script takes an unexpected turn — and not a particularly satisfactory one as hidden truths are revealed. The climax yearns to be bittersweet — but it really makes you realize how psychologically unconvincing the play really is.

Heather Walt’s uncertain production doesn’t really paper over the faults. The evening begins with an interminable back projection of a video showing dogs and their owners  at the National Capital Commission’s Bruce Pit site. It’s a bad idea and contributes nothing useful; once the play begins, Al Quirt’s excellent sound design quickly makes us aware that we’re in a dog park

Then there’s the clumsy use of operatic arias to haunt Ralph’s memories of once aspiring to sing at the Met. Perhaps the script does require someone to emerge, wraith-like, from the shadows, to attempt a bit of singing, but for a number of reasons these moments simply do not work.  A further problem is lack of fluidity. Designer Gordon Wait’s  thoughtful and functional contributions should meet the challenge of a play with three different settings — but prolonged scene changes indicate a failure to take advantage of them.

The play seeks to offer an examination of loneliness among the elderly. That it becomes mired in implausibility near the end makes it tricky to bring off in performance. Keneford, who’s always been good at exploring the nuances of character, ensures Ralph the credibility he needs. Sandy Wynne, as the dog-walking object of his admiration, is touching in her shyness and self-containment, and very affecting in a crucial moment of revelation near the end — but by this time the script is starting to lose plausibility.
A different kind of loneliness is on display in the performance of Susan Monaghan as Ralph’s sister Rose — an embittered woman who is still seething over the husband who left her years before and now finds some kind of solace in caring for her widowed brother instead.  Monaghan gives us a Rose of ferocious possessiveness. She tries to give her character some sympathetic traits but it’s a losing battle. And by the end we know that she’s capable in her own way of destroying the happiness of others. There’s something sour about a play that has someone like Rose ultimately calling the shots.

Last Romance by Joe DiPietro’s
A Kanata Theatre production
Ron Maslin Playhouse  to Oct. 1

Director; Heather Walt
Sets: Gordon Walt
Costumes: Marilyn Valiquette
Sound: Tom Kobolak

Ralph Bellini: Brooke Keneford
Carol Reynolds: Sandy Wynne
Rose Tagliatelle: Susan Monaghan
Peaches: Navi

OLT’s Boeing-Boeing a booming success

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Critic Kenneth Tynan once famously remarked that the hallmark of any really effective drama required key characters caught up in desperate circumstances.

He argued that his definition encompassed Shakespeare’s Hamlet unable to make up his mind. But he also emphasized that it reflected classic ingredients of boulevard farce.

Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing, which romped exuberantly on stage at Ottawa Little Theatre last week, harvests one of the most durable of farcical situations — the womanizer whose philandering world starts coming apart. Bernard is a Parisien playboy who has three airline hostesses on the string — one American, one Italian and one German. Each considers herself his fiancee — and Bernard has come up with a masterful scheme for keeping them away from each other. He sees them only during their layovers in Paris — so, with the handy assistance of airline timetables, he’s able to make sure that once he has breakfast with Gloria, she’ll be on her way before Gabriella arrives at lunchtime. And, of course, if Gretchen arrives in town around dinnertime he’ll be able to accommodate her as well.

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Boeing-Boeing : This record-setting contemporary version of a French farce is given an Americanized but very amusing production.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo: Maria Vartanova

A well-organized Lothario can handle three fiancées, as long as flight schedules do not change suddenly.

That might have worked in the 1960s, the time frame for Boeing-Boeing, but even then fight delays and airplanes being grounded in bad weather make the ride to infidelity very bumpy.

Marc Camelotti’s farce set records as the world’s most performed French play in the 1960s. The Beverley Cross translation ran for seven years in London’s West End. The version currently being staged by Ottawa Little Theatre is Francis Evans’ Americanized revision of the Cross translation. (It comes across as somewhat anti-American, particularly in its presentation of the New York feminist.)

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Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief. A theatrical mishmash

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief By Paula Vogel
A production of the Three Sisters Theatre Company
Director: Bronwyn Steinberg

What a waste of talent! Robin Guy is a fine performer. Élise Gauthier and Gabrielle Lalonde move well. But in Paula Vogel’s dated and unpleasant view of feminism, awkwardly directed by Bronwyn Steinberg, the three are simply part of a theatrical mish-mash punctuated by repetitive stylized movement that makes 90 minutes seem twice as long.

The purpose of Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief is apparently that control comes to women only through their husbands and independence only through prostitution. The three different accents used by the three characters are intended to define class and the way individuals are imprisoned by their origins. Presumably, the beige laundry that forms the bland set and much of the stage business is meant to underline the household duties assigned to women.

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Confused “Das Ding” in Gananoque.

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo: Stephen Wild.

“Das Ding (The Thing)” by Philippe Lohle and translated from the German by Birgit Schreyer Duarte is billed as “a sharp-witted social comedy.” I can only think that something got lost in translation as I found precious little comedy in the evening. This production originated in Toronto and moved intact to the Firehall with only one cast change. Luckily the technical production, which is terrific, moved too. “Das Ding” purports to span today’s globalized world by following the journey of a cotton fiber. I got this from the press release – not from the play.

It opens with a petulant King Manoel I of Portugal, (Qasim Khan), seated on a giant white cotton ball speaking with Magellan, (Naomi Wright). Magellan, after explaining his broken leg, requests backing for an expedition to sail west to find a route to the Indian Ocean. King Manoel refuses. The scene is mildly amusing, but the play goes downhill from there.

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Desdemona : a play about a Handkerchief : A Lumbering production whose validity is not evident…

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: George Salhani.

Paula Vogel’s Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.

It emerges at the Gladstone as some sort of muddled feminist retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello. In the process, it turns the original tragedy on its ear, presenting Othello’s wife, Desdemona, as some kind of whore who has slept with just about everybody in town and who is turned on by phallic symbolism. This, we are told, is necessary to fulfil her quest for independence in a man-dominated culture.

Desdemona also finds she enjoys flagellation — or so we are led to believe as she turns her bottom up for a bit of strapping, administered in this production with ludicrous delicacy by her lusty pal, Bianca, who has a suggestive leather belt around her waist, where it has been conveniently placed in anticipation of carrying out these delicious honours.

What we’re getting here is Vogel’s attempt at an ironic back story to Shakespeare’s tragedy, set in a laundry room in the palace where three characters — Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca — give vent to their neuroses and their sexual proclivities. Tom Stoppard did something similar, with far greater skill and wit, in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, a play in which two minor characters from Hamlet struggle to make sense of the greater tragedy happening around them. But Vogel doesn’t even attempt to match the cunning counterpoint brought off by Stoppard, a playwright wise enough to respect Hamlet as his continuing reference point.

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Significant Other: Rising Playwright’s New Comedy

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

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Photo: Justin Saglio

Playwright Joshua Harmon first came to notice with his highly successful biting comedy Bad Jews, in which family members fight tooth and nail. His new piece, the simpler Significant Other, presented by Boston’s SpeakEasy Company, focuses on the egocentric, yet generous; impulsive, but wary and obsessive Jordan Berman played by the talented Greg Maraio. Jordan, a gay New Yorker, socializes with his best friends, Kiki (Sarah Elizabeth Bedard), Vanessa (Kris Sidberry), and Laura (Jordan Clark) all professional women of different ethnicities, approximately his age. They go out for dinner, drink, confide in each other, joke, and talk and talk. The women offer him advice. Although they are all in their late twenties, their lives have an adolescent quality.

At the opening as Jordan dances on with the women in a routine reminiscent of an old musical comedy film that sets the playful mood of the friendship. The dance, repeated several times during the show, reflects Jordan’s fantasy life in which he is the main figure, indispensable to each woman. However, his life begins to feel empty as one by one they acquire boyfriends and begin to think of marriage and children. In one of his despairing moments, he laments that he is twenty-nine years old and has never been told he was loved.

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