The Shaw Festival Takes Alice Down A Dismal Rabbit Hole

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

Photo: David Cooper

Alice in Wonderland

Adapted for the stage by PETER HINTON
Based on the book by LEWIS CARROLL
Directed by PETER HINTON
Musical direction by ALLEN COLE

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. —  Briefly — very briefly — you’re thinking that the Shaw Festival’s expensive new version of Alice In Wonderland will be a thing of wonder and delight.

Director Peter Hinton and designers Eo Sharpe (sets) and Kevin Lamotte (lighting) begin by giving us startling visuals that transform the Festival Theatre stage into a miracle of shimmering, pastoral  beauty. We’re entering the 19th Century world of Lewis Carroll and witnessing the genesis of a classic work of children’s literature. And the  very fact that Carroll (in reality Oxford cleric and mathematician Charles Dodgson) is in a boat, gliding tranquilly through a watery landscape that isn’t really there, provides early assurance that we will, in fact, be entering a truly make-believe dimension.

A pity that it soon proves to be the wrong kind of make-believe. (more…)

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike a sharp-tongued, wistful comedy

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Photo: Tony Caldwell

Photo: Tony Caldwell

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
By Christopher Durang
Plosive Productions
Directed by David Whiteley

Can one find sanctuary in Bucks County, Pa., rather than journeying all the way to Moscow? Is it possible to enjoy Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike without knowing the plays of Anton Chekhov?

To answer the former, you’ll have to see Durang’s show, rendered much more satisfactorily in the second than in the first act by Plosive Productions. As to the latter; no knowledge required.

Oh, there are plenty of references to Chekhov in this often sharp-tongued but ultimately gentle, even wistful comedy, set in rural Pennsylvania. Chief among those allusions: The names of the three main, middle-aged characters — Vanya (Chris Ralph), Sonia (Mary Ellis) and Masha (Teri Loretto-Valentik). The siblings (Sonia, as she likes to remind one and all, was adopted) were named by their academic parents after Chekhov characters, and they spend much of the play seeking their own, true identities. (more…)

In the Body of the World: A View of Eve Ensler’s World

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

In the Body of the World

Written and performed by Eve Ensler

American Repertory Theater

Eve Ensler, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues is, in addition to being a writer and actress, a social activist who has devoted her life and work to battling sexual violence against the female body worldwide. She has visited sixty countries in her efforts to help and empower women. Her latest piece, a one-woman show In the Body of the World, adapted from Ensler’s eponymous memoir, is being premiered at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The play tells stories of female anguish as experienced by Eve Ensler and contemporary Congolese women. It attempts to intertwine Ensler’s experience of cancer with the atrocities committed against women’s bodies in the Congo’s civil war. However, it focuses far more on the details of Ensler’s life with the Congo serving to bookend the piece. Eve Ensler narrates; she plays no other characters. (more…)

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike: A weak script and messy directing offer up few laughs

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo: Tony Caldwell

Photo: Tony Caldwell

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

By Christopher Durang
Plosive Productions
Directed by David Whiteley

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

 Christopher Ferdinand Durang is a playwright whose works, written in the style of absurd comedy, deal with issues such as homosexuality, child abuse and Roman Catholic dogma and culture. While his Brodway commercial success Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is still a comedy, his signature element – absurdity – is definitely missing. The story about three middle aged single siblings, whose lives are full of insecurities, futility and unfulfilled dreams, is suppose to tell us about alienation and the meaningless of today’s society. Although the message is an undeniable truth, the way it is told comes off a bit mild, naïve and too obvious. Its combination of superficial comedic elements, too many quotations from Chekov and a long monologue about numerous old American shows (which makes the play rather local – Durang is performed worldwide) gives the audience enough to laugh at, but certainly not a lot to think about. (more…)

Chekhov through an absurdist mirror – Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Reviewed by Iris Winston

vanya-and-sonia-and-masha-and-spike2

Teri Loretto-Valentik, foreground, who plays Masha in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, now playing at The Gladstone until June 5. (Photo by Tony Caldwell)

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
By Christopher Durang
Plosive Productions
Directed by David Whiteley

Playwright Christopher Durang has referred to his award-winning 2012 absurdist comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike as putting the works of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov through a blender.

It is an apt description. The three siblings of the title are named after characters in Chekhov’s plays (because their scholarly parents loved the 19 th -century playwright’s works.) The three — a brother, a sister and an adopted sister, rather than Chekhov’s three sisters — attempt to cope with Chekhovian misery and insecurity until peace finally descends over their lake and their not-quite Chekhovian cherry orchard. (Whether 10 or11 trees constitute an orchard is a point of discussion throughout.)

Vanya and Sonia (being adopted increases her self-pity and insignificance, as she constantly points out) rely on the sameness of their days in the home they never left, after their parents’ death. They watch for a blue heron (rather than Chekhov’s seagull). Vanya (inspired by the character of Konstantin in The Seagull) writes an odd play in which a molecule is the lead character, read by a young visiting neighbour, named Nina (of course). (more…)

The Shaw Festival Triumphs with Bernard Shaw’s once notorious Mrs. Warren’s Profession

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

Photo: David Cooper

Mrs. Warren’s Profession

Written by Bernard Shaw

Directed by Edna Holmes

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — It’s an explosive mother-daughter confrontation — and it’s a lulu.

It happens near the end of the Shaw Festival’s marvellous revival of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, George Bernard Shaw’s once-banned play about the economic benefits of brothel-keeping. On the one hand, you have feisty young Vivie Warren (Jennifer Dzialoszynski) coming to terms with the knowledge that she owes her   university education and her place in society to her mother’s illicit earnings. In the other corner, there’s Mrs. Warren (Nicole Underhay) defiant in the face of her daughter’s scorn and scarcely able to comprehend that she’s about to be shown the door by her ungrateful child.

It’s a moment of high drama in an outstanding production that shows how pertinent many of the issues raised by this late Victorian play remain today. Director Eda Holmes underlines its continuing relevance through an audacious device. At the beginning we’re in the kind of private men’s club that still exists in today’s London and is notorious for resisting change. The four males we encounter are clearly of the present — there may be an ancient gramophone in the corner of the panelled drawing room (designed by Patrick Clark for this production with a bow to the sumptuous trappings of class and privilege) but this is also a world of text messaging and mobiles. (more…)

The Shaw Festival Delivers a Worthy Uncle Vanya

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

Photo: David Cooper

Written by Anton Chekhov

Adapted by Annie Baker

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONT. —  Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw Festival’s retiring artistic director, has always shown a concern for mood and texture in her productions. To be sure, she’s adept at engineering sharply defined dramatic contrasts, but she also understands the subtle power of an extended moment of silence and — unlike more timid directors — is bold enough to utilize it. There’s a musical sensibility at play here: yes, we can embrace the thunder and lightning of the allegro passages, but let’s also heed the more reflective nuances of the adagio movement.

Maxwell is no hurry in the opening moments of her new production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. She wants us to become attuned to the lethargy and languor of this remote Russian estate, a place not so much idyllic as it is psychologically and intellectually stifling. Inertia is unmistakably in the air here, along with the whisperings of a collective sense of loss and failure.

So we must be made conscious of the flickering tensions beneath the surface. Real anguish lurks in the lives we encounter in Uncle Vanya — and it will erupt before the evening ends. The production takes great pains to establish atmosphere and to anchor the play to a particular time and place. At times, however, it is thwarted by Annie Baker’s adaptation. Baker may be the flavour of the month in American theatrical circles, and at its best, her script honours Chekhov’s delicate emotional weavings. But there are also inexplicable lapses into the vernacular of our own day, and the effect is jarring. (more…)

A little bit of Ottawa in Stratford: Pirates and Elephants at SpringWorks Festival in Stratford

News from Capital Critics Circle

APA_TEG_0010_2015-03-12_14-57-56-640x640_v2The Elephant Girls

Written & Performed by Margo MacDonald

Directed by Mary Ellis

Tues 17 @10pm

Thu 19 @ 8pm

Sun 22 @ 6pm

(more…)

Our Town: A testament to the ensemble glories of the festival acting company

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: David Cooper

Photo: David Cooper

Our Town

By THORNTON WILDER

Directed by MOLLY SMITH

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. —  It’s doesn’t take the Shaw Festival’s production of Our Town very long to establish its kinship with Thornton Wilder’s sublime play. This not so much a case of the festival asserting its authority over the material as it is one of achieving harmony with a script that seeks to work its wonders on a virtually bare playing area with a minimum of props.

By the time that those two famous step-ladders are centre stage and the young George Gibbs and Emily Webb have mounted them to share with us a few endearing moments of their early courtship, the community of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, is taking shape. We’ve started to know the townsfolk as they were at the beginning of the last century — be they Emily’s father, the local newspaper editor who disarmingly informs us that Grover’s Corners is a rather dull place, or Simon Stimson, the drunken church organist, or Howie Newsome, the local milkman who is always ready to pause for a chin-wag during his local deliveries. (more…)

The Marvelous Wonderettes: An entertaining pastiche of the past

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: The Gladstone

Photo: The Gladstone

The Marvelous Wonderettes

By Roger Bean

A Fundraiser for the Catholic Education Foundation of Ottawa at the Gladstone

Directed and choreographed by Aileen Szwarek

More of a musical revue than a fully-fledged musical, The Marvelous Wonderettes by Roger Bean is a light-hearted concoction that quickly evokes the 1950s and 60s through songs of the era.

The girl group entertaining at the Springfield High School on senior prom night 1958 runs through key pop songs of the era, interspersed with rivalry between the two “frenemies,” Cindy Lou and Betty Jean. Meanwhile, the other members of the singing foursome, organizer Missy and bubblehead Suzy, try their best to restore equilibrium, keep the entertainment on track and everyone on and off stage smiling. (more…)