Capital Critics' Circle
Le cercle des critiques de la capitale

Reviewing Theatre in Canada's Capital Region
La critique théâtrale de la région Ottawa-Gatineau

Delusion: Laurie Anderson’s performance art is a bit like a sound and light show.

Reviewed by on    Performance Art, Professional Theatre  

Delusion, the multi-talented Laurie Anderson’s one-woman performance, is a bit like a sound and light show, evocative to hear and interesting to view, but without substance.  Before proceeding, I have to admit in the interests of full disclosure that I had never seen Anderson before.  Consequently, unlike many critics, I cannot compare this work with previous productions in her decades-long career.

Delusion is a multimedia show designed, composed and written by Anderson.  The ostensibly simple set consists of three large screens, two on either side of the stage, and one upstage center.  Downstage center is a low and, at the opening, abstract form, with colored pulsating lights playing on it.  (Later, it morphs into a sofa.)  Lights go down, two screens turn blue, the central one depicts flames, which transform into swirling autumn leaves.  Red and blue are the paramount colors of the show. Time passes; Laurie Anderson enters, an androgynous figure wearing a white shirt, necktie, and pants, and walks to a podium to pick up her trademark violin, an electronic, but stringless instrument.  She also makes use of a synthesizer.  Although advance publicity claims that this piece was “conceived as a series of short mystery plays,” music, particularly in the first half, often dominates, or perhaps extends, spoken language.  Certainly, it is music, along with the visual projections, that provide the performance’s emotional elements.

While Anderson’s stories are enigmatic, it is not clear in what sense they are “mystery plays.”  At times she poses questions that the stories address ambiguously. Tales and images of loss – some sad, others funny – run through the play: the America that once was, the passing of Anderson’s mother, the 19th century Russian philosopher Nikolai Federov’s vision of resurrecting ancestors using technology.   In one of the more amusing moments Anderson recounts a dream of giving birth to her dog in a hospital, assisted by sympathetic nurses and a beaming doctor.

Stylistically and purposefully,Anderson distances herself from the audience through technology.  Even when she speaks in her husky voice, it is electronically modified to a degree.  For her male doppelganger Fenway Bergamot, she uses a voice filter that moves her voice into a male register, with the result that it sounds like a slowed down audio tape.  Unfortunately, the filter makes Bergamot’s speech hard to understand and undercuts the dialogue between the two characters who share one body.

While the production gives a sense of movement through its sometimes reverberating, throbbing, passionate music as well as its changing images and lighting, Anderson moves very little.  It is the technology that is the star and she the mastermind. 

Boston, Sept. 30, 2011

Delusion (Laurie Anderson)

ArtsEmerson at the Cutler Majestic, Boston ,MA

Commissioned by Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, Vancouver;

Barbicanite 10,London

Production Credits

  Laurie Anderson-Music, Text and Visual Design

Amy Khoshbin-Video Design and Live Mix

Rus Snelling-Lighting Design and Production Management

Dave Cook-Front of House Audio

Maryse Alberti-Video Director of Photography

Toshiaki Ozawa-Additional Video

Shane Koss-Audio Rig Design

Konrad Kaczmarek-Audio Software Design

Ned Steinberger-Violin Design

Bob Currie-Story Team

Rande Brown-Story Team

West Moon Street an early Oscar Wilde that already shows us his classic comedy of manners

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Basing a play on a little known story by a famous writer sounds like a good idea. But when the story itself is not one of that author’s best (that may be the reason that it is so obscure) the adapter is likely to face credibility issues with the script.

The short story in question is Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime. In it, Oscar Wilde mocks frauds and confidence tricksters in the “fate” industry (palm readers, telepathists, spiritualists) and takes a tongue-in-cheek look at a gentleman’s approach to doing his duty. Wilde follows the pattern perfected in his classic comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest, written four years later in 1895, making much of the insignificant and minimizing the value of important matters. The approach is just does not as effective in Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime.

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Into The Woods: A Stellar Production By The Orpheus Musical Theatre Society

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

“Living happily ever after” was never Stephen Sondheim’s favoured style. So when he latched onto some of the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm and he and book writer James Lapine headed into the woods in 1986, it was almost certain that the resulting musical would be closer to the W.W. Jacobs story of The Monkey’s Paw (a classic illustration that we should be careful what we wish for) than to riding off into a sunset filled with joy.

It is also worth remembering the theory that fairy tales are frequently seen as a projection of children’s fears and that many of the Grimm classics are horror stories filled with violence and evil. (The early editions of the 19th-century stories were criticized as being unsuitable for children.)

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When the Rain Stops Falling at the Shaw Festival : This investigation of complex family secrets is Peter Hinton’s best work yet…

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada   ,


Photo Emily Cooper

Peter Hinton, artistic director of the English theatre at the National Arts Centre had his work cut out for him at the  Shaw Festival with the staging of Andrew Bovell’s play When the Rain Stops Falling.  The work is a complex investigation of family secrets, intimate tragedies, experiences of shame, despair and confused identities.
Gabriel Law (Jeff Meadows) sets out on a mysterious quest, trying to reconstitute the life of Henry, his father, played by Graeme Somerville with a sense of great tragic presence. Since his father disappeared when he was only seven years old,  Gabriel knows nothing about him, and his mother (Donna Belleville as the older Elizabeth) refuses to speak of her husband. It quickly becomes clear that the family history, which crosses through several generations, moving back and forth from London England to Australia, is set out almost like a series of fragmented dreams, suggesting troubling secrets that the young man must bring to light and resolve, in order to come to terms with his own life.

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Frères d’hiver de Michel Ouellette: un paysage “symboliste” émerge d’un monde hivernal dans cette mise en scène remarquable de Joel Beddows,

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,


Deux cercles concentriques; au milieu, une forme ovale baignée de lumière douce et froide qui semble vibrer comme une couche de liquide instable, une illusion bien sûr, évoquée par des éclairages bleuâtres et glacés, un paysage d’hiver symboliste. Un jeune homme s’est laissé enfoncer jusqu’au fond de l’eau glacée et le voilà,  cadavre gelé étendu sur une table en inox. Nous ne le voyons pas. C’est Pierre, son frère, qui nous en parle. Enfin, un jeu de lumières bleues, jaunes, rouges tissent des liens entre ces images et le paysage hivernal éclairé par la lumière du soleil matinal, jusqu’à ce que cette boule de braise suspendue dans le ciel, nous aveugle.

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Inherit the Wind : power and tension between the two lawyers was there some of the time….of this 56 year old courtroom drama.

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  

Given that Inherit the Wind was first staged in 1955 and that the play was based on the landmark Scopes “Monkey trial” of 1925, it is tempting to say that the 56-year-old courtroom drama is dated. But as close to 50 per cent of Americans still say Darwin was wrong and Creationists who take the bible literally are right, little appears to have changed in the Bible Belt’s view of the world.

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee wrote Inherit the Wind in the McCarthy era, during the U.S. witch hunt to root out any vestiges of communism (real or imagined), thereby adding further texture to a drama that puts the right to think on trial.

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Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, An Operatic Double Bill by Opera Lyra

Reviewed by on    Opera   ,

There is no longer any doubt that Ottawa has an opera company that it can be proud of.  The traditional double bill of those two one act operas, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, opened in Southam Hall Saturday night with two almost flawless performances.  Pagliacci is often presented as an opera in two acts but here two acts become two scenes of one act which did not change the nature of the performance.  We saw an almost perfect rendering by the orchestra (conducted by Richard Buckley), the insightful use of the sets, exciting staging, magnificent choral work under Laurence Ewashko’s superb guidance, and singers who carried us off to other realms of reality. A truly wonderful evening.

Cavalleria Rusticana.

There is no doubt that the libretto of Cavalleria Rusticana, based on the play by 19th Century novelist and playwright Giovanni Verga who is steeped in Zola-like naturalism, becomes nonetheless the greatest of all tearjerkers, showing the wide range of  esthetic contradictions that make opera such an appealing art form.   Turiddu abandons his pregnant companion whom he has not yet decided to marry, and returns to his now married former wife Lola who has become his mistress once again. In the opening moments of the prologue/overture, we hear his voice off stage as he sings a passionate serenade in the middle of the night to Lola, the real love of his life and its Turiddu’s lust for Lola that gives all the energy to this work.

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The 39 Steps. An Auspicious Beginning for the New Gladstone.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,


Richard Gélinas and Zach Council. photo: Alan Dean

The New Gladstone “larger than life” Theatre opened this week as a great buzz  of excitement ran through that beautiful foyer. It captured the special  feel of the official launching of the whole  Ottawa theatre season which meant that everybody who was anybody had to be there to see The 39 Steps  by Patrick Barlow,  directed by John P. Kelly and produced by SevenThirty  productions.

The trajectory of this play is unusual. It began as a mystery spy novel in 1915 written by Scottish novelist John Buchan, also just as well-known as Lord Tweedsmuir who became the  Governor General of Canada in 1935, and who created the Governor General’s literary awards before his death in 1940. The 39 Steps  was adapted to the screen by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935, the first of a series of screen adaptations that were various imitations of Hitchcock’s original.  Then in 2005, a new form of imitation was born.

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Thirty –Nine Steps At the Gladstone.The production delivers on all fronts despite some technical problems.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Secret agents, wily villains, a dapper hero and beautiful love interests. Seventhirty Productions’ staging of The 39 Steps, itself an adaptation of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, promises much in the way of comedy and adventure. Luckily for the John P. Kelly production it delivers on all fronts, despite a few fairly noticeable technical problems.

The play, based on Alfred Hitchock’s 1935 movie which was itself based on a novel by the Canadian John Buchan, follows Richard Hannay, a British ex-pat upon his return from Canada who suddenly finds himself thrown in the middle of a spy game by a preposterously-accented foreign spy. The play stays true to the movie version, but is ingeniously reshaped into a farce of the both the genre and the process of putting on a play. The show is incredibly witty, fast-paced and presents a myriad of characters for the audience to enjoy and keep up with.

Did I mention that the cast of 150-some parts is played by 4 actors? Al Connors, playing a dapper, ironic Hannay, is the only actor to portray a single role, while Kate Smith plays the three female roles – the sensual Anabella Schmidt, beautifully argumentative Pamela and a shy Scottish housewife that Hannay has a brief affair with.

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Heroes : an impeccable trio makes this perfect escapism as they plot to break free!”

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Summer Theatre 2011  

Gananoque, on the St. Lawrence River not far from Kingston, is a pretty town that bursts with lush green all summer and turns decidedly autumnal – its trees looking weary, the afternoon light less penetrating than even a month earlier – at this time of year.

So it’s only appropriate that Gananoque’s Thousand Islands Playhouse is this month presenting Heroes, Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Gerald Sibleyras’ Le Vent de Peupliers.

The play is about three aging World War One soldiers living in a veteran’s home circa 1959. The friends, who have claimed possession of a small terrace while the other residents congregate at a more expansive spot, spend their days doing what you’d imagine old men doing: reading, squabbling, occasionally reminiscing about their womanizing days. They do it all with the sporadic urgency about small things that seems to grip elderly men more often than it does women.

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