February, 2013

Rabbit Hole : Kanata theatre at its best.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole, offers a carefully-textured examination of how individuals, in their various ways, deal with grief and loss. It’s tricky material, a drama in which a moment of silence can be as powerful as a cascade of words and in which locked-in sorrow can be more palpable than an unfettered outpouring of emotion.

There is a cathartic process underway as bereaved parents Becca and Howie attempt to resume living following the accidental death of their four-year-old son. But as the play gently but firmly makes clear, their journey out of darkness is not an easy one — indeed, as is so frequent in such situations, their own relationship is in jeopardy.

It’s a measure of Brooke Keneford’s thoughtful, measured production for Kanata Theatre that the play’s final memorable moments do not slide into an easy, comfortable glibness. They are touching, but they don’t evoke closure: what they offer is hope and a continuation of the healing process.


Pride and Prejudice: OLT’s Page to stage of a classic novel is a major challenge

Reviewed by Iris Winston



Photo: Maria Vartanova

Condensing any novel into a two-act stage play is a challenge. Many have tried to present the key aspects of Jane Austen’s best-known classic, Pride and Prejudice, on stage and screen. In general, the screen versions have been more successful because they offer broader scope for conveying both the atmospher and content of Austen’s rich novel.

Ottawa Little Theatre selected the Helen Jerome version for its 100th season as the 1930s representative (which it also included in its 1995-1996 season). Jerome is fairly faithful to the text of the novel, although she has removed two of the Bennett daughters and added a maid in the Gardiner household. However, in 2013, the wordiness of her adaptation creaks more than a little.


The Glass Menagerie : The American Repertory Theatre Takes a New Look at Tennessee Williams

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin


Zachary Quinto, Cherry Jones, Celia Keenan-Bolger. Photo: Michael J. Lutch.

In his preface to The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams wrote that since it is a “memory play, [it] can be presented with unusual freedom of convention,” advice which director John Tiffany followed in his American Repertory Theatre production. The set, which represents the claustrophobic apartment of the Wingfield family, is composed of two hexagonal platforms that appear to float above a reflecting pool. The effect of this metaphor is to denote the family’s isolation. Stage right is the dining room, stage left the living room; both are furnished sparely, but, for the most part, realistically. The living room is dominated by a red patterned couch and matching rug.


Billy Bishop Goes to War: Not simply a replay of the Peterson version, a credit to actor Chris Ralph

Reviewed by Iris Winston

billybishopphoto credit Andrew Alexander Photography2

Chris Ralph as Billy Bishop. Photo: Andrew Alexander

Billy Bishop shot down a record 72 enemy planes in the First World War. John Gray’s show about the fighter pilot’s exploits has the distinction of being one of the most produced works in Canadian theatre history since its premiere 35 years ago.

The story of how the worst cadet at the Royal Military College in Kingston became a war hero resonates in part because Billy Bishop started off as such unlikely material to be destined for stardom.

In the original stage version, the movie and a recent revival (with revisions) Eric Peterson played Billy and the numerous other characters, male and female, that he converses with through the narrative, while Gray accompanied him on the piano. Because Billy Bishop Goes to War has been so closely identified with its originators, it has been difficult for other performers to ring many changes with the view of the scrappy pilot from Owen Sound.


Billy Bishop Goes to War: this Plosive Production is a pretty good trip

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

billybishop27932036 Photo: Jana Chytlova.  Chris Ralph as Billy Bishop 

This production of John Gray’s musical about World War One flying ace Billy Bishop is enjoyable if flawed.

Chris Ralph plays Bishop, who was born in Owen Sound, Ont., with gusto, empathy and humour. He captures both the times and the man including the innocence with which young recruits went off to that war and Bishop’s basic goodness as well as his penchant for running afoul of rules.

Over the course of Gray’s highly likeable script, which blends storytelling with acting and song, we follow the in-the-sky and on-the-ground adventures of the charming Billy. The former include vivid stories of dogfights with skilled German pilots while the latter spotlight some very funny incidents involving upper-crust Brits and dim-witted military officers to whom Bishop reports. Ralph plays these various characters, some 18 in all, convincingly and economically.

However, he also plays much of it too loudly. Less shouting (was the loud voice meant to convey Bishop’s youthful enthusiasm?) would have made for a more textured and, for the audience, less-wearying performance.

Turning down the volume would also have lessened the awkward contrast between Ralph and James Caswell, his much quieter pianist, co-vocalist and occasional narrator.

One other issue: both Ralph and Caswell have pleasant but limited singing voices. Their upper registers are shaky, and when they shoot for the high notes the results are less than stellar.

Bottom line: This Billy Bishop hits some air pockets but overall it’s a pretty good trip.

It plays at The Gladstone and is directed by Teri Loretto-Valentik


Hip-Hop Shakespeare Live Music Videos Fun Take on Original Text

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Othello as a credulous homeboy? Richard III as the meanest, gangsta-rapping mutha you ever saw? Why not? Shakespeare’s characters are as real as any inner-city denizen. Besides, the Bard likely would have laughed his ass off at the sardonic, high-energy hip-hop spin that Melanie Karin and David Benedict Brown give to everyone from Hamlet to Romeo and Juliet by setting lines and plots from the plays to music by Kanye West, Tupac and others.

An award-winner when it premiered at the Ottawa Fringe Festival last summer, Hip-Hop Shakespeare is funny, fast and clever. (more…)

Houët’s Ladies of the Lake: An underwhelming production

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

photo: Lisa L’Heureux

There’s water. And there’s waterlogged. The latter describes this show which sets out, in only tangentially interesting fashion, to reveal the origin of the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian legend — you know, the gal who, in some versions of the legend, gave Arthur his sword Excalibur.

In this movement, music and text-based piece, a lady named Vivienne (Kate Smith), on a quest for she knows not what — which makes the searching kind of tricky — falls into a remote lake.

Ambrose, a mysterious seer/healer who lives in a nearby hut and is played by John Doucet, helps restore to Vivienne to good health once she escapes the lake. (more…)

The Servant of Two Masters: Commedia Rervisited, Revised, Renovated?

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

from a translation by CHRISTINA SIBUL
directed by CHRISTOPHER BAYES; Presented by Yale Repertory Theatre
March 12-April 3, 2010
University Theatre
222 York Street
New Haven, Connecticut
Dress Rehearsal photographed: Thursday, MARCH 11, 2010 @ 8:00PM. Photograph: © 2010 Richard Termine 
PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine

Photo: Richard Termine

The Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of The Servant of Two Masters is an exploration of commedia dell’arte acting style. The irony is that although Carlo Goldoni, earlier in his career, had devised scenarios for commedia troupes to improvise upon, his 1753 Servant of Two Masters was fully scripted. This current revival of Goldoni’s play underwent numerous iterations in its development. Translated by Christina Sibyl, adapted by Constance Congdon, it was further adapted by actor Steven Epp and director Christopher Bayes to extract every possible laugh.

While Goldoni retained the masked comic characters and a basic commedia plot, his play is more refined than its model, which is certainly not the case in this production. Slapstick comedy abounds literally, with lots of noisy slaps (sans the two wooden sticks) and figuratively, frequently based on bodily functions. Most of the time, the show moves very fast, sometimes too fast, so that rare changes of pace are welcome as, for example, when Beatrice (Sarah Agnew), Smeraldina (Liz Wisan), and Clarice (Adina Verson) sing their lyrical love lament in operatic style.


Going down the Rabbit Hole well worth the trip

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Wendy Wagner

The title suggests that hiding from reality is one way to cope in the face of tragedy. And one of the greatest tragedies that can strike parents is the death of a child.

Too often, mainly because a couple attempt to assuage their grief in different ways, the terrible loss tears them apart. They do not have the inner resources to give or seek comfort from each other and often lose their marriage as well as their child. This is the premise behind David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007.

The drama opens eight months after Becca and Howie Corbett’s four-year-old son was killed in a car crash outside their home. He ran across the street after Howie’s dog just as a car, driven by a teenager, came round the corner. Becca had just run inside to answer a phone call from her sister, Izzy. Everyone involved feels a degree of guilt for the fatal accident. (more…)

The Public Servant and Skin: two comments on the Undercurrents Festival

Reviewed by Laurie Fyffe

The Public Servant

GCTC’s Undercurrents festival of new works kicked off Tuesday night with a glimpse into what’s simmering under the surface in Ottawa’s theatre community. The news is good. First, every laterally re-situated, hastily bought out, or abruptly terminated servant of the public take note – Ottawa’s recent and ongoing gutting of those who toil in service of the passive Canadian public is now a very personal and highly political play, The Public Servant. Theatre is a subversive art form. No where more so, than when a group of smart, talented and extremely forthright women venture into the fray of tattered emotions and downgraded expectations of policy gone wrong – and make the audience laugh, while leaving the theatre fully cognizant of the joke.


Past Reviews