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

Drama at Inish. Melodrama by the sea.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,


Photo: Ottawa Little Theatre

The moral of the story is that too much heavy drama is bad for your health.

Making a joke about the dangers of being influenced by overdoses of Ibsen, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Strindberg might be sustainable for a one-act play, but the central gag of this parody wears a little thin through a full-length comedy.

But, director Sarah Hearn gives it her all in the Ottawa Little Theatre/Tara Players co-production of Lennox Robinson’s 1933 domestic comedy Drama at Inish. (It is rumoured that the playwright’s theatrical birth came after seeing a traveling theatre troupe perform an Ibsen play in his native Dublin, so one can assume he is poking fun at himself.)

In an effort to maximize the humour in the play, Hearn pushes the melodrama button hard, as cast members emote, swoon, beat their heads against mantlepieces and raise trembling hands to fevered brows.

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Seeds: Food for thought in muddied waters.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  


Photo. courtesy of the NAC English Theatre. Eric Peterson as Percy Schmeiser

Reality is the seed of any theatrical piece. And when reality is an epic struggle between a corporate Goliath and an individual David, art seems a perfect place to imitate life.

Playwright/journalist Annabel Soutar has developed a fascinating, dense (sometimes too dense) docudrama in Seeds, a powerful piece of verbatim theatre about the landmark court case of Monsanto Canada versus Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser. (The official name of the case was Percy Schmeiser and Schmeiser Enterprises Ltd. v. Monsanto Canada Inc. and Monsanto Company, indicating greater breadth of connections. U.S.-based Monsanto is a massive international corporation. Canola oil farmer, plant breeder and local politician Schmeiser owns a 1,000-acre farm.)

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Death of a Salesman: Runs like a well conducted symphony.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  


Venetia Lawless and Donny Laflamme

We all have a dream, don’t we? Sometimes, we turn our dreams into reality and other times, we simply lose ourselves in their pleasant, but non-existent world. The problem starts when we let the fiction in our minds overpower reality, just like Arthur Miller’s memorable character Willy Loman.

Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is a story about this. It is a profound look on the so-called “American Dream” and the social standards that impose it. It is all in a dream: great success, huge achievements, big money… Yet, in reality each fulfilled dream comes at the cost of thousands of crushed ones and Miller put his finger on the reasons behind this. He speaks, through his characters, of how unrealistic goals bring self-alienation, estrangement and self-distraction. As Karl Jung says, the sub-conscience knows everything: the past, the present and the future; when and if the sub-conscience breaks the barrier of the conscious mind, madness might occur. Slowly, Willy Lomans’s sub-conscience gets into his reality, breaks through his strong denial system, reveals his true life for what it is, and darkens his mind. On his long way to self-destruction, helped by the unreserved support of his devoted and loyal wife, he unintentionally takes his two sons down with him. Finally, he realizes that he is more worth dead than alive (as his life insurance will bring money, socially the only recognized merit – one that he could not earn during his life). Therefore, he finds the solution to his crushed dreams in death.

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Seeds at the National Arts Centre: Brilliant docudrama

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  


Photo fro the  Ottawa Citizen: Wayne Cuddington.

Eric Peterson as Percy Schmeiser.

Who would have guessed that a legal battle over genetically modified canola could be scintillating?

Yet that’s precisely what Montreal playwright Annabel Soutar’s docudrama Seeds achieves. Not to mention being a smart and sympathetic study of the complexities of human nature, a challenge to our tendency to operate on presuppositions, and a meditation on the nature of life.

The story seems straightforward. In the late 1990s, Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser (played here flawlessly by Eric Peterson of television’s Corner Gas and Street Legal) was accused of patent infringement by agribusiness titan Monsanto Canada for planting their genetically modified (GM) canola seed without a licence.

Scheismer claimed that the seeds had wound up on his property by accident, and that as a property owner he had the right to do with those seeds as he wished.Monsanto figured he’d buckle under their pressure, but he fought back. The case wove its way to the Supreme Court of Canada where Schmeiser lost in a five to four decision in 2004.(read more)………

Rodin/Claudel : Valérie Legat from Les Grands Ballets Canadiens shines as Camille Claudel, the fragile, vulnerable genious driven to despair.

Reviewed by on    Dance  


The passionate and troubled love story between Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel has a become a near legendary tale that has attracted artists, feminists, art historians, theatre specialists, psychiatrists and all manner of people interested in the functioning of the artistic genius. rodin11359013758_preview_preview-rodin-1 (Photos: André Tremblay)

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal has brought in choreographer Peter Quanz’s version of this relationship which highlights Camille Claudel’s links to her family, her famous brother who was about to become a poet, diplomat and playwright (l’Annonce faite à Marie, le Soulier de Satin, Partage de midi et many more), her ongoing affair with the sculptor, the jealousy of Rodin’s wife, Camille’s plunge into the depths of depression, the fact that she destroyed most of her sculpture and the fact that her devoutly Catholic family, conscious of its good place in society, refused to support her. They  would not recognize her genius and kept her interned for over 30 years. Brother Paul Claudel apparently did not make any attempt to help her either, something which strengthens my dislike of his theatre even more.

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Murder in Noirville: A Murderously Boring Spoof

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  


Spoofing a genre can be very funny. Much depends on the style of the original and the wit of the humorist.

In Murder in Noirville, playwright Peter Colley, best known for his highly successful whodunit I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, mocks film noir. Does it work? Not entirely. Film noir —a term first used in 1946 — referred to a style of melodramatic, black-and-white movie popular in the 1940s and 1950s that frequently focused on private detectives in seedy offices, often accompanied by a Girl Friday in love with him and a femme fatale competing for her boss’s affections.

Colley throws in a number of the basic ingredients and mixes in too many more to create a stylistic trifle, in both senses (a dessert containing a mixture of assorted ingredients and a work with little depth).

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Death of a Salesman:Donnie Laflamme bathes the production in his electrifying presence.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  


Donnie Laflamme as Willy Loman. Photo. Alvina Ruprecht

Willy Loman is the ultimate tragic hero of the contemporary American stage. His appearance in 1949 confirmed Arthur Miller as one of America’s greatest playwrights of the post-war period along with Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neil. The Chamber Theatre of Hintonburg has always been drawn to the special kind of expressionist laced realism of American theatre. Their production of Miller’s A View From the Bridge two years ago(at the Elmdale Tavern) won a CCC best professional actor award for Donnie Laflamme whose performance of the emotionally tortured father, was almost unbearable to behold .

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Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter Endures a questionable sex change

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  


Photo: Dangerous Minds

If the people at Ottawa’s Third Wall Theatre and 100 Watt Productions are to believed, hit men in the England of the 1950s were not confined to the male gender.

Such seems to be the rationale for the sex change which occurs in the production of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, which arrived last week at the Avalon Studio on Bank Street.

Instead of Ben and Gus, the two hit men waiting in the cellar of a Birmingham house to carry out a contract killing, we have Benita (Kristina Watt) and Augusta (Mary Ellis). But really, the production’s bold conceit of casting two women ultimately seems rather pointless — apart from giving two accomplished performers the chance to show off their acting chops.

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The Dumb Waiter: Duckworth and Pinter struggle at the Avalon

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  


Photos: Richard Ellis .

NOTE: My original review disappeared on line before I had a chance to save it. This is a reconstruction of the main points which I feel were necessary to publish,

The Avalon Studio acting space worked very well this time as it represented a closed basement area where Gus (Ellis) and Ben (Watt) are waiting for their instructions.The fact that director Todd Duckworth engaged two female actors to play roles usually performed by males is of no consequence at all.

First jarring moment: Gus’ comic dance as she struggles to get her boots on. This could be seen as a Pinter style nod to Estragon in Beckett’s Godot where Estragon carries on for a while trying to remove his shoe (Aide-moi à enlever cette saloperie – Act I ) . However, Godot, as Beckett says, is a clown show whereas  The Dumb Waiter certainly is not.

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The Dumb Waiter: A Partially successful production at the Avalon Studio Theatre

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  


Photo: Richard Ellis.  Mary Ellis (Augusta ), Kristina Watt (Benita)

“What’s going on here?” asks Gus at one point in The Dumb Waiter. The question is a waste of breath: Gus and fellow armed thug Ben are in a Harold Pinter play and Pinter’s never big on providing answers regardless of whether questions are about quotidian or existential issues.

Besides, even if there were an answer, would it give Gus and Ben an escape route from the faceless and oppressive power structure that’s steamrolling over them?

Third Wall Theatre’s revival of Pinter’s late 1950s play, directed by Todd Duckworth, is partially successful in dealing with these and other matters.

Mary Ellis plays the chatty, questioning Gus while Kristina Watt is the taciturn and controlling Ben. Usually the roles are filled by men, but changing the characters to women (Augusta and Benita to be formal) works fine: male or female, the two still have to wait in a grungy basement for their assignment from an unseen boss.

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