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

The Boy in the Moon. A whispered confession transformed into a play is a difficult challenge for the GCTC

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  


Photo. Andrew Alexander

The world premiere of The Boy in the Moon is playing now at the GCTC theatre. Directed by Eric Coates, this is the stage adaptation of Canadian journalist Ian Brown’s well-known memoir, The Boy in the Moon. Playwright Emil Sher has adapted the memoir, which chronicles Brown’s experience raising a son, Walker, who was born with a rare, genetic condition that renders him mentally delayed, non-verbal, and physically handicapped. It is first and foremost a touching story, and Sher’s theatrical adaptation picks up on bold questions about the value of their son’s life, and the ever-present questions the Browns have about the nature of Walker’s inner-world.  The question of Walker’s “inner-world” is a thread that Sher weaves throughout the script. The story is told by the characters of Ian and Johanna on stage, played by Peter James Haworth and Manon St. Jules, respectively. Sher uses Brown’s book as a point of departure, and bolsters the script through interviews conducted with Ian and Johanna.


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The Boy in the Moon: A world premier that falters under the staging and the script.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  


The Boy in the Moon,” adapted by Emil Sher from the memoir of the same title by Ian Brown, chronicles a father’s search for the inner life of his severely disabled son, Walker. The book is quite introspective which presents a problem for the playwright. There’s very little interaction between the three actors and the script often feels like a disconnected series of musings and narratives.

Another problem is the casting. Peter James Haworth who plays Ian Brown and Manon St-Jules as Walker’s mother seem out of balance in both age and size. There’s no chemistry between them and we never get a sense of their relationship, only their relationships to Walker. Not only are they not connected to each other, they seem disconnected from their characters, especially Mr. Haworth. Miss St-Jules shows us more levels of her character, but the most realistic and connected moments are provided by Marion Day as Walker’s older sister Hayley, one of her multiple roles.

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The School for Wives: A Rollicking Whitely/Kelly event inspired by Molière.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

SfW Balcony LR David Benedict Brown, Catriona Leger, Tess Mc Manus, Drew Moore, Andy Massingham - photo David Whiteley v2

Set by David Magladry . Photo: David Whitely.

The five actors in 17th Century dress come tripping out on stage , dancing and bowing and acknowledging the audience with great glee and fun just before Chrysalde, a friend of Arnolphe bangs out the Three “coups” which signals the beginning of the show, on the French stage. The lighting suddenly suggests the gas lights of that period, the actors bow, move off stage and the performance begins. Director John P. Kelly proves from the first moments that he understands the stage conventions of French comedy of the 17th century where the extremely playful rhythms, gestures and lighting effects make one almost expect the actors to begin speaking French! “Vous venez , dîtes –vous , pour lui donner la main? “ but then out comes “You’re saying you’ve come here to offer her your hand in marriage ?” and off it goes in English.

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The School for Wives: Brilliantly directed production of a hilariously modern translation

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo by Erin Finn

Photo by Erin Finn

If there’s one conversation I have had over and over again with fellow theatre lovers and critics, it’s on how to attract younger audiences to the theatre. Do you make theatre going mandatory in elementary schools? Do you change your advertising? How about we entirely update classics while keeping the period costumes and staying true to the original context instead? While we’re at it, let’s also translate the play to make it relevant for today, but ensure that it respects the complexity of language and ideas of the original. If possible, let’s also put in an homage to the 17th century rhyming scheme. Just, you know, make it sound like prose and keep our attention.

Seems like a lot to ask, doesn’t it? I’m going to be honest here. When I heard that Polsive and Seven Thirty Productions was putting on The School for Wives as translated by David Whiteley, I proceeded with caution and a heavy dose of fear. They say experience shapes our perceptions and I’ve seen one too many awkward “modernized” adaptations and translations of classics to avoid the gut reaction. Imagine my growing joy, then, as I realized the genius of the translation and direction in this production. Whiteley and director John P. Kelly have come together to create a work of art that is modern while still remaining reverent of the original. They’ve managed to capture Molière’s sense of humour and sharp critique of society and make it relevant for today’s audiences, young and old alike.  (Continue reading » )

Boy in the Moon. An epic family portrait that rises above the stage production of this world premier.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

BITM Manon St-Jules, Peter James Haworth pulling chair - photo by GCTC Andrew Alexander

Photo. Andrew Alexanderé.  On stage-  Manon St-Jules and Peter James Haworth

The acting space is nearly empty except for some carpets spread out in the middle of the floor. A series of beautifully lit rectangles suspended from the ceiling hang upstage, like fragmented screens where fractured drawings and rapid sketches of Walker, born with Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, appear and disappear at various moments. Downstage, actors perform the inner and outer journey of the parents, Ian Brown (Peter James Haworth) and Johanna Schneller (Manon St-Jules), telling their story of a severely handicapped son who has dominated their lives and given rise to Emil Sher’s play, adapted from the book by Ian Brown The Boy in the Moon. The story is moving, the dialogue is amazingly frank and honest. The question of abortion is raised at the moment of his birth while the most difficult moments of their early life with the son who has “deprived us of our privacy” and has exhausted them emotionally and physically, are portrayed with great precision and courage. The result is an extremely intimate portrait of a couple confronting a whole life of struggle with a child they love but whose needs devour their very existence.

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Perils of Persephone: Flashes of brilliance in a production that will grow as the play continues

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  


There are flashes of the brilliance of his Wingfield series in Perils of Persephone by Dan Needles, but only flashes.

This comedy about the Currie family being “helped” to deal with a possible spill of nuclear waste by an MPP and the media-savvy Premier’s assistant works some of the time, but neither the script nor the Ottawa Little Theatre production sustain the momentum throughout.

For example, one character has to give a long description of how her ancestor found the partial skeleton of a mammoth in the swamp on the family property. Even though Chantal Despatie, who plays the teenage daughter telling the story, does her best to sound enthusiastic and make the tale interesting, she is faced with a daunting task, particularly as she is talking to a pot-zonked truck driver (Andrew Stewart clings to this aspect in his one-note performance.)

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The Dining Room. A High Quality Production from Kanata Theatre

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  


Once the focal point of many upper-crust houses, the formal dining room has, to a great extent, been ousted by the great room and the family/TV room and a more casual approach to social interaction. In fact, personal connections have diminished in a society increasingly attached to electronic communication. Simply put, being together at mealtime is less valued today.

In the era when the dining room was the focal point of a Downton Abbey-style household, every meal was served there and every person, whether part of the upstairs or the downstairs contingent, dressed appropriately and conversed politely. (There was no app for correct behaviour. People were taught the rules from an early age.)

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The School for Wives. Whitely’s new translation sets the tone for this robust and funny production.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

SfW Elegant - Tess Mc Manus as Agnès, Andy Massingham as Arnolphe - photo David Whiteley Andy Massingham and Tess McManus.  Photo: David Whitely.

Reviewed for The Citizen.  Initially, it jars. Here are members of the mid-17th century French aristocracy in full period costume peppering their speech with modernisms like “Our wives sometimes screw us” and “ditz.”

But David Whiteley’s new translation of Molière’s classic comedy about jealousy, self-deceit and assorted other human idiocies – along with their flip side, love – not only soon comes to feel natural but also sets the tone for this robust and funny production of The School for Wives.
With John P. Kelly in the director’s chair, the show happily blends bits of slapstick, commedia dell’arte and farce into a well-realised production that’s at once modern and of the period. Which, considering that our basic foibles haven’t changed over the centuries, makes sense.

The arrogant and sexist blowhard Arnolphe (Andy Massingham in full stride) is at the centre of the story. An aging aristocrat who fears cuckoldry the way most men fear death, he’s hit on a way to secure the perfect wife: he’s had his ward Agnès (Tess McManus, nicely blending ingénue and sullen teenager) raised in a convent where, presumably schooled in obedience and ignorance, she’ll now make the ideal, faithful mate.

Arnolphe’s scheme is, in keeping with his self-absorbed nature, despotic and, in our eyes especially, antediluvian. “Your sex only exists so that man can be revered/The power and the glory belong to the beard,” he declaims to Agnès in the early going. One detected a frisson of fury amid the laughter that the line drew on opening night.

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School for Wives at the Gladstone. A text that does not live up to the fine work on stage.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Tug-of-War LR Andy Massingham, Tess Mc Manus, David Benedict Brown, Drew Moore, Catriona Leger, David Whiteley - photo Erin Finn

Photo. Erin Finn

There is good and bad news about the production of Molière’s The School for Wives that opened at the Gladstone Theatre on September 12.

The good news about the SevenThirty/Plosive Productions co-pro is that it is beautifully directed, well choreographed and features some strong performances, particularly from Andy Massingham, all in keeping with the period and form.

The bad news is that the translation by David Whiteley, while generally retaining the rhythm of the Alexandrine style of verse, is vulgar and jarring. Too frequently, modern colloquialisms, minor swear words and out-of-place slang scream irreverence for a classic and the inappropriate wording all but kills John P. Kelly’s fine staging.

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School For Wives: Excellent Production, Troublesome Translation at The Gladstone

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Balcony LR David Benedict Brown, Catriona Leger, Tess Mc Manus, Drew Moore, Andy Massingham - photo David Whiteley

Photo. David Whitely.  Set by David Magladry.

Once upon a time, way back in the 17th Century, Moliere wrote a classic comedy called School For Wives. He also created a classic comic character in his main protagonist, Arnolphe, an obsessive control freak who has groomed his ward, Agnes, throughout her young life for the ultimate role of becoming his own compliant, virtuous and faithful wife.

In the original play, Arnolphe has also given himself a second name, Monsieur de la Souche, his amusing inspiration for this being a gnarled but sturdy tree stump of his acquaintance. But David Whiteley, supplier of the new translation for the Gladstone Theatre’s current production of School For Wives, has apparently decided that Moliere needs an injection of contemporary vulgarity in order to ensure that he still connects with contemporary audiences. Hence, Arnolphe now possesses a different aka — Monsieur la Douche.

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