November, 2014

The Extremely Short New Play Festival: An event that opens the stage for new writers.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo. Andrew Alexander. Brad Long and Gabrielle Lazarovitz (Ex Libris by Yohanan Kaldi)

Ten short plays directed by John Koensgen, presented in rapid sequence but set in spaces that are similarly designed so that there is almost no visual distinction among the works. Also the same four actors return in various roles so the performances are not as highlighted as the texts themselves. That is no doubt the reasoning behind this form of staging: It draws our attention to the writing and less to the staging. An important experiment that gives younger playwrights, as well as some seasoned ones, a chance to have their work shown in public.

I liked Pierre Brault’s Quartet because it was a playful meeting of four voices that appeared to be written as a musical score, rather than a dialogue. Very good. He used extra linguistic means (rhythm, pauses, and quality of sound, accent, rhyme, intonation and all such things) as the four voices wove their way around each other and eventually ended in a duo that matched beautifully. Michel Tremblay did this a lot in Les Belles –Soeurs and in other works…it’s a technique that highlights language and Brault with Koensgen directing captured the flow very well.

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Pommes and Restes Shipwrecked…etc…Latest from the Company of Fools is tightly ordered chaos

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

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Photo. Barb Gray .

Like its title, the latest, slightly unhinged show by A Company of Fools contains everything but the kitchen sink.

There’s Prospero and Miranda from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest as well as that play’s shipwreck and island, that island being the setting for most of this play. Spunky, red-haired Anne magically appears from Green Gables. Ditto Captain Hook from Peter Pan. Puns, visual gags, slapstick humour, and a talking potato and carrot pepper the story. There’s a reference to the silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and lines plucked from Shakespeare’s King Lear.

And, as the title promises, at the centre of it all are those red-nosed, trouble-courting clowns Pomme Frites and ‘Restes, the former as imperious as he was when he first appeared in the Fools’ The Danish Play years ago and the latter still as gullible but sweet as when he first clumped into view in the same show. They, together with Prospero and Miranda, were on a cruise ship (don’t ask) when it was swamped in a storm and all four were cast up on the island.

Chaotic? Yes, but also tightly ordered, smartly executed and one of the best things the Fools have done.

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Pommes et Restes: Shipwrecked on the Tempestuous Lost Island of Never. Outrageously clever!!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo: Barbara Gray

Pomme (Scott Florence ) and  Restes (Margo Macdonald)

This latest adventure of those intrepid clowns Pomme and Restes , is an outrageously clever collage of reworked material taken from The Tempest , Peter Pan, Treasure Island , Robinson Crusoe and dare I even suggest The Love Boat, Dr. Who, Ann of Green Gables, Gilbert and Sullivan, Gilligan’s Island, Emile Zola, contemporary political theories , 18th century philosophy, comments on theatre of all sorts, and a whole lot more than what their programme dares to tell you. It is clear that the Fool’s archives are filled to the brim with ideas, the likes of which you would never suspect.

Thus, It becomes a whirlwind adventure that unravels at such a breakneck pace, you don’t even dare blink, for fear of losing a reference, missing a slick remark, or not noticing a clever gesture that carries many connotations! Well written by the Florence, Connors and MacDonald team, (all fine actors as well as writers), it is also beautifully directed by Al Connors who has come into his own as an excellent choreographer of meaningful stage shenanigans.

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The Railway Children : An enjoyable journey through the children’s memories at the OLT.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo. Maria Vartanova

Transposing from one medium to another is always challenging. Yet, The Railway Children has been made into a movie — several times — has been a radio play and, since 2008, a stage play by Mike Kenny. Adapting the Edith Nesbit’s children’s classic to the stage carries particular challenges. First, the storyline is episodic in nature, which can hamper the flow. Then, Nesbit, a committed socialist and one of the founders of the Fabian Society, uses the children’s adventures as a political platform. In addition, because The Railway Children is the youngsters’ view of the events that led to their family’s drastic change of fortunes, it requires a dusting of wonder in its delivery.

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Viol( Schändung) : a magnificently choreographed production of Bothos Strauss’ reworking of Titus Andronicus

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

Sixteen tableaux performed by a huge cast of students including a chorus that not only speaks but also transforms itself into parts of the set and integrated symbolic forms, reveals the enormous talents of Miriam Cusson, candidate for the Masters in directing in the theatre department of Ottawa U. She actually choreographs as much as directs this string of sado masochistic rituals of martyrization, and frenzied physical desire set off by the site of the sacrificial victim – violated, slashed and mutilated. A playful mise en abyme of a contemporary horror show where the director brings in the voyeuristic faces of the chorus peering out from the back of the set as they gaze on a whole society coming to pieces. There is the lust, the exhibitionism, the penitence…some of the most violent human instincts come crashing down on the spectator in this captivating parade of ceremonies that holds our attention every second of the evening. . The thread that runs through the performance is inherited from the Elizabethan (or Jacobean) Vengeance tragedies of Thomas Kyd a contemporary of Shakespeare; however, it owes even more to the ultimate vengeance tragedy Thyeste by the roman playwright Seneca that so intrigued Artaud

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The Glass Menagerie: A great tribute to an important play.

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

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Photo.  Courtesy of  Bear & Co.  Cory Thibert  and Sarah Waisvisz

he 1930s were an era that quaked in the wake of the Great Depression. Americans had barely emerged from the horror that was the First World War before plummeting into financial ruin. Tennessee Williams, in his contemporary masterpiece The Glass Menagerie, captures in minute detail the heart of one working-class family who symbolize the convergence of history, family, and place—a trifecta that barres them from exacting any agency of their own.

Director Eleanor Crowder offers the audience a production that captures the listless, hopeless, and desperate spirit of Williams’ play, and emphasizes Tom Wingfield as the driving agent of this drama.

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The Glass Menagerie: A beautiful performance by Tim Oberholzer as son Tom, the narrator of this memory play.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Rachel Eugster and Sarah W aisvisz.  Photo:

This production of The Glass Menagerie , one of Tennessee Williams most important works for the stage, is not a “striking revival” , nor is it “stunning”, “elusive” or even “heart-breaking” but it is certainly surprising. Tim Oberholzer’s performance as Tom the brother/ narrator, and figure closest to Williams own character, was so powerful and so charged with authentic feeling that it shifted the focus away from the women who are at the very heart of this memory play and set it squarely on the near tragic struggle raging within the young narrator. I have never seen such a thing happen with this play and yet it is true. Oberholzer gives  Tom a depth that is very unusual.

The production generally had moments that were quite good especially in the second part when the gentleman caller ( Cory Thibert) comes to visit the timid and terrified Laura (Sarah Waisvisz) but there are also many details that kept interfering with the smooth-running of the show. Why was the little table with all the glass figures hidden off to one side where we could barely see the glass figures or that little unicorn that becomes a powerful symbol in the play? Laura is supposed to have hurt her foot  so that she normally limps. Here the director has chosen to show us Laura the way her mother sees her, with no limp. That removes a certain degree of pathos that is necessary to make us feel that Laura is someone special. Strange choices by the director.

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Fidler on the Roof: This Production is a Splendid Anniversary gift.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Orpheus Musical Theatre Society has given Fidler on the Roof a splendid 50th anniversary gift with its current production.

One of the best loved musicals of all time, Fidler on the Roof by Joseph Stein, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick is based on the stories about Tevye the milkman by Sholem Aleichem, first published in 1894. The focus of the stories, the musical and the 1971 movie is on Tevye’s vain attempt to maintain Jewish tradition in a changing world. In addition to dealing with each of his three oldest daughters moving further away from the accepted custom of their father selecting appropriate husbands for them, he and his fellow villagers face expulsion from their home during a pogrom.

As directed by Michael Gareau, the Orpheus production is particularly noteworthy for its clarity, attention to detail and respect for the traditions that are Fiddler’s raison d’être. From the simplicity of the opening and the purity of the sound from Danny Albert’s violin through strong characterizations, fine ensemble work, assorted musical highlights and spectacular visuals, this Fiddler has a magical quality.

While the heaviest responsibility falls on the lead character — and Christopher Mallory brings a fine singing voice and a robust characterization to his Tevye — this production is marked by a number of high quality dramatic and musical performances, as well as by an interesting and suitably spare set design from Cindy Bindhardt and fine lighting effects from David Magladry.

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Extremely Short Play Festival: Smooth Direction and Some Sensitive Performances Highlight This 95-minute Collection of Short Plays.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Creating a satisfying dramatic whole in a few minutes is often more challenging than writing a much longer piece. (Remember the adage: “Had to write a long letter. Didn’t have time to write a short one.”?)

Yet, at least three of the plays in this year’s edition of The Extremely Short New Play Festival are dramatically complete and consistently interesting.

Of particular note is Blue Fluted Plain by Adam Meisner, a wrenching tale of family tragedy that tackles the question of the impact on those involved by family connection. Quartet, Pierre Brault’s delightful, tongue-in-cheek look at speed dating, also makes a lasting impact.

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Extremely Short Play Festival: Short, Sweet and not so sweet. Festival lives up to its name.

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

 

John Koensgen's New Theatre of Ottawa, has put on three short play festivals.

Photo. Caroline Philips.   John Koensgen’s New Theatre of Ottawa, has put on three short play festivals.

The third edition of The Extremely Short New Play Festival lives up to its name with at least one of the plays ringing in at around two minutes, the longest running maybe five times that, and the whole collection – 10 shows in all – clocking in at about 90 minutes including intermission.

The shows, some good, some not so much, are mostly by local or Canadian playwrights. Mary Ellis, Gabrielle Lazarovitz, Brad Long and John Muggleton handle all the acting, and New Theatre of Ottawa’s John Koensgen directs.

Israel’s Yohanan Kaldi has contributed two very short pieces about the soulless absurdity of institutions. In one, a prison warden (Long, too flip in the role) orders the extermination of fleas that a prisoner (Muggleton) has been training. In the other, a would-be library user (Long again, this time bang on) wreaks a tasty revenge on two control-freak librarians played by Lazarovitz and Ellis. Kaldi’s tiny, well-built plays zip by but leave an unexpected and disquieting echo.

Mikaela Asfour’s Rasha, about two young siblings and violence, comes and goes making little impression. Muggleton is menacing as the brother, but having Ellis, good as she is, play a young girl is ill-advised.

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