January, 2015

Moss Park at GCTC Falls Flat

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Photo: Mark Halliday

Photo: Mark Halliday

I’ve always been a fan of George F. Walker’s plays with their dark humor, unusual characters and plot twists.  Unfortunately I can’t say that about “Moss Park,” his two character 60 minute play currently running at GCTC.  The two characters are pretty much stereotypes and the plot predictable.  The fact that it’s produced by Green Thumb Theatre of Vancouver which produces theatre for young audiences perhaps explains why “Moss Park” feels like a cautionary tale for pre-teens.

The two characters, Bobby (Graeme McComb) and Tina (Emma Slipp), have a baby and no money.  They get together to try to figure out their future.  At least Tina does but Bobby, obviously a few bricks short of a load asks, “The future?  Like tonight?”  Among the possible solutions considered is Bobby becoming a thief.  His explanation of the ethics of stealing is mildly amusing.  Another option is the Army and Bobby has some funny lines, but his total ignorance is just not believable.  Both actors hail from Vancouver and do passable jobs with their predictable characters. (more…)

Moss Park: George F. Walker’s shining moment

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Mark Halliday

Photo: Mark Halliday

It’s not the freshest of dramatic situations — two troubled young people face another moment of crisis in their lives and are on the verge of taking a very wrong turn.

So why — we might ask ourselves — is it worth spending even an hour in their company? Surely, these will be recognizable types pursuing useless, self-destructive lives? Surely, we’ll be able to predict what will happen: either the promise of redemption or else a further descent into the mire. No real surprises there.

So we’re apt to give a sigh of resignation and figure we’re in for another dose of “socially significant” theatre from playwright George F. Walker.

But then Walker confounds us. In the first place, his forthright but captivating play, Moss Park, is devoid of the quirky self-indulgence for which his more devoted admirers must sometimes make excuses: instead he has delivered one of his most disciplined and exhilarating pieces. Secondly, he has created two splendidly alive characters in Tina, the single, near destitute mother who has just discovered she’s pregnant again, and Bobby, her shambling and feckless boyfriend. (more…)

Moss Park: Keeping hope’s door open

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Mark Halliday

Photo: Mark Halliday

When you have landed on the garbage dump of life, the only way to go is up. At least, that is how Tina, a single-mother with a toddler, thinks. Meanwhile, her on-again/off-again boyfriend, Bobby, dreams of better times but is seemingly incapable of dealing with reality or even holding a job for more than a single day.

Playwright George F. Walker introduced Tina and Bobby a decade ago in Tough. Then, she was pregnant and they were trying to deal with their future together or apart. In Moss Park, they are apparently three years older (judging from the age of their daughter) and they are drowning in present disasters.

Tina, her daughter and her mother are being evicted from their apartment because they are five months behind on the rent. She is pregnant again after a brief reunion with Bobby. Meanwhile, he has just been fired again and is considering a life of petty crime or discovering some talent — as a rapper, perhaps. (more…)

Moss Park: Exaggeration kills credibility

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

MOSS PARK

Photo: Mark Halliday

In George F. Walker’s dark comedy “Moss Park,” Tina (Emma Slipp) and Bobby (Graeme McComb) are a young couple who fell in love, made love and, consequently, became parents as teenagers. It’s now three years later and, although they no longer live together, they still love each other. Now, they meet in Moss Park in Toronto to figure out whether there is a future in store for them, their three-year-old daughter, and – whoops- another one on the way. Yes, Emma is pregnant again, as a result of a night of passionate reconciliation between her and Bobby.

Walker puts all imaginable obstacles in their way. Not only are they as poor as church mice, but they also come from very problematic families. Emma is the third generation of immigrants whose dreams of a better life have been going to pieces ever since her grandfather came to the country.  Bobby grew up with an alcoholic father, who recently replaced drinking with smoking weed. As if that weren’t bad enough, it seems that at least half of his relations and friends have a criminal record. He is incapable of keeping any decent job more than a day, but has been proficient at committing petty crimes since his early teens. (more…)

Two: The Performances Rise Above The Material

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Two_vMere silence on stage can sometimes be as arresting as an explosion. That’s what happens at the Gladstone Theatre during the most memorable moments of its new production of Lancashire playwright Jim Cartwright’s pub drama, Two. We have a woman sitting quietly at a table. There’s a tentative smile on her face — she’s relaxing into a moment of serenity. In the background there is the noise of other customers, but for the moment she’s occupying her own, private secure world. But only for a moment. Reality intrudes, the smile vanishes. and those brief glimmerings of happiness yield to anguish bordering on despair. There’s also fear.

Michelle LeBlanc is the actress here, her face and body language signalling an unsettling gamut of emotions. We start realizing that this is someone in deep trouble, and when her boyfriend shows up with the drinks, we know why. We have front-row seats for a glimpse into an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend, played with swaggering cruelty by Richard Gelinas, is as much an emotional tyrant as he is a physical menace — toying with her anxieties and fears, threatening her with the jealousies and possessiveness which hide his own insecurities. You know the scene will have a bad ending — and it does.

Director John P. Kelly has staged this sequence with the care and nuance this treacherous material deserves. He and his performers must do their best to disguise the fact that the two characters are stereotypes and that their sad little drama is playing out predictably. Gelinas, truly discomforting here, manages to bring out the awfulness of the boyfriend, getting beyond the elements of caricature in Cartwright’s script. And it is LeBlanc’s brilliantly modulated characterization that conveys the young woman’s ultimate anguish of spirit. (more…)

Shaw’s Saint Joan Still Relevant Today

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: A.R. Sinclair

Photo: A.R. Sinclair

The Central Square Theatre in Cambridge Massachusetts has brought in Bedlam’s unusual production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, written in 1923. The New York-based company, now in its second year, has specialized in performing large cast classics in meager spaces with a small number of actors, sparse scenery and minimal technical effects.

Few cuts have been made to the three-hour work written, in Shavian fashion, as a debate in which Joan has the last word. Shaw is true to the well-known tale of the medieval country girl, who by dint of religious belief, patriotism, and love of warfare, almost succeeds in driving the English out of France, is tried by the Inquisition for heresy, and burnt alive. However, his Joan is a female version of Shaw’s übermensch, a person whose superior intellect entitles him/her to lead.

Joan is played by the extraordinary Andrus Nichols, co-founder of the company. Nichols, dressed in plain contemporary clothing in lieu of armor, her hair long, contrary to the script, plays with all facets of Joan’s personality. She is warm, naïve, proud, playful, lucid, brave, as the text would have it. By turns, she elicits laughter and tears.

The twenty-three male roles – soldiers, plain folk, nobles, churchmen – are in the hands of three talented actors, Edmund Lewis, Tom O’Keefe, and actor/director Eric Tucker, the other co-founder. (more…)

Two: A solid production about human frailty

Reviewed by Iris Winston

IMAGEThink of ordinary folk at a local pub in northern England in the vein of Coronation Street or The Eastenders.

As the (unnamed) landlord and landlady bicker between serving assorted regulars on a busy night, the audience meets the customers through a series of vignettes. As directed by John P. Kelly, who breaks down the fourth wall by having some audience members seated at cocktail tables on stage, the audience is pulled into a kaleidoscope of short character sketches about human frailty. Alongside the occasional happy thought, they are presented with a series of images of drudgery, disease, domestic abuse and loneliness, even a child left behind when his drunken father forgets him outside the pub.

All 14 characters in Two are played by the publicans, who find various excuses to leave the stage and return in a new guise for the next segment. (more…)

Clybourne Park: A worthy production despite a shaky second act

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Racism, economic concerns and human tragedy sound unlikely themes for humour. Yet Bruce Norris’s savage satire, Clybourne Park, frequently prompts laughter — perhaps partly because of audience discomfort with being forced to face uncomfortable truths.

The title is taken from the fictional white neighbourhood in Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun. The address of the house that has just been sold to a black family is the same. Even Karl, the smarmy head of the community association, who tries to block the sale, has the same name and official reason for his attitude. (It will bring the property values down, he says.)

From here, the multi-award-winning Clybourne Park draws back the curtains of any political correctness and goes into attack mode. Before the veil of politeness is ripped away — particularly in the first act — things move slowly. Inane chatter about the origin of the name of a type of ice cream or a discussion about capital cities take a disproportionate amount of time, until the antagonism and fear of “the other” is laid bare.  (more…)

Karen MacDonald Gives a Helluva Performance in Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Mark S. Howard

Photo: Mark S. Howard

Molly Ivins was a leftist journalist who wrote in and about the politically conservative state of Texas for most of her career. Her brash, biting, mocking, satirical columns ultimately brought her to the attention of American liberal ideologues. With the ascendancy to the oval office of George W. Bush, whom she nicknamed Shrub, Ivins reached the height of her notoriety. Her favorite Texas political chump had become big news.

Now at Boston’s Lyric Stage, the one-woman show, Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, assembled by first- time playwrights Margaret Engel and Allison Engel, is composed of political commentary, biography, and anecdotes. Since much of the material is taken directly from Ivins’ writing, it is generally funny, intelligent, and thought provoking. (more…)

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