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

Marat-Sade: A compelling interpretation of Peter Weiss’ play

Reviewed by on    Theatre Schools / University Theatre  


Photo: Marianne Duval

Director James Richardson has given us, as his thesis for an MFA in Directing at the University of Ottawa, a creative, focused and altogether compelling interpretation of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade.

The insane asylum that Richardson and his cast of student actors conjure is a fevered and dangerous place, a bubbling pot of injustice and brutality that constantly threatens to boil over.

Except for Charlotte Corday (Emma Hickey) – the narcoleptic who rouses herself long enough to murder Marat (Jeremie Cyr-Cooke), the revolutionary idealist with a really bad case of the itches, as he rests in his bath – the stage seethes and jitters with the non-stop twitches and outbursts of the patients. If ever there was a warning to iron-fisted leaders, whether they be political, cultural or of any other stripe, that repression has a limited shelf life, this is it.

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Marat-Sade: The Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton will go down in the history of the University of Ottawa Theatre department!

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  



Photo Marianne Duval.   Paul Piekoszewski (Marquis de Sade) and Jérémie Cyr-Cooke (Marat).

This play written in German by Peter Weiss, with the terribly long title, was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of Peter Brook’s LAMDA experiment , a season of Cruelty, executed under the influence of Artaud’s essay The Theatre of Cruelty . The original version of the essay, first published in French in 1938 , eventually appeared in English in the early 1960s during the neo romantic revolution in the Americas and that is when the English speaking theatre world began working on interpretations of Artaud’s ideas of a “theatre of Cruelty” . Brook worked with a chosen group of actors and writers to show the relationship between theatre and the body, between, theatre and therapy, as well as the use of theatre to transform and renew Western culture by taking a new look at the French Revolution as well as the conventions of the Western stage. One look at this play, shows us to what extent Ariane Mnouchkine’s 1789 was very likely inspired as much by Brecht’ as by Brook’s renewed vision of the stage.

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OLT Beats The Odds With Sabrina Fair

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  


Photo. Maria Vartanova

The problem with Samuel Taylor’s 1953 comedy, Sabrina Fair, is the film version released by Paramount a year later.

The play begins with Sabrina, a chauffeur’s daughter, returning to the only real home she has known — a wealthy Long Island estate — after five years in Paris. Now an attractive young woman, she radiates poise and sophistication, but an infectious buoyancy also surfaces. The romantic yearnings of her adolescence also re-emerge — yearnings for the unattainable that suggest she doesn’t know her place in the social strata and is therefore destined to send the plot spinning into merry overdrive.

In the film, writer-director Billy Wilder bolstered this material with a solid back story so that we first see Sabrina as the dreamy, dangerously impressionable child she was before going to Paris. Playwright Samuel Taylor was so upset by this that he dissociated himself from the screen version — but the truth is that Wilder had improved on the original, giving it more substance and more social bite. Wilder also was playing an ace card in casting Audrey Hepburn — who, after her triumph in Roman Holiday, was the hottest new actress in Hollywood — in the title role.

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Undercurrents 2015: Marathon offers a surreal aesthetic that leaves a haunting resonance.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Marathon is the type of performance that will leave you with more questions than answers. The staging is simple: Three people (self-acknowledged actors) dressed in running gear run around a stage. They have begun even before we have arrived. We are asked to sit on all four sides of the stage, looking in on their Beckettian, goalless task as it unfolds for an hour and a half. A projection is cast onto the stage floor: “42.2 K” – the distance of a marathon.

The narrative of the show is developed in waves – little by little, the three characters reveal themselves to be burdened and bound to their nationality. They are actors in a never-ending race, just as they are actors performing their day to day lives as Israeli citizens. And though their stories are distinct, the show arrives at some deeply revealing commonalities: The role of religion, language, the national service, and a deeply ingrained sense of duty.

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Undercurrents 2015: Spin is a patchwork quilt of ideas.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

A singer-songwriter and a bicycle-playing percussionist invite audiences to join them on a musical interlude around an object of great social significance: The bicycle. Are you hooked? At its core, Spin show is a love-letter to bicycles, and the women who loved them. What emerges is a performance that is great fun, though it ultimately values substance at the expense of form.

In a series of vignettes, creator/musician/actress/activist evalyn parry boldly strings a narrative that broaches social resistance movements, feminism, and the evolution of bipedal locomotion. All of this and more! The show is thematically tied together through the humble bicycle, and even more so since percussionist Brad Hart compliments the performance by using a bicycle as a musical instrument.

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Marion Bridge: Engaging production shows humanity

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: Jennifer Scrivens / Resonate Photography

Photo: Jennifer Scrivens / Resonate Photography

According to the Director’s Notes, Marion Bridge is about three East Coast women trying to tell their own story, and to get that story straight. Of course, the difficulty in getting any story straight is the myriad of personal details and emotions we keep locked up inside. The more we lock ourselves up, the easier it is to misunderstand and pass over each other’s perspectives, even if we’ve technically lived the same experiences. Marion Bridge is yet another dark comedy about a highly dysfunctional family. Stories like these are a dime a dozen. However, the heartwarming production of Marion Bridge differentiates itself by truly focusing on the humanity of its subjects – flaws, misunderstandings, and inner worlds. The production is engaging and compelling with the different aspects coming together to form a heart-warming whole.

The three sisters in Marion Bridge are brought together in Cape Breton in order to be with their dying mother. From the moment the play opens, the tension between them is palpable. Each of them, Agnes, Theresa, and Louise, carries her pain in a different way. Agnes (a furiously sarcastic Robin Guy) shields herself in alcohol and irony while struggling to make it as an actress in Toronto. Theresa (a restrained Shawna Pasini) is a nun who lives a cloistered life and blankets herself in responsibility. She is wound up so tightly that one gets the impression that event the slightest relaxation would find her crumbed on the floor. Louise (a wonderfully direct Cindy Beaton), the “strange one” of the family, lives in her own world of daytime television. As the story progresses and the women are faced with more obstacles (dinner with their estranged father, the death of their mother, etc), chinks begin appearing in their armour, bringing them closer together.  (Continue reading » )

Sabrina Fair: Ottawa Little Theatre an entertaining take on the classic movie

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  

Photo courtesy of Ottawa Little Theater

Photo courtesy of Ottawa Little Theater

Sabrina Fair is a Cinderella story that makes wealth the key to overcoming class differences.

In the 1964 movie adaptation of Samuel A. Taylor’s romantic comedy, which premiered on Broadway in 1953, Audrey Hepburn played Sabrina. As the daughter of the long-time chauffeur of a rich Long Island family returning after five years in Paris, her combination of innocence and sophistication was so memorable that her performance continues to cast a long shadow more than half a century later.

In the Ottawa Little Theatre production, directed by Venetia Lawless, the slim, dark-haired Jane Chambers plays Sabrina somewhat in the style and image of Hepburn. She even sounds a little like the movie star, particularly in the exposition-heavy Act I. Despite her lively characterization, Chambers — and Lawless — might have been wiser to present a slightly different take on Sabrina. (In fact, the playwright’s son, David Taylor, has been quoted as saying “My father said — I think quite rightly —  that to do the exact same movie that had been made in the 1950s was wrong, because the story didn’t make sense any more. [His] recommendation was: ‘At least cast a black actress!’”)

This aside, the OLT production is true to the time period (great costuming from Susan MacKinlay) and cast members have a clear understanding of their roles and social standing. (Continue reading » )

Opera Lyra’s bold, new expanded season for 2015-2016

Reviewed by on    Arts News, Opera  

General Director Jeep Jeffries and Interim Artistic Director Kevin Mallon proudly introduce Opera Lyra’s bold, new expanded season of classic and contemporary works for 2015-2016.

Opera Lyra’s 2015-2016 season includes two updated classic operas at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Southam Hall and two new partnerships to bring Ottawa additional contemporary and classic productions in smaller venues. In addition, Opera Lyra’s fall show for families and students tackles bullying through song and audience participation.  This new, enhanced season includes four subscription packages and all four operas can be seen for as little as $162.  The 2015-2106 season brochure, highlight video, calendar of special events and subscription and ticket information are online at

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Is Marion Bridge Really Worth Doing?

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

It’a difficult to understand the esteem in which Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge is held in some quarters. Even with as solid a production as the one given it by Ottawa’s new Three Sisters Theatre Company, it remains a cliche-ridden excursion into the dreary world of family angst.

That’s not to say that this world isn’t worth exploring dramatically, The stark insights of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night or Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming testify to its continuing validity. But MacIvor’s play has nothing new to say in its portrait pf three sisters in a moment of crisis. And it certainly suffers from overload — as though weighting these siblings down with a catalogue of terrible events in their lives is sufficient to give the whole piece “significance.”

Well, not really. Not when the play’s psychology is pretty shallow, not when the pile-up of revelations starts veering into contrived soap opera. Not with a script afraid to acknowledge that the processes of reconciliation aren’t something that can be neatly brought off in two patently artificial hours of stage time.

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Undercurrents: theatre below the mainstream: from charming and engaging to a show that deserves a “punch out”. Langston has been to Arts Court.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

far-near-here-opens-the-undercurrents-festival-on-february Photo. Andrew Alexander.

Far & Near & Here (THUNK!Theatre, Ottawa)

It sounds too twee for words. Ned (Geoff McBride) is a klutzy ship builder living in Far. Ted (Karen Balcome), who lives in Near, is an earnest illustrator fond of drawing specimens of marine life.  The two meet via snail mail then row out to sea in separate boats and get together at a spot called Here. Life-changing travails define their collective journey.

So it’s a pleasant surprise that despite initially choppy seas – the opening scene in which they prepare to ship ahoy needs radical pruning – and a couple of instances of trying too hard, the play, far from being twee, is charming and engaging.

With just a bunch of empty pop and water bottles plus two office chairs for a set, playwrights/performers McBride and Balcome lead you to care about their awkward but gentle characters who weather a near-disaster at sea and break through self-defensiveness to reach an admirable honesty in their relationship.

Emily Pearlman directs.

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