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

Take Me Back to Jefferson: Commedia d’ell arte and Bundren family make for strange bedfellows

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  


Photo: Katherine Fleitas

Hillbillies and commedia d’ell arte are an unlikely combination, but this is the style delivered in Theatre Smith-Gilmour’s Take Me Back to Jefferson.

In adapting William Faulkner’s 1930 novel As I Lay Dying, Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour rely primarily on physical theatre and the imagination of their audiences rather than on elaborate sets or lengthy speeches.

The dying matriarch of the family wants to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson. Therefore, her poverty-stricken family attempts to comply, meeting the extreme challenges of flood, fire and impassable roads along the way — not to mention one of their number losing his mind, a second breaking his leg (stupidly cast in concrete) — while their selfish patriarch bullies them all, the pregnant, teenage daughter of the house tries to arrange for an abortion and a little cruelty to animals is thrown in for good measure. (Continue reading » )

Take me back to Jefferson: a fascinating corporeal performance that sets this family in competition with all the other living species on the earth.

Reviewed by on    Photo by Barb Gray, Professional Theatre  


Photo: Barb Gray.

This adaptation of the William Faulkner novel As I lay dying…remains fairly close to Faulkner’s 15 interior monologues  performed here by  seven actors who tell the story about a country family living in a fictional town in Mississippi. The Family  has sworn to respect the dying wishes of their mother Addie, a tough old lady who wants to be buried in Jefferson. Even in death she dominates their lives. As they make the difficult journey , the calvary as it were, back to Jefferson, they are almost drowned, burned, destroyed as they drag that coffin across the country with mother in it, just to respect her dying wishes. During the trip we learn about each of the children through their monologues which structure the performance, each one producing  memories of Addie. explaining their feelings about the farm, the other children and their visions of the world. It is all expressed  in a rough but  poetic version of a slightly archaic  hillbilly talk. This most beguiling language transforms them all into larger than life types, all emerging as grotesque beings within a southern gothic style landscape where they become creatures  creating strangely delusional images of their own reality.

(Continue reading » )

The Lion in Winter: “High Class Hokum” With Irritants That Hamper the Material.

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  


Photo: Wendy Wagner

The Lion in Winter began with a whimper rather than a bang, lasting for fewer than 100 performances on Broadway. Its future looked up when it headed for the silver screen with Katherine Hepburn in the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

But a recent West End revival was described as “Broadway hokum” by Michael Billington of The Guardian. Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph was a little more positive in talking of it as “historical hokum but high class hokum much funnier on stage than in the overblown film.”

Set up to portray the ultimate dysfunctional family, James Goldman’s script throws in the odd tender moment in his portrayal of the love/hate relationships between King Henry II, his wife, Eleanor, their three sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John and Alais, the sister of Philip, King of France. She was betrothed to Richard as a child, raised by Eleanor and is now Henry’s mistress.

(Continue reading » )

Good-bye Picadilly : Beautiful singing throughout cannot rescue this script completely.

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  


Photo: Maria Vartanova

The familiarity of the songs Vera Lynn made famous during World War II settles an audience into a comfort zone as the show begins.

Attractively presented by Arlene Watson in the Ottawa Little Theatre production of Goodbye Piccadilly by Douglas Bowie, all is well with the world through such numbers as We’ll Meet Again until the pianist runs off mid-song — a situation that is not explained until late in the show.

A family drama/comedy/borderline farce about the awkward connection between two families, Goodbye Piccadilly is styled in short sequences that are a constant reminder of the playwright’s background in screenwriting.

Strong direction by Sarah Hearn and some good performances from the five-member cast do much to overcome the slowness of scene changes and the difficulty of suspending belief long enough to accept the premise or the unlikely resolution of the play. Such moments as the angry hymn sing-off between Bobbie and young Cecil are very funny and Watson’s beautiful singing throughout the show would give any script a lift, but can’t rescue it completely.

(Continue reading » )

A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller: a tragic ritual of great human proportions.

Reviewed by on    All the world's a stage   ,




Photo from National Theatre Live (A Young Vic production). Michael Gould (lawyer) and Mark Strong (Eddie Carbone) Centre stage.

Written in 1955, this play has had several rewritings where the ending especially has taken on different forms. This London version corresponds to the final published version where Eddie dies in his wife’s arms. Especially after the 1942 film starring Raf Vallone,  the play became a classic of cinematic neo realism or even Zola-like naturalism that  we always associate Miller’s dramaturgy .  Miller’s  stark naturalism fore grounds the complex psychology of the characters and  here, Ivo Van Hove captures the deeply troubling psychological turmoil of Eddie Carbone the Longshoreman and patriarch of his New York family composed of Beatrice his wife, Catherine his niece , 2 young illeagal Sicilian immigrant cousins Rodolpho and Marco. As a relationship develops between Catherine and Rodolpho, Carbone’s hostility to this young man turns the uncle into a tense, brooding , jealous, angry creature who ultimately gives in to a most hateful gesture that has tragic consequences. The question of Illeagal immigration is dealt with in the play, as the director mentions in a preshow interview, and that is what gives the event a certain immediacy in relation to recent events in the United States.

(Continue reading » )

OLT’S Goodbye Piccadilly Shows Genuine Heart

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  


Photo. Maria Vartanova.

The cast of Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Goodbye Piccadilly faces the daunting challenge of finding and maintaining a convincing dramatic line for a play that springs from a preposterous situation and seeks to blend honest pathos with moments of potentially destructive comedy.

Douglas Bowie’s play doesn’t make it easy with sequences that, in less experienced hands, could disintegrate into farce. But under the guiding hand of director Sarah Hearn, the production finds balance and nuance as the play explores the strange circumstances surrounding a beloved local citizen’s death and the upheavals it causes among his survivors.And when it comes to survivors, there are more than we first expected. We initially meet Bess Brickley, sympathetically portrayed by Janet Uren, in a state of bustling excitement over the news that husband Brick has been awarded the Order of Canada. It’s November, and Brick is supposed to be off on his annual late autumn canoe trip in Algonquin Park — but he isn’t. The euphoria Bess has been experiencing is suddenly crushed by an overseas telephone call to the Brickley family’s rural Ontario inn. It comes from London, where Brick has been found dead on a park bench in Leicester Square.

(Continue reading » )

La Charge de l’orignal épormyable: blood curdling production of this Claude Gauvreau play on the U. of Ottawa stage.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

La Charge de l'orignal épormyable

Photo. Marianne Duval.

A blood curdling all feminine production of La Charge de l’Orignal Épormyable, under the direction of Guy Beausoleil,   plays this week at the U.of Otttawa . This is a rare chance to see a work by Claude Gauvreau, poet and playwright, who was one of the people who signed the Quebec  Manifesto Refus Global in 1948 and set Quebec culture on a new trajectory. 

This plays gives us an excellent glimpse of the poet, his tortured conscience, his vision of artistic production and his  heightened  idea of the poet who emerges as a god, a super presence that can save the world.   We see, among other things how his dialogue, becomes a verbal form of “Automatismse”, essentially a reference to the  visual art experiments of the period. , Gauvrau wrote partially in “ langue exploréenne”.  Portions of his text represent “non figurative” language composed of extra-linguistice elements (sound, rhythm, accents, )  that corresponded (in spoken language) to the  Automatist experiments in non-figuratuve painting in the 1950s where the sexual impulse  was considered central to artistic creation.  Most of those who signed the Manifesto Refus Global  were removed from their jobs and became pariahs of society  because it appeared that most of the artistic establishment in postwar Quebec was not yet ready to accept a form of “Modernité” that was inherited from the new European art Movements.

(Continue reading » )

GCTC Artistic Director Eric Coates Launches New Season 2015-2016.

Reviewed by on    Arts News  


Paul Rainville and Eric Coates in George Walker’s The Burden of Self Awareness from the 2013-2014 Season. Photo: Andrew Alexander

Artistic Director, Eric Coates, Managing Director Hugh Neilson and associated artists took to the stage at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre to introduce GCTC’s new season for 2015-2016. Eric Coates is passionate about programming Canadian playwrights and developing new works and this season is no different.

The 2015-2016 season offers up political scandal; a tribute to our veterans; a local family holiday story; international intrigue; chilling vengeance and a visit from the Queen. The new season, subscription and ticket information were posted on GCTC‘s website at the same time along with a video of Eric Coates, Hugh Neilson and staff introducing the new season.

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The Marriage of Figaro: Opera Lyra’s Near Perfect Operatic Event

Reviewed by on    Opera  


Wallis Giunta as Cherubino, John Brancy as Figaro. Photo Andrew Alexander.

Wagner’s vision of Opera was essentially the Gesamtkunstwerk, a dialogue of all the arts. There is no doubt that the public often perceives Opera as essentially a musical performance (instrumental and vocal) but I have always felt that a performance of “théâtre chanté” which is where Mozart found the purist expression of his dramatic genius, must include all elements of a staged production to do justice to the meanings imbedded in that wonderful music.

Take the overture to the Marriage of Figaro . Last night, it t burst upon us at a most furious clip, under the impeccable playing of the musicians and the magical direction of Kevin Mallon. It left me out of breath and perfectly in the mood to receive what was coming: a light hearted, deliciously playful outpouring of “théâtre comique”. I was not disappointed….for the most part. The voices were excellent expressions of that dramatic genius as they transformed their recitatives and their arias into truly theatrical moments of comic acting, Opera buffa met Opéra comique in one of the most enjoyable evenings I have spent at Opera Lyra in a long while.

(Continue reading » )

The Marriage of Figaro: Stunning, clever production with wit and class

Reviewed by on    Opera  


Photo: Andrew Alexander

When The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart’s comic opera in four acts, premiered in Vienna at the Burgtheater on May 1, 1786, it was an instant success. Its lively overture and its brilliantly crafted arias, coupled with comical and lovable characters, thrilled the audience. The demand for encores became so numerous that even the emperor had to interfere in order to keep the performance at a reasonable length (he ruled that only parts written for a single voice could be repeated in any opera, although this edict may not have been enforced). The first reviewer wrote that the opera “contains so many beauties, and such a richness of thought as can proceed only from the born genius.”

Opera Lyra’s production of The Marriage of Figaro is not set in 18th-century Spain (as the original), but in turn of the 20th century England. This change in historical period is noticeable mostly in costumes, but as the libretto is suited to any era (with a few small tweaks), it does not hurt the production.

For the last three years, Opera Lyra has been finding its way with more or less success and we waited for 30 months to witness a performance as good and as exciting as La Bohème (September 2012). This time, the task was even harder because of the very characteristic plot in comedic opera (opera buffa) which centers on two groups of characters: a comic group of male and female personages and a pair (or more) of lovers, without much complexity in characters. (Continue reading » )

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