May, 2015

Inclusion at heart of high energy production of “Hairspray”.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo: Modella Media

Underneath the froth, bubble and joy of Hairspray is a serious intent. While the 2002 musical (adapted from the 1988 movie) delivers its message about inclusion in a lighthearted, rhythmic way, the pain of being an outsider and the cruelty of some of the insiders is clear. This is particularly so in view of recent events in Baltimore, the setting of the award-winning show.

Although Hairspray’s main aim is entertainment, it is also a metaphor about not having to be a Barbie-doll type beauty to ensure success and partly a statement about racism and social conditions in the 1960s U.S.

Hairspray takes place in 1962, the era of big-hair and back-combing fashion and the year before Martin Luther King’s famous I Have a Dream speech called for an end to racial discrimination in the United States and it becoming a place where people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

In the musical, the initial focus is on a fat girl with big hair and big dreams. Tracy Turnblad desperately wants to be one of the teen dancers on her favourite television show. First, she and Little Inez, a black dancer with a similar ambition, have to fight for the chance to audition for spots on the TV show.

The Orpheus Musical Theatre Society production of Hairspray, directed by Judy Follett, with musical direction by Gabriel Leury, starts in top gear with a cleverly designed bedroom scene and the clear-voiced Joyanne Rudiak as Tracy waking to deliver Good Morning Baltimore.

A well-drilled ensemble, with strong choreography from Mary Hills, and extra voices from the pit to add richness give the impression that the large cast is even bigger than it actually is.

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The End of Civilisation: An angst-ridden ride

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

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Published on in the Ottawa Citizen on  May 18, 2015

Photo Julie Le Gal

Civilization doesn’t actually collapse in George F. Walker’s exceedingly dark, angry and at times very funny The End of Civilization but it gets a damn rough ride.

Part of Walker’s late-1990s Suburban Motel series of plays, the show (this is its Ottawa premiere) finds a middle class couple, the self-absorbed Henry Cape and his weary wife Lily, holed up in a dreary motel. They’re attempting to save money while Henry, the victim of corporate bloodletting, searches dispiritedly for a new job.

Living in the next room is a practical prostitute named Sandy who befriends Lily. Also on board: two police officers, the uptight Max and his smarmy but likeable partner Donny, whose investigation of a series of murders brings them to the Capes’ motel room. There, the two cops squabble as viciously as do the Capes.

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Needles and Opium: The Paradox of Promise and Pain at the CanStage Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto.

Reviewed by Laurie Fyffe

Reviewed  from Toronto in December, 2013

Categories: Professional Theatre, Théâtre français

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Lepage’s Needles and Opium begins with a paradox, that of acupuncture points that when activated by needles relieve pain, but were discovered in the search for maximum effect during torture. However, the more exquisite paradox of Needles and Opium is present in the dislocation of the human heart as it searches for relief from the suffering of love denied, suspended in the space between longing for the object of one’s desire and the knowledge that such love is now forever beyond reach. Remembered love holds both promise and pain. Thus begins a journey through space and time of the tortured soul buffeted by the physical and emotional gravitational forces of memory and longing.

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Reviews from Stratford 2015: Jillian Keiley’s Diary of Anne Frank is sadly misconceived

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Hou

Let’s give the Stratford Festival the benefit of the doubt and concede that it was motivated by the purest of intentions when it decided to remount The Diary Of Anne Frank this summer. Unfortunately, the treatment that lurched onto the stage of the Avon Theatre Thursday night is wrong-headed and misconceived. It renders a profound disservice to a powerful and affecting story.For this, director Jillian Keiley must be held accountable. It’s on her watch that the evening begins with smiling cast members lined up on stage. They’re there to introduce themselves and the characters they play, to crack a few jokes and offer some more solemn observations on the material they will be performing. It’s all a bit lovey-dovey. It’s also misguided because its chief effect is to remind us that what we’ll be seeing is essentially make-believe theatre — as though we must to be cocooned in advance from the terrible realities inherent in The Diary Of Anne Frank.

So before the play even begins, the “fourth wall” which normally exists between actors and audience is systematically being broken down. Why?   But wait — Keiley is still not ready to allow us into the world of playwright Wendy Kesselman’s text. It’s now time for cast members, led by actor Joseph Ziegler, who will be playing Otto Frank, to invite us to inspect the “home” that designer Bretta Gerecke has concocted for these eight Amsterdam Jews forced into hiding from the Nazis. And again, it all feels wrong.

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Reviews from Stratford 2015: Durrenmatt’s “The Physicists” still works

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Hou

STRATFORD, Ont. — One thing is clear about the Stratford Festival’s revival of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s morbidly funny Cold War satire, The Physicists. It features a bouquet of outstanding performances. There’s a sly and knowing Graham Abbey, in a foppish display of bewigged and embroidered elegance, picking his way with cat-like tread through the role of an asylum inmate who claims to be Isaac Newton.

Then there’s Mike Nadajewski who cuts his own distinctive figure,courtesy of his rat’s nest mop of hair and the violin on which he keeps playing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. He thinks he’s Albert Einstein.Thirdly, we have the enigmatic figure of one Johann Wilhelm Mobius, a patient who can be reduced to trembling fear at one moment and driven
to murderous rage at the most. He’s the most troubling figure in the play, a man tormented by visions of King Solomon. He’s portrayed by Geraint Wyn Davies in one of the best performances of his career. There is also the smoothly malevolent presence of Fraulein Doktor Mathilde von Zahndm, the humpbacked, fright-wigged psychiatrist who has charge of them. Closer inspection reveals this to be actress Seana
McKenna relishing the opportunity to make like Richard lll. She also invokes James Bond territory, reminding you rather of Rosa Klebb, the lethal villainess of From Russia With Love; indeed all that’s missing are the knife blades springing from the toes of her shoes.

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Reviews from Stratford 2015: “The Sound Of Music” Can Still Surprise

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo. Courtesy of the Stratford Festival

STRATFORD, Ont. — Yes, it can have the texture of syrup. Yes, it is
historically questionable when it comes to the allegedly real-life
story it tells. And yes, in the character of Maria, the convent reject
who changes her world and the world of those around her through the power of song, we have a young heroine who is almost too good to be true. Yet, none of this seems to matter when The Sound Of Music receives as good a production as the one that took confident possession of the Stratford’s Festival Theatre Tuesday night. No matter that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beloved musical continues to be done to death — indeed Stratford’s previous production was comparatively recent. No matter that it’s by no means Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best show — that honor probably belongs to the dark-hued Carousel, which is also  being mounted at the festival this summer. But this production benefits from Donna Feore’s secure and imaginative direction, a strong visual component and some stellar performances.

Feore seems determined to find some fibre in the sugary confection that constitutes this musical. She wants to give the material more spine. American import Stephanie Rothenberg, who plays Maria, proves to be of prime importance in serving this need. On opening night you were a bit uncertain about Rothenberg at the beginning: her mannered and overly studied rendition of the title song lacked spontaneity and didn’t really jell with the image of the idyllic young postulant, stealing a few heady moments of freedom in her beloved mountains before returning to the cloisters.
But by the time Maria arrives at the widowed Captain Von Trapp’s home to take on the job of governess to his seven unruly children, Rothenberg has relaxed and is taking confident possession of her character. And with that delightfully staged moment when the militaristic-minded captain marches the youngsters on stage, and into the hearts of Maria and the audience, the show’s virtues are firmly taking hold.

 

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That Darn Plot : cleverly constructed and enjoyable play about playwriting

Reviewed by Iris Winston

“Write about what you know.”

Edmonton-based playwright David Belke follows the commonly offered advice to writers and passes it on to his protagonist in his 1998 comedy That Darn Plot.

The playwright-within-the play about writing a play, Mark W. Transom, sleep deprived and half drunk, has one night to deliver a script. If he fails, he will not only betray the trust that his former girlfriend, Jo, placed in him, but will also cause her to lose her job as artistic director of the theatre waiting for the new Transom season opener.

The concept allows Belke to muse on the craft of playwriting and, through Ivy, the rule-driven stage manager, on the minutiae of Equity rules. It also offers the chance to demonstrate another commonly held belief about playwriting: that the characters sometimes take over and change the direction of the plot, periodically even introducing a new character and arguing with the writer. That Darn Plot includes all this in a cleverly constructed — although somewhat repetitive — storyline.

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Jesus Christ Superstar: An Ambitious But Not Always Successful Show.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Jesus Christ Superstar.

 

 

 
Photo: Alan Dean.
Presenting Jesus Christ Superstar as a rock musical was controversial when it premiered in 1971. Andrew Lloyd Webber (then 21) and Tim Rice based the show on the accounts of the last week of Christ’s life in the Gospels and peppered it with anachronistic allusions.

Revivals over the years have included further anachronisms and sometimes updated the setting. The vision of the current Suzart production is a present-day Jesus Christ Superstar. As director/designer Elaine McCausland says in the program note, she asked herself, “How would it look if Jesus arrived in the Byward Market in Ottawa in 2015?”

Does the concept work? Some aspects work extremely well and inject immediacy. At other times, it is hard to understand some of the choices. For example, having Christ on the cross being blessed by a Roman Catholic priest makes no sense however much leeway is given to anachronistic references. Christianity did not exist until after the death of Jesus, who was a Jew. One of the main reasons given for his being tried and crucified was that he was called the King of the Jews (by others).

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Reviews from the Shaw Festival 2015: Peter and The Starcatcher is a Good Production But Is It Worth Doing?

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Perhaps the oddest aspect of Peter And The Starcatcher — playwright Rick Elice’s subversively gleeful take on the Peter Pan legend — is that the title character often seems so inconsequential that he almost vanishes into the woodwork.

Such, at any rate, is the impression given by the Shaw Festival’s production of this 2012 Broadway success about a shipboard trunk containing stardust and an orphan youngster who is destined to become Peter Pan. Charlie Gallant delivers an amiable enough performance in this role (he’s known simply as “Boy” for a good part of the evening) and there’s no denying his dexterity with a ship’s rigging. But it can scarcely be said that he demands our unwavering attention.

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Reviews from the Shaw Festival 2015 : Actress Moya O’Connell Scores as Ibsen’s Lady from the Sea.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Moya O’Connell   Photo: Emily Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — the opening image is powerful — a huge boulder rising implacably from the stage of the Shaw Festival’s Court House Theatre. And on top of it, naked and yielding to the dark mysticism of the moment, is the mermaid figure of a woman in anguish over both the lure of the sea and the danger it holds for her.

It is a moment of potent symbolism — augmented by a loud and angry soundscape. The Shaw Festival’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Lady From The Sea has seized our attention immediately — thanks to the combined efforts of director Meg Roe, designer Camillia Koo, lighting wizard Kevin Lamotte, sound expert Alessandro Juliani, and actress Moya O’Connell who will go on to deliver a haunting performance in the title role.

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Past Reviews