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

Reviews the Shaw Festival : “Sweet Charity” Soars

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre, Shaw Festival 2015  

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Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Sweet Charity poses a challenge to any performer hazarding the title role.
Here’s the problem. This 1966 musical was conceived as a showcase vehicle for the legendary Gwen Verdon, a one-of-a-kind Broadway talent. Her director husband, another legend named Bob Fosse, saw her as ideal casting for the role of a forlorn New York dance hall girl who keeps being disappointed in love.

I saw Verdon as Charity, and her high-kicking performance was definitely one for the memory books. She had a dynamite presence — even though, in portraying a character who is more used than loved, she seemed to be fulfilling the inner needs of a director whose depiction of women on stage or screen often seemed problematic.
The show ultimately belonged to Verdon — not to playwright Neil Simon, whose amusing, observant book seemed tailor-made for its star, not to composer Cy Coleman who provided some of the best music of his Broadway career for Sweet Charity, not to veteran lyricist Dorothy Fields who, at the age of 61, had provided a succession of witty, verbally brilliant complements to Coleman’s score.

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Reviews from Shaw 2015: Shaw Festival Lays An Egg With “You Never Can Tell”

Reviewed by on    Shaw Festival 2015  

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Photo: Emily  Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Bernard Shaw’s early romantic comedy, You Never Can Tell, may well be his most beguiling play. It is, of course, a characteristically Shavian take on one of his recurring preoccupations — the battle of the sexes — but this time, in a calculated commercial attempt to seduce late Victorian audiences into attending, GBS threw in the type of dramatic conventions prevalent in the West End theatre of the day.
Hence, this Socialist playwright gave us a fashionable seaside resort setting, displays of high fashion, expensive food and drink — and a philosophical waiter. Not the kind of culture Shaw tended to embrace — but if it earned him money, that was all to the good.

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Closer Than Ever: A production that sparkles

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre, Summer Theatre 2015  

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Cast of Closer Than Ever.  Photo: Jay Kopinski

The 1000 Islands Playhouse has opened their season with a sparkling production of “Closer Than Ever,” the revue by lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. and composer David Shire. I’m dating myself, but I was at the opening night of the New York production 25 years ago and have never forgotten some of these songs.

I appreciate them even more now, as the show is a series of songs about different aspects of middle age, both funny and moving. Each song is like a miniature play about parenting, parents, dating, looking back at teenage years, second marriage, etc. The music is interesting and the lyrics perceptive and smart, so don’t just bring your eyes and ears, bring your brains.

The four performers are all first-rate singers and actors. The group numbers have a great blend in spite of the actors’ differing vocal qualities in their solo numbers. Patricia Zentilli is especially effective on ”Patterns” and “I’m Not Complaining,” while Leon Willey does a great job on “One of the Good Guys,” one of my favorites.

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The Last Two People on Earth Are Lots of Fun

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre  

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Mandy Patinkin and Taylor Mac. Photo: Gretjen Helene/Art

Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre is currently presenting The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville, a piece which treats seemingly incompatible themes. It is at once an exploration of the mostly American songbook and a foretelling of the horrors of climate change given a Beckettian flavor. The two bowler-hatted characters played by the highly talented performers, Mandy Patinkin and Taylor Mac, could have stepped out of Waiting for Godot to brush up their vaudeville acts. Like Didi and Gogo, they are denizens of an empty world represented by an almost bare stage. Here, a flood has destroyed civilization. Taylor Mac (the characters are nameless) washes up on an island where Patinkin is hiding in a trunk, bringing to mind the show business paean “Born in a Trunk.” The only other set pieces are a lifeboat and a large shattered object upstage.

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The End of Civilisation: A Strong Production of a Depressing Drama

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

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Photo: Barb Gray.

The End of Civilization is about a middle-class couple’s last-ditch attempt at preservation. Harry Cape, downsized and out of work for more than two years, is at the end of his rope. His wife, Lily, is willing to do anything to save her house and lifestyle.

The Capes have checked into a budget motel — The End of Civilization is the third of six plays in George F. Walker’s 1997 Suburban Motel series — and left their children in the care of Lily’s sister, while Harry tries one last time to find work.

From here, in a jumbled, but nevertheless clear, timeline, The End of Civilization presents the reasons for Harry’s descent into insane and unreasonable behaviour and Lily’s amazingly fast jump into the world’s oldest profession, after being befriended by Sandy, the prostitute in the next motel room.

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The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon : A Production from Hell!

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  

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Photos from the Kanata Theatre website.

The Faustian theme goes curling in The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon. W.O. Mitchell’s Canadianization of bargaining with the Devil worked in its original incarnation as a radio play in 1951, then as a television play in 1965 and, finally, as a much-lauded comedy on stage in 1979.

But, whether it is the play that has not stood the test of time or the many hiccups in the Kanata Theatre production, it certainly comes across as corny and laboured in 2015.

As directed by Shelagh Mills, the script seems wordier, the show edges along at a snail’s pace and the staging is extremely choppy and repetitive. Actors, who periodically appear uncomfortable in their roles, frequently stand, shout and declaim rather than project. The two worst offenders in this regard are Derek Barr as the Devil and Gordon Walls as Pipefitting Charlie Brown.

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Bilingual Critics’ Panel in Montreal for the Festival TransAmérique : Tartuffe

Reviewed by on    Arts News   , ,

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Die Schauspieler Lars Eidinger (Tartuffe) und Regine Zimmermann (Elmire) saßen bei der Fotoprobe des Theaterstücks "Tartuffe" am 17.Dezember 2013 auf der Bühne der Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin. © dpa

 

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Die Schauspieler Ingo Hülsmann (Organ – l) und Lars Eidinger (Tartuffe) saßen bei der Fotoprobe des Theaterstücks "Tartuffe" am 17.Dezember 2013 auf der Bühne der Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin.

Martin Morrow writes to the CTCA

Dear CTCA members,

It’s a rare occasion when members of both the Canadian Theatre Critics Association and our sister (brother?) organization, the Association Quebecoise des Critiques de Theatre, get to meet and debate. It’s happening this month, courtesy of Montreal’s Festival TransAmeriques, which is hosting a joint critics’ panel on Saturday, May 23 at 5 p.m. EST.

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Breaking the Code: A Personal Triumph for Actor Shaun Toohey.

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  

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Photo: Maria Vartanova. Katie Buller and Shaun Toohey.

Hugh Whitemore’s play, Breaking The Code, can seem something of a period piece these days — and not only because of its wartime setting. Yes, it tells a compelling real-life story — that of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who was instrumental in cracking Nazi Germany’s notorious Enigma Code only to have the full weight of the state destroy him a few years later because of his homosexuality. Its problem is that it was written in 1986 and that its original impact has been eclipsed by subsequent events.

The salvaging of Turing’s reputation was yet to come when the play had its triumphant launching in London’s West End. But Breaking The Code was crucial in making the public aware of this forgotten genius who was so vital in helping the Allies win the war and also of the personal tragedy that led to his death — possibly by suicide — in 1954. And because homosexuality had been decriminalized by this time, these new revelations about Turing’s tragic end roused the public conscience, thereby paving the way for his rehabilitation — an official public apology by British prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009, a posthumous pardon by the Queen in 2013, and a year later the perhaps inevitable act of benediction from Hollywood in the form of the movie, The Imitation Game.

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Post Eden:

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

jordantannahill1 Photo: Walter Watier.  Jordan Tannahill.

In this postmodern time of fluctuating categories and unstable definitions, it becomes exceedingly difficult to pass judgement on recent works of art because there are few  fixed categories that allow us to define anything. Everything is defined by its own logic and this is what happens when one is faced with Post Eden by Jordan Tannahill who rejects theatre practice that  has preceded his own research.  The only way to react to this piece is to let ones emotions flow and say “that made me feel good”, it was “fun” , it was “entertaining” or else that was irritating I didn’t like it, even though I can’t really say why. Those kinds of remarks are  self-indulgent and not useful if one is trying to understand what Tannahill is doing.

We might begin with an interview published by Patrick Langston in the Ottawa Citizen (April 14). The journalist quotes Tannahill who speaks about “taking risks” because when something is projected into a performance space that has not been  carefully subjected to some form of theatrical mediation,  the risk of mistakes, or confusion, or sloppiness even failure is clearly there. But all that contributes to Tannahill’s sense of theatrical “liveness” which he pushes to the ultimate degree. . Theatre is anything that  happens with real people in front of an audience and by heavily mediating the actors, the production (through a specific script, direction, blocking, lighting, costumes, multi media elements,  time and spatial limits, all those conventions of the stage ), theatre is no longer a situation of  pure “liveness”, it becomes a construction, an entity that is false, artificial, not a place of risk-taking and Tannahill wants to take real risks.`

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Breaking the Code: Show-stopping performance by the code breaker

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  

motherIMG_3092 Photo:Maria Vartanova. Susan Monagham and Shaun Toohey

Computer pioneer and code breaker Alan Turing was a man of extraordinary ability. He was also a social misfit, as a genius often is. In addition, his sexual orientation, combined with his outspokenness and naiveté in an era when homosexuality was illegal in his native Great Britain, led to his downfall.

Turing is credited with shortening the Second World War by being able to break Nazi Germany’s Enigma code. His punishment for “gross indecency”— the same charge that was brought against Oscar Wilde — was chemical castration, which ultimately, if indirectly, led to his death. (He was awarded an OBE for his wartime work and was posthumously pardoned by the Queen in 2013.)

Hugh Whitemore’s 1986 play Breaking the Code — like the 2014 movie The Imitation Game — is based on mathematician Andrew Hodges’ 1983 book, Alan Turing: The Enigma. The drama tells Turing’s story through 17 short scenes, moving between past and present, with cracking Enigma as the backdrop. In the foreground is the tortured presence of a brilliant eccentric, possibly with Asperger’s Syndrome, who broke the social code of his time.

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