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

Delightfully Giddy Comedy of Errors in Prescott

Reviewed by on    Summer Theatre 2015  

Jesse Griffiths as Dromio of Ephesus & Jamie Cavanagh as Antipholus of Ephesus. Photo: SLSF

Jesse Griffiths as Dromio of Ephesus & Jamie Cavanagh as Antipholus of Ephesus. Photo: SLSF

The St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival’s new Artistic Director Rona Waddington has come up with a creative, lively and wonderfully silly production of “Comedy of Errors.”  With clever added music by Musical Director Melissa Morris and lyrics by Shakespeare and Miss Waddington, the play speeds by in a well-paced ninety minutes through all the twin confusion to it’s unlikely happy ending.

The music and Miss Waddington’s sometimes athletic staging take advantage of the multitalented cast.  Aegon, well-played by Richard Sheridan Willis, sings his story of the twins while Colin Lepage and Alice Snaden dance the story in balletic pantomime.  Mr. Willis shows up in Act II as the hilarious conjurer Pinch, who bursts into a rousing gospel number with robed choir back-up complete with tambourines.

Jonathan Purvis’s choreography is very good, especially the acrobatics, as is his fight direction.  The timing on the slapping scene between Luciana, the appealing Shannon Currie and Adriana, played as a Latina fireball by the excellent Rose Napoli, is impeccable.  (I’d like to mention everyone in the terrific cast, but time won’t permit it. (Continue reading » )

Shaw Festival’s Light Up The Sky is a Mixed Bag

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada  


Photo: David Cooper / Shaw Festival

Photo: David Cooper / Shaw Festival

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Moss Hart’s 1948 stage success, Light Up The Sky, needs tender, loving care in performance. The last thing it needs is an overkill approach.

It’s a backstage comedy of sorts — except that its turbulent events occur in Boston in the leading lady’s swanky Ritz-Carlton Hotel suite on the opening day of the pre-Broadway try-out of a new play.

The performance turns into a disaster, and the early bonhomie we’ve witnessed turns into a cat fight in which tempers flare, egos further inflate and the blame game runs rampant.

The ingredients are familiar. So are the essentially stock characters that range from the terribly sincere novice playwright to the volatile diva to the show’s blustering financial backer. Moss Hart was writing about a world he knew intimately; he was also desperately trying to prove that he was capable of going it alone as a playwright instead of relying on the wit and guidance of George S. Kaufman, his writing partner in such evergreen triumphs as You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came To Dinner. (Continue reading » )

Odyssey Theatre provides a mixed bag of one-act plays

Reviewed by on    Summer Theatre 2015  

The Things We Do For Love Photo: Maria Vartanova

The Things We Do For Love
Photo: Maria Vartanova

Odyssey Theatre’s celebration of its 30th anniversary is a mixed bag in more ways than one.

Taking Spanish writing and the measures to which we go for love as her themes, artistic director Laurie Steven has chosen three one-act plays, each of which she directs, rather than the usual single, full production. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The first piece, Saving Melisendra, is Steven’s stage adaptation of a chapter from Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century novel Don Quixote. In it, the increasingly mad knight Quixote (William Beddoe) interferes in a puppet show about two lovers, one of whom, Melisendra, has been captured by some dastardly Moors.

The puppets, designed by Kathy McLellan and operated primarily by John Nolan who plays the puppet master Pedro, are clever. There are some funny Punch and Judy-style bits, and melodrama is given the gears. The text touches on ideas of reality and artifice in theatre (“I thought everything taking place here was taking place,” says the deluded Quixote).

But the show overall is flat, lacks commitment and is unfocused. On opening night, which had been twice delayed because of weather, the show also saw the first of several set or costume malfunctions. (Continue reading » )

Stratford Scores With an Intriguing Revival of John Mighton’s Possible Worlds

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada  


Photo: David Hou

STRATFORD — The Stratford Festival’s new production of John Mighton’s award-winning Possible Worlds begins with the sight of a man’s naked body, dead in a pool of water.

The imagery is bold but not quite real. The lighting is dank, the soundscape ominous. Near the body, silhouetted in the water, is his clothing, evoking the shape and substance of what he once was. And then the corpse pulls himself back to life — well, at least, a sort of life. But there’s a questing element to all this as he splashes through the water and dresses himself in his soaking garments.

And if we’re not sure at this point who or what he is, neither — we suspect — is he.

It’s the sort of moment that can have us retrieving pop-culture references out of our own consciences. William Holden looking down on his own murdered corpse in Norma Desmond’s swimming pool in Sunset Boulevard? Or maybe Jeff Bridges struggling into a form of being in Starman? Or is this simply how my own particular world responds at a particular moment in time in watching the play? (Continue reading » )

The Creation of the World and Other Business: 9th Hour Theatre presents a rich and imaginative production

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: Andre R. Gagne

Photo: Andre R. Gagne

Arthur Miller’s The Creation of the World and Other Business tanked when it first opened on Broadway in 1972. Its attempts at comedy, as well as an intelligent, complex treatment of the subject matter are all disparaged to this day. The text does seem confused about its identity – does it want to be a comedy or a drama? By attempting to be both, it misses the mark and comes off flat. Luckily, 9th Hour Theatre’s rich, imaginative production presents the best of what the play has to offer. There are a few elements that can be ironed out, but, overall, cast and crew come together and present a highly enjoyable production which digs into the characters and central themes of the text.

The Creation of the World and Other Business is Miller’s take on the Biblical creation of the world. We first get to know Adam, endlessly frolicking in the Garden of Eden, blissful in his sinless ignorance. God wants Adam to procreate, so he creates Eve. Unfortunately, their innocence is such that procreation, or the act required for it, doesn’t even cross the the two humans’ minds. God, in his infinite power and somewhat lacklustre wisdom, doesn’t know how to make this happen, so in comes Lucifer, a shrewdly intelligent archangel and the only one to challenge God’s ideas. He has some ideas of his own, setting events into motion that change the path of humanity forever.  (Continue reading » )

The Creation of the World and Other Business: 9th Hour Theatre saves Miller’s play

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Andre R. Gagne

Photo: Andre R. Gagne

Sometimes, a director can ruin a perfectly good literary work. This time around, the opposite happened. Director Jonathan Harris and his stunning team save Arthur Miller’s The Creation of the World and Other Business!

When Arthur Miller wrote the play, he was already past his best creative years. Usually known for his obsession with guilt and responsibility, his characters are conscious to a fault of their social responsibilities. His recurring themes of self-purpose, life and death, choices made, and consequences are always depicted with intellectual bite and sharp, edgy confrontation by characters. Although The Creation of the World and Other Business is also a philosophical exploration of the human race – its morality, its purpose, and justice, Miller’s usual depth and sharpness are missing. His characters are lighter and the dialogue rarely goes below the the surface. Not quite the Miller one would expect. That’s why it was a failure critically and commercially when it debuted in the early 1970s .

In his play The Creation of the World and Other Business, Miller attempts to retell the Bible’s story of Genesis in a humorous way. It is divided into three sections: The first is life in the Garden of Eden, where every creature, from bees and elephants to angels and humans (Adam and Eve), live in a harmony and praise God. The only problem is that God is vain and not too intelligent. He needs the humans to multiply, but has no idea how to make that happen. His bright but fallen angel, Lucifer, has an idea to let humans taste the forbidden fruit (apple) so that they will know what to do. God absolutely forbids that, because he does not want his children to lose their innocence and gain knowledge of evil. In the second act, Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise, though both God and Lucifer watch them and battle to gain their admiration (or power over them). The last part deals with Kane, eaten by jealousy, killing his brother Abel. He has to face his punishment – being condemned to the life of a wanderer. (Continue reading » )

The Tempest: Magical outdoor performance

Reviewed by on    Summer Theatre 2015  


Photo: David Whiteley

It can be said that The Tempest is the least of his plays that bear a “Shakespearean” style. Not only is the dramatic structure very different from what we usually see in Shakespeare’s plays, but the role of women is marginalized to a subordinate, pretty figure. The only female character that appears in The Tempest is Miranda, Prospero’s dutiful daughter who merely serves to fulfill her father’s revenge over his brother Antonio.

The story is very simple. Prospero, the rightful duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda have been stranded for 12 years on a remote island after Prospero’s brother Antonio overthrows and exiles him. For those 12 years, Prospero has been preparing his revenge. The play takes place during three hours on the island at the zenith of the action, culminating in forgiveness instead of revenge.

This is the only play by the great bard that follows the dramatic structure of Aristotle’s three classical unities of time, place, and action, and as such is perfectly suited for outdoor staging. Just the thing for Ottawa’s parks in the summertime!

Bear & Co.’s production takes full advantage of the outdoor space and its atmosphere. It also skillfully incorporates all three major themes in the play: magic, yearning for freedom, and love. The effects that invoke the storm are realistic and, in combination with music, make an eerie atmosphere. Well-chosen songs transport the audience to a different time. Add to all this beautiful, fiery and elegant spirit Ariel and magic is born right there before your eyes. Zoe Georgaras is a perfect fit for the role of Ariel. She is a light dancer, excellent actress, alluring, playful, and mischievous. Her ability to express thoughts and mood just with body language and facial expressions is superb. (Continue reading » )

OLT’s Bedtime Stories: The Best and Worst of Norm Foster

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Norm Foster’s Bedtime Stories consists of six playlets, four of which should have been left to gather dust in the playwright’s bottom drawer.

There’s a variability in quality here. And that places a hard-working cast at something of a disadvantage in Ottawa Little Theatre’s current summer production of this frequently produced Foster piece.

But there remains enough here to show this prolific Canadian playwright’s genuine merits. He has a gift for funny, observant glimpses into contemporary life. He also — when he puts his mind to it — can examine human relationships with genuine poignancy. Both these qualities are on display in Bedtime Stories.

But Foster also has a weakness for the kind of sophomoric humour that can quickly wear out its welcome. In Bedtime Stories, the playlets are linked in three basic ways.

(Continue reading » )

Bedtime Stories at the OLT: Stories not worth a bedtime read!

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre, Summer Theatre 2015  

OLT_Posters 102nd Season-FnL.indd

Poster for the Ottawa Little Theatre.

Seeing the aging shock rocker peel off his sleeves of tattoos is the single most effective moment in the Ottawa Little Theatre production of Bedtime Stories.

It is a reminder that Norm Foster comedies can be very funny, even touching at times.

Sadly, this group of six vaguely connected skits set in various bedrooms is worthy of few laughs, rarely touches and leaves one wondering why Foster has so often been called the Canadian Neil Simon.

The opening sequence of the group, written in 2006, is both ridiculous and distasteful: an ambitious radio host has paid a middle-aged couple $5,000 to have sex on air. The conservatively clothed couple is less than the passionate pair he envisioned. Yet, the sounds of their bedtime activities become an irritating recurring theme through the remaining playlets. Other repetitions such as mention of a cab driver, who constantly loses her way, and her foolish sister, an incompetent exotic dancer, are hardly worth a smile, never mind a laugh.

(Continue reading » )

Ferocious comic relief and dangerous despair all emerge in Deborah Hay’s brilliant portrayal of Katherina inThe Taming of the Shrew.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada  


Photo: David Hou.

STRATFORD, Ont. — For modern-day audiences, the most contentious moments in The Taming Of The Shrew come at the end.

That’s when Katherina, the fiery and rebellious spouse of the swaggering Petruchio, finally appears to be yielding to her husband’s god-given authority.

By this time, she has been dragged kicking and screaming into marriage. She has then been subjected to emotional humiliation, to starvation, to sleep deprivation by her new spouse — and doesn’t all this remind us of the classic interrogation techniques practised by today’s CIA?

Defenders of Petruchio may argue that he’s merely imposing tough love on a young woman whose out-of-bounds behaviour, furious temper and tendency towards violence have earned her the label of “Katherina the cursed” — that his determination to reduce her to a state of total submission is “done in reverend care of her.” But is it really that simple? Not by a long shot when it comes to the Stratford Festival’s astonishing new production.

(Continue reading » )

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