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

The Norman Conquests: Table Manners is an entertaining production due to Kelly’s attention to detail

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah Photo by David Whiteley

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah
Photo by David Whiteley

Six characters. One weekend. Three views of the shifting perspectives of two unhappy married couples and two lonely singles reacting to each other in three different parts of the same property (the dining room, the living room and the backyard).

Alan Ayckbourn, who wrote the trilogy of comedies comprising The Norman Conquests in one week in May 1973, says that each of the group stands alone and may be seen in any order (though each of the three should be seen first!)

An ambitious project for playwright, director, cast and crew, The Norman Conquests has been well received almost every time it has been presented during the 40+ years since Ayckbourn wrote the three plays simultaneously and in parallel. By, for example, writing the second scene of each of the comedies at the same time, he could refer in the segment set in the dining room to the amount of alcohol being consumed in the living room and its effects on the title character.

Table Manners, which opens the Seven Thirty Productions/Plosive Productions co-pro of The Norman Conquests, heads towards a nightmarish family dinner delivering sniping and discontent as the main course. So horrible are the relationships that you have to laugh or be swept away with the underlying misery. (Continue reading » )

Waitress: A Feminist Fable in Cambridge, MA

Reviewed by on    All the world's a stage  

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Audiences at Waitress, the American Repertory Theatre’s brand new musical, are put in the mood for what is to come by the charming scalloped pie-shaped proscenium and cherry filling represented by the curtain. The show opens with Jenna (Jessie Mueller) in the midst of – yes, you guessed it – making a pie.

Contemporized by a somewhat feminist approach and spicy sex, the vintage plot revolves around Jenna, a waitress in a small-town diner somewhere in the south. Her peerless and ever-changing pies keep the customers coming, and please Old Joe (Dakin Matthews), her curmudgeonly boss. The pies, each given a name, also serve as an outlet for her inner feelings. (Continue reading » )

“Bed and Breakfast” Hits the All Right Notes in Gananoque

Reviewed by on    Summer Theatre 2015  

Andrew Kirshnir & Paul Dunn.  Photo: Jay Kopinski

Andrew Kirshnir & Paul Dunn. Photo: Jay Kopinski

The world premiere of “Bed and Breakfast” currently running in the Firehall is, for my money, the hit of the season so far at the 1000 Islands Playhouse.  It’s billed as a comedy and certainly has many funny moments, but is basically the very human and sometimes touching story of Brett (Andrew Kushnir) who inherits the family home and his partner Drew (Paul Dunn), who move from Toronto to a small Ontario town to set up a B&B.  These two terrific actors also play a number of peripheral characters.

When the play began I did an internal eye-roll and thought we were in for a cutesy string of stereotypes.  After a few minutes, though, something clicked and I realized the story and relationship of Brett and Drew is the core of the play, while the peripheral characters deepen and support the central duo.

This is a true ensemble piece in that the playwright Mark Crawford, director Ashlie Corcoran and the two excellent actors, along with a great creative team, have come up with a performance style that enables us to see all the characters as three dimensional.  The staging, actually complex choreography, with its spins and jumps to signal character changes is wonderfully creative and the pace never lags.  We become genuinely involved with this “out” couple and root for them to succeed. (Continue reading » )

San goes beyond the boundaries with blend of theatre, music and film

Reviewed by on    Performance Art, Uncategorized  

Photo: John Kenney / Montreal Gazette

Photo: John Kenney / Montreal Gazette

The city may be an indifferent, sometimes cruel place. But it can still harbour grace and love even if you’re an almost-obsolete robot infatuated with an office worker who’s as much a misfit as you. That’s the ultimately hopeful upshot of Nufonia Must Fall Live!, the gentle puppet-show-with-a-difference by Eric San, a.k.a. Montreal-based scratch DJ and music producer Kid Koala, that’s been making a splash at home and abroad since it debuted last year.

Based on his own 2003 graphic novel and soundtrack Nufonia Must Fall, San’s multidisciplinary show employs real-time filming of more than a dozen miniature stages and a cast of white puppets, with the video projected on a screen at the rear of the stage.

The audience can make out the puppeteers and camera people as they go about their business on stage. Koala and the Afiara Quartet provide live — and alternately sad, lush and disquieting — music on piano, strings and turntables at stage rear. (Continue reading » )

Tony Kushner Play triumphs at the Shaw Festival

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada  


Photo: David Cooper

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — The Shaw Festival may well be giving us the most glorious experience of a Canadian theatrical summer.

It’s subjecting its audiences to nearly four hours of riveting theatre with The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures. And yes, the very title of Tony Kushner’s play is a mouthful in itself, with its references to both a celebrated piece of polemic by festival namesake Bernard Shaw and the beliefs of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.

However, as anyone who has already experienced marathon encounters with the much longer Angels in America knows, Tony Kushner has a remarkable capacity for keeping an audience involved, both emotionally and intellectually, in what’s happening on stage. (Continue reading » )

Perth Classic Theatre’s Wait Until Dark Cranks Up The Suspense

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  


Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle

Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle

It’s the final half hour of Wait Until Dark that makes Frederick Knott’s 1966 thriller worth reviving. That’s when the play’s blind heroine, Susy Hendrix, must use her wits and ingenuity to thwart the trio of criminals who threaten her life.

Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival delivers in spades in the production that opened over the weekend. Laurel Smith’s direction is taut and decisive in screwing up the suspense and in orchestrating the final confrontation between Alison Smyth, who plays Susy, and Greg Campbell, who plays the most frightening of the three crooks. And she receives vital assistance from Wesley McKenzie’s lighting and Matthew Behrens’s sound design.

The play’s reputation rests on the genuine tension of those closing scenes in the darkness and of the central situation of a young blind woman in jeopardy. But this does not diminish the fact that, despite its enduring popularity, Wait Until Dark is probably Knott’s weakest play. Its premise is preposterous and contrived: a child’s doll containing heroin has managed to find its way into the Greenwich Village apartment of Sam Hendrix and his sightless wife, Susy, and the bad guys are ready to commit murder to get it back. (Continue reading » )

Strong “Romeo and Juliet” in Prescott at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival

Reviewed by on    St Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, Summer Theatre 2015  

Rose Napoli as Juliet, Jesse Griffiths as Romeo.  Photo: SLSF

Rose Napoli as Juliet, Jesse Griffiths as Romeo. Photo: SLSF

A very good production of “Romeo and Juliet” is playing at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival in Prescott.  Director Janet Irwin has set the play in the 1950s, perhaps the last decade in which marriage decisions were primarily made by parents, often in conflict with teen-agers’ raging hormones.  This decision allows designer Alex Amini to costume the actors so they can move easily through the athletic staging.  By the way, the various knife fights staged by Jonathan Purvis are remarkably effective.  Her costumes for the Capulets, particularly Juliet, are especially good.

The simple set of two sheer white panels with a circular sheer panel center designed by Julie Bourbonnais is very atmospheric.  The transformation to the tomb and the gradual lighting of the single paper lantern work very well. The a cappella dirges by Melissa Morris are good, but Lady Capulet’s snippet of “Blue Moon” seems out of place.

The cast is generally good, with just a couple of uneven performances.  Jonathan Gould is excellent as the Prince and also in his subtle guitar work.  Unfortunately Kathleen Veinotte gives an inconsistent performance as the Nurse, characterized off and on by a flat-footed caricature of a walk.  As Paris, Benjamin Sutherland gives us a realistically believable death scene.   (Continue reading » )

Puppet arts take center stage in this growing international puppet festival

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

POGUThe Puppets Up! International Puppet Festival presents a compelling program this year, where an impressive number of troupes present 69 shows over 3 days. The annual festival in Almonte, Ontario is well-worth the short drive from Ottawa. Artistic Director Noreen Young has curated a festival with a number of impressive local and international puppeteers, featuring a plethora of styles of puppetry. Puppet arts are an important theatre tradition, with strong cultural roots across the globe. It is an important festival to the future of puppet arts in Canada.

Young has put together a festival that allows its audience to venture into traditional styles of puppetry, as well as modern performances. The festival truly has something for everyone, young or old. What’s more, the late night “adults only” cabaret ensures that adults are not alienated in a style that is often associated with theatre for young audiences.

Here are just a few highlights from this year’s festival. (Continue reading » )

Wait Until Dark: Attention to detail, good acting make for a strong production

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle

Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle

Evening the odds is at the core of Wait Until Dark. Although the thriller by Frederick Knott creaks a little after 51 years, the central theme continues to hold its own.

The protagonist, Susy, is learning to cope after an accident that blinded her. When a psychopathic killer, aided by two con men, terrorize her in their search for a drug-stuffed doll, she seeks to outwit them by making their world as dark as hers.

For anyone who has not seen the twist in the exciting climax, either on stage or in the 1967 movie starring Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark can be a nail-biter. Although the excitement of the unknown is lost the second or third time around, a strong production makes the drama well worth revisiting.

And the Classic Theatre Festival production of Wait Until Dark, directed by Laurel Smith, is certainly that. Most notable for its attention to detail — the occasional noises from the refrigerator, for example — as well as a sensitive characterization from Alison Smyth as the feisty Susy, the tension builds with her realization that her various visitors are not what they seem. (Continue reading » )

Frantic but Funny “Don’t Dress for Dinner” in Gananoque

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Todd Thomson as Bernard & Kirk Smith as Robert.  Photo: Mark Bergen

Todd Thomson as Bernard & Kirk Smith as Robert. Photo:
Mark Bergen

The 1000 Islands Playhouse has mounted an antic production of “Don’t Dress for Dinner.”  The rollicking farce, by Marc Camoletti and adapted by Robin Hawdon, is a sequel of sorts to his earlier play, “Boeing Boeing,” in that it features the same male leads: Bernard, still having woman problems, in this case with his wife Jacqueline and mistress Suzanne, and Robert, his hapless friend.  Through a series of mis-chances they all end up in Bernard’s country home for a disastrous dinner party along with a hired cook, Suzette.

Jung-Hye Kim’s set is good, with plenty of doors for slamming, a necessity for farce.  The furniture is colorful and easily tips, another plus.  The only flaw is the large mirror on the stage left wall which is very distracting.  Oz Weaver’s lighting is good except for the last two scenes, which doesn’t make sense.  As the actors leave they turn out the lights, but the stage lights immediately sneak up again to light the final scene.  The costumes by Cindy Wiebe are fine and Suzette’s onstage change is very clever.  The exception is Jacqueline’s very unflattering nightgown and odd slippers.  Also, someone should remind Jacqueline and Suzette to make up their tan lines. (Continue reading » )

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