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

“Dear Johnny Deere” Bang-up Season Finale at 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Jay Bridges

Photo: Jay Bridges

The 1000 Islands Playhouse is closing out their season with a foot-stomping production of “Dear Johnny Deere.” The book is by Ken Cameron and is based on the music and lyrics of Fred Eaglesmith, with additional music and arrangements by Music Director David Archibald. If you’re not familiar with Fred Eaglesmith, and I wasn’t, his funny and evocative songs have garnered numerous awards in the US and Canada in the country and bluegrass fields.

Playwright Cameron has woven a plot around 15 Fred Eaglesmith songs. Johnny, well-played by Greg Gale, and his wife Caroline, again well-played by Shannon Currie, are having emotional, financial, and farming problems. Into the mix comes Mike, played by the versatile Bruce Horak, with an offer to buy the farm. Mr. Horak also plays Johnny’s father and a snobbish tractor collector. The whole is narrated by the excellent Jeff Culbert playing Johnny’s neighbor, McAllister. The only cast member who doesn’t speak is the dynamite fiddler Capucine Onn. As you might expect, everything works out. These are all good actors, but the show is really about the music.

Listing a few of the song titles will give you the idea: “White Trash,” “Spookin’ the Horses,” “I Wanna Buy Your Truck,” “Old John Deere,” “Time to Get a Gun,” and “It’s Got a Bench Seat Baby” that includes a snippet of “It’s a Mighty Big Car.” All these actors are terrific singers, including Music Director David Archibald, and they all play multiple instruments. (Continue reading » )

The Barber of Seville: Modern take on the classic opera loses on atmosphere

Reviewed by on    Arts News, Opera  

Photo: Nance Price

Photo: Nance Price

The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini, long proclaimed to be the opera buffa of all “opere buffe,” is one of the, if not the greatest masterpieces in its genre. It has been an audience favourite for almost 200 years (it was first premiered on February 20, 1816 in Rome) for a reason. Six years after its debut (in 1822), Ludwig van Beethoven said to Rossini (they were communicating in writing): “Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.”

So, what is so great about this opera? Of course, it is the music (in operatic art it always comes first). Rossini gives the opera his own signature with his bubbling, melodic style, very often compared to champagne. The expression “Rossini crescendo” is coined after his famous musical crescendo, which culminates in a solo vocal cadenza. (Continue reading » )

Good to Go. Election show at the Cube Gallery:

Reviewed by on    Arts News  


Allan Harding MacKay : Court Painter: Good To Go!

October 6 – 25

The Great Game" Vernissage (The artist will be in attendance) Thursday, Oct. 8th, 6:00 – 9:00 pm  Get political at Cube Gallery as renowned Alberta artist Allan Harding MacKay casts his gimlet eye on scandals in the Senate, stirs the election pot, and pokes our public conscience. Court Painter, Good to Go! is an exhibition of MacKay at his searing, satirical best as he takes aim at all things political from the ongoing trial of suspended Senator Mike Duffy, the follies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the tomfoolery of some of Canada’s other top public figures.    

MacKays skillfully constructed collages are created from the vantage of the Court Painter as chronicler of Canada’s politicos, players, journalists and hangers-on in a revival of the traditional relationship between the artist and those who consider themselves to be the ruling elite.   Look closely at this contemporary take on The Court Painter and be prepared to be shocked and bemused by MacKay’s penchant for political peccadilloes.

(Continue reading » )

The Barber of Seville : Extraordinary stage business challenges the singers.

Reviewed by on    Opera, Photo by Barb Gray, Professional Theatre  


Photo: Barb Gray.  Joshua Hopkiins (Figaro) and Marion Newman(Rosina).

Just as Brian MacDonald transformed Gilbert and Sullivan into light opera, just as Steven Sondheim’s musicals could often be considered light opera, why not do the reverse and transform Rossini’s Opera Buffa into musical theatre where all the spoken parts are sung in any case, and comedy dominates the whole event? This production, which originates in Vancouver is a treat for the eye and is clearly aimed at a general even non-opera going audience that just wants an evening of entertainment in the lush setting of the National Arts Centre. Why not? Opera is not the sole possession of specialists. If Opera Lyra has to seduce the audience by setting Count Almaviva’s attempts to declare his love to Rosina on the set of a 1940’s film of Carmen, (Bizet’s version I imagine) – a sort of mise en abyme musical, why not? It was all supported by conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia’s fine direction that emphasized the heightened comic drama of the artists and produced excellent moments of music. The chorus of extras who changed costumes, who ran around trying to get their  hair cut by Figaro, the cheeky foppish barber and stylist of the film crew, sung by Baritone Joshua Hopkins, created an amusing performance. Also film-like with gangster undertones were the two sinister body guards who kept close to Rosina so that her impatient lover Almaviva (Lindoro), could not get near her as Bartolo snorted with anger in the background. Director Dennis Garnhum created numerous stage dramas operating simultaneously and eventually he transformed the whole cast into excellent actors whose timing was impeccable, whose sense of fun worked beautifully. A comedy of near epic proportions!!

(Continue reading » )

PigeonsAffamés: à la biennale de Zones théâtrales.

Reviewed by on    Dance, Professional Theatre, Théâtre français  


Photo: Théâtre du  Trillium

PigeonsAffamés ..conçu par Anne Marie White, vocabulaire corporel et entrainement physique : Mylène Roi; une production du Théâtre du Trillium.

Dance /théâtre/chanson/mime/choréographie/mouvement/sonorité/lumières qui font tourner la tête et vibrer les pulsations vitales…Curieuse rencontre entre le laisser aller et la discipline parfaite, entre les rythmes d’une jeunesse confuse et effrénée- et la contrainte d’une foule de corps obéissants. l’espace ou Étienne Decroux, Brigitte Haentjens et une boite disco se rencontrent! Que dire de plus??

Présenté à la Biennale Zones théâtrales, à Ottawa. 18 -19 septembre, 2015.

Production Values Don’t Save a Weak Play at GCTC

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: Pascal Huot

Photo: Pascal Huot

The Great Canadian Theatre Company has opened their season with “Generous” by Michael Healey. The play is the first of a trilogy that includes “Courageous” and “Proud,” the latter produced by GCTC a couple of years ago.

The play’s structure is fractured. The four scenes in Act I seem to come from different plays. The first, set 15 years ago, features a frantic group of Parliamentarians trying to avoid a no-confidence vote. The second, also 15 years ago, introduces a venal oil executive. In the third, now in the present, a judge and young law clerk both try to justify a one-night stand and in the fourth a couple has an odd gymnastic quarrel involving a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Some of these plot lines come together in Act II, but only structurally rather than emotionally and don’t go anywhere. “Generous” is basically about seeking power, both political and sexual, but leads to no new understanding of the various motivations behind the search. (Continue reading » )

Michael Healey’s Generous a Disappointment

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Photo: Andrew Alexander

The underlying question raised by Michael Healey’s social satire Generous seems to centre on whether political office, private enterprise or sexual connections are about public service or personal advancement.

The unnecessarily complicated structure — presumably meant to underline that a through line is not required for the playwright to make his point — is set in three offices, a judge’s chambers and two private homes over 15 years. Through three occasionally connected story lines and a cross-gender casting requirement in the opening scene, a series of selfish characters indicate that generosity results by accident, when of use in satisfying the greed of the perpetrators.

The grotesque, cartoon-like opening scene set in the Prime Minister’s Office shouts neither murder nor mayhem can obscure that power is all that matters. A slight shift in the next scene gives sex equal influence on the power ladder and even offers a nod to the influence of journalism. There follows a quirky view of the judiciary and an alternate sexual involvement. The first act closes with a short mimed sequence featuring an abusive relationship, while the second act shifts the lens on power, politics and sexual liaisons to demonstrate even less generosity of spirit. (Continue reading » )

Generous at the GCTC. Director Coates balances comic lines with the darker side of Healey’s play.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

IMG_9529  Photo: Andrew Alexander

Besieged by their eager avowals of commitment to the public weal in the federal election campaign, you might wonder what motivates politicians. Altruism? Guilt? Thirst for power?

Michael Healey’s comedy Generous, the resonant season opener at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, asks many of the same questions about not just politicians but about those who wield power in any form.

Asymmetric structure and story are one in Healey’s 2006 show. We bounce between events past and present as we watch the first acts of four apparently different plays and then, post-intermission, three concluding acts. Similarly, the lives and motivations of the characters are fractured. The plays, of course, ultimately prove to be no more unconnected than do the events of anyone’s life, which is not to say that either is a neatly completed jigsaw puzzle.

Generous – and congratulations if you spot any character wholeheartedly embodying that adjective – opens with a frantic, cartoonish scene in the prime minister’s office where we learn an overly loyal junior minister has taken to heart the PM’s words to stab a backbencher (Brian Mulroney once said of a cabinet minister, “Slit her throat”). Meanwhile, the PM’s chief of staff Eric (Drew Moore) reveals that he entered public service to do good, thereby setting up the exploration of altruism that percolates through the rest of the show.

(Continue reading » )

Generous: Good acting barely holds together a messy script

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Watching Michael Healey’s play Generous reminds me of a saying about Branko Radičeviċ, a Serbian poet whose premature death gave rise to a saying in the Former Yugoslav Republics: “He wanted a lot, he started a lot, but…” Well, the idea is that he did not deliver exactly what he wanted. Healey wants his play to be a political comedy; he intends it to be complex and he tries to stir our minds. Generous deals mainly with politics and it is funny – I will give it that. As for the structure – it is more complicated (even if so) than complex; to provoke our minds, one should be more subtle and avoid “spoon-feeding” the message at the end, as Healey does.

The play seemingly tackles numerous issues in our society: political manipulations, greed and abuse of power. In addition to that, it touches on human weaknesses, emotional instabilities and repressed personalities. In the first act, we follow four separate stories taking place either 15 years ago or in the present. Three of those events are connected in the second act.

It starts 15 years ago in Ottawa, where a minority government franticly discusses its political fiasco, a potential vote of no confidence. In the heat of discussion, a wounded junior minister appears at the door and admits that she has killed a rival MP, following the instructions of her leader to “slit her throat.” No one in the room cares about the junior minister’s wounds and eventual death, as they are too preoccupied with the more pressing issue of avoiding a vote of non-confidence. (Continue reading » )

GCTC’S Timely Production of Michael Healey’s Politically Potent Generous Wholly Successful

Reviewed by on    Uncategorized  

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Photo: Andrew Alexander

The war room is abuzz. The government may have just lost their majority and heads are going to roll. A power-hungry Prime Minister is surrounded by a bumbling group of cabinet ministers in the PMO, each obviously too stupid, too self-involved, or too guileless to be real, though the verisimilitude didn’t always escape me. Amidst the senseless commotion, a women has lurched her way into the middle of the room, her hands clutching her bleeding abdomen.

This, the first scene of Michael Healey’s Generous, playing at the GCTC and directed by Eric Coates, is the perfectly grotesque entry-point to a darkly comedic play. The government, corporate oil, media, and the Supreme Court are the objects of Healey’s play, but the subject is the virtue of generosity in the public service; and it’s not cleanly palatable when it’s found. From murder, to the spotless opinion of a naïve reporter, or the unsolicited attention that we’d rather not have, generosity takes many forms. Healey portrays a complicated kind of generosity as it plays out in the most powerful influencers in Canadian society.

Healey’s script is twisted, and dark, and its structure is deliberately disjointed. The three scenes that span the two acts of this play present three distinct storylines and flank a fifteen year gap, leaving the audience off balance. This theatrical device helps to pull the audience away from their expectation of a typical narrative structure. Though the scenes seem to mimic reality, they aren’t grounded in naturalism. Michael Healey’s script is intensely wordy, for example. The characters sink into extensive, heady, monologues that feel meta-theatrical and self-aware. (Continue reading » )

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