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

Monstrous, or the Miscegenation Advantage, an important piece in undercurrents 2016

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

MG_8317The lights bathe a vast, empty stage. A massive projection screen is mounted along the back. Performer Sarah Waisvisz enters the stage from the audience, singing along with French singer Chantal Goya’s “Adieu les jolis foulards”, a version of the Martinique folk song, “Adieu foulard, adieu madras”. Waisvisz evokes a sense of nostalgia and longing, singing the song out to the audience with open arms. It isn’t until later that the audience will learn the full impact of this saccharine anthem.

Monstrous, or the Miscegenation Advantage is in part theatre, in part dance, and in part social provocation from Calalou Productions. It’s a true piece of auto-ethnography, inspired by the artist’s own Ph.D. level research into colonial interference in Caribbean literature. The script finds its footing in creator and performer Sarah Waisvisz’s own story. It is in part Sarah’s personal history as a multi-racial woman who traces her heritage back to the slave coast of West Africa. Here, dance plays a large role as Sarah embodies dance styles that reflect that history. Yet, the script also sets its sights on Sarah’s modern-day, lived experience as someone whose skin colour has been an unavoidable topic of discussion since birth. Waisvisz moves with intention and fluidity on the stage, though sometimes under-vocalizes her lines. Overall, she is dynamic and even a little mischievous. (Continue reading » )

Getting to Room Temperature and Mouthpiece at the undercurrents festival

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Robert Bockstael in Getting to Room Temperature by Arthur Milner. Photo: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

Robert Bockstael in Getting to Room Temperature by Arthur Milner. Photo: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

Getting to Room Temperature
A Room Temperature Collective Production (Ottawa)

What do we do now? That’s playwright Arthur Milner’s thorny question in Getting to Room Temperature which asks whether we have the right to die – and explores the roles and responsibilities of others in that death – when we’re not terminally ill but, being old, have simply reached the end of life as we choose to live it.

The provocative one-man show, told in storytelling/lecture fashion, is a world premiere. Directed by Milner, it features Robert Bockstael telling what is, essentially, the playwright’s own story.
Some time ago, Milner’s 93-year-old mother Rose, who was not gravely ill, asked her doctor to help her die. He refused. That got Milner exploring the murky politics of old age and dying in contemporary society. He asks us to consider a lot. Some of it, including the financial burden on families and societies of a growing number of lingering elders kept alive by incessant medical intervention, targets our sense of right and wrong.
Milner, through the accessible voice of Bockstael, wraps his questions in warm anecdotes about his family, sprinkles the show with humour, and lovingly depicts his vital, opinionated mother whose life is slowly limited by aging even as her son’s inquiry into dying expands to take in ever-larger ethical and personal territory.

The inquiry, says Milner/Bockstael, is “a conversation I’m having with myself. I’m trying to figure it out.” (Continue reading » )

Particle is a playful and complex homage to Virginia Woolf’s The Waves

Reviewed by on    Undercurrents 2016  

Photo: Stéphanie Godin

Photo: Stéphanie Godin

A woman creeps her way onto the stage, holding a tattered book in her hands. The pages are so well-loved that the book is falling apart. She extends it to her audience and her mouth curves into words that might explain the book. But how can you put into words something as nuanced as our reaction to a piece of great literature?

Particle, co-created by Kristina Watt and Martha Ross, is a rumination on inspiration itself. This year, audiences have a chance to capture the World Premiere of this production at the undercurrents theatre festival.

At the centre of the play is Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves, but where you might expect a straight-forward adaptation, 100 Watt Productions sets its sites on the impossibility of wholly capturing the impact of art. Yet, through the lens of this cleverly conceptualized, metatheatrical production, Particle succeeds in inviting the audience to experience a delicate moment of shared understanding.

The stage layout features a prominent projector screen to its right where images of rolling waves are projected—a nod to the book that is at the heart of this production. The play features some basic set pieces, for example, a desk with a small bell and some clutter directly center, or a coat rack that stands at stage left. It’s all intentionally vague; the set is simply a play-ground for the characters. And these characters aren’t what they seem.

Actress Kristina Watt uses costumes (including exaggerated noses, lab coats, glasses and more) to take on various characters, and yet, these characters are heavily symbolic in nature. They are exaggerated and far from realistic—they are characters that Watt wears like a coat as she tries to home-in on the meaning behind Woolf’s enigmatic novel. Underneath the characters is another nameless, tenuous character that is just as present on stage, finding moments of silence to simply stare back at the audience. There’s a complex balance between what’s real and what’s not that Particle manages to capture, a credit to director Martha Ross. (Continue reading » )

Monstrous, or, the Miscegenation Advantage

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre   , ,

MG_8317

Photo: Sarah Waisvisz performs

This tedious solo piece finds writer/performer Sarah Waisvisz on a quest to answer that ancient puzzler, “Who am I?”

In her case, that means a search for her multi-racial roots involving an imaginary journey from St. Martinique to Africa to Europe to Ottawa. It means encountering people who link skin colour to identity. It also means 65 dreary minutes for audiences as Waisvisz drapes her premise – if she’s interested in who she is, then everybody else must be as well – in a blend of song, dance, movement and text that does little to universalize her personal story or effectively link past and present even when she dips into the fraught history of the slave trade. (Continue reading » )

Moonlodge: Production shows a lot of promise

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Paula-Jean Prudat stars in Moonlodge

Paula-Jean Prudat stars in Moonlodge

It’s a role only its creator, First Nations performing arts legend Margo Kane, has ever played: Agnes, the young aboriginal woman severed from her roots as a child when a government agency snatches her from her family and who then spends years in search of herself and her place in the world.

Now Paula-Jean Prudat is Agnes — sweet, exuberant, with a nervous and expectant laugh — in a new production of Kane’s one-woman show, which premiered in 1990. The revival, part of the undercurrents festival and at the NAC Fourth Stage for Feb. 12 and 13 only, is billed as a workshop, the hope being that the production will be picked up by theatres across the country.

Despite the occasional misstep — a few muffed lines, more conviction in the second than the first part of the show — Prudat gives us a rich, captivating Agnes. Armed with only a suitcase, a drum and serious acting chops (she plays, briefly, multiple characters), Prudat infuses Kane’s mix of storytelling, dance and ritual with her own brand of verve. Funny when lampooning the destructive Hollywood version of First Nations people, touching when displaying Agnes’s hunger for love and acceptance, Prudat, under director Corey Payette, proves a worthy successor to Kane.

Especially powerful is the powwow scene where the teenaged Agnes, having joined the 1960s army of other young people hitchhiking around North America on their own quests, finally gets a glimpse of her heritage as she meets the old men, the young women, the little kids who have come together in celebration just as her family did before she was cut away from home and culture. (Continue reading » )

Thierry Gibault dans Une trop bruyante solitude,  assume tout le poid tragique de l’humanité : une prestation inoubliable

Reviewed by on    All the world's a stage   ,

Thierry Gibault.  Photo: courtesy of Theatre de l'Incendie, Paris

Thierry Gibault.
Photo: courtesy of Theatre de l’Incendie, Paris

Une trop bruyante solitude  de Bohumil Hrabal, a paru à  Prague en 1976  sous forme d’une publication clandestine mais il a rapidement circulé  en une dizaine de langues . Cette adaptation récente en français, en forme de monologue, par le metteur en scène  Laurent Fréchuret  fut montée  par le Théâtre de l’Incendie et jouée par Thierry Gibault.  Le spectacle,  actuellement au Théâtre  de Belleville à Paris, sera repris en Avignon cette année au théâtre des Halles d’Alain Timar .  Cette  expérience scenique nous montre que le texte n’a rien perdu de son actualité.

 Un vrombissement inquiétant,  un claquement de câbles, l’écho d’une  mécanique féroce annonce le réveil d’un nouveau “Métropolis” quelque part dans l’obscurité.  Les effets de bruitage  nous frappent dès le début. Soudain, une  seule ampoule s’allume   au bout d’un fil  suspendu du plafond.  Elle  éclaire  le visage d’un homme  dégoulinant de sueur, et tâché d’encre.  Puis le corps entier de l’acteur émerge  d’un nuage de poussière  épaisse  pour révéler  un homme  pris comme un rat dans la saleté d’un trou noir.  On a presque de la nausée. .

 Voilà Hanta , celui qui a passé trente-cinq  ans de sa vie enfoui dans ce lieu sombre,  sans fenêtres,  en compagnie de sa presse mécanique  ronflant  doucement comme un  monstre  en état de veil, conçu  pour broyer   des tonnes de détritus et cracher du papier  condamné au recyclage . Dans cette  masse de feuilles réduites a des tas de crasse, se retrouvent  des œuvres fondatrices des grandes civilisations du monde.    On pourrait dire  que Hanta et sa presse  participent  à la solution finale  de la culture du monde  sauf  que Hanta possède une âme de  poète ;   il est curieux et il aime lire. La propagande des pouvoirs  en place n’ont pas réussi à éradiquer  sa soif d’apprendre. Toute la différence est là.  Les yeux de l’acteur   brillent d’une lueur étrange et le monologue  prend des allures d’un délire total. (Continue reading » )

Weak play cradles some good performances

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  

Photo courtesy of Kanata Theatre

Photo courtesy of Kanata Theatre

Three strong performances and an attractive set do not make up for a weak play weighed down with exposition.

Leslie Sands’ 1983 “psychological mystery” Cat’s Cradle is slow moving mainly because the lengthy back story is the key to the small amount of action that occurs on stage.

Set in the residents’ lounge of an English country inn, it is the eve of local resident Sarah Fulton’s wedding. A shadow hangs over the happy occasion when Detective Inspector Jack Frost appears, determined to clear up his last unsolved case before he retires: the kidnapping/murder of Sarah’s baby brother 12 years earlier. The second part of the mystery is why the family and friends of the victim are so hostile to Frost and so determined to preserve the secrets behind the crime.

At first, Cat’s Cradle (the title is a reference to a child’s game of creating changing three-dimensional thread patterns) seems carefully constructed to explain each character’s behaviour. But there are some inconsistencies, particularly in the bride’s reactions. It is also hard to accept that almost everyone can be bought off. (Continue reading » )

The Convert: A Story of Colonialism

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: Bird Desi

Photo: Bird Desi

Danai Gurira’s The Convert, now playing at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA, gives the audience a picture of late 19th century Zimbabwe when it was undergoing British colonization. The British usurpation of the country’s natural resources and the displacement of peoples led to civil war between the Shona and the Ndebele. Cultural changes took place, religious conversion not the least of these.

Although there are several plotlines, the most dominant is the story of Jekesai (Adobuere Ebiama), a young Shona woman whose uncle (Paul S. Benford Bruce) wants to marry her off to an elderly man with a great many wives. The bride price is of great concern to the uncle. Misogyny within the native culture is an underlying theme of the play as is classism.

Jekesai runs off, and is rescued by her Aunt Mai Tamba (Liana Asim), the trickster maid of Chilford, a would-be Catholic priest (Maurice Emmanuel Parent). To keep her job Mai Tamba pretends she is a believing Christian while hiding amulets in the house to appease her dead ancestors. Following her aunt’s advice, Jekesai asks Chilford to convert her. Chilford, a lay religious teacher, thrilled to find a willing convert who claims she wants to dedicate her life to Catholicism, takes her in to his home, after changing her name to Ester. He tutors the gifted Ester in English, reading, writing, and religion. Although he too is Shona, he acquired English as a child when he was taught by missionaries. Ester, enamored of her new religion, devotes time to converting other Shona people. Like her aunt, she is also a servant, and addresses the pompous Chilford as Master. She is now modestly attired like an English woman with a long dress and shoes rather than her Shona self where her breasts were almost uncovered and her feet bare. (Continue reading » )

Cat’s Cradle On The Dull Side At Kanata

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  

Photo courtesy of Kanata Theatre

Photo courtesy of Kanata Theatre

The most puzzling thing about Cat’s Cradle, which tottered onto the Kanata Theatre stage the other day, as why anyone thought it was worth doing n the first place.

Furthermore the fragile fortunes of Leslie Sands’s dull psychological thriller are not boosted by the general lethargy of Susan Monaghan’s production.

When you start glancing at your watch to find out why the first act seems endless, only to discover you’re only 45 minutes into the performance, that’s a sign of a show in trouble.

To be sure, this February offering does have a few things going for it. Set designer Rom Frigon has given us a splendid representation of a vintage country inn in the England of the early 1960s. Marilyn Valiquette has supplied serviceable costumes. Actress Caro Coltman is persuasively in character as the landlady who may or may not have secrets to conceal. Martin Weeden exudes terrier-like authority as Sir Charles Cresswell, the embodiment of local privilege. And Douglas Cuff convinces as the world-weary police inspector who has returned to the scene of his greatest failure to make one more effort to discover the truth about the disappearance of a young child years before.

That mystery is supposed to be haunting all the play’s characters as they prepare for the wedding of the young, 19-year-old woman who may, in the blocked recesses of her mind, have knowledge of what actually happened to her missing sibling on that fateful day. But you wouldn’t know it from the tepid emotional temperature of this production. (Continue reading » )