Photo: David Cooper
By THORNTON WILDER
Directed by MOLLY SMITH
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — It’s doesn’t take the Shaw Festival’s production of Our Town very long to establish its kinship with Thornton Wilder’s sublime play. This not so much a case of the festival asserting its authority over the material as it is one of achieving harmony with a script that seeks to work its wonders on a virtually bare playing area with a minimum of props.
By the time that those two famous step-ladders are centre stage and the young George Gibbs and Emily Webb have mounted them to share with us a few endearing moments of their early courtship, the community of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, is taking shape. We’ve started to know the townsfolk as they were at the beginning of the last century — be they Emily’s father, the local newspaper editor who disarmingly informs us that Grover’s Corners is a rather dull place, or Simon Stimson, the drunken church organist, or Howie Newsome, the local milkman who is always ready to pause for a chin-wag during his local deliveries. (Continue reading » )
Photo: The Gladstone
The Marvelous Wonderettes
By Roger Bean
A Fundraiser for the Catholic Education Foundation of Ottawa at the Gladstone
Directed and choreographed by Aileen Szwarek
More of a musical revue than a fully-fledged musical, The Marvelous Wonderettes by Roger Bean is a light-hearted concoction that quickly evokes the 1950s and 60s through songs of the era.
The girl group entertaining at the Springfield High School on senior prom night 1958 runs through key pop songs of the era, interspersed with rivalry between the two “frenemies,” Cindy Lou and Betty Jean. Meanwhile, the other members of the singing foursome, organizer Missy and bubblehead Suzy, try their best to restore equilibrium, keep the entertainment on track and everyone on and off stage smiling. (Continue reading » )
Photo: Glenn Perry
Music and Lyrics Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Book by Peter Duchan
Directed by Paul Daigneault
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Dogfight, the 2013 Louise Lortel Award winner for the outstanding Off-Broadway musical of the year is currently being presented by Boston’s SpeakEasy Company under the capable direction of Paul Daigneault. Composers and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul together with bookwriter Peter Duchan based their show on the 1991 non-musical film of the same name.
Dogfight takes place in two different time frames, 1963 and 1967 with the majority of the action happening in the earlier era. It is a strangely divided two-act musical. The first act deals with male bonding, cruelty, dreams of heroism, misogyny, and naïveté; the second develops into a love story. Early on, three young marine buddies – Eddie Birdlace (Jordan J. Ford), Boland, (Jared Troilo) and Bernstein (Drew Arisco) – who are shipping out of San Francisco the following day for Vietnam decide to spend their last night stateside playing a sadistic and humiliating game. This Marine tradition involves setting up a contest in which each man attending must put in a sum of money and bring an ugly girl. The escort of the homeliest date wins the pot. (Continue reading » )
Photo: Susan Sinchak
By Tim Firth
Directed by Tania Carrière
The problem with a play like Calendar Girls is that it’s dangerously easy for it to come across as exploitive theatre and nothing more. Indeed, the sell-out houses currently being enjoyed by Kanata Theatre are clearly due to the subject matter — a group of middle-aged Women’s Institute members posing in the nude for a charity calendar. The original film was a built-in hit for the same reason. And when screenwriter Tim Firth reworked it for the stage, the premiere London production chalked up advance sales of more than $3 million even before the show opened. The promise of titillation sells — but Firth’s script has sturdier aspirations than the need to display a bit of skin.
There’s no denying that Kanata Theatre’s production delivers some robustly funny moments near the end of Act One when the various participants in the calendar project — some quaking with anxiety, others proudly assertive — start disrobing for the camera. That’s when various concealing objects — flowers, bits of fruit — come into discreet play as the women display themselves in the not-quite altogether. (Continue reading » )
Photo: Susan Sinchak
By Tim Firth
Directed by Tania Carrière
Any production of Calendar Girls presents special challenges. The storyline, a slightly fictionalized version of true events at a Women’s Institute in northern England, is the basis of a 2003 movie starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. It is so well known, that there is little room for any surprises on stage. In addition, the concept — a group of mature women posing discreetly nude behind some protective covering to raise funds for charity — has since been adopted and adapted for numerous assorted fundraising ventures (including at least two in the Ottawa area).
Although the flash of bare flesh on stage for each of the six women who drop their robes for a few seconds is not the main focus of Calendar Girls, it is often the point of concentration of pre-show publicity and audience awareness. The main goal of the script is to focus on the bonding and friendship among the group. But because the key photography/nude scene closes the first act, director and cast are likely to have difficulty in maintaining momentum through Act II. The attempts to fill in the women’s back-stories have limited success and the falling out between the two women behind the calendar project is too under-written to be entirely credible. (Continue reading » )
Photo: Nick Vaughan
Created by Rachel Chavkin, Libby King, Jake Margolin, & Kristen Sieh
The Team, a Brooklyn, NY based company, known for their devised works, draws on American history and culture to develop their quirky, imaginative material which they tour widely. RoosevElvis, currently playing at the A.R.T.’s Oberon Theatre in Cambridge, brings together two American icons, the early twentieth-century President Theodore Roosevelt and the mid- twentieth-century rock and roll artist Elvis Presley. Today, Roosevelt is often thought of as an exaggerated version of the manly man, as he is presented in RoosevElvis and played by actress Kristen Sieh. She also gives the character an extremely funny outmoded aristocratic American accent. Libby King’s Elvis is a gentler soul who toughens up with karate and whose sexual orientation is vague. Each actress plays two roles.
The first scene, perhaps the most comic, has them perched on two high directors’ chairs, Roosevelt, wearing a long waxed mustache and sideburns, and Elvis in an oversized wig and sunglasses. Speaking with increasing rapidity, they discuss their backgrounds. “I never wrote any of my songs,” laments Elvis; “I wrote forty-five books,” brags Roosevelt. The conversation ultimately becomes so competitive that it resembles a game. Their rivalry continues throughout the play as both men try to flaunt their masculinity. Elvis kicks boxes karate style; Roosevelt punches images of buffalos. The fluidity of gender is an underlying theme. In an odd moment, Roosevelt turns into a convincing and graceful ballerina. (Continue reading » )
The XV Europe Theatre Prize took place from 23 to 26 April in Craiova, Romania, following on from the prestigious International Shakespeare Festival, which this year reached its tenth edition. This year the ETP, held under the patronage of the city of Craiova, which chose to link the two events, was organized in conjunction with the Shakespeare Foundation and the ‘Marin Sorescu’ National Theatre, with the contribution of the Romanian Institute of Culture.
During the first day, as a fitting continuation of the International Shakespeare Festival, the Prize hosted two performances inspired by the Bard of Avon as part of the Returns section: Giulio Cesare, pezzi staccati, by Romeo Castellucci, and Richard III, directed by Thomas Ostermeier.
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“Web of Trust” by Edit Kaldor Photo: Luc Vleminck
Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels: “La nuit des taupes” (Welcome to Caveland!) by Philippe Quesne (Nanterre-Amandiers – centre dramatique national) and “Web of Trust” by Edit Kaldor (Stichting Kata, Amsterdam).
Reporting from a theatre festival is a special task. Often a reviewer watches two or three shows in one day, participates in discussions, meets friends and students. The work is hectic. Still the thinking must be done and the critical opinion proposed.
In the following, I provide some observations on two productions I saw in Brussels on May 8, 2016. Although La nuit des taupes (Welcome to Caveland!) by Philippe Quesne and Web of Trust by Edit Kaldor are radically different in their performative styles, they share a specific concern, something that I see more as a unifying-thread in the 2016 edition of Kunstenfestivaldesarts. (Continue reading » )
Photo. Courtesy of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels, Belgium . Yana Meerzon sends in this comment on the production.
Playwright and director Toshiki Okada; Sound and set design Tsuyoshi Hisakado; Featuring Izumi Aoyagi, Mari Ando, Yo Yoshida; presented at the 2016 Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels, Belgium, in Japanese with subtitles in French and Dutch.
Toshiki Okada is one of the most innovative theatre writers and directors from Japan, whose work has continuously appeared at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels, Belgium. In his recent plays, Okada repeatedly attempted to reflect upon the consequences of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. In Current Location (2012) and Ground and Floor (2013), he was addressing the pressing psychological and social issues of life/death interdependency – the source of much reflexion in Japan in the aftermath of the disaster.
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Photo: Maria Vartanova
The Mouse House
By Robert Ainsworth
Ottawa Little Theatre
Billed as a thriller — but actually more of a tale of sibling rivalry — The Mouse House by Peterborough playwright Robert Ainsworth grinds along rather than sending chills down the spine.
Ainsworth has been careful in preparing his situation. His protagonist, Carson, a successful author, returns to the isolated family cottage in 2006 to overcome his writer’s block and complete his latest his novel (on a portable typewriter), turning down his agent’s offer of a cellphone, so that she can keep in contact with him. Isolation confirmed. When a young drug addict breaks into the cottage, Carson cannot easily reach out for help.
Much of the ensuing drama is divided into blackout-separated short sequences depicting the shifting relationship between the two. Carson seems gentle, timid and kind. Troy seems a kid in need of help.
The tug-of-war is eventually resolved because Carson’s anxious literary agent asks his brother, Thomas, a long-haul truck driver, to check on Carson. To say more would be to reveal the twist in The Mouse House tale (tail). (Continue reading » )