August, 2016

Stratford serves up a bowel-obsessed version of Moliere.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Hou  Stephen Ouimette as Argon.

Le Medecin Malgré lui (The Hypochondriac) by Molière. In a new version by Richard Bean from a literal translation by Chris Campbell, directed by  Antoni Cimolino

STRATFORD, Ont. —  Initially, nothing much seems to be happening when the lights go up on the stage of the Festival Theatre. There’s just Argon, this bedraggled creature in a grubby nightgown, painstakingly going through a pile of papers that turn out to be bills for medical treatment. But as Argon goes through these documents,  on occasion almost fondling them with indecent affection, it becomes clear that these billings are mainly in the service of one  preoccupation — the state of his bowels.

By this time we should also be conscious that he’s enthroned on a commode, intent on passing a stool while he does his paperwork. Indeed, it won’t be long before he’s checking its contents — and this very act signals rapture more than than it does revulsion.

We’re also becoming conscious of veteran actor Stephen Ouimette’s brilliant way of  using detail — the tiniest of detail — as his building blocks. It’s his way of bringing to life the character of the vain, ludicrously self-absorbed Argon in the Stratford Festival’s production of The Hypochondriac.

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Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education at the American Repertory Theatre.

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

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Notes from the Field: Doing Time in EducationLearning from Anna Deavere Smith. Directed by Leonard Foglia . 

Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

This production, premiering at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre, while it stands alone as a work of art, is the latest piece in Anna Deavere Smith’s long-term project “On the Road: A Search for American Character.” Three of her earlier works have played at the A.R.T. Fires in the Mirror dealt with the Crown Heights riots in which two minority groups, Blacks and Hasidic Jews turned against each other following an automobile accident in which the Jewish religious leader struck two black children, killing one and injuring the other. Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 revolved around the violent events that followed the acquittal of the white police officers who had brutally beaten Rodney King, a black man. Let Me Down Easy, although political in that it addresses health care in the US and was created in the midst of the long hard fight to extend government aid to those unable to pay for private insurance, also recounted tales of athletes on drugs, and focused more on stories of celebrities than is her wont.

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Jacqui Du Toit sets fire to the Gladstone stage recreating her personal tribute to Sarah Baartman.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo:      Jacqui Du Toit as narrator in The Hottentot Venus Untold.

No actor would dare become Sarah Baartman, the young South African woman who was abducted from her native Cape Town in 1810 and whisked off to London and the continent where she was paraded around public fairs and popular entertainment spots, exhibited as a freak and a strange savage. Her anatomy titillated British audiences, excited French audiences and inspired French scientists to conduct positivist inspired experiments on her body just to determine whether she was a human being or a beast, shoving her inner parts into bottles of formaldehyde which ended up in the Musée de l’homme in Paris. Mme Du Toit who in no way resembles the “Hottentot Venus” clearly realized that the only way to establish a portrait of this tortured victim of racism and colonial cruelty, was to produce various testimonies of her life given by imaginary characters whose stories were based on historical fact. Given current advances in historiography, testimonials, like all forms of memory, are considered material which contributes to the construction of history. Such is the case of Latin American victims of torture or survivors of the Shoah , events where documentation is not always available and where official historians were not present. Yet those who suffered, or who observed the suffering, always remember what happened and that is what is highlighted in this show.

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A Grand Time in the Rapds, Light-Hearted Farce et the 1000 Thousand Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo: Jay Kopinski

“A Grand Time in the Rapids” by award-winning Canadian playwright Stewart Lemoine is billed as “a frivolous fast-paced farce” and it certainly is. It features Thalia, (Tess Degenstein), newly arrived in Grand Rapids from England and Ted, (Paul Dunn), an etiquette expert who arrives to monitor and direct Thalia’s confession to her boyfriend Boyd, (Craig Pike), the details of her rather lurid past.

That’s all I’ll say, as I don’t want to reveal the surprising twists of this odd-ball plot. Suffice it to say there are lots of thrown drinks, wet clothes, quick changes, and slamming of doors in this unusual farce that for a change is not about sex.

The set, designed by Jung-Hye Kim, shows Thalia’s apartment with minimal furniture and a pile of trunks and suitcases framed by a brick proscenium. The wallpaper has a design of stylized waves and there are 3 good solid doors plus a swing door to the kitchen. Her costumes are also good, especially Thalia’s dresses which clearly set the play in the 50s. Rebecca Picherack’s lighting is fine, except that the table lamp needs to come up a couple of points when the stage lights come up.

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An Inspector Calls gets solid treatment at Perth

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

There’s no denying the polemic in J.B. Priestley’s 1944 classic, An Inspector Calls. And it’s not played down in the Perth Classic Theatre Festival’s excellent production. That’s evident from the compelling moment near the end when actor William Vickers, excellent as the play’s mysterious Inspector Goole, confronts the audience and warns of the “fire and blood and anguish” that will descend on society if human beings fail to recognize their collective responsibilities to each other.

The play wears its socialist colours proudly, as did its author throughout a remarkably long career. And when Britain’s National Theatre unveiled a historic revival in 1992, the notes in the printed program took unflinching aim at Margaret Thatcher’s notorious assertion that “there is no such thing as society” and therefore no case to be made for shared human concerns.

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The Stratford Festival’s Bunny has sex on her mind.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Bunny – On The Run 2016

Photo: David Hou. Maev Beaty and David Patrick Flemming.

STRATFORD, Ont. — Hanna Moscovitch’s new play, Bunny, had its world premiere at the Stratford Festival the other afternoon — and this was a cue for theatre staff to go all cutesy for the occasion by wearing rabbit ears on their heads.

Given that we were definitely not in for a cosy afternoon of G-rated entertainment in the company of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, it was more than a little bizarre to be confronted by ticket takers decked out like participants in a kiddies’ picnic. Or perhaps this was intended as some sort of ironic statement on the numerous sexual couplings we would soon be witnessing in the intimacy of the festival’s tiny Studio Theatre.

“Let me tell you about Sorrel,” announces Maev Beaty, the resourceful actress who will be guiding us through this saga of unquenchable sexuality and unfulfilled needs. Beaty is actually portraying Sorrel herself, although the script requires her to discuss her character in the third person. And Sorrel’s nickname is “Bunny” — hence the title — and that comes from that frightened rabbit-in-the-headlights look she gets when she’s in situations where her lack of social skills leaves her unable to cope.

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An Inspector Calls: A Cohesive Production of a British Classic is the Final Play of the Perth Summer Season

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Poster from the Perth  Classic Theatre Festival. An Inspector calls  by J.B. Priestley, Directed by Laurel Smith. Classic Theatre Festival.     

Part social manifesto and part drawing-room drama, An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley is a play with a strong message about responsibility, caring and guilt. Add to this the playwright’s signature interest in time shifts and his criticism of class divisions in Great Britain immediately before the First World War and the scene is set for the inspector of the title to call on the wealthy Birling family and dent their complacency.

An Inspector Calls, which premiered in Russia in 1945 and in England the next year, is Priestley’s best-known play. It is frequently used as part of the British high school curriculum because of its value as an instrument of social history, as well as its interest as one of the classics of 20th-century drama.

As such, it fits in well with the Classic Theatre Festival mandate of presenting popular plays of the 1920s to the 1970s. It also poses a number of problems for any director because of its wordiness and lack of subtlety. In addition, audiences today are less tolerant of three-act plays (hence the usual condensation to two acts) and the often lengthy exposition.

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New Play “In a Blue Moon” a hit in Gananoque

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo: David Cooper

Blue Moon by Lucia Frangione, directed by Daryl Cloran.

The world premiere of Canadian playwright Lucia Frangione’s new play “In a Blue Moon” is definitely worth a trip to Gananoque. It tells the story of Ava, a widow, (Anita Wittenberg), and her six-year-old daughter Frankie, (Emma Tow – Miss Wittenberg’s real-life daughter), who move to an inherited cottage. There they find Will, (Brett Christopher), a free-lance photographer and Ava’s brother-in-law, already in residence. As their relationships change and grow, we find ourselves increasingly caught up in their emotions and lives.

Drew Facey’s abstract and creative wooden cottage is backed by a giant moon. The cottage has an upper level which functions as both a bedroom and the roof. There’s also a free-standing and very slammable door. The moon is used as a screen for Conor Moore’s terrific projections and his lighting is also very good. John Gzowski’s music and sound are very effective and the costumes, designed by Marian Truscott, are just fine. I loved Frankie’s pajamas.

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The Shaw Festival delivers a worthwhile Dance Of Death

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: Emily Cooper.

There’s a peculiar moment in the Shaw Festival’s production of The Dance Of Death when a character arrives on stage carrying a head of cabbage.

But that moment has purpose. And it does have a connection to the emotional mayhem engulfing the stage. It’s also a reminder of director Martha Henry’s crafty approach to this potentially troublesome play. Given its volatile sensibility, why not introduce an an element of absurdity into a dramatic situation mired in marital discord? But no — perhaps “discord” doesn’t really describe the scalding enmity existing between Edgar, this perpetually soured artillery captain, and his resentful spouse, Alice, on the eve of their silver wedding anniversary.

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The Servant of Two Masters renews commedia acting without betraying the spirit of Goldoni. A beautiful evening in Strathcona park.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo. Barb  Gray/Zack Counsil as Brighella and Sean Sullivan as Pantalone.

This rollicking production of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters , under the direction of Andy Massingham is intended to bring us back thirty years when Ottawa’s Odyssey Theatre Company first introduced Commedia dell’arte to the capital. This is in fact the same play but it isn’t the same production and that is the great lesson Massingham has taught us this time : adapting a play does not necessarily mean imitating slavishly the original text, the original style and the original way of performing the event. The question becomes therefore, when is a play no longer the play we thought we were watching?

I came across a similar dilemma this year with Dostoevsky’s The Double performed and directed by Adam Paolozza at the NAC, not because it was badly performed but because it had nothing to do with Dostoevsky’s novel except for some of the situations and some quotes from the original text that always appeared to be taken out of context. The problem was that Paolozza turned Dostoevsky’s disturbing book about paranoia into a clown show but the Russian protagonist is not a clown. He is going out of his mind in a nightmarish adventure .  Thus the Toronto  Company  might have advertised their version of the Double as a play “loosely inspired by The Double”.  As it was, their show was a serious misrepresentation of the Russian writer’s work and one could guess that Paolozza, who is interested in corporeal theatre, appeared to be using the text as a crutch for his own brilliant comic stage work that seemed to give little thought to the original narrative or characterization.

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