September, 2016

Macbeth: Bear and Company’s production bears little resemblance to great play

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Photo: Andrew Alexander

The final moment of Bear and Company’s production of Macbeth tells all. That’s when cast members assemble on the stage of the Gladstone Theatre and embrace sunny ways with a beautifully sung choral rendition of the sentimental Skye Boat Song. This as a climax to one of the bloodiest plays in the Shakespearean repertoire? Ironically, the lyrical musical interruptions — bizarre though they be — provide the evening with its best performed moments. Unfortunately, they have absolutely no relevance to Shakespeare’s blood-soaked tragedy.

Yes, we’re still getting the stuff of nightmares here, but they have nothing to do with the play itself and everything to do with Eleanor Crowder’s haphazard production. It’s an offering which has been on view this past summer in outdoor performances. But its transfer to a proper indoor venue does not sanctify legitimacy. This is not serious Shakespeare. Unless audience members already know the play, it’s doubtful whether they’ll have any idea of what’s going on. And if they do know the play, they may still be bewildered as a result of the cuts made to the text, the failure to bring even the most famous scenes into dramatic focus, and by a largely female cast playing a variety of roles. Stratford threw some gender-neutral casting into its 2016 production
of Breath Of Kings — a move that was the least satisfactory feature of an otherwise outstanding piece of theatre. Those who endorse the practice seem to think they’re making some sort of politically significant statement; others more sensibly may see it as a pointless need to be trendy. Eleanor Crowder’s director’s notes for this Macbeth argue that in the world of the play, women’s power “is clandestine but not pervasive” and that this production plays with that reality.

“Where the Queen’s Men dressed men to play women, we do the reverse.” Hence we have Duncan, the doomed King of Scotland, portrayed, not as a venerable ancient, but by Zoe Georgaras in the manner of a precocious schoolgirl. To be sure, there has been a move to more youth-oriented productions of the Scottish play in recent years, but this casting seems extreme. It ultimately doesn’t convince. That being said, the undeniably talented Georgaras remains the most watchable performer on stage, especially with her amusing cameo as Seyton the complaining porter. But you were also wishing you were instead seeing her in a role that would really suit her — as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or as Ariel in The Tempest, a part she has performed elsewhere. (more…)

Musical “You Are Here” Impressive at 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Linda Cash. Photo: Stephen Wild

Linda Kash.
Photo: Stephen Wild

The 1000 Islands Playhouse is closing out their season with an absorbing world premiere of “You Are Here,” a one-woman musical with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and book by Brian Hill.  It’s inaccurate in a way to call “You Are Here” one-woman, as Diana, in a splendid performance by Linda Kash, also has conversations with other people in her life such as a stoned Viet Nam vet and her friend Joan with her distinctively messy hair-do.

Diana’s story begins as she’s watching the first moon landing in 1969.  Inspired by the adventurous astronauts, she decides to leave her home and explore the world outside her protective cocoon of habit and husband.  As she says, “It’s amazing the years I spent teaching myself not to see.”

Dana Osborne’s simple and effective set has a low platform upstage for the musicians backed by a huge rising moon covered with draped and scrunched fabric.  In front of the platform there’s a single park bench and a small moon is suspended over the audience.  Jason Hand’s expert lighting takes full advantage of the moon backdrop and Miss Osborne’s costume for Diana is amazingly versatile.  As for William Fallon’s sound, it’s first rate. (more…)

Spring Awakening: The Musical – Authenticity Permeates the Show

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Spring Awakening: The Musical, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German play, is about many things: coming of age amid sexual and other late 19th century bourgeois repressions; the chasm between generations; the sometimes dire consequences of challenging the prevailing social ethos.

As well – and this seems especially important in light of our own era’s cynicism and our confused sense of what’s real and what’s merely artifice (our digital lives, for example) – the show is about trust and authenticity. It’s about discovering and trusting who one really is, finding the determination to live authentically in the face of a social order deeply opposed to the individual’s need for self-expression, love, sexual connection.

You may know the storyline already. In a nutshell, a group of young people find themselves severely constrained by their society, their church, their families. Hypocrisy, cruelty and power call the shots, causing some of the young people to crumble but others to assert their individuality and pursue what they perceive as right. The narrative, with its rock/pop score, is fundamentally dark despite the unfortunate Hollywood ending tacked on in keeping with the tradition of musicals.

Orpheus’ rendering of this story is rewarding on many levels, but it is the sense of trust and authenticity permeating the show that shines most brightly. For that, choreographer Lola Ryan deserves special applause. (more…)

How iRan: A thoughtful and intriguing production

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Disruption and reconstruction: That’s the experience of regular immigrants and refugees alike as their lives are first scrambled and then rebuilt in a new land. It’s also to some extent what those in the host country experience as the existence they’ve always known is challenged by people with different perspectives, beliefs and languages.

Now disruption and reconstruction come to the Ottawa Public Library’s main branch thanks to How iRan, a site-specific iPod play – well, actually three plays – by Calgary-based playwright Ken Cameron. The Ottawa Fringe Festival is presenting the production.

Based on interviews with new Canadians and a prisoner of conscience, Cameron’s text is about an Iranian man named Ramin who leaves behind his wife and son when he comes to Canada. Once here, he lands a job as a security guard in a library where he meets the librarian Emily. Complications, some serious and some humorous, ensue including the eventual arrival of his son Hossein and Ramin’s wife.

Cameron, who also directs, has made an audio recording of the narrative, which is played out in 25 scenes. He’s put the play on three differently coloured iPods, each containing about one-third of the entire piece. Audience members get an iPod with the narrative order shuffled and then, prompted by the recording, go to different stations in the library to listen to scenes in a random order. In effect, each audience member hears a customized play. (more…)

Spring Awakening The Musical: Orpheus Musical Theatre is now in the big leagues!!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo: The Orpheus cast and production team.

The original German version of the play was published in 1891 and then performed by Wedekind’s own company in 1906. Because of the subject matter where adolescents were concerned, it created much controversy and was not staged in German until after WWII while the American musical was first staged in 2006 based on a new English language translation that followed the one that appeared in 1917. Such a long and controversial history which also includes a movie, makes it difficult to keep track of this show which appears nowadays to fuse two time periods, two visions of the theatre, nevertheless producing a most stunning story and perfectly constructed scenario, built around a tragic vision of young people .

The play shows how a society that represses young people, brings with it all forms of destruction, even after the moment when the central sexual taboo has been transgressed, the downfall of all those who have grown with a sense of guilt in relation to their bodies, cannot be avoided. Tragedy is inevitable because the evil worm has been planted too deeply in their minds. . This devastating critique of the stern bourgeois society at the end of the 19th Century, is represented by the way young people listen to the needs of their bodies, and their most natural desires , but this awakening of sexuality is repressed by parents who imposed a military-like regime on their young ones at that time. And this in depth analysis of sexual repression relies on Freud’s news notions of the psyche that started appearing at the same period. The performance becomes a fascinating mixture of sexual fantasy, and real confrontation with unyielding social institutions that wield their power over natural human instincts.

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The Last Romance. A slight play well performed.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

 

Operas don’t have happy endings. So don’t expect one from The Last Romance, which is punctuated by the protagonist’s memories of operatic arias.

Playwright Joe DiPietro, the author of the highly successful Over the River and Through the Woods and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (with composer Jimmy Roberts), again focuses on the flowering of an unlikely love connection in The Last Romance.

Even more, this is a play about loneliness from three different perspectives. The recently widowed Ralph Bellini, once an aspiring opera singer, is searching for human companionship in someone other than his embittered sister, Rose. Meanwhile, she harbours the vain hope that the husband who left her 22 years earlier will come back to her. Carol, alone since her husband’s massive stroke, devotes her time and love to her small rescue dog, Peaches (played with ease by Navi, herself a rescue dog). Since Ralph saw Carol at the dog park, he determines to meet her…a step on the way to his last romance.

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Kanata Theatre’s Last Romance: Good actors coping with an inadequate script

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

The best reason for seeing Kanata Theatre’s production of the 201l play, Last Romance, is the performance of Brooke Keneford as a  lonely widower who strikes up a friendship with a stranger in a dog park.

Keneford communicates a rough-hewn charm as Ralph Bellini, an opera-loving Italian American who’s desperate for companionship — and maybe, just maybe, a late-flowering romance. He’s gregarious yet vulnerable. His social skills are rusty — and, in an era obsessed with  political correctness, his initial overtures to the aloof dog-walking Carol could be seen as sexual harassment.

But Keneford gives Ralph an outgoing likeability that is irresistible while also making us aware of the aching personal loss he continues to experience as a result of his wife’s  death.
It comes as no surprise that a friendship takes root, followed by a sense of closer companionship that ultimately leads to a romance of sorts. But before the end, Joe DiPietro’s script takes an unexpected turn — and not a particularly satisfactory one as hidden truths are revealed. The climax yearns to be bittersweet — but it really makes you realize how psychologically unconvincing the play really is.

Heather Walt’s uncertain production doesn’t really paper over the faults. The evening begins with an interminable back projection of a video showing dogs and their owners  at the National Capital Commission’s Bruce Pit site. It’s a bad idea and contributes nothing useful; once the play begins, Al Quirt’s excellent sound design quickly makes us aware that we’re in a dog park

Then there’s the clumsy use of operatic arias to haunt Ralph’s memories of once aspiring to sing at the Met. Perhaps the script does require someone to emerge, wraith-like, from the shadows, to attempt a bit of singing, but for a number of reasons these moments simply do not work.  A further problem is lack of fluidity. Designer Gordon Wait’s  thoughtful and functional contributions should meet the challenge of a play with three different settings — but prolonged scene changes indicate a failure to take advantage of them.

The play seeks to offer an examination of loneliness among the elderly. That it becomes mired in implausibility near the end makes it tricky to bring off in performance. Keneford, who’s always been good at exploring the nuances of character, ensures Ralph the credibility he needs. Sandy Wynne, as the dog-walking object of his admiration, is touching in her shyness and self-containment, and very affecting in a crucial moment of revelation near the end — but by this time the script is starting to lose plausibility.
A different kind of loneliness is on display in the performance of Susan Monaghan as Ralph’s sister Rose — an embittered woman who is still seething over the husband who left her years before and now finds some kind of solace in caring for her widowed brother instead.  Monaghan gives us a Rose of ferocious possessiveness. She tries to give her character some sympathetic traits but it’s a losing battle. And by the end we know that she’s capable in her own way of destroying the happiness of others. There’s something sour about a play that has someone like Rose ultimately calling the shots.

Last Romance by Joe DiPietro’s
A Kanata Theatre production
Ron Maslin Playhouse  to Oct. 1

Director; Heather Walt
Sets: Gordon Walt
Costumes: Marilyn Valiquette
Sound: Tom Kobolak

Ralph Bellini: Brooke Keneford
Carol Reynolds: Sandy Wynne
Rose Tagliatelle: Susan Monaghan
Peaches: Navi

OLT’s Boeing-Boeing a booming success

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Critic Kenneth Tynan once famously remarked that the hallmark of any really effective drama required key characters caught up in desperate circumstances.

He argued that his definition encompassed Shakespeare’s Hamlet unable to make up his mind. But he also emphasized that it reflected classic ingredients of boulevard farce.

Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing, which romped exuberantly on stage at Ottawa Little Theatre last week, harvests one of the most durable of farcical situations — the womanizer whose philandering world starts coming apart. Bernard is a Parisien playboy who has three airline hostesses on the string — one American, one Italian and one German. Each considers herself his fiancee — and Bernard has come up with a masterful scheme for keeping them away from each other. He sees them only during their layovers in Paris — so, with the handy assistance of airline timetables, he’s able to make sure that once he has breakfast with Gloria, she’ll be on her way before Gabriella arrives at lunchtime. And, of course, if Gretchen arrives in town around dinnertime he’ll be able to accommodate her as well.

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Boeing-Boeing : This record-setting contemporary version of a French farce is given an Americanized but very amusing production.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo: Maria Vartanova

A well-organized Lothario can handle three fiancées, as long as flight schedules do not change suddenly.

That might have worked in the 1960s, the time frame for Boeing-Boeing, but even then fight delays and airplanes being grounded in bad weather make the ride to infidelity very bumpy.

Marc Camelotti’s farce set records as the world’s most performed French play in the 1960s. The Beverley Cross translation ran for seven years in London’s West End. The version currently being staged by Ottawa Little Theatre is Francis Evans’ Americanized revision of the Cross translation. (It comes across as somewhat anti-American, particularly in its presentation of the New York feminist.)

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Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief. A theatrical mishmash

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief By Paula Vogel
A production of the Three Sisters Theatre Company
Director: Bronwyn Steinberg

What a waste of talent! Robin Guy is a fine performer. Élise Gauthier and Gabrielle Lalonde move well. But in Paula Vogel’s dated and unpleasant view of feminism, awkwardly directed by Bronwyn Steinberg, the three are simply part of a theatrical mish-mash punctuated by repetitive stylized movement that makes 90 minutes seem twice as long.

The purpose of Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief is apparently that control comes to women only through their husbands and independence only through prostitution. The three different accents used by the three characters are intended to define class and the way individuals are imprisoned by their origins. Presumably, the beige laundry that forms the bland set and much of the stage business is meant to underline the household duties assigned to women.

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Past Reviews