September, 2016

Desdemona : a play about a Handkerchief : A Lumbering production whose validity is not evident…

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: George Salhani.

Paula Vogel’s Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.

It emerges at the Gladstone as some sort of muddled feminist retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello. In the process, it turns the original tragedy on its ear, presenting Othello’s wife, Desdemona, as some kind of whore who has slept with just about everybody in town and who is turned on by phallic symbolism. (more…)

Significant Other: Rising Playwright’s New Comedy

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

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Photo: Justin Saglio

Playwright Joshua Harmon first came to notice with his highly successful biting comedy Bad Jews, in which family members fight tooth and nail. His new piece, the simpler Significant Other, presented by Boston’s SpeakEasy Company, focuses on the egocentric, yet generous; impulsive, but wary and obsessive Jordan Berman played by the talented Greg Maraio. Jordan, a gay New Yorker, socializes with his best friends, Kiki (Sarah Elizabeth Bedard), Vanessa (Kris Sidberry), and Laura (Jordan Clark) all professional women of different ethnicities, approximately his age. They go out for dinner, drink, confide in each other, joke, and talk and talk. The women offer him advice. Although they are all in their late twenties, their lives have an adolescent quality.

At the opening as Jordan dances on with the women in a routine reminiscent of an old musical comedy film that sets the playful mood of the friendship. The dance, repeated several times during the show, reflects Jordan’s fantasy life in which he is the main figure, indispensable to each woman. However, his life begins to feel empty as one by one they acquire boyfriends and begin to think of marriage and children. In one of his despairing moments, he laments that he is twenty-nine years old and has never been told he was loved.

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“…our own reality, like Kemeid’s text, remains ambiguous and undecided.” Aeneid at Stratford.

Reviewed by Yana Meerzon

First published in alt.theatre, September 13,  2016. http://alttheatre.ca/2016/09/13/yana-meerzon-reviews-the-aeneid-at-stratford-until-oct-4/

In today’s political, economic and social climate, with mass migration turning into a new norm, it is impossible not to think of Olivier Kemeid’s dramaturgy as farsighted and foretelling. The Quebecois playwright published L’Eneide, his dramatic adaptation of Virgil’s poem, in 2008 before the current migration crisis. Yet with its tenacious questioning of the potential impact of the presence of new immigrants on the rapidly changing western world, Kemeid’s adaption of Virgil’s The Aeneid becomes tremendously urgent. Through its poetic language, stylized movement and surrealist imagery, both Kemeid’s text and director Keira Loughran’s production speak of migration in historical and philosophical terms, aiming for a deeper understanding of the encounter between ordinary people (migrants) and nation-states.

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Torch Song Trilogy:A major piece of theatre and a production not to be missed!

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Harvey Fierstein’s landmark drama Torch Song Trilogy shocked many when it premiered in 1982. Now, almost 35 years later, this autobiographical tale is primarily seen as a portrait of the lead character’s rocky journey towards a stable family life and some type of resolution of his relationship with his mother.

Simply put, the TotoToo Theatre production, directed by Sarah Hearn, is powerful and moving. The play — actually three one-act plays depicting three different stages in drag queen Arnold’s life — belies its immense length both because of the quality of the performances and the well-maintained rhythm throughout.

There are appropriately ugly moments, such as the simulated sex in the dimly lit back room. There are many gentle connections, between lovers and between parents and children. There are flashes of humour, anger, sorrow and yearning. This is a rounded picture of a life by the man who also wrote the books for the stage musicals La Cage Aux Folles and Kinky Boots.

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Toto Too Triumphs with Torch Song Trilogy

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Poster photo by Maria Vartanova

Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein. Directed by Sarah Hearn.
Performed at the University of Ottawa, Academic Hall.

Ottawa’s new theatre season has received a stellar launching thanks to TotoToo’s production of Harvey Fierstein’s contemporary classic, Torch Song Trilogy. Here’s decisive evidence of its quality. This account of a young New York drag queen’s life journey through a period of turbulence, both personal and societal, occupies three separate plays, each lasting more than an hour. This adds up to a total running time, including two intermissions, of more than four hours. This means it’s longer than Hamlet, longer than Gone With The Wind, but shorter than The Ring Cycle. So yes, it is terribly long. But what’s important here is that Sarah Hearn’s outstanding production, so seamless in its blending of humour and pathos, ensures that the time flies by.

The show is both entertaining and provocative, and it features exceptional performances. But the other night, it attracted only a hand-full of patrons to a performance at Academic Hall. This is a disgrace. It should be selling out.

It’s hard to believe that this is the first Ottawa production of an autobiographical piece that has acquired legendary status since its Tony Award-winning Broadway premiere 35 years ago. Back then, Harvey Fierstein himself took on the central role of Arnold Beckoff, this middle-class Jewish boy who must deal with both the joys and travails of being gay. Torch Song Trilogy went on to win the coveted Tony Award and run for more than 1200 performance.

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John Gabriel Borkman: two stellar acting performances highlight Stratford’s Ibsen revival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Hou

STRATFORD, Ont. —  Henrik Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman can be a tricky play to bring off.

We might assume that its main focus is the title character — a disgraced banker who has gone to prison for his misdeeds and later, in the confinement of his house, endlessly paces his upper-floor retreat while consoling himself with futile dreams of a return to public favour. But we assume wrong. Borkman’s plight may seem to be an attention-getting dramatic  situation — but not when it’s trumped by the powerhouse roles that  Ibsen has written for two women.

One is Borkman’s long-suffering wife, Gunhild, played with soured intensity by Lucy Peacock. The other is her formidable twin sister, Ella. She is Borkman’s ex-mistress, and she’s dying of a terminal illness. Yet, in Seana McKenna’s gripping performance, she is displaying her own steely fortitude and determination.

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Des Ruines de Jean-Luc Raharimanana. Le théâtre malgache brille!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

Des Ruines de Jean Luc Raharimanana, mise en scène de Thierry Bedard.

Des ruines bedard_rahrimanana_phchristophe_raynaud_de_lage-300x200Ce puissant monologue  du  poète malgache, Jean-Luc Raharimanana, déjà connu pour Les Cauchemars du Gecko présenté à Avignon est une révélation pour le public. Grâce à la transformation de l’acteur congolais Phil Darwin Nianga, connu jusqu’alors  comme humoriste et roi du «  stand up ».
Un jour, Thierry Bedard, a remarqué la « folie » de cet acteur pendant un de ses spectacles, et a compris que l’humour ravageur de cet homme occultait des dons d’un grand tragédien. Bedard ne s’était pas trompé . Le résultat: une rencontre entre le poème de Raharimanana, le jeu bouleversant de Nianga et le regard très nuancé d’un remarquable directeur d’acteurs et d’un adaptateur de textes à la scène. L’ensemble de cette petite équipe produit un spectacle dont la force humaine, poétique et artistique, dépasse le cadre habituel d’une expérience théâtrale et nous renvoie à la théâtralisation d’une pensée quasi métaphysique autour des conséquences de la colonisation en Afrique. (more…)

Stratford tackles Quebec dramatist’s take on The Aeneid — with mixed results

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Hou. The Aeneid, adapted by Olivier Kermeid.

STRATFORD, Ont. — It’s the intimate moments that have the most profound  impact in The Stratford Festival’s production of Quebec playwright Olivier Kemeid’s The Aeneid .

We’re dealing with the refugee crisis here. So we have this scene where a  mother, in anguish over the loss of her own child,  spots an infant  among her fellow fugitives  and picks him up — refusing to relinquish him to his father, Aeneas, the central figure in this ambitious retelling of Virgil’s poem.

A sequence like this defines the terrible reality of the refugee experience. But ultimately it’s the way it moves from the universal to the particular that gives it such   tragic intimacy. As the grieving mother, Lanise Antoine Shelley is lacerating in her display of a ravaged soul. But then the intervention of the woman’s husband, portrayed with compelling power by Rodrigo Beilfuss, again pierces the heart: please, he asks Aeneas, allow this poor woman to pretend at least for a time that this is her own child she’s holding.

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