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

Southern Dis-Comfort: An evening of fun

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Image courtesy of Eddie May Mysteries

Image courtesy of Eddie May Mysteries

Southern Dis-Comfort

By Dan Lalande and Noel Counsil

Eddie May Murder Mysteries

Directed by Thea Nikolic

Murder mystery dinner theatre is not intended to be taken seriously. Neither should it be viewed in the same light as regular theatre.

Rather, the mystery is the frame for a variety of clichés about characters and plot, bookended by a meal and a miniscule amount of suspense as the audience solves whodunit. Audience members must also be prepared to interact with cast members in character while they are eating. In addition, they should be ready to laugh a lot between mouthfuls.

For two decades or more, Eddie May Mysteries have proved conclusively that the formula works. Now, the company has expanded to a second venue — the Velvet Room attached to Fat Tuesdays restaurant in Kanata Centrum.

Southern Dis-Comfort by Dan Lalande and Eddie May founder Noel Counsil is the first show to play at both the downtown and the west end location. The storyline not only speaks of murder and mayhem at the Caj-Inn hunting lodge in Louisiana, but also provides a vehicle for banter about Canada versus the U.S. and even a few moments of song. There are also some slow-down film-like segments that work very well. (Continue reading » )

‘da Kink is powerful as ever, but keeps the present at arms length

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: Trudie Lee

Photo: Trudie Lee

Trey Anthony’s influence in Canadian theatre is remarkable, and ‘da Kink in My Hair sits at the very heart of her contributions to Canadian culture. Originally a box-office-breaking Toronto Fringe offering in 2001, the play has taken on a life of its own and evolved into a modern classic. It has been adapted for television and re-worked as a musical. As part of a partnership between the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Theatre Calgary, the musical has just finished its run in Calgary and now Ottawa audiences are fortunate to see Trey Anthony reprising her role as Novelette at the National Arts Centre until November 5.

Anthony as Novelette is irreverent, saucy, and no-nonsense. The character brings humour and healing to the other women that come through her salon. More importantly, Novelette is also a key literary device that underpins the whole production. Her name may be your first clue that she is the “man behind the curtain” so to speak, and the all-knowing curator of the stories that we hear in this transcendental space. The setting, Letty’s Salon, is a shifting type of reality that allows these women’s stories to be woven together. It’s a space that incorporates a touch of magical realism and, paired with the musical elements of the production, emphasize the indeterminate nature of the stage. The set design by Cory Sincennes blends modern and retro elements. Red-framed mirrors adorn the walls, while dryer chairs and hair cutting stations flank stage right and left, respectively. The most important details of the stage are two elements that are rigged on a pulley system: The larger-than-life Letty’s Salon sign that hangs over the playing arena, and the backdrop that features dozens of black women’s hairstyles. When they are pulled up, we know we’re not at Letty’s anymore…. (Continue reading » )

Novel House:

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: Allan Mackey

Photo: Allan Mackey

Novel House

By Jayson McDonald

Blacksheep Theatre

Director: Dave Dawson

In Novel House, a family named Novel lives through the highs and lows of daily life, while family patriarch James Novel, a former greeting-card writer, attempts to write the great Canadian novel with a quill pen. The subject matter of said novel is his family. Therefore, James periodically steps out of the action to address the audience. Meanwhile, his ditzy wife, Mary, floats back and forth, incompetent but full of love for her family, and James’ crazy father, Geoffrey, lives through his memories and the ghosts of his past, personified in small appliances and lamps. (Don’t ask.)

Meanwhile, the relatively normal daughter of the house, Rebecca, introduces Thomas, the love of her life, to her parents and grandfather. Closest to a through line in Novel House is the course of the young couple’s romance and future, which follows their engagement, marriage, loss of their first child, separation and reconciliation. And the most — actually, the only — moving moments of this Blacksheep Theatre production are during the well-executed reconciliation between Rebecca (Whitney Richards) and Thomas (Tony Adams). (Continue reading » )

The Novel House: Misguided production of predictable play

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Allan Mackey

Photo: Allan Mackey

The Novel House

By Jayson McDonald

Black Sheep Theatre at The Gladstone

Why bother?

That’s the question about Black Sheep Theatre’s misguided production of Ontario playwright Jayson McDonald’s tiresome family drama Novel House.

The plot – contrived and coy when it’s not simply inert – finds the jaunty writer James Novel (William Beddoe) working on – wait for it – the great Canadian novel in his rambling, leaky and apparently ghost-riddled home called Novel House. For reason that eluded at least me, Novel is writing his masterwork with a quill pen even though the setting is present-day.

We the audience are apparently reading the novel as he writes it. This allows him to address us directly from time to time before stepping back into the action of his novel which, if it tells the story of his and his family’s collective life, may not be a novel at all. Assuming you care to plumb things to that depth.

James’s wife Mary (Alexis Scott) is an annoyingly fidgety scatterbrain, but one who loves her husband and adult daughter Rebecca (Whitney Richards, who brings a welcome freshness to this dank show). There’s a cutely weird grandfather (James’ father Geoffrey, played by Jeffrey Lefebvre) who talks to a lamp and hangs out in a wardrobe (one keeps hoping he’ll be whisked away permanently to Narnia). Also on the scene: Thomas Winding, an earnest, whiny kind of guy played by the able Tony Adams, who marries Rebecca, almost fathers a child and does other stuff. (Continue reading » )

Ottawa’s weird and wonderful Fresh Meat theatre festival is a treat for daring audiences

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

The Fresh Meat Festival returns to Arts Court theatre for its fifth instalment. Were an unsuspecting audience member to stumble upon this event, it’d be one for the books. Fresh Meat is for fearless audience members who are looking for a taste of the experimental, unhinged and up-and-coming. The festival distinguishes itself as one that presents unbridled artistry from local theatre makers in the early stages of their careers. That these works are unpolished and presented with minimal set or costuming only adds to the atmosphere; the DIY aesthetic is met by truly experimental performances by Ottawa’s next generation of creators.

The Fresh Meat Festival runs two weekends, the second of which kicked off on Thursday October 20. During the second weekend of Fresh Meat 5, five shows run the gamut of theatrical styles, from self-reflective storytelling, to scripted sketch comedy, physical comedy and more. Across the board, the performances are comedic in nature. That’s where the comparison ends.

The evening opens with a performance by the winners of the 2016 Prix Rideau Awards for Outstanding New Creation for their 2016 Ottawa Fringe offering, Rideshares and Ropeswings. Catch Matt Hertendy and Matthew Venne’s succeeding show, Boy vs. Chair at Fresh Meat 5. The show is a disorienting stand-off between a man in a propeller hat and a not-so-inanimate, black chair. It’s a kind of parody of the common narrative convention that “things are not what they seem,” delivering to its audience a silly, peculiar and awkward story that is more rooted in the physical comedy of the two performers than it is in making itself understandable. What starts as a power struggle soon becomes a Bop-It! duel, then a reconciliation, then a choreographed pas-de-deux. Just kidding, they obviously aren’t dancers. Hertendy and Venne are advantaged by their awkward physical presences on stage, and this show will undoubtedly give you the giggles. (Continue reading » )

Dial M for Murder: Dialing A for show Murder

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Dial M for Murder

By Frederick Knott

Ottawa Little Theatre

Director: Margaret Harvey O’Kelly

When amateur theatre becomes amateurish, even a carefully constructed play suffers under the strain. Sadly, this is precisely what happens with Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Frederick Knott’s 1952 drama Dial M for Murder.

Among the clues that this thriller is unlikely to thrill are the numerous lighting miscues that frequently draw laughter from the audience, awkward pauses and embarrassing silences that are the result of one of the actors forgetting his lines and the slow set changes. Further clues that the production is not working are a lack of apparent chemistry between the heroine and her erstwhile lover and the declamatory style of the villain of the piece.

All this is particularly depressing in the light of the obvious effort that is behind ensuring the accuracy of the period costuming by Gillian Siddiqui and the set design by Robin Riddihough.

More of a will-he-get-away-with-it than a traditional whodunit, Knott’s script is probably best remembered as the 1954 movie starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. And more than 60 years later, it can still work on stage as a recent production by the Perth Classic Theatre Festival demonstrated. (Continue reading » )

Fresh Meat: DIY Theatre Fest

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre  

The fifth annual Fresh Meat festival of local, DIY theatre features ten, 20-minute shows by established and emerging artists. The emphasis is on testing new ideas in front of audiences. Some past Fresh Meat shows have gone on to bigger venues including the undercurrents festival and the fringe circuit. The following opening night shows comprised the festival’s first of two weekends.

Space Jameration (Greg Houston Comedy). Houston is a stand-up comic eager to transition into more theatre-based performance. He’s not there yet. His autobiographically based piece, quite witty at times, hovers in a no-man’s land between stand-up and storytelling. Houston seems to know he’s not yet where he wants to be artistically, and his discomfort intrudes on the performance.

S.S. Lightbulb (Second Step). Three bumbling electricians are tasked with repairing an out-of-commission lighthouse during a storm at sea. They demonstrate zero technical competence, cower in fear at nature’s fury, and are shaken when they realize the danger that those at sea face. It’s an inconsequential show by emerging performers who love physical theatre but S.S. Lightbulb manages to remain mostly amusing and well-timed. (Continue reading » )

Romeo and Juliet REDUX: Classic play best left in original

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: David Whiteley

Photo: David Whiteley

Passion is all well and good, but too much of it wears pretty thin pretty fast. And too much is the central problem with David Whiteley’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s much-loved Romeo and Juliet.

Taking a cue from Peter Sellars’s chamber play version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream mounted at Stratford in 2014, Whiteley, who also directs, has boiled the tragic tale of young love and feuding families down to 80 minutes. For the most part, he’s cherry picked the play’s most intense moments – for example, falling in love, dust ups, and death scenes – and further distilled the play by using only four actors. The action takes place on a bare stage surrounded by white fabric, the stark minimalism of the set presumably meant to further focus our attention on the play’s emotional high points (Whiteley credits much of the set design to The Night Room by Winnipeg’s now-defunct Primus Theatre).

The problem is, with the connecting tissue between all those intense moments largely stripped out, the show feels like a synopsis set at a high boil. The storyline is well enough known that one can follow along, but what we see and hear are parts of a whole which signal too clearly that they are just parts.

There are other issues. (Continue reading » )

The Plough and the Stars contemporized

Reviewed by on    All the world's a stage  

Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Dublin’s renowned Abbey Theatre has brought a modernized production of Sean O’Casey’s four act drama The Plough and the Stars to the American Repertory Theatre. In keeping with today’s conventions, it is played as four scenes with one intermission. First performed in 1926, ten years after the Easter Uprising when outnumbered Irish nationalists attempted to drive out the British, the play deals with the horrors and uselessness of rebellion by showing its effects upon the working poor. (Continue reading » )

Spring Awakening: The Musical – Effective presentation of the subject matter

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Modella Media

Photo: Modella Media

Review of Spring Awakening: The Musical
Spring Awakening: The Musical
Book and lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Orpheus Musical Theatre Society

Much of the subject matter of Spring Awakening — both the original play and the musical — make Philip Roth’s once-controversial novel Portnoy’s Complaint seem comic-book light.

Playwright Frank Wedekind wrote Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening) in 1891, attacking German bourgeois society for its repressive attitude, particularly towards young people. The play — originally sub-titled A Children’s Tragedy — was considered scandalous because of its explicit sexual content and was banned on publication. Another 15 years passed before it appeared on stage in Berlin.

The content makes it an even more unlikely subject for a musical — even a rock musical — than Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. However, both were Tony Award winners, Sweeney Todd in 1979 and Spring Awakening in 2006. The musical, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, also won Drama Desk and Olivier awards.

Yet, even in the sexually liberated west in 2016, the content remains controversial. The portrait of the uncomfortable transition from adolescence to adulthood offers simulated heterosexual intercourse/sexual assault, suggested male masturbation, wet dreams, a little sado-masochism, a short homosexual love scene, a back-street abortion and references to sexual and physical abuse and abandonment. All this is capped off by the deaths of two of the principals, one by suicide and the other because of a botched abortion. (Continue reading » )