February, 2017

OLT’s Mockingbird fails to make the grade

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Maria Vartanova

It doesn’t take long to realize that there’s something terribly wrong with Ottawa Little Theatre’s misbegotten production of To Kill A Mocking Bird.

It’s there in the forced, stilted acting, in the lack of fluidity in the staging, in the clumsy handling of the expository passages in Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of the classic Harper Lee novel about a black man’s trial for rape in the small-town Alabama of more than 80 years ago.

John Collins’s direction is so flaccid and the performances so perfunctory that it takes a while even to be conscious of the hothouse emotional climate that is supposed to be taking hold of this racially-scarred community. Yet you keep hoping that matters will improve. Surely, you think, they won’t botch that first big dramatic moment when Atticus Finch, the accused’s gentle defence attorney, stations himself in front of the jail to stave off an attempted lynching by a blustering mob of rednecks.

But they do botch the scene, which is so badly executed that it becomes almost laughable in its unintentional parody.

To be sure, there are moments when the production does yank itself into some semblance of credibility. (more…)

To Kill a Mockingbird: OLT does credible job bringing beloved story to life

News from Capital Critics Circle

Guest Critic: Jim Murchison

Photo: Maria Vartanova

To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic novel and known by many for the nearly flawless film version of 1962. The stage adaptation by Christopher Sergel is not in the same league, but the story is worth telling and OLT does a credible job of bringing it to life.

Many of us may have come to believe that we have evolved from the ugly racist world that was prevalent prior to the social upheaval of the 60’s and the election of the United States first black President. We now know after Brexit, the election of the 45th U.S. President and the horrifying shootings in a Quebec Mosque that we still have a long way to travel before we get to the point where we have attained equality.  It is this simple. We need  eternal vigilance to protect us from our prejudices and xenophobia.

It is what To Kill A Mockingbird is about and unfortunately it is as relevant as it has ever been. Klaas Van Weringh’s set design is equally effective as an Alabama neighbourhood and as a courthouse. The set  worked most effectively when combined with Brian Cano’s lighting design in the scene at the jailhouse where we see a solitary bare light bulb revealing  Atticus Finch (David Holton) sitting outside reading his paper. He steadfastly waits for the angry white mob that is inevitably coming from the shadowy streets. This scene captured the essence of  the piece perfectly. (more…)

To Kill a Mockingbird: Turgid show with one fine performance

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Maria Vartanova

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Christopher Sergel

Based on the novel by Harper Lee

Ottawa Little Theatre

Directed by John Collins

Let’s begin with a word to the several people who left the Ottawa Little Theatre production of To Kill a Mockingbird during the intermission.

Act II was considerably better than the turgid Act I. This is primarily because of one outstanding performance. Marcus Jones is totally believable as Tom Robinson, the innocent black man accused of raping an illiterate white woman.

Despite yeoman efforts by some of the other cast members, most notably Barbara Kobolak as Miss Stephanie, no performances other than Jones’ are anywhere near as moving as they should be given the subject matter.

Christopher Sergel’s 1991 adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer prize-winning novel about racism in 1935 small-town Alabama (which he apparently took two decades to write) is true to the original. In fact, it frequently quotes Lee’s text. However, it is always a massive challenge adapting a dense novel to the stage. In addition, a large-cast, multi-race play is difficult to cast and ensure a consistently credible ensemble. Sadly, director John Collins has been able to stretch very few of the cast into powerful performances in this production.

The theme of the novel, timely when it was published during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., remains germane today, especially since the last presidential election. But the format is heavygoing and many of the characters in the stage version come over as stereotypes or sketches rather than as individuals. (more…)

Avec « ERZULI DAHOMEY, déesse de l’amour » et après « Médée-Kali », le M’Acte démontre sa volonté de rapprocher les différentes cultures

News from Capital Critics Circle

Guest Critic: Scarlet Jesus

Avant la Martinique -où la pièce sera jouée au Théâtre Aimé Césaire du 16 au 18 février prochain-, dans le cadre d’une programmation mettant à l’honneur Karine Pedurand, le  Mémorial Acte a donné une unique représentation d’« Erzuli Dahomey, déesse de l’amour ». Le texte de cette pièce, écrite par Jean-René il y a une dizaine d’années dans le cadre d’une résidence d’auteur à La Chartreuse d’Avignon et publié aux éditions des Solitaires intempestifs, a reçu plusieurs récompenses : le Prix SACD de la dramaturgie française en 2009, suivi en 2013 du Prix « Théâtre 13 Jeunes metteurs en scène ».

La pièce avait fait l’objet d’une programmation à la Comédie Française (salle du Vieux Colombier) du 12 mars au 15 avril 2012, avec une mise en scène d’Eric Génovèse. La mise en scène, pour la Guadeloupe et comme pour la Martinique, a été réalisée à l’initiative de la Compagnie Théâtre des Deux Saisons. Elle a pu être vue en Île de France, les 17 et 18 juin derniers, dans le cadre de la structure Arcadi (Plateaux Solidaires).

Erzuli ? Voici une pièce qui va évoquer le vaudou, pensez-vous!  D’autant que vous connaissez l’origine haïtienne de Jean-René Lemoine.

Il vous faut d’emblée éliminer cette fausse piste et noter que le titre ne fait pas référence à « Erzuli Dantor », mais à « Erzuli Dahomey ». A l’Afrique donc plus qu’à Haïti.A travers la référence à un royaume , le Dahomey, qui fut autrefois, avec Ouidah, un lieu majeur de la traite des esclaves atlantiques. Et d’où le vaudou, certes, tire son origine… La pièce semble faire le lien entre une réalité historique et la présence d’un imaginaire collectif dans lequel le merveilleux trouve place.  (more…)

Schoolhouse gets failing grade

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Kanata Theatre

Schoolhouse

By Leanna Brodie

Kanata Theatre

Directed by Joy Forbes

 One scene in Schoolhouse depicts an amateurish production of a Christmas play. The sequence would be more amusing if it were a greater contrast to most of the other episodic scenes in a non-drama that drags from beginning to end.

Part of the problem is with the production style of this 2006 memory play by Leanna Brodie and part of the issue is that the writing is simply not particularly interesting.

Certainly, the one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear is remembered with affection by former students, teachers and, indeed, the entire community surrounding it. In rural areas across Canada, the small school was a social as well as an educational centre and so almost as important as the main church in the vicinity.

Other plays — Anne of Green Gables, for example — have made the school a key part of a drama or musical. Most recently, Elmwood School presented Jean Duce Palmer’s Miss Bruce’s War. Like Schoolhouse, Palmer’s drama is a memory play. Unlike, the choppy, episodic Schoolhouse, Miss Bruce’s War has gentle charm and a believable flow and the high-school production was outstanding. (more…)

Director Lisa Zanyk balances the absurd and all-too familiar aspects of humanity in Albee’s At Home at the Zoo

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Don’t we all have an inner Jerry? In so many ways, Edward Albee’s infamously volatile, transient character Jerry captures our frustrating inability to feel at home in a strangely formulaic world. He reveals the alienating sensation of being a human amongst other humans. Moreover, that I even left the Carleton Tavern with that in mind is a fine tribute to the work of director Lisa Zanyk and a nimble trio of actors who’ve taken on Albee’s At Home at the Zoo.

The double-bill features two one-act plays that have been careful sewn together by the playwright. The second act is a stand-alone play, Zoo Story, which he wrote while in his late twenties. Considering the piece well-formed but “incomplete”, Albee fleshed out Peter’s character in a prelude of sorts called Homelife when he was in his 70s. The two short pieces now play as a two act performance that exposes an uncomfortable portrayal of the middle class.

Critics have noted that the interplay of Homelife and Zoo Story reveal a portrait of the playwright at two distinct stages of life. Sequentially, the latter is Albee’s first play and captures youthful angst, anti-establishmentarian impulses, and nihilism. The former, written as a companion piece over 50 years later, delves into a more middle-aged mind set. The enemy there is complacency, disappointment, and repressed passions. Juxtaposed, these two one-act plays have an enthralling symmetry. In Homelife, Peter, a middle-aged textbook publishing executive, is flaccid, bored, and has a relationship with his work that borders on the absurd. Like Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill, Peter hopes with all his heart that the textbooks that he pours countless hours of his life into have some intrinsic value. It is an unmistakable criticism of the complacency that fuels the middle class. (more…)

The Gladstone Theater Under New Management

News from Capital Critics Circle

The Board of Directors of The Gladstone Theatre is delighted to announce Ottawa’s own AL Connors will take the helm of the historic venue at 910 Gladstone Avenue.

The 235-seat theatre at 910 Gladstone was home to the Great Canadian Theatre Company from 1982 to 2007. Since then, it’s been operated as The Gladstone, managed by Plosive Productions from 2011 till this past Fall. In 2016, a steering committee made up of members of the Ottawa theatre community, led by Plosive’s David Whiteley, the theatre’s volunteer manager, worked to create a new organization to run the theatre. On November 8, 2016 The Gladstone Theatre Inc. was founded as the new caretaker of 910 Gladstone avenue, a venue which has become a bustling hub for Ottawa’s independent theatre community. So far this season, over 10,000 theatre goers have attended shows at The Gladstone! AL Connors becomes the new corporation’s first Theatre Manager.

“Maybe the best thing about this job is that I’m going to get to meet everyone!” says Connors referring to the long list of artists and producers who regularly present shows at the venue. “These fantastic artists will all come to me. It’s going to make me a lazy theatre patron, having shows down the hall from my desk. I’m pretty excited.”

Theatre patrons may recognize Connors from his on-stage roles in Gladstone hits Noises Off, The 39 Steps, and as Norman in last season’s The Norman Conquests Trilogy. Other Gladstone credits include directing Much Ado About Feckin’ Pirates, a Company of Fools’ A Midwinter’s Dream Tale, and most recently Pierre Brault in Will Somers. (more…)

Colony Of Unrequited Dreams: Less Than Meets The Eye

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Colin Furlong as Joey Smallwood. Credit: Paul Daly

One suspects that the National Arts Centre’s production of The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams will have its greatest success with those playgoers who haven’t read the Wayne Johnston novel that inspired it.

Playwright Robert Chafe’s earnest, well-intentioned adaptation frequently manages to engage the viewer — although on a somewhat brittle level. But it lacks the epic sweep and emotional resonance of Johnston’s fictional recreation of the early life of legendary Newfoundland Premier Joseph Smallwood and his campaign to bring a proud but troubled island nation into Canada in 1949. Indeed, Jillian Keiley’s production, although revelling in fancy visuals and clever bits of business, never really communicates the high stakes involved in the countdown to Confederation. Given that the turbulent referendum vote required a second run-off, such lack of tension is astonishing

Not just astonishing — also perplexing, given the drama that engulfed so much of Joey Smallwood’s life and career. But it’s also fair to suggest that it must have been  a daunting challenge for Chafe even to try to get into the maddening, calculating mind of this so-called “last father of Confederation.” Wayne Johnston’s original attempt to do so in the novel went on for more than 500 pages, many of them devoted to Joey’s own first-person narrative. As tends to be the case with this type of memoir, whether true or fictional, you keep wondering how reliable the narrator really is — or, in this instance, is intended to be. (more…)

Quand Médée-Kali trouve place au Memorial Acte

News from Capital Critics Circle

Guest Critic: Scarlett Jesus

La pièce de Laurent Gaudé, « Médé-Kali » est, à l’évidence, d’actualité. La preuve en est qu’elle a été mise en scène presque simultanément, en février 2016, au Théâtre de la mer (Joliette Minoterie), à Marseille, ainsi que dans le 93, à Montreuil-sous-Bois. Montée par la Cie Kamma crée par Karine Pédurand, elle a été jouée en Guyane, début novembre, puis à L’Archipel de Basse-Terre, en Guadeloupe les 20 et 21 janvier 2017, avant d’être présentée au public martiniquais le 24 janvier, dans le cadre du Festival des Petites formes, à L’Atrium. La voici revenue en Guadeloupe, ce vendredi 27 janvier, mais dans un lieu hautement emblématique cette fois, le Mémorial Acte. Nul doute que la réception d’une telle pièce dans ce « Centre caribéen d’expressions et de mémoire de la traite et de l’esclavage », ne peut que se charger d’une coloration particulière. « Médée-Kali » peut-elle apporter une quelconque contribution à un vivre-ensemble harmonieux, permettant que s’opère, à travers l’horreur que suscite cette histoire tragique, la catharsis des sentiments de haine et de vengeance engendrés par l’histoire douloureuse de l’esclavage ?

« Je suis Médée-Kali… Je suis Médée-Kali… Je suis Médée-Kali… » martèle d’une voix forte, comme pour mieux graver ce nom dans nos mémoires, l’actrice Karine Pédurand qui incarne le personnage. Un personnage, celui de Médée, que Laurent Gaudé a voulu à son tour revisiter, après Euripide, Sénèque, Corneille… et la mise en scène qu’en proposa Jacques Lassalle à Avignon, en 2000, dans laquelle Isabelle Huppert incarnait une Médée très humaine. Comme l’indique le titre, l’auteur a cherché à opérer un raccourci entre deux figures mythiques dont l’une, Médée, nous vient de la Grèce antique, tandis que l’autre, Kali, est empruntée au panthéon hindou. Une pièce invitant peut-être le public à réfléchir à ce qui peut rapprocher des communautés différentes, plutôt que ce qui les divise… (more…)

8: Production addresses pressing issues and fears of today

News from Capital Critics Circle

Guest Critic: Yana Meerzon

Photo: David Ospina

On November 8, 2016, America elected its 45th President, Donald Trump, whose political forays, populist statements and neo-nationalist decrees, as well as Twitter type of communication, evoke the Russian poet –futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky’s manifesto “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste” (1917). By slapping  public taste, however, Mayakovsky aimed to change the role of arts in society, while Trump aims to change society itself. Trump’s aggressive and dangerous practices also bring into question  the role performing arts can play in resisting this type of political discourse and law-making.

Mani Soleymanlou, a Québécois artist of Iranian origin, and his company Orange Noyée, ask a similar question. With their new production 8 they inquire: what can theatre artists and intellectuals, socially and politically engaged individuals, do to resist the phantasmagoria of the Trump-lead era of history? What devices of political performance can make true social impact, in a  time when peoples’ political opinions and politics itself are formed over social media, through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram?

8, co-produced and presented by Orange Noyée, Place des Arts, Montreal, and National Arts Centre, French Theatre, Ottawa is an example of such a search. Soleymanlou has always been politically aware. Starting from his autobiographical show Un to his more recent work 5 à 7, he has continuously engaged with the questions of artist’s responsibility and social ethics, first through his work on immigration and now focusing on the perils of the world’s growing nationalism. (more…)