Reviewer: Connie Meng

Connie Meng
Ms. Meng is currently Resident Theatre Critic and weekend announcer at North Country Public Radio. Initially she was an actress both On and Off-Broadway and in numerous TV commercials. After a break to get an MA in theatre from the University of Michigan and to work on a Ph.D. and teach acting, direct, and choreograph at the University ofDenver, she moved back toNew York to work as a professional musical director and conductor as well as rehearsal pianist for the Rockettes Christmas Show. On Broadway she played in the pit for Into the Woods, Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat and Damn Yankees. She moved back to Canton, New York fourteen years ago where she has directed a few local productions. Since 2000 Connie has been reviewing at Equity theatres on both sides of the border that are within the listening area of North Country Public Radio, from Ottawa to Syracuse, from Gananoque to Burlington and in the Southern Adirondacks.

Belles Soeurs: The Musical” sings out the NAC Season

Reviewed by Connie Meng

bellesclutch

Photos .Courtesy of the National arts Centre

The NAC English Theatre is closing out their season with the musical “Belles Soeurs.” Based on the Michel Tremblay play, the book and lyrics are by Rene Richard Cyr who also directed, with the English book adapted by Brian Hill. The music is by Daniel Belanger with English lyrics, musical adaptation, and additional music by Neil Bartram.

Michel Tremblay’s play, first produced in 1973, has become a Canadian classic that has been produced all over the world in over 30 languages. It tells the story of Germaine, winner of one million trading stamps, and the stories of her friends and relatives who she has invited to a party to help paste the stamps into books. These are all Quebecois women, unhappy with their lot in life and uncomfortable with the changing times. Germaine’s daughter Linda wants to fit in with the new ways and bonds with Germaine’s estranged sister who works in a club. We gradually learn about all of their lives.

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“Janet Wilson Meets the Queen” lands with a thud!

Reviewed by Connie Meng

The World Premiere of Beverly Cooper’s play  currently playing at GCTC never quite gets off the ground and never quite lands. It’s partly due to Director Andrea Donaldson, partly the cast, but most of all the script. Artistic Director Eric Coates mentions playwright Cooper’s “. . . idea that our sense of self constantly evolves.” In Janet Wilson Miss Cooper has created a character that refuses to evolve as the world around her changes.

Set in 1969-1971, housewife Wilson is stuck in a white-glove life. She’s unable to deal with an errant husband who we never see, a rebellious teen-age daughter, Katie Ryerson in a strong and believable performance, her mother, played by an overly cantankerous and at times unintelligible Beverly Wolfe, and her American draft-dodger nephew, in a two-dimensional performance verging on caricature by Tony Adams.

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Paul Rainville’s performance elevates “Virginia Woolf”

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo:Andrew Alexander. Paul Rainville (left), Ian Farthing (right)

If you’ve never seen the stage version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Edward Albee’s acerbic portrait of a dysfunctional marriage, here’s your opportunity. Although perhaps not as shocking today as in the early 60s, the relationships between the characters and Albee’s wonderful word-play and cynical humor are not the least bit dated. The difference perhaps, is that today a young couple either witnessing or becoming the brunt of such vicious verbal attacks would excuse themselves, leave and call social services.

The characters of George and Martha have become part of the cultural landscape as symbols of destructive battling spouses. In spite of their fierce sniping, the play is basically a love story – a love story of co-dependents. We can see the seeds of a similar relationship in the young couple as well. The play examines the fundamental question of what is truth and what is illusion; more importantly, what illusions are necessary in order to live.

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Twelfth Night. A creative physical production

Reviewed by Connie Meng

There’s a unique production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” running at the NAC. Directed by Jillian Keiley, it’s “as imagined” by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop who designed the set, props, and costumes. It’s one of the funniest and most entertaining productions I’ve seen. The Renaissance style proscenium is inset so that the wings, flies, and set manipulations are visible, including at times the human actors watching from the wings or running across upstage with a cutout of a deer on a long pole. From the creatively staged shipwreck to the cut-out passersby, the production is all about Old Trout’s imaginative work.

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Anne And Gilbert: a “tuneful” and lively family show makes the spirit of Anne live on.

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo by Andrea Lanthier

Anne and Gilbert co-written by Nancy White, Jeff Hochhauser and Bob Johnston, is a musical sequel to ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and is based on the second and third books in L. M. Montgomery’s beloved series. Anne is now grown up but she still marches to her own drummer, especially when it comes to her relationships with the opposite sex. There have been a few changes since I first saw the show in 2007 in Gananoque. The major one is that Diana’s Act I solo has been replaced by a duet for Diana, well-played and sung by Brieonna Locche, and Anne. It’s about becoming a wife and is by turns entertaining and serious.

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The December Man, Dont Miss It.

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo: Andrew Alexander

We tend to think of the phrases “collateral damage” and “PTSD” only in military terms. “The December Man” by Colleen Murphy that received the Governor General’s literary award for drama, currently running in a terrific production in the NAC Studio, examines them in the context of a university shooting.

In Montreal in 1989, 14 female engineering students were gunned down by a misogynist after he had sent the male students out of the room. Rather than re-tell the grim story of the shooting, the playwright focuses on a male student who was there. He suffers from extreme survivor’s guilt, which has a disastrous effect on his working class parents.

The story is told in reverse chronology and all the production elements work smoothly together to clearly tell this powerful story, beginning with the strong cast. Jean, the student, is believably and remarkably athletically played by Kayvon Kelly. Kate Hennig plays Jean’s mother Kathleen, a devout housewife who dreams of her son’s bright future and has only the church to turn to for help. Benoit, Jean’s father, is played by the always excellent Paul Rainville who finds some nice moments of humor. He paints a moving portrait of an uneducated working man trying desperately to understand and help his troubled son.

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“Jake’s Gift” a Winner at GCTC

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Photo: Tim Matheson

Photo: Tim Matheson

“Jake’s Gift,” a one-woman show written and performed by Julia Mackey, is a powerful tribute to Canadian veterans, especially those who participated in the World War II D-Day landing on Juno Beach. Inspired by her trip to Normandy in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, Miss Mackey and Director Dirk Van Stralen created Juno Productions to present and tour this piece across Canada. As Americans we hear mostly about Omaha Beach. It’s good to be reminded that our neighbors to the North also had a major part in the landings.

The two main characters are Jake, a veteran in his 70s who has returned for his first visit to Juno Beach since the war and Isabelle, a lively and inquisitive 10 year-old French girl. She has, as she says, “. . .the most important job in the world.”As they gradually become friends, Isabelle helps Jake in finally being able to come to terms with his past.

Julia Mackey relies mostly on body language and her voice to delineate the believable character changes between the irrepressible Isabelle and the initially grumpy Jake. We also meet Isabelle’s Grandmama and a Canadian teacher. Using only a bench, a small table and a suitcase Miss Mackey makes both the story and relationship easy to follow. She’s ably assisted by Gerald King’s sensitive lighting, especially in the scene where Jake puts on his uniform jacket. When he snaps a salute, we catch a glimpse of the young soldier who enlisted so many years ago. (more…)

Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at NAC Falls Flat.

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo: NAC English Theatre 

The English Theatre at the NAC has opened their season with a production of “The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God,” written and directed by Djanet Sears. It’s the story of Rainey, a doctor, her husband Michael, a preacher, and her elderly father Ben. “Adventures . . .” deals with Rainey’s inability to accept her daughter’s death and Ben’s attempts to uphold the town’s black history.

We who live near the US/Canada border and go back and forth often tend to think of ourselves as pretty similar. However sometimes there are striking differences in cross-border sensibilities. One example is Newfie humor – Americans just don’t get it. The subject matter of this play is another. Americans have been seeing plays about race relations and black history since the 1970s, for example August Wilson’s brilliant “Century Cycle,” ten plays that chart the African-American experience throughout the 20th century. There’s also Alvin Ailey’s iconic piece “Revelations,” choreographed in 1960. In “Adventures . . .,” the cast marches to protest graffiti on their church wall. In the US Deep South, black churches are burned down. All this contributes to my viewpoint that “Adventures . . .” says nothing new.

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“Dear Johnny Deere” Bang-up Season Finale at 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Photo: Jay Bridges

Photo: Jay Bridges

The 1000 Islands Playhouse is closing out their season with a foot-stomping production of “Dear Johnny Deere.” The book is by Ken Cameron and is based on the music and lyrics of Fred Eaglesmith, with additional music and arrangements by Music Director David Archibald. If you’re not familiar with Fred Eaglesmith, and I wasn’t, his funny and evocative songs have garnered numerous awards in the US and Canada in the country and bluegrass fields.

Playwright Cameron has woven a plot around 15 Fred Eaglesmith songs. Johnny, well-played by Greg Gale, and his wife Caroline, again well-played by Shannon Currie, are having emotional, financial, and farming problems. Into the mix comes Mike, played by the versatile Bruce Horak, with an offer to buy the farm. Mr. Horak also plays Johnny’s father and a snobbish tractor collector. The whole is narrated by the excellent Jeff Culbert playing Johnny’s neighbor, McAllister. The only cast member who doesn’t speak is the dynamite fiddler Capucine Onn. As you might expect, everything works out. These are all good actors, but the show is really about the music.

Listing a few of the song titles will give you the idea: “White Trash,” “Spookin’ the Horses,” “I Wanna Buy Your Truck,” “Old John Deere,” “Time to Get a Gun,” and “It’s Got a Bench Seat Baby” that includes a snippet of “It’s a Mighty Big Car.” All these actors are terrific singers, including Music Director David Archibald, and they all play multiple instruments. (more…)

Production Values Don’t Save a Weak Play at GCTC

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Photo: Pascal Huot

Photo: Pascal Huot

The Great Canadian Theatre Company has opened their season with “Generous” by Michael Healey. The play is the first of a trilogy that includes “Courageous” and “Proud,” the latter produced by GCTC a couple of years ago.

The play’s structure is fractured. The four scenes in Act I seem to come from different plays. The first, set 15 years ago, features a frantic group of Parliamentarians trying to avoid a no-confidence vote. The second, also 15 years ago, introduces a venal oil executive. In the third, now in the present, a judge and young law clerk both try to justify a one-night stand and in the fourth a couple has an odd gymnastic quarrel involving a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Some of these plot lines come together in Act II, but only structurally rather than emotionally and don’t go anywhere. “Generous” is basically about seeking power, both political and sexual, but leads to no new understanding of the various motivations behind the search. (more…)

Past Reviews