Reviewer: Iris Winston

Iris Winston
A writer, editor, reporter and theatre reviewer for more than 40 years, Iris Winston has won national and provincial awards for her fiction, non-fiction and reviews. A retired federal public servant, she has seven books in print and writes regularly for local, regional, national and international newspapers and magazines, including Variety and the Ottawa Citizen. Iris lives in Almonte.

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…)

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…)

Mary Poppins: Lively production works well with script

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Ain’t Seen Noth’n Yet

Mary Poppins
Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
Additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Ain’t Seen Noth’n Yet (ASNY) Production
Directed by Jennifer Fontaine

By any standards, Mary Poppins is a complex project. Originally, she was the ideal nanny imagined by the British-born, Australian writer Pamela Lyndon Travers (aka Helen Lyndon Goff). Conjured up in her 1934 stories, she represented a form of escape from a difficult childhood. Then, the flying nanny became the sugarcoated heroine of the 1964 Disney movie, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

In the 2004 stage musical, Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) bases his book on a fusion of the Travers’ stories and the Disney movie, while George Stiles and Anthony Drewe added new songs to the original group by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman. (more…)

American Idiot: High-energy production saves the show.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

American Idiot, music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong, book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer

University of Ottawa Musical Theatre Society, directed by Storm Davis

American Idiot bursts onto the stage into the raucous noise of punk rock that one of the cast members says in her bio takes her back to her fifth grade grunge days.

The 2010 musical is based on the 2004 concept album of the same name — incorporating protest against the war in Iraq, anger with American society and disaffected and angry youth trying to escape (from what?) to find a purpose in life.

The book (if that’s not too strong a word) for the very slight story line by lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer focuses on three young men — one who joins the army and is blinded, a second who fathers a child and drowns in alcohol and a third self-destructive would-be rebel whose father predicted he would never amount to anything.

The sing-through (shout-through) musical about dead-end lives and disappointment is surprisingly upbeat as presented by the University of Ottawa Musical Theatre Society. (more…)

Other Desert Cities. A well-cast, carefully wrought family drama!

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo. Maria Vartanova

“Write about what you know.”

Following the advice regularly given to authors, the daughter of the wealthy Wyeth family is about to publish unpleasant truths about their past. This is the catalyst for the wrenching conflicts in Jon Robin Baitz’ carefully wrought family drama, Other Desert Cities.

While Brooke’s tell-all memoir is her view of the past and the tragedy that continues to haunt each of the family members, “divergent truths” and different perspectives throw unexpected lights on their history and the current crisis that threatens to tear them apart.

Parents Polly and Lyman Wyeth are former Hollywood movie industry stars, turned politicos and hard-core Republicans. Daughter Brooke is a successful author at the other end of the political spectrum, still fragile after recovering from severe depression. Her younger brother Trip is a television producer trying hard to keep the peace and avoid a serious look at the world. Polly’s sister, Silda, an alcoholic, fresh from rehab, is continuing her recovery by moving into the Wyeth household.

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Kinky Boots, entertaining musical theatre.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo. Courtesy of the NAC.

Kinky Boots, Book by Harvey Fierstein Music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell

Think watered-down versions of Billy Elliott, mixed with slices of Les Cages aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy and you have the theme of Kinky Boots, book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper.

Never a drag, though somewhat simplistic in its call for tolerance, the award-winning musical is based on the 2005 movie of the same name. Claimed to be a true story, it tells of two sons who did not want to follow in their fathers’ footsteps.

Charlie, the son of a shoe factory owner in Northampton, and Simon, the son of a prize fighter from Clacton, tried to escape their small-town destinies, but when their paths cross, they walk down a new road together, creating kinky boots for cross dressers and drag queens.

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The Little Mermaid: family entertainment fine for the younger tots.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Ariel & Ursula

Photo by Suzart productions.

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, the Walt Disney animated musical movie version of The Little Mermaid was moderately successful when it was screened in 1989. Some 18 years later, the stage musical of the Disney movie appeared to mixed reviews and a relatively short run on Broadway.

The show, while entirely appropriate for the Suzart Productions’ mandate of family entertainment, is weak in this incarnation. As presented by Suzart, under the direction of Dani Bone Corbishley, The Little Mermaid has a pantomime sensibility — primarily because Kraig-Paul Proulx, delivers the wicked witch Ursula in the style of a panto dame. This leaves room for an appropriate contrast with the mermaid princess, Ariel, (Sharena Campo) and her human prince, Eric (Richard Hardy) — both fine singers.

Simply put, Hans Christian Andersen told the story of the mermaid, who dreams of being human and marrying the prince she saved from drowning, more effectively than the stage version of an animated movie does.

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The Three Musketeers: exciting visuals in this swashbuckling performance of the Dumas novel

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo. Maria Vartanova

The Three Musketeers by Ken Ludwig. Adapted from the novel by  Alexandre Dumas, an OLT Production

The visuals in the latest Ottawa Little Theatre production are spectacular. The many sword fights in this athletic show are well executed. Even the flow of the set changes is very watchable.

Sadly, the script by Ken Ludwig (best known for his comedy Lend Me a Tenor) is of less interest than the production values. Yes, the play was a hit when it premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in 2006, but that does not lessen the annoying quality of the playwright’s uncertainty about whether to deliver a facetious send-up of the 19th-century novel or to stay true to Alexandre Dumas’ adventure story — a classic that has appeared in more than 100 languages.

The basic storyline remains, following the journey of country bumpkin D’Artagnan in his quest to serve his king as a musketeer. En route, he faces duels with Athos, Porthos and Aramis — the three musketeers of the title — falls in love with Queen Anne’s favourite lady-in-waiting, Constance, saves the Queen’s honour and incurs the wrath of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu and his lieutenant Rochefort.

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The Addams Family: Orpheus Musical Theatre makes the most of a mediocre story.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo, courtesy of Orpheus Musical Theatre

Charles Addams has a lot to answer for. He was the cartoonist who created the one-panel cartoons about the ghoulish Addams Family that appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1938.

He could not know that his creation would become an American institution. Stories of the family morphed into a television sitcom in the 1960s, followed by a cartoon version in the next decade, two movies in 1991 (starring Anjelica Houston) and 1993 (The Addams Family Values) and even a video game and a very popular pinball machine later in the decade. Finally, in 2010, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (the pair who wrote the script of The Jersey Boys) developed a Broadway musical version with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa.

Does the musical work? As much as any one-gag repeater with a wafer-thin storyline and constant reminders of one-panel cartoons can. Does Orpheus Musical Theatre Society make the most of a mediocre product? Unquestionably.

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A well-performed play too clever for itself

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Image courtesy of Kanata Theatre

Image courtesy of Kanata Theatre

Equivocation

By Bill Cain

Kanata Theatre

Directed by Alain Chamsi

Equivocation is a multi-layered celebration cum mockery of Shakespeare, combined with a questioning of the accuracy of the accepted version of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up the English Houses of Parliament and assassinate King James I. It also attempts to answer the perennial question about the nature of truth.

Not to equivocate — that is not to use ambiguous language to conceal the truth or to prevaricate — this 2009 script by Bill Cain (who happens to be a Jesuit priest) is muddled rather than subtle, and, while packed with information, too complicated in format to be entertaining. (There were numerous walkouts at intermission on opening night.)

It begins with Sir Robert Cecil (the king’s beagle) commissioning Shagspeare (a.k.a. William Shakespeare) to dramatize a story that King James has written, delivering the true (or is it the propaganda version?) of the Gunpowder Plot. Refusing what seems to be an impossible task is not an option. (more…)