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.

Marion Bridge: much emotional baggage makes for a dreary drama

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Marion Bridge by Daniel MacIvor; director: Chantale Plante; a production of the  Ottawa Little Theatre

Carrying a lifetime’s worth of baggage, three sisters of a very dysfunctional family are brought together by imminent death. As their mother lies dying, each of the three reveals her insecurities, resentments, memories and false memories and periodic hostility towards the others and their parents.

Each sister is deeply flawed and hides from the world in her own way. Agnes fled from her Cape Breton home to an unsuccessful acting career in Toronto. Her other escape is alcohol — her mother’s choice towards oblivion, too. Meanwhile, the ‘good’ middle sister, Theresa, now having a crisis of faith, chose the nun’s veil and farming as her escape route, while youngest sibling, Louise — the only child still living at home — sinks into daytime television soap operas and love of automobiles. (more…)

A Man of No Importance, an engaging delight.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

A Man of No Importance Book by Terrence McNally Music by Stephen Flaherty Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens Directed by Maxim David indie women productions

Part of the charm of A Man of No Importance is its modesty. Almost reflecting the tone of the title in its approach, the award-winning chamber musical is gently low-key, gradually working its way into unfolding a moving story about a bus conductor in 1960s Dublin.

With book by Terence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the 2002 musical is based on the 1994 movie of the same name, starring Albert Finney as bus conductor Alfie Byrne. Byrne escapes his internal conflict and his mundane daily routine through his love of the works of Oscar Wilde — his role model — and his determination to mount a production of Wilde’s Salome in St. Imelda’s church hall (a most unsuitable location for a script that shocked from the outset and would certainly offend conservative Catholic sensibilities in 1960s Ireland.) (more…)

Catch Me If You Can: Production quality more memorable than forgettable froth of material

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Orpheus Theatre

Catch Me If You Can
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Orpheus Musical Theatre Society
Reviewed by Iris Winston

The Catch 22 of Catch Me If You Can is that the apparently innocent charm of the anti-hero/con artist is at odds with the reality of his crooked early life. It is also even more difficult to fit the story of the imposter/forger/thief into an upbeat and believable musical than it was to give jolly versions of other con artists in such musicals as The Producers or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. (more…)

Finishing the Suit: Bear & Co. delivers a sensitive and clear production

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Finishing the Suit

By Lawrence Aronovitch

Bear & Co.

Directed by Joël Beddows

Coming to terms with the past is the only way to prepare for the future. Even then, putting grief to rest is incredibly difficult.

This is the theme of Lawrence Aronovitch’s fine play, Finishing the Suit, currently having its premiere production from Bear & Co. at the Gladstone.

The title is partly drawn from the reality of completing a morning coat (also referred to as a mourning coat in the context of the script). It is also a metaphor for sewing up the past through memory and conversation.

Directed with sensitivity and clarity by Joël Beddows, the three-person cast tells of the two people that have had the greatest impact on the tailor (Matt Pilipiak), The two, David (David Whiteley) —who is to wear the morning coat in death—and Jimmy (Isaac Giles) are both dead, but remain alive in the tailor’s heart and remembrance, almost to the exclusion of his daily existence. (more…)

Infinity: Ideas more interesting than unsatisfying whole

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Infinity

By Hannah Moscovitch

A Volcano (Toronto) production at the National Arts Centre

Director: Ross Manson

Clever rather than entertaining, playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s 2013 drama Infinity intertwines alternative theories of time with the affinity between mathematics and music overlaying the drama of a dysfunctional family.

At the centre of the storm of ideas and her inability to preserve relationships is Sarah Jean — at times an eight-year-old having a tantrum (three-year-old style); at other times, a serious graduate student in mathematics; but mostly, a confused and unhappy young woman trying to make sense of her life through unsatisfying sexual encounters and crude words and imagery. (more…)

Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Gory glory for Suzart

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Suzart After Dark

Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by Hugh Wheeler

Suzart After Dark

Directed by Kraig-Paul Proulx

Dark and difficult but never dreary, Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is recognized as extremely complex musically and very demanding technically. The massive challenge of the 1979 Tony award-winner was made even greater for Suzart Productions when the female lead dropped out just two days before the show opened.

This is the second time that this has happened to Suzart. The company had to deal with a similar last-minute crisis when mounting Hello Dolly last year. On that occasion, the musical director stepped into the title role a week before opening. At least, she had been present during the show rehearsals. For Sweeney Todd, the time frame was much shorter and the rescuer had not been involved in the lead-up to the production.

You would hardly know it, however, watching Jennifer Fontaine’s strong characterization of Mrs. Lovett. The only clue was the score she carried as a safety net. But she made time to have fun with the role of the meat-pie maker, whose baking became tastier, with the fruits of Todd’s murderous labours.

Neither was there any indication from the rest of the cast of any change of dynamic. Joseph Stone, in the title role, is strong both vocally and in his delivery of the tortured demon barber. Jay Landreville, as the simple Tobias Ragg, Mrs. Lovett’s protégé, relates to her effectively and their Not While I’m Around duet is one of the most touching moments of the show.  (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…)

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…)

Past Reviews