Reviewer: Jamie Portman

Jamie Portman
Jamie Portman has distinguished himself as one of the finest theatre critics in the country. He is presently a free lance critic , periodically writing reviews for theatre in Canada and in England for the Capitalcriticscircle and Postmedia-News (formerly CanWest). Jamie makes his home in Kanata.

Vigilante at the NAC. Mythology trumps history in this outstanding production

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

 


Jan Alexandra Smith and the Donnelly brothers
GP Photography

It’s not just that the figures come out of the darkness. It’s rather
that they are marching in deadly and ritualized rhythm from some
hellish void, with a few musicians, mistily visible in the murky
backwaters of the NAC Theatre stage, eerily urging them along.
You’re gripped immediately by the beginning of Vigilante. And this
enthralling production from Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre continues to
hold you like a vice through to its powerful climax. But you soon
realize that there will be no real light at the end of this tunnel.
The 19th Century saga of Southern Ontario’s turbulent Donnelly family
can hold no promise of cathartic release. Indeed, well over a century
later, this bloody tragedy continues to cast a shadow over Biddulph
township and its people, many of whom reportedly refuse to discuss it
even now. (more…)

Plan B: Dated Play Redeemed By Fine Performances

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Plan B by Michael Healey, Director and set: André Dimitrijevic

Quebec separatism  was still a burning issue when Canadian playwright Michael Healey wrote Plan B some 15 years ago. So the revival  on view at the Gladstone does seem something of an irrelevant period piece — with its lack of topicality now making the script’s deficiencies seem more pronounced.

On the positive side, there is the solid quality of  Andre Dimitrijavic’s Phoenix Players production — one in which the satirical barbs can still deliver and the great divide that continues to exist between two cultures can still be examined. (more…)

Kanata Theatre struggles to make The Melville Boys work

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Norm Foster is a playwright with a modest intent — to write comedies about “ordinary people just trying to get by in life.”

That prescription can no doubt be applied to The Melville Boys — his much-produced piece about two brothers, wildly disparate in personality, who seek to re-bond by spending a weekend at the family’s  lakeside cabin.

Unfortunately Kanata Theatre’s new production merely shows how fragile the play really is and how easily it can collapse in performance. (more…)

OLT’s Marion Bridge: More Pretension than Substance

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

There is an affecting moment of dramatic truth in Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Marion Bridge, Daniel MacIvor’s overwrought drama about about three sisters whose relationship is in crisis.

It comes when Agnes, the booze-swilling failed actress back from Toronto to be at her mother’s deathbed, sits down for a game of cards and a chat with the sister who stayed at home —  the child-like, unimaginative Louise.

It’s a simple scene but subtle in nuance in what it tells us about two estranged siblings and the dynamics that both separate them and keep them together. It does work. And it’s a reminder of MacIvor’s  expertise in creating compelling individual scenes for a play. But whether they present us with an integrated whole is another matter. (more…)

A Man Of No Importance scores high at the Gladstone

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Patrick Whitfield

It’s a pity that A Man Of No Importance is having such a brief run at The Gladstone, given that it is such a touching yet ultimately joyous experience.

Indie Women Productions have delivered a stand-out production of this award-winning 2003 Broadway musical about a lonely gay Dublin bus conductor who worships the works of Oscar Wilde.

It is a lovely, lovely show, graced by a solid acting ensemble headed by the ever reliable Shaun Toohey as Alfie Byrne, the amiable good-hearted transit man who’s given to entertaining his passengers with recitations of poetry during their daily transport.

A Man Of Importance began as a 1994 film starring Albert Finney as Alfie. Its transformation into a stage musical proves to be remarkably successful, thanks to an observant, witty and at times emotionally wrenching book from Terrence McNally, who is far more at home with this subject matter than he was with Catch Me If You Can, the show recently mounted in Ottawa by Orpheus. And the beguiling songs, which arise naturally from the dramatic material and run a gamut of emotions, are supplied by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the proven team who gave us Ragtime. (more…)

Catch Me If You Can: Orpheus shines with inferior material

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Orpheus Theatre

Catch Me If You Can is a trifle of a musical based on a trifle of a movie from Steven Spielberg. It’s scarcely worth doing, but it is redeemed somewhat by Orpheus Musical Theatre Society’s ability to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The production currently at Centrepointe features deftly staged musical numbers, performances that manage to engage, and a rollicking narrative thrust. In other words, it’s good enough to make you forget, at least temporarily, how hollow the material really is. (more…)

The Gladstone unveils a fine new play with Finishing The Suit

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Lawrence Aronovitch’s new play, Finishing The Suit, comes to us simply, without pretension. But this tender drama about a lonely gay tailor coming to terms with a crushing personal loss deserves attention from anyone who cares about good theatre.

This Bear @ Co. Production is at the Gladstone until March 11, and it may be recommended not only for a beautifully written 70-minute script, a piece both psychologically and culturally observant, but also for a trio of strong performances from Matt Pilipiak, Isaac Giles and David Whiteley. (more…)

Infinity: outstanding production of a problematic play

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

In terms of production quality, Infinity is probably as good as anything we’ve seen on an NAC stage in a while.

There’s Ross Manson’s excellent direction — responsive to the dramatic demands of Hannah Moscovitch’s script, adroitly managing its fluctuating rhythms and moods, seeking to give it substance and fluidity despite the authorial ambushes lying along the way.

In this, Manson is beautifully complemented by designer Teresa Przybylski’s deceptively simple cycloramic setting, which at times seems to be dissolving into destinations unknown. And she is supported here by lighting designer Rebecca Picherack who is making her own valuable contribution to a world of shifting shades and textures. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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