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.

TotoToo’s Priscilla a transport of delight

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (The Musical)
Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Musical arrangements and orchestrations by Stephen ‘Spud’ Murphy
Developed for the stage by Simon Phillips
Based on the movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
TotoToo Theatre
Directed by Michael Gareau

In a way, Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert revels in its own ramshackle, cheeky improbability. That’s what made it so endearing back in 1994 when it lumbered onto cinema screens as a delightful road movie. We were treated to the spectacle of two drag queens, along with an aging transgendered woman who serves as both nanny and mentor to them, journeying across the Australian outback for a performance gig at the remote Northern Territory town of Alice Springs.

(more…)

Kanata Theatre’s Treasure Island turns to dross

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Kanata Theatre

“I don’t do nuance,” George W. Bush once famously observed. Neither does Kanata Little Theatre when it comes to bringing Treasure Island to the stage. The people involved in this noisy, strident, generally unsubtle offering seem to think it’s being mounted in the cavernous Canadian Tire Centre just down the road rather than in the intimate Ron Maslin Playhouse. Too often, Wendy Wagner’s production seems more of a shouting match rather than a proper performance with both the Robert Louis Stevenson
novel on which it is based, as well as Ken Ludwig’s stage adaptation, often perishing in the din.
To be sure, there are some good things about the production The design factor is spectacularly successful. Karl Wagner’s set works wonderfully both as the Admiral Benbow Inn and as a vessel in search of buried treasure. Wagner is also responsible for the atmospheric lighting, while Maxine Ball deserves credit for the outstanding costumes and Robert Fairbairn scores with the show’s soundscape. Fight choreographer Aaron Lajeunesse has come through with some nimbly executed swordplay. And the scene changes are fluidly managed. (more…)

Kill Me Now packs a wallop at the NAC

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

It’s more than 40 years since a young, award-winning Canadian playwright named David Freeman told an interviewer that what he yearned for most in life was a meaningful physical relationship with another human being.

It was a poignant admission, because Freeman had been born with cerebral palsy. And throughout his life he resisted marginalization by a culture unable to get a handle on the notion that his kind were as capable as anyone else of an entire range of human emotions, including sexual need and desire.

These emotions were given caustic, funny utterance in Creeps, his 1971 stage triumph about the plight of disabled youth trapped in the coils of an unfeeling rehab centre. Its premiere at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre was a groundbreaking event — not simply because it broke  taboos by bringing subject matter like this to the stage, but because of its importance in legitimatizing Canadian drama at a time when playbills across the country were crammed with imported material from Broadway and London’s West End. (more…)

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…)

Past Reviews