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.

Tartuffe is not the star in this Stratford revival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Tartuffe :Tom Rooney, Orgon: Graham Abbey
Photo: Lynda Churilla

STRATFORD, Ont. —   Let’s get down to the basics. The Stratford Festival’s new production of Moliere’s Tartuffe has company mainstay Graham Abbey delivering one of the best comic performances in  this  venerable theatre’s history. And no, he’s not playing the title character — he’s not the oily religious hypocrite and con-artist who ingratiates himself into a wealthy Parisian household and causes mayhem.

On the contrary, Abbey has the role of Orgon, the gullible head of the household and a man bewitched by Tartuffe’s bogus odour of sanctity. (more…)

Stratford’s Breathing Hole is one for the memory books.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

The Breathing Hole - On The Run 2017

Photo: Cylla Von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ontario — Our first encounter with the mythic polar bear dominating the Stratford Festival’s stunning production of The Breathing Hole comes at the very beginning when a widowed Inuit woman takes an orphaned one-eared cub into her care.

Our last sighting of of Angu’juaq — for that is the name bestowed on this creature — comes 500 years later, and the moment is heartbreaking.

By the end of the evening, we’re aware that Colleen Murphy’s remarkable play is making an ecological statement. But unlike The Madwoman Of Chaillot, another late-season Stratford offering with the environment on its mind, it radiates genuine heart when it comes to environmental matters. The self-congratulatory aren’t-we-being-clever flavour of Jean Giradoux’s satirical fantasy has no place in the sensibility of The Breathing Hole. It is an intensely human play tinged at the end with a melancholy that is palpable.

(more…)

Stratford tries to make a revival of Madwoman Of Chaillot take flight

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

The Madwoman of Chaillot - On The Run 2017

Seana McKenna as the Madwoman. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ont. — The stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre has become a fantasy place — of colourful jugglers, exultant wordplay and somersaulting paradoxes, of imaginary dogs, lifeguards who can’t swim, cops with a weakness for cribbage — and a madwoman who isn’t mad.

Seana McKenna, who has the title role in the Stratford Festival’s new production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, gives us a character who confidently exists in her own reality — or is it her own unreality?

The flamboyant costumes designed for her by Teresa Przbylski certainly reflect a certain dotty elegance, but it is ultimately McKenna herself who really brings this quality into topsy-turvy focus with her performance as Aurelie, the Madwoman of Chaillot.

(more…)

The Shaw Festival serves up a defanged Dracula

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — You know there’s something wrong with the trendy 1985 version of Dracula currently available at the Shaw Festival when you quickly start yearning for the old Hamilton Deane-John Balderston stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s celebrated vampire shocker.

To be sure the latter is somewhat creaky and happy to indulge in old-fashioned melodramatics. But it can still have a potent impact on stage and was still scaring the daylights out of playgoers in a 1977 Broadway revival starring Frank Langella. (more…)

The Shaw Festival triumphs with Middletown

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Middletown, Photo: James Cooper

Middletown. Photo:David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. —  We seem to be entering a somewhat skewed universe when we attend the Shaw Festival’s production of American dramatist Will Eno’s Middletown.

For example, what’s with the conflicted town cop, played by Benedict Campbell, brutally throttling a mouthy good-for-nothing, played by Jeff Meadows, and commanding him to acknowledge the wonder and awe of life’s mystery? (more…)

The Shaw Festival’s Dancing At Lughnasa offers outstanding acting

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

dancing1297967349749_ORIGINAL

Photo. David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — There’s Fiona Byrne, poignantly convincing as Kate, the oldest of the sisters and a bundle of laced-in repression. She’s a school teacher, painfully aware of being the only real wage-earner of the household at a time of gathering economic travail, devout in her Roman Catholic faith, and fiercely devoted in her own humourless way to her family.

There is Serena Parmar, a mixture of resilience and vulnerability as Chris, the youngest of the sisters. She’s the mother of seven-year-old Michael and unemployed — her life on hold because of Michael’s vagabond father, Gerry, who is more absent than present in their lives.

And then we have two particularly close sisters  who earn a bit of money by knitting gloves at home and selling them: the quiet and reflective Agnes, whose silences, in Claire Jullien’s intricately embroidered performance, tell their own tale. Agnes in her own way is the chief carer for Rose, the sister who has never really grown up: she’s portrayed by Diana Donnelly with a joyous, child-like innocence that also leaves you aware of her emotional fragility.

(more…)

The Shaw Festival delivers a riotous Androcles and the Lion.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Androcles1297967606191_ORIGINAL

Photo: David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — The other night Tom Pidgeon, the Ottawa Little Theatre’s longtime technical director, made a memorable contribution to the Shaw Festival’s riotous production of Androcles And The Lion.

He ended up on the stage of the venerable Court House Theatre — playing the lion.

Pidgeon happened to be in the audience that evening, and had been plucked from its midst, equipped with a scrofulous wig and bedraggled tail, and assigned the task of delivering assorted roars, growls and moans until actor Patrick Galligan, in the role of the kindly Christian tailor, Androcles, removed a painful thorn from the creature’s paw.

The motley magnificence of Pidgeon’s effort earned an appreciative burst of applause before he was allowed to return to his seat and become a member of the audience again. But not an invisible member of that audience — no one in the house really was.

(more…)

Classic Theatre Festival delivers a worthy Candida

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Candida. Photo Jean-Denis LaBelle

Candida By George Bernard Shaw, A Perth Classic Theatre Festival production directed by Laurel Smith

PERTH, Ontario — One of the pleasures of an Ottawa Valley summer is Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival, which has an impressive track record for mounting quality fare.

Its current production of Candida, Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play about turmoil within the household of an Anglican vicar, is no exception.

On the surface, this may seem no more than a comedy about the unsettling impact of a romantic young poet named Eugene Marchbanks when he enters the lives of James Morell, a cleric whose Socialist convictions and gift for rhetoric have won him public prominence, and Morell’s beguiling wife, Candida. But Laurel Smith’s discerning production finds deeper currents in the central situation — which involves the youthful Eugene’s infatuation with Candida, an infatuation so intense and so openly critical of Morell that it leaves the latter increasingly insecure about her love.

(more…)

The Virgin Trial :Kate Hennig’s latest Tudor thriller is superior to the production it gets at Stratford.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

virginindex

The Virgin Trial. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann

STRATFORD, Ont. — Tudor England in all its drama and turbulence continues to attract a huge following in today’s popular culture. From the reign of King Henry Vlll through to the Gloriana days of Elizabeth 1, we’ve had an unending cycle of popular and academic history, best-selling fiction, movies, television series and stage plays.

It’s inevitable that we often get more mythology than history and that the speculative often vies with the factual for our attention. Purists may harrumph about this — will we, for example, ever know for certain the truth about Elizabeth’s virginity? But can we deny that, even centuries afterwards, Tudor times remain urgently, irresistibly alive to us?

Part of the explanation must surely lie in the fact that we’re dealing with formidable personalities. A couple of years ago, dramatist Kate Hennig showed her awareness of this in her debut play, The Last Wife, which received a sterling production last season at Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company. It focussed on Catherine Parr, Henry Vlll’s last Queen and a lady who — given the history of her predecessors — showed an impressive capacity for survival. Hennig’s evocation of the dying days of a tyrant’s reign was aflame with dramatic tension, but it was the play’s status as a richly realized character piece that gave it the momentum it needed. And it compelled us to give our full attention to the complex personalities of the key players — not just Henry and Catherine, but also Henry’s two very bright but psychologically different daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, as well as that shady but charming opportunist Thomas Seymour who would marry the widowed Catherine and also pursue some kind of relationship with the young Elizabeth, a relationship whose very nature has kept us guessing for centuries.

(more…)

Stratford’s The Changeling: More Fizzle Than Sizzle

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

STRATFORD, Ont. — The Stratford Festival’s new production of The Changeling starts revealing its fault lines almost immediately.

On the one hand, we have the always dependable Mike Nadajewski, revelling in the small but important role of that sardonic whistle-blower, Jasperino, and delivering the play’s 17th Century dialogue with naturalistic ease. (more…)

Categories

Past Reviews