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.

Orpheus strikes gold with Shrek: The Musical

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Shrek: Poster from Orpheus Musical theatre

Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire.Music by Jeanine Tesori.  Based on the Dreamworks animation motion picture and the book by William Steig. Orpheus Musical Theatre Society,  directed by Jenn Donnelly.

Shrek: The Musical will never win a place in the annals of great Broadway shows, but the production it receives from Orpheus is nevertheless an ongoing delight.

Forget the fact that the prime reason for its arrival on the Great White Way was somewhat cynical and opportunistic —  to capitalize further on the enormous success of the Dreamworks animated movie about a misanthropic swamp-dwelling ogre named Shrek and his rescue of a princess from a tower. Ignore, if you can, the readiness of the stage adaptation to remain faithful to a marketing dictum pursued by the filmmakers — that young audiences find flatulence funny. Accept the reality that Jeanine Tesori’s score can be pretty underwhelming. (more…)

Voices From The Front evokes the words and memories of two world wars

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Voice from the Front. Plosive Productions.

Photo courtesy of Plosive Productions

 

Voices FromThe Front: The Radio Show

Conceived by John Cook and Teri Loretto-Valentik

A Plosive production at the Gladstone Theatre to Nov. 11

On one level, Voices From The Front — the latest entry in Ottawa theatre’s popular Radio Show series — may seem simplicity itself. Yet its impact can be powerful.

There’s a row of microphones along the front of the Gladstone Theatre’s playing area. Behind, there’s a row of chairs for the performers as they await those moments when they come forward to read. And in one corner, there’s a piano and the three singing Gladstone Sisters who will be making their own important contribution to the evening. (more…)

Kanata Theatre’s Shatter collapses with a thud

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Kanata Theatre’s production of a play called Shatter is that it’s well-intentioned.

But that’s not sufficient to give it a pass.

It may have seemed an attractive notion to mark the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion with a drama that purports to deal with this tragedy. But the people at Kanata Theatre should have first made sure that the script was worth doing.

Dramatist Trina Davies is clearly seeking to bring a note of intimacy to her story and give us a glimpse of ravaged human lives. But in the process, she devalues the impact on Haligonians (and on Canadians) of the largest man-made explosion in human history until the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima 28 years later. (more…)

Enchanted April lives up to its title in Linden House production

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Poster for Enchanted April

There are understandable reasons that Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel, Enchanted April, is enjoying a renewed lease on life.

Perhaps the most obvious in this day and age is the fact that one can detect early tinges of feminism in this story of four British women of various ages and backgrounds who boldly assert their independence and team up for an idyllic holiday in an old castle in sunbaked Italy.

But other durable factors are also at play here. It is an engaging tale. It is peopled by four interesting and believable female characters. Finally, in its successful transfers to film and stage: the material has offered a bouquet of splendid acting opportunities. (more…)

The NAC King of the Yees fails to mesh

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

King of Yees. Provided by the NAC English Theatre

 

 

So whats exactly happening on the stage of the Babs Asper Theatre at the National Arts Centre? Well now,  let’s see. There are such ingredients as identity angst, the generation gap, urban politics, racial stereotyping, cultural dislocation, a search for “meaning” in life. We also get smidgeons of naturalism, surrealism, dada, Brechtian and absurdist devices glued together by low-vaudeville buffoonery — all hopefully stirred into American playwright Lauren Yee’s dramatic pot in expectation of a coherent whole. A picturesquely conceived lion occasionally makes a manic appearance along with a chiropractor who’s really a sadistic needle-plunging acupuncturist — or is he actually a herbalist? There’s a swaggering caricature of aTong gangster — Shrimp Boy by name — whose presence triggers a street shoot-out that manages to throw an already discordant offering even more off track. (more…)

Bent: a problematic production but some substantial performances bring substance to the evening.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

 

Bent Phillip Merriman in the foreground.
Photo Peter Whittaker

 

There are moments in TotoToo’s production of Bent that are as good as anything that this enterprising company has ever done.

Indeed, the excellent performances of Phillip Merriman and Mike Rogoff as two doomed young lovers provide a compelling reason for theatregoers to seek out this sometimes problematic revival of Martin Sherman’s 1979 play about Nazi persecution of homosexuals. (more…)

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…)

Past Reviews