Reviewer: Kat Fournier

Kat Fournier

Lawrence Aronovitch’s Finishing the Suit an insightful portrayal of grief and mourning

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Photo: Andrew Alexander

This is a true heartbreaker. In Bear and Co’s latest offering at the Gladstone Theatre, Ottawa-based playwright Lawrence Aronovitch pens a script that delves into the grief of lost love. This world premiere is largely set in a tailor’s shop in 1070s New York, where being a publicly gay man is criminal. A young, nameless tailor works on a bespoke suit for a funeral. In the midst of his work, his mind wanders to his life’s greatest loves – the Duke of Windsor and a fiery Irish actor – who are now both dead, and suddenly conjures their ghosts onto the stage. (more…)

Director Lisa Zanyk balances the absurd and all-too familiar aspects of humanity in Albee’s At Home at the Zoo

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Don’t we all have an inner Jerry? In so many ways, Edward Albee’s infamously volatile, transient character Jerry captures our frustrating inability to feel at home in a strangely formulaic world. He reveals the alienating sensation of being a human amongst other humans. Moreover, that I even left the Carleton Tavern with that in mind is a fine tribute to the work of director Lisa Zanyk and a nimble trio of actors who’ve taken on Albee’s At Home at the Zoo.

The double-bill features two one-act plays that have been careful sewn together by the playwright. The second act is a stand-alone play, Zoo Story, which he wrote while in his late twenties. Considering the piece well-formed but “incomplete”, Albee fleshed out Peter’s character in a prelude of sorts called Homelife when he was in his 70s. The two short pieces now play as a two act performance that exposes an uncomfortable portrayal of the middle class. (more…)

The Daisy Theatre: Come for the puppets, stay for the saucy social commentary

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

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Photo; GCTC affiche.

Knowing that this is a vaudeville style puppet show, and even knowing Ronnie Burkett’s work, there’s no preparing for what you might experience at The Daisy Theatre. Playing at the GCTC until December 18, this show may look like and feel like a delightfully nostalgic puppet show, but there’s no doubt that it will manage to subvert your expectations and leave you on the butt of a zinger or two (likely more). Fueled by Burkett’s wit and armed with a roster of 44 marionettes, there is no saying what exactly might happen on that stage.

The deal is that if we have fun, he’ll have fun. It’s an enticing enough prospect to get everyone to loosen up a little while we wonder what Burkett has in store. The first puppet sets the stage: A beautifully crafted string marionette in a floor-length gown who proceeds to tantalize the audience through a burlesque performance where she sings in a raspy voice while stripping down to her thong.

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The Last Wife is an exciting and purposed reimagination of Katherine Parr’s history

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Photo: Emily Cooper

Photo: Emily Cooper

There’s a bravery that sits at the heart of The Last Wife that caught me off-guard. Playwright Kate Hennig imagines the intimate conversations that may have occurred in the most private moments between Katherine Parr and her husband, King Henry VIII, and even conjures up an unexpected romance. A historical play, one might expect a dusty piece brimming with period costumes and old-school notions; to say that this production is anything but dusty is an understatement. This artistic team, with director Esther Jun at the helm, is exhilarating from start to finish. Yet, The Last Wife is also much more than a romantic yarn between an odd-couple—it’s a story that reimagines Katherine Parr as a woman who challenges the status quo of her role as a woman and as the king’s closemouthed wife.

The first scene in this play gives the audience no illusions that Henry is anything but an impenetrable wall of a patriarch, but there’s a notable shift that occurs in the second scene: Katherine concedes to marrying Henry, but demands autonomy over her body—even in the bedroom. It is the type of conversation that feels more at-home in the 21st century than in the 16th. Hennig’s text is marked by its use of modernity, ultimately crafting a piece of theatre that forces its audience to revisit an old story with a new lens. This shift of perspective is an established tradition that has roots in the Canadian theatre tradition. A modern example is Margaret Clarke’s Gertrude and Ophelia, written in 1993. Hennig, like Clarke, takes an approach to narrative that is a blend of post-structuralism and feminism and finds ways that female characters may be reimagined, to have them disrupt or dislodge the patriarchal structures of their histories. And is there a better historical figure than Katherine Parr, the sixth wife to Henry VIII, for whom we can imagine such liberation? Katherine was a published writer, a regent, and the only one of King Henry VIII’s wives to survive his supposed tyranny as a husband where all others were divorced, deceased or beheaded. What was it that made her unique? Was she simply a dowdy, complacent nurse-maid, and Henry, too old and gout-ridden to find occasion to have her killed? Hennig certainly doesn’t see it that way. (more…)

‘da Kink is powerful as ever, but keeps the present at arms length

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Photo: Trudie Lee

Photo: Trudie Lee

Trey Anthony’s influence in Canadian theatre is remarkable, and ‘da Kink in My Hair sits at the very heart of her contributions to Canadian culture. Originally a box-office-breaking Toronto Fringe offering in 2001, the play has taken on a life of its own and evolved into a modern classic. It has been adapted for television and re-worked as a musical. As part of a partnership between the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Theatre Calgary, the musical has just finished its run in Calgary and now Ottawa audiences are fortunate to see Trey Anthony reprising her role as Novelette at the National Arts Centre until November 5.

Anthony as Novelette is irreverent, saucy, and no-nonsense. The character brings humour and healing to the other women that come through her salon. More importantly, Novelette is also a key literary device that underpins the whole production. Her name may be your first clue that she is the “man behind the curtain” so to speak, and the all-knowing curator of the stories that we hear in this transcendental space. The setting, Letty’s Salon, is a shifting type of reality that allows these women’s stories to be woven together. It’s a space that incorporates a touch of magical realism and, paired with the musical elements of the production, emphasize the indeterminate nature of the stage. The set design by Cory Sincennes blends modern and retro elements. Red-framed mirrors adorn the walls, while dryer chairs and hair cutting stations flank stage right and left, respectively. The most important details of the stage are two elements that are rigged on a pulley system: The larger-than-life Letty’s Salon sign that hangs over the playing arena, and the backdrop that features dozens of black women’s hairstyles. When they are pulled up, we know we’re not at Letty’s anymore…. (more…)

Ottawa’s weird and wonderful Fresh Meat theatre festival is a treat for daring audiences

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

The Fresh Meat Festival returns to Arts Court theatre for its fifth instalment. Were an unsuspecting audience member to stumble upon this event, it’d be one for the books. Fresh Meat is for fearless audience members who are looking for a taste of the experimental, unhinged and up-and-coming. The festival distinguishes itself as one that presents unbridled artistry from local theatre makers in the early stages of their careers. That these works are unpolished and presented with minimal set or costuming only adds to the atmosphere; the DIY aesthetic is met by truly experimental performances by Ottawa’s next generation of creators.

The Fresh Meat Festival runs two weekends, the second of which kicked off on Thursday October 20. During the second weekend of Fresh Meat 5, five shows run the gamut of theatrical styles, from self-reflective storytelling, to scripted sketch comedy, physical comedy and more. Across the board, the performances are comedic in nature. That’s where the comparison ends.

The evening opens with a performance by the winners of the 2016 Prix Rideau Awards for Outstanding New Creation for their 2016 Ottawa Fringe offering, Rideshares and Ropeswings. Catch Matt Hertendy and Matthew Venne’s succeeding show, Boy vs. Chair at Fresh Meat 5. The show is a disorienting stand-off between a man in a propeller hat and a not-so-inanimate, black chair. It’s a kind of parody of the common narrative convention that “things are not what they seem,” delivering to its audience a silly, peculiar and awkward story that is more rooted in the physical comedy of the two performers than it is in making itself understandable. What starts as a power struggle soon becomes a Bop-It! duel, then a reconciliation, then a choreographed pas-de-deux. Just kidding, they obviously aren’t dancers. Hertendy and Venne are advantaged by their awkward physical presences on stage, and this show will undoubtedly give you the giggles. (more…)

A multi-media interpretation of Büchner’s Woyzeck puts the audience into the role of clinical observer.

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Third Wall Theatre re-opens after a two year hiatus with renewed energy, bringing audience’s an atmospheric, deeply psychological portrayal of one of theatre’s most intriguing tragic-heroes. Director James Richardson picked a work that is close to his heart, choosing to create a production that is a personal reflection on some aspects of Georg Büchner’s masterwork, Woyzeck. This post-modern approach to what is considered the first modern drama brings audiences a living hallucination, bolstered by multi-media and casting the audience into the role of clinical observer.

Critic Lyn Gardner summarizes the appeal of Büchner’s Woyzeck—the source piece for this performance—beautifully in her 2003 review of a production by Cardboard Citizens in London, “Büchner never even finished his play; nobody knows in what order the scenes were intended to be played. It is its plasticity that has made this 200-year-old work one of the most influential plays in contemporary drama – that, and its concentrated depiction of alienation and disassociation.” This is certainly true of Richardson’s “elastic” interpretation of the text, playing as part of the TACTICS Theatre Series at Arts Court.

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Janet Wilson Meets the Queen: this microcosm of the 1970s pushes nostalgia to tedium

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

The world is shifting underneath her feet and yet, Janet Wilson tries very hard not to notice. The world premiere of Janet Wilson Meets the Queen by Beverley Cooper, playing now at the GCTC, turns a family’s home into a microcosm for the rise of political activism and shifting gender roles that mark the 1970s.

The epitome of 1960’s housewife, Janet prepares for Vancouver’s centennial anniversary and a celebratory visit from the Queen of England. Roger Schultz’s set is a perfectly 1960s kitchen with its colourful, floral print wallpaper that blends into a perfectly matching floor. Two additional risers flank the main stage, which become additional rooms inside the Wilson’s home. A large screen hovers over the kitchen, where the opening moments of the play depict Neil Armstrong’s iconic first steps on the moon. As the play progresses, the moon-walking man materializes on stage, visible only to Janet. He becomes a symbol of the impossibility of stagnation; progress is literally invading her home.

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Fun, games, and Woolfish cruelty at The Gladstone

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Edward Albee’s biting social commentary hits its audience with full force in Bear and Co’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by Ian Farthing. The dark comedy brings the infamous, unsparing duo of George and Martha to life. This darkly comedic story may be a classic piece of Americana, yet this production brings a fresh interpretation to this evening-gone-wrong. What starts out as a fairly naturalistic set-up quickly spirals into the realm of the psychological. The characters are tossed into an existential mess, fueled by personal stagnation and alcohol, that none of them can leave.

George, a history professor, and his wife Martha, the daughter of the college’s president, return from a party and the barrage of high-brow insults begins even as the play opens. Though it’s already 2 a.m., Martha announces the imminent arrival of two guests. Nick and Honey – a young professor, new to the college, and his wife—are unassuming and out of place in George and Martha’s den of despair. But the volley of cruelty has just begun and Nick and Honey have no idea what they’re up for.

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Through clever staging “Tuesdays With Morrie” becomes a heady meditation on death

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

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Photo: director John P. Kelly

In a sense, Tuesdays With Morrie is a “prodigical son” story but from the eyes of the son. Based on the New York Times bestselling book by the same title, this is the theatrical adaptation penned by original author Mitch Albom along with Jeffrey Hatcher. After Albom leaves college and his beloved teacher, Morrie Schwartz, he falls into a pace of life that conflicts with the spirited world-view that Schwartz embodied. Sixteen years later, Albom chances on his former mentor by chance and learns that he has been diagnosed with ALS. Albom starts a reluctant pilgrimage to Schwartz’s house for a series of fourteen Tuesdays that end up being a catalyst for Albom’s own personal transformation.

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