Capital Critics' Circle
Le cercle des critiques de la capitale

Reviewing Theatre in Canada's Capital Region
La critique théâtrale de la région Ottawa-Gatineau

What a Young Wife Ought to Know,: a play that stays with you long after you’ve left the theatre, dried your eyes, and found your voice again.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Photo Timothy Patrick

Hannah Moscovitch’s play What a Young Wife Ought to Know, which is based on a compilation of letters women sent to famous birth control advocate Dr. Marie Stopes in the 1920s, tackles an uncomfortably difficult theme.    It is  particularly hard to watch nowadays  when  crimes, attempted against women, are coming to light every day;

The subject matter of Moscovitch’s play, which is so  deeply sad and disturbing,  does not allow the spectator to relax for one minutes from the  overwhelming horror.   Nevertheless,  the playwright, with the director, technical crew, and actors, create an intimate, haunting story and infuse it with so much warmth and humour that it seduces its audience  in spite of the uncomfortable truths it speaks. The result is an overwhelming empathy and understanding for the characters and a play that stays with you long after you’ve left the theatre, dried your eyes.
(Continue reading » )

887 lepage at the NAC: technology masterfully used to support storytelling

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada, Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

887 Robert Lepage,   Photo  Erick Labbé

Robert Lepage’s 887, named after his childhood home address, deals with the unstable, vague nature of personal and collective memory. It’s an autobiographical show, in which he recalls his childhood in Québec City during the turbulent 1960s.

Details about his father and his immediate surroundings, as well as the Quiet Revolution and its consequences, frame his childhood and shape his identity, to an extent that surprises even Lepage. The snippets of story are nestled within the frame of the artist’s struggle to remember the words to “Speak White” By Michèle Lalonde, a poem dealing with the cultural and linguistic imperialism of the English-speaking world. (Continue reading » )

Arsenic and Old Lace: A fun night at the theatre delivers laughs

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Maria Vartanova

We often make jokes about that which scares or hurts us the most. It’s a way many of us cope with a world that can often feel needlessly cruel and absurd. It’s because of this need to laugh in the face of darkness that a comedy such as Joseph Kesselring’s play Arsenic and Old Lace has such an enduring quality.  After all, there’s something strangely captivating about discovering the layer of rotten silt under a veneer of respectability. The Ottawa Little Theatre’s production  of Arsenic and Old Lace, directed by Brian Cano, is a delightfully relaxing romp, despite its dark plot. There are some minor issues with pacing, but its combination of adept directing, brilliant acting, and sumptuous sets make for a cozy evening at the theatre. (Continue reading » )

GCTC’s Production of You Are Happy Grapples With Modern Relationships

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: JVL Photo

We live in a confusing world, a loud word full of what ifs and shoulds. You Are Happy, the Great Canadian Theatre Company’s season opener, criticizes one of those – the pre-conceived notion of love and being part of a couple. Written by Rébecca Déraspe, translated by Leanna Brodie and directed by Adrienne Wong, the play by no means takes a condescending stance. While satirizing modern relationships with an average turnaround time of two years, at its heart always remains our human need for connection and love.  (Continue reading » )

The Ghomeshi Effect: Brilliant concept that needs more work

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Photo: Andrew Alexander

In the Director’s notes of The Ghomeshi Effect’s program, director Jessica Ruano states: “…safety isn’t often what I’m seeking at a night out at the theatre…curiosity can be dangerous. Curiosity means: I’m prepared for anything, even if it’s not what I want to hear. Even if it upsets me. Even if I fundamentally disagree. Even if it challenges something I’ve believed for as long as I can remember.” The Ghomeshi Effect is a much needed addition to the conversation about sexual assault and has already sparked conversation over the treatment of survivors by the justice system. (Continue reading » )

Burn: Muggleton and cast put on suspenseful, fun play

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: John Muggleton

Photo: John Muggleton

Written and directed by John Muggleton
Avalon Studio

Longtime friends Robert, Samira, and David meet after some time apart at the request of the daughter of their recently deceased friend, successful horror writer, Paul. None of the three friends know precisely why Eve, the daughter, wants to meet them, except to deliver something – whether it’s news, a portion of their friend’s will, or a package isn’t clear. When she arrives, she easily and somewhat aggressively inserts herself into the conversation. Thing start quickly falling off the rails when she insists on telling her own horror (or is it ghost?) story, peppering it with unsettling secrets from Robert’s and Paul’s past. It’s at this point that Robert, Samira, and David realize that there is something undeniably eerie about Eve. Although the script and directing needs some very minor fine-tuning, writer and director John Muggleton ultimately takes the audience from comfort and intimacy to the edge of their seats in suspense in, Burn.

It’s obvious that Muggleton knows a thing or two about people – how they love, how they doubt, and what and how they fear. The play opens with a rather lengthy exchange between Robert (Chris Torti), Samira (Tahera Mufti), and David (Michael Thompson) as they wait for Eve’s arrival. Although this section could be shortened a bit, there is a method to the seemingly slow pace. Muggleton, Torti, Mufti, and Thompson take the time to establish  characters and invite the audience into their private world. Empathy is a powerful drug and it’s this intimacy makes the suspense and horror, when it does come, that much more powerful. Having said that, the same effect could have been achieved in less time. (Continue reading » )

Tuesdays with Morrie at The Gladstone is Emotional, Poignant

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo courtesy of The Gladstone

Photo courtesy of The Gladstone

Director John P. Kelly has built something of a reputation for himself in Ottawa as a master of comedy. His take on a more serious production, Tuesdays with Morrie is thought-provoking, engaging and emotional. Cast and crew come together for a rich production that does credit to the heart warming, true story.

Originally written as a memoir by Detroit sports journalist Mitch Albom, Albom later adapted the play for the stage with co-playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. In it, he narrates his reconnection with Morrie Schwartz, his college sociology professor and friend. They lose touch after Albom graduates and goes on to become an extremely successful sports journalist. He spends his life running from one sports event to another, one deadline to the next. That is, until he sees his old professor as a guest on Nightline. The now 78-year-old has Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) and Albion goes to see him to pay his respects. The two start talking and, little by little, that visit turns into 14 consecutive Tuesdays of sitting and talking with Morrie.

Director Kelly captures the essence of the beautifully simple text down to every last detail. Under his hand, a play that ostensibly talks about death brims with life, joy, and laughter. From the first moment Mitch introduces Morrie on the minimalist stage, the audience feels an instant connection with him. A sense of warmth permeates the entire production, as Kelly lets the sentimentality of the subject speak for itself, but never lets it become overwhelming or cheesy. David Magladry’s simple, but symbolic set and lighting compliment Kelly’s direction, as he helps set the atmosphere perfectly. (Continue reading » )

A Man Walks into a Bar: Uncomfortable, true to life exploration of gender politics

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo by Tanja Tiziana courtesy of the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Photo by Tanja Tiziana courtesy of the Next Stage Theatre Festival

A Man Walks into a Bar is a well written, funny, and well-performed feminist show about a woman (Rachel Blair) who tries to tell joke and a man (Blue Bigwood-Mallin) who “helps” her tell is properly. It’s a simple enough premise, but playwright Blair infuses the text with complexity and an exploration of gender politics. The humour is in the delivery and interaction between the two characters. The punch line, when it comes at long last, only serves to underscore the conditions women are groomed to accept and the fear with which they live.  The play holds up an uncomfortable mirror to real life.

Both Blair and Bigwood-Mallin are terrific actors. Blair has great comedic timing and her delivery is spot on and her acting range is impressive. She has the ability to draw attention to her characters, even when they stand at the back of the stage or draw into themselves. Indeed, some of the most powerful moments of the performance were the moments she doesn’t speak. Although Bigwood-Mallin took some time to really settle into his character, toward the middle of the performance, he really comes into his own and sends shivers of disgust and annoyance through the audience. (Continue reading » )

Twelfth Night: Light production sacrifices depth for fun

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  


Photo. Andrée Lanthier

The NAC English Theatre Company has teamed up with The Old Trout Puppet Workshop for a visually stunning production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The Old Trout Puppet Workshop hits it out of the park with the sets and masks, which director Jillian Kieley elegantly brings to life. It’s not a flawless production, or a version that gives Shakespeare’s elegant balance of comedy and melancholy its due respect, but it is fun and visually appealing.

Twelfth Night hardly needs much explaining, so let me be brief. Viola is separated from her brother Sebastian in a ship wreck. She washes up on the shoes of Illyria, cross-dresses as a eunuch named Cesario, and serves in the court of count Orisno, who is in love with a disinterested Olivia. Viola-as-Cesario is sent to woo Olivia, who falls madly in with her/him. Did I forget to mention that Viola is in love with Orsino? Or that there is a sub-plot between Olivia’s perpetually drunk cousin, Sir Tobey Belch, his drinking buddy Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and the servants?

The production is light, colourful, and fun. It’s described as directed by Keiley and imagined by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop. This is very clear throughout the production, as the wonderful aesthetics overwhelm the story. Much of the depth of Shakespeare’s text is sacrificed for the visuals and an over-reliance on farcical, physical comedy. The joke Sir Toby Belch and his group play on Malvolio is treated as just a bit of fun, so the blighted man’s anger and despair seem out of place.

Likewise, the decision to set the play in the late 17th century would have been more believable had the costuming been more consistent. A sailor’s very modern raincoat and hat seem out of place in a sea of stockings, embellished jackets, and wigs. Likewise the jester Feste’s white costume looks out of place in the 17th century, and too simple and colourless for the 16th. (Continue reading » )

Ottawa StoryTellers Weave Enchanting Tales

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo courtesy of the Ottawa StoryTellers

Photo courtesy of the Ottawa StoryTellers

Once upon a time, at the very beginning of human time itself, long before we learned how to write, we told stories. Throughout history, oral stories were an important way of passing down information and a to understand the world. The drive to create, understand, and connect is one of the facets that makes us human and storytelling lets us express that desire. It is, therefore, a universal expression of our humanity. The Ottawa StoryTellers have been around for decades and exist to promote the art of storytelling in the community. Their 2015-2016 Speaking Out/Speaking In debut show, A Winter Tale: The Journey of the Blind Harper, tells of Turlough O’Carolan, Ireland’s famous blind harper of the 18th century. Written by Laurie Fyffe, Kim Kilpatrick and Emily Pearlman and performed by Kim Kilpatrick, Emily Pearlman and harpist Lucile Brais Hildesheim, the story enchants and delivers a cozy evening that spirits us away to far off lands, a long time ago.

A well-crafted story enchants us into its world. It seduces the audience to seamlessly blend their reality and its fiction into one experience. A good story teller sets the atmosphere, but allows the audience to build the sets, cast of characters, and add any details omitted from the telling. This can be overwhelming for the story tellers, but it can be just as intense for the audience. Both, in a sense, are laid bare on the stage. They have nothing to hide behind – no theatrical or technical tricks to hide behind; just words, and imagination.  (Continue reading » )

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