Reviewer: Maja Stefanovska

Maja Stefanovska
Born in Bosnia and Herzegovina to a political journalist father and arts critic mother (Rajka Stevanovska) , Maja has been immersed in the performing arts since she could barely walk and learned very early on to look upon works with a critical eye. She has a Master's degree in communication and currently works for the government in her field, as well as writing theater reviews on the side.

The Ghomeshi Effect: Brilliant concept that needs more work

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

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. By encouraging discussion, Perspective Collective Theatre has already fulfilled its mandate. Is it theatre that provokes, upsets, or pushes its audience to confront uncomfortable facts? Not particularly, outside of the facts it presents. Other than a few emotionally charged moments, the verbatim dance piece fails to invoke intense emotion, considering the moving subject matter. The Ghomeshi Effect is a great concept and one that absolutely needs to be explored further. It’s empowering, as it gives voice to survivors’ experiences, told in their own words. Unfortunately, the gravity of the message gets lost amid the weak dramaturgy directing, lights, and choreography. (more…)

Burn: Muggleton and cast put on suspenseful, fun play

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Photo: John Muggleton

Photo: John Muggleton

Burn
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. (more…)

Tuesdays with Morrie at The Gladstone is Emotional, Poignant

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

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. (more…)

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

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

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. (more…)

Twelfth Night: Light production sacrifices depth for fun

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

TristanD.LallaBruceDowJanelleCooper_thumb.jpg

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. (more…)

Ottawa StoryTellers Weave Enchanting Tales

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

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.  (more…)

Angel Square: GCTC’s production falls just short of the novel’s warmth

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Photo: Andrew Alexander

1940s Ottawa childhoods, particularly those of the traditionally working class neighbourhood of Lowertown, could be as rough as they were exciting. As depicted in Brian Doyle’s classic novel, Angel Square, tensions ran high along racial lines and resulted in daily skirmishes between children in Angel Square, nestled between a Jewish, French-Canadian, and Catholic school. However, just as the children fight on a daily basis, so too are they close friends and allies. Through their eyes, the audience see the foolishness of racism and the value in being able to put aside petty differences and work together to achieve a goal. The Great Canadian Theatre (GCTC) partners with veteran director Janet Irwin to present her adaptation of the novel just in time for the holiday season. It contains some brilliantly vivid characters and evocative scenes, but doesn’t quite manage to match the warmth and atmosphere so plentiful in the novel.

Angel Square depicts the life of Tommy, an imaginative boy in Lowertown Ottawa the first winter after the end of World War Two. Tommy imagines himself as his hero, the crime-fighting Shadow of radio drama fame, which comes in very handy when anti-Semitism results in the injury of his best friend’s father. Together with his Jewish, Irish, and French-Canadian friends, he sets out to solve the mystery and catch the culprit. (more…)

The Creation of the World and Other Business: 9th Hour Theatre presents a rich and imaginative production

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Photo: Andre R. Gagne

Photo: Andre R. Gagne

Arthur Miller’s The Creation of the World and Other Business tanked when it first opened on Broadway in 1972. Its attempts at comedy, as well as an intelligent, complex treatment of the subject matter are all disparaged to this day. The text does seem confused about its identity – does it want to be a comedy or a drama? By attempting to be both, it misses the mark and comes off flat. Luckily, 9th Hour Theatre’s rich, imaginative production presents the best of what the play has to offer. There are a few elements that can be ironed out, but, overall, cast and crew come together and present a highly enjoyable production which digs into the characters and central themes of the text.

The Creation of the World and Other Business is Miller’s take on the Biblical creation of the world. We first get to know Adam, endlessly frolicking in the Garden of Eden, blissful in his sinless ignorance. God wants Adam to procreate, so he creates Eve. Unfortunately, their innocence is such that procreation, or the act required for it, doesn’t even cross the the two humans’ minds. God, in his infinite power and somewhat lacklustre wisdom, doesn’t know how to make this happen, so in comes Lucifer, a shrewdly intelligent archangel and the only one to challenge God’s ideas. He has some ideas of his own, setting events into motion that change the path of humanity forever.  (more…)

Pachiv!

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Hymm’s in Hearse Theatre’s production, Pachiv! revolves around Grease (Tony Adams) and Ewe (Chelsea Young), a young Easter European couple newly arrived to Canada. They hold a “pachiv,” or lantern party to get to know their neighbours. Although the couple is energetic, optimistic, and a little bit naive, a darker layer lurks behind their hospitality and smiles. Although they have left their lives in the old country behind, their problems have followed them to Canada.

Although Adams and Young put a lot of energy into this production, they ultimately fail to connect with the subject matter and, therefore, the audience. The issues their production touches on – poverty, starting a new in a foreign land, the immigrant experience – are all very real to many Canadians. After all, this is the fabric of Canada’s story. Pachiv! fails to capture this experience, mostly because it feels like the actors are telling a story so far removed form their own experiences that they could only brush at its surface. Accents (which magically disappear whenever Adams and Young sing) don’t make a story about immigrants and, at times, run the risk of being offensive to the group of people being portrayed.

A production that asks actors to step into a different culture and mindset takes a lot of research and understanding. Unfortunately, Pachiv! didn’t show either. The actors came off as being in over their heads, trying to portray people, issues, and a subject neither of them understood.

Pachiv! plays at Bronfman Amphitheatre

Three Men in a Boat

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Three Men in a Boat is a charming romp on the river Thames. The play, based on Jerome K. Jerome’s 1889 British travelogue, is about three bored, incompetent friends. With too much money and not enough interests, they fall back on discussing the many ailments the young men fancy they suffer. They conclude that they suffer from “overwork,” and so decide to take a holiday punting on the river Thames with hilariously disastrous consequences. Pea Green Theatre Group’s stage adaptation is just as hilarious and witty as the novel. Scott Garland, Matt Pilipiak, and Victor Pokinko use everything from facial expressions, to body language and pacing, to give life to these absurd, entitled characters.

The performers are full of energy and director Sue Miner has choreographed the chaos to make the most out of the characters’ buffoonish actions. Three Men in a Boat was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It’s clever and well-executed. The only shame is that it couldn’t last longer!

 

Three Men in a Boat  plays at Studio Léonard Beaulne