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. (Continue reading » )
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 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
Lara Loves Leonard is a real gem at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival. Lara MacMillan performs parts of Cohen’s poems and songs such an infectious passion that she elevates the already great artist’s work. Her interpretations of Cohen’s songs are emotional and sensually sultry. Her diction and pacing while reciting the artist’s poetry allow the words to seep into your very skin. MacMillan knows just how much time to give each word and each pause. She leaves you hanging on a word, desperate for her to continue, to fill you with the emotion she so readily shares through her craft and talent. Everything is so precise when it comes to MacMillan’s performance, from her diction to her movements.
She intersperses the songs and poetry with personal anecdotes of how a particular songs affected her. However, she maintains a balance between the three elements so the show, even though it’s just her standing on stage, never feels stilted or boring. It helps that MacMillan has such an expressive face and oozes charisma. This is a performer you want to get lost in; you want to be taken along on her journeys. This is a performance you wish didn’t have to end after only one hour.
For those who love Leonard Cohen, and for those who wish to be carried away and feel something extra, this is the show for you. Wonderfully put together with
Lara Loves Leonard plays at Studio Léonard Beaulne
Photo: Cory Thibert
Strange VIsitations’ production, Hannah & George, is typical Fringe fare. George is a “loser” type looking for love and Hannah is his invisible, magic fairy who adores him. Although he barely gives her time time of day, she helps him any chance she has. Kevin Reid, Madeleine Hall, and Hannah Laviolette all deliver solid performances. It’s a show with hardly any words, so the onus is on their facial expressions and body language to pick up the slack and they succeeds. The set is also very cute and functional. Yet, despite the solid performances, the show still fails to impress because the storyline and the characters don’t seem well thought out.
To put it simply, George is a jerk. He continually ignores Hannah and is quite cruel to her. Hannah, on the other hand, will do anything to get just a smidgen of his love, even changing her fundamental self by removing her magic wings. By the end, it’s easy to feel for Hannah. The audience finds itself hoping that she rejects George and finds someone worthy of her, someone who actually loves her.
Likewise, there were several superfluous elements that bogged the production down. In a show of 60 minutes, it doesn’t make sense why there is an intermission and, while a kind gesture, bribing the audience with candy doesn’t really add anything. Likewise, Rebecca Laviolette’s character, the stage manager, doesn’t have a purpose, other than to show just how incompetent George is, which is needless; he does that quite well himself.
Overall, a cute idea with poor execution.
Hannah & George plays at Studio Léonard Beaulne
Press photo courtesy Ottawa Fringe.
Sam Mullins tells personal, sometimes painful, and often funny stories ripped from his own life. For all his self-deprecating comments about being a bad actor, he promises, with a bit of work, to become a great storyteller. His show, The Untitled Sam Mullins Project, is framed around four truths he is told to write down in a comedy workshop. They are that “embarrassing things always happen to me,” “I will never find love,” “life is fleeting,” “I’m in a perpetual state of panic.”
The stories he weaves around these truths have the raw content to be poignant and Mullens’ stage presence is nothing short of captivating. He moves about and fills up the space, both with his movements and his personality. His diction is exceptional, but sometimes the pacing is a bit stilted. Likewise, some of the stories still need further shaping. Some, like the one dealing with love, have potential, but lack direction in their current state. Mullins notices patterns in his life when it comes to love, but doesn’t do much with them, making the story feel unfinished. Others, like the one dealing with the fleeting nature of life, go on a bit long. (Continue reading » )
Photo: Katherine Fleitas
William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying is a complex work of fiction. Part tragi-comedy, part scathing critique of American society, and a large part philosophy, the story is told in 59 chapters through no less than 15 characters, mostly through internal monologue. I consider myself a fairly open-minded person, but if you were to tell me that you wanted to stage this as a play told through mostly physical actions, I would likely send you to the nearest doctor. Therefore, it was with trepidation that I sat to watch Theatre Smith-Gilmour’s adaptation, Take Me Back to Jefferson. Luckily for me, I was in for a very pleasant surprise. While not flawless, the production grapples masterfully with the source material and shows an understanding of its own medium and strength that could enrich the story that is rare to see.
As the play begins, Addie Bunden (Michele Smith) lays dying in her bedroom on the family farm in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Her carpenter son, Cash (Dan Watson), nosily building her coffin in the near vicinity. When she dies, the entire family – daughter Dewy Dell (Nina Gilmour); sons Cash, Darl (Julian de Zotti), and Jewel (Ben Muir); and husband Anse (Dean Gilmour) – set out in the family wagon to honour her death wish, to be buried in her home town of Jefferson. The family is confronted with almost every piece of bad luck possible on the nine-day journey, but they persevere, some out of a duty to their mother, but most for their own, not so considerate reasons. (Continue reading » )
Photo: Jennifer Scrivens / Resonate Photography
According to the Director’s Notes, Marion Bridge is about three East Coast women trying to tell their own story, and to get that story straight. Of course, the difficulty in getting any story straight is the myriad of personal details and emotions we keep locked up inside. The more we lock ourselves up, the easier it is to misunderstand and pass over each other’s perspectives, even if we’ve technically lived the same experiences. Marion Bridge is yet another dark comedy about a highly dysfunctional family. Stories like these are a dime a dozen. However, the heartwarming production of Marion Bridge differentiates itself by truly focusing on the humanity of its subjects – flaws, misunderstandings, and inner worlds. The production is engaging and compelling with the different aspects coming together to form a heart-warming whole.
The three sisters in Marion Bridge are brought together in Cape Breton in order to be with their dying mother. From the moment the play opens, the tension between them is palpable. Each of them, Agnes, Theresa, and Louise, carries her pain in a different way. Agnes (a furiously sarcastic Robin Guy) shields herself in alcohol and irony while struggling to make it as an actress in Toronto. Theresa (a restrained Shawna Pasini) is a nun who lives a cloistered life and blankets herself in responsibility. She is wound up so tightly that one gets the impression that event the slightest relaxation would find her crumbed on the floor. Louise (a wonderfully direct Cindy Beaton), the “strange one” of the family, lives in her own world of daytime television. As the story progresses and the women are faced with more obstacles (dinner with their estranged father, the death of their mother, etc), chinks begin appearing in their armour, bringing them closer together. (Continue reading » )
Early on in Narnia, a cranky housekeeper tells the four Pevensie children, sent to the English countryside during World War Two, that they all “have that ‘I’m going to explore Marbleton Manor’ look. Forget it. The Age of Exploration is over. Understood?” Thankfully, the four completely ignore her and, as a result, are transported to the magical world of Narnia. The story, by C.S. Lewis, is a childhood classic and combines allegory and adventure into an exciting and thought-provoking work. It’s a big bite for any company to take and 9Th Hour Theatre makes a valiant effort with the complex, often quite dark subject matter. The performance has its flaws, but manages to respect the depth of Lewis’ work while still keeping it appropriate and fun for the younger members of the audience.
The story takes the Pevensie children – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – to the land of Narnia, a frozen wasteland of perpetual winter (but never Christmas) ruled by the White Witch, Queen Jadis (a wonderfully expressive, over-the top Gabrielle Lalonde). After stumbling into this land, the four meet magical talking animals, as well as their once king, Aslan. The children are informed of a prophecy stating that, as sons of Adam and Eve, they are to be the future kings and queens of Narnia. They join the revolution and, with the help of Aslan, defeat the White Witch. Other than an entertaining adventure, the story is also an allegory for Christ’s sacrifice. Aslan gives his life for the wayward Edmund, who betrays his siblings and joins the White Witch, becoming her prisoner. (Continue reading » )
On particularly dark days when I have binged too long on depressing world news or, as I am wont to do, taken a tumble down the darker holes of historical reading, a rather grim mood settles over me. In such cheerless moments, optimism becomes harder to summon and thoughts about the way we live and our never-ending ability to hurt one another start spinning. At first glance, Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes seems like the wrong play for me. A layered, disturbing work that touches obliquely on the Holocaust and, by extension, all of human history, it seems downright depressing. However, as horrifying as references to “babies being ripped out of their mother’s hands” by one of the main characters are, plays like Ashes to Ashes are a secret weapon against depression and pessimism. This is because Ashes to Ashes, while touching on the horrors of history, is at its core a play about our ability, whether innate or through an artistic medium such as theater, to empathize with our fellow humans, even if we haven’t suffered as they have. The more ability we have to understand others, the less of a chance there is that we will continue being the victims of history. Directed by University of Ottawa MFA Directing Candidate James Richardson and supervised by Dragana Varagić, Unicorn Theater’s production is haunting and stays with you long after you’ve left the theater.
Two characters, Rebecca and Devlin, confront each other in a lamp lit room. Their relationship is intentionally murky (is he a lover? therapist?) as he interrogates her about a violent, sexually dominant past lover. Rebecca’s answers are elliptical and often seem meandering. She answers his questions with more questions or non-sequiturs. Of course, when critiquing a production of Ashes to Ashes, it is imperative to remember that this isn’t a play about characters, but about ideas. Devlin and Rebecca are concrete entities which serve to house abstract ideas. Devlin, as mannered as he is, represents the aggressor through his relentless questioning. History for him is something entirely separate from himself, something to be compartmentalized, academically understood, and dragged from Rebecca if necessary. Rebecca, on the other hand, represents history’s empathetic subject. She identifies with both its victims and aggressors through her empathy, becoming an echo for its horrors as she slips in and out of memories that strongly suggest the deportation and interning of Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Rebecca’s experience culminates as she is transformed into one of the women whose children are torn away on the train platform, while Devlin’s aggression grows until his apex echoes the violent actions of her former lover. (Continue reading » )