Author: 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.
Twelfth Night: Light production sacrifices depth for fun

Twelfth Night: Light production sacrifices depth for fun

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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.

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Ottawa StoryTellers Weave Enchanting Tales

Ottawa StoryTellers Weave Enchanting Tales

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. 

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

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

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.

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

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

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. 

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Pachiv!

Pachiv!

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

Three Men in a Boat

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

Lara Loves Leonard

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

Hannah & George

Hannah & George

Photo: Cory Thibert
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

The Untitled Sam Mullins Project

The Untitled Sam Mullins Project

Press photo courtesy Ottawa Fringe.
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. 

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Take Me Back to Jefferson: Theatre Smith-Gilmour puts on a highly enjoyably production

Take Me Back to Jefferson: Theatre Smith-Gilmour puts on a highly enjoyably production

Photo: Katherine Fleitas
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. 

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