Author: Patrick Langston

Patrick Langston is the theatre critic for the Ottawa Citizen. In addition to reviews of professional and the occasional community theatre production, he writes a monthly theatre column and previews of major shows for the Citizen. Patrick also writes for Ottawa Magazine, Carleton University Magazine, and Penguin Eggs -Canada's folk, roots and world music magazine. Patrick lives in Navan.
Bed and Breakfast a rom-com romp with a hint of reality at the GCTC

Bed and Breakfast a rom-com romp with a hint of reality at the GCTC

 
Photo André Lanthier

Mark Crawford and Paul Dunn in a scene from Bed and Breakfast now running at the GCTC. Photo: Andrée Lanthier

The plot sounds formulaic as all get-out, doesn’t it?

Two gay guys, tired of big city Toronto, move to a small town and open a bed and breakfast in an old house. They encounter a mix of acceptance and hostility in their new surroundings, struggle with everything from an endless reno to guests from hell, and have to make a momentous decision a year after opening their business.

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The Hockey Sweater: Building a better musical with a little help from the Creation Fund

The Hockey Sweater: Building a better musical with a little help from the Creation Fund

Photo Leslie Schechter

What happens when an existing show suddenly gets $200,000 in funding for expansion and fine-tuning? If it’s The Hockey Sweater: A Musical, very good things occur, according to the show’s co-writers Emil Sher and Jonathan Munro.  The musical is an adaptation of Roch Carrier’s beloved short story about young Roch, whose universe is knocked sideways when he mistakenly receives a Maple Leafs sweater from Eaton’s instead of a Habs No. 9 jersey, like Maurice Richard’s.

The show is a Segal Centre production. It premiered in Montreal last year and plays the National Arts Centre starting Dec. 5. Between the two runs, it got $200,000 from the NAC’s National Creation Fund, which was launched in 2017 to help develop ambitious new Canadian works. Over the next several years, the fund will invest up to $3 million annually in theatre, dance, music and other productions.

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Drowning Girls a chilling portrayal of misogyny and murder

Drowning Girls a chilling portrayal of misogyny and murder

Katie Ryerson, Sarah Finn, Jacqui du Toit in The Drowning Girls. Photo: Andrew Alexander

There’s not much on the stage. Three bathtubs, a metal dress form and shower head hanging above each, a backdrop of panelled walls: That’s about it.

Designed by Brian Smith, it’s an apt setting for The Drowning Girls, a ghost story about three British women who, all murdered by the same man in the early years of the last century, were considered – and considered themselves – insubstantial. Insubstantial, that is, until their murderer charmed them into marriage, thereby making them, as one of the trio says, “a useful member of society.”

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Peter Hinton’s return to the NAC Stage

Peter Hinton’s return to the NAC Stage

When Silence: Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell opens at the NAC, it will mark a significant occasion for director Peter Hinton. Although Hinton directed the revisionist opera Louis Riel in Southam Hall last year, Silence is the first time he’s been back with NAC English Theatre since 2012, when he completed his seven-year tenure as its artistic director.

Trina Davies’ play about Mabel Hubbard Bell, the deaf wife of Alexander Graham Bell explores the story of a strong and remarkable woman who had a major influence on her famous husband but whose life is little known to most of us. Notably the production also features a blend of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing performers.

Coincidentally, Mabel was honoured this summer when the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada unveiled plaques commemorating both her and Beinn Bhreagh Hall, the Bells’ summer home in Cape Breton.

Hinton is delighted to bring the show about Mabel to his old stomping ground.

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Fierce offers a believable portrayal of loneliness

Fierce offers a believable portrayal of loneliness

Pandora Topp as Maggie and Emmelia Gordon as Jayne in a scene from Fierce. Photo courtesy of Black Sheep Theatre.

Ultimately, we’re all orphans, aren’t we?

Sure, we carve out a place in the world, cultivate relationships, maybe try shielding ourselves from the truth of our loneliness with drugs or booze. But in the end we’re each of us alone.

At least that’s the position of Maggie in George F. Walker’s new two-hander Fierce now at The Gladstone.

Turfed from her home at a tender age to grow up on the streets – “discarded” is how she describes it – Maggie (Pandora Topp) is a tightly wound therapist with an apparent grip on her life. But an undermining sense of abandonment and alienation has never left her. “I don’t really know who I am,” she says at one point.

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The Virgin Trial speaks clearly across the centuries to our time

The Virgin Trial speaks clearly across the centuries to our time

 

Anie Richer and Lydia Riding in a scene from The Virgin Trial. Photo: Andrew Alexander.  Posted on Artsfile.ca

At one point in The Virgin Trial, Kate Hennig’s fleet, modern-day crime drama about Queen Elizabeth I as a teenager, the future monarch proclaims, “I can be anything I set my mind to.”

It sounds like a variation on that silly bromide, “You can be anything you choose to be.” However, in the case of young Bess, as she’s known to all and sundry, it’s a fact. Indeed, a young woman’s resolute creation of herself in the face of gargantuan odds – read, a power structure embedded in older, predatory males – is what gives Bess’s story as told by Hennig its sharp, contemporary urgency.

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GCTC: Playwright tracks the Tudors and our fascination with sexual power

GCTC: Playwright tracks the Tudors and our fascination with sexual power

 

Lydia Riding and Attila Clemann in a scene from Kate Hennig’s The Virgin Queen. Photo: Andrew Alexander

We can’t get enough of the Tudors, can we? From movies and historical fiction to the television series The Tudors, the tumultuous times of Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, in particular, have long held us in thrall.

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The Glastone Celebrates a Decade of Drama

The Glastone Celebrates a Decade of Drama

The Gladstone Theatre turns 10 years old this fall. That may make it a mere stripling in the arts world, but in the past decade it’s taken on a very adult role in Ottawa’s theatre scene.

And if its upcoming, jam-packed season – 24 shows by more than two dozen different companies – is any indication, the Gladstone will be operating into ripe old age.

The building at 910 Gladstone Ave. in Little Italy is an unusually busy spot, agrees theatre manager AL Connors.

“Any night of the week, there’s something going on. That’s not what you’ll find at most theatres.”

One reason for its bustle is its business model. Basically a rental house, it hosts shows running  anywhere from four nights to two weeks. That means there’s always something fresh on stage and the stage is almost never empty.

It also offers a fascinating mix of productions, most of them professional but with some community theatre in the mix.

The upcoming season, for example, includes Shakespeare’s King Lear, starring long-time Ottawa actor John Koensgen; the family musical Cinderella and the Ice Slipper over the holiday season; Fierce by ever-fierce Canadian playwright George F. Walker; Sophocles’s classical Greek comedy Lysistrata and two shows by Ottawa’s Pierre Brault including Dief the Chief, Brault’s riveting study of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

That open-minded approach to programming makes The Gladstone a magnet for companies seeking a venue. Local director and producer John P. Kelly has directed some two dozen shows at the theatre, including Alan Ayckbourn’s farce How the Other Half Loves, which opened The Gladstone’s inaugural season in 2008.  Kelly is back as a director in January when his SevenThirty Productions presents David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s Midsummer, a play with songs.

“What makes The Gladstone good for a producer is that it’s available to independent artists, and not many (venues) with 230 seats are,” says Kelly. “That makes it a very good venue commercially.”

The building itself had a storied history as a performance space long before Kelly mounted The Gladstone’s inaugural show back in 2008.

Built as a truck garage, the building was home to the Great Canadian Theatre Company from 1982 until GCTC moved to Wellington Street West in 2007. Local businesspeople Marilisa Granzotto and Steve Martin bought the building that same year, poured more than $1 million into renovations that transformed the tired space into a glamorous, Art Deco-style house, and launched an ambitious, 11-show season of professional theatre in their first year.

However, debt and lower revenues than anticipated meant The Gladstone was soon scrambling to keep up financially. Martin put the building up for sale in 2010 for $1.5 million, but couldn’t sell it.

The building finally sold in 2015, after being listed for $995,000 on various sites including Kijiji, and the new owner agreed to continue leasing the site as a performance space.

In the meantime, Ottawa-based Plosive Productions and SevenThirty Productions had taken over programming and were soon joined by other companies.

Operations changed again when The Gladstone was incorporated as a non-profit in 2016, and Connors was subsequently taken on as full-time theatre manager.

This summer, Connors and company negotiated a new lease that extends to 2025.

“It allows us to do long-range planning,” says Connors, who lists a series of improvements to the facility including LED lights and handrails for the steeply raked aisles.

Those raked aisles and seats and their close proximity to the stage are part of what makes The Gladstone a great place to act, says Robin Guy. She’s performed in a dozen shows there and is also artistic director of Three Sisters Theatre Company, which is back at The Gladstone this season.

Being so close to the audience – in fact, being able to see the first three or four rows – “creates intimacy, a really interesting energy between the performer and the audience,” she says. “The energy feeds you, gives you a boost.”

Guy, who’s performing in Bear & Co.’s This Flight Tonight: Songs of Joni Mitchell at The Gladstone in mid-October, adds that without the space, there would be no real venue for independent theatre in Ottawa.

That home of independent theatre gets serious support from the Preston Street Business Improvement Association, which represents nearby restaurants and other businesses. Aware that a theatre draws people to an area, the BIA has donated $10,000 a year to The Gladstone for the past decade, says Connors. A number of local restaurants also offer discounts to Gladstone patrons.

With its local support, operational funding from the City of Ottawa and more than 25,000 patrons annually, The Gladstone is financially stable, according to Connors. And that’s good for performers and others: for example, The Gladstone paid out $635,000 to local artists in the 2017-18 season.

None of which would happen without audiences.

“What’s special about The Gladstone compared to other rental facilities is there’s an audience that comes here regardless of what’s going on,” says Connors. “Even though there’s been lots of turnover – the management has changed, the building was sold – what’s remarkable is the audience keeps coming back … The Gladstone definitely has a fan base.”

The Gladstone’s 10th anniversary season begins Sept. 5 with Toto Too Theatre performing Thom Fitzgerald’s Cloudburst. Information on the full season: thegladstone.ca

 

 

 

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New artistic director shakes up the St.Lawerence Shakespeare fest with a season of love

New artistic director shakes up the St.Lawerence Shakespeare fest with a season of love

Actors Rose Napoli (Celia) and Katherine Gauthier (Rosalind) in a scene from As You Like It on now at St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival.

It’s a safe bet you’ve never realized the universality of A Lover and His Lass, that sweet and buoyant song from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, until you’ve heard it dressed up, via Appalachia, as a bluegrass tune. Unlikely as it sounds, it works splendidly, at least in the production of As You Like It at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival in Prescott, south of Ottawa.

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The Company of Fools takes a tepid turn…..

The Company of Fools takes a tepid turn…..

photo Andrew Alexandre
Twelfth Night.

Small wonder Twelfth Night is considered one of Shakespeare’s best comedies.

Its plot-line of love, gender confusion and general chaos, which is kicked off when Viola, shipwrecked, washes up on the shores of Illyria and disguises herself as a man named Cesario, is superbly comic and deliciously self-aware.

The play’s depiction of love – its uncontrollable nature, its inevitable complications, and its power to enrich whoever it touches – is timeless and true as Shakespeare pulls Viola, Illyria’s Countess Olivia and Duke Orsino, and others into the mix of romance and passion.

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