Reviewer: Rajka Stefanovska

Rajka Stefanovska
Rajka Stefanovska was a radio journalist and arts reviewer in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as on Radio Yugoslavia, Belgrade, Serbia for 20 years. When the war in Former Yugoslavia started she moved to Ottawa, where she joined the Parliamentary Press Gallery as a correspondent for several media, and was a contributor to the Canadian news agency “Issues Network.” At the moment, she works as a federal public servant and still lives in Ottawa.

Ottawa Fringe Festival 2016: Fugee well directed, acted, and well worth your time

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Fugee
Production: Third Wall Academy
Created by Abi Morgan
Directed by James Richardson

Kojo is a refugee fron Ivory Cost. He is only 14, but has already lived a very adult life. When he was only 11, soldiers kidnapped him, took to a training camp and made a solder out of him. He watched soldiers kill his parents and younger brother, suffered unkindness of all kinds and was made to kill. Finely, he escaped, and with a fake visa, came to England, where he was put in a safe place for unaccompanied minors. There he lives with other children, none of whom speaks English. The only thing common to all is the horror they once lived through and managed to escape.

Kojo’s styory is not told  in chronological order. On the contrary, Fugee starts with the last scene of the story – the moment when Kojo kills a young man on the street. From that first scene untill the last one, the play is constructed through a numbe of snapshots: children bonding, falling in love, telling their war experience, Kojo remembering his parents, and finally, the moment when, due to miscommunication, the system in England accuses him of a false identity and kicks him out of the safe place. Scene by scene, Kojo’s story unfolds, and by the end, all snapshots fall in place and make a perfect unity. (more…)

Ottawa Fringe Festival 2016: As Rome Burns brings best of theatre to the Fringe

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Nicholas Dave Amott is very young but already accomplished artist, admired for his acting and writing ability. In his latest endeavour “As Rome Burns”, he reaches new highs in both.

The story about an emperor who fiddles while Rome burns might not be a historical fact (historians are still divided on that topic), but it is known that Nero came from a long line of Julio-Claudian dynasty, known for its numerous murders, subnormal behaviour, orgies, and incest. Nero, who was the latest in the line, according the ancient sources, was know for his extraordinary tyranny and his love for theatrical art.

Amott uses historical facts in order to paint a picture of a hated emperor who committed suicide when he was condemned as a traitor and a public enemy. He enters Nero’s mind skilfully, revealing the emperor’s inability to face reality and his constant hiding behind the imagined world. Power over Rome was not enough for him – he had to have power over people close to him, over friends and relatives and all those faithful. He craves validation, absolute surrender and unquestioning support. In the wake of his narcissistic nature, completely devoid of reality, he destroys everybody and everything that he touches- even stripping people of their humanity and identity.   (more…)

Ottawa Fringe Festival 2016: Grade 8 Dwayne Morgan captivates the audience

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

It is hard enough to raise a child as a single parent, but try to raise a daughter as a single father, and you face a real challenge. Well-known Canadian poet, spoken word artist and motivational speaker Dwayne Morgan talks about that difficult time when his daughter reaches puberty, and the father takes on the role of the mother. How do you explain the changes her body is going through and how do you deal with other new issues that will come soon? Morgan’s story explores not only a father-daughter relationship, but much more than that. He incorporates in his narrative problems of growing up in today’s wold, such as sexism, racism, and generally cruelty that a sheltered young girl does not know. (more…)

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike: A weak script and messy directing offer up few laughs

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo: Tony Caldwell

Photo: Tony Caldwell

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

By Christopher Durang
Plosive Productions
Directed by David Whiteley

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

 Christopher Ferdinand Durang is a playwright whose works, written in the style of absurd comedy, deal with issues such as homosexuality, child abuse and Roman Catholic dogma and culture. While his Brodway commercial success Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is still a comedy, his signature element – absurdity – is definitely missing. The story about three middle aged single siblings, whose lives are full of insecurities, futility and unfulfilled dreams, is suppose to tell us about alienation and the meaningless of today’s society. Although the message is an undeniable truth, the way it is told comes off a bit mild, naïve and too obvious. Its combination of superficial comedic elements, too many quotations from Chekov and a long monologue about numerous old American shows (which makes the play rather local – Durang is performed worldwide) gives the audience enough to laugh at, but certainly not a lot to think about. (more…)

TACTICS – Perfect Pie: A treat for theatre goers

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo courtesy of TACTICS

Photo courtesy of TACTICS

Marie, a newcomer to the village, has epilepsy, which makes her different from everybody else. Village children do not understand her problem, so she is an object of ridicule and utmost disrespect. The only friend who accepts her and always stays by her side is Patsy. After a high school dance one night, Marie disappears. After 16 years, they reunite. On her way to Montreal, Marie, now a celebrity who goes under the name Francesca, stops at her friend’s home in the village of their childhood. Talking about those days, they take the audience to an extraordinarily painful journey involving life filled with sickness, poverty, rejection, abuse and rape.  

 The narrative develops at a perfectly natural pace, gradually adding dramatic elements and building the story about the people on stage and their imperfect world. Every new scene draws the audience deeper into a darkness of ignorance and cruelty that affect the lives of the protagonists. Told in a simple but powerful way, the story has an aura of truth and the power to get emotions boiling over injustices committed in the name of stupidity and prejudice. It knowingly rips apart sensitive issues and slowly analyzes them by adding a building block with each sentence. This beautiful story will not leave anybody indifferent. More likely, after seeing it, you will go to sleep thinking about it, wake up still angry and go through your day with heavy emotions. (more…)

Butcher: Message gets lost in physicality

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Photo: Andrew Alexander

What is it in us that turns a seemingly normal human being into a monster, capable of unspeakable acts? What triggers a terrifying, unstoppable evil in us? Furthermore, is a perpetrator any more a monster than his victim in search of revenge? What Nicolas Billonn tries to explore in his play Butcher is the violent side of human nature, and its thirst for revenge at any cost. The instinct, as old as humanity (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth”) is forbidden by societies, but in reality still embraced by humans, shows how little it takes to reach the realm of hatred – the kingdom of insane distraction, the dark place in us that leads to perdition, a road with no open ends and no chance of coming back. What is the strength of that horrific path that makes us confuse justice with ravage intentionally? Nicolas Billonn’s play promises exploration of all these.

It is 25 years after a civil war in an imagined Eastern-European country. A former officer who worked in a prisoner’s camp at that time is tracked down and caught by a group of his former enemies, including a woman who was his victim. They bring him in a staged police station where the drama unfolds, and revenge takes place.  Unfortunately, though promising a lot, the play does not deliver.   (more…)

Matchstick: A great story with a lot of potential

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo by electric umbrella images

Photo by electric umbrella images

The story of Matchstick starts as a familiar cold war-era propaganda machine in action: An orphan girl lives in a cold, restricted – undesirable – land and dreams about America, a free land of opportunities. She meets a prince charming – Alik – who takes her heart by storm and sends her hopes soaring!  But, life is rarely what we hope for. The story leaves the realm of the cliché and enters different, darker waters after they marry and come to the promised land. Little by little, Matchstick realizes that Alik is a paranoid liar, and her life is as far from the freedom and big opportunities she dreamed of as can be. Through her life of misadventures, Matchstick comes to the realization that fairy tales do not happen in a real life. Even more than that, she understands – only too late – that real freedom and opportunities exist where you are loved and where your family and friends are.
The topic of the play is very interesting and worth serious exploration. Digging deeper, going beyond the facts and basic emotions, would make it great theatre. For now, the narrative in Matchstick has some very touching moments and some cleverly constructed dialogues, but the story stays on surface.
Its execution is reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and her Children,” as it uses the elements of storytelling, a simple but effective set with the projection of city in the center, actors who change characters, and a few songs sprinkled throughout the play to accentuate the theme. Only in Matchstick, due to lack of depth, the writer misses an opportunity to boggle our minds.

(more…)

Les Reines: A play worth any stage in Canada!

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Graphic courtesy of the Department of Theatre at the University of Ottawa

Graphic courtesy of the Department of Theatre at the University of Ottawa

Normand Chaurette’ play Les Reines is one of the best examples of surrealism in literature. Inspired by Shakespeare’s play Richard III, he looks at the political events of the late fifteenth century in England from the women’s perspective.

The play starts at the end of the 15th century when the king of England, Edward IV, is dying. His death is followed by a succession of tragedies. In his greed for power, the future king, Richard III, is about to kill two sons of the queen Elizabeth. At that time, urged by their own aspiration for the throne, six queens, Queen Elizabeth, the Warick sisters Anne and Isabelle, Queen Margaret, Anne Dexter and the old Duchess of York, come to the castle. There, they live out their nightmares, fight for royal ambitions and struggle with personal terrors. Either as mothers, present or future queens or wives, they wrestle their own demons. Craving power, they are unable to separate the royal from the personal. Therefore, in the atmosphere of inevitable death and in their confusion and powerlessness to change destiny, they throw their fears at each other. (more…)

The Norman Conquests: Round and Round the Garden an absolute treat packaged in a good laugh

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah Photo by David Whiteley

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah
Photo by David Whiteley

The Norman Conquests is a trilogy. It takes place in a family house in the British countryside, where Annie lives with her invalid mother. She plans to spend a weekend with her sister’s (Ruth) husband, Norman, in a hotel. Everything is set. Her admirer and neighbour Tom believes that she is to go alone, but actually wants him to come with her and Annie’s brother Reg and his wife Sara come to stay with their mother for that weekend. However, somehow things come askew, and they all  end up spending the weekend together as Annie’s guests. 

In the third part of The Norman Conquests, Round and Round the Garden, Ayckbourn still deals with the same domestic issues as in the previous two (Table Manners and Living Together). The characters are the same and it is the same weekend, but while Table Manners takes place in the dining room and Living Together in the living room, Round and Round the Garden is set in the garden. With the last part of the trilogy performed, this outstanding play wraps up in a meaningful way as a combination of a comedy of manners, domestic turmoil and above all, a fantastic character study.

Although comedy might seem to be a lighter genre of drama because of its humorous approach to reality, it is probably the hardest one to pull off. Because it is so easy to go overboard and make it a clownish non-artistic performance, it demands a huge amount of talent and innate sense of balance.     (more…)

The Barber of Seville: Modern take on the classic opera loses on atmosphere

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo: Nance Price

Photo: Nance Price

The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini, long proclaimed to be the opera buffa of all “opere buffe,” is one of the, if not the greatest masterpieces in its genre. It has been an audience favourite for almost 200 years (it was first premiered on February 20, 1816 in Rome) for a reason. Six years after its debut (in 1822), Ludwig van Beethoven said to Rossini (they were communicating in writing): “Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.”

So, what is so great about this opera? Of course, it is the music (in operatic art it always comes first). Rossini gives the opera his own signature with his bubbling, melodic style, very often compared to champagne. The expression “Rossini crescendo” is coined after his famous musical crescendo, which culminates in a solo vocal cadenza. (more…)

Past Reviews