Community Theatre

The Little Mermaid: family entertainment fine for the younger tots.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Ariel & Ursula

Photo by Suzart productions.

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, the Walt Disney animated musical movie version of The Little Mermaid was moderately successful when it was screened in 1989. Some 18 years later, the stage musical of the Disney movie appeared to mixed reviews and a relatively short run on Broadway.

The show, while entirely appropriate for the Suzart Productions’ mandate of family entertainment, is weak in this incarnation. As presented by Suzart, under the direction of Dani Bone Corbishley, The Little Mermaid has a pantomime sensibility — primarily because Kraig-Paul Proulx, delivers the wicked witch Ursula in the style of a panto dame. This leaves room for an appropriate contrast with the mermaid princess, Ariel, (Sharena Campo) and her human prince, Eric (Richard Hardy) — both fine singers.

Simply put, Hans Christian Andersen told the story of the mermaid, who dreams of being human and marrying the prince she saved from drowning, more effectively than the stage version of an animated movie does.

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OLT’s Three Musketeers: More Than Its Share Of Rousing Moments

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of The Three Musketeers begins on a
burst of energy — a  sword battle that pursues its merry way both on
and off stage.
It’s an engaging beginning, and a nifty way of introducing us to
D’Artagnan, the aspiring Musketeer who’s getting a final tutoring in
swordplay from his swashbuckling dad before leaving for Paris to
fulfill his ambition.
These moments also provide a sound demonstration of the production’s
strengths. Director Stavros Sakiadis’s robust, slightly
tongue-in-cheek approach reflects the sensibility of Ken Ludwig’s
cheeky dramatization of the Alexandre Dumas novel. We’re also getting
our first glimpse of Graham Price’s splendid multi-level set, which
evokes enough of the past to take us back to 17th Century France while
also having enough flexibility to keep rearranging itself into new and
different venues during the show’s adroitly managed scene breaks.
Price is also responsible for the atmospheric lighting, while Glynis
Ellens provides outstanding period costuming which perhaps reaches its
zenith during the masked costume ball that is an undoubted highlight
of the evening.

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A well-performed play too clever for itself

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Image courtesy of Kanata Theatre

Image courtesy of Kanata Theatre

Equivocation

By Bill Cain

Kanata Theatre

Directed by Alain Chamsi

Equivocation is a multi-layered celebration cum mockery of Shakespeare, combined with a questioning of the accuracy of the accepted version of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up the English Houses of Parliament and assassinate King James I. It also attempts to answer the perennial question about the nature of truth.

Not to equivocate — that is not to use ambiguous language to conceal the truth or to prevaricate — this 2009 script by Bill Cain (who happens to be a Jesuit priest) is muddled rather than subtle, and, while packed with information, too complicated in format to be entertaining. (There were numerous walkouts at intermission on opening night.)

It begins with Sir Robert Cecil (the king’s beagle) commissioning Shagspeare (a.k.a. William Shakespeare) to dramatize a story that King James has written, delivering the true (or is it the propaganda version?) of the Gunpowder Plot. Refusing what seems to be an impossible task is not an option. (more…)

Dial M for Murder: Dialing A for show Murder

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Dial M for Murder

By Frederick Knott

Ottawa Little Theatre

Director: Margaret Harvey O’Kelly

When amateur theatre becomes amateurish, even a carefully constructed play suffers under the strain. Sadly, this is precisely what happens with Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Frederick Knott’s 1952 drama Dial M for Murder.

Among the clues that this thriller is unlikely to thrill are the numerous lighting miscues that frequently draw laughter from the audience, awkward pauses and embarrassing silences that are the result of one of the actors forgetting his lines and the slow set changes. Further clues that the production is not working are a lack of apparent chemistry between the heroine and her erstwhile lover and the declamatory style of the villain of the piece.

All this is particularly depressing in the light of the obvious effort that is behind ensuring the accuracy of the period costuming by Gillian Siddiqui and the set design by Robin Riddihough.

More of a will-he-get-away-with-it than a traditional whodunit, Knott’s script is probably best remembered as the 1954 movie starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. And more than 60 years later, it can still work on stage as a recent production by the Perth Classic Theatre Festival demonstrated. (more…)

Fresh Meat: DIY Theatre Fest

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

The fifth annual Fresh Meat festival of local, DIY theatre features ten, 20-minute shows by established and emerging artists. The emphasis is on testing new ideas in front of audiences. Some past Fresh Meat shows have gone on to bigger venues including the undercurrents festival and the fringe circuit. The following opening night shows comprised the festival’s first of two weekends.

Space Jameration (Greg Houston Comedy). Houston is a stand-up comic eager to transition into more theatre-based performance. He’s not there yet. His autobiographically based piece, quite witty at times, hovers in a no-man’s land between stand-up and storytelling. Houston seems to know he’s not yet where he wants to be artistically, and his discomfort intrudes on the performance.

S.S. Lightbulb (Second Step). Three bumbling electricians are tasked with repairing an out-of-commission lighthouse during a storm at sea. They demonstrate zero technical competence, cower in fear at nature’s fury, and are shaken when they realize the danger that those at sea face. It’s an inconsequential show by emerging performers who love physical theatre but S.S. Lightbulb manages to remain mostly amusing and well-timed. (more…)

How iRan: A thoughtful and intriguing production

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Disruption and reconstruction: That’s the experience of regular immigrants and refugees alike as their lives are first scrambled and then rebuilt in a new land. It’s also to some extent what those in the host country experience as the existence they’ve always known is challenged by people with different perspectives, beliefs and languages.

Now disruption and reconstruction come to the Ottawa Public Library’s main branch thanks to How iRan, a site-specific iPod play – well, actually three plays – by Calgary-based playwright Ken Cameron. The Ottawa Fringe Festival is presenting the production.

Based on interviews with new Canadians and a prisoner of conscience, Cameron’s text is about an Iranian man named Ramin who leaves behind his wife and son when he comes to Canada. Once here, he lands a job as a security guard in a library where he meets the librarian Emily. Complications, some serious and some humorous, ensue including the eventual arrival of his son Hossein and Ramin’s wife.

Cameron, who also directs, has made an audio recording of the narrative, which is played out in 25 scenes. He’s put the play on three differently coloured iPods, each containing about one-third of the entire piece. Audience members get an iPod with the narrative order shuffled and then, prompted by the recording, go to different stations in the library to listen to scenes in a random order. In effect, each audience member hears a customized play. (more…)

Kanata Theatre’s Last Romance: Good actors coping with an inadequate script

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

The best reason for seeing Kanata Theatre’s production of the 201l play, Last Romance, is the performance of Brooke Keneford as a  lonely widower who strikes up a friendship with a stranger in a dog park.

Keneford communicates a rough-hewn charm as Ralph Bellini, an opera-loving Italian American who’s desperate for companionship — and maybe, just maybe, a late-flowering romance. He’s gregarious yet vulnerable. His social skills are rusty — and, in an era obsessed with  political correctness, his initial overtures to the aloof dog-walking Carol could be seen as sexual harassment.

But Keneford gives Ralph an outgoing likeability that is irresistible while also making us aware of the aching personal loss he continues to experience as a result of his wife’s  death.
It comes as no surprise that a friendship takes root, followed by a sense of closer companionship that ultimately leads to a romance of sorts. But before the end, Joe DiPietro’s script takes an unexpected turn — and not a particularly satisfactory one as hidden truths are revealed. The climax yearns to be bittersweet — but it really makes you realize how psychologically unconvincing the play really is.

Heather Walt’s uncertain production doesn’t really paper over the faults. The evening begins with an interminable back projection of a video showing dogs and their owners  at the National Capital Commission’s Bruce Pit site. It’s a bad idea and contributes nothing useful; once the play begins, Al Quirt’s excellent sound design quickly makes us aware that we’re in a dog park

Then there’s the clumsy use of operatic arias to haunt Ralph’s memories of once aspiring to sing at the Met. Perhaps the script does require someone to emerge, wraith-like, from the shadows, to attempt a bit of singing, but for a number of reasons these moments simply do not work.  A further problem is lack of fluidity. Designer Gordon Wait’s  thoughtful and functional contributions should meet the challenge of a play with three different settings — but prolonged scene changes indicate a failure to take advantage of them.

The play seeks to offer an examination of loneliness among the elderly. That it becomes mired in implausibility near the end makes it tricky to bring off in performance. Keneford, who’s always been good at exploring the nuances of character, ensures Ralph the credibility he needs. Sandy Wynne, as the dog-walking object of his admiration, is touching in her shyness and self-containment, and very affecting in a crucial moment of revelation near the end — but by this time the script is starting to lose plausibility.
A different kind of loneliness is on display in the performance of Susan Monaghan as Ralph’s sister Rose — an embittered woman who is still seething over the husband who left her years before and now finds some kind of solace in caring for her widowed brother instead.  Monaghan gives us a Rose of ferocious possessiveness. She tries to give her character some sympathetic traits but it’s a losing battle. And by the end we know that she’s capable in her own way of destroying the happiness of others. There’s something sour about a play that has someone like Rose ultimately calling the shots.

Last Romance by Joe DiPietro’s
A Kanata Theatre production
Ron Maslin Playhouse  to Oct. 1

Director; Heather Walt
Sets: Gordon Walt
Costumes: Marilyn Valiquette
Sound: Tom Kobolak

Ralph Bellini: Brooke Keneford
Carol Reynolds: Sandy Wynne
Rose Tagliatelle: Susan Monaghan
Peaches: Navi

OLT’s Boeing-Boeing a booming success

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Critic Kenneth Tynan once famously remarked that the hallmark of any really effective drama required key characters caught up in desperate circumstances.

He argued that his definition encompassed Shakespeare’s Hamlet unable to make up his mind. But he also emphasized that it reflected classic ingredients of boulevard farce.

Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing, which romped exuberantly on stage at Ottawa Little Theatre last week, harvests one of the most durable of farcical situations — the womanizer whose philandering world starts coming apart. Bernard is a Parisien playboy who has three airline hostesses on the string — one American, one Italian and one German. Each considers herself his fiancee — and Bernard has come up with a masterful scheme for keeping them away from each other. He sees them only during their layovers in Paris — so, with the handy assistance of airline timetables, he’s able to make sure that once he has breakfast with Gloria, she’ll be on her way before Gabriella arrives at lunchtime. And, of course, if Gretchen arrives in town around dinnertime he’ll be able to accommodate her as well.

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Boeing-Boeing : This record-setting contemporary version of a French farce is given an Americanized but very amusing production.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo: Maria Vartanova

A well-organized Lothario can handle three fiancées, as long as flight schedules do not change suddenly.

That might have worked in the 1960s, the time frame for Boeing-Boeing, but even then fight delays and airplanes being grounded in bad weather make the ride to infidelity very bumpy.

Marc Camelotti’s farce set records as the world’s most performed French play in the 1960s. The Beverley Cross translation ran for seven years in London’s West End. The version currently being staged by Ottawa Little Theatre is Francis Evans’ Americanized revision of the Cross translation. (It comes across as somewhat anti-American, particularly in its presentation of the New York feminist.)

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Barefoot in the Park: OLT offers believable characterization of a rather dated play.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Bare1

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon. Directed by Richard Elichuk. A production of the Ottawa Little Theatre.

When Barefoot in the Park premiered on Broadway, it was an instant hit, running for more than 1,500 performances — a record run for a non-musical play. In 1967, the movie version starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, was also a success.

That was half a century ago. And in the 50 years since the mid-1960s, attitudes towards marital roles have changed massively. This means that the play frequently creaks along, particularly when it is presented as a three-act show.

Unless the comedy — which Simon wrote as a tribute to his first wife — is given a stellar production, we are more likely to notice that it is a dated piece than to appreciate the core of the story: that opposites attract and that there is a steep learning curve in the early days of any marriage. In addition, the play relies heavily on the oft-repeated, and now stale, joke about the location of the overpriced, walk-up apartment where newly weds Corie and Paul Bratter are enjoying their first taste of marriage and near-divorce.

As directed by Richard Elichuk, with assistance from Dianna Renée Yorke and Susanna Doherty, the Ottawa Little Theatre production is at its best when focusing on character definition.

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Past Reviews