Community Theatre

To Kill a Mockingbird: Turgid show with one fine performance

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Maria Vartanova

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Christopher Sergel

Based on the novel by Harper Lee

Ottawa Little Theatre

Directed by John Collins

Let’s begin with a word to the several people who left the Ottawa Little Theatre production of To Kill a Mockingbird during the intermission.

Act II was considerably better than the turgid Act I. This is primarily because of one outstanding performance. Marcus Jones is totally believable as Tom Robinson, the innocent black man accused of raping an illiterate white woman.

Despite yeoman efforts by some of the other cast members, most notably Barbara Kobolak as Miss Stephanie, no performances other than Jones’ are anywhere near as moving as they should be given the subject matter.

Christopher Sergel’s 1991 adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer prize-winning novel about racism in 1935 small-town Alabama (which he apparently took two decades to write) is true to the original. In fact, it frequently quotes Lee’s text. However, it is always a massive challenge adapting a dense novel to the stage. In addition, a large-cast, multi-race play is difficult to cast and ensure a consistently credible ensemble. Sadly, director John Collins has been able to stretch very few of the cast into powerful performances in this production.

The theme of the novel, timely when it was published during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., remains germane today, especially since the last presidential election. But the format is heavygoing and many of the characters in the stage version come over as stereotypes or sketches rather than as individuals. (more…)

Mary Poppins: Lively production works well with script

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Ain’t Seen Noth’n Yet

Mary Poppins
Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
Additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Ain’t Seen Noth’n Yet (ASNY) Production
Directed by Jennifer Fontaine

By any standards, Mary Poppins is a complex project. Originally, she was the ideal nanny imagined by the British-born, Australian writer Pamela Lyndon Travers (aka Helen Lyndon Goff). Conjured up in her 1934 stories, she represented a form of escape from a difficult childhood. Then, the flying nanny became the sugarcoated heroine of the 1964 Disney movie, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

In the 2004 stage musical, Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) bases his book on a fusion of the Travers’ stories and the Disney movie, while George Stiles and Anthony Drewe added new songs to the original group by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman. (more…)

Other Desert Cities. A well-cast, carefully wrought family drama!

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo. Maria Vartanova

“Write about what you know.”

Following the advice regularly given to authors, the daughter of the wealthy Wyeth family is about to publish unpleasant truths about their past. This is the catalyst for the wrenching conflicts in Jon Robin Baitz’ carefully wrought family drama, Other Desert Cities.

While Brooke’s tell-all memoir is her view of the past and the tragedy that continues to haunt each of the family members, “divergent truths” and different perspectives throw unexpected lights on their history and the current crisis that threatens to tear them apart.

Parents Polly and Lyman Wyeth are former Hollywood movie industry stars, turned politicos and hard-core Republicans. Daughter Brooke is a successful author at the other end of the political spectrum, still fragile after recovering from severe depression. Her younger brother Trip is a television producer trying hard to keep the peace and avoid a serious look at the world. Polly’s sister, Silda, an alcoholic, fresh from rehab, is continuing her recovery by moving into the Wyeth household.

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Other Desert Cities at the OLT. A Compelling Family drama!

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

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Photo: Maria Vartanova

Other Desert Cities By Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Geoff Gruson.

In case you hadn’t noticed, truth is slippery. Everyone has his or her own version of it, as Donald Trump demonstrates almost daily. Playwright Jon Robin Baitz has made that slipperiness – and the crazy-making process of trying to grab hold of it – a principal theme in his compelling 2010 family drama, Other Desert Cities.

Set in Christmas-season California during the mid-2000s, the play finds two generations of the Wyeth family grappling with multiple truths – from matters of personal motivation to what the Republican Party truly represents – after 30-something, left-leaning daughter/author Brooke (Venetia Lawless) writes a memoir about the dark side of her family. The book is awaiting publication, and the potential of public exposure terrifies her parents Polly (Jane Morris) and Lyman (Robert Hicks), who years ago made a killing in the movie business and have gone on to a prominent role in conservative social and political circles.

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OLT Scores With Other Desert Cities

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: Maria Vartanova

It was Tolstoy who famously observed that all happy families resemble one another — but that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

So keeping this in mind, what are we to make of the dysfunctional household on view in Ottawa Little Theatre’s sterling production of Jon Robin Baitz’s 2011 play, Other Desert Cities?

On the surface, things might seem okay when we’re first exposed to the Palm Springs home of Lyman and Polly Wyeth, with characters arriving through the French doors, cheerful and tired after tennis, and engaging in the kind of easy banter that you might expect with a Christmas family gathering. But there’s something not quite right about this Yuletide bonhomie. It’s a virtue of Geoff Gruson’s discerning production that you sense a forced artificiality in the things being said and you’re also aware of an underlying tension because of things left unsaid.

This is tricky to bring off, particularly with a script burdened with exposition challenges in its first section. But Gruson has a cast capable of facing these pitfalls as it proceeds to define characters who will increase in complexity as their worlds begin to unravel.

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Cinderella: A child’s delight with a musical montage that brings joy to all hearts.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

Cinderella , a production  of   Les Petits Ballets.

This lighthearted version of Cinderella is a  delightful evening  of classical ballet  for young people. Les Petits Ballets has included  two very proficient professional dancers.  Prince Charming (Evgeni Dokoukine,) whose leaps and acting talent brought much excitement to his performance as the Prince. The ball room in the palace that fateful night when little Cinderella appears in her dazzling blue magic robe (Haruka Kyoguch) with the stars twinkling on the top of her head, gave the prince the chance to show his acting talents as he tries to avoid the  terrible two sisters who  were so cruel to Cinderella. But the Prince and Mlle Kyoguch also a professional dancer kept the tension high and the pas de deux breathtaking as they whirled around the floor together dancing the night away in the prince’s palace.  Also excellent was the step mother (Jasmine van Schouwen ) who  brought strong acting  as well as very good dancing to her character role as the pushy mother.

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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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The Three Musketeers: exciting visuals in this swashbuckling performance of the Dumas novel

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo. Maria Vartanova

The Three Musketeers by Ken Ludwig. Adapted from the novel by  Alexandre Dumas, an OLT Production

The visuals in the latest Ottawa Little Theatre production are spectacular. The many sword fights in this athletic show are well executed. Even the flow of the set changes is very watchable.

Sadly, the script by Ken Ludwig (best known for his comedy Lend Me a Tenor) is of less interest than the production values. Yes, the play was a hit when it premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in 2006, but that does not lessen the annoying quality of the playwright’s uncertainty about whether to deliver a facetious send-up of the 19th-century novel or to stay true to Alexandre Dumas’ adventure story — a classic that has appeared in more than 100 languages.

The basic storyline remains, following the journey of country bumpkin D’Artagnan in his quest to serve his king as a musketeer. En route, he faces duels with Athos, Porthos and Aramis — the three musketeers of the title — falls in love with Queen Anne’s favourite lady-in-waiting, Constance, saves the Queen’s honour and incurs the wrath of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu and his lieutenant Rochefort.

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Welfarewell : Social Satire or Middle Class Indulgence?

News from Capital Critics Circle

Guest reviewer, Jim Murchisson

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Photo: Phoenix Players. IEllen Clare O’Gallagher  in Welfarewell.

It was a cool, dank Friday evening as I headed into the warmth of the Gladstone Theatre to see the Phoenix Players production of Welfarewell. As I entered into the theatre I was greeted by a cozy, economical little set made up of three primary playing areas: stage left a table and chairs serve as various meeting areas (rehearsal hall, police station, holding room, etcetera) centre stage is used primarily as a jail cell but doubles as a courthouse with minor adjustments and the stage right space works well as a tiny basement apartment or bank teller’s area.

The premise of the play is pretty interesting as it goes. An aging actress can no longer make ends meet and strategizes to commit a crime, anticipating that she might enjoy a better quality of life in prison in her waning years. Playwright, Cat Delaney inserts Shakespeare, liberally ensuring that there are some great lines in this play, but she does not meet the challenge of matching the power of Shakespearean dialogue with her own.

The problem is that Cat Delaney’s characters are sadly stereotypical. You have the feeling that this was written by someone observing poor souls from a suburban window and dropping a loonie in their hat while looking the other way. The result is a play of middle class indulgence rather than social relevance.

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