Capital Critics' Circle
Le cercle des critiques de la capitale

Reviewing Theatre in Canada's Capital Region
La critique théâtrale de la région Ottawa-Gatineau

Booming through a kaleidoscope of memories of a generation

Reviewed by on    NAC english, Performance Art, Professional Theatre  

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Photo: David Leclerc

The sound booms book-ending Rick Miller’s packed ride from 1945 to 1969 are the world-changing release of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.

The baby boomers, born, raised and living through those tumultuous years, are invited to relive their memories through Miller’s lens, a combination of multi-media flashes, impressions (some more successful than others), comic twists and the stories of three people with very different backgrounds: Miller’s mother, Madeline, originally from Coburg, Ontario; Laurence, an African-American draft dodger and jazz pianist; and Rudy, an Austrian who immigrated to Canada after the Second World War to become an advertising executive and illustrator.

As well as the kaleidoscope of political, cultural and social events with which Miller’s Boom bombards us, replays of advertisements of the period — oddly amusing from the perspective of the 21st century — remind us just how much times have changed.

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Boom: superficial approach to history but a superb performance by Rick Miller!

Reviewed by on    NAC english, Performance Art, Professional Theatre  

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Photo David Leclerc

The long awaited Boom directed, written and performed by Rick Miller is both seductive and questionable, especially as it purports to be a cultural history of the Baby Boomer generation that will incite young people to become interested in their own stories as well as world history. It turns out to be an amalgamation of various narrative structures that function in different ways, some are successful and others much less so. Rick the actor begins by introducing us to a film of Maddy his mother, projected against a huge pole of light that stands in the centre of the stage. This is the background against which all the floating images, the films, the lighting effects and the great mass of visual information will unfold during the evening. Structured by chronological time (1945-1969), the stage event becomes, the story of Rick’s own life told through fragments of historical information and personal experiences by multiple voices whose identities are not at all clear and who splinter the whole narrative into so many pieces it is difficult to locate any kind of centre.

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Anne And Gilbert: a “tuneful” and lively family show makes the spirit of Anne live on.

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, NAC english, Professional Theatre  

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Photo by Andrea Lanthier

Anne and Gilbert co-written by Nancy White, Jeff Hochhauser and Bob Johnston, is a musical sequel to ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and is based on the second and third books in L. M. Montgomery’s beloved series. Anne is now grown up but she still marches to her own drummer, especially when it comes to her relationships with the opposite sex. There have been a few changes since I first saw the show in 2007 in Gananoque. The major one is that Diana’s Act I solo has been replaced by a duet for Diana, well-played and sung by Brieonna Locche, and Anne. It’s about becoming a wife and is by turns entertaining and serious.

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The December Man, Dont Miss It.

Reviewed by on    NAC english, Professional Theatre  

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Photo: Andrew Alexander

We tend to think of the phrases “collateral damage” and “PTSD” only in military terms. “The December Man” by Colleen Murphy that received the Governor General’s literary award for drama, currently running in a terrific production in the NAC Studio, examines them in the context of a university shooting.

In Montreal in 1989, 14 female engineering students were gunned down by a misogynist after he had sent the male students out of the room. Rather than re-tell the grim story of the shooting, the playwright focuses on a male student who was there. He suffers from extreme survivor’s guilt, which has a disastrous effect on his working class parents.

The story is told in reverse chronology and all the production elements work smoothly together to clearly tell this powerful story, beginning with the strong cast. Jean, the student, is believably and remarkably athletically played by Kayvon Kelly. Kate Hennig plays Jean’s mother Kathleen, a devout housewife who dreams of her son’s bright future and has only the church to turn to for help. Benoit, Jean’s father, is played by the always excellent Paul Rainville who finds some nice moments of humor. He paints a moving portrait of an uneducated working man trying desperately to understand and help his troubled son.

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The December Man: a disturbing drama.

Reviewed by on    NAC english, Professional Theatre  

The shadow cast by great violence is a trap, invisible but as constraining as prison bars. Sentenced to that mental prison, you may find your only escape is self-destruction.

The latter is chosen by Kathleen and Benoît Fournier, the working-class couple in Colleen Murphy’s incisively disturbing drama The December Man (L’homme de décembre).

When we meet them, they appear to be preparing for a big event, perhaps a visit from someone important. They’re carefully dressed. Kathleen (Kate Hennig) has tidied the house and badgers Benoît (Paul Rainville) to clean the glass after he downs a shot of whiskey to calm his nerves. What they’re actually doing is preparing to commit suicide together, having seen their lives shattered some years previously when their only child Jean hung himself. Jean, as we learn, was a survivor of the Montreal Massacre, the 1989 slaughter by Marc Lépine of 14 female engineering students at the École Polytechnique, and guilt drove him to death.

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Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at the NAC is an immersive, epic, must-see production

Reviewed by on    NAC english, Professional Theatre  

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Photo: Black Theatre Workshop

A chorus of ancestors pour down the aisles from the back of the orchestra and converge on stage, all the while their wordless song grows in intensity. From within that rising chorus of ancestors, Rainey Johnson (Lucinda Davis) mimes holding her infant daughter in her arms—a bundle of cloth that is pulled away from her. Rainey loses her young daughter, and the chorus of ancestors encircles her, their a cappella melody meet Rainey’s pain with a mournful song. Even the very first scene of the play will send shivers down your spine with its ability to be so deeply emotive, and yet so beautifully constructed.

The new season at the NAC has opened with Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, and it sets a high standard for all that is to come. It is an immersive theatrical experience that blends theatre, dance, and song. The result is a seamless performance that is haunting in its depth of portrayal of the human experience of grief. What’s more, the play is equally lighthearted, finding humour and joy even in face of terrible pain. This is the power of Governor General Literary Award winner Djanet Sears’ impeccably crafted production.

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Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at NAC Falls Flat.

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, NAC english, Professional Theatre  

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Photo: NAC English Theatre 

The English Theatre at the NAC has opened their season with a production of “The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God,” written and directed by Djanet Sears. It’s the story of Rainey, a doctor, her husband Michael, a preacher, and her elderly father Ben. “Adventures . . .” deals with Rainey’s inability to accept her daughter’s death and Ben’s attempts to uphold the town’s black history.

We who live near the US/Canada border and go back and forth often tend to think of ourselves as pretty similar. However sometimes there are striking differences in cross-border sensibilities. One example is Newfie humor – Americans just don’t get it. The subject matter of this play is another. Americans have been seeing plays about race relations and black history since the 1970s, for example August Wilson’s brilliant “Century Cycle,” ten plays that chart the African-American experience throughout the 20th century. There’s also Alvin Ailey’s iconic piece “Revelations,” choreographed in 1960. In “Adventures . . .,” the cast marches to protest graffiti on their church wall. In the US Deep South, black churches are burned down. All this contributes to my viewpoint that “Adventures . . .” says nothing new.

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Obaaberima : a corporeal performance that expresses it all!

Reviewed by on    NAC english, Photo by Barb Gray, Professional Theatre  

DSC_0027(1)Tawiah M`Carthey. Photo Barb Gray.

Questions of identity have become one of the focal points of recent theatre in Canada. In Ottawa we have seen performances in French by Mani Soleymanlou  whose recent plays “Un”, “Deux” et “Trois” have focussed on his Persian identity as a construction produced by the interiorization of the gaze of Quebecers who saw him as the Middle eastern immigrant he never knew he was, given the fact his family was Iranian and he arrived here when he was very young. Other more recent immigrants such as Wajdi Mouawad, have used theatre to reflect on their immigrant condition and their sense of identity within their new Canadian/Quebec surroundings. Recently in Ottawa, we have seen other such performances by artists asking similar questions through performance.

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Obaaberima`: Multiple identities merge into inspirational whole in Obaaberima

Reviewed by on    NAC english, Professional Theatre  

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Photo: Barb Gray. Published in the Ottawa Citizen, Thursday, March 5, 2015

At one point early in Obaaberima, writer/performer Tawiah M’Carthy’s courageous one-man show about sexual identities, we watch the main character Agyeman, still a young boy, slip into a dress. The action, mimed by M’Carthy, is transformative, lighting a glow in Agyeman’s eyes and lending a sudden strength and ease to his posture: this male/female, we realize, is who he really is.

Problem is, Agyeman doesn’t see himself through our eyes. So it takes another couple of decades, years that are fraught with confusion, wrong turns, even a prison term, before he understands that wearing a metaphorical dress while remaining a male – in other words, exploring his male and female sides and ultimately coming out to himself and to the rest of the world — is his only real choice.

The triple Dora-winning play follows Agyeman from boyhood in homosexuality-denying Ghana to adulthood in more-open-but-yet-not-entirely-so Toronto. Such coming-out stories are no longer groundbreaking, but M’Carthy enacts this one (he has said it draws on but is not about his own life) with such intimacy and skill that it becomes one we’ve never before heard.

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Importance of Being Earnest at the NAC. Dykstra fails to Respect Wilde.

Reviewed by on    NAC english, Professional Theatre  

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Photo: Andree Lanthier

Alert for Ted Dykstra: The Importance of Being Earnest is a social satire. It is NOT a farce. One of the key aspects of Oscar Wilde’s brilliant comedy is that it appears to observe the social niceties while subtly undercutting them.

Therefore, bun fights are more than wildly inappropriate. Having the two male leads throwing muffins across the stage at each other violates the playwright’s intent.

It is also completely out of place to have Miss Prism, the spinster governess, fondling the spout of a watering can in pseudo-sexual titillation, while panting after the bachelor vicar. Certainly, Wilde suggests that she longs to be married and he is the nearest eligible bachelor. But in the context of Earnest, they will always behave with complete propriety.

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