NAC english

The December Man: a disturbing drama.

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

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 Kat Fournier

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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 Connie Meng

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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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The Double: from Dostoevsky to Adam Paolozza…!!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo from the Tarragon Theatre.

A great mastery of physical theatre sets Bad News Days Productions apart. Done as a play within a play in various times zones but originating in the present, it resembles a cabaret performance where three very talented young men perfectly trained in the art of mime, circus techniques, mimicry, tell the story of a Mr. Golyadkin, a simple office clerk who lives by himself, who has strange, troubled dreams , who is stressed by the behaviour of his office colleagues who appear to make fun of him; There is also the behaviour of his fiancé who breaks off their wedding. Is he really fleeing from himself? Is he so totally alone, abandoned by all humanity?. Perhaps, but Golyadkin continues on bravely. He eventually comes in contact with his pesky double –his shadow on the wall, or is it the other narrator playing the acoustic bass who appears to be feeding him his lines? This double taunts the older fellow, he disappears and reappears, he interferes with his office relations, and he shows up the older Golyadkin until the poor man can’t take it anymore. It all takes place under the stress of the terrible Kafka-like bureaucracy in Saint Petersburg in Russia. A medical doctor comes into the picture (no psychiatry at that

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Obaaberima : a corporeal performance that expresses it all!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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 Patrick Langston

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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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The Importance Of Being Earnest. A cringe-inducing production that is trivial and insulting!

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: Andrée Lanthier

The National Arts Centre’s English theatre division has proudly unveiled its 2014-15 acting ensemble — and one can only feel embarrassed.

The rationale for a permanent acting company is a sound one. It’s to elevate the play-going experience by assembling a gifted team of artists versatile enough to tackle all types of theatre with confidence and understanding. Possibly the prime example in Canada exists at the Shaw Festival where its company has been hailed as the best in the western hemisphere.

That said, any acting company worth its salt should be able to meet the demands of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, a staple of the basic repertoire. Unfortunately, the NAC’s much vaunted new ensemble fails the test lamentably.

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

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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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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Oil and Water: A long time getting started!

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

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Reviewed May 16 for the Ottawa Citizen . Photo by Barb Gray.

Clearly, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Take the true story of an African-American sailor named Lanier Phillips, who was shipwrecked on the shore of St. Lawrence, Nfld. in 1942. Blend in the troubled lives of fluorspar miners and their families in that same small, isolated village. Occasionally fast forward three decades to when the now-older Phillips is encouraging his young, scared daughter as she endures the often-terrifying integration of Boston schools in 1974. Add music rooted in spirituals and east coast folk tunes. Then underpin everything with themes of transformation, exploitation and basic human decency.

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Oil and Water: Its own Shipwreck

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo by Barb Gray

Oil and Water by Robert Chafe doesn’t really get off the ground until about two-thirds of the way through its hour and twenty-five minutes, (with no intermission), running time. It purports to be the story of Lanier Phillips, a black American sailor who was rescued in 1942 along with 40-some white sailors from a shipwreck off St. Lawrence, Newfoundland. His non-racist and benevolent treatment by the villagers, who had never seen a black man, was a pivotal event in his life. He became an activist for civil rights and also maintained his connection with the people of St. Lawrence.

Sounds like a great story, but most of the details never make it to the stage. The many scenes with Lanier and his daughter 30 years later during the school riots in Boston intercut with those of the miners’ families in the village dealing with mine safety and lung disease, hijack the play and the shipwreck story. The script tries to follow too many characters. When the audience has no idea what’s going on unless they’ve read the program notes, something’s very wrong. With the shipwreck, the play finally gets on track, but by then we don’t much care.

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