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


Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  

SCREWTAPE is a medieval morality play turned on its head. Told from the point of view of Screwtape, a “lower-archy” bureaucrat who serves the devil in hell as a Temptor, the story follows him as he attempts to help his nephew tempt a human soul to the darkside, while the possibility of a last-minute repentance hangs heavy in the air while. John D. Huston’s one man show, fittingly performed in a church, digs deep into the concept of morality, and particularly of the limits of religious morality. Themes of selfless love, faith, humanity, and repentance whip through the text. It is an enjoyably heady play.

The script uses C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters as a point of departure, and pulls it into the modern world through some creative dramaturgical devices. Screwtape is preparing a lecture for an audience of daemons on the subject of tempting the human heart, and of the beguiling concept of selfless love. Meanwhile, he is interrupted by his nephew, by way of a Google Glass type of communication device, who is leading a human soul into damnation. It is satirical piece with a creepy side.

Huston is undoubtedly a powerful actor, and employs a classical acting style which suits the Management-level bureaucrat character perfectly. From his heightened elocution, to his crisp, precise movements, Huston embodies Screwtape very well. Unfortunately, between the style of speech along with a frantic plot that frequently flips back and forth between two conversations, the play is difficult to follow. The structure of the script does not suit the heady themes on which it ruminates.

This production has a strong actor at its helm and is enjoyably philosophical. To note: One very bad joke about “church shootings” was in very poor taste.


by John D. Huston from C.S. Lewis / By the Book Productions

Saint Paul’s Eastern church

The Orchid and the Crow

Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  

If an operatic aria about battling stage four testicular cancer, a bouncy ditty about a circumcision bris and a little heavy rock seem an incongruous mix, think again. Try adding in a story about solo performer Daniel Tobias’ bacon-loving Jewish family and his father’s embrace of the Santa Claus tradition, his admiration for cyclist Lance Armstrong (until his fall from grace) and a commercial for T-shirts and other products.

The Orchid and the Crow is a well-constructed autobiographical show that combines storytelling, assorted musical genres, humour and zest for life with the occasional lapse of judgment.

Funny, compelling, high-energy and occasionally moving.

Note: This show is 70 minutes long.

The Orchid and the Crow

Written and performed by Daniel Tobias

Arts Court Theatre (Venue 1)

Screwtape: A Masterful Performance

Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  


Photo. courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe.

John Huston can be a mesmerizing performer, but he also brings an intellectual vigour to his work. In this adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s legendary Screwtape Letters, he is both amusing and unsettling in his portrayal of a senior devil who tackles his duties as a satanic tempter with robust commitment while also attempting to rouse his numb-brained nephew, Wormwood out of his torpor. Huston, a dapperly attired devil in a dark Bay Street suit with an appropriately scarlet necktie, also displays his own brand of evangelical fervour when he passionately declares, “Catch the shepherd, and the whole flock of sheep will follow.” And he’s quite astonishing at the moment when he turns into a centipede.

However, the sanctuary of this church is not the easiest venue for him or his audience. The other afternoon, the effectiveness of his performance was in frequent jeopardy from the church’s challenging acoustics.

Screwtape, from By The Book Productions, Toronto

Adapted and performed by John D. Huston

St Paul’s Eastern United Church

Weird: The Witches of Macbeth

Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  

Phillip Psutka – writer, director, co-choreographer, fight director, violinist, and co-producer – brings a breath of fresh air to Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s dark plays. He not captures the essence of poetry and cadence found in Shakespeare, but cleverly uses red aerial silks throughout the play, allowing the actors to twist, spiral, fall, climb, only to fall again.  The device is especially effective during a great thunderstorm.   
This show is a visual feast, and choreography and direction are tight and excellent.  This is theatre.

By: Phillip Psutka

Theatre Arcturus

Academic Hall

The Inventor of All Things. The true story of Leo Szilard. A Gem of a performance!

Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  


Physicist Leo Szilard. (1898-1864)

Jem Rolls becomes a professor of history who spews out in a most exciting way, the trials, and tribulations, the evolution and astounding feats of a certain Leo Szilard, for whom the actor/writer has a deeply passionate interest.  This is a true story. It can all be verified on line and elsewhere. Szilard was a  Hungarian-American physicist responsible for the development of nuclear fission as well as the idea of the American Manhatten project, a close friend of Einstein and  who in the end was against the Atomic bomb and nuclear weapons because he realized the horrors they could produce. But Jem Rolls turns the life story of this incredible human being, who escaped the Nazis, into the masterful adventure of a superhero: Inventor of a long line of products, fighter for the survival of the world, against human stupidity and the initiator of the peace movement. Jem Rolls performs the story on stage as though it were a musical score, respecting the rhythms, the pauses, the crescendos, the staccatos, the adagios, and all the musical possibility of human speech. The range of his delivery is enormous and it is this playful delivery as well as his almost surrealist way his written text  connects accomplishments that don’t always connect logically that stimulate our attention and keep us glued to this history lesson for a whole hour.

Jem Rolls is a gem of a performer. Definitely worth seeing.

The Inventor or All Things plays in the Arts Court Library.

The Inventor of All Things, the true story of Leo Szilard. Written and performed by Jem Rolls.


Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  


Photo:  threads1_cred_reneferrer.jpg

Tonya Jone Miller,tells us the story of her mother who  after many personal adventures, travelling around the USA and living in Hawaii, decided to go to Viet Nam to teach English, during the war. She tells of her husband who was posted overseas, how she survived while he was away, how she cared for a  young vietnamese child, how she fell in love, how she became pregnant and eventually had to return to the USA and leave her vietnamese  child in Saigon. Tonya Miller said she barely knew her Vietnamese father because her American Mother&#160 barely spoke of him. I admit that the threads of the story line were not always clear and I had trouble following who the people where and where they went and why they disappeared. However there are traumatic events that take place when the young woman is in Saigon, the most difficult of all was her escape from the city as she was on the point of giving birth. It was a heroic feat that made the audience gasp.

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The Black and the Jew Go Buddhist

Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  

A collective therapy event which might not interest people who feel that discussing intimate questions of sex is not their cup of tea. However this is a fairly serious discussion full of fun and live interaction with the public who are free to answer or not answer. It all depends on you the spectator.   Its as simple as that. Epstein and Hassan  are a mixed race couple and they give us clues to the success of their relationship during a laboratory where they discuss and show their very own “black-jew love teaching technology!!  rather unorthodox, and perhaps even “unKosher” but they both get into it with lots of real commitment, a good sense of fun. Hassan has a lovely singing and speaking voice, Epstein is pushy and very much in love with his wife.

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“Finished Girls” A Tale of Colonial Sex Trade

Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  

Although the title “Finished Girls” A Tale of Colonial Sex Trade sounds rather dark, the show is actually modern comedy full of fun and laugh.

Phoebe and Moira are two prostitutes in late 19th century Ottawa. They want to go out and find a legitimate job but their pimp, Cluster, uses all the tricks of the trade to keep them in the business. It is obvious that the girls are exploited. Contrary to her friend Phoebe, Moira is very much aware of the situation, but it seems that she cannot find a way out. It is only after a customer severely beats Phoebe that the two girls manage to leave their manipulative employer and break up with their profession, which is leading them nowhere. Rick Kaulbars wrote a dark comedy in a light way. This topic that probes into the lesser-known part of Canada’s history is intriguing enough for a deeper examination. For now, the show stays on the surface.

The play is well executed, with a few minor problems –the singing is not incorporated in the best way and  the scenes seem to be unfinished at times. Other that that, most of transitions are well done and the actors make their respective roles into very clear and distinctive characters. There are a few really good moments, but the play still needs some work.

All in all it was an enjoyable performance, full of fun and tasteful humour.

Finished Girls” A Tale of Colonial Sex Trade plays at ODD Box.

Weird: The Witches of Macbeth.

Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  


Photo. Courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe Festival.

Macbeth was never an easy tragedy to read and understand. Numerous directors and actors have struggled to reach the meaning behind its story. Very few have succeeded. After seeing Weird: The Witches of Macbeth, it is clear that Phillip Psutka is definitely one of them. He rips Shakespeare’s famous tragedy apart, pulls out its essence, and puts it together in a new way.

Psutka’s presentation has a true Shakespearian atmosphere. The time and the actions are right, but the angle is completely different. He shifts the focus on the three sisters who plot and steer the cause of events in the famous tragedy. Why do they decide to help Macbeth, how do they realize their mistake, and what does it take to correct their misdoings? Phillip Psutka & Lindsay Bellaire explore the reason behind the three witch’s actions and the price everybody involved has to pay.

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Screwtape Letters

Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015  

Can you think of another venue where one of the devil’s helpers could choose to try to convert the enemy?  This Senior Tempter (John D. Huston) is very eloquent and his delivery excellent.  His voice echoes off the high church celling when he is in full motivational mode.  Transitioning  between conversations with his nephew Wormwood, his aide, and a call from down below are not clearly defined.   The dialogue is clever allowing the actor to present arguments to his nephew, explaining how to bring the enemy over to their side.  This play, a little too long, requires dedicated concentration not only from the actor but also for the audience. 

Freely adapted by John D. Huston from The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast by C.S. Lewis.
Performer: John D. Huston, By the Book Productionsé
Performed at St-Paul’s Eastern United.

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