Professional Theatre

Imaginary Lines: One joke does not make a compelling script or production

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo courtesy of Linden House Theatre Company

Photo courtesy of Linden House Theatre Company

Imaginary Lines

By Reggie Oliver

Linden House Theatre Company

Directed by Robin Bowditch

There are the words you say, the words you wish you had said and the enhanced version of events resulting from the imagined conversation.

This is the theme of Reggie Oliver’s 1987 comedy Imaginary Lines. At times, the format, combined with the breaking down of the fourth wall as characters address the audience directly, works well. More of the time, the device is tiresome and slows or confuses the action. But, the miscommunication and replays of conversations are apparently needed to pad the action in a script with a thin and somewhat unappealing storyline.

The central character is Wanda, a book illustrator, who tries to make her friends fit into her imagined scenarios. Involved with her and each other are: Howard, a shy bookstore owner looking for a girlfriend; Michael, a randy MP; Carol, an outspoken, unemployed teacher; and Olga, a gossip and writer of children’s books.

The Linden House Theatre Company production, directed by Robin Bowditch, delivers a group of characterizations that are true to type, but, mainly because of the one-note, single-joke nature of Oliver’s script, tend to have only one defining characteristic. Only Venetia Lawless makes her characterization as Carol rounded and interesting because she tempers anger with warmth and hope for a better outcome. (more…)

The Last Wife is an exciting and purposed reimagination of Katherine Parr’s history

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Photo: Emily Cooper

Photo: Emily Cooper

There’s a bravery that sits at the heart of The Last Wife that caught me off-guard. Playwright Kate Hennig imagines the intimate conversations that may have occurred in the most private moments between Katherine Parr and her husband, King Henry VIII, and even conjures up an unexpected romance. A historical play, one might expect a dusty piece brimming with period costumes and old-school notions; to say that this production is anything but dusty is an understatement. This artistic team, with director Esther Jun at the helm, is exhilarating from start to finish. Yet, The Last Wife is also much more than a romantic yarn between an odd-couple—it’s a story that reimagines Katherine Parr as a woman who challenges the status quo of her role as a woman and as the king’s closemouthed wife.

The first scene in this play gives the audience no illusions that Henry is anything but an impenetrable wall of a patriarch, but there’s a notable shift that occurs in the second scene: Katherine concedes to marrying Henry, but demands autonomy over her body—even in the bedroom. It is the type of conversation that feels more at-home in the 21st century than in the 16th. Hennig’s text is marked by its use of modernity, ultimately crafting a piece of theatre that forces its audience to revisit an old story with a new lens. This shift of perspective is an established tradition that has roots in the Canadian theatre tradition. A modern example is Margaret Clarke’s Gertrude and Ophelia, written in 1993. Hennig, like Clarke, takes an approach to narrative that is a blend of post-structuralism and feminism and finds ways that female characters may be reimagined, to have them disrupt or dislodge the patriarchal structures of their histories. And is there a better historical figure than Katherine Parr, the sixth wife to Henry VIII, for whom we can imagine such liberation? Katherine was a published writer, a regent, and the only one of King Henry VIII’s wives to survive his supposed tyranny as a husband where all others were divorced, deceased or beheaded. What was it that made her unique? Was she simply a dowdy, complacent nurse-maid, and Henry, too old and gout-ridden to find occasion to have her killed? Hennig certainly doesn’t see it that way. (more…)

The Last Wife: One for the memory book

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Emily Cooper

Photo: Emily Cooper

The Last Wife

By Kate Hennig

A CGCT/Victoria Belfry co-production

Directed by Esther Jun

GCTC to Nov. 20

It’s rare to encounter as outstanding a fusion of creativity and on-stage talent as that now on display at GCTC. But this production of Kate Hennig’s mesmerizing play, The Last Wife, is definitely one for the memory books.

We’re in the turbulent world of Tudor England here — but again we’re not. This examination of the dying days of King Henry Vlll’s reign — and in particular the last of his marriages to the remarkable Catherine Parr  — is set in modern dress. It’s an  audacious move, but it brings into bolder relief issues that never really go away    issues having to do with the elusive dynamics of personal relationships as well the ravaged reality of power politics, both global and domestic

Given that the high drama of the Tudor era has long been of consuming  interest in popular culture, the play’s modern setting also proves to be liberating. We can escape all those defining images from cinema and television. We can shove aside Charles Laughton, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr, Cate Blanchett, Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons and those other star-driven celluloid symbols of Tudor times  and instead get closer to the more immediate emotional and moral truths surrounding the last of Henry’s wives and her marriage to a tyrant capable of ordering her beheading in a sudden whiplash of anger.

Hennig’s play — witty, psychologically astute and at times intensely moving — premiered to great acclaim at the Stratford Festival in 2015. We’re now seeing it in a beautifully mounted co-production from GCTC and Victoria’s enterprising Belfry Theatre. At their best, such partnerships provide a great service to Canadian theatre by allowing individual companies to pool resources for productions that otherwise might prove too costly to mount. On this occasion, the collaboration has given us a director of authority and sensitivity in Esther Jun. And it has introduced Ottawa audiences to a sterling designer in the person of Shannon Lea Doyle: she delivers a quietly brilliant set that manages to frame the drama superbly without evoking too specific a time and place, and has created costumes capable of meeting that trickiest of requirements — defining temperament. The result is that an accomplished production team ensures an exemplary cast the security to  give full and exciting utterance to Hennig’s text. (more…)

Burn: A work in progress

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: John Muggleton

Photo: John Muggleton

Burn

Written and directed by John Muggleton

Avalon Studio

A telephone call more than a third of the way through Burn sets what begins as a barely smoldering chat among three friends on fire.

While it is necessary to set the scene, the do-you-remember beginning goes on too long and, initially, without an apparent goal.

We are told that the daughter of their deceased friend is flying in from Vancouver to meet them. Neither the friends nor the audience knows why. It turns out that the young woman has a story to tell, with particular reference to one of the three, Robert. Her agenda also includes making Robert aware that she is a fan of his wife —a successful writer of ghost stories who disappeared five years earlier.

Burn, when pared down, has an interesting storyline, although more than one area is left unresolved and the presentation is somewhat static. The sense is that Muggleton has more work to do to confirm Burn’s dramatic viability and carry it to a completely satisfactory conclusion. (more…)

The Last Wife: A not-to-be-missed production of Tudor history with a feminist twist

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Emily Cooper

Photo: Emily Cooper

The Last Wife

By Kate Hennig

GCTC/Belfry co-production

Directed by Esther Jun

Speaking truth to power can be a major problem when the power is absolute. And, from 1509 until his death in 1547, King Henry VIII of England played by his own rules, whether this meant changing his country’s religion for political and personal reasons, disposing of four of his six wives by divorce or execution or claiming that every autocratic act or seizure of property was for the good of his realm.

Yet, his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, not only outlived him, but also, as demonstrated in Kate Hennig’s fine 2015 drama, The Last Wife, frequently outsmarted him. Queen Catherine’s greatest achievement, from a historical perspective, was persuading Henry to reinstate his daughters Mary and Elizabeth as heirs to the throne of England (Third Act of Succession 1543).

As presented by Hennig, The Last Wife tells Catherine’s story through contemporary dialogue and a 21st-century feminist (sometimes didactic) lens. Catherine and Henry spar as intellectual equals. They demonstrate mutual respect. They love and fight passionately. But, when Catherine crosses the line to suggest they rule in partnership, she comes close to signing her own death warrant.

The dramatic device of melding past and present is effective, made more so by sparkling interchanges, the clarity of Esther Jun’s direction by and Shannon Lea Doyle’s economical highly workable set that enhances the action. (more…)

‘da Kink is powerful as ever, but keeps the present at arms length

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Photo: Trudie Lee

Photo: Trudie Lee

Trey Anthony’s influence in Canadian theatre is remarkable, and ‘da Kink in My Hair sits at the very heart of her contributions to Canadian culture. Originally a box-office-breaking Toronto Fringe offering in 2001, the play has taken on a life of its own and evolved into a modern classic. It has been adapted for television and re-worked as a musical. As part of a partnership between the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Theatre Calgary, the musical has just finished its run in Calgary and now Ottawa audiences are fortunate to see Trey Anthony reprising her role as Novelette at the National Arts Centre until November 5.

Anthony as Novelette is irreverent, saucy, and no-nonsense. The character brings humour and healing to the other women that come through her salon. More importantly, Novelette is also a key literary device that underpins the whole production. Her name may be your first clue that she is the “man behind the curtain” so to speak, and the all-knowing curator of the stories that we hear in this transcendental space. The setting, Letty’s Salon, is a shifting type of reality that allows these women’s stories to be woven together. It’s a space that incorporates a touch of magical realism and, paired with the musical elements of the production, emphasize the indeterminate nature of the stage. The set design by Cory Sincennes blends modern and retro elements. Red-framed mirrors adorn the walls, while dryer chairs and hair cutting stations flank stage right and left, respectively. The most important details of the stage are two elements that are rigged on a pulley system: The larger-than-life Letty’s Salon sign that hangs over the playing arena, and the backdrop that features dozens of black women’s hairstyles. When they are pulled up, we know we’re not at Letty’s anymore…. (more…)

Novel House:

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Allan Mackey

Photo: Allan Mackey

Novel House

By Jayson McDonald

Blacksheep Theatre

Director: Dave Dawson

In Novel House, a family named Novel lives through the highs and lows of daily life, while family patriarch James Novel, a former greeting-card writer, attempts to write the great Canadian novel with a quill pen. The subject matter of said novel is his family. Therefore, James periodically steps out of the action to address the audience. Meanwhile, his ditzy wife, Mary, floats back and forth, incompetent but full of love for her family, and James’ crazy father, Geoffrey, lives through his memories and the ghosts of his past, personified in small appliances and lamps. (Don’t ask.)

Meanwhile, the relatively normal daughter of the house, Rebecca, introduces Thomas, the love of her life, to her parents and grandfather. Closest to a through line in Novel House is the course of the young couple’s romance and future, which follows their engagement, marriage, loss of their first child, separation and reconciliation. And the most — actually, the only — moving moments of this Blacksheep Theatre production are during the well-executed reconciliation between Rebecca (Whitney Richards) and Thomas (Tony Adams). (more…)

The Plough and the Stars contemporized

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Dublin’s renowned Abbey Theatre has brought a modernized production of Sean O’Casey’s four act drama The Plough and the Stars to the American Repertory Theatre. In keeping with today’s conventions, it is played as four scenes with one intermission. First performed in 1926, ten years after the Easter Uprising when outnumbered Irish nationalists attempted to drive out the British, the play deals with the horrors and uselessness of rebellion by showing its effects upon the working poor.

Seven of The Plough and the Stars’ fourteen characters are tenants of a rundown tenement where the play begins and ends. Nora (Kate Stanley Brennan) and Jack Clitheroe (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) are a young married couple whose financial circumstances are better than their neighbors because they are able to rent out a room in their flat to Jack’s communist cousin the Young Covey (Ciará O’Brian), and Peter Flynn (James Hayes), Nora’s uncle. Nora, in particular, has middle-class ambitions, as seen by her fancy hat and demeanor. Mrs. Gogan (Janet Moran), the second floor tenant is a gossipy widowed charwoman with a young tubercular daughter and baby. She is jealous of Nora’s attractiveness and comfortable life. Unlike the other women, Nora does not work. Mollser (Rachel Gleason), the sickly girl on the verge of death, is symbolic of society’s neglect of the impoverished. Bessie Burgess (Hilda Fay) is the third-floor neighbor, a tough Protestant Unionist and fruit vendor, often at odds with Mrs. Gogan. As the play draws towards its end, we see Bessie’s compassion.

Scene two takes place in a pub where the audience is introduced to the bartender (Ger Kelly) and the prostitute Rosie Redmond (Nyree Yergainharsian). Despite Rosie’s good looks and flirtatious manner, she has no customers. Most of the neighborhood men have gone to a meeting of the Irish Citizen Army. When the Covey enters, she tries to seduce him, but he runs off in fear. In 1926 Dublin, this scene was a shocker. After the meeting, the men enter the pub. Rosie finds a client in Fluther (David Ganly), a neighborhood carpenter, and they leave together. Jack forsakes his pregnant wife for the independence of Ireland. As he tells his soldier buddies, “Ireland is greater than a wife.” (more…)

Musical “You Are Here” Impressive at 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Linda Cash. Photo: Stephen Wild

Linda Kash.
Photo: Stephen Wild

The 1000 Islands Playhouse is closing out their season with an absorbing world premiere of “You Are Here,” a one-woman musical with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and book by Brian Hill.  It’s inaccurate in a way to call “You Are Here” one-woman, as Diana, in a splendid performance by Linda Kash, also has conversations with other people in her life such as a stoned Viet Nam vet and her friend Joan with her distinctively messy hair-do.

Diana’s story begins as she’s watching the first moon landing in 1969.  Inspired by the adventurous astronauts, she decides to leave her home and explore the world outside her protective cocoon of habit and husband.  As she says, “It’s amazing the years I spent teaching myself not to see.”

Dana Osborne’s simple and effective set has a low platform upstage for the musicians backed by a huge rising moon covered with draped and scrunched fabric.  In front of the platform there’s a single park bench and a small moon is suspended over the audience.  Jason Hand’s expert lighting takes full advantage of the moon backdrop and Miss Osborne’s costume for Diana is amazingly versatile.  As for William Fallon’s sound, it’s first rate. (more…)

Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief. A theatrical mishmash

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief By Paula Vogel
A production of the Three Sisters Theatre Company
Director: Bronwyn Steinberg

What a waste of talent! Robin Guy is a fine performer. Élise Gauthier and Gabrielle Lalonde move well. But in Paula Vogel’s dated and unpleasant view of feminism, awkwardly directed by Bronwyn Steinberg, the three are simply part of a theatrical mish-mash punctuated by repetitive stylized movement that makes 90 minutes seem twice as long.

The purpose of Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief is apparently that control comes to women only through their husbands and independence only through prostitution. The three different accents used by the three characters are intended to define class and the way individuals are imprisoned by their origins. Presumably, the beige laundry that forms the bland set and much of the stage business is meant to underline the household duties assigned to women.

(more…)

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