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

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

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

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. (Continue reading » )

Burn: A work in progress

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: John Muggleton

Photo: John Muggleton


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. (Continue reading » )

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

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

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. (Continue reading » )

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

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

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…. (Continue reading » )

Novel House:

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

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). (Continue reading » )

Musical “You Are Here” Impressive at 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

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. (Continue reading » )

Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief. A theatrical mishmash

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

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.

(Continue reading » )

Desdemona : a play about a Handkerchief : A Lumbering production whose validity is not evident…

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Theatre in Ottawa and the region  


Photo: George Salhani.

Paula Vogel’s Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.

It emerges at the Gladstone as some sort of muddled feminist retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello. In the process, it turns the original tragedy on its ear, presenting Othello’s wife, Desdemona, as some kind of whore who has slept with just about everybody in town and who is turned on by phallic symbolism. (Continue reading » )

“…our own reality, like Kemeid’s text, remains ambiguous and undecided.” Aeneid at Stratford.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, stratford 2016  

First published in, September 13,  2016.

In today’s political, economic and social climate, with mass migration turning into a new norm, it is impossible not to think of Olivier Kemeid’s dramaturgy as farsighted and foretelling. The Quebecois playwright published L’Eneide, his dramatic adaptation of Virgil’s poem, in 2008 before the current migration crisis. Yet with its tenacious questioning of the potential impact of the presence of new immigrants on the rapidly changing western world, Kemeid’s adaption of Virgil’s The Aeneid becomes tremendously urgent. Through its poetic language, stylized movement and surrealist imagery, both Kemeid’s text and director Keira Loughran’s production speak of migration in historical and philosophical terms, aiming for a deeper understanding of the encounter between ordinary people (migrants) and nation-states.

(Continue reading » )

Stratford tackles Quebec dramatist’s take on The Aeneid — with mixed results

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, stratford 2016, Théâtre français  


Photo: David Hou. The Aeneid, adapted by Olivier Kermeid.

STRATFORD, Ont. — It’s the intimate moments that have the most profound  impact in The Stratford Festival’s production of Quebec playwright Olivier Kemeid’s The Aeneid .

We’re dealing with the refugee crisis here. So we have this scene where a  mother, in anguish over the loss of her own child,  spots an infant  among her fellow fugitives  and picks him up — refusing to relinquish him to his father, Aeneas, the central figure in this ambitious retelling of Virgil’s poem.

A sequence like this defines the terrible reality of the refugee experience. But ultimately it’s the way it moves from the universal to the particular that gives it such   tragic intimacy. As the grieving mother, Lanise Antoine Shelley is lacerating in her display of a ravaged soul. But then the intervention of the woman’s husband, portrayed with compelling power by Rodrigo Beilfuss, again pierces the heart: please, he asks Aeneas, allow this poor woman to pretend at least for a time that this is her own child she’s holding.

(Continue reading » )

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