Professional Theatre

8: Production addresses pressing issues and fears of today

News from Capital Critics Circle

Guest Critic: Yana Meerzon

Photo: David Ospina

On November 8, 2016, America elected its 45th President, Donald Trump, whose political forays, populist statements and neo-nationalist decrees, as well as Twitter type of communication, evoke the Russian poet –futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky’s manifesto “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste” (1917). By slapping  public taste, however, Mayakovsky aimed to change the role of arts in society, while Trump aims to change society itself. Trump’s aggressive and dangerous practices also bring into question  the role performing arts can play in resisting this type of political discourse and law-making.

Mani Soleymanlou, a Québécois artist of Iranian origin, and his company Orange Noyée, ask a similar question. With their new production 8 they inquire: what can theatre artists and intellectuals, socially and politically engaged individuals, do to resist the phantasmagoria of the Trump-lead era of history? What devices of political performance can make true social impact, in a  time when peoples’ political opinions and politics itself are formed over social media, through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram?

8, co-produced and presented by Orange Noyée, Place des Arts, Montreal, and National Arts Centre, French Theatre, Ottawa is an example of such a search. Soleymanlou has always been politically aware. Starting from his autobiographical show Un to his more recent work 5 à 7, he has continuously engaged with the questions of artist’s responsibility and social ethics, first through his work on immigration and now focusing on the perils of the world’s growing nationalism. (more…)

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: The Heart and Soul of the Rock

News from Capital Critics Circle

Guest reviewer Jim Murchisson

Photo: Victoria Wells

The opening night of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams at the National Arts Centre was attended by a who’s who of Newfoundland artists, Canadian politicians and journalists. It was appropriate of course as the play is an adaptation by Robert Chafe of Wayne Johnston’s novel that imagines what early influences might have created a character as enigmatic and colourful as Joseph Smallwood, the last father of Confederation and an enduring symbol of Newfoundland.

A work of fiction that speculates about the heart and soul of a very real character in Canadian history by blending history with invention makes for a compelling evening . It worked on every level. The characters both real and imagined are spellbinding. The dialogue crackles with the wisecracking wit that you find in the best of 40’s cinema. Chafe’s play makes me want to both read Johnston’s novel and discover more about this significant piece of history.

The staging of the play is mesmerizing. Director Jillian Keiley drops the audience smack dab in the middle of a film noir piece. The pinpoint lighting of Leigh Ann Vardy allows the dialogue to pepper the stage. Characters pop up in one spot and then another creating the illusion of watching a series of newsreel clips. We are captured in the tide of the Confederation movement. Brilliant! (more…)

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: Brilliantly performed, directed, and adapted

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo: Paul Daly

In the Playwright’s Notes, the playwright, Robert Chafe, writes: “The history buff will have no trouble calling me out. But I made my primary task to reflect the spirit and heart of this magnificent book within the often-confining demands of a stage play.” That is exactly what he does. Hard, cold facts about Newfoundland’s first premier Joey Smallwood, and the role he played in bringing the Dominion of Newfoundland into Canada’s confederation can be found in any number of books. Chafe’s adaptation of Wayne Johnston novel Colony of Unrequited Dreams brings much more to the stage than that. It brings back the time, the place and people during a time of great change in Newfoundland.

The play spans over 25 years of hard and turbulent times in Newfoundland, showing that if the period preceding confederation was troubling, the transition from dominion to confederation was anything but smooth. The results (fifty-two per cent of people voted in favour of joining Canada in the 1949 referendum; 48 per cent voted against) split the nation on many levels – from political to personal. What makes the play universal, regardless of its local content, is its focus on human experience rather than on political events. (more…)

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A fractious relationship

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Photo: Colin Furlong as Joey Smallwood. Credit: Paul Daly

Joey Smallwood, the diminutive guy who led Newfoundland into Confederation in 1949:  with a subject like that, audience members for The Colony of Unrequited Dreams could be forgiven for fearing an evening of excruciating boredom.

They would also be proven dead wrong.

Adapted by Robert Chafe from Wayne Johnston’s celebrated 1998 historical novel of the same name, the play is an enthralling glimpse into the heart of the earnest and tenacious Smallwood, into the soul of his beloved Newfoundland, and into Smallwood’s complicated relationship with a caustic newspaper columnist named Sheilagh Fielding.

Directed here by Jillian Keiley (herself a native Newfoundlander) with especially thoughtful attention to pacing, the story hums along so fluidly that you’re scarcely aware that three hours have elapsed when Smallwood finally attains his dream, Fielding reaches a goal of a different kind, and issues of identity, family, love and loneliness settle into their ultimately unresolvable conclusion.

Politics and the personal are inextricably woven together in this show’s vision of Joey Smallwood, played with a buoyant sense of mission, principle and rabble-rousing fearlessness by Colin Furlong. We meet Smallwood when he is a young man determined to carve out an influential place for himself in a Newfoundland where the old boys’ network and corruption are endemic in government. Doubtless partly in reaction to his father (Steve O‘Connell), an alcoholic whose life is a string of might-have-beens, Smallwood never meets a challenge that he won’t wade into like an up-and-coming welterweight. (more…)

Hand to God – Coping with Angst and Puppets

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin


Photo Glenn Perry    Tyrone scares Timothy

Hand to God is both a farce and satire of religion and suburban life in Cypress, Texas. First produced off-Broadway in 2011, its writer Robert Askins was an unknown working as a bartender with a few unsung off-off Broadway plays to his credit. Hand to God went to Broadway, became a tremendous hit, and received several Tony nominations. Now as it makes the rounds of the regionals, Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company is presenting its New England première.

Our Secrets: Life in a dystopian world.

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

ArtsEmerson is presenting the American début of Our Secrets, written and directed by Béla Pintér. The widely acclaimed Hungarian troupe, appropriately called Béla Pintér and company, is taking Our Secrets to New York after its short Boston run. Performed in Hungarian with supertitles, the play addresses the power that the communist state had over its citizens. It takes place in the 1980s, a period when the government encouraged its citizens to revive Hungary’s folk songs and dances as an attempt to prevent the population from falling under the influence of Western popular music. Three musicians play a variety of string instruments and a synthesizer.

Photo: Cscaba Maszaros

The narrative revolves around a folkloric group who meet to dance and sing. One of their members is István Balla Ban (Zoltán Friedenthanal) a musicologist and a man with a secret that will interest the Hungarian intelligence service. He visits a therapist (Eszter Csákákanyi) for help with his sexuality. István is desperately attracted to his seven-year old stepdaughter Timike (Éva Enyedi) and because of this infatuation is no longer aroused by his wife. He claims that he has never done anything untoward with the stepdaughter. It is a lie. He has taught the little girl sexual games that involve his pleasure and that strangely she enjoys.

Having bugged the therapist’s office, Comrade Pánczél (Eszter Csákákanyi) head of the intelligence service, calls in István and gives him the choice between going to prison for pedophilia or becoming an informer who will be rewarded by the state. Weakling that he is, he agrees to spy on his friends. In developing István as an unhappy reprobate, Pintér casts a shadow over the society as a whole. The playwright takes this a step further by using a disconsolate would-be dancer (Szabolcs Thuróczy) in the folkloric group as István’s contact. He became a servant for the state to avenge himself on the other dancers who mocked his lack of talent.


The Ghomeshi Effect: Brilliant concept that needs more work

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Photo: Andrew Alexander

In the Director’s notes of The Ghomeshi Effect’s program, director Jessica Ruano states: “…safety isn’t often what I’m seeking at a night out at the theatre…curiosity can be dangerous. Curiosity means: I’m prepared for anything, even if it’s not what I want to hear. Even if it upsets me. Even if I fundamentally disagree. Even if it challenges something I’ve believed for as long as I can remember.” The Ghomeshi Effect is a much needed addition to the conversation about sexual assault and has already sparked conversation over the treatment of survivors by the justice system. By encouraging discussion, Perspective Collective Theatre has already fulfilled its mandate. Is it theatre that provokes, upsets, or pushes its audience to confront uncomfortable facts? Not particularly, outside of the facts it presents. Other than a few emotionally charged moments, the verbatim dance piece fails to invoke intense emotion, considering the moving subject matter. The Ghomeshi Effect is a great concept and one that absolutely needs to be explored further. It’s empowering, as it gives voice to survivors’ experiences, told in their own words. Unfortunately, the gravity of the message gets lost amid the weak dramaturgy directing, lights, and choreography. (more…)


News from Capital Critics Circle



Pour deux soirs seulement, la création acclamée par la critique et le public F**KING CARL revient à La Nouvelle Scène Gilles Desjardins.

de Louis-Philippe Roy et Caroline Yergeau

une production du Théâtre du Trillium
du vendredi 3 février au samedi 4 février 2017 à 19 h 30
dans le Studio B [places limitées]
1 h 10 min.

Il y a eu une annonce sur Kijiji, une couple (de caisses) de bières, des Monster Trucks, des « festivaux » et un forain. Ça a donné un couple. Un couple mis devant une simple question : « Pourquoi pensez-vous être une bonne famille pour accueillir un enfant? ». F**k…

Ne ratez pas votre chance de voir « l’une des meilleures créations jouées sur les planches de l’Ontario français ces dernières années. » [revue Liaison #173]

Trudeau Stories: A fondly funny look back in time.

Reviewed by Patrick Langston


Photo: Kelly Clipperton

Trudeau Stories By Brooke Johnson, Great Canadian Theatre Company Directed by Allyson McMackon

Pierre Elliott Trudeau may have been a kind of sorcerer, a shape-shifter and ultimately unknowable, to public affairs writer Richard Gwyn, who titled his 1980 book about the former prime minister The Northern Magus: Trudeau and Canada.

To Brooke Johnson, 40 years Trudeau’s junior, he was a friend, an occasional swimming and hiking companion, a man who once slid down an icy Montreal street with her shouting “Whee!”

Johnson relates the course of that unlikely friendship, one that began in 1985 when she was a theatre student at Montreal’s National Theatre School but which inevitably dimmed in the years that followed because of the busy life each was leading, in her finely sculpted, one-woman show Trudeau Stories.

A mix of storytelling and performance, the show is a compelling, clear-eyed and often fondly funny look back at a time when Johnson was a young artist searching for direction and identity and when Trudeau had left politics to return to the practice of law but had lost none of the insatiable curiosity, cerebral horsepower, and blend of public display and closely guarded privacy that marked his years at the helm of the federal Liberal party.


Hand to God – Coping with Angst and Puppets

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Tyrone Scares Timothy - Midsize

Photo: Glenn Perry

Hand to God is both a farce and satire of religion and suburban life in Cypress, Texas. First produced off-Broadway in 2011, its writer Robert Askins was an unknown working as a bartender with a few unsung off-off Broadway plays to his credit. Hand to God went to Broadway, became a tremendous hit, and received several Tony nominations. Now as it makes the rounds of the regionals, Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company is presenting its New England première.

Although the production (or is it the play?) lags at times especially at the opening, it grows funnier and funnier and more and more frenetic as it moves along. The storyline revolves around a religious hand puppet club, held in a church basement, whose three adolescent members are supposed to create sock puppets and Christian skits to be performed for the congregation. Upstage a poster hangs inscribed with the group’s name: The Christcateers. Jason (Eliott Purcell), spends most of his time with his devilish puppet Tyrone, evidently working through his feelings. Margery (Marianna Basham) Jason’s newly widowed and distraught mother runs the puppet ministry presumably on the advice of the nerdy Pastor Greg (Lewis D. Wheeler) who is attracted to her. Jessica (Josephine Elwood) is involved because she has a secret crush on Jason and an interest in Balinese puppets, while Timothy (Dario Ladani Sanchez) joined because he too is infatuated with Margery despite their age difference. Although the idea of a religious puppetry club struck me as outlandish, the playwright belonged to a similar group as a boy in Texas.


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