Professional Theatre

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

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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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. (more…)

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

Reviewed by Yana Meerzon

First published in alt.theatre, September 13,  2016. http://alttheatre.ca/2016/09/13/yana-meerzon-reviews-the-aeneid-at-stratford-until-oct-4/

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.

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Toto Too Triumphs with Torch Song Trilogy

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Poster photo by Maria Vartanova

Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein. Directed by Sarah Hearn.
Performed at the University of Ottawa, Academic Hall.

Ottawa’s new theatre season has received a stellar launching thanks to TotoToo’s production of Harvey Fierstein’s contemporary classic, Torch Song Trilogy. Here’s decisive evidence of its quality. This account of a young New York drag queen’s life journey through a period of turbulence, both personal and societal, occupies three separate plays, each lasting more than an hour. This adds up to a total running time, including two intermissions, of more than four hours. This means it’s longer than Hamlet, longer than Gone With The Wind, but shorter than The Ring Cycle. So yes, it is terribly long. But what’s important here is that Sarah Hearn’s outstanding production, so seamless in its blending of humour and pathos, ensures that the time flies by.

The show is both entertaining and provocative, and it features exceptional performances. But the other night, it attracted only a hand-full of patrons to a performance at Academic Hall. This is a disgrace. It should be selling out.

It’s hard to believe that this is the first Ottawa production of an autobiographical piece that has acquired legendary status since its Tony Award-winning Broadway premiere 35 years ago. Back then, Harvey Fierstein himself took on the central role of Arnold Beckoff, this middle-class Jewish boy who must deal with both the joys and travails of being gay. Torch Song Trilogy went on to win the coveted Tony Award and run for more than 1200 performance.

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John Gabriel Borkman: two stellar acting performances highlight Stratford’s Ibsen revival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Hou

STRATFORD, Ont. —  Henrik Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman can be a tricky play to bring off.

We might assume that its main focus is the title character — a disgraced banker who has gone to prison for his misdeeds and later, in the confinement of his house, endlessly paces his upper-floor retreat while consoling himself with futile dreams of a return to public favour. But we assume wrong. Borkman’s plight may seem to be an attention-getting dramatic  situation — but not when it’s trumped by the powerhouse roles that  Ibsen has written for two women.

One is Borkman’s long-suffering wife, Gunhild, played with soured intensity by Lucy Peacock. The other is her formidable twin sister, Ella. She is Borkman’s ex-mistress, and she’s dying of a terminal illness. Yet, in Seana McKenna’s gripping performance, she is displaying her own steely fortitude and determination.

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

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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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.

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Stratford serves up a bowel-obsessed version of Moliere.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Hou  Stephen Ouimette as Argon.

Le Medecin Malgré lui (The Hypochondriac) by Molière. In a new version by Richard Bean from a literal translation by Chris Campbell, directed by  Antoni Cimolino

STRATFORD, Ont. —  Initially, nothing much seems to be happening when the lights go up on the stage of the Festival Theatre. There’s just Argon, this bedraggled creature in a grubby nightgown, painstakingly going through a pile of papers that turn out to be bills for medical treatment. But as Argon goes through these documents,  on occasion almost fondling them with indecent affection, it becomes clear that these billings are mainly in the service of one  preoccupation — the state of his bowels.

By this time we should also be conscious that he’s enthroned on a commode, intent on passing a stool while he does his paperwork. Indeed, it won’t be long before he’s checking its contents — and this very act signals rapture more than than it does revulsion.

We’re also becoming conscious of veteran actor Stephen Ouimette’s brilliant way of  using detail — the tiniest of detail — as his building blocks. It’s his way of bringing to life the character of the vain, ludicrously self-absorbed Argon in the Stratford Festival’s production of The Hypochondriac.

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A Grand Time in the Rapds, Light-Hearted Farce et the 1000 Thousand Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo: Jay Kopinski

“A Grand Time in the Rapids” by award-winning Canadian playwright Stewart Lemoine is billed as “a frivolous fast-paced farce” and it certainly is. It features Thalia, (Tess Degenstein), newly arrived in Grand Rapids from England and Ted, (Paul Dunn), an etiquette expert who arrives to monitor and direct Thalia’s confession to her boyfriend Boyd, (Craig Pike), the details of her rather lurid past.

That’s all I’ll say, as I don’t want to reveal the surprising twists of this odd-ball plot. Suffice it to say there are lots of thrown drinks, wet clothes, quick changes, and slamming of doors in this unusual farce that for a change is not about sex.

The set, designed by Jung-Hye Kim, shows Thalia’s apartment with minimal furniture and a pile of trunks and suitcases framed by a brick proscenium. The wallpaper has a design of stylized waves and there are 3 good solid doors plus a swing door to the kitchen. Her costumes are also good, especially Thalia’s dresses which clearly set the play in the 50s. Rebecca Picherack’s lighting is fine, except that the table lamp needs to come up a couple of points when the stage lights come up.

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An Inspector Calls gets solid treatment at Perth

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

There’s no denying the polemic in J.B. Priestley’s 1944 classic, An Inspector Calls. And it’s not played down in the Perth Classic Theatre Festival’s excellent production. That’s evident from the compelling moment near the end when actor William Vickers, excellent as the play’s mysterious Inspector Goole, confronts the audience and warns of the “fire and blood and anguish” that will descend on society if human beings fail to recognize their collective responsibilities to each other.

The play wears its socialist colours proudly, as did its author throughout a remarkably long career. And when Britain’s National Theatre unveiled a historic revival in 1992, the notes in the printed program took unflinching aim at Margaret Thatcher’s notorious assertion that “there is no such thing as society” and therefore no case to be made for shared human concerns.

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The Stratford Festival’s Bunny has sex on her mind.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Bunny – On The Run 2016

Photo: David Hou. Maev Beaty and David Patrick Flemming.

STRATFORD, Ont. — Hanna Moscovitch’s new play, Bunny, had its world premiere at the Stratford Festival the other afternoon — and this was a cue for theatre staff to go all cutesy for the occasion by wearing rabbit ears on their heads.

Given that we were definitely not in for a cosy afternoon of G-rated entertainment in the company of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, it was more than a little bizarre to be confronted by ticket takers decked out like participants in a kiddies’ picnic. Or perhaps this was intended as some sort of ironic statement on the numerous sexual couplings we would soon be witnessing in the intimacy of the festival’s tiny Studio Theatre.

“Let me tell you about Sorrel,” announces Maev Beaty, the resourceful actress who will be guiding us through this saga of unquenchable sexuality and unfulfilled needs. Beaty is actually portraying Sorrel herself, although the script requires her to discuss her character in the third person. And Sorrel’s nickname is “Bunny” — hence the title — and that comes from that frightened rabbit-in-the-headlights look she gets when she’s in situations where her lack of social skills leaves her unable to cope.

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Sparkling “Into the Woods” at Gananoque’s 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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A very good production of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical “Into the Woods” is running at the 1000 Islands Playhouse. The cast, with a couple of exceptions, is strong and the actors can all handle the complex score. Drew Facey’s set, featuring an upper level walkway, 3 birdcage-like playing areas and, of course, woods, is excellent and his wonderful costumes cleverly fanciful. I loved the Prince’s high-top sneakers. The choreography by Shelly Stewart Hunt is good, especially for the Princes, although I felt it began a bit too early in the opening number and we lost some lyrics. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting is evocative and William Fallon’s sound first-rate and well balanced.

Speaking of sound, Musical Director Stephen Woodjetts has done an expert job with the complex vocals, especially the diction. When the show first opened in New York in 1987, the pit musicians called it “Into the Words.” He’s also done a great arrangement that allows only 5 musicians to convey the flavor and color of the original orchestration, with himself on piano, Greg Runions on percussion, David Smith on reeds, Bob Arlidge on bass, and the excellent Erin Puttee on keyboard.

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