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

Stratford serves up a bowel-obsessed version of Moliere.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, stratford 2016  

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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 on    Professional Theatre, summer 2016  

Ted

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 on    Professional Theatre, summer 2016  

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 on    Professional Theatre, stratford 2016  

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 on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre, summer 2016  

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Photo:

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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Cuisine and Confessions: A New Take on Dinner Theatre by Les Sept Doigts de la Main

Reviewed by on    All the world's a stage, Professional Theatre   ,

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Photo Alexandre Galliez. Performer Anna Kichtchenko

Boston welcomes back Les Sept Doigts de la Main (the Seven Fingers of the Hand) in their latest production Cuisine and Confessions, the fourth circus show that the company has brought to ArtsEmerson. The seven fingers (as the performers are referred to) have grown to nine for their current production. Cuisine and Confessions, like their earlier works, combines acrobatics, dance, song, storytelling, juggling, aerial silks, and occasional live music. Most of the Cuisine and Confessions performers trained at Montreal’s National Circus School, which gives a particular unity to their style.

As often the case in contemporary theatre, the immersive show tries to break down the barriers between performers and audience. At the opening, some of the artists play catch with the spectators using props such as balls and eggs, while other artists approach a few spectators to ask if they would like to participate. Those who agree are brought on stage at various junctures, perhaps fed a bit of food, get a few laughs, and return to their seats.

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Stratford Embraces the Supernatural in Macbeth

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, stratford 2016  

Macbeth – On The Run 2016

Photo: David Hou. Ian Lake as Macbeth

Macbeth directed by Antoni Cimolino

The supernatural is eerily alive and well in the Stratford Festival’s new production of Macbeth. But those who submit to its allure are fallibly, destructively human.

In our own age, this youthful Macbeth and his lady would probably worship social media and be dangerously susceptible to its excesses and its mistruths. Stratford’s revival may be very much in period, but a similar dynamic can still apply, even in 11th Century Scotland. This Macbeth may be a hero on the battlefield but he’s also a product of his times. In his world, ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night are not an unnatural phenomenon. So, if he is dangerously ambitious, why shouldn’t he prepared to listen to the Weird Sisters and heed their prophecies of a great future for him?

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“Blithe Spirit” Sparkles at 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, summer 2016  

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Arcati

Photo: Stephen  Wild. Anita Wittenberg as Mme Arcati

I f you enjoy Noel Coward’s comedies as much as I do, get over to the 1000 Islands Playhouse and see their terrific production of “Blithe Spirit.”  Director Ashlie Corcoran and her uniformly strong cast hit all the right notes of both Coward’s style and humor. Ms. Corcoran has made a wise decision in bringing in Alison Deon as Dialect Coach.  For once Coward’s dialogue and “airy persiflage” sound authentic.

This is partly due to the excellent cast, including Christopher Weddell and Janet Michael as Dr. and Mrs. Bradman.  Kelsey Gilker has great fun with the inexperienced maid Edith, particularly the opening of Scene 2 when her mishaps are accompanied by percussion.  Speaking of percussion, Christopher Stanton’s music and sound are first rate.  I love the scene change music that sometimes sounds like drums and kazoo, as well as the perfectly timed sound in the final scene.

Krista Colosimo does a fine job as Ruth, Charles’s rather unsympathetic second wife, as does Stephen Gartner as Charles, from the use of his perfect period haircut to his final declaration of independence.  As for Shannon Currie’s mischievous Elvira, she’s well-nigh perfect, especially her wonderful body language which is enhanced by Dana Osborne’s lovely costume and wig.

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Perth Classic Theatre Festival: I Ought to be in Pictures brings in terrific chemistry!

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

ought13510804_993406950756155_4586202729207290206_n  Photo courtesy of Perth Classic Theatre Festival

I Ought to be in Pictures By Neil Simon ; Directed by Laurel Smith

Commitment is not Herb Tucker’s strong point. A screen writer with writer’s block, he proved this definitively over the years by walking out on his family, going through two more failed marriages and maintaining a casual, holding pattern with his current long-suffering girlfriend, Steffie.

So, when 19-year-old Libby, the daughter he left behind 16 years earlier, shows up on his doorstep, reconciliation and an ongoing relationship between father and daughter seem unlikely.

But I Ought to be in Pictures is by Neil Simon. And he regularly mixes laughter and his signature one-liners with a sprinkling of poignancy. When it premiered on Broadway in 1979 and in the 1982 movie version (with Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret), critical response was mixed, often commenting on the sentimentality of the theme or the stridency of the performer playing Libby.

No such reaction would be justified to the carefully balanced Classic Theatre Festival production directed by Laurel Smith. William Vickers inhabits the role of Herb to make his every emotion and reaction totally credible, even periodically eliciting sympathy when he confesses to insecurity or he admits that he is “not good at marriage.”

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In Times of Trouble: Underdirected, but funny and touching

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre  

Photo: TooToo Theatre

Photo: TooToo Theatre

In Times of Trouble
Written and performed by Martha Chaves
TotoToo Theatre

Part autobiography, part stand-up comedy routine, this one-woman show is often very funny and, occasionally, even moving.

Telling the story of her life through her alter-ego, Maria, comedienne Martha Chaves describes her childhood in Nicaragua, the earthquake and civil war that forced her and her mother, Gloria, to seek refuge in Guatemala and why her mother sent her to Montreal when Martha/Maria was just 17.

Primarily, In Times of Trouble is a way for Chaves to work through her conflicted relationship with her mother. The “dragon lady” ruled with a rod of iron as she was growing up, says Maria, even reading her diaries — the one she kept for public consumption and the private missive, describing all the details of her sexual encounters. (Continue reading » )

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