Summer theatre 2014

“Waiting for the Parade” at 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo. Barbara Zimonick.

“Waiting for the Parade” by John Murrell has become a Canadian classic. First produced in Calgary in 1977, the play looks at WWII through the eyes of five women on the home front, their relationships with each other and with their families. The play’s structure is flowing and cinematic, consisting of slice of life vignettes and presentational monologues. These are connected by songs and sometimes dances of the period that also allow for minimal costume changes and changes of mood.

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Landline: blends plot with improvisation with imagination with dialogue with emotion and ultimately militates against your ability to experience any single experience in much depth

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Unlike most theatre reviews, this one is going to use the first person singular. That’s because, unlike most theatre pieces, this one wouldn’t have existed unless I’d been present.

Here’s how it worked. At Arts Court I was teamed up, via text, with a counterpart in Dartmouth, NS. We were each issued an iPod and told to spend an hour walking around the city. Where we went was our choice, but prompts from the iPod would tell us what to do during our stroll: observe our surroundings (were there birds overhead? Interesting bits of architecture?), check out fellow walkers (or tag along behind them for a block), occasionally stop and imagine a “scene” (for example, greeting someone from our past whose memory was evoked by a building we spotted). We were to text our counterpart about what we were seeing and experiencing, especially during our “scenes,” and to find out something about each other.

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Stratford’s Antony And Cleopatra: The Whole is Lesser Than The Parts. Reviewed by Jamie Portman.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Yanna McIntosh as Cleopatra, Geraint Wyn Davies as  Antony. Photo David Hou.

STRATFORD — There’s no denying the memorable moments in the Stratford Festival’s new production of Antony And Cleopatra.

For example — the ferocious outburst of sexual rage from Yanna McIntosh’s Cleopatra when she learns that Antony, the love of her life, has married someone else. Director Gary Griffin shows a keen sense of dramatic timing here, extracting a mounting tension from the scene before Cleopatra explodes into fury.

That sequence is splendidly theatrical. But, in contrast, we also get displays of tender intimacy. A lovely scene where McIntosh helps the aging and weary Antony of Geraint Wyn Davies into his armour has an easy familiarity about it: these are two lovers who know each other well, who are comfortable with each other, who respond to each other naturally.

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Bernard Shaw’s early comedy, The Philanderer, makes a stunning return to the Shaw festival – reviewed by Jamie Portman.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Cooper. Featuring Marla  McLean and Gord Rand.

NIAGARA-ONTHE-LAKE, Ont. — We’re not really getting full nudity on the stage of the Festival Theatre, but that’s still what the opening moments of The Philanderer manage to suggest.

We’re privy to a couple still in lustful embrace, and they leave us in no doubt about what has just taken place. The man is Leonard Charteris, an accomplished womanizer whose sexual confidence is only matched by his sense of sexual entitlement. The woman is Grace Tranfield, a current conquest and a young widow who has managed to convince herself that the charismatic Leonard is her new soul mate.

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The Sea: a beautiful production at Shaw of a strange and beguiling fable that evokes an elusive something; reviewed by Jamie Portman.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Fiona Reid in The Sea. Photo: David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont.  —   Edward Bond’s The Sea is perhaps the most personal play he ever wrote in terms of its relationship to his own life, and it’s certainly his most accessible.
But as the Shaw Festival’s sterling new production of this 41-year-old piece reminds us, it’s also a strange and beguiling fable, set a century ago in an East Anglian seaside village and turning its sights on two favorite Bond preoccupations — class and social disorder.
It can seem discordant in performance. The play can touch you to the heart at one moment — witness the poignancy with which its two young protagonists, beautifully played by Wade Bogert-O’Brien and Julia Course, experience a shared loss from a tragic death and also a shared yearning for escape from a repressive environment. Yet, within the compass of this same play, you’ll encounter a funeral service that degenerates into surrealistic farce.

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Christina Casts its Spell At Stratford Despite Problematic Script: reviewed by Jamie Portman

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Jenny Young and Graham Abbey. Photo Cylla Von Tiedemann

STRATFORD — She bursts onto the stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre with cyclonic force, a female fury in the elegant garb of a male. But don’t assume we’re getting another variation of a trouser role here.
This not a case of actress Jenny Young simply dressing up like a man. She’s not just making like a 17th Century tomboy. It’s a moot point as to whether she voraciously inhabits the character of Sweden’s endlessly fascinating Queen Christina or whether Christina has taken occupancy of her. The bottom line is that she seizes our attention immediately as — all attitude — she starts berating a hapless court booby named Karl Gustav for his attempts to ravish her.
What comes through here with burning intensity is the forthright young queen’s revulsion at the thought of any intimate contact with a male. Indeed, as Young’s Christina spells out details of Karl’s attempted seduction, we wouldn’t be surprised if she upchucked before our eyes at any moment.

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Deborah Hay Triumphs Again At The Shaw Festival: Jamie Portman reviews Williams’ A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: Emily Cooper. Featuring  Deborah Hay and Kate Manning.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — This is the summer when Shaw Festival actress Deborah Hay can do wrong.

She’s been in command of the flagship Festival Theatre stage since April with her brilliant performance as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. And now, she’s providing some sublime moments in the festival’s problematic lunch-hour production of Tennessee Williams’s neglected one-act play, A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur.

The setting is St. Louis, a city that looms large and traumatically in the playwright’s personal and creative life, and we first meet Dorothea, the character played by Hay, doing calisthenics in the living room. She is another of Williams’s emotionally maimed heroines — not as tragedy-bound as Blanche Dubois, but still vulnerable.

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Shaw Festival Scores big with J.B. Priestley’s classic comedy When We Are Married.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Acerbic American critic John Simon once observed that the Shaw Festival probably has the best acting company in the Western Hemisphere.
And the proof is again in evidence with the festival’s uproarious revival of When We Are Married, J.B. Priestley’s 1938 comedy about three Yorkshire couples who make the shattering discovery at their joint Silver Anniversary party that they were never legally wed.
The play is a cunningly executed fusion of character and situation. It is also a probing and at times painfully funny dissection of a particular culture and of a class system that achieves its own unique definition within the West Riding town of Clecklewyke, which is the fictional stand-in for Priestley’s own birthplace of Bradford.

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Mother Courage: Stratford’s Seana McKenna offers a tough and memorable performance.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Seana McKenna as Mother Courage. Carmen Grant as Kattrin. Photo. David Hou 

STRATFORD, Ont. — The image is unforgettable — this drab, middle-aged, grey-haired mother trudging endlessly through her chosen landscape of war and misery and dubious fiscal opportunity, hauling her battered peddler’s wagon behind her, her only concern the survival of herself and her grown children.
Watching a production of Brecht’s Mother Courage And Her Children, you can’t easily label the play’s title character as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Well, perhaps you can in those productions where the play is allowed to turn soppy and sentimental and tug on our emotions — an approach that infuriated playwright Bertolt Brecht but one that still tempts directors disdainful of his alienation theories.
History tells us that when Mother Courage premiered in Zurich some 70 years ago, some critics approvingly commented on the maternal qualities of its central character. Brecht’s enraged response was to rewrite the play to make her even harsher. Heaven help any treatment that allows her to enlist our sympathies.
But of course, she does — regardless of what Brecht might have wanted. However callous she may seem to an outside world, she still has an inner life, and in any good performance, we’re going to be conscious of it.
In the Stratford Festival’s astonishing new production, we’re riveted by the scene in which Seana McKenna’s Mother Courage is forced to gaze down on the corpse of her son, Swiss Cheese, and deny any knowledge of him. She has no other course if she is to avoid arrest and death herself at the hands of the military thugs who killed him. So, without a visible tremor of emotion, she gives her answer — no, she does not know him.

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Stratford Misfires with Noel Coward’s Hay Fever: reviewed by Jamie Portman.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo. Cylla Von Tiedemann

STRATFORD — You find yourself worrying about the Stratford Festival’s bungled revival of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever even before the performance begins.

‘That’s because a glance at the printed program notes reveals that director Alisa Palmer, a Shaw Festival veteran who really ought to know better, has decided to impose some kind of trendy feminist agenda on Coward’s 1925 comedy. Hence, among other things, Hay Fever actually deals with a mother-daughter power struggle: Coward’s memorable creation, veteran actress Judith Bliss, is suffering a mid-life identity crisis, while daughter Sorel is merely doing what a young woman must do, which is to break free of her family and become independent.

Or so Palmer claims.

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Past Reviews