Summer theatre 2014

Atlantic Fringe Festival in Halifax.

News from Capital Critics Circle

Notes by Patrick Langston.  Running Aug. 28-Sept 7, this year’s Atlantic Fringe Festival in Halifax features about 60 companies and 300 shows. Most of the companies seem to be from Nova Scotia although the program fails to identify the origin or, frequently, even the name of the company (the website appears to have most of the missing information but is cumbersome).

Ottawa shows include Kavalier’s Kuriosities (Dead Unicorn Ink) and Mabel’s Last Performance (written by Megan Piercey Monafu and performed by Kathi Langston).

Unlike the centralized Ottawa Fringe Festival, venues in Halifax are widely disbursed. That’s a plus in that the city’s attractiveness makes the travelling around a pleasure but a minus in that the festival has no physical focus or, as far as I could determine, anywhere that artists and audiences can readily gather – somewhere like, say, the Ottawa fringe’s popular courtyard.

That absence of a physical centre also militates against the excitement that typifies a centralized festival where attendees constantly bump into each other and talk about shows. You can always text, of course, but that’s no match for face-to-face chatter.

Even so, the 24-year-old festival pulls in over 10,000 patrons annually and, with admission to shows costing as little as $3, it’s eminently affordable.

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“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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The Ugly One: devastating, cruel and tightly choreographed. Admirable theatre!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo: Jay Kopinski

German playwright Marius von Mayenburg has written an angry little Hegelian parable which is tightly staged, highly stylized, prone to split second reactions that generate enormous excitement. He shows us that the human being’s awareness of himself /herself comes from the way he sees himself through the gaze of those around him. A certain Lette (Alex Poche-Goldin) working for a corporation where he has just discovered a new technological mechanism, will not be allowed to present his product at an international meeting because his boss Scheffler (Hardee T. Lineham) says Lette is too ugly and he will just turn potential buyers off. Lette is horrified. He was never aware that he was ugly because no one let on, no one told him, and even his wife Fanny was not able to look at him so he never noticed the horror reflected in her gaze. Of course none of this is visible but that just emphasizes the state of mind at the basis of such thinking.

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The Ugly One: Food for thought

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo: Jay Kopinski

The Ugly One” by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg and translated by Maja Zade is billed as a black comedy, and rightly so. Lette is a successful engineer who happens to be so ugly that his wife can only look at his left eye. They have what they call an “acoustic relationship.” Lette has his face reconstructed by a plastic surgeon and emerges charismatically handsome. The play deals with image, identity and perception. It also raises questions about today’s celebrity culture, so often based only on image. Exactly who are the Kardashians and why should we care?

Set and Costume designer Camellia Koo has done a splendid job. The spare futuristic set consists largely of a metal rectangular table with the audience seated only on two sides facing each other. The long table functions as a stage, a speaker’s platform and an operating table with the four actors moving from it to the floor and in and out of the front row of the audience. There are also a couple of mirrors and a rectangle of fluorescent tubes over the table. Her costumes are equally simple and allow the actors to switch characters using only body language and voice.

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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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