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

Turcaret or The Financier. A Beautiful World Premiere in English That Shows the Limits of Contemporary Commedia Performance.

Reviewed by on    Photo by Barb Gray, Professional Theatre, Summer theatre 2014  

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Photo. Barb Gray for Capital Critics Circle.

Odyssey Theatre’s presentation of Turcaret or the Financier, an 18th Century classic, is a world premiere of the English translation by Joanne Miller and Laurie Steven. Delicate set and luscious costumes by James Lavoie, Almut Ellinghaus’ beautiful masques and wigs, the presence of excellent actors, a precisely Commedia direction that at times became a collective choreography as the actors displaced their expression away from the masked faces to the bodies that floated, skipped and flowed among each other with much grace, beauty, impudence and comic energy. Director Laurie Steven is back among us and her excellent command of the Commedia dell’arte technique that shone through this performance, as each of her characters integrates the conventional Commedia types. In a masterful convergence of lighting effects, dance, and orchestrated destruction, Turcaret’s world of the greedy rising middle class, comes crashing down, opening the way for the next generation of crooks. The French Revolution is not there yet but the middle and lower classes are already showing their teeth, these are still types that do not dare rise beyond their social status.

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The Screwtape Letters. C.S. Lewis’ chaotic morality play creates magic theatre.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Summer theatre 2014  

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Photo.Victoria Salter.

They say we all have our demons to fight against. Of course, rarely does anybody believe in such creatures as  demons, ghosts, devils, products of someone’s imagination, like , CS Lewis’  for example. Still, who knows? After seeing 9th Hour Theatre Company’s version of CS Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters,” one begins to wonder.  But, let’s start from the beginning.

It all started on Sunday afternoon, in the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre’s  Studio space, where Lewis’ imaginative and philosophical narrative about good and evil, seen from the devil’s perspective and told through Screwtape’s Letters to his nephew Wormwood, came alive.

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The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare. Off to Edinburgh with David Warburton.

Reviewed by on    Summer theatre 2014  

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Photo. Andrew Alexander.  David Warburton.

David Warburton faced a mammoth task in taking on the role of the player in Brian K. Stewart’s one-hander.

The premiere two years ago received many well-deserved accolades. In addition, the performance of Greg Kramer, the actor who originated the role, gave the impression that this was THE way to play the part. Sadly, he passed away. His death added a further level of emotional difficulty for an actor presenting The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare.

No matter, Warburton appears to have decided. In the current production of The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare, now on its way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, he offers a totally different and equally mesmerizing character. His actions are more reasoned as his player remains the great actor telling a story of his time, explaining how he, a former member of Will Shakespeare’s company, happens to be in the Tower of London, waiting to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

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The Financier: Charming choreography does not change the fact that the physical performance is at odds with the content.

Reviewed by on    Photo by Barb Gray, Professional Theatre, Summer theatre 2014  

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Photo. Barbara Gray

The choreography is charming. The masks and movement are effective. The backdrops and lighting are attractive. The scene changes and cleanups are a delight. In fact, every aspect of the periphery enhances the commedia dell’arte style imposed on The Financier.

All this is as expected from Odyssey Theatre with the return of company founder Laurie Steven as director of a newly translated version of The Financier (Turcaret) by Alain-René Lesage.

But, despite its similarities to Molière’s Tartuffe and its designation as a comedy, this play is hard to fit into the style that is the company’s trademark. In The Financier no character is honest or shows a modicum of heroism and each individual is out to swindle all the others and thinks only of the WIFM (What’s in it for me?) principle.

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Turcaret or The Financier. Commedia style changes the focus of the play.

Reviewed by on    Photo by Barb Gray, Professional Theatre, Summer theatre 2014  

 

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Photo. Barb Gray 

Highly influenced by Moliere’s witty, sharp and ironic criticism of French society’s many vices, Alain René Lesage follows in his footsteps, only he takes Moliere’s comedy even deeper into the dark side of human nature. In his famous classic “Turcaret” there is not a single positive character. The time when the King’s funds are exhausted and those close to the king scheme with his tax collectors to swindle the country’s treasury is a perfect moment for financiers to make remarkable fortunes. Turcaret is a representative of that new class – the “nouveau riche,” who acquired tremendous fortunes by various means – most of them illegal. What these new rich upstarts do not have is class or social prestige, so they are after any possible way to buy that last obstacle they face on their way to high society.

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The Tempest in a Teapot at Prescott.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Summer theatre 2014  

 

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Photo. Andrew Alexander. David Adams as Prospero, Claire Armstrong as Miranda.

The current production of “The Tempest” at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival is a perfect example of a strong directorial and design concept hi-jacking the play. This can happen with Shakespeare and sometimes an off-beat concept works. This one doesn’t. The conceit of a travelling side-show troupe sets a lively boisterous tone that’s completely at odds with the play’s atmosphere of mystery, revenge and magic. Director Craig Walker refers to the troupe’s leader, ultimately Prospero, as “part mystic and part con artist.” This cheapens the character and we’re left with a tawdry mountebank instead of a wise philosopher magician.

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As You Like It: The Heightened Playfulness of the Fools Creates an Excellent Performance

Reviewed by on    Photo by Barb Gray, Professional Theatre, Summer theatre 2014  

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Photo. Barb Gray. Katie McArthur and Katie Ryerson.

A fun-filled production of As You Like It where the masterful touch of Scott Florence’s direction heightens the humour, the corporeal performances, the playfulness as well as the seriousness and the lyrical effusions of this delightful pastoral romance . The actors articulate their lines so that they never lose control of the text, producing  a comic performance that always serves the play. The rivalry of the brothers Orlando and Oliver, the banishment of the old Duke into the forest of Arden by his younger brother, Frederick, the banishment of Rosalind who also flees to the forest of Arden with her cousin Celia, leads to  games of hidden and confused identities, the main impulse of their pastoral romp. Rosalind becomes young Ganymede, Celia becomes “his” sister Aliana, and the peasant girl Pheobe does not hide her lust for that young man, while Orlando flits about the forest posting his love-sick verse in the trees, pining for the beautiful Rosalind who is really right under his nose the whole time.

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Come Blow Your Horn. Perth Classic Theatre Festival presents Neil Simon’s debut play.

Reviewed by on    Summer theatre 2014  

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Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle

The generation gap is at the core of Come Blow Your Horn, Neil Simon’s debut play, first performed in 1961. Like many of the prolific playwright’s later scripts, this comedy is semi-autobiographical, highlighting his sometimes difficult relationship with his older brother and his father.

The ambivalence of his feelings for his older brother is clearly demonstrated in Come Blow Your Horn when 21-year-old Buddy (a.k.a. Simon) leaves the parental home to move in with 33-year-old Alan and emulate his playboy lifestyle. In addition, the sense of responsibility Alan feels for Buddy comes through loud and clear, which is why a number of his actions and words in Act II are a carbon copy of their father’s words and gestures.

In the Classic Theatre Festival production directed by Laurel Smith, Matthew Gorman as Buddy and Lindsay Robinson as older brother Alan are on a seesaw between characterization and caricature, combined with heavy and periodically irritating Brooklyn accents. Fast and funny, but not entirely convincing and never moving, they play up the comedy and play down the reality.

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The Book of Mormon Rocks!

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre, Summer theatre 2014  

The Book of Mormon

Photo. Joan Marcus

You can’t help but speculate on the reception had The Book of Mormon been served up for Ottawa audiences when the National Arts Centre opened in 1969. Ashen-faced horror? Walkouts? A boycott of the NAC?

As it is, the delightfully offensive and sharply funny musical by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone (known for, variously, television’s South Park and the irreverent Broadway show Avenue Q) garnered thunderous applause Wednesday night. Clearly, we revel in obscenity-laced, slice-and-dice attacks on everything from shiny-faced Mormonism, and by extension all forms of intransigent religious belief, to pop culture heroes like Bono.

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