Summer theatre 2014

Stratford Unveils A Provocative New Take On Shakespeare’s Dream Play as Chamber Theatre.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Chamber Play. Photo: Michael Cooper. 

STRATFORD — Forty years ago, a movie called Earthquake arrived in cinemas, its impact heightened by a new system called Sensurround. The aim was to give audience members a truly shuddering experience — not just earth tremors but as close to the equivalent of a full-fledged quake as possible. So if you were an audience member, you felt as though both you and the auditorium were in danger of being shaken to bits.

Indeed, the legendary Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard started losing pieces of ceiling plaster when Earthquake opened there. And in Chicago, alarmed city authorities imposed severe restrictions on the use of Sensurround in its movie houses.

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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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Turcaret ou le financier: Une premiere mondiale en anglais qui laisse à désirer malgré sa grande qualité artistique

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo: Barb Gray (Capital Critics Circle)

Le Financier (Turcaret ou le financier) d’Alain-René Lesage, mise en scène de Laurie Steven, adaptation en anglais de Laurie Steven et de Joanne Miller. . 

Cette première mondiale d’une adaptation canadienne an anglais  de Turcaret, le Financier d’après le texte de Lesage, a été réalisée à l’intention des acteurs masqués de la  Commedia dell’arte. Malgré les costumes d’époque d’une beauté extraordinaire, les masques d’une grande qualité artistique, la chorégraphie délicate de l’ensemble et un décor d’une grande sensualité qui s’inspire des tableaux de François Boucher, le résultat laisse beaucoup à désirer.

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The Shaw Festival has another triumph with Juno And The Paycock: Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Juno and the Paycock.  Photo. David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — It’s only a cameo appearance, but when the remarkable Jennifer Phipps shows up in the second act of Juno And The Paycock as a bereaved old Irish mother mourning the son who has become a victim of the Irish Civil War, you can hear a pin drop.

Phipps is with us for only a few moments in the role of the mourning Mrs. Tancred, her head held high despite everything that’s happened to her, but that’s all the time she needs to communicate not just grief but stoicism and resilience in the face of terrible loss. It’s always at the most personal level that we can become really aware of the price exacted by human conflict, and this venerable Shaw Festival veteran delivers.

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Hamlet at Prescott: Shakespeare’s Globe at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

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If you blinked, then – like Hamlet trying to steel himself to action – you missed your chance.

On Saturday, Prescott’s St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival hosted Globe To Globe, the riveting international touring production of Hamlet by London, England-based Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company. It was in town (and Canada) for two shows only before hitting the road again.

The company is touring Hamlet to every country in the world between now and 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The show also links to the 450th anniversary of the writer’s birth this past April.

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A Stylish but superficial “Earnest” in Gananoque: I 000 Islands Playhouse.

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo. Jay Kopinski. Tess Degenstein as Cecily & Brett Christopher as Algernon.

The comedy, The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde, one of the 19th century’s greatest wits, is currently playing at the 1000 Islands Playhouse. For anyone unfamiliar with the play, it concerns two wealthy playboys who have been leading double lives to escape their boredom with the restrictions of polite society. When they both use the alias “Earnest,” the plot becomes chaotic and full of twists and turns, all happening in Wilde’s witty dialogue.

This is a very clever and stylish play but this production, directed by Daryl Cloran, seems to be mostly frosting and not much cake. At times, for example with Cecily’s rather contemporary method of serving tea to Gwendolen, it degenerates into slapstick. This play is not a farce and Wilde has written characters that can certainly be played believably. Everyone here, with a couple of exceptions, is working so hard at the style that any element of reality is lost. Style is meaningless if there’s no substance.

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

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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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 Rajka Stefanovska

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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 Iris Winston

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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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Past Reviews