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

“Bed and Breakfast” Hits the All Right Notes in Gananoque

Reviewed by on    Summer Theatre 2015  

Andrew Kirshnir & Paul Dunn.  Photo: Jay Kopinski

Andrew Kirshnir & Paul Dunn. Photo: Jay Kopinski

The world premiere of “Bed and Breakfast” currently running in the Firehall is, for my money, the hit of the season so far at the 1000 Islands Playhouse.  It’s billed as a comedy and certainly has many funny moments, but is basically the very human and sometimes touching story of Brett (Andrew Kushnir) who inherits the family home and his partner Drew (Paul Dunn), who move from Toronto to a small Ontario town to set up a B&B.  These two terrific actors also play a number of peripheral characters.

When the play began I did an internal eye-roll and thought we were in for a cutesy string of stereotypes.  After a few minutes, though, something clicked and I realized the story and relationship of Brett and Drew is the core of the play, while the peripheral characters deepen and support the central duo.

This is a true ensemble piece in that the playwright Mark Crawford, director Ashlie Corcoran and the two excellent actors, along with a great creative team, have come up with a performance style that enables us to see all the characters as three dimensional.  The staging, actually complex choreography, with its spins and jumps to signal character changes is wonderfully creative and the pace never lags.  We become genuinely involved with this “out” couple and root for them to succeed. (Continue reading » )

Strong “Romeo and Juliet” in Prescott at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival

Reviewed by on    St Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, Summer Theatre 2015  

Rose Napoli as Juliet, Jesse Griffiths as Romeo.  Photo: SLSF

Rose Napoli as Juliet, Jesse Griffiths as Romeo. Photo: SLSF

A very good production of “Romeo and Juliet” is playing at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival in Prescott.  Director Janet Irwin has set the play in the 1950s, perhaps the last decade in which marriage decisions were primarily made by parents, often in conflict with teen-agers’ raging hormones.  This decision allows designer Alex Amini to costume the actors so they can move easily through the athletic staging.  By the way, the various knife fights staged by Jonathan Purvis are remarkably effective.  Her costumes for the Capulets, particularly Juliet, are especially good.

The simple set of two sheer white panels with a circular sheer panel center designed by Julie Bourbonnais is very atmospheric.  The transformation to the tomb and the gradual lighting of the single paper lantern work very well. The a cappella dirges by Melissa Morris are good, but Lady Capulet’s snippet of “Blue Moon” seems out of place.

The cast is generally good, with just a couple of uneven performances.  Jonathan Gould is excellent as the Prince and also in his subtle guitar work.  Unfortunately Kathleen Veinotte gives an inconsistent performance as the Nurse, characterized off and on by a flat-footed caricature of a walk.  As Paris, Benjamin Sutherland gives us a realistically believable death scene.   (Continue reading » )

Delightfully Giddy Comedy of Errors in Prescott

Reviewed by on    Summer Theatre 2015  

Jesse Griffiths as Dromio of Ephesus & Jamie Cavanagh as Antipholus of Ephesus. Photo: SLSF

Jesse Griffiths as Dromio of Ephesus & Jamie Cavanagh as Antipholus of Ephesus. Photo: SLSF

The St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival’s new Artistic Director Rona Waddington has come up with a creative, lively and wonderfully silly production of “Comedy of Errors.”  With clever added music by Musical Director Melissa Morris and lyrics by Shakespeare and Miss Waddington, the play speeds by in a well-paced ninety minutes through all the twin confusion to it’s unlikely happy ending.

The music and Miss Waddington’s sometimes athletic staging take advantage of the multitalented cast.  Aegon, well-played by Richard Sheridan Willis, sings his story of the twins while Colin Lepage and Alice Snaden dance the story in balletic pantomime.  Mr. Willis shows up in Act II as the hilarious conjurer Pinch, who bursts into a rousing gospel number with robed choir back-up complete with tambourines.

Jonathan Purvis’s choreography is very good, especially the acrobatics, as is his fight direction.  The timing on the slapping scene between Luciana, the appealing Shannon Currie and Adriana, played as a Latina fireball by the excellent Rose Napoli, is impeccable.  (I’d like to mention everyone in the terrific cast, but time won’t permit it. (Continue reading » )

Odyssey Theatre provides a mixed bag of one-act plays

Reviewed by on    Summer Theatre 2015  

The Things We Do For Love Photo: Maria Vartanova

The Things We Do For Love
Photo: Maria Vartanova

Odyssey Theatre’s celebration of its 30th anniversary is a mixed bag in more ways than one.

Taking Spanish writing and the measures to which we go for love as her themes, artistic director Laurie Steven has chosen three one-act plays, each of which she directs, rather than the usual single, full production. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The first piece, Saving Melisendra, is Steven’s stage adaptation of a chapter from Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century novel Don Quixote. In it, the increasingly mad knight Quixote (William Beddoe) interferes in a puppet show about two lovers, one of whom, Melisendra, has been captured by some dastardly Moors.

The puppets, designed by Kathy McLellan and operated primarily by John Nolan who plays the puppet master Pedro, are clever. There are some funny Punch and Judy-style bits, and melodrama is given the gears. The text touches on ideas of reality and artifice in theatre (“I thought everything taking place here was taking place,” says the deluded Quixote).

But the show overall is flat, lacks commitment and is unfocused. On opening night, which had been twice delayed because of weather, the show also saw the first of several set or costume malfunctions. (Continue reading » )

The Tempest: Magical outdoor performance

Reviewed by on    Summer Theatre 2015  

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Photo: David Whiteley

It can be said that The Tempest is the least of his plays that bear a “Shakespearean” style. Not only is the dramatic structure very different from what we usually see in Shakespeare’s plays, but the role of women is marginalized to a subordinate, pretty figure. The only female character that appears in The Tempest is Miranda, Prospero’s dutiful daughter who merely serves to fulfill her father’s revenge over his brother Antonio.

The story is very simple. Prospero, the rightful duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda have been stranded for 12 years on a remote island after Prospero’s brother Antonio overthrows and exiles him. For those 12 years, Prospero has been preparing his revenge. The play takes place during three hours on the island at the zenith of the action, culminating in forgiveness instead of revenge.

This is the only play by the great bard that follows the dramatic structure of Aristotle’s three classical unities of time, place, and action, and as such is perfectly suited for outdoor staging. Just the thing for Ottawa’s parks in the summertime!

Bear & Co.’s production takes full advantage of the outdoor space and its atmosphere. It also skillfully incorporates all three major themes in the play: magic, yearning for freedom, and love. The effects that invoke the storm are realistic and, in combination with music, make an eerie atmosphere. Well-chosen songs transport the audience to a different time. Add to all this beautiful, fiery and elegant spirit Ariel and magic is born right there before your eyes. Zoe Georgaras is a perfect fit for the role of Ariel. She is a light dancer, excellent actress, alluring, playful, and mischievous. Her ability to express thoughts and mood just with body language and facial expressions is superb. (Continue reading » )

Bedtime Stories at the OLT: Stories not worth a bedtime read!

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre, Summer Theatre 2015  

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Poster for the Ottawa Little Theatre.

Seeing the aging shock rocker peel off his sleeves of tattoos is the single most effective moment in the Ottawa Little Theatre production of Bedtime Stories.

It is a reminder that Norm Foster comedies can be very funny, even touching at times.

Sadly, this group of six vaguely connected skits set in various bedrooms is worthy of few laughs, rarely touches and leaves one wondering why Foster has so often been called the Canadian Neil Simon.

The opening sequence of the group, written in 2006, is both ridiculous and distasteful: an ambitious radio host has paid a middle-aged couple $5,000 to have sex on air. The conservatively clothed couple is less than the passionate pair he envisioned. Yet, the sounds of their bedtime activities become an irritating recurring theme through the remaining playlets. Other repetitions such as mention of a cab driver, who constantly loses her way, and her foolish sister, an incompetent exotic dancer, are hardly worth a smile, never mind a laugh.

(Continue reading » )

Barefoot in the Park : a bubbly and entertaining production in Perth, On.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Summer Theatre 2015  

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Jean-Denis Labelle photo.

The heavy breathing that is a key feature of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with trudging up many flights of stairs to a fifth-floor walk-up apartment in New York. And that minor inconvenience is just one of the many problems with the nest that enchanted the impulsive and newly-wed Corie Bratter. Perhaps, if her lawyer husband had seen the cramped apartment before she rented it, he might have noticed the hole in the skylight, the minute bedroom, the faulty radiator or the excessive rent.

When it premiered on Broadway in 1963, Barefoot in the Park was an instant hit, running for more than 1,500 performances — a record run for a non-musical play. Later a successful movie starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, the comedy — written as a tribute to Simon’s first wife — focuses on the attractions between opposites and the steep learning curve in the early days of any marriage—50 years ago or today.

(Continue reading » )

The Comedy of Errors in the park: wigs, costumes and mayhem steal the show.

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Summer Theatre 2015  

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Photo. Andrew Alexander

Our raging Company of Fools is back for another summer of theatrical mayhem, turning the Bard’s work into the most unexpected of romps in the park. The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s earliest play, according to many historians although the existence of the Folio does not necessarily indicate the original existence of the play itself, since performances were not always recorded in the 16th Century . Shakespearean scholars tell us that two plots taken very likely from the original Latin version of Plautus’ most popular plays Menaechmi and Amphitruo are at the origin of this romantic tale of separation and reconciliation of Shakespeare’s Greek family.

As well, a 1938 version of the story became a Musical comedy , The Boys from Syracus.. However the Company of Fools, in their wisdom, shows us that in fact, the coloured and madcap visual world of Dr Seuss as well as the story of “Where’s Wally”, are essential sources of their performance.

(Continue reading » )

The Secret Life of Emily / Frances

Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2015, Summer Theatre 2015  

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Laurie Fyffe and Michelle Leblanc. Photo: Annette Hegel.

The Bytown Museum, with its historical atmosphere, physical references to the founding of Ottawa and the life of the early settlers in the area, provides the most perfect set one could imagine for this performance. It takes place between 1764 and 1769 between London England and Quebec City, several years after the battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759) when France lost its most important colony in North America. Laurie Fyffe incarnates the British playwright/novelist/essayist and translator, Frances Brooke (1724-89) annoyed by the male dominated theatre milieu in London, after her last play, Victoria was rejected by the reading committee. Her husbad is pastor in the the new British Colony in Quebec, “ that orphaned colony of French peasants” and she is rushing out to join him where she hopes to discover a new land, and revive her work as a writer. She arrives accompanied by her French maid Manon (Michelle LeBlanc) and the story explains how they pass those three years in Quebec City, discovering the history of the country, the elegant social and cultural life of the new British colony with all its military personal, and trying to adapt to Canadian winters which are unbearable.

(Continue reading » )

Odd Version of G&S “Pirates of Penzance in Gananoque

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre, Summer Theatre 2015  

bathing-suits

Photo Jay Kopinski.

This production should be titled “Canadian Smugglers on the St. Lawrence in 1926.” It’s an extremely loose adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” by Ashlie Corcoran and Andrew Kushnir. Since the season brochure doesn’t mention that it’s an adaptation, if you’re expecting the original, prepare for a shock.

For example, there’s an extended original rhyming prologue, the girls enter in 1920s beach clothes and end up doing the Charleston with the smugglers to the tune of “Sweet Georgia Brown and instead of policemen, it’s the US Coast Guard in US Navy uniforms. Ukuleles abound and the Finale version of the lovely “Poor Wandering One” morphs into “Makin’ Whoopee.” There’s lots more, but you get the idea.

That said, there are some terrific voices in this cast. However, the unnecessary over-micing of both the cast and the excellent musicians tends to distort the sound. Some of the tempos on the group vocals are so fast that the lyrics are unintelligible, especially the women. On the other hand, the group vocal on the “Hail Poetry” section is wonderful.

(Continue reading » )

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