Summer Theatre 2015

The Secret Life of Emily / Frances

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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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.

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

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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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.

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Autoerotic.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

One of the few shows at the Fringe to offer a program (thank you) Autoerotic, directed by Wayne Current, is a story of sexual fantasy that is only partly successful, despite well controlled and choreographed performances from Sterling Lynch (also the playwright) and Linda Webster.

Whether this is a recounting of an ordinary business transaction about buying sexual favours that evolves into a relationship or simply a series of imagined encounters and a way for a lonely man to escape temporarily is unclear. Either would work if Autoerotic created a closer connection with the audience than was apparent in the performance I saw.

Autoerotic, plays at Arts Court library (Venue 2)

Hannah and George

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo courtesy of Strange Visitations.

A heartwarming fantasy that unfolds on the set of a silent film with written signs telling where we are what time it is, when all this is happening. A contemporary fairy tale with bright colours, an imaginary space where a timid and introverted man grasping at this youth, cohabits with a flitting fairy-like creature who is always trying to catch his attention and show him that she has feelings for him. 

Madeleine Hall is the fairy with the many faces in what is essentially a mime show of a personal sort, where Kevin Reid’s long lanky body, his malaise out in the world, his mythical props – raincoat, umbrella and hat, his slightly awkward demeanor, all suggest the work of French mime star Jacques Tati, the creator of the wondrous M. Hulot on the screen . The resemblance is almost uncanny. Hulot’s space was small French towns where he, as a perfect but always awkward gentleman, walked (or biked) around tipping his hat and doing good deeds for all. He never encountered fairy tale creatures because he was squarely anchored in the reality of the “la France profonde”. Reid twists the Tati style (unwittingly so it seems) into his own imaginary world and that is what makes this so charming and endearing. More work on the physical precision of his performance and more clarity in the middle portion, would give the show more strength. Also instead of an intermission, shorten the show by 5 minutes. But as it is, it’s a delightful surprise for the young at heart.

Hannah and George presented by Strange Visitation. Performed by Kevin Reid and Madeleine Hall. Directed by Rebecca Laviolette. Plays in the Studio Léonard Beaulne

Sh!t. I`m in love with you again!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

Rachelle Elie is the consummate performer. Her light hearted singing sparkles with dramatic energy. She puts her face, her body her hands and even her shiny blond hair to work as she peels off her outer costume to reveal a new costume for every change of scene and then moves on to the next challenge.

Accompanied on the guitar by Luke Jackson, Elie actually tells us her life story through musical theatre (and the lyrics ar witty and captivating)  especially the evolution of her experiences with love and sex. . Beginning as a wide eyed , innocent young girls kept in tow by a very strict catholic franco-haitian father she moves through all the nuances of her relationships with men. Even the most scrungy parts that evolve into the disillusion and bitterness of the later years, are all filtered through the lovely glow of Disney-like musical theatre for adults, full of fun and joyous, or not so joyous sex, and lyrics that always find the humour in the most despairing moments. 

Elie is a very talented performer. She has a great gift for accents and a greater gift for bringing to life a story that is not always pleasant but that always finds gentle humour in human relations. The raunchy explicit becomes natural human behaviour the gives us a jolt. A darling of a show, a show that will make you giggle a lot and you will leave feeling good and loving the  performer.

Sh!t I’m in love with you again in the Courtroom (Arts Court)

Sh!t. I’m in love with you again! , lyrics and interpretation by Rachelle Elie, directed by Rachelle Elie, Music and lyrics by Luke Jackson,

The Black and the Jew Go Buddhist

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Produced by Epstein and Hassan – New York

The Black and the Jew Go Buddhist is one of those shows that promises a lot and gives a little. Epstein and Hassan tell a story of their happy 27-year marriage. They tackle all sorts of sensitive subjects – race, spirituality, sex. Since they are not “politically correct,” the comedy in the show has the chance to develop in a really provocative and challenging manner.  Unfortunately, except for some blunt phrases and being funny from time to time, they tell us basically nothing. There is no theatre element, but rather a lesson on how to treat each other when in a mixed race relationship. Audience participation makes it possibly a fun workshop, but definitely not a decent theatre piece of any genre. Another problem they encounter is trying to encompass too much in one hour, so that, in the end, they do not say very much about anything. The connecting thread is not there, a promising idea is lost in trivialities, and stress is put on a “shock” effect, killing any chance of digging a bit dipper into a problem which is still persistent in our world. Being funny and entertaining still can result in a good quality theatre. Unfortunately, Epstein and Hassan missed the mark this time.

The Black and the Jew Go Buddhist plays at Ottawa U in Studio Léonard-Beaulne

    I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent.

    Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

    I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent, written and performed by Emily Pearlman. Directed and dramaturged by Laurel Green

    Emily Pearlman is a storyteller who captures our full attention because we feel she is telling us something special, almost secretive and certainly the truth,at least her truth. We enter into her world of intimate revelations, confessions, frustrations, and a world of trials and tribulations of a very personal sort, trying to develop a process that opens us to the understanding of diversity in our immediate world and in the rest of the world that beckons to her. This is a performance style that establishes its own conventions and avoids creating a “character” in the traditional sense of a theatre performance. The powerpoint images and sentences on the screens suggest a lecture but the tone is always familiar, friendly and at times even light hearted.

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    Whose Aemilia!

    Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

    Whose Aemilia by Rachel Eugster. Directed by Diana Fajrajsl. With Rachel Eugster, Tim Oberholzer and Naomi Tessler.

    This event stands out because of the research that builds the fascinating argument concerning the status of the “Dark Lady” , a woman who seems to have been linked with Shakespeare due to her shady status as a mistress, reported and constructed by scholars of the period. However, Mme Eugster digs deeply into the hidden or purposely ignored story of Aemilia Bassano Lanyer to discover that she was a talented poet, playwright, actor, singer and she possibly influenced or even wrote some of Ben Jonson’s poetry. All these accomplishments were ignored by history. It also examines her religious background and its link with her representation, of the passion of Christ and her attention to the physical details of the bloody suffering of the Christ figure. One remark seemed strange in this context. When the librarian or historian who dialogues with Mme Aemilia (Naomi Tessler) asks her “who speaks of Christ in such a physical way.”? A strange and perhaps misplaced remark if one considers the excruciatingly realistic representations of the Calvary and then the bloody figure of Christ on the cross or laying limp on his coffin , as represented in certain baroque churches in Spain. Those are almost conventions of religious art in Spain. So what is the writer saying ? In any case, all of this is interesting research in the area of Women’s studies that is so important in English Canadian academic circles these days as we saw in the recent meeting of the Canadian Association of Theatre Research which took place at Ottawa U. earlier this month.

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    Bursting into Flames!!!

    Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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    BURSTING INTO FLAMES written and performed by Martin Dockery. photo­ Bill Kennedy

     

    A monologue by Martin Dockery, the cosmic story teller whose art sends us spinning into superior worlds through his complex and modulated vocal performance, his physical energy, his corporeal creativity, and his narrative art. The story begins in the land of the dead. He takes us on a personal journey, showing what it’s like to live as a “dead” person in Heaven. He even takes us into a terrifying trip to Hell, the antithesis of the other place. IT is soon clear that the Infinite nature of heavenly time, guides his story telling technique so that is spins up and beyond, repeating ad infinitum what has been experienced, adding a special twist each time, sending the story hurtling in another direction. A sense of infinite time (not chronological time nor circular time nor even linear time!!) meets a fleshy narrative to produce a brilliant performance that is, in spite of appearances, highly structured, totally captivating, and the most original mono style of the fringe. I can guarantee that already. Run to see this one before the poor actor exhausts himself and collapses. It is clearly, a performance that literally devours the performer!!

    Room 311, third floor of the U of Ottawa Theatre department.

    Reviews from Stratford 2015: Jillian Keiley’s Diary of Anne Frank is sadly misconceived

    Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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    Photo: David Hou

    Let’s give the Stratford Festival the benefit of the doubt and concede that it was motivated by the purest of intentions when it decided to remount The Diary Of Anne Frank this summer. Unfortunately, the treatment that lurched onto the stage of the Avon Theatre Thursday night is wrong-headed and misconceived. It renders a profound disservice to a powerful and affecting story.For this, director Jillian Keiley must be held accountable. It’s on her watch that the evening begins with smiling cast members lined up on stage. They’re there to introduce themselves and the characters they play, to crack a few jokes and offer some more solemn observations on the material they will be performing. It’s all a bit lovey-dovey. It’s also misguided because its chief effect is to remind us that what we’ll be seeing is essentially make-believe theatre — as though we must to be cocooned in advance from the terrible realities inherent in The Diary Of Anne Frank.

    So before the play even begins, the “fourth wall” which normally exists between actors and audience is systematically being broken down. Why?   But wait — Keiley is still not ready to allow us into the world of playwright Wendy Kesselman’s text. It’s now time for cast members, led by actor Joseph Ziegler, who will be playing Otto Frank, to invite us to inspect the “home” that designer Bretta Gerecke has concocted for these eight Amsterdam Jews forced into hiding from the Nazis. And again, it all feels wrong.

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