Summer Theatre 2015

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

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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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.

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

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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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.

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Director Peter Hinton’s Contemporary Take On Pygmalion is a Bundle of Delights

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Pygmalion   Photo. David Cooper. Jeff Meadows as Colonel Pickering, Harveen Sandhu as Eliza Doolittle and Patrick McManus as Henry Higgins in Pygmalion. Photo by David Cooper.

  • NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Linguistics genius Henry Higgins is lurking behind a pillar in London’s Covent Garden working madly away at his I-Pad.

Flower seller Eliza Doolittle is a feisty street urchin whose form-fitting blue jeans are so full of holes that you wonder whether they will last out the scene, not to mention the complete run of the Shaw Festival’s bold but exhilarating revival of Pygmalion.

This is definitely not Edwardian England we’re experiencing — not with a soundscape that includes Kanye West’s Runaway and Janet Jackson’s Got ‘Til It’s Gone, not with Henry Higgins’s female housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, sporting a red tee shirt telling us all to “keep calm.”

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The Shaw Festival triumphs with a provocative Top Girls

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — There’s no doubt about it. The Shaw Festival’s new production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is a dazzler of a show — provocative, invigorating, hilarious, heart-wrenching. It allows us to feast on a seemingly effortless display of stunning ensemble acting that deserves a triple underlining in the memory books.

The show that made a triumphant arrival at the Court House Theatre Saturday night can claim any number of attention-grabbing sequences, thanks to Vikki Anderson’s incisive direction and the astonishing work of her seven-member cast, almost all of them in a variety of roles. But there’s a particularly pivotal scene involving Marlene, a woman obsessed with proving that women can be a success in business and ruthless in her determination to claw her way to power within the Top Girls Employment Agency.

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The Twelve-Pound Look. A forgotten J.M. Barrie play delights at the Shaw Festival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Photo: David Cooper.

When it comes to live theatre, some of the nicest surprises come in the smallest of packages.

This year’s Shaw Festival lunchtime presentation is an absolute gem — a 105-year-old playlet from Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie who reveals himself here as a sympathetic advocate of women’s rights.

This funny and provocative one-actor, The Twelve-Pound Look by name, is not overtly political, but it was written at a time when Britain’s suffragettes were actively campaigning for a woman’s right to vote. And the suffrage movement has clear parallels to the play’s preoccupations — the right of a woman to think and behave independently and to be an equal partner in a relationship.

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The Pirates of Penzance: A campy musical comedy performance at the Springer Theatre that has its fun moments!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo: Jay Kopinski.  Mabel (Alison MacDonald) and Frederic (Adam Charles).

Whatever one does to a Gilbert and Sullivan production, the original witty book and lyrics, the music, the operatic influences, the satire and the perfectly delightful characters /caricatures, all come through in the end. The works of Gilbert and Sullivan are indestructible and that is exactly what I kept thinking through this recent matinee performance in Gananoque as the pirates and the Major General’s daughters lapsed into a wild Charleston to celebrate their collective marriage . This new contemporary version, the first really campy production of G and S I have ever seen, was apparently done to show the Americans, those “Yankee Boozers” on the other side of the river who visit the Playhouse, that we too can do the kind of musical comedy they know best. We too have our own G and S or Gin and Soda style of stage fun.That was what we learned during the prologue to the show which preceded the overture. .

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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

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