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

Angel Square: A place that never loses its innocence, charm and puckish humour

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  


Photo: Barb Gray

Crossing Angel Square in Lowertown Ottawa may have been risky in the 1940s, but, as recalled by Brian Doyle in his 1984 novel and adapted for the stage by Janet Irwin, it was also a place of warm friendships and special connections.

As adapted and directed by Irwin, this delightful dramatization, depicting the daily life of Tommy a.k.a. The Shadow, his friends, enemies and assorted adults, is anchored by solving the mystery of who attacked his best friend’s father. Honest in its descriptions of rampant racism and extreme poverty, Angel Square never loses its innocence, charm and puckish humour.

Enhanced by Jock Munro’s fine visuals, the set not only evokes a radio of the era but also serves as the focal point for projections of Ottawa landmarks and silhouettes in action.

(Continue reading » )

TACTICS 2015: Highs and lows abound in interdisciplinary productions from emerging performers

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.   ,


TACTICS is an independent, collective series that features work by emerging and professional performers. The plays occur in short runs ––no more than a week in length—and so audiences will have to rush to the theatre if they hope to catch the performances before the next shows take the stage. It goes without saying that original performances and emerging artistry are vital parts of a theatre community. With that mandate comes the potential for some really great or really bad theatre, and the first weekend of this TACTICS series exemplifies this divide.

The first show of the evening, (off) Balance, is the brain-child of Naomi Tessler who both wrote the piece, and acts in the production. The stage is fairly bare and a large, red cloth circle outlines the playing space. This one-woman, autobiographical piece employs monologue, dance, and a live music; the musician sits outside the red circle, and plays African drum and chimes alongside the performance. But even with the intervention of Bronwyn Steinberg’s direction and dramaturgy, the production is underwhelming.

(Continue reading » )

Menopause The Musical: A funny production celebrating the changes in life

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

Janet Martin (Iowa Housewife), Nicole Robert (Earth Mother), Jayne Lewis (Soap Star), Michelle E. White (Professional Woman)

Janet Martin (Iowa Housewife), Nicole Robert (Earth Mother), Jayne Lewis (Soap Star), Michelle E. White (Professional Woman)

“Good evening, ladies. And you too, sir.”

The producer’s introduction acknowledges the target audience and underlines that the connection with Menopause The Musical is through common experience — past, present or anticipated. (For the record, there were four men in the capacity audience on the evening that I saw the award-winning show and they were laughing almost as hard as the rest.)

Menopause The Musical by Jeanie Linders premiered in 2001, and, according to the show’s official website, some 11 million people — mainly women, often of that certain age — have laughed their way through the 90 minutes celebrating the change of life, courtesy of the four types representing them all: a professional woman, a star of daytime TV, an ex-hippie and a small-town housewife.

The action begins at the lingerie sale counter in Bloomingdale’s department store in New York. The four women — never named to emphasize the universality of hot flashes, memory glitches, weight gain, frequent bathroom visits, mood swings and so on — sing about their menopausal experiences with melodies borrowed from the pop charts of the 1960s and 70s.

So, songs such as Puff, the Magic Dragon becomes Puff, My God, I’m Dragging and My Guy becomes My Thighs, as the housewife bemoans the heftiness of her nether regions. To the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, we hear that “In a guest room, on the sofa, my husband sleeps at night.” Meanwhile, The Great Pretender is the vehicle for explaining the handling of forgetfulness. The clever parodies are very funny and the familiarity of the pop melodies increases the humour quotient at every well-orchestrated and well-choreographed turn and through each smooth scene change. (Continue reading » )

The Norman Conquests: Round and Round the Garden an absolute treat packaged in a good laugh

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah Photo by David Whiteley

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah
Photo by David Whiteley

The Norman Conquests is a trilogy. It takes place in a family house in the British countryside, where Annie lives with her invalid mother. She plans to spend a weekend with her sister’s (Ruth) husband, Norman, in a hotel. Everything is set. Her admirer and neighbour Tom believes that she is to go alone, but actually wants him to come with her and Annie’s brother Reg and his wife Sara come to stay with their mother for that weekend. However, somehow things come askew, and they all  end up spending the weekend together as Annie’s guests. 

In the third part of The Norman Conquests, Round and Round the Garden, Ayckbourn still deals with the same domestic issues as in the previous two (Table Manners and Living Together). The characters are the same and it is the same weekend, but while Table Manners takes place in the dining room and Living Together in the living room, Round and Round the Garden is set in the garden. With the last part of the trilogy performed, this outstanding play wraps up in a meaningful way as a combination of a comedy of manners, domestic turmoil and above all, a fantastic character study.

Although comedy might seem to be a lighter genre of drama because of its humorous approach to reality, it is probably the hardest one to pull off. Because it is so easy to go overboard and make it a clownish non-artistic performance, it demands a huge amount of talent and innate sense of balance.     (Continue reading » )

4000 Miles: Leads rather than script make 4000-mile journey worthwhile

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.   ,

Book-ended by the deaths of two unseen characters, 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog focuses on the healing wrought for Leo through the sometimes fractious relationship with his grandmother.

Both characters are based on two of the playwright’s relatives — her grandmother and a cousin. Individual scenes in this drama spiced with comic lines are engaging, apart from a barely credible sequence, in which grandson and grandmother get high on marijuana. (Drug-taking and drunk scenes are frequently repulsive or offensive and, except in rare cases, do little or nothing to add to plot or character.)

In this case, the pot-smoking segment underlines that, without strong performances and chemistry between the two leads, 4000 Miles would not be a journey worth undertaking. (It also makes it all the more surprising that Herzog’s episodic 2011 play was an award winner and a Pulitzer Prize finalist.) (Continue reading » )

Gladstone launches biggest season ever as J.P. Kelly takes on the Norman Conquests!

Reviewed by on    Arts News, Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

Highlights:     40 solid weeks of theatre  August 27 – May 28) 12 companies, 18 shows: musicals, award-winners, family shows, premières, Canadian & local works and tons o’ comedy!
Ngladstonemages.jpgewcomers: the Canadian tour of Menopause The Musical®, Theatre Kraken with the real Steve Martin’s The Underpants, Ottawa legend Pierre Brault with his new solo show WIll Somers, and more! and call 613-233-4523, email or drop in at 910 Gladstone Ave.

The Shows
The 2015-16 season consists of the 3-show Norman Conquests trilogy, several stand-alone offerings, and the 8-show 2016 Subscription series.   In 2015, we have the Norman Conquests mini-season and several stand-alone offering:

The Norman Conquests comedy trilogy by Alan Ayckbourn, Aug 28-Oct 10, consisting of  Table Manners Aug 28-Oct 10; Living Together, Sept 11-Oct 10 and  Round and Round the Garden, September 25 – October 10.
(Continue reading » )

Needles and Opium: a wondrous, magical mystery ride

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre, Theatre in Canada, Theatre in Ottawa and the region.   ,


Photo. Courtesy NAC

It’s tempting to think it was inspired by, if not something even stronger, one of those LSD-laced sugar cubes.

The huge cube in which Quebec playwright Robert Lepage’s fascinating Needles and Opium takes place is for sure laced with the phantasmagorical. Elevated a few feet above the stage with three of its sides walled and three open, it slowly rotates, walls becoming ceilings becoming floors and both time and place proving elastic as three interconnected stories flow into each other.

In one story, American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis visits Paris for a music festival in 1949 and falls in love with French chanteuse Juliette Greco. Unwilling to bring the white Greco back to a segregated U.S, he returns to New York City without her and, despairing, falls into heroin addiction.

In another strand, French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, hooked on opium, visits New York City, also in 1949.

The third, which takes place in 1989, finds an unconfident Quebec actor named Robert, in withdrawal from a love affair, in Paris to do the voiceover for a film about Davis’s visit to that city four decades earlier.

(Continue reading » )

The School for Lies at Algonquin College: Catriona Leger saves the evening!

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  


Photo: Andrew Alexander   Trevor Osbourne and Ryan Young.

Translating Molière is often a risky undertaking as David Whitely has shown us. His translations have usually been very good because they have captured the spirit of the original in multiple ways and he was lucky to have a professional cast directed by John P. Kelly. David Ives an award winning translator of Classical French theatre speaks of his translation of Corneille this way: “it is neither a translation nor an adaptation; it’s what I call a translaptation” (Playbill). He clearly tells us his intentions concerning Le Misanthrope in his prologue: “Screw Molière….we will do our own version”. Director Catriona Leger tells us this is a “liberal” and “lively” adaptation of the original which is a bit of an understatement but still, we recognize some of the original in the text.

(Continue reading » )

Les Misérables: An energetic show with solid performances

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.   ,

Poster: ASNY Productions

Poster: ASNY Productions

Les Misérables is a massive undertaking that offers both principals and ensemble members the opportunity to demonstrate their special talents — often one at a time.

Based on the 1862 historical novel by Victor Hugo, the sing-through musical tells the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean — imprisoned for almost two decades for stealing a loaf of bread — tracing his transformation and redemption between 1815 and the June Rebellion in Paris in 1832.

(Hugo based Valjean’s character on the life of Eugène François Vidocq, an ex-convict who became a successful businessman and philanthropist.)

The original French version was first staged in 1980 with the English-language production of Les Misérables appearing in London’s West End three years later to mixed reviews. More than 30 years later, it still plays to full houses and still receives some negative comments because of its melodramatic content and the perfunctory way it deals with certain aspects of the storyline. It is also a show that thrills s as many as it disappoints.

And there is no question that it is a huge challenge for any company. In a fine ensemble production, with first-class musical direction by John McGovern, the ASNY Les Miz, which involves close to 100 performers, musicians and crew demonstrates energy, commitment and some fine performances. (Continue reading » )

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