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

Welfarewell : Social Satire or Middle Class Indulgence?

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

Guest reviewer, Jim Murchisson

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Photo: Phoenix Players. IEllen Clare O’Gallagher  in Welfarewell.

It was a cool, dank Friday evening as I headed into the warmth of the Gladstone Theatre to see the Phoenix Players production of Welfarewell. As I entered into the theatre I was greeted by a cozy, economical little set made up of three primary playing areas: stage left a table and chairs serve as various meeting areas (rehearsal hall, police station, holding room, etcetera) centre stage is used primarily as a jail cell but doubles as a courthouse with minor adjustments and the stage right space works well as a tiny basement apartment or bank teller’s area.

The premise of the play is pretty interesting as it goes. An aging actress can no longer make ends meet and strategizes to commit a crime, anticipating that she might enjoy a better quality of life in prison in her waning years. Playwright, Cat Delaney inserts Shakespeare, liberally ensuring that there are some great lines in this play, but she does not meet the challenge of matching the power of Shakespearean dialogue with her own.

The problem is that Cat Delaney’s characters are sadly stereotypical. You have the feeling that this was written by someone observing poor souls from a suburban window and dropping a loonie in their hat while looking the other way. The result is a play of middle class indulgence rather than social relevance.

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The Who’s Tommy at Centrepoint: Great Album but overrated theatre!

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

tommy

Poster from Orpheus musical theatre. Guest reviewer Jim Murchisson

Tommy is one of the preeminent musical scores of my generation. It was composed as a theme album and as such it is a fine example of epic rock and roll story telling. The Who though are not playwrights: What they are is Rock and Roll.

I don’t believe Tommy is a great play. To work as musical theatre Tommy needs all the extras working for it… lighting effects, complex choreography usually aided by a big budget to fill in for the sparse dialogue and thin story line… and it needs to rock. Sometimes great community theatre can get around the budget limitations with personality and innovation. If they have a great play they can. From what I have seen of the Broadway production they didn’t completely overcome the challenges of a weak play although they won technical awards for lighting, choreography and direction.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the Who aren’t great nor that Orpheus can’t rock. What I am saying is that the combination of rock and Theatre did not work on this night. You don’t get to know the characters on an intimate human level in songs of the Who the same way you do in a play like Titanic or Rent. The characters in Tommy are larger than life and like rock and roll exaggerated as if in a dream or a nightmare. They are meant to be shocking, ridiculous or grotesque and they weren’t. At times it felt like a series of songs rather than a narrative and it seemed people were moving from spot to spot rather than needing to be there.

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Kanata Theatre Delvers a Problematic Calendar Girls

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Photo: Susan Sinchak

Photo: Susan Sinchak

Calendar Girls

By Tim Firth

Kanata Theatre

Directed by Tania Carrière

The problem with a play like Calendar Girls is that it’s dangerously easy for it to come across as exploitive theatre and nothing more. Indeed, the sell-out houses currently being enjoyed by Kanata Theatre are clearly due to the subject matter — a group of middle-aged Women’s Institute members posing  in the nude for a charity calendar. The original film was a built-in hit for the same reason. And when screenwriter Tim Firth reworked it for the stage, the premiere London production chalked up advance sales of more than $3 million even before the show opened. The promise of titillation sells — but Firth’s script has sturdier aspirations than the need to display a bit of skin.

There’s no denying that Kanata Theatre’s production delivers some robustly funny moments near the end of Act One when the various participants in the calendar project — some quaking with anxiety, others proudly assertive —  start disrobing for the camera. That’s when various concealing objects — flowers, bits of fruit — come into discreet play as the women display themselves in the not-quite altogether. (Continue reading » )