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

GCTC’s Angel Square — A Buoyant Delight

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

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Photo: Barb Gray

On one level, GCTC’s sterling production of Angel Square might seem to offer no more than a series of impressions of a particularly beguiling kind.

But they’re impressions that beautifully evoke another time and place — Lowertown Ottawa in the 1940s. And out of them there emerges a delightful stage work of genuine shape and substance.

It’s through the prism of an observant youngster named Tommy that these moments unfold. Even if we weren’t actually there ourselves, we find ourselves engulfed in his childhood world. And its components resonate with us today.

It’s a world of Woolworth stores — remember them? — with creaking wooden floors. Of Ottawa’s majestic Union Station, now an underused government conference centre, but in this production exerting a ghostly remembrance of things past, courtesy of designer Jock Munro.

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GCTC’s Angel Square brings the good and the bad of post-war Ottawa to audiences

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

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Photo: Barb Gray

Solve the crime and win the girl’s heart, all in time for Christmas. Superficially, Angel Square presents a sweet holiday yarn, but just below the surface we get a glimpse at race politics through the eyes of children, and a hopeful depiction of Ottawa’s working class heritage. Brian Doyle’s classic novel by the same name is newly adapted and directed by Janet Irwin. The production recounts twelve-year-old Tommy’s memory of Lowertown, Ottawa (Ontario, Canada, Planet Earth, The Universe) in 1945. It is the first Christmas after World War II and the impact of the war—from war rations to a sense of post-war relief—peppers the script, while anti-Semitism rears its ugly head.

Tommy (played by Bruce Spinney) is gutted that his best Jewish friend, Sammy, has left town. Sammy’s father has been badly beaten up and sent to a hospital in Kingston. Inspired by his superhero idol, The Shadow, Tommy is determined to find the ‘bad guy’. Stylistically, this production rides the line between being a memory play and youth theatre. Janet Irwin’s adaptation maintains Tommy’s role as the narrator of the story, while thrusting him inside the action of the play as he recalls the events leading up to Christmas.

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Anget Square at the GCTC: A warm antidote to a dark December.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 5 2015. Angel2SC_0052 Photographer, Vartanova

Ottawa’s Lowertown could be a rough place for 12-year-olds in the mid-1940s. Racism, pitched battles with other kids, nasty teachers: such hurdles sometimes made life something to be survived more than celebrated. But while Angel Square, Janet Irwin’s loving and vibrant stage adaptation of Brian K. Doyle’s 1984 novel of the same name, sharply limns the rough side of life, it also excites our envy of those urban kids of long ago – their freedom, their resilience, their sense of place and community.

Just as importantly, the family-friendly show makes us appreciate anew Doyle’s depiction of the rich imaginative life of Tommy, the story’s young hero. Fantasizing himself to be Lamont Cranston, AKA the crime-fighting Shadow of 1930s and ‘40s radio drama and print fame, Tommy sets out to solve the mystery of who badly beat the father of his best friend, Sammy Rosenberg. That quest in the days leading up to Christmas, 1945 serves as backbone to a fond recreation of life in a now-vanished Ottawa: the original Ritchie Feed & Seed Store on York Street (a Ritchie bag is key to solving the mystery); the squeaky floored Woolworth’s and the more upscale Freimans department store on Rideau Street; the vast, echoing Union Station, now the Government Conference Centre.

Irwin, who also directs, has cast just four adult actors to recreate

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

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

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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.

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Moss Park: George F. Walker’s shining moment

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Mark Halliday

Photo: Mark Halliday

It’s not the freshest of dramatic situations — two troubled young people face another moment of crisis in their lives and are on the verge of taking a very wrong turn.

So why — we might ask ourselves — is it worth spending even an hour in their company? Surely, these will be recognizable types pursuing useless, self-destructive lives? Surely, we’ll be able to predict what will happen: either the promise of redemption or else a further descent into the mire. No real surprises there.

So we’re apt to give a sigh of resignation and figure we’re in for another dose of “socially significant” theatre from playwright George F. Walker.

But then Walker confounds us. In the first place, his forthright but captivating play, Moss Park, is devoid of the quirky self-indulgence for which his more devoted admirers must sometimes make excuses: instead he has delivered one of his most disciplined and exhilarating pieces. Secondly, he has created two splendidly alive characters in Tina, the single, near destitute mother who has just discovered she’s pregnant again, and Bobby, her shambling and feckless boyfriend. (Continue reading » )