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

Alice through the Looking Glass : Like Tim Burton on Uppers

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

DSC_0027Photo. Barb Gray. Natasha Greenblatt as Alice, Herbie Barnes and Darrell Dennis as TweedleDum and TweedleDee

Jillian Keiley’s production of “Alice Through the Looking-Glass,” adapted by James Reaney from the Lewis Carroll classic, is awash with ingenious and colorful sets and costumes, audience participation and good music. However Carroll’s thoughtful and philosophical parts of the story, even the fact that it’s a coming of age for Alice, are drowned out by all the bells and whistles. I’m afraid Alice purists will be dismayed, but this version is great fun and undoubtedly entertaining.

A co-production with the Stratford Festival where it played last summer, it uses the all the technical aspects of that production, but with different actors. Bretta Gerecke’s chess board floor slopes upward toward the back, perfect for the Red and White Queens to slide down. The squares even light up as Alice makes her moves.

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The Importance Of Being Earnest. A cringe-inducing production that is trivial and insulting!

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  


Photo: Andrée Lanthier

The National Arts Centre’s English theatre division has proudly unveiled its 2014-15 acting ensemble — and one can only feel embarrassed.

The rationale for a permanent acting company is a sound one. It’s to elevate the play-going experience by assembling a gifted team of artists versatile enough to tackle all types of theatre with confidence and understanding. Possibly the prime example in Canada exists at the Shaw Festival where its company has been hailed as the best in the western hemisphere.

That said, any acting company worth its salt should be able to meet the demands of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, a staple of the basic repertoire. Unfortunately, the NAC’s much vaunted new ensemble fails the test lamentably.

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Oil and Water: Its own Shipwreck

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  


Photo by Barb Gray

Oil and Water by Robert Chafe doesn’t really get off the ground until about two-thirds of the way through its hour and twenty-five minutes, (with no intermission), running time. It purports to be the story of Lanier Phillips, a black American sailor who was rescued in 1942 along with 40-some white sailors from a shipwreck off St. Lawrence, Newfoundland. His non-racist and benevolent treatment by the villagers, who had never seen a black man, was a pivotal event in his life. He became an activist for civil rights and also maintained his connection with the people of St. Lawrence.

Sounds like a great story, but most of the details never make it to the stage. The many scenes with Lanier and his daughter 30 years later during the school riots in Boston intercut with those of the miners’ families in the village dealing with mine safety and lung disease, hijack the play and the shipwreck story. The script tries to follow too many characters. When the audience has no idea what’s going on unless they’ve read the program notes, something’s very wrong. With the shipwreck, the play finally gets on track, but by then we don’t much care.

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Oil and Water: Notes after seeing the production at the NAC.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

This is not a finished review because I was off to a  theatre conference in Trois Rivières but this is a play that deserves a comment. Oil and Water is an important narrative that brings much to Canadian contemporary history but the play and especially the staging of the performance are terrible disappointments. How can one find a parallel between  the oppression of miners in Newfoundland the poverty created by the end of the fishing industry, with racism in the United States?. (Continue reading » )

Seeds: Food for thought in muddied waters.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  


Photo. courtesy of the NAC English Theatre. Eric Peterson as Percy Schmeiser

Reality is the seed of any theatrical piece. And when reality is an epic struggle between a corporate Goliath and an individual David, art seems a perfect place to imitate life.

Playwright/journalist Annabel Soutar has developed a fascinating, dense (sometimes too dense) docudrama in Seeds, a powerful piece of verbatim theatre about the landmark court case of Monsanto Canada versus Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser. (The official name of the case was Percy Schmeiser and Schmeiser Enterprises Ltd. v. Monsanto Canada Inc. and Monsanto Company, indicating greater breadth of connections. U.S.-based Monsanto is a massive international corporation. Canola oil farmer, plant breeder and local politician Schmeiser owns a 1,000-acre farm.)

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Mary Walsh Dances with Rage: slash and burn comedy the GCTC – Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,


Photo Barbara Gray.

OTTAWA — Her sword is just plastic, but Marg Delahunty, aka the Princess Warrior, has a tongue sharp enough to separate a rhino and its hide without even trying.

Marg, as all fans of slash-and-burn Canadian comedy know, is the alter ego of Newfoundland comedian Mary Walsh. Resplendent in her glittering, red Princess Warrior outfit, the one we’ve all admired as we’ve watched her ambush public figures from Mayor Rob Ford to former prime minister Jean Chrétien on CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Marg is front and centre in Walsh’s one-woman show Dancing with Rage.

The show, which seesaws between hilariously pointed moments and arid stretches and ultimately doesn’t hold together particularly well, opens with another Walsh character: the purse-lipped, purse-clasping Miss Eulalie. Tut-tutting about topical issues — bridges and sinkholes in Ottawa, the recent appointment of Joe Oliver, “the minister responsible for the destruction of the environment,” as replacement for the departed minister of finance Jim Flaherty — she totters down the aisle and onto the stage.

Walsh soon sheds that character along with Miss Eulalie’s bulky coat and rummage-sale hat to stand before us in black underwear. She bemoans the state of contemporary feminism as well as her own aging body (she’s 61) — or at least the state of a society that makes a clothes-shopping expedition for an aging woman, whose body now bulges in unforeseen ways and places, a voyage to hell. “It leaks out like some fleshy Exxon Valdez,” she says, gripping some of that fleshy stuff in a way that’s simultaneously self-deprecating, endearing and smartly subversive…….Read more

Enron : A Winner All The Way

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  


Photo: Andrée Lanthier

There’s a terrific moment in the National Arts Centre’s production of Enron when we watch a succession of smaller and smaller containers being manipulated in order to demonstrate the art of corporate fraud.

The manipulator is a talented numbers geek named Andy Fastow, played with slicked-down hair and an excess of smarm by Eric Davis. He’s an anxious minion who yearns to be “somebody” in Enron — that’s the notorious Texas energy corporation that came to typify the worst excesses of corporate crime after its 2001 bankruptcy revealed that its purported $100 billion in revenues didn’t really exist.

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Enron: Michael Billington writing for The Guardian.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Royal Court, London 5 / 5 stars

Reviewed by Michael Billington, for the Guardian,  September 23, 2013.

Enron at Royal Court 2009

Samuel West, Tim Pigott-Smith and Amanda Drew in Enron. Photograph: Tristram Kenton


After the high praise earned in Chichester, there was always the lurking fear the Enron bubble might burst on transfer. But, although it had more room to manoeuvre at the Minerva, Lucy Prebble’s play and Rupert Goold’s production are so strong that they survive the move. What they vividly offer is not a lecture on corporate madness but an ultra-theatrical demonstration of it at work.

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Enron: Flashy gimmicks fail to hide weak script

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Andrée Lanthier

Photo: Andrée Lanthier

Lucy Prebble has taken on a lot in her play Enron, about the energy giant whose name has become synonymous with systematic, paneed out corporate fraud. The play tries to cover the rise of the corporation, the characters involved in it, as well as the impact its demise had on the workers. There are raptors representing the shadow companies Enron used to unload its losses onto and there are musical numbers. Add to this  bobble-head president stand-ins and you have a meandering mess of elements that fail to come together in a script that not only takes too much, but doesn’t know what it actually wants to say about its chosen theme. Director Ron Jenkins creates a slick production with some interesting elements, but he was ultimately fighting a losing battle with material that lacked substance. (Continue reading » )

Enron: a flashy theatrical kaleidoscope that is highly entertaining.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  


Photo: Metro News Fils.

In Enron (the play) the smoke and mirrors of Enron (the company) have been transformed into a highly entertaining and flashy theatrical kaleidoscope.

The energy company went from stock market darling to massive bankruptcy disaster — the largest in American corporate history — in 2001. CEO Jeffrey Skilling may even have believed that his “powerhouse of ideas” and the possibility of trading energy as well as supplying it could keep the company afloat. He may have trusted his CFO Andy Fastow, as they developed shadow companies to absorb and hide Enron’s debt in a system likened to small and smaller Russian dolls, nested inside each other.

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