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

The December Man: Less Than Meets The Eye

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

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Photo: Andrew Alexander

Colleen Murphy’s play, The December Man, comes to the National Arts Centre with its credibility enhanced by a flurry of honours, the most significant of which is a 2007 Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language drama. It is a work of decency and integrity, and in its sensitive but lacerating portrayal of a middle-aged Montreal couple that finds no reason to go on living, it offers two rich acting opportunities.

Those excellent performers, Paul Rainville and Kate Hennig, meet their challenges superbly in this production from NAC’s English theatre. When we first meet them, we’re conscious of the delicate emotional interplay that can come only from the intimacy of a long-term relationship. It’s a dynamic that persists in an opening episode which sees them, carefully dressed for the occasion and with the gas turned on, arranging themselves on the sofa with simple dignity to await their deaths.

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The December Man: A Clear Depiction of Survivor Guilt

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

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Photo: Andrew Alexander

The December 6, 1989 massacre of 14 women — all engineering students at the University of Montreal’s École Polytechnique — was a tragedy with far-reaching proportions.

In her award-winning 2007 drama The December Man, playwright Colleen Murphy shifts the focus away from the murdered women and the mass murderer and on to a fictitious male student, Jean Fournier, and his parents.

Jean is presented as one of the males that murderer Marc LePine separated from the women before his killing spree. Jean’s guilt at living when they died and his remorse at not doing anything to save them destroys him as he succumbs to his survivor guilt. It also devastates his parents — blue-collar workers who had dreamed of their son becoming a successful engineer.

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The December Man: a play strangled by its own structure!

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

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Photo courtesy of the NAC, English Theatre.

On December 6, 1989, a young man, carrying an assault rifle (Ruger Mini-14) entered the amphitheatre of an engineering course at the University of Montreal (in the École polytechnique), told the boys to leave the room and then shot 14 female students. That evening will be forever engraved in the memory of Canadians but it also fuelled debates on gun control and violence against women across Canada and even in the United States. The play was first performed in 2007 at the Enbridge playwright’s Festival of New Canadian plays (in Alberta) in 2007, directed by Bob white.

Such is the material for real tragedy but structurally, this situation presents a dramaturgical trap because the public is already very much aware of all the details of the drama. So what is left for the playwright to exploit? Is it really possible to construct a narrative, characters, situations, an arc, tension, beautifully written monologues that tear apart the main character, all the elements that are linked to such tragic circumstances when there is nothing left to discover? That kept occurring to me as I was watching Colleen Murphy’s play, in this recent staging by Sarah Garton Stanley.

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THe Adventures of a Black Girl: an ambitious but unsatisfying struggle

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

 

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Photo: Black Theatre Workshop

The struggle to find and hold onto that hope, love and faith impels the action and characters of Adventures, an ambitious and, in the production that opens the new NAC English Theatre season, ultimately unsatisfying show that blends drama and comedy with song and movement, the ever-present spectre of death amid the bloom of life, and the story of a family and its community.

  • The play (its name comes from a George Bernard Shaw short story) premiered in 2002, launching Toronto’s black Obsidian Theatre company. It was then picked up for several months by Mirvish Productions. The current revival, directed by Sears as was the première, played Montreal’s Centaur Theatre before coming to the NAC.

    With its cast of 22, the play is set in a 200-year-old black community in southern Ontario. At its heart are Rainey, a young black woman played by Lucinda Davis, and her aging father Abendigo.

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    The Double: from Dostoevsky to Adam Paolozza…!!

    Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

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    Photo from the Tarragon Theatre.

    A great mastery of physical theatre sets Bad News Days Productions apart. Done as a play within a play in various times zones but originating in the present, it resembles a cabaret performance where three very talented young men perfectly trained in the art of mime, circus techniques, mimicry, tell the story of a Mr. Golyadkin, a simple office clerk who lives by himself, who has strange, troubled dreams , who is stressed by the behaviour of his office colleagues who appear to make fun of him; There is also the behaviour of his fiancé who breaks off their wedding. Is he really fleeing from himself? Is he so totally alone, abandoned by all humanity?. Perhaps, but Golyadkin continues on bravely. He eventually comes in contact with his pesky double –his shadow on the wall, or is it the other narrator playing the acoustic bass who appears to be feeding him his lines? This double taunts the older fellow, he disappears and reappears, he interferes with his office relations, and he shows up the older Golyadkin until the poor man can’t take it anymore. It all takes place under the stress of the terrible Kafka-like bureaucracy in Saint Petersburg in Russia. A medical doctor comes into the picture (no psychiatry at that

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    Take Me Back to Jefferson: Theatre Smith-Gilmour puts on a highly enjoyably production

    Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

    Photo: Katherine Fleitas

    Photo: Katherine Fleitas

    William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying is a complex work of fiction. Part tragi-comedy, part scathing critique of American society, and a large part philosophy, the story is told in 59 chapters through no less than 15 characters, mostly through internal monologue. I consider myself a fairly open-minded person, but if you were to tell me that you wanted to stage this as a play told through mostly physical actions, I would likely send you to the nearest doctor. Therefore, it was with trepidation that I sat to watch Theatre Smith-Gilmour’s adaptation, Take Me Back to Jefferson. Luckily for me, I was in for a very pleasant surprise. While not flawless, the production grapples masterfully with the source material and shows an understanding of its own medium and strength that could enrich the story that is rare to see.

    As the play begins, Addie Bunden (Michele Smith) lays dying in her bedroom on the family farm in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Her carpenter son, Cash (Dan Watson), nosily building her coffin in the near vicinity. When she dies, the entire family – daughter Dewy Dell (Nina Gilmour); sons Cash, Darl (Julian de Zotti), and Jewel (Ben Muir); and husband Anse (Dean Gilmour) – set out in the family wagon to honour her death wish, to be buried in her home town of Jefferson. The family is confronted with almost every piece of bad luck possible on the nine-day journey, but they persevere, some out of a duty to their mother, but most for their own, not so considerate reasons.  (Continue reading » )