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

Student review: What’s wrong with the Yees?

Reviewed by on    Student Reviews  

Reviewed by Emily Blake in the theatre criticism class of Patrick Langston

The National Arts Center’s presentation of King of the Yees, written by Lauren Yee and directed by Sherry J. Yoon, is a cultural roller coaster in 120 minutes. King of the Yees takes place mid-rehearsal, as actors Donna (Donna Soares) and Raugi (Raugi Yu) bring to life the story of the real Lauren and Larry Yee. All is going swimmingly until the ‘real’ Larry (played by Jovanni Sy) and Lauren (played by Andrea Yu) appear on stage and things start to become unapologetically funny. The audience learns that Lauren is also the playwright of this production and her aim is to bring to life the tales of a dying Chinatown and find understanding in her place within it. The cast of this cultural masterpiece know how to make audience interaction an integral part of the show, and they are not afraid to jump on and off the stage to make the audience feel as though they are in this too. (Continue reading » )

King of the Yees trips over its own plot.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

It doubtless started out as a viable, if overstuffed, idea.

Write a comedy about the erosion of Chinese culture and tradition when it’s transplanted to contemporary America. Illustrate the resonant theme of cultural identity by making the two main characters the likeable Larry Yee, a 60-year-old father who honours tradition, and Lauren Yee, his thoroughly westernized, Ivy League school-educated daughter who makes her living as a playwright.

Weave in a loving-but-fraught relationship between father and daughter and a search for personal identity. Set the whole thing in Chinatown, say it’s a true story, and call it King of the Yees. (Continue reading » )

King of Yees: cluttered and confusing.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

King of Yee, courtesy of the NAC



King of the Yees is not the play that Lauren Yee set out to write — so says the character playing the playwright in the semi-autobiographical work. This is a hint that the comic drama could lack clarity. And it does. King of the Yees is about equal parts amusing and confusing and frequently seems to lack discipline.

The title character is the playwright’s father, Larry, a man steeped in tradition and committed to supporting his community, particularly through the Yee Fung Toy Family Association — a men’s club formed 150 years earlier — in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

(Continue reading » )

Vigilante cast keeps powerful Donnellys saga all in the familly

Reviewed by on    Opera   ,

Photo David Cooper Vigilante

They may sing tunefully and love their ma like crazy, but you wouldn’t want to mess with the Donnelly boys. They’re a potentially dangerous crew with a vigorous sense of survival, and in southern Ontario’s Biddulph Township circa the mid-19th century, that means one for all and all for one.

That spirit of family – especially a family under siege through no real fault of its own – is one of many themes raging like a river of blood through Vigilante, the extraordinarily powerful rock-opera by Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre now playing the NAC. Catalyst Theatre’s Jonathan Christenson wrote, composed and directed Vigilante, a dark, swaggering and occasionally vulnerable show that spirits the Black Donnellys and their fight for survival to the level of the epic without once losing sight of the fact that these are real people in a real world.

(Continue reading » )

Power, Passion and Rocking Vigilante Justice

Reviewed by on    Opera   ,

Photo: DBP Photographics

Written, composed and directed by Jonathan Christenson. A Production of  Catalyst Theatre (Edmonton) in collaboration with NAC English Theatre

On February 4, 1880, an armed mob murdered five members of the Donnelly family and burned their farm to the ground. No one has ever been convicted for the massacre of the notorious Irish immigrants, despite two inconclusive trials. The vigilante justice imposed upon them was the culmination of an ongoing feud and conflict over land between the Black Donnellys and their neighbours in the township of Biddulph, southern Ontario. (Continue reading » )

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: The Heart and Soul of the Rock

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

The opening night of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams at the National Arts Centre was attended by a who’s who of Newfoundland artists, Canadian politicians and journalists. It was appropriate of course as the play is an adaptation by Robert Chafe of Wayne Johnston’s novel that imagines what early influences might have created a character as enigmatic and colourful as Joseph Smallwood, the last father of Confederation and an enduring symbol of Newfoundland.

A work of fiction that speculates about the heart and soul of a very real character in Canadian history by blending history with invention makes for a compelling evening . It worked on every level. The characters both real and imagined are spellbinding. The dialogue crackles with the wisecracking wit that you find in the best of 40’s cinema. Chafe’s play makes me want to both read Johnston’s novel and discover more about this significant piece of history. (Continue reading » )

Anne and Gilbert: A slick, attractive production and a worthy sequel to the 1965 musical Anne of Green Gables.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,


Photos by Barbara Gray

Now a decade after its creation, Anne and Gilbert The Musical is firmly established as not only a worthy sequel to the much loved 1965 musical Anne of Green Gables, but also as a Canadian theatre standard.

Based on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s second and third novels about the feisty red-haired orphan, Anne and Gilbert follows her adventures at Redmond (a.k.a. Dalhousie University). She makes a new friend, the wealthy Philippa, finds a new beau in Roy and continues to deny that she loves Gilbert Blythe — when everyone else knows otherwise.

Knowing how the story will end is of no importance. Anne and Gilbert is primarily a celebration of a way of life in a small island village in the early 20th century. (Little wonder that P.E.I. tourism has set up a booth, complete with assorted Anne souvenirs, in the NAC lobby. A catchy number such as You’re Island Through and Through tempts you to take a trip to the island.)

(Continue reading » )

Alice Through the Looking Glass at the National Arts Centre: nonsensical sense and visual wildfire for the contemporary gaze.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,


Photographer: Barb Gray. Karen Robinson as the Red Queen, Natasha Greenblatt as Alice.

When Jillian Keiley meets Lewis Carroll and James Reaney, I’m tempted to say that the witty story and vastly playful language of Carroll that hinges on all sorts of sly social comments (“words mean what you chose them to mean” says one of the characters) are soon taken over by a bouncy and colourful staging that plays directly to children’s fantasy. There are balloons, flying things , and all sorts of unimaginable props, with Bretta Gerecke’s complexly designed and striking costumes , Kimberly Portell’s magical lighting , John Gzowski’s sound, Jonathan Monro’s orchestrations and especially Dayna Tekatch,s choreography, all taking us in various directions at once . The production team stars in this fantasy that leads to pure visual chaos and muddles the narrative but it certainly holds the audience’s attention because of the visual excitement it generates, almost for its own sake where staging is based on non-stop gags and costumes that take your breath away.

Obviously the spirit of Carroll has been relocated in the visual which suits a theatrical language for young people because much of the book’s wit has a whole level that is not for children.

(Continue reading » )

Seeds: A taught docudrama deals effectively with a most complex topic

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.   ,

Liisa Repo-Martell and Eric Peterson, in Seeds. Photo: Guntar Kravis

Liisa Repo-Martell and Eric Peterson, in Seeds.
Photo: Guntar Kravis

In the world of documentary theatre Seeds may reign supreme as one of the most complex topics ever incubated for the stage. The story is one well suited for the headlines-as-dialogue, taunt teaching moments, and characters-as-points of view form of theatrical presentation docudrama uses to construct its world. The little guy – and they don’t get much smaller than the individual farmer – is suddenly and it would appear unjustly targeted by a multi-national corporation because their genetically modified seeds have capriciously settled on his land producing a crop resistant to the weed blasting properties of Round Up herbicide. That’s the simple plot.

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Agokwe : the staging makes the show!

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,


Agokwe is written and performed by Waawaaté Fobister who very clearly benefitted from the superlative Buddies in Bad Times production values because the staging is what really makes this show. 

Visually it is very strong. Behind this performance lies an  excellent  team composed of Andy Moro’s  striking  graphics and  projected designs, Erika Iserhoff’s beautiful costumes – especially the raven who stole the show-  Lyon Smith’s otherworld sound design and Kimberly Purtell’s magic lighting. Last but certainly not least is the contribution of director and dramaturg Ed Roy who worked on the text and orchestrated the gestures, the movements and the way that Fobister’s story telling unfolds on stage.

(Continue reading » )