NAC English Theatre

Student review: What’s wrong with the Yees?

News from Capital Critics Circle

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. (more…)

King of the Yees trips over its own plot.

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

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. (more…)

King of Yees: cluttered and confusing.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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.


Vigilante cast keeps powerful Donnellys saga all in the familly

Reviewed by Patrick Langston



Power, Passion and Rocking Vigilante Justice

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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. (more…)

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

Reviewed by James Murchison

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. (more…)

’da Kink is a hopeful, generous piece of theatre

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Photo: Trudie Lee

Photo: Trudie Lee

’da Kink in my Hair
NAC English Theatre/Theatre Calgary co-production
NAC Theatre

Everyone should have a Novelette in their life.

A combination of bestie, mother and motivational speaker, plain-spoken Novelette is the Caribbean-Canadian owner of Letty’s Salon of Beauty, the setting for playwright Trey Anthony’s wonderfully resonant musical about the lives of black women.

Beyond that, and the fact that she’s arrived at a point in her life where she’s happy with herself, we don’t know much about Toronto’s Novelette (played with verve by Anthony).

But that’s as it should be. Novelette’s job is not to talk about herself, but to offer a safe place where her clients – we meet seven of them, six black and one white – can open up about their entangled inner lives. In a series of artfully linked vignettes, she strokes each woman’s hair, that mythic symbol of power, persona and self. She then steps back as the women slip into their monologues about family, violence, love, race, sex and all the other factors that make their lives sometimes joyful and sometimes unbearable.

Patsy, for instance, is a proper, middle-aged lady. Played by Tamara Brown, she’s terrified of change, her Bible a shield against a world that has turned on her in the singularly vicious fashion that too many black mothers have experienced. Her challenge is to trust again in the future and in herself, the kind of storyline that could so easily have been cliché, but which Anthony has handled with sensitivity and veracity and which Brown leavens with a touch of welcome playfulness.

Like the other vignettes, Patsy’s includes a song that encapsulates and extends her story. Anthony transformed her original work into a full musical (there are four composers) only after it had been staged multiple times, but the music, narrative and character, which don’t always support each other in musicals, are all integral to her show. Too bad poor sound quality on opening night sometimes impinged on both the singing and especially Anthony’s speaking voice.

In the hands of its no-nonsense proprietor, Novelette’s salon is the great equalizer. All stories are valued, and while overbearing clients must sometimes be put in their place, all women are welcome. That includes Suzy (Rae-Anna Maitland), a white woman with a son whose father is black.

Her presence initially foments resentment among other clients, but Suzy is eventually accepted. It’s a nicely engineered bit of writing by Anthony, who added the character long after the show debuted. Suzy is very much us, the mainly white audience, if we were to suddenly find ourselves in a black world. Our common humanity may connect us all, but whites and blacks, especially black women, also live radically different lives, have drastically divergent hopes and dreads, something Suzy learns most painfully when she takes her young son to visit her racist father.

Letty’s Salon of Beauty, it turns out, may treat all lives as things of equal grace, but that doesn’t erase the reality outside its door. Those mirrors on the salon’s walls (naturalistic set plus costumes by Cory Sincennes), in which we occasionally see the characters reflected, suggest that by reminding us that what we see isn’t necessarily what is.

Anthony’s story, which once or twice veers toward the didactic, includes other rich characters from the frisky, elderly Miss Enid (Brenda Phillips) to the tragic business woman Sherelle (Lennette Randall in a spellbinding portrayal) who’s so entrapped in a world of white, male power and family commitments that she’s vanishing bit by bit. Sherelle’s story of the weight of expectation that all women bear is one scarcely understood by men.

Despite Sherelle’s exceedingly dark story, ’da Kink, which is directed and choreographed by Marion J. Caffey with musical direction by S. Renee Clark, is ultimately a hopeful and generous piece of theatre. As Novelette tells Suzy, “It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.”

Continues until Nov. 5.

Tickets: NAC box office, Ticketmaster outlets, 1-888-991-2787,


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

Reviewed by Iris Winston


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.)


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

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht


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.


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

Reviewed by Laurie Fyffe

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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