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

Other Desert Cities. A well-cast, carefully wrought family drama!

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

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Photo. Maria Vartanova

“Write about what you know.”

Following the advice regularly given to authors, the daughter of the wealthy Wyeth family is about to publish unpleasant truths about their past. This is the catalyst for the wrenching conflicts in Jon Robin Baitz’ carefully wrought family drama, Other Desert Cities.

While Brooke’s tell-all memoir is her view of the past and the tragedy that continues to haunt each of the family members, “divergent truths” and different perspectives throw unexpected lights on their history and the current crisis that threatens to tear them apart.

Parents Polly and Lyman Wyeth are former Hollywood movie industry stars, turned politicos and hard-core Republicans. Daughter Brooke is a successful author at the other end of the political spectrum, still fragile after recovering from severe depression. Her younger brother Trip is a television producer trying hard to keep the peace and avoid a serious look at the world. Polly’s sister, Silda, an alcoholic, fresh from rehab, is continuing her recovery by moving into the Wyeth household.

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Other Desert Cities at the OLT. A Compelling Family drama!

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

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Photo: Maria Vartanova

Other Desert Cities By Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Geoff Gruson.

In case you hadn’t noticed, truth is slippery. Everyone has his or her own version of it, as Donald Trump demonstrates almost daily. Playwright Jon Robin Baitz has made that slipperiness – and the crazy-making process of trying to grab hold of it – a principal theme in his compelling 2010 family drama, Other Desert Cities.

Set in Christmas-season California during the mid-2000s, the play finds two generations of the Wyeth family grappling with multiple truths – from matters of personal motivation to what the Republican Party truly represents – after 30-something, left-leaning daughter/author Brooke (Venetia Lawless) writes a memoir about the dark side of her family. The book is awaiting publication, and the potential of public exposure terrifies her parents Polly (Jane Morris) and Lyman (Robert Hicks), who years ago made a killing in the movie business and have gone on to a prominent role in conservative social and political circles.

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Driving Miss Daisy: OLT’s version of this Pulizter prize winning play.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

daisyIMG_7726 Charlotte Stewart as Daisy.  Photo.Maria Vartanova

Wheels are life changing for young and old. For teens, who have just earned driving licences, the right to drive signals freedom. For seniors, who may no longer drive, loss of their wheels means the end of independence.

So it was for 72-year-old Daisy Werthan of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948. After she crashes her car, her son, Boolie, forces his fiercely independent mother to accept that her driving days are over. The first task for the chauffeur he hires to ferry her around is to convince her to ride with him. (That takes six days — the same length of time that it took God to create the world, he muses.)

The 1987 dramaa Pulitzer prizewinner and successful 1989 movie starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman — traces the developing trust and deepening friendship between the wealthy Jewish widow and her black chauffeur over 25 years (1948 to 1973) — a quarter century that changed the face of the U.S. It also touches (lightly) on the civil rights movement and desegregation in the south. At the same time, playwright Alfred Uhry makes it clear that Daisy and Hoke are not only bonded by religious and racial prejudice, but also by aging and growing infirmity.

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Drama at Inish. Melodrama by the sea.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

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Photo: Ottawa Little Theatre

The moral of the story is that too much heavy drama is bad for your health.

Making a joke about the dangers of being influenced by overdoses of Ibsen, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Strindberg might be sustainable for a one-act play, but the central gag of this parody wears a little thin through a full-length comedy.

But, director Sarah Hearn gives it her all in the Ottawa Little Theatre/Tara Players co-production of Lennox Robinson’s 1933 domestic comedy Drama at Inish. (It is rumoured that the playwright’s theatrical birth came after seeing a traveling theatre troupe perform an Ibsen play in his native Dublin, so one can assume he is poking fun at himself.)

In an effort to maximize the humour in the play, Hearn pushes the melodrama button hard, as cast members emote, swoon, beat their heads against mantlepieces and raise trembling hands to fevered brows.

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The Drawer Boy. An OLT Production For The Top Drawer

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

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Photo by Maria Vartanova. Left to right: Brian Cana and Mike McSheffrey

The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey has been likened to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. A one-set, small-cast show, set in 1972 rural Canada, it has won numerous awards as it expands on themes that explore the value of friendship, the line between fact and fiction and the part that the stage plays in uncovering the truth.

This quiet drama has been performed many times — and therein lies a problem. Not with the script itself, but with the fact that it has become somewhat stale after popping up so often since its premiere in 1999.

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Balanced Direction by Chantale Plante, makes Lost in Yonkers Both Comic and Genuinely Moving.

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

Elements of Neil Simon’s life often appear in his plays. While his 1991 drama Lost in Yonkers is not as closely autobiographical as the earlier written Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound trilogy, his family is clearly a good part of the source material for this memory play.

Yonkers, which won the Pulitzer, several Tony awards and a Drama Desk award, ran for 780 performances on Broadway and became a successful movie in 1993, has been revived on a number of stages across North America recently. Once declared Simon’s best play, current responses have not been universally positive.

Perhaps this is in part because it is set in the early 1940s and fewer members of today’s audiences have as clear an understanding of the era and the hardships it presented for so many. The play itself, in combining serious issues of family dysfunctionality, mental health and poverty with comedy and Simon’s signature one-liners, is harder to categorize.

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Eastern Ontario Drama Festival One Act Play Competition: 2010

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Ottawa Little Theatre celebrated its 98th season by hosting the Eastern Ontario Drama League’s One-Act Play Festival. This festival, originating in 1933, is comprised of nine plays, between 25 and 60 minutes in length, performed by community theatres from all over Eastern Ontario.

In past years, quality of production has varied, some established theatre companies displaying more experience and polish than others. But in the past fifteen or so years that I have been attending these festivals, this gap has narrowed and it is no longer these companies  that prevail. This year, has continued the trend with Perth, Almonte, Manotick and Kemptville all receiving favourabale comments from adjudicator Laurel Smith.

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