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

A Man Walks into a Bar: Uncomfortable, true to life exploration of gender politics

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo by Tanja Tiziana courtesy of the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Photo by Tanja Tiziana courtesy of the Next Stage Theatre Festival

A Man Walks into a Bar is a well written, funny, and well-performed feminist show about a woman (Rachel Blair) who tries to tell joke and a man (Blue Bigwood-Mallin) who “helps” her tell is properly. It’s a simple enough premise, but playwright Blair infuses the text with complexity and an exploration of gender politics. The humour is in the delivery and interaction between the two characters. The punch line, when it comes at long last, only serves to underscore the conditions women are groomed to accept and the fear with which they live.  The play holds up an uncomfortable mirror to real life.

Both Blair and Bigwood-Mallin are terrific actors. Blair has great comedic timing and her delivery is spot on and her acting range is impressive. She has the ability to draw attention to her characters, even when they stand at the back of the stage or draw into themselves. Indeed, some of the most powerful moments of the performance were the moments she doesn’t speak. Although Bigwood-Mallin took some time to really settle into his character, toward the middle of the performance, he really comes into his own and sends shivers of disgust and annoyance through the audience. (Continue reading » )

A Man Walks into a Bar’s appealing staging distracts from a heavy-handed script

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo by Tanja Tiziana courtesy of the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Photo by Tanja Tiziana courtesy of the Next Stage Theatre Festival

A Man Walks into a Bar does a lot of things right. It was doubtlessly a popular offering during its premiere at the 2015 Toronto Fringe, where it received many awards including the coveted Best of Fest award. Now, during its run at the undercurrents festival until February 20, Ottawa audiences can experience a play that wields humour like a weapon. Produced by Circle Circle Productions in Toronto, the play takes its lead from the popular kicking-off point of a joke, “A man walks into a bar.” But as the two actors approach the punch-line, the joke unfolds into a metatheatrical and cutting story that sets its sights on misogyny and harassment.

Created by Rachel Blair, who is also one of two actors in this performance, the script pulls its audience into two worlds. Blair has arrived to tell the audience a joke, and insists, “I’m not very good at telling jokes.” Performer Bigwood-Mallin convinces her that they should step inside the joke; he only wants to help. A small bar and two barstools allow them to clearly indicate when they are within the sketch, and when they are outside of it. The actors straddle these two worlds, and as Blair’s “joke” starts to reveal its true nature, a growing tension permeates both the play within the play, and their metatheatrical narration.

Approaching a gender discussion under the guise of humour, A Man Walks into a Bar gives its audience the opportunity to laugh its way through discomfort. What’s more, Blair as the Waitress and narrator was able to be genuinely funny and then genuinely sincere, making these turns on a dime. It’s convincing, and showcases Blair’s versatility as an actress. Bigwood-Mallin as “the Man” and the co-narrator also manages to strike a balance being obtuse, funny, and loathsome in turn. Here, the audience can also see David Matheson’s handy work who orchestrates swift staging between moments of outright cruelty before they swept under the rug and the “joke” regains its footing. (Continue reading » )

Monstrous, or the Miscegenation Advantage, an important piece in undercurrents 2016

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

MG_8317The lights bathe a vast, empty stage. A massive projection screen is mounted along the back. Performer Sarah Waisvisz enters the stage from the audience, singing along with French singer Chantal Goya’s “Adieu les jolis foulards”, a version of the Martinique folk song, “Adieu foulard, adieu madras”. Waisvisz evokes a sense of nostalgia and longing, singing the song out to the audience with open arms. It isn’t until later that the audience will learn the full impact of this saccharine anthem.

Monstrous, or the Miscegenation Advantage is in part theatre, in part dance, and in part social provocation from Calalou Productions. It’s a true piece of auto-ethnography, inspired by the artist’s own Ph.D. level research into colonial interference in Caribbean literature. The script finds its footing in creator and performer Sarah Waisvisz’s own story. It is in part Sarah’s personal history as a multi-racial woman who traces her heritage back to the slave coast of West Africa. Here, dance plays a large role as Sarah embodies dance styles that reflect that history. Yet, the script also sets its sights on Sarah’s modern-day, lived experience as someone whose skin colour has been an unavoidable topic of discussion since birth. Waisvisz moves with intention and fluidity on the stage, though sometimes under-vocalizes her lines. Overall, she is dynamic and even a little mischievous. (Continue reading » )

Monstrous, or, the Miscegenation Advantage

Reviewed by on    Professional Theatre   , ,


Photo: Sarah Waisvisz performs

This tedious solo piece finds writer/performer Sarah Waisvisz on a quest to answer that ancient puzzler, “Who am I?”

In her case, that means a search for her multi-racial roots involving an imaginary journey from St. Martinique to Africa to Europe to Ottawa. It means encountering people who link skin colour to identity. It also means 65 dreary minutes for audiences as Waisvisz drapes her premise – if she’s interested in who she is, then everybody else must be as well – in a blend of song, dance, movement and text that does little to universalize her personal story or effectively link past and present even when she dips into the fraught history of the slave trade. (Continue reading » )

Undercurrents complete programme. Dates and times later…

Reviewed by on    Arts News  

Undercurrents: theatre below the mainstream (February 10–20. 2016)
& Arts Court Theatre /


by Rachel Blair (dir. David Matheson)
– Patrons’ Pick and Best of Fest at The Toronto Fringe Festival
by Will Somers & David Benedict Brown (dir. Melanie Karin Brown)
– Premiered at Fresh Meat: DIY Theatre Festival (2014)
by Arthur Milner (and directed by A. Milner)
– A world premiere


(Continue reading » )