Albertine in Five Times
(Albertine en cinq temps)
Michel Tremblay's Albertine in Five Times (Albertine en cinq temps) is full of reminiscences and sorrow. Memory, as a famous writer said, is an "internal rumour" that here grows like a cancer and infects all the Albertines (one woman at five different times in her life) with a melancholy that is palpable. You can't turn away from these women, the five Albertines who hold the stage for 80-minutes in Michel Tremblay's great Chalmers award winning play. It's given a sterling production by director Jean Stéphane Roy for Théâtre français de Toronto, playing at Canstage's Upstairs Theatre until April 28.
Along with the five Albertines who range in age from 30 to 70 in the play, is their ageless younger sister Madelaine (lovely Geneviève Dufour), an angelic blonde who died young but whose sweetness is an antidote to the bitterness that Albertine has faced in her life. What a story each of the Albertines have to tell. They've had more than a few regrets, including anger and remorse, and now and then a brief spurt of happiness that dissipates so quickly one hardly knew it ever existed. This is not a happy play, but it is a mesmerizing one thanks to the well etched and completely natural performances of the actors playing Albertine, all of whom have a sense of humor, even if jaded.
The story centers around Albertine at 70 years (Marie-Hélène Fontaine) who has just been been admitted to a retirement home. Haunted by her reveries, ("Did I go through all that just to end of up here?") she begins to trade memories with the other Albertines, but is especially hard on Albertine at 60 years, the pill-popping Albertine confined to an asylum, succumbing to the mental breakdown that had been waiting for her for years. The magnetic Lyne Tremblay is this Albertine, and she fills the stage every time she speaks, every time she crosses it, sometimes crawling, holding a blanket that she cradles like the babies she once had, that grew and grew apart from her and from each other. She has a morbid sense of humor that she alone enjoys. But like the others, she has begun to face her demons of the past.
At the age of 30, young Albertine was alone after her husband died in the war. You would like to have empathy for this quizzical Albertine played by Mélanie Beauchamp, a widow living in the countryside, worn out with two kids she didn't understand, yet in love with the beauty of nature, the different colors of the sky as the sun went down, a transitory loveliness that was only briefly remembered as she aged. But there is cruelty as well, her children bearing the brunt of her frustration, the " ball of fire in her chest," that she can't shake off.
At 40, and back in Montreal, she became embittered, a shrike, living with her vitriolic mother who only hurled insults at her. This Albertine (Céleste Dubé) has begun to show strains of mental instability, her heart is "bursting with ugly colors." Her daughter Therese was man crazy at the age of 11, her son Marcel, is already showing signs of mental illness. She trades insults with her long dead sister, the eternally optimistic Madeleine, whose life is easier, whose kids are normal, whose husband is nicer.
At the age of 50, she's regained her equilibrium only because she's cut herself off from her kids, become a pragmatist and talked herself into a life that has no negatives. She's citified, a waitress at 50 who has learned to take any hard knock that comes her way, or so she thinks. Patricia's Marceau's Albertine, in her starchy red and white uniform, enjoying the smell of the grass at Parc La Fontaine, is removed from the heartache of her 30's and 40's - for the time being, but her older self, the 60 year-old pill-popping Albertine , know what's in store: a dead daughter and a son in a psychiatric institution.
And so we come full circle. In Benoît Brunet-Poirier's stark lighting - naked light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling on a bare stage - nothing is softened, not Albertine in all her life's stages, nor a single emotion. By the play's end, the women, the Albertines, who have revisited their life cycle, regretted their choices, mourned their losses, ultimately know that they couldn't have changed their course. They bond, so to speak, in at recognizing that there is still beauty in the moonrise. Some things are not ephemeral, some things you wouldn't change for the world, and that's at least a small measure of joy.
Albertine in Five Times (Albertine en Cinq Temps) is presented in French (with English surtitles for most performances based on the translation of Linda Gaboriau) at the Berkeley Street until April 28. English Surtitled Performances: Apr. 17, 19, 20, 24, 26, 27, 8 pm | Sat., Apr. 27, 3:30 pm. 26 Berkeley St. Box Office: www.theatrefrancais.com and (416) 534-6604 or 1(800) 819-4981.
Photo: by Sylvain Sabatié. Mélanie Beauchamp as Albertine at 30.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
Somewhere in between love and desire is a great divide. Daniel MacIvor's Arigato, Tokyo looks at that great divide between a popular Canadian author who is in Tokyo to promote his newest book, his Japanese interpreter, and her brother, a famous Noh actor. The complicated relationships between the three of them will navigate from the coke dens and sex parlors of Tokyo to the stages of the Noh Theatre, to the literary readings for the Japanese intelligentsia. The story is narrated by a drag queen named Etta - a hypnotic Tyson James - who can satirize western romanticism with a striking rendition of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black in platform heels and an ink colored domelike hair-do, or speak eloquently as the elegantly gowned Cassandra (Etta's stage name) on the evanescence of relationships. To put it succinctly in western terms, nothing is as permanent as change, though Carl will have a hard time seeing it that way.
Carl Dewer, the Canadian author played by David Storch, has been to Tokyo before. In fact, he's had his share of relationships (Etta being one) if you can call them that. Fuelled by booze, coke and sex, Carl calls upon his willing, somewhat awed interpreter, Nushi (Cara Gee), to find supplies of both, and to accompany him to the watering holes of Tokyo. They even manage one night of sex, which Carl passes off nonchalantly. Storch gives a stellar performance as the drug dependent, pleasantly indifferent human being with a brilliant talent who manages to sleep off all his stimulants and give a meaningful reading from his newest work (a book that ironically calls relationships into question) to a rapt audience.
In between the readings, Carl explores the seedier sections of Tokyo with Nushi who finally convinces him to do something different and travel to a city outside Tokyo where he is invited to see a Noh play. It's there where the sexual climate changes dramatically. Nushi is enamored of Carl, but Carl becomes so infatuated with a leading Noh actor whom he discovers is Nushi's brother, that he, eventually and unashamedly, falls in love with him.
It's not hard to see why. Michael Dufays' Yori is a born master: enigmatic, poetic, intelligent and sensual. He also has a great body. But unlike his sister, who lives with him, he is implacable when it comes to establishing a relationship. Everything changes, nothing is permanent. Carl doesn't understand it, and unless you're familiar with Buddhist teachings on the subject, you probably won't either. But it sounds convincing enough from this Noh actor where emotions are kept conveniently behind a mask. It certainly lends to Yori's mystique, and Dufays is perfect in the role.
Carl, however, is a man in love, probably for the first time, and nowhere to go with it. How we wish we could have read his book, which sounds awfully perceptive about relationships but whose characters don't understand the permanence of change either. MacIvor's writing is often spellbinding, whether narrated by Carl from his book, Western relationship angst , or from the Etta's Eastern philosophy, "Nothing is one thing. We feel ourselves to be one thing, but we fool ourselves to believe it."
That kind of thinking doesn't placate Carl, who is already slightly unhinged by his affair with Yori, and whose mind begins to wander in his book readings. Eventually he will just pack up his few belongings and head back to Vancouver, leaving both Etta and Nushi to mourn their loss.
Arigato, (thank you) Tokyo, is a show with many scenes, many disparate, but all of which flow into one anothe seamlessly thanks to Brendan Healy's immaculate direction. It's also a gorgeous looking show, much of that due to Julie Fox's vibrant costumes and brilliant set, whose entire back wall resembles a huge rubbed aluminum sheet. The blurred reflections of the characters onstage, beautifully lit by Kimberly Purtell, resembles Japanese brush painting. But the final scene, where Etta/Cassandra dressed as a traditional Japanese Geisha, takes a long, deep bow is, a sight to behold, Hiroshi Miyamoto's choreography turning it into a breathtaking moment. There aren't too many shows that will leave you feelingly as elated at that. Plays until April 14 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. 12 Alexander St. Box Office 416-975-9130 or buddiesinbadtimes.com.
Photo: by Jeremy Mimnagh. L to R: Robert Storch, Michale Dufays.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
carried away on the crest of a wave
The 2004 Indian Tsunami seems like a century ago, its magnanimity so awesome that it still is hard to fathom it. As in all disasters that fill the news and to a certain extent, affect our lives, it's always the human element that draws us again and again to the aftermath of the disasters, long after the statistics have been released. In the 2012 film The Impossible, while stupendous special effects filled the screen, what really touched us were the survival instincts of a mother and her son protecting each other, and the love within the family unit that finally beat all the odds of their finding one another amid the thousands that didn't.
carried away on the crest of a wave is David Yee's thoughtful, poetic, and always humane look at the effects that the 2004 Tsunami had on very different people through a series of vignettes. Directed by Nina Lee Aquino, for a brief period of time you will also be carried away on the crest of a wave, albeit a relatively smaller body of water ringed by a wooden boardwalk that designer Camelia Koo has used on fill the stage of the Tarragon Theatre mainspace.
The play's opening holds out the most pictorial effects that the tsunami had on ordinary people caught in the deluge as two brothers (Kawa Ada and Richard Lee) one of them injured, sit atop their doll's house size sinking home, questioning what's to be done. Its Alice-in-Wonderland surrealistic feel to it (one of them will suddenly swim away on the "back of a turtle") that seems apropos.
The most entertaining if puzzling vignette in terms of the play itself is the boorish hyperkinetic disc jockey (Richard Zeppieri) who insists on making a statement about the tsunami by singing his own parody of the saccharine charity songs that become popular after a disaster. The song is in such bad taste ( "They're half a world away with names that we can't say") that you can only listen in wonderment. Alice again but in a different rabbit hole. Still, it's a hilarious bit and Zeppieri, a deft comedian, may have a second career in the making. But the segment sits precariously among a series of scenes that are more introspective.
There's an intelligent exchange between a Catholic Priest (Ash Knight) and a Muslim architect (Kawa Ada) who has designed the basilica that has remarkably been saved intact even though surrounded by destruction. Was it the faith of the congregants who saved the basilica or its design engineered to withstand catastrophic events. Faith versus science is one argument that no one will ever win.
You might say the same thing about human nature. Yee's borrowed premise for she play: "we are all connected....." indicates the prospective goodness in all of us. Certainly the hard boiled survivor of the tsunami (John NG) who rescues a small child (the wonderful Eponine Lee) from the waters, and just passes it off as a random effort from a mere passerby, will not be swayed by the child's stubbornness in holding out her savior as something more. It's a lovely scene, illustrating that sometimes our animal instincts are kinder than as the so-called bonds that hold us together as human beings.
But if we are connected, here each person is an island. The man who has lost his wife and visits a prostitute, isn't in the mood for the Zen like thoughts of the lovely, quiet , implacable woman (Mayko Nguyen) who feels that the love he had for his wife is "unfair competition"; the woman who lost her husband and young son while on vacation when the tsunami struck, has stolen someone else's child, using her own child's passport to take him back home to Utah to replace the child she had; and the meteorologist who cannot forgive himself for the error he made in not communicating the real possibility of an oncoming tsunami when he discovered it.
Camellia Koo's set, nicely lit by Michelle Ramsay, with its translucent plastic curtains, may simulate the large engulfing white wave that swept away thousands of lives, but also serves as a scrim as human figures in back of it who resemble the Indonesian shadow puppets in their epic tales of myth and morality. The 2004 Tsunami was an epic story in its own right. David Yee has fashioned a collection of human interest stories from his own assiduous research which took over 5 years.
Carried away isn't perfect and there are times at the end when you feel its length, but it has both beauty and resonance in its writing, and even if you don't believe it until you've experienced it, there is a moment in everyone's life when the goodness of the human connection makes its point. So does Yee. carried away on the crest of a wave plays at Tarragon Theatre's Mainspace until May 26. 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto. Tickets can be purchased through the box office at 416.531.1827 or visit www.tarragontheatre.com
Photo; by Cylla von Tiedemann. L to R: John Ng, Eponine Lee
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
Chile Con Carne
War and its effects seen through the eyes of a child is a unique look into the soul of a nation. Playwright Carmen Aguirre wrote Chile Con Carne in 1999, a one-person show about an eight-year-old girl who with her parents became political refugees in Canada after the Chilean coup d'état of the 1970's. Their arrival in Vancouver in 1975 was both a cause for celebration as well as apprehension, especially for young Manuelita, who felt the pangs of adapting to a new language, a new city and a new school.
Performed by the delightful Paloma Nuñez, who dons a blonde ringlet wig to look as gringo as her schoolmates and just like the Barbie dolls she loves, Manuelita recalls the days of hell in Chile during the bloody Pinochet regime as anguished parents and children searched for their lost ones, the desaparecidos , who were picked up by the police and simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Her father's year-long imprisonment is a testament to the brutality that was suffered for freedom of speech.
The terrible times she left behind are interspersed with her loving letters to her grandmother and her fonder memories of the life she left behind with her friends, and yes, the food and the sun and the smell and love of the land, something that prompts her to make friends with a single tree stump she calls Cedar. Alone, protective of Cedar and the woods around her, Manuelita gets lost in her reveries. Behind her is designer Flavia Hevi's evocative and playful back wall hanging filled with mountains and the brilliant blue and yellow patchwork of a summer sky; around Manuelita is reality: the other trees that are destined to be cut down by men clearing the woods.
Directed by Marilo Nuñez, the Founder and Artistic Director of the Canadian Latin American theatre, Alameda Theatre Company, Chile Con Carne is something of a homecoming, Nuñez having played the role of Manuelita 14 years ago. The director had "lived" everything that Menulita is living and it shows in the sensitivity of Paloma Nuñez's beautifully etched girl in limbo. Manuelita, who longs to be like her Canadian counterparts in school, even suffers the embarrassment of peeing her pants when something is stressful, but delivers humor without rancor as she mimics her school mates who make fun of her accent, and her surprising friendship with a wealthy schoolmate named Leslie ( she pronounces it 'Lassy' the canine film and TV star) who has long blonde hair, lives in a house that looks like a wedding cake, and has an entire shelf of Barbies.
It is a long way from Manuelita's surroundings. Her parents talk loudly, only speak Spanish at home, and believe that gringos don't like to touch that much. Her mother cleans rich people's houses (like Leslie's) and with Menuelita's help cleans a bakery and a hairdressing salon at night. Her father is a blue collar worker. They work hard and plan protests against Safeway because they sell Chilean Fruit, and are organizing a big rally in support of Chilean freedom. They argue about that. Manuelita's father wants to go on a hunger strike to show solidarity and win support for their cause; Manuelita's mother wants to have a big party and sell empanadas and lots of booze because gringos like booze.
If there's anything that Manuelita longs for, it's to have long blonde hair and blue eyes like Leslie. In fact her longing to be a gringo begins to be an anthem without a chorus. And eventually when it dawns on young Manuelita that she can be both Canadian and Chilean while she enjoys her new country and still remembers her roots, it is a triumph of a self revelation that finds Manuelita shucking her blonde wig and letting her own dark hair flow freely. Disco meets Unidad Popular.
There's nothing that's precious about Chile Con Carne. It's as flavorful and satisfying and warm as a large bowl of the hearty stew after which its named, and Paloma Nunez turns it into her own signature dish. With only several days remaining before it closes, you won't find anything more enjoyable in the city. Chile Con Carne plays at the Factory Theatre Studio to April 14. 125 Bathurst St. (at Adelaide).) 416-504-9971. www.alamedatheatre.com
Photo: by Rodrigo Moreno. Paloma Nuñez in Chile Con Carne.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
Due to no small achievements, Acting Up Stage Company has become a recognized musical theatre force in Toronto. Their long string of musical productions dating from 2005 peaked with last year's outstanding production of Caroline, or Change. Falsettos, their most recent show, in association with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre, ranks alongside the finest entertainment in the city. It's a stupendous evening of theatre.
My introduction to was back in 1990 when Falsettoland - the final chapter of William Finn and James Lapine's musical opened at the intimate Lucile Lortie theatre in New York with a score that featured Finn's smart and piercing lyrics about a New York family that's come apart at the seams, then reorganizes in an modern - and brave - new order.
The Acting Up Stage Company has combined the two parts of the Finn/Lapine musical in one evening. Act One entitled March of the Falsettos and Act Two's Falsettoland, mounted in the newish Daniels Spectrum theatre space on a wide stage that at first glance looks almost formidable for such a personal show. Intimate the stage isn't - but the performances are, thanks to director Robert McQueen who never lets the stage upstage the actors/singers.
You have to love a show that begins with an an-your-face number called Four Jews in a Room Bitching. Did I mention that the entire show is sung? Its 1979, the sexual revolution and the Age of Aquarius has invaded mainstream America, and this Tight-Knit Family has started to unravel. Marvin, the orderly, precise, chess playing devotee, upwardly mobile head of the household, husband to Trina, a good woman, dad to Jason, a great son, and in spectacularly fine voice (the talented Stephen Patterson as Marvin earns those plaudits himself) has fallen in love with another man, a free-wheeling, disorderly, fun-loving, good looking guy named Whizzer (Eric Morin). Whizzer is exactly the opposite of Marvin and not concerned with their bifurcated relationship as much as Marvin (Marvin at the Psychiatrist). This is not the recipe for a good conservative Jewish home.
As wife Trina, Glynis Ranney gives us a warm stew of shredded nerves, maternal love and Jewish sensibility, though costume designer Alex Amini has outfitted her in some frumpy clothes. With her sabbath candles on the table and homemade savory dishes, her visits to the same psychiatrist who also treats her husband isn't without its own ramifications. Mendel the workaholic psychiatrist, who sometimes has a hard time explaining himself, has more to be concerned about when he starts having affectionate feelings toward Trina.
On that note, as Mendel, Darrin Barker is the most appealing person in the story, not just because he's a good actor, singer and can make an ordinary line very funny, but because Mendel's fault lines show just like the average man on the street. Underneath the smart assessment of others, what Mendel wants, basically, is his patient's wife, and that's not kosher. And that's not all.
What Marvin - who is turning out to be a bit of a putz - wants, is everything:"I want a tight knit family, kid, wife and lover - I want it all." What 12-yearold Jason, in the full bloom of puberty wants, is a girlfriend (he's not taking after Dad though it's Dad who is relieved); What Trina wants is good solid Jewish husband who wants her and not another guy; and what solid Mendel wants, is a nice readymade family to himself.
Neither Mendel nor Trina can come to grips with marriage until 11-year-old Jason, the wonderful Michael Levinson who almost stole the show in in Caroline, or Change, finally approves the match. It's not surprising that he's smarter than his parents. Levinson runs the gamut in pre-teen angst, and does it seamlessly with the conviction of an old pro, sure footed and belivable every step of the way.
There is a conundrum here that is common to both acts. Act One which is funnier, despite the fact that relationships are falling apart, and most of the characters seem to be making all the wrong moves - especially Marvin who is downright cruel - gives way to a more positive second act, two years later, which reunites Marvin with Whizzer who is dying of a terrible disease.
Act II for all its sadness looming as AIDS (yet unnamed) begins its deadly progress, seems more alive, perhaps because the relationships are more rooted in friendship and mutual understanding than sexual attraction and anxiety. It may also be because the stage has switched from its rectangular darkness of the first act to a large white oval playing space in the second, which suits the hospital setting where Whizzer is confined, as well as the happy if fractious habitat of the Trina/Melvin/Jason family with their nerve wracking planning of Jason's Bar Mitzvah.
There's also some lovely interplay with the new characters, the lesbians next door, a couple whose friendship with the family leads to some deeper commitments. Dr. Charlotte (the elegant Sara-Jeanne Hosie) will turn out to be Whizzer's doctor, relating to the family more than once that "something terrible is happening out there," that being the AIDS epidemic which has already gripped the gay communities nationwide. Her stay-at-home partner, Cordelia, a caterer (Sarah Gibbons), is a blessing when it comes to helping everyone decide where the best place is for Jason's Bar Mitzvah. That won't be divulged here, but it is a rock solid bit of sentimentality.
It's Marvin who does close the show, finally a mensch among men, with the song that he sings to the dying Whizzer, What Would I Do?
Falsettos is a long show, but its grips you from start to end, an exciting and heartbreaking evening of theatre that was groundbreaking in its day and still manages to hold you in a theatricall spell. Falsettos plays to May 12 at the Daniels Spectrum in Toronto. 585 Dundas St East. Tickets: 1-800-838-3006 and Online at www.actingupstage.com
Photo; by Joanna Akyol. Stephen Patterson and Darrin Baker in Falsettos.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
The Golden Mean (Live)
Marie Chouinard's The Golden Mean (Live) very short visit to CanStage's Bluma Appel Theatre was a roaring success if nothing else because of the enthusiastic crowd that filled the Centre was one of the most appreciative I've encountered in a long time - both before and after the performance. They had reasons. The company earned its plaudits during a 80-minute show that was non-stop electrifying dancing ranging from surreal sensuality to outrageous satire.
Atmosphere certainly was the thing at the beginning with the dancers warming up in their practice clothes on a bare stage with some well placed and artistic overhead lighting by Alexis Bowles, and a long catwalk that was something of a Miss Universe show piece itself, allowing nearly everyone to be appreciative of those well tuned bodies even before they got into the heavier stuff.
The 11-member corps with Chouinard's 2010 Cultural Olympiad presentation of The Golden Mean (Live), a term that means the ratio that both describes and reflects balance and beauty in the cosmos, actually feels and looks like something from an undiscovered universe, beautiful alien creatures dressed in Vandal's cream colored diaphanous body-hugging costumes and wigs, harmony from head to toe. Except they all had different takes on life in this brave new/old world they were in.
We were very much awakened to the satiric poke at local politicians - in this case - our own Stephen Harper, the dancers wearing Stephen Harper masks that made whatever pose they took, and there were lots of them, hilarious. When you think of it there wasn't much that wouldn't be funny wearing a Stephen Harper mask. Later on they would don masks of old people gathered together to watch, perhaps with envy, as a solo dancer in the prime of her life held the stage in a powerful number that offered the lyricism of youth and the insistance of expectation.
Sometimes the dancers looked all arms and legs, fluidly intermeshing in bold, sexy and sometimes painful ways that suggested forced sex, others where coupling wasn't so much aggressive as playful, and at times, romantic - even poetic.
The hypnotic opening with two dancers emerging from cocoon-like sheathes that fell away like petals and left these fresh, other-worldlings eager to take their steps into this brave new world, that wouldn't always be happy, but would be revealing. Strange and nonsensical almost childish language, a pig latin which emanated often from the corps singularly, in groups or all together in strange harmony.
A laughing contest from two of the dancers caught up in some silly inside joke (truly, I could only wonder what it was and thankful I didn't have to figure it out), caused us to smile as we would if they were strangers on a bus that shared something delicious and private.
The end of the show proved to be the most humane part of The Golden Mean as the company, nude, wore masks of babies, looking wondrously at the world they were about to enter, innocent, inquisitive, entranced. You wanted to take their hand and lead them on, at least give them a few pointers. No need. Marie Chouinard has done a first rate job in laying out the expectations with her refreshing look at how the cosmos operates. Plays until March 12 at the Bluma Appel theatre, 27 Front St. Tickets: are available online, by phone at 416.368.3110 or in person at the box office. For details visit www.canadianstage.com.
Photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
Artists' muses are a fascinating lot. From Manet to Man Ray to Mapplethorpe, women (and occasionally men) have lit the fire of artists since the first brush stroke, or in the case of Auguste Rodin, the most sensuous curve of the sculpted body. It's no wonder that Russian Choreographer Boris Eifman, chose the torrid if disastrous relationship between sculptor Auguste Rodin and his muse/mistress Camille Claudel. His electrifying, internationally renowned modern ballet company the Eifman Ballet St. Petersburg, is making its only Canadian stop at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts where it plays until May 25.
Rodin doesn't follow a straight story line, instead offers a series of scenes, figments from Rodin's storage of memories from his tempestuous relationship with Camille and another mistress, Rose Bouet, a woman who is less volatile, less complex and less demanding. Both dancers, Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille and Nina Zmievets as Rose, are superb, with limbs that are as long and slender and encompassing as tentacles. In fact, each of them physically surround Rodin, interlocking arms and legs with him as if they were the planets and he their galaxy. It's pure sensuality.
The passionate, beautiful and talented Camille who runs the gamut of emotions in Eifman's Rodin, Lyubov Andreyeva's body and face mirroring every silent gesture and move, Nina Zmievets' proud, determined Rose Beuret, and Oleg Gabyshev's visceral, sexy, liquid Rodin, are mesmerizing. What more could you want in a ballet?
Camille of course was the dangerous beauty. It was said of her that she was "a revolt against nature: a woman genius." She had her own art aspirations and her talent was a bonus for Rodin who used it, then abused it. It was a slow but certain decline. She eventually was committed to a madhouse and died there. Eifman's opening scenes have Camille looking through her fingers, sitting on the floor. She is already in the asylum but in the series of flashbacks that follow, we witness her slow decline as the love she had for Rodin consumed her, then eventually destroyed her, her own work unfinished or else ignored while Rodin was a sensation, a corps de ballet of reporters with notebooks on hand following his every move.
There are hints that Rodin was jealous and that the psychological upheaval that Camille suffered as she watched her work stand still, led to her mental collapse. But if Rodin endured pangs of guilt, as the ballet suggests, we feel no pity for him. Rodin didn't suffer for his art on this stage or the world stage. He was the genius, Camille the collateral damage.
The emotions and the three relationships are played against background music of the period by Maurice Ravel, Jules Massenet, Claude Debussy, whose Clair de Lune was a perfect lyrical accompaniment to the ripening love between Rodin and Camille, and Camille Saint-Saens, whose spine-tingling Danse Macabre sets the final scene in the madhouse where a corps of dancers all in hospital white, beckon to a reluctant Camille to join them. She does and it is her final descent into a place from which she will never return.
You might say that the dancers are putty in the hands of Eifman. In fact they are, molded into statues by Rodin and Camille from the huddled forms of dancers who represent blocks of clay, all works of art in itself. Little by little we watch Rodin and Camille fashion an arm, a head, a shoulder, and just like the movies, the figures come to life as a fully formed sculpture. It is a remarkable piece of direction and choreography, miles beyond the doll like dancer coming to life in the ballet Coppélia. At other times, the white clad dancers rush en masse to cling to a cobweb like structure where they seem to hang imprisoned.
Visually, Rodin is a worth a trip in itself to the Sony Centre to catch this remarkable ballet where audiences will find a story that matches any Shakespearean tragedy. Thursday, May 23 to Saturday, May 25 - at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, its exclusive Canadian dates. One Front Street East. Sony Centre box office: 1-855-872-SONY (7669) OR online at www.sonycentre.ca/
Photo: by Gene Schiavone
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
In his 1964 play Cowboys, a 20-year-old Sam Shepard, began in what was to become a brilliant career. Shepard the playwright was decidedly different than Shepard the actor in films such as The Right Stuff, Baby Boom, and Steel Magnolias, where he played a soft spoken upright good old boy. Cowboys, a one-act play about two dead beat buddies playing a game of Cowboys and Indians, earned rave reviews, and Shepard was on his way to becoming one of the most original and daring playwrights of the 1970's and '80's.
Photo: by Cylla von Tiedemann. L to R: Stuart Hughes, Mike Ross in True West.
With True West, currently playing at the Young Centre under Nancy Palk's direction as part of Soulpepper's spring season, Shepard returned to the myth of the American cowboy, though there isn't a real cowboy in sight. Instead two brothers have met again, obviously apart for some time, in their mother's very traditional bungalow kitchen (Ken MacDonald's set is house proud pristine) in Northern California. One is a staid screenwriter named Austin (there's a western name), college educated, clean cut, bespectacled and hard at work with a new script he's been pitching to a Hollywood producer.
Austin (Mike Ross) is irritated that his brother, Lee (Stuart Hughes) has just dropped in on him unexpectedly. Opposites don't attract in this household. Lee, a down at the mouth drifter who has just returned from his own three month exile in the desert, makes his living by stealing appliances and anything else he can sell. Not only has he has come equipped with the intention of carrying on his practice of lifting television sets and toasters from locale homes, but he has another "sure-fire" way to make fast money.
Lee pisses off his brother with his newest scheme of promoting dog racing where there's "big money," and he does it with his customary boorishness and off-handed humor which Hughes plays to perfection. Good thing Mom is away on an Alaska cruise while the bros, an annoyed Austin and a garrulous Lee can wrangle with one another and ruminate about their alcoholic father, who lives sequestered in the Mohave Desert.
But when Lee begins to improvise his own idea for a screen play, an outrageous plot with a b-movie old western chase scene in the hills that smacks of clichés, Austin tries but can't stop him from telling the plot to the producer who has come dropped by to see him. Just like in a movie, the producer, Saul Kimmer played by Ari Cohen, is knocked out by Lee's script, leaving Austin's work to more or less bite the dust. (The next time it comes along on TV, take a look at Film director Robert Altman brilliant satire of Hollywood producers and their writers' schlock scripts in the 1992 movie The Player. )
It doesn't go down well with Austin, especially when Saul proposes that Austin write his brother's screenplay. When he refuses, Lee takes on the job and bungles it royally, to Austin's delight, giving him an equal opportunity to revel in a drunken a violent one-upmanship with his brother. Austin truly becomes the other side of the coin, and in this reversal of a mirror image, blood brothers becomes an unhealthy bond joined together at the hip.
Though it gets a bit wearing at the end to be a rapt witness to this unravelling two-some, the sudden appearance of Mom (the ever down to earth Patricia Hamilton) at the end of the play, almost the voice of reason in recognizing her sons' consanguinity amid some remarkably dimwitted remarks by about a Picasso exhibit, you do have an inkling of how Shepard's works had earned their reputation as the explosive side of the American dream.
True West run until May 4 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. 50 Tank House Lane, in the Distillery Historic District, Toronto, ON. Tickets: 416.866.8666 or soulpepper.ca
(Reviewed by Jeniva Berger)
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With La Ronde Jason Sherman's adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 play La Ronde, and the second offering of the Soulepepper season, sex and its many ramifications is seen through a contemporary if darker looking glass. It's not as clear cut as Schnitzler's La Ronde which in a series of scenes takes one character from the previous scene and introduces another, so that by the play's end all the characters are obscurely but noticeably connected to one another.
Photo: by Cylla von Tiedemann. Stuart Hughes and Leah Doz in La Ronde.
But if Sherman digresses somewhat from Schnitzler's original concept, he also gives us a better sampling of modern relationships that seems bound together with gum wrappers, a tougher and meaner fall-out of the after effects of the sexual revolution. No one seems joined together by anything other than sexual prowess, except for a stunning performance by Brenda Robins as a sex therapist who truly believes in her calling and goes the distance to prove it to a crass financier (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee ) who would rather have the seamy side of sex any day, and any way.
Given the popularity of TV programs like Californication and the earlier Red Shoe Diaries, it's no surprise that sex has found its way into mainstream mom and pop America as a viable item that sells. With the increasing sale of sex toys online, back to back with the internet's coupon sales of roof maintenance and haircuts, Sherman certainly isn't off the mark in observing that it really isn't love that makes the world go 'round, it's how long you can hold onto a relationship when its foundation is less than orgiastic.
In the play, Zoe, a young party girl (Grace Lynn Kung) who alternates her sexual favors at a private club between two men played by Brandon McGibbon and Adrian Morningstar, both who are clearly attracted to her, will discover when she continues in a relationship with one of them, that nothing is forever, especially the eternal climax. They eventually wind up at Eve's clinic to patch up their sexual problems - and fail.
It begins with a young woman, Sonja, who has turned to prostitution to pay her way for passage to Canada and is so pressured for the money she owes to her 'handler' that she steals a wad of bills from a soldier (Stuart Hughes) to whom she's promised free sex. While Hughes' soldier is as much as an opportunist as Sonja - and a mean spirited one at that - Leah Doz as Sonja is both affecting and chilling as someone who is essentially kind at heart but will stop at nothing to survive. She reappears later in the second act as someone who really does stop at nothing, confronting a twisted, moribund client, and then finally in the closing scene on a bridge enticing the soldier.
There are a host of good performances in the play, but it's the first act where we find more depth to the characters, perhaps because the circumstances call for it. The stunning Miranda Edwards appears as a maid in a wealthy Rosedale home (did I mention that there are surtitles used in the production insuring we won't have to wonder where everything is taking place), who has suffered the horrors of female circumcision and is haunted by the ghosts of soldiers who raped her in the Congo.
She's immune to the advances of her employer's college age son, nicely played by Adrian Morningstar, who has donated his sperm to his happily married biology professor, Isabel (Maev Beaty) so that she can become pregnant. Isabel's ostensibly secure marriage to a seemingly devoted husband (Mike Ross) falls apart when he abruptly turns his back on their sex life and their marriage and tells her that he has more rewarding partners. It's swift, cold and hard and one of the rare moments in the production when you actually feel sympathy for one of the characters. But Beaty is superb, and while you want to see Isabel's life unfold beyond her husband's cruelty, that's not in the cards, and it's not how the play works. What a pity there's no room for retribution to enjoy in the second act.
In both acts, Ken MacDonald's set is remarkably versatile and muted. Grey is the predominant color with moveable pieces that are reconfigured again and again to make a bedroom, office, or home, a modest back panel opening to display a window or a desk. Under Alan Dilworth's taut direction, La Ronde is edgy even in its quieter moments, making Schnitzler's original play about the sexual mores of turn of the century Vienna, seem awfully tame. True West and La Ronde both run until May 4at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. 50 Tank House Lane, in the Distillery Historic District, Toronto, ON. Tickets: 416.866.8666 or soulpepper.ca
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
The War of 1812
Way back in 1985 when I first saw the first of the many productions in Michael Hollingsworth's now epic 21-play cycle called The History of the Village of the Small Huts, part of his upstart 1970's producing company called VideoCab, one thing was certain: there was never anything quite like it on any Canadian stage. Black box theatre with a bang. Skip ahead some 28 years, and there still isn't anything quite like it on our stages. The 1970's and 1980's were great years in exploring new ways and new writers and new scripts and new stages.
Not everybody who made plays in those years is still around, but VideoCab, has survived and thrived and is still going strong, thanks to its uniqueness which lies in its incomparable satire of Canadian history from Jacques Cartier to the present, its sets, lighting and costumes, and its small core of highly skilled actors in outlandish costumes exaggerating the follies of everyone from the country's founders to contemporary politicians. As Hollingsworth describes it: It is the goons of history in their very own Goon Show.
We're back to the beginning with The War of 1812, one of the several segments in the epic series called The British, that started the whole cycle of hysterical histories. This is the production that wowed Stratford audiences in its 2012 season, and has settled in at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until May 18. You don't need to brush up on your Canadian history either since there's enough background for enjoyment in the theatre program.
In a nutshell, the Americans trade with France is blocked by the Royal Navy, Americans strike back by shattering the Native confederacy, and Native Chief Tecumseh allies with General Brock and the British. America declares war on Britain and plans to invade Canada, Brock and Tecumseh invade America, and the Yankees invade Upper Canada and in due time will burn York, the Yorkees will burn Washington, and everyone will have burned the natives. Got it? I didn't think so. No wonder it's called the forgotten war.
But you won't easily forget it now, even if you tend to get lost in the war zones of the Americans, Brits and Natives back in 1812, as well as the battles which keep on coming and coming and coming, you will remember the actors, the inimical characteristics that each and every personality is given in this War of 1812. Eight actors play more than 40 characters in what seems like split second changes. While costume, voice and facial characteristics are the only signposts we have to the variety of generals, presidents, foot soldiers, and ordinary people, all of whom you only see waist high in the black box, there are some that capture our attention.
The tiny imperfect alcoholic James Madison (Jacob James) with his opium problem, understated war and outspoken wife Dolly (Linda Prystawska) who will be remembered for her rescuing the painting of George Washington when the White House burned (but more perhaps for being the name behind the Dolly Madison cakes recently scuttled when the American based Hostess foods closed its doors); the sadly duped but proud Tecumseh (Derek Garza) who believed he was needed by the British; Max Fyfe's apologetic Captain Fitzgibbon whose command of French was always beneath his ability, but more so his General Proctor who sounded amazingly like a war mongering Tim Currie; Richard Clarkin's gung-ho General Brock who died early in the game; and the heroic, humble Laura Secord (Linda Prystawska again) who warned her village that the Yankees were coming. Laura has done one better than Dolly Madison in the sweet department by having a popular candy company named after her.
My thirteen-year old companion for the evening, who had been to the Queenston Heights Monument in Niagara Falls last year, was fascinated with the War of 1812. Played out as a larger than life historical event which comes to life on a very small stage, with amazingly versatile actors, can be a far more effective history lesson, especially when you don't think that Canadian history can be this much fun. Plays until May 18 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. 50 Tank House Lane in the Historic Distillery. To order by telephone:416-866-8666; Online: http://tickets.youngcentre.ca/single/psDetail.aspx?psn=6589.
Photo: by Michael Cooper. James Clarkin as General Isaac Brock.
The Whipping Man
It's 1865 and the American Civil War has felt the last throes of life. The Battle of Richmond, some three years before, has all but destroyed Virginia's Capital of the Confederate States, and the once proud mansions with their white masters and their black slaves that worked the house and the fields, are in disarray. It's a scenario that playwright Matthew Lopez drew upon for his play The Whipping Man, a widely produced American play about the after effects of the war's end when former slave meets his badly wounded former master in the dilapidated mansion they once both called home.
The Harold Green Jewish Theatre is producing it in association with the Obsidian Theatre Company, Canada's premier Black theatre company, and the intelligent, quietly powerful production under the direction of its artistic director Philip Akin, will open a lot of eyes for those unfamiliar with the Jewish slaves and their Jewish masters in the American south of the 1860's.
The Whipping Man draws upon a brief interlude in the lives of Simon (Sterling Jarvis) a strapping, upright middle-aged former slave who has been living in the ruined mansion of his former master who has long ago fled to safer havens in Richmond with Simon's wife and daughter under his protection. When Caleb DeLeon (Brett Donahue), the master's first born and a Confederate soldier, finds his way home, crawling and severely wounded, it's Simon who will tend to him out of necessity as both try to reconcile their differences in a changed social climate. The slaves have been freed by Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, but the residual effects of war in the minds of both men, still occupies their thoughts.
The third man in the scenario is John (Thomas Olajide), an wise-cracking former slave of the DeLeons, who enjoyed more freedom in the mansion because he and Caleb were once best friends, "two peas in a pod," recalls Simon, who still has little tolerance for John's looting and stealing from the surrounding homes deserted during the war, their white owners fleeing the bedlam until the war's end.
When Caleb's damaged, badly infected leg needs to be amputated, Caleb and John work together. It's a scene that make once wince - the director having no hesitation in giving us a near graphic picture of wartime exigencies - the amputation done with a common saw and the remaining bottles of whiskey John produces.
But despite the amputation, the three bear their own if different scars: John, severely beaten as a youth by a "Whipping Man," the enforcer of misdeeds in the household, reinforced by the young Caleb, cannot forgive his former friend ; Simon, who misses his child and wife, taken away to a safer place because of the lack of food and safety in the countryside; Caleb, because he cannot rid himself of the bloodshed that still gives him nightmares.
Their fragile communion comes to a head when the trio find out that Abraham Lincoln has been assassinated. It's the eve of Passover, the Jewish feast celebrating the freedom of the Jews held in slavery by Egyptians, which bears more than a passing reference of the slaves and their masters pre Civil War. Neither of the men are still comfortable with the new if battered south. Raised as Jews by their former masters, Simon and John (interestingly two of the Apostles at Jesus' Passover table at the Last Supper) do the meagre preparations, while Caleb, named after Moses' faithful follower, watches, still in pain.
One gathers that this was once a fairly amicable household of slaves and their beneficient master, who educated them, taught them, and was relatively easy going compared to the other mansions on the block. Simon, especially, keeps referring to his former master as good, even though he has no idea what has happened to his wife and child. But Sterling Jarvis give enormous strength to the production, and in the end when he discovers that his 'good' master may not be the humane man he holds in his esteem, it is once again proof that the divisions between the black and the whites will run deep well for decades.
There are fine performances all around, each balancing the other, together a strong singular voice of those caught between ideals and realism in a war that put brother against brother. Playwright Matthew Lopez has captured a moment in time in the lives of ordinary people during a historical moment that changed the course of American history.The Whipping Man runs until April 14 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts Studio. 5040 Yonge St. Tickets:1-855-985-2787.
Photo: by Keith Barker. L to R: Thomas Olajide, Brett Donahue.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
The Wizard of Oz
A mere few months ago, the blue and white gingham dress that Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale wore in The Wizard of Oz, fetched a cool $480,000 at a Beverly Hills auction. The buyer was anonymous. That says something for the MGM film, which still commands huge audiences whenever its shown on television and has become the most watched film of all times. Is it any wonder that Andrew Lloyd Webber would take the most wonderful Wizard of Oz that ever was and adapt it to the stage with all of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg songs (plus a few new ones courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice) and all the trappings of the original film. Make that a facsimile of all the trappings of the original film.
It wasn't at all surprising to see that the several young people seated around me at the Ed Mirvish Theatre where it's playing until March 31, were completely enraptured. Young people used to watching the likes of Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia or even that candy man himself Willy Wonka on film, expect no less than spectacle onstage. Webber has given it to them on a platter.
For the rest of us older folks who remember being knocked out by the MGM film when Dorothy's house gets caught the midst of a whirling tornado, seeing the Wicked Witch of the West fly through the air with her broom stick and her inimitable cackle, and watching the parade of Munchkins lead Dorothy on to the yellow brick road, ruby red shoes glittering on her feet, it was sheer magic.
I doubt if any of the magic gets through in Webber's spanking new production directed by Jeremy Sams, but the effects certainly did. The tornado complete with the sound and fury, looked pretty contrived to me, but it did the trick for my younger friends and their parents. When the sepia surroundings of the Kansas countryside suddenly turns into a technicolor Oz, there was scarcely a murmur heard from the theatre audience, compared to that same unforgettable moment in the film, though there was hearty applause when Dorothy's dog Toto's escaped from Miss Gulch's clutches. Three cheers for the three pooches who alternate as Toto: Tilley, Neddy and Winny in no particular order.
When Dorothy meets the Munchkins for the first time, you can forget that chorus of midgets in the film who actually lived up to the Munchkin name. Instead, these Munchkins are fully grown and groomed in pastel outfits, though a few of them managed to stoop over, munched over so to speak.
Dorothy, played by Danielle Wade, seemed a bit upstaged by all of it, though Ms. Wade, is more well known to TV fans who followed the Over the Rainbow competition, than Judy Garland was at the time of the filming. Garland, had only appeared as Mickey Rooney's sidekick in the start of the Andy Hardy films before being signed to play the film, The Wizard of Oz. After that, it was a whole different ball game.
Ms. Wade has a tough act to follow, but she's sincere and warm and down to earth, and when you have so many larger than life characters including a flying witch who is a real comedienne (Lisa Horner), a glamorous Good Witch (Robin Evan Willis), a vision in bling who appears magically at the right time to save the moment, and three indefatigable pseudo human friends who have more problems than this little farm girl from Kansas, a little well-grounded humility is a good thing.
It's a toss-up as to which one of Dorothy's three cohorts in Oz is the most appealing. Jamie McKnight's Scarecrow (who doesn't have a brain) is Dorothy's favorite, a surprise to me since all three were right alongside during the journey from Oz's poppy infested hillside to Oz's color coordinated kingdom. He's certainly the most flexible of the lot with some real problems trying to keeping his arms attached when the crows attack. I liked Mike Jackson's stalwart Tin Man who just like a real person breaks into a state of euphoria when his limbs are oiled, and Lee MacDougall's Lion who has one of the best lines in the musical when he doesn't want to wake up from the poppy field with "I'm sorry, the lion sleeps tonight."
Scenic designer Robert Jones has given us an Oz awash in vibrant flowers and a rainbow that will knock your eyes out, while the Emerald City with its tap dancing chorus line outfitted in apple green - a color which seems to saturate the musical - welcomes Dorothy and friends to the eco-conscious Merry Old Land of Oz.
As for Oz the great and terrible, Cedric Smith who does double duty as Professor Marvel and The Wizard, has the necessary bravado as the Professor who tries to get Dorothy to see the wonder in everyday things with Wonders of the World, a P.T. Barnum inspired new song added to the show by Webber with additional lyrics by Tim Rice. But he gets more of our sympathy as The Wizard who really isn't one and has been found out using electrical gadgets to project his wrath and keep his kingdom under his thumb. He's contrite enough to promise to transport Dorothy and Toto back to the home fires of Kansas once they've done away with the Wicked Witch of the West.
Arlene Phillips' choreography is at its most impressive with the clever sword dance performed with the precision of the Radio City Rockettes by the Wicked Witch's Winkies, sleek looking male dancers in tight pants who have the good sense to surrender to Dorothy without even being asked.
As for the Wicked Witch, she's dispensed accidentally by Dorothy, just as in the film, with a bucket of water. Unfortunately, it's one of those scenes that just doesn't work with any amount of "I'm melting!" You can give the Munchkins grown-up status, and the Winkies sensational swordplay, but when you substitute Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead with Hail! Hail! The Witch is Dead, you lose the moment. The Wizard of OZ runs to August 18, 2013 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (formerly the Canon), 244 Victoria St; Alternate entrance: 263 Yonge St. (elevator at Victoria St. only). Tickets: www.mirvish.com or call TicketKing at 416.872.1212 or toll-free at 1.800.461.3333.
Photo: by Cylla von Tiedemann. L to R: Danielle Wade as Dorothy, Mike Jackson as Tin Man, Jamie McKnight as Scarecrow.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger
The Gladstone Theatre
In the Next Room - or the vibrator play
This naughty little contemporary comedy by American playwright Sarah Ruhl takes place in the early 1890s. It is centred on that highly controversial illness called “hysteria” which eventually became a way of defining sexual dysfunction specifically related to women in the sexually repressed Victorian era. The creation of a new-fangled apparatus called the Vibrator, thanks to the discovery of electricity, was thought to offer the most effective cure by massaging those sensitive female parts to the point of causing the “paroxysm” which was supposed to release all the pent up fluids that were causing the inner strangling of the body.
The mysteries of the female body have always been a source of intimidation for men and Ruhl's play goes after that attitude as it has spilled over on the stage, by delving into women’s relationship with sexuality based on the notion of hysteria which never really had any scientific basis at all, and where women’s needs were mocked, ignored, made into caricatures or just dismissed. Directed by Bronwyn Steinberg, the play goes at it with a full frontal charge and keeps us smiling the whole time.
The selfish husband Mr. Daldry (played by confident David Frisch) brings his wife in to see Dr. Givings only because she is not seeing to his needs. She obviously has issues of her own that no one bothers to investigate. The play shows the way the young Dr. Givings, (played by a rather stiff and uncomfortable David Whitely whose bodily language reveals less about his stage character than about his own malaise in the role) is obsessed with science ,the invention of electricity and their relation to medicine. He ushers the hesitant Mrs. Daldry (Sarah Finn) into the “inner room”, from which his own wife is banished. The petticoats come off, the white sheets cover the unmentionable parts and that strange instrument resembling an electric screwdriver comes buzzing under the sheets setting off great gasps of pleasure as the patient is freed from her repressed body.
Sarah Finns mussed hair and flushed face tell it all. Her performance was quite delightful. By the way the treatment is also given to males , as we see the artist and sensitive soul played by Robin Toller, but women are the main focus as the female characters start enjoying the treatment, which obviously pleases them much more than their men ever could. This opens up all sorts of playful situations which feed the theatrical tension of the evening. What is particularly disturbing is the fact that the good doctor is so obsessed with his scientific experiments that he cannot see how his own wife is suffering from lack of affection, and is no doubt the perfect example of the unfulfilled woman that he is trying to “cure”.
Catherine Givings, played by a most lively Sascha Cole, who gives off vibrations of her own personal sort, attracts the men to her without even realizing what she is doing, but still does her best to make the doctor understand that sexuality is not only a mechanical function but a mental and emotional one as well. It is Givings wife who brings us serious comment on intimacy, the need for warmth, physical contact, and vitality that goes way beyond the satisfaction acquired from the buzz of that infernal machine. Sascha Cole pranced through it all with great glee and enthusiasm.
Nancy Solman’s delightful Victorian set highlights the contrast between that which is stylishly middle class and and that which is not to be mentioned in proper society. Patrice-Ann Forbes’ costumes are beautiful, and the play itself echoes a parody of Eugene Scribe’s “well-made play” so much in vogue in the 19th century. This brings us right into the world of Victorian morality and the theatre that the author links to her world of forbidden urges. The theatrical sources turn the play into a wonderful puzzle that keeps us wondering what will come up next. Sometimes we sense that this is a Victorian melodrama, where the pathos of the wet nurse (a perfectly competent Dilys Ayafor) was not done with quite enough distance to turn it into a nasty poke at British colonial society which repressed the women of the colonies in an even more terrible way. No doubt a directorial choice.
At times, the play was also on the brink of a French farce, especially when the women are flopping about in bed, playing with the vibrator and shrieking with pleasure as they hide the instrument and then pull it out, hoping the husband won’t come in at the wrong time. That was one of the best moments of the evening. There is a lot of stylish stage business set into the text and I sometime had the feeling that the director did not quite bring out everything she might have if she had delved more deeply.
Then there is that tender conclusion that unfortunately exhibits the ultimate directorial repression by not allowing the actors to remove all their clothes. It would have made a lot more sense if the couple had been allowed to undress and finally recognize their real needs. I wondered if the Gladstone has rules about nudity.
The vibrator is only a means and not an end, as the play deftly shows us. Building from an apparently fluffy comedy to a much more pointed satire that works as both social comment and a comment on theatre itself, the play takes us through all sorts of games with more serious undertones that make it a worthwhile evening. But then that begs the question, how is it that such a play can speak to us even now? No matter what people say openly, it certainly must still touch hidden needs of contemporary society, otherwise why would it have won the Tony Award for best comedy . Aren’t we then still that repressed society that we pretend to laugh at in the play? No doubt about it. The play has become our liberating vibrator and we really get off on it!! Go see this. In the Next Room or the vibrator play is presented by Same Day Theatre associated with Plosive Productions and The Counterpoint Players. It runs until June 11 at The Gladstone Theatre . 910 Gladstone Ave. Ottawa. Tickets: 613-233-4523 or visit www.thegladstone.ca
Photo: by Andrew Alexander.
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht, an Ottawa based freelance theatre critic.
The National Arts Centre
Big Mama: The Willie Mae Thornton Story
Big Mama: The Willie Mae Thornton Story is first a fabulous blues concert with drums, keyboard, guitar and the wondrous Jackie Richardson, an internationally acclaimed jazz, gospel and blues singer in her own right. The sounds, the musical accompaniment by the three excellent musicians that fuse with Richardson’s voice, backing up her performance as a singer will send you out into musical heaven because such a powerful concert of this calibre is rare in Ottawa.
However, the show, directed by John Cooper, is also a theatre performance where the artist is an actress, inhabited by the body and voice of Willie Mae Thornton. Her body movement, her attention to physical detail as the singer who tried to look like a man but sang like the powerful goddess, as a fighter who made her way from poverty and racial and gender prejudice to become one of the most important influences on popular music of our time. Richardson brings that blues artist to life.
Through her choice of songs, the words, and her talk in between numbers, clips of film, her warm, in your face interaction with the audience, she tells the story of Willie Mae’s life, - speaking in the first person always, because she is Willie Mae. The illusion is almost perfect even up to Carole Klemm’s Blues Bar set enhanced by Martin Conboy’s red lights, orange spots and dramatic lighting that highlight the important musical and theatrical moments. It’s all the perfect Willie Mae Illusion - except that it’s Christmas, baby, and that’s not where we are now, so the time element creates distance.
That was also certainly the excellent idea of writer Audrei-Kairen, because that’s when we realize this is “theatre” and what a true genius this actor/singer/musician really is. She has transformed herself, the stage atmosphere, the music and even the audience by taking us to some faraway place, somewhere into the realm of legend! There could be no greater homage to an artist.
There were some special moments. The Hound dog rendering in the original style was exciting, Willie Mae’s interpretation of George Gershwin’s Summertime from Porgy and Bess that took on a deep sense of intimacy and sorrow as she gave it a heartbreaking blues treatment that had me in tears. There was the moment when she got the audience on stage to start dancing and among them, by chance - was Ottawa’s own stage personality Bev Wolfe who pulled off a dance number alongside the Diva, and the audience roared.
The blues legend comes to life; the singer who had such a strong influence on contemporary popular music was before us, thanks to Jackie Richardson’s immense talent. Thank-you again and again Jackie Richardson. We will never forget you. Get your tickets right now before they disappear. Big Mama: The Willie Mae Thornton Story is a production of the Belfry Theatre in Victoria, B.C. It plays until May 11 at the National Arts Centre, 53 Elgin St., Ottawa. Tickets: Online on the NAC’s website: www.nac-cna.ca; In person at the NAC Box Office; At all Ticketmaster outlets; By telephone 1-888-991-2787.
Photo: Jackie Richardson as Willie Mae Thornton
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht, an Ontario based freelance theatre critic.
The Grand Theatre
They gave me the “old razzle dazzle” and I liked it a lot. The latest production on stage at the Grand Theatre is a revival of Dance Legends, a musical show that was developed by Alex Mustakas for Drayton Entertainment and directed by Susan Ferley. She guides 16 very good dancers and two gifted singers through a few hours of high-energy terpsichore. By the time it was over, I was exhausted, and I was only watching. The performers were on overdrive from start to finish, zipping from one number to the next and then quickly zipping up the next of 400 costumes.
A few of the Act One numbers were a little unwieldy, but as the show progressed; the entertainment factor soared upward, particularly in the numbers that feature the entire company. Their tribute to Bob Fosse set a great standard and they matched it in Act Two with some wonderful recreations of the steps and style of Michael Jackson. Whoever thought of the sparkling gaiters on the ankles of the dancers should get a special award because you can really see the footwork.
This is an ensemble piece and you can sense the trust that the dancers share among themselves. In passing I noticed that the entire company was in terrific physical condition and a joy to watch. Each dancer had his or her moments, and Brett Taylor as well as Natalie Moore made the most of them. I have always been a fan of tap and the dancers did not disappoint.
At the centre of the ensemble were Erica Peck and Michael Torontow, two singers with a good vocal range and some real presence. Ms. Peck is even better on the up-tempo numbers and she should be recognized as one of the top singers in Canadian musical theatre. She is well matched by Michael Torontow’s tenor-baritone. It was fun to watch him launch into falsetto as Barry Gibb in a salute to Saturday Night Fever.
If you add a skilled septet under the direction of Michael Lerner and the solid trumpet work of David Dunlop, you get an evening of rich entertainment for both eye and ear. It runs to May 18th and well worth catching. Dance Legends plays until May 18 at the Grand Theatre, London, Ontario.471 Richmond St. For tickets, visit grandtheatre.com or call the Box Office at 519-672-8800.
Photo: Jacques Monfiston and Kimberly O’Neill in The Grand Theatre production of Dance Legends. Claus Andersen photo.
Reviewed by Ric Wellwood, a London, Ontario based threatre critic.
The London Convention Centre Theatre
The Great Kooshog Lake Hollis McCauley Fishing Derby
Reviewing any world premier of a new theatre work is challenging and exciting, and to have it in such a friendly space as the London Convention Centre Theatre was a bonus, as was the pleasant set of Eric Bunnell. If a play has been done before, you can deal largely with the production, but a new work also deserves some attention for the writing and material. Canadian Theatre Icon Norm Foster is offering us his latest comedy, The Great Kooshog Lake Hollis McCauley Fishing Derby.
The production by the theatre company called amissinglink, is headed by Director Rick Kish who gathers a talented cast of five to present a love story and homage to rural communities. He brings it off with energy and insight, Dwayne Adams is James Bell, a big city executive who finds love and lessons at Kooshog Lake. His love is Melanie Morningside, whom I assume is Foster’s tribute to old pal Peter Gzowski. She and James have some of the best moments in the play and spend a good deal of time looking at each other in ways that remind one of sexual tension.
The town elders are Julia Webb as a grocery store operator, Sienna Gray and her old friend Kirk Douglas, played without a dimple by John Turner whose sense of comic timing and stage presence anchors the show very well. I found myself wishing the two could become more than just old friends. If you add Martha Zimmerman as a love-starved, confused woman, you have a company that does justice to Foster’s hyperbole and punchy one-liners. As a playwright, his best work is based in character more than in language and this show’s gags could use a bit of trimming.
Thirty summers ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Norm Foster and Neil Simon in the same year. Foster has already written more plays that William Shakespeare and tells media that he doesn’t go back and rework his material. Simon told me that great plays are not written but rewritten. I wish these two could spend some time together. I will always be a fan of Norm Foster, the guy who wrote The Affections of May and Wrong for Each Other. I know he has more to come and I will gladly sit on the aisle and enjoy the output.
The Great Kooshog Lake Hollis McCauley Fishing Derby plays at the London Convention Centre Theatre until May 4. 300 York Street. Tickets: 519-672-8800. For more information please see email@example.com
Photo:by Dana Nosella. Dwayne Adams and Rachel Jones.
Reviewed by Ric Wellwood, a London, Ontario based freelance theatre critic.
For information about/or copies of past reviews, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org