What do you get when you put seven illusionists
One hell of a good show.
It was so much fun, I can start with
complaints. To call them illusionists may be literally accurate but it does a
disservice to the show. They are damn good magicians. Illusionists gives the
impression of a temporary departure from strict logic when we almost believe the
unbelievable. A magician has superhuman powers and he does marvellous feats
that are far more than an illusion – they are magical. And why tell us they are
Live from Broadway in the title. They are magicians from around the world and I
believe everything that they do is magic.
Their nicknames are simply delightful. These
people are not mere creators of illusions, they are specialists. You get The Deductionist – Scotland (Colin
Cloud) which I take to indicate national origin as well as superior mental
agility and ability that could outwit the CIA, the FBI and the KGB (or whatever
they are called now) without waterboarding.
The Unusualist (Raymond Crowe) can do many things
but he can also provide a few minutes of delightful hand shadow theatre with What a Wonderful World as background.
The Eccentric (Charlie Frye) is a juggler par
excellence with comic flair. Rings, balls, a stick, his hat, his vest, he
handles all of them with panache, speed and comic skill. He bills himself as Charlie
Frye & Company in recognition of his wife Sherry who is on stage with him
and participates in the comedy.
The Daredevil (Jonathan Goodwin) can put everyone
in the Princess of Wales Theatre on the edge of their seats as he shoots arrows
from a powerful crossbow while blindfolded. His target: a balloon on the head
of an assistant. And he emulates Houdini in getting out of a straitjacket while
hanging upside down with his clothes on fire. He must get out of the
straitjacket and douse the flames before he is roasted. He can support his body
on a single nail and have a cement block split in two on his stomach. Holy
Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Goodwin, The Daredevil. Photo by Claudia James
The Trickster (Jeff Hobson) is to some extent the
host of the evening. He is a natural comedian who can interact with the
audience and evoke laughter at will. He chose an interesting audience member on
opening night – a man called Mark Saunders who happens to be Toronto’s chief of
police. Hobson demonstrated his ability with cards and nicked the chief’s
watch. He returned the watch later but he proved his astonishing ability as a
non-illusionist pickpocket. Hobson is
akin to Liberace is his outrageousness and reassures audience members that he
touches that he is not a senator and there will be no Kevin Spacey stuff. An amazing
Hobson, The Trickster - Photo by Joan Marcus
The Manipulator (An Ha Lim) can, well, manipulate
cards in huge numbers with speed, dexterity, appearance and disappearance that
defies belief. Where do the cards come from, where do they go, how can anything
be done that quickly? After thinking about it, I have come to the inescapable
conclusion that it is simply magic.
The Grand Illusionist(Darcy Oake) is a Canadian who dispels the
notion that only foreigners can do incredible non-illusory magic. He can
produce white doves to fill a barn. He lights a match and a dove appears. He takes
out a handkerchief and out pops a dove. And he does a disappearing act that is
Oakes, The Grand Illusionist - Photo by Danielle Baguley
In addition to the individual acts, the show
has glitz, music, lighting and rapport with the audience that makes for an
integrated theatrical evening. There is extensive use of large screens for the
audience to be able to see all of the details of each performance and roving
cameras to capture the interaction with the audience. A number of people from
the audience are brought on stage to add credibility to the illusions created
by the magicians and to add humour.
If I have given the illusion that I enjoyed The
Illusionists, it is because the magicians forced me to do it by
entering my mind and showing me how they can make me disappear unless I told
the truth about their show.
The Illusionists – Live from Broadway by Simon Painter
(Creative Producer), Neil Diamond (Director/Choreographer) and Jim Milan
(Creative Director) runs until January 7, 2018 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario. www.mirvish.com
The promotion photo for To Onoma Mou Einai Eva (ΤοΌνομαμουΕίναιΕύα) shows a beautiful
woman, wearing a fur around her shoulders but with smeared red lipstick and
mascara. And she is in handcuffs. There are numerous clues to the plot of the
new play by George Scandalis that is now playing at the Alumnae Theatre.
There are some notable facts about the production. It is performed in impeccable
Greek by local amateur actors with varying degrees of acting experience.
Scandalis also directs this thriller that is wrapped in a recital or perhaps a
recital of Greek songs from the 1970’s that form the backbone of thethriller.
The cast and director ofTo Onoma Moy Einai Eva
The play opens with a gunshot in the dark. We then meet Eva (Michalitsa
Catsiliras), a beautiful woman with a fine voice who sings in a bar. She is
forcefully taken from the bar to a psychiatric clinic and the story of her
tragic descent into hell is told in flashbacks as she is interviewed by Martha,
a straight-laced psychiatrist, played by Christina Houtris.
Eva has two friends. Panos (George Kefalas), a decent but ineffectual
man who stands by her and Stella (Georgia Nazou), a sultry, cynical and
sarcastic worker at the bar. Eva’s retort to most of Stella’s comments is
“skase” (shat up).
Eva falls in love with Niko (Andreas Batakis), a civil engineer and the
brother of the owner of the bar Kosta (John Koukouvlis), Niko is a lean,
sharp-nosed and self-centered scoundrel who shows no redeeming traits but Eva
falls in love with him and becomes his mistress. She claims that she is drawn
by his eyes but there are precious few moments when she actually looks into
them. Love is blind and we accept her feelings for hm.
Michalitsa Catsiliras as Eva
The cast of ten is rounded off with Anastasia Botos, Stavroula
Karnouskou, Nancy-Athan Mylonas (in a dramatic small role) and Irene Pavlakis
and giving any details about their roles runs the risk of being a plot spoiler.
The action takes place mostly in the bar where Eva sings, her dressing
room and the psychiatrist’s office. A revolving set provides for easy and
frequent scene changes in a play that has fully seventeen scenes for its 1 hour
and 45 minute duration.
Scandalis gives us clues about the path of the plot but as itbecomes a thriller and sends us off to misleading
byways. Panos asks “where is the child” from the beginning and we hear the
cries of a child frequently. We are given background information, we witness
some violence, and we see heavy drinking and narcotics, as the flashbacks come
closer and closer to the present.
The gun of the opening scene comes into play again and the play comes to
its surprising and unexpected end as a thriller should.
To Onoma Moy Einai Eva is a true community theatre production. In the GTA Greek community, that is not a particularly frequent occurrence and a
production at the Alumnae Theatre is an extreme exception. Ten Tone Productions
has managed to harness local talent, community financial support and a full house
of young and enthusiastic people for opening night.
There is good precedent for well-off citizens providing financial
support for the theatre. In Ancient Athens, productions were financed by
choregoi and no Greek needs a translation of that word. A good number
of them stepped up to support Ten Tone Productions and they deserve a special
olive wreath for their generosity.
I note that Ten Tone assiduously refused to call the play by anything
but its Greek title of ΤοΌνομαμουΕίναιΕύα although in the programme and on the company’s
website most information is in English.
In any event, Greek theatre is alive and well in Toronto even if it is
for only six performances.
ΤοΌνομαΜουΕίναιΕύαby George Scandalis opened
on December 13 and will be performed six times until December 17, 2017 at the
Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.tentoneproductions.com
playwright Simon Stephens has woven a touching, humorous and fascinating play
based on a simple idea. Two people meet in a London railway station as a result
of a woman kissing a man. They seem to have nothing in common but we will find
out a great deal and want to know a lot more over the eighty or so minutes of
But we need to
deal with the title first – Heisenberg. The play has something
to do with the Uncertainty Principle which was formulated by Herr Heisenberg in
1926. If we saw Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen and are devotees of the Big
Bang Theory we are practically theoretical physicists. We (I am either
pregnant or preparing for my next job as a king) then metaphorically reach for
Wikipedia where Werner Heisenberg makes the Uncertainty Principle perfectly
David Schurmann and Carly Street. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
It can be expressed in its simplest form as
follows: One can never know with perfect accuracy both of those two important
factors which determine the movement of one of the smallest particles—its
position and its velocity. It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the
direction and speed of a particle at
the same instant.
therefore, we can never figure out exactly the location of a particle (whatever
that is) driving on the Don Valley Parkway, its speed or direction. If you are
stopped for speeding on the DVP just remind the officer of Hesienberg’s
Uncertainty Principle and demand that he shove the ticket up Highway 404.
Having a vague
idea about the Uncertainty Principle is of some interest and it does force you
to think about the play but it is not essential. Heisenberg is about two
people. Georgie (Carly Street) is a
forty-two year old woman from New Jersey who finds herself in London. Alex
(David Schurmann) is a seventy-five year old butcher in London and they are,
not surprisingly very different people.
attractive, impulsive, lively and talkative as she reveals herself and
draws Alex out. He is a reserved English gentleman, upstanding, sophisticated
and a lover of music. The idea that he may be an uncultured chopper of meat
In many ways
this is a play about a May-December courtship but Stephens weaves the story
delicately with some exquisite needlework. He avoids the obvious humour that
can be used to buttress a slender plot and maintains our attention. We are
interested in Georgie and Alex.
gives a fine performance as George. She is sexually attractive but also
intelligent, a bit mysterious in her approach of kissing a stranger on the back
of his neck and off the wall. She is the catalyst of the relationship.
performance gives us the subtle, elusive Alex who is taken aback and attracted
to this strange woman. A fine-tuned performance.
The play is done
on a square wooden platform with a rotating circle in the centre designed by
Teresa Przybylski. The moving circle provides a fine metaphor for the world and
the uncertainty, if you will, of where Georgie and Alex are at any given moment
as they perform their dance of search, discovery and romance.
The whole thing
is choreographed by director Matthew Jocelyn in his last season as Artistic and
General Director of Canadian Stage. His tenure has been ambitious with the
inevitable ups and downs but his vision of moving us into new theatrical
grounds has been unflinching. Only kudos for his production of Heisenberg.
As to his future whereabouts, just apply
the Uncertainty Principle.
Stephens in a production by Canadian Stage runs from November 28 to December 17
2017 at the Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre, 26
Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ont. www.canstage.com,
Erin Shields’ play Instant, now playing in The Studio
of Young People’s Theatre,is billed as a timely play for
teens. That is true and laudable. The play is well done, entertaining and
connects with the spectrum of teens across the GTA.
The structure of the play and the production are simple and spartan. Meredith,
Rosie and Jay are three teenagers who go to the same school. Meredith (Michelle
Rambharose), like most youngsters, complains about being forced to take piano
lessons. One day, however, she hears a fugue being played and she connects to
the tune. She decides that she wants to use the tune as the basis for a song
that she wants to compose.
Leah Fong and Michelle Rambharose in Instant. Photo Andree Lanthier
Jay (Dakota Jamal Wellman) connects to hockey and decides that he wants
to bea hockey player. His dreams and his
ambition, desire and hard work, combine to make him achieve his dream.
Meredith and Jay are not white but that is just a minor difference in
skin colour. That is important and stated only subliminally.
Their friend Rosie’s (Leah Fong) father has MS and she needs to raise a
great deal of money for his medical needs. She goes on social media and is
enormously successful in attracting a large following.
The three are savvy and connected to social media, they have disagreements
but Shields focuses on their dreams and ambitions and wants to entertain us, no
doubt, but alsoconvey lessons to the teens in
These are not the white kids of most movies and TV shows with all the
angst and their middle class fights. They are not like everyone else; they are every teenager and that is one of the
points of the play.
The three actors are all in their twenties but they make credible
teenagers and give fine performances. Fong’s Rosie starts as a shy and awkward
kid but she grows and matures, as they all do. Rambharose as Meredith is
lively, enthusiastic and the type of teenager who gives early notice about her
intention to succeed.
Dakota Wellman in Instant. Photo: Andree Lanthier
Wellman’s Jake is just as dedicated to becoming a major league hockey
player but he (Erin Shields) adds a necessary caution about violence in hockey.
He is against it. The shy Rosie outstrips them both in her success on social
The play is done virtually on an empty stage with judicious use of some
boxes and lighting. It lasts for about 45 minutes and time flies. You can do a
lot with very little.
The day I saw the play The Studio was full with grade nine and ten students
taking theatre at Middlefield Collegiate Institute in Markham, Ontario. It
looked like every ethnic group from Southeast Asia was represented with only a
The choice of play, the quality of the production by Geordie Productions
of Montreal and the superb directing by Dean Patrick Fleming were all first
rate. Equally praiseworthy is YPT’s bringing in teenagers representing so many
ethnic groups to see a play. If we want Stratford, Shaw and theatre in general
to thrive, now is the time to groom the audience of the future.
Instant by Erin Shields opened on November 28 and will continues
until December 15,2017 at various
times at The Studio, Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front St. East, Toronto,
My Son the Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy! is an enjoyable one-man show written by and
starring Brad Zimmerman. He has a fine selection of one-liners, Jewish jokes,
touching and humorous stories that make for an integrated ninety minutes of
Zimmerman builds the show around autobiographical material (some of it
no doubt imaginary), his relationship with his parents, growing up in New
Jersey and becoming a stand-up comic.
He tells us that in high school he was voted
the one most likely to work for his father. This in a community where life
begins after one gets a medical degree. He applies to three colleges and
chooses the only one that accepted hm. He indeed does become a waiter for some
29 years. That provides fodder for observing the silly foibles of the way
people order, taste wine and generally behave in a restaurant. When a customer
asks him what he does when “you are not here” he replies that “I have other
tables.” Like many of his jokes, the laugh comesfrom
the unexpected reply to a simple question.
The Jewish jokes, some fresh, some classic, are always hilarious. His
mother (she is a mainstay of his routines) tells him that he will be well-taken
care of when she goes, he asks her to give him a time frame. He brings three girls
home for his mother to choose which one he should marry. She chooses the
red-haired oneand he asks her why she chose
that one. The mother chose her because it is the one she does not like and
knows that that is the one her son will marry.
After he became a stand-up comic, Zimmerman got jobs as the warm-up
comedian for stars like Gabe Kaplan, Joan Rivers and George Carlin. He got
recognition as the best comedian for the money. In 2005 he started working on My
Son the Waiter and opened Off Broadway in 2004. He got good reviews and
the show stayed for 15 months. He is now taking it on tour and Toronto, with a
vibrant theatrical and Jewish community seems like an excellent pit stop.
The title is no doubt meant to be ironic but there is some truth in it.
Once a Jewish son, always a Jewish son and the mother is usually a great source
of material. When Zimmerman told his mother that, she asked him what will he do
when she dies. But his failure to make it as a big star does give some
justification for his self-assessment of his life as Jewish tragedy. When it
comes to being Jewish, Zimmerman confesses to not being a conscientious practitioner
of his faith he considers himself just a notch above a Muslim.
My Son the Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy! by Brad Zimmerman in
a production by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company continues until December 10, 2017 at the
Greenwin Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040
Yonge St, North York, ON M2N 6R8. www.hgjewishtheatre.com
Howard Weinstein, Roy Moore, John Conyers, Bill Cosby Al Franken, numerous
armed forces and RCMP officers and countless others who dominate the daily news
have one thing in common: they are powerful men who have molested women. The practice
is hardly new but a large number of cases have come to light and with a slime
ball as president the issue is hotly debated.
1991. President George Bush nominates Clarence Thomas to the SupremeCourt based on two significant qualifications: he is
conservative and he is black. Anita Hill’s accusation of sexual harassment
against her by Thomas surfacesand the Senate
confirms him anyway. Thomas invents or at least uses the currently favourite
defence: deny, deny, deny. There are times when evidence meets denial and facts
collide with convictions, lies trump the truth.
In 1992. David
Mamet wrote Oleanna, an extraordinary play about sexual warfare that has
not lost its power 25 years later. Theatre Penumbra gives us a powerful, indeed
spellbinding, production with five-star performances by Grace Gordon as Carol
and James McGowan as John.
James McGowan in Oleanna. Photo by Neil
The play is full
of twists and traps that lead to unexpected developments as John the professor
meets and then is confronted by his student Carol. The poster for the play
shows half the face of each actor forming a single person separated by slit. In
other words, John and Carol may seem to be completely at odds but are they
almost the same? Perhaps.
John is a highly
stressed man, almost at the end of his rope. He is buying a house and
everything is going wrong in consummating the transaction. He is driven up the
wall by his wife and the real estate agent. He has been approved for tenure, a
highly sought-after promotion, but the tenure committee has not yet signed the paperwork
for his promotion. He is on tenterhooks.
Carol is in his
office seeking help to pass an essential course and he seems to go out of his
way to help her. She feels that she is stupid and simply does not understand
his book or his views. She comes from a different socio-economic group than
He appears to
make heroic attempts to help her including an offer to teach the entire course
to her all over.
The poster for Oleanna
everything that he said to her on its head and reports him to the tenure
committee for behaviour that she characterizes as vile, manipulative and pornographic.
He is not a dedicated teacher who has human problems and is trying to help a
student. He is a monster. But Carols is not alone in her attack on him. She
represents a group and they were represented by a lawyer at the hearing. The
tenure committee believed her evidence and the allegations have become facts.
McGowan as John
goes from the assured, brilliant teacher trying desperately to communicate his
ideas to a student to a man at bay who slowly realizes his defeat and
consequence destruction. McGowan gives us the vocal and physical changes in a
man who goes from the triumph of promotion to catastrophe.
Gordon has a
similar emotional and physical voyage from the pleading student to an avenging
fury. It is a terrifying transformation.
attention to every movement and nuance in the play. Mamet’s play glories in
chopped up dialogue where the speakers interrupt each other in mid-word and
mid-sentence. It takes discipline and talent to achieve the speed and accuracy
demanded by Mamet. Fulton has imposed discipline on delivery of dialogue and
certainty in the emotional development that, I repeat, result inspellbinding performances. You leave the theatre
emotionally drained and enthralled by the events it described
This is not a
play about a sleazebag harassing and molesting an innocent woman. There is no
evidence at all that John shows any sexual interest in Carol. Is he simply set
up or is his apparently decent conduct and fervent desire to help this troubled
student meant to be interpreted as the exercise of male power? I have my own
opinion. You go and decide for yourself.
Oleanna by David
Mamet, in a production by Theatre Penumbra, continues until December 3, 2017 at
the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. East), Toronto, Ontario. http://redsandcastletheatre.com/
Asher Lev is a young man living in Brooklyn who repeatedly reminds us
that his name is Asher Lev and that he is a faithful Jew. He feels the need to remind
us and himself of that because Asher Lev has an extraordinary gift that some
people, especially his parents, consider unJewish. He is a painter.
As a child, Lev paints scenes of the Crucifixion to his mother’s shock.
He can paint birds or flowers, she tells him, and reminds him what the Jews
have suffered at the hands of the followers of Christ in the last two thousand
Thus the battle lines are drawn in this brilliant, moving and highly
dramatic play about the need for an artist to express his personal vision of
the world and Jewish traditions including piety and respect for one’s parents
(honour thy father).
Jonas Chernick, Ron
Lea, Sarah Orenstein. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz
My Name Is AsherLevis an adaptation by Aaron Posner of Chaim Potok’s
novel. Jonas Chernick plays Lev as an almost meek child and young man. His head
is usually slightly tilted and he looks downward. He wants to be a good Jew and
show respect for his parents but he has a gift, which may be divine or demonic,
for painting. The two poles are inimical and he tries desperately to explain his
gift and not alienate his parents.
There are a number of other characters in the play with Roan Lea playing
all the men and Sarah Orenstein playing all the women. Lea gives superb
performances as Asher’s father, uncle, the artist Kahn and the Rabbi. All of
these people are intelligent, perceptive and hold defensible positions. The
father is highly educated and spends much time in Europe establishing yeshivas.
He no tyrannical father of fiction. It is difficult to bridge the gap between
educating the young to be good Jews and having a son painting the Crucifixion.
Asher’s uncle is open-minded and admires the youngster’s work. Kahn is a
free-spirited Jew who admires genius and mentors Asher. The Rabbi shows deep understanding
of Asher’s conflict.
Sarah Orenstein is the eternal mother who loves, cares and is in the
middle of a father-son conflict. We see Orenstein as a savvy gallery owner who
has nothing in common with the mother. Wonderful acting.
The brilliant discussion of the play about art and faith are utterly
absorbing because they involve a community of traditions and faith on one hand
and the individual who cannot comply with those demands completely. The supreme
moment of the play I think comes when Asher sees Michelangelo’s Pietà in St.
Peter’s Basilica. It is an expression in marble of indescribable pain and
serenity as the Virgin Mary hold her son’s body after he is taken down from the
cross. Asher is overwhelmed because he does not see any doctrine or religion
but only supreme art. It is a compelling moment for Asher the artist and for
the audience watching the play.
Director Joel Greenberg handles the play with a sure and delicate touch.
There is considerable wit in the play as well but for some reason the audience underreacted
to it on the night that I saw it.
The set by Brandon Kleiman consists of an ordinary room in 1950’s
Brooklyn that serves as the house of the Levs, an art gallery and Kahn’s studio
with minor touches.
This is ninety minutes of riveting theatre.
My Name Is Asher Levby Aaron Posner in a coproduction by the
Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company and Studio 180 Theatre continues until November 26, 2017 at the
Greenwin Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040
Yonge St, North York, ON M2N 6R8. www.hgjewishtheatre.com