Tuesday, May 23, 2017


James Karas

Théâtre Français de Toronto has staged an imaginative, well-acted and smartly directed production of Moliere’s Dom Juan at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs.

The play has some 19 characters and is episodic in structure as the arch-lecher in history pursues women and runs in and out of scrapes. Director Joël Beddows has judiciously reduced the number of characters to eleven with six actors playing all the parts. Pierre Simpson as Dom Juan and Marcello Arroyo as Sganarelle are the only actors who take one role each while the others handle the rest.

The plot follows the general outline of the story, perhaps better known from Mozart’s much later retelling in his opera Don Giovanni. Dom Juan is followed by his colourful and cowardly sidekick Sganarelle and chased by his wife Donna Elvira (Lina Blais who also plays Mathurine). He pursues the peasant girl Charlotte (played by Sophie Goulet who also plays Madame Dimanche). He is bawled out by his father Dom Luis (played by Nicolas van Burek who also plays Pierrot) to no effect. Eventually he goes to dinner with the Statue of the Commodor and gets his just reward.  
Dom Juan (Marc LeMyre) – Lina Blais, Pierre Simpson, Sophie Goulet

Simpson as Dom Juan is a veritable chameleon, charming, ruthless, predatory, mendacious and romantic who leads an amoral life focused on the seduction of women. The sleek and slender Simpson gives a Dom Juan that is quite repulsive and attractive at the same time for his success in selfishness and ability to go through with his sins. Is he a Donald Trump with a better vocabulary and better manners?

Arroyo may well have the best role as Sganarelle. Moliere took this part when the play was first performed in 1665. Sganarelle is the opposite of Don Juan. He grows lyrical about the virtues of tobacco, moralizes about his employer’s life, and is a coward and a great character for an actor. Arroyo takes advantage of all of these traits and gives us a lively Sganarelle.
Lina Blais plays Elvira, the woman who was abducted from the convent, married Dom Juan and was abandoned by him. She is angry, vengeful, pleading and a classic victim. Blais also plays the peasant girl Mathurine that Dom Juan tries to seduce along with Charlotte, anther peasant. A fine performance.
Dom Juan (Marc LeMyre) – Nicolas Van Burek, Marcelo Arroyo, Lina Blais, Pierre Simpson, Sophie Goulet, Christian Laurin
Sophie Goulet plays Charlotte as well as Madame Dimanche (Monsieur Dimanche in the original play), the hounding bill collector. Again a well done performance.
Beddows sets a brisk pace and seems to have made cuts in some of the lengthy speeches. In the opening scene where Sganarelle praises tobacco and denigrates Dom Juan to Elvira’s brother Guzman (Christian Laurin), Beddows has the two men drunk and rolling on the floor and Guzman actually passes out. A fine way to jazz up the scene. There are similar touches throughout.

The only props on the stage are three transparent plastic cases. They are big enough to hold a person and are easily moved around. There are dressing rooms on each side of the stage where the actors change costumes in sight of the audience.

The costumes are modern, I suppose. The lower classes wear undershirts and pants, the women wear wedding gowns, a suit and ordinary clothes. But we do see ruffles on Dom Juan’s father Dom Luis (Nicolas van Burek).

Kudos to the cast and especially to Beddows for a fine and well-paced production.
The production is done in French with English surtitles. There is a lot of text to be followed on a screen above the acting area and it is not always easy to do it.

Dom Juan by Moliere opened on May 10 and will play until May 28, 2017 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.theatrefrancais.com

Saturday, May 20, 2017


James Karas

Scheduling problems prevented me from seeing the Seven Siblings Theatre’s production of The Play About the Baby until its penultimate performance. Edward Albee’s play is a marvelously absurdist, funny, dramatic and out of the natural and logical world. Erika Downie directs an energetic and superb production that revels in the theatricality, mystery and enigmatic variations of the play. Unfortunately it closes on May 21. My full review will full in a couple of days.

The Play About the Baby by Edward Albee in a production by Seven Siblings Theatre, plays from May 12 to May 21, 2017 at The Rhino, 1249 Queen St W, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario. http://www.sevensiblingstheatre.ca/the-play-about-the-baby/

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


James Karas

The Boy in the Moon is a heart-wrenching and emotionally draining play that receives a stunning production from Crow’s Theatre. It sustains an emotional level throughout its uninterrupted ninety minutes that many productions would be lucky to reach in their climactic moments.

The play is based on Ian Brown’s book The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Search for His Disabled Son, which has been masterfully adapted for the stage by Emil Sher. The boy, named Walker, is born to Brown and his wife, columnist and film critic Johanna Schneller, with a rare genetic disorder that leaves him severely handicapped.

Walker’s limitations and his resulting needs almost defy belief. He is fed through a tube in his stomach and he is incontinent. He punches himself almost constantly and attaching the feeding bag to his stomach and changing his diaper while keeping his arms and legs from wreaking havoc require manual and bodily dexterity that would tax an Olympic gymnast. Brown has had to do it countless times.
 Liisa Repo-Martell and David Storch. Photo Dahlia Katz
That was only a small part of the routine of looking after Walker. He would scream or make noises for hours. Brown and Schneller could rarely get a good night’s sleep and arguments between them increased putting a serious strain on their marriage.

Sher has been able to take parts of the harrowing story which is heartbreaking on the page but seems like a poor candidate for the stage and fashioned a play that captures the tragic life of Walker and his effect on Brown, Schneller and his older sister Hayley. Amid the excruciating difficulties of living with and caring for Walker, we see the love, the unbelievable love that Brown and Schneller have for him.

But the two are only human and the stress put on their physical and emotional stamina gets the better of them and Brown considers methods of ending Walker’s and his own life.

David Storch gives a stellar performance as Brown. He illustrates Brown’s hellish emotional arc, his attempts to find an answer to the unanswerable, his efforts to reach his son (like looking at the man or boy in the moon when you know he is not there), the wrenching decision to place him in an institution and above all, his love. That is an emotional journey that Storch takes as Brown in a performance that is first rate.
David Storch, Kelly McNamee, Lisa Repo-Martell. Photo: Dahlia Katz
Liisa Repo-Martell plays Schneller and she goes through emotional hell as well. The book is written by Brown and he gets most of the attention but she is equally affected and their love for Walker and the distress at their separation are simply unforgettable. A superb performance by Repo-Martell.

Kelly McNamee plays daughter Hayley and a number of minor characters. She is in part the victim of Walker’s condition and the impact it has on her parents’ life. She does some short ballet sequences as an antidote to the horrors of life at home and perhaps as an illustration of what life may have been like if her brother were born normal.

Director Chris Abraham, aside from getting outstanding performances from the cast, makes full use of the almost empty stage. Circles of light are used judiciously to indicate the moon. He and Monica Dottor have choreographed scenes that give some graphic illustrations of life with Walker.

A deeply moving night at the theatre.  

The Boy in the Moon by Emil Sher based on the book by Ian Brown opened on May 12 and will play until May 2, 2017 at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1. http://crowstheatre.com/

Sunday, May 14, 2017


The phrase “thinking out of the box” is used frequently to describe ideas that are neither very original nor deserving of particular adulation. That cannot be said of Judith Thompson’s Wildfire, a moving theatrical creation about people with Down syndrome that is acted by people with the genetic disorder.

Three young women and four young men with acting experience walk in the acting area of the Tank House Theatre in the Young Centre and face the audience. They speak directly to us about love that is like a wildfire and burns everything.
Dylan Harman Livaja, Michael Liu, Sarah Carney and Suzanne Love, photo: Sophia Thompson-Campbell
They speak about themselves and especially about the institutionalization and degradation of people with the genetic disorder that they are all afflicted with. They speak of Huronia Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles. The patients or inmates suffered abuse and violence in an institution that was no different from a prison. They were even used for experiments. There was no reading, no writing and no attempt to assimilate them into the rest of society.

The actors in the play are Sarah Carney, Nicholas Herd, Michael Liu, Dylan Hermaqn Livaja, Suzanne Love, Krystal Hope Nausbaum and Andreas Prinz.

One of the horrifying stories that they relate is the fate of Rosemary Kennedy, the daughter of Joseph Kennedy and the sister of President John F. Kennedy. Rosemary was intellectually disabled but her father arranged for her to have a lobotomy and she was effectively erased from existence.

The actors even put on their own version of Romeo and Juliet and contrive a happy ending for us. Romeo and Jazz, two gay men, are married and kiss lovingly. The actors then pick up the posters from the back of the stage and turn them over for the audience to see. During the performance, the posters read “Huronia,” “No visitors,” “No exit” and maxims like that suitable to a prison. When they are turned over we see the names and dates of former inmates, most of them having died as teenagers.
Dylan Harman Livaja, Nicholas Herd and Michael Liu, photo: Sophia Thompson-Campbell
The final insult of the institution was to bury the inmates in unmarked graves or graves with only a number.

Brett Haynes’ set consists of stark white background with the posters I just mentioned lined up across the back of the stage. Denis Huneault-Joffre has designed a bland overall for the actors to wear befitting people who have no individual existence.

We see people on stage who are both actors and sufferers of Down syndrome. They are performing in a play as well as describing their own lives. It is drama and documentary combined where fact and fiction are almost inseparable. What they tell us applies to the victims of long ago, to today’s people and to them at the same time.

Judith Thompson who knows something about genetic disorders (she has epilepsy) has created the amazing play and directs it. It is something unexpected, moving, and instructive, and shows thinking and creativity that are decidedly “out of the box.”  

Wildfire created and directed by Judith Thompson, in a production by RARE Theatre Company continues until May 30, 2017 at the Tank House Theatre, Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca

Friday, May 12, 2017


Reviewed by James Karas

The Greek Community of Toronto’s Irida Art Group has staged the light comedy Mia Italida stin Kypseli with some fine comic successes and a few issues that bedevilled the performance.

Mia Italida by Nikos Tsiforos and Polyvios Vasiliadis started as a successful stage play and was made into an even more successful movie in 1968 in the heyday of Finos Film (and coincidentally the junta.)

The plot: Tony has married Bianca while the two are studying in Italy. His rich sister Toula is anti-Greek women as wives and the young couple decide to pretend that Bianca is Italian. They need Toula’s money. Bianca comes to Tony’s family pretending not to speak a word of Greek. Toula is acid-tongued and misses no opportunity to belittle Polykratis, her loser husband who has been squished into utter submission.

We have John, an Englishman and former consul in Africa who is interested in Tony’s mother. There is also Renée, a French woman who will come in handy for wrapping up the plot and making sure everybody lives happily ever after. The inevitable sharp-tongued maid Eleni helps with the comedy as do Panagiotis, a crook and fraud artist, and Babis, a colourful tavern owner.

The plot will move towards convincing Toula that Greek women are better than “European” spouses and get on with marital pairings.

The Good and the Avoidable:  The play was directed by Grigoris Terzakis under what might politely be termed trying conditions. Terzakis also took on the main male role of Tony and he gave a fine performance and overcame most of the adverse circumstances. He has stage presence and an instinct for comedy. Tony must lie, connive, deal with exasperating people and eventually manage to pull off his stunt. He was able to project his voice and be heard at all times, something that the auditorium made mandatory and not everyone could achieve.

Katerina Tsekarea made a splendid Bianca. Tall, lithe, leggy, sensual and dressed to emphasize those assets, she made a Bianca that was visually and comically attractive. She tended to speed well beyond the limit in her speech at times and in the available acoustics respect for velocity would have been advisable.

Effie Antonopoulou as Toula and Giorgos Kefalas as her long-suffering husband Polykratis made an ideal couple if you like abuse and marital pain. The audience enjoyed the comedy of the situation. Vasiliki Ignantiadou made the best of the role of Renée as did Ioanna Apatsidou as Argyro.

Christina Kefala milked the role of Eleni the mouthy maid for all its worth and Nikos Rammos-Kapalidis made a fine impression and got the laughs as the irreverent tavern owner who comes to collect on his bill.

Dimitris Vohaitis played the crooked Panagiotis. The shiny-pated Vohaitis looked fine and had some very good lines. On his first entry, he staggers in obviously inebriated. He then forgets that he is drunk and walks out normally. Surely there were missed chances for good laughs as in a pratfall, a stumble, slurred speech, knocking over a piece of furniture and probably others, none of which was done.

Nikos Tsekas plays John, the English gentleman. Tsekas has a perfect Greek accent but not a trace of an English pronunciation. His lines are good and he does get the laughs but he is no English gentlemen.

I might mention that in the first twenty minutes, all the people on stage simply sat on couches with no movement at all. That could have and should have been corrected.

The venue: The play was performed in the auditorium of East York Collegiate in Toronto. The acoustics were simply atrocious and microphones were installed in front of the stage with a large speaker in the middle so that people could hear the dialogue. It worked most of the time. Some of the amateur actors who may not have had many if any rehearsals in the high school auditorium did not or could not project their voices to all of the audience all the time.

The set consisted of a couple of couches and a few pieces of furniture which is pretty much to be expected for an amateur production

The Unnecessary: Mia Italida opens in the living room of Tony’s family. In this production it opened with a singer and a few couples dancing. It had no relation to the play and I have no idea why it was inserted. My best guess is that Terzakis wanted to include the Greek Community’s dance group in the production, no matter what. At the end, when all the plot strands are quickly resolved and the actors are ready to take a bow, there is more singing. Both are out of place and if you cannot blend them into the play, you should leave them out.

There are supposed to be over 100,000 Greeks in Toronto but the chances of seeing Greek theatre have always been slim in the 150 years since the first Greek arrived in the city. Irida Art Group was organized last September and it is made largely of “new” Greeks. Many of them were educated in Greece and are a breath of fresh air for the Greek Community. They do not need to learn a role almost phonetically and struggle with accents.  

Irida, like the goddess after which it is named, perhaps can reach across the ocean and time to the fountainhead of Western drama and quench our thirst with a few drops of theatre. 

Mia Italida stin Kypseli by Nikos Tsiforos and Polyvios Vasiliadis was performed on May 6 and 7, 2017 at East York Collegiate Institute, Toronto, in a production by Irida Art Group of the Greek Community of Toronto

Monday, May 8, 2017


Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company wraps up its 2016-2017 season with the second revival of Paul Curran’s production of Tosca. It is a highly praiseworthy production that has stood the test of time very well.

The COC has assembled a first rate cast led by Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka in the title role with tenor Marcelo Puente as Cavaradossi and bass-baritone Markus Marquardt as Scarpia. The latter two are making their COC debus while Pieczonka sang in the 2008 revival of this production.

Much depends on the soprano who plays the lead role and handles the passionate, histrionic and highly dramatic Tosca. She is jealous, suspicious and loving in the first act. Her over-the-top jealousy and suspicions elicited some laughter. In the second act she is the diva who is forced to hear her lover being tortured as the malevolent Scarpia tries to seduce her. He wants her body in exchange for Cavaradossi’s life. In the third she is heroic as she celebrates the imminent release of Cavaradossi and their escape to freedom.
Adrianne Pieczonka as Tosca and Markus Marquardt as Scarpia in Tosca. Photo: Michael Cooper
Her sumptuous voice is lyrical, passionate and dramatic as she goes through the various stages. “Vissi d’arte” is Tosca’s signature aria, a recollection of a life for art, beauty, faith and humanity wrecked by a malicious officer of the law. Even God has forsaken her. My one complaint is about her performance in the scene where she stabs Scarpia. After inflicting psychological torture on her and getting her to finally submit to his lechery, Tosca kills her tormentor. It is a moment of supreme triumph and horror. She taunts him as he is dying and when she sings “Die …die…die” I wanted to hear a scream filled with venom and triumph. Pieczonka was dramatic but fell short of the possibilities of the scene.

I wonder how effective it would be if, after her last expression of contempt and victory, “And before this man, all Rome trembled!” she spits on him?

Puente sang an impressive Cavaradossi. In his moment of triumph when he hears that Napoleon has conquered Rome, Puente belts out and holds “Vittoria” and sings joyously about freedom. In “E lucevan le stele,” his beautiful aria before his death, he remembers falling in love with Tosca, her embrace, her languorous caresses and her radiant beauty. He sings with so much pathos, longing and beauty that he brought the house down.
Adrianne Pieczonka as Tosca and Marcelo Puente as Cavaradossi in Tosca. Photo: Michael Cooper
Marquardt is a business-like creep which increases his malice and lust by not being overdone. He is a man who knows his power and is free to treat and mistreat people at will. Marquardt succeeds in his portrayal vocally in his assured singing and as a character in his display of evil.

Curran and Set and Costume Designer Kevin Knight take a conservative approach to the opera. The church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in the opening scene is monumental with two large columns dominating the set. The columns are moved to the side opening the whole stage to the entry of a very sumptuously attired chorus that delivers a rousing end to Act I.

Scarpia’s office in Act II is elegantly furnished as becomes its powerful occupant. The     ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo where Cavaradossi is executed and from which Tosca jumps to her death are impressive and appropriate.

The COC Orchestra is conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson who has many virtues as a conductor in addition to doing a superb job. She is a woman (yes, they are still a rarity on the podium), she is Canadian and she is making her debut with the COC. What more do you want?

An overall outstanding production of one of the most popular operas.

Tosca by Giacomo Puccini opened on April 30 and will be performed twelve times with some cast changes until May 20, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Friday, May 5, 2017


By James Karas

Strictly Ballroom, The Musical, has the benefit of truth in the title. It is indeed an extravaganza of ballroom dancing based on Baz Lurhmann’s 1992 film of the same name, minus the subtitle.

There is a plot that may be described as typical of a musical, there is singing, some production (and perhaps overproduction) values that bring colour, energy, movement and even excitement. But most of all there is serious, competitive ballroom dancing that is elegant, muscular, virtually acrobatic and simply extraordinary.
 Photo from 2016 UK Production of Strictly Ballroom - Photo Credit: Alastair Muir

The musical is set in Australia where ballroom dancing seems to be taken as a competitive sport and winning the Pan-Pacific Dancing Competition is like winning the Stanley Cup. The plot is, to coin a phrase, as corny as Kansas in August. Scott (Sam Lips) comes from a family of ballroom dancers and he is aiming for the Pan-Pacific. He is a brilliant dancer and he wants to be creative as well as highly competent. In other words he wants to invent his own steps and according to the rules that is unacceptable.

He meets the frumpy Fran (Gemma Sutton) and dismisses her out of hand until he realizes that, like him, she is not only highly talented but also inventive.

His mother Shirley (Tamsin Carroll) and Fran’s proto-homo sapiens father Rico (Fernando Mira) oppose the idea for different reasons. Rico can do some remarkable Spanish steps but he is very short on temper and English. The latter characteristic with Fran’s grandmother Abuela’s (Eve Polycarpou) equal facility with English provide some laughs but more annoyance.

With so much opposition to Scott and Fran dancing together and some other complications the big question as to who will dance and who will win and who will be disqualified for the Pan-Pacific remain in suspenseful doubt until the last pirouettes and acrobatics of the evening. Sure.
 Photo from 2016 UK Production of Strictly Ballroom - Photo Credit: Alastair Muir
There are a number of songs by the main characters and the ensemble but no one will be indicted for first-degree singing and most will get clemency and some credit for second degree renditions usually with fervor if not tonal beauty.

The revolving set by Soutra Gilmour provides quick changes in scenes with risers on the side, a big arch with room for actors on the top and generally a grandiose effect.

The costumes by Catherine Martin provide the usual frills for the women dancers, tights and sparkles for everyone and legs that go on forever to combine with generous displays of flesh.

Drew McOnie choreographed and directs the large cast in what is intended and is very much a ballroom dancing extravaganza held together by a corny plot but enhanced by production values that some may consider overdone.

Lips, Sutton, Carroll, Charlotte Gooch, Lauren Stroud, Gary Watson and the ensemble display grace, athleticism, vigour and sheer dancing talent that is nothing less than astounding. The rest is simply a means of getting them on stage to dance.

Strictly Ballroom, The Musical created by Baz Luhrmann, adapted by Terry Johnson based on the film with new musical numbers by various composers opened On May 3 and will continue until June 25, 2017 at The Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario. www.mirvish.com.