Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Reviewed by James Karas

Energetic, precise, enjoyable, athletic, marvelous – these are the words that kept swirling in my head as I watched the Stratford Festival’s production of Guys and Dolls. Much of the credit goes to Donna Feore who directs and choreographs the production. It is this season’s big musical offering and it is done superbly.

The musical which opened in 1950 has won so many awards over the years that if it were a general and the awards were medals, his chest would have to be expanded several times over to make room for all of them.
 Members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The New York underworld of floating crap games, tough guys, crooks, a dizzy blonde, a beautiful and upstanding Salvation Army sergeant set in the streets of Manhattan, night clubs, gambling joints, a mission and Havana provide great latitude for humour, song and dance.

You know that Sky Masterson (Evan Buliung) bets that he can take Sergeant Sarah Brown of the Salvation Army to Cuba for dinner. And that Nathan Detroit (Sean Arbuckle) has been engaged to Miss Adelaide (Blythe Wilson) for 14 years. Her mother thinks that they have been married for years and have a bunch of children.
Members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The two men have their problems with their women and we must work through them. There are other colourful characters like Big Julie (Beau Dixon) the nasty gambler from Chicago and Angie the Ox (Sayer Roberts), Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Steve Ross), Harry the Horse (Brad Rudy), Benny Southstreet (Mark Uhre) and Lt. Brannigan (John Kirkpatrick). You are better off imagining them than requiring further description.

The backbone of the musical and this production is the ensemble of gamblers and Hot Box dancers.
 Blythe Wilson (centre) as Miss Adelaide with members of the company in Guys and Dolls. 
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The singing by Buliung, Arbuckle, Wilson, Gordon and the others is good and we laugh at the jokes. But the energy and joy are produced by the ensemble performance. From Michael Gianfrancesco’s sets of the streets of New York to the opulent burlesque scenes to the extravagant costumes by Dana Osborne and the superb kaleidoscope of lighting by Michael Walton, we are treated to extraordinary production values.

Add Feore’s amazing choreography and the ensemble performances of the men and women and you get a built-up of energy that electrifies the audience. The miraculous relationship between stage and audience occurs that is so essential to a live performance and so thrilling when it happens.

What a show.      
 Guys and Dolls  by Frank Loesser (music and lyrics), Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows (book) based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon, opened on May 30 and will continue in repertory until October 29, 2017 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Reviewed by James Karas

The 2017 Stratford Festival opened with the usual fanfare and a production of Twelfth Night directed by Martha Henry with Graham Abbey Associate Director.

The production must be judged a mixed success. There were sparks of humour, some fine performances and a number of imaginative touches by Henry. There were also flat performances, tone-deaf delivery of iambic pentameters and understated performances where exuberance was more appropriate.

Let’s start with the positives. Geraint Wyn Evans and Tom Rooney got the juicy roles of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek and they made use of all the comic latitude that Shakespeare gives them. Belch is always drunk, boisterous and funny. Rooney’s Aguecheek with the flaxen hair, his attempts at dancing and wooing is the perfect foolish knight. The duel between Aguecheek and Viola, engineered by Belch and Fabian is hilariously choreographed.
Members of the company in Twelfth Night. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Lucy Peacock with that unmistakable twang in her voice makes an amusing and effective Maria. Brent Carver is a funny Feste the fool when he is not rushing through his lines.

Sarah Afful plays Viola who dresses up as Cesario who falls in love with Orsino and Olivia falls in love with her because she thinks she is a he. Her voice and her intonation must be full of feeling. When she addresses Olivia, she should be shy, effusive and display such emotion that Olivia falls head over heels in love with her. She does not show much of that until the latter part of the play.

The beautiful Olivia of Shannon Taylor is more convincing in her emotional rush towards Cesario but she is a bit understated in my view. She comes fully alive in the later scenes. Michael Blake does a good job as Sebastian.

E. B. Smith’s Duke Orsino looks like a law-and-order ruler rather than lovesick man who cannot take no for an answer from Olivia even after being repeatedly rebuffed. Shakespeare makes it clear that Orsino is besotted with Olivia but Martha Henry has downgraded his ardor considerably.

The most problematic and interesting role in Twelfth Night is that of Malvolio, the steward in Olivia’s household. He is censorious, full of self-love, domineering, ambitious and foolish. He is a perfect target for ridicule and revenge by his underlings or those he wants to consider as his inferiors. The vengeance taken on him by Belch, Aguecheek and Feste goes beyond ridicule into serious mistreatment and hence the problem with the character of Malvolio.
From left: Brent Carver as Feste, Tom Rooney as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Geraint Wyn Davies as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Henry has Rod Beattie play the role flat. He should be imperious and condescending when he belittles or rebukes members of the household. Instead, he is almost business-like. When he reads Maria’s letter and convinces himself that Olivia wants to marry him, his performance should be modulated so that we can laugh at him for his foolishness. He reads the letter almost matter-of-factly. Even when he is locked up in the dungeon, he displays very little emotion or distress when he asks (it should be begs) Feste for ink and paper. Feste shows us how Malvolio spoke to him in the final scene of the play when he reads Malvolio’s letter like a madman. We know that Beattie can do much better and this performance was a waste of his talent.

Henry made some minor changes to the text allowing for some entrances and exits that gave us some context. For example, we see Olivia crying on the balcony as Belch and Aguecheek make their first entrance.

The costumes by Designer John Pennoyer are from sometime in the past with Orsino’s servants wearing black wigs and black clothes. No issue with the costumes.

When you read the cast list, you will notice half a dozen named attendants who wait on Orsino and Olivia. Try figuring out who is who. In the text they are listed as “Attendants” but Henry seems to have decided to give them names even though we have no idea who they are.

We end where we began. Some sparks, some imaginative touches, some genuine laughter and some flat patches.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare opened on May 29 and will continue in repertory until October 21, 2017 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


James Karas

The Stratford Festival has had a spotty history in its production of Ancient Greek drama but it steps up to the plate this year with a production Euripides’ The Bacchae. Classicists and admirers of great drama rejoice.  

They are using the translation, indeed version, by Anne Carson, a brilliant poet and translator and a major scholar of Euripidean drama.

She and the Stratford Festival prefer the less familiar name of Bakkhai but that is unimportant.

Just note that previous have started and the official opening will be on June 16, 2017. The production runs until September 23, 2017 at the Tom Patterson Theatre.

I shamelessly copy a part of Stratford’s press release if only to encourage people to demand that the Stratford Festival get over its association with Lethe when it comes to programming Greek drama and acquire a meaningful relationship with Mnemosyne.  
Lucy Peacock and Mac Fyfe. Photo: Lynda Churilla 
Bakkhai begins previews

May 27, 2017… Director Jillian Keiley’s intoxicating production of Euripides’ Bakkhai, in a new version by Canadian poet Anne Carson, starts previews today at the Tom Patterson Theatre.

When the play begins, the demi-god Dionysos has arrived in Thebes in human form with vengeance in his heart. Derided as an imposter by the city’s ruler, King Pentheus, this charismatic stranger has induced madness in the Theban women, who have run off to join his cult of female followers, the Bakkhai. News of their frenzied rioting prompts Pentheus to declare war on the Bakkhai – who include his own mother, Agave – only to be lured by Dionysos toward a fate of the starkest horror.

“These Bakkhic worshippers have burst their way out of a brutal patriarchy to discover sexual liberation and freedom for the first time,” says Ms Keiley. “Their sexual awakening is not bound by fear and shame. It is in service to achieving a higher spiritual, tantric worship of the god of ecstasy. The king is punished for denying the existence of the god Dionysos, not allowing the women worshippers the freedom to practise their sensuous rites – and worse, making sure he steals his own pleasure from the women’s bodies first.”

“This story, as old as western civilization, addresses perhaps the most fundamental division within each and every one of us: the division between the rational and the irrational,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “And it reminds us not to underestimate the latter. Since the Enlightenment of the 18th century, we’ve been trying to persuade ourselves of the superior power of reason. But one of the lessons we’re learning right now, as our world starts surprising and dismaying us at every turn, is that we’ve underestimated our own unpredictability.”

The cast features Mac Fyfe as Dionysos and Lucy Peacock as Agave, with Graham Abbey as Tieresias and Gordon S. Miller as Pentheus.

The creative team includes Designer Shawn Kerwin, Lighting Designer Cimmeron Meyer, Composer Veda Hille, Sound Designer Don Ellis, Music Director Shelley Hanson, Fight Director John Stead and Intimacy Choreographer Tonia Sina.

Bakkhai officially opens on Friday, June 16, and runs until September 23.

Cast (in alphabetical order)

Tieresias............................................................. Graham Abbey
Member of the Bakkhai..................................... Sarah Afful
Kadmos............................................................. Nigel Bennett
Member of the Bakkhai..................................... Jasmine Chen
Member of the Bakkhai..................................... Laura Condlln
Member of the Bakkhai..................................... Rosemary Dunsmore
Dionysos............................................................ Mac Fyfe
Guard................................................................ Brad Hodder
Pentheus............................................................ Gordon S. Miller
Servant.............................................................. André Morin
Agave................................................................ Lucy Peacock
Herdsman.......................................................... E.B. Smith
Member of the Bakkhai..................................... Quelemia Sparrow
Member of the Bakkhai..................................... Diana Tso
Member of the Bakkhai..................................... Bahia Watson

Artistic Credits

Director............................................................. Jillian Keiley
Designer............................................................ Shawn Kerwin
Lighting Designer.............................................. Cimmeron Meyer
Composer.......................................................... Veda Hille
Sound Designer................................................. Don Ellis
Music Director................................................... Shelley Hanson
Fight Director.................................................... John Stead
Intimacy Choreographer.................................... Tonia Sina
Producer............................................................ David Auster
Casting Director................................................ Beth Russell
Creative Planning Director................................ Jason Miller
Associate Director............................................. Charlotte Gowdy
Assistant Designer............................................. Patricia Reilly
Assistant Lighting Designer.............................. Hilary Pitman
Stage Manager................................................... Bona Duncan
Assistant Stage Managers................................. Kimberly Brown, Ann Stuart
Apprentice Stage Manager................................ Alice Ferreyra
Production Assistant......................................... Fran Barker
Production Stage Manager................................ Janine Ralph
Technical Director............................................. Sean Hirtle

Friday, May 26, 2017


James Karas

Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby is marvelously absurdist, funny, dramatic and a piece that is out of the natural and logical world. Erika Downie directs a superb production for Seven Siblings Theatre that revels in the theatricality, mystery and enigmatic variations of the play.

The opening scene of the pay cannot be simpler. A pretty and very pregnant woman and a handsome young man in a very pleasant –looking room. “I am going to have the baby now” says the woman and the lights go down as they exit the stage. That may qualify as one of the shortest scenes in drama but after a short break of the “usual” sounds of giving birth, the couple returns.
Nora Smith and Will King in The Play About the Baby
The dialogue begins about the pain of giving birth but soon trails off into non-sequitors about a broken arm, pain and armpits until they go off stage to make love. The young man is referred to simply as Boy (Will King) and the young woman as Girl (Nora Smith).  

A Man (Scott McCulloch) enters and he makes a long speech as our perceptions and our conduct in certain social situations. He smells the chairs and tells us that they have a young smell. He addresses the audience throughout his speech and what he says makes sense but it is also non-sense.

As he leaves the stage a Woman (Judith Cockman) appears. None of the characters has a name. Boy meets Woman and he does not know who she is. They engage in conversation with sexual innuendos and the Boy goes away with the Girl to continue with their love-making.

The Woman engages in a long speech of sense and nonsense that is entertaining and confusing. Who are these people? Where are we and what do they want? They could be gypsies who want to steal the baby. To sell it? To eat it? They don’t look like gypsies. And the baby? The title tells us that this is a play about the baby, the baby that Boy and Girl had in the opening scene and where is that baby?

McCulloch as the strange Man and Cockman as the equally strange Woman give performances so full of energy and sheer theatricality that the battery-advertising bunny should hang up its ears and retire. They appear ordinary, occasionally sensible and totally confusing. But they carry the audience with them at every step.
Scott McCulloch and Judith Cockman in The Play About the Baby
Boy and Girl are their victims or their prey or perhaps a mirror image of Man and Woman in their youth or are they the same people in youth and middle age. The possibilities are endless. King and Smith give outstanding performances as they try to cope with the strange visitors. Just watch their faces as they express surprise, shock, fear and confusion. Sensitive, nuanced performances in difficult roles.

Kudos for the performances belong to director Downie who controls every nuance and grimace of the players and maintains the pace to keep the play going as the audiences tries to keep up with the twists of Albee’s absurdist logic.

A word about the theatre. The second floor of The Rhino at 1249 Queen Street West is rectangular room with about 40 chairs lined up in front of a playing area. The actors are five to twenty feet from the audience and the space between players and watchers almost disappears. The actors can look people in the eye and interact with them. This is theatre in your face and it is simply amazing .

The Play About the Baby by Edward Albee in a production by Seven Siblings Theatre, played from May 12 to May 21, 2017 at The Rhino, 1249 Queen St W, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


James Karas

Oscar Straus and Leopold Jacobson recognized a good story when they saw one. The good story was Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man. Jacobson crafted the libretto, Straus composed the music and the result was the delightful operetta The Chocolate Soldier which opened in 1908 in Vienna.

Toronto Operetta Theatre’s General Director Guillermo Silva-Marin recognizes a good operetta, he produces it. Silva-Marin knows more about operetta than just about anyone south of Thunder Bay and he didn’t exactly stumble onto The Chocolate Soldier during the last eclipse of the moon but he has produced a highly enjoyable staging at the St. Lawrence Center for the Arts. For Torontonians operetta equals Silva-Marin.
 (in the middle) Jennifer Taverner as Nadina, and Cian Horrobin as Alexius, with TOT Ensemble. Photo: Gary Beechey
The chocolate soldier is Bummerli, a Swiss in the Serbian army of 1885 who breaks into the bedroom of the lovely and romantic Nadina, a Bulgarian. Serbia and Bulgaria are at war, you see, and Nadina is the daughter of Colonel Popoff, the leader of the Bulgarian army.

Bummerli is a “coward” and he asks for chocolates and you may guess correctly that despite appearances to the contrary, the Swiss “coward” and the Bulgarian beauty do not go to war.

But Nadina is engaged to be married to the heroic Alexius who just won an extarordunary victory by leading a cavalry charge against the Serbian canons. Keep it to yourself, but the reason he charged was because his horse ran away with him and he won because the Serbians had no ammunition.

Straus has provided some beautiful, surcharged romantic arias, some patriotic songs, a few arguments and misunderstandings, and a good dose of humour until all wrinkles are worked out and they live happily ever after. No, I will not tell you how it ends and no peeking at a summary of the plot.

What do you need for a successful production? A lovely Nadina, with a beautiful voice is indispensable. She should make you want to live in Bulgaria of yore. Soprano Jennifer Taverner does all of that. She starts by gushing about “My hero,” goes through her “Alexius the Heroic” phase of her life and…well, I can’t tell you the rest but you will be glad you saw and heard Ms Taverner in the role. 
Gregory Finney (Popoff) and Eugenia Dermentzis (Aurelia). Photo: Gary Beechey
Get an anti-heroic or perhaps heroic Bummerli and baritone Michael Nyby fills the bill. He has a well-honed voice and sings with apparent ease. He is manly enough to say that he is a coward and romantic enough to pretend that he is not.  

The heroic Alexius played by tenor Cian Horrobin as a strutting, papier-mâché fool was a bit overdone and failed to be funny. His voice reached for the high notes and succeeded but in this case, the question of whether the tenor will get the girl remained wide open.

Baritone Gregory Finney plays the comic martinet role of Col. Popoff. Finney is a naturally funny actor and he got most of the laughs of the performance. He and the production should have gotten more laughs but perhaps it was the type of audience that was difficult to engage during the performance that I saw.

The lusciously-voiced Eugenia Dermentzis sang the role of Aurelia, Nadina’s mother and the Mascha, the competitor for Alexius’s heart was sung by the sweetly-voiced Anna Caroline Macdonald.

Peter Tiefenbach conducted the handful of musicians that are listed as an orchestra. The amazing thing is not how few they are but how well they perform. The chorus is equally good.

A couple of observations about Silva-Marin’s directing. On some occasions characters spoke directly to the audience even when they were addressing another person on the stage. Some of the humour, as I said, misfired. But aside from that this is a commendable production of a fine operetta. Considering the resources on hand for TOT, their productions, it is worth repeating, are done with one hand tied behind their back. The point is not the obstacles but their persistence and success. They should be performing at the Winter Garden with a full orchestra and more productions and performances.

The Chocolate Soldier by Oscar Straus (music), Leopold Jacobson and Rudolph Bernauer (original book and lyrics), adapted and arranged by Ronald Hanmer, played from April 26 to 30, 2017 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 922-2912.