Tuesday, October 31, 2017

TITLE AND DEED – REVIEW OF NIGHTFALL THEATRICS PRODUCTION

James Karas

Title and Deed is a one-man show now playing in the Tarragon Theatre Workspace in a production by Nightfall Theatrics. It is an interesting monologue, difficult to follow and not amenable to logical analysis.

Title is the legal right to own property and deed is the evidence of your title. That’s clear enough.

In the small Workplace with about a dozen spectators, Christopher Staunton delivers his one hour and ten minute monologue that covers a myriad of points that are not easy to follow and even harder to recall. The point is that this is impressionistic theatre and what matters is the image that author Will Eno and Stanton want to leave us with.

Stanton comes to the playing area and tells us that he going through customs and visiting for pleasure. Presumably he is coming “here” to our country from another country. We have similarities and differences with his country but we are never sure what they are.

There are philosophical musings, childhood memories general comments about existence. The subject is changed quickly and seamlessly. The performer has a bag in which he carries a stick and an empty lunch box. Protection and nourishment? Perhaps.

Stanton deserves a standing ovation for memorizing he script alone. He deserves credit for performing the confusing script in which he goes through a number of emotions and gives us some humour.

Aside from that I cannot say I got much more out of the play.
______________________

Title and Deed by Will Eno played in the Tarragon Theatre Workspace, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario between September 19 and October 8, 2017 in a production by Nightfall Theatrics. This review is posted disgustingly late. Mea culpa.

THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO – REVIEW OF OPERA ATELIER PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

In a recent survey conducted by BBC Music Magazine “172 of the world’s finest opera singers” (according to BBC) chose The Marriage of Figaro as the greatest opera ever written.  Opera Atelier was not waiting for a survey to be  persuaded to revive its 2010 production of The Marriage of Figaro but no one can possibly complain that it did.

Director Marshall Pynkoski has chosen to produce the opera in English and use Jeremy Sams’ fluid and colloquial translation. Excellent choices. Many directors move the date of an opera forward from today to some futuristic, robotic era. Pynkoski moves The Marriage back to the era and distinctive style of commedia dell’arte. The end  result is an outstanding and thoroughly enjoyable night at the opera.
 
Peggy Kriha Dye (Countess Almaviva) and Stephen Hegedus (Count Almaviva). Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Choosing the commedia dell’arte style has many advantages. It allows for comic business, including some slapstick that provides healthy laughter. The elegant costumes by Martha Mann and colourful sets by Gerard Gauci are perfect accompaniments for Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg’s choreography. Thus we get the best of both worlds: the comic business of commedia dell’arte and the grace and sophistication of baroque.

Opera in English is still the exception and there are good reasons for being reluctant to indulge in full-scale Anglicized libretti. Jeremy Sams’ translation does illustrate some of the issues. The open vowels of “La vendetta” and the rounded o’s of “Dove sono” are not available in the English translation but some of the awkwardness we feel may be simply a matter of habit. If we heard The Marriage of Figaro, say, twenty times in Italian, hearing it in English may sound stranger than it really is. Try the reverse.  

Pynkoski has assembled a cast that can act and sing. Start with the heroes of the piece. Bass-baritone Douglas Williams as Figaro has to be wily, smart (but not as smart as his fiancée Susanna) and display vocal and physical agility. Williams delivers a delightful Figaro.

Soprano Mireille Asselin’s Susanna has intuitive intelligence, splendid vocal delivery and a marvelous comic delineation of the clever servant. Soprano Peggy Kriha Dye gives us a mature and moving Countess who married for love and lives with the Count’s gross infidelity. She sings her lament for lost love “Porgi, amor” (“Hear my prayer, humbly I beg you”) and “Dove Sono” (“I remember his love so tender”) where memory of past happiness and hopes for future joy and love blend gorgeously. I could have done with a bit less movement in the latter aria but that’s just quibbling.

Bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus’s Count Almaviva is a jealous, quick-tempered and lithe Lothario for whom a skirt is a target and fidelity is a nuisance. We enjoy his singing and shenanigans and find extra pleasure in his ultimate comeuppance which provides a scene of forgiveness and redemption that becomes a moment of grace and enchantment.
 
Mireille Asselin (Susanna) and Douglas Williams (Figaro). Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel was full of hormonal energy as Cherubino. Laura Pudwell as Marcellina, Gustav Andreassen as Bartolo, Olivier Laquerre as Antonio and Christopher Enns as Basilio and Don Curio delivered the comedy and singing assigned to them unfailingly. And Grace Lee as barbarian gets to sing the aria “I have lost it, I am so stupid” very effectively.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra does its usual fine work under the baton of David Fallis.

A few words to dampen your enthusiasm about The Marriage of Figaro being chosen as the greatest opera ever. La Boheme came in second and Tosca placed sixth. Verdi sneaked in ninth place with Otello and Wagner made the grade with Tristan und Isolde in tenth place. Chacun à son goût, as they say, but those are head-scratching choices by any operatic measuring stick.

In any event, the highest accolade one can pay to Opera Atelier’s production of The Marriage of Figaro is that it is an expression of civilization. Kenneth Clark in his famous series Civilization said that he could not give a definition of civilization but he recognized it when he saw it. You may not be able to define a stunning and wonderful opera production but when you see this Marriage of Figaro you will recognize it. And it is civilized. 
___________
The Marriage of Figaro  by W. A. Mozart, presented by Opera Atelier, opened on October 26 and will until November 4, 2017 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. www.operaatelier.com

Saturday, October 21, 2017

OTHER SIDE OF THE GAME – REVIEW OF NEW PLAY BY AMANDA PARRIS

Other Side of the Game is a new play by Amanda Parris. It is her first play and it deals with the plight of blacks especially in Toronto. There is a great deal to cheer about a first play by a Canadian that examines the sorry plight of a segment of Canada’s population.

The play opens on a scene in front of a high chain link fence where five people are sitting on folding chairs. They say nothing for a few seconds, then they scream simultaneously or individually, yawn, fidget and show signs of frustration. They are in the waiting room of a jail waiting to see a prisoner and they face the faceless and rude bureaucrat who corrals or is supposed to corral them to the visiting area. Corral may not do justice to the description of the way they are treated. The scene lasts longer than it needs to but the message is unmistakable.
 
Ryan Rosery, Virgilia Griffith, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, 
Shakura Dickson, Peter Bailey - photo by Dahlia Katz
Other Side has a cast of five (three men and two women) and they each play two roles. There are two parallel plots and the actors change from one role to the other seamlessly and at times confusingly. I had difficulty following the two plots all the time.

Beverly (Shakura Dickson), a bright-eyed girl form Halifax, wants to join the movement. She meets Khalil (Ryan Rosery) and Akilah (Virginia Griffin) who grill her about her knowledge about the issue.

We quickly find out that these people are involved in starting a revolution. Is it Trotskyite or Leninist, we are not sure, but they are talking the language if not the rant of a bygone era when people advocated the uprising of the proletariat against capitalism. They are erudite and knowledgeable and can put a policeman in his place by quoting case law to her face.

We know or think we know something about racism and mistreatment of blacks and other minorities. The behaviour of the police department of “tolerant” Toronto towards blacks is frequently nothing short of disgraceful and it is continuing. That is one small example of what is happening in a fair city on our fair country.

Parris thus attacks a grand subject and as I said deserves credit for attempting to deal with it. Unfortunately what we get is a bit of muddle. There is no reasonable daycare for a black mother’s child. There is no reasonable daycare for anyone making low wages. The young man who did not finish high school and has a minor criminal record cannot get a job because of racism. Touché.
Virgilia Griffith, Shakura Dickson 2 - photo by Dahlia Katz
Parris mixes the political with the domestic and throws in a love interest but the whole thing lacks focus and appears like a number of short scenes that lead nowhere.

Director Nigel Shawn Williams tries hard to bring the whole thing together and gets good performances from the five actors. Peter Bailey plays Elder who has been around and knows the mechanics and the politics of protest. But he does have a shortcoming: he is living with a white woman. He also plays Winston, a shady character in the community.

Virginia Griffith is the tough and savvy member of the movement and a distraught mother trying to raise a child. Ordena Stephens-Thompson plays the cop and the social worker. She is black and is abusing blacks. The revolution needs to convince its natural followers to follow it, it seems.

People are arrested, kept in pre-trial custody, and sent to jail with no mention of what offence they committed. Canada may have faults, but no one is kept in custody without cause and no one is jailed without a charge and a conviction after a trial. Parris rides roughshod over all details and the idea of a few Marxists of whatever shade overthrowing everything struck me as jaded and hollow.
___________
Other Side of the Game by Amanda Parris in a co-production by Cahoots Theatre and Obsidian Theatre opened on October 18 and continues at Aki Studio, Native Earth Performing Arts, 585 Dundas St. East, Toronto, Ont. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

THE ELIXIR OF LOVE – REVIEW OF 2017 CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY PRODUCTION

James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company serves us a delightful, delectable and delicious Elixir of Love with a strong Canadian flavor, scrumptious singing and most of it done by Canadians. More about the last bit further down.

Donizetti’s enchanting comedy requires five singers who must create and exude a sense of innocence, an atmosphere of geniality and a pleasant community that exists mostly in our imagination. Where can you find a place like that? Easy. Visit a small, rural town in southern Ontario on a sunny day before World War I. That is where director James Robinson sets this production. It all started in a small town in the United States but, there being no travel bans yet, they all moved to the friendlier realm of Canada. Well, Robinson changed the locale to Ontario.    
 
Simone Osborne as Adina (at left) with Gordon Bintner as Belcore 
and Andrew Haji as Nemorino (at right). Photo: Michael Cooper
Nemorino (Andrew Haji) has an ice cream truck and consumes what he sells with considerable generosity. But he is an innocent, lovable bumpkin who is love-struck with the very pretty Adina. His profession and girth, do not give him a head start in the race for Adina’s heart. Haji has a dulcet, light tenor voice and he conveys the innocence, ardour and total lovability of Nemorino perfectly.

Adina is rich, beautiful and flirtatious, the type of girl that any red-blooded Ontarian from Dundalk to Dorset would give up his acreage for. Soprano Simone Osborne embodies all the qualities we want to see in Adina and gives her an agile, honeyed voice that is an aural delight.

Sergeant Belcore is a swaggering, mustachioed recruiting officer in a well-pressed uniform that would burst at the seams if his ego were any bigger. Baritone Gordon Bintner’s voice resonates with confidence and we (almost) forgive Adina for falling for the cad.

Baritone Andrew Shore takes on the role of the quack Dr. Dulcamara who sells an elixir guaranteed to get you any woman. It is a fine comic role and Shore does a very good job in that regard. Unfortunately, he was in poor vocal form on the date that I saw the production (October 17), especially at the beginning. He was better near the end.

Soprano Laura Eberwein displayed her beautiful voice in the relatively small role of Giannetta and no doubt we will be seeing much more of her in the future.
 Andrew Haji as Nemorino in the The Elixir of Love, 2017, photo: Michael Cooper
The opera is set, as I said, in a small town in Ontario. The set (designed by Allen Moyer) focuses on the town’s bandstand, decorated with banners and flags. The town people are dressed in festive attire of the period, the sun is shining and life is good. Is it July 1, 1914? We have a cheerful, happy atmosphere with the townspeople (the marvelous COC Chorus) providing a social milieu and vocal pleasure.

Yves Abel conducts the COC Orchestra.

One does not usually make too much fuss about the origins of the cast except perhaps to add, say, Russian or America before a singer’s name. There is a difference here. Most of the cast is young and Canadian. In fact the conductor and four of the five singers (Andrew Shore s the exception) are young Canadians. This is not pointless flag waving. It is a round of applause to the COC and in general for Canada for nurturing a crop of musical talent especially in opera, a form of entertainment that is struggling to maintain and increase its fan base and is usually dominated by non-Canadians.

The Elixir of Love presents Canada on the operatic stage in every respect and does a damn good job.
_________________

The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti (music) and Felice Romani (libretto), opened on October 11 and will be performed eight times until November 4, 2017 on various dates at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME – REVIEW

Reviewed by James Karas

At the end of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher lists his accomplishments and asks if now he can do anything. The question is not answered as the lights go off.

Christopher, brilliantly played by Joshua Jenkins, is an autistic child and the protagonist in Mark Haddon’s 2004 novel which has been adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens and is now playing at The Princess of Wales Theatre. Haddon tries to enter into the mind of Christopher and tell us his story through his autistic eyes. We see the extraordinary behaviour caused by autism, we witness the workings of a brilliant mind in the domestic life of his parents and of the murder mystery that Christopher is trying to solve and about which he has written. It is an astonishing, moving, eye-opening glimpse into the fantasies, phantasmagoria, achievements and suffering of Christopher, of his treatment by the outside world and of the lives of his parents who must endure his irrational conduct.
 

 Joshua Jenkins (Christopher) and company - Curious Incident International Tour. Photo: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Christopher throws tantrums, does not want to be touched, is afraid of certain colours, cannot abide loud sounds or crowds, is obsessively literal-minded and, in short, he would test the patience of a saint, assuming that the latter can endure the unendurable.

In the opening scene we discover Christopher sitting beside a dog. It is Wellington, his neighbor Mrs. Shear’s (Amanda Posener) dog and someone killed it by sticking a pitchfork in its side. He is accused of killing the dog and arrested after attacking a policeman.        

Against his father’s orders, Christopher begins his detective work to find out who killed Wellington. He does some calculations and in the end does make the shocking discovery of who killed the poor creature.

But that is only a part of the story. Christopher has a friend and mentor called Siobhan (Julie Hales) who understands his behavior and shows him ways of dealing with his idiosyncrasies.  His father (David Michaels) is patient but has limited insight into his son’s behavior. His mother (Emma Beattie) could not endure it and she left her husband and her son and ran off with another man. There is a dramatic story about her death and Christopher’s discovery of the truth.

Intermingled with his irrational and ultra-rational behaviour, Christopher shows signs of brilliance. He has a great memory and a phenomenal aptitude for mathematics. He solves equations that would stump most mortals.
 
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher) and company. Photo: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
The play, like the novel, is told in the first person by Christopher and he dominates the production. Jenkins gives a superb performance as a troubled youth, a type of performance that should find itself in the top list of awards for acting. The play has a considerable number of characters as the scene changes from Christopher’s house, to the neighborhood, to his school, the train station and the trip to London as well as life with his mother. Most of the actors play several parts and there are some very quick scene changes. The individual and ensemble performances are outstanding as is the work of director Marianne Elliott.

The set by designer Bunny Christie, the lighting by Paule Constable and the video designs by Finn Ross capture the inner world of Christopher and his relationship with reality as he sees it.      

Near the end of the play Christopher is given a dog, a real dog, and he establishes an emotional link with it. He then enumerates his achievements including going to London, solving the mystery of who killed Wellington, getting an A in an advanced mathematics test and writing the book on which this great night at the theatre is based.
__________

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Simon Stephens  based on the novel by Mark Haddon opened on October 15 and will play until November 19, 2017 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario. www.mirvish.com

Sunday, October 15, 2017

BELLO – REVIEW OF YOUNG PEOPLE’S THEATRE PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

Vern Thiessen’s Bello is a moving, scary and entertaining play playing at the Young People’s Theatre in a fine production directed by Mieko Ouchi. You get two sources of entertainment: the audience of mostly seven-year olds and the performers of the play. 

Thiessen weaves two stories into his play. The first is about a little boy named Bern whose parents die and he goes to live with an aunt and uncle who have a large family. They live on a farm before electricity or cars or telephones were discovered. The children have to walk five kilometers to school and they all have chores like watering the horses, milking the cows and feeding the chickens. Bern’s cousin Peter is nasty to him and he lives in fear.
 
Pictured (L-R): Gabriel Gagnon, Nicole St. Martin and Morgan Yamada; Production Design by Patrick Beagan 
 Photo by Ali Sultani.
On the way to school, they see an abandoned barn which is occupied by a mysterious person. Is it an old woman, a witch or what? She is very scary.

Three actors, Gabriel Gagnon, Nicole St. Martin and Morgan Yamada, represent all the characters in the play with consummate ability and speedy changes in roles. The actors are grownups but they manage to be convincing in all roles that they take on to the delight of the audience. Gagnon and Yamada play Bern and Peter respectively, the main characters, but they take other parts as well.

Bern gets lost in a blizzard on the way home from school and he runs into the mysterious and very scary person in the abandoned barn.

The play lasts about fifty minutes and it is done at a brisk pace perfectly apt for the youthful audience. The play is billed as being appropriate for ages 6 to 9 but I think that’s just a guideline.

Everything is done some sheets, several boxes and an active imagination. Patrick Beagan is the Production Designer.

The other source of entertainment, as I said, is the audience of youngsters who are following attentively and are instant theatre reviewers. No waiting for the end of the play for them. “That is funny,” “that is disgusting” and “that was weird” are just of the few comments that were shouted out for everyone to take heed of audience reactions.
Morgan Yamada, Nicole St. Martin and Gabriel Gagnon; Production Design by Patrick Beagan 
Photo by Ali Sultani.
 The story is touching with flashes of humour and of course a message about fear, intolerance and a mystery behind the person in the abandoned barn. We hear of Bello, a little boy after whom the play in named, we see reconciliation, tolerance and the establishment of order and the maturing of the young.

I had two Visiting Associate Reviewers with me and both gave the production very good reviews. Almost-8 Akeelah liked Bern best but Almost-6 Kiera preferred Peter. Even though Peter mistreated Bern, she felt that he deserved to be liked because he said “I’m sorry” to Bern. The only criticism was that the play was too short!

In other words, an all-around positive verdict for a very enjoyable albeit "short" afternoon at the theatre. 
Bello by Vern Thiessen translated by Brian Dooley n a co-production by Concrete Theatre and L’Unithéâtre, directed by Mieko Ouchi continues until October 20, 2017 at the Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. 416 862-2222. www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca

Thursday, October 12, 2017

ARABELLA – REVIEW OF 2017 CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY PRODUCTION

James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company has made two commendable choices for its 2017 fall season. One is Richard Strauss’s lyric comedy Arabella being produced for the first time by the COC and the other one is Donizetti’s perennial favourite, The Elixir of Love.

A fine cast led by Erin Wall in the name role, Tomas Konieczny as Mandryka and Jane Archibald as Zdenka in Tim Albery’s production goes a long way in making the production highly commendable, but no one can save the creaky and silly plot from producing twitches near the end.

Much can be said and in fact has been written about the social and political milieu of Arabella, the year in which it is set (Vienna in 1860), the time in which it was written (late1920’s) and the date of its premiere in Dresden (July 1933). But it is essentially a simple love story that demands a serious suspension of disbelief.
 Erin Wall as Arabella and Tomasz Konieczny as Mandryka in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Arabella, 2017. Photo: Michael Cooper 
Arabella is a beautiful woman who is looking for Mr. Right. She saw a foreigner gazing at her in the street and she fell in love with him on the spot. Mr. Right has been found. Mandryka, Mr. Right that is, has the benefit of being loaded, is on his way to Arabella’s residence and he is smitten by her as well. He saw her picture.

Count Waldner, Arabella’s father, is a retired officer whose main occupation now is gambling while looking for a rich husband for Arabella. The word you are thinking of was not in current use at the time but the Count has an unassailable reason for what he is doing. He is broke.
 
Librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal adds complications and a sense of urgency to the consummation of instant love, with the consonant need to achieve the riddance of the misunderstandings, and the aversion of bankruptcy. Mr. Right has to be found today, the last day of the Carnival, because there can be no pursuit of marital ambitions after midnight. It is Lent and fasting is imperative.
Michael Brandenburg as Matteo and Jane Archibald as Zdenka in Arabella. Photo: Michael Cooper 
In fairness, Hofmannsthal did not live to revise the libretto and he dies before Strauss had begun composing the music. Nevertheless, Strauss composed luscious, melting and radiant music for the creaky libretto that lifts the opera above the silly plot complications and common farcical elements.

Soprano Erin Wall raises Arabella above some of the traits that one would find objectionable in our heroine. She knows nothing about this man and she will live happily ever after in the forests of Croatia! Sure. Wall’s lustrous voice and assured bearing make us believe Arabella and enjoy a superb performance.

Polish bass-baritone Konieczny plays the rich Croatian landowner Mandryka, a bit of a country bumpkin, perhaps, who loves Arabella deeply even though he knows nothing about her. We accept him as he is, thanks to Konieczny’s resonant voice and his convincing expression of love and ignore the downside.

Soprano Jane Archibald turns in a highly commendable performance as Arabella’s sister Zdenka. Zdenka causes all the complications that take too long to unravel but she deserves our sympathy. She is raised as a boy because girls are high maintenance and she is desperately in love with Matteo (a miscast Michael Brandenburg) who is desperately in love with Arabella. You get the idea.

Baritone John Fanning plays the gambling Count Waldner straight. Perhaps it is the best way to present the foolish man who is pursued by creditors and his solution is to dispose of his daughter to a rich bidder without missing a card game. Very good work by Fanning.

Set and Costume Designer Tobias needs three sets. A hotel suite where Arabella’s family resides, a ballroom and the hotel lobby for the final act. The hotel suite is aggressively gray, with no wall decorations and a sofa and a chair for furniture. The semicircular panels are turned around to create a lighter gray scene for the ballroom. And similar work is done for the final scene which is lit more brightly for the happy conclusion. The sets are simple and functional and eschew extravagant opulence. Waldner is broke, after all.

Patrick Lange conducts the COC Orchestra in this musically rich opera with a flawed libretto.
_________________

Arabella by Richard Strauss opened on October 5 and will be performed seven times until October 28, 2017 on various dates at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Monday, October 9, 2017

NORMA – REVIEW OF 2017 LIVE FROM THE MET BROADCAST

James Karas

The Metropolitan Opera is back for its twelfth season of transmissions of operas from New York to the world. The broadcast of Norma is the 110th production that they have sent to people who may never visit (or afford a seat) at Lincoln Centre.

This season’s opener is a new production of Bellini’s masterpiece directed by David McVicar with an all-star cast conducted by Carlo Rizzi. The result is opera at its best.

The vocal centerpiece of the production is soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, a singer in her prime reprising a role that she has mastered. This Norma, like Radvanovsky, is a mature woman, facing major conflicts. She is a religious/political leader who must decide between war and peace with the occupying Roman army while dealing with fundamental betrayal - by her of all that she stands for with the Roman Officer Pollione and by him of her in favor of the younger priestess Adalgisa.
 Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role of Bellini's "Norma." 
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Radvanovsky rises to the vocal and dramatic demands of the role with superb mastery. Her rich and velvet voice conveys Norma’s conflicts, her maternal love, anger and pain in the face of treachery and, finally, redemption through self-sacrifice.  The apogee of Norma is no doubt “Casta diva” and Radvanovsky summons all her powers in her performance. But did she add an “e” between casta and diva? The “a” of casta does not flow into the “d” of diva smoothly without what sounded like an e in between.

The mellifluously-voice mezzo Joyce DiDonato portrays the young priestess Adalgisa. DiDonato is perfectly cast. Her Adalgisa is a youthful blonde who shows a bare shoulder that adds sexual allure to vocal splendor. It explains why Pollione is attracted to her (aside from the fact that he is a jerk) and abandons Norma, the mother of his children and a woman who has risked and betrayed all for him.

Tenor Joseph Calleja has a clarion voice and a heroic manner and he makes an ideal Pollione, a man who is interested in himself only.       

David McVicar’s new production deserves plaudits for originality, intelligence and brilliance. We start with the forest where the Druids meet by the scared oak tree to hear Norma’s decision on war and peace. But as the curtain goes up we see soldiers carrying corpses on stretchers. The peace treaty between the Romans and the conquered Druids is not holding up and we understand why the latter are eager for war.

When Norma ascends the platform to address the crowd, she reaches down and takes the hand of Adalgisa, her protégé, friend and, eventually, traitor. During “Casta diva” Adalgisa joins Norma on the platform. Marvelous touches all.
  A scene from Act I of Bellini's "Norma." Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
The scene changes to Norma’s dwelling. The set with the forest and sacred oak trees is raised and underneath it we find Norma’s residence made from the roots of the oak tree. There is a bed on which we see the children and this is Norma’s and Pollione’s lair. A simple but brilliant connection.

With the domestic scene and many other touches, McVicar directs our attention to and emphasizes the human drama as much as the political and religious issues between the Romans and the Druids. Radvanovsky and DiDonato portray flesh and blood women more than public figures in a barbaric age.

Give victory laurels to McVicar, Set Designer Robert Jones and Costume Designer Moritz Junge.

Carlo Rizzi conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in a crisp and superb performance of Bellini’s music in an overall stunning production.
___________________

Norma by Vincenzo Bellini with libretto by Felice Romani was transmitted Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on October 7, 2017 at the Cineplex VIP Don Mills Shops at Don Mills, 12 Marie Labatte Road, Toronto Ontario M3C 0H9 and other theatres. Encores will be shown on November 4, 6 and 8, 2017 at various theatres. For more information: www.cineplex.com/events


Friday, October 6, 2017

UNDERCOVER – REVIEW OF ANOTHER NORTHAN CREATION AT TARRAGON

James Karas

***** (out of five)

Rebecca Northan is at it again. This is the spontaneous theatre specialist that gave us Blind Date a couple of years ago and now is back with Undercover, a murder mystery (maybe). It is an unwritten but strictly applied rule that the audience of a thriller shall never disclose “who done it.”

Well, I throw caution to the end, trample on the rule and loudly disclose that Rebecca Northan done it. Just look at the facts. She created the whole thing admittedly with the help of Bruce Horak. She directs the production and stars in it with the panache, timing and natural comedic talent of a master of comedy.
 
                                      Undercover ensemble with audience member (photo: Little Blue Lemon Inc.)
Undercover involves a Detective Sergeant named Roberta Collins. She sends an undercover rookie detective to a party in a posh house out in the country where she suspects some skullduggery. The house, as befits a thriller, is so far out in the country (I think they said Caledon), that the road is washed away during a storm that happens the very night of the suspected commission of some crime.

Enter the Northan Secret Weapon of Comedy. The rookie detective is none other than a member of the audience who goes on stage with no experience and no foreknowledge of the plot. The cast has no foreknowledge of what to expect from the rookie actor and they all need to improvise.

All six actors prove that they can make things up as they go along but none does it as well as Northan. A pause, a look, a good line, a movement, all are in Northan’s laughter producing artillery. Some of the six actors play two roles and all must adjust to the reality of the unexpected actions and dialogue of the evening’s guest performer.

After basic training, the rookie detective goes to the party. She pretends to know the hostess Goergie (Northan) who is about to sell a mysterious work of art. Her cousin Brook (Terra Hazelton), a pot smoker, is there as well as Lia Da Costa (Christy Bruce) and with a name like that you know she is suspicious.
 
Jamie Northan and audience member (photo: Little Blue Lemon Inc.).
Georgie’s husband Peter (Bruce Horak) is not above suspicious but we pay special attention to “the butler” Daniel (Jamie Northan).  We also have a politician, a future mayor in fact (played by Dennis Cahill) and we certainly cannot trust him. The lights go off during the storm and something terrible happens and I am not referring to the road that’s washed away. Back to the eternal question: who done it?

You will laugh so hard at the scripted and unscripted humour that emanates from the play that you may not care about the identity of the culprit or the motive for whatever happened to cause the commission of the crime and the subsequent highly competent investigation.

The six actors are able to react to the unscripted and unexpected actions of the guest performer with alacrity and the laughter gets louder when they appear almost stumped momentarily by what the guest says or does.

A play that you can see numerous times and never watch the same performance twice.

Go see it.   
_________________________

Undercover  created by Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak opened on September 19 and continues until October 29, 2017 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontariowww.tarragontheatre.com