Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Playwright Jennifer Haley helpfully tells us that the Nether realm is a world for mythical creatures, a demon world or a dimension of Evil or Imagination. At one time Nether was called the Internet and porn was its most popular content.

Haley’s play The Nether, now playing at the Coal Mine Theatre, is about an ugly world of child pornography that has become a new dimension of existence. It is sexual contact with children in the Nether world where you can do the most repugnant things with children without any consequences.
Hannah Levinson and David Storch. Photo: Tim Leyes
A businessman named Sims has created the Hideaway, a place of beauty in the Nether, where men visit and meet a pretty nine-year old named Iris and have fun. According to Sims, the Hideaway is nothing but a world of images and having sex with a child or an elf is nothing but images and there are no consequences for doing that or worse.

Detective Morris (Katherine Cullen), who lives in the real world, has set out to find information about Sims and the Hideaway and shut it down. But the Hideaway is in the world of high tech and information is hard to come by and finding where the physical server is located is almost impossible.

The play is structured around Morris interrogating three men – Sims (David Storch), Doyle (Robert Persichini) and Woodnut (Mark McGrinder) who is a special case. The interrogations take place in a dark, forbidding room with Morris playing the tough cop.

The interrogations alternate with scenes in the Hideaway, a pleasant room, a fireplace, views of trees at the back – simply idyllic surroundings. Sims is called Papa, a loveable, well-dressed man who is somewhat severe but he is loved by all. You hear of a spanking room, of favourites and you know that this is a place for paedophilia but it is virtual paedophilia. The problem is the eternal one of image versus reality. Virtual paedophilia encroaches on real child abuse and reality begins to lose its moorings.
Hannah Levinson and Mark McGrinder. Photo: Tim Leyes
That is the issue that Haley raises in this outstanding and fascinating play.

Hannah Levinson exudes all the innocence and beauty of a nine-year old that would attract a paedophile in real life or as a high tech virtual creation. Storch and Persichini are paedophiles who know they are paedophiles and the real world may not know what to do with them or be able to even catch them.

Peter Pasyk does exceptional work in directing the fine cast in a play that pushes the boundaries between virtual and actual reality leaving you astonished. This is truly outstanding theatre. 
The Nether by Jennifer Haley, in a production by Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180 Theatre, opened on October 11 and will continues until October 8, 2017 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave. Toronto, M4J 1N4. www.coalminetheatre.com

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The Triumphal March from Aida is probably the defining image of opera for many people. There are productions that give the impression that the local zoo was raided for large animals to march across the stage as the heroic Radames returns from the war with the captured Ethiopians and their king in tow. Verdi’s thrilling music, the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, the large number of extras and the imposing set provide an electrifying scene that is simply overwhelming. And yes there are horses for good measure but no other animals such as elephants and giraffes.

Sonja Frisell’s production with Gianni Quaranta’s monumental sets premiered in 1988 and   has held its place in the Met’s repertoire ever since with numerous cast changes. The attention this time was directed on Anna Netrebko who is singing her first Aida. She has the magical combination of vocal and star power to rivet attention on herself and she does not fail.     
A scene from Act 2 of Verdi’s "Aida" Photo: Marty Sohl/Met Opera
Listen to her first act great aria, “Ritorna vincitor!” for a bravura performance. She wants Radames, her lover and commander of the Egyptian forces, to defeat the Ethiopians and her father King Amonasro. It is a passionate and wrenching aria that requires vocal heights and emotional breadth and Netrebko delivers on all accounts.

“O patria mia” is another demanding aria in which fear, nostalgia, longing pain for the loss of her home and a desire for death as the only escape are mixed as Aida considers her future. She is a captive Ethiopian princess who must choose between love of country and love of a man, an Egyptian hero no less, with her father the King of Ethiopia thrown in for good measure. Netrebko captures all of the emotional turmoil passion and vocal splendour.

Aida’s competition for the love of Radames is the Egyptian princess Amneris, the daughter of the King. In this production Georgian mezzo soprano Anita Rachvelishvili provides a balance if not competition for Netrebko.  She has a splendid mezzo voice that can produce a wonderful dark notes and emotional range as a woman torn with love, jealousy, anger and in the end rejection.

Tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko is an outstanding singer who does a much better job as a military leader than as an emotional lover. With Netrebko and Rachvelishvili as his opposites, he tends to get buried but he deserves full credit for his performance in the Act II duet.

Quinn Kelsey sings the role of King Amonasro who is captured by the Egyptians and has the tough job of convincing his daughter to convince her lover Radames to betray his gods and his country. Kelsey pulls on all the motional heartstrings and succeeds in a fine performance.    
Anna Netrebko as Aida and Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris in Verdi's "Aida."
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera
On the huge Lincoln Centre Stage, the massive Egyptian sculptures, the lifts that can move sets around and the army of people created by the chorus and the extras give the impression that this is not a live performance in a theatre but a scene from, say, Cecil, B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. You almost expect the Red Sea to part.

Nicola Luisotti conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet in spectacular performances becoming the production.

Aida is the first opera to be broadcast from Lincoln Centre for the 13th season of Live in HD from the Met. For people who are unlikely to go to New York or have no opera available within reachable distance or cannot afford the price of a ticket anywhere, Live from the Met provides a great solution. You get to see ten operas every year at a sensible price from one of the world’s great opera companies.

Aida by Giuseppe Verdi was shown Live in HD at select Cineplex theatres across Canada on October 6, 2018 and can be seen again on November 3, 5, 7 and 11, 2018. For more information go to: www.cineplex.com/events

Thursday, October 11, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

What if Romeo and Juliet… is a retelling of the story of the star-crossed lovers including the rhetorical questions asked in the title. The play is put on by Montreal’s Thêâtre DynamO at the Young People’s Theatre.

There are four actors who play multiple roles form Shakespeare’s play and we also hear Shakespeare’s voice played by Christopher Gaze. The story is told through acrobatics, dancing and spoken words but there is very little actual dialogue.
The cast of What if Romeo and Juliet... Photo: Guy Carl Dube
The play starts at the end of Romeo and Juliet when Romeo and Juliet and the other victims of the play are dead. They all revive to go to the ball at the beginning of the play where the lovers meet. They go through the balcony scene, fights and murder of Tybalt, Romeo’s banishment and the letter that never reaches him resulting in the death of both lovers.

The four actors who play the parts are highly athletic (three of them are in fact gymnasts) and the audience is treated to some very fancy acrobatics. Some of the scenes are in effect balletic and we get a very different rendition of the story. Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt and Benvolio are the main characters but the actors do represent some other entities.

The four actors/acrobats/dancers are Rosalie Dell’Aniello, Jéréie Earp, Agathe Foucault and Rémy Savard and they displayed talent and ability in the physical movements of the production. Creator Jackie Gosselin is very economical in the use of spoken words and most of them are directed towards the audience and there is very little interaction among the characters.

The set by Pierre-Étienne Locas consists of two ladders on wheels on a revolving stage. They provide for fluidity and motion. The colour red is emphasized but the lighting by designer Martin Sirois emphasizes dark tones almost throughout. The stage is almost never fully lit and watching the play for an hour in semi-darkness becomes ineffective. 
                                     The cast of What if Romeo and Juliet... Photo: Guy Carl Dube
The What if part of the title is never activated. I think we have the right to see Romeo and Juliet making different decisions or choices and even giving the story a different ending. All we have is a voice at the end asking what would have happened if the lovers had made different choices. Well, why don’t you give us your opinion?

I find audience reaction to YPT production interesting and at times highly enjoyable. For the 10:30 a.m. opening the centre section of the theatre was full of students and I felt that the reaction was muted and the applause at the end more polite than enthusiastic. I think they are the best judges of productions that are aimed at stimulating and entertaining them and the verdict on What if Romeo and Juliet… despite some fine features and display of talent must be less than enthusiastic.
What if Romeo and Juliet… created by Jackie Gosselin based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet opened on October 10 and continues until October 19, 2018 at the Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. 416 862-2222. www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca

Friday, October 5, 2018


James Karas

The Children may well be described as a domestic drama dealing with the eternal triangle. Robin (George Johnson) and Hazel (Laurie Paton) are a middle-aged couple living in a cottage by the sea in a remote area. They are visited by their old friend Rose (Fiona Reid) and share memories including a romantic relationship between Robin and Rose. There is still some sexual electricity between them but the wires are seriously frayed.

A domestic drama? Playwright Lucy Kirkwood slowly and meticulously reveals the main subject of the play as she interweaves facts about the outside world amid the memories of the past of the three characters. The subject could not be more terrible. 
 Laurie Paton and Fiona Reid. Photo: Dahlia Katz
When Rose arrives at the cottage, she has a nose-bleed. The cottage is situated just outside the exclusion zone and there is a nearby nuclear power plant. There is limited electrical power and there is radioactive contamination all around them Rose and Robin keep a dairy farm inside the exclusion zone but he goes there every day to “milk” the cows for some reason. I won’t tell you why.

There is much talk about children in The Children but there are no children.

Oh, yes, the three people in the cottage are physicists who had a hand in the design of the nearby nuclear power plant that imploded causing a massive earthquake and a tsunami. There are young scientists trying to repair the plant and stop the radioactive poison that is still seeping out causing unimaginable diseases.

Rose has not arrived at the cottage to reawaken a romance with Robin. She wants to disturb life in “the happy cottage” by inviting the couple to join her at the power plant.  I will not reveal more lest I spoil some dramatic moments.

Kirkwood’s interweaving the personal lives of the three people with the unimaginable catastrophe just outside the cottage is simply masterly. The old and current relationships of the couple and Rose keeps our attention as the real story unfolds before us of a world at its end.
 Fiona Reid, Laurie Paton and Geordie Johnson. Photo Dahlia Katz
Johnson, Paton and Reid, under the expert direction of Eda Holmes, give superb performances. They hide as much as they reveal and at the same time subtly disclose much more than we suspect. But all is done gradually and judiciously and, at times, almost imperceptibly.

Hazel describes her first impression of the oncoming disaster: eggs shaking and a rising tide, but nothing to worry about. That is how the play and this marvelous production struck me. But then she realized that the eggs shaking was the result of an earthquake and the rising tide was destructive tsunami. We also realize that this is no domestic drama.

The set by Eo Sharp represents the kitchen and sitting room of a simple cottage somewhere on the English coast. As with everything about the play, it is the undercurrents that count.

A superb production of an outstanding play.   
 The Children by Lucy Kirkwood in a Canadian Stage and Centaur Theatre co-production continues until October 21, 2018 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.canadianstage.com  416 368 3110

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

How about a play performed in Hebrew with English and Russian surtitles put on by an Israeli theatre company that was founded by actors from Russia? Welcome to a new version of The Dybbuk in its North American premiere produced by Gesher Theatre at the elegant Elgin Theatre. If you did not make it to the Elgin Theatre on Saturday and Sunday, you are out of luck.

S. Ansky wrote The Dybbuk in 1914 in Russian and subsequently translated it into Yiddish and the play was later translated into Hebrew. It has gained iconic status in the theatrical pantheon which means it is manna for translators and adapters. The current version is written Roy Chen, “inspired by S. Ansky, according to program, a playwright and translator who is credited with translating some 40 plays into Hebrew.
                                Israel Demidov as Khanan on top of the synagogue roof. Photo: Daniel Kaminski
The Dybbuk has a fascinating plot about small Jewish community in the nineteenth century where a young woman is possessed by an evil spirit, a dybbuk.    

The play opens Fiddler-on-the-Roof style with a young man called Khanan sitting on the roof of the synagogue telling God that he is in love with Leah. Khanan is passionate and determined but he is described as a gimp. Whatever the precise meaning of that word, it is derogatory and in the opinion of Leah’s father Sender, he may be described as a loser. Sender wants Leah to marry the more sociably acceptable Menashe. Khanan joins the dead.

We observe Jewish rituals and traditions surrounding a wedding but before the marriage ceremony can be concluded, Leah is possessed by Khanan’s spirit. The Dybbuk is subtitled Between Two Worlds and indeed we go to the Underworld where Khanan joins the ghost of Hanna, Leah’s mother and other people from village.

Leah’s grandmother Frieda tries to exorcise the spirit that possesses her granddaughter and Menashe insists on marrying her.   
Marriage of Leah (Efrant Ben-Tzur) to Khanan's ghost. Photo: Daniel Kaminski 
Director Yevgeny Arye with Set Designer Simon Pastukh and Lighting Designer Igor Kapustin stage the play in a dark, foreboding, smoke-filled and ghostly atmosphere. Much of the action takes place in a small glass cubicle while other scenes are in the gloomy and bone-chilling cemetery. There is some humour in the play especially as Frieda attempts to find some formula or recipe to expel the dybbuk but aside from that this is the murky world of the twilight zone.

Efrat Ben-Tzur plays the unfortunate Leah and she dominates the play. Leah is the product of a patriarchal society where she must obey her father and she is a woman in love who becomes possessed by her lover’s spirit. The latter is almost a mad scene reminiscent of Renaissance drama. These scenes place high demands on the actor and Ben-Tzur fulfills them with exemplary talent.

Israel (Sasha) Demidov as Khanan goes from the hapless gimp to a ghostly spirit in the underworld, all passion and determination against insurmountable odds. A dramatic performance.

Doron Tavori as Sender is the classic patriarch, controlling, demanding, unbending. In that tradition and in that world he cannot be anything else and Tavori is thoroughly convincing.

Fira Kanter turns in a fine performance as the sympathetic grandmother who tries what she can to free Leah from her demon.

There is a fiddler and there is a roof in The Dybbuk but there is no Tevye to sing “If I were a rich man” or “Do you love me?” But there is an absorbing and highly dramatic play featuring superb performances and fine-tuned directing and providing a fascinating afternoon at the theatre.

The Dybbuk by Roy Chen, inspired by S. Ansky was performed on September 29 and 30, 2018 in a production by Gesher Theatre at the Elgin Theatre 189 Queen Street, Toronto, Ont. www.ShowOneProductions.ca

Friday, September 21, 2018


James Karas

In 1996, Dolly became world-famous on the day of her birth. For those with a short memory. Dolly was a Scottish sheep that was cloned, well, from what else but another Scottish sheep. The cloning raised all kinds of questions but playwright Caryl Churchill took her own approach in her 2002 play A Number.

The two-hander takes place somewhere in England, sometime in the future. Salter is an awkward, uncommunicative, and emotionally almost paralyzed man, around sixty years old. When we first see him, he is wearing ordinary rumpled clothes but has a tie on. He has difficulty uttering a word. The other man on the stage is genetically the son of Salter.
Nora McLellan and M. John Kennedy. Photo by Dahlia Katz Photography.
Salter’s wife was killed in a car accident when his son Bernard was two. Bernard died when he was four and a grieving father had his son cloned and the young man talking with Salter is a copy, he is Bernard (B2). He is not the only copy of the dead child but one of “a number” of clones that were produced by the scientists.

Salter, whose emotional incompetence is severe enough to qualify him as a robot, is upset about the large number of copies made of his “original” son whom he thought dead but who is now confronting him about the fact that he is not the only son. Salter’s reaction is to threaten to sue for millions for the excessive number copies made of his son.

The original Bernard, (B1), appears and he wants to kill the other Bernards. The two Bernards and Michael Black may be clones but they are very different people. Not surprisingly, the father does not have the emotional depth or strength to make a connection with his three children, let alone the “number” of others who are out there.

The question of “who am I” is unanswerable on many levels and Churchill does not try to answer it or delve into the philosophical issues raised by cloning. That would have been the short route to producing a bore. But the four characters she has created do make an intriguing and mysterious quartet in a futuristic world.

Salter is played by Nora McLellan in man’s clothing and she gives a superb performance as the lost sheep of a father. The clones are played by M. John Kennedy who transforms himself into the three characters seamlessly and very ably.

The set by Cat Haywood represents a kitchen and sitting area of a modest house or apartment and is perfectly apt. Director Dahlia Katz has a perfect take on the play by emphasizing the characters of the father and the sons and she gets splendid performances from the two actors.

Dolly was cloned more than twenty years ago and cloning has been off the front pages for a long time. This futuristic play however is still worth seeing for Churchill’s imaginative reception of what might happen if someone like Salter is faced with three of his sons in the future especially if it is on stage.

A Number by Caryl Churchill in a production by Solar Stage and Lunar Stage Projects plays until September 22, 2018 at the Wychwood Theatre, 601 Christie Street, Toronto, Ont. www.Solarstage.on.com

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


James Karas

I Call myself Princess is an ambitious new play by Jani Lauzon that tackles “half a thousand years” of the history of the indigenous people of North America and their white conquerors. The springboard for the play is the opera Shanewis (The Robin Woman) by composer Charles Wakefield Cadman and librettist Nelle Eberhart based partly on the life of Creek/Cherokee mezzo soprano Tsianina Redfeather.

Shanewis was produced at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1918 and was seen again in Hollywood in 1926. It disappeared almost completely from the repertoire after that but it serves Lauzon as an excellent metaphor for the fate of indigenous culture in North America.
The cast of I Call myself Princes. Photo: Dahlia Katz 
Tsianina was American but Lauzon adds a Canadian framework to bring the themes of the play to the present.

William Morin (Aaron Wells), a Metis from Winnipeg is granted a scholarship to study music in Toronto. He comes across Shanewis and the story of Tsianina Redfeather (Marion Newman). We are taken back to the beginning of the twentieth century and meet Cadman (Richard Greenblatt) and librettist Eberhart (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster). William has a black friend called Alex (Howard Davis who also plays the baritone Clyde in the play).

Whether we are in the early twentieth or in the 21st century, Tsianina is almost always present until she and William start interacting across time in the past/present. Cadman and Eberhart are interested in “Indianist” music and they borrow native songs indiscriminately. Tsianina owes her success to a white benefactress and sings “You Must Thank my Benefactress” from Shanewis. She is an American to the extent that she served as a volunteer with the U.S. forces in Europe during World War I. But she is very much an indigenous woman ahead of her time who wants to preserve indigenous culture and change the Americans’ view of Indians (that’s what they were called then and for a long time after that).     

William is a modern firebrand who looks back at half a thousand years of defeat, marginalization and destruction of indigenous culture and people. He does not go as far as pointing out that the American treatment of Indians was nothing less than a genocide and that the Canadian experience appeared more benign until the history of the residential schools was finally exposed in all its cruelty and genocidal intent.

The benign but realistic approach of Tsianina contrasts with the anger of William and in the end we can glean perhaps a wise resolution.

I Call myself Princess is described as a play with opera and we hear about a dozen pieces from Shanewis sung by the cast especially by Marion Newman. She describes herself as Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations, English, Irish and Scottish and, like Tsianina, is an ardent supporter of indigenous culture. 
 Ch’ng Lancaster as Nelle Eberhart, Marion Newman as Tsianina Redfeather. Photo by Dahlia Katz

Wells comes from Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tsmpsian Nations of British Columbia and he sings a number of pieces. 

The set by Christine Urquhart is minimalist consisting of a piano which accompanies the singers and a few pieces of furniture as necessary.

Director Marjorie Chan has to direct a play on grand themes as well as an opera to some extent. She has her hands full and does a good job.

Lauzon tackles the story of the indigenous people of North America with acuity and sensitivity. It is a story that has been at best mostly ignored and at worst grotesquely misrepresented. There are vocal limitations and the play gets occasionally preachy and even creaky but that does not detract from its value as a history that needs to be examined and told many times in the long process of changing the wrongful images into reality and giving us a complete and fair image of indigenous people.

I Call myself Princess is produced by Paper Canoe Projects and Cahoots Theatre Productions in association with Native Earth Performing Arts.

I Call myself Princess  by Jani Lauzon opened on September 13, 2018 and continues at Aki Studio, Native Earth Performing Arts, 585 Dundas St. East, Toronto, Ont.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Sisters starts auspiciously enough. The stage of the Michael Young Theatre resembles a cubicle which is open on all sides. We see a man and a woman at the rear of the stage and then are led into the cubicle which is a shop run by two seamstresses, the sisters Ann (Laura Condlin) and Evelina (Nicole Power). The man of the opening scene is Herman Ramy (Kevin Bundy) who runs a clock shop around the corner from the sisters’ business.

They are not in their first blush of youth and they have a hard time making ends meet. We meet their upstairs neighbour, the ebullient dressmaker Mrs. Mellins (Karen Robinson) and a couple of customers to get the flavour of their business. But most importantly, we meet Ramy. He is of a certain age and he has or had some serious health problems but in the meantime he is interested in one of the sisters and one of the sisters is interested in him.
  Kevin Bundy, Karen Robinson, Laura Condlln, and Nicole Power. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Rosamund Small’s adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1891 novella Bunner Sisters moves away from the original text rather quickly. Dancing is mentioned near the beginning of the play and Mr. Ramy walks in and waltzes a few turns with one of the sisters.  

The play continues to move from realism to dream or nightmare sequences to the point where one is not sure where events take place. The core story of Ann’s self-sacrifice for her sister remains. She rejects Ramy’s marriage proposal and allows her sister to marry him

Mr. Ramy is not the decent if lonely gentlemen that the sisters thought him to be. His health problem is far more serious and disturbing than anyone thought, his description of his former position is a lie and in the end he proves to be a horrible husband.

The two loving sisters lose touch with one another and the play takes us on Ann’s search for her sister that includes train rides and incessant searching. Eventually there is a type of reconciliation but I won’t spoil it for you.
Laura Condlln and Nicole Power. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Sisters is the story of the world of two sisters falling apart, of deterioration, separation and a tragic conclusion. Rosamund Small, a young playwright from Toronto, has taken Wharton’s languid telling of the tragedy and tried to add her own dimension to it by changing time sequences, adding dream or nightmare sections and in the end adding more confusion than clarity. She does not owe any loyalty to Wharton’s story but we expect more clarity than we get.

Bundy’s character is not well developed in that we see him as the would-be gentleman, awkward, at first, ill-tempered and perhaps stupid later on and then we mostly hear about him.

Condlin’s Ann is an attractive, strong and capable sister willing to sacrifice her happiness for her sister. We are not sure about Evelina who converts to Catholicism during a horrid marriage. There is an explanation and Power gives a fine performance.

Michelle Tracey deserves credit for an imaginative and fluid set. Peter Pasyk directs a play that is unfocused and in the end unsatisfactory.
 Sisters by Rosamund Small bases on Edith Wharton’s Bunner Sisters opened on August 29 and will play until September 16, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca  416 866-8666.

Thursday, August 30, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Bed and Breakfast, the title of Mark Crawford’s play, conjures an image of a genial perhaps farcical comedy in a small town with some stock characters and Neil Simon-type of humour. Like a day on the beach, say.

There is some truth in that but this play and its production is so much more that your jaw will drop when you see it. The play is a gem, the performances are a delight.

Brett and Drew are gay and they decide to leave cramped Toronto behind and move to a small town. Brett has inherited, somewhat mysteriously you will find, a house which is suitable for a bed and breakfast.
Paolo Santalucia and Gregory Prest. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The two men have the usual difficulties with family and some people because they are gay and some prejudices die slowly. Their house is vandalized and someone writes “FAGGOTS GO HOME” on the wall and there is a mysterious caller that frightens the young men. Is he preparing something worse than vandalism?

I hasten to add that these are the least important parts of the play and if the production offered no more than that you would be justified in giving it a wide berth.

Don’t. The play offers a staggering amount more than that. Gregory Prest and Paolo Santalucia do not play just Brett and Drew. They play a dozen or two dozen characters. They do so with speed, talent and amazing effectiveness. The change from one character to the next is done with no hesitation, mostly without any change in clothes and can be done in a matter of seconds. Remember there are only two actors on stage and they represent family, relatives and town people of both sexes without missing a beat and being hilarious, moving and dramatic.

After some hilarious misadventure getting the house ready to open as a bed and breakfast, opening day arrives and there is more hilarity as young and old, horny honeymooners and teetotalers occupy the place. Prest and Santalucia represent all of them with breakneck speed and with uproarious result.

There is a plot that builds up nicely to a highly surprising and satisfactory resolution. The mystery underlying the plot is slowly and judiciously developed and all the time we have a loving couple on stage who cope with some bigots but also experience support and indeed nobility from the little town’s residents.
Gregory Prest and Paolo Santalucia. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Do not let anyone spoil it for you. See the production and enjoy the whole performance and the finale.

The set by Alexandra Lord consists of a large bed on a raised platform with a playing area in front of the bed and a door. It is framed to look like an old house.

Ann-Marie Kerr directs this seemingly simple play with care and finesse. The speed and frequency of character changes and the difficulty of differentiating among all the characters are handled with marvelous expertise.

If my superlatives and praise bored you, just go and see the play and you will remember the production and chuck my review.

Bed and Breakfast by Mark Crawford continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca.

Monday, August 27, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The Stratford Festival’s production of Julius Caesar strives to make its gender-blind casting obvious by assigning many of the play’s male roles to women. Seana McKenna has proven that properly directed she can do a superb Lear and thus casting her as Julius Caesar made eminent sense. But is there a point in having Octavius, Mark Antony, Cassius, Trebonius, Flavius and others played by women? I don’t think so.

Director Scott Wentworth has chosen a deliberate, at times ponderous pace for the delivery of Shakespeare’s lines. Movement is kept to a minimum at times and I felt that the production resembled more a recital than a fully staged affair. At times the actors could have stood behind lecterns and read out their lines without any further ado.
Seana McKenna (left) as Julius Caesar and Michelle Giroux as Mark Antony with members of the company. Photography by David Hou.
In keeping with Wentworth’s approach, McKenna’s Caesar does not display much of his obnoxious arrogance that would justify an honorable man like Brutus to rise to rebellion and assassination. Jacklyn Francis does excellent work as Calpurnia and is very convincing when she tries to dissuade Caesar from going to the senate. His overconfidence and arrogance appear in the text but McKenna is not allowed to display it.

Sophia Walker as Octavius and Michelle Giroux as Mark Antony are good actors cast to play male roles to no great effect. Julius Caesar is a clash of male egos and having a mixture of men and women play them adds nothing to the production.

In his striving to make sure we get the text pronounced properly, Wentworth goes overboard. The most famous three words in Shakespeare may be Caesar’s shocked statement to Brutus (Jonathan Goad) when he sees his beloved friend stab him: Et tu, Brute. Wentworth wants to get two iambs from these words and he puts the accent on the second syllable of Brutus. It sounds silly.

When Brutus is arguing with Cassius and he tries to explain his reaction to his friend Brutus says No man bears sorrow better. Portia is dead.” These are two sentences and there should be a pause between them to emphasize the terrible event in Brutus’s life. Jonathan Goad says the line without any pause as if there is no punctuation at all.
 Jonathan Goad as Marcus Brutus with members of the company. Photography by David Hou.
Giroux’s Funeral Oration is pallid and in fact Goad’s measured argument is more convincing. We should be blown over by Mark Antony’s speech and are simply not.

Costumes were mostly traditional 16th century clothes. Ruffs, wool caps, doublets, capes and the rest. That is all well until we see the senators who are wearing all of those things but have a sheet wrapped around them to resemble a toga. The opposing armies are differentiated by one side wearing Roman helmets with the red plumes on top while the other side wears traditional helmets.

There are a few fine moments but by the end of the evening all one remembered were the unsatisfactory parts and a very disappointing production.
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare opened on August 16 and will run in repertory until October 27, 2018 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca

Sunday, August 26, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The Stratford Festival has made one of its infrequent forays into modern Italian drama with a production of Eduardo De Filippo’s Napoli Milionaria! It is a play about occupied Naples during World War II. The city was first occupied by Mussolini’s ally, Nazi Germany, and then liberated by the Allies after some relentless bombing of the city.

De Filippo wrote Napoli Milionaria! in 1945, the year in which the Germans surrendered to the Allies. It tells the story of the Jovine family and their circle who try to survive the Fascists, the Nazis, the bombing and the poverty. They live in a rundown house on a side street, illustrated beautifully by Designer Julia Fox.

From left: Johnathan Sousa as Amedeo, Shruti Kothari as Maria Rosaria, Tom McCamus as 
Gennaro and Brigit Wilson as Amalia in Napoli Milionaria! Photography by David Hou.
Gennaro, the father, is unemployed and his wife Amalia has gone into trading goods on the black market in order to put food on the table for her family. Brigit Wilson as Amalia shows us the descent of Amalia from a fighter for survival into a greedy and merciless woman who abandons morality for money. The old excuse of “everybody is doing it” is stretched to the limit as Amalia acquires money, clothes and almost a lover.

Tom McCamus as Gennaro is the opposite of his wife. He is unemployed but decent, honorable and gentle. He is somewhat garrulous but he also illustrates the importance of understanding, the strength to be just and the moral fiber to forgive and look to tomorrow instead of yesterday. With his tousled hair and his apparent detachment from what is happening, McCamus gives a superbly moving performance.

Shruti Kothari as their daughter Maria and Johnathan Sousa as their son Amedeo take different routes into immorality. Maria and her friends Margherita (Oksana Sirju) and Teresa (Mamie Zwettler) dressed provocatively stay out very late with American soldiers practicing the world’s oldest profession. Amedeo goes into probably the world’s second oldest profession, stealing and in this case it is car tires.

Alexandra Lainfiesta as Assunta is simply hilarious. She is a rather dim but decent girl who goes into unstoppable fits of laughter in a squeaky voice and the audience just loves her.  

The play has more than twenty characters as De Filippo tries to give us a cross section of Neapolitan society in wartime. There are people who are decent, indeed noble and there are those who are greedy and simply criminal.
Brigit Wilson as Amalia and Tom Rooney as Riccardo Spasiano in 
Napoli Milionaria! Photography by David Hou.
Riccardo (Tom Rooney) is a gentlemen of some means but has fallen on hard times because he is unemployed. Amalia takes advantage of his hardship and grabs his wife’s jewelry and all his property including sheets and towels. He will get his opportunity to take revenge when Amalia’s little girl needs some life-saving medicine and he is the only one that has it.

Brigadier Ciappa (Andre Sills) knows what Amalia and Amedeo are doing. When he visits them the first time, Gennaro pretends he is dead but Ciappa does not fall for the ruse. He could arrest them and destroy Amalia’s black market enterprise.

Gennaro is taken prisoner by the departing German army. When he returns he sees the wealth that Amalia has acquired and slowly learns the truth about what his children and wife are doing. The world has changed but not necessarily for the better. He finds out what his children are up to and senses his wife’s possible infidelity. Her business partner, the dapper Errico (Michael Blake) has made his attraction to her clear and she has responded.

I have deliberately did not disclosed much of the plot because it is worth seeing the play and enjoying it as events unfold. It is a wonderful play, full of humour and humanity, both good and bad.

Antoni Cimolino does superb work in directing it and evoking the laughter, drama and world of civilians during war. He has a fine cast to deliver an excellent evening at the theatre.

De Filippo wrote some forty plays and is considered one of the great Italian playwrights of the twentieth century. I may be mistaken but I think the Stratford Festival has produced only one of his plays, Filumena in 1997.  Cimolino who has Italian roots should visit the drama of his patria more often.
Napoli Milionaria by Eduardo De Filippo opened on August 17 and will run in repertory until October 27, 2018 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie St, Stratford, ON N5A 1X2. www.stratfordfestival.ca

Thursday, August 23, 2018


Coriolanus is not one of Shakespeare’s great plays but it has carved a niche for itself in the canon and has attracted some great actors to the main role. Whatever its shortcomings, the current production at the Stratford Festival should rank as one of the finest stagings ever. The reason is Robert Lepage who directs it at the Avon Theatre.

Lepage brings his wild and vivid imagination to create a production that forces you to see every detail of the play as if you have never seen it before. In fact you have never seen a production like this before.

In a movie the camera zeroes in on the speaker or the scene that the director wants to emphasize. We get a clear view of what the director considers important because he focuses on it in ways that are available in a movie but not necessarily or at all in live theatre. Lepage uses multiple screens where necessary and there is rich and brilliant use of projections.
  Lucy Peacock as Volumnia and André Sills as Coriolanus in Coriolanus. 
Photography by David Hou.
Lepage uses modified cinematic techniques to grab our attention in a live performance. If the camera cannot focus on a speaker as it would in a film, Lepage blocks our view of the rest of the scene except for the character or characters he wants us to see. This occurs throughout the performance and we get the impression that we are watching a fine film rather than a traditional live performance. It is an astounding experience of an extraordinary production.

The play is given a modern setting with scenes in a television studio where people are interviewed as if they are on, say, CNN. There are scenes in ordinary offices, in bars and in exterior settings as well. This establishes a smooth change of scenes that works, again, as if we are watching a movie where there is a simple fade out as we are led to the next scene.

I hasten to add that Lepage who designed the sets as well as directing the play, is not solely responsible for the production and recognition and kudos are deserved by Steve Blanchet  as the Creative Director and Designer, to Costume Designer Mara Gottler, Lighting Designer Laurent Routhier and Images Designer Pedro Pires. Along with Lepage’s conception of the play, they added enormously to the project to make the production simply extraordinary.

There are some powerful performances that go along with Lepage’s conception of the play. Andre Sills is a powerful Coriolanus and much of the problem of the play lies in trying to understand him. He is a warrior and perhaps a killing machine. He has saved Rome from her enemies and the patricians want to reward him with the position of consul, the top civilian job, but Coriolanus has trouble with people in that he holds the lower orders in contempt. He is not willing to play the political game of making a speech, appealing to the masses and going on with the job. He may well be seen as a dictator who despises the mob.
 Members of the company in Coriolanus. Photography by David Hou. 
I prefer a different view that goes back to the heroic ethos of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Greek heroes fought for kleos, meaning glory or renown. Achilles was indeed a killing machine from one point of view (he is humanized in the end) but his goal was bravery and death in battle that brings kleos to him. Hector left his wife and child despite Andromache’s pleading, to go into battle and face almost certain death for kleos. Coriolanus may come from the same ethos that we find illogical and unacceptable today. Sills will convince you of Coriolanus’s martial prowess and passion.

Coriolanus has an enemy that is almost equal to him. Achilles needs Hector and Coriolanus needs Aufidius. Graham Abbey is superb in the role showing the determination and warrior mentality to challenge Coriolanus.

Coriolanus’s warrior code comes directly and quite obviously from his mother Volumnia. Lucy Peacock is just the actor to play this powerful matriarch and she almost steals the show. She has the perfect vocal intonations to command, persuade, cajole and give us a memorable Volumnia.

Tom McCamus plays the role of Menenius, the man of reason and decency and, as usual, he is terrific. Stephen Ouimette, cane in hand and Tom Rooney play the tribunes and only praise will do for them.

An unforgettable production.       
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare continues in repertory until October 20, 2018 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie St, Stratford, ON N5A 1X2. www.stratfordfestival.ca

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


James Karas

Noblesse oblige imposed a heavy burden on the wealthy aristocrats of yore. It was a self-imposed moral obligation to help the poor or lower classes but its extent was undefined. The main beneficiaries of this munificence were the aristocrats themselves because it enhanced their moral superiority and it certified that their wealth and status were the well-deserved gift of God.

That is the thought that went through my mind as I watched Michael Mackenzie’s The Baroness and the Pig at the Shaw Festival.
 Yanna McIntosh as Baroness with Julia Course as Emily in 
The Baroness and the Pig. Photo by David Cooper
The Baroness is a French aristocrat and the play takes place in Paris in the 1880’s. After losing three maids in succession, she is looking for a third one and comes up with a brilliant, indeed, enlightened, idea. She will find a pure human being who is untouched by society and educate her. Let’s be more precise. She will fulfill her noblesse oblige and train the creature to be a servant. She must learn the usual duties of a servant and be pretty.

The Baroness finds a teenager who was brought up in a pigsty without human contact. She names the girl grandiosely Emily after Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile. The play opens with the encounter between the Baroness and Emily. Yanna McIntosh as the Baroness is a statuesque aristocrat dressed in a fashionable white gown and wearing a white wig. She exudes stature and status as she undertakes the task of educating Emily – to be a servant. As it becomes an aristocrat, the Baroness almost never loses her composure.

Emily, played by Julia Course, crouches on the floor, tumbles, speaks in garbled words and is barely human. Course has her work cut out in slowly progressing from a completely unsocialized human being to someone gaining some comprehension and beginning to fulfil the Baroness’s ambitions for her.
Julia Course as Emily with Yanna McIntosh as Baroness in 
The Baroness and the Pig. Photo by Emily Cooper
The play is produced in the Jackie Maxwell Studio, a theatre in the round which limits the possibility for props and sets. The playing area has white benches on the perimeter and there are a few props available. Camellia Koo is the production’s designer with Kevin Lamotte designing the lighting.  

The transformation of Emily moves slowly and haltingly and at times the play appears to be running put of steam. Mackenzie however has inserted almost insidiously a subplot that adds to the subtext of the play and rounds off the plot development in an unexpected way. To disclose anything more, would spoil the plot that needs to be seen and enjoyed.

McIntosh’s and Course’s strong performances keep the play going even when the plot gets weak. Kudos to director Selma Dimitrijevic for keeping tight control of the action.

The Baroness’s ambition from the start was, as I said, to fulfill her moral obligations as an aristocrat and train a maid. She also wanted to impress her friends. I wonder if she did.  
The Baroness and the Pig by Michael Mackenzie continues in repertory until October 6, 2018 at the Jackie Maxwell Studio, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.