Wednesday, February 21, 2024


Reviewed by James Karas

Guilt (A Love Story) is a new play that is performed by its author Diane Flacks in a solo performance at Tarragon Theatre. Flacks is a spirited storyteller and gives an energetic performance full of humour and drama. According to a note in the program “Guilt (A Love Story) is a story of a mother’s experience dealing with the end of her relationship and its impact on her family, and the re-discovery of her own sense of self-worth. Her experience is compounded by the many intersections she lives, ultimately unpacking the onion-like layers of what encompass that persistence of guilt.”

Flacks starts with the Bible and the murder by Cain of his brother Abel and being Jewish herself gives us the origin of the feeling of guilt and the specialty not to say almost monopoly of it by the Jews. The character that Flacks  portrays is of course fictional but she has some similarities  to the life of the author. The fictional character is  a lesbian who was married and had children with her wife. Alone on the stage with only a chair for a prop, Flacks gives a highly physical and effusive performance, never allowing the audience to stray from the comic and dramatic stories that she tells.

She tells many stories from brief, almost one-liners to extended ones. She tells us about her child being in intensive care for almost a year. She becomes friends with other parents with children in the same unit and is overwhelmed with guilt and anger when one of the other children is arresting and bey all the lights and noise as they try to resuscitate the dying child. But she is angry because the lights and noise of trying to resuscitate the child keep her child from sleeping.

Diane Flacks in "Guilt (A Love Story)" at Tarragon Theatre. 

 Guilt comes from many directions. Her youngest child is upset by the changes brought about by the separation. She tries couples therapy with her wife and it does not work and she would not recommend it.

She and her wife chose an “open” relationship and she meets and is pursued by a much younger woman that she calls a “racehorse”. She tries to resist the overwhelming attraction but succumbs.

Let’s not forget that there are some Jews that would make you ashamed or is it feel guilty of being Jewish. How about Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, and Woody Allen?

When she and her wife separated, they decided to take turns staying in the house to look after the two children. Her wife did not want her to sleep in the marital bed when it was her turn to look after the children and Flacks’ character ended up sleeping in the basement while the ex-wife slept upstairs in their bed.

Jews don’t celebrate Christmas so birthdays are more important. On birthdays the family made a big fuss waking the birthday person with cake and  singing “Happy Birthday.” On her birthday she was sleeping in the basement and she heard the family moving about upstairs and expected them to come down with a cake. They didn’t and left for the day. Her ex-wife had not organized a birthday celebration for her and she phoned her new partner/ lover for solace.

Guilt is a rich and amazing play and Flacks’ ability to deliver the whole thing alone is nothing less than a bravura performance. She gives us a fine summary of the play saying "I’m dehydrated, I’m broke, I’m crumbling. I know I should just let go of guilt. But I don’t understand how." But the play does end on an optimistic note when there is some kind of conciliation. Her, the ex-wife, her new partner and her parents take the children for a holiday in the Dominican Republic
Guilt (A Love Story)  by Diane Flacks, directed by Alisa Palmer continues until March 3,  2024, at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor, Culture of The Greek Press

Sunday, February 18, 2024


 Reviewed by James Karas

Several months ago, Crow’s Theatre produced Natal’ya Vorozhbit’s Bad Roads, a riveting play about Russia’s brutal invasion of part of Ukraine and its continuing assault on an innocent nation. Now, with Nowadays Theatre it has staged a play about the theocratic and equally horrific regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Earworm by Mohammad Yaghoubi is an indictment of the theocracy that runs Iran with a viciousness that is reminiscent  of  Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany and so many others. The play has four characters. Homa (Aida Keykhaii) and her son Pendar (Amir Maghami) live in Canada after having lived in a prison in Iran where the mother was kept in solitary confinement for four months and years in captivity. Pendar is shown wearing a University of Toronto sweater and we may assume that he is a student.

The two argue about what the mother should wear when they plan to meet the other two people in the play, Pendar’s girlfriend Fatemeh (Parya Heravi) and her father Mohammad (Amir Zavosh). The liberated Homa puts on a very short dress – I thought it was a bathing suit – and declares herself independent of the archaic attire of scarves and hijab. Her son wants her to be more conservative to please his girlfriend’s father. For the visit she is dressed conservatively but without a hijab or a scarf.

Fatemeh loves her traditional father and is trying to get him to change his ways. The visit begins with some awkward moments and develops into an explosive situation when Homa realizes that Mohammad was in fact her interrogator while she was in prison. It is an incredibly dramatic discovery.

Parya Heravi and Amir Maghami Photo by Dahlia Katz 

There is no doubt about the dramatic content of the plot but I suggest that the play has some basic problems. The dialogue is often awkward, repetitive and creaky. Conversations that have made their point continue for unnecessary lengths. There is a lack of cohesiveness and tautness that takes away from the dramatic plot. 

The actors may have substantial experience but, in this production, they appeared uneasy and unable to communicate with the audience. Keykhaii has a thick accent and she is talking with her son whose enunciation is uncertain. In real life they would be talking in Parsi and the accent should be modified or even almost eliminated. Mohammad mumbles more than he speaks his lines as if he were put on the stage against his will. Heravi’s English is less accented but again there were issues with her delivery and conviction.
Aida Keykhaii in Earworm. Photo: Dahlia Katz
These actors may sound much better if they spoke their native Farsi rather than English. The play can be seen in Farsi with English subtitles and I suspect it would sound much better with the actors not struggling with English. 

The arrest and torture for not wearing a hijab of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini haunts the play and resonates in the life of Homa. Amini is a potent symbol and a haunting reminder of life in Iran. Her subsequent death on September 16, 2022, in the hands of Teheran’s Morality Police could have been Homa’s fate when she was in jail or interrogated by Mohammad. The recognition of Mohammad by Homa as her interrogator is, as I said explosive, but he reacts as if he has not been there or had anything to do with her.

The play falls apart at this point. We get an editorial comment that Yaghoubi finished the first  draft of the play, and there was a suicide but he decided to change the ending.  

Then another scene follows with Homa giving a speech condemning the ruthless regime of Iran. The effectiveness of her speech was reduced because she lacked the eloquence that it demands. Again, I think she would sound much better if she spoke in her native language without the impediments of uncertain handling of English.

The idea of changing the ending or supplementing it is not the best solution. Yaghoubi could use a dramaturge for many parts of the play but writing a version with whatever conclusion he wanted is surely preferable to the awkward notice to the audience of what he did and wanted to do.

Earworm is a good first draft of a play and there was no reason to rush to production of an unfinished script with a cast that felt uncomfortable with the whole thing.

The play is produced by Nowadays Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre. It is directed by Yaghoubi who is also the founder of Nowadays Theatre.    

Earworm by Mohammad Yaghoubi in a production by Nowadays Theatre and Crow’s Theatre opened on February 13 and  continues until February 26, 2024, in the Studio Theatre of Streetcar/Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024


Reviewed by James Karas 

You can’t blame Eldrich Theatre or Eric Woolfe for the subtitle of their production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth  “A Tale Told By An Idiot.

the murderer of  King Duncan and usurper of the royal crown of Scotland, yes, I do mean Macbeth, considered what he and his wife did to satisfy their lust for power and life itself as a tale told by an idiot and what’s more “signifying nothing.”

Eric Woolfe has decided to lampoon the entire play in an imaginative and unidiotic way that is his conception and is performed by him alone. He is the only performer and he acts out all the parts using puppets. He appears in various attires from wearing ridiculous masks, to holding outrageous puppets and changing his voice for everyone that he represents.

The set in a tiny corner of a tiny theatre looks like the upper part of a well and there are shelves for puppets, masks and other items like playing cards for him to amuse us with. He uses Shakespeare’s text with some modifications when humour is called for but he is largely faithful to the bard. Full marks to Melanie McNeill for set and wild costume designs and Gareth Crew for superb lighting design.

Eric Woolfe in one of his many faces. Photo:Adrianna Prosser

We meet the three Witches and Woolfe gives them distinct voices. A rather pathetic puppet is produced representing the Captain who relates Macbeth’s heroic acts to King Duncan, and the Witches appear again telling Macbeth the good news (he will become king) and the bad news (his heirs will not}. 

Woolfe changes masks and dons the head of a nasty-looking woman, Lady Macbeth of course. We arrive at the Macbeth’s castle, hear the plans for the execution of the king and listen to the ominous knocks on the door. Woolfe stabs a puppet and blood (red paper napkins) oozes out and we know that the king has been dispatched permanently.

Woolfe introduces the scene of McDuff’s children speaking in their innocent voices before they are killed and we see a part of McDuff’s pain and anger. Woolfe can be dramatic in his recitation of Shakespeare’s lines and evoke humour at will.

We hear Macbeth in his hubris saying he cannot be killed unless Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane and, moreover, he cannot be killed by a man of woman born. Surprise, both things happen.

The production, directed by Dylan Trowbridge, takes about 90 minutes. Woolfe keeps up a brisk pace as he goes through kaleidoscope of voices,  magic tricks, masks and puppets. It is a bravura performance of a piece of imaginative and wonderful recreation of a famous play.   

Here are Macbeth’s lines on hearing that Lady Macbeth has died and the source of the subtitle of the play under review:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

That’s pretty somber stuff but Woolfe and Trowbridge manage to give them and the entire play a completely different take.


MACBETH “A Tale Told By An Idiot” based on William Shakespeare’s play and  conceived and performed by Eric Woolfe in a production by Eldrich Theatre continues until February 24, 2024, at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. 922 Queen Street East, Toronto.

James Karas is the Senior Editor, Culture of The Greek Press

Friday, February 9, 2024


Reviewed by James Karas 

Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya was seen in September 2022 at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto. Mirvish has wisely remounted the production at its CAA Theatre. It is a redoubtable staging as directed by Chris Abraham based on a version of the play by Liisa Repo-Martell.

The play is subtitled Scenes From Country Life and is set on an estate somewhere in the vastness of Russia at the end of the 19th century. Chekhov’s directions are that it takes place in a garden, the dining room, the drawing room and a bedroom/office of the mansion but Abraham has chosen a large, musty room for all the action. It is in that large room that we meet all the characters and consequently the world that Chekhov portrays for us.

Uncle Vanya (Tom Rooney) manages the large estate with Sonya (bahia watson) for the benefit of Professor Serebryakov. Vanya looks rumpled, unsteady, erratic and perhaps a man who is not all there. He steals some morphine from Dr. Astrov with the intent of committing suicide, one assumes, and he is shot at unsuccessfully. He is depressed and a man lost in the wilderness who  falls in love or is infatuated with Yelena, Serebryakov’e wife. Rooney gives a superb performance capturing the complexities of Vanya’s character.

Sonya is the Professor’s daughter from his previous marriage to Vanya’s sister and seems like a lost soul. She is of marriageable age but the only possible target of her love is Dr, Astrov who rejects her. She is a hard worker and finds solace and perhaps a solution to her lonely life in work. Excellent acting by watson.

(l to r) Eric Peterson as Alexandre, Carolyn Fe as 
Marina, Shannon Taylor as Yelena, Tom Rooney
as Vanya, Anand Rajaram as Telegin, dtaborah johnson 
as Maria. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

Dr. Astrov (Ali Kazmi) is an interesting character who cares about the climate but has lost his ambition and in the end is indifferent to everything. Kazmi speaks with a distinguished accent and is a man who cared about his patients and the world. He falls in love with Yelena and is rejected by her and there seems to be little hope for him in the wilderness of Russia.

Ilia Telegin (Anand Rajaram) is an impoverished, comic and pathetic former landowner who mooches on the estate. With his long hair and beard, and his bedraggled clothes, he looks almost unhinged and pitiful. Rajaram may perhaps overdo it but perhaps he gives us exactly what Telegin deserves.

The arrival of Professor Serebryakov (Eric Peterson) with his beautiful young wife Yelena (Shannon Taylor) throws the pathetic country life in the mansion into an uproar when he announces that he wants to sell the state and take the money so he can live better. The professor is described as a useless man and an academic who writes books about nothing that nobody reads. Even more important is the presence of his beautiful, young and aristocratic-looking wife. Her sheer presence lightens the scene and as mentioned, Astrov and Vanya fall in love with her. She is a cultured woman form St. Petersburg who studied music  at the conservatory but her effect on “the country life” is passing as she remains faithful to the nonentity that she is married to. Shannon Taylor fits the role perfectly.

As usual, Chris Abraham deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the well-modulated reading of a difficult play. Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan get kudos for Set and Props co-designers.

A play and a production worth seeing as often as possible,
Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov in an adaptation by Lisa Repo-Martell continues until February 25, 2024, at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St, Toronto ON, M4Y 1Z9

James Karas is the Senior Editor, Culture of The Greek Press

Wednesday, February 7, 2024


 Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company has not deprived us of extraordinary productions of Don Giovanni. In 2015 we saw Dmitri Tcherniakov’s original and masterly interpretation. This year we are treated to Kasper Holten’s 2014 coproduction of Mozart’s masterpiece for the COC and four other opera companies including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

At the Four-Season Centre the vocal fireworks start with the bass-baritones Gordon Bintner as Don Giovanni and Paolo Bordogna as Leporello. The tall, blond Bintner display braggadocio and vocal as well as physical agility to please all tastes. Bordogna is not the same size physically as Bintner but he presents a superbly sung Leporello and a fine characterization of the abused servant of the great seducer.

Soprano Mane Galoyan sings an outstanding Donna Anna. This Donna Anna is a consummate liar. She shows no anger or distress about what she and Don Givanni did in her bedroom and then is shocked at what happened to her father without looking at him. She tells some whoppers to her fiancé Don Ottavio about how she was raped and then puts him off for a year when he wants to marry her. She has a marvellous voice, full of lyrical sweetness and Galoyan gives us a Donna Anna to remember.

Don Ottavio, the fiancé (remember) in the hands of tenor Ben Bliss has a marvelous voice, a fine performance and a sympathetic character but he does not stand a chance in the hands of the wily Donna Anna. Nice guys sometimes come last.

Gordon Bintner as Don Giovanni and Mané Galoyan 
as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, 2024, photo: Michael Cooper

Soprano Anita Hartig has a gorgeous voice and her Donna Elvira, the woman unceremoniously jilted by lecher Don Giovanni, is full of passion, anger and vocal beauty. She gets some expressive arias and my only complaint about her is that she does not display the rage that she says she feels. I have no doubt that Hartig sang as directed but I suggest that along with the passion, the regret and her continuous desire for Don Giovanni, she should be allowed to display some wrath, indeed furor, at the way she is treated.

The lovely and lovable Zerlina in the hands of mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh is a delight to the ear and the eye. Poor Masetto does not stand a chance against her wiles delivered so beautifully. A vocal and acting delight.

Bass-baritone Joel Allison plays a reasonably straight Masetto as opposed to a buffoonish or oafish one that some directors give us. He is no buffoon but he is rightly jealous when Zerlina is tempted by Don Giovanni and he is beaten by him. But Zerlina has him tied around her little finger and he is driven by love and not by foolishness. I prefer this interpretation of the role to a clownish Masetto. Excellent work by Allison.

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production
 of Don Giovanni, 2024, photo: Michael Cooper

The set by Es Devlin consists of a cubic two-story structure with staircases in the center. It is set on a revolving stage with moveable panels. There are numerous projections on the plain panels including long lists of names presumably of Don Giovanni’s conquests and a rich variety of colors. The interior of the cube has staircases and displays great flexibility.

The lighting, designed by Bruno Poet and handled by John Paul Percox for the revival, and the projections designed Luka Halls, plays an important part in the production but trying to follow the changing lights and projections on the set proved overwhelming at times and I feared losing my concentration.

Kasper Holten is a brilliant opera director and the COC has very wisely brought this production to Toronto.

The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus were conducted by Johannes Debus in an extraordinary and unforgettable production.   
Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart will be performed a total of seven times until February 24, 2024, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor, Culture of The Greek Press

Tuesday, February 6, 2024


Reviewed by James Karas

True to its tradition, the Canadian Opera Company  for its winter season offers us a well know staple and and a relatively unknown opera. Czech composer Leos Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen was last produced by the  COC more than 25 years ago and that is a long coffee break.

We are happy for the opportunity for seeing this original and difficult work again in a laudable production from the English National Opera directed by Jamie Manton and conducted for the COC by Johannes Debus.   

The Cunning Little Vixen’s cast consists of a veritable forest of animals, insects and a few people. We have the little vixen who is abducted by the Forester, mistreated by his wife, escapes, grows into a big vixen and has a brood of little vixens. We meet a stageful  of the following: a cricket, a grasshopper, a frog, a mosquito, a badger, an owl, a dozen hens, a rooster, a jay, a woodpecker and no doubt a few others.   

Humankind is represented by the Forester (Christopher Purves), his nasty Wife (mezzo-soprano Megan Latham), the Schoolteacher (tenor Wesley Harrison), the Innkeeper (tenor Adam Luther), his Wife (soprano Charlotte Siegel) the Priest (bass-baritone Giles Tomkins) and the Poacher (bass-baritone Alex Halliday). Except for Purves and Halliday, all the other singers have a role as an insect or an animal as well.

(left) Jane Archibald as the Vixen and Giles Tomkins as the Priest
 in The Cunning Little Vixen, 2024, photo: Michael Coope

The vixen of the title is sung by the luscious-voiced Jane Archibald, while her love the Fox is sung by the lovely-voiced mezzo-soprano Ema Nikolovska. The singers as humans or humans and animals or insects do excellent vocal work at times under some constraints with the necessary costumes. There are no slackers in the cast.  

Janacek based his libretto on the comic strip fairy tales of Rudolf Tesnohlidek which were of course in Czech. The COC production is sung in Czech with the attendant difficulty of learning a language that may be foreign to most singers. The COC to its credit decided to have it sung in Czech unlike other productions that use English translations. Bravo COC.

This is not a pleasant fairy tale where everyone lives happily ever after. The vixen is mistreated by the Forester’s wife and it kills their hens. In the forest, the vixen dislodges the Badger and there is revolutionary talk that is closer to George Orwell’s Animal Farm than to the Grimm Brothers.

On the human side, the men  talk of love and marriage at the inn but director Jamie Manton has them sitting at a distance from each other facing the audience. Would it not be better if they were sitting at a table perhaps playing cards?

The Cunning Little Vixen contains some beautiful orchestral music, is an opera and has enough dance requirement to require ballet dancers. It strikes me as a work that could easily be converted into a ballet. The COC production does make an attempt at dance, especially with the gorgeous hens in their white gowns but the ballet requirements are almost totally ignored. Too bad but the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus and the Canadian Children’s Opera Company under Johannes Debus deserve huge credit for their performances.   

The set by Tom Scutt feature some tall, moveable cabinets and unrealistic scenes. The costumes also by Scutt need to help us identify the insects and the animals and there is only so much one can do and he did a good job. He avoided the cutesy Disney look and that was fine with us.

I sat beside a young man who had purchased a ticket at a good price because he is under thirty. He told me that his favorite opera is Madama Butterly and asked me if The Cunning Little Vixen is like that. I told him it is not like that but it has a lot of different elements that made it worth seeing. I hope he agreed with me after the performance.
The Cunning Little Vixen by Leos Janacek is being performed eight times on various dates until February 16, 2024, at the Fours Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor, Culture of The Greek Press

Saturday, February 3, 2024


Reviewed by James Karas

The famous Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is celebrating the 10th year of productions in the small, enclosed Sam Wanamaker Theatre that made it possible to have a winter season in addition to the summer offerings in its open-air theatre on the south bank of the Thames River.

Othello is one of this winter’s main productions and one must give highly laudable and deserved reviews to the actors. The problem is the choices made by director Ola Ince who has decided to Improve Shakespeare’s play.

Before I launch my catalogue of dislikes about the production, let me mention the positive features. The cast is excellent, starting with Ken Nwosu as Othello, an actor with a sonorous voice who delivers his pentameters with gorgeous musicality when he is not insane with jealousy and with precision when he is. When he is murderously jealous, he is truly dramatic. The evil Iago of Ralph Davis is a venomous creature and a good actor in his ability to convince people of his honesty and integrity.

Poppy Gilbert’s Desdemona is forthright and beautiful. She knows how to state her position and defend herself. We admire her and the actor playing her.

                                     Ken Nwosu as Othello and Poppy Gilbert as Desdemona. 
                                                    Photo Johan Persson

Ince embarks on a director’s ego trip paying scant attention to the script and the result is simply awful. Making changes and taking liberties with Shakespeare’s text is almost de rigueur and most of the time not only do we not complain but laud the director for his/her imagination and brilliance. Not this time.

Without mentioning chapter and verse, here are a few of  Ince’s additions/subtractions to the play, let’s start with the addition of a mime to the play. Othello and Desdemona appear before a priest and are married.

As we all know, Othello opens with Iago and Rodrigues rioting in front of the house of Desdemona’s father, salaciously intimating that the Moor has taken his daughter. Ola has set the play in modern day London and the characters are mostly police officers in the Metropolitan Police. They are facing some serious criminals, perhaps terrorists in the docklands and the problem needs an experienced Police Commissioner like Othello to quell it.

All well and good. But it is here that things become muddled. Does Ola want a police thriller or a psychological tale and not what Shakespeare provided? Othello has a conscience but Ola adds a character, Subconscious Othello (Ira Mandela Siobhan) who is very conscious and active on the stage. You may recall that near the end of the play Othello faces the sleeping Desdemona alone in her bed and decides that he must strangle  her. In this production he is accompanied by Subconscious Othello and there is a physical struggle between the Conscious and Subconscious Othellos. The murder scene becomes a threesome.

When Othello says the unforgettable lines beginning with “It is the cause” Subconscious Othello repeats some of the lines wrecking the sonority of the stunning pentameters. Subconscious Othello accompanies Othello throughout most of the play and to call his presence annoying is the politest thing one can say. Much stronger words are called for but I will desist.

                                        Ken Nwosu as Othello and Ralph Davis as Iago. 
                                                            Photo: Johan Persson

 We know that Othello descends from a noble, self-controlled, high-ranking officer and becomes an ugly, jealous and murderous being. In the final scene he regains his composure and nobility. He has realized his crime and the blows he suffered at the hands of his trusted lieutenant, “honest” Iago. In his final speech he rises to his previous self and describes a heroic act against someone who beat up a Venetian and insulted Venice with the words “I took by the throat the circumcised dog and smote him thus” and stabs himself.

That unforgettable scene is not good enough for Ince and she has Othello lunge at Iago and he is stopped by the guards and given a severe beating as he lies on the floor. Yes, that is how the play ends in a perversion that polite words can barely describe.

The setting of the play in today’s London is awkward but works if you take out the serious cuts to the text and the switch to psychological interpretations or a simple police drama. Desdemona aka Des comes from Chelsea and there are other changes made to accommodate the script to Ince’s vision.

The set by Designer Amelia Jane Hankin is simple and acceptable. But there is one aspect that I found interesting. There is a sign in the foyer that states Theatre by Candlelight. That’s very romantic but the theater has been doing simply fine with electric lighting. Several dozen candles are lit one at a time and later snuffed. I saw no advantage in doing so except for the waste of time. The script was cut and we would have preferred more of Shakespeare’s words and less playing with candles.

A horrible night at the theatre.
Othello by William Shakespeare continues until April 13, 2024, in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT, London.

James Karas is the Senior Editor, Culture of The Greek Press