Thursday, March 31, 2011


Ann-Marie MacDonald, Martha Ross, Severn Thompson. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Reviewed by James Karas

More Fine Girls is a 90-minute play that allows three actors a marvelous range for displaying their talents. The play has five authors: Jennifer Brewin, Leah Cherniak, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Alisa Palmer and Martha Ross. Three of the authors – Cherniak, MacDonald and Ross - were to star in the production but Cherniak was replaced by Severn Thompson. One of them, Alisa Palmer, directs it. If there are other plays that were written by a committee of five people, I am not aware of them.

The Fine Girls are three sisters but do not look for Chekhov’s bored and longing Russians nor Wendy Wasserstein’s witty Sisters Rosensweig. The Fine sisters in common parlance can best be described as wacko or nuts and they do provide some fun.

Jayne (Ann-Marie MacDonald) is a lesbian living on a farm where she is raising dogs with her partner. At the opening of the play she is visiting her parents’ gravesite with her sister Jojo (Martha Ross). They have not seen each other for several years (they are not sure exactly) but the three sisters are finally getting together in the family home. Well, you know that secret revelations or skeletons in the closets are in order.

The third sister, Jelly (Severn Thompson) is an artist with a 13-year old daughter who plays an important role in the play even though we never see her. All Jelly knows about her daughter’s father is that he was a cyclist in a park. She is not sure about who her biological father is either so we get an intergenerational connection to unorthodox conduct in this brilliant family. The father was a professor of English and a figure to be reckoned with.

Professor Jojo teaches Brecht but hates his work. She skipped her last lecture and she refuses to answer her phone when the dean is calling. Like her two sisters, she acts and overacts as a distraught woman on the edge but how did she ever become a professor and get tenure?

Jelly, the artist and the mother, communicates with extra-terrestrial beings and goes to the park looking for a middle-aged cyclist. She too is permitted histrionic acting.

MacDonald’s Jayne seems a bit more rooted in reality but she also exhibits some pretty wild conduct.

The play delves into family history as the sisters’ deal with the present but aside from bizarre behavior one does not get very far with anything. Having set a time limit of 90 minutes, the five authors seem to have no idea what to do when the final minute arrives and just wrap it up and go home.

That is a lot of talent for relatively little. We know that the three stars can act and overact but the script is, in the end, pretty thin. Three wacky sisters are not enough to give substance to the play even for 90 minutes. An example of trying to save a bad script occurs when Palmer allows Jojo to rummage through her purse to find her vibrating mobile long after the joke has ceased being amusing.

Five writers are not better than one and in this case the result is just a waste of writing and acting talent.


More Fine Girls by Jennifer Brewin et. al. runs from February 22, to April 3, 2011 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is probably the best known least-read novel ever published. It has spawned not just movies and television programmes but an entire mythology around a monster called Frankenstein. We all know what he looks like and don’t bother us with the fact that the frightful creature is not called Frankenstein at all and that the latter is in fact his creator.

Nick Dear has written a new play based on the novel and Britain’s National Theatre has given it a major production directed by Danny Boyle. On March 17, 2011 the production was beamed to movie theatres around the world “live” or more or less live. The same day’s performance in London was taped and broadcast in Toronto a few hours later.

This Frankenstein is two very different products seen in succession. The first part is an almost fully fledged ballet and the second part is more of a domestic drama having to do with a scientist who created a monster.

The “ballet” portion is spectacular, complex and moving. We see the “birth” of a hideous human being. He pushes through the membrane of what could be a globe or a woman’s uterus and crawls out, deformed, sutured up and covered with slime. Like a newborn animal, he cannot stand up or speak and we witness the slow process of his finding the strength to stand up and find his voice.

The Olivier stage of the National Theatre is equipped with a massive chandelier and there are flashes of light as if the sun were making its first appearance. The creature encounters some human beings who beat him up and he ends up on a farm where he establishes a relationship with a blind old man called de Lacey (Karl Johnson). De Lacey, his son Felix (Daniel Millar) and daughter-in-law Agatha (Lizzie Winkler) are dressed like 19th century farmers but appear to be at the beginning of civilization when man turns from hunter to grower.

De Lacey teaches the creature to read and relate to “civilization” including reading Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost.

Up to this point, the creature has seen only cruelty in his encounters with people and his creator, Victor Frankenstein (Johnny Lee Miller), has only been seen fleetingly.

The scene then moves to the shores of Lake Geneva where we meet the Frankenstein family and Victor’s fiancée Elizabeth (Naomie Harris). Victor gave life to the monster in an outburst of hubris and now has to deal with it. The monster wants love and wants a woman. Victor becomes frightened of him and has the house guarded on his wedding night. The monster appears in Victor’s bedroom where his bride is waiting for her husband and rapes her.

The flashes of blinding light are almost gone during the domestic half and there is a considerable drop in theatrical excitement as compared to the “ballet” portion of the production. The sheer theatricality of the whole thing, however, is simply breathtaking.

The role of the monster is alternated between Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. It is a defining role and Cumberbatch was playing it the night of the broadcast. He slides, slithers, cowers and dances on the stage with some extraordinary vocalizations in an unforgettable performance. The rest of the actors simply fade in comparison and no one comes close to the demands made on the actor playing the Creature.

No doubt seeing the performance live on stage would be spectacular but there were a few advantages to seeing it in the movie theatre. Some of the overhead shots and all the details that close ups can bring could not be seen by the audience in the Olivier.

The tendency in bringing live theatre and opera to local theatres via satellite is picking up and one can only view it with excitement. Most of these productions would have closed down and never been seen by most of us. Now the National Theatre, the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and, it is hoped, other major venues could become familiar territory to us. The movie screen, however big, will never take the place of a live performance but it is much better than the heretofore alternative.


Frankenstein by Nick Dear based on the novel by Mary Shelley was shown at the Scotiabank Theatre Toronto, 259 Richmond Street West, Toronto ON and other theatres on March 17, 2011. It will be shown again on March 31, 2011. For more information visit

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


By James Karas

Do you have a dark secret or a private pleasure that you do not want your friends to know about? I don’t mean innocuous stuff like a toe fetish or the habit of tying up your husband to the bedpost and whipping him because he did not shovel the snow. I mean something serious such as liking low humour, jokes about farting and other bodily functions?

If you do, you have come to the right place for advice on where to satiate your secret pleasure and how to hide it while you are splitting your sides laughing.

One place to get your dose of laughter à la low humour (notice the use of French as a camouflage) is Brendan O’Carroll’s Good Mourning Mrs. Brown which is now playing at the Princess of Wales Theatuh – yes, always say theatuh, otherwise people might think you are going to some stupid movie!
“Did daddy come late?”
“That’s none of your fecking business!”

Moving right along, when your friends ask what you are seeing at the theatuh you will give them the title of the play and make sure they get the pun and that they are aware that O’Carroll is a great comic who wrote, directs and stars in the play about a crazy, foul-mouthed, irascible and irrepressible Irish widow who has a totally wacky family.

Abraham invented the snip. And those forty days and forty nights of rain that is supposed to be Noah’s flood. In Ireland, it’s called summer.

What is the plot on which Mrs. Brown’s low humour is hung? Well, there are half a dozen plots. The title refers to having Grandad (Dermot O’Neill) put in a coffin so he can enjoy his own funeral before he dies. “Am I dying?” he asks. “Not until Friday” he is told. And you know what he will do when they stick a rectal thermometer up his derriere – he will sit on it of course.

There is the plot about gay son Rory (Rory Cowan) and his partner Dino (Gary Hollywood) and yes there will be jokes about gays.

Son Dermot (Paddy Houlihan) is planning a heist with his friend Buster (Danny O’Carroll) so he can raise funds to purchase a house for his wife Maria (Fiona O’Carroll) who is pregnant with twins or is it triplets.

Are you losing interest in the plot strands? Just memorize a couple so your friends won’t think you went to see a series of jokes and a plot that is not all that important. You do this for friends who think that watching a fist fight on ice qualifies as a sport and that watching a game of golf) is not incontrovertible evidence that they are brain dead.

To friends who have actually been to the theatre and know that The Phantom of the Opera is NOT an opera you will need a different approach. You will express some complaints about the production; you will tell them that you do not like microphones, especially very loud microphones in the theatre. You are a purist after all. You will find the set less than satisfactory and you will point out that Rory Cowan is too fond of stepping out of character for no good reason. The laughter that this provoked wore off pretty quickly.

Finally you will lean back and tell your friends that O’Carroll’s humour is Aristophanic without the concomitant political minutiae of fifth century Athens. Who cares if that is true or not: your friend will be impressed without having a clue what you are talking about.
If you don’t find that all of O’Carroll’s humour makes you bend over with laughter, you will enjoy the roars of the rest of the audience. You will feel vindicated in your choice of play – can all those people be wrong. Do they also have whips under their pillows? Do they have chains in their night tables?

Better not ask and if you like the type of humour O’Carroll provides just go and enjoy it.
Good Mourning Mrs. Brown by Brendan O’Carroll continues until March 19, 2011 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St, West, Toronto, Ontario.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Diego Matamoros and Sarah Wilson in Oleanna. Photo by Bruce Zinger

Reviewed by James Karas

David Mamet’s Oleanna is one of those seemingly simply plays that once seen is never forgotten. Even more so when it is given a superb production as it was from Soulpepper at the Young Centre. It is theatre at its best and, to reuse that hackneyed phrase, “a must-see” production. Diego Matamoros and Sarah Wilson give extraordinary performances in this marvelous play.

The play is a two-hander that takes place in the office of John, a professor of education. A student named Carol (Sarah Wilson) visits him to discuss her marks. While she is in his office, John talks on the phone with his wife and real estate agent about the purchase of a new house. It has been announced but not actually finalized that he will get tenure.

The professor is a very interesting character. He is a bit absent-minded and distracted but a fundamentally decent person who loves his job and has to deal with the usual and perhaps mundane problems such as getting tenure, buying a better house and sending his son to a good private school.

In his teaching and his views, he is iconoclastic, unorthodox perhaps, prone to some flippancy and inversions but nothing to indicate from the impression that he is open-minded. He expresses views like “education is a hazing” and we have placed too much emphasis on high learning That may be so but he is the beneficiary of that system and is attempting to get the final recognition towards security – being granted tenure.

The student who visits him to discuss her marks comes from a different social milieu and her problem is that she cannot understand what the professor is talking about. He attempts to explain what he is doing and expresses all the views and remarks about education in his repertoire. He tries to encourage the student by telling her about his own difficulty with education. How he was considered stupid and how he rose through the ranks despite those adversities. To all appearances he is mixing the personal with the pedagogical in an attempt to reach the student and help her achieve her potential and most importantly teach her to think.

What he and the audience do not realize is that he is being set up.

In an extraordinary and simply riveting reversal, the professor’s words and actions are used on a charge of sexual harassment. The student, who no longer represents herself alone but “a group” perverts what he said and launches a highly convincing case of sexual harassment. The tenure committee buys it and finds that the professor acted improperly.

We realize eventually that the professor has been set up. This is a power struggle that the professor does not have a chance of winning. The play develops over three meetings between the two of them with the purchase of the house by the professor and the signing of the tenure papers moving alongside the development of the professor-student plot.

We are treated to the Mametesque style of choppy dialogue with frequent mid-sentence interruptions and talking-over. The play moves to a riveting climax, methodically and precisely.

Laszlo Marton directs the play with precision and the pacing is utterly faultless. Teresa Przybylski’s set of a skewed office is a perfect reflection of the unequal power of the student and the professor.

Oleanna opened in 1992 and one wonders how many well-meaning professors bolted their office doors and refused to see any students or attempt to be helpful and use such sexually charged phrases like “I like you” to a student.

This is nuanced, finely tuned acting in a complex play where the war for power is splendidly camouflaged as a simple meeting between a naïve professor and a student who just wants some help.

A great night at the theatre.

Oleanna by David Mamet played until March 19, 2011 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 866-8666.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Anusree Roy and Pamela Sinha in Brothel #9.   Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh. 

Brothel #9, Anusree Roy’s new play, presents a picture of life in India that most of us would just as soon not know about. Rekha, a young girl is sent by her brother-in-law from her village to Calcutta to work in a light bulb factory. In fact she has been sold to a brothel keeper.

Jamuna, the brothel keeper is a fat, sluttish, unkempt, ugly woman and a prostitute herself. Soon after Rekha arrives at the brothel, Salaudin, the local cop shows up. He takes Rekha to a room and, while Jamuna is singing, rapes the young girl. We hear her screams and Jamuna does nothing about it. In a brothel, woman are mere things that exist for the pleasure of men, right down to using toothpaste or fertilizer to have a dry pudendum and thus, presumably, increase the pleasure of their customers.

Salaudin, a clean-cut man, has an incredible sexual appetite (he visits Jamuna twice a week faithfully and has a wife and a son) and eventually gets Rekha pregnant. We learn that he is the father of two children by Jamuna both of which he drowned by holding their heads under water. One does not need any more examples to illustrate how cheaply life is held.

Rekha tries to survive in the brutal milieu. She works hard and she refuses to abort her baby. Salaudin promises to get her a house and move her there. He is evicting some peasant from their house (one assumes it is part of the job) and he can get a nice house cheaply. Rekha is prepared to go along with the scheme but it falls through when Salaudin decides he cannot leave his wife and son. One wonders what moral universe this man occupies. He has murdered two of his children and is prepared to do the right thing by Rekha but cannot go through with it because of his family. There is something seriously wrong with this world.

The other brute of the play is Birbal, Jamuna’s partner, who goes to pieces when his wife dies in the village. He goes back to see her in her last moments and comes back quite distraught. The moral and physical morass inhabited by the three characters is beyond redemption even if there may be flashes of some kind of humanity.

The real story is Rekha’s development from a terrified you girl to a tough woman who will survive despite the brutality surrounding her. She finds the courage and stamina to go on and save her child.

The slim and long-haired Pamela Sinha plays Rekha and we see the development from terrified rape-victim to a strong-willed woman. Author Roy plays the low-life Jamuna with relish while Sanjay Talwar is a matter-of-fact brothel customer, rapist and murderer. He seems just too clean-cut to be convincing as the monster that he is. Ash Knight’s Birbal is a more typical creep.

Nigel Shawn Williams directs this flawed but deeply disturbing play but a risng new playwright.

All the characters speak in deep Indian accents which, I am afraid, were not always easy to follow. Roy has decided to include a lot of Indian words and phrases in the dialogue. I am not sure what the point is of including something that most of the audience cannot understand. At times I was not sure if the characters were speaking Indian words or I was not catching the accent.

A programme note explaining a few things about the cultural milieu of the play and perhaps some help with the language used would have been a very good idea.

Brothel #9 by Anusree Roy opened on March 3 and will run until March 27, 2011 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

Shakespeare’s plays are not a natural playground for the highly talented Soulpepper company. They have tackled six of his plays in the last ten years with mixed results. The last time they did Shakespeare was in 2008 with a pretty bad production of As You Like It but before that, in 2006, they did deliver a brilliant King Lear.

This year they are offering a marvelously imagined production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed brilliantly by Rick Roberts. It is now playing at the Young Centre in the Distillery District.

First let us praise director Roberts, Set and Costume Designer Ken MacKenzie, Lighting Designer Lorenzo Savoini and Sound Designer Mike Ross. Yes, they are not mentioned first and sometimes they are not mentioned at all in reviews but this time they make all the difference.

The play is done in modern dress with very little in the way of a set. There are three panels at the back of the stage where light projections create the magical world of the fairies. Roberts makes excellent use of the fairies who act as a Chorus. All of the actors except Puck double up as fairies. They wear hoods and are thus not recognizable from the other roles that they play and are very effective.

Most of Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place in the woods outside Athens during the night and Roberts has choreographed the movements of the fairies and the four lovers with the use of flashlights and spotlights effectively and unexpectedly. There are numerous nice directorial touches to add to the humour.

Now let us praise the actors considerably less effusively, I am afraid. Most of the Shakespeare’s poetry and even his prose does not come trippingly upon their tongues. The best at her lines was Trish Lindstrom as Hippolyta and Titania. She has a lively, full-throated delivery with a good sense of the poetry. A fine performance.

Oliver Dennis has the lead comic role of Nick Bottom, the weaver, who is turned into an ass and plays the hilarious role of Pyramus in the interlude. The other artisans of the interlude are very funny as well with Derek Boyes as Starveling, Michael Hanrahan as Quince, John Jarvis as Snout, Michael Simpson as Flute and William Webster as Snug.

The results are less felicitous when we get to the actors who deliver some of the most mellifluous poetry ever written. Some of them seem to have no idea that they were not speaking just colourful if somewhat unfamiliar prose but actual iambic pentameters. Others had better command of the language and its delivery.

Ins Choi who played Theseus and Oberon spoke so slowly in the first role I thought we would be there until breakfast. He picked up the pace and was much better as Oberon.

Most of the success of Midsummer rests with the four lovers. They can perform verbal and physical acrobatics, be very funny and provide a thrilling night at the theatre. They need fine choreography for the very funny physical altercations and, of course, the voices for the lyrical poetry. Here success was indeed mixed. The physical choreography, although mostly good, failed to lead up to the desired climax. The delivery of the poetry was even less felicitous. Abena Malika as Hermia and Karen Rae as Helena failed to rise to the occasion. When the two are duking it out, Helena insults Hermia by referring to her small stature and in fact calls her a puppet.

The incensed Hermia lashes back but has difficulty coming up with the proper riposte until it finally comes to her: “How low am I, thou painted maypole?” she shouts. The insult should be blurted out with perfect pitch and bring the house down. For some reason the line loses most of its effectiveness in the mouth of Malika. It is not the only line that misfires.

Mike Ross as Lysander and Brendan Wall as Demetrius, the young lovers, are effective in the physical aspects of their roles but do not do as well with the poetry.

There are a number of such faux pas throughout the production. Unfortunately, they do take away something from the brilliant re-imagination of a great play. A production that is well-directed but lacks the actors to make a great night at the theatre.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare opened on February 23 and will play in repertory until April 23, 2011 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 866-8666.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Edgar Ernesto Ramirez as Javier Moreno, Miriam Khalil as Duchess Carolina, and the Parasol Mazurca. Photo by Gilberto Prioste.  

Reviewed by James Karas

Toronto Operetta Theatre has done it again. They have premiered a work that has been around for almost eighty years and been completely ignored. The work is Luisa Fernanda, a zarzuela by Federico Moreno Torroba which premiered in Madrid in 1932.

Luisa Fernanda is described as a lyric comedy but think of it as operetta in Spanish and you will be close enough o the mark. It has songs, duets and pieces for the chorus as well as spoken dialogue. TOT’s General Director Guillermo Silva-Marin has wisely chosen to have the dialogue spoken in English while keeping the original Spanish for the sung portions.

Silva-Marin directs a lively, well-paced production that is enjoyable on its own and even more so because it is a unique offering. The important factor in every production by TOT is the uphill battle that must be faced and the success that is achieved despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some obstacles are easily defeatable but there are others which St. George could not subdue and he could handle dragons.

One of the major problems is the zarzuela. It has some gorgeous music but it is attached to a tortuous plot. We are in Madrid in 1868 and it is the Feast of St. Anthony, the patron saint of matrimony. Luisa Fernanda Michele Bogdanowicz) is in love with Col. Javier Moreno (Edgar Ernesto Ramirez). Javier is attracted to Duchess Carolina (Miriam Khalil) while innkeeper Mariana (Eugenia Dermentzis) encourages Luisa to go after Vidal Hernando (Silva-Marin).

That is a good plot for an operetta. But Torroba is interested in bigger themes, it seems. “Revolutionary forces take over pockets of strategic importance in Madrid and elsewhere in the country.” That is how the plot summery for Act II opens! 1868 is the year of Spain’s Glorious Revolution when Queen Isabel II was thrown out by republican forces. The zarzuela is as much about politics as it is about love and the usual accoutrements of operetta. We have characters that belong in an operetta caught up in a political and revolutionary maelstrom that does not quite fit into anything.

Luisa Fernanda requires a couple of sopranos, a couple of tenors, a couple of baritones and a mezzo. That’s a pretty tall order and TOT’s batting average is quite high. Michele Bogdanowicz has a bell-like voice that was a delight to listen to and she did a good job vocally as Luisa. My problem with her is that she looked like a woman in her forties rather than a pretty young lady. I am not sure of her age but she failed to exude the youthful exuberance and attractiveness required to have men falling over her.

Miriam Khalil had the proper regal bearing as Duchess Carolina and sang with equal assurance.

Eugenia Dermentzis made a lithe Mariana with a supple and lustrous voice that was simply a delight to hear.

Our hero Javier Moreno looked much better after he got rid of his fancy uniform and Ramirez’s singing was passionate and dramatic. He deserved to get the girl.

Vidal Hernando, the rival for Luisa’s love, does not get her and, vocally at least, he does not deserve her. We were warned that Silva-Marin was suffering from something that is going around and whatever it was, it went to his vocal chords. Let’s just give him high marks for directing the piece and send him a “get well” card.

Baritone Jeffrey Sanders as Luis Nogales tended to be stentorian but he has a rich voice and he was cast as the rabble rouser together with the clownish tenor Joseph Angelo as Vendelor.

A dozen musicians are lined up around the front of the stage in a space no larger than a bicycle lane. That is the orchestra conducted by Jose Hernandez. There is also a vocal ensemble. They do yeoman work and deserve a lot better.

Tipping our hat to TOT’s resilience and panache is not enough. They deserve better facilities and more money for more musicians and better sets. After all, if it were not for them we may never have seen Luisa Fernanda or so many other works that they produce.

Luisa Fernanda by Federico Moreno Torroba on March 9 and will run until March 13, 2011 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: (416) 922-2912.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


by James Karas

A cultural movement known as kitchen sink drama arose in the 1950’s and it is still with us. It was concerned with the sordid lives of the working class. It was politically motivated and contained well-aimed attacks on the ruling class which was seen as corrupt and uncaring. John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger is a prime example of the genre.

I am not sure if there are many areas of human life not covered by drama, television or the movies these days but the ways available for making a point are clearly endless. Writer Andrew Kushnir has come up with an interesting idea for examining the lives of homeless young people in Toronto: let them speak for themselves.

The result is The Middle Place which is now playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto. It is a co-production of Theatre Passe Muraille and Canadian Stage and it is directed by Alan Dilworth.

The play has come about as the result of the collaboration between two organizations. Youth Without Shelter, which as its name suggests, provides shelter for young people in Etobicoke. Project: Humanity (PH) is an organization founded by artists and it focuses on raising social awareness through the arts. The author is the Creative Director of Project: Humanity.

One of the activities of PH is a outreach-out programme in which they go to youth shelters and schools to advance creative thinking. For the play, they interviewed and recorded the comments of caseworkers and youths residing at the Shelter. Those comments were transcribed and shaped into a 70-minute drama by Kushnir.

There are four youths on the stage (Akosua Amo-Adam, Antonio Cayonne, Jessica Greenberg and Kevin Walker) standing on a round platform. They take on numerous roles as troubled youth and Shelter workers who are interviewed by Kushnir from the back of the theatre.

The interview format is followed throughout the play’s 70 minutes and the actors change roles in quick succession. They answer a variety of questions and make revelations about themselves. They talk about mundane as well as important matters such as conditions in the shelter, relations with friends and family, favourite foods and their aspirations.

All of them do indeed reflect a slice of life or, since they play a number of characters, many slices of life. Since the dialogue is transcribed conversations one can hardly doubt its authenticity. None of these people is particularly adept at self-expression or grammatical English. We get expression in the raw with the hand of the author appearing solely as an editor who strings the conversations together into some kind of a whole.

Being a caseworker in a Youth Shelter is not a great career move we learn. Being a resident of a Youth Shelter, needless to say, is considerably worse. I am not sure if I am any the wiser about why these young people are there, how they got there, what is the problem and what are the solutions? The play does not look like a political tract nor a piece of social criticism about what we as a society are or are not doing. It is, I suppose, what it is: a snapshot or a large number of snapshots of life in this Shelter expressed in the unedited words of the people who know it best. I wonder if that is enough to make a play.

The four actors on the stage do commendable work. They change personality, accent at times and must present the words transcribed quickly.

The social milieu of the play or the subject matter of drama should only be limited by the imagination of our playwrights. But I still prefer the old structure of a beginning a middle and an end and the hand of a writer to mould the subject of his/her choice into a unified piece of drama. Reality no matter how brutal or sordid is not necessarily good theatre.


The Middle Place by Andrew Kushnir opened on February 17 and will run until March 12, 2011 at the Berkeley Downstairs Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. Toronto, Ontario. 416 368-3110.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


By James Karas

Eugenia Dermentzis has been ready to take the plunge for a long time. No, she is not a swimmer or a diver but a mezzo-soprano who has been preparing for the metaphoric immersion into performing for well over a decade. That is a long time for a woman who is only in her mid-twenties. Now, the pretty, slender singer with the body (and ambition) of a dancer is ready.

Not that she has ever been off the stage, it seems. The desire, or is it a permanent viral infection to belt out songs, started in grade school, she told me recently over breakfast. By grade eight, the illness had become serious enough for her to start taking singing lessons – and piano lessons, and dance lessons.

By grade 11, the Markham, Ontario (outside of Toronto) native had refined her ambitions and what was an apparent desire in childhood became a necessity in youth – she had to become a performer; she needed to be on stage.

Eugenia’s roots lie in the north-western corner of Greece and the musical background of her family can be fairly summed up at zero. In classic form, her paternal grandfather emigrated from Skopia, Florina in the 1950’s and opened a restaurant. He later went into the restaurant supply business and Eugenia’s parents are still running that enterprise.

After graduating from Unionville High School, Eugenia attended the University of Western Ontario where she got a Bachelor of Music degree and a Masters of Music in Literature and Performance. At UWO she dipped her toes in the opera performance pool by singing in Puccini’s Suor Angelica. She also sang in The Magic Flute, The Merry Widow and got to do a scene from The Marriage of Figaro as Cherubino. She loves mezzo pants roles and they are a favourite stomping ground for that voice range.

A career in opera is not easy to achieve by any stretch of the imagination. Eugenia has performed numerous times on the banks of the main stream while getting ready for the big break. In addition to the roles she sang while at university, she has performed in various regional centers. She sang in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the Banff Opera as Theatre, in The Magic Flute at York Summer Festival and Opera Nuova, was a featured soloist twice with Toronto Operetta Theatre and sang Enrichetta in I Puritani with Opera in Concert.

                                                       Eugenia Dermentzis as La Zia Principessa in Suor Angelica
 The ultimate role that she wants to do: Carmen. It is the perhaps the ultimate role for a mezzo combing extraordinary vocal and physical demands and opportunities for singing and dancing. It is a role for a singer, a dancer and an actor, a complete performer, in other words and this is how Eugenia sees herself.

She will come close to doing Carmen this spring with Ottawa’s Pellegrini Opera but only as an understudy. Before that she will sing in the chorus of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito in Opera Atelier’s production in April. In the summer she will be in St. John’s Newfoundland for a part in Dido and Aeneas at the Opera on the Avalon Festival.

This week she will sing the role of Mariana in Luisa Fernanda, a zarzuela by Moreno Torroba that is getting its Canadian premiere in a production by the redoubtable Toronto Operetta Theatre.

Eugenia is nothing if not passionate about her career choice. “I live to be able to act” she says as if there is nothing else that she could possibly do. For her the act of performing is life itself.

“You want to enjoy the art of performing and not just be in the art” she says via Stanislavsly. She has a need to express herself, to create and, ultimately, grow.

If a career in opera does not pan out, do you have an alternate plan? I ask.

There is only one plan and one path as far as Eugenia is concerned. Plan A is to perform and she intends to stick by that plan – there is no plan B.

She has a teaching certificate and she occasionally teaches … make that PERFORMS in classes in York Region.

When you live to be able to act and sing and dance, the whole world becomes your stage, as someone said, and there is no other place for you to stand except on stage. That seems to be Eugenia Dermentzis’s world.