Thursday, April 28, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

When Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path opened in London in 1942 the playwright went to the theatre in the uniform of a Royal Air Force Flying Officer. World War II was raging and the play concerned an RAF squadron about which Rattigan had some knowledge.

The play was a hit and it has been revived for the centenary of Rattigan’s birth at the beautiful Theatre Royal Haymarket in London in a splendid production directed by Trevor Nunn.

The play is set in the lobby of a hotel near an RAF base. Peter Kyle (James Purefoy) arrives and we meet some of the locals including the crotchety Mrs. Oakes (Sarah Crowden), the over-enthusiastic waiter Percy (Matthew Tennyson) and Countess Skriczevinsky (Sheridan Smith) who is a former barwoman but is now married a Polish Count. They will provide the humour of the play.

Like one of those large aircraft, the play takes a while to take off but it flies smoothly and effectively once it is off the ground. There is a love story and a war story and the two are intertwined to deliver the appropriate message.

Kyle, a matinee idol, is in love with Patricia Warren (Sienna Miller, the star of the show) with whom he acted at one time. She is married to Flight Lieutenant Graham (Harry Hadden-Paton). Patricia loves Kyle and she is ready to tell her husband that she will leave him for the movie star.

In the meantime, the officers leave on a dangerous mission against the Nazis. We are treated to a dramatic overhead video of planes taking off. One of them does not make it and the success of the mission is doubtful.

Lt. Graham dotes on his wife. When he returns from his mission, he breaks down and expresses his fear, indeed panic at flying. It is an emotionally charged scene in which Patricia provides comfort and moral support. She realizes the depth of her husband’s feeling for her and his need of her.

A few words about Flying Officer Count Scriczevinsky (Mark Dexter). There is no suggestion that he is not a Polish nobleman but he is nevertheless called, rather contemptuously I think, Johnny. He speaks little English and that is used as a source of humour. When his plane lands in the water, he reports that he landed in the “drink”. Dexter speaks with terrible accent and one assumes it is supposed to be Polish. The portrayal of Johnny is clearly racist and the production is hardly to blame for that but the matter should not pass unmentioned.

It should be noted that Johnny’s love of his “countess” is genuine even though she is a foolish woman.

Getting the officers, their wives and the other characters in a hotel lobby was a necessary device for Rattigan in order to construct a plot. Reasonable people may ask why the officers, including Squadron Leader Swanson (Clive Wood) are spending time in a hotel instead of at their base but that’s letting reality intervene with the theatre.

The performances were of high calibre and the entertainment and historical interest of the play are excellent. Sienna Miller and Hadden-Paton get the big dramatic scene while Miller and Purefoy get the romantic scenes all to good effect.

When all is said and done, we have to deal with the main issue: what will Patricia do? Will she opt for her passionate love for Kyle or will she do her duty and stay with her husband? Heroic romance may have a place in peacetime but during war we stand by our fighting men. Patricia chooses to do her duty as should all, repeat ALL, women in time of war.

In the final scene, all are gathered in the hotel lobby and sing about joining the RAF, war and peace. Rah, rah.
Flare Path by Terence Rattigan continues until June 4, 2011 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, England.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


 Measha Brueggergosman as Vitellia and Michael Maniaci as Sesto. Photo: Bruce Zinger
By James Karas

Opera Atelier is winding up its 25th year with a marvelous staging of Mozart’s last (maybe) opera, La Clemenza di Tito. The production is successful on every ground and provides a splendid night at the opera.

La Clemenza has its devoted fans and its dedicated detractors, the latter I think outnumbering the former by a substantial number. It was Mozart’s last or maybe his second to last opera. He was working on The Magic Flute in the summer of 1791 when he was asked to write an opera to celebrate the coronation of Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia. Being broke and not in the best of health, Mozart accepted the commission.

Opera had moved forward several leaps by then what with Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi fan Tutte already on the boards. But Mozart reverted to the stiff formality of opera seria for La Clemenza and hurriedly put together something for the great ceremony.

The coronation and the premiere of the opera took place in Prague on September 6, 1791. (The Magic Flute opened on September 30, hence the disagreement about which came last.) Now when you compose an opera to celebrate a coronation, you better say some pretty nice things about kings. Happily, there was a libretto waiting to be set to music which said just that.

In fact the story of Roman Emperor Titus (79-81 A.D.) had been used to generate forty operas already. Pietro Metastasio had seen to that and all that was needed was some revisions by Caterino Mazzola.

Opera Atelier’s Co-artistic Director Marshall Pynkoski has not taken any half measures in the current production. He has gathered a first-rate cast of singers that deliver such wonderful vocal splendor that you forget if the opera has any short-comings. The Tafelmusik Orchestra conducted by David Fallis handles the score with precision and adroitness. The “first” of the headline refers to the first time the opera is produced on period instruments in North America!

The outstanding cast is headed by Croatian Tenor Kresimir Spicer who takes the role of the magnanimous Emperor who forgives everyone including those who tried to kill him or betrayed him. Spicer does a splendid job handling his arias with ease.

The more famous star is Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman who dominates the production vocally and physically. She displays physical agility and motion as the nasty Vitellia, the ambitious daughter of the previous Emperor who plots Tito’s assassination. Her vocal delivery is lyrical, expressive, dramatic, marvelous.

Male soprano Michael Maniaci is at the top of a small number of men who have voices in that range. He is terrific as Sesto, a friend of Tito, a lover of Vitellia and a would-be assassin.

The other woman in the opera is Servilia, Sesto’s sister sung beautifully by soprano Mireille Asselin. Mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel takes on the pants-role of Annio, Sesto’s friend and Servilia’s lover.

As we have come to expect, co-artistic director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg choreographs some beautiful ballet sequences for the Atelier Ballet.

Gerard Gauci designed a colourful set representing scenes in Rome, and the costumes. It is all 18th century so don’t look for togas and white columns. The costumes and the backdrops represent how the 18th century imagined Rome and they provide a very effective milieu for the opera.

Combine all of that with the gorgeous Elgin theatre and you will do what the opening night audience did – give them a standing ovation.
La Clemenza di Tito by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart opened on April 22 and will run until May 1, 2011 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Richard Troxell as Turiddu and Joni Henson as Santuzza. Photo: Jose Crespo / Opera Hamilton

Reviewed by James Karas

Opera Hamilton bid farewell to the Grand Hall at Hamilton Place with two performances of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci. Pietro Mascagni’s and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s one-act gems were produced two years apart in 1890 and 1892 and have kept each other company with marvelous fidelity ever since.

Both operas have amazing plot and musical similarities and share an emotional wavelength of strong passion, treachery and jealousy leading to murder.

Opera Hamilton has tackled both works and produced good results subject to the limitations placed on it by the cavernous Grand Hall and, as always, its budget.

American lyric tenor Richard Troxell as Turiddu started the evening with “O Lola, ch’ai di latti,” the aria praising his love’s blouse and body parts. He is off stage and sounded a bit rough but he settled into his role and soared when necessary as in his final aria, “Quel vino e generoso” just before he is killed.

The woman Turiddu is praising was his former love and is now the wife of Alfio. Santuzza is his current, pregnant girl and he should be paying attention to her. She has seen him lurking around Lola’s house and is not too happy about the situation. Canadian soprano Joni Henson was not at her best in the role. She had her moments of sound singing but there were also times when she did not rise above the orchestra sufficiently. As one would expect from a woman who is dumped and snitches to Lola’s husband, she was not as sexually attractive as Lola.

Alfio is an upstanding citizen who loves his job and his wife. Baritone Gregory Dahl sang the role commandingly as he did the part of Tonio in Pagliacci. High marks for a fine evening’s work.

Cavalleria has some marvelous choral music especially The Easter Hymn and the Hamilton Opera Chorus did a fine job.

Scenery and Lighting Designers Graham Cozzubbo and Raha Javanfar found an intelligent way of providing a “set” without breaking the bank. The opera calls for a village square in Sicily with a church on one side and a tavern (the house of Mamma Lucia) on the other. In this production they opted for a large screen on which the square, a church and other scenes are projected. The problem is that the screen is not large enough. It should cover most of the back of the stage. As it is, you get the feeling that the characters of the opera are watching scenes from Sicily rather than being a part of them. The wings of the stage are bright red indicating blood and passion. The solution works only partially well and one wonders if it cannot be improved sufficiently to give one a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The same set is used for Pagliacci with similar results. In the second scene of the opera there is an indication of a curtain where the players put on their show.

Pagliacci is probably the better of the two pieces and it has the plot of the travelling players where Canio’s wife Nedda is cheating on him with Silvio. Tonio the hunchback is also in love with Nedda and he tells Canio of his wife’s infidelity.

The plot of the “real world” is similar to the plot of the play being put on by the troupe and in the end reality merges with the fiction of the play, Canio discovers his wife’s adultery and the identity of her lover and, as you may have guessed, both Nedda and her lover are sent to the big theatre in the sky.

Sally Dibblee did credible work as Nedda and Jeffrey Springer’s Canio was dramatic and affecting. James McLennan was Beppe and Andrew Love was Silvio, both providing respectable performances.

Opera Hamilton is moving from the cold and forbidding Hamilton Place to what looks like the more intimate setting of the Dofasco Centre for the Arts. It promises a larger orchestra pit and there will be more performances. We will do a reality check in the fall.

Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni and I Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo were performed on April 21 and 23, 2011 at Hamilton Place, Hamilton Ontario.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Anne-Marie Duff (Alma Rattenbury) and Tommy McDonnell (George).
Photo: Johan Persson

Reviewed by James Karas

This year is the centenary of the birth of playwright Terence Rattigan (1911-1977) and it seemed like a good excuse to produce a number of his plays on the British stage. The venerable Old Vic has joined the fray with a production of Rattigan’s last play, Cause Célèbre. The play is about a sensational murder in 1935 but Rattigan wrote it in the last year of his life.

The central figures of the play are two women who represent two different views of morality and whose lives cross as a result of a murder. Edith Davenport (Niamh Cusack) is a sharp-nosed, dried up, upper-class woman who started getting “headaches” at the thought of sex with her husband when she was around forty. She has a 17-year old son Tony (Freddie Fox) on whom she dotes but who is growing up and wants little to do with his mother’s view of life.

Her husband John (Simon Chandler) sought sexual pleasure elsewhere, was found out and the inevitable result was a divorce and dispute over custody of Tony.

In contrast to Mrs. Davenport, Alma Rattenbury has a fully active sexual appetite and an older husband who cannot climb the stairs to their bedroom. She hires George (Tommy McDonnell), a 17-year old youth for housework and expands his duties to having sex with her. She loves her children as much as Mrs. Davenport.

In due course, Mr. Rattenbury’s (Timothy Carlton) head is crushed with a mallet and Alma and George are charged with his murder. The self-righteous Mrs. Davenport is selected for jury duty and in fact she is chosen jury forewoman for the trial.

Eminent lawyers represent the two accused and the Crown and a trial follows to determine the guilt or innocence of Alma Rattenbury and George.

The problems with the play are not hard to spot. It was initially written as a radio play where frequent scene changes are easy to achieve. That is a bit harder on stage. We have thus a mostly empty stage and we jump from the Davenport to the Rattenbury houses, to the lawyer’s office, to the jail to the court.

A courtroom scene is tough to stage because you have a judge and lawyers facing each other with the accused and the jury somewhere on the side. The solution here was to have the judge on his high bench and the lawyers standing on each side of him facing the audience. The accused did the same and the jury was not shown on stage at all.

The cards are stacked pretty heavily against Mrs. Rattenbury. There is nothing good to be said for her, in fact. A licentious hussy who seduced a 17-year old is a moral reprobate who deserves to hang. When that happens, you know that a good lawyer will figure something out and provide some fine drama for the last third of the play. And so it happens.

Anne-Marie Duff as Alma Rattenbury is slender, sensual, a bit tarty and a pleasure to watch. Cusack as her counterpart is appropriately prissy, judgmental and puritanical. A very fine performance. The supporting actors do their job and the rest of the play is carried by the lawyers, especially Nicholas Jones as lead defence counsel and Richard Clifford as Croom-Johnson, the prosecutor and Patrick Godfrey as the judge. The fact that this type of trio seems to appear is similar format in most other British courtroom scenes does not detract from the fun of watching them.

Director Thea Sharrock keeps the action moving at a brisk pace and deserves high marks.

We can raise our eyebrows at English society in the 1930’s but we should really spare ourselves the trouble. This is a light afternoon at the theatre and a look at the work of a fine craftsman of the theatre who just happened to be born one hundred years ago.
Cause Célèbre by Terence Rattigan continues until June 11, 2011 at the Old Vic Theatre, The Cut, London SE1 8NB.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


                           Joseph Millson  as Ben Stark and Keeley Hawes as Belle Stark

Reviewed by James Karas

Productions of the plays of Clifford Odets are a rarity and as far as I can tell there has not been any production in the Toronto area for some time except for Soulpepper’s Awake and Sing in 2009. England’s National Theatre with its broad spectrum of productions has revived his 1938 play Rocket to the Moon on the Lyttleton stage.

Rocket to the Moon is a remarkable play, an interesting period piece that is more fascinating than enjoyable. It takes place in a dentists’ office in 1938. The main characters are two dentists who share office space, a foot doctor next door and a secretary who has just been hired by one of the dentists.

Ben Stark (Joseph Millson) is married to Belle (Keeley Hawes) an officious and ambitious woman who wants her husband to do better. Her father, Mr.Prince (Nicholas Woodeson) is a wealthy widower, a bit of a wag, a restless spirit and a man who has not spoken with his daughter for years. Dr. Cooper (Peter Sullivan) is a dentist who rents space from Ben but cannot pay his bills. He has resorted to drinking.

The catalyst of the play is Cleo Singer (Jessica Raine) the secretary that Ben just hired. She is attractive, sassy, an airhead and a braggart. She wants you to believe that she comes from a wealthy family, that she does not have to work and she has ambitions of becoming a dancer.
Ben, Mr. Prince and a patient named Willy Wax (Tim Steed) all fall in love or in lust with her. All of them are in search of a rocket to the moon, something to get them out of their humdrum existence. The unhappily married Ben, the ambitious Belle, the unhappy aging man, Willy and Cleo are all looking for something that is either not there or they are unable to grasp.

It is a slow-moving and verbose play. The choice of dentists as the people who need a rocket to the moon so desperately is an interesting one. Not too many people today would associate them with people who cannot pay their rent and resort to alcohol for comfort. These are not Eugene O’Neill’s pipe-dreamers in The Iceman Cometh of around the same time. Mr. Prince has no financial troubles but he wants to marry the young girls who is not quite twenty years old while he must be over sixty.

Jessica Raine does fine work as the apparently dim-witted secretary who is nevertheless able to play the three men on her fingertips. Woodeson is colourful and suave as the old man with the fancy canes and the florid language.

Millson is the henpecked husband who is looking for a way out without being found out while Keeley Hawes does excellent work as the attractive but demanding and domineering wife who is also looking for a rocket to somewhere.

Director Angus Jackson keeps this somewhat lengthy piece moving at a good pace and in the end you do get a fascinating night at the theatre and not only for being given yje opportunity to see such a rarely produced play.

Rocket to the Moon by Clifford Odets opened on March 30, 2011 and continues at The Royal National Theatre, London, SE1 9PX, Tel.+44 (0) 20 7452 3333

Friday, April 15, 2011


Reviewewd by James Karas

Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera, is based on a libretto entitled Leonore ou l’amour conjugal by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly. That’s clear enough: we will get a story about a woman called Leonore and the moral will be the value of married love. My guess is that many people like me associate Fidelio more with false imprisonment, political oppression and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of tyranny.

Fidelio is now playing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in a revival of production by Jurgen Flimm that first opened at the Metropolitan Opera House back in 2000. It is a full-blooded production, done in modern dress, with some superlative singing.

As the curtain rises, we see a three-level cellblock on the right with the prisoners visible. What goes on in the front of the cells? Prison Guard Jaquino (Steven Ebel) is making a proposal of marriage to Marzelline (Elizabeth Watts), the daughter of the Warden Rocco (Kurt Rydl). She rejects him because she is in love with a new guard called Fidelio (Nina Stemme).

The first chance she gets, Marzelline breaks out into the wonderful aria, “O war’ich schon mit dir vereint” (“Oh when shall I be bound to him”) and she means marriage to Fidelio. Rocco, a character straight out of comic opera, gives his blessing to the proposed marriage and some fatherly advice about the need for money to accompany love: “Hat man nicht auch Geld bei Leben” (“Love will not suffice for marriage”.

The music is lilting, the subject matter conjugal and the prisoners on our right are all but forgotten. Again, this is comic opera and highly enjoyable if a touch incongruous.

We finally learn that Fidelio is really Leonore and she is here to save her husband Florestan who has been unjustly imprisoned for his political views and is about to be permanently dispatched. Conjugal love takes the back seat as we visit Florestan (Endrik Wottrich) in the dungeon and he intones the powerful aria “Gott, welch’ Dunkel hier” (“God! This awful dark”).

Florestan’s enemy is the Military Governor of the Prison, Don Pizarro, (John Wegner), a stock evil character who wants to eliminate our noble hero. In the end Florestan is saved by Don Fernando (Willard W. White), a minister and conjugal love triumphs.

Our hero is saved by the mercy of God and the intercession of the Minister. There is no regime change or any criticism of the regime. We do not know Florestan’s political views that elicited such murderous hatred from Don Pizarro. The King is good, everybody is quite decent except for one bad apple, it seems. The human spirit is victorious, conjugal love triumphs and we have heard some exceptional music and singing in an awkwardly constructed opera.

Nina Stemme has a big and resonant voice and she delivered the role of Fidelio convincingly. Florestan appears only in Act II but German tenor Wottrich does have a tough aria to contend with and he does his job with thoroughness.

Rydl’s Rocco is bouncy at the beginning but he turns serious and humane in the second act in a fine performance. Bass-baritone John Wegner is just what you want from the nasty Pizarro, a vengeful creep you gets his comeuppance. Elizabeth Watts is a perky and wonderful Marzelline.

The Royal Opera Chorus as prisoners delivers the glorious and joyful coda praising Leonore for saving her husband and not the establishment of justice or the righting of a wrong. Beethoven wrote these great choral pieces that are worth the price of admission alone.

Mark Elder conducted the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a powerful delivery of the music in this thoroughly enjoyable production.


Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven opened on March 29 and will be performed six times on various dates until April 16, 2011 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris provides an unforgettable night at the theatre. It is the type of play and production that calls for nothing but superlatives and stock phrases like “not to be missed” or “a must-see”. All true but insufficient to describe this brilliant play. It is now playing at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End.

Clybourne Park is a screamingly funny play that is by no means a comedy but may qualify as satire. It is serious, intelligent drama that manages to evoke laughter, shock and a great deal of thought.

Toronto audiences may recall a production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun that was staged by Soulpepper several years ago. The play is about an African-American family that wants to buy a house in Clybourne Park, an all-white neighbourhood in Chicago in the 1950’s. In those days they were referred to as Negroes, black or coloured people but that is another story.

Karl Lindner, a representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association visits the Afro-America family and offers to pay them off if only they would not move into the neighbourhood. The Association believes that the presence of Negro families lowers real estate prices.

Bruce Norris, a white Texan playwright, borrows Mr. Lindner from Hansberry’s play and we find ourselves in Clybourne Park in 1959 where a white couple, Russ and Bev, have just sold their house to a Negro family. As they are getting ready to move, Russ and Bev are visited by Jim, the local minister and by Karl and his congenitally deaf wife Betsy. Francine is Russ and Bev’s black maid and her husband Albert drops by too.

Russ and Bev are moving because their son, a war veteran, committed suicide in their house. This has evoked a despicable reaction and they have seen the ugly side of their neighbourhood first hand. They are moving to escape both the memory of their son’s death and perhaps much more the moral ugliness of their neighbours.

Some of the people of Clybourne Park are unsophisticated, middle Americans who are infected with prejudices and bigotry that make them simply hideous people. Norris also makes them outrageously funny.

The second act of the play takes place in 2009, fifty years later and we see the same actors playing different characters who meet in the same house. The place is in a rundown condition and the characters are distant descendants of the people we met in 1959. The neighbours are meeting to discuss the construction of a new large house where the old one stands. These people are far more sophisticated than the 1959 group. They are well-travelled, professionals and concerned about saving the neighbourhood in the face of an attempt to build large houses. The neighbourhood did go down after Afro-Americans moved in, prices did tumble but now the white families have returned and they want to change things.

Russ and Bev’s dead son plays a pivotal part in the play and it’s best that his role not be revealed. Stuart McQuarrie plays Russ in the first act and Dan, a construction worker in the second. Sophie Thompson is Bev in the first act and Kathy, a lawyer, in the second. Lorna Brown and Lucian Msamati are the African-American couple in both acts and Stephen Campbell Moore is Karl in the first act and the owner of the house in the second. Sarah Goldberg is his wife in both acts. Sam Spruell is the minister in the first half and Tom, the chair of the meeting in the second.

Director Dominic Cooke orchestrates brilliant performances from these actors. The characters are loud, talk over each other, scream, even start a fight but they are hilarious and deadly serious. Amazing performances.

This is theatre at its best.

This production of Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre on August 26, 2010 and transferred to Wyndham’s Theatre, London, on January 28, 2011 where it continues.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


by James Karas

Those who saw the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Aida last October may still be shaking their heads at the shabby show that director Tim Albery put on for them. Albery preferred threadbare conference rooms over grandiose palaces, drab suits for the civilians and run of the mill uniforms for the officers. It was all a pretty depressing affair.

The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, offers something immeasurably better without resorting to a parade of animals and without emptying the British Museum of its Egyptian statues. The production directed by David McVicar relies on old-fashioned vocal and orchestral power to turn out an outstanding Aida.

The vocal charge is led by Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska as the Ethiopian princess with whom the Captain of the Egyptian Guard, Radames is in love. (The production has two casts and I will only refer to the cast that I saw on March 30, 2011). Monastyrska has a big dramatic voice that can be tender when need be and powerful enough to stop an army when necessary. This is old-fashioned singing with all barrels firing and a delight to see and hear.

Uruguayan tenor Carlo Ventre sang the role of Radames with force and finesse but I must admit that I have some reservations about the quality of his low notes. Aside from that he soared to his high notes and was a superb match for Monastyrska.

Mezzo soprano Marianne Cornetti was a last-minute replacement for the ailing Olga Borodina and she did a commendable job as the jealous and vindictive Princess Amneris. In the final scene, she rises above her jealousy and vindictiveness in a moving display of humanity.

German baritone Michael Volle was a strong Amonasro and British bass Brindley Sherratt was sonorous King of Egypt.

The vocal prowess was not matched by the usual accoutrements of Aida such as massive scenery, huge statues and sets from The Ten Commandments. McVicar, set designer Jean-Marc Puissant and Costume Designer Moritz Junge have opted for a minimal of sets and fairly unobtrusive costumes. A rotating dark wall is the focal point of the set and aside from some indicators of a temple and the dungeon in the final scene, sets are minimal.

McVicar prefers dark shades and the entire production is done in dark tones.

The Triumphal March is reduced to a dance with swords - a warrior dance but no parade of a couple hundred of extras accompanied by zoo animals. I missed the grandiosity of the march but with the vocal power of the present production I could do without it.

Special mention needs to be made of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the baton of Daniele Rustioni and the Royal Opera Chorus under Renato Balsadonna. Both gave outstanding performances and brought out the full power and all the tenderness of this grand opera.
Aida by Giuseppe Verdi opened on March 22 and will be performed eleven times on various dates until April 15, 2011 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

Near the end of William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life, Joe (Joseph Ziegler), a folk philosopher and philanthropist of sorts and Tom (Kevin Bundy), his not-too-swift gofer get into a contest: who can stuff more pieces of gum in his mouth? The contest is supervised by Kit Carson (Stuart Hughes). The two men keep stuffing gum into their mouths and Kit keeps score. They get to about thirty pieces each and then must speak on the phone. Tom and Joe must take the disgusting wad of gum out of their mouth.

The contest seemed to get the most attention from the audience in this production by Soulpepper now playing at the Young Centre, Toronto. There is some violence and a gun shot at the end but after some 2 hours and forty minutes, you are not in the mood to care about anything.

The Time of Your Life won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1939 and there are no doubt many people who think highly of the play and the current production by Soulpepper directed by Albert Schultz. I do not share that opinion about the play or the production. Both are soporific and whatever underlying virtues the play may have they were not apparent to me.

The play takes place in a bar in San Francisco and is no doubt intended to provide a snapshot of Americana. It has twenty-five characters ranging from sailors to hookers to immigrants, to cops, and high society people. Some of them make brief appearances and some have a lot of time on stage, sleeping.

The main character is Joe who sits at a table day in, day out, drinking champagne, dispensing wisdom and sharing his wealth with others. Nick (Derek Boyes), the bar owner is a decent man who will give work and food to the hungry. Harry (Jeff Lillico) is a would-be comedian who dances and tells jokes in an attempt to get a job.

Then there is Dudley (Gregory Prest) who is madly in love with Elsie (Krystin Pellerin) and, when not sleeping at a table, is phoning her and threatening to kill himself unless she marries him. Willie (Ins Choi) has it even worse: he is supposed to be playing at a marble-game and he sits motionless, crouched over the game for much of the play.

We have Kitty Duval (Karen Rae) the hooker who wants to move on and the brutal cop Blick (Michael Simpson) and the nice cop Krupp (Oliver Dennis). There are others – 25 in all as I said - but there is no point listing them. There are dreamers, hard workers, hard luck stories and all of it adds to very little.

The fact that I do not like the play does not mean that the actors did a bad job. Ziegler portrays Joe as the benign character that Saroyan envisioned and no one can complain about Lillico as the would-be song and dance man. The play may have struck chords in pre-war America that simply do not resonate any more.

This production was initially seen in 2008 and Stuart Hughes and Joseph Ziegler won Dora Awards for their acting. I saw that production and had completely forgotten it. I looked at my review after writing this and noted that I found it awful. Perhaps I have not seen the right production yet.


The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan opened on March 18 and will play until June 15, 2011 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 866-8666