Saturday, October 29, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

Opera Hamilton has launched its 2011-2012 season with a very funny and colorful production of The Barber of Seville at its new venue, the Irving Zucker Auditorium at The Dofasco Centre for the Arts.

The Barber is a comic chestnut that everyone has heard of and opera lovers have probably seen a good number of times. Can a director do something to make one sit up and say “I never thought of that”?

In the hands of Brent Krysa, the answer is a resounding “yes”. He treats The Barber like an excellent comedy, a play that needs good comic acting and re-acting with lots of inventive moves to add to the fun. He succeeds wonderfully. Examples of Krysa’s inventiveness abound. Here are two instances from the opening scene alone: when Figaro sings his famous entrance aria “Largo al factotum” he doesn’t just sing –he coifs an old man. When Count Almaviva wants to get rid of the “chorus” that is serenading his beloved Rosina at dawn, he doesn’t just shoo them away; he throws some money into the wings and the men scamper after it.

An interesting directorial touch: in the opening scene, Almaviva takes a sip from a flask that he carries with him. This gives the idea to Figaro for Almaviva to gain entry into Rosina’s house in the next scene as a drunk. Nice touch.

Krysa maintains his comic inventiveness throughout the evening in this well-paced and enjoyable comedy.

But we have gone to see an opera after all and not just a comedy and Opera Hamilton does a very good job in that regard as well.

Canadian baritone Hugh Russell has a big voice and considerable agility and comic talent. That makes for a very good Figaro who must outwit everyone.

South-African mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal made a splendid Rosina. She is very attractive and has a voice that she can lower to rich dark chocolate and raise it to delicious white cream. This Rosina gets what she wants but no one can blame Count Almaviva for loving her.

Tenor Edgar Ernesto Ramirez sang the role of Count Almaviva who appears as the ardent lover, drunken soldier and music teacher and finally successful wooer of Rosina. I found him a bit uncertain in his “Ecco ridente in cielo” but his voice settled down and he did a fine job after that.

Quebecois Alexandre Sylvestre was given comic license by Rossini which was augmented by Krysa and he was a funny and sonorous Dr. Bartolo, the buffoon who wants to marry his ward, Rosina.

Gordon Gerrard conducted the Opera Hamilton Orchestra and Chorus. The small orchestra produced a lot of good sound and the size of the theatre no doubt on their side in making them sound bigger.

The Barber needs two sets: a street scene and the interior of Dr. Bartolo’s house. A reversible and colourful wall served both purposes. The wings of the stage were not covered but one suspects there is only so much money allocated for sets and Opera Hamilton has done a lot with relatively little.

There was a glitch with the surtitles in Act II but it was fixed within a couple of minutes.

Opera Hamilton has a new home in the Dofasco Centre for the Performing Arts. I did not have time to examine the Irving Zucker Auditorium but it is much smaller and more intimate than the rather cavernous Great Hall of Hamilton Place. At 750 seats it is less than a third of Toronto’s Four Seasons for the Performing Arts. The dark gray paint gave it a steely austerity but the red seats provide some warmth. The acoustics seemed excellent and the small size obviously helps.

The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini was performed on October 22, 25. 27 and 29, 2011 at Irving Zucker Auditorium, Dofasco Centre for the Performing Arts, 190 King William St. Hamilton Ontario. Tel. 905 527-7627


Ildar Abdrazakov, Anna Netrebko and Keith Miller

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Reviewed by James Karas

The Metropolitan Opera has started another season of broadcasting some of its productions from Lincoln Center to hundreds of theatres around the world in high definition. This year’s lineup consists of eleven operas and that is about twice as many productions as most opera companies in the world put on. The Canadian Opera Company provides only six. The Met’s contribution to opera around the world is simply inestimable.

There are times, of course, when technology and weather do not cooperate and the result that reaches your local theatre may not be quite as admirable as what those lucky New Yorkers see at Lincoln Centre.

Everything seemed to go wrong on Saturday, October 15, 2011 when the current season was launched with a highly-anticipated production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. I am speaking only of what we saw in the movie theatre and not about the virtues of the production. The screen was smoky and grainy, a far cry from the crisp, well defined picture one expects from a broadcast in high definition.

The orchestra sounded fine but there were a few glitches that reminded one of those nasty blips that sent a stab of pain when listening to an LP. (This experience applies to only those of a certain age.) But even the singers’ voices were not always perfectly clear. What is worse, the movements were jerky as if we were watching one of those silent movies before the number of stills and projection speed were coordinated.

In other words, this Anna Bolena was like watching a worn VHS tape with speakers purchased from Canadian Tire. Shoot the weatherman.

As far as directing the opera for the cinema (i.e. choosing the shots and angles that we poor slobs got to see) the Met’s Gary Halvorson was at his usual level worst. We never did get to see the whole set unless he showed it when the picture was so bad and I closed my eyes so I could listen to the stupendous singing. In addition to nauseating close-ups, Halvorson has developed a taste for dramatic up-shots where we look at the characters from below.

Anna Bolena is the story of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s wife No. 2, near the end of her tenure as she is about to be replaced by No. 3, Jane Seymour. Henry is after Jane while Lord Richard and Mark Smeaton are in love with Anne. Well, you know the ending.

Director David McVicar offers an old-fashioned (that is a compliment) grand production with monumental sets (or what Halvorson will let you see) and singing on a magnificent scale. Anna Netrebko gets to be distressed and distraught as she is rejected by Henry and wooed by Smeaton and Percy. She even gets a mini-mad scene near the end in a vocal performance of the first rate. Netrebko’s vocal beauty was matched by her physical attractiveness but she has now puffed up and become another overweight soprano. Pity.

Ildar Abdrazakov gets to scowl pretty much throughout the performance. His Henry VIII is vocally and physically virile, commanding and not to be trifled with. Mezzo soprano Ekaterina Gobanova as Jane Seymour provides a contrast and a foil for both Henry and Anne Boleyn. She is tortured by her betrayal of her friend Anne and her position as the King’s mistress. She has an exceptional scene confrontation with the king near the beginning where she tells him that she no longer wants to meet him in secret. He puts a different interpretation on her comments and agrees to make her his.

Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford does a fine job in the pants role of Smeaton, the court musician who is secretly in love with Anne.

The passionate Lord Percy is sung by Stephen Castello. He along with Smeaton and Anne’s bother Lord Rochefort will lose their heads.

Marco Armiliato conducted the Met Opera Orchestra.

We should have better luck when we see the encore broadcast on November 21, 2011.

Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on October 15 and will be broadcast again on November 21, 2011 at the Cineplex Town Centre and other cinemas. For more information:

Friday, October 28, 2011


Joseph Ziegler and Nancy Palk in Ghosts

Reviewed by James Karas

Henrik Ibsen was not interested in small themes or plots for his plays. He examined large, really large, issues on a grand scale. His play Ghosts, now playing at the Young Centre in a fine production by Soulpepper, examines the social, moral and religious order of Norwegian, indeed, European society with an unflinching eye.

The play is ostensibly about the Alvings, a well-off Norwegian family living on a large country estate. A children’s home has just been completed in memory of the late paterfamilias Captain Alving and his widow Helene (Nancy Palk) and their son Oswald (Gregory Prest) are preparing for the grand opening. Pastor Manders (Joseph Ziegler), who is responsible for the construction of the home, is also there for the grand occasion.

Jacob Engstrand (Diego Matamoros), a local carpenter, wants to build a home for sailors and he pretends to be a reformed Christian. His daughter Regine (Michelle Monteith), an astute young lady, works for Mrs. Alving. She is attracted to Oswald.

That is the apparent world order surrounding this family. Social responsibility, family values and religion are the pillars of this society.

Ibsen soon starts showing the rot underneath these pillars, the ghosts from the past that will come to haunt the family and the social order. Captain Alving was a philanderer and an alcoholic. He fathered Regine with a servant and paid Engstrand to marry the servant and pretend the child was his. Mrs. Alving was forced into an unhappy marriage. She was in love with the handsome Pastor Manders and tried to run away with him He preferred the appearance of morality and sent her back. Oswald is suffering from syphilis, a disease he inherited from his father. Appearance and reality are not the same.

I speak of the grandness of themes of Ghosts to stress that although it is a great play it can be heavy-going stuff on stage and indeed it can be crushingly boring. Director Morris Panych has found a way of dealing with the play that makes it enjoyable without detracting from its incisiveness and dramatic value. He approaches it with a light touch, good pacing and very few melodramatic touches. He takes a Victorian drawing room and gives it a make-over without reducing its beauty.

Nancy Palk as Mrs. Alving is an attractive, classy, upper-class woman. She can relate her past without being melodramatic and therefore give a credible portrayal. Ziegler’s Pastor Manders is judgmental and has done some dumb things but he is human rather than a patriarchal bigot from the Old Testament.

Diego Matamoros’s Engstrand is a greedy, manipulating and comical character while his daughter has some of his traits without his crudeness. Matamoros shuffles his feet across the stage, usually drunk, and does an excellent job as the selfish and amoral carpenter. Monteith is the perfect servant; smart, deferential and able to take care of herself.

The most melodramatic character is Oswald who is going blind from the worsening effects of syphilis but even he is not overdone by Prest.

The set by Ken MacDonald is sparse and appropriate; large windows at the back so we can see when the children’s home is on fire and furniture to indicate comfort and perhaps money.

Ghosts premiered in 1881 in a moral world that is very different from ours. The social, moral and religious orders presented by Ibsen have changed dramatically since then and it is perhaps for that reason that his play can be heavy-going. Panych, by adapting the play and directing it, has treated us to some great drama and a good night at the theatre.


Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Morris Panych, opened on October 14 and will run until November 18, 2011 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 866-8666.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Carly Tisdal and David J. Phillips in Tartuffe. Photo: Robert Rayfield

Reviewed by James Karas

The Village Players have opened their 38th season with a spirited production of Moliere’s Tartuffe using a robust prose translation by David Nicholson.

There are several achievements in the above sentence that deserve emphasis. The Village Players occupy a small basement theatre on Bloor Street West in Toronto and will be putting on five plays during their 2011-2012 season. Their survival alone is evidence of their tenacity especially at a time when many other theatrical troupes have fallen by the wayside.

Tartuffe belongs to that rarefied company of indisputably “great” plays. It was written in Alexandrines and it has been translated many times in English, one of the best translations being the rhyming couplets of Richard Wilbur. Most actors have difficulty enunciating them and directors are well-advised to steer away from the play unless they have a superior cast.

The Village Players have side-stepped that problem by producing the play in modern dress in a new prose translation that is colloquial, quick and works well.

Tartuffe (Trevor Birrell) is a religious humbug and conman who is adored by Orgon (David J. Phillips) who is prepared to give his daughter Mariane (Margaret Brock) and all his property to the fraud artist. Tartuffe is not content with just that and wants to have Orgon’s wife Elmire (Carly Tisdal).

Director Anne Harper gives us a fast-paced, indeed spirited production that lets you enjoy the play without the slower pace that is sometimes dictated by the rhyming couplets.

Janice Tate plays Mme Pernelle, Orgon’s no-nonsense virago of a mother. She shoots her lines like darts as she struts around the stage telling everyone how to live and what to do. Equally lively are CeAnne Walsh as the maid Dorine and Brock as Mariane.

The counterbalance to the brisk movers are the holy-schmolly artuffe, Orgon and Cleante (Jonathan Thomas), Orgon’s sane brother-in-law.

Elmire gets a funny scene with Tartuffe where she lures him into attempting to seduce her while the dummy Orgon is hiding under a table. Birrell manipulates his eyebrows and leers at her like the dirty old man that Tartuffe is. Well done. That results in the hypocrite being exposed but it is almost too late for Orgon because he has already deeded all his property to Tartuffe. Here Moliere brings in a rex ex machine to render justice and end the play.

Special mention should be made of Scott Cavalheiro who was a last-minute replacement for the role of Damis, Orgon’s son. He had to appear with script in hand and he did a superb job. Even though he had to look at his lines, he never just read them but acted them out very well.

There are some small issues with the translation rather than adaptation of this 17th century play that is done in modern dress. When Tartuffe is feeling Emire’s skirt, he refers to her gown. Expressions like “at your service” and kissing of hands are a bit awkward in the 21st century. But these are small matters in a production that Molière himself (who played Orgon in the original production) would have probably enjoyed.


Tartuffe by Moliere in a translation by David Nicholson played from September 16 to October 8, 2011 at the Village Playhouse, 2190 Bloor St. West, Toronto, Ontario. www.village Tel. 416 767-7702

Thursday, October 20, 2011


By James Karas

On October 15, 2011, Nancy Athan-Mylonas received the CEGA Award for Education from the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA). CEGA is the acronym for Celebrating Excellence in Greek Achievement. The Award is in recognition of her “nurturing of seven generations of young talent” in “Greek traditional and modern dances, dance theatre, ballet and mime.”

The article that follows was published in The Greek Press of December 23, 2004. I felt that it is worth posting now without any changes.

The second floor of the Polymenakion Cultural Centre behind Toronto’s St. Dimitrios Church is a large hall, good for meetings, dances and other cultural events. Once a year a raised platform is put in, stands holding some four hundred people are installed and the unprepossessing room becomes a theatre. Calling it inadequate would be the politest thing one can say about the place as a home for drama. But don’t tell Nancy Athan-Mylonas that. She is the Artistic Director of the Greek Community of Toronto and in her eyes that space is as good as Epidaurus, Drury Lane or the Comédie Francaise.

In the past 12 years she has staged some thirty productions ranging from half-hour dance presentations welcoming dignitaries to full plays by Euripides, Aristophanes, Lorca and Moliere. Her main focus however is Greek dramatists and she has directed such plays as O Agapitikos tis Voskospoulas, Maroula’s Luck, and Golfo. She is now rehearsing Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek in a dramatization by Michael Vitopoulos.

All her work is done with amateurs and volunteers. Her talent pool is second and third generation Greek-Canadians for most of whom Greek is, at best, a second language. She has to put them through the paces of not only learning and comprehending their lines but also brushing up on their accents. And then she has to direct them in the play. Most of the instructions are given in English.

Who is this lady with the passion and the vision for Greek theatre in Toronto? Nancy Mylonas (the Athan or Athanassopoulos part of the name will come later) was not born in Greece, she has never lived there and she never even went to fulltime Greek school. She is that paradoxical but quintessential child of the Diaspora with a huge difference. Despite her cosmopolitan upbringing on several continents, she has remained Greek to the core.

Before World War II, her father, George Mylonas, migrated from Mytiline to Athens. He wanted to seek adventure so he hopped on an outgoing ship in Piraeus. The ship, as it turned out, was headed for Egypt, and the stowaway was kept on board because he could bake Greek sweets for the captain. He eventually married, settled in Suez, opened a big Greek sweets bakery and prospered. He sent his daughter Nancy to a French school where she fell in love with classical dancing and mime in addition to learning French. Nancy spoke Greek at home, French at school and Arabic on the street.

The political situation in Egypt under Nasser was untenable for foreigners and Nancy, at age 16, emigrated to Sydney, Australia. She continued her studies in classical dance and mime and joined a Greek theatrical group under Chrysostomos Mantouridis whom she remembers as a great director. Afterwards she established her own school where she taught classical dance and mime. In addition she worked in stage, film and television. She was the fragile Laura in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie as well as the earthier Eliza in My Fair Lady in addition to numerous appearances on television and documentary films.

In 1989 she married Christos Athanassopoulos, the commercial attaché at the Greek Consulate in Sydney. Christos added the Athan to her last name and, in 1991, he was transferred to Toronto. Nancy came with him and she got a job as Executive Assistant to the board of directors of The Greek Community of Metropolitan Toronto and plunged into theatrical work. She started teaching dance and theatre for the Board of Education’s Greek programme at Wilkinson Public School and came across one of those rare, eye-popping discoveries - there was an incredible amount of untapped talent in our community.

She asked The Greek Community for permission to form a theatre group. The initial reaction to her idea was less than enthusiastic. Her woven clothes earned her the moniker “tsouvallou” (something between a bag lady and someone who does not make The Ten Best Dressed list) and the idea of staging plays raised fears of her putting a fez on the Community’s metaphorical head which translates neatly as splashing red ink all over the financial statements. She was prepared to do the whole thing on a voluntary basis and promised to break even, she said in a recent interview.

She was eventually given the green light and went on to create a theatre group. She advertised and hundreds of applicants showed up. She accepted only thirty. This led to the founding of The Nefeli Community Dance Theatre. She later added the Ellinakia dance group for young children and established The Community Theatre Nefeli. Hundreds of children and youngsters have learned dancing and been exposed to the theatre by Nancy. They have been able to recreate scenes from the Greek War of Independence to village life in 19th century Greece, from 20th century Athenian aristocracy to 17th century Parisian aspirations to nobility.

Her first production was Chere, O Chere Efeftheria (Hail, Freedom) based on poetry about the Greek War of Independence compiled by Michael Vitopoulos. In 1993, she staged Michael Vitopoulos’s Canada, My Ithaca and took the production to a theatrical competition in Greece. There were sixty entries in the competition ranging from elite schools in Greece to groups from Australia, Cyprus, England and other European countries. The Toronto group won first prize. Looking back, Nancy feels that the success came almost too soon but a triumph is a triumph and there was no looking back after that. She won two more first prizes in competitions at the University of Crete. One was for The Poet of Freedom, a production based on the poetry of Greece’s National Poet, Dionysios Solomos, and the other for Children of the Flame a theatrical extravaganza written by Greek-Australian poet Sophia Catharios.

The playwright’s text is frequently no more than a rough guide for Nancy. If the play calls for a cast of ten, she will put thirty people on the stage. If the script does not call for singing or dancing, Nancy corrects the omission by putting in singing and dancing. Lorca’s Blood Wedding, for example, does not require dancing or clarinet music, not unless Nancy is directing it that is. She is unapologetic about what she does. She needs to involve as many people as possible in each production and create humour and generate energy to keep the amateur players and the equally amateur audience entertained. Besides, she says, the Chorus was an essential part of Ancient Greek tragedy and what she does is provide a connection to the works of the classical tragedians. But she was completely faithful to Spiros Peresiadis’s Golfo, she points out. He had provided all the comic characters and opportunities for singing and dancing that she needed.

But, according to Nancy, the best is yet to come. She has begun an ambitious project whose aim is to capture the vanishing culture of the Greek immigrants in Canada. There are memories, traditions, customs and folklore that she wants to record and create theatrical presentations from the raw material. She is calling the project To Sentouli tis Yiayias (Grandmother’s Hope Chest) and she is mobilizing teachers and other volunteers to collect the information from immigrants from every corner of Greece and provide the Community with invaluable archives.

The Greek Community has probably seen more theatrical productions during Nancy’s tenure as Artistic Director than it had in all the years since its establishment in 1911 to her arrival in 1991. A proper theatre will be built in the new Hellenic Cultural Centre and her energy is not abating. Of course, there are plenty of fezes but they are on the heads of youngsters on stage or parading on national holidays and never in the financial statements.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Paul Gross & Kim Cattrell in Private Lives - Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann
Reviewed by James Karas

Noel Coward’s Private Lives is one of those superb plays that has a rather thin plot and scintillating dialogue that, depending on the performance, can have the audience roar with laughter or sit in silence in the theatre. More than in most plays, the repartee in the play depends on timing, accent and pitch. It has to be done a certain way to be successful.

Since it opened in London in 1930, Private Lives has been revived frequently as a vehicle for actresses with the talent, poise and je ne sait quoi to handle the role of Amanda. It is now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre en route from London to Broadway starring Kim Cattrall (applause, please) and Paul Gross (applause but not as much, thank you.)

Two couples are on their honeymoon in a fancy hotel overlooking the sea in France. The couples, Sybil (Anna Madeley) and Elyot (Paul Gross), and Amanda (Kim Cattrall) and Victor (Simon Paisley-Day) have adjoining balconies. Amanda and Elyot were madly in love and married at one time. Meeting like this could be awkward and funny. It is.

When Elyot and Sybil come out on the balcony, they look at the reflection of a yacht in the water (just to set the social milieu) and she asks him if he is happy. “Of course I am. Tremendously happy” he replies. That is an innocuous line that need not mean anything. But if it is said with a slight pause at the beginning and a tiny pick up in speed at the end, it will tell us a great deal about the couple and produce a mild laugh. That is what I mean by a matter of style.

The repartee will be continued as Sybil asks Elyot if he is glad he married her, how glad he is and if his first wife, Amanda, was pretty.

Paul Gross does justice to the lines as does Madeley to her part and the opening scene brings the message that Sybil and Elyot’s marriage may have seemed like a good idea but it will not have the necessary elements to thrive as a passionate union.

We then meet Amanda and her new husband on the adjoining balcony. Soon enough, he asks her if she loves him and in comes the reply: “Of course, that’s why I’m here.” It is a simple line that provides great possibilities for intonation and style of delivery. Cattrall provides the slight pause and the right tone to indicate that the real, prosaic answer would have been something much longer and very different from the affirmative “of course”.

Amanda and Elyot are the beautiful lovers who struck each other and broke gramophone records during their fights but lived passionately, orgiastically and gorgeously at other times. Gross and Cattrall do excellent work as the loving and warring couple but one must observe that Gross tended to lose the impeccable, high-toned English accent that you want to hear.

Paisley-Day and Madelley are stuck with the roles of side-kicks. They are the ones Elyot and Amanda play off, almost the straight people in a comedy routine. They do generate their own laughs because they are pretty silly.

Paisley-Day’s Victor is a tall, straight-laced man and a perfect foil for Elyot. Elyot’s put-down of him is perfect: “I think I am a bit cleverer than you, but apparently that’s not saying much.” Victor may not be bright but Paisley-Day does excellent work in delivering his lines and producing laughter.

Equally straight-laced is Sybil, who is not too swift but has some unpleasant traits that make for good comedy. She drives Victor crazy and gets into rows with him all to good comic effect.

The production is directed by Richard Eyre who does not miss a trick in evoking the atmosphere of the play and producing all the laughs that the text suggests.

I am not as keen on the set design of Bob Howell but I admit that I paid scant attention to it. The balcony seemed fine but those green blinds did not really add anything. In any event, I was too busy watching and enjoying the show to care about furniture and furnishings.

Private Lives by Noel Coward runs from September 16 to October 30 2011 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Kevin Bundy, Oliver Dennis, Diego Matamoros, Derek Boyes, Albert Schultz, Michael Hanrahan

Reviewed by James Karas

 The Odd Couple is an early product of the Neil Simon Comedy Industry. More than a successful and Tony award-winning Broadway play in 1965, it became a funny movie, a successful television series and, in the end, a national brand. That’s what you call success.

For its fall season, Soulpepper is reviving its 2008 production of the play and the laughs come with almost timed regularity and increasing hilarity. It is a very funny play with “real” people and a plot that will not strain your attention span or your credulity.

Six men get together regularly to play poker in a New York apartment but something happens to one of them to keep them busy and us laughing for a couple of hours. Felix (Diego Matamoros) has been thrown out by his wife. He is a comically weird eccentric with traits like these: he is a fanatic neatnik, a perfectionist cook, will not drink any alcoholic beverage (sips Pepto-Bismal on New Year’s Eve), and is generally neurotic about everything. He is so nuts, his friends fear that he may commit suicide because his wife could no longer put up with him.

His friend Oscar (Albert Schultz) is a gruff sports writer, an inveterate slob, a tough guy who does not know what punctuality and neatness mean. Well, Felix will move in with Oscar and we all know that the result will be comically disastrous.

Schultz and Matamoros make you feel that they can handle these roles in their sleep. Perhaps, but however hard or easy it may be, they are both funny, humane and a pleasure to watch.

Their poker-playing friends are reasonably well-defined characters who are given good one-liners to add to the laughter. Kevin Bundy is a tie-wearing accountant and he is mostly straight. Oliver Dennis is a policeman who is answerable to his wife and he is quite funny. Derek Boyes is Vinny, a man who constantly looks at his watch and will go to Florida in July because it is cheap. Michael Hanrahan is the rude and grumpy Speed who never takes off his hat.

Oscar invites two English sisters, Gwendolyn (Raquel Duffy) and Cecily (Michelle Monteith), for dinner because he wants female companionship. He goes to get drinks and Felix tells them his life story, reducing the two women to tears.

Stuart Hughes does a fine job directing the play. There are no glitches except for a minor complaint about accents. Most of the actors attempt some kind of recognizable New York accent and they either cannot do it or keep losing it. It is completely unnecessary. Keep to your Ontario accent (whatever that may be) and stay away from fancy New-Yorkese.

The situation in the play is eventually resolved. Felix moves out, Oscar becomes (maybe) a bit neater and most importantly the friendship and the poker game are saved. Life should be like that.

The Odd Couple by Neil Simon opened on September 23 and continues until November 19, 2011 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 866-8666.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Maev Beaty, Kristen Thomson, Tony Nappo and Tom Barnett in Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God. Photo by John Lauener.

Reviewed by James Karas

Matthew Jocelyn, the Artistic and General Director of Canadian Stage is a man of ambition, vision and talent. He wants to uproot Canadian Stage from its traditional fare of middle of-the-road classical and modern plays and thrust it into bold, innovative, experimental and spectacular theatre. Jocelyn aligned half a dozen plays for the 2010-211 season, his first, that were almost unheard of by most theatre goers. Success was mixed but no one can argue that he broke new ground.

This year’s programme is no less imaginative and innovatively aggressive. Check out the titles and test your knowledge of modern theatre: I Send You This Cadmium, The Test, Orpheus and Euridice, Red, Cruel and Tender: Beckett: Feck It!, Dark Matters, Clybourne Park and The Game of Love and Chance. How many of these titles can you recognize let alone have seen? No too many, I suspect.

Another Africa, Canadian Stage’s first production of the current season may be somewhat more familiar because it was presented during the 2010 Luminato Festival in Toronto and has now been adapted for a run at the Bluma Appel Theatre. The production by Volcano Theatre consists of two plays, Shine Your Eye by Binyavanga Wainaina and Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God by Roland Schimmelpfennig with The Stranger, a prologue by Deborah Asiimwe.

For The Stranger, the actors walk on the stage, welcome the audience, say a few words, speak in several languages and depart. They are directed by Weyni Mengesha and I have no idea what they are supposed to have added to the evening. Next.

Shine Your Eye is set in Nigeria and it examines the personal lives of several of its people as well as providing commentary about a corrupt country. The central character is Gbena Beka (Dienye Waboso) a brilliant young woman who is involved with a scammer named Lucky (Naakue Chrispin Tambari and Doreen (Ordena Stephens-Thomson), a woman with whom she talks on Skype.

The characters address the audience directly for much of the play or Gbena and Doreen talk on Skype. Images of Nigeria are projected on a monitor and there are two young men who act as a Chorus. Gbena is the daughter of a visionary and upright politician who was brutally assassinated and she is trying to find a professional and personal space for herself.

Intimate chats on Skype, stentorian or plaintive addresses to the audience and the commentary about the social and political situation in Nigeria did nothing for me except evoke impatience and unease.

In Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God, Carol (Maev Beaty) and Martin (Tom Burnett) have just returned from Africa and are seeing their friends Frank (Tony Nappo) and Liz (Kristen Thomson) after a six year absence. There is a great deal of phony jollity as the couples meet and you know that less pleasant stories will be revealed as they talk and drink. Frank and Liz have a brilliant child (we do not see her) who has written a letter to Carol and Martin’s adopted child in Africa. Carol is a doctor in a village where only the very young and old are left and AIDS is a problem and perhaps an epidemic.

The private stories of the two couples and the lives of the Africans that Carol and Martin are involved with may hold much interest but the method of telling them is excruciating. There are constant pauses in the action to allow for commentary on what was just said. Then the last part of the scene is repeated. It is like having an announcer comment on a sports game and then watching an instant replay. Some incidents are repeated god knows how many times and as a result you end up checking your watch with alarming frequency.

There is also a monitor backstage and close-ups of the actors are occasionally projected on it. There were some technical problems the night I saw the play and I am not sure if that prevented the close-ups from being shown all the time or if it was intentional.

Whatever the author’s vision may have been about the impression to be made by the constant interruptions, commentary, repetitions and video projections, director Liesl Tommy and the actors failed to bring it out. It was a bad night at the theatre.


Another Africa, plays from Volcano theatre’s The African Trilogy opened on September 29 and will play until October 22, 2011 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company’s second offering for its 2011-2012 season is Verdi’s ever-popular Rigoletto. It comes on the heels of Robert Carsen’s stunning production of Iphigenia in Tauris. In Carsen’s brilliant conception of the opera, everything works to produce a great night of opera By contrast in Christopher Alden’s production of Rigoletto just about nothing works. At the end of the evening, you are left scratching your head wondering what the hell Alden was trying to do.

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Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi opened on September 29 and will be performed twelve times on various dates until October 22, 2011 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: 416-363-6671.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

First the facts: In 1880 Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville patented the vibrator. Please stay focused. The electro-mechanical device was intended for purely therapeutic purposes, i.e. the treatment of hysteria and not for what some of you surmised.

American playwright Sarah Ruhl has written a play about the use of the vibrator as a medical device in late 19th century America and it has received its Canadian premiere at the Tarragon Theatre. In case my syntax has become unsteady because of the subject rather than my ignorance of grammar, let me make it perfectly clear that the play and not the vibrator had its premiere. The Tarragon Theatre is innovative, but not that innovative.

Let me state at the outset that In the Next Room or the vibrator play is probably not as bad a play as this production makes it look. Let’s just say that whatever qualities the play possesses, they remain well hidden.

Dr. Givings (David Storch) and his wife Catherine (Trish Lindstrom) have just had a baby and they are showing all the parenting skills of two idiots living under a bridge in the Don Valley. We are in their living room but “in the next room” Dr. Givings practices medicine.

Mr. and Mrs. Daldry arrive (Ross McMillan and Melody A. Johnson) seeking medical attention. Mrs. Daldry is suffering from a congestion of the womb or some such malady which is called hysteria and the mode of treatment is the use of the newly-invented vibrator.

The device is applied in a very professional and antiseptic way by the good doctor and his assistant Annie (Elizabeth Saunders.) Guess what? Mrs. Daldry has an immediate “paroxysm” and she feels much better. She comes back again and again for more treatments.

An artist named Leo (Jonathan Irving) who seems to be suffering from painter’s block is also diagnosed with hysteria and he is treated with the new and improved Chattanooga Vibrator that is inserted up his rectum.

Next thing you know Mrs. Givings wants a bit of action as does Annie. Annie, let it be known, knows Ancient Greek and she acts as an alternate to the electrical vibrator during power failures. Somehow she seems to come to the realization that she is attracted to women.

Dr. Givings is a dunce who believes that he is a scientist. His wife is an idiot (there is a subplot about her baby and a black wet nurse played by Marci T. House). Yes, there was suppression in the 19th century and sex for some woman may have been no more than “I close my eyes, open my legs and think of England” but people were not that stupid.

I could not tell from the production if the play is meant to be a Pythonesque send-up of 19th century prudery and sexual idiocy or a sober presentation of the subject. Do these people realize that they were getting sexual pleasure plain and simple from the vibrator and curing some phantom ailment? In a very sloppy ending, Dr. and Mrs. Givings do find out that sex can be enjoyable.

Director Richard Rose, as I said, does not help the play. David Storch is made to look even more foolish than the script calls for and he appears like an ineffectual poseur who knows and understands nothing. His assistant Annie masturbates women and she is getting some sexual pleasure out if it but does she not realize it?

Lindstrom’s Catherine and Johnson’s Daldry are sexually suppressed to the point of stupidity and even after repeated orgasms the latter does not quite connect unalloyed sexual pleasure with the “medical treatments.”

Marci T. House plays the wet nurse who lost her son and has to give her milk to another child with humanity and grace and she is a good change from the rest.

Leo is a stock artist-type with a bad English accent who overacts and adds little to the play. He, like the women, is capable of achieving orgasm in about five seconds after coming into contact with the vibrator. It must have been one hell of a gizmo.

I wish I could say the same about the production.

In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl opened on September 21 and will run until October 23, 2011 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.