Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia and Marcelo Álvarez as Gustavo in Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard
Reviewed by James Karas

The Metropolitan Opera has a new production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera and it has been transmitted around the world Live in HD. The modern-dress production set in early twentieth century Sweden is the brainchild of director David Alden with sets designed by Paul Steinberg. The stark sets and the “feel” provide a marked contrast to the seething passions of the lovers. In the end, you are not sure if you were watching hot-blooded Italians or cool-blooded Swedes.

Un Ballo was supposed to be set in 18th century Sweden where a king was in fact assassinated. Censorship put a kibosh on that idea and the scene was transferred to 17th century Boston where one could find a vice-regal governor-general but everyone else was demoted to plebian rank.

Alden restores the plot to its Swedish base but moves it up to the last century with some serious modifications to the sets and the emotional wavelength. King Gustavo III (Marcelo Álvarez) wears a well-tailored suit but no other insignia of royalty. His secretary and best friend Count Anckarstrom (Dmitri Hvorostovsky) wears a grey suit with a raised-collar shirt and he looks every inch the high-ranking, proper civil servant.

Amelia (Sondra Radvanovsky), the Count’s wife and the woman the King loves is given some beautiful gowns and she is worthy of attention. So far so good.

With a king in a starring role, we are guaranteed a stay at the palace. This is where we part company with our expectations. Gustavo’s palace consists of gray walls, chrome furniture (what little there is) and some steel beams. It has an unrelentingly forbidding atmosphere but there is a huge paining of Icarus falling form the sky on the ceiling. We in theatres around the world get glimpses of the painting because Matthew Diamond, the Director for Live Cinema, controls what we see.

We see a few variations on the gray set. In Act III where the Count tells his wife that she must die for her adultery, the set consists of the same grey walls, one piece of furniture and a sloping ceiling. I am not sure if that took the entire Metropolitan Opera stage but it looked quite claustrophobic.

The background switches to Greco-Roman temples in the ball scene and I am not sure of the connection. I suppose if you can have a painting of Icarus, you can have an outburst of classicism and provide Grecian columns for the final scene.

Un Ballo has a character called Oscar who can be played for fun. In this production, soprano Kathleen Kim sings the role. She wears a white suit and sports a goatee or at least a tuft of hair on her chin. In the opening scene, she wears wings that she later discards. I suppose this provides a connection with Icarus but unconvincing is the politest thing that can be said about it.

Un Ballo has a sinister sorceress called Ulrica (mezzo Stephanie Blythe). In this production, she wears a black gown and makes her pronouncements while clutching her purse. Nothing sinister about this woman.

The guests at the so-called masked ball wear masks that cover the eyes only and you would have to be a moron not to recognize everybody.

When the Count threatens to kill Amelia, he is holding a sword. There were swords available a hundred years ago but it would be the unlikeliest weapon of choice. A gun, a knife, perhaps. It alone it would not be noticed but the accumulation of incongruities left me uncertain about how to react. The deep passion of the lovers contrasts uneasily with the cold, bureaucrats atmosphere around us.

The benevolent king being hunted down by disgruntled subjects who want to assassinate him (he killed my father; he took my castle) adds to the unease but that is Verdi and librettist Antonio Somma and we cannot blame Alden.

The singing was exceptional.  Sondra Radvanovsky was in full voice packed with emotion and passion. She is a woman in love who does not want to be unfaithful to her husband and Radvanovsky displays the conflict superbly.

Álvarez sounded a bit forced in the opening scene especially in comparison to the suave Hvorostovsky. The Russian baritone sang with such ease and resonance as to make the role appear like a cake-walk. Álvarez sounded much better when away from Hvorostovsky.

Maxine Braham choreographed parts of the production. Fabio Luisi conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus and they played some of Verdi’s most passionate music superbly.

It is an interesting production that provokes thought but I would have preferred it to evoke emotion.

Un Ballo in Maschera  by Giuseppe Verdi was shown Live in HD on December 8, 2012 at The Beach Cinemas, 1651 Queen Street East, Toronto, ON, M4L 1G5 and other theatres across Canada. For more information:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Reviewed by James Karas
Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy opened at the Belasco Theatre in New York in 1937. The Lincoln Center Theater is giving it a major revival this year at the same theatre. If you are quick with arithmetic you will have calculated that this is the 75th anniversary of the play.
I found the play creaky, sentimental, melodramatic and rather obvious in its plot development. The production emphasized those qualities and added some overacting, a couple of awful accents and sets that did nothing to improve matters.
The play is set in New York in 1936-7 and it involves a boxer named Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich), the golden boy of the title. He is a talented violinist but is drawn into the glory, money and brutality of the world of boxing where he excels.
The play has a large number of characters that resemble cardboard figures from B movies. There are some real conflicts, of course, including Joe’s subconscious doubts about his decision to abandon music. When he runs into a violinist before a boxing match he is so perturbed that he fights badly.
His Manager Tom Moody (Danny Mastrogiorgio) is a tough-talking man who has Lorna Moon (Yvonne Strahovski), a blonde floosy with a good heart, for a mistress. She loves Tom but falls in love with Joe and with that type of triangle things are guaranteed to be hackneyed and go badly. The love scenes are full of awkward stock phrases that make for pretty unbearable dialogue.
Joe’s father (played by Tony Shalhoub) is an Italian immigrant who wants his son to become a violinist. Shalhoub tries to affect an Italian accent but he achieves it rarely, loses it frequently and should never have attempted it.
That is nothing compared to what tough-guy Mafioso-type Eddie Fuseli (Antony Crivello) does. He is the well-dressed, tough-talking brute that is a caricature of the type. His Italian accent is simply awful and no amount of over-acting can give this cartoon life or credibility.
The play moves from Moody’s office to the Bonaparte house to the dressing rooms of boxing rinks. Mr. Bonaparte has a chubby daughter (played in a nightie and  dressing gown by Dagmara Dominczyk) who is married to Siggie (Michael Aronov), a doltish Jew and they provide or are supposed to provide some comic relief and I suppose contrast to Joe’s very different ambitions.
There are several fights but we are spared the trouble of seeing them and hear only descriptions in the dressing room. We see or hear about some other boxers and “brain-damaged” is the politest description that can be ascribed to them.
The costumes were very impressive. They must have made much better suits in those days. Lorna wears a number of beautiful dresses and the men have finely tailored three-piece suits and tuxedos into which they change with admirable speed. Maybe they don’t make clothes like they used to but that is hardly the point. Full marks to Catherine Zuber for costume design.
The back wall of the set for Moody’s office and the Bonaparte apartment consists of the wall of a tenement building. It looks as if the characters are sitting in the courtyard of a building when they are in fact inside. The same wall serves for a street scene but it is changed for the dressing room scenes. What was set designer Michael Yeargan thinking of?
Odets (1906-1963) has taken his position on the second rung of 20th century American playwrights and he is worth producing. Golden Boy is not just about an immigrant boxer but also about the choices facing America then and perhaps now. The brute force of the boxing world and the gentler civilization of music; the simple life of domesticity versus the appeal of glory and money are contrasted. Those American choices were and are important but their presentation in this creaky and awkward production make relatively little impression.
Director Bartlett Sher is unable to emphasize the strong points of the play and leaves us with only a decent production that could use some grease to decrease the creakiness and relieve some of the awkwardness of the piece.
Golden Boy by Clifford Odets opened on December 6, 2012 and will run until January 20, 2013 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, New York, N.Y

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


 Elīna Garanča as Sesto, Giuseppe Filianoti as Tito, and Barbara Frittoli as Vitellia.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Reviewed by James Karas

Mozart composed La Clemenza di Tito in the last months of his life when his health and finances were in pretty bad shape. One critic has suggested that Mozart composed much of La Clemenza on automatic pilot. The plane may seem to have veered off course now and then when the opera is examined in detail, but Mozart could compose extraordinary stuff even on automatic pilot.

The Metropolitan Opera offers its 1984 production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle to mortals around the world Live in HD. Interestingly, this was the Met’s first staging of the opera and you can use that as a gauge to the popularity of the work.

Ponnelle and the Met were not taking any chances by treating the work as a small-scale opera seria. They give it a full-blown grand opera treatment and the result is thoroughly enjoyable.

The sets designed by Ponnelle would meet with the approval of Cecil B. DeMille. Huge columns, arcades and large stone steps give the impression not so much of the Roman Empire as it may have been in the first century but of the ruins of Rome as seen by tourists many centuries later. The costumes designed by Ponnelle have nothing to do with Rome. The wigs, the ruffles and the beautiful gowns are strictly eighteenth century haute couture.  

La Clemenza has six characters, four male and two female, but only two of the roles are sung by men, Emperor Tito (sung by tenor Giuseppe Filianoti in this production) and the minor role of Publio, the Captain of the Praetorian Guard (sung by baritone Oren Gradus).  

Filianoti has a light tenor voice and he sings with ease. This Tito has a broad, luminous face that has a ready smile on his face. He wants to be decent in the face of treachery and attempted murder. But what he has to confront is so vile that he becomes indecisive to the point of paralysis at times. When you pardon someone who has tried to kill you, you have crossed the line between clemency and stupidity. Tito wants to be decent no matter what.

Tito’s big aria is “Se all’impero, amici dei” near the end of the opera. It is long and varied in speed but it requires some vibrato and Filianoti had some difficulty with it. But he sang well otherwise. Giving us a rather wimpy Tito is much better than a heroic one that dramatic tenors tend to deliver.

Sesto sung by mezzo Elina Garanča and Vitellia in the hands of soprano Barbara Frittoli dominate the opera. Sesto is a friend of Tito’s and in love with Vitellia who has a grudge against the emperor and wants to kill him. The two reach operatic emotional and ethical crises (don’t worry about the details) and give truly marvelous vocal performances. Frittoli as Vitellia is ferocious, selfish, manipulative and quite scary. She tended to flail a bit much with her arms at times but you quickly forgot about it and watched an outstanding performance. Her singing of “Non piu di fiori” is a marvel. She can lower her voice to a lower register and with the help of some dramatic lighting give the crowning moment of the opera.

Garanča is an effective Sesto especially in her great aria “Deh, per questo istante” where she/he begs Tito for forgiveness. She sings beautifully and melts Tito into forgiveness under very tough circumstances.

Mezzo soprano Kate Lindsey is Annio, Sesto’s friend and in love with his sister Servilia (soprano Lucy Crowe). They both perform without a hitch.

Harry Bicket conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

A few comments about the director for the telecast. This is the person who chooses the camera angles, the close-ups and basically what we see in the theatre. Except for a few hitches Barbara Willis Sweete does a very good job. She does not think that we are watching a video game, thank you. We could do with fewer close-ups but let it go at that. One of the annoying hitches was showing us the chorus shuffling into place at the end of “Se al volto,” the great trio in the second act. We do not need to look behind the curtain during pauses in the performance. Save that for the intermission.

Aside from those minor complaints, it proved quite an afternoon at the opera.

La Clemenza di Tito by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was shown Live in HD on December 1, 2012 at The Beach Cinemas, 1651 Queen Street East, Toronto, ON, M4L 1G5 and other theatres across Canada. For more information:

Friday, December 7, 2012


Debra Winger and Patti LuPone in The Anarchist
Reviewed by James Karas

The Anarchist, David Mamet’s new play lasts barely an hour and a quarter but the author throws so many arguments and ideas at you, that it sets your head spinning. There are only two characters, Cathy (Patti LuPone) and Ann (Debra Winger) who engage in a lengthy discussion and you eventually realize that Cathy is in prison and she is applying for parole to Ann.
If you have any pre-conceived notions about a prison environment or an application for parole, toss them away. In this play you will consider yourself lucky when you figure out what Cathy did and what she is talking about. What’s more, Ann not only follows what she is saying, but she more than keeps up her end of the argument. This may not apply to everyone in the audience. Ann is the warden and she will submit a report and recommendation to the parole board. She is a brilliant woman and all wardens and prison officials will be proud of her even though they don’t understand what she is talking about.
I digress. We eventually figure out that in her youth Cathy was an anarchist and she killed two police officers. She has been convicted of murder and given an indeterminate sentence. Thirty five years later she is applying for parole.
The discussion or perhaps arguments between the two women are wide-ranging and seesaw between them with each getting the upper hand on occasion. Wide-ranging? There is religion, philosophy, psychology, personal relationships, private thoughts, sexual preferences and – that is just a partial list.

Cathy, a Jew, has found redemption in Christ and believes that she deserves to be set free. Her father is dying and she wants to see him. She falls short of accepting responsibility for her murders and all the rest of the sophistic arguments fail to convince Ann to recommend her  release.

Ann is leaving the prison (end of her career or moving to another institution, we don’t know) and even though she can keep up and at times best Cathy at her sophistry, she asks repeatedly one concrete question. Where is your accomplice?

Cathy was not alone when she murdered the officers and she has kept in contact with her accomplice but she refuses to divulge her whereabouts disingenuously protesting ignorance.

The play moves largely on a cerebral level and emotional manipulation is fairly minimal. These women may have barren emotional or sexual lives but we are only allowed brief glances at those areas. There is no emotional climax or even a breakdown in the play.

The intellectual sparring is directed by Mamet himself and LuPone and Winger handle their roles with control and assurance. The set consists of a desk and a conference table of the simplest kind. Cathy is dressed plainly and it does not resemble a prison uniform. Ann wears business attire.

The anarchist meets the state and complains about the power of the state as she tries to convince or cajole its representative into releasing her. We are not aware what she was rebelling against and was prepared to and in fact committed murder for her cause. The state says we have punished you but your accomplice got away with murder. Where is she? You may have found Christ, philosophy, charity and grace but the state has more mundane interests like justice.

Despite fine performances by the two actors, the play is unconvincing despite and perhaps because of all its intellectual paraphernalia. I would ot dare to give Mamet any advice on playwriting or directing but I can be helpful to anarchists and would-be murderers. If you decide to adopt Cathy’s unique method of expressing your disagreement with the social order, you are better off to do it in Canada. Here you will be eligible for parole after a mere 25 years of leisure as Her Majesty’s guest and we do not have capital punishment.

The Anarchist by David Mamet opened on December 2, 2012 and continues at the John Golden Theatre, 254 West 45th St., New York, N.Y.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Reviewed by James Karas

Something strange is happening at the fabled Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. The auditorium is completely empty and a performance is taking place. No, this is not a theatrical disaster. The audience is on the stage and they are watching some bravura acting that is almost as rare as the Royal Alex being empty.

The play is Terminus by Mark O’Rowe produced by a theatre company called Outside the March. The programme cover says Off-Mirvish and The Second Stage Series without any explanation but I am sure they mean something.

The “play” consists of several monologues, dramatic poetry recitations, really, by three actors who are simply referred to as “A”, “B” and “C” in the programme. They are Maev Beaty, Ava Jane Markus and Adam Kenneth Wilson.

During the ninety minutes of the play, each actor is confined to a small space, faces the audience and recites rhyming couplets in a highly musical Irish lilt. The poetry is accompanied with some gestures and dramatic and sometimes comic vocal modulations that are quite exceptional.

The play takes place in Dublin and the stories that they actors tell range from the bizarre to the more bizarre. They are not always easy to follow and the acoustics of the Royal Alex stage seemed to be against them. There were times when I found myself listening to the music of the poetry rather than the actual words.

The idea of listening to rhyming couplets for ninety minutes may sound like a monotonous bore but the three actors involved have a poetic sense to deliver the lines without making them sound repetitious. That is no small achievement.

Wilson’s character stands out as the goriest. He is a homicidal maniac who gives graphic descriptions of sexual perversions and sadistic murders. The man sells his soul to the devil in a Faustian deal in exchange for women; someone fall off a crane and there is blood and disgusting acts everywhere. The whole thing takes place during one night in Dublin. As I said not everything is clear, the script does tend to fade but the outstanding acting by Beaty, Markus and Wilson never falters.

Mitchell Cushman directs the production, which is designed by Nick Blais. This production originally opened at Toronto’s Summer Works Festival in August 2012.

Terminus is not a completely easy take for those who go to the Royal Alex without any preparation. Outside the March theatre company does its best to be unhelpful. There is a couple gushing notes by the director and actor/producer Ava Jane Markus but there very little useful information at all. In the equally useless Who’s Who in the programme, they do not bother to give any information about the author or provide some information about the play. To be fair, their website does fill in some of the gaps.

Too bad.


Terminus by Mark O’Rowe opened on November 21 and will run until December 9, 2012 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.

Friday, November 30, 2012


Reviewed by James Karas

Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is justly famous for bringing to the stage a captivating idea. An ugly man, Cyrano, falls in love with a beautiful woman, Roxanne; she falls in love with a handsome man, Christian. The poetry that brings the woman and the handsome man together belongs to the ugly man.

The play is not very good by most standards but is does contain at least two theatrically supreme scenes: the balcony scene and the final act when Roxanne realizes identity of her supreme lover and the person under her balcony. In between there are many crowd scenes with a lot of commotion and yelling to little effect. There are some quieter moments but without the balcony and final scene Cyrano de Bergerac would be a dud.

The Roundabout Theatre Company has staged a disappointing production of the play at the American Airlines Theatre in New York. Any production that lacks a first-rate Cyrano and Roxanne is doomed to failure. This production has Douglas Hodge as Cyrano and Clémence Poésy as Roxanne.

Cyrano is a man of many talents. He is a swashbuckler, a poet, a philosopher, a fearless soldier and a man of uncompromising principals. In his own word, he has “panache” which should include style, flair, flamboyance and a quality that sets him apart from ordinary mortals. He does have one defect: he has a huge nose that makes him ugly and, in his opinion, completely unattractive to women.

What does Hodge give us? He does a fine job as a swordsman and the poetry given to him by Rostand qualifies him as a wordsmith. His great scene comes when he woos Roxanne from under her balcony, disguised as the handsome Christian. Here he unleashes so much passion and intense emotion, that it would melt steel. The cool Roxanne is moved to pieces as she exclaims that she trembles, weeps and burns with love for “him.”

The problem is that all of those emotions are in the words of Rostand (in a new translation by Ranjit Bolt) and not in the voices of Hodge and Poésy. Poésy does provide some emotional fervor and statuesque beauty (especially in the final scene) but she lacks the intensity that would make a convincing Roxanne.

Hodge has no poetry in his voice or passion in his heart. First of all he lacks the “panache” that he is so proud of. He moves awkwardly and is unable to strike a heroic stance. Even in the final scene when he is reading his last letter to Roxanne, he twitches and squirms when he should be delivering his words with searing intensity.

The crowd scenes from the opening in the Hotel de Bourgogne, to the scenes in the bakery and especially at the war front in Arras do generate energy and noise. There is some humour, not all intentional. Kyle Soller as Christian is a handsome dunce but his poetic illiteracy does not stand out because Cyrano himself is not very poetic. The rest of the cast from Patrick Page’s Comte de Guiche to Bill Buell’s Ragueneau to Geraldine Hughes’s Duenna do at least a good job competent but the play does not depend on them nor are they enough to make the production memorable.

In short, the evening simply lacked panache.

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand opened on October 11 and played until November 25, 2011, at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, New York, N.Y.


Thursday, November 29, 2012


Michael Ball and Dan Chameroy in The Arsonists. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Reviewed by James Karas

Max Frisch’s The Arsonists is a satire, a black comedy and a farce with a “chorus” and some musical numbers. Morris Panych, a man who knows a lot about comedy, directs a good production for Canadian Stage but there is something missing: laughter. There were a few laughs, no doubt, but I would have expected more guffaws. Was it just a bad audience?

The Arsonists is a post-World War II play (it started as a s radio play in 1953) that deals with moral and political issues that still resonate today.  A town is being set on flames by arsonists and the plot revolves around a well-off businessman and a couple of “visitors” to his house.

Biedermann, the businessman, is played my Michael Ball as a gentleman who smokes fine cigars, drinks good wine and is a perfectly decent human being. He does have some rough edges like cheating his partner and being ruthless in business. But he is doing just fine now and even if the rest of the town is set ablaze, he is sure that he will be safe. Ball is excellent for the role, gentle, a bit rough, eager to please and to protect his neck.

Fiona Reid is his wife Babette. With her distinctive voice and mannerisms, Reid is superb in the role where she is a bit ditzy but also realistic.

The Biedermanns are visited by Schmitz (Dan Chameroy), an unemployed wrestler who wangles his way into their house. He is a combination of con artist and brute and manages to get his way and settle in the Biedermann attic. We realize quickly that he is an arsonist. He is soon joined by Eisenring (Shawn Wright) and barrels of gasoline are assembled in the attic for the inevitable explosion.

Mr. and Mrs. Biedermann, to some extent, and the two arsonists especially, are dark comic characters. Chameroy and Wright play the characters as somewhat bumbling fools who can turn nasty, a combination of comedy and underlying violence. I thought they did an excellent job and I am not sure why there were so few laughs generated.

The play has a chorus reminiscent of Greek tragedy. In the opening scene the Chorus of Firemen appears as soon as Biedermann lights his cigar and chant some verses. There is a loud band on stage playing original music composed by Justin Rutledge. The music is heavy on rhythm that did nothing for me. The music and the chorus remove any idea of this being a realistic play.

The set is an outstanding amalgam of roof peaks, gables, living room furniture and the band. We have the inside of the Biedermann house with its long dining room table with two candelabras. There are stairs leading up to the attic which is in fact almost on the same level as the living/dining room. You get a cross-section of the house and have a sense of being outside and inside. Excellent work by set designer Ken MacDonald.

Frisch called The Arsonists “a moral play without a moral.” It is a morality play and an astute political commentary that applies to today. The words that went through my mind were appeasement and accommodation. Appeasement in terms of European, especially British attitude towards Hitler in the 1930’s and accommodation in terms of human rights in the 21st century.

Winston Churchill once said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.” Biedermann sidles up to the arsonists in the hops that he will be spared. He gets so close to them that he becomes almost one of them, even if one can argue that it was unwittingly.

Can the same argument be made about any number of extremists who we know are wrong but we tolerate or leave alone or think that they will just disappear?

There is another side to the appeasement coin which is called accommodation. Equal rights for women and gays, gay marriages, evolution, and many other such issues were anathema to most people at one time. Any hint of recognition was considered the thin edge of the wedge. Should we have shown strength in opposing these movements lest appeasement bring them about fully blown in our faces?

Frisch’s fascinating play does not address both sides of the coin. The surprise is that the play has been pretty much ignored. It was produced in London in 1961 and then again in 2007 in a new translation of Alistair Beaton (it is this translation that Canadian Stage is using) but that’s about it.  

That is unfortunate because it is a provocative and challenging play that gets a very good production from Canadian Stage. Too bad the audience did not laugh more.        

The Arsonists by Max Frisch opened on November 15 and will run until December 9, 2012 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Reviewed by James Karas

Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (1882) is 130 years old and it has proven to be a highly adaptable play. It starts as a moral issue when a doctor discovers that the waters of a town are contaminated and naturally he expects gratitude and corrective action to be taken. The issue turns into communal warfare where political and financial self-interest turn the doctor from a town hero into to an enemy of the people.

The latest version of the play by Rebecca Lenkiewicz opened in London in 2008 and was recently produced in New York by the Manhattan Theatre Club. It opened on Broadway in September during one the fiercest and dirtiest presidential campaigns and one feels that Ibsen and Lenkiewicz tailored the play as a commentary on current American politics.

An Enemy of the People goes into high gear very quickly as Dr. Thomas Stockmann announces that the waters of the town baths are contaminated. High gear becomes a gross understatement as the play moves into speed and intensity that can only be powered by jet fuel. It is a truly powerful and unsettling moral and political drama that loses none of its effectiveness by being a familiar story.

For those who followed the vicious American election campaign with its scant regard for the truth, its perversion of values and its contempt for people, the play strikes many familiar chords. Even if you do not care about political campaigns, the play provides a stunning morality tale about the travesty of the truth and the triumph of political and financial expediency and self-interest.

Boyd Gaines as Dr. Stockmann gives a performance of impressive emotional intensity and moral fervor. He is slowly abandoned by all and in the end is almost completely destroyed. He remains unshaken in his conviction that the truth will win out while at the same coming to the conclusion that the majority of people are idiots. He paints himself as Christ figure and he fails to learn anything about realpolitik.

His brother Peter (Richard Thomas) represents the opposite pole. He is a politician who knows that the truth has little hold on people who may lose money or whose taxes may be increased. (I am not sure if there were any Republicans in the audience!) Thomas does excellent work as the conniving and dirty politician who triumphs over the truth.

Our interest in the other townspeople is in how their passionate support of Dr. Stockmann turns into derisive opposition as they maliciously scream “enemy of the people” at him. We have Hovstad (John Procaccino), the editor of the local paper and his employee Billing (James Waterston). Both are zealous about the truth and more broadly about changing the current crop of corrupt politicians. Waterston is superb as the super-enthusiastic promoter of Dr. Stockmann and then the venomous debunker. Procaccino’s Hovstad is a more controlled character. Even more evil is Aslaksen (Gerry Bamman), the printer who pretends to practice rational restraint but is more malicious for putting up that smokescreen.

Dr. Stockmann does have the full support of his daughter Petra (a steady job by Maïté Alina and some support from his practical wife Catherine (Kathleen McNenny).

Michael Siberry plays Morten Kiil, Catherine’s rich foster father who provides an interesting plot twist at the end of the play. Siberry is given a ridiculous wig and looks quite the clown but I suppose he needs to be an eccentric.

The explosive drama is directed by Doug Hughes.

Dr. Stockmann has the opportunity of escaping from the corrupt town in southern Norway and going to the United States which he assumes is more civilized. The irony of the play is that he views the majority of people as idiots. The question that arises in current American politics is”who are the idiots?” The majority who voted for Barack Obama or the majority who elected Republicans to the House of Representatives? 

In the end, it is perhaps just as well that Dr. Stockmann stayed in Norway.

As for Americans, whatever that intellectual status or moral standing, one can only regret that the majority of them did not see the play and enjoyed a riveting night at the theatre.

An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Rebecca Lenkiewicz ran from September 27 to November 18, 2012 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York, NY.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Bethany Jillard, Irene Poole.  Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Reviewed by James Karas

What is time?

If you go to the Tarragon Theatre and see John Mighton’s The Little Years, time may mean the ninety minutes between 8:00 and 9:30, the length of the performance.

After seeing the play, you will realize that time is an extremely complex matter understood by very few ordinary mortals. Can you imagine being in one place at two different times? I mean you are 14 and 26 years old and you are in one place, meeting yourself, so to speak. That’s nothing compared to singularities and other words used by scientists to describe “what is time” or “what time is lunch?”

The abstract but complex idea of what is time can tax the best brains of the world and one might consider it as a poor backdrop for a stage play. John Mighton, who seems to be a brilliant mathematician, puts the concept of time center-stage in The Little Years.

The main character of the play is Kate whom we see at various stages of her life from age 14 to 59 and perhaps older. The play moves in fragmentary scenes and the chronology is not always clear. Young Kate (played by Bethany Jillard) is painfully awkward and caught in the attitude towards women of the 1950’s. The brilliant Kate is steered into a vocational school where she can take stenography.

Kate, however, has more serious problems than social ineptness and not being allowed to study mathematics and ending up in a dead-end job. Her problems are so serious that she ends up in a psychiatric facility. The mature Kate (played by Irene Poole) is a pathetic person, working in a job that she hates and waiting for retirement. Jillard and Poole give different aspects of the troubled genius very expertly.  

Kate’s mother Alice does not know quite what to do with her troubled daughter because she cannot see past the social limitations of her time. We see Chick Reid as a young woman with teenage children and as Alice in a nursing home. Fine work by Reid in the role.

Kate’s aunt Grace (Pamela Sinha) is an interesting character. She is seems to understand Kate but cannot really help her. She has found her own way of surviving the social strictures of the time. She is a free spirit to some extent and creates her own life while her celebrated husband William travels around promoting his work and himself.

William is Kate’s brother and perhaps the most interesting character after Kate. We never see him but his shadow is always visible. He is a famous and successful poet who travels all over the world. He is the antithesis of Kate. Is it because of different attitudes towards boys in the 1950’s or partly because of his mother’s attitude towards him or because he has a different personality?

We do meet Roger (Ari Cohen), the Barry Manilow of artists, who is ridiculed by Kate as an asshole and as a shallow person. He falls between the arrested development of Kate and the glowing success of William as a middle-of-the-road painter who enjoys ephemeral success. He becomes depressed as he considers what will be left of his work in the long run.

The play hangs its proverbial coat on the lives of its characters with a backdrop of complex ideas about time, space and art. I cannot say that the abstract ideas and the human beings of the play are married happily in order to produce a very good play and a very good production. Nevertheless, this is highly intelligent and provocative theatre.

Director Chris Abraham and Set and Costume Designer Julie Fox turn the seating area of the Tarragon Theatre into an L shape and the stage has a bright white floor and a few props. We go through a number of decades until an old Kate meets her niece Tanya (played by Jillard). This young lady is her father William’s daughter in attitude with Aunt Kate’s brains and a different social milieu.  Unlike Kate, Tanya is allowed to study mathematics and get all the awards and rewards for her brilliance that her aunt never saw. We are back at the beginning.

How times have changed.

The Little Years by John Mighton opened on November 14 and will run until December 16, 2012 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.



Sunday, November 18, 2012


Raquel Duffy, Ins Choi, Mike Ross & Ken MacKenzie. Photo by Jason Hudson

Revied by James Karas

Three years ago Soulpepper produced Civil Elegies, a one-man show by Mike Ross and Lorenzo Savoini based on the poetry of Dennis Lee. Lee was Toronto’s first Poet Laureate and an evening of theatre based on poetry about Toronto deserved respect if not love.

Dennis Lee’s poetry is back on stage but with significant differences this time. The evening is based on Alligator Pie, a book of children’s poems published in 1974. The creators and stars of the show are five Soulpepper stalwarts, namely Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross. Note, they are listed in alphabetical order.

The raw materials for the evening are Lee’s wonderful children’s poems that range in length from several lines to a couple of pages. As becomes the genre, they are humorous, fast-paced, thoughtful, sometimes silly and heavy on rhyme. The title poem speaks of alligator pie, alligator stew and alligator soup and the child in us states that we are willing to give away our hockey stick but not our alligator pie, soup etc.

The five actors have taken Lee’s poems and cooked up a one-hour show that kept the audience enthralled and amused. Some of the poems are recited, others are set to music and many have entire routines created around them.

There are a number of musical instruments played by the actors; in fact they create a small band with them at times. We have guitars, a clarinet, brass instruments, percussion, and sundry other “noises” to keep the hour running quickly.

The Michael Young Theatre is turned into a theatre-in-the round and the actors perform on a stage with relatively few props. They do put on some humorous costumes and other paraphernalia but some of it is almost unnecessary. It is so because they create so much energy and so much fun, the props are almost superfluous.

They use a large number of poems and if there are any links or “plot” I did not grasp it and was too engrossed to look for it. The actors sing, dance, recite, horse around and keep the audience in the palm of their hands. They performed as an ensemble or solo.

Opening night audiences are notorious for their excessive zeal and enthusiasm and are not a very trustworthy gauge of the reaction of more “objective” observers, i.e. those who pay to see a play after opening night.. But the opening night audience for Alligator Pie may be an exception. There were a lot of younger people including children and they are not known for false enthusiasm.

In the opening scene, an actor sticks hos head out of a trap door in the middle of the stage. The reaction is immediate laughter and joy and it set the pace for the rest of the hour. Throughout the performance the youngsters were engaged, entertained and enthusiastic. At the end there was a standing ovation by young and not-so-young. That’s how every performance of every production should end.

Alligator Pie created by Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross based on the poetry of Dennis Lee, opened on November 6 and will run until November 25, 2012 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 944-1740

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Victoria Haralabiidou
 BRIDES ( ΝΥΦΕΣ) is the Greek entry at this year’s European Film Festival . The screening is free and on a first come first serve basis on November 19, 2012 at The Royal, 608 College St. Toronto at 8:30 p.m.   

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2004 and I reviewed it for The Greek Press.
It seemed an appropriate time to re-publish the review as it appeared then for people who may be interested in this fine film.

Reviewed by James Karas
Brides was one of four Greek films shown at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It tells the story of 700 young women, some of them teenagers, from Greece, Russia, Turkey and Armenia who were loaded on a ship heading for New York. They were mail order brides carrying a wedding gown and a photograph of their future husbands. Their marriages had been arranged, in a business-like manner, by “agents” or by other less commercial organizations.

The story is centered on Niki Douka, a young woman from amothrace sent to Chicago to marry a tailor and Norman Harris an American photographer returning to the U.S. from Asia Minor. Niki is in fact a substitute mail order bride, replacing her sister who did not like America and returned to Greece. Family honour demanded that the obligation to provide Prodromos, the Chicago tailor, with a bride be fulfilled.

Norman who is traveling first-class is fascinated by the brides and wants to photograph all of them. He meets Niki several times especially as her talent with a sewing machine lands her a job repairing the costumes of some ladies in first class. The handsome Irish-American photographer and the beautiful mail order bride begin falling in love.

The film tells a parallel story of Haro who was in love with a soldier and did not want to be ‘mailed’ to a husband. Her father caught her trying to escape, flogs her and shipped her out. Whereas Niki sees and accepts her duty to go to her husband with steadfastness, Haro is full of doubts and in the end is unable to complete the journey.

Not all the women are on their way to their husbands. The Russian agent is doing a lot more than arranging marriages, he is selling women into the sex trade and no one can do anything about it. He even asks his hapless victims to bring letters from their doctors certifying their virginity.

The story is captivating and dramatic and can easily be turned into a mawkish love story or a melodrama. Prominent Greek director Pantelis Voulgaris avoids both temptations and turns in a film that is both moving and a paean to the courage, integrity and moral fibre of the mail order brides.

One example of Voulagris’ tact and lack of sentimentality is the point where Norman and Niki “fall in love” Niki is seated and Norman notices that one of her shoelaces is undone. He reaches down to tie her shoelace but she pulls her foot away. All we see is her foot and his hands as she pulls her foot away and then slowly offers her shoe and Norman ties up the lace.

Voulgaris lets the camera linger lovingly on the faces of the brides and allows the audience to see their innocence, their strength, their beauty, and their souls. A gorgeously photographed film that captures a fascinating facet of Greece and the Balkans in the 1920s. It shows the poverty of the villages, the strength of the people and the eternal search for something better that started several thousand years ago when Greeks first crossed the Aegean to establish colonies in Asia Minor. Ironically, the film’s voyage took place two months before the Asia Minor Catastrophe that all but put an end to the Greek presence in that part of the world.

These are not 700 tragedies – they are 700 facts of life, of women who accepted their fate as it was handed to them and lived according to a moral code that most of us find incomprehensible.

Victoria Haralabidou gives a stunning performance as Niki. In her sculpted beauty she contains the loveliness and passion of the Greek peasant. She has the strength to fall in love, to maintain the moral code of her society and to fulfill her fate as she perceives and accepts it. Damian Lewis provides the perfect foil as the red-haired photographer who falls in love with her. Equal marks to Evi Saoulidou as the unfortunate Haro.

In short, a cinematic gem.

At one point in the movie, Niki tries to comfort the unhappy Haro by telling her that Canada will soon be full of Greeks. She was of course right and a few of the Greeks who did fill up Canada were lucky enough to get tickets to see the film. A lot more lined up for hours outside the theatre without any luck. The rest will simply have to wait until the film is released so they can see a part of their past gorgeously presented.


Brides, a film directed by Pantelis Voulgaris, script by Ioanna Karystiani and cinematography by Yorgos Arvanitis premiered on September 14, 2004 at the Isabel Bader Theatre as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.