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.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Joseph Ziegler & Diego Matamoros

**** (out of five)

Reviewed by James Karas

“Weird” was the word on many lips, as people walked out of the theatre after seeing Samuel Beckett’s Endgame produced by Soulpepper at the Young Centre in Toronto.

There are many other words that can be used to describe the play and the production including complex, simple, absurd, provocative, profound, confusing, unique and the list goes on. The play and the Soulpepper production prove an extraordinary theatrical experience but the aforementioned qualities of the play are sometimes truncated in the single word “weird.”

Endgame has four characters who speak very ordinary words and it has no plot to speak of. The set is a forbiddingly gray room with two small windows and a doorway. Hamm (Joseph Ziegler) is seated in a large, old wheelchair, his head covered. He wears dark glasses. Clov (Diego Matamoros) is his servant. He is a bit nervous as he moves around the stage (the only one that does), answers Hamm’s sharp whistle and chatters with him.

We will meet two more characters, Nagg (Eric Peterson) and Nell (Maria Vacratsis), Hamm’s parents, who reside in garbage cans. To put things in perspective, the characters display the following salient characteristics: Hamm cannot stand; Clov cannot sit; Nagg and Nell have no legs.   

No place is suggested but the play takes place beyond the end of civilization and near the end of all life. The simple conversations of the characters have far-ranging references and provide fertile ground for professors to complete their annual publishing requirements.

People who attend this production will see an outstanding rendering of the play with outstanding performances by the actors. All of them as directed by Daniel Brooks seem to personify the characters completely as one may have imagined them when reading the play that you forget you are watching a particular production.

Ziegler and Matamoros appear as the quintessential Hamm and Clov even if we have no idea what the quintessential representation of these characters ought to be. Nagg and Nell, ashen faces sticking out of the top of the garbage cans, are smaller roles but are done superbly.

Beckett created a distinct world in Endgame and this production captures or reproduces that dreadful (and frequently funny) world in such a way that you are perplexed, amazed, provoked and in the end walk out of the theatre mumbling nothing more intelligible than “that was weird.” Perhaps. But it is also profound and thought-provoking theatre  - a commodity that is not nearly as plentiful as one would like to see in Toronto.       


Endgame by Samuel Beckett opened on October 31 and will continue until November 17, 2012 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario.  416 866-8666.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


A scene from Timon of Athens – foreground Simon Russell Beale – Timon. Photo: Johan Persson

Reviewed by James Karas

Timon of Athens is generally considered low-grade Shakespeare and is produced infrequently. The deduction is that he wrote it in collaboration with Thomas Middleton. The chance to see a production by the National Theatre of Great Britain was not to be missed even if it was on a movie screen in Toronto and (sort of) live from London. It is in fact pre-recorded.

The production is directed by Nicholas Hytner and has some of the most experienced Shakespearean actors of England led by Simon Russell Beale in the title role. Low-grade Shakespeare becomes first-rate theatre in the hands of the National Theatre with some pluses and some minuses for those watching it on the movie screen.

Timon of Athens is a parable about a rich man who gives all his wealth to his friends. When he becomes bankrupt, they turn their backs on him and he becomes a misanthrope. It is an imperfect morality story as a well-constructed play and quite creaky in its development of characters and themes.

Hytner sets the play in London’s financial district of today where the wealthy Timon is first seen being feted as a benefactor of the Timon Gallery. His generosity knows no bounds as he lavishes money and expensive gifts on everyone who approaches him. The sycophants who are milking him are aspiring artists at best and financiers in well-cut suits.

The jolly atmosphere of giving is turned upside down when Timon goes broke and asks his “friends” for assistance. He is turned down cruelly and ends up as a homeless street person pushing a shopping cart.

Subject to my complaint about the lighting, this is a masterly production by Hytner that makes the play approachable, comprehensible and simply marvellous theatre. Hytner has changed some of the characters from men to women to reflect the modern setting. He finds gold in many places when none seems apparent. The Flaminia-Lucullus scene is a good example. Timon’s servant Flaminius is changed to Flaminia (and played with perfect diction by Olivia Llewellyn). When she approaches Timon’s friend Lucullus of Lucullus Capital (Paul Bental), he makes sexual advances to the attractive Flaminia. There is nothing to indicate this in the text. Hytner is faithful to the original and sees the opportunity to heighten Lucullus’ despicable conduct. A very smart directorial stroke.

Simon Russell Beale gives a stellar performance as Timon. There is a fine line between generosity and denseness and the generous Timon treads on that line before his downfall. When he goes bankrupt, he spews out a torrent of invectives against humanity but he has not learned anything. Beale is brilliant both as the wonderful philanthropist and as the hideous misanthrope.

Hilton McRae plays Apemantus, the cynical philosopher who sees through the vultures who suck up Timon’s wealth. McRae looks like a rumpled academic: smart, decent distrustful and grumpy. Superb work by McRae.

Timon’s steward Flavia provides an example of loyalty and decency in the moral cesspool but she is spat upon by her employer. Parables have no room for people like her, I suppose. In any event Deborah Findlay is a rock-sold steward and does an exceptional job in the role.

The leeches and the servants are almost interchangeable within their group but Tom Robertson does stand out as Ventidius, the drunk, wealthy homosexual who refuses to help Timon even though he had paid for him (Ventidius) to be released from prison.

The play is performed on the large Olivier stage of the National Theatre. We are restricted for most of the production to watching actors perform within the confines of a spotlight. The background is almost always dark and at times all one sees is an actor’s lit face and blackness all around. We get to see a bit more in some of the scenes and in the second half when Timon lives in a pile of garbage and finds gold in the sewer.

The set is sparse. We see a large dining table, a huge window with office towers in the background and a few pieces of furniture. All of it is effective but watching much of the performance in the boundaries of a spotlight I found unsatisfactory.

The close-ups were helpful but the only time we saw the shape of the set and the stage was during intermission.

In the end Hytner does deliver a brilliant recreation of so-so Shakespeare and one could only ask for one more thing: to have been able to see the real thing in London.

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare was shown at the Scotiabank Theatre Toronto, 259 Richmond Street West, Toronto Ontario and other theatres on November 1, 2012. For more information visit


Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Johan Botha ansd Renee Fleming (Photo Metropolitan Opera)

Reviewed by James Karas         

The Metropolitan Opera’s current revival of Otello, first staged in 1994, is opera on a grand scale. A huge chorus, monumental sets and three main singers combine to bring a traditional but thrilling production even if it is only on a movie screen for hoi polloi who are not in New York. This is The Met Live in HD and one of the dozen productions that will be broadcast and re-broadcast during the 2012-2013season.

Verdi and director Elijah Moshinsky waste no time in firing up all engines as the curtain opens on a violent storm where Otello’s ship is in danger of foundering. He is coming to repel the Turks from Cyprus but he won’t have to. The enemy ships are sunk by the storm and Otello arrives to victorious exaltation.

An opera company with the orchestral, choral and scenic resources of the Met can do wonders with the opening scene and this production delivers all that you can wish for. The camera shots directed by Barbara Willis Sweete are judiciously focused on parts of the chorus and the main characters and we in the movie houses may have an advantage over the audience at Lincoln Center in being able to follow the scene in detail.

The victory at sea and abatement of the storm are matched by the expression of marital bliss in “Gia nella note,” the love duet between the recently married Otello and the lovely Desdemona. Tenor Johan Botha as Otello and soprano Renee Fleming as Desdemona end the first act on a note of serenity and splendour.  

The turbulence of the storm however returns in the form of the emotional warfare that is soon unleashed by the malignant Iago. He is Otello’s ensign and was passed over for promotion by the callow Cassio and his hatred knows no bounds. Baritone Falk Struckmann is an outstanding Iago. He sneers, scowls, cajoles and spews hatred as he establishes total emotional control over his superior officer and drives him into a state of murderous jealousy. Struckmann maintains vocal and emotional control of the character and dominates the production.

Iago’s counterpart is the pure and beautiful Desdemona. Fleming has a luminous voice and emotional range that makes her an excellent Desdemona. She may not be quite as young as Verdi and Shakespeare imagined her but most of the singers in the production are middle-aged.   

Fleming’s work as Desdemona is cut out for her throughout the opera but her ultimate moment comes in Act IV where she goes through a variety of intense emotions in the Willow Song and “Ave Maria.” An amazing performance by Fleming.

The third member of the emotional combat is, of course, Otello. Botha is a big man and when he raises his arms he presents a commanding sight indeed. Botha has a big tenor voice that stood him well in his tender moments and in his rages. Iago drives him into madness and the heavily perspiring Botha, eyes darting, indeed looks as if his Otello has gone around the bend.

Shakespeare’s Othello stabs himself “to die upon a kiss” and falls on the bed beside Desdemona. Otello’s life also supposed to ends upon a “bacio” but there is some awkwardness here. Desdemona lies dead on the steps at the foot of their bed instead of on the bed. Otello is singing his final wrenching notes of recognition and repentance and aks for a kiss and another kiss and one more kiss. But the way the two singers are positioned there is no “bacio” and it looks as if the voluminous Botha could not reach Fleming’s face even if he wanted too. Sloppy staging. Even if this Otello did not die upon a kiss, we should have been able to believe that he could have kissed her.

Otello  by Giuseppe Verdi was shown Live in HD on October 27, 2012  at The Beach Cinemas , 1651 Queen Street East, Toronto, ON, M4L 1G5 and other theatres. For more information:

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Meghan Lindsay as Agathe and Krešimir Špicer as Max with the company. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Reviewed by James Karas

**** (out of 5)

Opera Atelier has made its reputation as a producer of 17th and 18th century operas for more than a quarter of a century and, since 2000, at the elegant Elgin Theatre in Toronto. This year it has made a leap into another era and another century with a gorgeous production of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz.

The production features stunning scenic designs, beautiful singing and enough dancing to qualify as almost an evening of ballet in the bargain.

My full review of this production may be read here: