Saturday, December 31, 2016


James Karas

Toronto Operetta Theatre ends the old year and brings in 2017 with a production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, The Pirates of Penzance. TOT, it bears repeating, works under severe limitations in terms of budget and space but it makes up for that in enthusiasm and simple staying power. This Pirates has energy and fun despite some uneven performances.

Operetta is to opera what farce is to serious drama – silly plot but thoroughly enjoyable. But never underestimate the brilliance of Gilbert’s lyrics or Sullivan’s music. Their work is in a class of its own. 
Vania Chan as Mabel and Colin Ainsworth as Frederic. Photo: Emily Ding
The pirates of the title operate from the coast of Cornwall and they are so soft-hearted that will never molest an orphan. And wouldn’t you know it, the entire British merchant navy is recruited from orphanages.

Among these tough pirates we have our hero Frederic, a Pirate Apprentice and, as the subtitle of the work tells us, The Slave of Duty. Tenor Colin Ainsworth has the looks, voice and innocent mien to satisfy the bill. He has seen only one woman so far but he cannot be discharged from his indenture to the pirates until his 21st birthday. But he was born on February 29 and his release will be decidedly delayed. Ainsworth does a fine job in the role but please tie his hair in a ponytail and get rid of the ridiculous pink headband.

Frederic falls in love with Mabel, (soprano Vania Lizbeth Chan), the daughter of Major-General Stanley. The sweetly-voiced Chan was energetic, coquettish, lovable and just delightful. Hers was one of the best performances of the night.

Baritone Janaka Welihinda attacked the role of the Pirate King with considerable panache. He is a young singer but he has the comic verve and vocal equipment to be around for some time to come. Elizabeth Beeler as Ruth, the Pirate Maid-of-all work, is a veteran performer who tells Frederic that she is fair as gold even if time has lined her face and grayed her hair. A real trooper.

The pirates meet Major-General Stanley (baritone Curtis Sullivan) with his daughters and wards and not surprisingly he turns out to be an orphan too. Sullivan gets the most memorable patter song of the operetta, “I am the very model of a modern Major-General.” It is a tough piece to do because it requires a good voice and a highly disciplined tongue. Sullivan was clearly not at his best during the performance that I saw and may well improve.
Some singers sang as if they were marking and you wanted to reach over and turn up their volume Notable in this respect was Adam Norrad as Samuel, Lieutenant to the Pirate King. He stood out because he was the first one we heard. Antony Rodrigues as the Sergeant of Police displayed the same tendency. Turn up the volume.

Conductor Derek Bate and the “orchestra” are squeezed between the stage and the front row, occupying a kind of no man’s land. Squeezed as they are, they manage to produce fine music under less than ideal conditions.

The reason we have operetta productions in Toronto is Guillermo Silva-Marin. He is the General Director of TOT and the stage director, lighting designer and set designer of this production. He adds some humour with references to CSIS and Trump but he is relatively restrained. The directing is vigorous. The set is minimalist with a few props and silhouettes of ship’s ropes, branches and leaves and the sea as required. He and TOT deserve more funding, a better theatre and more productions. Kudos to him for what he is doing.   

Despite some uneven patches, this is an overall fine and fun production well worth seeing.

The Pirates of Penzance by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan opened on December 27 and will be performed six times until January 8, 2017 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 922-2912.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


James Karas

Dinner theaters attract relatively little media attention and it may well be the secret of their success. The Herongate Barn Theatre has been staging plays and offering dinner since 1975 and it has not lost its original shape – yes, it was a barn and still looks like a barn.

Its final production for 2016 is Ray Cooney’s classic farce Run For Your Wife. As with most good farces, even if you have not seen an actual performance you feel that you know the plot. In this case a London taxi driver has two wives and he operates with chronological and emotional precision (we assume) until the curtain rises. Then he is involved in a minor motor vehicle accident and his schedule goes haywire.
 Paul Francies, Grant Evans, Don Green, Lisha Van Nieuwenhove and Chris Cole
 The production of a farce places enormous demands on any theatrical company that dares to produce one. A number of doors have to be opened and shut with almost surgical precision; entrances and exits must be timed exactly, pratfalls must have accurate landings and most importantly the action must move at increasing speed and craziness so that by the end the audience is in stitches.

That is a tall order and if director Anne E. Ward does not fully succeed in the task she has nothing to apologize for in the circumstances. If she is not successful in the ultimate production of a farce, she has at least a good sitcom in her hands that kept the laughs coming and left a largely appreciative audience.

The main vehicle for carrying the comedy forward is Chris Cole as Stanley Gardener. He is a friend and neighbour of the bigamist John Smith and he receives and deflects all the issues created by the situation. Cole reacts, overreacts, overacts and is able to generate laughter at every turn of the incredible plot.

John Smith (played by Paul Francies) is the harried taxi driver who got a bump on the head in the collision and must run from one wife to the next, lie to the police and have to deal with a randy wife in the bedroom while the other one arrives in the same apartment. You get the picture. Francies’ John Smith came out as more pathetic than comic at times. I think he should have been a livelier and more convincing character who was able to persuade two women to marry him and has been able to keep them until the unforeseen accident that caused the play. In this production he could not convince us that he could get a date.

Marion Reid Clarke as Mary Smith and Rose Green as Barbara Smith do a fine job of dealing with the confusion and ensuing mayhem, Lisha Van Nieuwenhove as Sergeant Troughton and Don Green as Detective Sergeant Porterhouse played the two stock characters with ease and got the requisite laughs.

Grant Evans plays the gay neighbour Bobby Franklin with vigour and he provides the double entendre about sexual inclinations and confusion among the characters with fine effect.

For a very reasonable price, Herongate Barn Theatre provides a fine buffet dinner in a very congenial atmosphere. It does seem to be located in the boonies but that impression may have been formed by going there on one of the shortest days of the year with less than perfect visibility and there being nothing around to see.

Their next production is Sylvia by A. R. Gurney which will run from February 3 to March 18, 2017.

Run For Your Wife by Ray Cooney runs until December 31, 2016 at the Herongate Barn Theatre, 2885 Altona Rd. Locust Hill, Ontario, L0H 1J0 Tel: 905 472-3085 or 1-866 902-9884 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


By James Karas

Who killed Spalding Gray?

Well, Spalding Gray jumped off the Staten Island Ferry in the East River and drowned on January 10, 2004. He had health problems including depression but as with any suicide it is not easy to explain why someone would take his life. Who Killed Spalding Gray may be considered a tribute to Gray or a search for an explanation or a portrait of the monologist and writer but it is a bad sign if you cannot tell what a play is about.
Daniel MacIvor . Photo: Guntar Kravis
Daniel MacIvor has written and performs in this 80-minute play and asks the question of the title, I guess, among other things. The set consists of a simple wooden table and chair, a microphone and a glass of water. This is very much what Gray used for some of his own monologues and the play intentionally resembles one of his performances.

When the lights go on, MacIvor invites a member of the audience on the stage and asks him “Who are you?’ the man introduces himself and turns out to be personable and humorous. He is asked “Who am I” and “Who was Spalding Gray.” In front of an appreciative audience, the opening scene goes well and so far so good.

The rest of the play is a disappointment. MacIvor weaves a number of stories in his narrative about himself, people called Howard, Don and Paul and of course Gray. Some may be true, some may be fictional and one is never sure.

MacIvor visits a “psychic surgeon” who can presumably remove an “intuitive” – a spirit or something that invades a person’s being. It takes several sessions to remove the intuitive and since I don’t understand anything about intuitive or psychic surgery, the story left me cold.

Howard considers a number of methods of committing suicide and of course there is none that is completely satisfactory. Jumping off the Staten Island Ferry into the cold waters of the East River can hardly be considered a wise choice but let’s just say that Howard is one of the recurring stories in the play that I could not quite get under my belt.

McIvor is a natural story teller and he speaks in his own voice and in the voice of Gray. He involves the audience at times and recalls the man that he interviewed at the beginning back and they even do a few dance steps.

The stories he tells unfortunately left me cold and his narrative ability and the directing of Daniel Brooks did nothing to raise the production above a mediocre night at the theatre.

Who Killed Spalding Gray by Daniel MacIvor played at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario.    

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


James Karas

Dannis Koromilas subtitles his film Greece Year Zero as A Cinematic Essay Exploring Greece’s Untold Century. In fact this moving and brilliant documentary touches on almost two centuries of Greek history from the outbreak of The Greek War of Independence to the current financial crisis that has brought Greeks to their knees.

In the eighty minutes of the film Koromilas zeroes in on a judiciously selected number of events in Greek history, provides narrative descriptions and some extraordinary footage that has rarely or never been seen before.
 There are paintings and photographs from the nineteenth century and film clips and still photographs from World War I and the following decades right up to the current financial debacle. Some of the footage is fascinating as an illustration of Greek history such as clips of the short and pudgy General Ioannis Metaxas, the dictator who gained heroic status when Greece was attacked by Mussolini and Churchill’s visit to Greece on Christmas Day 1944. We get heart-wrenching scenes of children and adults dying of hunger after the Nazi occupation, of mass graves and of executions and an astounding collection of archival material.

The film deserves immense kudos for its collection of illustrative material alone but it has a lot more than that. It gives a brief but synoptic view of Greece as it stumbled from crisis to crisis and survived successive governments that were all too frequently corrupt or inept.

A connecting theme is the borrowing of money abroad and the mounting national debt. From excessive borrowing in the 19th century that led to the national bankruptcy of 1893 to the borrowing binge of the last few decades, Greek politicians seem to have learned nothing from their history. In fact things got even worse than grotesque economic mismanagement. The Greek government simply cooked the books in order to get into the Eurozone. The word for that is fraud.

Koromilas tries to be scrupulously even-handed in his presentation of facts but there is no way he can avoid strident disagreements with his approach. Communist-led EAM/ELAS gets considerable coverage but there is hardly a mention of the right-wing EDES. He avoids mentioning that the resistance groups fought among each other as much if not more than they fought the enemy and his sympathies are clearly with the people as opposed to their leaders.

The film is narrated in English by Alex Karzis and it is easily transported to other countries by providing a voice-over in different languages. 

I will not try to argue about Koromilas’s approach or the events that he selected. When the film is generally distributed, there will no doubt be a storm of arguments about his choices. So be it. I will however comment about the visit of Winston Churchill after Greece’s liberation from the Nazis in 1944.. By mentioning the December Events (Dekemvriana) after covering the visit, the film gives the impression that Churchill visited Greece before the December 3, 1944 eruption of violence in Syntagma Square. In fact Churchill dropped in on Christmas Day 1944 because of the eruption of violence that resulted into war in the streets of Athens.   

Almost every scene in the film is worth a one-hour documentary. It is a signal indictment of where Greece has been brought to that there is no moony in Greece for Greek filmmakers to produce well-researched, even-handed and brilliant documentaries like Greece Year Zero. It is supremely ironic that this film was made by a man who was born and lives in Canada.

And if you want a quick, vociferous but pleasant argument note the date given for the start of The Greek War of Independence as stated at the beginning of the film. When do you think that War began?

The film is a major accomplishment. 
Greece Year Zero, a film by Dannis Koromilas, was shown on December 4, 2016 at The Royal Theatre, 608 College Street, Toronto, Ontario.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


James Karas

Ross Petty is still at it. This time he fractures the story of Sleeping Beauty and evokes laughter and sheer joy from an audience that is infectiously enthusiastic. In fact there is a conspiracy between the stage and the youngsters in the auditorium that raises the level of fun to wonderful heights. Petty is listed as only the producer of Sleeping Beauty: The Deliriously Dreamy Family Musical but one feels that the writer, director and the rest of the artistic crew and cast are working under his inspiration and style or there more than that?

Sleeping Beauty gives a wildly funny version of the fairy tale with marvelously comic characters, rousing music, athletic dancing, colourful costumes and stage effects that keep going at a relentless pace.

In the Kingdom of Torontonia whose skyline boasts a tower in the background a Princess is born and is named Rose (AJ Bridel). The Princess receives three blessings but also one curse from Malignicent (Hilary Farr). Boo! If she pricks her finger, she will go to sleep. Nothing is left in the Kingdom that could cause that except for the “turning table” which has a needle. Yikes. Thank goodness, I mean, how terrible, that CDs have not been invented.    

Let us meet the other important members of the story. A beautiful fairy princess needs a tall, blond and handsome fairy prince, here called Luke, and James Daly fits the bill even if singing is not his strongest asset.

What we need is broad comedy and we have two terrific comic talents. Eddie Glenn as EGG (and Jacob Grimm) and Paul Constable as Sparklebum provide inspired comedy. They can act, overact, goad the audience and do almost anything with a focused aim: laughter.

Jeremy Diamond who wrote the book does not hesitate to bring current events into the story. Donald Trump, Mike Pence, toll roads in Toronto and hydro are just some of the subjects captured in the dialogue.
Michael Gianfrancesco’s sets and costumes are extravagantly colourful and varied. Projection Designers Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson with Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell have to deal with storms, thunder, lightning and numerous scene changes. They produce a kaleidoscope of wonders that keep young and others admiring and applauding their work.

Director Tracey Flye drilled as much as directed the comic and musical routines with meticulous care making everything look spontaneous.

Petty did not hesitate to include commercials during the show but those too were amusing. And he did appear as Captain Hook in a brief video. 

I brought Emily (“I’m going to be nine next March”), my Associate Reviewer with me in order to capture the more subtle points of the production. She was a most enthusiastic booer and cheerer with instant expressions of disapproval or approval of the bad and good characters. She found the show funny and the scenes in fairyland were her favourite. 

Her final comment: “When are we coming back?”     

Sleeping Beauty: The Deliriously Dreamy Family Musical continues until January 7, 2017 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Reviewed by James Karas

Harold Pinter was once asked what his plays were about and he gave the pithy and unhelpful reply of "the weasel under the cocktail cabinet". That line came to mind while watching Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses now playing at the Tarragon Theatre.

I am afraid the famous reply did not spring to mind because of any inspired analysis of the play but the appearance of a dead squirrel under the coffee table in one of the Jones couple’s backyard. When the hostess sees the dead squirrel, she grabs a spatula from the barbecue and loads it on it while her neighbour asks if she intends to flip it. A very funny line.
Jenny Young, Patrick McManus, Tom Barnett, Susan Coyne in The Realistic Joneses.  Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann 
The play opens in the backyard of Bob (Tom Barnett) and Jennifer (Susan Coyne) where the two are talking about talking and about paining the house. Between pauses and reactions to each other, they are very amusing and confusing. They are the Joneses.

John (Patrick McManus) and Pony (Jenny Young) pop in with a bottle of wine. They are Joneses too who rent a house down the street from Bob and Jennifer. It is the first time the two couples meet and the conversation continues in the same apparently banal but funny vein. The house that John and Pony are renting has an interesting history: someone lived there before. And look at those cute salt and pepper shakers.

The play moves form Bob and Jennifer’s yard to a supermarket to John and Pony’s kitchen a number of times. Charlotte Dean’s set design allows for quick scene changes with moveable panels. Well done.

You quickly realize that the Joneses are anything but “realistic.” They speak usually in short sentences with frequent pauses. There are non-sequitors, changes of subject and actions that make little sense. Nothing appears unusual but you know that nothing is happening on a particularly logical level. These people are nuts and yet they are completely normal. Well, they appear to be.

You can go to Pinter, to Samuel Becket, to Eugene Ionesco and find elements that may seem similar to what you are hearing in Eno’s play. But he has his own voice in presenting these (ab)normal couples somewhere in rural America. They touch on illnesses, mental and physical, real or imagined. They hint of infidelity and they speak in sensible, logical words that at close look are neither.

Director Richard Rose handles Eno’s intricate play with precision and sensitivity. In Barnett, Coyne, McManus and Young he has a cast that can handle the tricky dialogue and make it seem completely natural. The quick turns, the pauses, the constant subtle changes in tone and all the zigzags of the script, test the mettle of the director and the actors and they are all do a first-rate job.

You will get a few laughs, admire the performances and may come out scratching your head but you will get your money’s worth.

The Realistic Jones by Will Eno continues until December 18, 2016 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

Friday, November 25, 2016


James Karas

Come From Away is a hit.

Moving quickly away from that hackneyed phrase, Come From Away is a musical now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and it has all the ingredients that make a successful musical and some additional elements that make it a joy to watch.

Come From Away is an illustration and celebration of spontaneous humanity and decency on a large scale. It does not shy away from our baser instincts of fear and racism but it shows humankind at its best. And it is based on facts.

Some background. All of us recall that on September 11, 2001 terrorists flew two airplanes into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre. All airplanes headed for the United States were ordered to land outside the U.S. Thirty eight planes landed in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland bringing about 7000 people and in effect doubling the local population. How do you provide accommodation, food and comfort for that many people who drop in from the sky, completely unexpectedly?

 Come From Away Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
Irene Sankoff and David Hein interviewed some of the visitors and hosts and combined their stories with marvelous music and songs to create this robust and supremely entertaining musical, nay, celebration.

A cast of twelve actors/singers represent dozen of characters in quick succession as we start with a glimpse of life in the town before the visitors arrive – “Welcome to the Rock.” Then there is general mobilization (“38 Planes,” “Blankets and Bedding”) as the townspeople get into action to provide for the strangers at their door. There is a variety of them from the airplane crews to business people to Muslims, an Afro-American, and a gay couple. The town people are humane, charming and frequently funny.

The whole cast is on stage much of the time in an ensemble performance where there is almost no solo number. The music performed by an onstage band is vigorous, often foot-stomping and delightful.

There are numerous episodes culled from the four days’ stay that range from the humorous, to the touching, to the tragic. All the actors deserve unstinting praise but I will mention only a few. Joel Hatch plays, among other parts, Claude the Mayor who is decent and funny. Petrina Bromley plays Bonnie of the SPCA who must take care of the animals including the birth of a monkey and the manners of a feces-tossing member of that species. And there is Janice (Kendra Kassebaum) the TV reporter on her first day on the job!

Rodney Hicks plays a black American who expects to be robbed any minute as he accepts hospitality with some trepidation. Oz, the town constable, (Geno Carr) gives speeders a warnings with an expletive. The gay couple finds a tolerant society but the Muslim is not treated as kindly in the atmosphere of fear.

Come From Away Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
I give the names of the superb cast with the main role as listed in the program:  Petrina Bromley as Bonnie, Geno Carr as Oz, Jenn Colella as Beverley, Joel Hatch as Claude, Rodney Hicks as Bob, Kendra Kassebaum as Janice, Chad Kimball as Garth, Lee MacDougall as Doug, Caesar Samayda as Ali, Q. Smith as Hannah, Astrid van Wieren as Beulah and Sharon Wheatley as Diane.

Director Christopher Ashley maintains a brisk pace with the merry-go-round of characters and episodes. The revolving set by Beowulf Boritt helps on a single paneled set that gives the impression of small town once you know that you are in a small town in a corner of Canada. It works.

Come From Away is a hit, a celebration, a triumph.
Come From Away by Irene Sankoff and David Hein (Book, Music and Lyrics) opened on November 23, 2016 and will run until January 8, 2017 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.

Friday, November 18, 2016


Reviewed by James Karas

Riverbanks (Όχθες) is a sensitive, moving and exquisite film about the fate of illegal migrants who are smuggled into Greece from Turkey. The film understates the inherent violence of transporting people across a river into a foreign country and it neither condemns nor praises the activity. In the end it is Panos Karkanevatos’s elegy for all those involved in the conveyance of children, adults and drugs from one bank to the other of a threatening river.

The central character is Yannis (Andreas Konstantinou), a young soldier, whose image dominates the film. He is a loner, an outsider, with an enigmatic facial expression that denotes a troubled mind or a lost soul in search of something. He is part of a small platoon of soldiers assigned to find and remove deadly mines in a grassy meadow beside the river. Yannis has a special instinct for locating mines and a spiritual side that drives him.
He meets Chryssa (Elena Mavridou), a single mother who is involved on the receiving side of the river where people and drugs land from the Turkish side. She is involved not so much in illegal trade as in the eternal task of simple survival.

In the opening scene, Yannis is driving on a side road with Chryssa and Myrto, a young child, in the back seat. Something happens and we next see Yannis in a hospital and then in a police station. The rest of the film is a flashback to Istanbul where smugglers arrange for the separate transportation of Kurdish children and adults across the river and the balance of the story. We will return back to the beginning near the end of the film.

In the tone set for the film, Karkanevatos presents the arrangement for the smuggling of the migrants in a low-keyed manner in we which we feel the undertones of danger, fear and emotional distress without any excessive dramatics on the part of the director.

The smuggling does not go well. There is loss of life and backpacks. One of the “lost” is a young boy who wanders across the countryside carrying his backpack. The fate of the boy is done simply and effectively by showing us his expressionless face as he discards his backpack and ends up in a gas station. Karkanevatos creates an emotional peak by just showing the young boy biting into a sandwich that is given to him by the gas station owner. The backpack of the boy and the other backpacks that are mentioned have some significance.

In the meantime Yannis and Chryssa fall in love as they engage in their dance of death. Yannis performs his dance with the unexploded mines while she engages with the smugglers. Yannis’s movements across the minefield may be taken to literally resemble the steps of a danse macabre while Chryssa participates in the equally moribund movements in her meetings with the smugglers.
Chryssa and Yannis consummate their love in a pool and it is a scene as much of passion as it is of baptism and spiritual union of the two. In a later scene, Yannis will bang his head against a concrete wall seeking a sign from Chryssa. I will not give more details lest I spoil the dramatic end of the film.

Karkanevatos, who wrote the script with Isidoros Zourgos and directed the film, uses the Greek countryside, a slow-moving but threatening River Evros and shots of Istanbul for the large exterior scenes. The grassy minefield, the hospital, the army barracks and the houses are adequate background for a story that is not about external drama. 

The film struck me as a symphonic poem composed almost entirely in a minor key. The stories of the smuggling of people and drugs, the relationship of Yannis and Chryssa, the dangerous river, the search for mines whirled in my mind as musical themes that could be developed, varied, and recapitulated in a stunning musical composition.

The final scene could provide a dissonant coda that dissolves into a heart-rending finale as we see that last tableau of the film: a single shoe washed on the shore of the river.


Riverbanks was shown as part of the 12th Annual European Union Film Festival. All 28 members of the European Union show one film each. Many of the films are shown in Canada for the first time and some are world premieres. The Festival runs from November 10 to November 24, 2016 and all the films are shown at The Royal Theatre, 608 College Street, Toronto, Ontario. and

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


James Karas

Author:          Nick Payne
Director:        Peter Hinton  
Cast:               Graham Cuthbertson, Cara Rickets and Jane Chan (cellist)
Company:      Canadian Stage and Centaur Theatre Company
Venue:            Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street                                        East, Toronto, Ontario.
Run:               November 8 to 27, 2016

Playwright Nick Payne in Constellations asks the big question: what if there are many universes?

If you area like me and have difficulty understanding a single universe, the idea of many of them existing simultaneously is pretty daunting and mind-expanding. And if that is not enough, just imagine us existing in a number of universes at the same time.
                                           Cara Ricketts and Graham Cuthbertson. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Roland (Graham Cuthbertson) and Marianne (Cara Ricketts) are ordinary people whom we meet in “our” universe. He is a beehive keeper and she is a physicist who works at Cambridge. They meet at a barbecue party but their attraction to each other is cut short because his wife is there.

That meeting is replayed a number of times with certain permutations. Do they exist in different universes simultaneously but their lives differ in certain details?

Roland and Marianne will go through courtship, love, fidelity and infidelity, together and apart, illness and health and I suppose all the natural shocks that flesh is heir to. But those experiences are never the same. The play is based on themes and variations and as in a musical composition the fascination lies in the inventiveness of the composer but in this case it is on a multiversal level.
Cara Ricketts and Graham Cuthbertson. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Cuthbertson and Rickets are on stage for all of the play’s 75 minutes and they have to deal with the big and small variations of the text with finesse and precision made more difficult by the fact that the text is identical or similar in each universe. They perform with expertise and true talent.

There is a cellist (Jane Chan) on stage throughout the performance providing an obbligato to the numerous lives of Roland and Marianne.

The set by Michael Gianfrancesco consists of a revolving circular platform which is mirrored behind the performers. There is a circular crown above. The world or universe or multiverse goes around in mysterious ways that is out of the scope of comprehension of most of us.

Peter Hinton directs the actors superbly though all the repetitions, variations and emotional upheavals in a play that can only be described as being out of this world.   

Sunday, November 13, 2016


By James Karas

The Almeida Theatre’s Richard III directed by Rupert Goold is a powerful production that seethes with violence and gives us Shakespeare at his best.

In 2012 the bones of the murderous king were found in a parking lot in Leicester, England. Goold uses the grave where the bones were found as the central image in his production. The rectangular hole in the ground is visible throughout the performance and is a convenient place to dump some of Richard’s hapless victims.

The dominant colour of the production is black and there is scant scenery. The characters speak on a black background with some exceptions as when the throne is visible. The characters wear modern dress and occasionally use cell phones.
 Ralph Fiennes as Richard III. Photo: Marc Brenner 
Ralph Fiennes is a powerful, vicious and malevolent Richard. He speaks in measured tones that exude violence and imminent danger for anyone who dares disagree with the ambitious duke who must dispose his brother and his nephews and bludgeon his way to the throne of England. He does. Richard is also a liar and a consummate actor.

He proves the latter attributes in the opening scenes of the play where he pretends to support his brother while plotting to kill him and he seduces Lady Ann (Joanna Vanderham), the widow of Edward, Prince of Wales, the son of King Henry VI both of whom Richard killed. She is following the coffin of Henry VI and Richard convinces her that he loves her.

Vanderham stands her ground and spews insults and curses at her husband’s killer in a superb performance but she does not stand a chance against the lewd Richard who grabs her Trump-style, marries her and subsequently discards her like a used piece of furniture.

Richard III has three other marvelous roles for woman. Vanessa Redgrave appears as Queen Margaret, the widow of Henry VI. The queen is an old and bitter woman whose husband was deposed by the House of York in the civil war and she curses Richard roundly.

The Duchess of York (Susan Engel) is the mother of Richard who kills her son Clarence and her grandchildren in order to gain the throne. The pain of a mother is written on Engel’s fine face in this moving performance.
Susan Engel and Vanessa Redgrave in Richard III. Photo: Marc Brenner 
The best part may well be that of Queen Elizabeth, the wife and later widow of King Edward IV. Her sons are heirs to the throne until their uncle Richard has them murdered and gains the crown. The ruthless Richard III suggests that he marry the Queen’s daughter, his niece and the sister of the murdered princes. In a superb performance, Aislin McGuckin as the Queen confronts Richard until he strikes back and rapes her in a scene of ultimate horror.

Finbar Lynch plays a masterful, greedy and ambitious Duke of Buckingham but his evil has limits and he ends up in the grave that occupies center-stage of the production.

Goold has dispensed with a number of characters of the play and made the plot more taut and dramatic. There are no crowd scenes and most of the action is done in close-ups. The actors speak in measured tones, pronouncing, indeed enunciating every syllable and they are a joy to hear.

Watching Richard III the day after the American presidential elections made comparisons between the fifteenth century king and Donald Trump inevitable. They are both consummate liars, treat women with contempt, handle their adversaries with unbridled viciousness and stop at nothing to gain their ends. Richard III actually kills while Trump engages in character assassination. They are narcissistic, manipulative and utterly ruthless.

They have their toadies and surrogates (Duke of Buckingham, Mayor of London, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich) who not so much support the moral swamp of their leader as add to it.

Richard III spread rumours that his brother, Edward IV was illegitimate as are the young princes and heirs to the throne. Trump insists that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and utters so many egregious lies that the truth becomes a questionable commodity.   

The similarities accumulate as we watch the triumph of misogyny, xenophobia, lying, and the lack of even a modicum of decency.

Richard III by William Shakespeare in a production from the Almeida Theatre, London, was shown at the Cineplex Cinema, Yonge-Dundas St. East, Toronto, Ontario and other Cineplex Cinemas on November 9, 2016. It will be shown again on December 4, 2016 in select venues.  

Sunday, November 6, 2016


By James Karas

Joan MacLeod’s Toronto, Mississippi gets a sensitive and moving production by Panfish Productions at The Box Theatre. The play deals with the difficult subject of autism, delayed development in the euphemism of the play and its effects on a “normal” family. Fine performances and effective directing bring out the best in the play under conditions that would daunt most performers.

The central character of the play is Jhana (Kayla Whelan), an 18-year old girl who can function to some degree despite her autism. She is working and has developed a crush on her boss. She lives in the dream world of Elvis Presley because her estranged father, King (Peter Nelson) is in fact an Elvis impersonator.

After we see the ordinary part of Jhana’s life, the play does build up to a climax of explosive emotions and even physical violence. Whelan and the rest of the cast give riveting performances.   

Her mother Maddie (Andrea Irwin) is a strong and sensible woman trying to deal with her daughter, her husband and a lodger named Bill (Yehuda Fisher).

With a young, autistic girl becoming sexually aware, I expected to meet a monster any moment. MacLeod is much better than that. There is no monster in the play. Bill, a physically unattractive poet and teaching assistant, is a thoroughly decent man who tries to help Jhana and stays home with her while her mother is out on dates. He may drink too much and feel his failure as a writer and Maddie’s lack of attraction to him, but his essentially decency is unaffected. A splendid performance by Fisher.

Irwin’s Maddie is an attractive, caring and tough mother with a ne’er do well husband and, of course, a child with a problem. She is still sexually attracted to King and succumbs to his advances only to find out, perhaps for the umpteenth time, that King is a shallow, selfish, pathetic man going from one sleazy bar to the next trying to make a living by impersonating Elvis Presley.

It is worth giving some idea of the venue where director Kitti Lake had to produce the play. You approach The Box Theatre through a laneway at 89 Niagara Street, Toronto. You go up a fire escape and down a hall which is some distance below Hilton standards.

The performing area is a square room of perhaps 600 square feet (I am guessing) in pristine, late, unrenovated chic. The set by Jackie McClelland consists of a couch, a TV set and a table and four chairs. There are about forty folding chairs lined up against the walls and that is all the people the theatre can accommodate. The action is as close as several feet away from you. Call it intimate theatre in the rough. Kudos to Lake for structuring a fine production around such severe limitations.

As the title suggests, the play takes place in Toronto and familiarity with the environs is an added bonus. But the real prize, after all that, is a fine production of a fine Canadian play.

Toronto, Mississippi by Joan MacLeod opened on October 20 and will play until November 6, 2016 at The Box Theatre, 89 Niagara St. Toronto, Ontario.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


By James Karas

The (Post) Mistress has the ideal pedigree for a Canadian play. It is performed in not two but three languages. Alternatively in French and English, of course, with suitable surtitles. But partly in Cree also in all performances.

The book, music and lyrics are by Tomson Highway, a prolific writer, pianist and composer but that’s nothing in the “ideal pedigree” sweepstakes. According to the program bio, Highway “was born in a snowbank on the Manitoba/Nunavut border to a family of nomadic caribou hunters.” He was raised in two languages: Cree and Dene. He is a major contributor to the growth of native playwrights, actors and Native theatre companies across Canada.
 Patricia Cano. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
After all that his plays, novel, compositions and piano performances come as almost a letdown. Of course, they are not.

The (Post) Mistress is a musical about the largely imaginary life of Marie-Louise Painchaud, the postmistress in a small town in Northern Ontario. It is performed by the talented Patricia Cano with pianist Highway and saxophonist Marcus Ali accompanying her.  Cano is Peruvian-Canadian who performs in French, English and Cree. There is more to her but all of it goes to define the Canadian ideal of a civilized multicultural society.

Director John van Burek, founder of Théâtre français de Toronto and Pleiades Theatre (the co-producers of the play), cofounder of Tarragon Theatre, teacher of theatre in French and English, translator … well, you get the idea, is the type of artist Canada dreams of.

Marie-Louise Painchaud is 49 years in the town of Lovely somewhere in Northern Ontario. She has a vivid imagination and tells us a series of stories and sings a number of songs about the people of the town and her (imaginary) life. The stories range from the hilarious to the moving with an extraordinary denouement.       

Cano gives an exuberant performance. Marie-Louise is a simple, overweight woman who manages to read other people’s mail and fantasizes about a life that is in dramatic contrast to her reality.

She imagines going to Buenos Aires and having an affair. Her description of her experience reaches a climactic crescendo that leaves her gasping for air as if it were the real thing. After that imaginary affair she returns to her husband and gives herself the punning moniker “post-mistress”. The French title of the play is Zesty Gopher s’est fait écraser par un frigo (Zesty Gopher got squashed by a fridge.) Zesty is a character in Marie-Louise’s world.

Unfortunately there is a dark side to the play.

Highway on the piano and Ali on the saxophone are supposed to accompany Cano when she sings, not compete with her. They are frequently louder than her, at times making it very difficult to hear the lyrics and always playing at annoying volume. That is unacceptable.

There are some melodies that poke their heads though Highway’s jazz music but more often we hear clanged-clang, clanged-clang piano chords at unacceptable volume. Cano and the musicians are miked in a small theatre where that should be unnecessary and undesirable.

With a better balance between musicians and actor and no mikes, Cano’s passable singing would sound fine and the stories she tells more than carry the play. Even without the music and singing, the script is hilarious, the characters appealing or funny, the plot development very good and the final result would have been outstanding.

Too bad its effectiveness was seriously reduced.

The (Post) Mistress by Tomson Highway continues until November 6, 2016 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 534 6604. 

Friday, October 28, 2016


James Karas

Do you want to see a Bollywood musical, live on stage, in Hindi and done by an Indian theatre company?

Go and see Piya Behrupiya which is playing now at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in a production by The Company Theatre of India.

If you check the title of the play in the brackets under Piya Behrupiya, it says Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare translated by Amitosh Nagpal. If you are looking for Shakespeare’s play Bollywoodized you are still in luck. Otherwise stay home and watch CNN.

 Ensemble. Photo by The Company Theatre
This version of Twelfth Night was commissioned by Shakespeare’s Globe and has been brought to Toronto by Why Not Theatre in association with Soulpepper. The names of the characters of Shakespeare’s play have been kept and there are a number of recognizable plot incidents. Aside from that, you are seeing a Bollywood musical.

That means you will get a very energetic production with lots of singing, dancing and comic routines. As for understanding the actors, unless you are versed in Hindi, you will have to read to the projected translation on each side of the stage. Almost none of Shakespeare’s language is preserved in the translation. In fact what you will read sounds like Shakespeare translated into Hindi and then translated back into English. The projected translation is difficult to keep up with because much of the text is spoken at a brisk pace. By the time you turn your head to read the translation, the joke is gone.
Mansi Multani, Geetanjali Kulkarni. Photo by The Company Theatre
The actors interact with each other sporadically. They prefer to speak directly to the audience and they are quite funny when you can put what they say and the translation together.
I do not wish to take anything away from the spirited performance of this Bollywood play. The nine actors under the direction of Atul Kumar show genuine talent in acting in this type of production. Take Mantra who plays the minor role Sebastian, Viola’s twin. He complains that Shakespeare was asleep when he wrote that character and he engages the audience in some very funny comic business.

Neha Saraf as the clown Feste is downright athletic in her dancing, singing and clowning. The melancholy Orsino of Shakespeare becomes a song-and-dance man in Bollywood. Trupti Khamkar as Maria, Aaadar Malik as Andrew Agucheek and Gagan Riar as Uncle Toby are appropriately clownish but they are not much different from Geetanjali Kulkarni as Viola/Cesario or Saurabh Nayyar as the dour Malvolio. In other words, they have all been Bollywoodized. The lovely Mansi Multani as Olivia may be related to Shakespeare’s character.

The music is provided by Arnod Bhatt on a harmonium and Niketa Saraf and Rahul Sharma on percussion. They are seated on the stage and the cast sits behind them when not involved in the scene directly and participates in the action.

In the end it is all a matter of taste. The Indian musical with its dancing, singing and clowning is staple entertainment for hundreds of millions. There is nothing unusual in parodying or travestying Shakespeare. But the approach of The Company Theatre of India did very little for me.

Piya Behrupiya (Twelfth Night) by William Shakespeare translated into Hindi by Amitosh Nagpal plays from October 27 to 29, 2016 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Reviewed James Karas

Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas has the dubious distinction of being first performed by the girls at a boarding school in Chelsea run by a dancer and choreographer. The date is uncertain and the closest scholars get is to state that it was before December 1689. The opera is frequently described as a masterpiece or the best opera in English which may explain why it was not produced in England for almost 200 years (1704 – 1895). Even then it was not until the latter part of the twentieth century that it started being produced regularly.

The opera is an ideal vehicle for Opera Atelier. It has some beautiful music, of course, but it provides plenty of opportunities for the Artists of Atelier Ballet and the Opera Atelier Chorus. Most of the pieces are quite short, perhaps to accommodate the abilities of the young girls who first performed it, and its vocal requirements are below the stratosphere.
Wallis Giunta and Christopher Enns. Photo Bruce Zinger 
Bring on Director Marshall Pynkoski, Choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, Set Designer Gerard Gauci and Costume Designer Michael Legouffe, experts in the production of Baroque opera, and watch the results.

The first thing Pynkoski does is add a prologue that puts the plot of the opera in context. Not all of us remember the story of Dido Queen of Carthage as related by Virgil in The Aeneid. Actor Irene Poole, in a delightful and sprightly performance, brings us up to snuff by reading parts of The Aeneid in the voices of Virgil, Juno, Neptune and Aeolus. 

There are a number of dances indicated in the badly preserved score but Zingg adds a few more using Purcell’s music.

Pynkoski and Zingg are thus able to produce an integrated opera-ballet that flows naturally from the plot and the music. The production combines the artifice, gestures and poses of baroque dance and the splendid music and singing of the period. There is great emphasis placed on colour and spectacle but the latter is not exaggerated. We see elegance, beauty and grace.

Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta sings the role of the unhappy Dido, a widow who has fallen in love with the Trojan Aeneas who will eventually abandon her. We know that because he has to found Rome, you see, and it is a job ordered by the gods. In her first aria “Ah, Belinda” Dido sings of her turmoil expressed in librettist Nahum Tate’s terse couplets. Giunta does superb work in the role especially in the signature aria of the opera, the moving lament “When I am laid in earth.”     

Soprano Meghan Lindsay is Dido’s faithful confidante Belinda. Lindsay is a highly accomplished singer of Baroque roles and her supple and velvety voice was on fine display in this opera.

Well-tuned and well-toned tenor Christopher Enns is our hero Aeneas who must love and leave because he is to other business bound. A fine performance by Enns.

Mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell, and sopranos Ellen McAteer and Karine White get the fun roles of the Sorceress and the First and Second Witches respectively. They are the baddies who want to destroy Dido but provide good entertainment while at it.

The Toronto Children’s Chorus Choral Scholars harping back to the school girls who sang in the first production of Dido no doubt, joins members of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra conducted by David Fallis and they do superior work.

Dido is a relatively short opera and can be performed in less than an hour. With the addition of a Prologue and some dances, it lasts for an hour and a half and I found myself hoping for more. The music, singing and dancing with the colourful sets and costumes create a mesmerizing effect and an enchanting night at the opera.

Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell runs from October 20 to 29, 2016 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario, M5B 1M4.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


**** (out of 5)

By James Karas

Georg Frideric Handel’s 1735 masterpiece Ariodante gets a great deal of praise but relatively few productions. The Canadian Opera Company remedies the latter situation for Torontonians by producing a highly imaginative and sound production by director Richard Jones.

When the overture begins and the stage lights go on, we see a large, ordinary table and chairs in an ordinary room.  A cleric is admitted into the room where people are sitting around the table. He begins to conduct what looks like a Bible class silently. He gesticulates a great deal and points towards heaven like a zealous televangelist. The people are dressed in modern clothes of no particular distinction but one man is wearing a kilt.
A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Ariodante, 2016, photo: Michael Cooper
The latter scene is not in Handel’s opera but is an invention of Jones who gives Ariodante a fascinating and highly original interpretation.

We will soon discover that the cleric is Polinesso, the Duke of Albany and the man in the kilt is the King of Scotland. In the opera Polinesso is the bad guy but in Jones’s production he is a creep. As a cleric he is a Tartuffian fraud and as a human being he has Trumpesque proclivities towards groping which progress into serious sexual assault and perhaps rape. Nice guy.

The plot begins to unfold. Ariodante is a prince in love with Ginevra the daughter of the King. Polinesso professes love for Ginevra (she tells him to go to Hades) while Dalinda, her servant, is madly in love with him. In order to achieve his objectives of (a) getting rid of Ariodante, (b) marrying Ginevra and (c) grabbing the throne of Scotland, Polinesso arranges for Dalinda to dress like Ginevra and have Ariodante see them in Ginevra’s bedroom in a compromising position and hello objectives. Almost.

Polinesso gives Ginevra a potion that knocks her out (Jones’ invention). Ariodante does see “Ginevra” being unfaithful and is so distraught he is ready to commit suicide (and is reported dead), the King disowns Ginevra, she is beside herself with grief …and if this sounds like something out of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, yes, it is. But stay tuned for the happy resolution to all of these entanglements and be prepared for a surprise that, like the scene with Polinesso as an evangelist, is the invention of Jones.
Jane Archibald as Ginevra (on bed) with Alice Coote as Ariodante and Johannes Weisser 
as the King of Scotland (in front row). Photo: Michael Cooper
Handel provides an outpouring of recitatives, arias and duets that go through a gamut of emotions. From the expressions of blissful love and happiness of Ginevra and Ariodante, to scenes of grief, treachery, despair, disgusting behaviour, this opera has vocal and musical demands that demand extraordinary talents. The COC has them.

Red-haired soprano Jane Archibald leads the cast as Ginevra. She begins by making herself beautiful and declaring her love for Ariodante but changes her tune to rebuffing Polinesso if gruff terms. After some blissful moments with Ariodante she is crushed, disowned and goes mad. That is a great deal of vocal and emotional ground to cover and Archibald is simply splendid at it.

Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote sings Ariodante, a role initially assigned to a castrato. Ariodante wears baggy pants and of course is anything but a feudal knight. Coote makes us feel his happiness and his pain and we get over the incongruities of feudal references in a modern setting.           

Mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan excels vocally as the louse Polinesso and convinces us to dislike him intensely. Soprano Ambur Braid displayed impressive tone and range as the foolish Dalinda.  

The opera calls for a number of ballet sequences but the dancing in this production is mercifully cut to a minimum. Jones does add some puppet sequences which, if I understood them correctly, show Ariodante and Ginevra consummating their marriage and having children. It’s done very tastefully but struck me as quite incongruous especially considering the end of the opera as interpreted by Jones.

The set by Designer Ultz is quite brilliant. The whole production is done on a single set that shows a small entrance on the right leading to the large room with the table. Ginevra’s bedroom on the right is separated by an imaginary door and it all works superbly.

Johannes Debus, the COC’s Music Director, conducts the COC Orchestra to the high standard that we have come to expect.

At four hours Ariodante approaches Wagnerian length and there were people in the audience who would not have objected if some of the arias with the numerous repetitions were made a bit shorter.

Near the end of the performance when we expect the inevitable reconciliation and celebration of the nuptials of our hero and heroine, Jones has something else up his sleeve.
A large banner is brought on the stage with the Biblical quotation: “And the Lord God said: It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Dalinda steps outside and is no longer part of the festivities.

Ginevra takes a suitcase and goes out on the road trying to thumb a ride.

In a single stroke the entire tenor of the opera is changed. Ginevra and Dalinda rebel against the conventions stipulated by the libretto. They become free woman.


Ariodante by Georg Frideric Handel is being performed seven times between October 16 and November 4, 2016 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671.