Thursday, March 24, 2016


James Karas

Meet Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

That is what writers Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry with their collaborator Karin Randoja want you to do. And they do a marvelous job in their play Gertrude and Alice now playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Parry also plays Stein and Chatterton takes on the role of Toklas.

Chatterton and Parry provide many reasons for wanting to meet the two women and those who have only a passing acquaintance with them will wish they knew them better. As Chatterton walks confidently towards the audience in the opening scene, she establishes dominance and control. Stein asks how many people have read all her books. She is met with silence. She reduces the stakes to three books and one person asserts that he has read three of her books.
Evalyn Parry and Anna Chatterton. Photo: Tanja Tiziana
Stein was a prolific writer with an idiosyncratic style at the forefront of modernist literature. There are references to her work in the play, of course, and some of her famous quotes (”a rose is a rose is a rose”) are included as examples of her literary style. But in a play the personalities and relationships of the characters necessarily dominate and little more than a few titles of Stein’s works can be given

We get an overview of her life with Toklas who was her life partner and secretary. The two were married and it was no doubt one of the first lesbian marriages. The play portrays them as a loving couple with Stein clearly the dominant personality.

Stein lived in Paris most of her life and she knew many of the writers and artists from Hemingway to Picasso to Matisse who have made the Latin Quarter forever famous. Stein was an avid art collector and the play projects her collection of paintings around the stage.

Chatterton and Parry give superb and convincing portraits of the two famous women and provide us with a fine tour of their lives and the Parisian milieu that they occupied and frequently dominated.

Karin Randoja who is credited as a collaborator in the writing of the play also directs it with a sure hand.

Presenting Stein and Toklas on stage in about seventy minutes is a daunting task. The writers made some very judicious choices from the masses of material available and the performers under the judicious hand of the director have done a highly successful job in informing, entertaining and fascinating us.

Gertrude and Alice is a production of Independent Auntie Productions. It was founded thirteen years ago by Chatterton, Parry and Randoja and is dedicated, in their words, “to creating original theatrical work by and about women.” Gertrude and Alice is their sixth production and, along with Oliver Twist, we say please ladies, we want some more.
 Gertrude and Alice  by Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry with the collaboration of Karin Randoja  runs until March 27, 2016  at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


By James Karas

Jitters is a hilarious play by David French and Soulpepper gives it a very funny production. It is a backstage farce in which French pulls out all the comic stops with a group of eccentric, self-centered, neurotic, egotistical and crazy actors who are putting on a play.

As you may have guessed, just about everything goes wrong. They are putting on The Care and Treatment of Roses and the fun begins. The star of The Care is Jessica (Diane D’Aquila), an actress past her best-before-date, who tosses an apron at her costar Patrick (Geordie Johnson) with such force that it knocks his hat off. He wants to punch her in the mouth.
 Kevin Bundy, Oliver Dennis, Geordie Johnson & Diane D'Aquila. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Patrick is a bit of a psychopath who calls people at three in the morning, drinks too much, and is crazy. Johnson speaks in a heavy Irish accent but in the play within the play he attempts an Italian accent which he simply cannot do.

The neurotic Phil (Oliver Dennis) is insulted by the hideous wig he has to wear. He does not like his pants, has different size shoes for each foot and wants a prompter because he muffs his lines frequently. In short he is hilarious.

Mike Ross plays Robert, the nervous pill-popping playwright of The Care who is defensive of his script and a pain to deal with.  

Kevin Bundy is George the director who must cajole, persuade, kiss derrieres and calm down egos to keep things moving and get the play performed. Jordan Pettle plays Nick, the officious and pedantic stage manager who tries desperately to get or keep things going.

The offstage arguments and petty squabbles among the actors, their angsts, indeed torments about how they will be received by the critics and their apprehension about the reaction to the play by a New York producer, with some exceptions, add up to mayhem and high entertainment.

The exceptions are that some lines misfire and there is not the buildup of energy and laughter that should (we hope) leave us with sore stomachs from laughter by the end of the third act. Director Ted Dykstra does not achieve the magic result of a farce that has a straight trajectory of increasing hilarity. There are numerous and often hearty laughs but the production as a whole falls short of a great performance.

The sets by designer Patrick Clark consist of a living room in the play-within-a-play which is very good. In the second act the setting is the dressing room and the Green Room. The two rooms are separated by a only an orange curtain covering a small portion of the “wall” between the two areas. The design is awkward and may be simply the result of lack of space.

The individual performances by Dennis, D’Aquila, Johnson, Bundy, Ross and Pettle are very good and very funny. What is lacking is the extra ingredient where everything comes together on stage and it engages the audience to such an extent in the laughter that the only thing we don’t do is roll in the aisles.
Jitters by David French continues until April 7, 2016 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.  

Friday, March 18, 2016


Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding is based on one of the simplest and oldest of plots. A groom is about to marry a bride who is in love with another man. After the wedding the bride runs off with the man that she loves. The jilted groom gives chase and we have the inevitable tragic ending.

This is the story that Lorca took from a newspaper clipping and turned into a complex, poetic and brilliant play that examines Spanish society in the 1920’s. The play reaches from rural Spain to Ancient Greek drama in its elemental power and emotional depth.

Colin Palangio, Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster & Deborah Drakeford. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
Soulpepper’s production, directed by Erin Brandenburg, has attempted to tackle the poetic and emotional complexities of the play with limited success. The fundamental problem, I think, is the failure to find the proper emotional wavelength and poetic style for the play.

In the first scene we meet the Mother (Diana D’Aquila - the characters have no names except for Leonardo), a woman whose husband and son have been killed and is afraid that the same may befall her son the Groom (Gordon Hecht). The Mother should express deep emotional pain and fear. Diana D’Aquila goes some way but speaks a bit too quickly and does not reach the emotional depth that the play calls for.

In the second scene we move from the naturalistic scene with the Mother, the Groom and the Neighbour (Caroline Gillis) to the home of Leonardo (Colin Palangio), his Wife (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster) and her Mother-in-Law (Deborah Drakeford). The scene begins and ends with a lullaby for the baby that is reminiscent of a choral ode. There is a domestic argument in the middle between the Husband and the Wife about his behaviour. Most of the poetry is simply lost.

When the lights go on, we see a couple of musicians on stage and hear music composed by Andrew Penner. I found very little in the music that resonated with the poetry. At one time the music descended to the beat of a hoedown and at others the singing and the music were dangerously close to simple cacophony. The elegiac verses of the lullaby as well as the poetic lines recited by the Moon (Andrew Penner), the Bride (Hailey Gillis) and Leonardo later in the play lost most of their effect.
 Diane D'Aquila & Gordon Hecht. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
The only way to express the tragic end of the play is through the elegiac verses. Any attempt at expressing the grief of the Mother, the Bride and the Wife through conventional weeping and wailing is bound to strike us as melodramatic. Lorca composed lines that evoke the suffering of Christ and the destruction wrought by a small knife (an image from the first scene). The scene should be cathartic but in this production it was only moving.

Lorca gave some specific instructions about the sets. The Groom’s room is yellow; Leonardo’s room is pink; the interior of the Bride’s cave is white; the final scene is in a white room with arches resembling a church. Set and Costume Designer Anahita Dehbonehie has pared all of this down to a simple set with a wide open sky in the background. The lighting obviously changes when the Moon appears. The costumes do not seem to indicate any particular location. The Neighbour who is dressed in black with a black kerchief could be in most Mediterranean countries. The set and costumes did not pose any problems.

In the end, however, the griefs and poetry of this difficult but great play are largely missing. How disappointing.            
 Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca in a translation by Guillermo Verdecchia opened on March 15 and will run until April 9, 2016 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


James Karas

It is March 2016 and we are in an apartment in Kabul where five terrorists are planning to assassinate a high ranking official. They are bearded, turbaned and dark-skinned, and although they have some difference of opinion they are dedicated to killing a member of the ruling class because they love justice and want to return their country to the people.

They belong to an Organization and espouse its doctrines and obey its rules. One of them is the accepted leader and they are getting ready to toss a bomb at the official’s car. The bomb thrower is prepared to die in the act but he would prefer to survive the attack and be caught. That way he will die twice for the justice that he so ardently seeks: once when he is caught and once when he is executed. 

Raquel Duffy & Gregory Prest. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
All of them do what they do because they love the people, they hate oppression and they are convinced they are the harbingers of justice. There is no evidence that the target of their assassination has done anything unjust or oppressive – he simply belongs to the ruling class and that is enough to justify his killing.

It is unlikely we would know that much about these terrorists but if we learned what they did and their objectives, we may have no difficulty is describing their act as fundamentally evil. We would consider them members of ISIS and our immediate reaction would be to consider them murderers.  

Now change the date to 1905 and set the scene in Moscow where five revolutionaries are plotting the assassination of a Grand Duke. That is where Albert Camus set his 1949 play The Just and my reaction to the terrorists was quite ambivalent.

Director Frank Cox-O’Connell (and Camus) gives us a sympathetic but not one-sided view of these people who are dedicated to fighting for justice but also have characteristics of fanaticism and the pursuit of martyrdom without much logical or strategic thinking.

Yanek (played passionately by Gregory Prest) is a poet who believes in justice and is ready to die for it. When he is about to toss the bomb to kill the Duke, he stops upon seeing two children in the carriage. Killing the Duke is one thing; murdering children is quite another.

Stepan (played like a true party apparatchik by Brendan Wall) has spent time in jail and has been tortured. He has become a killer and is prepared to obliterate anyone who stands in the way of the revolution. He is fighting for the people.   

Boris (Diego Matamoros) is the leader of the group and he is reasonably sympathetic. Peter Fernandez plays the young Voinon who finds out he lacks the killer instinct despite his devotion to the revolution. Raquel Duffy turns in a superb performance as the bomb maker of the group. She shares everyone’s passion for justice but she has not lost her humanity at all.

The plot succeeds but the killer is caught. The lesson that Camus gives us is that counterterrorism breeds more terrorism. These assassins become more fanatical and less human when their mates are caught, tortured or executed. Their dedication to justice remains intact, at least in their minds, but their dedication to murder almost anyone who seems to belong to the other side is just as intense.

The production is done in the small Michael Young Theatre turned into a theatre-in-the round with the stage in the centre. The set by Designer Ken MacKenzie is Spartan but effective. The jail scene with the chains and the lighting (by MacKenzie) and is excellent.

It would be difficult to imagine a more timely play and the production is provocative and an extremely worthwhile trip to the theatre.
The Just  by Albert Camus translated by Bobby Theodore opened on March 10 and will play until March 26, 2016 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.

Friday, March 11, 2016


James Karas

You Will Remember Me is the painfully ironic title of Francois Archambault’s play and of a song by Yvette Giraud (“Tut te souviendras de moi”) that tell of our hopeless attempt to grasp something of our human existence: a memory. We are on the cusp of the terrible moments when we are losing our memory and staring our descent into the darkness of Alzheimer’s. If we cannot remember, we at want at least to be remembered.

R.H. Thomson, Michela Cannon, Nancy Palk, Kimwun Perehinec, Mark McGrinder. 
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
You Will Remember Me is a moving, humorous and terrifying portrait of Edouard (H.R. Thompson), a retired professor, a brilliant man and a prominent public figure, who is losing his memory and, as he himself puts it, has one foot in the void. He will soon live in an endless present moment recognizing no one and remembering nothing.

Edouard’s wife Madeleine (Nancy Palk) can no longer endure his loss of memory and mood changes. She takes him to their daughter Isabelle (Kimwun Perehinec) and takes up with another man. Isabelle leaves him with her partner Patrick (Mark McGrinder) who goes to play poker with his friends and lets his daughter Berenice (Michela Cannon) look after Edouard.

Edouard forgets everything that happens around him almost instantly and becomes tiresome to the persons he is with. He never loses his sense of humour and has some moments of lucidity as his downward spiral continues. It is a frightful and sobering sight.

This is an extraordinary play with a superb cast giving outstanding performances. Joel Greenberg’s directing shows sensitivity and subtlety. It must never seem that Edouard’s family is abandoning him even if all of them pull away. They love him but have difficulty putting up with him. In the end he will leave them by not knowing who they are and they will have to take extreme measures when it becomes impossible to live with him. It is that delicate balance that Greenberg maintains with mastery.

Thomson’s Edouard is a proud man who knows how brilliant he is. He could recite parts of Homer. He makes funny remarks about losing his memory. He was also a man engaged in Quebec politics and the sovereignty movement who can remember that his daughter was conceived the night Rene Leveque’s Parti Quebecois was elected to power. Thomson’s performance is pitch-perfect.

Cannon as Berenice starts as a venal young woman but becomes sympathetic when she discovers that he had another daughter who committed suicide. He confuses the two women but in the end there is a scene that approaches the sublime. Even with both feet in the void Edouard finds comfort in seeing the woman who is no longer known to him.

McGrinder gives a fine performance as Patrick. His patience is tried but Patrick never loses his decency. Isabella is far more impatient than him. Nancy Palk as Madeleine leaves Edouard but does not cease to be decent. Archambault keeps our focus on Edouard and does not provoke unnecessary sympathy by portraying him as a man abandoned cruelly by his family as he descends into mental illness.

The set by Denyse Karn consists of little more than a couch for the living area and indication of a treed yard or forest in the back.

The final effect is that of a moving play that gets outstanding performances, superb directing and provides a great night at the theatre.       

You Will Remember Me by Francois Archambault opened on March 9 and will play until April 10,  2016 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


 By James Karas

Anusree Roy’s Pyaasa is a powerful play that illustrates the lives of a large portion of the population of India – the untouchables. The Hindu religion has strict ranks or castes for people and the untouchables are debris who are degraded to such a level that they are not allowed to eat using the same utensils as people from higher castes. Even the shadow of an untouchable is considered a contaminant if it falls on someone of a higher caste. I find it almost impossible to comprehend this religious edifice of degradation and can only conceive it as a social, national and humanitarian disgrace.
 Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper
Roy in Pyaasa has set herself the task of telling us something about the untouchables by mounting this one-woman show set in Calcutta in Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace. The walls of the Backspace are painted black and she uses no set or props except for a pail. She is dressed in a traditional Indian costume and relates the story of one family of untouchables.

Roy is a highly physical and vocal actor. She changes her voice to represent the 11-year old Chaya, a girl who is the central character and her mother, and she is rarely still. The untouchables of her play live under a bridge. The father cleans the washrooms of a police station. The mother works as a servant and is already dehumanized or perhaps was born in a milieu where all she could do was kowtow to her “superiors” and barely exist. She has learned how to be slavish and make sure her tone of voice, every body movement and gesture and her soul, illustrate obedience and acceptance of her base status.

The little girl is being trained to be and act dehumanized like her mother. A tea biscuit becomes an extremely important object. Chaya’s mother begs and gets a menial job for the little girl in a teashop run by her boss servant.  

The play and the performance are a choreographed cantata about the little girl and by extension millions of Hindus caught in a social structure that defies belief.

Roy and director Thomas Morgan Jones compress and express a hellish story in less than an hour. The little girl’s final tragedy is expressed in searing whimpers and short phrases as the lighting changes to bring home the horror of what is happening.

Pyaasa was first produced in 2008 at Passe Muraille and won Dora Awards as Best New Play and Outstanding Performance by a Female. No wonder.   
Pyaasa by Anusree Roy opened on March 8 and will run until March 27, 2016 at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, Ontario. Tickets:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


James Karas

Goodnight Moon is the perfect play for, as they say, children of all ages. It’s about putting a child to bed. What child or parent cannot remember the procedures, routines, resistances and imaginative tricks practiced by the frequently opposed sides in this daily ritual? The parents want success and respite. For the child, bedtime means finding ways to postpone it.

Goodnight Moon is based on the book by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd that Chad Henry has turned into a delightful musical. The production, directed by Linda Hartzell for the Seattle Children’s Theatre has been imported by Young People’s Theatre for performances in Toronto.

L-R: Molli Corcoran, Mike Spee, Auston James and Vickielee Wohlbach. Photo by Jeremie Andrew.
The child being put to bed is in fact a bunny called Bunny and played delightfully by Mike Spee. We see the moon and the stars in his room; there is a small house and pictures of three bears, a fishing rabbit and a cow trying to jump over the moon. There is a Mouse, a Cat, a Tooth Fairy, a Dish and an Old Lady. The latter (played by Vickielee Wohlbach) tries to get Bunny to go to sleep.

The Mouse and Cat (puppets handled by Molli Corcoran) are not sleepy and they want to play. The three bears (Corcoran, Auston James and Wohlbach) come out of the picture hanging on the wall and do a song and dance routine. A huge book slides on the stage and a story comes out of it. Great fun but no sleep for Bunny.

Who does a child blame for everything that s/he may be blamed for? Nobody, of course. Mr. Nobody appears as a shadow dance behind a scrim and the audience is fascinated by the routine.

Bunny has a loose tooth which (a) must be extracted and (b) placed under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy. Tie the tooth to a ball of yarn and …

The humour is broad and some of the lines go over the heads of the young audience. When the fireplace ornament speaks, Bunny says “that burns” me.  A few puns like that are lost on many youngsters but who cares.

The music (played by pianist Jeff Bell) is tuneful, melodic, and wonderful. The dance routines by Choreographer Marianne Roberts carry the story and like all the episodes of the play do not allow for interest in what’s on stage to flag. We are talking about some five year olds who may well have a ten-second attention span but they are all kept entertained.  
 L-R: Vickielee Wohlbach, Auston James and Molli Corcoran. Photo by Jeremie Andrew
I saw a “relaxed performance” of the production on March 5. According to YPT, these “performances are specifically designed for young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). …Relaxed performances may include adjusted sound and lighting levels…Young people are welcome to leave the theatre and to use any devices, food or fidget tools, as needed during the performance.” The audience was enthusiastic and very well behaved. As becomes young people, they were instant critics of all that went on stage and their criticism was all positive.

The cow in the picture had to try to jump over the moon. Her failure to make it brought a heartfelt “aaahhhs” of disappointment. (Spoiler alert) on the third try the cow makes it and you can guess the reaction.

As usual, I was accompanied by Emily, my Associate Director (“I am eight now”) who gave the production her seal of high approval. During question period after the performance, she wanted to find out how the characters come out of the book but did not get a chance to ask.

On asked what she would do with the lamp that swiveled wildly and Bunny could not catch it, she gave me the surprising answer: “Kill it.” But she does know how to fall asleep; “I close my eyes and think of nice things.”

One of the nicest things will no doubt be Goodnight Moon in the superlative production by Seattle Children’s Theatre.   

Goodnight Moon by Chad Henry (book, music and lyrics) based on the book by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd continues until March 19, 2016 at the Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. 416 862-2222.

Monday, March 7, 2016


James Karas

The Stratford Festival is bringing its triumphal 2015 production of The Taming of the Shrew to movie theatres.

Those who saw the production at Stratford last summer will recall that Director Chris Abraham directed, indeed choreographed, an extraordinary rendition of the play by turning it into a love story. The degradation, humiliation and abuse of the cursed Katherine (Deborah Hay) is there but in the end it is Petruchio (Ben Carlson), the ultimate male chauvinist pig who is tamed. This Katherine has spunk and intelligence to turn the tables on him and end the play on a note of love.

Deborah Hay (centre) as Katherina with members of the company. Photography by David Hou
The film, directed by Barry Avrich, is an intelligent transfer of the stage performance with some avoidable and needless errors. In some ways the HD movie is better than the stage performance. There are many grimaces, facial expressions and movements that one probably missed in the theatre but will catch in the movie. In the final scene, for example, when Katherine is apparently humiliated to the point of calling Petruchio her lord, her king and her governor and offers to place her hand under his boot in token of her submission, the camera zeroes in on his face. He is no longer the arrogant pig of the first act but is melting with love. As the two leave to go to their wedding bed, Katherine grabs him and pulls him in. We could not quite see all of this in the live theatre but we can in the movie.

The brilliant colours of the costumes and the set come out gloriously in high definition but the real gain is the digital sound of the voices and Shakespeare’s text. No one need miss a single word and the movie should become a major vehicle for gaining audiences for Shakespeare, especially among the young.
Members of the company in The Taming of the Shrew. Photography by David Hou.
The only issue I have with Avrich is his overenthusiastic change of camera shots. When we have a perfect view of a character or a scene, there is no need to keep clicking onto close-ups or different angles. This goes from pointless to annoying and at times it wrecks the scene. When Hortensio (Mika Shara) is kicked out with a musical instrument broken around his neck, the joke is on him and he is the only one that should be on camera. In his enthusiasm to change shots, Avrich almost ruins the joke. 

What does come out however is Abraham’s detailed choreography of every scene, of every gesture, of every facial expression and of every reaction. A superb cast is even more enjoyable when seen close up. The praise I heaped on them in my stage review remains unabated and in some respects increased. Tom Rooney as the servant Tranio is swift of foot and of tongue and always entertaining. Brian Tree is superb as Grumio, Petruchio’s ever-suffering servant.
Michael-Spencer-Davis excels as Gremio, the foolish old suitor of Bianca (a funny Sarah Afful). Oh, yes, the names may get confusing when reading the play – you are never in doubt about who is who when watching the movie.

The next Stratford HD offering will be Hamlet in April 23 which just happens to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare being the HD movie from the 2015 Stratford Festival production will be shown in Cineplex Theatres on March 13 and 15, 2016. For more information:

Saturday, March 5, 2016


By James Karas

David French’s Salt-Water Moon is a play about love and courtship that is full of humour and tenderness. It is set on the front porch and yard of a house in the seaside town of Coley’s Point, Newfoundland in 1926. That is ten years after the Battle of the Somme where so many Newfoundlanders were slaughtered.

Jacob Mercer (Kawa Ada), a strapping young man of seventeen, left his sweetheart Mary Snow (Mayko Nguyen) without so much as a goodbye and went to work in Toronto. A year later (the opening of the play) he returns to an angry Mary who is engaged to marry a well-off young man. Jacob must use all his wits, charm, braggadocio and, in the end, love to win Mary back.

Ania Soul, Kawa Ada and Mayko Nguyen. Photo: Joseph Michael Photography
When the lights go on for the current production, we see a Musician (Ania Soul) playing a guitar and singing. There are some forty to fifty candles on the stage and a young woman goes around lighting them. It is a slow process and my first thought is “I hope she does not intend to light all of them.” She does and it takes about ten (?)minutes to do it.

The woman is wearing blue jeans and turns out to be Mary. We will soon meet a young man wearing blue jeans and he will be Jacob. The lit candles are the entire set – no porch, no back yard and the Musician will never leave the stage. She will strum her guitar and occasionally sing. There are stretches of time when she is not doing anything and we can be grateful for it that but her presence on stage and her singing and playing are at best annoying.

After the candles are lit, the Musician reads French’s stage directions so that we can place the play and the characters in context. She will read stage directions a number of times during the performance. 

Jacob and Mary must exude innocence; convey humour and romance in the moon-lit night of August 1926. She feels angry, abandoned and betrayed. She has found another man who will provide her with the means to escape her humiliating poverty.

Kawa Ada and Mayko Nguyen. Photo: Joseph Michael Photography
Jacob has to search for a way to get to her back. He makes up stories about girls in Toronto, brings her silk stockings and tells jokes until he finally breaks through.

French’s language in the Newfoundland accent has a lilt and musicality that is completely lacking from this production. Ada and Nguyen have no lilt or music in their voices and at times sound wooden. A well-built young man and an attractive woman without the freshness of youth, innocence and musicality cannot do Jacob and Mary justice. Reading the stage directions is no substitute for following them. A static performance is not an improvement. Providing musical accompaniment made things worse.

Director Ravi Jain has taken brave and daring steps to reimagine Salt-Water Moon as far away from its roots as possible. That is laudable and when it works it is theatrical magic. But when you take away the original magic of the play and do not find a compelling replacement the result can be numbing.         _____

Salt-Water Moon by David French will run until March 13, 2016 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


James Karas 

Farce is a caricature of comedy. That is the approach that director Cory Doran takes in the production of Marc Camoletti’s classic farce Boeing Boeing at the Hart House Theatre and it works.

The set by designer Brandon Kleiman has a bar in the middle, seating area on the right and (most important) seven doors. That is an essential and probably minimal requirement for a good farce.

 Katie Corbridge as Gabriella, Brandon Gillespie as Bernard, Andrei Preda as Robert, 
Shalyn McFaul as Gretchen.  Photo Scott Gorman

And now the plot. Bernard is living the life that many men dream about. He has a nice apartment in Paris and is engaged to three gorgeous stewardesses who work for different airlines. They are now called air hostesses (the stewardesses, not the airlines) and should give you a clue about the decade in which the action takes place. The play was first staged in 1962.

Back to the stewardesses. They have different but precise schedules so that Bernard and his maid Berthe can entertain each one of them at different times. Berthe changes sheets and photos and Bernard has the time of his life.

Enter the Boeing Corporation with faster jets bringing havoc in the ladies’ schedules and mayhem into Bernard’s life. Who would have thought that first two and then three fiancées would end up in Bernard’s apartment at the same time. An added twist is the presence of Robert, Bernard’s school friend from Wisconsin who drops in for a visit.

Brandon Gillespie as Bernard has to do the requisite running around, overacting and overreacting as his dream world starts unravelling. Farce is based partly on the characters being quite thick and not getting much, including the most obvious, of what is going on around them. Gillsepie qualifies on all counts. We want farce not intuitive intelligence. Gillespie is dressed in a three-piece suit and horn-rimmed glasses which do not appear to be very becoming for such a successful Lothario.
   Eliza Martin as Gloria, Jill McMillan as Berthe, Andrei Preda as Robert. Photo Scott Gorman
Eliza Martin plays Gloria, the stewardess from New York who works for TWA – that was an American airline for those under 60. Like the other women, she works with an awful accent, looks good and wears chic and sexy clothes with a relatively only bad wig.

Katie Corbridge works for Alitalia and is dressed in dark green and acts like a passionate Italian stewardess. I have never met one but I want all Italian stewardesses to be like Gloria even if they speak with a terrible accent. Her wig is really bad.

Meet Gretchen, the stewardess from Lufthansa played by Shalyn McFaul. She is of Wagnerian dimensions with an industrial-sized chest and a wig to house refugees. Gretchen sets the standard for national defamation with an accent that is comprehensible in reverse proportion to her success in achieving it.

Jill McMillan as the maid Berthe overacts with a French accent. To be clear “overacts” in the context of a farce means doing exactly what you are supposed to.

The new element in this ménage á quatre is Robert, an innocent abroad who arrives in Paris from Wisconsin. Andrei Preda does the best job of all and gets more laughs than anyone in the production. This is perhaps because the role is different form the others but that takes nothing from Preda’s comic talents, his ability with physical humour from pratfalls to hilarious reactions. Simply hilarious.
 Boeing Boeing  by Marc Camoletti continues until March 5, 2016 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, Ontario. Telephone (416) 978-8849