Tuesday, May 31, 2016


James Karas

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Macbeth                                 Ian Lake
Lady Macbeth                         Krystin Pellerin       
Banquo                                  Scott Wentworth                                   
Macduff                                 Michael Blake                        
Lady Macduff                         Sarah Afful
Porter                                    Cyrus Lane
Continues in repertory at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario
until October 30, 2016. www.starfordfestival.ca     

**** (out of five)

The 2016 season of the Stratford Festival is officially under way with a production of Macbeth directed by Antoni Cimolino. With witches, apparitions and ghosts in the cast not to mention battles, murders and madness, Macbeth provides great opportunities for a director to parade his talents. The Festival’s Artistic Director does not lose a single chance to display his marvelous imagination, his attention to detail, his innate theatricality and his ability to surprise us at every turn.

 Krystin Pellerin as Lady Macbeth and Ian Lake as Macbeth in Macbeth. Photography by David Hou.

Macbeth opens in the middle of a battle (Cimolino’s idea) where the Three Witches agree to meet Macbeth upon the heath. A well-played and well-designed scene without any attempt to overdo what is already dramatic. 

Cimolino and Designer Julie Fox can orchestrate a scene change in the time it takes for the lights to go off and on again. At the end of the scene where the murderers attack Banquo, for example, in their botched attempt to kill him and his son in the dark, the lights go down and on again. In that miniscule interval the scene has changed from the murder venue to the brightly lit banquet scene with the table and guests in place.  One of many coups de théâtre.

The entrance of the ghost of Banquo in the Banquet Scene is quite effective but Cimolino goes one step further by having the ghost of Duncan, the murdered king walk on the table.

The scene where the apparitions appear is staged skillfully with the frightful creatures rearing their heads from a cauldron and the suddenly disappearing.

Cimolino is not quite as lucky with his cast. Ian Lake is in his seventh season with the Festival but one wonders if he is quite ready for the role of Macbeth. He spoke some of the dramatic lines of the murderous king almost matter-of-factly. He rose to some dramatic heights but his voice never resonated with Shakespeare’s poetic language.

Krystin Pellerin had better luck as Lady Macbeth perhaps because it is a shorter and more intense role. One hopes for more intensity, however, when she berates her husband when he hesitates to go through with the murder. She pummels him into submission in a few lines and he agrees to go through with the heinous act like a faithful puppy.

Members of the company in Macbeth. Photography by David Hou.
Cimolino adds a nice touch to the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. They meet in their bedroom upon Macbeth’s return to his castle to announce the coming of Duncan. Macbeth takes off his upper clothes to display his muscular body. There is a strong sexual attraction between the two as well as a hunger for power.    

The Porter (Cyrus Lane) is supposed to be funny but that happens more in theory than on stage. In this production he garnered a few genuine laughs.

Michael Blake delivers a solid performance as Macduff. Sarah Afful as Lady Macduff and Oliver Neudorf as Young Macduff get us through the scene before they are murdered with ease. It is a scene that easily descends into bathos and saying that they did a good job at it is no small compliment.

In the final scene, Macduff produces Macbeth’s severed head and everyone celebrates the recognition of Malcom as the new king. As the crowd gathers around Malcolm, we see the faces of the Three Witches. We started with these weird sisters and they deserve special mention as played by Brigit Wilson, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings and Lenise Antoine Shelley. They are just what their attendant spirits and an attentive audience ordered. And with them we are back where we started.

Monday, May 30, 2016


James Karas

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov adapted by Annie Baker.
Directed by Jackie Maxwell
Ivan Petrovich (Vanya)            NEIL BARCLAY
Yelena                                   MOYA O’CONNELL
Dr. Astrov                               PATRICK McMANUS             
Sonya                                    MARLA McLEAN                   
Serebryakov                           DAVID SCHURMANN
Telegin                                   PETER MILLARD
Continues in repertory at the Court House Theatre,
Niagara-on-the-Lake until September 11, 2016. www.shawfest.com   

**** (out of five)

Chekhov is not easy to pull off. Jackie Maxwell has done it with grace and style in her production of Uncle Vanya.

Russia at the end of the 19th century according to Chekhov was a mortuary with a few of the corpses in the last phases of rigor mortis.  Uncle Vanya gives us a portrait of life on the country estate of Professor Alexander Serebryakov (David Schurmann). The people on the estate may have had hopes, dreams and ambitions in the past but in the present they have malaise, boredom and indolence. The only hope they have is to find peace and happiness in heaven when God takes pity on them.

Chekhov has woven this world in the intricate Uncle Vanya with humour and pathos. It lies in the hands of the director to bore the audience or to capture the humour and the pathos and deliver amazing theatre.

(l to r): Marla McLean as Sonya, Patrick McManus as Astrov, Moya O’Connell as Yelena, Donna Belleville as Maria Vasilyevna, Neil Barclay Vanya and Peter Millard as Telegin in Uncle Vanya. Photo by David Cooper.

Serebryakov has retired after regurgitating the thoughts of others in his useless books and articles. The gout-ridden professor is utterly impractical and survives in his self-absorption somewhere between his physical ailments and his forgettable writing. Despite his age and shortcomings, however, he has taken for his wife the beautiful 27-year old Yelena (Moya O’Connell).

Yelena was raised in Petersburg and studied at the conservatory and she seems to have suppressed all life and passion with possibly some exception. In the first act, however, she exemplifies life on the estate as she sits on a swing and moves languorously and lethargically, oblivious to her surroundings.    

Dr. Astrov (Patrick McManus) is the catalyst of the play. He is attracted to Yelena and attempts to have an affair with her. She is attracted to him but recoils from his advances. The rotund and bored Vanya is also attracted to her but she rejects him as well. Serebryakov’s daughter Sonya is attracted to Astrov but he does not reciprocate her affection.
The title character played superbly by Neil Barclay captures the torpor of this society, fine acting assisted by physical appearance.

We also have the pathetic and impoverished landowner Telegin (Peter Millard) whose wife left him after their wedding and he is still supporting her.

Maxwell with her fine cast manages to evoke laughter, not an easy task in a play where the usual complaint is that of boredom. More importantly she shows the malaise of this society where a pause expresses an eternity and is the natural consequence of what these people are and not an artificial delay in speech.

Moya O’Connell moves around languidly with beauty and passion displayed like fruit on a tree in autumn, perhaps still edible but almost certainly ready to fall off. The hopes of Sonya to attract Astrov are dashed and the doctor who loved the greenery and beauty of the forest sees nothing but denuded expanses around him.     

The well-orchestrated performances by Barclay, McManus, O’Connell, McLean, Schurmann, Millard and the secondary characters provide an excellent night at the theatre.


Saturday, May 28, 2016


James Karas

The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein
Directed by Gregory Prest
Cast: Michelle Monteith,
Jordan Pettle, Sarah Wilson,
Damien Atkins, Laura Condlln,
Raquel Duffy, Sophia Walker, Paolo Santalucia

Continues in repertory at the Young centre for the Performing Arts
55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca

*** (out of five

The Heidi Chronicles was written more than a quarter century ago and it covers the era of the baby boomers from the 1960’s to the late 1980’s. Wasserstein’s baby boomers are mostly very smart, well-educated and highly successful New Yorkers who are liberals, campaign for Eugene McCarthy, and are deeply concerned with women’s lib.  

Damien Atkins, Michelle Monteith, Jordan Pettle and Laura Condlln. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
Twenty-five years after the play was written and many more years since the baby boomers were in their prime the language of discourse and generations have changed. Equality between the sexes has not been reached but things have improved. Liberal causes have become almost anathema after Tea Party ideology and worse have high jacked the Republican Party. In any event, all social problems tend to be like the Lernaean Hydra, the vicious nine-headed serpent of Greek mythology; you cut one off one head, two others grow back. And so it is with the social issues of the baby boomers. The issues they espoused may have evolved but they are still with us albeit in different forms.

We follow Wasserstein’s baby boomers from their teens in the 1960’s to successful but hardly fulfilled people in their forties. Heidi and Susan whom we meet as awkward teenagers grow up into successful women without finding the fulfillment they so eagerly seek. Heidi becomes a prominent historian of art at Columbia University. The other men and women in the play are all successful and most people would love to have their problems.

The play opens in a lecture hall in New York in 1989 and Heidi is giving a lecture about women painters. She mentions several and notes that a standard text on art history mentioned no women artists from the dawn of time to the present.
Sarah Wilson and Michelle Monteith. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
The play consists of about a dozen scenes and there is considerable wit, humour, intelligent repartee and dramatic scenes as the characters of the women and two leading men are developed.

Unfortunately, very little of it resonated with me and I think most of the audience on opening night. Most of us in the theatre are baby boomers and one wonders if the language and causes of that era have left us indifferent?  The actors try to generate energy and humour and especially at the beginning most of their efforts fall flat.

Things do improve as the performance progresses but the feeling of disassociation never completely abandoned me.

Michelle Monteith as Heidi was sallow and passive as the brilliant art historian who is keenly aware of women’s position but falls in love with the philandering Scoop Rosenbaum, an editor and magazine publisher. Jordan Pettle is highly energetic and witty as the self-assured Scoop. Sarah Wilson plays the sensitive, idealistic Susan, Heidi’s best friend, who becomes a studio executive in the end.

The most attractive character is perhaps Damien Atkins as Peter Patrone, a gay pediatrician who combines wit, humanity and friendship and is a true mensch.    

Laura Condlln, Raquel Duffy, Sophia Walker and Paolo Santalucia take on several roles each and do fine work.       

Gregory Prest is making his directorial debut and kudos to Artistic Director Albert Schultz for promoting talent from within the company. One gets the feeling that Prest is trying a bit too hard. In the TV Studio scene he has the host April (Laura Condlln) overacting abominably for the sake of some laughs that simply do not materialize. Other scenes work quite well like Heidi’s speech to Miss Crain’s School Alumnae Association.

Wasserstein wrote ten other plays. Perhaps Soulpepper can produce a few more of them in the coming seasons?

Thursday, May 26, 2016


James Karas

Mrs Warren’s Profession by Bernard Shaw.
Directed by Eda Holmes
Mrs. Warren                           Nicole Underhay
Vivie Warren                           Jennifer Dzialoszynski           
Frank Gardner                        Wade Bogert-O’Brien              
Sir George Crofts                    Thom Marriott                        
Rev. Samuel Gardner              Shawn Wright
Praed                                     Gray Powell

Continues in repertory at the Royal George Theatre,
Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 23, 2016. www.shawfest.com   

*** (out of five)

Does Eda Holmes wish that Mrs Warren’s Profession was written by Thornton Wilder instead of Bernard Shaw?

Her production of Shaw’s third play bears some remarkable resemblances to Our Town which has a character called Stage Manager who tells us what is going on and participates in the action.
 Jennifer Dzialoszynski and Nicole Underhay. Photo: David Cooper
Holmes adds a Prologue to Mrs Warren’s Profession which she sets in 2016 in The New Lyric Gentlemen’s Club. Several members of the club tell us that there will be a reading of Shaw’s play and after a few introductory remarks the play as Shaw wrote it begins. The entire play is done in the club but the actors do explain to us what the set as described by Shaw is supposed to be.

The play is in fact set in a cottage and a rectory garden in Surrey as well as chambers in London and I am not sure what is added to our appreciation of it by placing it in a posh gentlemen’s club that most of us cannot possibly relate to.        

Mrs Warren’s Profession is about the disgraceful working conditions for women in 19th century England which forced many of them into prostitution. The word is never mentioned and although we are given some information about the conditions that forced Mrs. Warren to sell her body we see nothing in the least bit tawdry.

Mrs Warren may have started as a desperate pretty girl doing tricks but she rose up the ladder of the oldest profession into management and partnership on a multinational scale. With her partner Sir George Crofts she has become wealthy and raised a daughter who was sent to Oxford University, is living well and does not have a clue about what her mother is doing.

Nicole Underhay as Mrs. Warren is a self-assured, handsome, well-dressed woman who exudes success and self-satisfaction. She has raised her daughter Vivie with all the comforts that money can buy but kept her in the dark about everything, including the name of her father. Mrs. Warren’s world comes crashing around her when she is rejected by Vivie and Underhay gives a superb performance especially in the final scene when she tries to defend her actions.

Jennifer Dzialoszynski, dressed casually in slacks, is a free-spirited young woman who is courted by the feckless Frank Gardner. Life is good until she finds out the source of the funds for it. She rejects everything including her mother and goes to work. Dzialoszynski displays Vivie’s strength and resolve convincingly in a fine performance but the character she portrays is more a humourless, puritanical prig than an example that any woman would particularly wish to emulate.

Wade Bogert-Obrien’s Frank Gardner and Shawn Wright’s Reverend Samuel Gardner are portraits of useless men who are comical in their ineptness. But the Reverend, who buys his sermons, and is a pillar of the community, is also a prime example of its hypocrisy. Who is Vivie’s father?  

The most interesting man is Sir George Crofts played by Thom Marriott. The baronet is prepared to use and abuse women with the self-delusion that he is providing decent employment. The profits are good and neither he nor his partners are willing to give them up. The imposing Crofts of Marriott is all outward politeness, the epitome of hypocrisy, with a much darker side just below the skin. His defence is that everybody is corrupt so why should he not do the same.

The splendidly panelled interior of The New Lyric Club designed by Patrick Clark takes us away from the idyllic setting of the cottage garden and the rectory garden. The contrast between the English countryside and Mrs. Warren’s profession is more potent than the contrast between a men’s club putting on the reading of a play and the fate of women in the 19th century.

The acting is done well as described except for the accents. The cast sounded as if they are immigrants to England trying to speak with a respectable accent but falling short of success much of the time.

At the end of the play Holmes has the cast read out Shaw’s stage directions. Aside from adding the prologue and reading of stage directions, Holmes does a good job. The characters are well-defined, some of the humour comes through and the final scene is excellent and does not require a reading of Shaw’s stage directions.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Reviewed by James Karas

Our Town  by Thornton Wilder.
Directed by Molly Smith
with Benedict Campbell (Stage Manager),
Patrick Galligan (Dr. Gibbs),
Catherine McGregor (Mrs.  Gibbs), Jenny L. Wright (Mrs. Webb),
Charlie Gallant (George Gibbs),
Kate Besworth (Emily Webb) Patrick McManus (Mr. Webb).
Continues in repertory at the Royal George Theatre,
Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 15, 2016. www.shawfest.com    

***** (out of five)

The Shaw Festival is in full swing with ten productions this season to take us well into October. Previews started on April 9 but the official openings are now on and time to start reviewing them.

Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is a beguiling play about small-town America at the beginning of the twentieth century. The main character is the Stage Manager (Benedict Campbell) who guides us through the play as a commentator and interacts with the other characters. The play takes place between 1903 and 1913 but the Stage Manager knows what happened much later.

Kate Besworth as Emily and Charlie Gallant George courting in Our Town. Photo: David Cooper
In his opening remarks the Stage Manager introduces the Director (Molly Smith) and the cast. We are constantly reminded that we are watching a play but that does not take anything away from the moving story of life in the town of Grover’s Corner which is so beautifully captured by this production.

After we get an overall picture of the town, we meet the Webb and Gibbs families. They are neighbours and Dr. Gibbs (Patrick Galligan) is the local physician while Mr. Webb (Patrick McManus) publishes the local paper. Their children are at school and George Gibbs (Charlie Gallant) and Emily Webb (Kate Besworth) are fated to fall in love and marry.

Wilder weaves into his plot the rhythm of life in the town - the milk delivery man, the cop on the beat, the birth of twins, going to school and other quotidian events.   

Director Smith and the fine cast capture the charm, humour, pathos and beauty of the play with unerring precision. Aside from Campbell as the superb Stage manager our attention is drawn to Gallant’s George and Besworth’s Emily who meet awkwardly as teenagers and proceed through courtship and marriage. We are in love with them and in the end shed tears for them.
Benedict Campbell as The Stage Manager at the wedding of Emily and George. Photo: David Cooper / Shaw Festival
Mrs. Gibbs (Catherine McGregor) and Mrs. Webb (Jenny L. Wright) are classic mothers as we want to imagine them in a different world. The town people form an integrated community but the “others” like the Poles, the Catholics and perhaps even those Canucks are “over there.”

The set designed by Ken MacDonald is minimal. A few white chars, a couple of tables, skeleton trellises and a couple of step ladders on wheels make up all the props. Some of the action such as opening doors, washing of hands and eating ice cream is simply mimed.

The last act of Our Town is the most moving. We have gone through Daily Life, Love and Marriage and in the end we must face Death. Wilder had the brilliant idea of having the town’s dead sitting in chairs in the cemetery and talking stiffly to each other during a heart-wrenching funeral. The scene is done impeccably.

The production manages to evoke the magical combination of reality and theatricality. It achieves a lyricism that eschews sentimentality and delivers a humorous and deeply moving night at the theatre.    
In the end it is a homage to the people of Grover’s Corner and an elegy for all of us. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016


James Karas

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
Directed by Aaron Willis
Nancy Palk as Mary
Continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts,
55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario, until June 18, 2016, www.soulpepper.ca

**** (out of five)
The Testament of Mary is a one-actor play about the Virgin Mary played by Nancy Palk at the Young Centre.

What can one say about a woman who is revered and loved by millions of Christians as the Mother of God, Ever Virgin, All Holy and an approachable figure who can intercede with God and Jesus? No doubt there is controversy about her status in some churches but in the Eastern Orthodox Church there is only devotion and prayer to her.
 Nancy Palk as Mary. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Tóibín lets Mary relate her story. There are some light touches as in her views of the apostles as misfits and her comment about how she conceived Jesus. She knows well what happened she tells us and there is laughter.

But there is pathos when she tells us about seeing her Son on the cross. She in fact asks how long it takes for someone to die on the cross and is told it can take hours or days.

Mary is an elderly woman and she remembers certain things but not the way some of those “misfits” who have become Evangelists want her to remember. Her Son she is told will save people and grant them eternal life. “Save them from what?” she asks.

She is pestered by them for information that fits their conception of the Great Man and the difference He will make to the world.

                                         Nancy Palk as Mary. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Palk does a superb job in the role. She modulates her voice, shows anger and pain but above all she shows humanity. Tóibín avoids the most obvious pitfall in dealing with Mary and that is sentimentality.

The set by Lorenzo Savoini consists of some chairs and tables and candles. The door to her room bangs loudly on occasion as the intruding writers of the Gospels come to pester her for information. I am not sure we needed all that clanging. Mary reminds us that none of them attended the Crucifixion.

The Testament is based on Tóibín’s novella of the same name and we gain a great deal by hearing Palk’s marvelous voice and watching her  perform parts of the book. The emotional intensity of her performance does not require as much movement and noise as director Aaron Willis provides but it is nonetheless a stellar production

Monday, May 16, 2016


The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
Directed by Stuart Hughes with
Albert Schultz, Diego Matamoros, Derek Boyes,
Kevin Bundy, Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, John Jarvis, Sarah Wilson
At Young Centre until June 11, 20126

*** (out of five)

By James Karas

The Odd Couple is a very funny play that receives a funny production by Soulpepper. This is a revival of Soulpepper’s 2011 production which in turn was a revival of its 2008 staging. The play was first produced in 1965 and it has held its own for more than half a century. That’s an understatement because The Odd Couple has become a whole industry with Felix the news writer and Oscar the sports reporter going through numerous transformations and incarnations.

 Kevin Bundy, Oliver Dennis, Diego Matamoros, Derek Boyes, Albert Schultz & John Jarvis. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
It is all about male friendship among people who range from incompatible to utterly different in temperament and approach to life. The odd couple is Oscar, a divorced slob, irresponsible, irrepressible and impossible, and Felix, a neurotic neat freak who has so many idiosyncrasies and eccentricities that they would try the patience of Job. But the six men who play poker every Friday are bonded by friendship despite all their differences.

Stuart Hughes does a god job in directing Soulpepper stalwarts and gets most of the laughs from the play. But the qualification of this being a funny production of a very funny play stands.

Albert Schultz has the role of Oscar under his belt and he produces sound laughter while Diego Matamoros as Felix drives him crazy. Simon has drawn the two characters with amazingly funny but also iconic differences making the play both an easy comedy to produce but a tough one to triumph with.
Albert Schultz, Raquel Duffy, Diego Matamoros & Sarah Wilson. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
There is not much issue to be taken with the other four men around the poker table but I felt that Oliver Dennis was miscast as Murray the cop. Dennis is a very nice guy and somehow I expect a New York cop to exude more authority than decency.

Raquel Duffy and Sarah Wilson were very good as the ditzy English sisters. They had decent accents but I don’t think it was necessary to have the men attempt New York accents. I would have been just as happy if the spoke in their Canadian accents whatever that may be.

In the end however what was missing was the chemistry of superior comedy. For much of the performance I felt the action was carried by the play rather than the director and the actors carrying the play as if it were the first time we were seeing it.

All griping aside, you will laugh and enjoy your outing. The real complaint is why not produce a play that we have not seen at Soulpepper before?

Monday, May 9, 2016


By James Karas

Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom by Jordan Tannahill. Directed by Matjash Mrozewski (Botticelli) and Estelle Shook (Sunday) with Salvatore Antonio (Botticelli/ Chris), Valerie Buhagiar (Madre Maria/Edith), Nicola Correia-Damude (Clarice/Sarah), Stephen Jackman-Torkoff (Leonard/Isaac), Christopher Norris (Lorenzo/Derek), Alon Nashman (Savonarola/Lot).  At Berkeley Street Theatre until May 15, 2016. www.canadianstage.com    

What do Sandro Botticelli and Lot’s wife have in common? That depends on your imagination, I suppose, but we can be sure of one thing: both can be seen on stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre in a double bill by Jordan Tannahill.

The one-act plays are based on some historical facts and the active imagination of Tannahill. Costumes and speech are modern with liberal use of coarse language and raunchy scenes.
         Christopher Morris and Salvatore Antonio in Botticelli. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
Botticelli in the Fire deals with the painting of The Birth of Venus, Botticelli’s relations with Clarice, the model for Venus and the wife of his patron Lorenzo de Medici. For good measure we also have Leonardo, a young artist and sexual partner of Botticelli as well as Savonarola, the deeply moral friar who may have had a great influence on the artist.

The play displays some fine and witty prose which to my surprise did not generate any laughter the day I saw it. The salty language is quite delightful and the sexual content, well, very sexual.

We are made to understand in no uncertain terms that Botticelli was priapically gifted. His first conquest is the deliciously assembled Clarice who puts her social status and influence as Botticelli’s benefactor to pleasurable use.

But Botticelli is not a specialist and he displays his open-mindedness with the muscular Leonardo. The moral voice of Savonarola arrives and of course the painting of the The Birth of Venus not to mention Clarice’s husband finding out some unpleasant facts.  
Salvatore Antonio plays Botticelli and acts as commentator/chorus in the play. He starts with a microphone addressing the audience directly and steps out of character several times during the performance. This Botticelli is a free-spirited artist who takes chances but is also influenced by a devoted friar.  

You are drawn into the fascinating subject – human, artistic, religious, spiritual – and enjoy a well-performed and well directed performance.
Valerie Buhagiar and Nicola Correia-Damude in Sunday in Sodom. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
The second play is Sunday in Sodom about the nameless wife of Lot who was turned into a pillar of salt in the Old Testament because she disobeyed God and looked back after her escape from Sodom. As with Botticelli, Tannahill gives the play a moderns setting with racy language.

Mrs. Lot gets a name, Edith, and is superbly played by Valerie Buhagiar. Edith stands still on stage as if she were a pillar of salt and she narrates much of the play. We start with a terrified Isaac whose father Abraham took him to a mountain, tied him to a rock and was about kill him when he suddenly stopped. We know that a loving God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, but Isaac does not know that.      

Isaac is given shelter by Lot and he happens to be homosexual. The Lots have a couple of wounded soldiers visit them. Terrorists have blown up the market place and the soldiers, who speak only English and cannot be understood by the Lots seek assistance.

Edith has an outspoken and very independent daughter named Sarah (in a spirited performance by Correia-Damude) and we have scenes of modern domestic disputes with the Biblical story in the background.

Tannahill gives us original and interesting takes on Botticelli and the story of Lot and Sodom. The plays are done with a minimum of props and a maximum attention on acting and close directorial attention.

Sunday, May 8, 2016


James Karas

The Pitchfork Disney by Philip Ridley. Directed by John Shooter with Justin Miller (Presley Stray), Nikki Duval (Haley Stray), Ayinde Blake (Cosmo Disney), Yehuda Fisher (Pitchfork Cavalier). Presented by Precisely Peter Productions at Double Double Land, 209, Augusta Ave (down the alley), Toronto. until May 22, 2016. www.brownpapertickets.com

You should see The Pitchfork Disney. It is a play by Philip Ridley now plying at Double Double Land. You have probably not heard of much about this but soldier on.

The Pitchfork is what is known as in-yer-face theatre and it premiered in London in 1991. It is staggeringly powerful. It may be described as the staging of a nightmare or life inside a psychosis.
Nikki Duval and Justin Miller in The Pitchfork Disney      
Meet Haley Stray, a young, overweight, woman, clutching a blanket and clearly unhinged. Her brother Presley has a pale and pasty complexion with bloodshot eyes and looks like he is steps away from death. They live in a room that is at best a low-scale slum. Presley peers though a hole in the window to the outside world and sees nothing but darkness. The outside or whatever is left of it, is frightful and menacing

There is no narrative line to the siblings’ psychotic behaviour as they fight, argue, eat chocolates and create an atmosphere of inexplicable fear, confusion, disgust and insanity. They have nightmares, take pills and live in terror but we can never be sure if they are not dreaming up the whole thing. Presley gives a graphic and disgusting description of cooking and eating a snake. There are a number of gastronomic descriptions and calling them revolting and repulsive hardly begins to give you a taste of them.

Enter Cosmo Disney, a control freak, a psychopath, an ordinary lunatic or just a part of Presley’s and Haley’s mental aberrations. Near the end of the play Pitchfork Cavalier enters. There are chains hanging from his body and he is dressed in black and his face is covered by a mask. There are lengthy descriptions of his activities including his murder of children.
Avinde Blake and Justin Miller
Duval’s acting is almost all on a frenetic and hysterical level that shows incredible stamina on her part. It is like having a tenor sing in high C for an entire evening. Presley’s performance is more modulated but again it reaches some staggering heights.

Blake, speaking in more “rational” terms reaches stunning heights of expression. Director John Shooter modulates the performance so that there are quiet moments in the  psychopathy which are interrupted by explosions of emotion that bring the audience back to the “reality” of the play.  

The “down the alley” theatre holds about 50 people in a space the size of some large living room. You are in fact in the slum that the characters occupy. But there is a problem.  The high in-your-face emotional intensity of the performance, even with its modulations, is more than most people can bear. In the end the play seems to lose steam or the audience loses its stamina to withstand such assaults on its senses. In other words, at two hours the play seemed too long.

Nightmares tend to be short and sharp and psychoses linger but are incomprehensible. Ridley wants us to visit both for longer than may be humanly bearable.   

Friday, May 6, 2016


James Karas

MAOMETTO II by Gioachino Rossini. Luca Pisaroni (Maometto II), Leah Crocetto (Anna), Bruce Sledge (Erisso), Elizabeth DeShong (Calbo), Charles Sly (Condulmiero). Conductor Harry Bicket. Director David Alden. Set & Costume Designer Jon Morell. Until May 14 2016 at the Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen St. West Toronto. www.coc.ca
**** (out of five)
When you see an opera that was first performed in 1820 getting its premiere with the Canadian Opera Company, your only response should be to line up for tickets. Maometto II has its shortcomings, no doubt, but it gets a highly creditable production by the COC that succeeds in most departments.

The COC uses the production created by Santa Fe Opera directed by David Alden with Set and Costume Designs by Jon Morrell. If you are looking for another Barber of Seville, you are in the wrong place. This is Rossini waxing dramatic, melodramatic and long.

(l-r) Bruce Sledge as Paolo Erisso, Leah Crocetto as Anna and Elizabeth DeShong as Calbo 
in the COC’s production of Maometto II, 2016, photo: Michael Cooper
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans plan to invade Western Europe. But first they must defeat the Venetians who control Negroponte, the gateway to the Western Mediterranean. The Ottomans are led by the dashing Sultan Maometto II (Mehmed or Mohammed) sung by the dashing bass-baritone Pisaroni. Except for the minor character of Selimo (Aaron Sheppard) and the soldiers from the Ottoman side, Rossini and his librettist Cesare della Valle focused their attention on the Venetians.

Militarily, the Venetians are toast and they sing of dying in a blaze of glory. All of which would make a very short opera except for the fact that Anna, the daughter of Erisso, the Venetian Commander, is in love. She fell in love with Uberto who turns out to have been a disguised Maometto. She is intended for General Calbo, a pants role in which American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong excels.

The Ottomans defeat the Venetians and the commanders are taken prisoners. As you may have guessed, the passionate Anna of soprano Leah Crocetto learns of her error and is not prepared to marry the infidel Maometto who still loves her. A tragic end ensues.

Aside from the love interest, Maometto II espouses a martial ethos with an emphasis on heroism in battle, glory in death and patriotic zeal that is exaggerated even by operatic standards. The creaky plot is exacerbated by Rossini continuing with and repeating phrases long after we got the gist of them. That is how he gets more than three hours.

But that is only part of the story. There are splendid arias and ensemble pieces. The COC chorus as Turks or Venetians does superb work. The richly orchestrated music is impressive and done rousingly by the COC Orchestra conducted by Harry Bicket.

AlLuca Pisaroni as Maometto II (centre) in the COC’s production of Maometto II, 2016, photo: Gary Beechey
With some flashes of red, black and grey are the dominant colours with versatile, grey monumental panels serving as a backdrop. The costumes of the Venetians look like World War I vintage but they could be of another era. The Venetians have rifles with bayonets whereas the Ottomans are sporting spears, shields and swords. This is not particularly clear.    

Maometto II ends on a note of self-sacrifice, heart-wrenching tragedy and indeed apotheosis. That may be one of its many virtues (musically it is decidedly so) but it had many detractors when it was first produced, so many in fact that Rossini rewrote it with a happy ending. That did not save it.

We are luckier. This is a very worthwhile operatic experience and damn the opera’s defects and its detractors.