Sunday, December 30, 2018


James Karas

There is no reference to New Year’s Eve in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus but there should have been. In any event it is frequently performed in late December as if the plot does take place on New Year’s Eve and the Toronto Operetta Theatre is producing it for five performances including one on December 31.

With its bubbly music, wonderful arias and farcical plot, Die Fledermaus pretty much defines what an operetta should be. TOT’s General Director Guillermo-Silva-Marin knows that and knows how to entertain Toronto’s niche of operetta lovers.
Lara Ciekiewicz (Rosalinda) and Cian Horobbin (Alfred). 
Photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studios
The production is done sensibly in English, a relief for those who may remember the Canadian Opera Company’s 2012 dreary, Freudian psychodrama of a production. Silva-Marin takes generous liberties with the libretto and the result is very entertaining.

You recall that Gabriel Eisenstein (tenor Adam Fisher), a well-off Viennese business man, has to spend a few nights in jail because (in his unsubstantiated opinion) he had Dr. Blind (Sean Curran), an incompetent lawyer as his counsel. He also has a friend named Falke (Michael Robert-Broder) who has a score to settle with him. Falke is The Bat of the title and he wants to humiliate Eisenstein and the plot twists are his machinations.     

Eisenstein has a beautiful wife named Rosalinda. Alfred (Cian Horrobin) an opera tenor and old pursuer of Rosalinda, is prepared to replace Eisenstein in her arms while the latter cools his heels in jail.

In the meantime, the wily maid Adele (Caitlin Wood) wants to go to a ball at Prince Orlovsky’s mansion, as do Eisenstein and Dr. Blind. To cut to the chase, Mr. and Mrs. Eisenstein, Adele, her sister Sally (Olivia Morton), and Dr. Blind all go the party in disguise.  Alfred who happened to be wooing Rosalinda when Frank (Janaka Welihinda) the prison governor came to pick up Eisenstein, ends up jail. Are you still with me?

Now we have Strauss’s infectious music, his sparkling and buoyant arias and a plot with mistaken identities that provides opportunities for comedy.   

Conductor Derek Bate has twelve musicians in his orchestra and twelve singers for his chorus. That may not seem like much of a force but seem and sound are not the same thing. The musicians and the singers create energy and wonderful instrumental and ensemble singing that simply belie their number.

There was inevitable unevenness in the singing by the rest of the cast but overall they did justice to the operetta and the full house in the Jane Mallet Theatre showed their appreciation.
Adam Fisher (Eisenstein) and Lara Ciekiewicz (Rosalinda). 
Photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studios
Soprano Lara Ciekiewicz played Rosalinda as a woman of statuesque beauty, class and vocal splendor. Caitlin Wood’s Adele was effervescent, wily and a pleasure though I could have done without the speech impediment she was given at the beginning.

Cian Horrobin’s Alfred was the mythical tenor. Self-assured, exuberant, brash and a lover who can’t imagine any woman saying no to him. Silva-Marin has interpolated half a dozen or so arias or parts of arias by Puccini and Verdi for Alfred to show off his ardor and his vocal prowess.

The multi-talented Elizabeth Beeler played Prince Orlovsky, a role originally scored for a mezzo soprano and frequently sung by a woman ever since. I have seen Beeler many times do fine work but this time she was not at her best.

Silva-Marin leaves no politician, celebrity or current event unturned when it comes to adding comic touches. He takes on and expands the role of Frosch the jailer himself. Alfred gives him singing lessons including points about posture – you have to be able to hold a dime between your cheeks!     

The plot of Die Fledermaus is wafer-thin in places and prone to developing cracks if not handled properly and Silva-Marin comes close to doing just that but overall the comedy works as does the delightful production.

Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II opened on December 28, 2018 and will be performed five times until January 2, 2019 at the Jane Mallett, Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 366-7723.

Friday, December 28, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The National Theatre has broadcast a production of Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III from the Nottingham Playhouse. Mark Gatiss gives an unforgettable performance as the king who goes from arrogance and royal privilege to mental illness and humiliation at the hands of people who normally quaked in his presence.

Bennett’s 1991 play deals with the question of royal power, the replacement of a king who has gone bonkers, political ambition, intrigue, treachery and medical treatment for madness in the 18th century more correctly described as quackery. The central part of the play however deals with the human story of King George III who descends into hell and eventually recovers after a great deal of horrendous treatment.
 Debra Gillett as Queen Charlotte and Mark Gatiss as George III at Nottingham Playhouse. 
Photograph: Manuel Harlan
Mark Gatiss as King George is on the stage more than anyone else. He dominates the production. We see Gatiss express entitlement and power over people but also humanity when he forgives a woman who attempts to assassinate him and we see him as a husband in bed with Queen Charlotte (Debra Gillett) where they address each other as Mr. King and Mrs. King.

Gatiss then gives us the mad king. His head bobbles, he babbles, he puts a finger in his mouth, screams in pain, begs for mercy and prays for death. Gatiss gives a sensational performance that takes one back to the ancient phrase of inspiring pity and fear.

On the political level we have Prime Minister William Pitt played unerringly by Nicholas Bishop as a dour, ascetic (except for drinking) man, a faithful servant and a good statesman. He is opposed by the ambitious and wily Charles Fox (Amanda Hadingue) who, with his cabal, wants the Prince of Wales (Wilf Scolding) to be appointed regent. The prize is appointments to important posts. The Prince of Wales is a vacuous, shallow and determined man who wants to rule and is prepared to conspire against his father. Thurlow (David Hounslow) is the opportunistic and treacherous Chancellor of the Exchequer.

One of the most striking aspect of the play that is done superbly in the production is the conduct of the “doctors.’ They represent an unbelievable array of ignorance, quackery, egotism and to a frightful extent lack of humanity.

Sir Lucas Pepys (Amanda Hadingue) believes in examining feces very closely and carefully as indicators of health or lack thereof. He duly displays the king’s…well, you get the idea. He prefers to approach his patient “from the other direction” and the more stool the merrier.

Sir George Baker (Stephanie Jacob) is a pulse doctor who is happy when the patient has a steady pulse and that is a good time to give him more medication. The effect, let alone the efficacy, of the medication is at best a guess.

Dr Warren (Louise Jameson) applies hot glasses to the king’s legs and head which create blisters. The application is extremely painful and the wounds are left festering so that the patient’s poison will flow out.
 Mark Gatiss, centre, with Adrian Scarborough, David Hounslow, Andrew Joshi and Harry Kershaw in 
The Madness of George III. Photograph: Manuel Harlan
Dr. Willis (Adrian Scarborough) is a cleric-turned-psychologist who believes in talking to the king but his real aim is to break his spirit. He restrains the king with straightjackets in a pretty brutal manner, separates him from the queen and considers himself an expert in curing mental illness.

This is only a partial list of the remedies applied to King George.

Director Adam Penford does superb work and I found it curious that he cast some women playing male roles. Nadia Albina plays Fitzroy, Amanda Hadingue plays Fox and Pepys, Stephanie Jacob plays Baker and Sheridan, Louise Jameson plays Warren and Jessica Temple plays Papandiek. The women did fine work in the roles and I almost forgot that the male roles are done by them. But why? We have seen Hamlet, King Lear and many roles played by women and very effectively. But what is the point of a woman playing Charles Fox?.
The set by Robert Jones consists of panels that represent walls and doors on the small, revolving Nottingham Playhouse stage. There are numerous scene changes and the set facilitated ease of scene changes from different palaces, to the bedroom to parliament. The stage seemed too small for the world of the play especially as seen in detail on the large screen.
The benefit of seeing the performance in a movie house was the details provided by the close-ups but there is the attendant loss of seeing the whole stage all the time.
In the end it was an outstanding production of a wonderful play that has lost none of its power and relevance some twenty seven years after it premiered.
The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett was performed at the Nottingham Playhouse, England and transmitted on December 20, 2018 at select Cineplex cinemas across Canada.  For more information:   

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

In the opening scene of Antony and Cleopatra, we see Cleopatra lying still on the floor as Philo, one of Antony’s followers, speaks the first lines of the play. Antony, the great general who resembled the god of war Mars has become a strumpet’s fool, he tells Antony’s friend Demetrius. Antony enters and gives the prostrate Cleopatra a kiss and she awakens as if from the dead.  The two are supposed to enter with a flourish and a train of followers but director Simon Godwin had a different and brilliant idea for the commencement of the play.

The Queen of Egypt and one of Caesar’s three successors, express their boundless love for each other. Within a few lines in the opening scene Shakespeare has joined the two forces that make up Antony and Cleopatra – the political fate of the Roman world and the great love story of the two protagonists.
 Ralph Fiennes and Sophia Okonedo. Photo: Johan Persson
Ralph Fiennes takes the role of the besotted Antony who must navigate between political necessity and passion. He manages to make a truce with his rival Octavius Caesar (Tunji Kasim), including marrying his sister Octavia (Hannah Morrish) but soon capitulates to his dotage and returns to Egypt.

Fiennes gives a bravura performance taking Antony from the heroic general to the broken down man and lover who is humiliated, turns to drink and eventually commits suicide. Even in his heyday as a lover Antony is treated with derision and contempt by the Romans but he maintains his bravado in the first half of the play. Fiennes is powerful, passionate, arrogant and pathetic in turn as his character’s life cycle takes its course.

Near the end of his life Antony recalls Dido and Aeneas, the great lovers of the distant past. Aeneas loved Dido as much as Antony loved Cleopatra but he left the grieving Queen behind in Carthage because he was to higher duty bound, the founding of Rome. A marvelous juxtaposition in a play that displays a richness of language and references.

Sophie Okonedo is outstanding as Cleopatra. This Queen is feline, sexually magnetic, manipulative, blindly in love and a woman to be reckoned with under all circumstances. She maintains her majesty, her ardour, her nobility and her arrogance almost intact to the bitter end unlike Antony who becomes a pathetic man. In her strength of character Okonedo’s Cleopatra remains what Antony was in his prime.

Tunji Kasim as Caesar is conniving, mendacious and pretty slimy. His sister Octavia as played by Morrish is attractive, sympathetic and decent in a world where decency is a rare commodity.
 Sophia Okonedo (lying down) and cast. Photo: Johan Persson 
Tim McMullen as Antony’s faithful follower Enobarbus is a proper soldier, competent and faithful, until he breaks down and joins the enemy He recovers moral stature by realizing his treachery and ending his own life.

Director Simon Godwin’s modern dress production was staged at London’s National Theatre and is being broadcast to movie houses. The opulence of Cleopatra’s palace is suggested by a swimming pool and the rest of the play with the numerous scene changes using large panels with door openings. The large revolving stage of the Olivier Theatre is ideal for quick scene changes. With more than two hundred entrances by the large number of characters the use of numerous door entrances is a must and Set Designer Hildegard Bachtler has provided them.

A highly effective production. But a word to the squeamish: the production uses a real snake for Cleopatra’s end-of-life sequence.

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare was transmitted on December 6, 2018 Live from the National Theatre in select Cineplex cinemas across Canada.  For more information:   

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


James Karas

The whole world knows that Dorothy is from Toronto, fake news that she is from Kansas to the contrary. When the hurricane blows her to the Land of Oz she craves to come home. When asked why, she replies that Toronto has some very nice things unlike all other cities in the world. For 23 years Ross Petty has produced twisted versions of famous tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol and Peter Pan to the sheer delight of audiences. This year it’s The Wizard of Oz, A Toto-ly Twisted Family Musical. 

The musical is “inspired” by L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but you might as well erase all memories of the 1939 MGM movie with Judy Garland. There is no “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or any of the familiar tunes in this wacky burlesque of the classic story.
The OZians. Photo: Racheal McCaig

For rural Kansas, we have the Ossington Summer Street Festival with the CN Tower in the background. The residents are worried that Miss Gulch (Sara-Jeanne Hosie) who owns the street will hike their rents through the roof. Miss Gulch, dressed in black, arrives on her bicycle, and you hear a thunderous and spontaneous chorus of boos from the audience. Now you know you are in Petty country.

The basic plot is sort of kept. Dorothy (Camille Eanga-Selenge) is blown by the hurricane to the Land of Oz where there is a wicked witch called Sulphura (Ms Hosie, of course). There is the good witch, Miss Sugarbum (Michael de Rose) and the Tin Man (Eric Craig), the Scarecrow (Matt Nethersole) and the Cowardly Lion (Daniel Williston).

How does the show succeed so marvelously? It has some brisk dancing, wonderful singing, plenty of humour, colourful scenery, political satire and infectious, enthusiastic audience participation. All of these virtues equal the creation of energy and enjoyment.

Political satire? You are invited by Melania for dinner at the White House. What present do you bring? How about a speech by Michelle Obama.

“How did someone so unqualified rise to power so quickly?” Reply: “Fox News.” The pre-teens in the audience were getting these jokes even if they were intended for their parents. And a comment about millennials who go back to live with their parents

Dorothy and her friends are environmentally conscious and there are numerous references to the ozone layer and care of the environment. The young are encouraged to get involved and in fact Dorothy decides to run for City Council and become fearlessly political.

The “serious” stuff is included without slowing down the singing, dancing and humour of the play.

As usual Petty includes commercials during the performance but even they are done with humour and panache.

The performances were vivacious and well-paced. Michael de Rose stood out as Miss Sugarbum in drag in an outrageous costume. Eddie Glen, a natural comedian, played Miss Gulch’s assistant Randy, Mr. Green and the Wizard all with pleasant results. Camille Eanga-Selenge shone as Dorothy being able to sing, dance and generally perform with superb bravura. 
Michael De Rose, Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Daniel Williston and Matt Nethersole. 
Photo: Racheal McCaig
Matt Murray fractured Baum’s tale, Tracey Flye is responsible for directing and the choreography. Highly impressive work.

I was accompanied by two astute Associate Reviewers, John and Jordana.

John, 14, thoroughly enjoyed the show but was surprised by the numerous political jokes which were funny but perhaps a bit over the top. He was not expecting to see a picture of Doug Ford being sucked into the tornado but he found it funny.

He was impressed by the comments about global warming which were entertaining but also teaching kids about how serious climate change really is. Very educational.

Jordana, 11, did not mince her words. She judged this Wizard of Oz “a great play” and thought that it was funny and light at the same time. The political jokes stood out for her and she found them funny but thought that they had a deeper meaning as well.

I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with such incisive, intelligent and judicious reviews.          

The Wizard of Oz – A Toto-ly Twisted Family Musical  by Matt Murray continues until January 5, 2019 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario.

This review appeared in the December 21, 2018 edition of The Greek Press.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

This is a great production of a great play.

Last year the Chichester Festival produced King Lear with Ian McKellen in the title role. The production transferred from the 300-seat Minerva Theatre in Chichester to the somewhat bigger Duke of York’s in London and was broadcast around the world through the auspices of the National Theatre.

Director Jonathan Munby has opted for an intimate look at the play partly no doubt because of the size of the Minerva Theatre in Chichester. He has made numerous brilliant decisions in the presentation of the play and with Ian McKellen as Lear, it can be ranked as a great production.

Ian McKellen gives a performance that stands at the pinnacle of acting and actors who have dared take on the role. King Lear is four score and more and McKellen at 79 is almost the same age. He looks old and we have no doubt about Lear’s physical and mental frailties. We do not doubt the stupidity of dividing his kingdom into three and then into two parts so he can retire. But after that McKellen’s portrayal gives us a sympathetic man despite his faults.
 Ian McKellen as King Lear 
With his extraordinarily deep voice, McKellen delivers every iamb with perfect enunciation, timing and resonance. He pauses when necessary and can reach emotional depths that make you feel as if you are hearing Lear’s lines for the first time.

He gives a nuanced, meticulous and simply great performance.

Munby does some marvelous things with the nasty sisters. Goneril is a business-like creep, dressed conservatively. Regan is a conspicuously sexy, wearing clothes that reveal her sensual appeal. She is conspicuously evil as well. When her husband is gouging Gloucester’s eyes out she does an orgiastic dance. You feel that she is sexually aroused by an act of incredible cruelty and depravity.

Munby stages the blinding scene in a slaughter house where carcasses hang and we see the head of a bull and a pig. Very graphic and highly effective.

Lloyd Hutchinson is an effective Fool and Munby provides an interesting answer to the question of what happens to the fool. He seems to drop out of the action but Munby gives us a clear answer which you may be interested in seeing for yourself. Spoiler alert, in other words.

Munby casts Sinead Cusack as Kent and the change in gender in the hands of a superb actor works quite well. She puts on a hat and man’s clothing for a quick transformation and all she has to do is take off her hat to reveal that she is a woman.
Ian McKellen and Anita-Joy Uwajeh
Danny Webb is superb as Gloucester, the man who brags about his adultery and illegitimate son in the opening scene and ends up being blinded and realizes his errors and “blindness” before losing his eyes.

The performance is done in a small space in modern dress. There are soldiers in modern fatigues with machine guns and knives but no swords. It all works quite well.

The most praiseworthy aspect of the production is the ease and naturalness of the performances. McKellen and the rest of the cast make everything seem effortless and there was nothing tendentious about what they are doing. The outstanding cast and director in a small theater produced a great production of a great play.

King Lear by William Shakespeare was taped at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, England and transmitted on November 24, 2018 at select Cineplex cinemas across Canada.  For more information:  

Friday, December 14, 2018


James Karas

The Greek community of Toronto was treated to some entertaining amateur theatre by Irida Art Group. They gave a single performance of Έτοιμοι για όλα στο Τορόντο [Ready for Everything in Toronto] to a full house at the Papermill Theatre in Toronto. 

Έτοιμοι για όλα στο Τορόντο is the creation of Gregory Terzakis who wrote, directed and starred in the play. It is involves ten people who gather at a Café Bar in Scarborough and go through a series of experiences as they try to cope with life.

The play opens as a melodrama when we meet five men in Kimon’s (Kimon Sikiaridis) café. Things are pretty bleak. The bank has served notice that it will seize the café and his friends can do nothing to help him save it. His friend Dimitris (Dimitris Vohaitis) has just been fired from his job as a journalist. Panagiotis (Panagiotis Apatsidis), Grigoris (Gregory Terzakis) and Kimon’s son Jimmy (Dimitris “Jim” Kamposos) have nothing to offer and disaster seems imminent.
Someone has a brilliant idea. Why don’t we perform dances at a night club and make money to save the café? The play turns into a sit-com as the men engage Irina (Vasso Kokkoni) to teach them how to dance. Irina is a Ukrainian dancer, slim, dressed to kill and hiding none of her sexual magnetism. The men go into hormonal overdrive. They roll their eye, slap their forehead and go into contortions to the delight of the audience.

The dance training does not have sufficient plot material so Terzakis adds sexual and marital entanglements. Kimon is married to Effie (Effie Antonakopoulou), Panagiotis is married to Ioanna (Ioanna Apatsidou) and Dimitris is married to Katerina (Katerina Tsekarea) and Kimon’s son Jimmy is going out with Panagiotis’s daughter Nikki (Nikki Vottea). We have moved into soap opera country.   

Kimon, Panagiotis and Dimitris pursue Irina. Grigoris is having an affair with Katerina and Kimon suspects that his son is gay and having an affair with Grigoris. That is quite a list of entanglements. The wives are not sure what their husbands are doing at night and in a hilarious scene catch them in the act of dancing/wooing the lissom Irina. And did I mention that Panagiotis is convinced he saw Grigoris and Jimmy necking in a car with their tongues in action? We have now changed gear and we are in farce mode. 

All of these subplots have to be untangled and Terzakis gives himself about three hours to do it.

Terzakis roots the play in the Greek community with numerous references to people and places in Toronto. The production is sponsored by The Greek Community of Toronto and the audience loved the mention of well-know people in the community.

A few comments about the production. I hasten to add that the actors are amateurs and must be judged more for their love of, and dedication to the theatre. For the most part they did a fine job but there were a few gaps. The simple rule of enunciate and speak every syllable was not always followed. Irina speaks in a Ukrainian accent but when she delivers a long, dramatic speech, she gets so involved in it that she forgets her accent.

Terzakis strives for broader type of comedy by making references to authors like Eugene Ionesco, Lorca, Tennessee Williams and others that I did not catch. Nikki, who is studying to be an actress, gets to emote with a few lines from Blood Wedding. When The Bald Soprano is mentioned, Dimitris steps forward and inform us about the play and the date one which it premiered. This struck me as unnecessary and unhelpful.

At three hours, the play is perhaps a bit on the long side. Terzakis insists on milking funny situations even after we have got the joke and he needs to move on to the next episode.

The scene changes were quite awkward because they called for the rickety curtains of the Papermill Theatre to be closed and then opened. Lowering the light would have been more efficient and sensible.

Critical harping aside, the performances was done before an enthusiastic audience who thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. That is what theatre is all about. 
Έτοιμοι για όλα στο Τορόντο [Ready for Everything in Toronto]  by Gregory Terzakis was performed once on December 8, 2018 at the Papermill Theatre, 67 Pottery Road, Toronto, Ontario. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Christopher Morris’s The Runner is a simple play where a rescue worker tells us what he does. Simple play in this case means a piece that delivers an unforgettable narrative of events that are full of humanity from a region where it seems to be all too frequently absent.

Jacob, the only character in the play, is an Orthodox Jew who works for Z.A.K.A., an organization of volunteers. Their gruesome task is to gather the body parts and blood of victims of terrorist attacks in Israel and around the world. The impetus for this seems to be the religious conviction that a Jew should be buried whole.

Jacob finds a dead Israeli man and near him a teenage Arab girl still alive but bleeding. He believes that there are no Palestinians – only Arabs and has no reason not to think that the young girl killed the Israeli man. But something extraordinary happens to Jacob. His humanity overwhelms his life’s mission as a rescuer of victims of Arab terrorists. The Arab terrorist becomes another human being and he tries to save her life. In his attempt to save her, some of her blood spurts in his mouth and he swallows it. 
It is an arresting event for Jacob and the audience.         

Jacob goes to a mass grave site in Ukraine where the remains of Jews massacred by the Nazis are found. All the victims have a bullet hole in their heads. He sees the corpses of a mother and her child. She is hugging and holding the child close to her but for what? To comfort it? To protect it? To make sure it does not witness the final moments of life?

A scene that takes your breath away.

The title describes literally what happens in the play. Gord Rand as Jacob literally runs or walks throughout the 80-minute performance without an intermission. The set by Gillian Gallow consists of a raised platform the width of a treadmill that could be a conveyor belt on which Rand walks or occasionally runs while he tells us stories of horror and humanity.

A spotlight is shone on Jacob as he runs/walks on the belt and there are times when he seems almost unable to continue. He tells about his domestic life with a mother who has dinner ready for him every night and of her desire for him to get married. He is criticized for helping the Arab girl, especially by his brother. But Jacob persists. His towering humanity overwhelms the hatreds that have made Jews and Palestinians implacable enemies with the latter wanting nothing less than the annihilation of the other.

Gord Rand gives a magnificent performance under the direction of Daniel Brooks in this hymn to humanity.   
The Runner by Christopher Morris, in a production by Human Cargo Theatre supported by Theatre Passe Muraille, ran from November 10 to December 9, 2018 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, Ontario. (416) 504-7529

Friday, November 30, 2018


James Karas

First, the good news.

Jason Sherman’s new play, The Message, has a superior cast of actors and an experienced creative team. The result is a production with superb acting. R.H. Thomson, one of Canada’s finest actors, plays Marshall McLuhan, a highly demanding role.

The play is about McLuhan from the time he suffers a stroke to his death. For some of the time McLuhan cannot speak or has difficulty communicating. He has moments of lucidity and the brilliant scholar, philosopher and indeed prophet comes out. Thomson is seated much of the time and his portrayal of the lion in the last throes of life with glances at better times is a tour de force performance. 
Sarah Orenstein, Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster and R.H. Thomson. 
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Peter Hutt takes on three roles as the exuberant Gerald Feigen, Paul Klein and a student. He has lots of opportunities for high jinx and sober acting which he takes on with relish.

Patrick McManus plays the more reserved Howard Gossage and Father Frank. He is also Dr. Hildebrand who removes a tumor the size of a golf ball from McLuhan’s head. Yes, it is a real golf ball on stage and welcome to the elements of the theatre of the absurd. Sarah Orenstein plays McLuhan’s wife Corinne and Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster is the efficient assistant.

Now for the rest.

If The Message has a message I did not get it. Is the play intended for people who are thoroughly versed in McLuhan’s life and work? I plead relative ignorance on both counts and that may explain my not getting the message.
Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster and R.H. Thomson. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann 
We get snippets of McLuhan’s humour, his love of puns, his admiration of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. A great work of literature, no doubt, which I find, mea culpa, mea culpa, completely incomprehensible. McLuhan wants to hear it in an Irish brogue. Some of his complex ideas drive by me without my finding a parking space in my mind.

The set by Camellia Koo consists of a large chair on which we find McLuhan and a reversible bookshelf to indicate McLuhan’s home and office at the university. It is functional and superb.

Director Richard Rose does everything right with the production except for making the content of the play comprehensible. The ideas of a brilliant man shown in the context of his stroke, his inability to speak and his habit of being repetitive are hardly a good combination. The play is simply too dense, slow and in the end provides an untheatrical night at the theatre. 
The Message by Jason Sherman opened on November 14 and continues until December 16, 2018 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

George Scandalis is back for a third production in Greek at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto. He has written, directed and stars in Oi Erosylies (Οι Ερωσυλίες), whose central theme is love and the many forms that it can take. There are many other tentacles in the plot but you can only get them or try to in any event if you see the play.

The inspiration for the play is the poetry of Erofili Gerasimidou and a central image is the Bourboulia, a masked ball with a difference that forms a part of the Patras Festival. The play takes place in the city of Patras.

A couple of explanations may be helpful. In the Bourboulia, women attend the ball with their faces fully covered and frequently engage in sex with unknown partners. It is an expression of feminist freedom for one night and the event dates back to 1872. It may not be exactly Dionysian revels but one could find something bacchanalian in it.

The title of the play is a word coined by Ms Gerasimidou. It comes from the word ierosylia (ιεροσυλία) which means sacrilege. Ms Gerasimidou’s first name is formed from the words “eros” and “filia” which can mean a lover of eros. Erosylia may mean the theft of love. You may get a better understanding if you see the play.

Eri (Stella Makrogiannakou) and Maria (Stavroula Karnouskou) are cousins or maybe sisters and they live with Yiota (Irene Bithas) whom they address as mother. There are many facts that you will have to figure out for yourself and I will not spoil the plot for you by revealing too much.

Maria has been engaged to Petros (George Scandalis) for some ten years but he is not marrying her because he cannot afford it. Maria is a very nice and lovable girl. Eri is the wild type who goes out at night and her mother is furious with her to the extent of calling her a slut. Yiota is a very devout Christian but there is more to her religious zeal than meets the eye.

The girls get an invitation to the Bourboulia and Eri meets Petros there. We know that they have sex there but who else knows that for certain? And when is Petros going to marry Maria?

These are the questions and complications that will keep us busy for about three hours. The performance contains extensive reading of Ms Gerasimidou’s poems which are arranged chronologically like a diary of love and separation. We hear a voice over reciting lines of her poetry. Dramatic scenes are highlighted by background music which at times takes over.

There are nine roles in addition to the four major parts that I mentioned. Some are well defined like the ditzy Natasha (Elaine Sarantakos) and her boyfriend Antonis (Dimitri Hatzikonstadinou) but others are not as recognizable. The lack of a cast list with the roles they play does not help.

The set is indicated by minimal pieces of furniture. Yiota’s house has a table and a wall full of icons, the outdoor scene is indicated by a bench and a couple of flower pots, a bed is pushed on stage when necessary and the rest of the time they perform on an empty stage.

The play, at three hours including intermission, could use some dramaturgical surgery. Yiota’s confession, for example, even when delivered by Irene Bithas, can use some trimming. The voice over announcing the number of days and providing some kind of chronology needs to be clearer.

Theatre in impeccable Greek in downtown Toronto, written, directed and starring a young Canadian of Greek descent? And supported by what looks like a large segment of the Greeks of Toronto? And attended by a significant number of young people? Yes, to all.

Oi Erosylies (Οι Ερωσυλίες) by George Scandalis opened on November 22 and will be performed ten times until December 2, 2018 at the Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario.


James Karas

Ellie Moon’s What I Call Her delivers a solid punch, both physical and emotional, in its climactic scene. The play builds up to an even higher emotional apex after that with some outstanding acting by Ellie Ellwand and Charlie Gould. Unfortunately there are problems with the breadth of the play and the road to the final, enigmatic resolution.

Kyle (Michael Ayres) and Kate (Charlie Gould) are a young couple, living in a simple apartment in the Leslieville part of Toronto. They are affectionate and apparently well suited for each other. We quickly find out that Kyle comes from a very happy family whereas Kate was raised in a dysfunctional household and harbours deep-rooted hatred and revulsion against her mother and her sister.
Michael Ayres and Charlie Gould. Photo: Dahlia Katz
We will soon find out that there are some serious fissures in Kyle’s ideal family but that will be only a minor sideline.

Kate’s mother is in a hospice on death’s door and Kate has started writing her obituary. As the plot develops, the obituary takes and maintains the central focus for far too long. We slowly realize that Kate in her recollection and hatred of her family may be relating events that did not happen, myths that she has created or reliving her own psychoses.

When her sister Ruby (Ellie Ellwand) appears, unexpected and unwanted, Kate’s precarious emotional balance explodes in an expression of hatred and other complex feelings about her.

The sisters go through a roller coaster of emotions about their relationship and their relationship with their mother. The mother was sexually abused as a child and was a seriously damaged human being. Her children have inherited, perhaps, her damaged personality but are largely unaware of it and blame the mother for abusive conduct, which, as I said, may have little or no basis in reality.

Gould and Ellwand display some incredible emotional intensity in their acting. Ayres as Kyle is stuck between the two sisters deflecting shocks and being treated to some abuse himself.
Charlie Gould and Ellie Ellwand. Photo: Dahlia Katz
The problem is that there is not sufficient objective correlative to the emotional reactions. Kate is writing an obituary before her mother is dead that she does not intend to publish. Is she doing it for therapeutic reasons, for posthumous revenge, for expiation of her feelings towards her mother and her sister? Possibly. It is a thin plot device that does not sustain the play to the heights that Ellie Moon seems to have intended.

The author, the actors, director Sarah Kitz and the creative team are all young and with the exception of Ayres and composer Ali Berkok, they are all women who show a great deal of talent. The production company In Association, was founded in 2016 with the purpose of producing Ellie 

Moon’s first play Asking for It. What I Call Her is worth seeing for that reason alone and for the possibilities that it so clearly promises.  
What I Call Her by Ellie Moon, in a production by In Association in partnership with Crow’s Theatre, opened on November 21 and will play until December 8, 2018 at the Scotiabank Community Studio, Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1.

Saturday, November 24, 2018


By James Karas

For those of us who complain about the paucity of Greek theatre in Toronto (starting with me), the local branch of the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis (ISFNK), had a surprise for us last Sunday, November 18, 2018. They introduced us to Nikos Kazantzakis’s tragedy Kapodistrias at the Polymenakio Cultural Centre of the Greek Community of Toronto.

The number of people who have seen any of Kazantzakis’s thirteen plays, let alone Kapodistrias, cannot be many. In Toronto we have seen adaptations of his novels Zorba the Greek and The Greek Passion (under the title He Who Must Die) but I am not aware of any of his plays having been ever been staged.

Toronto’s Friends of Kazantzakis under the capable leadership of Voula Vetsis with the help of the Greek Community of Toronto and the Cretans’ Association of Toronto “Knossos” has given us a partial reading of Kapodistrias.

Director Maria Kordoni uses a narrator for introductory and connecting material (the inimitable Irene Stubos) and four actors to read some of the lines of seven characters of the play as well as a chorus of four women. The play has fifteen parts and a chorus that can vary in number, and is quite long. Irene Stubos made some judicial choices for what she offered the audience that packed Polymenakio Centre and was also responsible for the casting. [In my review in The Greek Press I erroneously credited the editing of the play to the director].
The murder of Kapodistrias by Charalambos Pachis.
The main character is of course Ioannis Kapodistrias and Andreas Batakis does an exceptional job in reading his lines. Kazantzakis’s Kapodistrias is an intellectual with political wisdom and a vision of a new Greece without fratricidal factions. He is a Christ-like figure who knows that his death is near but is ready to sacrifice himself for the people.

Batakis is tall and broad-faced, physical features appropriate for a sympathetic portrayal of Kapodistrias, as well as the vocal intonation to achieve a representation of the tragic figure. Dimitris Kobiliris reads the honest and fearless Makriyiannis. Yiannis Kassios reads Papagiorgis while Ioannis Dimitriou is the gruff Kolokotronis. The latter doubles as the assassin Konstantis Mavromichalis. Thanasis Adamos reads the parts of Giorgakis Mavromichalis and Gikas.

No one should underestimate the effort and success of the actors. Except, for the chorus, they all had to read Kazantzakis’s rather awkward thirteen-syllable verse which results in almost all speaking in a similar vein.

The chorus made up of Panagiota Vogdou, Maria Diolitsi, Ourania Korentos and Dr. Maria Lychnaki delivered some of the choral passages of the play very competently.    

The actors read their lines while seated and my only comment would be that they may have been better off if they read them standing at lecterns. This would have given them more freedom of movement including having the script on a lectern rather than their laps and would have been easier to indicate who would have been on stage in a full production.

Kazantzakis wrote Kapodistrias in 1944, near the end of the German occupation of Greece. It was produced by the National Theatre of Greece in 1946 when Greece was torn by fanatic factions and political hatreds. Despite Kapodistrias’s and Kazantzakis’s plea for moderation, all-out verbal war broke out in the newspapers between the left and right political extremes and the production was quickly closed.

The play was not produced again until 1976 and the same production was mounted in 1982. These three production, if my information is correct, are the sum total of stagings of Kapodistrias in Greece.

The local Friends of Kazantzakis who were organized in 1988, may have achieved a lot more than they are even aware of.

Kapodistrias by Nikos Kazantzakis was performed once on November 18, 2018 at the Polymenakio Cultural Centre, Greek Community of Toronto, 30 Thornecliffe Park Drive, Toronto, Ontario.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Escaped Alone is an abstruse, absurdist play that Soulpepper endows with a fine production and superb performances.

Three old women are sitting in a fenced yard when a fourth woman sees a door in the fence and walks in. They all speak in short sentences, many of no more than three words. What are they talking about? Much of the time it is impossible to tell although there are a few facts that can be gleaned eventually.

Are they demented old women who talk in a stream of consciousness manner about whatever comes to their head or as they are prompted by a remark of one of the other women? Perhaps. We will find out that one of them murdered her husband and spent six years in prison. Another one is afraid of cats and there is talk of birds. Can we believe everything or anything they say or is author Caryl Churchill giving us an impressionist sketch of women who have gone gaga? Perhaps. They may remember or imagine shadows from their past and shadows are impossible to capture.
Kyra Harper, Brenda Robins, Clare Coulter, and Maria Vacratsis. 
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The title of the play does give us a handle in trying to figure out what is going on. It refers to Job of the Old Testament where four servants appear before him each informing him of disastrous loss of property and of the death of all his children. Each servants ends his description of the catastrophe with the phrase “and I alone have escaped to tell thee.” The wealthy Job suffers and endures appalling and tragic losses that are almost unimaginable to us.

Mrs. Jarrett (Clare Coulter), the woman who walks through the gate in the fence, gives an apocalyptic description of the earth shortly after joining the other women. She speaks of four hundred thousand tons of rock sliding from the hillside and aimed at children’s heads. Life moves underground where people survive by eating the dead and rats. In the end only a few insane people survive.

The women, Vi (Brenda Robins), Lena (Kyra Harper) and Sally (Maria Vacratsis) continue chatting in their non-sequential manner about shopping and Mrs. Jarrett delivers another apocalyptic description of the world. The basic order of nature is reversed as rivers change their course and flow towards their tributaries. Floods cause villages and cities to vanish.

Sally makes a long speech about cats and Vi tells us that she does not like the kitchen any longer. That’s where she killed her husband.
Clare Coulter. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The play lasts one hour with some facts coming to life during the dialogue which can sound like gibberish and the longer descriptive speeches by the characters. While Mrs. Jarrett feels terrible rage, the ladies tell a joke about why the chicken did not cross the road. Mrs. Jarrett decides she likes it there, thanks the women for the tea and goes home.

The actors have the formidable task of learning their lines alone and director Jennifer Tarver has the job of coordinating the non sequitors, pacing the performance and coming up with a fine theatrical product.   

This production of Escaped Alone marks its Canadian premiere and is a coproduction by Soulpepper and Necessary Angel Theatre Company.

Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill runs until November 25, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.  416 866-8666.