Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The Young Vic production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof has reached us in the movies houses. Director Benedict Andrews delivers his idiosyncratic view of the play with a number of stellar performances.

Cat deals with the dysfunctional relationships of the family of Big Daddy, a wealthy plantation owner in Mississippi. His son Brick is an alcoholic who stays in his bedroom with his beautiful wife Maggie whom he hates.

Big Daddy hates his older son Goober and his wife.

 Jack O'Connell and Sienna Miller. Photo: Johan Persson
Much of the first act is virtually a monologue by Maggie in a bravura performance by Sienna Miller. She exudes sexuality and unfulfilled desire as Brick expresses his scorn. He tried jumping hurdles in the middle of the night and injured his foot and now he hobbles around on a crutch as he drinks without a break. Brick was a football hero in college and had a friend named Skipper. The idea of homosexuality hangs in the air but Brick tells us that theirs was a close friendship that is so uncommon as to be almost unknown. Maggie thought it was homoerotic and she tried to put an end to it so she can have her husband Brick back. It did not work and Skip committed suicide.

Brick is wracked with guilt about his friend’s death and feels accused of being gay. He states that the friendship was pure and not sexual. Is he wracked with guilt because Skip committed suicide? Does he blame Maggie? Why is he a broken man?

It is Big Daddy’s 65th birthday and he is happy because he has been informed that he does not have cancer.

His revolting older son Gooper (Brian Gleeson) and his monstrous children are trying to curry favour with Big Daddy in order to gain control of the plantation.

Sienna Miller’s Maggie is a strong, wily, smart and magnetic woman. She tries everything to break through Brick’s shell of drunkenness. She crawls, she undresses in front of Brick until she finally manages to come out triumphant. An outstanding performance.

Jack O’Connell as Brick has powerful confrontations with Maggie and Big Daddy where the veneers of guilt and his soul are stripped away. He is stripped naked both physically and psychologically during the production. Brick spends an inordinate amount of time under the shower as if seeking to wash away his guilt.

Colm Meaney plays Big Daddy, a rich, powerful, foul-mouthed, self-made man who hates his wife but believes that he has received a medical reprieve form cancer. You need an exceptionally powerful actor for the role to convey the power of Big Daddy. Meaney falls just short of having the vocal and emotional capacity to represent Big Daddy.
Sienna Miller and Jock O'Connell. Photo: Johan Persson
Andrews clothes Mae (Hayley Squires), Gooper’s loathsome and baby producing machine of a wife, with a very short dress with exposed chest. Big Mama (Lisa Palfrey) is similarly attired and they could be hookers on High Street albeit with expensive clothes. Mae is supposed to be pregnant and there seems no reason to make Big Mama trying to be sexually alluring.

The set by Designer Magda Willi consists of a large bed with dark brown sheets and pillows, a makeup table and bottles of liquor on the floor with a large plastic bag of ice. There is also a shower in the middle of this which Brick, as I said, uses often and for a long time. They are all placed on a raised platform covered with dark brown carpet. The back is a blank wall with a frame of lights.    

Andrews updates the play to the present with Big Mama having a cell phone stuck down the front of her dress. I don’t think this adds anything to the production.

The conflict between Brick and Maggie and the confrontation between Big Daddy and Brick are some of the most dramatic scenes in modern drama. The production does justice to both and to the great play making for a great night at the theatre even if it is in a movie house.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof  by Tennessee Williams in a production by the Young Vic was shown on February 25, 2018 at the Cineplex Cinemas, Scarborough Town Centre, 300 Borough Drive, Scarborough and other theatres across Canada. For more information:    

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

A few hundred thousand people around the globe were treated to another revival of Franco Zeffirelli’s production of La Bohème beamed to them directly from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Most of them were unlikely to have seen the premier of this production in 1981 because they were not born then, were not in New York or could not afford the price of admission even if they were.

The Met has made up for lost time and opportunities for many of us to see Zeffirelli’s take on the opera by broadcasting the production in 2008, 2011 and 2014 with stellar casts. This year’s cast is no less stellar with soprano Sonya Yoncheva as Mimi and Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo.
  A scene from Act II of Puccini’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
We may imagine Mimi as an ill-nourished flower embroiderer who faints after she knocks on Rodolfo’s door because her candle went out. Some of that is true but Yoncheva’s Mimi has a twinkle in her eye and she is not frail. I think she sees what she wants in Rodolfo and goes after him in her sweet, humble way and they both find love and happiness at least to the end of Act II.

Yoncheva does have a beautiful voice and the familiar stops from “Me chiamano Mimi” to happy moments to her heart wrenching death at the end of Act IV are done with vocal splendor and touching expressiveness. Her lover Rodolfo is in the capable hands and vocal chords of tenor Michael Fabiano. He is youthful, ardent, vocally well-equipped and we love his love, his foolishness and his belated reconciliation with Mimi with pleasure and tears. Familiarity breeds appreciation.

The flirtatious, fun-loving, man-abusing Musetta is sung by Susanna Philips who has done the role almost countless times. She shows no fatigue and attacks her part with relish. She arrives at the crowded scene in the café, takes control, flirts with her former lover Marcello and takes the foolish Alcindoro (the aging Paul Plishka) for all he is worth.
 Brigitta Kele  (not Susanna Philips of the performance under review) as Musetta and 
Lucas Meachem as Marcello in Puccini's La Bohème. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Rodolfo’s three friends deserve special mention and not just for their vocal talents. Lucas Meachem as Marcello, Alexey Lavrov as Schaunard and Matthew Rose as Colline interact superbly and show true friendship. Tomfoolery and humanity combine to make the four friends a pleasure to watch and hear.     

Franco Zeffirelli’s production may well be opera as imagined by many but achieved much less frequently in recent productions in general. It is not exactly “thrift, thrift” as Hamlet would say, that causes more modest sets but a charge in tastes. Yet Zeffirelli’s extravaganzas are still produced to the delight of many. The scene in the Café Momus in Act II recreates a whole neighborhood on the Left Bank of Paris. You get a horse-drawn carriage, a donkey-drawn cart, a crowd of people on two levels and a carnival atmosphere of great excitement. Over the top? You bet.

Marco Armiliato conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Matthew Diamond directed the production for the movie houses and did so sensibly without treating the opera like a video game.
La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini was transmitted Live in HD on February 24, 2018 at the Cineplex Cinemas, Scarborough Town Centre, 300 Borough Drive, Scarborough, ON, M1P 4P5, (416) 290-5217 and other theatres across Canada.  There will be encore broadcasts on April 7, 9, 11, 15 and May 5, 2018. For more information:    

Monday, February 26, 2018


James Karas

Jerusalem is a complex and compelling play by Jez Butterworth and it gets an outstanding production by Outside the March and Company Theatre directed by Mitchell Cushman.

The play has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian morass but harkens back to William Blake’s poem “Jerusalem.” The beautiful poem conjures the possibility of an idyllic England where Christ (the holy Lamb of God) once walked on its green and pleasant land. Blake saw England’s pleasant land overrun by dark Satanic Mills. The Industrial Revolution had arrived but the poet undertook not to cease his fight until Jerusalem was built in England.  

Butterworth’s place is tangentially related to Blake’s poem with rich references and symbols. Before the lights go on for the play proper and as we are taking our seats we witness a wild party in a clearing in a forest. We hear loud music and see a raucous party with exuberant dancing, drinking and the taking of drugs with bacchanalian abandon.

The play begins and we should make a note about the extraordinary set. There is a dilapidated trailer between two large trees on a set that has turned the theatre into a forest. There are pieces of furniture around the place, graffiti and garbage in this world that is away from the world. Set Designer Nick Blais constitutes a major asset to this stunning production.

We hear a badly sung rendition of the hymn “Jerusalem” (to give us some context I suppose) by Phaedra (Shakura Dickson) and then the authorities (Kieran Sequoia and Michael Spencer-Davis) arrive with a long list of citations for Johnny “Rooster” Byron.

Byron is the central character of the play. He is unwashed, drunk, foul-mouthed, a loud drug user and the leader of a group of young people who share his life style. He struck me as a wild Dionysian character with his maenads leading a life of freedom and abandon on the edge of civilization and authority. The patch of forest that he and his followers occupy is on the edge of a town and it is slated for development. The town represents a cozy society of pubs but also a threat to the “idyllic” and fantastical life of Byron in the forest. The play takes place on St. George’s Day, the day of the town fair and the quintessential image of Merrie England.

Kim Coates plays Byron. You have to see many plays before you encounter a performance of such high caliber as Coates’ portrayal of Byron. He struts around the stage, bow-legged, almost never sober or not drugged, growls, scowls and gives a performance that merits the word great. Coates becomes Satan or Dionysus and in the end perhaps a Christ figure and he is able to embody all these characters with incredible sensitivity and power.

Cushman’s direction is impeccable and he manages to provide cohesion and an overall unity to the production that lasts for almost three hours. Ginger (Philip Riccio) plays Ginger, an outsider to the group who is almost a chorus. He thinks he belongs to the life of Byron’s forest ménage but he actually does not. To emphasize Byron’s “other worldliness” Butterworth introduces his wife Dawn (Diana Donnelly) and his young son Marky (David Kohlsmith). Byron is a lousy husband and an irresponsible father.

Byron’s followers are the Professor (Nicholas Campbell), Lee (Christo Graham), Davey (Peter Fernandes), Pea (Katelyn McCulloch) and Tanya (Brenna Coates). The town is represented by Wesley the pub owner (Daniel Kash) and the creepy and probably sexually abusive Troy (Jason Cadieux). They represent individual and ensemble performances of the highest order. 

In the end Byron is brutalized and emerges as a Christ-like figure in the torture inflicted on him.   Is this what happened to the holy Lamb of God when He tried to build Jerusalem on England’s pleasant pastures? Butterworth’s Jerusalem may have Blake’s poem as an entry point but it has its own exit. And we get a great night at the theatre.

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth continues until March 17, 2018 at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


James Karas

Georgios Souris (1853-1919) was a great Greek satirist who is virtually unknown outside of Greece. His poems are still read in Greece and almost everyone can quote a few verses that are as applicable today as they were almost one hundred and fifty years ago. I was lucky to find a rambunctious production of four of his one-act plays in Theatro Sofouli, a basement fringe theatre in Thessaloniki.

The cast of three women and five men is directed Pavlos Danelatos and they give exuberant performances. The plays are written in rhyming verse and they satirize Athenian society of the 1880s with parallels being pointed out to today’s Greece. The message is that not much has changed.

Danelatos adopts a commedia dell’arte style of acting for the talented cast. The men have painted masks and all the actors use exaggerated gestures, physical comedy and slapstick, resulting in boisterous comedy.

Sofouli Theatre which, according to its webpage, was founded in 2001 does not provide a program except for a postcard-size piece of paper that lists the actors only but the names of the rest of the troupe can be found again on their webpage. The actors are: Diogenis Gikas, Vicky Grigoriadou, Yiannis Mastrogeorgiou, Despina Bischinioni, Konstantionos Petridis, Stamatis Stamoglou, Chrysa Bolatti and Lefteris Panagiotidis. The last two are listed as friendly participants.

The plays are The Nomoneyman, (a loose translation of Anaparadiadis or someone without money), (1884), The Epidemic (1881), He Has No Qualifications (1885) and The Region (1886).

In The Nomoneyman a lawyer who has no clients and no money is running away from a tax-collector. He tries to hide in a house where he finds a spinster or an old maid to use the English of a certain age. She is ready to go, as they say, but her brother arrives, who just happens to be the tax collector. There is no way out but for the hapless lawyer to marry the spinster and get rid of his debts.

Almost every Greek can relate to being chased for unpaid taxes and unfortunately the stereotypical and untrue image of lawyers sounded true in 1884 as it does today. Horrors.

The second play, He Has No Qualifications (Δεν έχει τα προσόντα) is a broad satire on the civil service of Greece which seems to have grown exponentially over the past century and more. Jobs are offered based on the clientelist electoral system to whomever voted for and brought votes for the local winning politician. The sole qualification was political connection. The feeling is that nothing has changed.

The Epidemic is about a hypochondriac who is fearful of dying from a typhus epidemic. The play looks back to Aristophanes and Moliere with the smart-alecky maid and the hypochondriac’s niece who switch between normal and falsetto voices to good effect.

The Region (Η Περιφέρεια) presents the classic scenario of a crooked politician campaigning in a village to country bumpkins.

The set consists of a couch and a few chairs when necessary but this is barebones theatre that relies on the enthusiasm and exuberance of the actors, their ability to deliver rhyming couplets and maintain high speed and comic business throughout.

A highly enjoyable production of one-act plays that we are most unlikely to see in North America.

ELLAS GELAS four one-act plays by Georgios Souris played from February 2, to February 11, 2018 at the Theatro Sofouli, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


James Karas

Hugh Leonard’s Da is a memory play, an elegy, a lyrical piece about a father-son relationship and in its own way a tribute to the author’s father.

The play opens with Charlie (Dimitris Siakaras) sitting on the edge of the stage in front of the curtain waiting for a rehearsal. Some cast members arrive and the curtain opens on n scene where some people are attending a funeral. We realize that the funeral is for Charlie’s father the Da (dad) of the title. Bur after some short dialogue to set the scene, the ghost of Charlie’s father (played by Kostas Santas) begins to speak. The rest of the play will present scenes from Charlie’s life as a middle aged writer and as Charlie in his youth played by Anastasis Roilos.
Maria Chtziioannidou, Dimitris Siskaras, Anastasis Roilos, Nikos Kapelios
Lilian Palantza, Orestis Chalkias, Kostas Santas, Dimitris Kotzias
This is Charlie’s story but the main character is Da because Charlie wants to come to terms with his relationship with his father. Da is a fundamentally decent man who adores his son. Charlie was born illegitimate but Da adopted him and loved and cared for him for the rest of his life. Da spent his working life as a gardener for a wealthy woman and had no other ambition.

Drumm, (Dimitris Kotzias) is a high-placed civil servant who acts as a mentor and father-figure for Charlie. There is a marvelous scene near the beginning of the play where Da brings Drumm to the house hoping that he will get Charlie a job. It is during World War II and Da is an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazis and to Charlie’s immeasurable embarrassment, predicts their victory. Drumm advises Charlie to get out of Ireland and its great limitations but gives Charlie a job as a clerk where he stays for years.

The other characters in Charlie’s life are his adoptive mother (played by Lilian Palantza), his friend Oliver (young Oliver played by Orestis Chalkias and older Oliver played by Nikos Kapelios) Charlie’s love interest Mary (Christina-Artemis Papatriantafyllou) and Da’s employer Mrs. Prynne (Maria Chatziioannidou).    

The play is a moving journey into the past and a visit with Charlie’s ghosts. Santas gives us a highly sympathetic, simple unambitious and unsophisticated Da. People like that are not the type we ususally meet in drama but Leonard has written such a character and Santas is superb in his acting of him.

Siakaras as the middle-aged Charlie is a man who needs to come to terms with his past and his relationship with his loving and decent father and a world from which escaped with great difficulty. Siakaras and Chalkias carry us along the journey with high-caliber acting.
Kostas Santas 
Kotzias is good as the upper crust Drumm and Papatriantafyllou is attractive as the low-class Mary.

Dimosthenis Papadopoulos translated, directed and dramaturged the play making some changes at the beginning and the end and making Leonard’s text a play-within-a-play. The acting is good and cohesive but Papadopoulos did have to deal with the insoluble problem of putting on a production in translation. We do not get the lilit and musicality of the Irish accents nor the social structure indicated by them. The production provides the English text of the play in surtitles.

Papadopoulos and Set Designer Stavros Litinas move away from any hint of Irish by having the play done on an empty stage with a view of the sky in the background. There are a few seats at the back where the actors sit when they are not part of the actions. It is probably a good compromise (and much cheaper) from trying to create realistic Irish backgrounds.

Papadopoulos has made the play his own within the obvious and insurmountable limitations of producing an Irish play in Greek. The result is quite intriguing and noteworthy.
Da by Hugh Leonard opened on January 27, 2018 and continues at the Theatre of the Society for Macedonian Studies, 2 Ethnikis Amynis, Thessaloniki, Greece,

Sunday, February 18, 2018


By James Karas

King Charles III, “a future history play” in the words of its author, is now playing at the CAA Theatre (formerly Panasonic) in Toronto. I came, I saw it and did not like it.

Why? Liking or not liking a play or a production is a subjective reaction and theatre reviewers arrogate to themselves the right to express their views. If a play has been accepted as a great piece of work and a reviewer disagrees with established assessment s/he should eschew damning the work. No doubt s/he has superior knowledge and perception, but judicious silence may be more advisable than pompous display of whatever s/he possesses. Expressing an opinion that King Lear is a bad play will not gain you many fans.  
Patrick Galligan, David Schurmann, Gray Powell 
In that line of thinking, I begin by saying, that I don’t think King Charles III is a very good play. It is about the present Prince Charles becoming a king upon the death of his mother. For no better reason than personal preconception, I expect any play about Charles to be a comedy. He has been waiting for almost seventy years for his mother to die so he can get her job. I don’t think he is very bright and he has a tendency to be struck by foot-in-mouth disease and comment on matters that he should keep his mouth shut about. His sole accomplishment has been his choice of parents and satire is the only treatment that should be meted on him.

According to Mike Bartlett, when he becomes king, Charles precipitates a constitutional crisis by refusing to sign an act of parliament that restricts freedom of the press. Having started with the prejudice that Charles is suitable only for satire or broad comedy, I found it hard to accept such a principled stand by this less-than-well- honed knife in the drawer.

Bartlett has written the play in blank verse and has added the ghost of Princess Diana, another dummy, but a pretty one. This I suppose is intended to give the play a Shakespearean dimension, a dimension for which the Greeks had a word: hubris.

We have a family crisis with Prince Harry dating a commoner and wanting to become a commoner himself for the sake of love. Harry has the defining family trait – he is stupid. When you have everything and nothing to do and there are people fawning on you all your life, brain cells simply do not develop.
L-R - Jeff Meadows, Shannon Taylor, David Schurmann, Rosemary Dunsmore 
(William, Kate, Camilla and Charles)

The constitutional crisis becomes a serious national issue. The Prime Minister threatens to bypass the King. The King exercises an arcane prerogative by storming into the House of Commons and dissolving Parliament. That is pretty serious stuff. The nation is up in arms and the United Kingdom is starting to look like a banana republic though I am sure no bananas are grown on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

Whatever the virtues or lack thereof of King Charles III, the production by Studio 180 did not help it. It is done on a raised platform with none of the accoutrements of posh royalty in the set. The Canadian actors under the direction of Joel Greenberg, cannot give us the ambience of events in Buckingham Palace. We are used to crisp English upper crust accents in that venue and alas we get sad attempts at it but they fall short of satisfactory.

A few credits. David Schurmann plays a straight-backed, serious and principled Charles which I could not take seriously. Wade Bogert-O’Brien plays Prince Harry and Jessica Greenberg is his girlfriend Jess. Gray Powell is the Prime Minister and Patrick Galligan is the Leader of the Opposition, both are politicians.

Rosemary Dunsmore plays Camilla and looks like the real one. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and Charles’ replacement is played by Jeff Meadows and Shannon Taylor is his wife Catherine. The set is by John Thompson.

King Charles III premiered in 2014 in London and has had a number of productions in the United States and Canada. It won the 2004 Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play and the Broadway production was nominated for a number of awards but did not win any.

As you can see there is no telling for tastes and there is a chance you will like King Charles III, the play, and you may even be thrilled by Prince Charles himself. As I said, there is no telling for taste.
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett in a production by Studio 180 continues until March 4, 2018 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario.

Friday, February 16, 2018


James Karas

Wajdi Mouawad is a prolific and talented Canadian of Lebanese origin who is a true man. He has written, directed and acted in numerous plays (among other accomplishments) and he knows the Middle East. The Canadian Opera Company has tapped into his talents by assigning him to direct its new production of The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Mouawad has gone a few steps further than the usual duties of an interpreter of a classic work by superimposing a play on Mozart’s work and making changes to the dialogue to suit his message. The Abduction opens with the Spanish nobleman Belmonte standing in front of the palace of the Turk Pasha Selim trying to figure out how to rescue his beloved Konstanze. She was abducted by pirates and you know the rest.
(top, l-r) Jane Archibald as Konstanze and Claire de Sévigné as Blonde; (bottom, l-r) 
Owen McCausland as Pedrillo and Peter Mauro as Belmonte. Photo: Michael Cooper

Mouawad adds a playlet before this. We are in Europe in the Age of Enlightenment and Belmont’s father (not in Mozart’s opera) and friends are celebrating the rescue of Kostanze. This is a celebration of civilization over Turkish barbarism and there is a game where people bash the head of a Turk with a sledge hammer. Such fun, no? Well, Konstanze has seen Turks up close and she has a different opinion of them.

Start Mozart’s work, please.

Belmonte (Swiss tenor Mauro Peter) is the ardent lover of Konstanze and his job is to be the ardent lover of Konstanze with the odd fit of jealousy. He starts with “Hier soll ich dich denn sehen” (“Here then shall I see you”) about how he suffered without Konstanze.  Then he tells us how ardently his lovesick heart is beating (“O wie ängstlich”)  and moves up the scale to rapture and joy in “Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen” (“When tears of joy are flowing.” Peter has his job cut out and we never doubt his ardour but Konstanze, despite what she says and sings, may have some reservations the way Mouawad presents her.

The vocal part of the production belongs to soprano Jane Archibald as Konstanze. She has a silken voice and she projects her ardour and her pain with superb effect.  She sings about love and its sorrows in “Ach ich liebte” and then rises to the splendour of “Martern aller Arten” (“Tortures of every kind.”) She goes from defiance to pleading for mercy to accepting her fate. Konstanze is a more fully developed character in the opera’s unsatisfactory plot and Archibald gives a bravura performance.

Soprano Claire de Sévigné was a spry, lithe and delectably sung and assertive Blonde. Her lover Pedrillo was well accounted for by tenor Owen McCausland. Croation bass Goran Jurić sang the role of the creepy Osmin. He has a good voice but he was simply overwhelmed by the orchestra when he tried his low notes.

Pasha Selim’s palace is by the sea (the getaway is in a boat) and one can do much with Middle Eastern design motifs. Set Designer Emmanuel Clolus has set the opera in no particular place. There are large, moveable, mostly dark-coloured panels. About the only colourful thing is a large globe which holds people on a couple of levels that appears near the end of the opera. The seraglio ladies are pretty and dressed tastefully but you will not go to this production for the set.
Jane Archibald as Konstanze and Mauro Peter as Belmonte. Photo: Michael Cooper
The Abduction is a Singspiel meaning it combines songs and dialogue. There is lots of dialogue even without Mouawad’s additions. Why are we forced to read surtitles? Why is the dialogue at least not in English? I am not sure there is a defensible argument and I will not buy the spiel about some singers not knowing English.    

Mouawad’s intention is clearly to represent the Turks as humane, generous and civilized. There is no sign that we are in a Turkish palace at all. Scant turbans, no minarets, and no indication of a seraglio. Fair enough but we came to see Mozart’s imperfect opera and adding a playlet and making changes in the dialogue in order to make a point may be going too far. The opera can be done in perhaps a bit over two hours plus intermission. This production went to three and a half hour including a 25 minute intermission. That’s approaching Wagnerian dimensions. The music carries this opera; the plot does not. Stick to Mozart. 
The Abduction from the Seraglio by W. A. Mozart opened on February 7 and will  be performed a total of seven times until February 24, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. West Toronto, Ont.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


James Karas

Neil Simon’s Fools is a fable about a 19th century Ukrainian village whose inhabitants are stupid. Two hundred years ago a girl refused to marry the Count’s son and he cursed them so now they are all stupid but charming, innocent and lovable. Enter Leon (Kostis Rampavillas), a teacher from Moscow who is looking for a job and finds a village of simpletons.

Director Grigoris Papadopoulos of the National Theatre of Northern Greece has staged a production of Fools that has managed to remove the charm, reduce the humour and deliver a very dull production of an admittedly second rate play.

Fools is supposed to open in the village square where the schoolteacher arrives and is charmed by the surroundings. Papadopoulos has his own ideas about the opening scene. He has the cast walk on stage and chant some words as they move around robotically. I have no idea what this was supposed to produce aside from annoyance.

Leon meets the shepherd Snetsky (played by the popular Tasos Pezirkianidis – you know he is popular because the audience applauded when he stepped on the stage) who establishes that he is a charming idiot. Snetsky has lost his flock and asks Leon to tell the sheep, if he sees them, that he is looking for them. He has a couple of dozen – well, fourteen – sheep. He can’t remember his first name but he calls himself “Something Something Snetsky.”

Yenchna, the vendor (Poluxeni Spyropoulou), calls out that she is selling fish but has only flowers. It is not her fault the fishermen did not catch any fish. She has to sell something and offers flowers as if they were fish. She complains that she has not received a letter from her daughter for a year. But she lives here, the postman Mishkin (Roula Pantelidou) reminds her. Thank God, replies Yenchna, otherwise I would have had no news from her.

Leon meets the most educated man in town, Dr. Zubritsky (Vasilis Spyropoulos) and his wife Lenya (Giolanta Balaoura), both stupid of course, but they reveal the origin of the curse. They have hired Leon to educate their dumb as a stump daughter Sophia. Leon soon meets Sophia (Kleio Danai Othonaiou), stupid and ignorant but very fetching even in an ugly orange dress.  

Leon and Sophia fall in love and the plot will lead to the inevitable, including the breaking of the curse. The play has charm and humour but unfortunately this production manages to do away with just about all of that.

The set consists of a few painted, moveable panels that represent abstract views of a village or something. They do nothing to bring out the essential idea of a village in a fable. The costumes are modern or worse with no attempt to give any notion of a magical place where loveable people live and love will triumph. The actors are trapped in a production that goes against the essential quality of the play which is that of a mythical place that we will enjoy visiting for a couple of hours.

The play was performed in the small and well-attended Closed Municipal Theatre of Sykies in suburban Thessaloniki. The unfortunate adjective “closed” I assume is intended to differentiate it from the nearby open air theatre and not to indicate that it is shut. The National Theatre of Northern Greece has adopted the laudable idea of bringing theatre to the people instead of waiting for them to travel to the center of the city.

The people of Sykies were treated to a play that can provide many laughs and considerable pleasure but unfortunately this production provided neither in any significant quantity.

Fools by Neil Simon in a translation by Errikos Belies opened on February 9, 2018 at the Closed Municipal Theatre of Sykies, Riga Feraiou and Megaron, Sykies, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


James Karas

Godot has waited for some forty years for a production by the National Theatre of Northern Greece. The last time the company staged Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece was in 1977 which followed their first performance of the play in 1965. Three productions in over fifty years do not bespeak a popular piece but one is always grateful.

Yannis Anastasakis directs the current production at the Vassiliko Theatre in Thessaloniki on a set designed by Kenny MacLennan. The aggressive lighting is designed by Vasilis Papakonstantinou and movement is by Dimitris Sotiriou.

Giorgos Kafkas as Vladimir and Konstantinos Hatzisavas as Estragon are relatively young tramps who look like they can take care of themselves. They turn in fine performances. Kafkas has a clipped way of speaking that he did not control at times and spoke more quickly than I thought appropriate for a tramp who has very little to do but wait. 
Hatzisavas, a slender young man, did a fine job as the frequently beaten up Estragon. His ambition seems to be to hang himself and put an end to his life but it is not easy to find the means. Panagiotis Papaioannou gave us a brutal, stentorian and a freaky Pozzo. He went from the nasty martinet to the begging, blind Pozzo and was quite exceptional.

The role of the pathetic Lucky was adroitly played by Thanasis Raftopoulos. The role has to be carefully choreographed for the physical abuse meted out on Lucky and the job was done superbly.

Foulis Boudouroglou was simply miscast as the Boy. The adult actor tried bravely to convince us that he is just a boy but despite his change of vocal intonations and bodily movements to convey that he is a youngster, I felt that he was a miscast adult for the role.

MacLennan’s set features a white platform that extends from the back of the stage on to the fifth row of seats in the orchestra. The platform goes up vertically at the back of the stage and curves forward towards the audience. Much of the action takes place on the platform. The issue I have with the platform is that it looks like a road connecting the audience to the stage and beyond. As such the road gives a focus to the action and may be seen as a way out for Vladimir and Estragon. Can they just follow the road? My take on the play is that the tramps live in the middle of nowhere where the only visible thing is a dead tree. Strangers abuse and beat up Estragon and Pozzo enters but I don’t think there is such a defining feature as a road. They always find something to give them the impression that they exist, they tell us, and I suggest that a road is concrete evidence of something that does not belong in the play.

Waiting for Godot provides considerable scope for humour and some directors take full advantage of it. Black humour in a play of the absurd can be quite intriguing. Anastasakis has opted for a straight reading of the play with only a few giggles from the audience and a full laugh when the word critic is mentioned.    

When Pozzo is about to enter, the audience is struck with blinding headlights. He is not driving a vehicle and has only Lucky on a rope. I could not figure out Papakonstantinou’s use of the headlights unless they are meant to be connected with the road suggested by the platform.

Manos Milonakis provided some eerie music.

Anastasakis’s direction and conception of the play is quite intriguing and fascinating regardless if you agree with some of his choices. Waiting for Godot is a rich and endlessly fascinating and confusing play. This production is decidedly worth seeing.  

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett opened on February 3, 2018 and continues at the Vassiliko Theatre, White Tower Square, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Sunday, February 4, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Verdi’s Duke of Mantua and his courtiers have been found in all kinds of places. They have been seen in Las Vegas, a circus, with the Mafia in Little Italy and Trump Tower. Director Christopher Alden has placed them in a rather unlikely setting of a staid English gentlemen’s club. We have the rich walnut panelling, the leather chairs and well-dressed gentlemen perusing newspapers.

In keeping with our stereotypical view of the English, this is a stiff-upper-lip crowd who eschew much display of emotion and even much physical movement. Eye contact is assiduously avoided and communication across the room is encouraged. The courtiers seem to stay in their club around the clock the way I imagine Penelope’s suitors hung around Odysseus’s palace for years without ever going to their houses.
A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Rigoletto, 2018, photo: Michael Cooper
With minor exceptions, the entire action takes place in the club. That, of course, does not make sense but Alden, as far as I can tell, has no intention of giving us a sequential or logical telling of the plot. This Rigoletto is, I think, the title character’s nightmare or his daughter Gilda’s dream or perhaps both.

During the overture, we see Rigoletto (baritone Roland Wood) seated in a leather chair to our right sleeping uneasily. Pay attention to the chair because it will be there for the rest of the production. A larger-than-life painting of a woman dominates the stage and we learn that it is of Gilda (Anna Christy) and it is tended by her servant Giovanna (Megan Latham).

Much of what happens is unrealistic, illogical, and abstract. But all of that may be consistent with the internal logic of a dream or a nightmare. The portrait of Gilda in the club appears ripped after her abduction. When Gild is being abducted and Rigoletto is told by the kidnapping courtiers that they are after Ceprano’s wife, Ceprano’s wife appears. When the aggrieved Monterone (a powerful Robert Pomakov) appears to complain about the defilement of his daughter, a woman in a nightgown appears. No doubt, she is his abused daughter.

What struck me more was the scene after Gilda’s abduction. We hear a briefly humanized Duke grieve about her loss and expressing his love of her and his desire to comfort her. Gilda appears on a couch and the Duke mounts her. The courtiers surround the couch and Rigoletto appears begging them to tell him where his daughter is. During this highly affecting scene, the Duke and Gilda are hidden from view and he is defiling her. When the courtiers move away we see a distraught Gilda and no Duke.

Sparafucile (the fine-voiced bass Goderdzi Janelidze) is a well-dressed assassin with a briefcase who works out of the club while the courtiers are reading their papers. He is indifferent to his barber and does take his shoes off when he is supposed to be in his run-down murder work-shop but don’t look for him on some badly lit street. This is more of the internal logic of a dream, I suppose.
Anna Christy as Gilda and Stephen Costello as the Duke of Mantua. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
The singing is of uneven quality. Wood sings consistently well but he is not allowed to or is simply unable to bring out the great pathos and drama inherent in Rigoletto’s situation. He never gets close to Gilda and even in the final scene when he realizes that she has been murdered it takes him a long time to get near her and when he does take her in his arms it is perfunctorily. When he realizes that she is dead there should not be a dry eye in the house. In the end Gilda walks away and I was looking for a ray of light to indicate apotheosis but it did not materialize.

Tenor Stephen Costello has his moments when he is allowed to let go. He sings “Questa o quella” sitting down but he is allowed some swaggering in “La donna e mobile.” Maybe he felt he was singing with his hands tied behind his back in the bizarre interpretation but he was not totally satisfactory.

Soprano Anna Christy has a sweet voice but it is simply not big enough for The Four Seasons. Her delicate tremolo sounded fine in “Caro nome” but I felt like reaching to turn up the volume.

As I said, Rigoletto has been set in numerous locales and some are more suitable than others. But all of them need some exuberance, some emotional depth that expresses the lechery and depravity of the court as well that tragedy of love and vengeance. An English gentlemen’s club be it in a dream or a nightmare is hardly the place for that.

Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi continues until February 23, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671.