Saturday, March 31, 2018


James Karas

Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour are the dynamic duo who created Theatre Smith-Gilmour in 1980. In some 40 productions since then, they have proven to be ambitious, inventive, enterprising and just plain bloody good. If they have any competition in longevity and creativity, I am not aware of it.

This year they have taken a huge bite – Victor Hugo’s massive Les Misérables - and offered a series of dramatic scenes from the novel. Even though a large swath of the novel is taken up by essays on various subject, the idea of presenting the main plot thread involving the hero Jean Valjean is simply breathtaking. To give you an idea of the size of the novel, I have an old edition that runs to four volumes.
Smith and Gilmour have six actors represent some 29 characters. The action takes place on a bare stage with a few props and some video projections. Much of the action is mimed and the play does achieve some very dramatic moments. But it also contains an inordinate amount of Dickensian melodrama and sentimentality, and numerous coincidences without Dickens’ humour.

The action is launched with Gilmour as Valjean telling us about his arrest and conviction for stealing a loaf of bread from a bakery in order to stave off gnawing hunger. Gilmour does impressive acting and miming of events in Valjean’s life. He is sent to prison for five years to serve in a galley. His sentence is increased to 19 years for his attempts at escape and the story continues.

On his release Valjean is mistreated because he carries the yellow passport of a convict but he finds shelter and food in the house of a bishop. He steals silver from the bishop, is caught and the bishop pretends that he gave the silver to him. We have met generosity and nobility.

We meet the beautiful Fantine (Nina Gilmour) who has an illegitimate child and has an extremely difficult time surviving. She gives her child to the evil Thenardier couple (Daniel Roberts and Diana Tso) who extract money from her. After some melodramatic scenes, she dies and we will have her daughter Cossette (played by Nina Gilmour) for the rest of the play.
One of the main plot threads is the vengeful pursuit of Valjean by the relentless and merciless Inspector Javert (Mac Fyfe). The other pursuit is by Marius (Benjamin Muir) of Cossette. He is a caricature of the obsessed romantic lover who runs into more obstacles than a steeplechase.

The personal histories are intertwined with national events including war and revolution as Hugo covered a large portion of history and Gilmour and Smith attempt to do justice to the novel. I think they try to chew much more than is possible even in two hours and forty minutes.

Marius’s pursuit of Cossette becomes tiresome because there is overstated ardour without humour. Scenes that may be dramatic become simply sentimental, almost mawkish, and in the end your interest in Valjean’s fate is seriously diminished. When Valjean is given another chance to exterminate the creepy Inspector Javert and he decides to be merciful, I felt like screaming “Blow the bastard’s head off.”    

The six actors’ ability to take on numerous roles is admirable and I don’t want to take anything away Michele Smith’s deft directing and the couple’s brave attempt to give us their stage presentation of a small part of a massive novel.  In the end it is a noble attempt at an impossible task that has some redeeming features but also some big potholes.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo adapted by Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour continues until April 1, 2018 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario. or

Friday, March 30, 2018


James Karas

What a Young Wife Ought to Know, the title of Hannah Moscovitch’s play, is not posed as a question but as a statement or perhaps a wish. If the question were what a young working class wife knew about sex, love, pregnancy and birth control about one hundred years ago, the answer is simple: almost nothing.

Moscovitch tells the story of Sophie (Lisa Repo-Martell), her husband Johnnie (David Patrick Flemming) and her sister Alma (Rebecca Parent) who live in the back water city of Ottawa. They have committed the crime of being born poor and therefore uneducated and therefore condemned to work in jobs that frequently do not pay even subsistence wages.
Lisa Repo-Martell and David Patrick Flemming, Photo: Timothy Richard
Sophie addresses the audience directly, husbands and wives separately, and we join her in her life with her sister and her courtship, marriage and family with Johnny. Her innocence has a certain pathetic charm when she kisses a dying young man on the cheek and fears that she may have become pregnant. She is attracted to the handsome Johnny and haltingly, even comically they consummate their marriage. Consummate would be a foreign word to her, so let’s say they have sex.

Poverty and ignorance do not abate their passion but a society that espouses ignorance and suppression of all knowledge about sex, birth control or abortion and seems to keep it away completely from the working class as if it were the bubonic plague is hardly to be sought. Not to mention that it was illegal to provide birth control information in Canada at that time and for many decades afterwards.

Children arrive, alive and stillborn, the Irish immigrant Johnny loses his job as a stable worker for a hotel, more pregnancies, no information about birth control, lack of basic necessities such as food arrive. Isn’t life and love just wonderful?

The spirit of Alma never leaves Sophie. Alma was gutsy, smarter and fearless. She became pregnant and put an end to her pregnancy - and her life. Her ghost visits Sophie as if it were a reminder of the road not taken or the road available to Sophie. It is frightful proposition.

Moscovitch tells us in the program that the play is based partly on the book of letters received by British birth control advocate Dr. Marie Stopes (Dear Dr. Stopes: Sex in the 1920s). One hundred years later it is hard to imagine the conditions that prevailed then unless one glances at the life of the poor in most countries of the world not least of which are parts of some southern states of what has finally become Great America Again.
Lisa Repo-Martell and Rebecca Parent. Photo: Timothy Richard
From commentator to pathetic, ignorant and tragic woman, wife and mother Repo-Martell does a fine job and is well-contrasted with the self-assured Alma of Rebecca Parent. Flemming as the handsome, macho, ignorant man who faces social challenges beyond his comprehension and ability to control looks for means of survival and can find none.

In the end there is a resolution as Sophie emulates her sister. I will not spoil the plot for you.
The play makes its points but it does not flow particularly smoothly. The plot shows structural weaknesses as it lunges from one point to the next.

The production is done on a bare stage designed by Andrew Cull with a few props such as a table. The rest of the atmosphere is handled by the lighting design of Leigh Ann Vardy.

What a Young Wife Ought to Know was first produced in Halifax in January 2015 by the Halifax-based 2b Theatre Company. The production is directed ably by Christian Barry, the Artistic Co-Director of 2b Theatre Company. It is theatre to see.
What a Young Wife Ought to Know by Hannah Moscovitch continues until April 7, 2018 at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1. or

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

La Comédie-Française has joined other theatre companies in transmitting performances either live or recorded to cinemas around the world. A pre-recorded performance of Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin translated as Scapin the Schemer was shown in Toronto on March 14, 2018.

Scapin is a farce and this production seemed to have many of the virtues to provide a laugh-filled couple of hours in the theatre. Unfortunately the performance falls flat evoking only nominal laughter in the cinema as well as the audience in the Salle Richelieu in Paris.
 First, the story. We are in Naples and Argante (Gilles David) and Géronte (Didier Sandre) are away on business but they are planning the marriages of their sons Octave and Léandre. In the meantime, Octave has fallen in love with the lovely but poor Hyacinthe and married her. Léandre has fallen madly in love with the gypsy Zerbinette. Both men have committed filial disobedience of the worst kind. They problem can only be solved by Léandre’s valet Scapin who is a trickster, a schemer, a liar and a man of infinite talents.

The plot is straight from New Comedy and we know that all will be resolved in a couple of hours and the young lovers will live happily ever after. The play has an interesting difference. In this case the parents are not obstacles to their sons’ choice of brides. They are simply unaware that Hyacinthe is in fact Géronte’s daughter and Zerbinette is Argante’s daughter and the fathers’ choices for their sons.

Scapin, played by Benjamin Lavernhe dominates the play. Lavernhe seems like a highly talented actor who can do physical and verbal comedy. Director Denis Podalydès with Lavernhe and the rest of the cast has decided that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing. There is and Podalydès milks many scenes for laughs long after they have ceased being funny.

Scapin extracts money from both fathers in order to fulfill the needs of their sons. He manages to put Géronte in sack and beat him quite severely. The scene goes on forever as Lavernhe gets a youngster from the audience to take a few whacks at Géronte. That does evoke laughter as does his invitation to the audience to chant “Géronte” in unison. It is going over the top for a laugh which should have been generated by the performance without audience involvement.
Sandre as Géronte and David as Argante do yeomen work as classic old and stingy fathers who are used, abused and duped by Scapin.   Gaël Kamilindi as Léandre and Julien Frison as Octave are typical young lovers, long on passion, promises and ardour.

Adeline d’Hemy as Zerbinette pretends to be a wild gypsy and she gyrates wildly almost to the point of breathlessness. Pauline Clément as Hyacinthe does a fine job as a woman who knows what she wants.

Podalydès and designer Éric Ruf have set the production in the port of Naples. We see some sails in the background but the foreground looks like an abandoned storage depot with scaffolding on the right and broken boards.

In the end, we got a production that had many of the right ingredients but it misfired. The program tells us that Scapin has been performed more than 1500 times by the Comédie-Française but there had not been a new production for twenty years. Denis Podalydès was invited to do a new production. The result is a disappointment.

Scapin the Schemer (Les Fourberies de Scapin) by Moliere was transmitted from the Comédie-Française, Paris, France on March 14, 2018 at the Cineplex Cinema Yonge-Dundas, 10 Dundas St. East, Toronto. For more information:

Saturday, March 24, 2018


James Karas

The monument in the title of Colleen Wagner’s play refers to a memorial for women who have been tortured, raped and killed in war. The play deals with that unimaginable and absolute evil and its success can only be limited by the impossibility of any form of art to express the inexpressible.

The play opens with a young man named Stetko (Augusto Bitter) describing how he raped a young girl. He is bragging as much as he is describing it and he accompanies his tale with a demonic laugh. He has raped and killed 23 women and he is refusing to disclose where their bodies are buried.
Tamara Podemski and Augusto Bitter in The Monument. Photo: Joseph Michael
Stetko is convicted, his hands are tied behind his back and he is awaiting execution. Mejra (Tamara Podemski) appears. She takes on many guises. She is his executioner, confessor, avenger and a seeker of an explanation about the actions of this monster. In the ninety minutes that the play lasts, Stetko the monster will present other views of his actions. He had to do it because others were doing it; things like that happen in war; there is no justice in war.

His initial denial of any knowledge of what he had done wanes and he recollects very well the horrific acts that he committed. Bitter gives a superb performance as the perpetrator of absolute evil who is transformed or perhaps finds his humanity and asks for forgiveness.

Mejra is a victim of the tactic of rape as a weapon of war and she is furious and vengeful but at the same time she is looking for information, an explanation, something to make her understand such acts of evil. Some or perhaps all of these things. Podemski in her brilliant and powerful performance goes through several phases and becomes a torturer herself in her attempts to break down Stetko.

My initial reaction was that the play should have finished in a couple of minutes with Mejra tying one of the ropes hanging from the ceiling around Stetko’s neck and raising him from the ground slowly, very slowly, as far as she could and then letting him drop to his well-deserved death in indescribable torment.

The Monument was written in 1995 and its context seems to be the rape of mostly Muslim women by soldiers during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Director Jani Lauzon tells us in a program note that she re-imagined the play through the Canadian issue and inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. This adds confusion rather than clarity. There is no war in Canada and references to soldiers raping and murdering indigenous women and girls as a tactic in ethnic cleansing are misleading. The play stands on its own well enough and the audience can relate to whatever part of the world it may be aware of where there is internecine war and rape is used as a strategic tactic.

The red dresses hanging on the stage and the ill-conceived attempt to give the play a Canadian context do not detract from the power of the play but they do not add anything either.

Wagner is groping for shreds of humanity and the idea of reaching the heart of a monster and making him ask for forgiveness. A noble sentiment that I find unconvincing. You can find or make Stetkos fairly easily in any war. Just give the orders, directly or indirectly, and many young men will succumb to rape and murder for many reasons from following the example of others to being brutalized by war and doing acts that they would find otherwise unthinkable.

The ultimate monsters are people who never kill, never fire a gun and never rape anyone. They are the political and military leaders who decide on strategy and tactics and make soldiers become monsters. Can we send a Mejra to see, say, Radovan Karadžić or Ratko Mladic or any number of other genocidal beasts and determine if there is a grain of humanity in them to make them understand their actions.

This is a riveting play that leaves you furious at our inhumanity and more so at the lack of any solution despite Wagner’s fervent hopes.

The Monument by Colleen Wagner, directed by Jani Lauzon, runs until April 1, 2018 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.


James Karas

Portions of Christos Ziatas’ play were read at the Greek Community’s Plymankio Centre last Tuesday, March 20, 2018. The event was organized by Bill Fatsis in honour of Ziatas’ literary achievements and to introduce the community to Iphigenia.

Iphigenia is a dramatization of the myth of the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter at Aulis in order to get favourable winds for the Greek forces to cross the Aegean Sea to avenge the abduction of Helen Queen of Sparta by the Trojan prince Paris.

As most of you will recall, troops from the Greek city-states were gathered at Aulis in Euboea under the leadership of Agamemnon and the seer Kalchas told them that the gods needed a sacrifice in order to provide fair winds.  Agamemnon created a ruse that Iphigenia was to come to Aulis to marry Achilles when in fact he intended to sacrifice her.

Well-known personalities from the Greek community read a large portion of the play in the well-attended function. Andonis Artemakis read the part of Odysseus, Tassos Michalopoulos was Agamemnon while Spyros Volonakis represented his brother Menelaus. George Zubulakis was the seer Kalchas while Kostas Klissouras read the part of the Elder and First Solier. Christina Houtri was Iphigenia and Konstantinos Bourikas read the part of Achilles. Stavroula Karnouskou read the part of the Voice of Casandra and Iphigenia’s companion.

Andreas Batakis doubled as the Narrator and the “common man” Thersitis.

The evening was hosted by Bill Fatsis who also participated in the production as the Second Soldier and read the choral poems.

Ziatas was born in the village of Chalara in the mountains of Kastoria and was taken to Romania while still in public school during the Civil War. He grew up there and attended the University of Bucharest where he studied literature. He came to Canada in 1975 and has lived here ever since. Except for visiting, he has never lived in Greece.

He refers to himself as the poet of overtime as a reflection of the 18 hours each day that he spends wrestling with words and writing. Since 1971 when he published his first volume of poetry he has produced some 40 books of poetry, plays and criticism.

Ziatas was given recognition and appreciation. What he needs and deserves is more readers to recognize and appreciate the results of his overtime wrestling with words, a match that never stops until the perfect word is found to describe the precise sentiment.

Sunday, March 18, 2018


by Keith Garebian
Guernica Editions, 2017, 542 pp.
ISBN 978-177183-299-1

By James Karas

Canada has produced many highly talented and accomplished theatre people but I am not sure how many of them would qualify to be described as “great.” If a poll were taken, I have no doubt that many Canadians would name actors whom they admire and call them great but can we find some general agreement?

Keith Garebian, who knows a great deal about theatre in Canada, would not hesitate to name William Hut as a great Canadian actor. He is right.

Garebian has dedicated many years researching and writing about Hutt. He published an incomplete and unsatisfactory biography of Hutt in 1988 (William Hutt: A Theatre Portrait) and has now updated and completed that book as William Hutt: Soldier, Actor.  
William Hutt as Prospero
It is a major contribution to the history of Canadian theatre and a superb portrait of Hutt, warts and all, as a performer, artist and human being. He leaves no stone unturned and one is continually impressed by the breadth and depth of his research.

After playing at Hart House as an amateur after the war, Garebian writes, Hutt began his professional career in 1948. He acted for ten weeks in Bracebridge in an auditorium above the fire hall, was left with no money and had to become a bricklayer to make ends meet. After that he cleaned rugs, chesterfields and lampshades for Cleanol.

More acting jobs followed and he was finally invited to join the inaugural season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 1953 in a town where actors were considered “a race of giddy whore-mongers with painted faces.”

Touring around most of the United Sates and across Canada was not unusual in the good old days of the 1950’s and they make for fascinating reading. Performing in small towns (Moosonee, Cochrane and worse) in jaw-dropping venues with hilarious mishaps makes for fascinating and enjoyable reading not just as events in Hutt’s life but as part of the development of theatre in Canada.

As such, Garebian covers a large swath of theatre history in the second half of the 20th century in Ontario as it is connected to Hutt including numerous visits to other parts of Canada, England and the United States.

Names of actors, directors and productions cascade before us. Some are still familiar, many are forgotten but sic transit gloria mundi, as some still say.

Hutt’s complex personal life receives well-deserved coverage. He was bisexual at a time when homosexuality was not merely disapproved of but was in fact illegal. Many women found him attractive and he had some relations with them but I am not sure if those relations were consummated. It is known that he was ready to marry the young and beautiful Louise Marleau in 1968 but he was more pursued than pursuing in the affair. He placed a small package under the Christmas tree, Garebian tells us, probably and engagement ring but Marleau did not show up. She boarded a private train headed for Ottawa for her affair with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  

He was decent, arrogant, jealous, generous, in other words he had many virtues as well as vices. His loves and emotional upheavals, heavy drinking are all covered but the most important part of an actor’s life is acting.
Garebian is astutely and keenly interested in Hutt’s development as an actor. His innate talent was developed almost haphazardly. He did not attend a theatre training school (there was none in Canada) but had to learn from directors. He learned his acting and directing skills from masters of the craft.

As late as 1968 when he was 48 years old, Hutt was still trying to establish himself as a leader of his profession. He had built his career on secondary roles, Garebian tells us, sometimes in the shadow of Christopher Plummer who had shot to the front ranks.

From becoming proficient at comedy such as Noel Coward roles to finding his inner self or the inner self of the characters that he played was a long journey of discovery for Hutt that Garebian covers meticulously.

As his reputation and success grew, Hutt adopted the arrogant persona of a star on occasion but he still felt that he had not reached the front rank.

He reached the top and performed in a staggering number of roles. He was without a doubt the best Shakespearean actor in Canada and his attention to detail and the inner self of Shakespeare’s characters from King Lear to Fest to Prospero is astounding.

The book has a large number of photographs most of them in colour. Garebian helpfully includes a Theatre Chronology listing Hutt’s performances from the summer of 1948 with the Mark Shawn Players to his last performance on stage as Prospero in The Tempest in 2005 and as Charles Kingman in Slings and Arrows for television in 2006. He died in June 2007. The inscription on his monument reads Soldier – Actor.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


James Karas

Idomeneus, King of Crete, is a character in Homer’s Iliad who fought in the Trojan War and returned to his island alive and well. His story was later expanded to include some dramatic events on his return. There was a dreadful storm that sunk 79 of his 80 ships before he could land in Crete and in desperation, he promised to the god Poseidon to sacrifice the first living thing he saw on landing if he could be saved. He was saved and the first person he saw on land was his son Idamantes.

Other characters and love triangles were added to the myth and Idomeneus had a dozen operas written about him in the 18th century. That’s chicken feed compared to some other Greek and Roman heroes who had more than a hundred operas written about them in the same period.  The only opera about him that has survived is Mozart’s Idomeneo of 1781 which has a happy ending. Idomeneus does not sacrifice his son and after some negotiations, he is allowed to retire and his son lives happily ever after with the Trojan Princess Ilia.   

Michelle Monteith, Jakob Ehman, Frank Cox-O'Connell and 
Idomeneus Chorus, photo by Jose John
If opera composers dropped Idomeneus story in the Aegean Sea, German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig did not follow suit. He has written Idomeneus and brought the legend back on the stage.

Idomeneus can be described as the recitation by a Greek chorus of the myth of Idomeneus and the many variations that may exists or are imagined by Schimmelpfennig.

Ten actors are lined up on the stage in front of a bare, gray wall. There is no other set but there are lighting variations.

The actors are dressed in gray with gray dust on their faces and on their clothes. They look alike. They have no names but you can at times recognize which mythological figure is speaking. When they speak, they are identified in the script as A Man, Another Man, A Woman, Two Women, Two Men and so on.

The play opens with a description of Idomeneus’s arrival in Crete after the ten-year Trojan War and his promise to Poseidon. Schimmelpfennig brings in the Argonaut Nauplius whose son Palamedes was unjustly killed in Troy. He is taking revenge on all the Greek heroes of the war by seducing their wives.
 Stuart Hughes, Jakob Ehman, Frank Cox-O'Connell and Idomeneus Chorus, 
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Idomeneus butchers his son Idamantes and he is hanged. Not true, we are told. His wife was faithful; he did not butcher his son. But Nauplius is there in Idomeneus’s bedroom and he kills Idomeneus and his wife and his son. But you cannot kill a king and we cannot know what is real and what is imagined. Just like in a myth. 
The couple talk about the past. Their son Idamantes got a girl pregnant and then left her. Now he is in love with Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon.

A whale is found on the shore that has a pregnant cow inside it which gives birth to a wolf-calf, a monster which can talk and is called Idamantes. The monster claims to be Idomeneus’s child and is in love with Electra. The monster becomes a shark and disappears. Where are we? What is going on? We understand what they are saying but not what is happening.

The sacrifice of Idamantes brings on a plague on Crete and Idomeneus is exiled.

This is a sampling of the world that the chorus describes in short sentences of dialogue with frequent changes in the number of speakers. Although there are many variations in the story, it is concentrated on the return of Idomeneus and its consequences.

Director Alan Dilworth is faithful to the text and the ten actors do excellent work in their recitation. As a theatrical work, I found it more intriguing than enjoyable. The performance lasts about an hour and I doubt very much that one could absorb more variations on the ancient myth.

The performance ends with the cast dancing to Greek bouzouki music that has nothing to do with the movements of the dancers. Where are Anthony “Zorba the Greek” and Alan Bates when you need them?  

The cast is as follows: Akosua Amo-Adem, Alana Bridgewater, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Laura Condlin, Frank Cox-O’Connell, Jakob Ehman, Kyra Harper, Stuart Hughes, Diego Matamoros and Michelle Monteith.

Idomeneus by Roland Schimmelpfennig in a translation by David Tushingham continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The Drawer Boy is a marvelous play about friendship, love, loss, memory and humorous incidents on a farm. Nina Lee Aquino directs a fine-tuned production at Theatre Passe Muraille that captures the humour, the pathos and all the affecting emotions of the story of two friends as it unfolds.

The story is outwardly very simple. An actor visits a farm to see how farmers live so he can write a play. Miles (Graham Conway) is a city boy and the farm that he visits is run by two friends, the no-nonsense Morgan (Andrew Moodie) and the mild mannered Angus (Craig Lauzon). Angus has problems. He has no memory and forgets everything that happens. He is subject to serious headaches and he is able to function because Morgan looks after him only as a devoted friend would.

Andrew Moodie, Craig Lauzon and Graham Conway. Photo: Michael Cooper 

Angus has a facility for numbers and a talent for drawing. He was the brighter of the two friends and was headed for university but the war came and they joined the army. They were sent to England where they met two women. They fell in love with them and Angus drew the plans for two adjoining houses.    

The humour of the play comes from the city boy trying to deal with farm animals and farm machinery. Heaving bales of hay in short pants can be very painful but that is what Miles does. He tries to drive a tractor and milk some cows.

Conway as Miles is eager, innocent, confused, bright and ambitious. He wants to write a play and he keeps scribbling whatever he hears. A finely nuanced performance.
Craig Lauzon (left), Andrew Moodie and Graham Conway. Photo: Michael Cooper
Lauzon as Angus projects a man who is mentally challenged but who seems to have many more issues. We sense there is more to Angus than headaches, making sandwiches and facility with numbers. Again, we get a well-tuned and sensitive portrayal.

Moodie as Morgan appears to be a tough and efficient farmer but we discover quickly that he is Angus’s faithful protector. As the story unfolds we get a fuller picture of the strength and decency of Morgan whose relationship with Angus rises to the ultimate definition of friendship. All superbly done by Moodie.

The direction by Nina Lee Aquino is expert, the pace top flight and the end result outstanding.

Joanna Yu’s set of Angus and Morgan’s farmhouse with emphasis on the kitchen and the drawings on the wall is highly adept. The drawings, as you may have inferred, play an important part in the play.

Just go see it for a splendid night at the theatre.   

The Drawer Boy by Michael Healy opened on March 6 and will run until March 25, 2018 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, Ontario. (416) 504-7529

Friday, March 9, 2018


James Karas

Beautiful things come in small boxes, says the commercial, and gems come in small theatres. That’s the best way to describe A Midsummer Night’s Dream now playing at The Citadel Theatre in a production by the CH Collective.

Director Richard Sheridan Willis pulls it off with just eight actors in  a play that has some 22 characters plus fairies, lords and attendants to make a large theatre almost a necessity for staging it. Not so. In the small Citadel (I think it seats fewer than 100 people) with its a small, unadorned stage everything comes together for a delightful couple of hours of vintage Shakespeare.

Willis emphasizes the poetry and humour of the play and relies on his eight actors for ardour, agility and perfect timing to bring out the best. Of necessity all of the actors except one, take on two roles.

Zach Counsil, Natasha Greenblatt, Michael man Jesse nerenberg and Christina Fox
Let’s start with the lovers. You remember that Lysander (Jesse Nerenberg) wants to marry Hermia (Natasha Greenblatt) and Hermia wants to marry Lysander. Her father Egeus (Elizabeth Saunders) wants her to marry Demetrius (Michael Man) but Helena (Christina Fox) is madly in love with Demetrius. Let’s go to the forest outside of Athens.

The lovers are attractive, agile, ardent and adept at speaking Shakespeare’s poetry. They are full of energy and they pick energy from each other. In other words they act and interact wonderfully and you wait for them to come back on stage. The joust between Hermia and Helena is splendidly choreographed and a complete joy to watch.

The artisans led by an irrepressible and exuberant Zach Counsil as Bottom are hilarious. He is the only one that does not take two roles aside from his part of Wall in the Pyramus and Thisbe interlude. (Counsil also takes care of magic design and fight choreography). The parts of the other artisans are taken by the lovers with great results. Greenblatt plays Snug who plays the lion in the interlude. Fox becomes Starveling who becomes Wall. Nerenberg plays Flute who plays Thisbe.        

Elizabeth Saunders looks like an unlikely Puck but she dispels any doubts about her ability to be the fairy attending Oberon. Fleet-footed with natural comic sense, Saunders is excellent. She also plays the serious-minded patriarch Egeus.

Paul Amos and Rena Polley
Paul Amos doubles as Theseus and Oberon while Rena Pulley plays Hippolyta and Titania. Theseus wooed Hippolyta with the sword and she is not a happy women in Willis’s view. A nice touch occurs when on exiting the first scene where Hermia is being forced to marry Demetrius, Hippolyta comforts her. She knows what it is like to be forced into an unwanted marriage. It is just one example of an imaginative and superb production by Willis. He bookends the play with Hermia reciting Theseus’s words about “The lunatic, the lover and the poet” being creatures of the imagination at the beginning. At the end the play we find Hermia sleeping on the stage. The whole play is indeed a midsummer night’s dream

The stage area has sheer curtains on all sides and the only items on the set are a chair and a large patchwork quilt to indicate the woods. Set and Costume Designer Shannon Lea Doyle gives us all we need.

A gem of a production. 
A Midsummer Night’s Dream  by William Shakespeare in a production by The Chekhov Collective continues until March 11, 2018 at The Citadel Theatre, 304 Parliament St. Toronto, Ontario.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


By James Karas

The old idea that a play should have a beginning, a middle and an end is not a bad one. A sequence of events in some logical or comprehensible order involving people has proven its endurance as a theatrical device for some two and a half thousand years and it behooves playwrights to practice it with variations that are limited only by their imagination.

That is a prologue to my review of After Wrestling by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr now playing at the Factory Theatre in Toronto.  The play has four characters. Jaggy (Gabe Gray) is a policeman who is very concerned for the people he deals with and goes overboard in his solicitude for their welfare.

Leah (Libby Osler) lives with her brother Hogan (Charlie Kerr) and she falls in love with Jaggy. Hogan is very, very emotional. Gibby (Anthony Shim) is dead but appears in the play as a ghost. He was Hogan’s best friend and he committed suicide but he is still very much around.

I am afraid I got almost nothing out of the play. Hodgson and Kerr seems to be fans of 10-second scenes that go from nowhere to no place. They like screaming and screeching, plenty of noise and sequences that make no sense. Whatever the griefs, pain and problems of the characters, we never really get involved in them. The authors’ love of foul language and screaming by the actors so that we have no idea of what they are saying do not result in dramatic effects but in significant annoyance.

The dialogue is generally of extraordinarily low caliber. I am not sure if these people are supposed to be just low lives but even those people are usually equipped by authors with decent dialogue to express some kind of emotion. No such blame can be meted on the authors of After Wrestling and the actors repeat the lines that they memorized no matter how ineffective they may be.

Opening night attendees are the last thing one should consider for gauging audience reaction. In a large theatre, the friends and relatives of the actors are outnumbered and although they may make a racket, you quickly go for a walk

In a small theatre, the audience of friends and relatives of the cast and artistic team can make such a fuss as to be really annoying.

The set by Hodgson consists of the living room area of an apartment and below that an open space with a microphone indicating a radio station on our right.
There may be more substance to the play than this production made apparent.  But author Bryce Hodgson directs and author Charlie Kerr stars in it. They may have needed someone with some distance from the play to make sense of it for us.
After Wrestling by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr produced by Blood Pact Theatre will run until March 18, 2018 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


James Karas

Choosing to produce Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is a brave decision. Choosing the play for an amateur group is downright fearless. Hart House has chosen to do the revenge tragedy and the result is not as bad as one may have feared. That is not a knock but a compliment.

Titus Andronicus is a bloodbath of a play with cannibalism, chopping off of hands, mutilation (cutting off a woman’s tongue), rape and the usual murders. The Hart House production presents all of these grisly acts without evoking any laughter. This is from a play that has received comments as follows: a huge joke; justice and cooker go hand in hand; one of the stupidest plays ever written; a heap of rubbish.  You get the idea.
David Mackett as Titus serving a special dinner. Photo: Scott Gorman
To be fair the play does have its defenders and there have been some notable productions in the last half century but not that many.

Director Wallis gives a straight and clear production of the play at Hart House. He has a young group of actors, students or recent graduates of acting programs, with a mature David Mackett assuming the title role.

The play has some 30 characters but Wallis does some doubling and manages to cover all parts with 18 actors. I am guessing but it seems that Wallis had many more women than men to choose from and he had to settle for a few of them taking men’s roles. Thus the claimant to the throne Bassanius is played by Megan Miles. I am not sure if she is meant to be a woman or simply a pants role but there she is. Annie MacKay becomes Titus’s sister but keeps her name of Marcus. Son Martius becomes Martia (Melanie Leon). Laura Darby plays Lucius, the Clown and the narrator. Laura Meadows plays Aemilius.

The actors try to speak the rough iambic pentameters, some of the horrible puns and generally tough lines clearly and with some emphasis. Inevitably, some did better than others but paying attention to the words is a highly sensible approach taken by Wallis.
Shawn Lall as Aaron. Photo: Scott Gorman
Titus has a Clown who has about a dozen lines near the end of the play. Wallis decides to make use of her as a sort of chorus piping balloons now and then and pulling a bright red scarf out of her mouth after Lavinia’s (Bailey Green) tongue is cut off by her rapists. It did not evoke any discernible reaction from the audience.

Wallis added a character called Severita (Cassidy Sadler) who may appear in some edition of the play but she is in none that I could check.

The set by Holly Meyer-Dymny is functional. It looks like some beige tree-trunks and with all the gore in front you have little time to pay attention to it. The costumes by Allie Marshall look like “wear whatever you wore this morning” but some of them such as the black shirt and slacks worn by Saturninus (Tristan Claxton) show planning.

Titus Andronicus is produced somewhat more frequently now than it used to be and it has found its share of defenders but it is still pretty hard to take. That brings me back to the gutsy decision by Hart House to produce it and get us through the text pleasantly and take a bow to the young cast and production people for what they have done.   
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare continues until March 10, 2018 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, Ont. 416 978-8849

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

“Am I a freak?”

It is a question that Sorrel asks herself in Hanna Moscovitch’s Bunny, now playing at the Tarragon Theatre.

Sorrel, the main character in the play, is not a freak but she is a very interesting and confused person. She lives in two apparently disparate polarities. She is a brilliant student of 19th century fiction (George Eliot, Jane Austen) a world of stifled emotions and the search for a husband. On the other hand, there is Sorrel’s sexual appetite which some people may think borders on the promiscuous. Is the title of the play and her nickname a reference to a cottontail that fornicates without restraint?

Sorrel is the daughter of professors in a small-town university who read Betty Friedan and Das Kapital. But she does not fit in with the high school crowd and she finds a sort of solution by kissing students (oral sex) at first and the real thing after that. That is not exactly a solution to her identity problem.
 Maev Beaty and ensemble. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
She attends university where she is a brilliant student and her sexual encounters expand by having sex with one of her professors and marrying her friend Maggie’s brother. None of the relationships is satisfactory because Sorrel cannot make emotional contact with any of them and especially Maggie.

Sorrel is the narrator of her life story as she moves from one relationship to the next often commenting during the encounter with one of her lovers. In other words she is an actor and a chorus in her life story.

Maev Beaty as Sorrel dominates the play and the rest of the characters become satellites in her life. Beaty gestures with her hands, twists her body and modulates her voice to suggest Sorrel’s uncertainty about herself and her world. She produces a good deal of laughter as she enacts the life of Sorrel’s worlds of literature and sex as she tries to find herself. We move from high school to university to Sorrel becoming a professor of 19th century literature with very little development that I could discern in her character. She cannot even express love for Maggie who is a true friend of hers until the very end of the play. A superb performance by Beaty.

I have no complaints about the rest of the cast. Rachel Cairns plays a sympathetic Maggie. Matthew Edison plays Maggie’s straight-laced brother, the politician Carol and is one of Sorrels’ lovers. Cyrus Lane is the married Professor who avoids detection by his wife in his extramarital trysts by going cheap motels. Tony Ofori is another of Sorrel’s partners Justin and Jess LeVercombe is Angel, yet another conquest.
Maev Beaty and ensemble. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
The production moves smoothly from one episode to the next but at times a bit too quickly. That is not the fault of Director Sarah Garton Stanley. Bunny is not one of Moscovitch’s best plays and with its episodic structure, and continuous commentary it smacks of a documentary as much as a dramatic study of character.

Moscovitch has more than a dozen plays to her credit and at almost 40, the best description of her may be that of a young veteran of the theatre.

I enjoyed Beaty’s performance but I left the theatre wanting more.

Bunny by Hannah Moscovitch continues until April 1, 2018 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.