Saturday, June 30, 2018


James Karas

The titles of most of Shakespeare’s plays give us some guidance about what we have on hand. The name of the main character is a favourite way of informing us about what to expect or some description such as The Merry Wives of Windsor, As You Like It, All’s Well That Ends Well and so on.

The Winter’s Tale has nothing to do with winter but it is a tale that is told. All we know therefore is that we will be told a tale. Shakespeare’s Globe tells us that tale in a well-thought out production that takes the tragic acts seriously and leads us nicely to the happy ending of reconciliation and marriage. The play has plot elements that stretch credulity and appear somewhat creaky but it was written near the end of Shakespeare’s career and it is a tale.
 As Polonius reminds us, there are many kinds of plays but The Winter’s Tale does pose a problem. Tragedy and comedy are mixed in. We start with a tragic situation but the play has a happy ending that classifies it as a comedy. Maybe it is a romance or a pastoral or maybe we should just accept the play and not worry in which pigeonhole it belongs.

Director Blanche McIntyre and Designer James Perkins have to deal with the kingdoms of Sicily and Bohemia. The action starts in Sicily where King Polixenes (Oliver Ryan) is visiting his childhood friend King Leontes (Will Keen). After nine months, Polixenes insists that it is time he left. Leontes insists that he stay but to no avail. When Leontes’ wife Hermione (Priynga Burford), asks Polixenes to stay, he relents.

The Bohemians appear to be more sophisticated than the Sicilians at least in clothing. They wear tailored suits while the Sicilians dress like a people from a Balkan country that has not joined high fashion. This is broadly indicated but I thought that the difference is there and quite appropriate.

When Polixenes agrees to stay, Leontes goes into a fit of jealousy worthy of Othello and suspects his pregnant wife of being unfaithful with his friend. As the bald-pated Keen goes into paroxysms of jealousy, Polixenes and Hermione chat amiably like good friends in another part of the stage.
The scene turns uglier after Polixenes and Camillo (Adrian Bower) leave. We see Keen as the crazed Leontes, Burford as the regal Hermione and Sirine Saba as the strong and rational Paulina in fine performances as we go through the tragic part of the play. Hermione is put on trial and defends herself with dignity and honour and Paulina stands by her fearlessly as Leontes finally realizes that he is behaving unforgivably.

Hermione gives birth to a daughter who is abandoned on the coast of Bohemia to be discovered by a Shepherd. Sixteen years later the Old Shepherd (Annette Badland) and his/her son the Clown (Jordan Metcalfe) prove to be entertaining with some of the rustics in the neighbourhood. We have moved a long way from the events and atmosphere of the first three acts.

The dumb Clown, the crooked Autolycus (Becci Gemmell), the lovely daughter of Hermione, Perdita (Norah Lopez-Holden) and Florizel (Luke MacGregor) the handsome son of Polixenes will provide some complications but all of them will be resolved and you know perfectly well that the tale will not stop anywhere but at the matrimonial altar.

The tale is told but its complexity and structure do not leave all viewers happy despite the director’s effort to tell the tale well (which he does) and at a good pace. Some of us can’t warm up fully to the play but we accept the tale and rest in the knowledge that they all lived happily ever after.
THE WINTER’S TALE by William Shakespeare continues until August 26, 2018 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London.  The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


James Karas

Polly Stenham’s credit as the author of Julie is followed with “after Strindberg” and indeed the play owes much to the Swedish misogynist’s Miss Julie but it is also a credible, modern re-imagination of the rich girl and the chauffeur. Julie is now playing on the Lyttleton stage of the National Theatre in London.

Stenham’s Julie is set in a large house in north London in 2018. She is hosting a wild party for her 33rd birthday and her father’s chauffeur Jean is helping the cook Kristina with the service. Jean is a sophisticated black man who is engaged to Kristina but Julie is attracted to him and they eventually have a relationship.
 Vanessa Kirby as Julie and Eric Kofi Abrefa as Jean. Photo: Richard H. Smith 
We focus on Julie’s complex character and Vanessa Kirby’s portrayal of her. At first blush, Julie seems like a spoiled rich bitch who squandered every opportunity she had in life. There is some truth in that. She has had too much to drink during her party and decides to seduce Jean (Eric Kofi Abrefa) right under the nose of Kristina (Thalissa Teixeira).

A careful look at Julie reveals that she is a deeply troubled woman who seems to have everything when in fact she has nothing. There is a wild, almost orgiastic, party going on but she is not part of it. The guests are strangers. Her father is having nothing to do with her, her mother committed suicide, she is coming out of a broken relationship and she has had an abortion. She appears wealthy but in fact has no money because it is tied up in some trust fund or something. “Am I insane?” she asks and that may be a clue to her character.

Julie has physical, emotional and psychological problems that seem to add up to serious mental illness. She is drowning and has nothing to grasp onto except the straw near her, the servant Jean.

The summary of Julie’s character gives a good idea of the performance demanded of Kirby. She snorts drugs, takes pills, tries to have a good time at the party in a pathetic attempt at….at what? Kirby takes us through all the phases of Julie’s life in a stellar performance.

Jean is black and Julie crosses the racial, social and cultural divides to try and seduce him. He is ambitious and dumps Kristina whom he professes to love when he sees his opportunity to get money and move up the social ladder. The refined, intelligent and manipulative Jean is a fine foil for Julie.
 Thalissa Teixeira as Kristina and Eric Kofi Abrefa as Jean. Photo: Richard H. Smith 
Teixeura is a decent woman with a child and is perhaps looking for a way out of service but the lifeboat that Jean seems to provide leaves without her.

Director Carrie Cracknell does not miss a beat or a detail in her directing. Julie almost always walks on top of the furniture so she can look down on the “servants.” Julie’s deterioration from the woman having a grand party for her birthday to a pathetic creature on the floor is brought meticulously before us.

The production has two playing areas, the kitchen and the party room. Designer Tom Scutt has divided the stage horizontally in two so that the kitchen is the dominant playing area. But when we need to see the party, a panel goes up revealing the party just above the kitchen.

An outstanding production with a virtuoso performance by Vanessa Kirby.
Julie by Polly Stenham after Strindberg opened on June 7, 2018 and continues at the Lyttleton Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank, London, England.  It will be broadcast live from the National Theatre on September 6, 2018.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Before I review Opera North’s production of Kiss Me, Kate, a few words about culture may be appropriate. Now we all know that the Italians gave us opera and the Mafia: the Viennese served us operetta and strudel; the English provided Shakespeare and Imperialism; the Americans delivered Broadway musicals and Trump and the Greeks gave us civilization.

Speaking of imperialism, the Broadway musical has definitely adopted imperialist proclivities as regards the English, because it dominates the genre in the theaters of London. Which raises the question (really?) which are the best Broadway musicals? If forced to name a handful, I would include Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate which was just one reason for wanting to see it. Its production by Opera North (that refers to north England and not North Dakota or North Bay) suggests that it is not a run-of-the mill musical but indeed a masterpiece.
 Stephanie Corley as Kate with members of the cast. Ohoto: Tristram Kenton
Kiss Me, Kate is a backstage musical based on a production of The Taming of The Shrew in Baltimore. The courtship of Kate the shrew by Petruchio and some other incidents from the Shrew are mirrored in the backstage shenanigans of the actors. This makes the musical a British-American partnership, a kind of coalition of the willing rather than an American invasion. 

Opera North takes no short cuts in its production at the sumptuous London Coliseum. Dutch baritone Quirijn de Lang plays the actor Fred Graham who plays Petruchio in the Shrew. De Lang is an opera singer as is soprano Stephanie Corley who plays his wife Lilli Vanessi and Kate the shrew. They make a fine pair who sing superbly and carry the comedy without a hitch. They have a number of songs including “Wunderbar,” the lilting waltz which was intended to satirize Viennese operetta (Porter did not like the genre) but people decided to love the song. They get wonderful solos such as Kates’s “I Hate Men” and Petruchio’s “I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily.”

Kiss Me, Kate has a large number of wonderful songs (arias really), duets and ensemble pieces that are done beautifully, robustly and just plain entertainingly. Bianca (Zoe Rainey) gets to sing “Tom, Dick or Harry” with her suitors and the marvelous “Always True To You” to her gambling boyfriend

Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin brought the house down as the two would-be-literate enforcers (Italy is included, you see). They are listed as Gunmen come to collect on a gambling bet for their employer and sing and dance “Brush Up You Shakespeare” to hilarious effect.
Other performers of distinction are Alan Burkitt as Bill Calhoun / Lucentio, Stephane Anelli as Paul, Aiesha Pease as Hattie and Malcolm Ridley as Harrison Howell.
Opera North has a full chorus and a full orchestra conducted by James Holmes for the production. This is no ordinary musical with short cuts. Jo Davies directed the original production which premiered in Leeds in September 2015 and Ed Gogggin directs this revival. The choreography for the 2015 performances was done by Will Tuckett and David James Hulston is the revival choreographer. Opera North has eight dancers who perform with superb coordination, athleticism and talent.          

I trust I made no secret of my love of Kiss Me, Kate and my enjoyment of the production. Once again looking at the big picture of the cultural map, the United Kingdom from North to south must be happy. The Americans are obviously included. There are nods of gratitude and recognition to the Italians and the Viennese. And we are all happy because everything was started by the Greeks. Just go see this production, OK?

Kiss Me, Kate by Cole Porter (music and lyrics) and  Samuel and Bella Spewack (book) opened on June 20 and will run until June 30, 2018  at the London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4ES, England.

Saturday, June 23, 2018


James Karas

Director Rufus Norris sets the current production of Macbeth now showing on the National Theatre’s Olivier stage in a modern country in the midst of civil war. There is smoke and armed fighting in the dark opening scene. There is a large ramp on a background of a black, tattered, plastic curtain (they look like floor-to-ceiling garbage bags) and there is no doubt that this is a battlefield. In fact the entire action of the play takes place on or near the battlefield.  

 Anne-Marie Duff and Rory Kinnear. Photo: Tristram Kenton 
Macbeth’s castle is no more than a shed and the banquet scene takes place in what looks like a barracks make-shift cafeteria where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth lay out the cutlery. The Olivier’s large revolving stage serves the production well making quick scene changes feasible.

The production has a strong cast led by Rory Kinnear as an ambitious but uncertain Macbeth and Anne-Marie Duff as a blonde, two-faced and manipulative Lady Macbeth. The idea of assassinating King Duncan (Stephen Boxer) springs in her mind with lightning speed when she hears of her husband’s promotion and the possibilities of greater achievement. After greeting Duncan with unctuous politeness on his arrival, she cuts off his head after he is murdered. Superb performances by Kinnear and Duff.

Boxer as Duncan is a gentleman in a red suit and stands apart from the others who wear mostly military attire. Macbeth wears the same red suit after he murders Duncan.

Kevin Harvey’s Banquo is decent and the rest of the cast work well in the shadow of Kinnear and Duff.

Norris adds a number of touches that make the production interesting. In the banquet scene Banquo’s ghost appears outside the window of the cafeteria while the other guests are sitting with their backs to it. That makes it realistic and less forced but also less imaginative.

The ghost of Banquo dominates Macbeth’s life after he is murdered. He appears several more times after the banquet scene including in the last scene of the play.  Banquo is murdered by a nameless Murderer played by a very recognizable Alana Ramsey. In the final scene, in a moment of poetic justice, the Murderer is killed. Effective staging and directing by Norris.

The modern costumes, the civil war and setting the play largely in a battlefield do give it a different feel. The main weapon made visible from the first scene is the machete which is immediately reminiscent of the civil war in Rwanda. There is no castle in which Macbeth welcomes the king in ceremonial fashion wearing impressive royal attire. If one accepts that Macbeth takes place in some vague modern country during a civil war and finds that as a sufficient focus then the production is fine. If you are looking for a more focused view of the play than a vague battlefield, you will demand more than you are getting.

Worth seeing even if it means you will have to decide on some of Norris’s choices.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare continues at the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank, London, England. It will be broadcast live from the National Theatre on September 6, 2018.

Friday, June 22, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s most pleasant romantic comedies with fine poetry, colourful characters and an ending that fills the stage with marriages. You wait for the next production to visit the Forest of Arden and meet the city folk that have escaped there and the country folk that live there as if you were seeing old friends.

Shakespeare’s Globe no doubt intended to do that for us but some of the choices made by Artistic Director Michelle Terry and Directors Federay Holmes and Elle While may dampen your enthusiasm and enjoyment of the visit.

They have a dozen actors who are assigned to play some two dozen roles. Judiciously distributed that type of casting need not cause too much concern. But that is not quite what happens in this production.

Two of the main characters in As You Like It are the cousins Rosalind and Celia. Celia’s father, Frederick, deposed his brother Duke Senior (who is also Rosalind’s father) from his position as Duke. The deposed Duke now lives in the Forest of Arden with some colourful companions.

The two cousins disguised as Ganymede and Aliena go to the forest to find them. Rosalind is a girl disguised a young man while Celia remains a girl. For reasons that escape me, the role of Rosalind is given to a man, Jack Laskey, and Celia is played by Nadia Nadarajah who happens to be a deaf mute. Part of the fun of the play is that Rosalind pretending to be man will pretend to be a woman and will be wooed by the handsome Orlando. Does the casting add anything to the production? Yes, it adds a large dose of annoyance, if not worse.

Speaking of worse, Celia has a lot of lines in the play but Nadia Nadarajah cannot speak any of them and must communicate with sign language. I have no idea why they would cast a person who tragically cannot speak in a role that requires speech.

Richard Katz is a mature actor and he is assigned three roles. The ones that concern us are those of Charles the Wrestler and Silvius the shepherd. Perhaps I have a weird image of wrestlers but a middle aged man with no display of muscles does not make the cut. With a gray beard, he is not a convincing wrestler but let’s not make a big deal out of it. But Silvius is a young, dumb and doting shepherd in love with Phoebe (Catrin Aaron). Katz, with his white beard is simply out of place in the role. Why in the world was he cast in it?
Orlando is the young man who falls in love with and woos Rosalind so fervently is, well, a young man. Bettrys Jones who plays Orlando is a woman who is considerably shorter than Jack Laskey. This is plain ridiculous.

Helen Schlesinger, Michelle Terry and Tanika Yearwood get three roles each, all of them of male characters with a question mark about Hymen who is a god. Is there a dire shortage of male actors at Shakespeare’s Globe? Is there a valid reason for casting so many men in women’s roles and vice versa? Is this gender-blindness and age-blindness gone haywire? Are they trying to move the world forward into thinking that gender and age differences are irrelevant or unimportant?

I am not sure at all but in this production of As You Like It, the attempt to convince us of that, if it did not kill the performance, it certainly bruised it and made for some unpleasant watching of a production that promised to be unalloyed joy.      
As You Like It by William Shakespeare continues until August 26, 2018 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London.  The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

Thursday, June 21, 2018


James Karas

Michelle Terry, the Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, has exercised the prerogative of a boss and given herself the best and toughest role of the season. She plays Hamlet. The production is directed by Federay Holmes and Elle While and the result is eccentric and idiosyncratic which means you get the good, the bad and the awful.

Terry seems to be aggressively gender neutral and perhaps gender blind which is commendable to a point. Seeing Shakespeare’s plays done by all-women and all-men casts is a frequent occurrence and having some roles played by the opposite sex should not raise many eyebrows. Perhaps.
Terry’s Hamlet is a hyperkinetic prince who frequently uses his whole body it seems to make his points. He goes mad or pretends to be crackers quite early on and I felt that the directors did not tell Terry to follow Hamlet’s advice to the players. This Hamlet does not just use his hands when talking but flails his arms to near contortions. He puts on a clown’s suit from his first meeting with Polonius to almost the end of the play.

His histrionic delivery does not apply to all parts of his soliloquys which are delivered in almost matter-of-fact style. The Hecuba speech is a dramatic self-accusation of his failure to avenge his father’s death yet, as delivered by Terry, it does not rise to any meteoric level of emotion. For “To be or not to be” Terry kneels at the edge of the stage and speaks to a few of the yardlings in front of her.

She does a superb job in the bedroom scene where Hamlet attacks his mother for her betrayal and murder of his father. Here Terry shows strength and superb delivery of her lines.    

Ophelia is played by Shubham Saraf, a tall young man, dressed in a nice gown that brought to mind high school casting. On high school productions, you take what you have and not what you want. The directors’ and Terry’s choice was not that grim but in this case it was ridiculous. He did not fit the role in any way. He did a much better job as Osric.
Laertes is played by Bettys Jones, a spitfire of an actor who does a good job in the role. She would have made a fine Ophelia to Saraf’s Laertes if it were not for perverse gender swapping.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are marginal characters, good for few laughs, even though you may wonder about Hamlet having them as friends at university. Rosencrantz is played by Pearce Quigley who has a white beard and is clearly a man of a certain age and could be Polonius’s brother. Let’s assume that Wittenberg accepted senior students. Guildenstern is played by Nadia Nadarajah who is unfortunately a deaf-mute. The biographical note in the program states that she trained at the International Visual Theatre in Paris and has considerable acting experience. Guildenstern is a speaking role and sign language cannot replace what he/she has to say. Giving people with disabilities opportunities is laudable but it should be in roles that can be adapted to their abilities. In this case, it simply did not work to put it politely.

Colin Hurley does a fine job as the Ghost, the wonderful role of the Gravedigger and a Player. The Ghost, however, is not really a ghost. During the scene on the parapets of Elsinore, he touches his son. When the Ghost appears when young Hamlet is haranguing his mother, he puts his arm around his son’s shoulder in order to restrain him. Interesting conception of a ghost.

The directors find humour in a number of places. When Polonius (Richard Katz) delivers his lengthy advice to Laertes, for example, there are pauses and intonations that make it quite funny.             

The costumes for which Loraine Ebdon-Price is credited as Supervisor seemed to consist of whatever London’s equivalent of Malabar’s had on hand. The play takes place sometime in the past and costume need not play any significant part.

Eccentric? Idiosyncratic? I revise my opinion downwards when thinking of poor Ophelia and Guildenstern but I will leave it at that.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare continues until August 26, 2018 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London. www.shakespearesglobe.comThe Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


James Karas

It has taken the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden more than forty years to roll out a new production of Lohengrin but the result is vocally outstanding with truly exceptional production values form David Alden.

Brilliant vocal artistry is provided by tenor Klaus Florian Vogt as the heroic knight Lohengrin who demands anonymity. His vocal chords are a precision instrument that can rise to high notes with power and sing lyrical passages with tonal splendor.
Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Irish soprano Jennifer Davis stepped in to replace the indisposed Kristine Opolais with exceptional results. Poor Elsa has much to contend with as a woman accused of killing her brother. She is saved by the would-be nameless Lohengrin only to be maliciously misled into betraying him and herself. She needs strength of character, beauty of tone and has the Achilles heel of weakness to doubt her savior. An outstanding performance.

Baritone Thomas J. Mayer has sung the role of the nasty and ambitious Friedrich von Telramund all over Europe and is making his Royal Opera debut in the role this season. With his resonant voice and stage presence he has all the equipment for a superb performance which he provides. His character’s partner in sorcery and evil is Ortrud sung by dramatic soprano Christine Goerke in an equally well done performance.

Bass baritone Kostas Smoriginas with his commanding and booming voice served as the Herald.

The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus are conducted by Andris Nelsons and produce music of extraordinary power and beauty. When the full orchestra, chorus and soloists are mobilized, for example, after Lohengrin’s victory over Telramund, they produce a sound that is so thrilling that it transports you to another dimension.

David Alden brings some intriguing and in the end fascinating ideas to the opera. With Set Designer Paul Steinberg and Costume Designer Gideon Davey, he sets the opera in a devastated city after the war. The action takes place in a bombed building where only the outer walls have survived.

It becomes slowly clear that there is a power struggle among Telramund, King Heinrich (finely sung by Georg Zeppenfeld) and Elsa who represents her brother Gottfried, the rightful duke.

Alden saves us from having to watch a swan drag Lohengrin’s boat unto the scene. Judicious use of lighting suggests his arrival as the knight who will fight for Elsa and that is all we need.
Jennifer Davis and Klaus Florian Vogt in Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, London. 
Photo: Tristram Kenton
But the swan or swans are not entirely left out. Near the end, as Lohengrin is about to depart because he was betrayed into having to reveal his identity, large red and black banners with white swans emblazoned on them are dropped across the stage. They are frightfully similar to the large banners with swastikas that were used by the Nazis.

It is an unexpected and startling scene. As Lohengrin walks quickly off the stage and disappears. Elsa falls to her death, the banners come crashing down and the old order disappears. Gottfried, the rightful duke appears, and order is restored. I found the scene breathtaking and the production awesome.    

Lohengrin  by Richard Wagner opened on June 7 and will be performed on different dates until July 1, 2018 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, England.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The Two Noble Kinsmen is a creaky play by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. If Alex Trebek were to ask you “what is Shakespeare’s last play, press the button quickly and say “The Two Noble Kinsmen.” No, it is not The Tempest. That was Shakespeare’s last complete play. Shakespeare’s Globe gives it a largely worthy production that cannot erase the play’s weaknesses but we are happy to see it.
The company of The Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare's Globe
© Nobby Clark
The plot has ancient provenance. Like everything worthwhile in the world, it started as a Greek legend, wound itself through Roman culture and, unlike the Parthenon Marbles, landed honestly in England. (No, they are not the Elgin Marbles. Stolen items are not named after the thief).With Chaucer using the legend for The Knight’s Tale and other writers penning poetry and plays based on it, it’s curious that Shakespeare did not use the tale for one of his plays until near the end of his life and then only as a collaborator of John Fletcher.

Palamon (Paul Stocker) and Arcite (Bryan Dick) are knights who were captured by Theseus (Jude Akuwudike) in a war against Creon. (Don’t sweat the details.) While in jail as captives, the two knights tell us that they are cousins and the closest of friends and nothing will ever separate them. Then they see the gorgeous Princess Emilia, Theseus’ sister-in-law and fall madly in love with her. That puts an end to their friendship and they become mortal enemies without having exchanged a word with Emilia. Remember that courtly love in which the knights engage is a long distance affair and contact with the object of love and adoration is not required, in fact it is undesirable because it ruins everything.

We have a no-name Jailer (Andy Cryer) who has a no-name Jailer’s Daughter (Francesca Mills who falls in love with Arcite who is banished from Theseus’ Kingdom but returns for Emilia. In the meantime, the Jailer’s Daughter has fallen in love with Palamon and the plot thickens.

The two cousins meet in combat to decide who will get Emilia (who does not say very much). The Jailer’s Daughter goes nuts because Palamon does not love her but a doctor (Jos Vantyler) finds a cure: get her no-name dolt of a Wooer to dress up like Palamon, agree to marry her and that will cure her of her madness.
The Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare’s Globe, London. Photo: Nobby Clark
The heroic tale is spiced with some humour, singing and dancing. The cousins are typical young men that can be seen on the street and there is nothing knightly about them. Theseus has a commanding presence and the statuesque and beautiful Moyo Akandé has an impressive presence as Hippolyta.

Mills is a midget and a ball of fire. She has comic skills galore and thanks to her size can be tossed around easily. She is the most memorable character of the play as the lower class daughter of a jailer who aspires to marry a knight. After a bout of madness, she finds a husband and happiness.

Cryer’s Jailer has a rich working-class accent and gives a fine portrayal.

Director Barrie Rutter handles the play with a light touch, with music, dancing and comic business. The choreography of Ewan Wardrop helps as does the music of Eliza Carthy. I suppose it is the best way to treat the play because otherwise it may well prove to be a heroic, romantic bore. You want to see The Two Noble Kinsmen a few times during your life honoris causa and to check what can be done with the play. You may adopt this production as one of them
The Two Noble Kinsmen by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare continues until June 30, 2018 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London.  The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

Monday, June 18, 2018


James Karas

Miles Potter directs a highly commendable production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill’s long-winded family saga for the Stratford Festival. It plays in the small Studio Theatre which has the advantage of intimacy and the issue of limited space.

Long Day’s Journey tells the story of the Tyrone family. James Tyrone is a one-role matinee idol who sold his soul to Mammon and abandoned Melpomene (maybe). He rose from poverty and did amass some wealth but he could not shake off his years of hardship and remained a miser all his life. He was convinced of his great acting talent and recalled or perhaps imagined playing opposite the great Edwin Booth and alternating the roles of Othello and Iago with him.
 Seana McKenna as Mary and Charlie Gallant as Edmund. 
Photography by Emily Cooper.
It is a devastating portrait of O’Neill’s father and Scott Wentworth does a superb job in the role. He shows us James as a heavy drinker, an arrogant man, a selfish husband and a repulsive miser who keeps his whisky locked up and can tell if someone has had a drink from an open bottle. His sons are forced to pour water into the bottle to fool their father.

Wentworth does a superb job of presenting all those traits in Tyrone but I missed the matinee idol. This Tyrone is the one-role actor who thinks of himself as a star while regretting prostituting his talents for money but his star quality is never shown.

The long day’s journey into night is the story of James’s wife Mary brilliantly portrayed by Seana McKenna. Mary is a pathetic woman who was raised in a convent and fell in love with the image of Tyrone as an actor and had to live the reality of cheap hotels, addiction to morphine, the death of a son and the double life of hiding from reality until she goes into the inevitable night. McKenna gives a deeply-felt portrayal of the unfortunate Mary who goes from the pretense of health to the reality of madness. She shows us Mary’s torn interior as we see the wrecked exterior behind which the truth is supposed to be hidden.
Charlie Gallant (left) as Edmund and Gordon S. Miller as James. 
Photography by Emily Cooper.
James Tyrone Jr. (Gordon S. Miller) is a wastrel who spends his time drinking and whoring and has no other ambition in life.

Edmund (Charlie Gallant) is the youngest son and he is suffering from tuberculosis as did O’Neill. It is a self-portrait of the playwright as a sickly man, a would-be poet and a dreamer. Gallant with his sallow complexion, deep-set eyes and sickly appearance has to cope with the fear of tuberculosis and his father’s penny pinching. Mendacity, as Big Daddy put it in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is a deeply rooted habit in the Tyrone family.

The cast has to express the hatreds, love and harrowing ghosts and emotions that tear the Tyrones apart and keep them together.

The maid Cathleen with her thick Irish brogue is very funny and provides a perfect contrast to the warring Tyrones and Amy Keating is a delight to watch in the role.

The play takes place in a summer home in Connecticut during a single day. The Tyrones wear light summer clothes and should be enjoying the holiday. The set by Peter Hartwell and costumes by Gillian Gallow are a pleasant image of a well-off family enjoying the summer. Again the image and the reality do not match.

O’Neill’s verbosity is inescapable but in Long Day’s Journey is becomes a tool for driving home the emotional morass and the toxic atmosphere in which the Tyrones live. Despite some complaints, in the end it all adds up to a great night at the theatre.  .            

Long Day’s Journey Into Night  by Eugene O’Neill continues until October 13, 2018 at the Studio Theatre, 34 George Street East, Stratford, Ontario.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


James Karas

There is a poetic justice and chronological beauty about the Stratford Festival’s production of The Tempest. Its place in history will remain also as the opening night that was cancelled because of a terrorist threat. Indeed it was and the actual opening happened on June 10 instead of the original May 28. But I am not referring to that. I am talking about Martha Henry, actor, director extraordinary. She played Miranda in 1962, her first season at Stratford. This year, fifty six years later, she plays Prospero and gives a masterful and indeed historic performance.  

Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino directs the production and he seems to have spared no effort to make it one of the finest in recent memory. He has selected the finest cast and directs with such attention to detail and imaginative outpouring as to make your attention riveted to every aspect of the performance. 
From left: Sébastien Heins as Ferdinand, Martha Henry as Prospero and Mamie Zwettler as Miranda. 
Photography by David Hou. 
Martha Henry. Age has taken its toll on Ms Henry. She appears frail, slightly crouched and one had fears about what type of Prospero she will make. No one need be concerned about her. Her voice is steady and strong, her enunciation clear and her ability to deliver iambic pentameters simply impeccable. This Prospero has aged and gained wisdom and knows when it is time to quit, to break his staff. He has every cause to seek revenge but decides that “the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance” and forgives his enemies.

The Tempest is a complex play with many layers but one of its main aspects is the growth towards forgiveness and grace. By the end of the performance I felt that a woman playing Prospero is preferable to a man in the role. Henry’s physical frailty and strength of character make a powerful combination for the character of Prospero and for some of the themes of the play. The deposed Prospero who seeks refuge on an island becomes an occupier and deposer herself until the end when all changes.

The island may have four inhabitants, Prospero, Miranda (Mamie Zwettler), Ariel (Andre Morin) and Caliban (Michael Blake) but it has a boatload of Spirits, Monsters, Nymphs, Reapers, Dogs and a Harpy. Not to mention Iris (Chick Reid), Ceres (Alexis Gordon) and Juno (Lucy Peacock.) Cimolino gives full attention and play to all of them in a production that, as I said, nothing is underdone or left out.

Stephen Ouimette as the jester Trinculo and Tom McCamus as the drunk butler Stephano are hilarious and as is usual with good actors steal the show when they are on stage.

Mamie Zwettler as Miranda and Sebastian Heins as Ferdinand are the pure and innocent lovers and we enjoy watching them fall in love and provide for a happy post-Tempest future.

The baddies are Graham Abby as the usurper Antonio who convinces Sebastian (Andre Sills), the equally bad brother of King Alonso, to murder the king.   David Collins plays the distraught Alonso, the father of Ferdinand. But there is virtue among evil and it is represented by Gonzalo in a fine performance as usual by Rod Beattie.

There is no effort to make the spirit of the air, Ariel, fly around the theatre but Andre Morin gives us a spirited performance. Michael’s Blake’s Caliban is both nasty and hilarious, especially in his scenes with Stephano and Trinculo.

Cimolino opens the production with Prospero sitting atop of her cell with the scene dominated by the leafless trunk of a tree. She raises her staff and brings about the storm that will wreck the ship and bring the good and bad Italians to the island for the drama to commence. There is no doubt about who controls everything on her island.

The staging, the set designed by Bretta Garecke, the lighting, designed by Michael Walton, the sound design by Thomas Ryder Paine with Berthold Carriere’s music emphasize and indeed celebrate the magical, other-worldly atmosphere of the island.   

There are many exquisitely acted and directed scenes. Near the end, when Caliban is freed after being treated roughly, perhaps because he tried to rape Miranda, as he walks by her she puts her hand on his shoulder in a wonderful gesture of forgiveness.

At the end, a trap door opens, the lights are dimmed except in the hole in the stage boards and Prospero throws her staff, her crown, her gown, her books of magic and all she had on the island and she becomes free.

Most of us can only imagine Martha Henry as Miranda in 1962 but no one who saw her will forget her Prospero or Cimolino’s Tempest of 2018.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare opened on June 10 and will run until October 26, 2018 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. 1-800-567-1600

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


James Karas

“To be hanged by the neck until you are dead.”

These words were addressed to a fourteen-year old boy in a courtroom in the small town of Goderich, Ontario on September 30, 1959.

The boy was Steven Truscott and he was convicted of raping and murdering his 12-year old classmate, Lynne Harper. The case went to the Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court of Canada soon after the conviction. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and the Supreme Court refused to hear it.
 Nancy Palk, Dan Mousseau, and John Jarvis. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

There was a lengthy and exhaustive review in a reference before the Supreme Court in 1966. There were more references, appeals and proceedings. All of them concluded that Steven Truscott was guilty as charged.

The case became a cause célèbre with books and articles written about it, a film, documentaries and much publicity keeping it in the eye of the public. Fifty-nine years after the murder the case is still haunting us and its latest appearance is in a play by Beverley Cooper, Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott.

Cooper tells the story of the Truscott case using ten actors who reenact scenes and speak directly to the audience about events as they unfolded. We see stories from the investigation, the reaction of the town people, the evidence gathered against Truscott and portions of the trial. All the characters in the play are based on real people except for a woman called Sarah (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster) who takes part in relating the horrible saga and is an invention of Cooper. Truscott is played Dan Mousseau who appears innocent and unsure about what is happening and that is exactly what one would expect.

One of the key characters is Isabel LeBourdais (Nancy Palk), a young journalist who wrote a book about the case that was very influential in bringing the case to the attention of politicians and the public. It set in motion a series of events that lead to the 1966 Supreme Court reference into the case which was unsuccessful.
 Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster, Berkley Silverman, and Dan Mousseau. 
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The murder understandably shook up the small community and the fascinating part of Cooper’s retelling of the events is the changing attitude of the public (call it mob, if you will) from disbelief to slowly turning against the boy. The police, the judge and the witnesses were all decent people but perceptions change, subconscious decisions are made and what everybody thought was a fair trial proving guilt (albeit all based on circumstantial evidence) was the right verdict becomes doubtful.

What no one seems to have considered at the time was if the community where the victim and the accused lived and in the tension that was created, was the proper place for the trial. It clearly was not because the chances of finding an impartial jury was almost impossible. Not that any juror was consciously predisposed to convicting Truscott or the investigators had any predilection in that direction. Innocence Lost illustrates the emotional turmoil of a community that cannot be expected to be impartial.

The play has numerous scenes and the actors change characters in order to tell a good part of the story. Director Jackie Maxwell is more than adept at handling the intricacies of the case as presented by Cooper. But only a small part of the story is told because the case is too big and too complicated to tell much more.

Innocence Lost will whet your appetite for more information about the Truscott case and that is a high complement for the director, the cast and the production.

The play deals very briefly with the events after the conviction. The sentence of hanging was commuted to imprisonment, Steven Truscott served his sentence and was paroled, later married and had children. But he remained guilty of the rape and murder of Lynne Harper and all the judges who dealt with the case agreed with that verdict.

Until 2007, that is. The case reached the Court of Appeal again and after an exhaustive review of the events of June 1959 and everything that occurred after that in connection with Steven Truscott, five judges stated that Truscott’s “conviction for murder is set aside and an acquittal entered.”
Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott  by Beverley Cooper continues until June 22, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario M5A 3C4.

Saturday, June 9, 2018


James Karas

Brighton Beach Memoirs is Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical play about his youth, his family and his beginnings as a writer. It is set in the New York suburb of Brighton Beach in 1937 when the fear of another major war was in the air and the memory of the last great war was a recent memory.

It is a genial play about family conflict, sexual awakening and the struggle for survival involving fundamentally decent people who love each other deeply. That is the atmosphere that any production of the play must capture and the current one by The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company does it beautifully.

The central character is Eugene Jerome (mostly Neil Simon as a teenager) played by Lawrence Libor. Eugene dreams of becoming a baseball players as he tosses a baseball against the wall of his house to the annoyance of everyone. His hormones have woken up and he is wondering about his cousin Nora’s breasts and what a naked woman looks like. When his older brother Stanley (Umed Amin) gives him a picture of a completely naked woman, Eugene goes hilariously crazy. But he is mostly an observer of his world and an inveterate note taker. He is Neil Simon in the making and Libor goes through the angst of puberty in an exemplary fashion.

Amin as Stanley is a brother, a friend, a competitor and a supporter despite some friction and disagreements. A convincing relationship is developed by the two actors.

The Jerome family, father Jack (David Eisner), mother Kate (Sarah Orenstein) and their two sons are working class immigrants who have trouble making ends meet. Kate’s widowed sister Blanche (Nicole Underhay) and her two daughters, Nora (Kelsey Falconer) and Laurie (Meghan Caine) live with them and there is tension among them.

Eisner as Jack is a factory worker who wants his children to have principles and stand for what is right. He holds two jobs to make ends meet until he suffers a heart attack. He is a peace-maker and in the end a mensch. Kate loves her family but there is tension between her and her sister going back to childhood. Blanche wants to date an Irish neighbour and Kate is against it because he is probably a drunkard but more so because he is Irish. Simon is not afraid to look at prejudice going both ways. Again a fine relationship is developed by the two actors in their fine performances.

Nora has been offered a small part in a Broadway musical and her mother and uncle do not want her to take it. She should finish high school. The family’s ambitions go no further than high school. College is a distant dream. Falconer in the role ably displays the determination of a young girl and the friction that it creates.

As is inevitable, the living arrangements cannot last for long and the two families do break up. Blanche goes to live with a friend. But relatives from Europe are on their way and the play ends on a positive note. In real life, the Simon family moved out.

The set by Sean Mulcahy consists of six playing areas on two levels giving us a cross section of the Jerome house. There are two bedrooms and a balcony on the upper level, a living room, dining room and doorway into the house on the lower level. It is an image of a comfortable home.

The task of director Sheila McCarthy was to capture the humor, the love and wonderful interaction of the characters in the atmosphere of familial conflict that is nevertheless overwhelmingly loving. She has done that in this affectionate, humane and humorous look at the largely autobiographical look at the author’s puberty.   

Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon, production by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, continues until June 10, 2018 at the Greenwin Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St, North York, ON M2N 6R8.

Friday, June 8, 2018


James Karas

David Hirson’s 1991 play La Bête is a brilliant tour de force combining intelligence, wit, brilliant dialogue and stirring arguments, all done in rhyming iambic pentameters. Soulpepper Theatre does justice to the play with some bravura performances that would test the mettle of the most experienced players.

La Bête is set in France in 1654, in other words in the age of Moliere. It is a play about culture in general and about the theatre in particular. Valère (Gregory Prest), the beast of the title represents low-brow, street theatre. Elomire (Sarah Wilson) represents high-brow theatre and both she and Valère depend on Princess Conti (Rachel Jones) for their livelihood. The stage is set for the two sides to put forth their positions.
 La Bête Ensemble. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Elomire despises Valère and considers him a low-class clown who has no business being in the court of the Princess. But Valère has arrived there and we hear from him. That is an understatement because Valère delivers a monologue at the beginning of the play that lasts for half an hour. No one says anything, while Prest as the beast delivers his incredibly lengthy deluge of words.

Valère is common, vulgar, crude, arrogant and fawning, a one-man street troupe who needs a few more offensive words to do him justice. He is the epitome of everything that people of taste and culture would abhor. Prest’s half-hour monologue is astounding for his ability to memorize that many line alone. But he does more than that. His performance is modulated as he shows us all his disgusting characteristics which at times are very funny and never become boring. It is an unforgettable performance.

In the meantime, Elomire (the name is an anagram for Moliere) listens and reacts with facial expressions. Sarah Wilson, dressed in a beautiful gown, is tall, beautiful, statuesque and the epitome of the cultured woman and the representative of the “theatuh.”

Rachel Jones’s Princess Conti must decide which path her court theatre will take. She saw Valère perform in a town square and invited him to her court to work with Elomire. She puts Valère to the test in a solo performance and with Elomire’s troupe. Conti, the essence of aristocracy, is generous, reasonable, and affable and exudes beauty, class and culture. She asks for only one thing: that she be obeyed at all times. Aristocrats then and now are wonderful people provided you do what they want.
Oliver Dennis, Sarah Wilson, and Gregory Prest. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Oliver Dennis plays the limping, humpback Bejart and does a good job, as usual. Fiona Sauder plays the servant Dorine who cannot say more than a syllable and I am not sure what the character is all about. There are four other characters who are part of the troupe but they are not very well developed. James Smith is De Brie, Ghazal Azarbad plays Catherine De Brie, Raquel Duffy plays Madeleine Bejart and Paolo Santalucia plays Rene du Parc. They participated in Valère’s performance but aside from that they did not do very much.

There is a Marquise-Therese Du Parc listed as being played by Michaela Washburn but for the performance that I saw the role was distributed amongst the ensemble to no good effect. I found out afterwards that Ms Washburn was indisposed.

The principal actors gave extraordinary performances in a play that combines meaty intellectual arguments, high and low humour (Prest scratching parts of his body and emitting gas).

Tanja Jacobs’ direction is outstanding. The play takes place in the court theatre and Ken MacKenzie’s set is appropriate and well done.

La Bête as a play about the theatre and culture has obvious appeal to theatre lovers. But it is also a reflection of today’s cultural and even political milieu where people like Donald Trump and Doug Ford are considered as acceptable leaders. Classical theatre, music and opera have difficulty in surviving, let alone thriving and standards appear to be falling.  La Bête raises the flag and shows that all of that is not true. Go see it.
La Bête by David Hirson continues until June 22, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario M5A 3C4.