Thursday, August 30, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Bed and Breakfast, the title of Mark Crawford’s play, conjures an image of a genial perhaps farcical comedy in a small town with some stock characters and Neil Simon-type of humour. Like a day on the beach, say.

There is some truth in that but this play and its production is so much more that your jaw will drop when you see it. The play is a gem, the performances are a delight.

Brett and Drew are gay and they decide to leave cramped Toronto behind and move to a small town. Brett has inherited, somewhat mysteriously you will find, a house which is suitable for a bed and breakfast.
Paolo Santalucia and Gregory Prest. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The two men have the usual difficulties with family and some people because they are gay and some prejudices die slowly. Their house is vandalized and someone writes “FAGGOTS GO HOME” on the wall and there is a mysterious caller that frightens the young men. Is he preparing something worse than vandalism?

I hasten to add that these are the least important parts of the play and if the production offered no more than that you would be justified in giving it a wide berth.

Don’t. The play offers a staggering amount more than that. Gregory Prest and Paolo Santalucia do not play just Brett and Drew. They play a dozen or two dozen characters. They do so with speed, talent and amazing effectiveness. The change from one character to the next is done with no hesitation, mostly without any change in clothes and can be done in a matter of seconds. Remember there are only two actors on stage and they represent family, relatives and town people of both sexes without missing a beat and being hilarious, moving and dramatic.

After some hilarious misadventure getting the house ready to open as a bed and breakfast, opening day arrives and there is more hilarity as young and old, horny honeymooners and teetotalers occupy the place. Prest and Santalucia represent all of them with breakneck speed and with uproarious result.

There is a plot that builds up nicely to a highly surprising and satisfactory resolution. The mystery underlying the plot is slowly and judiciously developed and all the time we have a loving couple on stage who cope with some bigots but also experience support and indeed nobility from the little town’s residents.
Gregory Prest and Paolo Santalucia. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Do not let anyone spoil it for you. See the production and enjoy the whole performance and the finale.

The set by Alexandra Lord consists of a large bed on a raised platform with a playing area in front of the bed and a door. It is framed to look like an old house.

Ann-Marie Kerr directs this seemingly simple play with care and finesse. The speed and frequency of character changes and the difficulty of differentiating among all the characters are handled with marvelous expertise.

If my superlatives and praise bored you, just go and see the play and you will remember the production and chuck my review.

Bed and Breakfast by Mark Crawford continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.

Monday, August 27, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The Stratford Festival’s production of Julius Caesar strives to make its gender-blind casting obvious by assigning many of the play’s male roles to women. Seana McKenna has proven that properly directed she can do a superb Lear and thus casting her as Julius Caesar made eminent sense. But is there a point in having Octavius, Mark Antony, Cassius, Trebonius, Flavius and others played by women? I don’t think so.

Director Scott Wentworth has chosen a deliberate, at times ponderous pace for the delivery of Shakespeare’s lines. Movement is kept to a minimum at times and I felt that the production resembled more a recital than a fully staged affair. At times the actors could have stood behind lecterns and read out their lines without any further ado.
Seana McKenna (left) as Julius Caesar and Michelle Giroux as Mark Antony with members of the company. Photography by David Hou.
In keeping with Wentworth’s approach, McKenna’s Caesar does not display much of his obnoxious arrogance that would justify an honorable man like Brutus to rise to rebellion and assassination. Jacklyn Francis does excellent work as Calpurnia and is very convincing when she tries to dissuade Caesar from going to the senate. His overconfidence and arrogance appear in the text but McKenna is not allowed to display it.

Sophia Walker as Octavius and Michelle Giroux as Mark Antony are good actors cast to play male roles to no great effect. Julius Caesar is a clash of male egos and having a mixture of men and women play them adds nothing to the production.

In his striving to make sure we get the text pronounced properly, Wentworth goes overboard. The most famous three words in Shakespeare may be Caesar’s shocked statement to Brutus (Jonathan Goad) when he sees his beloved friend stab him: Et tu, Brute. Wentworth wants to get two iambs from these words and he puts the accent on the second syllable of Brutus. It sounds silly.

When Brutus is arguing with Cassius and he tries to explain his reaction to his friend Brutus says No man bears sorrow better. Portia is dead.” These are two sentences and there should be a pause between them to emphasize the terrible event in Brutus’s life. Jonathan Goad says the line without any pause as if there is no punctuation at all.
 Jonathan Goad as Marcus Brutus with members of the company. Photography by David Hou.
Giroux’s Funeral Oration is pallid and in fact Goad’s measured argument is more convincing. We should be blown over by Mark Antony’s speech and are simply not.

Costumes were mostly traditional 16th century clothes. Ruffs, wool caps, doublets, capes and the rest. That is all well until we see the senators who are wearing all of those things but have a sheet wrapped around them to resemble a toga. The opposing armies are differentiated by one side wearing Roman helmets with the red plumes on top while the other side wears traditional helmets.

There are a few fine moments but by the end of the evening all one remembered were the unsatisfactory parts and a very disappointing production.
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare opened on August 16 and will run in repertory until October 27, 2018 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The Stratford Festival has made one of its infrequent forays into modern Italian drama with a production of Eduardo De Filippo’s Napoli Milionaria! It is a play about occupied Naples during World War II. The city was first occupied by Mussolini’s ally, Nazi Germany, and then liberated by the Allies after some relentless bombing of the city.

De Filippo wrote Napoli Milionaria! in 1945, the year in which the Germans surrendered to the Allies. It tells the story of the Jovine family and their circle who try to survive the Fascists, the Nazis, the bombing and the poverty. They live in a rundown house on a side street, illustrated beautifully by Designer Julia Fox.

From left: Johnathan Sousa as Amedeo, Shruti Kothari as Maria Rosaria, Tom McCamus as 
Gennaro and Brigit Wilson as Amalia in Napoli Milionaria! Photography by David Hou.
Gennaro, the father, is unemployed and his wife Amalia has gone into trading goods on the black market in order to put food on the table for her family. Brigit Wilson as Amalia shows us the descent of Amalia from a fighter for survival into a greedy and merciless woman who abandons morality for money. The old excuse of “everybody is doing it” is stretched to the limit as Amalia acquires money, clothes and almost a lover.

Tom McCamus as Gennaro is the opposite of his wife. He is unemployed but decent, honorable and gentle. He is somewhat garrulous but he also illustrates the importance of understanding, the strength to be just and the moral fiber to forgive and look to tomorrow instead of yesterday. With his tousled hair and his apparent detachment from what is happening, McCamus gives a superbly moving performance.

Shruti Kothari as their daughter Maria and Johnathan Sousa as their son Amedeo take different routes into immorality. Maria and her friends Margherita (Oksana Sirju) and Teresa (Mamie Zwettler) dressed provocatively stay out very late with American soldiers practicing the world’s oldest profession. Amedeo goes into probably the world’s second oldest profession, stealing and in this case it is car tires.

Alexandra Lainfiesta as Assunta is simply hilarious. She is a rather dim but decent girl who goes into unstoppable fits of laughter in a squeaky voice and the audience just loves her.  

The play has more than twenty characters as De Filippo tries to give us a cross section of Neapolitan society in wartime. There are people who are decent, indeed noble and there are those who are greedy and simply criminal.
Brigit Wilson as Amalia and Tom Rooney as Riccardo Spasiano in 
Napoli Milionaria! Photography by David Hou.
Riccardo (Tom Rooney) is a gentlemen of some means but has fallen on hard times because he is unemployed. Amalia takes advantage of his hardship and grabs his wife’s jewelry and all his property including sheets and towels. He will get his opportunity to take revenge when Amalia’s little girl needs some life-saving medicine and he is the only one that has it.

Brigadier Ciappa (Andre Sills) knows what Amalia and Amedeo are doing. When he visits them the first time, Gennaro pretends he is dead but Ciappa does not fall for the ruse. He could arrest them and destroy Amalia’s black market enterprise.

Gennaro is taken prisoner by the departing German army. When he returns he sees the wealth that Amalia has acquired and slowly learns the truth about what his children and wife are doing. The world has changed but not necessarily for the better. He finds out what his children are up to and senses his wife’s possible infidelity. Her business partner, the dapper Errico (Michael Blake) has made his attraction to her clear and she has responded.

I have deliberately did not disclosed much of the plot because it is worth seeing the play and enjoying it as events unfold. It is a wonderful play, full of humour and humanity, both good and bad.

Antoni Cimolino does superb work in directing it and evoking the laughter, drama and world of civilians during war. He has a fine cast to deliver an excellent evening at the theatre.

De Filippo wrote some forty plays and is considered one of the great Italian playwrights of the twentieth century. I may be mistaken but I think the Stratford Festival has produced only one of his plays, Filumena in 1997.  Cimolino who has Italian roots should visit the drama of his patria more often.
Napoli Milionaria by Eduardo De Filippo opened on August 17 and will run in repertory until October 27, 2018 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie St, Stratford, ON N5A 1X2.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


Coriolanus is not one of Shakespeare’s great plays but it has carved a niche for itself in the canon and has attracted some great actors to the main role. Whatever its shortcomings, the current production at the Stratford Festival should rank as one of the finest stagings ever. The reason is Robert Lepage who directs it at the Avon Theatre.

Lepage brings his wild and vivid imagination to create a production that forces you to see every detail of the play as if you have never seen it before. In fact you have never seen a production like this before.

In a movie the camera zeroes in on the speaker or the scene that the director wants to emphasize. We get a clear view of what the director considers important because he focuses on it in ways that are available in a movie but not necessarily or at all in live theatre. Lepage uses multiple screens where necessary and there is rich and brilliant use of projections.
  Lucy Peacock as Volumnia and André Sills as Coriolanus in Coriolanus. 
Photography by David Hou.
Lepage uses modified cinematic techniques to grab our attention in a live performance. If the camera cannot focus on a speaker as it would in a film, Lepage blocks our view of the rest of the scene except for the character or characters he wants us to see. This occurs throughout the performance and we get the impression that we are watching a fine film rather than a traditional live performance. It is an astounding experience of an extraordinary production.

The play is given a modern setting with scenes in a television studio where people are interviewed as if they are on, say, CNN. There are scenes in ordinary offices, in bars and in exterior settings as well. This establishes a smooth change of scenes that works, again, as if we are watching a movie where there is a simple fade out as we are led to the next scene.

I hasten to add that Lepage who designed the sets as well as directing the play, is not solely responsible for the production and recognition and kudos are deserved by Steve Blanchet  as the Creative Director and Designer, to Costume Designer Mara Gottler, Lighting Designer Laurent Routhier and Images Designer Pedro Pires. Along with Lepage’s conception of the play, they added enormously to the project to make the production simply extraordinary.

There are some powerful performances that go along with Lepage’s conception of the play. Andre Sills is a powerful Coriolanus and much of the problem of the play lies in trying to understand him. He is a warrior and perhaps a killing machine. He has saved Rome from her enemies and the patricians want to reward him with the position of consul, the top civilian job, but Coriolanus has trouble with people in that he holds the lower orders in contempt. He is not willing to play the political game of making a speech, appealing to the masses and going on with the job. He may well be seen as a dictator who despises the mob.
 Members of the company in Coriolanus. Photography by David Hou. 
I prefer a different view that goes back to the heroic ethos of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Greek heroes fought for kleos, meaning glory or renown. Achilles was indeed a killing machine from one point of view (he is humanized in the end) but his goal was bravery and death in battle that brings kleos to him. Hector left his wife and child despite Andromache’s pleading, to go into battle and face almost certain death for kleos. Coriolanus may come from the same ethos that we find illogical and unacceptable today. Sills will convince you of Coriolanus’s martial prowess and passion.

Coriolanus has an enemy that is almost equal to him. Achilles needs Hector and Coriolanus needs Aufidius. Graham Abbey is superb in the role showing the determination and warrior mentality to challenge Coriolanus.

Coriolanus’s warrior code comes directly and quite obviously from his mother Volumnia. Lucy Peacock is just the actor to play this powerful matriarch and she almost steals the show. She has the perfect vocal intonations to command, persuade, cajole and give us a memorable Volumnia.

Tom McCamus plays the role of Menenius, the man of reason and decency and, as usual, he is terrific. Stephen Ouimette, cane in hand and Tom Rooney play the tribunes and only praise will do for them.

An unforgettable production.       
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare continues in repertory until October 20, 2018 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie St, Stratford, ON N5A 1X2.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


James Karas

Noblesse oblige imposed a heavy burden on the wealthy aristocrats of yore. It was a self-imposed moral obligation to help the poor or lower classes but its extent was undefined. The main beneficiaries of this munificence were the aristocrats themselves because it enhanced their moral superiority and it certified that their wealth and status were the well-deserved gift of God.

That is the thought that went through my mind as I watched Michael Mackenzie’s The Baroness and the Pig at the Shaw Festival.
 Yanna McIntosh as Baroness with Julia Course as Emily in 
The Baroness and the Pig. Photo by David Cooper
The Baroness is a French aristocrat and the play takes place in Paris in the 1880’s. After losing three maids in succession, she is looking for a third one and comes up with a brilliant, indeed, enlightened, idea. She will find a pure human being who is untouched by society and educate her. Let’s be more precise. She will fulfill her noblesse oblige and train the creature to be a servant. She must learn the usual duties of a servant and be pretty.

The Baroness finds a teenager who was brought up in a pigsty without human contact. She names the girl grandiosely Emily after Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile. The play opens with the encounter between the Baroness and Emily. Yanna McIntosh as the Baroness is a statuesque aristocrat dressed in a fashionable white gown and wearing a white wig. She exudes stature and status as she undertakes the task of educating Emily – to be a servant. As it becomes an aristocrat, the Baroness almost never loses her composure.

Emily, played by Julia Course, crouches on the floor, tumbles, speaks in garbled words and is barely human. Course has her work cut out in slowly progressing from a completely unsocialized human being to someone gaining some comprehension and beginning to fulfil the Baroness’s ambitions for her.
Julia Course as Emily with Yanna McIntosh as Baroness in 
The Baroness and the Pig. Photo by Emily Cooper
The play is produced in the Jackie Maxwell Studio, a theatre in the round which limits the possibility for props and sets. The playing area has white benches on the perimeter and there are a few props available. Camellia Koo is the production’s designer with Kevin Lamotte designing the lighting.  

The transformation of Emily moves slowly and haltingly and at times the play appears to be running put of steam. Mackenzie however has inserted almost insidiously a subplot that adds to the subtext of the play and rounds off the plot development in an unexpected way. To disclose anything more, would spoil the plot that needs to be seen and enjoyed.

McIntosh’s and Course’s strong performances keep the play going even when the plot gets weak. Kudos to director Selma Dimitrijevic for keeping tight control of the action.

The Baroness’s ambition from the start was, as I said, to fulfill her moral obligations as an aristocrat and train a maid. She also wanted to impress her friends. I wonder if she did.  
The Baroness and the Pig by Michael Mackenzie continues in repertory until October 6, 2018 at the Jackie Maxwell Studio, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


James Karas

The Shaw Festival has produced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles as adapted for the stage by R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette.

It is advertised as a “CANADIAN PREMIERE! It’s the return of the murder mystery to The Shaw.” Wright and Pichette are American actors who adapted the famous novel for the stage in 2013 and even if it is the first time that it is produced in Canada, it hardly rates a mention let alone in capitals and an exclamation mark as a premiere. Murder mysteries may be crowd pleasers and theatre fillers and those are potent arguments for inviting over Sherlock Holmes.
Ric Reid as Dr. Watson and Damien Atkins as Sherlock Holmes in 
The Hound of the Baskervilles. Photo by Emily Cooper
The Hound of the Baskervilles tells one hell of a great story. It is set in the Baskerville mansion on the forbidding moors in late 19th century England. Sir Charles has died mysteriously (murdered, that is) and the question is (you guessed it) whodunit? The Baskervilles are subject to an ancient curse and there is a diabolical hound lurking in the dark moors. Shivers.

Call Sherlock Holmes and give the job to Damien Atkins to deliver him in the Festival Theatre. We all know that he is a genius – Holmes that is, Atkins is a good actor, and may also be a genius. He can deduce and recite more facts about someone at a glance than mere mortals can gather in a month of Sundays and a credit check. Director Craig Hall is not happy with that and he gives us a Sherlock who is a bit of a clown which I found incongruous.

Dr. Watson (Ric Reid) is no fool at detection work but he cannot compete with the master. In the Baskerville mansion, we find Barrymore the butler (Patrick Galligan) and his wife (Claire Jullien) as well as her brother, a convicted and escaped murderer! The new owner of the estate is Sir Henry Baskerville (Kristopher Bowman) who lived in the province of Alberta before it became a province but please do not bother me with historical facts.

We meet the neighbours and we suspect no one, but, everyone is a suspect. Beryl Stapleton (Natasha Mumba), Jack Stapleton (Gray Powell), Mr. Frankland (Cameron Grant) and the Hound. Well, we don’t meet the hound but we do see him projected on the screen and as a puppet. And we suspect him too. Dr. Mortimer (Graeme Somerville) is the first to suspect foul play and brings in Holmes to the job.
Ric Reid as Dr. Watson and Damien Atkins as Sherlock Holmes in 
The Hound of the Baskervilles. Photo by Emily Cooper.
In the English country estate, the servants and the aristocrats would speak with distinctive and high-toned English accents. There are some exception but the accents of the cast are generally atrocious. Sir Henry may be excused because he lived in Alberta but if you believe that an accent can be lost that easily between Edmonton and Calgary then I can offer you some land in Florida. Somehow I find that failure a major obstacle to creating the appropriate atmosphere for an English mystery.

The play has more than half a dozen scenes and Hall seems to be a great believer in the use of projections. Some of Jamie Nesbitt’s projections are effective but in the end they are also distracting. The entire stage and the wings on each side are plastered with projections. When Holmes goes to the cellar, the descent is shown on a projection and in the end what starts as effective becomes gimmicky overkill. Alan Brodie’s lighting designs are dark and foreboding as you would expect in a murder mystery.

I am not sure that The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best choice for bringing back murder mysteries to The Shaw. Mystery aficionados are bound to love it but the production is carried more by Arthur Conan Doyle than the cast and the creative team.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted for the stage by R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette, opened on August 11 and will run in repertory until October 27, 2018 at the Festival Theatre, 10 Queen's Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


James Karas

This year is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War W1. Tim Carroll, the Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director, no doubt wanted to mark the occasion and his production of Bernard Shaw’s O’Flaherty V.C. was a good start. Oh What a Lovely War was all about the Great War with Canadian content.  He seems to have had another idea. How about a production of Shakespeare’s Henry V set in a World War I dugout involving Canadian soldiers?

Seven Canadian soldiers are in the dugout, rifles, gas masks and equipment at hand and they are rehearsing Henry V. Scripts in hand, they seem to be going through an early reading. The Chorus is barely able to read the first line of the opening speech when the actor playing the Archbishop of Canterbury refuses to continue because he does not want the part.
Damien Atkins in Henry V. Photo by David Cooper.
The actors who play the soldiers are professionals but the soldiers who are rehearsing Henry V are amateurs – and they look it. The seven actors perform, if I counted them correctly, some 35 roles. Take the Chorus, for example, he is played by four actors. The rest play several role or more each and you are challenged to keep track of who is playing what when, if you care at all.

The second half of the play takes place in a hospital where six beds are lined up and occupied by the soldiers who have been seriously wounded. We see crutches, head bandages and evidence of other wounds on the soldiers and four nurses who take care of them. They continue rehearsing roles in the play with no particular attention as to whether the characters are men or women. Lines are muffed, we are told acts and scene numbers and the rehearsal goes on.

The amusing scene with Princess Katherine and her attendant Alice, where she is trying to learn English is played twice. In the first round Damien Atkins is Katherine and Kristopher Bowman plays Alice. In the repeat of the scene, Natasha Mumba plays Katherine and Yanna McIntosh is Alice. I may be approximately right and I only recite these details to give you an idea of the mish mash of the production.
Julia Course and Claire Jullien with Patrick Galligan, Cameron Grant, 
Kristopher Bowman and Damien Atkins in Henry V. Photo by David Cooper.
Gray Powell plays Henry V but he is just an ordinary soldier as are all the other men and what is the point of putting on the play when the production has almost nothing to do with Shakespeare’s work? What in the world are we supposed to get out of the travesty of Shakespeare’s play and what are we to make of these “amateurs” doing a run through?

The eleven actors who played the Canadian soldiers and nurses on the Western Front and the roles they rehearsed in Henry V are as follows, straight from the programme:
Damien Atkins           Scroop/Nym/Dauphin/Gloucester/Katherine
Kristopher Bowman   Bardolph/Gower/Duke of Brittany/Alice/Westmorland/French                                                               King
Julia Course                Williams/Messenger/York/Duke of Bourbon/Queen Isabel
Patrick Galligan         Ambassador/Chorus/Cambridge/Constable/Fluellen/Salisbury/
French Soldier
Cameron Grant           Hostess/Messenger/Chorus/Boy/Governor/Rambures/
Alexander Court/Montjoy/Westmorland
Claire Jullien              Orleans/Gloucester/Duke of Burgundy
Yanna McIntosh         Alice/Chorus/Erpingham/Grandpré/Warwick
Natasha Mumba         Katherine/Dauphin/Bates/Bedford/Herald
Gray Powell                King Henry V
Ric Reid                      Grey/French King
Graeme Somerville     Chorus/Exeter/Pistol

This is the first Shakespeare play that the Shaw Festival has produced and the choice is a complete mystery considering the approach that Carroll has taken. There are some jokes that the soldiers make about lines and actions in the play but they are much funnier for the participants during an actual rehearsal.

No doubt Tim Carroll and his co-director Kevin Bennett envisioned something dramatic in their approach to the play but they did not deliver anything of the kind. A deep disappointment.
Henry V by William Shakespeare continues in repertory until October 28, 2018 at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Monday, August 13, 2018


James Karas

Bernard Shaw was a master of turning the tables around on a subject or using irony as a comic tool. O’Flaherty V.C. is a one-act play that he wrote in 1915 and he subtitled it A Reminiscence of 1915 (A Recruiting Pamphlet). Needless to say it was nothing of the sort.

The play takes place in an Irish country house where we meet Private O’Flaherty (Ben Sanders) who has been awarded that rare recognition for extraordinary bravery and service to the British Empire, the Victoria Cross medal. He is a hero and his landlord, General Sir Pearce Madigan (Patrick McManus) is parading him through the Irish countryside to persuade more Irish boys to enlist.
Ben Sanders as O'Flaherty and Patrick McManus as General Sir Pearce Madigan 
in O'Flaherty V.C. Photo by Emily Cooper
Now for the surprises. O’Flaherty is no hero. He is just an ordinary chump who was more afraid of running away than of fighting. And that’s just the beginning of the shocks that the cartoon recruiting and Irish estate-owning General is about to get.

O’Flaherty’s mother who raised the General’s children and is a patriotic Irish woman does not know and would never allow her son to fight for the British. She thinks he is fighting for the French and the Russians who would never fight with the English. She draws her own conclusions.

The play provides a marvelous joke and a bitter satire on war and patriotism. Sanders is splendid as the young innocent who goes to a war that he knows nothing about. He has the Irish lilt and the cunning, intelligence and innocence to make an attractive character. He was a thief as a young man and explains his conduct to the General simply. His mother sold her geese to pay her rent to the General. He stole the General’s geese to pay for the rent.

Tara Rosling is the tough, no-nonsense mother who bought bottled milk for her infant but nursed the general’s daughter. She prays for the conversion of the General and cuffs her son’s ears on a regular basis. Quite a woman and a fine performance by Rosling.
Gabriella Sundar Singh as Teresa, Ben Sanders as O'Flaherty and Tara Rosling 
as Mrs. O'Flaherty. Photo by Emily Cooper
McManus as the general is the pipe-smoking Central Casting, as they used to say, English officer. He shocked, just shocked at O’Flaherty’s conduct and his mother’s attitude. Everyone is loyal and patriotic, no? NO.

The servant Teresa (Gabriella Sundar Singh) is another tough Irish woman with plans of her own. She sees an opportunity in the new hero. She gets into a fight with Mrs. Flaherty and delivers some marvelous insults. In the end, O’Flaherty V.C. does turn out to be, in a Shavian ironic way, a recruiting pamphlet. Go see it to figure out how.

Director Kimberley Rampersad sets a perfect pace with terrific performances and gives us a delightful 45 minutes of theatre during lunch time.

O’Flaherty V.C. by Bernard Shaw continues on various dates until October 6, 2018 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


James Karas

There are many reasons for producing The Orchard (After Chekhov) at the Shaw Festival during the current season. It is a first play by a Canadian writer and that’s worth several solid points. It is about immigrants and their integration under the policy of multi-culturalism enunciated by former Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau and it salutes native Canadians. What more do you want?

The “more” (and perhaps “less”) is suggested by the title. Sarena Parmar has found a short cut to inventing a plot and characters by borrowing them from Anon Chekhov’s 1903 play The Cherry Orchard.  She transplanted Mrs. Ranevskaya’s orchard from provincial Russia at the turn of the twentieth century to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley in 1975 taking most of the characters along.
The cast of The Orchard (After Chekhov). Photo by David Cooper.
In Chekhov, the aristocratic order represented by Mrs. Ranevskaya is in decline and a new class is coming up. It is the end of Tsarist Russia. In Parmar’s play, the people are immigrant Sikhs from Punjab, India who, like their Russian counterparts, are on the verge of losing the orchard and I suppose their way of life.

The immediate cause for the loss of the estate is simply bad management. Mrs. Ranevskaya has been living extravagantly in Paris for five years and is left penniless. Loveleen (the name is a loose translation of Ranevskaya’s first name Lyubov), the owner of the Okanagan estate has been living in Bombay with a user and spends whatever money is left for her return ticket to Canada.

Loveleen (Pamela Sinha) is a beautiful and classy woman. One can’t say that she has mismanaged the estate, because she has not managed it at all and maybe she is just plain stupid. The mortgagee is about to foreclose and the estate is going on the auction block and she can’t quite grasp the situation. But she is always lovely.

Loveleen has a large family and friends. Like all immigrants, they are facing the issue of maintaining the culture of the “old country” and integrating into the new way of life. As Sikhs, some of them have the additional problem of being highly visible and having to choose between turban-and-beard and clean-shaven and hair-cut. Her niece Barminder (Krystal Kiran) has converted to Christianity and speaks of becoming a nun. Talk abou assimilation. 
 Pamela Sinha as Loveleen with Rong Fu as Donna in The Orchard (After Chekhov). 
Photo by David Cooper.
Her daughter Annie (played by the author) is a beautiful and intelligent woman who speaks English without an accent (just about all of them do) and survival and success in the host culture should be relatively easier if her mother knew some arithmetic when she was blowing the family farm.

The “Canadian” representatives are Paul (Neil Barclay), a genial neighbour who is broke and Michael (Jeff Meadows) a local shyster who acts (and overacts) like a clown but has his eye set on grabbing the orchard. No he is not a lawyer, just a local businessman rising from the bottom.

Kesur (David Adams) is the turbaned and bearded father of Loveleen and represents the old country, I suppose, and Gurjit (Sanjay Talwar) is Loveleen’s brother who meets the reality of looking “different” and searching for a job.

Parmar salutes Canada’s first nations with the presence of Charlie (Jani Lauzon) and leftist thinking with Peter (Shawn Ahmed).

The plot and the characters are grafted one way or another from Chekhov but the major themes do not take to the Canadian environment as well as one might wish. The sale by auction of the Okanagan cherry orchard and the premise of the whole play are not convincing as the decline and fall of immigrants from Punjab.

The production is directed by Ravi Jain and the play was dramaturged by Guillermo Verdecchia. It presents an interesting idea that should resonate with immigrants and “locals” and again kudos for the choice of play for the reasons enumerated at the beginning of this review.

The Orchard (After Chekhov) by Sarena Parma continues in repertory until September 1, 2018 at the Jackie Maxwell Studio, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


James Karas

A great production of a great musical.

That is a succinct review of The Glimmerglass Festival production of West Side Story directed by the Festival’s Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. It is a co-production with the Houston Grand Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago and one can fairly say that she pulled out all the stops and the result is triumphal.

Vanessa Becerra as Maria and Joseph Leppek as Tony in "West Side Story." 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
She has a great work to work with. West Side Story has a masterful score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. That is three theatrical geniuses combining forces to bring an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Broadway in 1957. Jerome Robbins’ choreography remains extraordinary and unsurpassable. This is no pleasant dancing but an integral part of the plot that not only adds dramatic punch to the story but is an essential part of it. Remove the dancing and you have caused irreparable harm to the musical.

The original choreography is reproduced by Julio Monge. The scenery by Peter J. Davison and the costumes by Jessica Jahn show the seedy side of New York and the clothes worn by gang members, as far as we can tell. They do the job superbly.

West Side Story needs talented principals like Tony, Maria and Anita, and the main members of the two gangs and this production has them all. Aside from the love plot between Maria and Tony and the effervescent Anita, the musical is an ensemble performance because it is the portrait of two social groups at war. Who are they? Open the news and you will find them in most corners of the great United States. In this case they are Puerto Ricans and “real Americans” for which read white bigots.
Joseph Leppek as Tony, Vanessa Becerra as Maria and Amanda Castro as Anita in 
"West Side Story." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Vanessa Becerra as Maria has a ringing voice and shows emotional intensity of the highest order. Tony (Joseph Leppek) is man in love with the voice and the passion to show it. The gang members do dance routines that are athletic, perfectly timed and executed with dramatic power and marvelous passion. Amanda Castro makes the perfect insouciant recent immigrant who is full of optimism but can tell the difference between a dream and a daydream.

The “adults” of the show are the very sympathetic Doc (Dale Travis) and the cops, Lieutenant Schrank (Zachary Owen) and Officer Krupke (Maxwell Levy) who are perhaps exactly how we imagine police officers.

David Charles Abell conducts The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra bringing out Bernstein’s wonderful songs and music to an audience that seemed to be thrilled by every note.

A magnificent night at the theatre. 
 West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book) is being performed thirteen times between July 7 and August 24, 2018 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Friday, August 10, 2018


James Karas

There are productions and recordings of Leos Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen but it is not an opera that has joined the standard repertoire. You are grateful for any production and especially thankful for one that is done well. E. Loren Meeker’s production for The Glimmerglass Festival qualifies as such as Artistic Director Francesca Zambello deserves a bow for her choice of an off-the-beaten track work.

The Cunning Little Vixen is a fairy tale about a vixen (sung marvelously by the agile Joanna Latini) fox from her youth to her death. As a cub, she is captured and taken home as a pet by the Forester (the ever sonorous Eric Owens). After killing the Forester’s hens, she escapes back to the forest where she grows up and finds love with another fox. Her cunning fails her and she is killed.
Joanna Latini as the Vixen and Eric Owens as the Forester in Janáček's "The Cunning Little Vixen." 
Photo: Karli Cadel/ The Glimmerglass Festival
The opera’s characters are mostly animals and insects including hens, grasshoppers, frogs, dragonflies, a wolf, a badger, a mosquito, a dog, a boar, a woodpecker …and you get the idea. Aside from the Forester and his wife (Kayla Siembieda), there is a Schoolmaster (Dylan Morrongiello), a Parson (Zachary Owen), Pasek the Innkeeper (Brian Wallin), his wife (Gretchen Krupp) and Harasta, the Poacher (Wm. Clay Thompson).

It should be noted that the entire cast with the exception of Eric Owens is made up of Glimmerglass’s Young Artists Program and the Glimmerglass Youth Chorus. Most of the young men and women take on more than one role and the performances are simply admirable.   

The Cunning Little Vixen is an orchestral piece, an opera and a ballet. There are some beautiful orchestral interludes and a great deal of dancing. With a few changes and additions, I think the work can easily be converted to a full-blown ballet. As such the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra by Joseph Colaneri performs brilliantly. The dancing as choreographed by Eric Sean Fogel is done quite well.

The flexible set by Ryan McGgettigan represents a large faux tree in the forest and it is easily adaptable to represent the Forester’s house or the tavern where the men drink and talk about love or the lack of it
Gretchen Krupp as Pasek's Wife, Eric Owens as the Forester, Dylan Morrongiello as the Schoolmaster. 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Janacek adapted the stories of Rudolf Tesnohlidek for his libretto which is of course in Czech. Glimmerglass presents the opera in English in a translation by Kelley Rourke. That no doubt solves the problem of finding singers who know Czech or can memorize the libretto phonetically. But the translation does have problems. Without knowing Czech, but having heard the opera in its original language, I felt that the English translation had many more syllables. The singers had to rush through phrases that simply did not fit the music and we lost the advantage of having the words married to the music and vice versa.

You may have post-performance rumblings of your own but nothing can take away from the wisdom of choosing to produce the opera, the display of young talent nurtuted by the Festival and the overall high-caliber performance.

The Cunning Little Vixen by Leos Janacek is being performed nine times between July 8 and August 25, 2018 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Thursday, August 9, 2018


James Karas

Silent Night is one of the most moving operas that I have ever seen.
The silent night of the title of the opera is not the well-known Yuletide carol but a truce among Scottish, French and German soldiers on Christmas Eve 1914 to stop killing each other on the Western Front.

Kevin Puts’ opera to a libretto by Mark Campbell tells a moving story about humanity and decency in the midst of brutality. It is a paean to humanity and a condemnation of our species.

Campbell has woven several personal stories involving soldiers and officers of the warring armies around the national conflicts that brought these people to the war for the sole purpose of killing each other.
Arnold Livingston Geis as Nikolaus Sprink in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2018 production of 
Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell's "Silent Night." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Director Tomer Zvulun has staged a superb production that captures the horror and senselessness of war and the human decency that can rise above it.

The Glimmerglass Festival stage is divided into three sections, one on top of the other, and they are occupied by Scottish, French and German platoons. The men are patriots and fighting for their countries. They are convinced of their righteousness and want to kill their enemy.

On the personal side, there are two Scottish brothers, William (Maxwell Levy) and Jonathan (Christian Sanders), who volunteer for service. But William is killed by the Germans and Jonathan, filled with hatred, promises to take revenge.

Nikolaus Sprink (Arnold Livingston Geis) and Anna Sorensen (Mary Evelyn Hangley) are singers with the Berlin Opera and he is conscripted into the German army. He is a good singer but a bad soldier. She is conscripted to sing for the Crown Prince who is camped in a nearby chalet on Christmas Eve and Nikolaos is sent to do the same. The two lovers are reconciled but how and where they will end up is another question.

Lieutenant Audebert (Michael Miller), the son of an officer, has enlisted in the French army leaving his pregnant wife behind. These are the central personal stories that are weaved into the temporary truce that miraculously happens on that Christmas Eve.

As the soldiers are shooting at each other, they realize that their enemies are people, that they have everything in common and no reason to kill each other despite the fervent patriotism and self-righteousness that they have been indoctrinated with.

During the evening the men from the three nations drink, exchange pleasantries, eat and have a good time together. In the morning hostilities are about to resume, but, again miraculously, they decide to extend the truce for a few hours in order to bury the dead.
Dale Travis as The British Major with members of the company in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2018 
production of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell's "Silent Night." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Puts’ score is an exquisite piece of music, expressive, moving, approachable, dramatic and occasionally dissonant. Campbell’s libretto is based on the screenplay of the film Joyeux Noël by Christian Carion. The opera is sung in the three languages of the combatants with some Latin. It was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera and premiered in 2011.

One of the most moving scenes in the opera occurs when Father Palmer (William Clay Thompson), a Scottish cleric performs a Christmas service and all the soldiers join in. The German Lieutenant Horstmayer (Michael Hewitt) joins in for his first such service. He is a Jew. That means he is not a “real” German and the opera prepares us for what will happen to the Jews of Europe in the future.

The commanding officers take an extremely dim view of the truce. The Kronprinz, the British Major (Dale Travis) and the French General (Timothy Bruno) punish the junior officers involved in the truce and make sure that no such event happens again. As Campbell puts it succinctly “war is not sustainable when you come to know your enemy as a person.”

Although there are some atrocious accents as the singers try to manage Scottish, German and French intonations, the opera is well sung and affectively acted.

Nicole Paiement conducted the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus in what is, I can only repeat, one of the most moving productions I have ever seen.

Silent Night by Kevin Puts (music) and Mark Campbell (libretto) is being performed nine times between July 15 and August 23, 2018 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or