Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Theory, Norman Yeung’s new play at the Tarragon Theatre, is so intellectually elevated and so emotionally intense, that you should sharpen your brain cells and tune up your emotional antennae before leaving for the theatre.

Professor Isabella (Sascha Cole) “teaches” film theory at a university. She is young, brilliant, ambitious, a visionary and a rule-breaker who wants to open the minds of students, no make that, she wants them to open their own minds. No, she is not teaching philosophy from Plato to Rawls and she probably considers what many of us may consider teaching as beneath her. She has a large class but we only get to see four of her students.
Bilal Baig, Anthony Perpuse, Asha James, Kyle Orzech and Sascha Cole by Cylla von Tiedemann 
The four students are an assorted lot but what really matters is that they are all geniuses. They know all about the films on the course and they can talk in academic lingo that will send you scampering to your elevated intellect to keep up with the academic jargon and you are very smart if you can keep up with them.

But they are also very touchy. With their comprehensive knowledge and ability to express their views, it seems a waste of time for them to attend class. They should all go to the common room and have a complicated or is it integrated coffee and become professors.

The professor teaching the course is white and her wife is black. Or should I say African-Canadian or African-American. I don’t think I can say Negro because, if I understood correctly, the word has been banned from normal conversation regardless of context. And the “n word” has been eradicated and if Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad and a myriad of other authors used it in their time and context, they and the word should be consigned a circle of hell for Users of Offensive Words Ex Post Facto.   

The students in the course tackle a large array of films by the likes of   D. W. Griffiths, Sergei Eisenstein and a number of other directors, French, German and Latin American, mostly unfamiliar to me.

The films present political and social commentaries that brilliant professors and razor-sharp students can discern but hoi polloi probably do not.

The students walk out of class, send offensive (really offensive) emails and complain to the dean. The numerous (far too numerous) postings go into dangerous territory when one student posts a photo of the professor that he/she cuts up and covers it with blood from his/her own hand. There is a mystery about who is posting them and it creates considerable tension.
 Sascha Cole and Audrey Dwyer by Cylla von Tiedemann
The question that occurred to me as I watched the plot develop into dangerous territory was this: how can anyone who is so smart be so stupid? Isabella could not see beyond her intellectual arrogance of a know-it-all who pretends to let her students discover things for themselves. When students are complaining about you (some? all?) maybe you should get the message that you are doing something terribly wrong.      

The main plot is about Isabella’s interaction with the four students played by Bilal Baig, Asha James, Kyle Orzech and Anthony Perpuse, and the Dean (Fabrizio Filippo. And there is the subplot about her relations with her wife Lee (Audrey Dwyer).  

Joe Pagnan’s set serves as a classroom that easily converts into Isabella’s apartment. Projection designer Cameron Davis provides us with the countless messages that are shown on the stage as the menace keeps mounting.

Director Esther Jun sets and maintains a brisk pace as actors enter and exit in quick succession frequently slamming doors.

Much of what happens is fodder for a good play and a fine production but much of it is smothered in intellectual and academic dross that takes away from our enjoyment. 

Theory by Norman Yeung continues until November 25, 2018 at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


James Karas

Opera Atelier has chosen two one-act gems for its fall production. They are Charpentier’s Actéon and Rameau’s Pygmalion, works based on Greek myths that are wonderfully antithetical and complementary. I have a feeling that Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, the Co-Artistic Directors of Opera Atelier, commissioned these works for the current season. Yes, I know that Actéon has been around since 1684 and Pygmalion premiered in 1748, but I have no time to be confused by facts.

Mr. Pynkoski as a director, wanted operas and Ms Zingg as a choreographer wanted ballets. They convinced the two composers to give them operas-cum-ballet or perhaps the other way around to maintain gender equilibrium. Ms Zingg deserves the concession since she is celebrating her 33rd year with Opera Atelier.
  The company of Actéon. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Actéon, you will no doubt recall, is the Theban prince who loves hunting but is indifferent to the love of women. He worships Diana (or Artemis for the purists) the virgin goddess of the hunt who prefers the company of nymphs and four-legged creatures in the forest to anyone else’s company. No erotic love, please.

Actéon has heard that a bear is despoiling Diana’s forest and he goes with his friend to get rid of the creature that is harming the goddess that he worships. Completely by happenstance, he sees Diana bathing au naturel. That is verboten and Diana decides to punish him. She turns the hunter Actéon into a stag and his dogs have him for lunch. Not a happy ending.

Pygmalion is different. He is great artist and sculpts a beautiful woman. Being a romantic, he falls in love with the statue and prays to Venus, the goddess of love, to do something about his passion. Enter Eros who brings the statue to life.  His girlfriend Céphise is not too pleased and storms out of his studio. The statue becomes Galatea and is taught to dance, falls in love with Pygmalion and they live happily ever after.

The moral of the stories being that if you interact with goddesses, forget chastity (yours or the god’s), find out how she feels about being seen naked and go for art instead of hunting.

The production of the two gems is a visual and aural delight. Tenor Colin Ainsworth sings Actéon, the chaste but impassioned worshipper of Diana and the equally passionate but perfectly human Pygmalion. He modulates his voice beautifully to the demands of Baroque opera and we enjoy every note of it.

The splendidly-voiced soprano Mireille Asselin, (like Ainsworth, a veteran of Opera Atelier productions) sings the roles of Diana and Eros in beautifully executed performances.      
 Colin Ainsworth and Meghan Lindsay (centre) with Artists of 
Atelier Ballet in Pygmalion. Photo by Bruce Zinger
Soprano Meghan Lindsay sings Aréthuze in Actéon and Galatea in Pygmalion. When a statue is given life by Eros and she tells you that her first desire is to please you, you have a winner and Ms Lindsay convinces us that we do.

The solo vocal singing is supplemented by the Chorus of the University of Toronto Schola Cantorum with members of the Choir of the Theatre of Early Music and they are simply superb.

Ballet forms an integral part of Actéon and Pygmalion. The hunters and the nymphs in Actéon and the dances performed in teaching Galatea to dance in Pygmalion display Ms Zingg’s choreographic talent and the exquisiteness of the Artists of Atelier Ballet. 

Gerard Gauci’s sets emphasize the beauty of the mythical world as do the costumes by Gauci for Actéon and Michael Gianfrancesco for Pygmalion.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra conducted by David Fallis brings the full aural pleasure of the music to the fore.

In the end you are transported to, dare I say it, almost magically to the mythical world of Ancient Greece as seen by two Baroque French composers and brought to life, almost Galatea-like, by the artists of Opera Atelier.

Actéon by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Pygmalion by Jean-Philippe Rameau, presented by Opera Atelier, run until November 3, 2018 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto.

Sunday, October 28, 2018


James Karas

The Royale, Marco Ramirez’s play, is inspired by the life of boxer Jack Johnson. In racist America of the early twentieth century, Johnson became the first black Heavyweight Champion. Racist Americans searched for “a great white hope” to defeat Johnson and the best they could do was Jim Jeffries, an undefeated Heavyweight Champion, who came out of retirement to fight Jackson and was defeated.

That may be have been his inspiration, but Ramirez does not write a play about a black boxer who becomes Heavyweight Champion in Jim Crow’s America. 
Alexander Thomas, Dion Johnstone, and Diego Matamoros. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The play opens in a boxing rink with Jay (as Ramirez calls him) Johnson (played impressively by Dion Johnstone) about to fight a boxer called Fish (Christef Desir). The referee Max (Diego Matamoros) introduces the fighters and the match begins but there are no punches thrown. The two men shadow box while facing the audience and they address us or each other. We hear their thoughts. They speak in short, staccato phrases that are punctuated by rhythmic stomping of feet. The referee and Jack’s trainer Wynton (Alexander Thomas) also throw in brief comments (their thoughts, really) about the fight.

Wynton gives some brief instructions to Jack in the same style as the comments made by all the characters, brief, quick, almost stream-of-consciousness.   

Jay wins and Wynton and Max as a fight promoter have a conversation about boxing, about arranging other matches, about the past, the future and other subjects. They speak frequently in two and three word sentences. We are told that Max has found a challenger who wants ninety percent of the purse, win or lose.

The same style of speaking continues during a press conference where Max, Jay and Wynton are present. The play has only five characters but the clapping, foot stomping and flashing lights give the impression of many more people. The short phrases and the longer speeches are poetic in structure rather than straightforward prose.

Jackson finally gets a chance to fight for the championship and all the issues of a black man fighting a white boxer in utterly racist America come to the fore. Racism is pervasive throughout the play implicitly and explicitly but the arrival of Jackson’s older sister Nina (Sabryn Rock) adds another dimension.

She knows her brother’s vaulting ambition; he is a man who wants the apple from the top of the tree, she tells us. The dialogue becomes naturalistic as she describes the dangerous consequences of his ambition to win. People could get killed, including her family. She wants him to lose. 
Dion Johnstone and Sabryn Rock. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Intriguingly, Jackson’s opponent for the championship is his sister Nina. She is his sister, she is his opponent and she is the white fighter as the siblings dance around the rink. This is a great summation of all the issues surrounding Americana as it was then and as it is now.

Dion Johnstone as Jay has all the attributes required for the role. He is so well endowed with muscles that he could be mistaken for a boxer. He gives a superb performance as the ambitious, smart, colourful character who breaks down social and racial barriers but does not solve any problems.

Diego Matamoros as Max is a white racist but a good promoter. Christef Desir as Fish as Johnson’s sparring partner and Alexander Thomas as his trainer give fine performances. The most interesting character after Johnson is his sister Nina played by Sabryn Rock. She shines the light on her brother’s character and she is aware of the broader issues and consequences for blacks if he wins. She is intuitively right on all accounts but she is looking at the present and the past. An exceptional performance.     

The set by Ken MacKenzie emphasizes the boxing ring and the sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne and the lighting design by Michelle Ramsey give us the sounds and lights of a boxing match that is happening only symbolically in front of us.

Director Guillermo Verdecchia puts the whole thing together for an exceptional night at the theatre.

The Royale by Marco Ramirez continues until November 11, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


James Karas

The Men in White is a gem of a play that gets a terrific production at Factory Theatre.

It deals with the gamut of issues that face immigrants to Canada but that is only a small part of what the play offers. It is funny, moving and intelligent with a fine plot and well-developed characters. And at the end it delivers a punch that stuns you.

The title is ironic. The men in white may wear white but they are not white at all. They are mostly immigrants from India who play cricket in Vancouver. That is one half of the play. The other half takes place in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Mumbai (Bombay), India in a chicken slaughterhouse. 
Huse Madhavji, Tahirih Vejdani and Chanakya Mukherjee. 
Photo: Joseph Michael Photography
The slaughterhouse is owned by Baba (Huse Madhavji), a crotchety, sarcastic but fundamentally decent old man. Eighteen-year old Hasan (Chanakya Mukherjee) is his only employee and he is in love with cricket and the pretty Haseena (Tahirih Vejdani), the girl across the street.

Hasan’s brother Abdul is an illegal immigrant to Canada and wants him to join the cricket team which is not doing very well. How do you bring a young Muslim, an unknown cricket players with no money to Canada?

The interaction among the three characters in India are charming, hilarious and moving. Mukherjee turns in the best performance as the awkward and nervous suitor for Haseena.  Mukherjee modulates his voice, has hilarious body language right down to using his hands to emphasize his clumsiness, utter awkwardness in dealing with Haseena and Baba, and makes a loveable young man.

Vejdani as Haseena is bright, ambitious, pretty and a highly attractive person who must compromise her principles in a corrupt society. Author Anosh Irani pulls no punches about dishonesty in India.

The immigrants who make up the cricket team in Vancouver provide some fascinating and recognizable types. Abdul (Gugun Deep Singh) works in a restaurant and lives in a room at the back of it, in constant fear of being caught. Canada is not the Promised Land for him. At the other end of the immigrant spectrum is Doc (Cyrus Faird), a well-off Zoroastrian surgeon who hates Muslims and considers himself “Canadian.” In other words he has become or wants to be considered white despite the colour of his skin. His hatred of Muslims is based on the fact that his son was killed by Hindus during a riot because they thought his son was Muslim.

Randy (Sugith Verughese), the captain of the team, tries to maintain order and inspire the team to play well and hopes that Hasan will come and improve their performance. He has a Chinese player named Sam (John Chou) who is pretty useless and Ram (Farid Yazdani), a banker and finer cricket player.
Cyrus Faird, Farid Yazdani, John Chou, Sugith Verughese and Gugun Deep Singh. 
Photo Joseph Michael Photography
Kudos to director Philip Akin for exceptional directorial work where he does not miss a beat.

Irani looks at immigration to Canada from those that desperately want to get a visa form a corrupt country, to immigrants who have indeed found the Promised Land and to those who are here struggling to survive. But money and success do not change one’s colour and the rest is reality in Canada.

The set and lighting design by Steve Lucas is quite simple. On one side of the stage there is a cabinet with chickens representing the slaughterhouse. On the other half of the stage, there is the locker room where all the action involving the cricket team takes place.

Plays by and about immigrants done almost entirely by immigrants used to be about as frequent as total eclipses of the sun but the situation is changing. Ethnic groups that have tens and even hundreds of thousands of immigrants are starting to be heard from.

Check the name and skin colour of the creative team and the people on stage next time you go to the theatre. Start with the Artistic Directors of the Stratford Festival, Factory Theatre and Canadian Stage. Now look for plays written by immigrants or their offspring. The stage is changing, thank goodness.    

The Men in White by Anosh Irani, directed by Philip Akin, runs until November 4, 2018 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


James Karas

The world premiere of a new opera? Reach for the trumpet and start blowing.

A new opera by a Canadian librettist and a Canadian-American composer? Get the entire brass section to announce the news.

Commissioned by the Canadian Opera company? Get the whole orchestra to play The Triumphal March fortissimo. This is too good to miss or be quiet about.

Composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor have chosen the story of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who ruled, in the words of Edward Gibbon, during the “happy period” of the Roman Empire when it “comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind.”

The COC commendably and sensibly has recruited a largely Canadian cast and artistic team without ignoring more internationally known artists such as Thomas Hampson, Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner (our own, yanked out of retirement).
 Thomas Hampson as Hadrian and Isaiah Bell as Antinous. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
The effort gets a standing ovation but the result gets polite applause for some of its aspects. The biggest problem I think is the libretto. MacIvor is too ambitious by a half and in his attempts to encompass a large number of topics he sows confusion and a certain amount of ennui.

MacIvor tells us that Hadrian is about the last day of the emperor’s life and he seems to take three hours (including intermission) to die. Wainwright tells us that the opera “is a surreal romp through time and space, mixing true occurrences with complete fabrication in order to illustrate a vivid ‘creative snap shot’ of the classical era.”

The interesting part of Hadrian’s life that seems to have drawn both Mac Ivor and Wainwright is his homosexual involvement with a young Greek named Antinous over a period of six years. But MacIvor goes after many other themes and in other dimensions.

I can only give a short description of what happens. Hadrian is on his deathbed grieving over his lover Antinous who drowned in the Nile a year ago under mysterious circumstances. But within a few minutes of the opening of the opera, Hadrian is visited by the ghosts of the Emperor Trajan (his predecessor) and his wife the Empress Plotina. The latter offers Hadrian two nights with Antinous and “the truth” about his death, if he will sign a document that will guarantee her eternal survival. She is already a deity but those monotheistic Nazarenes and Jews of Judea seem to pose a real threat.
Plotina now takes us back to the good times of seven years earlier when Hadrian met Antinous. I have no idea what world we are in or in whose imagination we are. A Sybil (I won’t tell you who she is) predicts that Antinous will sacrifice and become a saviour. I have no idea if this is something that Plotina makes Hadrian imagine or something he actually saw when he met Antinous or something that she invents for whatever reason, perhaps immortality.

Six years later, in some undefined world on the Nile, Hadrian and Antinous make love. Hadrian asks Plotina to change the rules – presumably of the imaginary visit with Antinous on the night of the latter’s death and she refuses. We are aware that Hadrian is deathly ill and since this is supposed to be surreal, sense and logic go out the window.

Hadrian goes in and out of this world; a Sybil appears again and tells Hadrian that he can be cured if there is a sacrifice. A sacrifice is ready but the Sybil admits that she is a fraud.

Hadrian, on one of his visits to this world, signs a decree ending Judea and monotheism and making Plotina happy because she will live forever. As I said, she is already a deity and I am not sure what living forever means.

MacIvor and Wainwright embrace enough subjects to make you think you are watching CNN for far too long. The clash between the polytheistic Roman religion and the encroaching monotheistic religion of the Jews and the Christians. The end of Judea and the birth of Palestine. If I heard correctly, the genocide of the Jews by Hadrian, the survival of the Roman Empire. The coming of a saviour.
A scene from the C0C’s world premiere production of Hadrian, 2018. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
Wainwright’s music with its long phrases goes a long way in relieving the tortuous plot but it cannot save it. Baritone Thomas Hampson does a marvelous job as he intones his lover’s name and makes fine use of his sonorous voice in life and death. Soprano Karita Mattila is an impressive Plotina as is Roger Honeywell as Trajan. Tenor Isaiah Bell is a sympathetic lover with a fine voice when he is allowed to be but once we know that he and Hadrian are homoerotic lovers we don’t need that much illustration of their love-making.

The most successful and impressive aspects of the production are the sets by Michael Gianfranceso, the lighting designs by Bonnie Beecher and the projection designs by Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy. The opening scene is dominated by the projection of an oversize statue of Hadrian and a large sarcophagus. We have a night sky with a moon later that looks stunning and a view of the flowing Nile. The scenes are simply stunning.

Peter Hinton, a man of the theatre, directs a staging with high production values. Johannes Debus conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra in a production that deserves to be announced and celebrated with the Triumphal March but perhaps with a bit less fortissimo that we would have liked.    
Hadrian by Rufus Wainwright (music) and Daniel MacIvor (libretto) is being performed seven times between October 13 and 27, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

Monday, October 22, 2018


James Karas

Pierre de Marivaux is not exactly a frequent visitor to Toronto and environs. Oh, the Stratford Festival and Canadian Stage have tipped their hats to him but you have to have a long memory or be of a certain age to claim a tête-à-tête with his plays.

Except for Théâtre français de Toronto which is not only staging a play by Marivaux but one of his lesser known works at that. They are doing it in French, of course, but with English surtitles – after all Canada is a bilingual country, n’est-ce pas? 

La Seconde Surprise de L’Amour is about a young, rich, beautiful Marquise (Karine Ricard) whose husband died a mere month after they were married. The Marquise is disconsolate (to put it at its lowest form of misery), wants nothing to do with men and has decided to spend the rest of her life sighing for her late love. (More superlatives, please). 
Karine Ricard (Marquise), Nabil Traboulsi (Chevalier), Patricia Marceau (Lisette), 
Nicolas Van Burek (Lubin). Photo: Marc Lemyre
Enter the Chevalier (Nabil Traboulsi) who “lost” his love Angélique and has given up women because his love for her will die only with his death. You have guessed that these two are kindred spirits, have you not?

Lisette (Patricia Marceau), the Marquise’s wily maid, wants to marry Lubin (Nicolas van Burek), the Chevalier’s valet. But there is a Count (Manuel Verreydt) who is also interested in the Marquise’s hand and a pedantic scholar named Hortensius (Pierre Simpson) who will keep the plot humming for a couple of hours. If you have not guessed the outcome of the play within a few minutes, you should give up going to the theater and take up quilting.

Director Joël Beddows gives us a straightforward reading of the text done in ordinary modern dress. There are a few hearty laughs but a number of other things are missing. Some plays travel across the centuries much better than others but I think La Seconde Surprise loses a lot when presented as a modern play. The class difference between the aristocrats and the servants almost disappears. The Marquise is a distraught woman but she should also show hauteur and stylized behaviour and acting becoming people who are above hoi polloi.

The Marquise, the Chevalier and the Count should speak and behave differently from the servants and the difference should be palpable. Here there is almost no difference in dress, accent or behaviour. It is legitimate to put old wine in new bottles provided that it does not lose its taste. In this case I think it does.
 Karine Ricard (Marquise), Nabil Traboulsi (Chevalier). Photo: Marc Lemyre
The play is performed at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs. The playing area is very narrow but wide. Beddows has decided to make full use of the width of the stage at times by having the actors speak to each other from the opposite sides of the playing area. I think having them face off near the center is preferable. 

Melanie McNeill’s set consists of painted panels that do not indicate time and place. It is a modern setting and we do not expect the accoutrements of a palatial Paris residence but in keeping with the general approach of the production, this does not help.

The cast seemed more than competent to handle any style of production. I quite realize that I am complaining about not getting the production I would have wished but at the same time I think what we got was a good production but it hardly did justice to Marivaux.

La Seconde Surprise de L’Amour by Marivaux will run until October 28, 2018 at the Berkeley/Upstairs Theatre, 26 Berkeley St.  Toronto, Ont.

Saturday, October 20, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of THE TEMPTATIONS is the quintessential entertainment extravaganza.

It is tells the story of one of the most talented and successful groups who sold millions of records and left their mark on American R&B music. That tells us nothing about the thrilling show created by the artistic team.

The show is a concert of songs performed by The Temptations with actors representing the original five and a number of changes that occurred over the years. The Temptations did not so much sing as release vocal, bopping, hopping and physical energy of outrageous proportions.  And that’s just the beginning. 
Ephraim Sykes,  Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin & 
James Harkness in AIN’T TOO PROUD. Photo by Matthew Murphy
The story of the formation of the group in Detroit in the early 1960’s and its subsequent rise can be long and complex but writer Dominique Morisseau has gleaned incidents and stories from the lives of the men (from Otis Williams’ book The Temptations) that range from the humorous, to the tragic, from the infighting among the group, to drugs, drinking, infidelity, to the toll taken by age, and generally to the “heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” as Hamlet put it. That is a good step in the right direction but not enough to create a grand show.

The creators have raided The Legendary Motown Catalogue for music and songs from the era and that is a great step forward. For many in the audience songs from the ‘60’s and 70’s are trips down memory lane but for many more they are borrowed memories that are just  as keenly felt and enjoyed given the exuberant performances.

There are other components that bring the whole package together.

Sergio Trujillo’s high-spirited, indeed boisterous choreography provides part of the energy already alluded to.

Howard Binkley’s lighting design and Peter Nigrini’s projection designs provide an almost continuous sense of motion. Projected images are seen at the back of the stage and on the sides of the theatre and there are a few pauses but the idea of never letting the audience alone for more than a few minutes is maintained.

This is very much and ensemble effort that many parts come together to create the show, if we must award an olive wreath it must go to director Des McAnuff. The show glitters from the start and the performers have the audience in the palm of their hands but there is also a buildup to more frenzied showmanship and audience involvement and finally a denouement where we get the disintegration and death from old age or suicide or even more tragically from an industrial accident. 
Christian Thompson, Saint Aubyn, Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, 
Jawan M. Jackson and James Harkness. Photo by Matthew Murphy
The behind-the-scenes creators of Ain’t Too Proud need a large, talented, disciplined and energized cast to bring the show to life. Singing, dancing, comic scenes, dramatic scenes are all de rigueur in a show like this and they are all delivered to an appreciative audience.

The original five members, Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), Melvin Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson), Paul Williams (James Harkness) and Al Bryant (Jarvis B. Manning Jr.), and Eddie Kendricks (Jeremy Pope), went through numerous changes for artistic purposes and because of personality clashes. David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes) became lead singer. They found a song writer in Smokey Robinson (Christian Thompson) and manager Shelly Berger (Joshua Morgan) who knew how to promote them.

Candice Marie Woods plays Dianna Ross and performs with supreme energy with the Supremes and there is a large ensemble to light up and fill the stage when necessary.

Did I say this is an entertainment extravaganza? You can see it here or go to Broadway next year or wait for a road show return some time in the future. But that’s entering into the field of prophecy and I bow out.
AIN’T TO PROUD: The Life and Times of THE TEMPTATIONS by Dominique Morisseau (book based on The Temptations by Otis William)), The Legendary Motown Catalogue (music and lyrics), runs until November 17, 2018 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario.

Thursday, October 18, 2018


James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company has launched its 2018-2019 season with a production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin to be followed by Hadrian, a world premiere of a new opera by Rufus Wainwright. This production of Eugene Onegin was directed by Robert Carsen for New York’s Metropolitan Opera and premiered at Lincoln Centre in 1997. The COC has borrowed all scenery and costumes from the Met.

Tchaikovsky’s lush score requires a baritone (for Onegin), a soprano, (for the lovely, romantic Tatyana) a tenor (for the poet Lensky) and a mezzo-soprano (for Tatyana’s sister Olga). I am not denigrating the secondary characters at all and listen to them with pleasure. The COC is quite well equipped for all the roles and what’s more, they are mostly Canadians.
Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana. Photo: Michael Cooper
Robert Carsen (he is from Toronto) is one of the best opera directors in the world and has done brilliant work using minimalist sets. I think this production of Eugene Onegin would rank as one of his less successful efforts.

During the overture, we see a man on the empty stage seated in a chair reading. We assume it is Onegin and it is an appropriate image of the loner and perhaps eccentric “hero” of the opera. 

The opera opens on a Russian country estate where the peasants sing some pleasant songs. It is harvest time and Carsen and set designer Michael Levine use fallen leaves and orange walls to suggest the season. Aside from a table and a couple of stools there is nothing else on the stage. Except for indicating the season, the set does not communicate anything about time, place or atmosphere.

The famous Letter Scene where Tatyana spends most of the night composing a letter to the haughty Onegin is likewise done on a bed with no other furniture and again it looks pretty barren and the moon does not help.

For the ball scene in Act II a part of the stage is enclosed with chairs and the well-dressed guests try or pretend to waltz. The space is tight and most of the guests either do not know how to waltz or there is not enough room for any twirling.

For the dawn duel between Lensky and Onegin, we see only silhouettes of the men in the morning fog which may be acceptable but not really necessary.

We have much better luck with the singers. Soprano Joyce El-Koury has a lovely, supple voice and exudes youth and innocence as the teenager who falls in love with an older man who is not interested in her or perhaps any other woman.

Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner has an impressive voice and physique but he sang under the disability of a cold. There were times when he did not have the vocal power to dazzle us and no doubt it was because of the cold.
 (centre) Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana and Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
Tenor Joseph Kaiser sang a moving and finely-toned Lensky. He sings tenderly of his lost youth, of his love for Olga and the possibility of his death in the duel with his friend Onegin.

Mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan has marvelous voice that can be described metaphorically as plush dark velvet or delicious dark chocolate especially in her lower register (and damn the mixed metaphors). She sang the role of Olga and I hope I did not understate my delight in hearing her.

A final note about the direction. Several years pass between the duel and the next scene in the opera which takes place in a palace in St. Petersburg. While the orchestra plays the polonaise that opens Act III, half a dozen servants fuss over and put together Onegin. This is right after the duel with no pause to indicate the passage of time or the change of scene. Onegin’s first words after the polonaise is that he is bored.

Johannes Debus conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra in a production that has far more plusses than reasons for grouchiness and was received quite heartily by the audience.    
Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is being performed eight times between September 30 and November 3, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Playwright Jennifer Haley helpfully tells us that the Nether realm is a world for mythical creatures, a demon world or a dimension of Evil or Imagination. At one time Nether was called the Internet and porn was its most popular content.

Haley’s play The Nether, now playing at the Coal Mine Theatre, is about an ugly world of child pornography that has become a new dimension of existence. It is sexual contact with children in the Nether world where you can do the most repugnant things with children without any consequences.
Hannah Levinson and David Storch. Photo: Tim Leyes
A businessman named Sims has created the Hideaway, a place of beauty in the Nether, where men visit and meet a pretty nine-year old named Iris and have fun. According to Sims, the Hideaway is nothing but a world of images and having sex with a child or an elf is nothing but images and there are no consequences for doing that or worse.

Detective Morris (Katherine Cullen), who lives in the real world, has set out to find information about Sims and the Hideaway and shut it down. But the Hideaway is in the world of high tech and information is hard to come by and finding where the physical server is located is almost impossible.

The play is structured around Morris interrogating three men – Sims (David Storch), Doyle (Robert Persichini) and Woodnut (Mark McGrinder) who is a special case. The interrogations take place in a dark, forbidding room with Morris playing the tough cop.

The interrogations alternate with scenes in the Hideaway, a pleasant room, a fireplace, views of trees at the back – simply idyllic surroundings. Sims is called Papa, a loveable, well-dressed man who is somewhat severe but he is loved by all. You hear of a spanking room, of favourites and you know that this is a place for paedophilia but it is virtual paedophilia. The problem is the eternal one of image versus reality. Virtual paedophilia encroaches on real child abuse and reality begins to lose its moorings.
Hannah Levinson and Mark McGrinder. Photo: Tim Leyes
That is the issue that Haley raises in this outstanding and fascinating play.

Hannah Levinson exudes all the innocence and beauty of a nine-year old that would attract a paedophile in real life or as a high tech virtual creation. Storch and Persichini are paedophiles who know they are paedophiles and the real world may not know what to do with them or be able to even catch them.

Peter Pasyk does exceptional work in directing the fine cast in a play that pushes the boundaries between virtual and actual reality leaving you astonished. This is truly outstanding theatre. 
The Nether by Jennifer Haley, in a production by Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180 Theatre, opened on October 11 and will continues until October 8, 2017 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave. Toronto, M4J 1N4.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The Triumphal March from Aida is probably the defining image of opera for many people. There are productions that give the impression that the local zoo was raided for large animals to march across the stage as the heroic Radames returns from the war with the captured Ethiopians and their king in tow. Verdi’s thrilling music, the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, the large number of extras and the imposing set provide an electrifying scene that is simply overwhelming. And yes there are horses for good measure but no other animals such as elephants and giraffes.

Sonja Frisell’s production with Gianni Quaranta’s monumental sets premiered in 1988 and   has held its place in the Met’s repertoire ever since with numerous cast changes. The attention this time was directed on Anna Netrebko who is singing her first Aida. She has the magical combination of vocal and star power to rivet attention on herself and she does not fail.     
A scene from Act 2 of Verdi’s "Aida" Photo: Marty Sohl/Met Opera
Listen to her first act great aria, “Ritorna vincitor!” for a bravura performance. She wants Radames, her lover and commander of the Egyptian forces, to defeat the Ethiopians and her father King Amonasro. It is a passionate and wrenching aria that requires vocal heights and emotional breadth and Netrebko delivers on all accounts.

“O patria mia” is another demanding aria in which fear, nostalgia, longing pain for the loss of her home and a desire for death as the only escape are mixed as Aida considers her future. She is a captive Ethiopian princess who must choose between love of country and love of a man, an Egyptian hero no less, with her father the King of Ethiopia thrown in for good measure. Netrebko captures all of the emotional turmoil passion and vocal splendour.

Aida’s competition for the love of Radames is the Egyptian princess Amneris, the daughter of the King. In this production Georgian mezzo soprano Anita Rachvelishvili provides a balance if not competition for Netrebko.  She has a splendid mezzo voice that can produce a wonderful dark notes and emotional range as a woman torn with love, jealousy, anger and in the end rejection.

Tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko is an outstanding singer who does a much better job as a military leader than as an emotional lover. With Netrebko and Rachvelishvili as his opposites, he tends to get buried but he deserves full credit for his performance in the Act II duet.

Quinn Kelsey sings the role of King Amonasro who is captured by the Egyptians and has the tough job of convincing his daughter to convince her lover Radames to betray his gods and his country. Kelsey pulls on all the motional heartstrings and succeeds in a fine performance.    
Anna Netrebko as Aida and Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris in Verdi's "Aida."
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera
On the huge Lincoln Centre Stage, the massive Egyptian sculptures, the lifts that can move sets around and the army of people created by the chorus and the extras give the impression that this is not a live performance in a theatre but a scene from, say, Cecil, B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. You almost expect the Red Sea to part.

Nicola Luisotti conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet in spectacular performances becoming the production.

Aida is the first opera to be broadcast from Lincoln Centre for the 13th season of Live in HD from the Met. For people who are unlikely to go to New York or have no opera available within reachable distance or cannot afford the price of a ticket anywhere, Live from the Met provides a great solution. You get to see ten operas every year at a sensible price from one of the world’s great opera companies.

Aida by Giuseppe Verdi was shown Live in HD at select Cineplex theatres across Canada on October 6, 2018 and can be seen again on November 3, 5, 7 and 11, 2018. For more information go to: