Sunday, December 30, 2018


James Karas

There is no reference to New Year’s Eve in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus but there should have been. In any event it is frequently performed in late December as if the plot does take place on New Year’s Eve and the Toronto Operetta Theatre is producing it for five performances including one on December 31.

With its bubbly music, wonderful arias and farcical plot, Die Fledermaus pretty much defines what an operetta should be. TOT’s General Director Guillermo-Silva-Marin knows that and knows how to entertain Toronto’s niche of operetta lovers.
Lara Ciekiewicz (Rosalinda) and Cian Horobbin (Alfred). 
Photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studios
The production is done sensibly in English, a relief for those who may remember the Canadian Opera Company’s 2012 dreary, Freudian psychodrama of a production. Silva-Marin takes generous liberties with the libretto and the result is very entertaining.

You recall that Gabriel Eisenstein (tenor Adam Fisher), a well-off Viennese business man, has to spend a few nights in jail because (in his unsubstantiated opinion) he had Dr. Blind (Sean Curran), an incompetent lawyer as his counsel. He also has a friend named Falke (Michael Robert-Broder) who has a score to settle with him. Falke is The Bat of the title and he wants to humiliate Eisenstein and the plot twists are his machinations.     

Eisenstein has a beautiful wife named Rosalinda. Alfred (Cian Horrobin) an opera tenor and old pursuer of Rosalinda, is prepared to replace Eisenstein in her arms while the latter cools his heels in jail.

In the meantime, the wily maid Adele (Caitlin Wood) wants to go to a ball at Prince Orlovsky’s mansion, as do Eisenstein and Dr. Blind. To cut to the chase, Mr. and Mrs. Eisenstein, Adele, her sister Sally (Olivia Morton), and Dr. Blind all go the party in disguise.  Alfred who happened to be wooing Rosalinda when Frank (Janaka Welihinda) the prison governor came to pick up Eisenstein, ends up jail. Are you still with me?

Now we have Strauss’s infectious music, his sparkling and buoyant arias and a plot with mistaken identities that provides opportunities for comedy.   

Conductor Derek Bate has twelve musicians in his orchestra and twelve singers for his chorus. That may not seem like much of a force but seem and sound are not the same thing. The musicians and the singers create energy and wonderful instrumental and ensemble singing that simply belie their number.

There was inevitable unevenness in the singing by the rest of the cast but overall they did justice to the operetta and the full house in the Jane Mallet Theatre showed their appreciation.
Adam Fisher (Eisenstein) and Lara Ciekiewicz (Rosalinda). 
Photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studios
Soprano Lara Ciekiewicz played Rosalinda as a woman of statuesque beauty, class and vocal splendor. Caitlin Wood’s Adele was effervescent, wily and a pleasure though I could have done without the speech impediment she was given at the beginning.

Cian Horrobin’s Alfred was the mythical tenor. Self-assured, exuberant, brash and a lover who can’t imagine any woman saying no to him. Silva-Marin has interpolated half a dozen or so arias or parts of arias by Puccini and Verdi for Alfred to show off his ardor and his vocal prowess.

The multi-talented Elizabeth Beeler played Prince Orlovsky, a role originally scored for a mezzo soprano and frequently sung by a woman ever since. I have seen Beeler many times do fine work but this time she was not at her best.

Silva-Marin leaves no politician, celebrity or current event unturned when it comes to adding comic touches. He takes on and expands the role of Frosch the jailer himself. Alfred gives him singing lessons including points about posture – you have to be able to hold a dime between your cheeks!     

The plot of Die Fledermaus is wafer-thin in places and prone to developing cracks if not handled properly and Silva-Marin comes close to doing just that but overall the comedy works as does the delightful production.

Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II opened on December 28, 2018 and will be performed five times until January 2, 2019 at the Jane Mallett, Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 366-7723.

Friday, December 28, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

The National Theatre has broadcast a production of Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III from the Nottingham Playhouse. Mark Gatiss gives an unforgettable performance as the king who goes from arrogance and royal privilege to mental illness and humiliation at the hands of people who normally quaked in his presence.

Bennett’s 1991 play deals with the question of royal power, the replacement of a king who has gone bonkers, political ambition, intrigue, treachery and medical treatment for madness in the 18th century more correctly described as quackery. The central part of the play however deals with the human story of King George III who descends into hell and eventually recovers after a great deal of horrendous treatment.
 Debra Gillett as Queen Charlotte and Mark Gatiss as George III at Nottingham Playhouse. 
Photograph: Manuel Harlan
Mark Gatiss as King George is on the stage more than anyone else. He dominates the production. We see Gatiss express entitlement and power over people but also humanity when he forgives a woman who attempts to assassinate him and we see him as a husband in bed with Queen Charlotte (Debra Gillett) where they address each other as Mr. King and Mrs. King.

Gatiss then gives us the mad king. His head bobbles, he babbles, he puts a finger in his mouth, screams in pain, begs for mercy and prays for death. Gatiss gives a sensational performance that takes one back to the ancient phrase of inspiring pity and fear.

On the political level we have Prime Minister William Pitt played unerringly by Nicholas Bishop as a dour, ascetic (except for drinking) man, a faithful servant and a good statesman. He is opposed by the ambitious and wily Charles Fox (Amanda Hadingue) who, with his cabal, wants the Prince of Wales (Wilf Scolding) to be appointed regent. The prize is appointments to important posts. The Prince of Wales is a vacuous, shallow and determined man who wants to rule and is prepared to conspire against his father. Thurlow (David Hounslow) is the opportunistic and treacherous Chancellor of the Exchequer.

One of the most striking aspect of the play that is done superbly in the production is the conduct of the “doctors.’ They represent an unbelievable array of ignorance, quackery, egotism and to a frightful extent lack of humanity.

Sir Lucas Pepys (Amanda Hadingue) believes in examining feces very closely and carefully as indicators of health or lack thereof. He duly displays the king’s…well, you get the idea. He prefers to approach his patient “from the other direction” and the more stool the merrier.

Sir George Baker (Stephanie Jacob) is a pulse doctor who is happy when the patient has a steady pulse and that is a good time to give him more medication. The effect, let alone the efficacy, of the medication is at best a guess.

Dr Warren (Louise Jameson) applies hot glasses to the king’s legs and head which create blisters. The application is extremely painful and the wounds are left festering so that the patient’s poison will flow out.
 Mark Gatiss, centre, with Adrian Scarborough, David Hounslow, Andrew Joshi and Harry Kershaw in 
The Madness of George III. Photograph: Manuel Harlan
Dr. Willis (Adrian Scarborough) is a cleric-turned-psychologist who believes in talking to the king but his real aim is to break his spirit. He restrains the king with straightjackets in a pretty brutal manner, separates him from the queen and considers himself an expert in curing mental illness.

This is only a partial list of the remedies applied to King George.

Director Adam Penford does superb work and I found it curious that he cast some women playing male roles. Nadia Albina plays Fitzroy, Amanda Hadingue plays Fox and Pepys, Stephanie Jacob plays Baker and Sheridan, Louise Jameson plays Warren and Jessica Temple plays Papandiek. The women did fine work in the roles and I almost forgot that the male roles are done by them. But why? We have seen Hamlet, King Lear and many roles played by women and very effectively. But what is the point of a woman playing Charles Fox?.
The set by Robert Jones consists of panels that represent walls and doors on the small, revolving Nottingham Playhouse stage. There are numerous scene changes and the set facilitated ease of scene changes from different palaces, to the bedroom to parliament. The stage seemed too small for the world of the play especially as seen in detail on the large screen.
The benefit of seeing the performance in a movie house was the details provided by the close-ups but there is the attendant loss of seeing the whole stage all the time.
In the end it was an outstanding production of a wonderful play that has lost none of its power and relevance some twenty seven years after it premiered.
The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett was performed at the Nottingham Playhouse, England and transmitted on December 20, 2018 at select Cineplex cinemas across Canada.  For more information:   

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

In the opening scene of Antony and Cleopatra, we see Cleopatra lying still on the floor as Philo, one of Antony’s followers, speaks the first lines of the play. Antony, the great general who resembled the god of war Mars has become a strumpet’s fool, he tells Antony’s friend Demetrius. Antony enters and gives the prostrate Cleopatra a kiss and she awakens as if from the dead.  The two are supposed to enter with a flourish and a train of followers but director Simon Godwin had a different and brilliant idea for the commencement of the play.

The Queen of Egypt and one of Caesar’s three successors, express their boundless love for each other. Within a few lines in the opening scene Shakespeare has joined the two forces that make up Antony and Cleopatra – the political fate of the Roman world and the great love story of the two protagonists.
 Ralph Fiennes and Sophia Okonedo. Photo: Johan Persson
Ralph Fiennes takes the role of the besotted Antony who must navigate between political necessity and passion. He manages to make a truce with his rival Octavius Caesar (Tunji Kasim), including marrying his sister Octavia (Hannah Morrish) but soon capitulates to his dotage and returns to Egypt.

Fiennes gives a bravura performance taking Antony from the heroic general to the broken down man and lover who is humiliated, turns to drink and eventually commits suicide. Even in his heyday as a lover Antony is treated with derision and contempt by the Romans but he maintains his bravado in the first half of the play. Fiennes is powerful, passionate, arrogant and pathetic in turn as his character’s life cycle takes its course.

Near the end of his life Antony recalls Dido and Aeneas, the great lovers of the distant past. Aeneas loved Dido as much as Antony loved Cleopatra but he left the grieving Queen behind in Carthage because he was to higher duty bound, the founding of Rome. A marvelous juxtaposition in a play that displays a richness of language and references.

Sophie Okonedo is outstanding as Cleopatra. This Queen is feline, sexually magnetic, manipulative, blindly in love and a woman to be reckoned with under all circumstances. She maintains her majesty, her ardour, her nobility and her arrogance almost intact to the bitter end unlike Antony who becomes a pathetic man. In her strength of character Okonedo’s Cleopatra remains what Antony was in his prime.

Tunji Kasim as Caesar is conniving, mendacious and pretty slimy. His sister Octavia as played by Morrish is attractive, sympathetic and decent in a world where decency is a rare commodity.
 Sophia Okonedo (lying down) and cast. Photo: Johan Persson 
Tim McMullen as Antony’s faithful follower Enobarbus is a proper soldier, competent and faithful, until he breaks down and joins the enemy He recovers moral stature by realizing his treachery and ending his own life.

Director Simon Godwin’s modern dress production was staged at London’s National Theatre and is being broadcast to movie houses. The opulence of Cleopatra’s palace is suggested by a swimming pool and the rest of the play with the numerous scene changes using large panels with door openings. The large revolving stage of the Olivier Theatre is ideal for quick scene changes. With more than two hundred entrances by the large number of characters the use of numerous door entrances is a must and Set Designer Hildegard Bachtler has provided them.

A highly effective production. But a word to the squeamish: the production uses a real snake for Cleopatra’s end-of-life sequence.

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare was transmitted on December 6, 2018 Live from the National Theatre in select Cineplex cinemas across Canada.  For more information:   

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


James Karas

The whole world knows that Dorothy is from Toronto, fake news that she is from Kansas to the contrary. When the hurricane blows her to the Land of Oz she craves to come home. When asked why, she replies that Toronto has some very nice things unlike all other cities in the world. For 23 years Ross Petty has produced twisted versions of famous tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol and Peter Pan to the sheer delight of audiences. This year it’s The Wizard of Oz, A Toto-ly Twisted Family Musical. 

The musical is “inspired” by L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but you might as well erase all memories of the 1939 MGM movie with Judy Garland. There is no “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or any of the familiar tunes in this wacky burlesque of the classic story.
The OZians. Photo: Racheal McCaig

For rural Kansas, we have the Ossington Summer Street Festival with the CN Tower in the background. The residents are worried that Miss Gulch (Sara-Jeanne Hosie) who owns the street will hike their rents through the roof. Miss Gulch, dressed in black, arrives on her bicycle, and you hear a thunderous and spontaneous chorus of boos from the audience. Now you know you are in Petty country.

The basic plot is sort of kept. Dorothy (Camille Eanga-Selenge) is blown by the hurricane to the Land of Oz where there is a wicked witch called Sulphura (Ms Hosie, of course). There is the good witch, Miss Sugarbum (Michael de Rose) and the Tin Man (Eric Craig), the Scarecrow (Matt Nethersole) and the Cowardly Lion (Daniel Williston).

How does the show succeed so marvelously? It has some brisk dancing, wonderful singing, plenty of humour, colourful scenery, political satire and infectious, enthusiastic audience participation. All of these virtues equal the creation of energy and enjoyment.

Political satire? You are invited by Melania for dinner at the White House. What present do you bring? How about a speech by Michelle Obama.

“How did someone so unqualified rise to power so quickly?” Reply: “Fox News.” The pre-teens in the audience were getting these jokes even if they were intended for their parents. And a comment about millennials who go back to live with their parents

Dorothy and her friends are environmentally conscious and there are numerous references to the ozone layer and care of the environment. The young are encouraged to get involved and in fact Dorothy decides to run for City Council and become fearlessly political.

The “serious” stuff is included without slowing down the singing, dancing and humour of the play.

As usual Petty includes commercials during the performance but even they are done with humour and panache.

The performances were vivacious and well-paced. Michael de Rose stood out as Miss Sugarbum in drag in an outrageous costume. Eddie Glen, a natural comedian, played Miss Gulch’s assistant Randy, Mr. Green and the Wizard all with pleasant results. Camille Eanga-Selenge shone as Dorothy being able to sing, dance and generally perform with superb bravura. 
Michael De Rose, Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Daniel Williston and Matt Nethersole. 
Photo: Racheal McCaig
Matt Murray fractured Baum’s tale, Tracey Flye is responsible for directing and the choreography. Highly impressive work.

I was accompanied by two astute Associate Reviewers, John and Jordana.

John, 14, thoroughly enjoyed the show but was surprised by the numerous political jokes which were funny but perhaps a bit over the top. He was not expecting to see a picture of Doug Ford being sucked into the tornado but he found it funny.

He was impressed by the comments about global warming which were entertaining but also teaching kids about how serious climate change really is. Very educational.

Jordana, 11, did not mince her words. She judged this Wizard of Oz “a great play” and thought that it was funny and light at the same time. The political jokes stood out for her and she found them funny but thought that they had a deeper meaning as well.

I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with such incisive, intelligent and judicious reviews.          

The Wizard of Oz – A Toto-ly Twisted Family Musical  by Matt Murray continues until January 5, 2019 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario.

This review appeared in the December 21, 2018 edition of The Greek Press.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

This is a great production of a great play.

Last year the Chichester Festival produced King Lear with Ian McKellen in the title role. The production transferred from the 300-seat Minerva Theatre in Chichester to the somewhat bigger Duke of York’s in London and was broadcast around the world through the auspices of the National Theatre.

Director Jonathan Munby has opted for an intimate look at the play partly no doubt because of the size of the Minerva Theatre in Chichester. He has made numerous brilliant decisions in the presentation of the play and with Ian McKellen as Lear, it can be ranked as a great production.

Ian McKellen gives a performance that stands at the pinnacle of acting and actors who have dared take on the role. King Lear is four score and more and McKellen at 79 is almost the same age. He looks old and we have no doubt about Lear’s physical and mental frailties. We do not doubt the stupidity of dividing his kingdom into three and then into two parts so he can retire. But after that McKellen’s portrayal gives us a sympathetic man despite his faults.
 Ian McKellen as King Lear 
With his extraordinarily deep voice, McKellen delivers every iamb with perfect enunciation, timing and resonance. He pauses when necessary and can reach emotional depths that make you feel as if you are hearing Lear’s lines for the first time.

He gives a nuanced, meticulous and simply great performance.

Munby does some marvelous things with the nasty sisters. Goneril is a business-like creep, dressed conservatively. Regan is a conspicuously sexy, wearing clothes that reveal her sensual appeal. She is conspicuously evil as well. When her husband is gouging Gloucester’s eyes out she does an orgiastic dance. You feel that she is sexually aroused by an act of incredible cruelty and depravity.

Munby stages the blinding scene in a slaughter house where carcasses hang and we see the head of a bull and a pig. Very graphic and highly effective.

Lloyd Hutchinson is an effective Fool and Munby provides an interesting answer to the question of what happens to the fool. He seems to drop out of the action but Munby gives us a clear answer which you may be interested in seeing for yourself. Spoiler alert, in other words.

Munby casts Sinead Cusack as Kent and the change in gender in the hands of a superb actor works quite well. She puts on a hat and man’s clothing for a quick transformation and all she has to do is take off her hat to reveal that she is a woman.
Ian McKellen and Anita-Joy Uwajeh
Danny Webb is superb as Gloucester, the man who brags about his adultery and illegitimate son in the opening scene and ends up being blinded and realizes his errors and “blindness” before losing his eyes.

The performance is done in a small space in modern dress. There are soldiers in modern fatigues with machine guns and knives but no swords. It all works quite well.

The most praiseworthy aspect of the production is the ease and naturalness of the performances. McKellen and the rest of the cast make everything seem effortless and there was nothing tendentious about what they are doing. The outstanding cast and director in a small theater produced a great production of a great play.

King Lear by William Shakespeare was taped at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, England and transmitted on November 24, 2018 at select Cineplex cinemas across Canada.  For more information:  

Friday, December 14, 2018


James Karas

The Greek community of Toronto was treated to some entertaining amateur theatre by Irida Art Group. They gave a single performance of Έτοιμοι για όλα στο Τορόντο [Ready for Everything in Toronto] to a full house at the Papermill Theatre in Toronto. 

Έτοιμοι για όλα στο Τορόντο is the creation of Gregory Terzakis who wrote, directed and starred in the play. It is involves ten people who gather at a Café Bar in Scarborough and go through a series of experiences as they try to cope with life.

The play opens as a melodrama when we meet five men in Kimon’s (Kimon Sikiaridis) café. Things are pretty bleak. The bank has served notice that it will seize the café and his friends can do nothing to help him save it. His friend Dimitris (Dimitris Vohaitis) has just been fired from his job as a journalist. Panagiotis (Panagiotis Apatsidis), Grigoris (Gregory Terzakis) and Kimon’s son Jimmy (Dimitris “Jim” Kamposos) have nothing to offer and disaster seems imminent.
Someone has a brilliant idea. Why don’t we perform dances at a night club and make money to save the café? The play turns into a sit-com as the men engage Irina (Vasso Kokkoni) to teach them how to dance. Irina is a Ukrainian dancer, slim, dressed to kill and hiding none of her sexual magnetism. The men go into hormonal overdrive. They roll their eye, slap their forehead and go into contortions to the delight of the audience.

The dance training does not have sufficient plot material so Terzakis adds sexual and marital entanglements. Kimon is married to Effie (Effie Antonakopoulou), Panagiotis is married to Ioanna (Ioanna Apatsidou) and Dimitris is married to Katerina (Katerina Tsekarea) and Kimon’s son Jimmy is going out with Panagiotis’s daughter Nikki (Nikki Vottea). We have moved into soap opera country.   

Kimon, Panagiotis and Dimitris pursue Irina. Grigoris is having an affair with Katerina and Kimon suspects that his son is gay and having an affair with Grigoris. That is quite a list of entanglements. The wives are not sure what their husbands are doing at night and in a hilarious scene catch them in the act of dancing/wooing the lissom Irina. And did I mention that Panagiotis is convinced he saw Grigoris and Jimmy necking in a car with their tongues in action? We have now changed gear and we are in farce mode. 

All of these subplots have to be untangled and Terzakis gives himself about three hours to do it.

Terzakis roots the play in the Greek community with numerous references to people and places in Toronto. The production is sponsored by The Greek Community of Toronto and the audience loved the mention of well-know people in the community.

A few comments about the production. I hasten to add that the actors are amateurs and must be judged more for their love of, and dedication to the theatre. For the most part they did a fine job but there were a few gaps. The simple rule of enunciate and speak every syllable was not always followed. Irina speaks in a Ukrainian accent but when she delivers a long, dramatic speech, she gets so involved in it that she forgets her accent.

Terzakis strives for broader type of comedy by making references to authors like Eugene Ionesco, Lorca, Tennessee Williams and others that I did not catch. Nikki, who is studying to be an actress, gets to emote with a few lines from Blood Wedding. When The Bald Soprano is mentioned, Dimitris steps forward and inform us about the play and the date one which it premiered. This struck me as unnecessary and unhelpful.

At three hours, the play is perhaps a bit on the long side. Terzakis insists on milking funny situations even after we have got the joke and he needs to move on to the next episode.

The scene changes were quite awkward because they called for the rickety curtains of the Papermill Theatre to be closed and then opened. Lowering the light would have been more efficient and sensible.

Critical harping aside, the performances was done before an enthusiastic audience who thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. That is what theatre is all about. 
Έτοιμοι για όλα στο Τορόντο [Ready for Everything in Toronto]  by Gregory Terzakis was performed once on December 8, 2018 at the Papermill Theatre, 67 Pottery Road, Toronto, Ontario. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Christopher Morris’s The Runner is a simple play where a rescue worker tells us what he does. Simple play in this case means a piece that delivers an unforgettable narrative of events that are full of humanity from a region where it seems to be all too frequently absent.

Jacob, the only character in the play, is an Orthodox Jew who works for Z.A.K.A., an organization of volunteers. Their gruesome task is to gather the body parts and blood of victims of terrorist attacks in Israel and around the world. The impetus for this seems to be the religious conviction that a Jew should be buried whole.

Jacob finds a dead Israeli man and near him a teenage Arab girl still alive but bleeding. He believes that there are no Palestinians – only Arabs and has no reason not to think that the young girl killed the Israeli man. But something extraordinary happens to Jacob. His humanity overwhelms his life’s mission as a rescuer of victims of Arab terrorists. The Arab terrorist becomes another human being and he tries to save her life. In his attempt to save her, some of her blood spurts in his mouth and he swallows it. 
It is an arresting event for Jacob and the audience.         

Jacob goes to a mass grave site in Ukraine where the remains of Jews massacred by the Nazis are found. All the victims have a bullet hole in their heads. He sees the corpses of a mother and her child. She is hugging and holding the child close to her but for what? To comfort it? To protect it? To make sure it does not witness the final moments of life?

A scene that takes your breath away.

The title describes literally what happens in the play. Gord Rand as Jacob literally runs or walks throughout the 80-minute performance without an intermission. The set by Gillian Gallow consists of a raised platform the width of a treadmill that could be a conveyor belt on which Rand walks or occasionally runs while he tells us stories of horror and humanity.

A spotlight is shone on Jacob as he runs/walks on the belt and there are times when he seems almost unable to continue. He tells about his domestic life with a mother who has dinner ready for him every night and of her desire for him to get married. He is criticized for helping the Arab girl, especially by his brother. But Jacob persists. His towering humanity overwhelms the hatreds that have made Jews and Palestinians implacable enemies with the latter wanting nothing less than the annihilation of the other.

Gord Rand gives a magnificent performance under the direction of Daniel Brooks in this hymn to humanity.   
The Runner by Christopher Morris, in a production by Human Cargo Theatre supported by Theatre Passe Muraille, ran from November 10 to December 9, 2018 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, Ontario. (416) 504-7529