Tuesday, February 26, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Soulpepper, having solidly established itself as Toronto’s premier classical theatre company, offers us a gift of something unexpected. They have given us ten short plays by Harold Pinter in finely-tuned productions. The ten pieces are performed in ninety minutes.

To be precise, we see seven sketches and three short plays. The plays are The Basement (1966), Victoria Station (1982) and The New World Order (1991).

The writing of the sketches stretch from 1959 to 2006 and are the following, in chronological order: Trouble in the Works (1959), Last to Go and Special Offer (1960), That’s your Trouble (1964), Night (1969), Press Conference (2002) and Apart From That (2006).

These short plays and sketches are produced infrequently but they are representative of the ideas we associate with Pinter. From the well-known pauses, to the obvious political satire, to the subtle suggestion of menace, to the humour, to the oblique examination of character and situation, they add up to the word minted to describe his great work: Pintersque.
 Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye, Gregory Prest, and Maev Beaty. Photo: Dahlia Katz.
Director Thomas Moschopoulos uses four actors for all ten pieces; Maev Beaty, Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye and Gregory Prest. Beaty gives a fine performance as she always does but she is underused. The three men go through a variety of roles with excellent results and display of talent.

I do have a few quibbles but they are not intended to take away anything from the value and achievement of the production.

Moschopoulos shows Apart from That four times, played by different actors but faithful to the short text. Two people ask each other how they are and both reply that they are fine “apart from that.” The phrase is repeated a number of times but we are never told what “apart from that” is.

The sketch sets the tone that goes from the simple to the mysterious, from everyday banter to an unstated dark side, perhaps menacing, perhaps terrible and only hinted at.

The New World Order is played twice. This is a direct look at threatened violence of unknown severity for no defined reason. It is a totalitarian regime in action. In the first run-through, two men face the audience and talk about what they might do to a man. They can do all sorts of things but we never learn precisely what. It is a horrifying picture. During the second performance, we do see what the script calls for: a blindfolded man sitting in a chair being threatened with violence. We have reached the new world order.

Press Conference deals with a similar theme. The minister of culture of an unnamed country answers questions. Children: they are abducted and raised properly if their parents are subversives. Or they are killed. Women are raped. The violence goes much further than in The New World Order.
 Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye, Gregory Prest, and Maev Beaty. 
Photo: Dahlia Katz.
Trouble in the Works is hilarious but just as insidious. Mr. Fibbs, a factory owner is told by his employee Wills that the workers have taken a turn against some of the products that they produce. There is a recitation of obscure, technical and funny-sounding items that the workers do not like any more. It is funny, mysterious and obscure. And there is a funny punch line about what the workers want to produce but we don’t get any more information. Go figure.

Victoria Station is a hilarious conversation late at night between a Controller (the dispatchers) and a dumb cab Driver. The Controller tries to figure out where the Driver is so he can send him to Victoria Station to pick up a client. Between pauses, he gets all kinds of nonsensical, non sequitors that are humorous with the usual Pintersque uncertainties and obscurities.

The Basement is one of the longest pieces. It involves two old friends who had not seen each other for a long time, a woman and a basement flat. The woman has a relationship with both of them at different times. There are numerous scene changes and different seasons. A room, the beach, a cave, a field, a bar, day, night, summer, winter are some of the scenes involved. They sound realistic but of course they are not. The performance did not work particularly well on Shannon Lea Doyle’s set. It is unrealistic with squares and rectangles formed by bars. The set serves the other pieces well but they do not give any sense of place for The Basement.

Little Menace is extraordinary on many levels and the best comment is “Go see it.”
Little Menace: Pinter Plays by Harold Pinter continues until March 17, 2019 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca  416 866-8666.

Monday, February 25, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Every city deserves a Marshall Pynkoski and a Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg but very few have even one let alone two. Toronto does. As Co-artistic Directors of the incomparable Opera Atelier, they organized a highly civilized concert at the Royal Ontario Museum entitled The Angel Speaks.

The one-hour concert featured instrumental music, singing and ballet in a gorgeous combination. The music ranges from the baroque to the modern with Henry Purcell and William Boyce providing the former and Edwin Huizinga bringing the latter. 
Edwin Huizinga, Tyler Gledhill, Mireille Asselin, Jesse Blumberg and 
Tafelmusik members. Photo: Bruce Zinger
Soprano Mireille Asselin and baritone Jesse Bloomberg Sang pieces by Purcell (See Nature Rejoicing, The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation and An Evening Hymn. Members of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra played the music of the two baroque composers including Purcell’s Music for a While and his Trio Sonata in F.

Edwin Huizinga’s compositions were a major part of the evening. He has composed Annunciation inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s mystical poem as translated by Grace Andreacchi. Annunciation, of course refers to the announcement by Gabriel to Mary that she will give birth to Jesus Christ. Huizinga, a prominent violinist, also composed and played Inception, a piece for baroque violin. His music is modern but looks back to the baroque in an amazing blend of the two styles. Tyler Gledhill choreographed contemporary dance to accompany Huizinga’s performance and the singing by Asselin and Blumberg. Simply remarkable.

It is worthy of note that Opera Atelier commissioned Inception and its performance at the concert was its North American premiere.   

Most of the concert pieces were accompanied by dances performed by the Artists of Atelier Ballet. The five dancers, Tyler Gledhill, Juri Hiraoka, Edward Tracz, Dominic Who and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg performed the baroque sequences which were choreographed by Ms Zingg. 

Members of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra with Music Director David Fallis performed the music.
 Edwin Huizinga and Tyler Gledhill. Photo: Bruce Zinger 
The concert was performed in the Currelly Gallery in the Royal Ontario Museum. This is a rectangular theatre-in-the-round with several rows of seats surrounding the playing area. The spectators were no more than several feet from the playing area.

The Angel Speaks was originally performed in the Royal Chapel at Versailles in 2017. A photograph of the performance at the Royal Chapel makes you regret ex post facto that fate did not place you there for the performance.

It was a highly civilized evening. If the intent was to showcase the work of Opera Atelier, so be it. In early April, they are producing Mozart’s Idomeneo with Measha Brueggergosman at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.  My only and persistent complaint is why are there so pitifully few productions of baroque opera in Toronto?

The Angel Speaks was performed once on Thursday, February 21, 2019 and will not be performed again as far as I know but you can ask Opera Atelier if it will be repeated. www.operaatelier.com

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


James Karas

Holy, feces!

Mules is a powerful new play that starts on an emotional pitch that keeps increasing until the lights go down ninety minutes later. The three actors give stellar performances that display emotional range, power of expression and endurance that call for nothing but superlatives. The impact on the audience is stunning, relentless and jaw-dropping.

A few details. The plot of Mules could not be simpler. Two women walk into the bathroom of Vancouver Airport. Crystal is bringing cocaine from Colombia and she must give it to Cindy who has to deliver it to her dealer.  That is the whole plot. Playwrights Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic have created an outstanding play out of this by filling in the details.

Eva Barrie in Mules. Photo: Dahlia Katz
The background. Cindy and Crystal are old friends. They went to high school together and did some silly things like smoking pot and one of them perhaps putting manure in a girl’s locker. They both live on the lower rung of the social order. Crystal has a child out of wedlock and works in a store. She is not very bright and can’t make ends meet.

Cindy, who was a leader in high school, adored by Crystal, is an exotic dancer who dabbles in drug trading and has recently lost her job. She is in desperate financial straits and works for a drug dealer who would not hesitate to kill someone for an ounce of cocaine. She lives in terror of him. She is also a liar and did not hesitate to use Crystal.

The two friends drifted apart but Cindy found Crystal and promised her $10,000. All she had to do was go to Colombia, swallow one kilo of cocaine and bring it to Canada. The cocaine comes in 35 capsules that Crystal swallows. The details of the ingestion can be described as painful, cruel, unbelievable and disgusting. Some of those reactions are simply middle class ignorance of the “real” world.

The play opens when Crystal and Cindy enter the airport washroom. Crystal is exhausted and ready to faint. She has not eaten anything for 2 days and customs kept her for quite a while listening to her explanations about a quick trip to Colombia.

Cindy puts out a sign at the toilet door saying it is being cleaned to prevent anyone from entering. Now Crystal has to dislodge the capsules from her anal canal for Cindy to rinse and take them to her dealer who is anxiously waiting for them like a beast of prey.

Many complications arise not least of which is the appearance of Troy the cleaner who discovers what the women are up to. The complications will continue to mount up until the shattering conclusion when the lights go down.

A few words about the acting. Anita Majumbar as Cindy and Eva Barrie as Crystal are on stage for the entire 90 minutes. They start on an emotional high and their distress, agonizing fear of being caught, paralyzing terror of the dealer and the dreadful anguish for the ejection of the capsules lead to emotional highs that they must express. They do with acting skill and expressiveness of the highest order.
Tim Walker, Anita Majumbar and Eva Barrie. Photo: Dahlia Katz
Tim Walker as Troy has a smaller role but he is no less deserving of recognition for his acting. He escalates the emotional level and does a superb job in the role.

Vikki Anderson directs the play with a sure hand for emotional highs that may seem difficult to maintain for the whole performance. Outstanding work.

The set by Brandon Kleiman consists of three toilet stalls facing the audience and a sink on the opposite side. The stalls and the sink are put to good use. 

I am giving you only a few fairly scanty detail about this extraordinary play and outstanding production. It may not be suitable for people with delicate palates. For the rest of us it is incredible theatre. My reaction when the lights went down was (in less polite lingo)

Holy, feces!
Mules  by Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic in a production by Theatrefront in Association with Hit and Myth premiered on February 15 and continues until March2, 2019 at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1. theatrefront.com, http://crowstheatre.com/

Monday, February 18, 2019


By James Karas

Oslo is a big play that tackles a very big subject. Playwright J.T. Rogers takes on the secret negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis fostered by Norwegians that led to the famous signing of the Oslo Accord on September 13, 1993. 

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization signed the agreement and the two implacable enemies shook hands. The ceremony took place at the White House before President Bill Clinton and the world. Rabin, as quoted by Rogers at the end of his play, spoke eloquently about Israelis and Palestinians living together on the same soil. “Enough of blood and tears. Enough” he intoned.

It was an expression of hope only. There is no peace in the region.
The Company in the Studio 180 Theatre production of OSLO. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The lead-up to the Oslo Accord did accomplish a number of items that Rogers enumerates at the end of the play. They are of some interest in the long and unsuccessful process of solving what appears to be an unsolvable problem. But the more interesting aspect of the negotiations is that they were done in secrecy and were started and steered through by low-ranking Norwegians.

Rogers has collected all the information he could get his hands on and dramatized the proceedings into a coherent political and personal drama. A play devoted solely to the negotiations, however dramatic and historically interesting, would be a bore but Rogers steers far from that. He does so by bringing out the human characteristics of the people involved.

The process is the brainchild of Terje Rød-Larsen (Blair Williams) who is described without further detail as the Director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences. He is married to Mona Juul (Marla McLean), an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. They are an attractive, intelligent, passionate couple who want to do something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are criticized for being perhaps dilettantes but they show passion and ability in keeping the process going.

They set in motion unofficial, secret meetings between Ahmed Quirie (Sanjay Talwar), the PLO’s Finance Minister and Hassan Asfour (Omar Alex Khan), a liaison officer of the PLO with Yair Hirschfield (Amitai Kedar) and Ron Pundak (Jordan Pettle), both professors of economics, not representing Israel because that would be a crime. But they are negotiating on behalf of peace and the official and unofficial become blurred.

The political arguments are joined. The Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst (Patrick Galligan) joins the fray as does his wife Marianne (Sarah Orenstein) and the Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Egeland (Jordan Pettle).

We move up the ladder in the Israeli representation. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin (Mark McGrinder) is ever present in the background, Uri Savir (Jonas Chernick), Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, Joel Singer, a Washington lawyer and advisor to the Foreign Ministry as well as Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister at the time participate.    
Blair Williams & Marla McLean in the Studio 180 Theatre production of OSLO. 
Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The negotiations are done away from the audience and we see the negotiations and the Norwegian enablers outside the negotiating room. These are people with deep-rooted hatred and mistrust of each other engendered over decades of murderous conflict. The Israelis consider the PLO members as simple terrorists.

We see anger, aggressiveness, arrogance, braggadocio, grand-standing and an apparent inability to reach any compromise. But the negotiators with the help of their hosts start seeing each other as people. They are parents, they love their children and they want peace. Slowly their humanity affects if it does not take over their official and intractable positions. They break bread, as they say, and start finding solutions. The political and the personal are joined to make fine drama.

Ken Mackenzie’s single set is a brightly lit and elegant-looking anteroom to the negotiating arena. there is a judicious selection of photographs projected as well.   

At two hours and forty-five minutes, including intermission, Oslo covers a lot of ground and director Joel Greenberg maintains a good pace throughout.

Half a dozen actors take on two roles which is usually not a problem but in this production there is an exception. Patrick Galligan in addition to being the Foreign Minister is also the groundsman at the manor where the meetings take place. Sarah Orenstein doubles as the Minister’s wife and as the cook and housekeeper at the manor. They look exactly the same in both roles. Annoying.

In the end you get a detailed chapter in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian attempts at peace and get close to the personal conflicts and resolutions and a fine night at the theatre.   

Oslo  by J.T. Rogers in a production by Studio 180 opened on February 14 and continues until March 3,, 2019 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario. www.mirvish.com

Friday, February 15, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

The Father is a beautiful play about a beautiful mind in the throes of dementia. It is about a man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the word beautiful refers to what was and not the tragic condition of the main character and so many others in our society.

The play by French playwright Florian Zeller translated by Christopher Hampton receives a sensitive, elusive and masterful production by Coal Mine Theatre. It is lyrical, captivating and incredibly moving.

We meet André (Eric Peterson) and his daughter Anne (Trish Fagan) in a nice apartment in Paris. She tells him that “we need to talk” and we guess what the talk will be about. He cannot take care of himself; she is moving to London with her new lover and he needs another caregiver. That’s clear. 
Eric Peterson and Trish Fagan. Photo: Kristina Ruddick
That clarity dissipates when Anne steps out and another woman (Michelle Monteith) who says she is Anne steps in. (Monteith is listed simply as Woman in the program.) A man comes in and André does not recognize him. He states that he is Pierre (Paul Fauteux), Anne’s husband. He and Anne are not separated and he knows nothing about her moving to London. He reminds André that he is living in their apartment and not his own.   

We will meet another Pierre (Beau Dixon) and two women who are supposed to be André’s caregiver Laura, (Oyin Oladejo and Michelle Monteith).

The 90-minute play is divided into a number of short scenes and we try to keep up with the chronology. Does the action occur in chronological order or do we pick scenes from different times? There are scenes that are repeated and there are scenes that appear illogical.

Through whose eyes do we see all that is happening in front of us? Are André’s daughters up to something? What about his son(s)-in-law? Is it all in the demented mind of André? We are never sure.

Zeller teases us continually and once he captures our attention in the first few minutes he never lets us go until the very last minute of the ply. I will not spoil the end for you but this is an intelligent, well-constructed and deeply moving play. It is oblique and elusive as if you were walking on quicksand. The Father won the 2004 Moliere prize as France’s best play. 
Michelle Monteith, Beau Dixon, Eric Peterson, Trish Fagan and Paul Fauteux. 
Photo: Kristina Ruddick
Nicholas Campbell was originally cast as André but was replaced by Eric Peterson in the role of André. He gives an outstanding performance. André is rational and irrational, grouchy, irascible, logical, illogical and a man who is sure of where he is even when he is not there. Perhaps that is the tragedy of dementia.

Trish Fagan is the concerned daughter who tries to deal with a difficult situation. She reaches the point of dreaming of strangling her father. But we are not always sure about her.  

Dixon as Pierre is a patient husband who loses his patience and looks for a solution. Fauteux as the other Pierre loses his patience completely and becomes violent. In the program he is listed a Man and we can draw our own conclusion about who he is. The end of the play will give you a clue but you are best left wondering about his identity.

The set by Anna Treusch is a simple sitting room with a table and some chairs. But the furniture keeps changing.

The Father is a small gem of a play which receives a highly laudable production by Coal Mine under the expert hand of director Ted Dykstra. And it’s in a tiny theatre on Danforth Avenue.  
The Father by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton, opened on February 6 and will run until March 3, 2019 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave. Toronto, M4J 1N4. www.coalminetheatre.com

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


James Karas

Calling a musical that opened less than four years ago legendary, may strike some as a bit of a stretch. It is not. Come from Away is being produced in cities around the world and quite aside from its qualities as a musical entertainment, what makes it legendary is the attraction of its humanity, its decency and its ode to the better side of human nature. And it is a true story that resulted from one of the worst acts of terrorism – the attack on New York’s Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

Gander, Newfoundland, a town of about 9000 people was a place with an airport. On September 11 when all planes over or going to the United Sates were grounded, 38 of them, carrying some 7000 people landed in Gander.

The Mayor was having his morning coffee at Tom Hortons, the bus drivers were on strike, the policeman was warning speeders to slow down (expletive deleted), a new reporter was starting her career and life in the town had taken its regular rhythm. The news came  that something terrible has happened and planes are landing at the airport.
The cast of COME FROM AWAY - Canadian Company, Photo by Matthew Murphy
The people mobilize their resources and galvanize their humanity to feed, house and care for 7000 people. That is an incredible and heartwarming story.    

Bur acts of decency no matter how heroic do not make a musical. Irene Sankoff and David Hein do and they are bloody good at it.

Come from Away has fifteen musical numbers almost all of them sung by the company. The songs do have quiet moments but the somber songs are followed by numbers of increasing speed and urgency. From the opening “Welcome to the Rock” we follow the townspeople as they mobilize everyone and everything (like all the town’s barbecues and store supplies) to accommodate the new guests. The passengers fret about being left in the plane for twenty-plus hours but they soon realize the magnitude of the town’s decency.

Twelve actors play all the parts of townspeople and passengers as we witness some prejudice, some fear and some misunderstanding as well as courage, compassion and love. There are tears and there is laughter that, along with the musical numbers, carry the audience forward towards the end of the crisis which lasted five days.

The visitors leave but nothing is forgotten. Ten years later they return to mark and celebrate with love and generosity those five days when the human spirit was triumphant, decency dominant and the experience for the participants and the audience watching the musical unforgettable.

Who does it? Sankoff and Hein, for a start. They saw a great story and went to the source – the people that lived it – and tell their experiences with moving and rousing music, humour, pathos and humanity. 
Steffi DiDomenicantonio and the cast of COME FROM AWAY – Canadian Company, 
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Director Christopher Ashley who sets the pace and has twelve actors represent numerous characters. Smooth, seamless changes in roles with the right emphasis on emotions. Sad but not maudlin, light humour and keep the audience with you for every second of the 100-minut performance.

The brilliant well-disciplined and talented cast deserves and gets a standing ovation. All of them play several roles and deserve praise. George Masswohl plays the Mayor whose morning Pepsi is interrupted and he has to deal with the town, the striking bus drivers and a few thousand visitors. Which may be easier than what Bonnie (Kristen Peace) of the SPCA has to deal with. There are pets in the planes including a monkey that expresses his distress by tossing his feces.

We all like Oz the policeman (Cory O’Brien), Beulah (Lisa Horner), the teacher, the very funny Janice (Steffi DiDomenicantonio), nervous and lost on her first day on the job as a reporter. Kevin Vidal as Bob finds and meets bigotry and fear of blacks but also discovers tolerance and humanity. Saccha Dennis plays Hannah, Barbara Fulton plays Diana, James Kall plays Nick, Jeff Madden plays Kevin and Eliza-Jane Scott plays Beverley.

In short, a must see.
Come From Away by Irene Sankoff and David Hein (Book, Music and Lyrics) opened on February 10, 2019 and continues until June 30, 2019 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. www.mirvish.com  416 872 1212 or 1 800 461 3333

Monday, February 11, 2019


James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company has very wisely revived Atom Egoyan’s 2014 production of Cosi Fan Tutte to go along with Richard Strauss’s Elektra for its winter season. It is a highly enjoyable and brilliant production and the only thing for you to do is high-tail it to the Four Seasons Centre for tickets. However, I will make a few comments on it.

There are two images that will mark this production in seeing it and in memory. The first is a large reproduction of Frida Kahlo’s surrealist painting The Two Fridas and the other is the setting of the opera in a school for lovers. 

Cosi Fan Tutte is about love, fidelity, treachery and reconciliation. You remember Ferrando and Guglielmo are in love (that does their passion an injustice) with Dorabella and Fiordiligi. They will not brook any doubt about the depth and constancy of their loves. Needless to say, the young ladies reciprocate in equal measure. Are women fickle? Don Alfonso bets that they are and to prove his point he has the men appear disguised as Albanians and woo the women. Guess what?
Johannes Kammler as Guglielmo, Emily D’Angelo as Dorabella, Kirsten MacKinnon 
as Fiordiligi and Ben Bliss as Ferrando. Photo: Michael Cooper
Love is a matter of the heart and the lovers in Cosi talk of broken hearts and ripping out hearts at the thought or fact of infidelity. Kahlo’s Two Fridas is a double self-portrait of the artist wearing a European dress, with an anatomically visible heart and a vein dripping blood on one side and of herself wearing a traditional Mexican dress, perhaps a broken heart and holding a portrait of her estranged husband in her hand. .

The two sisters of Cosi are very much alike but they are also very different and one can draw parallels between them and the two Fridas.   You can make whatever you want of the portrait as it relates to the production, but Egoyan makes sure that you pay attention to the details of the painting.

Rather than a café, Egoyan with Set Designer Debra Hanson, sets some of the action in a school for lovers. The “students” will make up the chorus and provide some humorous appearances. And you will see numerous large size butterflies and they can mean whatever you want but you may wish to think of them as symbols of freedom.

If you want to ignore all the above, you will still enjoy an effervescent, marvelously sung production. Start with soprano Kirsten MacKinnon as Fiordiligi, the sister who refuses to fall for the pursuing “Albanian.” She tells us she is solid as a rock in the octave-leaping aria “Come scoglio immoto resta” only to live to sing the gorgeous “Per pieta” asking for forgiveness.
 A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Così fan tutte, 2019, photo: Michael Cooper
Mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo as Dorabella is more easily convinced to fall for the Albanian visitor but we like her for her practical and perhaps even modern thinking about love. All protestations to the contrary, she understands human nature and the attraction of love at hand over love in the absence of a lover. Well sung, well done.

Tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Johannes Kammler as Ferrando and Guglielmo respectively are classic lovers, full of passion, hot wind, irrational thinking and splendid singing.  Baritone Russell Braun who sang Guglielmo in 2014 takes on the role of the philosopher Don Alfonso.

No Cosi is complete without a very good Despina. She is the sisters’ maid and plotting partner of Don Alfonso. Soprano Tracy Dahl is a spitfire of a singer and performer in the role. She is funny, sings with great verve and moves with amazing speed. A delight to see and hear.

Bernard Labadie conducts the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Mozart’s music is a sheer pleasure to hear.

With Egoyan at the helm, you may want to describe the production as the thinking man’s Cosi Fan Tutte but that may discourage some people from seeing it. Like the lovers at some point, you can enjoy the opera without thinking, if you so choose.     

Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte opened on February 5 and will be performed eight times until February 23, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Saturday, February 9, 2019


James Karas

Ravi Jain has built up a considerable reputation in Canadian theatre as an actor, director and writer. He has now taken a further step forward and adapted Shakespeare’s Hamlet which is now playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre. The result has some fine performances but it does not quite work.

Transgender casting has become commonplace in the theatre. All-male or all-female actor productions of Shakespeare are not uncommon and a woman as Hamlet, Richard II, King Lear and many other roles is almost routine Jain has gone a bit further. He uses nine actors, seven females and two males, to play fifteen roles. The original text has thirty-four roles.

Christine Horne tackles one of the toughest roles, that of Hamlet. She has received several awards for her acting ability but even though she showed some flashes in the role she is simply not ready for Hamlet. She speaks all of his lines as if they were prose and shows little of the depth of feeling of the troubled prince. As with most of the casting, the question is what is the point of casting a woman in the role unless you have an astonishingly talented and accomplished woman who wants to play the role?
Christine Horne. Photo: Bronwen Sharp
Jeff Ho, a slender young man, plays what looks like a very uncomfortable Ophelia. Between the signing of Dawn Jani Birley, Polonius and Claudius he almost disappears from the production.  

Rick Roberts exudes a fine presence as Claudius. Barbara Gordon’s Polonius is good but a bit short of being the wise counsellor or the garrulous fool. Miriam Fernandes shows energy and spunk as Rosencrantz. She also plays the Player King and is simply hilarious as the Gravedigger. She bellows “Figaro” in a bucket and makes a memorable gravedigger. Hannah Miller is equally dynamic as Guildenstern and plays the Player Queen, Osric and a Guard.

Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah plays a strong Laertes but do we really need a woman in the role?  What is the effect that is supposed to be created by having a female Laertes giving advice to Ophelia played by a man?

Karen Robinson with her booming and expressive voice plays a powerful Gertrude and aggressive Gertrude. Well done.

Aside from his choice of cast, Jan makes this an aggressively bilingual production – American Sign Language and English. Deaf people do not consider themselves impaired. They simply communicate using a well-developed sign language and Jain wants to demonstrate that fact for us. 
Karen Robinson, Rick Roberts. Photo: Bronwen Sharp
Horatio is played by Dawn Jani Birley who does not say a word but signs all his lines. In addition to that she translates all the lines of the other actors when they themselves are not signing. As such she becomes a pivotal part of the production. When she is not playing Horatio, she frequently stands in the center of the stage translating the dialogue of the other actors. In the final scene, for example, where Laertes and Hamlet fight and the Queen and the King end up dead, the four characters sit with their backs to the audience and deliver their lines. They do not move and Birley stands in front of them facing the audience and translates all their lines in American Sign Language.

The play ends with Hamlet’s “the rest is silence.” Horatio becomes very emotional and signs some lines as s/he cries but there is no “Good night sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” or any other further dialogue.

Many productions have some performances translated in American Sign Language by having a translator stand on the side of the stage. I have not seen a production like this one where most of the actors speak and sign for some of the time and almost all dialogue is translated in ASL but not all sign language was translated into spoken English.

I am not sure how the deaf people in the audience felt about the production. Are they pleased and honoured that such loving attention is paid to their mode of communication? Or do they prefer their Shakespeare done in their own language exclusively?

Does this adaptation and production work? Not for me but it may fascinate some people.

Prince Hamlet, William Shakespeare’s play adapted by Ravi Jain for a production by Why Not Theatre and presented by Canadian Stage opened on February 7 and will play until February 24, 2019 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.canadianstage.com  416 368 3110

Tuesday, February 5, 2019


James Karas

The unstoppable Nancy Athan-Mylonas has written, devised and choreographed an instructive and entertaining production for the Greek community. It is a commemoration, a requiem and in a way a celebration of the victims and survivors of the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922.

The Catastrophe refers generally to the defeat of the Greek forces in Anatolia and more specifically to the burning of Smyrna in 1922. The Turkish forces massacred tens of thousands of Greeks and eventually expelled almost one million and a half Greeks from their homeland to mainland Greece. The event and its consequences remains an open wound for the heirs of the Greek population of Asia Minor, a genocidal atrocity that Turkey denies ever happened.

Those that survived the massacre left, as Athan-Mylonas writes, with their music, their songs, their dances and their pride. And nothing else. In the end they almost doubled the population of Athens and Thessaloniki and from well-off citizens ended up as destitute refugees in Greece, a country that could not feed its own inhabitants.

The production opens with a song and dance routine based loosely on the poem The Peddler by Ioannis Griparis. As with much of Nancy’s work, this is no small production. A stageful of singers, dancers and narrators take over the performance. There is a chorus, (a dozen or so), Narrators (about the same number), Dancers (too many to count) and Intermediate and Junior Melissakia (a small busload). Taso Nikopoulos plays the Peddler, Helena Merekoulias is Pagani and Eugenia Nicolaou is the Widow. The large troupe has the audience in the palm of their hands and that is high praise indeed.

Scorching Memories begins with searing stories from the lives of refugees from Asia Minor from 1922 to 1942. But the tragic stories are intermingled with music and singing from the rich heritage that the newcomers brought to Greece. The refugees carried with them the traditional songs of Smyrna, the “Smirneika” and they developed the “rebetika” that came to dominate Greek popular music.

There are harrowing stories of escaping from the burning city and the murders, plunder and rapes of Greeks by Turkish soldiers. The situation for those who reached the harbour of Smyrna was even worse. They tried in vain to reach the few boats and attempted to climb into them.  Their hands were cut off and the water turned red with their blood and floating body parts.

They arrived in Greece and they are haunted by memories of loved ones who did not make it or simply refuse to accept the fact that they are dead. The well-off Smyrnians are reduced to poverty and worse awaits them. World War II brings hunger and death. It also brings the Resistance and with it treachery and more death.

The dramatic stories make their impact and many in the audience were left in tears. But music, singing and dancing were the dominant feature of the production. They told the stories of the refugees in their own language and expressed all the horrors, the bravery, the longing for the irretrievably lost past and the eternal hope for the future.
Nancy Athan-Mylonas is the indispensable person for every aspect of the show. From the uncertain dancing steps of a four-year old, to the dramatic, sometimes humorous stories, to the overall success, kudos goes to her.       

She is not alone but there is not enough space to give due credit to everyone. The talented and lovely-voiced Athina Malli is the Musical Director of the production as well as a singer and instrumentalist.

Actors, musicians and singers add up to some twenty five people on stage. A few mentions. Christina Houtris plays the worldly, entrepreneurial and deeply humane Kyra Anggelo. Magda Paspali is the tragic mother who clutches her child’s blankets unable to accept the fact that her child is no longer in them. Christine El Baramawi plays Iphigenia, a girl who witnessed an event of such horror that she has lost the ability to utter a word. Kostas Bakas and Taso Nikopoulos are two of her friends who will play dramatic and tragic roles in her life.

Helena Merekoulias deserves praise for her talents as a ballet choreographer, teacher and dancer.

There are light moments amidst to horrors. The irrepressible Irene Bitha Georgalidis can make an audience laugh at will and she does every time she walks on stage.    

The Asia Minor catastrophe occurred almost a hundred years ago and there are no survivors who have direct memories of it. But stories have been passed down through generations and almost all heirs of the survivors carry the tragic stories of their ancestors as if they lived through them themselves. Nancy Athan-Mylonas and the seventy-five performers and numerous volunteers tapped into those tragic events, the cultural life of the Smyrnians and the historical memories to enthrall the audience at the Hamazkayin Theatre.

Scorching Memories by Nancy Athan-Mylonas was performed three times on February 2 and 3, 2019 at the Hamazkayin Theatre, Armenian Youth Centre, 50 Hallcrown Place, Toronto. Ontario. For more information: ekfrassi.productions@gmail.com 416 920 1011

Monday, February 4, 2019


James Karas

“Disgusting” and “degenerate” are the words used to describe Richard Strauss’s Elektra. No, not the current production by the Canadian Opera Company (which is quite thrilling) but its first staging in England in 1910.

Strauss’s 4th opera, by turning Greek mythology on its head, has aroused incredible passions, but the complex score and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s masterly libretto provide a powerful operatic experience.

Strauss and Hofmannsthal throw the idealized view of Greek culture into the dustbin. Their Elektra although based on Sophocles’ play features a woman who is unhinged and whose sole mission in life is revenge. Her father was brutally murdered by her mother Klytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. Now Elektra wants to kill both of them.
 Christine Goerke as Elektra (at left) in a scene from the COC's production of 
Elektra, 2019, photo: Michael Cooper
 Director James Robinson in the revival of his 2007 production takes a middle road in his portrayal of Elektra. He does not overplay her madness or the squalor of her life but gives us a woman who is consumed by hatred and a desire for revenge but who is not completely deranged. 

Soprano Christine Goerke (a notable and well-known Wagnerian, especially to Torontonians) delivers a powerful and obsessed Elektra. She is on stage longer than the rest of the characters and from her opening howl of “Agamemnon” to her final eruption of joy at the end, she dominates the production. Robinson does not make much of Elektra’s final dance of triumph before she drops dead. This is not Salome but the scene could use a few more dramatic steps. 

Elektra is very much an orchestra versus the singers opera and unfortunately there were a few occasions when the orchestra overshadowed not to say drowned out Goerke. They struck me as unnecessary lapses in balance between stage and pit and did not detract from Goerke’s overall thrilling performance.

Soprano Erin Wall sings Chrysothemis, Elektra’s sister, who dreams of a life that involves children and is not consumed by hatred. Wall is better known for lyric soprano roles and Strauss puts the same vocal requirements on Chrysothemis as he does on Elektra. Happily, Wall belts out her part with power and resonance and shows that she can handle Strauss as well as Mozart.

Soprano Susan Bullock who sang Brunnhilde in the COC’s Ring Cycle of 2006-2007, sings the role of the troubled Klytemnestra. After the description by Elektra of how Klytemnestra murdered Agamemnon in the bath with an axe, our sympathy for her is limited but Bullock makes her more pathetic than loathsome. For those with long memories, Bullock sang Elektra in COC’s 2007 production.

Her lover Aegisthus (tenor Michael Schade) gets no sympathy as a character but Schade gets kudos for his performance.

Bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer plays Orestes, the key person in effecting the revenge and the most important male role in the opera as the instrument of revenge. Otherwise it is a relatively small role but the recognition scene is done well and Orestes does his job as does the singer.
A scene from the COC’s production of Elektra, 2019, photo: Michael Cooper
The set by Derek McLane is a challenge to understand. A few steps lead to the courtyard of the palace where the floor is tilted to the right. There is a wall with two entrances on the right which are rarely used and what looks like a garden shed at the rear. This is Klytemnestra’s entrance and when the door is opened we see gilded walls. The set may well represent the confused interior of Elektra’s mind. 

The costumes by Anita Stewart are 19th century dresses for the women and black suits of the era for the men. This is not a throwback to fifth century Athens but an original view of the Greek myth

Elektra may well be described as an opera starring the orchestra and some outstanding singers. Strauss demanded a large orchestra and from the opening thunderclap of Agamemnon’s motif to the final dance sequence and death of Elektra the music is electrifying. Johannes Debus and the COC Orchestra perform magnificently.

The ills of the mythical House of Atreus lasted for five generations have been around since the dawn of western civilization. They have inspired countless works including over 100 operas alone. Klytemnestra is queen of Argos or Mycenae not of Thebes as stated in the programme. The version of their story that inspired Strauss and Hofmannsthal about a century ago reached back across the eons to shock people in 1910 and thrill us in the 21st century.

Go see it.  

Elektra by Richard Strauss opened on January 26 and will be performed a total of seven times on various dates until February 22, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca