Sunday, March 31, 2019


By James Karas

Many people know that in 1879 Nora Helmer walked out of her doll house leaving her husband Torvald and three children behind. The act was reviled as the height of treachery, an abhorrent breach of the sacred bond of marriage and parental obligation. It was also admired as a strike for liberty in a world where the wife was a subservient being with almost no legal rights and essentially her husband’s slave. That was in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

Whatever happened to Nora, her husband and her children after that? Playwright Lucas Hnath in A Doll’s House, Part 2, takes a stab at providing an answer by imagining Nora returning to her house 15 years after leaving it.

Nora (Deborah Hay) has become a successful and very well off writer. Her three children have been raised by the servant Anne-Marie (Kate Henning) and Torvald (Paul Essiembre) seems to be coping well.
 Paul Essiembre and Deborah Hay - Photo by Leif Norman
Why is Nora returning? Not out of love, or even curiosity, for the fate of her children or her husband but for entirely selfish reasons. She has been writing under a pseudonym and an irate judge is preparing to uncover her identity and her secret: Torvald never obtained a divorce and she is therefore still a married woman. A married woman cannot sign any contracts and she is in danger of losing everything and even her freedom.

The easiest solution is for Torvald to get a divorce. He refuses. She can get a divorce but she has to prove cruelty, drag his name through the mud and ruin him. She needs Ann-Marie’s help to execute this scheme. Final ploy: her daughter Emmy (Bahareh Yaraghi) can get a fake death certificate.

The thin plot is buttressed by more serious discussions about freedom and marital happiness. Nora treats us to a tirade against the very idea of marriage which may start as passionate wooing but ends horribly because people change and, well, so much for marriage. There is ingredient in the marital vows which is called children. Nora tells us about buying Christmas presents for her children in the first two years after abandoning them but that is the end of her emotional attachment or maternal feeling for them.

The reason her daughter is prepared to get a fraudulent death certificate for Nora is because she is in love and wants to get married. The impending revelations about her mother will ruin her chances of marriage. Rebelliousness, it seems, is not hereditary. 
 Deborah Hay and Bahareh Yaraghi - Photo by Leif Norman
A hard decision has to be made and bring the play to an end. It is but I will not disclose what it is.

Deborah Hay as Nora, with her flailing arms and grimaces, acts as if she is were an evangelical preacher at the pulpit. Maybe she is competing with Beto O’Rourke. I am not sure what director Krista Jackson had in mind but a more thoughtful and reserved Nora with some show of emotion may have been more convincing.

Essiembre, as Torvald is a conservative banker who does not seem to have realized why his wife left him but he raised their children and has remained a respected member of his society.

Kate Henning’s Anne-Marie is a tough old woman, now limping, who had no choice but to become a nurse raising other people’s children after abandoning her own child.

Bahareh Yaraghi as Emma shows little emotion and schemes to save her mother for selfish reasons. Is there no anger, resentment or soul-searching left?

The play is done on a bare, gray set with three chairs on it representing no doubt the barrenness of emotion. Teresa Przybylski is the set and costume designer.

More than a century later marriage has become either unnecessary or a formality for many. It has not gone out of style and however precarious many marriages are, they are entered with high hopes of until death do us part. But they are entered and broken with deep emotions. Nora’s act of rebellion for the freedom of women, unlike her tirade against marriage, has come a long way. Only getting a divorce in 2019 is more complicated than getting one in 1894. All Torvald had to do was go to the town office and get his divorce from the town clerk.            
A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath in a coproduction by Mirvish and Royal Manitoba Theatre Center opened on March 27 and will run until April 14, 2019 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Rear Window is a murder mystery that started as a short story by Cornell Woolrich titled It Had to Be Murder first published in 1942. It was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock for his famous 1954 movie starring the unforgettable Grace Kelly and James Stewart.

Emily Dix, the Artistic Executive Director of Bygone Theatre has now adapted the story and mostly the film for the stage. It is now playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto. She has taken liberties with both as is her right and the result is not always a happy one.

The plot. Jeff (Tristan Claxton) is a photojournalist who is confined in a wheelchair in his Manhattan apartment in the early 1950’s. His apartment has a rear window from which Jeff can look into several apartments and in fact follow what the residents are doing in some detail. He does so with considerable enthusiasm and devotion of time. He may be uncharitably described as a peeping tom or a voyeur but let’s say he was living in a different time. More about this later.

He sees a young, pretty woman who hangs her undergarments to dry, dances a lot and welcomes her friends. She is listed in the program as the Dancing Girl played by Sarah Marchand. She does not say a word. A young couple, The Newlyweds played by Casey Romanin and Kathleen Welch, is in another apartment. They are all over each other but we don’t find out much more about them.

The couple that draws our attention is Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald. Jeff witnesses some unusual activity in that apartment and becomes convinced that Mr. Thorwald (Antonino Pruiti) has murdered Mrs. Thorwald (Elizabeth Rose Morriss).

In the meantime we have met Jeff’s girlfriend Lena (Kate McArthur) and his co-worker at the paper Charlie (Alex Clay). Lena is a pretty, intelligent, self-assured and a successful actress. She is deeply in love with Jeff and her main goal in life is to get married to him. What is she doing with him? She threatens to leave him and keeps coming back. Is another textbook example of love is blind and women were so desperate to get married in the 1950’s that they would settle for anything? I saw the performance on International Women’s Day and my reaction may have been coloured by that.

Charles works for Jeff and he visits Jeff to offer his help. Charles is diffident and anxious to help all while being abused by Jeff.

Dix as the writer and director and Tristan Claxton as the actor presents Jeff as an angry, bored, rude, depressed and quite obnoxious person. He becomes obsessed with his conviction that Mr. Thorwald murdered his wife and he acts in such an irrational, offensive and idiotic manner that no one believes him.

He treats Lena and Charlie badly. What are his redeeming features? Does he have any? Should Dix not toned down Jeff’s negative traits in the script and lowered the level of his rants and given him some redeeming features? All I saw was just a self-righteous, jerk who would not be able to get a woman on Dating for Losers let alone collar a woman like Lena.

Dix has added a number of angles to the original story and the movie and the suspense does build up to a punch of discovery at the end. But her take on the characters detracts from the main plotline rather than enhancing it.     
Rear Window by Emily Dix based on short story by Cornell Woolrich , in a production by The Rear Window Collective supported by Bygone Theatre will run until March 17, 2019 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.

Sunday, March 10, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

The Stratford Festival has brought out a film version of its 2018 production of Coriolanus. It was directed by the uniquely talented Robert Lepage and critics were falling over their superlatives in praise of the stage version. The film version deserves equal praise and the Festival’s intention to film productions of all of Shakespeare’s plays is a creditworthy ambition.

Lepage has re-imagined Shakespeare’s violent melodrama as a modern play complete with a broadcast studio, reporters running around with cameras, a sports car being driven at high speeds, a dinner in a posh restaurant and a scene in a sauna. Yes, they are all in Shakespeare’s play but the bard simply forgot to put in the stage directions especially about things that did not exist when he wrote it. Lepage corrects the omissions.  
Members of the company in Coriolanus. Photography by David Hou.
Lepage used cinematic techniques for the stage version therefore the transfer to film directed by Barry Avrich becomes easier. The generous use of projections, the zeroing in on scenes and characters, the split screens are all in the original stage production and of course are the same in the film.

The film gives us the advantage of seeing facial expressions, grimaces and movements close up. In other words we get the best of a stage performance and a film. Those who did not see the Stratford performance may have missed the ambience and pleasure of live theatre (you can’t have everything) but this Coriolanus is pretty close to “the real thing.”

Lepage also designed the sets. Steve Blanchet is the Creative Director and Designer, Mara Gottler is the Costume Designer, Laurent Laurier is the Lighting Designer and Pedro Pires is the Images Designer. Needless to say much of the credit for the result goes to them.

The problem with dealing with the character of Coriolanus remains. Andre Sills brings out all of Coriolanus’s warrior qualities, brutality, ego, contempt for the people and unbending sense of entitlement. He enjoys war and killing because it is his code of honour. His mother Volumnia (played with utter conviction and expertise by Lucy Peacock) raised him with that code and given the choice between death and glory, he would choose death.

When Volumnia expresses her pride in her son’s return as a hero from a cruel war, his wife Virgilia (Alexis Gordon) points out that he could have died. Then his renown would have become her son, says Volumnia. She does not stop there. If she had a dozen sons she would just as soon lose eleven of them fighting nobly for their country than have one succumb to the sensual pleasures of life.

The performances have been praised extensively and deservedly. Andre Sills as Coriolanus exudes pitiless animal strength and considers blood and wounds as badges of honour. His hatred of the citizens of Rome is so boundless and offensive as to result in his expulsion from Rome. He joins Rome’s enemy to wreak vengeance on Rome. 
From left: Graham Abbey, AndrĂ© Sills, Tom McCamus and Farhang Ghajar. 
Photography by David Hou.
Graham Abbey gives an exemplary performance as Aufidius, the general of the enemy Volscians who has the same ethos but not the same thirst for blood and cruelty. He has been defeated by Coriolanus numerous times and yearns for revenge.

Stephen Ouimette and Tom Rooney as the tribunes of the people provide perfect contrast to the warriors. They are downright gentlemen.  Michael Blake as General Cominius and Tom McCamus  as Menenius have the unpleasant task of trying to advise and control Coriolanus’s worst instincts. They fail.

As to the scenes mentioned in the second paragraph above, you will just have to see the film to figure out how they fit in.

If you saw the play, you are in luck because you can enjoy the experience again by seeing the film. If you didn’t, you get to see Shakespeare like you never saw before.
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare in a film of the 2018 production at the Stratford Festival will be released on March 23, 2019 and shown in Cineplex Cinemas across the country. For participating locations visit
Coriolanus and The Tempest will air on CBC in the summer of 2019.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


James Karas

The Last Ship is a stirring, muscular and deeply moving musical that tells the story of the closing of a shipyard in Wallsend, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in north-east England. Two thousand workers were about to be thrown out of work. Shipbuilding had been done in the area and become a part of the fabric of the community for generations.

In fact shipbuilding had been going on in that part of England for some 700 years but by the late 20th century it had become unprofitable and shipyards began closing. The unionized workers of Wallsend took matters in their own hands, occupied the shipyard and decided to finish the last ship on which they were working by themselves. 
 Sting and the cast of THE LAST SHIP – Toronto Production 2019. 
Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
British musician Sting, who comes from that area, has written the music and lyrics with a new book by Lorne Campbell. Sting also plays the part of Jackie White, the union foreman.

The workers’ takeover of the shipyard is told along with the personal story of Gideon Fletcher (Oliver Savile) and Meg Dawson (Frances McNamee). The two are young lovers but Fletcher leaves her and joins the navy. Seventeen years later he returns to find out that he has a sixteen-year old daughter, Ellen (Sophie Reid) that he was never told about.

There are vignettes of some of the people in the story but we get a closer look at Jackie White (Sting), the union foreman who shows leadership, courage and tenacity despite being mortally ill. Sting’s music and lyrics are muscular, defiant and at times melodic.

The workers are told that the shipyard will close just as they are finishing the construction of a ship for which the order has been cancelled. Five hundred of the 2000 will be given jobs dismantling the ship for scrap. Freddy Newlands (Sean Kearns) the owner with a Thatcheresque Baroness Tynedale (Annie Grace) inform and later threaten the workers with police action if they do not leave the ship yard.

There is some powerful choral singing. Sting has a thrusting vocal delivery as a strong man who feels deeply about the workers and the injustice of closing the shipyard. Frances McNamee displays some fine vocal flourishes as the abandoned woman who has fight bigotry and raise her out-of-wedlock daughter. Savile has to work hard and sing well to convince her to take him back.
Frances McNamee and Oliver Savile in THE LAST SHIP – Toronto Production 2019. 
Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The set (by 59 Productions), sound design (Seb Frost) and Lighting Design (Matt Daw) are quite brilliant. There is generous use of projections to give the impression of the hull of a ship, a pub or an interior scene. The sky and the atmosphere in general are dark, threatening and gloomy. The projections show kaleidoscopic effects from a fire to welding sparks, to the demonstrators who take over the shipyard, to the finished ship about to sail down the river. All are highly effective.

The Last Ship is about the tragic effect that social change brings. The workers fight to keep an industry that is no longer viable. Sting has great sympathy for them and so do we. It has special resonance for southern Ontario where General Motors announced the closing of a plant in Oshawa. Sting took the play to the workers as a gesture of support for their plight.

I won’t tell you the ending if you don’t know it but in the end you will get a marvellous musical and you can think about the workers in the musical and in Oshawa after you leave the theatre.
The Last Ship by Sting (music and Lyrics0, Lorne Campbell (Director and New Book), John Logan and Brian Yorkey (original book) continues until March 24, 2019 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario.  416 872 1212 or 1 800 461 3333

Sunday, March 3, 2019


James Karas

New Magic Valley Fun Town, Daniel McIvor’s new play at the Tarragon, could not be simpler on the surface. We see a nice living room with a small kitchen and one door leading to the outside and another to the bedroom and bathroom. A middle-aged man enters overladen with bags of chips and bottles of booze. He is Dougie (Daniel MacIvor) an overexcited klutz who drops a couple bottles of wine on the floor causing a mess. He is humorously neurotic. He lives in a trailer park house in Cape Breton.     

A middle aged woman enters who knows him well and is fairly assertive. She is Cheryl (Caroline Gillis), Dougie’s wife. We find out that Dougie’s old and best friend Allen is about to visit. They have not seen each other for 25 years and Dougie is in overdrive wanting to please his old friend. Oops, you say. Your best friend and you have not seen him for 25 years? How reliable are your memories of your friends?

In comes Dougie’s loutish daughter Sandy (Stephanie MacDonald) in her pajamas and slippers and she looks like an oddball. She is suffering from depression and who knows what else. 
Caroline Gillis, Andrew Moodie, Daniel MacIvor and Stephanie MacDonald. 
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
All appears fairly normal on the surface but we quickly realize that there is a serious undercurrent in all the characters that is probably very far from normal. All of them seem to have some loose if not missing screws, to put it colloquially. We laugh at their foibles, we give them the benefit of the doubt for a while but we try hard to figure out what is going on.

Allen (Andrew Moodie) arrives and the normal humorous/smooth surface is maintained but the contradictions and the latent undercurrent persist and increase. They eat, they drink, they dance boisterously and are funny but the mystery thickens as we notice more contradictions between surface appearance and latent reality.

With Harold Pinter’s ten short plays (Little Menace: Pinter Plays at Soulpepper) fresh in my mind, the play strikes me as Pintersque. I won’ go further than that.

Daniel MacIvor as Dougie dominates the play with a very delicate performance that is full of nervous energy while concealing a great deal. MacIvor can be very funny as he fumbles with everything that he touches and is able to let us know that there is another side to him.

Andrew Moodie and Stephanie MacDonald. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Moodie as the athletic-looking Allan is not what Dougie remembers or attempts to remember. He does not know his “friend” very well. Moodie turns in a strong performance.

Gillis’s Cheryl is a practical woman who is very religious and seems to be living in the real world. But you start having your doubts. We have our doubts about Sandy as well and MacDonald is very impressive in the role.

There is a punch line of a revelation in the play which is dramatically effective if a bit long in coming. The play is good but it is raised above that by Richard Rose’s fine directing and the acting by a superb cast. A lesser cast would have given us a flop. They did the opposite.

New Magic Valley Fun Town by Daniel MacIvor in a co-production by Prairie Theatre Exchange and Tarragon Theatre opened on February 27 and will play until March 30, 2019 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.