Monday, April 29, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Hand to God is a raunchy, exuberant, satanic, irreverent, hilarious and serious play now playing at Coal Mine Theatre. If you believe that good things come in small theatres, Coal Mine Theatre raises the bar well above that level.

Robert Askins’ play was first produced Off-Broadway in 2011 and made it to Broadway and London among numerous other venues.

The Southern drawl and the setting of a church basement tell you that you are in the American Bible Belt. It is supposed to be in Texas but I heard no allusion to that effect. The sexually explicit language in a church tells you to brace yourself for some very bawdy proceedings. Holy rollers may wish to give the production a very wide berth. 
Amy Keating, Francis Melling, Nicole Underhay and Ted Dykstra.  Photo: Kristina Ruddick
Margery (an outstanding Nicole Underhay) is attractive, deeply religious and a recent widow because her husband ate himself to death. Her teenage son Jason (Frank Cox-O’Connell) is shy but also slightly unhinged. The play opens with a puppet sticking its head from the curtain and relating the story of humanity from before society to the formation of social groups and the invention of the devil.

We soon realize that the puppet that Jason holds, Tyrone, is quite real (to him) and is the Devil that controls Jason. This is a marvelous theatrical ploy as Jason’s dual character dominates the play. Cox-O’Connell does the voice of Tyrone and his own with great speed and effectiveness as he controls the movements of the puppet which appears to control his mental and emotional states.

Timothy (Francis Melling) is a foul-mouthed, hideous-looking kid from the neighbourhood whose overactive hormones have no brakes. We also have Jessica (Amy Keating), the girl next door and Pastor Greg (Ted Dykstra) who has sexual ambitions towards Margery.

Remember we are in a church basement and Margery is preparing a religious puppet show for the Pastor and the congregation. And speaking of sexual attraction, make that tension, the carnal currents flowing among the characters would bust normal electrical cables. And I blush to tell you about violent sex, intra-human and intra-puppet. Hint: Jessica also has a puppet and Tyrone likes her/it.

Underhay gives an extraordinary performance as the holy roller who fights off the pastor’s sexual advances but succumbs to Timothy’s brutal idea of coitus with equal force. Margery is driven to hysterics more than once and Underhay handles the role with assurance and ability.
Keating handles the role of Jessica as well as her alter ego, the puppet. Like Cox-O’Connell she must handle quick and convincing voice changes as well as the puppet.
 Nicole Underhay and Ted Dykstra. Photo: Kristina Ruddick
Dykstra as the pastor has more than hormonal issues. He has to attempt to appear rational in an irrational world and must even attempt an exorcism of the Devil from Jason. As usual, Dykstra gives an unfailingly fine performance.    

Marcus Jamin handles Puppetry Direction and Design with superb results. Anahita Dehbonehie shows what a set designer with intelligence and imagination can do in a tiny theatre like Coal Mine. The church basement, the swings outside, the production of a car, division of the stage  in separate spaces are all handled with speed and are economical and simply outstanding.

Director Mitchell Cushman does masterly work in his execution of a highly demanding play that requires impeccable timing, emotional roller coasters, violence and a great deal of humour. He does not leave any aspect unattended and his sure hand is visible in every move.  
Hand to God by Richard Askins opened on April 24 and will run until May 12, 2019 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave. Toronto, M4J 1N4.

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019


James Karas

Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is a major milepost on the road of American
drama and it is no small pleasure to see a production that is superbly acted and meticulously
directed. That is what A Noise Within Theatre offers in Pasadena, California.

Director Geoff Elliott concentrates on the memories of the characters, their dreams, their illusions and delusions and the crushing and liberating effect of reality.

The lights go on, on an almost empty stage and Tom (Rafael Goldstein) tells us that The Glass Menagerie is a memory play and he introduces the characters, including his father who abandoned the family many years ago. We see the photograph of a smiling man on the back wall and he dominates the play without ever appearing. It is Tom’s father.
 Rafael Goldstein and Deborah Strang. Photo: Craig Schwartz
Tom snaps his fingers and furniture is brought on the stage to begin the action and tell us what he recalls from many years ago. He recalls his mother Amanda (Deborah Strang), a woman who pretends to remember a life of wealth and leisure when as many as 17 gentlemen callers came for her on one day alone. She was beautiful, genteel and sophisticated, and could have married well but she went for a man who worked for the telephone company. He fell in love with distance, she tells us, and put distance between himself and his family with no return address.

Deborah Strang gives an outstanding performance as Amanda, a woman who believes the myths of her past glories amid the reality of her life where she is pathetic and ridiculous. Everything Amanda does is pitiable and transparently pretentious but it keeps reality at a distance with no small effort. Strang makes a marvelous Amanda.

Erika Soto plays the tragic, pitiful and wretched Laura. She is excruciatingly shy as she limps and makes some delicate glass figurines her world. Soto captures Laura’s character fully and her fears, awkwardness, high school memories come out in a perfect pitch.
Kasey Mahaffey and Erika Soto. Photo: Craig Schwartz
Kasey Mahaffy plays Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller superbly. We see his bravado as he waives his arms just a bit excessively and tries to capture some of his image of success that he had while in high school. As with the other characters, Elliott directs Mahaffy with precision so that we see his humanity, his pitiful post-high school failure and his dream of making it. Marvelously done.

Tom is, as the narrator, and the man that gives focus to the play, is our guide to his situation and to the personality of the other people in the play. He is there and not there during his recollection of past events. He becomes almost a phantom in his own story. He sees reality as he escapes it by going to the movies every night. He hides in a cubicle at work to write poetry and dreams of following his father by leaving his family behind. He drinks and is almost as pathetic as his mother and sister in his escape in the artificial world of Hollywood. But he also realizes its artificiality and unreality and takes steps towards joining the merchant marine and going to the South Seas. Is that not just illusory?

Elliot does superb work in his presentation of Tom and delivers an outstanding production of a great play.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams runs until April 26, 2019 at A Noise Within Theatre, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. Pasadena, California

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

Friday, April 19, 2019


James Karas

Director Jessica Kubzansky, like all good directors, puts her own imprimatur on this production of Othello by A Noise Within Theatre in Pasadena, California. It is a modern dress staging and the officers and soldiers may be ostensibly Venetian, but we see nothing but men and women of the U.S. Army.

She has made some rational gender changes in keeping with the modern setting of the tragedy. Desdemona’s father Brabantio becomes her mother Senator Brabantia (Bonita Friedericy), the Duke of Venice is a woman (Sally Hughes) and Iago’s wife Emilia (Tania Verafield) is an officer. Sensible changes.

She adds an opening scene where Othello (Wayne T Carr) pins officer’s stripes on Cassio (Brian Henderson) to the obvious displeasure of Iago (Michael Manuel). The impeccably dressed officers salute smartly and we notice Othello’s bemedaled chest. 
Angela Gulner and Wayne T. Carr, Photo: Craig Schwartz
With the protagonists being American, the emotional wavelength of the play is that of American officers and gentlemen. Othello may be black and there may be racism in the forces, but he is very much American and cannot be distinguished as a Moor, a foreigner, among the Venetians. This inevitably takes away something from the almost mythical Moor general who has fought strange battles in strange lands that Desdemona finds so fascinating during their meetings that led to falling in love.

Iago is a psychopath who plots revenge on Othello for being passed over for promotion but he shows no relish in his evil. In the opening scene Iago speaks directly to the audience and shows some flamboyance but the rest of his performance is more restrained. He and Emilia get along during most of the play. After all she is an officer and perhaps unlikely to be an abused wife.

Brabantia is racist to the core and her disapproval of Othello is based on her bigotry alone and not on his being an exotic foreigner as well who turned her daughter’s head with some type of black magic. She alleges it but it sounds hollow when directed against an American officer and a gentleman.

Angela Gulner’s Desdemona is a smart, modern woman who does not bother to take great care of her hair. She may be coquettish at times but it does not become her and she is no “delicate creature.” This changes the dynamics of Shakespeare’s play but we accept it in a modern view of the play.

Jeremy Robb’s Roderigo is a Venetian fool who is infatuated with Desdemona and decides to follow the troops to Cyprus in the hope of getting her. He appears with a large “Just Married” sign which he obviously pinched from the wedding of Othello and Desdemona. The wedding was done in secret, of course, but seeing Roderigo carrying it over his head expresses his character perfectly. Robb makes a perfect fool who is used by Iago and spends his money in hopeless wooing.

Most of Kubzansky’s changes are defensible in line with her take on the play. The problem arises in the emotional depths that must be reached by Othello when he loses his demeanor as a gentleman and becomes ugly and cruel in his fits of jealousy. Carr does a good job in the role but he does not reach the depths that we demand of Othello.
Tania Verafield, Angela Gulner and Michael Manual. Photo: Craig Schwartz 
Part of the problem is the lack of poetry in the actors including Carr and Gulner. When he intones “It is the cause” there should be a sonority and resonance that is carried by his voice and the poetry. In the final scene Othello’s last words contain similar sonority when he says “I took by the throat the circumcised dog/ And smote him, thus.” On the word “thus” he stabs himself. In this production Kubzansky cuts out “thus” and the line ends on the word “him”. The phrase loses its cadence even if the director devises a truly shocking way for Othello to end his life. He grabs a pistol and shoots himself in the mouth.

The production is done on a bare stage with minimal props. The stage floor is red and there is generous use of the aisles of the 320-seat theatre. Frederica Nascimento is the Scenic Designer.

In the end this is a well-thought out and praiseworthy if idiosyncratic approach to the play with some parts of it not fitting well. I found it fascinating and enjoyed the performance.
Othello by William Shakespeare runs until April 28, 2019 at A Noise Within Theatre, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. Pasadena, California

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

Monday, April 15, 2019


James Karas

It is worth repeating that the Greek community of Toronto is seeing a new influx of immigrants from Greece. They are young, educated, ambitious and willing to engage in cultural activities. Together with young Canadians of Greek origin, they are bringing Greek drama to Toronto as never seen before. One such group is the theatre company Epi Skinis (On Stage) which has produced a comedy by a modern writer at Papermill Theatre, Toronto.

Pentanostimi is Lena Divani’s 2006 farce-cum-satire based loosely in Cinderella and (a friend tells me) satirizes Greek television cooking shows. Pentanostimo (extremely delicious?) is apparently the current buzzword on cooking shows that loquacious chefs use routinely to describe their creations. The word has been changed into a noun and the name of the main character of the play is Pentanostimi (Maria Dilitsi), the Cinderella of the play.

Pentanostimi has two step-sisters, the dumb bimbo Panorea (Panagiota Vogdou) and the smart but nasty Panareti (Rania Mpampasi). They run the 2½ Restaurant badly and abuse Pentanostimi. That is one half of the plotline.

The other half consists of Polydoros (Dimitris Kompiliris), young, rich, handsome, principled and the heir to a cooking magazine. His assistant Polykratis’ (Yiannis Kassios) central interest is attractive women. He suggests that they run a cooking contest open mostly to pretty women and not necessarily focused on their culinary skills.

The two plots intersect when the stepsisters see their opportunity to grab a husband and, since they can’t cook at all, they order Pentanostimi to prepare killer dishes for them. She prepares a dynamite tomato soup.

But wait. The young heir is shy and his unscrupulous assistant takes on the role of his boss. “Cinderella” enters the soup in the contest incognito, the sisters go for the assistant, the heir falls in love with you-know-who and he goes looking for her, slipper or is it spoon, in hand.

The play has two more characters that I could not make much of. There is Afro (Ioanna Rizou), an extra-terrestrial robot and a Voice (Eirini Moschaki) which is supposed to control everything. I don’t think the characters added anything to the play despite efforts by the actors to make them amusing.

Mpampasi as Panareti reminded me of Morticia in the 1960’s sitcom The Addams Family. Black lipstick, lots of poses, sarcastic and pushy, she got the laughs. Vogdou was full of energy and empty of brains and we liked her and laughed at her foibles. The nice but abused Pentanostimi of Diolitsi gets our sympathy and support and, you guessed it, she does get the prince.

Kassios has a natural comic flair and his Polykratis pretending to be Polydoros is a fine source of laughter. Kompiliris plays the necessary straight man to his assistant’s shenanigans.

The play and the performance take us to cooking shows in Athens where people, especially enthusiastic chefs, may adopt machine-gun speed when they talk. Many in the audience are not used to it and speed at the cost of unclear enunciation is not a virtue.

The set consists of two simple playing areas. On one side there is a counter representing the restaurant and on the other side a couch representing the office of the magazine. It works very well.

Maria Kordoni directs and is responsible for set design and costumes. Sophia Smyrnioudi is the musical director and we hear Cinderella sing a couple of verses of “Over the Rainbow” and Polydoros expresses his newfound-love with a few bars of “Maria” from West Side Story.

With apologies for any mishaps in transliterating the names.
PENTANOSTIMI by Lena Divani was performed three times on April 6 and 7, 2019 at the Papermill Theatre, 67 Pottery Road, Toronto, Ontario.

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

Friday, April 12, 2019


James Karas

The story of Marie-Joseph Angelique and life in early 18th century Quebec are great sagas that deserve to be told and examined, least of all because they are about Canada. Yes, times are a-changing but we still don’t like to talk about and learn much about our history.

The late Lorena Gale wrote a play, Angelique, in 1998 and Factory and Obsidian Theatre have produced it and it is now playing at Factory Theatre, Toronto. Don’t waste your time reading this or any review – just go see it. 
 Jenny Brizard and Karl Graboushas. Photo: Andrew Alexander
Angelique (Jenny Brizard) was a black slave, born in 1710, who was purchased by Francois (Karl Graboshas), a successful businessman in Montreal, for his wife Thérèse (France Rolland). Some men buy diamonds or fur coats but Francois bought her an attractive woman. His purchase was not entirely altruistic, you may say, because soon after Francois brings Angelique home, he rapes her.

Rape is an ugly word and you need not imagine violence and threats in the act. He had sex with her because she was his property and she could not possibly refuse. She had a child (more than one during the play) and thanks to extremely high mortality rates at the time, they all died.

Most of our images of slavery come from the American south where brutality was hidden behind a patina of gentility and civilized behaviour. Welcome home to early Quebec where life is good for the successful who are served by slaves and indentured servants and racism is so deeply rooted that they cannot conceive of these people as anything but common property. Flogging them is routine.

Angelique has to put up with Francois and the sexually dried up prune Thérèse as she strikes up relations with underlings Claude (Olivier Lamarche) and César (Omari Newton) and tries to escape from her situation. She is unsuccessful, to put it bluntly. There is a serious fire in Montreal, and she is accused of starting it. After some vignettes of a farcical trial based on laughable hearsay evidence she is convicted and hanged in 1734.

The production is done in two chronological periods, the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. At the beginning, Francois is wearing a modern suit and tie as do the other characters. Then he appears in 18th century attire. Are we to get the message that not much has changed in the past two and a half centuries? Some attitudes may not have changed but much has changed and the two latitudes approach is unconvincing and unnecessary.
Omari Newton, Jenny Brizard, Karl Graboushas, France Rolland, 
Chip Chuika. Photo: Andrew Alexander
What has not changed or diminished is Angelique’s riveting story. Her search for freedom, her dreams and those of Claude and Cesar of a better life and the frightful society in which she lived.

Francois dies and the fight for corporate control of his share in the business with his best friend and partner Ignace (Chip Chuipka) by Thérèse is realistic and things, it seems, have not changed much since then. Ignace is a polished and civilized gentleman who is ruthless to the bone and racist to the marrow.

Thérèse in the hands of France Rolland shows the racist and brutal attitude of her society towards slaves and servants but does display some spunk in her fight for corporate control with Ignace.

Newton, Lamarche and PJ Prudat as the servant Manon do a fine job in representing the subservient class.

The production features original music by Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble. The players appear above the playing area and play almost throughout the performance. I have no idea what they were supposed to add to a fine play. I found them annoying at best and more often interfering with the performance. On a number of occasions, the percussion beat fell on a spoken syllable, drowning it.

Most of the performance is done on a raised platform that resembles the place of execution. A gibbet is the first thing we see. Effective work by Set Designer Eo Sharp.

The set design assisted greatly in the numerous scene changes in the play and provided the necessary fluidity. Director Mike Payette made good use of it and, aside from the unnecessary and annoying music, he deserves kudos for a fine production of a significant Canadian play.

Angelique by Lorena Gale in a production by Factory and Obsidian Theatre in a Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau D’Hôte Theatre co-production runs until April 21, 2019 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


James Karas

Torontonians have an unusual luxury this time of the year. They can see a play about the beginning of the Trojan War and an opera about events at the end of that great, mythical conflict. You remember the 1000 ships moored in the harbour of Aulis ready to rescue the gorgeous Helen, Queen of Sparta from the nefarious Trojans? Small problem: no wind to help them sail across the Aegean. Solution: sacrifice the daughter of King Agamemnon. So goes Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis as adapted by Sina Gilani as Wedding at Aulis for Soulpepper.

At the end of the war, Idomeneus, King of Crete, is returning from the war but the sea god Neptune causes a storm that threatens to swallow the king.  Solution: Idomeneus promises to sacrifice the first person he sees in Crete if his life is spared. Neptune agrees and the first person the king sees is his son. So, we start with human sacrifice of a daughter and end with the sacrifice of a son. A good plot for Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo.   
 Measha Brueggergosman, Wallis Giunta, Meghan Lindsay and 
Colin Ainsworth. Photo Bruce Zinger
Opera Atelier holds the distinction of giving the first production of Idomeneo in North America on period instruments back in 2008. What was good then is even better now. Director Marshall Pynkoski with Set Designer Gerard Gauci and Costume Designer Marco Gianfrancesco set the opera in its 18th century roots as a work of beauty, elegance and grace. Choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and the Artists of Atelier Ballet add to these attributes so that the entire production, in addition to all its operatic and balletic qualities, becomes a visual delight. 

Mozart is an equal opportunity composer who provides virtual concert pieces for the main characters of the opera. The cast is exemplary starting with Opera Atelier stalwart, tenor Colin Ainsworth as the unfortunate Idomeneo. He is a haunted man who has made a terrible choice. Ainsworth has a finely tuned voice and his Idomeneo expresses vocal finesse and delivery of character as much as is permitted in opera seria.

His son Idamante, the intended sacrifice to Neptune, is sung by mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta. The role was written for a castrato but is frequently sung by a tenor. It can be done quite well by a mezzo soprano and Giunta with her lovely voice gives a marvelous performance as the prince who is loved by two women.
Wallis Giunta and Meghan Lindsay. Photo: Bruce Zinger
The lushly voiced and dramatic Measha Brueggergosman is back as the love-struck but ill-fated Electra. She is in love with Idamante, but he is in love with someone else. She goes from passion to being unhinged as she realizes that she is the loser of the love triangle.
Soprano Meghan Lindsay runs away with kudos for her performance as the Trojan princess Ilia. She is brought to Crete as a trophy and then falls in love with her owner. We hear her pain and her love in a vocally and theatrically superb performance.

Opera Atelier usually performs at the gorgeous Elgin Theatre but they have been squeezed out of there and sent to the Ed Mirvish Theatre up the street. It is not made for opera and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra was hemmed in around the stage looking a bit uncomfortable. That appearance was not reflected in their playing under the baton of David Fallis.

Idomeneo is based on a less than satisfactory libretto by a cleric named Giovanni Battista Varesco and its form of opera seria does not help it. But despite those shortcomings, Opera Atelier has managed one more time to give us a production that is a feast for the eyes, a banquet for the ears and ambrosia for the soul. A highly civilized evening at the opera. 
Idomeneo by W. A. Mozart, presented by Opera Atelier, is being presented between April 4 to 13, 2019 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre 244 Victoria St. Toronto, Ontario.

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

Monday, April 8, 2019


By James Karas

Under the Stairs starts with a very good idea. Write a musical for the 10+ age group about the lives of children from broken marriages. Most youngsters will have either firsthand experience or know about it from friends and acquaintances.

Under the Stairs tells the story, fairy tale one would say, of Tim (Kyle Orzech), a youngster who dreams of the good life but whose parents are at war. Eventually Mum (Neema Bickersteth and Dad (Martin Julien) take their suitcases and walk out of their house in different directions. Tim is left alone.
 Kyle Orzech in Under the Stairs. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
 Tim has found an escape from his parents fights by getting into a clothes closet (it is an English musical and they call it a cupboard in the play) under the stirs. There he reaches into the sleeves of the hanging clothes and while sleeping on a stool, a young girl appears. She is Lily (Kelsey Verzotti) who is friendly, affectionate and a lot of fun. Then Violet (Fiona Sauder) steps in and she is officious, argumentative and not always pleasant. But we know she is nice. Then comes Albert (Paul Rainville), an older man, benign, decent but unable to speak except for releasing the occasional fart.

All the actors, except for Tim, form a type of chorus called Them and they are led by Richard Lee. The sing and speak and are Tim’s companions as he struggles to get over his parents’ separation.

We find out that Tim and the other people in his closet have things in common and he has something very special in common with Lily. There are painful memories from childhood. I won’t tell you what they are.

The problem of the abandonment of Tim is eventually resolved and all is seen, as it should be, from the point of view of the youngsters.

Again, the musical is based on a fine idea but I have a few issues with the execution of that premise. The separation takes place with a minimum of rancor and with no parental anguish over the fate of the child. It is a fairy tale, no doubt, but it does not give a remotely realistic view of separation. This one is practically antiseptic. Children who have seen it firsthand know how harmful it can be when they become pawns in the war between their parents.

The play is almost totally lacking in humour. The theatre was packed with 10-year olds who were ready to show their enthusiasm. But whatever humour there is seemed to make little impression on the audience. There are some fine actors who could clearly have had the audience in stitches. Verzotti, Sauder and Rainville can be very funny and humour even when treating a serious subject is not out of place whether addressing a young or not so young audience. It did not come out in the performance that I saw.
Richard Lee, Neema Bickersteth, Kyle Orzech, Martin Julien and Fiona Sauder in 
Under the Stairs. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The set by Teresa Przybylski features a closet under the stars that revolved to show the front and the back of it. Very well done.

The actors, from Orzech to the rest in their single and double roles showed that they can carry both the vocal and acting parts superbly and director Micheline Chevrier did fine work with them.

But the problem is that the play simply failed to speak to its audience. It was neither dramatic, nor funny and it could and should have been both. By avoiding both of the latter, the whole thing appeared bland. The reaction of the audience was polite but unenthusiastic.

In fairness I should report the verdict of three impromptu critics. They were sitting beside me and are 10-year olds from Rolph Road Public School in grade 5. I asked them to grade the production and two of them gave it 9 out of 10 while one of them decided that 8 was probably the right mark.

Well, if I had to choose between the opinion of those three bright-eyed girls and an old f…, I would go with the opinion of the former 
Under the Stars by Kevin Dyer (book) and Reza Jacobs (music) runs from April 1 to April 16, 2019 at the Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. 416 862-2222.

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

Saturday, April 6, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Prison life and its effects on people has been a popular subject on stage and far more so on television and in movies. Alcatraz, Leavenworth, San Quentin, Riker’s Island and others have given us images of life in penitentiaries that are unforgettable even if not entirely accurate.

Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman in Guarded Girls, now playing at the Tarragon Theatre, presents us with a horrific picture of life in a prison for women. In the opening scene we meet two inmates, Sid (Vivien Endicott-Douglas) and Brit (Virgilia Griffith) and the prison Guard (Columpa C Bobb).

The prisoners attempt to make contact but the only way they can reach each other is through play-acting. They pretend to be each other or the prison guard. The Guard is arrogant, imperious and almost subhuman. Throughout much of the play she delivers white buckets on the stage and arranges them around the playing area. The inmates are both afraid and contemptuous of the Guard. When Sid changes her sweater the Guard barks at her “Your breasts offend me.”
Virgilia Griffith, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, Columpa Bobb and Michaela Washburn 
in Guarded Girls. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Life in prison has had the effect of dehumanizing the women, especially Sid, while Brit still tries to maintain human contact as she waits to be paroled. Sid simply hates people and has violent emotional explosions that add to her sentence.

In the second segment of the play we meet Kit (Michaela Washburn) taking a shower in the nude. She babbles as she soaps herself and she is clearly nuts. The scene lasts longer than necessary because after we realize that she is loony much of what she says goes by the board. Two nasty-looking Officers (played by Endicott-Douglas and Griffith) wearing visored helmets come to grab her out of the shower but they are unsuccessful because she is too slippery. Really?

The play changes gears in the final segment where we meet three young Girls played by the same actors as the prisoners. They are the children of Sid, Brit and Kit (I think) who relate stories about broken families, violence and brutality. The Girls could be the adult inmates in their youth but Corbeil-Coleman packs so much information in the 90-minute play, that the plotline becomes a bit blurry.

The brutal Guard who continues to walk on stage carrying pails is overpowered and held hostage by Kit. The Guard’s story comes out but I had difficulty accepting the suggestion that she goes to pieces over her ordeal. There is nothing to prepare us for her sudden change unless her aversion to Sid’s breasts is a clue.
Vivien Endicott-Douglas and Michaela Washburn in Guarded Girls. 
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
There are numerous stories of murder and various crimes crammed in the plot. The play, however, could use a dramaturge to streamline the plot and make it more comprehensible.

The most commendable part of the production are the brilliant performances by the four actors. The three inmates display superb emotional ranges as adults. Then they become children and show true talent again in their ability to represent teenagers in crises. Kudos to director Richard Roee for guiding them through amazing performances.

The set by Joanna Yu is a bare stage with lighting changes by designer Andre du Toit. The sole prop used is a large number of pails arranged on stage by the Guard. The characters sit on the pails and hide contraband in them but I did not figure out the necessity of so many of them unless it was simply an excuse for the Guard to walk on and off the stage frequently. 

Guarded Girls by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, in a production by Tarragon Theatre in association with Green Light Arts, opened on April 3 and will run until May 5, 2019 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

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

Friday, April 5, 2019


James Karas

Wedding at Aulis is a highly effective adaptation by Sina Gilani of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis. The production brings the main characters and the complex moral issues into focus and manages to be faithful to the original spirit of the play if not to the text. No small achievement.

The text of the play is pretty much a muddle in any event but the outline of the myth that Euripides used is pretty clear. In mythical times, there are a thousand ships moored in the windless Bay of Aulis. The armies of the Greek kingdoms are camped on the shore all waiting to sail across the Aegean Sea to Troy to bring back Helen, the beautiful wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.

The soothsayer Calchas tells King Agamemnon that he must sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia before the goddess Artemis will give the Greeks fair winds to transport them to Troy. 
Stuart Hughes and Alice Snaden. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Agamemnon summons his wife Clytemnestra and Iphigenia to Aulis under the ruse that the hero Achilles will marry his daughter. There are endless possibilities for conflict, emotional turmoil and in the end the shedding of innocent blood but that is the basic outline of the story.

Gilani maintains the outline of the myth but he adds three Fates to the play. They appear at the beginning of the play weaving the destiny of people but bemoaning the loss of a thread and we see them at the end as well. They are played by Alana Bridgewater, Leah Cherniak and Sarah Wilson.

Agamemnon (Stuart Hughes), Menelaus (Frank Cox-O’Connell) and Achilles (Sabastian Heins) are the dominant men of the play. Agamemnon is ambitious and domineering and prepared to lie to his wife, mislead Achilles and sacrifice his daughter. The excuse: he, along with the other suitors for Helen, swore to her father to attack anyone who took Helen away from Menelaus. Hughes is very effective in portraying a man who has ambition without morality and or even compunction about what he is about to do.

Menelaus in the hands of Cox-O’Connell is temperamental, immature, blustering, weak and cowardly. Heins as Achilles is muscular, heroic and all-brawn but no brains or morals. All three are superbly acted. Nancy Palk plays the Old Man, Agamemnon’s servant, and it is a marvelous role as a crotchety and abused person that Palk acts out with relish.
Alice Snaden as Iphigenia is slender, tall, innocent and the hapless victim of fraud leading to death. But she has a transformation and decides that dying for her country is just fine. 
Wedding at Aulis Chorus. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
The most impressive character and portrayal is Raquel Duffy’s Clytemnestra. She displays humanity, motherly love and strength of character as she faces the sacrifice of her daughter. A stellar performance by Duffy.

Gilani and director Alan Dilworth handle the difficult part of the Chorus deftly and successfully. In Euripides, they are tourists from another town come to see the solders and the fleet. In this adaptation there are five members of the Chorus (Ghazal Azarbad, Sascha Cole, Brenna MacCrimmon, Nicole Power and Jennifer Villaverde) and they speak and sing some beautiful pieces. They handle both spoken and sung verses splendidly.

The play is done in the small Tankhouse Theatre, a theatre-in-the-round, where no one is more than a few feet away from the rectangular playing area.

The costumes by Michelle Tracey suggest old without trying to be authentic and they work just fine. The soldiers who appear near the end are seriously Homeric.

Wedding at Aulis, a version by Sina Gilani of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis continues until April 14, 2019 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.

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

Tuesday, April 2, 2019


James Karas
Dear Evan Hansen is a grand musical that has finally arrived in Toronto to fulfill musical lovers’ great expectations. It tells a story about teenage angst, growing up and the pain of high school students of dysfunctional families.

Evan Hansen (Robert Markus), the central character is a seventeen-year old high school student from a broken family. He is a misfit with emotional issues and is variously described as a geek, a nerd and a loser. Above all, Evan is an accomplished liar not so much out of inborn mendacity as an awkward survival tool, an emotional crutch. He is in therapy trying to establish human contact and he is writing letters to himself (hence the title) about having a good day when he is having anything but. 
The cast of DEAR EVAN HANSEN – Canadian Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2019.
Connor (San Patrick Dolan) is another student, drug-taking bully and a psychopath who has no friends. He finds one of Evan’s letters which suggests that he and Evan are good friends. When he takes his own life, his parents find the letter and are convinced that their psychotic son actually had a friend.

The letter and the subsequent lies create an entire legend about the friendship and the love between the two boys and especially their love of an apple orchard. The lie is buttressed by Jared (Alessandro Costantini), a clownish student who is a “family” friend of Evan. The creepy Connor becomes posthumously not only famous but heroic. Alana (Shakura Dickson) is a talkative and high-strung student who finds a mission in establishing the Connor Foundation again built on lies. All these teenagers are broken and most people can relate to high school anxieties or parental fears and worries.

Connor’s parents are Larry (Evan Buliung) and Cynthia (Claire Rankin), well off but unable to make contact with Connor or their daughter Zoe (Stephanie La Rochelle) or each other. Evan’s mother Heidi (Jessica Sherman) is a highly sympathetic person, a single mother struggling to meet financial needs by working hard and trying to help her troubled son. 

The finely wrought book by Steven Levenson takes us from the painful awkwardness and anxieties of not only Evan but also Alana, Zoe and even Jared, who despite his braggadocio and acidic sense of humour, shows signs of anxious relations with his parents to whom he lies as a matter of course.

The uneasy relationship of Connor’s parents descends into excruciating pain as they grieve for their son’s death and latch onto Evan’s lies to find something positive in their son’s life and suicide.
Robert Markus and Jessica Sherman in DEAR EVAN HANSEN – Canadian Company. 
Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2019.
Heidi struggles to maintain her pride and dignity amidst poverty and to take care of her son in the time left to her by long hours of work. Sherman sings So Big/So Small near the end, recalling the day her husband left her alone to raise her child. She sings of the pain of separation, of the (unwarranted) guilt of being unable to fulfill all of Evan’s needs but most of all expressing the undiminished splendour of maternal love and devotion.

The performances of the cast take you in as they all appear to be the characters they represent rather than acting. That is as high a commendation as one can give actors.
The set by David Korins consists of a largely empty stage with numerous projections on a black background. With the projections of Peter Nigrini, the set allows for fluidity and quick and seamless scene changes with some pieces of furniture being rolled on and off the stage as necessary. All is expertly handled by director Michael Greif.

The music and songs provide for some memorable highlights and some forgettable segments that serve their purpose.

And speaking of fulfilment of audience expectations, opening night provided the perfect example of infectious enthusiasm where the spectators were geared up and expressed their approval at every note. Standing ovation? You Bet.
Dear Evan Hansen by Steven Levenson (book) and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) continues until June 30, 2019 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.