Thursday, May 30, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

With the usual pomp and circumstance, blaring trumpets and red carpet for the elite, the Stratford Festival opened officially with a production of Othello. Nigel Shawn Williams directs a fine production with a superb cast that results in an outstanding night at the theatre.

The production has the fundamental requirement for staging Othello which is talented actors to fill the roles of Iago, Othello and Desdemona. The diabolical Iago is a more interesting and difficult character and gets top billing over the other two main roles. Gordon S. Miller gives a brilliant performance as an Iago who is subtle, manipulative, abusive and absolutely evil but is able to operate beneath a veneer of honesty, obedience as a subordinate officer, and friend. We see all these characteristic in Miller’s performance and get a picture of the terrifying monster. 
Gordon S. Miller (left) as Iago and Michael Blake as Othello. Photo: David Hou. 
Michael Blake is a highly effective Othello. We first see the officer and gentleman, self-assured and commanding. He faces the accusations and insults of using magic to attract Desdemona with equanimity and poise. We watch with riveted attention as Iago’s poison begins to take effect until all of his fine qualities disappear and Othello becomes a veritable monster.

In the exceptionally moving last scene, we see Othello regain his stature and dignity, and come to the realization that by killing Desdemona he threw away the richest pearl. But Othello is much more than a lover and husband. He also recalls his defence of Christianity in Aleppo when he slashed the throat of a turbaned Turk. A marvelous performance by Blake as we see all the facets of the Moor.

Amelia Sargisson is a beautiful Desdemona and a woman in love. She has the strength to choose between duty to father and loyalty to husband and be happy in her choice. She is playful and loving until the reality of Othello’s unthinkable jealousy dawns on her. Her murder is well staged and Sargisson’s Desdemona is remarkable for her poise, her passion, her innocence and her tragic end.

The lesser roles are done well. Johnathan Sousa’s Cassio is an ordinary officer, too weak to command or control his drinking. Roderigo (Farhand Ghajar) is an infatuated fool reaching for Desdemona. Michelle Giroux plays the Duchess of Venice, a modern woman who knows her job. Shruti Kothari is a spirited Bianca making a living the hard way.

Williams gives the play a modern setting with most of the characters wearing the same army fatigues. As far as I could see at the start, there were no insignia to indicate different ranks. Then I noted small patches on the chest to differentiate the officers. In a play where rank is of the utmost importance, more attention should have been paid to the uniforms and insignia. 
Amelia Sargisson as Desdemona in Othello. Photography by Chris Young.
We have a general and an ensign who have won glory in many battles but there are no decorations whatever on their chests to indicate that. The uniform means something because when Othello crosses the line from dignified general to insanely jealous husband he is without his army jacket. Iago’s wife Emilia (an excellent Laura Condlin) is also in uniform (officer, soldier?) and solves the problem, I guess, of Desdemona having a servant in the 21st century.      
The set by designer Denyse Karn consists of a beige backdrop with several doors. Karn also designs the projections which together with the work of Lighting Designer Kaileigh Krysztoifiak provide a rich variety of backgrounds. This includes the indication of streets and buildings as well as surging sea waves and nightmarish images. Highly effective work.  The only props Othello requires are a bed and a bench.

Williams adds an opening scene to the play. When the lights go on we see two men and a woman at the right edge of the stage. In the centre of the stage we see about a dozen men dressed in black who do a brief dance routine to a few very bars of loud, throbbing rock music. The men and woman are Othello and Desdemona getting married by a priest. Are the ghouls supposed to be a quickie, unscripted omen of things to come?

A strong and highly worthy beginning to the new season.
Othello by William Shakespeare opened on May 27 and will play in repertory until October 27, 2019 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Do not miss August: Osage County which is now playing at the Young Centre.

Near the end of August: Osage County, Barbara recalls her poet father saying to her “You know, this country was always pretty much a whorehouse, but at least it used to have some promise. Now it’s just a shithole.”  It was a cogent description of the United States a dozen years ago when Tracy Letts’ play was first produced and it is even more apt today.

The play tells the story of a large, dysfunctional family from Oklahoma but it also points to the dysfunctional families of other American playwrights and reaches back to the fountainhead of such relations in The Royal House of Thebes and The House of Atreus.

Without mincing words, August: Osage County, is a masterpiece. It has a skillfully constructed plot, superbly drawn characters and is full of drama and humour that hold you in thrall from beginning to end.
Maev Beaty and Nancy Palk. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Soulpepper’s production, directed exquisitely by Jackie Maxwell takes all the virtues of the play, puts them in the hands of an outstanding cast and the result is simply great theatre.

The play opens with Beverly Weston (Diego Matamoros), a drunk, disillusioned poet quoting T. S. Eliot as he interviews Johnna (Samantha Brown), a Native American for the job as a maid. Matamoros gives a superb performance in his brief appearance and then he commits suicide. His large family gathers in the big, rambling house for his funeral and the stage is set for the searing drama, the incredible revelations, the huge arguments and the great humour of the play.

The play is dominated by two women. There is Violet Weston (Nancy Palk), Beverly’s wife, a bitter, vicious, half-crazed woman who takes countless pills, drinks too much and at times forms words with difficulty. Palk, thin, half-crouched, delivers a bravura performance that should define her long career in the theatre. Her physical movements and vocal intonations, her furor and her pain add up to a tour de force of acting.

Her daughter Barbara (Maev Beaty) is made of the same material even though she initially appears different. Beaty gives a magnificent performance as a woman of great strength and a person who understands her deep flaws. She can get a huge laugh with a single word and grab the situation with a short phrase. Nothing but superlatives for her performance.

Beverly and Violet have two other daughters. The flighty Karen, played superbly by Raquel Duffy and the troubled Ivy played with great skill by Michelle Monteith.

The rest of the exceptional cast deserve kudos. Oliver Dennis plays the hen-pecked but decent husband of Mattie Fae (Laurie Paton) until he finds the strength to stand up to her. Mattie Fae has a secret that connects to Oedipus Rex but I will not spoil it for you. Her son “Little” Charles (Gregory Prest) is a sympathetic loser. 
 Michelle Monteith, Raquel Duffy, and Maev Beaty. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Native Americans play an important part in the play. I will leave it at that. The play is rich in literary references and allusions including the first and last words being by T. S. Eliot.

The set by Camellia Koo represents several sides of the Weston house on a revolving stage. At first we see the two-story interior of the house with two stair-cases. The stage revolves and we see the dining room. Beautifully done.

Much of the credit for the extraordinary production belongs to the expertise of Jackie Maxwell. She orchestrates every action and reaction by the actors, manages every intonation and move and the result is theatre at its best.

Do not miss August: Osage County.  
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts opened on May 24 and will run until June 23, 2019 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario, M5A 3C4.

Sunday, May 26, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Getting Married, one of the two plays by Bernard Shaw offered by the Shaw Festival this season, gets is a solid production directed by Tanja Jacobs with a number of aspects that deserve praise and others that attract comment.

The 1908 play is a talkfest in the Shavian manner of taking a main subject and expanding the conversation into numerous byways. In this play Shaw takes on marriage and his characters discuss divorce, sex, politics, the position of women and the social order in England in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. Jacobs brings the action to 1950 by which time some things had changed but many remained the same.
 Steven Sutcliffe as Reginald Bridgenorth with the cast. 
Photo by Emily Cooper.
The scene is the spacious kitchen of the palace of the Bishop of Chelsea and Edith, his sixth daughter, is getting married. On the morning of the wedding breakfast preparations are apace and family members arriving.

The wide-ranging conversations that ensue have a drive of their own but the dialogues  need careful pacing to keep the play moving. Jacobs and the fine cast stickhandle this adroitly overall but there are some lapses. Getting laughs is not always easy and Jacobs adds some pratfalls, tripping over furniture and double-takes that evoke laughter. The rest of the entertainment rests on the ideas and reactions of some of the characters.

Bishop Bridgenorth (Graeme Somerville) is a wise, open-minded cleric, who gives the devil his due as he listens to opinions about the sanctity of religious marriages, contractual unions and polygamy. Somerville exudes the wisdom and devilish wit of the Bishop who is a dominant character.

His brother General “Boxer” Bridgenorth (Martin Happer) is a thick-headed and bemedaled officer who trips over the furniture and is forever proposing marriage to the intelligent and independent Lesbia (Claire Julien) who is forever rejecting him in no uncertain terms. Marriage is not for her. He can think of nothing else but marriage. Happer does well as the somewhat ridiculous and broadly comic general.  

The dozen characters in the play fulfill a number of views of marriage.  Edith (Katherine Gauthier) and Cecil Sykes (Cameron Grant), the couple that is getting married, change their mind. They find out by reading a pamphlet that marriage can be a dangerous undertaking. If he becomes a lunatic you cannot divorce him and if she runs up debts, you are responsible for them. Gauthier and Grant are entertaining and intriguing in looking for something like a reasonable marriage. How about make it simply contractual?

Lesbia wants children but not a husband and she cannot have the former without the latter. Makes no sense especially when the choice of husband is a fool like the general. Julien as Lesbia strikes the balance between independence and common sense with good arguments.

The bishop’s brother Reginald (Steven Sutcliffe) and his almost divorced wife Leo (Monice Peter) illustrate the state of divorce laws brilliantly. Leo is a free spirit who wants and maybe needs more than one husband. In order to divorce Reginald, they had to manufacture an assault and an affair with a prostitute. Leo’s next husband-to-be Hotchkiss (Ben Sanders) shows up to complicate matters. The three are free spirits and the actors do a great job with them.   
Cameron Grant as Cecil Sykes and Katherine Gauthier as Edith Bridgenorth. 
Photo by David Cooper.
Reverend Oliver Crowell Soames, a lawyer, tries to draft a marriage by contract. Mrs. George Collins (Marla McLean) turns up. She a mysterious woman of many talents. She is a clairvoyant, she goes into a trance and you will just figure her out for yourself after giving kudos to McLean for her performance.

The set by Shannon Lea Doyle shows a kitchen with a couple of tables and stools as well as hanging copper pots and pans. The small stage of the Royal George Theatre does not allow for much grandeur but the set is more than adequate.

Professor Higgins tells us that “an Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him” but in this production there are almost no such differences in speech. For example, William Collins (Damien Atkins), the green grocer would be immediately distinguishable by his accent from the upper crust Bishop. There would be gradations in accents to indicate social status. They may all be English but in this production, all spoke in our local style. So be it.

Be prepared for a wide range of arguments on numerous issues, done well, and you will enjoy the production.
Getting Married by Bernard Shaw will run in repertory until October 13, 2019 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.


Reviewed by James Karas

Director Bartlett Sher seems to have cornered the market for imaginative, indeed brilliant, productions of classical musicals and numerous operas at the Metropolitan Opera. His production of My Fair Lady, now running at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center is yet another example of his superb directorial talent.

This Fair Lady gets a lavish production with a superb cast done to high standards that define the American musical at its best. The fair lady is Laura Benanti who has a ringing voice and sculpted face making a delightful Eliza. It is no wonder that Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Christian Dante White) dotes on her and hangs outside the house on the street where she lives belting out, well, "On the Street Where You Live." 
Harry Hadden-Paton and Laura Benanti. Photo: Joan Marcus
Eliza of course needs a suitable counterpart in the upper crust, ill-mannered, gruff and confirmed old bachelor Professor Higgins who wants to fashion a lady out of a squashed cabbage leaf. The man to do all of that and sing is Harry Hadden-Paton. He is young (OK, and handsome too) and quite impressive and funny in his rudeness. But does he eventually get his creation to marry him? Check Bernard Shaw and Alan Jay Lerner for possible answers. Then see what Sher has in mind for her.

My Fair Lady has a large cast but let’s deal with the major players. Starting at the bottom of the social scale is Alfred P. Doolittle, the common dustman as they say, Eliza’s dissolute father who would have higher moral standards if he could afford them.  He can’t until an American millionaire endows him with the curse of money and consequently middle class morality. His little bit of luck is over and he becomes concerned about getting to the church on time to commit the ultimate middle class crime: marriage. Alexander Gamignani is a hilarious scoundrel from start to finish.

At the other end of the social ladder is Mrs. Higgins who has real class. She knows her boorish son Henry well and takes Eliza’s side. Rosemary Harris, the grand lady of the theatre also represents a true lady of upper class English society at its best.

Colonel Pickering is another gentleman of the same class. Allan Corduner does fine work in the role even if he has to sing the awful “You did it.”
Laura Benanti, Christian Dante White, Allan Corduner. Photo: Joan Marcus
Sher uses of the huge stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre and the equally huge budget to great effect. The revolving stage brings us to the opening scene in Covent Garden with the columns of St. Pauls Church visible in the corner. We then get a glimpse of Wimpole Street before the gorgeous interior of Professor Higgins’ house is brought forward. We see the two story library and sitting room and when necessary a view of the upstairs bathtub and the outside. The race track, the ballroom of the embassy, the conservatory of Mrs. Higgins’ house and the rest of the scenes are brought forward with efficiency and aplomb. There are no short cuts in this production.

Michael Yeargan is responsible for the sets and Catherine Zuber gets full marks for the beautiful costumes.

In other words, this is Broadway at its best.
My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music), directed by Bartlett Sher, continues until July 7, 2019 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th St. New York, NY.

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

Well, not quite. The fact is they came, they entertained us brilliantly and they left before most of you got wind of it. Too bad for you.

I speak of the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg which gave only three performances of Boris Eifman’s ballet TCHAIKOVSKY – PRO ET CONTRA – at the Sony Center in Toronto on May 9, 10 and 11, 2019.

TCHAIKOVSKY is a combination of theatre and ballet as developed by Eifman. As with his other works, Eifman examines the life of the composer through his music and zeroes in on some of his life’s experiences. But this is not a story in the narrative sense but in the balletic and psychological method that can express experiences through dance. 
 The programme begins and ends with Tchaikovsky’s death when past experiences and scenes from his life reappear to him. The first act uses music from Symphony No. 5 and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and Oleg Gabyshev as Tchaikovsky with members of the company takes us through scenes in the composer’s life. We see the people that help and haunt him in the real and phantasmagorical world of his emotions.

Tchaikovsky’s patroness Nadezhda von Meck (Alina Petrovskaya) who provides the financial means for him to be able to compose and Antonina Milyukova (Lyobov Andreyva), the woman with whom he had a disastrous marriage also appear. In his emotional torments he sees himself as Rothbart, a guardian angel and Drosselmeyer, an evil demon, both are danced by Igor Subbotin. Through all of this he is able to create The Nutcracker.

In the second act, Tchaikovsky’s torments continue as he is torn between the desire to conform, his need to create and the realities of his impecuniosity and homosexuality. Von Meck’s money provides the means of survival and creativity gives him the way to escape into the heroic milieu of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and the world of gambling in The Queen Spades.    

In addition to scenes from The Nutcracker, we have scenes from Onegin with Tchaikovsky’s Double, Igor Subbotin, dancing Onegin, Daniel Rubin dancing Lensky and Lilia Lishchuk as Tatyana. In the marvelous card scenes from The Queen of Spades, Igor Subbotin dances Herman, Alina Petrovskaya is the Countess and Daniel Rubin is the Joker. 

The second act includes music from the Serenade for Strings, Capriccio Italien and Symphony No. 6, the “Pathétique.” All the music is unfortunately prerecorded and we have to rely on the Sony Centre’s speakers for it.

This is ballet with a difference. It is rich, nuanced and with biographical and literary allusions to make your head spin. The dancing is outstanding and richly textured. Eifman has combined elements of classical ballet with new ideas about theatricality and plot.

The production has two casts. One cast performed on May 9 and 10 and the other on May 11. I saw the May 11 cast.

Next time you hear that the Russians are coming think of ballet and not the current news.  
TCHAIKOVSKY – PRO ET CONTRA, a ballet by Boris Eifman with music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky presented by Showone Productions was performed three times on May 9 – 11, 2019 at the Sony Centre, 1 Front St. E. Toronto, Ontario.

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


James Karas

Beautiful Man, now playing at Factory Theatre, has three women sitting on stools or standing by them, while facing the audience and purportedly talking to each other. Behind them there is a room in which a young man is doing pushups at the beginning and participating in the performance intermittently for the first hour. He takes over in the last half hour. The women are played by Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen and Sofia Rodriguez. They speak at an impressive speed and very expressively. Well done acting jobs.

What are the three women talking about for an hour? First, we are warned about the use of explicit language and the f word is used for those who may not know what “explicit language means.”
Ashley Botting, Jesse LaVercombe, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. 
Photo: Joseph Michael Photography
The women watch a cop show and they describe at great length what Detective Rosie does. She finds the body of a beautiful man in a basement, they tell us, and add details of his penis right down to how Rosie pushed it with her pencil. Rosie’s husband (Jesse LaVercombe, listed as the Beautiful Man in the program) is ridiculed for asking her “how was your day?” He may be a teacher or a nurse or something else but the women are more interested in penises, erections and sex. This can be construed as satire about bimbos who watch too much TV and have nothing better to do than to discuss in excruciating detail what they saw. It turns out they see mostly lurid sex and violence which easily qualifies for pornography.

Then they move to discussing a far more violent show involving fighting and we have a Queen Di who is struggling for power with her sister. Di wants a man for his sperm and she collects a few specimens to see if they qualify for her harem. She crushes the testicles of the unacceptable applicants and makes) someone suck the paste that she has made. We get much information about the torture, plenty of references to male organs and their various positions and goodness gracious all the explicit language we you can handle.

We move to Antonia and Cassia and more grotesque descriptions. Then to a brilliant woman who was a sommelier and now is a lawyer and meets this bozo of a man who wants to tell her about a pinot noir that they are drinking. He is a pretentious idiot.

She treats us to a description of life in a big law firm and what it takes to rise up the slippery pole to partnership. Satire, irony, burlesque, none of the above, make your choice and follow the plot.

After one hour of this and much more, the three women take their bow and step aside. Now it is the turn of the Beautiful Man to speak to us. Did I tell you that while the ladies were talking he slowly took off clothes until he was completely naked? He comes back fully dressed and speaks to us as if he were the woman lawyer walking home after the pinot noir showdown and being fearful of being attacked by some men who are standing at a street corner. We get a full description of her thoughts and fears for almost half an hour until the actor leaves the stage and we are left to wonder what happened to the brilliant lawyer and wine connoisseur. The would-be attackers are simply wondering what she is thinking about.

We are told that the play “turns the tables on gender and power with the simple question, “What if men were the victims of objectification and marginalization rather than women?”
Objectification and marginalization are almost antiseptic words which carry a clinical message without describing the horrors of the behaviour of numerous men that are in the news.  There are men who would not understand the meaning of those words and do far worse. There are also men who do understand those words and can’t get past their conduct.

Three or thirty men talking about women the way the three women in the play talk about men would not prove anything. I can see the political intent of the play but it simply failed to make me see the turning of the tables in the theatre.
Beautiful Man by Erin Shields in a production by Factory Theatre runs until May 26, 2019 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.

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

Sunday, May 19, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

When you hear that Glenda Jackson is doing King Lear, you should start putting your boots on and head to the Cort Theatre in New York. You will not be disappointed.

In this modern dress production directed by Sam Gold, we have Glenda Jackson as an old and frail King Lear (she is a king and not a queen) with a furrowed face which at first blush may suggest that Goneril and Regan are right. The Authority that Kent discerns in Lear’s countenance is more in past remembrance of it than in present reality.

But as the play progresses, we see in Jackson a Lear with a deeply dramatic voice that she can modulate in her expression of fury, sorrow, humiliation and self-realization. She wears a formal suit in the opening scene and her voice is deep enough for us to accept her as a king. The result is a stupendous performance in a unique realization of King Lear.

The production opens on a formal occasion in a large gold-coloured state room. The men wear formal attire and the women wear gorgeous evening gowns. They are all sipping champagne while a string quartet is playing chamber music in the corner. This is not barbaric, old England. 
Glenda Jackson as King Lear and Jayne Houdyshell as Gloucester
The quartet will stay on stage during most of the performance and play frequently sometimes short snippets and longer pieces at other times. The music is composed by the eminent Philip Glass and he is listed on the programme above the director Sam Gold. The quartet emphasizes the aristocratic milieu and importance of the opening scene where the aging king divides the kingdom. I could not figure out what their presence meant for most of the rest of the performance.

At the beginning the beautifully dressed Goneril (Elizabeth Marvel) and Regan (Aisling O’Sullivan) appear quite polite if over-gushing and their evil side is revealed slowly but is quite sweeping in its viciousness. Cordelia (Ruth Wilson who also plays the Fool) stands her ground without being mousy. She is principled and honest.

The Duke of Cornwall is played by Russell Harvard who is deaf. He wears a Scottish kilt and is accompanied by a servant who communicates with him in sign language and verbalizes their exchanges for the audience. Bold casting by director Sam Gold and a fine performance by Harvard.

As with the evil sisters and Cornwall, Gold humanizes the characters. The evil Edmund (Pedro Pascal) is not exaggerated at all. He has a sense of humour and the evil in him is simply part of his nature. He enjoys his evilness and is shameless about it.
He is shown having rather graphic sex with Regan to confirm our suspicion about their relationship going well beyond a self-serving conspiracy. We know better anyway. Excellent work by actor and director.
 Aisling O’Sullivan as Regan, John Douglas Thompson as Kent, Matthew Maher as Oswald, 
Ruth Wilson as Cordelia and Elizabeth Marvel as Goneril
The Fool is played by Ruth Wilson as a Chaplinesque figure who is genuinely funny and touching. Superb work in the interpretation of a role that can be funny more in the imagination of the audience than on stage.

The famous scene near the end of the play where Lear carries Cordelia onto the stage crying “howl, howl” is altered for obvious reasons. She is lowered from the ceiling with a rope around her neck. A truly dramatic solution to the problem of having Jackson carry Wilson on stage.

The Duke of Gloucester is played by a woman, Jayne Houdyshell, pretending to be a man. I do not doubt Houdyshell’s acting ability but I wonder what is gained by having a woman play the role of Gloucester. Is Gold, in one of his personal quirks, insisting that a woman as Lear must be balanced with a woman as Gloucester? Perhaps.

Gold at 41 is a young director carving out a career in classical and modern theatre. He gives us a personal view of the play that may have a few too many personal touches. So be it. One can argue with him on many points but this production of King Lear is unforgettable.  
King Lear by William Shakespeare continues until July 7, 2019 at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street, New York. 212 239 6200

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

The Brothers Size is a powerful play about three black people, two brothers and a friend, set in Louisiana in what the author calls the “distant present”. It has ritualistic elements, the characters often speak in the third person and we get a play of rare power and poetic resonance that presents moving relationships amid the unspeakable condition of blacks in the south.

The Brothers Size is the second part of a trilogy by Tarell Alvin McCraney that he calls the Brother/Sister Plays. The play is set in the fictional town of San Pere, Louisiana near the bayou.  The two brothers are Ogun Size (Daren A. Herbert) and Oshoosi (Mazin Elsadig) and the third character is Elegba (Marcel Stewart). The latter is Oshoosi’s best friend, prison mate and lover. 
Daren A. Herbert, Marcel Stewart, and Mazin Elsadig, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Ogun is the older brother and he is a serious man, and car mechanic who owns his own business. Oshoosi is another story. He is fresh out of prison and wants to live it up. With no money, no job and no desire to work, that is difficult to achieve. He dreams of the good life especially the desire to have a car. Ogun offers him a job and tries to help him and guide him so that he does not end up in prison again.

As if that were not enough, Elegba arrives on the scene. He works in a funeral parlour but wants to have a good time too. He brings a car for Ogun to repair and he makes a gift of it to Oshoosi because he has no driver’s license. Ogun knows instinctively that Elegba is dragging his brother in the wrong path but realizes that he can do nothing about it.

The two friends go for a ride and are caught with a pound of powder. I will not tell you the dramatic conclusion of the play.    

Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu does the play in a theatre-in-the round on the Michael Young stage of the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. We see only the front end and windshield of an old car in the playing area while the rest of it is buried. The car plays an important part in the play both as a symbol of Ogun’s success as a mechanic and as the vehicle that may destroy Oshoosi. We feel the heat of the beating sun in Louisiana in a set that is both realistic and surreal. The set is designed by Ken MacKenzie.  

There is rich musical accompaniment by composer and percussionist Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison. 

Mazin Elsadig and Daren A. Herbert, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
The rich language with its poetic resonance is occasionally understood more by its musicality than strict comprehension of the meaning of some words. It is the patois of the blacks of Louisiana that adds another layer to the rich texture of the play.

McCraney uses a technique of involving us in the action and at the same time telling us to step back. What would normally be stage directions, in this play are spoken by the characters. “Ogun goes under the car,” “Ogun comes from under the car” are lines spoken by Ogun. This applies to the characters’ emotional reactions.   

Elsadig, Herbert and Stewart give superb performances in a play that is masterfully directed by Otu. This is an outstanding production that broadens our theatrical horizons. Theatre at its best. 

The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy consists of In the Red and Brown WaterThe Brothers Size, and Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet. Is there any reason for delaying production of the other two plays?
The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney continues until June 1, 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.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


James Karas

Last year the Shaw Festival introduced its audience to C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia with its production of The Magician’s Nephew in an adaptation for the stage by Michael O’Brien. This season it takes us back to Narnia with a beautiful production of The Horse and His Boy as adapted for the stage by Anna Chatterton.

Director Christine Brubaker with the artistic team treat the fantasy with a light touch, full of humour, humanity and adventure. The people and the horses go through difficulties and battles, they learn some lessons and in the end decency triumphs and they find happiness. The result for the audience is simply delightful.
 Jay Turvey as Bree, Matt Nethersole as Shasta, Madelyn Kriese as Aravis and Kristi Frank 
as Hwin with the cast. Photo by Emily Cooper.
A large, helpful map is projected to inform us of the whereabouts of the mythical land of Narnia and its neighbours. We will travel a long way and we need to know where we are.

A lively boy called Shasta (Matt Nethersole) is about to be sold into to slavery. He meets an enslaved talking horse called Bree (Jay Turvey) and they decide to escape from neighboring bad Calormen to good Narnia. They meet the lovely Aravis (Madelyn Kriese) who is being forced to marry a jerk. She has a talking mare called Hwin (Kristi Frank) and the four decide to take the great but dangerous trek across the desert.

Turvey and Frank as Bree and Hwin, wear horses’ heads over their own in a fine example of simple but effective costuming. They have saddles on wheels and tails when necessary with an actor helping with the movement of both. Well done. And these are no ordinary talking horses. They are intelligent, have different personalities and are highly entertaining. They are convincing as horses and people.

The escapees travel though the enemy territory of Calormen and they hear of a plot to invade Narnia. You see bad prince Rabadash of Calormen (George Krissa) wants to marry good Queen Susan of Narnia (Jacqueline Thair) without the usual precursor to the event such as asking her.

The adventures continue as the escapees cross the desert and meet the lion Aslan (Jenny L. Wright, who also plays the Hermit) who scares the daylights out of them. But they do reach their destination on time and the good guys win and Rabadash is turned into a donkey.

The production has the necessary pacing of a fairy tale, the adventures and the humour to keep the young and the not-so-young entertained. Lewis invests his stories with deeper meanings and they are elevated from being simple tales for children. 
Matt Nethersole as Shasta with the cast of The Horse and His Boy. 
Photo by David Cooper.
Jennifer Goodman provides colourful designs with projections by Cameron Davis. Siobhan Sleath is responsible for the lighting design of the changing worlds of The Horse and his Boy.

The audience is always an important component of watching a play. I saw the performance in the morning of May 9, 2019 and the audience consisted largely of primary and high school students. Many of them had attended a workshop about the play that morning and were knowledgeable and primed up for the show. They yelled out “may he live forever” at the mention of Tisroc, the dictatorial monarch, and displayed a wonderful liveliness and participation in the performance.  

All the above elements combine for a marvelous children’s story, an excellent show for  adults and a superb morning (or evening) at the theatre.
The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis adapted for the stage by Anna Chatterton and directed and dramaturged by Christine Brubaker will run in repertory until July 21, 2019 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

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

Monday, May 13, 2019


James Karas

Have you seen Rope by Patrick Hamilton? You could have seen it in London, England in 1929 or in 2009. How about in Ottawa in 1950? You missed that too? Where is that time machine when you need it? You can see it at the Shaw Festival this year. And that is a roundabout way of pointing out how rarely Rope is produced and tipping my hat to the Shaw Festival for producing yet another rarity.

Rope is a whodunit but you know who committed the murder right from the opening scene and the only mystery is if the murderers will be discovered.

Wyndham Brandon (Kelly Wong) and Charles Granillo (Travis Seetoo) share a house in Mayfair, London. They are students at Oxford University and judging by their lodgings, their maid, their possession of a car and overall conduct, they are very well-heeled by any standard. But they do seem to have one small character defect. They want to commit an immaculate murder, a killing for the fun of it and make sure no one catches them.  
Michael Therriault as Rupert Cadell, Travis Seetoo as Charles Granillo 
and Kelly Wong as Wyndham Brandon in Rope. Photo by Emily Cooper.
It gets worse. They invite their fellow undergraduate to their house and murder him by strangulation with a rope at 6:45 p.m. They place the body in a chest in the middle of their parlour and have planned a dinner party using the chest as a table. In the meantime they have invited the victim’s father, Sir Johnstone Kentley (Peter Millard) and his aunt Mrs. Debenham (Patty Jameson) to the dinner party together with three well-chosen friends to enjoy the perfection of criminality, the achievement of a perfect crime.

The friends are Kenneth Raglan (Kyle Golemba) and Leila Arden (Alexis Gordon), decent, ordinary upper class types. There is also Rupert Cadell (Michael Therriault) and you should pay attention to him. He is a brilliant poet, a thinker who may share Brandon’s morality about murder but without the stomach to achieve it.

All of the above summary comes out in the first few minutes of the play. From then on Brandon displays his braggadocio and his peerless achievement while the nervous Granillo drinks too much and runs the risk of spilling the beans or perhaps the bones about the contents of the chest on top of which the plates of food are arranged. Wong and Seetoo do fine work as criminals with a shared morality but very different temperaments.

Jameson as Mrs. Debenham has almost nothing to say and Golemba as Raglan and Gordon as Leila are very good as the decent guests who make Brandon proud of his achievement and wrack Granillo’s nerves now and then.
 Travis Seetoo as Charles Granillo and Kelly Wong as Wyndham 
Brandon in Rope. Photo by David Cooper.
Therriault as Cadell is suave, mysterious, penetrating and the person that is truly worth fooling about the murder. Will Brandon and Granillo succeed in committing a masterpiece of a murder? That is the question.

Director Jani Lauzon does good work in putting this old chestnut on the stage again. Rope respects the three unities of drama with complete fidelity. There is a single action that takes place in chronological order with no interruption and in one place and Lauzon keeps all the elements in perfect order. Joanna Yu has designed a well-appointed parlour for the young men without going overboard on the smallish stage of the Royal George Theatre. There is an upstairs from the parlour and we see the stairs when the characters leave the parlour.

Part of the enjoyment of Rope was seeing it at all and it is done well making it even more attractive. And you may even find out if one can commit a perfect crime.

And you don’t need a time machine!
Rope by Patrick Hamilton will run in repertory until October 12, 2019 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

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

Sunday, May 12, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas  

When or someone is described as “next to normal” you know perfectly well that he or she is probably a long way from the mental or emotional parameters that most people would describe as “normal.”

The title of Tom Kitt’s and Brian Yorkey’s musical Next to Normal politely understates the devastating effects of mental illness and the effect it has on an apparently normal family. Dan (Troy Adams) and Diana Goodman (Ma-Anne Dionisio) are a normal suburban couple with two teenage children, Gabe (Brandon Antonio) and Natalie (Stephanie Sy). Gabe is coming home well past his curfew and his mother reprimands him for it. Natalie plays the piano and there is a teenager named Henry (Nathan Carroll) who is clearly interested in her.
 Louise Pitre, Brandon Antonio, Troy Adams, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Nathan Carroll 
and Stephanie Sy. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
We quickly realize that nothing is normal in the Goodman family. A close look at the blank walls on each side of the stage and the spiral staircase in the centre, suggest that their world is different from “normal.” There are incongruities between what they say and what they do and the perfect family that Diana imagines is anything but perfect.

Dan sings disturbing songs like “who’s crazy” the husband or the wife? He loved a wife who was so alive when he was younger and now he would settle for one who can drive.   

The dreadful fact is that Diana is suffering from a bipolar disorder which seems to be related to schizophrenia. She is suffering from memory loss and serious hallucinations especially about her son. When Henry is invited for dinner, Diana brings a birthday cake for her son who, we learn, died in childhood and the Gabe we see on stage is a figment of her hallucinations.

This is a musical that deals with one of the most tragic ailments that can strike a person and a family: mental illness.

We follow Diana as she makes numerous visits to Dr. Madden (Louise Pitre) a self-assured but humane psychiatrist or psycho-pharmacologist as she is referred to in the musical. Diana receives numerous drugs until she loses all feeling and flushes her pills down the toilet. 
Brandon Antonio, Louise Pitre and Ma-Anne Dionisio
Photo by Dahlia Katz.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder and Diana agrees to undergo ECT or electro-convulsive therapy. The patient gets an electric shock which causes convulsions and disorientation. It looks like a hand grenade is thrown into your system and the hope is that the pieces will fall back in place in better order than they used to be.  

There are serious consequences for all. Diana attempts suicide. Natalie and Dan undergo serious stress and Gabe is ever-present in Diana’s imagination. We witness a nightmarish and heart-wrenching situation that tears the family apart.

The characters are drawn carefully and lovingly. Dionisio as Diana is a sympathetic person going through the hell of an incurable disease and unimaginable drugs and treatments.

Adams as Dan is a decent man trying to help his wife while coping with his own depression. There is nothing but praise for the cast in this complex musical directed by Philip Akin. The unrealistic set and lighting are designed by Steve Lucas.

The brilliant scrip was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama being one of the few times that a musical has been so recognized. The music won the Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding new score.

The Toronto audience gave the production a standing ovation. What more do you want?

Next to Normal  by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics), in a production by The Musical Stage Company,   continues until May 19, 2019 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario.

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

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

When April is almost ended, when the weather is getting warm and the birds are singing merrily and the flowers begin to bloom and spring is in the air and there is no construction or traffic jams in Toronto, it is time to think of the pleasures of operetta and turn your attention to the Toronto Operetta Theatre. As you approach the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts look up (at your peril) and don’t trip over or fall under the construction equipment that is actually not there.
Gregory Finney (Baron Mirko Zeta) with Male Ensemble 
But what is there is a production of Franz Lehar’s effervescent operetta, The Merry Widow for a paltry four performances. Yes, there were four performances.

Recent economic history, especially the less fiscally prudent countries of the European Union, have taught us that a country can tumble over into bankruptcy. That was the fate of the small but wonderful Balkan nation of Pontevedro at the beginning of the 20th century. Without a European Central Bank or IMF, its fate seemed inevitable.

But wait. Anna Glawari has a big bundle of money and if we can only convince her to marry a Pontevedrian and her money stays in the fatherland the country will be saved. Now you know what The Merry Widow is all about.

Now for the essentials. Our merry widow, Madame Glawari has to be attractive, vivacious, well-voiced, with comic talent. How about Italian-Canadian soprano Lucia Cesaroni? Darn good choice. Lehar is generally not stingy with wonderful melodies but the merry widow is especially well served including the beautiful “Vilja” that Cesaroni executes well.

A rich widow deserves a suitor worthy of her. There is a small lineup of them in the Pontevedrian embassy in Paris but none as eligible as the attaché Count Danilo (Michael Nyby). He is a dashing and carefree playboy with no money and Nyby convinces us that he is worthy of Anna Glawari on all points but we care mostly about vocal ability and acting talent and if he saves the fatherland in the bargain, so much the better.

A foreign embassy in Paris is bound to attract a number of muckety mucks and Pontevedro’s   legation is no exception. De Rosillon (tenor Matt Chittick), de St. Brioche (tenor Joshua Clemenger), de Cascada (baritone Austin Larusson) are there fulfilling their roles. The wives are more interesting especially the vivacious Valencienne (Daniela Agostino), the wife of Baron Zeta (Gregory Finney), the Pontevedrian Ambassador no less. Valencienne is very naughty, has a fan with writing on it and is in danger of being compromised. Agostino can do all of that in the role and sing very nicely.  
 Lucia Cesaroni (Anna Glawari)
Finney’s Zeta is more of a comic role than making great vocal demands. As the ambassador he has to worry about his job, his country, his wife and all those guests that keep him comically busy. His sidekick Njegus (Sean Curran), the Secretary at the Embassy, is even funnier. Curran has natural comic talent and Director Guillermo Silva-Marin makes good use of his talents.

Silva-Marin takes liberties with the libretto bringing in Premier Doug Ford, the IMF and the like. We expect it and he delivers it.

The Merry Widow is set in the Pontevedrian Embassy, in Mme. Glawari’s residence and at Maxim’s. Silva-Marin designs the lighting and set décor admittedly with meagre resources. The Embassy has a few leather chairs and some furnishings but it looks like the fiscal crisis has already has had its effect. Anna Glawari may have struck it rich quite recently because she simply has not had time to furnish her apartment. Maxim’s has a few tables but that’s about all and you should be looking at the girls in any event.
The Merry Widow by Franz Lehár was performed four times between April 24 and 28,  2019 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 922-2912.

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