Saturday, August 31, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

The Shaw Festival has staged its own version of Edmond Rostand’s legendary Cyrano de Bergerac. Playwright Kate Hennig was commissioned to translate and adapt the verbally sparkling, ironic and seriously romantic play. She has delivered a prose translation to be performed by fourteen actors, seven men and seven women. Seven of the actors are assigned individual roles while the other seven must handle as many as five roles. That does not create many issues because most of the secondary characters do not present a problem.

The balcony scene and the recognition scene at the end of the play are the best and most memorable parts of the play and I dare say the raison d’etre of its popularity. There are several other decent scenes but the swashbuckling and the battle scenes, for example, leave me less than thrilled. 
Deborah Hay as Roxane and Tom Rooney as Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac. 
Photo by Emily Cooper.
The central character is of course Cyrano played by Tom Rooney. He is a man of many talents from a great and brave swordsman, to a poet, an idealist and a fighter against hypocrisy. Unfortunately, he is ugly and lives in great fear of being mocked. He loves deeply but is afraid to approach a woman. Even his mother did not love him. He does fall in love with his cousin, the beautiful Roxane, but she is in love with the handsome cadet Christian (Jeff Irving).

Roxane, played by Deborah Hay, is a woman of beauty with a taste for poetry and a desire for romance. She falls in love with Christian’s beauty, but she expects much more from him. She finds the higher virtues that Christian cannot express orally in the balcony scene and in “his” letters and poetry. These reach their apogee in the balcony scene where Cyrano speaks the poetry of love pretending as to be Christian. The ruse continues when Cyrano writes letters to Roxane from the war front all the time pretending that they are from Christian.

I found the balcony scene disappointing. Cyrano’s wooing of Roxane as if he were Christian begins haltingly and picks up speed like a force of nature. He first wants to bring down the stars from the sky and beat Cupid at his own game. There is a build-up of passion that reaches an emotional paroxysm in both Cyrano and Roxane. She trembles, weeps, is drunk with love and declares herself his. In that climactic moment, Cyrano declares that he is ready to die.

The penultimate scene where Cyrano reads “Christian’s” last letter to Roxane and she realizes that it was he who loved her is moving 
 Jeff Irving as Christian in Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Rooney and Hay fell short of reaching that emotional Everest. They are good but I think the scenes demand more than they delivered. Cyrano’s death when he utters his last word “panache” evoked some laughter from the audience. Good grief!

Hay and Rooney are no doubt capable of expressing great emotional ranges and I am not sure why director Chris Abraham chose to understate the depths felt by the characters in these scenes.

Irving as the handsome and verbally challenged dolt wins and keeps Roxane on the love and letters of Cyrano. He is just a prop and perhaps a symbol of the vacuity of beauty, but we give the actor credit for his representation. The other characters that are of more than minor importance are the poet Rageneau (Kyle Blair), the nasty De Guiche (Patrick Galligan) and Le Bret (Tanja Jacobs).

With the significant exceptions noted, the production is well done. The opening scene where Montfleury (David Adams) is thrown off the stage and the crowd scenes are well done. The scene in Rageneau’s bakery between Cyrano and Roxane is moving. The boom-boom scene in the Siege of Arras has its moments.

The set design by Julie Fox is good and efficient for the locales of the action.
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand in an adaptation by Kate Hennig will run in repertory until October 20, 2019 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


By James Karas

Yasmina Reza’s play ‘Art’ can appear thin, pretentious and without enough material to entertain one for even ninety minutes. It is nothing of the kind. It is a three-hander done on a simple set with three friends purportedly looking at a painting but in fact analyzing the basis of their friendship. It works.

Serge (Diego Matamoros), a dermatologist, has bought a modern painting by a famous artist for a lot of money. It is a 5’ x 4’ white canvas which may have some intriguing lines on it. Serge is ecstatic about the piece that he has acquired and considers it a masterpiece that fascinates and moves him. 
Huse Madhavji, Oliver Dennis, and Diego Matamoros. Photo: Dahlia Katz.
His best friend Marc (Oliver Dennis), a self-assured aeronautical engineer has an immediate and definite reaction to the painting. It is shit. Serge’s other friend Yvan (Huse Madhajvi) lacks Marc’s education and character (he just got a job selling stationery) agrees with Marc and with Serge. He is a wishy-washy, self-centered and a rather pathetic character who does not want to displease anyone.

The reaction to the painting sets off a series of revelations not so much about art as about the characters of the three men and the basis and nature of friendship itself. On what basis do they get along?

Is the friendship between Marc and Serge based on the engineer dominating the dermatologist and being his mentor and the shaper of his tastes? Serge holds Marc’s wife in contempt and considers her a perfect match for Marc. In other words Marc is contemptible like his wife?

Yvan is about to be married and he has trouble with his mother and stepmother and the whole world it seems. He is called a spineless amoeba and a coward who cries very easily.  He has a job in a company owned by his fiancée and has nowhere to go. His friends advise him to cancel the marriage. He infuriates Marc and Serge by being habitually late. What kind of friend is he?

One’s taste in art may be completely subjective and one’s masterpiece may appear like crap to someone else. Friendship may be just as subjective and putting it under the microscope may reveal nothing. A friend is a friend and you should gladly leave it at that. No?  
Diego Matamoros, Oliver Dennis, Huse Madhavji. Photo: Dahlia Katz.
The play contains a great deal of humour that Dennis, Matamoros and Madhajvi bring out with expertize and panache. They also handle the dramatic scenes in performances that deserve nothing but praise. Madhajvi gets a lengthy and dramatic monologue that he delivers brilliantly. It is dramatic for the character and hilarious for the audience.

High marks for director Philip Akin who has the tough job of modulating the emotional and physical pace of the play. He maintains a perfect pace and makes sure the audience is not left without laughter for long.

The set by Gillian Gallow suggests three almost identical, simple but classy apartments that have a couple of chairs and a couch with a large white panel as a backdrops. The three different occupants are indicated by the painting hanging on the backdrop.

A superb production of an amazing, intelligent and funny play.  
‘Art’  by Yasmina Reza  opened on August 15 and will play until September 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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Seeing a good production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is like receiving a powerful and unexpected punch in the face. It leaves you stunned, dazed, breathless, furious and wondering in disbelief how it could have happened.

The witch trials of 1692 in Salem did happen and people were tortured and hanged by judges who ardently believed that they were doing the work of God in the fight against witches possessed by the devil.

Jonathan Goad directs a production that takes unerring aim at your face and delivers an unforgettable punch. He works with a cast that can deliver all the brutality, fanaticism, self-righteousness, arrogance, terror, tragedy and the small centre of decency to give us an unforgettable night at the theatre.
Members of the company in The Crucible. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann. 
In a strict, Puritan village, girls are found dancing in the forest. They must have been conjuring spirits or they are possessed by the devil. Hysteria takes over most villagers like a raging disease and the “experts” are called to find the witches and punish them. It may be hard for us to conceive of the evil unleashed by searching imaginary powers that possess people, but a hard look at the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hearings may fill you in. It was one of many witch-hunts, lest we take comfort in thinking they are rare occurrences.

The protagonist of The Crucible is a farmer named John Proctor and Tim Campbell turns in a magnificent performance in the role. This Proctor is big and muscular with a booming voice and he tries to negotiate life within the strictures of the Puritan ethic around him and maintain his right to make up his own mind and protect his dignity. He has committed a sin that his wife Elizabeth (Shannon Taylor) attributes to her coldness. In the end Campbell raises Proctor to heroic stature.

Scott Wentworth as Reverend Parris is a small, grasping, evil man who craves respect and control of the people but gets very little of either and deserves none.

The more interesting character is Reverend Hale played with compassion and conviction by Rylan Wilkie. He is a young intellectual who has no doubt about the existence of witches or his ability to ferret them out. His humanity makes him realize that the arrests and trials of the farmers of Salem is a fraud. A marvelous portrayal by Wilkie.

The most frightful and powerful person is Deputy Governor Danforth played by Wayne Best. Best as Danforth has a piercing, clarion voice, an arrogant manner, a bullying style and a contemptuous attitude towards people. He believes ardently that he is doing the work of God and the idea that he is doing great evil would never occur to him. Best gives us a superb and frightful portrait of a purveyor of evil who is deluded into thinking he is a paragon of virtue. 
Tim Campbell as John Proctor and Shannon Taylor as Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible.
 Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The centre of decency and common sense is held by Rebecca Nurse. A fine performance by Maria Vacratsis whose Rebecca represents a hopeless oasis in the midst of hysterical evil and injustice.

The hysteria of the girls is quite frightful and convincing. The screams, the contortions, the choreography of their actions are superb. I will give their names and kudos for fine acting to the actors. Ijeoma Emesowum is Tituba, Aviva Goad is Betty, Katelyn McCulloch is the ring leader as the vengeful Abigail, Déjah Dixon-Green is Susanna, and Mamie Zwettler is Mary Warren.

The farmers like Thomas Putnam (Sean Arbuckle), Giles Corey (John Dolan) and Francis Nurse (Rod Beattie) represent self-interest, decency, fear, some rational thinking and evil. They represent humanity in terrible times under terrible conditions.  

The cast of twenty-two is an amazing ensemble that give exceptional performances.

The set by Michael Gianfrancesco consists of a plain, dark paneled wall with some tables and chairs except for the opening scene where there is a bed. It is simple and does the job.

A great night at the theatre. Not to be missed.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller opened on August 1 and will continue in repertory until October 25, 2019 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie Street, Stratford, ON N5A 1X2.

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

Monday, August 19, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Hilarious, inventive, joyous, imaginative, brilliant, a tour de force, a smash hit.

That is a decent collection of adjectives to describe the production of The Front Page directed by Graham Abbey at the Stratford Festival.  

The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur premiered exactly 91 years ago in New York and has been produced regularly ever since. It has been made into several films and it is a classic in its genre provided you can decide in which pigeon hole it belongs. Let us agree that it is a very funny play.

The Stratford Festival production is an adaptation by Michael Healy and he changes the sex of one of the main characters, adds a couple of characters, some political humour, some great zingers and generally makes it even funnier than the original. The major contributor to the extraordinary production is without a doubt director Graham Abbey. The first line of this review applies to his contribution to the production and it cannot be overestimated. 
 Maev Beaty as Penelope Burns and Ben Carlson as Hildy Johnson
 in The Front Page. Photography by Emily Cooper.
The play deals with a bunch of rough-hewn newspaper reporters in the Chicago Criminal Court building in 1927 who are covering the execution of a schmuck who killed a black policeman.    The execution is scheduled for the early morning and the card-playing, booze-drinking and lying reporters who make up stories when the facts don’t fit or simply do not exist have no choice but to wait.

The central plot involving the reporters is Hildy Johnson’s (Ben Carlson) desire to get out of the business and marry Peggy (Amanda Sargisson). His boss, Mrs. Burns (Maev Beaty) does not want him to leave because there is a great story to be covered and he is a damn good reporter. She will use her wiles, ethical or not, to prevent the marriage. Healy’s change is to make Mrs. Burns inheritor of the paper from her husband Walter Burns, the original character in the play.

This is Chicago in the 1920’s and there is ample corruption to uncover. The Mayor is up for reelection and he wants the execution to proceed because it will guarantee him votes. The execution of a white killer of a black cop is a surefire vote getter of the blacks. The Sheriff (Mike Shara) is an idiot and a corrupt one at that.
 Mike Shara as Sheriff Hartman in The Front Page. Photography by Emily Cooper.
The prisoner escapes using the sheriff’s gun and hides in the reporters’ office. A reprieve from the governor arrives that the sheriff and mayor want concealed. Hildy’s officious and prospective mother-in-law (Rosemary Dunsmore) barges in, his distraught would-be wife arrives, Mrs. Burns tries to avert the marriage and all hell breaks loose. The audience is in stitches with laughter.
Director Graham Abbey has an outstanding cast but he deserves credit for the overall success of the production. He handles every scene, every situation and every character carefully, attentively and imaginatively to bring out all the humour and laughter that is available. A minor character like Woodenshoes Eichorn (Josue Laboucane) who believes he can tell the character of people by the shape of their heads does not fail to get a good laugh at every appearance. Laboucane goes a long away with a minor role.

Mike Shara as the Sheriff becomes a comic genius with his verbal delivery, his physical actions and his reactions. This may well be Shara’s best performance. The same may be said of Juan Chioran as the Mayor. Rosemary Dunsmore as Mrs. Grant is a relatively minor character but she and Abbey make sure she is a hilarious one. Ditto for Farhang Ghajar as the messenger Irving Pincus.

The major characters receive the same attention and produce the same results. Ben Carlson is masterful actor and hilarious as Hildy Johnson, Maev Beaty may be a bit overdone as Mrs. Burns but in the buildup of laughter and energy, she is a major contributor.

The large cast makes it difficult to compliment all of them but suffice to say that they do marvelous work including a natural comic like Randy Hughson as Fife and Michael Spencer-Davis as the eccentric fool Bensinger.

The set by Lorenzo Savoini consists of a large, shabby office with desks, chairs and telephones for the colourful reporters. It is perfect for the job.
The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, adapted by Michael Healy, opened on August 15 and will play in repertory until October 25, 2019 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019


 James Karas

The Blyth Festival has produced a harrowing and deeply moving play about the fate of a man suffering from dementia and its effects on his family. The man, Frank, died in a nursing home under circumstances that led his children to suspect that he was murdered by serial killer Elizabeth Wettlaufer. Frank and his family are a fictitious creation by Kelly McIntosh and Gil Garratt but as the title In the Wake of Wettlaufer suggests it is clearly rooted in the murders of Wettlaufer and the subsequent inquiry.

Between 2007 and 2016, Elizabeth Wettlaufer murdered eight seniors and attempted to murder another four victims. She confessed to the murders and is now serving several life sentences in a penitentiary with no eligibility for parole for 25 years. Details of her conduct and the inquiry held by Justice Eileen Gillese are easily accessible on the internet.

Subject to some comments at the end of my review, here, we are concerned with the play In the Wake of Wettlaufer and the extraordinary production it receives at the Blyth Festival. 
 The cast of In the Wake of Wettlaufer. Photo by Terry Manzo.
Frank (Robert King) is, one would say, staring to lose it. He is confused, forgets things and shows some excessive mood changes. He is in denial but his daughter Lynn (Rachel Jones) takes him in for an assessment and he is diagnosed with the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease.

His four children, Lynn, Mary (Jane Spidell), Brenda (Caroline Gillis) and John (Nathan Howe) argue passionately and at times viciously about how their father should be cared for. He deteriorates to the point where he does not recognize his children, hallucinates and goes through violent mood changes. Frank’s children with the exception of Lynn live far away. Lynn as the primary care giver wants him to stay at home. The others want him to be put in an institution. When Frank dies, Lynn blames the others for insisting that their father be placed in a nursing home.

King gives a stunning performance as Frank. We see a man deteriorating mentally and physically, trying to deny the obvious until he becomes a cipher of his former self. It is a dreadful sight.

As Frank deteriorates so does the relationship among his children. There is anger, guilt, recrimination and at times generosity and love as they try to come to terms with their father’s condition and subsequent death. They also share beautiful memories of their happy childhood. Brenda is a nurse in the armed forces and is devastated by her father’s death. Mary seems to be the strongest of them and finds a way to reward Lynn for her work. John and Lynn grow to hate each other unforgivably and seem unable to call a truce let alone reconcile.

The set by co-author Gil Garratt consists of no more than some tables and a few chairs and that is all that is needed for this powerful play and impeccable production.

Gil Garratt also directs the play unerringly as it builds towards the emotionally horrific climax and then works towards a calmer finish. Superb work.

Frank’s children, like the relatives of all of Wettlaufer’s victims, search for an answer to their father’s death but there is nothing coming. Justice Eileen Gillese who held an extensive inquiry found no misconduct by any one and simply blamed the system. Really? The system was created by people. Are none of them to blame?

There were more than 300 complaints against Wettlaufer. She was terminated more than once but the termination was changed to resignation with severance pay and a letter of recommendation. The HR people, managers and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) do they bear no blame for the travesty of closing their eyes and passing her on to another institution? Does the RNAO bear no blame or even an iota of criticism for defending her to the hilt? Is there no moral responsibility attaching to anyone for their actions that resulted in the horrible deaths of people? 

Justice Gillese lets everyone off the hook because “no one in the long-term care system conceived of the possibility that a healthcare provider might intentionally harm those within their care and, consequently, no one looked for this or took steps to guard against it.” What did they expect when they lied about her dismissal, recommended her to other institutions and turned a blind eye to her performance? Did the RNAO not conceive that this nurse was simply incompetent and that should have been enough to get her out of the profession. Did they have to conceive that she was a murderer?

I digress too much.

In the Wake of Wettlaufer is truly exceptional theatre and you may want to see it for many reasons not necessarily as an impetus to react to the Gillese inquiry report.
In the Wake of Wettlaufer by Kelly McIntosh and Gil Garratt continues until September 5, 2019 at the Blyth Memorial Hall, Blyth, Ontario,

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019


James Karas

If you want to enjoy bursts of heart-felt laughter all you have to do is go to the Blyth Festival and see The Team on the Hill.  It is a hilarious and touching comedy by Dan Needles, the Canadian humour writer who gave us Walt Wingfield. Like the fictional Wingfield, Needles quit his office job and moved to a farm in 1987 and has been writing about life in rural Ontario ever since. He is the worthy successor of Stephen Leacock.

The Team on the Hill is about the Ransiers, a farming family that is facing a changing world in the 1970’s. Old man Austin (Layne Coleman) is running the farm with his son Ray (Tony Munch) and Ray’s wife Irene (Julie Tamiko Manning). Ray’s son Larry (Kurtis Leon Baker) arrives fresh from Agricultural College with his girlfriend Leanne (Lucy Meanwell) and the battle lines for disagreement among the generations are drawn.

Larry wants to plant soybeans, a revolutionary idea that Ray opposes. Do they sell the farm to a developer who wants to convert it into a golf course? Would Larry be better off getting a job instead of trying to survive as a farmer? Will he ask the lovely Leanne to marry him and does she want to marry him? And why can’t the men discuss anything without flying off the handle? 
Larry (Kurtis Leon Baker), Leanne (Lucy Meanwell) and 
Austin (Layne Coleman). Photo by Terry Manzo
Much of the comedy and the biggest bursts of laughter belong to Coleman as Austin. He is a crotchety old man whose mental and physical faculties, to put it politely, are showing considerable deterioration. Needles gives Austin the best lines in the play and Coleman delivers them with unerring aim. My only complaint is that he does not wait for the laughter to subside and continues with his next line which is occasionally drowned out by the laughter.

The rest of the cast does a good job but there is no doubt about who dominates the production. Leon Baker is the intense young man who looks to the future but wants to continue in the family farming business. We like Meanwell’s Leanne who is not just head-over-heels in love but wants assurances about her future. Nicely done with humour and compassion.

Munch’s Ray is a seasoned farmer who needs to adjust to change and to inevitable succession. He married Irene six days after they met and we are on their side as we want them to see the future.

Kelly Wolf has designed a simple set representing the porch of the farmhouse with a view of the interior. There is a large tree on the left. The house revolves to take us to a hospital room after Austin collapses and the town fair. Very well done.

Severn Thompson, the Associate Director of the Blyth Festival and director of The Team, does splendid work in bringing out Needles’ comedy and keeping the audience enthralled. The small complaint about having the actors waiting for the laughter to abate before continuing with their lines and the occasional blip in failing to enunciate are easily correctable.

As you drive to Blyth you go by farms that are planted with corn, soybeans, hay and other crops as far as the eye can see. It is an enchanting sight. The Team on the Hill is the perfect play for the Festival in its setting and humour. The play was first produced by Theatre Orangeville in 2013 and one can only applaud the Blyth Festival for bringing it back to the delight of a packed theatre.
The Team on the Hill by Dan Needles continues until September 5, 2019 at the Blyth Memorial Hall, Blyth, Ontario,

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


James Karas

La Traviata is the chestnut opera at the Glimmerglass Festival this year and Francesca Zambello delivers a stunning production. It is vocally and scenically splendid and shows original thinking by Zambello.

This Traviata opens in a palliative ward of a hospital. During the overture, one woman dies and another is being comforted by a visitor and appears to be on the verge of dying. As the overture ends, she gets out of bed and tosses her hospital gown away showing that she is dressed for a party. The lights and the background change, the hospital furniture is quickly removed and we are in Violetta’s sumptuous apartment where an elegant party is in progress. 
(From left) Kang Wang as Alfredo, Amanda Woodbury as Violetta, Wm. Clay Thompson as 
Doctor Grenvil, Bryn Holdsworth as Annina and Adrian Timpau as Germont. 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Violetta may be suffering from consumption but she still has the strength to sing, fall in love, sacrifice all and in the hands of soprano Amanda Woodbury give an outstanding performance. The young soprano has a clarion voice that she uses with assurance and shows superb virtuosity throughout her performance.

She falls deliciously in love with Alfredo Germont, shows nobility in her encounter with his father and is extraordinarily moving during her death scene. A signature performance.

Tenor Kang Wang sings a terrific Alfredo. He starts reluctantly when asked to make a toast with “Libiamo” and then unleashes his considerable vocal power. Conductor Joseph Colaneri does not rush him through his arias but lets him (and us) relish his marvelous midrange and ascend to his high notes with ease.

Baritone Adrian Timpau sings the role of Giorgio Germont, the father of Alfredo, who initially looks with contempt at Violetta but gains an understanding of her honorable nature and we realize that he is a man of compassion and decency. The young baritone has a commanding stage presence as he tries to convince Violetta to give up the man she loves. His commanding and resonant voice go well with his mission and we get a stellar performance. I need hardly add that he excels in the delivery of the great “Di Provenza il mar” aria that everyone anticipates to bring the house down.

The rest of the relatively minor roles are handled very well by members of the Glimmerglass’s Young Artists Program. Joseph Colaneri conducts The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus in flawless performances.
Amanda Woodbury as Violetta and Adrian Timpau as Germont. 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Peter J. Davison’s set designs are fluid and effective. The scene in Violetta’s apartment, as I said, appears posh and there are dining tables. All is moved out quickly for the rural scene outside Paris. In case someone did not get the message, a hunting dog comes on stage (and takes a tail wag at the end to tumultuous applause). Lighting changes, furniture re-arrangement and a gambling table give us the penultimate scene until we return to the hospital.

Having Violetta on her death bed in the opening scene was tried by Michael Mayer in last year’s production at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Mayer had a few other ideas up his sleeve and the production got mixed reviews. Zambello’s idea is more refined and works much better. She does not add characters to the opera as did Mayer and showing Violetta in the hospital in the opening scene and at the end is effective and extremely moving.

An extraordinary production.
La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi is being performed twelve times between July 7 and August 24, 2019 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019


James Karas

The Ghosts of Versailles is a big opera by composer John Corigliano with a libretto by William M. Hoffman. It was commissioned in 1979 by New York’s Metropolitan Opera and premiered in 1991. It is a highly ambitious work with a complicated plot, a large cast and huge production demands for cast, costumes and scenery. 

It is partly based on Beaumarchais’ third Figaro play The Guilty Mother with significant additions by Hoffman. The servants Figaro and his wife Suzanna, Count Almaviva and the Countess Rosina from The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro as well as Cherubino from the latter opera appear as do a host of other characters. I count 31 roles in the program plus dancers. 
(Center) Jonathan Bryan as Beaumarchais and members of the ensemble. 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
The ghosts are members of the French royal family with Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI being the most important ones. Beaumarchais plays a key role because his ghost is in love with Marie Antoinette’s ghost and he has written an opera that will change history. The characters from The Marriage of Figaro mentioned above and a few others will appear in the opera. The complications and turns of events are very numerous and not very exciting to be recited in a review. Let’s just say the complicated plot adds nothing to the opera.

Let’s give credit to the creators of the production starting with Director Jay Lesenger who handles the large cast, numerous scene changes, entrances and exits with aplomb. James Noone’s sets are visually stunning. Nancy Leary’s costumes take us back to 18th century grace and splendour that only massive wealth could have produced then and no doubt do not come cheaply today but that is irrelevant to the splendour they add to the production. No one can take issue with the production values that the Glimmerglass Festival has marshalled for this opera.

I did not like the rest of the production at all. Corigliano’s modern music sounded jarring, dissonant and frequently unpleasant. There are some arias, duets and quartets that were almost melodic but they were some distance from being completely enjoyable. I realize and admit that Mozart’s music kept playing in my head. I appreciate the unfairness in hearing other music instead of what is played in front of me but so be it. At one point Rosina, the unhappy wife of Count Almaviva, sings an aria expressing her misery and seeking the lost years of her youth. That is similar to “Dove sono” from The Marriage of Figaro where the Countess seeks the pleasant past. Corigliano’s music sounded jarring compared to the sumptuous beauty of Mozart. Unfair comparison? Perhaps.

The Ghosts takes potshots at comic opera and there are few laughs in it. Beaumarchais wants to free Marie Antoinette from her present condition – remember she was beheaded and is now a ghost - change the course of history and enjoy life with her in Philadelphia – “if you can call that life!” is the last comment on the suggestion We have a sword fight only to discover you cannot stab to death someone who is already dead. 
(From left) Brian Wallin as Count Almaviva, Emily Mirsch as Florestine, 
Joanna Latini as Rosina, Kayla Siembieda as Susanna, and Ben Schaefer 
as Figaro. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
There is a great party at the Turkish embassy which goes on for too long and ceases being amusing long before it is over. Lesenger makes generous use of the aisles of the theatre and you see French royalty walking by you. At one point one of the cast mumbles the comment “is this thing still going on? It is so boring” or words to that effect.

Let’s give credit to the cast who work hard and I do not hesitate to express my adulation for their work. Of the ghosts, the main ones are Yelena Dyachek as Marie Antoinette, Jonathan Bryan as Beaumarchais, Peter Morgan as Louis XVI and Zachary Rioux as the Marquis.

The opera-within-the opera that Beaumarchais “composes” has some nineteen characters including Figaro (Ben Schaefer), Susanna (Kayla Siembieda), Rosina (Joanna Latini), Count Almaviva (Brian Wallin), Begearss (Christian Sanders), Cherubino (Katherine Maysek) Pasha (Wm. Clay Thompson) and Samira (Gretchen Krupp).

With the exception of Dyachek, the entire cast are members of the Young Artists Program.

There are aspects of The Ghosts of Versailles that people find entertaining, admirable and even wonderful. I find myself on the side of those who did not enjoy the opera at all.    
The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano (music) and William H. Hoffman (libretto) is being performed eight times between July 13 and August 23, 2019 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Friday, August 9, 2019


James Karas

Show Boat is a grand musical in the old style. It has a large cast, features some marvelous dance routines, a few great songs and touches on some societal issues. It is also sentimental, sometimes corny with a few too many coincidences but in the end it leaves you highly entertained and satisfied. And that describes the Glimmerglass Festival’s gorgeously sung and beautifully designed production directed by the highly capable Francesca Zambello.

Show Boat equals the great aria “Ol’ Man River,” a personification of the grand Mississippi River that "jes' keeps rollin' along". “Ol’ Man River” equals the unequalled voice of Paul Robeson. In this production Justin Hopkins as Joe does justice to the song with his great midrange and wonderful rumbling low notes. 
Lauren Snouffer as Magnolia Hawks, Michael Adams as Gaylord Ravenal 
and members of the ensemble. Photo Credit: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
But there is more to Show Boat than one great song. Jerome Kern married Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics based on Edna Ferber’s novel and produced one of the landmarks in American musical theatre. The integration of plot and music, the subject matter which includes miscegenation and the overall quality of the show have made a milestone that is frequently revived since its premiere in 1927.

The Cotton Blossom is a floating theatre that travels along the Mississippi. The musical starts with a fistfight where the star of the show Steve (Charles H. Eaton) knocks out Pete the engineer (Maxwell Levy) for making passes at his wife Julie (Alyson Cambridge). The crux of the incident is to bring into focus one of the most disgraceful chapters in endemic American racism: the criminal prohibition of interracial marriage and sex. Julie has Negro blood and that makes her marriage to Steve a crime. Before the sheriff can arrest her, Steve cuts her hand and sucks some of her blood. Thus he can prove that he has Negro blood as well and their marriage is legal!

This is a minor but striking incident in the musical. We then get on with the main plotline which is the relationship between Magnolia (Lauren Snouffer) and the debonair gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Michael Adams). He is tall, dark and handsome, as they say, and she is blonde and pretty. He sings "Where's the Mate for Me?" and they both sing “Make Believe” and its love forever. Snouffer and Adams turn in superb performances.

They marry, have a child and do well until Ravenal returns to gambling, loses everything and disappears for a couple of decades. She hits bottom and rises to the top on Broadway and loves Ravenal forever.

Magnolia’s father, Cap’n Andy is overplayed by Lara Teeter who tries a bit too hard to be funny. His wife Parthy a.k.a. Parthenia (played by Klea Blackhurst) is a termagant and her name gives away her character. She is right about Ravenal but we prefer Andy’s judgment because we do not want to interfere with the course of love especially in a musical.
 Justin Hopkins as Joe and Lauren Snouffer as Magnolia Hawks. 
Photo Credit: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
The musical covers some 40 years from 1887 to 1927 and by the end Magnolia’s and Ravenal’s daughter Kim (Hayley Ayers) is grown up. Andy arranges for a reunion on the Cotton Blossom. Kim rushes into her father’s arms but Zambello, quite smartly, does not have Magnolia do the same. It may be a musical but reality has not been abrogated.  

Show Boat has a chorus of stevedores and working girls who perform a number of songs and brilliant dances choreographed by Eric Sean Fogel.

The sets by Peter J. Davison from the brilliantly coloured show boat to the gritty harbour to the posh hotel and Trocadero are superb.

The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra is conducted by James Lowe.

The Mississippi may be eternally rolling along oblivious to the affairs of humanity but humanity, especially the audience in The Alice Busch Opera Theatre was certainly not oblivious to “Ol’ Man River” or this production of Show Boat as marked by their standing ovation.
Show Boat by Jerome Kern (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) is being performed thirteen times between July 6 and August 24, 2019 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


James Karas

The Glimmerglass Festival is in its 45th season on the shores of Lake Otsego and, yes, near Cooperstown. The village lays claim to fame for opera, of course, the Fenimore Art Museum, The Farmers’ Museum, and The Fly Creek Cider Mill and Orchard winery. Oh yes, there is also the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Despite the latter, people of culture and civilization still go to Cooperstown and walk up and down Main Street. Then they surreptitiously sneak away and drive along the lakeshore towards the Alice Busch Opera Theatre.  The Cooperstown Association for the Preservation of Civilization advises visitors to put on a baseball cap (preferably Blue Jays so no one will notice or care) and sneak by the village’s only traffic light and go to the Alice Busch Opera Theatre without arousing suspicion. The cap lets you enter any one of the ten thousand shops selling baseball memorabilia so you can camouflage the real purpose of your visit.

Back to civilization. This year the Festival offers six productions among other events. There is something new, Blue, something old, La Traviata, something modern, The Ghosts of Versailles, and something classic American, Show Boat. In addition to these, there is a production of Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood by the Glimmerglass Youth Ensemble and a version of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades. 
(From left) Mia Athey as Girlfriend 3, Brea Renetta Marshall as Girlfriend 2, Briana Hunter 
as The Mother and Ariana Wehr as Girlfriend 1. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Blue is a new opera that was commissioned by Francesca Zambello, the Festival’s Artistic and General Director. The title refers to the colour of the uniform of the New York City police. The music is by Jeanine Tesori whose first opera A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck premiered at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2011. The libretto by Tazewell Thompson tells the tragic story of a family living in Harlem that is also a parable of the life of blacks in America.

As becomes a story about a people as well as a family, the characters are not given names. The main characters are the Father (Kenneth Kellogg), the Mother (Briana Hunter), the Son (Aaron Crouch) and the Reverend (Gordon Hawkins). The Mother has three girlfriends and the father has three friends who also act as members of the Congregation.

We first meet the Mother who is deliriously happy about being pregnant. Her friends are more practical, perhaps cynical and advise her that the rule is “thou shall not bring black boys into the world”. The Mother’s excitement is undiminished. We meet the Father who is a rookie police officer and deeply in love with his wife and thrilled at the prospect of fatherhood.

The Mother and the Father have friends and belong to an integrated society that should reflect the America Dream. They have every right to belong and think that they belong. That notion is quickly shattered.

When the Son is 16, he rebels against the racial injustice in America that besmirches its history like a huge streak of blood on a white sheet from the arrival of the first slave in 1619 to last week’s shooting of a black man by the police. The Son engages in peaceful protests against the endemic racism around him and has a falling out with his Father. He is shot dead by a police officer.

The family and the dream of a good life are destroyed. The Father becomes bitter, hateful and thirsting for revenge. The mother is distraught and the effect of racism is brought into horrifying relief. It is a portrait of America.

After the son’s funeral, there is a dream sequence which paints a picture of what might have been if the son had not been killed.

The libretto tells a simple story, almost mundane in view of what occurs so frequently. One becomes almost anesthetized at its horror. It is a parable and not a documentary account and it is more powerful for its simplicity.

Tesori’s music is beautifully modulated and apt for the changing scenes of the opera. It opens with dark, foreboding music but we quickly get into the uplifting scenes of happiness and hope.

We experience the jarring notes of the fight between father and son; the attempt by the Reverend to preach forgiveness in the midst of anger, and desire for revenge. During the funeral scene, we hear the congregation sing airs with the cadence of Negro spirituals until the final notes of resolution in the dream sequence.

Bass Kenneth Kellogg as the Father is big physically and vocally. He has a marvelously resonant voice with some rumbling low notes. He goes from a buddy with fellow police officers, to a happy new father, to a man who is hated by his teenage son, to a vengeful man and finally to one who is reconciled through his faith. It is a tough role that Kellogg handles superbly.
                (From left) Kenneth Kellogg as The Father, Aaron Crouch as The Son and Briana 
Hunter as The Mother. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Briana Hunter is a young singer who as the Mother starts as an attractive, spirited and happy woman who is excited about motherhood, deeply in love with her husband and must face the reality of racist America. A well done performance by Hunter.     

Bass Gordon Hawkins played a well-sung and sympathetic Reverend giving Christian hope in a situation where there is little room for it.

The Son (Aaron Crouch) and the six singers who made up the three girlfriends, three friends of the Father and the congregation, all members of the Festival’s Young Artists Program, did fine work supporting the main characters.

The set by Donald Eastman consisted of a few pieces of furniture as required for each scene in front of a backdrop of a three-story apartment building.

Librettist Tazewell Thompson also directed the production with economy and simplicity as becomes the telling of a parable.

John DeMain conducted the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra in a fine performance of a new work.

Back to reality. The advisability of wearing a Blue Jays cap as camouflage in Cooperstown may be short-lived. There is strong evidence that the Toronto team will do in baseball what the Raptors did in basketball. In that case being seen in an American town with or without an opera festival with the cap of a Canadian team becomes highly risky.
Blue by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Tazewell Thompson (libretto) is being performed eight times between July 14 and August 22, 2019 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

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

Monday, August 5, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

The second Canadian Stage offering of Shakespeare in High Park is Much Ado About Nothing in a spirited, irreverent and entertaining production. They show no respect for the text, adlib whenever they feel like it, grab a microphone and speak directly to the audience and everyone loves them. All is done in about a hundred minutes give or take and no one is the worse for it.

Director Liza Balkan sets a brisk pace as is expected in an open air production and Ravel’s Bolero provides the background music when necessary.
Emma Ferreira, Helen Taylor, Jamie Robinson, Allan Louis, Photo Dahlia Katz
Much Ado has Beatrice (Rose Napoli) and Benedick (Jamie Robinson) who engage in verbal jousting and comic insults from the minute that they see each other again. She has it in for him and takes him to task as soon as she hears that he is coming. They are a delight to hear and are just as funny when they fall in love and become tongue-tied.  

Shakespeare leaves the low comedy in the mouth of RCMP Constable Dogberry played brilliantly by Nora McLellan.  Accompanied by her partner Verges (Heath V. Salazar), she proves once more that the RCMP always gets its man especially when a low-ranking, hilarious woman officer like Dogberry is assigned to the job. She goes off to Canadian Tire after receiving her reward for a job well done.

There is a serious and almost tragic love affair between the passionate Claudio (Emilio Vieira) and Hero (Emma Ferreira) whose marriage is aborted at the altar by the evil Don John (Natasha Mumba) and his/her followers Borachio (Richard Lam) and Conrad (Can Kömleksiz). But they do not stand a chance against the police work of Dogberry.
Rose Napoli, Helen Taylor, Jamie Robinson, Allan Louis, Photo: Dahlia Katz
The serious part of the play is not ignored but Balkan quite properly emphasizes the festive and comical aspects. The costumes are modern and non-descript but when there is a ball all wear colourful and outlandish attire. It is a party and even if some wooing is going on, this is a joyous occasion.

The atmosphere in the full amphitheater is relaxed and the audience is receptive and appears to be having fun. It is a good place for a picnic for spectators and mosquitos alike. The seating comfort provided by the thin cushions and hard surfaces is in direct proportion to the padding that you bring yourself.
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, in a Canadian Stage production in collaboration with the Department of Theatre, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University, continues in repertory until September 1, 2019 in the High Park Amphitheatre, High Park, 1873 Bloor St W. Toronto, Ont.

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

Thursday, August 1, 2019


James Karas

Jumbo is a new play by Sean Dixon that received its world premiere at the Blyth Festival. It tells the story of the wildly famous, 19th century elephant that became a circus star and gained immortality in its death near St. Thomas, Ontario in 1885 when it was hit by a freight train.

Is there enough material in that for a stage play? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Jumbo had several events in its life that are worthy of mention. It was a star of the London Zoo in England and was bought by P.T. Barnum for his circus and became an even greater star in North America. Signs with the names of cities are placed on both sides of the stage informing us of Jumbo’s itinerary in the United States and Canada.
Pictured are (left to right): Tiffany Claire Martin, Lucy Meanwell, Gil Garratt, 
Julie Tamiko Manning, Tony Munch, Kurtis Leon Baker and Mark Segal. Photo by Terry Manzo.
We do see a large puppet manipulated by several actors to represent the hapless Jumbo but this production is no War Horse. That limits severely what can be done with him so Dixon provides us with a mini circus in the first act. We get an aerialist, a monocyclist, a couple of clowns and some other circus performers who try hard and may even be credited with being good.

There are even some freaks that used to “entertain” people such as the bearded lady Annie Jones (Lucy Meanwell), the armless man and a snake charmer. But we did not come to the circus. We came to the theatre.

We do meet P.T. Barnum (Don Nicholson) who also acts as a very lackluster circus crier and shows little of the grandiosity and ego of the great entertainer that looms large in the imagination.

The second act takes place after poor Jumbo is killed and deals sentimentally with what should happen with his remains. The Butcher (Mark Segal) and his son (Kurtis Leon Baker) are ready to make hamburgers out of him. The no-nonsense taxidermist Henrietta Ward (Tiffany Martin) wants him stuffed and saved for posterity in all his huge glory. His trainer and man of decency, Matthew Scott (Tony Munch), wants a monument built for his beloved charge.

Barnum wants a big story. I am sure he got it and it resonated with many people for many reasons. Unfortunately that reaction is not is not well communicated to the theatre audience. Much of the action looks like padding to fill a couple of hours.

There may be animal lovers who will appreciate the fame and fate of the huge elephant. That type of audience seemed absent during the performance that I attended. The theatre was less than one-third full and the reaction was at best muted.

The play was directed and almost certainly chosen by Gil Garratt, the Festival’s Artistic Director. Unfortunately it proved to be a disappointment. 
Jumbo by Sean Dixon continues until August 10, 2019 at Blyth Memorial Hall, 431 Queen, Blyth, Ontario as part of the Blyth Festival.
Tel: 519-523-9300 or toll free 1-877-862-5984.

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