Saturday, October 26, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Théâtre français de Toronto stands at the helm of francophone theatre in Toronto and it is fitting that they produce a play that stands at the forefront of absurdist drama, Eugene Ionesco’s La Cantatrice Chauve (The Bald Soprano). They give it a fine-tuned, beautifully acted and superbly directed production that takes you into the theatre of the absurd with all its absorbing features, humour, non-linear plot and, well, absurdity. 

We have Mr. and Mrs. Smith, an English couple in an English suburb discussing their supper and other inconsequential and nonsensical subjects in their English home. Director Chanda Gibson has Manuel Verreydt as Mr. Smith and Genevieve Langlois as Mrs. Smith walk on stage in a stilted, unnatural almost robotic manner. They speak almost mechanically without sounding robotic but at all times we will be aware that we are not in a normal world as we perceive it. 
Christina Tannous, Sophie Goulet, Pierre Simpson, Manuel Verreydt, Geneviève Langlois, 
Sébastien Bertrand_Photo_Théo Belnou
The same applies to their visitors Mr. and Mrs. Martin played by Pierre Simpson and Sophie Goulet respectively. They arrive together and we assume that they are a couple but they proceed to converse as if they are complete strangers. The conversation continues until they discover that they live in the same room, sleep in the same bed and have a little girl. The encounter is funny, ridiculous and, again, from another world.

Mary the maid (Christina Tannous) strikes a gong a few times during the performance (the text calls for a clock) and is the audience’s informant. She gives us “the facts” about Mr. and Mrs. Martin. The Smiths join the Martins and the nonsense continues as they relate extraordinary occurrences like seeing a man tying his shoelaces and somehow reading a newspaper.

The nonsense continues with the arrival of the Fire Chief (Sébastien Bertrand) who may or may not have rung the doorbell and may or may not have been at the door for three quarters of an hour and…..well, do not look for sense in the dialogue.

The set designed by Alexandra Lord features a room with a fireplace and a few chairs. There are two doors on each side of the playing area and the whole thing works very well. 
Pierre Simpson, Christina Tannous. Photo -Théo Belnou
Theatre of the absurd is by definition something that is neither linear nor rational but in its nonsense it can be funny and to some extent incomprehensible. But its incomprehensibility is precisely the point of the play and you get to understand that it is the whole point of the play.

The strength of this production is Chanda Gibson’s ability to balance the nonsensical and the ridiculous with the comical and the serious. We may not follow all that is happening on the stage but we know we are not supposed to and that we understand what Ionesco and this superb production intend to do.

The play is produced in the original French with English surtitles making it available for a wider audience.
The Bald Soprano (La Cantatrice Chauve) by Eugene Ionesco opened on October 23 and will run until November 3, 2019 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario.

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

Saturday, October 19, 2019


James Karas

Antonin Dvořák’s Rusalka was first performed by the Canadian Opera Company in 2009, well over 100 years after its premiere in Prague. Yes, I know the COC was not around in 1901 but it was a heck of a wait. Ten years later it is back with a new staging by David McVicar and that makes for some lost time. The Met was not much better. It did not get around to producing it until 1993.

Rusalka needs a damn good Rusalka and the COC has one of the best. To put it in perspective, New York has Renee Fleming, Moscow has Anna Netrebko, Bucharest has Angela Gheorghiu and Toronto has Sondra Radvanovsky. (Yes, I know she was born in Illinois but now she is ours.)

Rusalka is a water nymph or mermaid, if you prefer, who falls in love with a mortal who happens to be a Prince. He falls in love with her too but there are some major obstacles to the union of a mortal with a mermaid. The first obstacle is her father Vodnik who is a water gnome and says NO in Czechoslovakian. The promise of love, a soul and eternal life in the hereafter, impel Rusalka to seek the help of the witch Jezibaba. She can help Rusalka switch to mortal but she will lose her voice, and if the Prince betrays her, he must die and she will be damned forever.
 Sondra Radvanovsky as Rusalka and Pavel Černoch as the Prince.
Photo: Michael Cooper
Radvanovsky dominates the performance with vocal splendour and superb acting. Rusalka goes from pleading for transformation, to the joy of love, to the rebuff by her lover, to the pangs of unrequited love, to the torment of exclusion by her family and her final tragic end. Radvanovsky handles all these convulsive changes with aplomb and at the end gets a well-deserved standing ovation.

Bass Stefan Kocan has a big, resonant voice and he sings a marvelous Vodnik. Tenor Pavel Cernoch has a fine voice with a splendid midrange but it is not a big one. To be fair he did mange some flourishes and the orchestra never drowned him out. We could always hear him but he may have suffered in comparison to the more domineering voices of Radvanovsky and soprano Keri Alkema who sang the part of the Foreign Princess. The latter had good reason to express herself as the would-be bride who did not like the Prince’s infatuation with Rusalka. Mezzo soprano Elena Manistina does a fine job as the colourful witch Jezibaba.

David McVicar does imaginative and superb work with the production. He does not wait for the overture to be over but starts with a minor tale of rejection. We then see the alluring and very active Wood Nymphs (Anna-Sophie Neher, Jamie Groote and Lauren Segal). With judicious use of dances by chorographer Andrew George and the fine cast he is able to maintain a fine pace even with the orchestral passages where there is no singing.
Keri Alkema as the Foreign Princess (background), Pavel Černoch 
and Sondra Radvanovsky. Photo: Michael Cooper
John Macfarlane’s set consists of the indication of a forest with a moon in the background and a meadow with a lake in the foreground. The lake is indicated by a hole in the floor boards with some mist emanating from it. No water on stage.  Simple and effective. The second scene shows the busy kitchen where frantic preparations are made for the wedding. A huge fireplace and carcasses are in view in a colourful array. The palace in the subsequent scene is a grand gothic hall.

Johannes Debus conducts the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus in Dvořák’s gorgeous, lush score.

This time we had to wait only ten years even if the COC had to borrow a production from the Lyric Opera of Chicago that was first seen there 2014.

By the way, it is worth mentioning that the COC’s production in 2009 was pretty speedy compared to what the redoubtable Royal Opera, Covent Garden did. It staged the opera for a first time in 2012 and set it in a brothel. You can still hear the boos.
Rusalka by Antonin Dvořák with text by Jaroslav Kvapil is being performed seven times until October 26, 2019 on various dates at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671.

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

Thursday, October 17, 2019


James Karas

Hot on the heels of Robert Wilson’s production of Turandot for the Canadian Opera Company, Torontonians have the chance to see Zeffirelli’s granddaddy of all stagings at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Zeffiirelli directed the production back in 1987 but is has been repeatedly revived with different casts and is still going strong.

Zeffirelli produced operas on a grand, magnificent and some would say ostentatious scale. Opera houses with a smaller budget (and that should include just about all of them) could not imagine constructing the sets, designing the costumes and hiring the chorus and extras that the Met does for this Turandot. And it can hardly hire second rate singers. 
 The final scene of Puccini's "Turandot" with Yusif Eyvazov as Calàf and 
Christine Goerke in the title role. Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Operaa
The sets, designed by Zeffirelli himself are intricate and colossal. In the opening scene we have the Mandarin (Javier Arrey) reading the law that the pure Princess Turandot will marry only the man of royal blood who can solve the three riddles that she puts to him. If he fails, he will lose his head.

Zeffirelli has massive ramparts viewable in the dark background and masses of people to hear the edict. There is commotion, hubbub, and singing, of course but this is not a simple scene to get the plot going. The mob cries for blood, the Prince of Persia is mercilessly sent to be executed and we have a scene on stage worthy of Cecil B. DeMille.

The first scene of Act II in the private apartments of ministers Ping (Alexey Lavrov), Pang (Tony Stevenson) and Pong (Eduardo Valdes) is almost domestic as they bemoan bloodshed and miss their homes in the provinces.

We then are put inside the imperial palace where we find the old Emperor on the throne and witness imperial grandeur that most emperors could only dream of, but, the Met delivers. The Emperor (Carlo Bosi) in splendid regalia is seated on a gold throne above the rest of the world. There are grand pillars, structures and stairs that fill the stage and dazzle the eye. Turandot appears wearing a huge tiara and a gown studded with jewels. Beautifully gowned ladies are beside her as are guards attired in gold standing beside and below the emperor.

The sages of China in white robes of splendour parade in front and soldiers with masks that make them look menacing are also present.

In such surrounding, singers with big voices and impeccable delivery are a sine qua non and the Met rarely fails to find them. Soprano Christine Goerke has a splendid voice that expresses Turandot’s imperiousness (and nastiness, if you look carefully) but she rises to legendary status as the icy hater of men.

Tenor Yusif Eyvazov makes a powerful and impassioned Calaf who brings the house down with his “Nessun dorma.” Eleonora Buratto as the slave girl Liu is simply splendid with her moving performance and lyrical beauty among the heroics of Calaf and Turandot. James Morris as Timur, approaching his fiftieth anniversary of singing at the Met was met with epic applause by the audience that he certainly deserves.
 A scene from Act I of Puccini's "Turandot." Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted his first Puccini at the Met and the Orchestra and Chorus played outstandingly. Turandot is a truly choral opera and the Met Chorus deserves praise on the same level of recognition as the singers.

I have devoted most of my review to the grandiosity of the production because it represents a style that is from the past and a strong indicator of tastes in New York. The Met has been using it for more than 30 years and it still works. It is opera on a grand scale that may be past its apogee and unlikely to be continued very frequently. But there it is without much thought of changing it. You will recall that there was an attempt to shelve Zeffirelli’s Tosca by Luc Bondy’s staging but it was met with derision from the audience and management had e no choice but to run for cover. It was replaced by a more realistic and palatable to New Yorkers approach by David McVicar.

I have seen this production several times as well as other stagings but it still astounds me with its opulence and magnificencewhich combined with the choral, orchestral and vocal splendour defines an era at the Met which may be on its way out.

Franco Zeffirelli died on June 15, 2019.
Turandot by Giacomo Puccini was transmitted Live in HD form the Metropolitan Opera on October 12, 2019 at the Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre Cinema, Toronto and other theatres across Canada.  It will be shown again in select theatres on November 2, 4, 6 and 10, 2019. For more information:

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


James Karas

Annie Baker’s masterful play The Flick is based on a very simple plotline: the lives of three menial laborers. They work in a rundown movie theatre in Massachusetts that is still showing films using the old reels and projector. The play is set in the rows of seats of the theatre with the projection room above. I need hardly add that the simplicity is deceptive.

Two of the workers, Sam and Avery, sweep under the seats and mop the floor of the theatre and we see them doing that almost throughout the three plus hours of the performance. The third worker, Rose, is a notch above them because she has been promoted to projectionist. There is a fourth character but his role is relatively minor.  
Colin Doyle, Durae McFarlane and Amy Keating. Photo: Dahlia Katz
From this unpromising scenario Baker has crafted a superb play that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2014. Director Mitchell Cushman has produced a delicate, subtle, sensitive, captivating and moving production that amounts to simply outstanding theatre.

The three workers are slowly, deliberately and with great acuity revealed as complex, troubled and deeply human beings who have difficulty establishing meaningful relations with other people.  

Rose is a woman in search of a relationship or some human contact at least. She has resorted to astrology and reads details about the relationships of people based on their zodiac sign. She goes into short, promiscuous affairs and leads a lonely life. Amy Keating’s performance as Rose is stellar. She appears jaunty with a devil-may-care attitude and loose clothes but reveals her inner void and search for contact. Her attempt at sexual contact with Avery is a disaster and her attempt to reach Sam is just as awful in a thoroughly dramatic scene where she yells at him to just get him to turn and look at her.

Colin Doyle gives a nuanced, sensitive and intuitive performance as Sam. He encapsulates his life when asked by Avery, the college student, what he wants to do when he grows up. Sam answers that he is grown up. The line garners a laugh (there is a lot of laughter during the performance) but the reality is that Sam has reached the apogee of his career and he can’t even be promoted to projectionist, a job that is about to disappear in any event.
Amy Keating and Durae McFarlane. Photo: Dahlia Katz 
Avery is perhaps the most complex character in the play and here we have a performance sans pareil by Durae McFarlane. He presents Avery as a slender, awkward, deferential and painfully shy man. But he is very intelligent and a movie aficionado without equal. McFarlane’s portrayal from every body movement, to facial expression to vocal intonation represents the deeply troubled young man. Avery is depressed to the point of attempting suicide and is unable to trust anyone. Worse than that he seems to exist only as a movie buff who uses his knowledge of film as a faux shield against reality. A superb performance by McFarlane.

Movies form the backdrop and are an essential part of the play. Sam and Avery play games testing their knowledge of moves. We hear numerous soundtracks in the outstanding audio system of Crow’s Theatre.

The set and lighting by Nick Blais are impressive. The set consists of about half a dozen rows of theatre seats facing the audience and behind them is the unseen screen on which movies are shown.  

The Flick is a subtle, richly-textured play that gives detailed portrayals of its characters. The atmosphere of being at the movies is created by the physical décor, the music and lighting with superb success.

Director Cushman shows his ability to pay attention to the smallest detail and the slightest nuance in his handling of the cast and the result is an outstanding night at the theatre.
The Flick by Annie Baker in a production by Outside the March and Crow’s Theatre continues until November 2, 2019 at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1.

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

Monday, October 14, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Can you succeed with a 90-minte play the first hour of which is taken up largely by a lecture on Marxist economics?


Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie have done it with their new play The Jungle that is now playing at the Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space.  The play is highly entertaining, funny, moving and, yes, informative. It is shamelessly political and thoroughly Canadian and in fact Torontonian.
Matthew Gin and Shannon Currie. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
The Jungle has two parts. One is the straight, illustrated lecture about economics tied to present day conditions of workers and their employers. The other part is the story of Veronyka (Shannon Currie), a young Moldovan immigrant and Jack (Matthew Gin) a Canadian of Chinese origin.

She is in Canada illegally and has a protector who finds her work under the table and takes a chunk of her pay. Jack is a taxi driver struggling to make ends meet and advance his education. They fall in love, get married to regularize Veronyka’s status and find it increasingly difficult to survive as workers.

Veronyka’s parents and brother need money in Moldova and Jack’s parents are overwhelmed by health problems that make the new couple’s financial problems almost insurmountable.

There is no shortage of comedy as Chinese and Moldovan attitudes about life and money clash. Veronyka’s family is desperately poor but Jack’s parents invite them to visit Canada and in fact pay for their tickets. They come and Jack’s parents, quite reasonably, ask that they put up the down payment for their children to buy a house. That is out of the question, of course, and there is the inevitable blow up.
Shannon Currie and Matthew Gin. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Currie and Gin stop being Veronyka and Jack and step back to the white board at the back of the playing area and using red markers illustrate the Marxist theory of the value of work and bring it up to date. To no one’s surprise, one hopes, it is no secret that the business owners, from small enterprises to the huge multinationals, make the money and their focus is on reducing the cost of making it.

They give us some startling statistics including the fact that in 2017 82% of the wealth generated in the world went to 1% of the population. Try to digest that. Not surprisingly, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting nowhere for the simple reason that the rich decide government policy. As someone observed about The United Sates, it has the best Congress that money can buy.

MacMahon and McKechnie weave the personal story of Veronyka and Jack with the political message intelligently and entertainingly. Their personal story is interesting as they try to get out of their situation as things are getting worse. Parents get ill, political ambitions are involved and we follow almost current events as an election approaches and Jack is deeply involved in campaigning.

The end is ironic and thought provoking.

Currie does a wonderful job as the attractive émigré who switches from a Russian accent to unaccented English. Gin is excellent as a modern Canadian who has to follow old Chinese customs. Superb performances, well directed by Guillermo Verdecchia.

The set by Shannon Lee Doyle is functional for the numerous scenes. The kitchen and living room, the two chars for facing the audience and the white backdrop for illustrating their lecture, all work very well.

And you thought economics is boring! Go see The Jungle.   
The Jungle by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie continues until November 3, 2019 at the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

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

Thursday, October 10, 2019


By James Karas 

One image of Greece is the beautiful country of pristine beaches, white-washed villages, seashore taverns and wild joy. That is the image projected by The Greek Tourist Organization and companies that want to attract visitors to Greece.

The other image, the one seen on television and described in other media, especially in the last ten years, resembles more a film noir, dark, somber, gloomy, and pessimistic. Violence in the streets, sections of cities that look as if they had been bombed and people that are fighting to survive or simply leaving the country. That is the “other” Greece.

Producer and director Panayioti Yannitsos has found an original and brilliant way of examining his ancestral fatherland in his extraordinary film Freedom Besieged. The documentary has a large number of people who appear on camera with their diagnoses, commentary, ideas and remedies for the Greece of today and far more importantly, the Greece of tomorrow. These are not people who are trying to attract tourists or condemn the past. They are facing reality and what can be done.

The film opens with as simple question: what does it mean to be a Greek?  A substantial number of people are asked the question from all walks of life and not one of them gives an answer. Yannitsos then turns to the shooting by police of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year old student that resulted in widespread riots and extensive property damage. Yannitsos presents a picture of war-like confrontations and gratuitous violence by well-armed police (including gas masks) against unarmed civilians.

The film moves onto interviews with young people who express hardships, difficulties and at times hopelessness at the situation where some forty per cent of them are unemployed and as many as six hundred thousand leave Greece for good.

But Yannitsos has a far broader concern and way of looking at modern Greece. He concentrates on the young and not so young who are looking for a solution instead of bemoaning their outcast state. The answer lies in today’s youth and the people who have ideas and inspiration for them to achieve their potential as individuals.

One example of this is what a former Torontonian named John is doing in his village. John runs a youth basketball camp in his village where he trains, cajoles, yells at and simply inspires young boys and girls as they train and play. He yells, entertains, mildly disciplines but mostly inspires, at no small cost to himself, the young to do their individual best.

Yannitsos finds centers of optimism based on inventiveness and hard work. In the mountains of Euboea, young people have developed a village that emphasizes sustainability. A 15-year old boy from Thessaloniki, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as they say, has developed an online site for teens to communicate with each other. There are examples where the key to success is originality. The Ancient Greeks were successful because they were original and that may be a good defining feature of a Greek.

There is a stunting array of people that Yannitsos interviews on camera.  Foremost intellectual Noam Chomsky, Michael Dukakis, athletes Pyrros Dimas (Olympic medalist), Yorgos Karagounis (star soccer player), Dimitri Diamantidis (basketball star), doctors, psychologists, engineers, philosophers, and at some length Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister.

The film shows some panoramic views of Greek cities and the countryside that are a pleasure to watch. But the most important aspect is the commitment, the optimism, the dynamism and the enthusiasm shown by the young director and the youth that he found to marry the country of pristine beaches sand white-washed villages with a nation of achievement and progress.

A major accomplishment.
Freedom Besieged was shown on October 6, 2019 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


James Karas

Girl from the North Country presents an interesting and original marriage of a dramatic play by Conor McPherson with the songs of Bob Dylan. The originality lies in the blending or weaving of the songs into the plot of the play naturally and seamlessly. You will hear some twenty of Dylan’s songs or parts of them but they are sung as integral parts of the play and not as stop-the-show performances and applaud-at-the end.

The other interesting aspect of the musical is the fact we are watching the broadcast of a radio play. In the opening scene, Dr. Walker (Ferdy Roberts) steps up to an old-style microphone and announces that that tonight’s story takes place in a guesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota in the winter of 1934.  He takes the microphone several times during the performance as a character and an omniscient narrator.

The characters who sing also step up to the microphone to perform despite the fact that this is not a concert of Dylan’s hits. McPherson, who also directs the show, calls the musical "a conversation between the songs and the story." 
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, 2019.
Songs can express what the characters cannot, or describe their true feeling despite what they say. For example, when Katie (Gemma Sutton) leaves Gene (Colin Bates) to marry someone else, they part haltingly and then express their true feelings in the song “I want you.”

The plot that McPherson has crafted is an old-style story about a number of people in a run-down guesthouse during the Depression. But this is no Annie and there is no millionaire Mr. Warbucks. Nick Laine (Donald Sage MacKay) owns the guesthouse. He is broke, about to be foreclosed on by the bank, has a wife with dementia, a rebellious, loser, dreamer of son (Gene played by Colin Bates) and an adopted pregnant daughter. Not to mention the guilt he carries from childhood which is important.

Marianne (Gloria Obianyo), Nick’s adopted daughter, is 19, black, pregnant and refuses to disclose the name of the father. Nick wants her to marry Mr. Perry (Sidney Kean), a shoe mender and a good man in his late sixties. He proposes marriage and she sings the song with the refrain “Has anybody seen my love” and refers to Madame Butterfly, another young girl who was impregnated and abandoned.

Nick’s wife Elizabeth (Katie Brayben) in addition to being demented speaks of her promiscuity and has other issues.

Reverend Marlowe (Finbar Lynch) sells bibles.  Joe Scott is a boxer who did three years in a penitentiary and is now living under bridge and hoping to make a comeback. Mr. and Mrs. Burke (David Ganly and    Anna-Jane Casey respectively) have their share of troubles including serious financial and marital difficulties and their son Elias (Steffan Harri) who is a grown man with the mental capacity of a child. His fate is worthy of attention. 
Katie Brayben and Shaq Taylor in GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY. 
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, 2019.
The interwoven and often tragic stories of the play are drawn with McPherson’s masterful hand and the play alone is worth seeing. Dylan’s songs add a significant layer of subtlety and drama that take the play well out of a good drama.

The performances of the cast are praiseworthy for their depth and variety. They are performing a part in a drama and they also have to step up to microphone and sing. The musicians are on the stage and the set designed by Rae Smith is appropriate without being overladen. After all we are watching a radio play being broadcast from a rundown guesthouse and the impression of the latter is sufficient.

Girl from the North Country has a great deal to offer and is worth seeing more than once. That is the highest compliment one can pay a theatrical work.
Girl from the North Country by Conor McPherson (book) and Bob Dylan (music and lyrics) continues until November 24, 2019 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.

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


Reviewed by James Karas

Turandot, Puccini’s last opera, is back at the Canadian Opera Company after an absence of fifteen years. The singing is outstanding, the orchestra superb and the new production directed by Robert Wilson is original, idiosyncratic, experimental and quite astounding.

Turandot is set in mythical China and is the story about a beautiful but unpleasant Princess Turandot who is in the habit of decapitating men who cannot solve three riddles. An unknown prince shows up at the palace in Beijing and falls in love with Turandot at first sight and so badly that he is prepared to risk his life in order to get her. His father, a blind, deposed king, is travelling with a slave girl and meets up at the palace with his son who happens to be the unknown prince. 
 A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of 
Turandot, 2019, photo: Michael Cooper
The exotic setting and the myth provide huge latitude for directors to exercise their imagination about how to present the opera. And indeed they have from Franco Zeffirelli’s over-the-top lush rendering to commedia dell’arte renderings with much in between.

Robert Wilson’s approach is to present a static, almost monochromatic production where the characters do not interact. Prince Calaf (tenor Sergey Skorokhodov), you will recall, falls in love with Turandot after a cursory look. In fact, Calaf, appearing in gray from head to toe, spends most of his time on stage looking in front of him, chin up, with no eye contact with anyone.

This holds true for most of the characters.

The libretto calls for Calaf to run up to his father King Timur (David Leigh) happy and relieved that he has finally found him. In this production, Calaf, Timur and the slave girl Liu (Joyce El-Khoury) stand like statues throughout and again do not establish any contact or interaction. This holds true for everyone except for Ping (Adrian Timpau), Pang (Julian Ahn) and Pong (Joseph Hu) who bop up and down continuously like comic characters from a silent movie. By the way, they are called Jim, Bob and Bill. They deserve praise for fine vocal and physical performances.

Puccini’s music, the chorus and the singers provide the opera with motion and thrust that transport the audience into extraordinary heights of enjoyment. The details of the plot do not bear too much analysis from Calaf’s treatment of Liu, to Turandot’s attitude to people, to her “melting” in the throes of love. All can stretch credulity beyond its limits.
 Tamara Wilson as Turandot and Sergey Skorokhodov as Calaf . Photo: Michael Cooper
Wilson I suggest treats the plot as a series of rituals that are carried by the music and singing and may not need or bear any attempt at realism. We listen to the incredibly wonderful choruses, the arias etc. and they carry us along without the necessity of looking any further. Liu is tortured and kills herself but there is nothing on stage to illustrate it. There is a change in lighting over Liu and she is “dead” even if she is still standing.

Wilson designed the production including the lighting concepts. The Chorus with their black armor and helmets look like defectors from Star Wars. The stage has no props and lighting is used judiciously and effectively. Realism is eschewed at every turn. Turandot goes across the stage and back but she seems to float along the floor. Timur with his long white beard and hair almost never moves.

The singing is excellent. Skorokhodov sings standing in one place with no movement at all except during “Nessun dorma” when he uses his hands a little. His declaration of love is ritualistic and thrilling in their own terms without romantic outpourings which in the context of the opera may be unconvincing.

Soprano Tamara Wilson is indeed the icy princess but she excels vocally. She is frosty while El-Khoury’s Liu is sympathetic and vocally splendid. She can hardly be anything else but again her outpouring of emotion is restrained to the parameters of Wilson’s view of the opera.

Conductor Carlo Rizzi and the COC Orchestra and Chorus deserve extra commendation for their outstanding performance in keeping us enthralled perhaps because of or maybe despite Wilson’s approach. A thrilling night at the opera.
Turandot by Giacomo Puccini (completed by Franco Alfano) with libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni is being performed nine times in repertory between September
26 and October 27, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671.

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Soulpepper delivers an outstanding production of A Streetcar Named Desire that is unfortunately marred by the annoying addition of a band and hokey set design. It has a superb cast that brings out the pathos, delicacy, brutality and fragility inherent in the lives of the characters with unfailing sharpness and sensitivity.

You cannot have a successful production of A Streetcar without a convincing Blanche Dubois and in Amy Rutherford Soulpepper has found one of the best. Blanch is a complex character. She is or would like to be a beautiful, cultured and sophisticated Southern belle, raised in a world of wealth and gentility on a large plantation.
Amy Rutherford and Mac Fyfe. Photo: Dahlia Katz
Rutherford as Blanch still retains some of her beauty but she is past her prime and her attractiveness is best seen in the dim light. She is broke and her furs and clothing that she so cherishes are pathetic imitations which confer no status but bespeak her pretentiousness in her dire straits. She is forced to put on airs and lie about herself. More sinisterly, she is a sexual predator with a weakness for young boys. All of this has resulted in total degradation to the extent that she has had to sell her body to survive. Rutherford has had to project all of these characteristics and she does so with conviction and total success. A marvelous performance.

Williams has provided Blanche’s opposite in her sister Stella played splendidly by Leah Doz. At first blush Stella appears like an abused, downtrodden wife living in a slum in New Orleans. We learn however that she is a woman of considerable strength who is deliciously in love with her husband Stanley and has found contentment in her situation. She sees through her sister and tries to support her emotionally and financially. Doz gives us a sympathetic, strong, attractive and decent Stella. Superb performance.

The man between the two sisters is Stella’s husband Stanly played by Mac Fyfe. With his card-playing friends, he is loud and obnoxious. Blanche has a whole array of adjectives to describe him which amount to him being an uncouth, crude, disgusting man. Indeed he is a Neanderthal. His redeeming feature is that he loves Stella and she loves him and their sexual attraction is a major factor in their relationship. This is the person that Fyfe needs to convey and he does with passion and conviction.           
Amy Rutherford, Sebastian Marziali, Lindsay Owen-Pierre, 
Leah Doz, and Mac Fyfe. Photo: Dahlia Katz.
The other major character is Mitch played by Gregory Prest. He is the soul of decency, still a bachelor and devoted to the care of his mother. Blanch sees her opportunity for a harbour in him and he sees a decent woman for himself. He finds out that he has been grossly misled by Blanche and runs away. A highly sympathetic portrayal by Prest.

I have nothing but praise for the rest of the cast but they are largely supporting characters for the main conflict among the four main people in the play.

The set by Lorenzo Savoini begins with aluminum siding covering the three sides of the stage. I am not sure what it is supposed to convey but it could easily be a warehouse. Stanly and Stella’s apartment with its small living room area where the men play cards, the curtain that separates it from the bedroom with its prominent bed is satisfactory.

Director Weyni Mengesha does a superlative job in directing the production but I am not sure about the addition of a band on stage. There is room for music in A Streetcar and the script provides for it but when a panel of the stage is removed and a band appears we have moved far from Williams’ play. No doubt there was some thinking behind the introduction of a band on stage but the rationale escaped me.
Forget the band and go see an extraordinary production of a great play.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams continues until October 27, 2019 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario, M5A 3C4.

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

Monday, October 7, 2019


James Karas

Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding is set in rural Spain and is about blood feuds, and cycles of murder and revenge that reach back to Greek mythology and the House of Atreus. It is also the story of a young man who is about to marry a woman who loves another man. The bride runs off with her lover after the wedding and the jilted groom pursues them.

Playwright Marina Carr has adapted the play for the Young Vic and with director Yael Farber they have given us their own version and interpretation. Lorca did indeed include echoes of Greek tragedy in his play and Carr and Farber increase those echoes. The most important echo if you will is the expansion of the role of the Moon. The Moon played by singer Thalissa Teixeira appears in the opening scene and sings several long songs during the performance. Some of the songs are in Spanish and the politest thing I will say is that they added nothing to the production. No doubt she is meant to reflect the Chorus of Ancient Greek tragedy but the attempt is a bust. 
Olwen Fouéré and fellow cast members in Blood Wedding.
There are two Woodcutters who appear several times carrying axes on their shoulders and they looked as if they made the wrong turn somewhere and ended up on the stage. In the original they discuss the events of the play somewhat similar to the Chorus in Greek tragedy.

The blood feud and depth of the hatreds of these rural people seems boundless. The Mother (Olwen Fouéré) hates the Felix family with immeasurable ferocity and expresses it with total conviction. Her son, the Groom (David Walmsley) wants to marry the Bride (Aoife Duffin) but we are not sure about her conviction and we can see her boorish manners. The characters, by the way, have no names except for Leonardo (Gavin Drea).

Leonardo is married (played by Scarlett Brookes) and he holds a passion for the Bride that would compete with that of Heathcliff’s for Catherine. But he is married and his wife is pregnant with their second child. If that is not bad enough, Leonardo is a brute and a wife-abuser who should be arrested. Carr/Farber make him into a despicable character and Drea does some superbly convincing acting to make him look really loathsome. He may claim to love the Bride but we have nothing but contempt for him and I wonder if that is the right balance for the play.

When Leonardo approaches the Bride, she fights him off quite vehemently and he does nothing less than assault her. The Bride is unhappy about marrying the Groom and is seeking freedom and love that are simply not available or attainable.
 Olwen Fouéré, left, as Mother and cast. Photo: Marc Brenner
The Bride’s father (Steffan Rhodri) gives a powerful performance as a man who lives in a cave on top of mountain, who wants to control everything and has had a dreadful marriage.

Walmsley as the Groom is also powerful in a play that is full of extremes.

One of the enduring images of this poetic play is that of Leonardo riding to the Bride’s home on the mountain on a white steed and running away with her. The marvelous descriptions of this are captured by having Leonard run in circles around the playing area holding a guy wire that lifts him off the ground.

The same wire will lift the moon up for reasons that escaped me.

A powerful production set in Ireland that loses some of its impact by presenting Leonardo as a brute.
Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca adapted by Marina Carr continues until November 2, 2019 at the Young Vic Theatre, 66 The Cut, Southwark, London.

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

Saturday, October 5, 2019


James Karas

It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic, subtle and brilliant portrayal of South African racial relations than Athol Fugard’s ‘Master Harold’…and the boys. Master Harold is a white boy, barely in his teens. The “boys” are grown men who work in his mother’s tea room. The title alone tells a great deal. But there is much more in this delicate play that is getting a flawless production in the Lyttleton stage of the National Theatre, in London.

There are three characters in the play and the entire action takes place in the tea room over one hour and forty minutes. Aristotle’s unities of time, place and action are adhered to.

The importance and brilliance of the play lie in the fact that it is not about mistreatment of blacks by whites. It presents a portrait of two black servants, Sam (Lucian Msamati) and Willie (Hammed Animashaun), who have been friends, companions, educators and saviors of the young white boy Hally (Anson Boon). Fugard wants to show that racism not only exists (everyone knows that) but that it is so deeply rooted as to be almost ineradicable. 
 Lucian Msamati, Hammed Animashaun and Anson Moon. Photo: Helen Murray
Hally comes from an unhappy family. His mother is domineering and his father a weakling who is ill. He does not like his parents and has found solace and companionship with Sam and Willie. But his parents are also racist to the core and have taught their son, however subtly and perniciously, to be a racist as well.

Hally is a callow boy who does not do well in school. As a child in boarding school, he used to escape from his parents by hiding under Sam’s bed. Hally and Sam have prime memories of pleasant events including Sam’s construction of a kite for Hally that sent him flying higher than the kite itself. There is love and friendship between them.

But we see the cracks in the relationship. Hally cannot accept the fact that the two tearoom workers are involved in artistic activities - ballroom dancing. He looks down on them even though Sam is probably smarter than him

Sam has a very high quotient of decency and understanding and he tries to prevent the rift from developing between he son and his father. 
 Lucian Msamati, Hammed Animashaun and Anson Moon. Photo: Helen Murray
In spite of all that has happened between the friends, Hally’s racism come out full blown and he pulls rank. He is WHITE therefore superior and they are mere servants and ultimately inferior to him. Hally did not even notice that there were park benches marked for “whites only” when he flew his kite nor, when his father gets drunk and incontinent in a bar, Sam had to ask for permission to enter the bar to carry Hally’s father out.

The play moves from pleasant memories to talk about social reform until its riveting climax when Hally spits on Sam as if he were a dog. It is a startling and arresting theatrical moment that takes your breath away. It should, because that is the reality and the result of apartheid but nevertheless it still shocks.

I have spoken at length about the play and in effect have given the highest praise to the three actors and director Roy Alexander Weise who moved me and shocked me as if it were the first time I was seeing the play. It was not.

Msamati’s Sam exudes intelligence, humanity, decency and deep understanding of people. Animashaun’s Willie is a dreamer, not that bright but also a wife beater. Fugard does not idealize anyone. Boon’s Hally is an unhappy youngster who may have grown into a decent human being had he not been injected with so much racist poison that it may never get out of his soul.

The set by Rajha Shakiry consists of the counter, chairs and tables of a tearoom that does the job splendidly.

A great night at the theatre.
‘Master Harold’….and the boys by Athol Fugard continues until December 17, 2019 at the Lyttleton Stage, National Theatre, South Bank, London, England.

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

Friday, October 4, 2019


James Karas

How Love is Spelt is a beautiful play by Chloe Moss that receives a moving, lyrical, sympathetic and meticulous production by Brickdust and Project One at the Southwark Playhouse in London.

The play tells the story of Peta, a girl of twenty who has left her home in the north of the country and gone to live in London. She lives in a tiny apartment consisting of a convertible couch and a couple of other amenities. She meets four people in the play, and we follow her encounters with them with all its humour and pathos.

Larner Wallace-Taylor gives a sensitive and moving portrayal of Peta who is searching for something in a city where she is lost. She discloses information about herself sparingly and sometimes untruthfully. She is dreaming of a career in advertising or fashion design but we have no reason to take these ambitions as anything but wishful thinking. 
Larner Wallace-Taylor and Nigel Boyle. Photo: Ali Wright
Peta is sympathetic and empathetic with the people that she meets but no one is able to provide her with what she is searching for. Wallace-Taylor is an expressive actor but she also reacts and responds to the other actors attentively and movingly. Your attention may be drawn to the speaker but you should also watch her facial expressions and body movements to understand the situation. A wonderful performance by Wallace-Taylor.

The first person we see Peta with is Joe (Benjamin O’Mahony), a muscled stud whom she met at a bar and slept with. The muscles in his arms do not stretch to his head and he talks compulsively revealing that he is shallow and full of himself. His first illiterate concern is to get confirmation that his performance in bed was good. We learn some things about Peta especially in the end when he tries to force himself on her and leaves with excruciating pain in his testicles. Excellent performance by O’Mahony.

Peta’s second date is Steven, a pathetic teacher who also talks compulsively. He is a misfit who is unable to have a meaningful relationship. He talks about himself incessantly describing a pathetic human being - himself. Peta’s sympathy and empathy for him do not reach him and he skulks out of her apartment. Steven is played very well by Duncan Moore.

Peta meets Chantelle, a young, modern woman of the city who is out to have fun. When we meet her in Peta’s apartment she is vomiting her head off because she drank far too much and has the inevitable hangover. She is as much a misfit from a broken family as Peta. Kudos to Yana Penrose for fine acting.
 Larner Wallace-Taylor and Michelle Collins, Photo: Ali Wright
Peta returns from the bar drunk and she falls down the stairs. She is rescued by Marion (fine and sympathetic acting by Michelle Collins), a middle-aged woman who has the soul of a saint in her attempts to help Peta. She smokes and talks continuously about helping Peta and her pathetic life. She comes from a broken home and is another pitiful human being, another misfit that comes into Peta’s life.
Throughout the performance we see a black and white photograph of a man prominently deployed on Peta’s bedside table. She lies about him to her visitors but in the final scene he comes to her apartment. He is Colin (Nigel Boyle) the man she left behind when she ran off to London. He speaks haltingly as the two try to make emotional contact. It is not easy for them but their love comes through and if they can’t express themselves they at least know how to spell the word.

Kudos to director Charlotte Peters for sensitive directing and to Georgia de Gray for the effective set.

The play was first produced in September 2004 at the Bush Theatre in London and this is its first revival.
How Love is Spelt by Chloe Moss played until September 28, 2019 at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London

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