Friday, November 29, 2019


James Karas 

If you think of theatre as an auditorium or a room where you sit and watch a performance, then hold onto your seat. Better still let go of your seat because if you see Here Are The Fragments you may sit in any number of seats or you may not sit down at all. You will be able to meander in a large number of areas, look at sets and equipment, and touch anything you want or put earphones on and listen to various items.

Let’s start from the beginning. Before you enter the Franco Boni Theatre at the Theatre Centre, you will be informed that, well, this is not a conventional production. You can go in and out of the theatre during the performance. You can touch everything but are asked to put it back where you found it and basically that this is freewheeling theatre unlike anything you may have seen before. 
 Peter N. Bailey. Photo: Dahlia Katz
When you enter the playing are, you find exactly eight chairs for the audience and the rest stand against the walls of a large room. There may be around forty or fewer people in the audience. A man wearing a white coat enters holding a clipboard and asks a series of questions such as do you hear voices, do you read people’s thoughts, do you think someone else is reading your thoughts etc.

The questioner is a psychiatrist and we realize that these are questions that may be asked of a person who is delusional or hallucinatory or suffering from some other form of mental illness. The psychiatrist takes his white coat off, sits in a chair and is transformed into a man suffering from schizophrenia. His son is trying to get to him by offering food and conversation but the man is lost to all contact.

That is the introduction to this ninety-minute play written and created by Suvendrini Lena, co-created by Leah Cherniak and Trevor Schwellnus, and co-directed by Cherniak and Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu.

At that point we move into the much larger space of the Boni theatre. There are numerous sections to see as you walk around. There are small cubicles, open spaces and a large number of headphones that you can put on and listen to something about mental illness. I tried several headphone and the subject was schizophrenia.

The main subjects of the play are mental illness, its treatment (or lack of it) and racism. The psychiatrist Dr. Chauvet (played by Allen Louis) is black as is his son Eduard (Kwaku Adu-Poku). Ether (Kyra Harper) is a woman suffering from schizophrenia. The forth character is Frantz Fanon (Peter N. Bailey), the psychiatrist and brilliant intellectual who wrote Black Skin, White Masks about the depth and negative effects of racism, especially under colonial conditions.
 Allan Louis. Photo: Dahlia Katz
Here Are The Fragments touches on racism, colonialism and schizophrenia. What you see depends on where you are in the various places available to you. You may pick up a copy of Black Skin, White Mask and read the helpful passages marked for you. There are many other books that may draw your attention. You may listen to something on earphones. You may watch a scene where Dr. Chauvet is treating a patient who has been hospitalized for some forty years and is on her deathbed. You may listen to Fanon broadcasting about the fate of Algerians before and during their revolt against French colonial occupation. Or you may go for coffee or do nothing.

There is no focus and no attempt to lead you to any coherent understanding of a plotline. There is no doubt about what you ingesting about mental illness and racism. If you are a good liberal and imagine that you know something about racism and pat yourself on your superior back, you should be shocked by the depths of racial hatred that Dr. Chauvet and Frantz Fanon faced and that is certainly still with us.

In the end we go back to the first scene and witness Eduard trying a new approach to his father’s schizophrenia thus leaving us on somewhat hopeful note. I am not sure how much hope there is for theatre so unfocused and disjointed.
Here Are The Fragments in a coproduction by The ECT Collective and The Theatre Centre continues until December 1, 2019 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario.

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


James Karas

Can you write an effective play and illustrate the life of a humanitarian scientist who devoted much of his life to rescuing marine animals, mostly whales off the coast of Newfoundland? Robert Chafe has. The play is Between Breaths about Dr. Jon Lien who was a professor at Memorial University. He rescued more than 500 whales that were caught in fishing nets, a feat that involved knowledge, expertise, considerable risk and just plain guts. Lien had them all.

Chafe wants to give some details about Lien’s life but he also wants to demonstrate the difficulties and risks of untangling massive trapped animals. 
 Steve O'Connell and Berni Stapleton
The play has three characters, Jon (Steve O’Connell), his wife Judy (Berni Stapleton) and his assistant Wayne (Darryl Hopkins). It also features three musicians (Brianna Gosse, Steve Maloney and Kevin Woolridge) who are on stage throughout the performance and play music composed and arranged by The Once.

In the opening scene we see Jon seated in a wheelchair and unable to speak. He is clearly suffering from a kind of dementia. He is comforted by his wife but we witness the tragic end of life. In fact Dr. Lien died in 2010 at 71 after suffering from mental illness for many years.

The play opens with his death but it takes us though episodes of his life and ends with the triumphal saving of a whale. The play is indeed a tribute to a great humanitarian and it is no doubt deserved.

How well does it work as a play? It has its moments but in the end it does not work particularly well. The musicians provide background music and songs that add nothing to the production. Because they play most of the time, the actors have to be seriously and obviously miked and some of the time their delivery is simply stentorian. In a small theatre, the mikes should be unnecessary and if the music makes them a necessity, we can do without the music.
Darryl Hopkins and Steve O'Connell
The set by Shawn Kerwin has the musicians occupy a semicircle at the back of the stage. The centre of the stage features an area that is supposed to represent the ocean and the action takes place in front of that, close to the audience. There is lighting design by Leigh Ann Vardy, and sound design by Brian Kenny. These are necessities for illustrating the rescue of a whale and as such they are effective.

Director Jillian Keiley and the actors make great efforts to convince us that what is happening on stage represents the rescue of a whale. It is not convincing and we have to accept the fact that certain things cannot be done well on the stage.

The actors deserve kudos for their work especially O’Connell as the main character.

The admiration for Dr. Lien’s work, his contribution to marine science are well documented and he is deservedly honoured for his achievements. The play does make his name known to people who may have never heard of him and it is a delight to see Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland perform in Toronto. (I am sure there is a profound reason for the unorthodox name (simple irony?) but it escapes me.)       
Between Breaths by Robert Chafe in a production by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland  opened on November 21 and runs until December 8, 2019 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.

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

Monday, November 25, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Buffoon is a new play by Anosh Irani that showcases the immense acting talent of Anand Rajaram. He gives a solo performance at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space for about 90 minutes with a chair as his only physical prop and his genius.

Felix is a child of the circus. In the opening scene he gives a dramatic-comic description of his birth by Trapeze artist The Flying Olga. He is born in the circus, of course and he spends most of his life there. The play has several plot strands but Felix’s relations with his parents, Ishmael or Smile, the ticket seller man who adopts him, and Aja, the woman he falls in love with are the most important. 
 Anand Rajaram in Buffoon - Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Rajaram is a master of mime, voice changes, physical contortions from facial expressions to virtual acrobatics and has a marvelous emotional range. He is rarely still as he illustrates almost everything he tells us with a gesture, a grimace, a change in accent or a more dramatic physical activity.

He was born in the Leningrad circus and his parents Olga and Frank abandon him to one Ishmael who is better known as Smile. Ishmael has adopted a posh English accent because it sounds better. He wants Felix to read and gives him a copy of Moby Dick which opens, of course, with the words “Call me Ishmael.”  

Felix, face covered with white chalk like a clown, walks on stage diffidently, indeed nervously. He tells us that he really has nothing to say, He gives us his philosophy of life in Mark Twain’s phrase that “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” The day Felix was born, with his mother going into labour and having dramatic contractions in the circus, is dramatic, frightful and quite funny. Felix makes it funny.

His love life with Aja proceeds from his utter ignorance about love to a tragic conclusion. He is so ignorant at the beginning that he reads Romeo and Juliet for instruction. He goes through a tragic separation form Smile who gives him money that he skimmed from ticket sales to the circus and the sale of drugs.
 Anand Rajaram in Buffoon - Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
The plot strands do get complicated and somewhat opaque but Rajaram’s inexhaustible store of energy kept the show going.

There is real drama in the end when we realize who Felix is talking to. It brings us back to the beginning of the story. I will not say anything further.

The show is a marriage between the actor and director Richard Rose, seamless, symbiotic and extraordinary. Separating the actor from the director is almost like separating the dancer from the dance. If that does not convince to see this play, nothing will.  
Buffoon by Anosh Irani continues until December 15, 2019 at the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


By James Karas

Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus was a smash hit forty years ago in London and around the world and was transferred into one of the finest films of all time, directed by Milos Forman. The play is still a going concern and the Shakespeare Folger Library has given it a redoubtable production at its lovely theatre in Washington, D.C.

The play is ostensibly about the fictitious conflict between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Italian composer Antonio Salieri in 18th century Vienna. The jealous and second-rate composer Salieri wants to destroy the genius Mozart in the court of Emperor Joseph II and there is a rumour that he in fact poisoned him. Salieri is on his death bed in 1823 and he recalls what happened more than thirty years before that. 
     Ian Merrill Peakes as Salieri and Samuel Adams as Mozart. 
Photo: C. Stanley Photography
Salieri makes a deal with God (not Christ, he insists) that if He makes him a great composer he will dedicate his life to Him.  There is no evidence that God was a part of the “deal” because He capriciously and unfairly gives the gift to compose great music effortlessly to the giggling and dirty-minded Mozart. He gives Salieri the gift of appreciating and recognizing great music. God has a great sense of humour.

The lion’s share of work on the stage falls on Ian Merrill Peakes as Salieri. We meet him as an old man in the last hour of his life. He wants Mozart’s forgiveness as he recalls his youth, happier days as the toast of Vienna and his crushing defeat upon the appearance of the child genius.  Peakes handles Salieri as an old man in a wheel chair reasonably well and then sheds his hat and robe to become his young self.

We see Salieri’s passion for music and women, and his frustration and furor at being unable to compose like Mozart and losing his prize pupil to him. His anger is directed at God as his faith is shaken after offering so much to the deity.  Peakes gives a fine portrayal as the passionate composer who in the end realizes that he has become a footnote in musical history as the patron saint of mediocrity.

Samuel Adams as Mozart has a silly, high pitched giggle, is a bit of a dandy, a social boor and a foulmouthed composer who can write music as if taking dictation from God. We see him as a braggart, always broke, in triumph and in despair until we witness his final deterioration as he is composing his famous Requiem. He is not likeable but he is a genius and Adams delivers him as such.     
 Members of the cast of Amadeus at Folger Theatre. Photo: C. Stanley Photography
Shaffer portrays the people responsible for musical life at court and in Vienna as out of touch boors. The all get bad press but they are entertaining as relics facing a genius. Justin Adams is the Baron, James Joseph O’Neill is Count Orsini and Ned Read is Kapellmeister Bonno.

The Emperor (John Taylor Phillips) in his several appearances is mostly clueless and uses his favourite phrase “there it is” to get out of every situation and give us a laugh.

Lilli Hokama as Mozart’s wife Constance is tolerant, sympathetic and ambitious on behalf of her husband. She is willing to offer her body to Salieri for a “quickie” just to get him to recommend her husband to the Emperor. A fine performance.

Amanda Bailey and Louis Butelli play the two Venticelli (Little Winds), a sort of Chorus that gives us some information, a lot of gossip and rumours.

One of the pleasures of watching the play is sharing Salieri’s enthusiasm for Mozart’s music, especially his marvelous appreciation of certain passages. We are treated to snatches of music to whet our appetite for more.

The set by Tony Cisek in the beautifully paneled Folger Theatre consists of oversized pieces wood in the form of parts of a harp. Given the subject, it is a superb set. The 18th costumes by Mariah Anzaldo Hale are gorgeous.

The production, ably directed by Richard Clifford had a slightly sluggish beginning but it picked up the pace and in the end provided a fine performance of a modern classic. 
Amadeus by Peter Shaffer continues until December 22, 2019 at the Folger Theatre, Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003.

James Karas is the Senior Editor of The Greek Press.

Sunday, November 17, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Jason Sherman’s new play Copy That opened at the Tarragon Theatre and one is hard pressed to come to grips with it. We meet four fast-talking, excited and anxious writers who are under the gun to draft four episodes of a cop show for television. The pressure comes from “above,” the voice of Elsa, also known as The Angel of Death who merits a Nazi salute. Elsa is played with Gauleiter and duplicitous style by Janet-Laine Green.

The talking and moving speed is reduced to comprehensible speed and we find out the identity of the writers (but not much more) and some details about wrestling with a script to please Elsa, the network and people in higher places which may stretch to God.

The writers are a motley crew, intentionally chosen as such. Maia (Emma Ferreira) is half black and half white, Colin (Tony Ofori) is black and Peter (Richard Waugh) and Danny (Jeff Lillico) are all white.
 Janet Laine-Green and Tony Ofori. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
What appears as a play about the turbulent lives of writers trying to please and write a TV series that will work takes a sharp turn when Colin is stopped by a couple of cops for driving a nice car while black. More precisely, for driving while under the influence of alcohol with an almost white woman (Maia) asleep in the back seat. What follows is a racist attack on Colin including tasering, physical assault and humiliating arrest. It is a familiar story that we get from many parts of the United States and we like to pretend that it does not happen in Canada.

From then on the play tackles the issue of racism, the representation of racist cops on television and the fight against that type of bigotry. The problem is that these writers are simply trying to write entertaining episodes for a television show. Therefore we have the clash of ordinary television programming and high moral standards and social conditions.

The arguments are not particularly original and the fight by Colin against writers who are trying to make a living and have to follow the instructions of The Angel of Death and higher authorities is pretty staid. People sympathize with Colin but the reality of writing a script for television and the reality of being beaten up by racist cops cannot be united easily into a social, anti-racist tract and a multi-episode television series. Or can they not?

Sherman tries hard to convince us that maybe, just maybe they can but the end of the play is highly unsatisfactory, unclear and unconvincing.

There is relatively little character development. Peter is high-strung, histrionic and under pressure to please the boss. We do get some background information about him but he remains the same person, acting the same way almost throughout the play.

Jeff Lillico’s Danny is basically a yes-man at the beginning and realistic about what the job requires until he is accused of racism because he maintains the dividing line between television entertainment and social commentary. Ferreira as Maia says relatively little until she explodes and asserts herself. But she backs off in her accusations against the racist cops for brutality and leaves us hanging.

There are a few laughs, much dramatic and over-dramatic acting but in the end you are left with relatively little to take with you on leaving the theatre. Director Jamie Robinson seems to have done his level best to liven up the arguments but there is not enough substance to work with. Very disappointing.       
Copy That by Jason Sherman opened on November 13 and will play until December 6, 2019 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

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

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madama Butterfly premiered at the English National Opera in London in 2005 and at the Met in New York in 2006. It is still a going concern and is telecast Live in HD from the Met this season.

This is the fifth time I seen this production and I must admit that Minghella’s use of Bunraku puppetry has lost some of its appeal. The Bunraku puppets are not traditional dolls manipulated by strings but plastic devices that require a lot of puppeteers on the stage to manipulate them. The little boy in the opera, for example, requires three puppeteers to make it move around. Each handles a different part of its body and the effect is frequently interesting. The puppets are used for Cio-Cio San’s son and for her in a ballet sequence at the beginning of Act I, Scene 2.

The puppeteers are dressed in black and their faces are covered by veils. They give admirable evidence of their athleticisms and adeptness in handling the puppets.  There is a complex use of mirrors, birds in flight, stars in the sky and commotion.

This time however I wondered how much they added to the opera and if Puccini’s work needed such excessive gimmickry
Hui He as Cio-Cio-San and Paulo Szot as Sharpless. Photo: Richard Termine / Met Opera
Hui He does may not fit the physical description of a very young Japanese girl who falls in love with Pinkerton, a creep of an American sailor. But she has a beautiful voice that expresses Cio-Cio San’s deep emotions and we forget everything else. Her “Un bel di vedremo” where she imagines the arrival of her husband’s ship in the harbour of Nagasaki is full of passion, tenderness and heart-wrenching longing.   

Tenor Bruce Sledge sang the role of Pinkerton in the Live from the Met broadcast replacing the indisposed Andrea Carè, I am not sure if he is the ideal Pinkerton but as a last minute replacement he deserves gratitude rather than criticism.

Paulo Szot gives an exemplary performance as Sharpless, the American Consul. He is a pillar of decency and he expresses both vocally and physically his discomfort, disgust and sympathy. He is the messenger of Pinkerton’s betrayal and he knows that his news will kill Cio-Cio San. We see all of this in his sensitive facial expressions alone. Placido Domingo was scheduled to sing the role but the allegations of misconduct by numerous women have caused him to relinquish all further singing on the Met stage.

Mezzo soprano Elizabeth DeShong is a spunky, faithful and compassionate Suzuki. She has a big voice, a pleasant personality and a fine stage presence that make her a pleasure to watch.
Theses broadcasts need a Director for Live Cinema that people who go to the opera house are not burdened with. He is the person who decides what we see by controlling every long shot, close-up, angle and, most importantly, duration of each shot. 
Elizabeth DeShong as Suzuki.Photo: Richard Termine / Met Opera
Habib Azar was the man responsible for this broadcast. I tried hard, I really did, to ignore the travesty of his choices but could not. Near the end I tried to estimate how long he was able to keep his finger off his converter (or whatever he is using). I don’t think I saw too many if any, scenes where he did not click a change for five seconds. Some shots lasted much less than that. There are many instances that demand that we simply watch the scene and be able to see several people on stage at the same time for action and reaction. Not a chance. He just kept clicking like a child on a video game that just plays with the controls. He screwed up on several occasions including during the emotional climax of the opera when Cio-Cio San sings “Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio!” as she is about to commit suicide. Good grief!

You may have to shut your eyes on occasion to listen to the splendid music played by the Met Orchestra conducted by Pier Giorgio Morandi, the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and the singers just to avoid the childish shot changes by Azar.

Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini was shown Live in HD at select Cineplex theatres across Canada on November 9, 2019. Encores will be shown on January 25, 27, 29 & February 9, 2020. For more information go to:

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Daniel MacIvor is a man of the theatre with playwriting, acting and directing to his credit. He has also made forays into film and television and has built a strong reputation as a solo performer with a solid portfolio of works. His latest creation with director and dramaturge Daniel Brooks is Let’s Run Away which is now playing at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre in Toronto.

MacIvor is an expert and talented solo performer. He enters the playing area nervously. Runs around the stage as if he were an amateur, very uneasy performer who is trying to get comfortable with the set and the equipment. He fools all of us as he settles into the character of Peter who will tell us his story over the next eighty minutes.
Daniel MacIvor. Photo: Canadian Stage
Peter starts by reading from his mother’s unpublished journal that mentions him. But wait. It is not accurate and he interjects, corrects and adds. He takes us through his confused life story from being abandoned by his mother, life in a foster home, in a motel, in a basement and other events that have shaped his bitter life.

He runs nervously and neurotically between microphones. He scolds the technician who handles the lighting and is very aware of his audience. He makes rich literary references from Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism to Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. The books are sent to him by his mother who abandoned him twice.

Peter sings, runs back and forth and has so many insecurities, anxieties and neuroses it is hard to keep up with him. His story is told in fragments with numerous diversions and distractions that I found difficult to follow. I thought that Peter’s story did not have enough for an eighty minute performance but the fact is it has too much.

MacIvor’s performance is superb but the fragmented story struck me as almost incoherent and I simply could not get into it.
Let’s Run Away  by Daniel MacIvor (writer and performer) and Daniel Brooks (dramaturge and director) in a production by reWork Productions, presented by Canadian Stage runs until November 17, 2019 at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario.

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

Monday, November 11, 2019


James Karas

Linda Vista is a neighbourhood in San Diego, California and it is also the title of a new play by Tracy Letts. I will not deal with the neighborhood but will say some very nice things about a funny, dramatic and well-acted play.

Dick Wheeler (Ian Barford), the central character, at age 50 repairs old cameras in a dinky shop and is not a happy man. He was a photographer for a Chicago newspaper but now he is in the midst of a messy divorce and he does not get along with his teenage son and considers himself a loser.

In his search for companionship, he gets involved with two women and both relationships are disastrous for which he is responsible. He may have learned something and there is some hope about his attempt at a third relationship but that is left up in the air at the end of the play.
 Cora Vander Broek, Ian Braford, Chantal Thuy in Linda Vista. 
Photo: Joan Marcus
Barford gives a bravura performance. He dominates the action and he delivers Letts’ many zingers, his dramatic scenes and emotional outburst superbly. Barford can modulate his voice, show body language and reaction to other actors brilliantly and almost make the show.

His first relationship is with Jules (Cora Vander Broek), an attractive, sympathetic woman with a problem past. She falls in love with Wheeler but he is incapable of solidifying the relationship and puts an end to it. The two engage in quite explicit if simulated sex and nudity but manage to be funny much of the time. Jules’ instinctive empathy and understanding of Wheeler are not enough to get through to his feeling of inferiority. Marvelous work by Broek.

Wheler gets involved with Minnie (Chantal Thuy), a young, abused, pregnant Vietnamese woman who has been thrown out by her boyfriend. She eventually dumps him and his dramatic begging for her to stay has no effect on her. Thuy’s character is somewhat mysterious, perhaps because of her awful past but the actress does excellent work.

The connecting scenes and much comedy is supplied by Wheeler’s long-time friend Paul (Jim True-Frost) his wife Margaret (Sally Murphy) and his boss Michael (Troy West). His co-worker Anita (Caroline Neff) plays a more significant role at the end of the play. All do fine jobs in their roles. 
From left: Jim True-Frost, Cora Vander Broek, Ian Barford and Sally Murphy. 
Photo: Joan Marcu
Letts touches on politics, sexual harassment and current events. There are intelligent comments about the definition of photography and the distraught Wheeler talks and argues vehemently about his former profession. He can be passionate, argumentative and extremely unpleasant.

The play takes place in Wheeler’s apartment which has a kitchen, a bedroom and an exit door. We also go to a karaoke bar, a gym and a couple of other less-well-defined venues. Set designer Todd Rosenthal creates a revolving set with four playing areas that can be quickly changed when we are watching another section.

Linda Vista is directed ably by Dexter Bullard and provides a very thoughtful and highly entertaining night at the theatre.

Linda Vista by Tracy Letts  in a Second Stage Theater in association with Center Theatre Group continues until November 10, 2019 at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W 44th St, New York, NY 10036

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

Saturday, November 9, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Opera Atelier has revived its stunning 2004 production of Don Giovanni for its current season at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto. It is a success story from every angle and it earns our (usual) bow to Marshall Pynkoski and Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg for their contribution to civilized life in Toronto.

Director Pynkoski and Choreographer Zingg have chosen to use a production style that bestows beauty and grace to the opera. They use a modified commedia dell’arte, stylized acting and ballet is used judiciously and splendidly.

In the opening scene when the Commendatore  (Gustav Andreassen) appears to defend his daughter against Don Giovanni (Douglas Williams) he is accompanied by a number of dancers who perform some acrobatic dance steps. Donna Anna (Meghan Lindsay) expresses her shock at the murder of her father by raising the back of her hand to her forehead in the stylized method of expression. This style is maintained throughout and it works by giving the opera a light touch. 
Olivier Laquerre, Douglas Williams, Mireille Asselin and Stephen Hegedus with 
Artists of Atelier Ballet and OA Chorus. Photo: Bruce Zinger 
Ms Zingg has choreographed a number of short ballet routines throughout that are attractive in themselves and at the same time give the production the lighter flavour that the modified commedia dell’arte aims for.

There are numerous fascinating points that Pynkoski adds to the production. For example, when the betrayed and abandoned Donna Elvira sings “Ah, chi mi dice mai” about wanting to kill the treacherous Don Giovanni and tear his heart out, she is brandishing a dagger and a crucifix. In other words she will mete out human punishment and divine retribution upon the traitor.

Don Giovanni breaks the resistance of the peasant girl Zerlina (Mireille Asselin) in the seduction duet of “Là ci darem la Mano” by giving her a pouch of money and she is pleased. When her angry bridegroom Masetto (Olivier Laquerre) accuses her of infidelity, her denial is upset by her dropping the coins in the pouch. Small details perhaps, that add up to a tremendous production.

The numerous small touches are accompanied by outstanding singing. The fascinating Donna Anna is sung by the gorgeously-voiced soprano Meghan Lindsay. Her stylized expression of shock and subsequent description of what happened in her room on that fateful night, cast doubt on her veracity. Don’t ask where her fiancé was and why is she putting him off for a year at the end? A splendidly sung and beautifully portrayed Donna Anna.

The fiancé, of course is Don Ottavio who gets some bad press sometimes, but tenor Colin Ainsworth in the role, deserves nothing but high praise. His rendition of “Il mio tesoro,” for example, is delivered with surpassing tenderness, passion, beauty and resolution. Ainsworth’s performance makes Donna Anna’s reason for rejecting Don Ottavio suspect. 
 Meghan Lindsay, Colin Ainsworth, Stephen Hegedus, Olivier Laquerre, Carla Huhtanen, 
Douglas Williams and Mireille Asselin. Photo: Bruce Zinger
If Donna Anna was ditched on the first night, Donna Elvira was abandoned on the third day and soprano Carla Huhtanen wants us to know about it with her passion and furor. Her passion tells her to forgive him but her mind tells her to flee her traitor as expressed marvelously in “Ah, fugi il traditor”   and “Mi tradì quell'alma ingrate” (that ungrateful soul betrayed me.) Dramatic, passionate and vocally fabulous.

Zerlina is the peasant girl we love. Pretty, lively, smart and able to handle her man, applies to her and soprano Mireille Asselin in the role. A lovely, light soprano with a beautiful lilt, perfect for the role and a delightful performance. It’s wonderful to see her handle the hulk Masetto who is a bit of an oaf that she turns into putty. Bass-Baritone Olivier Laquerre is perfect for the role vocally and physically.

The whole enterprise is led by Douglas Williams and Stephen Hegedus, the two bass-baritones who sing Don Giovanni and Leporello. Williams looks, acts and sings the great seducer with relish and vocal brilliance. Hegedus is just as adept in his role as his cohort but sly, ambitious and resentful. But in the end they are a team. I enjoyed their ability to act and react to each other even more than their individual prowess in their roles.

The Ed Mirvish Theatre does not really have an orchestra pit but that did not seem to bother David Fallis and the magnificent Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra who gave a marvelous performance.

Gerard Gauci’s set with its neo-classical exterior with the necessary balconies and entrances is effective and easily changeable.

I have made no secret of my enjoyment of this production and like a hungry Oliver Twist (for opera that is) I can only repeat I want more and so should you.

[Travel commitments and scheduling problems prevented me from attending an earlier performance].                                                 
Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart, presented by Opera Atelier, opened on October 31 and runs until November 9, 2019 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto.

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

Thursday, November 7, 2019


James Karas

The Rose Tattoo, Tennessee Williams’ 1950 drama has received a disappointing production by the Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre in New York. It boasts of having the star-power attraction of Marisa Tomei in the role of Serafina Delle Rose. According to Williams, she is a plump little Italian living in a village populated mostly by Sicilians along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Mobile.

The politest thing one can say is that she is simply miscast in the role. Ms Tomei is neither small nor plump. She is a beautiful woman who would never settle for a nobody like Alvano (Emun Elliott) after the death of her husband. She idolizes her husband Rosario and is deeply in love with him while worshipping the Madonna and being very superstitious. We never see her husband but he turns out to have been working for criminals and is killed. What’s worse, Serafina’s idol had a mistress in the village. Everybody knew about it except her. 
Marisa Tomei and Emun Elliott. Photo: Joan Marcus
Tomei can do the histrionics that are part of her character but she can only manage an atrocious Italian accent that added with her looks moves her away from the Serafina of the play.

Elliott is even worse as Alvano Mangiacavallo, the truck driver who, as I said, is attracted to Serafina after she becomes a widow. He is a buffoon as Serafina describes him, but what kind of a buffoon? Elliott is an American who tries to hide his native accent and impose an Italian inflection on his speech. He fails miserably and the character is left hanging between being an American with a bad Italian accent or an Italian who is trying to speak proper English.

Ella Rubin as Serafina’s 15-year old daughter Rosa and Burke Swanson as her boyfriend Jack are refreshingly fine in their roles. The women of the village who drop by Serafina’s place are necessary minor characters. Tina Benko makes a very alluring Estelle Hohengarten, the blonde with whom Rosario has an affair until his untimely death. She orders a shirt from the seamstress Serafina to give to someone who turns out to be her lover who happens to be none other than Rosario, Serafina’s husband.

Director Trip Cullman has done away with a number of characters and scenes from the play and there is no issue with that.

The set designed by Mark Wendland and the video projection designed by Lucy Mackinnon are quite dramatic. Serafina’s house backs to the Gulf with the water and waves visible on all three sides of the stage. The surging waves, no doubt symbolic of Serafina’s and Alvaro’s rising passion are marvelous with the small caveat that on the day I saw the performance they were not working very well. And I am not sure about the crowd of plastic flamingos on the edge of the water.

Cullman adds some songs and music by Fitz Patton which did nothing for the production.

The Rose Tattoo has a great deal of humor and we did get a few laughs but the production was spotty and never managed to bring out the comedy and the passion coherently and convincingly. A disappointing night at the theatre.   

The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams in a production by Roundabout Theatre Company continues until December 8, 2019 at the American Airlines Theatre,  227 West 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Richard Bean’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters premiered at London’s National Theatre in 2011 and it was a resounding success. Bean called his adaptation One Man, Two Guvnors and its freewheeling, farcical elements as directed by Nicholas Hytner made it a hit. It has toured extensively including a successful run on Broadway.   

The National started transmitting performances in 2009 and One Man was first broadcast in September 2011. In celebration of the 10th season of broadcasts, the National is showing the 2011 production of One Man again at Cineplex theatres.
James Corden and Suzie Toase. Photo: John Persson 
Goldoni worked within the tradition of commedia dell’arte of stock characters, convoluted plots and physical comedy but imposed a plot to be followed by the actors. He opposed the traditional fashion where actors who specialized in certain roles improvised much of their acting.

Bean has transferred the action from Venice to Brighton, England in 1963 and has remained faithful to some of the commedia dell’arte traditions but clearly with a script that must be followed.

The star of the show is James Corden as Francis Henshall, the clownish servant. Henshall was the minder of Roscoe Crabbe who is dead. Roscoe’s sister Rachel (Jemima Rooper) shows up in Brighton disguised as her twin Roscoe to claim a pile of dowry money from Charlie Clench (Fred Ridgway). Roscoe and Clench’s daughter Pauline (Claire Lams) were to be engaged but he was killed by Stanley (Oliver Chris) who happens to be Rachel’s boyfriend.

In the absence of Roscoe, Pauline wants to marry Alan (Daniel Rigby) the son of the crooked lawyer Harry Dangle (Martyn Ellis). In the meantime Francis has his eye on the busty Dolly (Suzie Toase) who is Clench’s bookkeeper. He is also hungry and broke and gets the chance to work for Stanley and (you guessed it) complications ensue for about two and a half hours.

There is verbal, physical and slapstick comedy. Characters punch each other, act silly, engage the audience and have numerous aside comments. They bring audience members on the stage and address the audience directly. At one point Francis asks where the diary of a character is and is told by an audience member. He thanks her and when he looks at the diary “realizes” that it is the wrong one and calls the audience member “a stupid cow.” The audience loves it.

The convoluted plot continues to fold and unfold with acting and overacting for the sole purpose of evoking laughter. There is no subtlety and no need for it. The characters are types and there is no character development or any need for it.

Dolly is big chested, not too bright and no pushover, but she wants a husband. Alan is an aspiring actor and an avid lover. Clench and his friend Lloyd (Trevor Laird) are former prison inmates.

The opportunities for doing and overdoing just about everything are rampant. That does not mean that they are all funny and as with much in theatre they are a matter of taste.
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni was The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
shown at various Cineplex Cinemas on October 24, 2019. For more information visit

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

Friday, November 1, 2019


James Karas

Almighty Voice and his Wife by Daniel David Moses consists of two distinct but related plays about Canadian natives. It is not promoted as such but the differences are obvious as are the connecting threads. The play receives a sensitive and superb production at Soulpepper directed by Jani Lauzon.

Almighty Voice was a Cree who lived in Saskatchewan in the late 19th century. He killed a cow for food and was arrested by the Mounted Police and thrown in jail. He escaped and managed to elude capture. But in the meantime he killed a Mountie and after a massive manhunt was found and shot dead.

The first half of Moses’ two-hander is a lyrical, comic and beautifully told story about Almighty (James Dallas Smith) and White Girl (Michaela Washburn), a Cree woman that he courts and marries. The courtship has elements of romance, humour and beauty. The rest of the segment is dramatic and moving.
James Dallas Smith and Michaela Washburn. Photo: Dahlia Katz
In the second half we are presented with a minstrel show in a school with the ghost of Almighty Voice and a white, male Interlocutor played by Washburn. The act contains songs, dance routines and “humorous” sketches. The Interlocutor wears a bright red Mountie tunic and the show is a satirical burlesque and serious critique of the type of show that showed indigenous people and especially black Americans in one of the many ugly manifestations of racism. Almighty Voice of course deals with Canadian Aborigines.

The second act is self-consciously theatrical as the Ghost of Almighty and the Interlocutor work to entertain the audience of the minstrel show. On the surface it is all supposed to be jolly good fun but one can hardly miss the allusion to the treatment of Aborigines when the Interlocutor brags that “we have the guns…we did it to the buffalo. Do you want to be next?”

The supreme irony comes when the Interlocutor sings “The Sioux Song” to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” There is no grace here, only exploitation of Aborigines. It is followed by “Sweet Sioux” about the exploitation of native women and the corruption of the legal system where Aborigines are involved.

Some marvelous things happen at the end but I will not disclose them.
                                               James Dallas Smith and Michaela Washburn. Photo: Dahlia Katz
Almighty Voice is a wonderful play for the two actors and the director. The first act is a conventional story involving Aborigines and, as I said, it is moving and funny. Smith and Washburn handle it with aplomb. The second act is far more complex and requires a great deal of flexibility and acting talent. The two go through a number of phases and it looks almost like a test in acting school about how many things they can do. They do them all with expertise, confidence and panache. Outstanding acting.

Director Jani Lauzon may have a simple task in the first act, but her work is decidedly cut out for her in the second act. She must guide the actors through the numerous phases with precision and a sure hand and she does so unfailingly.

Set and Video Designer Ken MacKenzie and Lighting Designer Jennifer Lennon provide the numerous set designs and lighting changes to accompany the many scenes. Kudos for work well done.

The fate of Canada’s Aborigines, from reservations to residential schools, is a blot on our history. The stories about them in the media are almost invariably negative. There are plays about them that are more reflective and searching but not enough. Moses is a prolific writer who has written a significant number of plays about Aborigines including Almighty Voice and his Wife which premiered in 1991. They are a part of what may change our perceptions and the realty of their fate.   

Almighty Voice and his Wife by Daniel David Moses continues until November 10, 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.