Wednesday, January 29, 2020

SWEAT – REVIEW OF LYNN NOTTAGE’S PLAY

James Karas

Lynn Nottage’s Sweat is a powerful play that examines the tragic lives of factory workers in  Reading, Pennsylvania as their employer shuts down the plant. She puts a magnifying glass on the fate of the line workers in a masterful play that won the Pulitzer Prize. Canadian Stage and Studio 180 have tackled it and have achieved an outstanding production.

The play takes place in a bar in a depressed town of Pennsylvania where the friends meet. They are Tracey (Kelli Fox) and her son Jason (Timothy Dowler-Coltman), Cynthia (Ordena Stephens–Thompson) and her son Chris (Christopher Allen), as well as Jessie (Allegra Fulton), a dedicated heavy drinker who never misses work. They meet at the bar that is managed by Stan (Ron Lea) who worked at the same plant for many years until he was injured on the job. Oscar (Jhonattan Ardila), a Colombian, works at the bar. 
Kelli Fox, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Ron Lea, Allegra Fulton. 
Photo: John Lauener (Simplify your life)
They are friends and have built their community and traditions in the town and in the bar. They have dreams and plans. A vacation, a car, a better job. Tracey and Jason are white. Cynthia and Chris are black. Cynthia’s husband Brucie (Peter N. Bailey) is a pathetic drug addict who was thrown out of his job when his union was locked out. Cynthia subsequently threw him out.

The only outsider in the play is Evan (Maurice Dean Wint) a no-nonsense parole officer.

David Storch directs a fine cast through the good times and the economic and social deterioration of the group. The plant may be closing and Cynthia has been promoted. Her friend Tracey who said she did not want the job is jealous and becomes abrasive. The relationship between Jason and Chris sours. Chris wants to go to college. Oscar, the quiet busboy, crosses the picket line and goes to work in the plant.

With the plant closures the social fabric of the entire community gets frayed. It is a frightful picture. As may be expected horrible violence breaks out leading to much worse results than the loss of work. I will not disclose the end.

Kelli Fox is excellent as Tracey, a worker whose only job had been at that plant. She is tough, assertive, angry and boisterous who in the end is left with almost nothing. She must begin from the bottom.
 Timothy Dowler-Coltman, Kelli Fox, Jhonattan Ardila, Christopher Allen. 
Photo: John Lauener (Simplify your life)
Ordena Stephens-Thompson as Cynthia takes a promotion but is accused by her friends of treachery – you did not stand up for us. It is painful to watch her trying to defend herself against the indefensible when she has no control of the situation. A superb performance.

Chris and Jason start out as friends but everything is shattered between them when the economic conditions deteriorate and they lose their jobs. Their characters are perhaps the most affected by conditions in their town and their lives are almost destroyed. Timothy Dowler-Coltman and Christopher Allen as Jason and Chris personify the hopes and utter destruction of the two young people.

The wretched druggy Brucie and the drunkard Jessie may represent the final stage of the deterioration of the people of the town and Bailey and Fulton are terrific in their roles.

The set by designer Ken Mackenzie represents a bar and with a couple of exceptions it is where the entire action of the play takes place. But the back of the stage is covered with a number of screens which are used for projecting images and videos. They show politicians and other personalities as well as giving us news about what is happening in the world outside of the town. The play takes place between 2000 and 2008. The videos are no doubt intended to give context to the play but they were frequently fuzzy, the speakers were not always recognizable and on many occasions they were a source of confusion rather than information.

The acoustics of the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre make it sound like an echo chamber and at times that did not help with hearing everything that was being said.

Nottage’s play is a powerful image of the effects on ordinary people of uncontrolled capitalism. The tragedy is national and personal and the current production brings it all in focus for an outstanding night at the theatre.
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Sweat by Lynn Nottage in a Canadian Stage and Studio 180 production continues until February 2, 2020 at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.canadianstage.com  416 368 3110

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

JULIUS CAESAR - REVIEW OF GROUNDLING AND CROW’S THEATRES’ PRODUCTION

James Karas

Groundling Theatre Company and Crow’s Theatre offer a production of Julius Caesar that is original, powerful, superbly directed and terrifically acted. It is done in the small Guloien Theatre on Carlaw Avenue which has been converted into a theatre-in-the-round that gives the play immediacy and muscle.

The production is not entirely faithful to Shakespeare but most of the changes and additions add to the effectiveness of the performance. It is done in modern dress and opens in a broadcast studio where they are reporting the return of the conqueror Caesar. The reporters give background about the holiday on which Caesar returns (the Lupercalia) and generate the type of excitement and anticipation of a sports team’s cup victory parade. The scene in the original play with the tribunes Flavius and Marullus berating the commoners on the street is omitted with no great loss.
 
Jim Mezon as Julius Caesar. Photo: Dahlia Katz
Director Chris Abraham in fact does the entire play with eleven actors (some of the best around) who perform a couple of dozen roles out of the possible 49. He even adds a couple of characters like Coriolanus and Felix. Diego Matamoros, for example, handles five roles quite handily.
There are handguns and semi-automatics, heavily armed soldiers and a sense of immediacy that make the play appear new and exciting. And it is. The presence of gums makes it necessary for Caesar to be shot instead of stabbed and here Abraham makes a choice about the fall of the great Roman. 

In this production, Casca shoots first and Caesar falls down. The other assassins do the same. The last one to partake in the assassination is Brutus and Caesar utters the famous words “Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar.” Brutus shoots Caesar who is already on the ground. Would it not be preferable for Caesar to be staggering after the first shots and then to stagger towards Brutus and realize that his friend Brutus, the man who says he loves him, is part of the gang. It is the ultimate expression of ingratitude and treachery. It is at this point that Caesar falls dead. What counts for him in the last moments of his life is not the mortal wounds delivered by the politicians but the ultimate betrayal by his friend. 

Jim Mezon as Caesar is supremely arrogant, extravagant and Mussolinian in his showmanship. People with common sense and respect for republican ideals find his egomania unacceptable and getting rid of him appears like a good idea.

Dion Johnstone plays the principled and upright Brutus. A superb portrayal of a man who wants to save Rome from the ambition of a friend whom he happens to love but not as much as he loves Rome.
Dion Johnstone as Brutus and Moya O'Connell as Cassius. Photo: Dahlia Katz
The conniving, even slithery, Cassius is played by Moya O’Connell. She is a woman, of course, and the characterization of the jealous and envious person is brilliant.

Graham Abbey has all the attributes for a great Mark Antony. He has the athletic build, the forceful presence and the vocal intonation of the man who turns the Roman mob into a rebellious and destructive force.

Sarah Afful deserves kudos for her performance in three very different roles. She plays Calpurnia, Caesar’s frightened wife, the conspirator Cinna and the egotistical Octavius who seems born to arrogance.

Michelle Giroux plays the marvelous wife of Brutus, Portia. She is a noble lady and a sympathetic wife and Giroux performs her superbly. She also plays the minor roles of Popilius and Varro.    

Walter Borden lends his sonorous voice to several characters as do Jani Lauzon and Ryan Cunningham with creditable results.

The heads of animals worn for brief moments by some of the actors, did nothing for me. The sound effects by Thomas Ryder Payne and the Set and Lighting bu Lorenzo Savoini were all dramatic and to the point. 

The additional writing by Zack Russell tightened Shakespeare’s text and was mostly positive except for the bit at the end. The original play ends with a magnanimous and eloquent eulogy of Brutus by Mark Antony. He is talking about his enemy yet refers to him as “the noblest Roman of them all.” The sometimes childish Octavius orders that Brutus be given an honourable burial befitting a soldier. They both strike notes of grace and that is where the play ends and so should this exceptional production.      
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Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare in a production by Groundling Theatre Company and Crow’s Theatre continues until February 2, 2020 at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1. http://crowstheatre.com/

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

Monday, January 27, 2020

SEXUAL MISCONDUCT OF THE MIDDLE CLASSES – REVIEW OF HANNA MOSCOVITCH’S PLAY AT TARRAGON

Reviewed by James Karas

Hannah Moscovitch’s new play, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, has a tantalizing title and the timing of its premiere is quite appropriate. We see sexual misconduct but it involves one person, maybe two and not an entire middle class let alone middle classes.

Jon is a university professor, separated from his wife, and he notices and becomes attracted to a pretty first-year student who is wearing a red coat. His attraction seems to be strictly sexual or esthetic, if you prefer, because he knows nothing about this woman. But he finds out that Annie shows writing talent and admires his work.     
Alice Snaden and Matthew Edison. Photo: Joy von Tiedemann
His conduct in meeting her approaches stalking but they do meet and their relationship becomes sexual. If you set aside the fact that he is a professor and she is his student, you may argue that the relationship is consensual. Indeed there is no evidence of overt undue influence.

Moscovitch is not interested in a Weinstein or Ghomeshi type of narrative. This is not a story of abuse and comeuppance. The story is told from the point of view of the professor who speaks of himself in the third person. He is examining his own character. He is a talented writer, married three times who has issues with his personal and professional life.

The play has only the two characters and no one else is involved directly. In the beginning Annie plays a minor role and we may expect some ups and downs but a happy ending. That goes by the board when Jon’s wife becomes pregnant, he goes back to her.

In the latter part of the play Annie’s character is developed and she writes a book that she is ready to present to Jon. Both of them know that she can report him to university authorities and that will be the end of his career. But this in not David Mamet’s Oleana. The two get along years after the affair is finished.
 Matthew Edison and Alice Snaden. Photo: Joy von Tiedemann
The set by Michael Gianfrancesco shows a brightly coloured, mostly red corridor with several doors on each side. A desk and several chairs are about the only props needed. Bonnie Beecher has designed expressive lighting with good use of spotlights.

Sarah Garton Stanley directs and the performances by Matthew Edison as Jon and Alice Snaden as Annie are impeccable. But the situation with its humour and self-analysis by Jon struck me as sparse material for the play. There were a large number of scenes with some time used for the changes. The play is more than an hour long and it seems to take a long time to get to the punchline, effective though it is. 
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Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes by Hannah Moscovitch continues until February 2, 2020 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.  www.tarragontheatre.com

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





Sunday, January 26, 2020

THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – REVIEW OF 2020 COC PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas
           
The Canadian Opera Company dispels Toronto’s winter blues with a delicious production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. There may have been the odd, minor glitch but this was a highly enjoyable and splendid production.

The opera has a vocal, musical and comic momentum that can be built on with sufficient changes of pace that can take and keep the audience entertained in the wonderful world of Seville of no particular era. There we find Dr. Bartolo, an old fool who wants to marry his lovely ward Rosina for her money and much more. There is Almaviva, a handsome count who is stricken by Rosina’s beauty and has fallen hopelessly in love with her. There is Basilio, a foolish and corrupt singing teacher and, of course, the incomparable, versatile, ever-inventive town barber and factotum Figaro.
 
Emily D’Angelo as Rosina, Joel Allison as Fiorello, Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva 
and Vito Priante as Figaro in of The Barber of Seville, 2020. Photo: Michael Cooper
Rossini provides some incredible music, arias and ensemble pieces integrated with comic scenes nonpareil. All you need is the musicians and cast to deliver. Let’s start with the highly alluring Rosina in the hands and vocal chords of mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo. A Toronto girl! We get to know her (and love her) when she introduces herself in her cavatina “Una voce poco fa.” With energy, panache and sumptuous singing D’Angelo’s Rosina tells us that she is in love with Lindoro and swears that she will have him. She has a thousand tricks up her sleeve and she will not be trifled with by nobody, no how. And the music lesson where she and Lindoro practice an aria is a scrumptious love scene.  Clear?

Lindoro is the Count Almaviva in disguise and Argentinian tenor Santiago Ballerini better be good to deserve a woman like Rosina. Ballerini rises to the occasion with a mellifluous midrange and well achieved high notes. At the beginning, we had a few worrisome moments when we thought we may not be able to hear him (we have to hear you even if you are singing pianissimo) but that concern was dissipated quickly and he turned in a fine performance.   

The ardent lovers have opposition to overcome but they also have a powerful ally and the most famous facilitator in opera, Figaro. Italian baritone Vito Priante as Figaro gets one of the most famous entrances with his “Largo al factotum,” a tongue twister of a cavatina that reflects the master schemer. He is far more than a mere factotum. Priante displays comic talent, vocal versatility and gives a superb performance.

Doctor Bartolo is the old geezer who wants the young beauty. He is a comic figure who brings the laughs and has some sonorous singing to do. Italian baritone Renato Girolami does both in a hugely creditable performance. He sang the role in the 2015 production of The Barber of which this is a revival.

His not-too-reliable partner is Basilio done exceptionally well by American bass-baritone Brandon Cedel. He is a reprehensible chap, a master slanderer and a treacherous friend and Cedel sings the role with vocal resonance and agility.

Canadian mezzo-soprano Simona Genga kicks butt in her performance as Rosina’s old maid servant Berta. It’s a small role but she has the beautiful aria that parodies love as a crazy mania in “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” (The old man seeks a wife). She did a wonderful job and the audience loved her.

The chorus was impressive and the COC Orchestra equally good. The conductor is Speranza Scappucci, a woman. Regretfully and shamefully, we are a long way from not noticing the gender of the conductor but at least there is some progress. 
Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva (right) in The Barber of Seville, 2020. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
The production is directed by Joan Font with set and costumes by Joan Guillén. The directing was excellent for the reasons stated above. But what was the woman sitting on the right side of the stage during the opening scene doing? She never really leaves the stage and she goes from a minor annoyance to being ignored but Font no doubt had something in mind when she put her on,

The costumes were mostly appropriate if not time sensitive. The military uniforms did the job, Rosina wore a nice white dress and the rest were of little concern. But what were those growths on the top of the heads of some of the servants? Are they tufts of hair or Italian sausages?

The set at the beginning shows a vaguely black background and a structure on one side. Change of lighting turns it into Rosina’s residence. Once we are inside her house, the music and singing carry us through and the set becomes of secondary interest.

The gripes are minor compared to the thoroughly enjoyable production that got a well-deserved standing ovation.
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The Barber of Seville by Giacomo Rossini with libretto by Cesare Sterbini is being performed eight times between January 19 and February 7, 2020 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

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

Thursday, January 23, 2020

RICHARD III - REVIEW OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!” is one of the most famous lines in drama. It is uttered by the murderous King Richard III just before he is killed in the dramatic finale of the play. In Shakespeare’s Globe production, Richard III he indeed says these words but at the same time the band starts playing and someone sings “Don’t be so sad.”

During the performance Richard sings several times and I could not imagine why the directors added that gimmick among many others into the production. The irony is that this is a well-acted production that is seriously damaged (I would not say ruined) by all kinds of gimmicks added by directors Sean Holmes and Ilinca Radulian. I imagined them going through the text trying to come up with gimmicks like the singing. 
Sophie Russell in Richard III at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London. 
Photo: Marc Brenner
In the first scene when Richard speaks the great opening soliloquy “Now is the winter of our discontent” he tells us that he is so deformed that dogs bark at him when he passes by. This Richard, played superbly by Sophie Russell, appears dressed in a dirty football jersey with the number 03 and knee pads. He must have been playing football and he appears youthful and athletic without any deformity. In fact, he is quite attractive. I will refer to “him” and “he” even though he is played by a woman.

There is great latitude in the display of his deformity on stage and we don’t care if it is only mildly indicated to comply with the text and we can take care of the rest. But an athlete with no deformity at all?

There are ten actors in the cast taking on some two dozen roles. They are well-trained and excellent actors. The costumes appear to be modern “wear whatever you want.” Richard does appear in a white suit with a white top hat. He is a singer and entertainer after all. But with some possible exceptions, if there is a dress code it is not obvious. Is the approach “let’s do a good job with the text” (they do) “and forget about the costumes but do a good job on the gimmicks as well”?

The production is minimalist and in the small playing area of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse it is a sensible approach. When Lady Anne (Matti Houghton who also handles the roles of Lord Gray and Sir William Catesby) appears in the funeral procession of Henry VI there is no coffin but only some of his clothes. It works well as Richard goes through the marvelous seduction scene.  There is no sword for him to attempt suicide and the production uses a plastic bag that he places over his head to indicate his readiness to die. Would not a knife of any size have been more sensible than a plastic bag?
Matti Houghton and Sophie RussellPhoto: Marc Brenner
Jonathan Broadbent plays a devious, ambitious and murderous Duke of Buckingham. When he has succeeded in making Richard a king, he approaches him to claim his gift, the earldom of Hereford. He walks on the stage looking seriously disheveled and I got the impression that he had just slept, as they say, with Richard. Perhaps I misread the scene.

John Lightbody turns in fine performance as the hapless George, Duke of Clarence and Sir Richard Ratcliff.

Steffan Donnelly plays Queen Margaret, the First Murderer and Richmond. If you want to hear blood-curdling curses, just listen to Donnelly as the Queen.

Richard III has more than sixty characters but many can be dispensed with and the play tightened up for the better. This was done for the current production and if they had dispensed with the gimmicks it may have been outstanding night at the theatre.
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Richard III by William Shakespeare continues until January 26, 2020 at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
21 New Globe Walk, Bankside,
London SE1 9DT.  Tel: +44 (0)20 7401 9919 https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

COPS – REVIEW OF TORTORA’S PLAY AT SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE, LONDON

James Karas

Who dunnit?

That is the ultimate question in Tony Tortora’s new play Cops, now playing at the Southwark Playhouse in London.

I can’t find much information about the playwright but he is an American living in England, a man in his late 70s. Cops is his second play after Churchill which was produced in 2013.

The play takes place in a police station in Chicago in 1957 and it involves five cops of diverse backgrounds. Playing in the tiny Southwark Playhouse, the cops are hemmed in a tiny space where four desks, and two lookout areas called for.

Tortora wants to develop the characters of the cops and tell us the story of general and specific corruption in Chicago with the main plot line being the pursuit of a witness in a case involving organized crime. They know that the witness is around and they stake him out but someone is leaking information and they cannot catch him. Who is the culprit?
Daniel Francis and Roger Alborough. Photo: Robert Day 
The central characters of the drama are Stan (Roger Alborough), a crotchety and corrupt old cop who joined the force in 1906. He argues and fights with everybody. Rosey (Daniel Francis) is black who provides us with commentary about the state of blacks in Chicago.

Eulee (James Sobol Kelly) is Polish, Catholic and decent (his mother wanted him to become a priest) and appears to be a notch above the others as a policeman and a human being. Foxy (Jack Flammiger) is a handsome young college boy from a rich family with a father who has donated millions to the police.  Has his father made him become a cop so he can be informed about what is happening with the police? A question to be asked.

The fifth cop, Hurley (Ben Keaton) is seen only a couple of times. When the others are staking out the Mafia witness, Hurley is sent to the roof where he is freezing.

In his attempt to give us background information about the characters, Tortora moves away from the issue at hand and the pace of the play screeches to a halt. Someone from personnel delivers an envelope to the unit. It falls to the floor and no one picks it up or deigns to open it. I don’t know how much time is wasted discussing who will pick up the letter, who the in the end will open the envelope and what it may contain.

All of the charters except Hurley go off on tangents about corruption, organized crime, sports and other matters that do not help in building up the suspense of who is the snitch. I do not want to reveal the outcome but it is so slow in coming it is hard to maintain one’s interest.

The acting and directing are uneven. Alborough muffs more than a few lines and director Andy Jordan does not control the pace or the volume. It is a tough venue to work in but a more disciplined approach would have helped.

Tortora has a good idea for a play in telling a story about cops and adding some humour but he needs a dramaturg to tighten up the script.
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Cops by Tony Tortora continues until February 1, 2020 at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, England. https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

CYRANO DE BERGERAC - REVIEW OF CRIMP’S ADAPTATION IN LONDON

Reviewed by James Karas

Cyrano de Bergerac is playing to packed houses and enthusiastic audiences at the Playhouse Theatre in London. I went eager to see a play that has several thrilling scenes even though its overall quality is uneven.

Cyrano de Bergerac, was written by Edmond Rostand in 1897 but the program informs us that this production is “freely adapted by Martin Crimp.”

When we enter the theatre, we see an empty stage with three microphone stands. When the lights go down one Lignière (Nima Taleghani) tells us that we are in a theatre waiting for a performance and introduces Christian (Eben Figueiredo), a handsome young soldier and points to certain members of the audience. A large number of actors appear dressed in very ordinary street clothes and after a while the dialogue of the plot is heard. 
James McAvoy as Cyrano de Bergerac. Photograph: Marc Brenner
To get to the point, we are about to see a rehearsal of Cyrano de Bergerac. There is a very good cast and they know their lines but there is no set, no costumes, no makeup and no blocking. All the players are equipped with microphones on one side of their faces and will take us through the text of the play. They are using Crimp’s free adaptation which is colloquial and uses some clever rhymes. All well and good but, to repeat, this is a rehearsal of the play.

We are eager to see the huge-nosed Cyrano in his poetic splendour and dazzling sword handling bravura and the gorgeous Roxane whose looks can cause hyperventilation. We have seen the handsome Christian already. In their ordinary street clothes, their looks do not match our fervent imagination. They look like talented actors, even graduates of RADA, who may be waiting on tables until they get their next big role.

In a readthrough there is no sword fight, only a sort of mimed affair, and the rest of the scenes are similarly left to the imagination. Cyrano de Bergerac is best known for the balcony scene. You will recall that the verbally challenged Christian (okay, he is a pretty-faced idiot) tries to woo Roxane. She is a woman of beauty and culture and wants to hear poetry. Christian can barely deliver sentences. She stands on her balcony and he is supposed to wax romantic and poetic to make her heart melt. He can’t.

Cyrano steps in under the balcony and while pretending to be Christian delivers an outpouring of love poetry that makes Roxane’s knees shake.  It is the apogee of his life and if he died at that moment he would die happily. 

But this is a balcony scene without a balcony, without the theatrical illusion of the intense emotional bliss felt by Cyrano and subsequent disillusionment when Christian kisses Roxane and he gets nothing.

Christian marries Roxane but the marriage is not consummated because he and Cyrano are sent off to war. Cyrano continues the balcony scene by writing love letters to Roxane every day pretending to be Christian. Christian is killed in the war. 
The cast of Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo: Marc Brenner
For the next fifteen years Cyrano visits Roxane. He has enemies and is mortally wounded before his last visit. He asks to see Christian’s last letter to her and she lets him read it. It is dusk and he begins to “read” the letter but he is in effect reciting it because he wrote it. In an emotionally charged moment, Roxane realizes that Cyrano was the author of all the letters and he is the one that has loved her all those years. It is a beautiful and moving scene moments before Cyrano’s death.

That is not good enough for Martin Crimp. Cyrano admits to writing all the letters and Roxane is angry with him for deceiving her. She shows no grace or understanding of the depth of love the unloved Cyrano felt for her. He dies accused of duplicity.

Most of the emotion and power of the play is seriously diminished by the knowledge that we are watching the rehearsal of a mauled play. There is a point where Cyrano and Christian kiss and I have no idea what the kiss meant.

The production has some star power that is combined with serious acting talent from the cast. James McAvoy seemed to send tingles down the audience’s spines. They seemed to enjoy the production.

Director Jamie Lloyd is a major force in British theatre and in this case a prime example where the search for originality in the production of a classic leads to an awful night at the theatre.    
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Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand freely adapted by Martin Crimp, in a production by the Jamie Lloyd company, continues until February 29, 2020 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London WC2N 5DE. The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

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

Monday, January 20, 2020

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW – REVIEW OF ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s most challenging plays to produce. It was written in a different age and we make allowances for that. But the mistreatment, abuse, humiliation, debasement and almost dehumanization of a woman is unacceptable in any age.

Directors have tried to find ways around it and some have been more successful than others. Director Justin Audibert has hit on the idea of gender change. The men become women and vice versa. Baptista (Amanda Harris) who has two daughters to marry becomes a mother with two sons, Katherine (Joseph Arkley) and Bianco (James Cooney) to send to the altar.

Bianco’s suitors are Hortensia (Amelia Donkor), Gremia (Sophie Stanton) and Lucentia (Emily Johnstone). Katherine is wooed by Petruchia (Claire Price) and the rest of the male characters including most of the servants become women and the reverse.
 Claire Price as Petruchia and Joseph Arkley as Katherine. Photo: Ikin Yum Photography/RSC
Aside from Petruchio’s treatment of the shrew Katherine as he “tames” her, the play has numerous comic scenes and Audibert exploits them all for laughter. Lucentia changes places with his servant Trania (Laura Elsworthy) in order to pretend that she is a tutor and thus gain access to Bianco. When Lucentia needs her mother Vincentia (Melody Brown) to negotiate the marriage settlement, she gets the merchant Pedant (Hannah Azuonye) to pretend that she is her mother. Then her real mother arrives with hilarious consequences.     

The old fool Gremia woos the young Bianco and the clever servants know how to survive their masters in the best tradition of comedy. You should see Sophie Stanton glide across the stage! Audibert has the fine cast do justice to all these complications.

Claire Price with a big orange wig perched on her head looks almost androgynous as Petruchia and once she begins her taming mission is relentless. A domineering and marvellous performance. Arkley’s clean-cut Katherine does not stand a chance against that virago. James Cooney as Bianco looks almost effeminate with his long hair while Emily Johnstone as Lucentia is not to be trifled with.

Richard Clews as Petruchia’s servant Grumio is hilarious as is Amy Trigg as Lucentia’s servant Biondella. Laura Elsworthy as Trania is also up there.

Audibert does away with the induction scene, the framing device using Christopher Sly. It can be put to good use but it can also prove to be a bore. 
The company of Taming of the Shrew. Photo: Ikin Yum Photography/RSC
The program tells us that the play is set in the 1590s where “society is a matriarchy.” The gorgeous costumes are sixteenth century chic and there is no attempt to allude to current events or attitudes. Hannah Clark gets full marks for the costumes that are a pleasure to watch. Women are the dominant sex, of course. For most of the production this seemed like a pleasant change. We are quite used to hearing about abused women and perhaps some men may be shocked by seeing chauvinist pigs get their comeuppance but it has its fun side.

But it is difficult to swallow the play lock stock and barrel. There is no attempt to lessen the impact of abuse and humiliation meted on Katherine. He just takes it. Some irony, some indication of love to make us aware that there is hope for the couple? Nothing.

Even Katherine’s final speech “Fie, fie! Unknit that threat'ning unkind brow/ And dart not scornful glances from those eyes/ To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor” is spoken with fervor. There is room for some irony, a gesture, a body movement to tell us that things are not as bad as they seemed but there is none.

Aside from some qualms, this is a well-acted and superbly directed production that provides some unexpected pleasures.
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The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare played until January 18, 2020 at the Barbican Theatre, London, England. It now continues its tour in Canterbury, Plymouth, Nottingham, Newcastle and Blackpool on various dates. Full details here:  https://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

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

Sunday, January 19, 2020

MEASURE FOR MEASURE - REVIEW OF ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

Gregory Doran, the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company has assigned the production of Measure for Measure to himself, a difficult play to direct especially in the current atmosphere. More about this later.

Doran places the play in early twentieth century Vienna, a city of culture and style but also of prostitution and debauchery. The production opens in a hall where gentlemen in smart officers’ uniforms waltz with ladies in long, elegant gowns. The Duke of Vienna halts the dancing and proceeds to assign his duties to the strict and puritanical Angelo in order to tighten up the morality of the city. Brothels are flourishing, sexual licentiousness is out of control and something must be done. The easy-going Duke will “leave” so that Angelo will have a free hand to enforce the law.

Doran has a strong cast. The key players are the novice nun Isabella and the Tartuffian hypocrite Angelo. When Isabella goes to plead for the release of her brother Claudio who had been condemned to death for impregnating his fiancée, Angelo proposes a quid pro quo: her virginal body for her brother’s release.  
Lucy Phelps and Sandy Grierson in Measure for Measure.  Photo: Helen Maybanks.
Lucy Phelps is a superb Isabella. She is modestly attractive and innocent (making her more desirable). She resists with admirable tenacity and is put through hell for reasons unknown. Sandy Grierson as Angelo is the pillar of virtue and the paragon of slime exudes righteousness and practices Weinsteinesque sexual morality. He is frightful in his abuse of power and certainty that he is invincible. No one would believe his accuser.

Antony Byrne as the Duke is always difficult to fathom. Byrne plays him as a somewhat light-hearted character who means well but lacks a few points in his human quotient to comprehend his actions.

The funniest person from the government side is Michael Patrick as Constable Elbow who tortures the English language but provides gales of laughter in the process. In a smaller role but also entertaining is Patrick Brennan as Abhorson the executioner who takes his profession so seriously, he considers it a mystery. Brennan also plays Friar Thomas.

The characters from the suburban brothels are more fun. Graeme Brookes in drag as the bawd Mistress Overdone is simply wonderful and hilarious. Joseph Arkley as the “fantastic” Lucio comes out as a dapper gentleman in a perfectly tailored suit, silk scarf and spats. That’s the surface. Underneath he is a slimeball. The pimp Pompey, well dressed and wearing a bowler, is proud of his professional standing. Between the court and the brothels, we have the prison where the prisoner Bernadine (again Graeme Brooks) is permanently and uproariously drunk and the last thing he wants is to be executed or released.

Stephen Brimson Lewis’ design calls for a minimum of set props and relies on Simon Spencer’s lighting. It all works quite effectively.

I mention the lighter side of the production that Doran pays attention to because this is a play that needs humour very badly. After all Measure for Measure is classified as a comedy but there are issues, especially in the final act, that are no laughing matter.
Lucy Phelps and James Cooney as Isabella and Claudio. Photo:Helen Maybanks/RSC
Disentangling the plot lines of Measure for Measure is a bit problematic partly because the Duke wants all to be resolved in public right at the end of the play. It is a play and dramatic necessities require a certain structure. It was written some 400 years ago and it is unadvisable to judge it by today’s standards. But times are different. Prince Andrew had sex with a 17-year old purchased for him by a billionaire and he denies it, insisting that a photograph taken of him with the girl is fake. Harvey Weinstein abused dozens of women while in a position of power and he denies it all saying it was consensual.

Near the end of Measure when Isabella accuses Angelo of trying to seduce her, he denies it and the Duke (pretends) to go along with it. No, Angelo could not possibly have done that. When Angelo denies having sex with Mariana (Sophie Khan Levy), his former fiancée, the same thing happens. There is a frightful consistency is there not?

The final resolution has the same problems. The despicable Angelo has to marry Mariana
because he had sex with her. The dashing Lucio has to marry the nicely named Kate
Keepdown who walks on stage with baby carriage. She gets a laugh and so do we. Finally, the Duke extends his hand in an offer of marriage to Isabella. She does not respond.

All of this is done at the expense of the women. Perhaps, If, I may coin a phrase, we can have our cake and eat it too, we can be aware of its social implications and enjoy a fine production of a problematic play.
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Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare played until January 18, 2020 at the Barbican Theatre, London, England. It now continues its tour in Canterbury, Plymouth, Nottingham, Newcastle and Blackpool on various dates. Full details here:  https://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

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

Saturday, January 18, 2020

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND – REVIEW OF NATIONAL THEATRE PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

My Brilliant Friend is a play performed in two parts over five and a half hours, less two 20-minute intermissions at the National Theatre in London It is based Elena Ferrante’s four volumes of fiction collectively called her Neapolitan Novels adapted for the stage by April De Angelis.

The play has some forty characters with “other parts played by members of the company.” The company consists of twenty-three actors and that gives you a hint of the scope of the two parts of the play.

The play takes place in Naples after World War II and it covers the period up to Silvio Berlusconi’s presidency if not even later. That is a long time in the lives of a lot of people but Ferrante spreads her story much more widely than just covering the lives of a handful of main characters with the rest appearing in supporting roles.

She wants to cover numerous aspects of the history of Naples and indeed Italy during that time frame from the personal lives and the relationships of some of the main characters, to social changes, political upheavals, justice and, crucially, the position of women. You can assume that their position was bad.
 Niamh Cusack and Catherine McCormack. Photo: Marc Brenner 
We are dealing with a poorer neighbourhood of Naples and the following families are identified. The Greco family is of prime importance because Elena (Niamh Cusack), the daughter of the porter Vittorio (Martin Hyder) is one of the main characters in the play. She has a mother, two younger brothers and a sister and they play variously important roles in the action.

The Cerullo family is of equal importance to the Grecos because Lila (Catherine McCormack), the daughter of shoemaker Fernando (Martin Hyder), is the friend of Elena. The friendship between the two women is the most important personal story of the play as it goes through various permutations. Nunzia (Badria Timini) is Lila’s mother and she has a brother Rino (David Judge) who plays an important part in the numerous stories of the play.

The Carracci family occupies the very important position as a representative of organized crime. The head of the family Don Achille (Al Nedjari) disappears early but his sons Stefano (Jonah Russell) and Alfonso (Colin Ryan) remain until the end of both parts of the play. Stefano marries Lila and brutally rapes her on their wedding night.

The Cappuccio family is a working-class trio with Melina (Amiera Darwish), a mentally deranged cleaner, her son Antonio (Justin Avoth) the car mechanic with a romantic interest in Elena, and daughter Ada (Lizabeth Mary Williams).

The Sarratore family consists of Nino (Ben Turner), a school friend of Elena’s and Lila’s and his parents Donato (Al Nedjari) and Lidia (Kazrena James). Nino falls in love with Lila after her disastrous marriage to Stafano. Donato has sex with Elena.

The Solara family is another trio of criminals consisting of the brutal Manuala (Emily Mytton) and her two sons Marcello (Ira Mandela Siobhan) and Michele (Adam Burton).
 A scene from My Brilliant Friend. Photo: Marc Brenner
Elena and Lila are attractive women and they go through several partners and have a rocky relationship between them. Elena becomes a successful novelist while Lila is not permitted to pursue higher education and ends up working in a sausage factory. It is a horrible job where she is sexually abused. The relationship of the two women is the most important aspect of the play.

With organized crime present, there are a few shootings. The politics of fascism and communism are present as is the fight for workers’ rights, strikes, brutal treatment and general injustice. Ferrante/De Angelis try to paint life in Italy on a huge canvas.

The play is organized around short scenes broken by rear stage projections, moments of music or songs, dancing, strobe lights and the like. Watching student or workers’ demonstrations, work in a slaughterhouse and numerous other clips made no sense. There are too many stories over a very lengthy time frame and it was not possible to keep track of every plot strand or who is who and who did what to whom.  

The set by Soutra Gilmour consisted of several mobile ladders that were frequently repositioned on the stage. The twenty or so actors were brought on stage frequently and the ladders provided a place to run up on or around. After all, the play represents a part of a city and not just a few individuals.  

The production struck me as too ambitious by a half. Bringing that many characters and that many stories even within five hours is unwieldy and impossible to focus on.

I must add unstinting praise for the acting especially of Cusack and McCormack. Cusack was on the stage almost all the time and she had to go through numerous emotional ranges. McCormack did superb work in a role that makes enormous demands.

Director Melly Still has a huge job to do and significant credit is due to her for being able to keep the whole thing moving.        
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My Brilliant Friend, Parts 1 and 2 based on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels adapted by April De Angelis continues until February 22, 2020 at the national Theatre, South Bank, The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

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

Friday, January 17, 2020

AS YOU LIKE IT - REVIEW OF ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

The Royal Shakespeare Company never seems to rest. Its main season is in Stratford-upon-Avon beginning in the spring and ending sometime in the fall but the show goes on with productions touring around the country. In the meantime there are shows still playing in Stratford.

I was able to catch up with several productions in their stopover in London at the Barbican Theatre

As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s most wonderful comedies of love, gets a joyful, marvelously acted and brilliantly directed production. Its main vehicle is Shakespeare’s language. Director Kimberley Sykes and a fine cast want us to hear every word of the play, pronounced immaculately and properly. The actors are aware of the poetry and beauty of the text and want us to enjoy it. We do.
 
Sophie Khan Levy and Lucy Phelps in As You Like It. Photo:Topher McGrillis. ©RSC
But there is much more than that. As You Like It is about the pursuit of love in various manifestations. Yes, there are political issues of usurpation, social issues of life in Arcadia or Arden in this case and the like. But the driving force of the play is love.

We see the cousins Rosalind and Celia go to the Forest of Arden disguised as Ganymede and Aliena. Duke Senior was deposed by his nasty brother Duke Frederick and went off to the Forest of Arden for a life of contentment. He has a colourful group of companions and is joined by his daughter Rosalind and his brother’s daughter Celia. They will seek love.

There are shepherds and shepherdesses who are just as eager for love and we will run into a delightful combination of pursuers and pursued. Shakespeare provides it all and all you need is a fine cast to deliver and delight.

Lucy Phelps who plays Rosalind and is disguised as Ganymede will pretend that she is Rosalind so that Orlando (David Ajao) will woo her. He has been thrown out by his evil brother Oliver (Leo Wan) and loves Rosalind to distraction but where is she? Phelps is energetic, comic, and just plain wonderful. We know where that plot strand leads but we enjoy watching it.

Sophie Khan Levy is a beautiful and splendid-voiced Celia, a lovely modern woman.   
Sandy Grierson, Sophie Stanton and Charlotte Arrowsmith Photo:Topher McGrillis. ©RSC
The rustics are even more fun. William (Tom Dawze) loves Audrey (Charlotte Arrowsmith) but she loves Touchstone (Sandy Grierson). Silvia (Amelia Donkor) loves Phoebe (Laura Elsworthy) who loves Ganymede. Celia falls in love with the reformed Oliver. Yes, there are a few gender changes. Silvius of the original becomes Silvia; Amiens, usually a male role, is played by Emily Johnstone who also plays Le Beau. Jacques is played by Sophie Stanton. (A minor complaint about her delivery of The Seven Ages of Man. Speech. She needed to speak a bit more loudly and add some life into it.)

The gender swapping works very well because at the end of the play The Duke’s attendants are paired off and Audrey who did not like Silvius may be happier with Sylvia.
 
The production is done with the minimum of sets and props.  In the opening scenes there is only a large green rug which is made into a wrestling rink for Orlando and Charles the Wrestler (Graeme Brookes). Judicious use of lighting produces the impression of a forest without much fuss. But there is a gigantic puppet of Hymen in the end to help with the marriages (it is his job after all)

Sykes does not hesitate to use the audience to evoke laughter, but it is done judiciously providing in all a highly enjoyable night at the theatre.
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As You Like It by William Shakespeare continues until January 18, 2020 at the Barbican Theatre, London, England. It then continues its tour to Canterbury, Plymouth, Nottingham, Newcastle and Blackpool on various dates. Full details here:  https://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

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

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A KIND OF PEOPLE – REVIEW OF BHATTI’S PLAY AT ROYAL COURT THEATRE

Reviewed by James Karas

All white people must be racists (?). All blacks must be victims of racism (?).

These are two of the questions or, if you will, issues raised by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti in A Kind of People now playing at the Royal Court Theatre in London. It is a powerful play with some outstanding acting that that is riveting in every respect.

Bhatti starts her play with a happy gathering to celebrate the birthday of a friend. It is a racially mixed crowd. The hosts are a happily married couple, Nicky (white) and her husband Gary (black).

The guests are Mo (Pakistani) and his wife Anjum, also Pakistani who wears a hijab more as a sword than an expression of devotion to her Muslim faith. Gary’s sister Karen cares more about having a good time than any racial or social issues. Mark (white) is Gary’s co-worker and seems like a decent guy but you may wish to reserve judgment on him

But there is a surprise guest, Victoria, Gary’s boss, drops in. and proceeds to get drunk. She makes some clearly racist gestures and leaves. 
The cast of A Kind of People. Photo: Manuel Harlan
The people in the play have far more than racial problems. There is the issue of upward social mobility. Gary and Nicky live in subsidized (council) housing and are dreaming of him getting a promotion to be able to buy a house. They are struggling to get their children in better schools as a steppingstone to a better life.

The clash comes when Gary does not get the promotion and is convinced that he was rejected because of Victoria’s racism. His relationship with Nicky falters and his whole world collapses. 

The deterioration of Nicky and Gary’s world culminates in an extraordinary emotional climax that leaves the audience stunned. There is a brief epilogue and I will not disclose its content.

Claire-Louise Cordwell as Nicky gives a performance of enormous depth and power. Her love for Gary and devotion to her children is immeasurable. When her father found out that she was in love with a black man he beat her up and broke two of her ribs. Cordwell displays Nicky’s power to withstand anything in defence of her family and her dreams of a better life. In the climactic scene she is simply heart-wrenching.

Richie Campbell as Gary is a man of pride and principal. He is unwilling to compromise those characteristics but he does not realize that pride can become arrogance and failure to embrace realism over principal in the face of self-destruction makes no sense. We see all of that brilliantly conveyed by Campbell in his bravura performance.

Gary’s boss Victoria, impeccably played by Amy Morgan, displays the cool, fair-minded white person who can hide her racism under a veneer of good conduct. She is the most dangerous racist of them all.
Claire-Louise Cordwell and Richie Campbell. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Petra Letang is a pleasure to watch as Karen, the free-spirited sister of Gary.

The hijab wearing Anjum played by Manjinder Virk shows another way of dealing with racists. She knows she can’t win so she says to hell with them. She fights them by sticking to her own kind, thumbing her nose at them and beating them wherever she can.

Gary’s friend Mark played well as a clown with a dark side by Thomas Coompbes is white and a supporter of his buddy. But watch out.    

Anna Fleischie’s set of a kitchen and living room for Gary and Nicky’s apartment is easily changed to Victoria’s office and a staff room and is suitable.

Kudos to director Michael Buffong for expert handling of the cast and the pace of the production and providing us with an extraordinary night at the theatre.      
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A Kind of People by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti continues until January 18, 2020 at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS. Box office: 020 7565 5000. www.royalcourttheatre.com/

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