Thursday, December 9, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas

Jesus Christ Superstar has moved from one of the most popular rock operas and become almost legendary. Ten years ago, the Stratford Festival marked the fortieth anniversary of the premiere of the work and this year the Princess of Wales theatre offers the 50th Anniversary Tour of the opera.

The production chosen for the tour is the 2016 staging at London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre directed by Timothy Sheader, designed by Tom Scutt and Choreographed by Drew McOnie. That production has taken off on a world tour and is making a pitstop at the Princess of Wales Theatre to huge audiences but under pandemic restrictions including the lineups for vaccinations checks.

For anyone living under a rock who may not know the story of the musical, it is about Christ’s last week on earth, call it Holy Week for Christians or Passover for Jews. We follow his arrival in Jerusalem, his trial and his crucifixion, based loosely on the Gospels. It is not suitable for fanatics who may prefer a more pious telling of the Passion.

Aaron LaVigne, Tommy Sherlock and the company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. 
Photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman - MurphyMade

It contains a lot of heavy-beat rock music, some beautiful melodies and dramatic dancing. Sheader has chosen to treat the production almost like a rock concert. He wants to generate energy, create excitement and rouse the audience to pitches of ecstasy as they listen to the music, hear the intense and sensational singing and watch the extraordinary events of the betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He is successful but one may complain about a few pitfalls.

A young Andrew Lloyd Webber provided the music and Tim Rice wrote the lyrics for the work. Scutt’s two-story set has the orchestra on top and the dark, foreboding and dramatically lit stage below. Lee Currant as the lighting director adds to the intensity of the performance with unremitting use  of spotlights that whirl around the theatre .

But the performance at the Princess of Wales has some issues. Generally, it is the excessive volume at which the music is performed. It struck me like a performance by a favourite rock star who sings at the highest pitch that he can reach and that he holds for as long as his lung capacity will allow with the accompanying orchestra competing for volume.

Aaron LaVigne and the company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.
 Photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman – MurphyMade

Take Tyrone Huntley as Judas. (He replaced James D. Beeks in the role on November 23, 2021 when the latter was arrested for involvement in the January 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill). He sang the role at Regent’s Park in 2016 and is not a haphazard replacement. He has a big voice and is an agile performer physically and vocally. He performs with a microphone in his hand at times as if this were a concert and he needs to hold the audience not just with his vocal ability but by reaching the highest notes even if it approaches falsetto levels and never coming down from the peak. That is done by some of the other performers including Aaron LaVigne as Jesus.

The dancing is used for the same purpose of arousing excitement in the audience. It is wildly frenetic and at times looked more like Zumba than ballet.

There is a way of performing Jesus Christ Superstar at a less frenzied pace and letting the music and lyrics be heard. The pace maintained in this production made some of the lyrics simply incomprehensible. There are quiet moments as well. Jenna Rubaii as Mary sings “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” with beautiful resonance and there are other less frenzied scenes that do justice to the opera. Unfortunately, there is also the unpleasantness of the eardrum-shattering scenes.

Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) runs until January 2, 2022 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario.
James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared first in the paper. a

Tuesday, December 7, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas 

The Shaw Festival has struck the perfect note for the holidays by bringing back two marvelous chestnuts. It would be hard to lift one’s spirits higher than with fine-tuned and delightful productions of A Christmas Carol and Holiday Inn. Both shows take us to distant, different but, in our imagination, familiar worlds that we watch with pleasure and extend a standing ovation to all concerned in gratitude.

Holiday Inn started as a movie that was being filmed in late 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese and catapulted America into World War II. The filming was completed in early 1942 and the movie was a hit. It contained incomparable music and lyrics by Irving Berlin celebrating major American holidays and with stars like Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire it could hardly fail.

Most of the songs of the movie were used to shape a stage musical with an improved script by Gordon Greenberg and Chuck Hodge. It opened on Broadway in 2016 where some embarrassingly racist content (Abraham Lincoln in blackface!) was mercifully removed. 

Kyle Blair as Jim Hardy with the cast of Irving Berlin’s 
Holiday Inn (Shaw Festival, 2021).
Photo by David Cooper.

What do you get at the Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake?  You get a plot, okay?  Jim (Kyle Blair) and Ted (Kyle Golemba) are the best of friends, a song and dance duo who perform around the U.S.A. with the lovely Lila (Vanessa Sears). Jim loves Lila and wants to marry her and move to a farm in Connecticut. Lila wants stardom and she dumps Jim and goes off with Ted.

On the bankrupt farm Jim meets the lovely Linda  (Kristi Frank), the former owner of the farm. Jim and Linda will turn the rambling farmhouse into a holiday inn where they will put on shows only during holidays. Please, no guessing about what will happen to the two couples. You are here to have fun not to foretell the future.

Irving Berlin provides some very familiar songs which you will recognize even if you have never seen the movie. How about the following: White Christmas, Cheek to Cheek, Easter Parade and a dozen other melodies that mark Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Easter  and American holidays like the 4th of July. The singing by the principals, Louise (Gabrielle Jones) and the ensemble may be uneven at times but you are enjoying the production so much you skip such details.

And the dancing? These actors can tap, twirl and get in the air with abandon. What do you think Fed Astaire was doing in the movie? And  Golemba does the firecracker dance superbly. A huge bow to choreographer Allison Plamondo 

Singing and dancing look much better when there is an ensemble of beautiful women and handsome men on stage. The costumes are stunning and I did not count how many changes there were but their splendour was captivating. The sets which required numerous changes were handled judiciously and effectively. Chalk up a big one for set and costumes designer Judith Bowden.

Paul Sportelli is credited with the musical direction and Rachel O'Brien, the Shaw’s Music Intern, conducted a few of the musical numbers when I saw the production. I am advised that she is being prepared for her conducting an entire show. 

Kevin Lamotte designed the bright lighting that added to the pleasure of watching the production.

Kate Hennig directed the wonderful holiday bouquet and took us to another world. Unmitigated kudos to her for the two-hour trip.

Have you never seen or read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? The Shaw Festival has decreased that possibility by presenting Tim Carroll’s adaptation of that unforgettable story over the last several years in the appropriate season.

The telling is imaginative, creative, authentic but not slavish and a complete delight. You need a door? Well, an actor holds a small board tied to his arm and swings to open and shut, well, the door. An actor holds another board on her head and presto Scrooge has a desk. They use puppets and painted scenery to have the action move briskly and tell the famous story of reformation and redemption.

Julie Lumsden as Emily, Kelly Wong as Fred and Graeme Somerville as Scrooge in
 A Christmas Carol (Shaw Festival, 2021). Photo by David Cooper..

There are ten actors who do not hesitate to burst into singing Christmas carols and provide humour. We get to the story of course and Graeme Somerville leads the cast as a mean, stingy, horrible Scrooge but we know that underneath that nasty exterior there is a decent and generous man. (We have read the story and seen previous productions, you see.)  

We need three Spirits: the Spirit of Christmas Present (Peter Fernandes), of Christmas Past (Kelsey Verzotti) and of Christmas Future, a scary ghost floating in the air and terrifying Scrooge of the effects of his conduct. There is no room for doubt. Scrooge and the rest of us need to change.

His nephew Fred (Kelly Wong) and his wife (Julie Lumsden) set the example for family feeling and forgiveness. But what we want to see is the loving family of the poor Bob Cratchit (Andrew Laurie) and his wife (Marla McLean, who is also movement and puppetry Captain) and their disabled son Tiny Tim, judiciously played by a puppet.

Tim Carroll did the original adaptation and directed that production. This year’s staging is capably directed my Molly Atkinson.

Fit these two productions between shopping malls and credit card abuse and you will enjoy Christmas even more.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Tim Carroll and Holiday Inn by Irving Berlin continue until December 23, 2021, at the Royal George and Festival Theatres respectively in  Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.


Thursday, November 18, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas

Ancient Greek myth and tragedy find their way onto the modern stage again. This time it is an adaptation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, a play by Kae Tempest titled Paradise that opened at the National Theatre, London in August 2021.

In mythology, Philoctetes was a magnificent warrior who sailed with the Greeks to fight in The Trojan War. He was bitten on his leg by a snake and the wound oozed pus and emitted unbearable stench forcing Odysseus to abandon him on the island of Lemnos. He remained on the island alone for ten years in excruciating pain until almost the end of The Trojan War when Odysseus and Neoptolemus (the son of Achilles), on the advice of a prophet, came to seek Philoctetes. He was essential for the delivery of the coup de grace to the Trojans for the Greeks to seal their triumph.

Lesley Sharp (Philoctetes), Amie Francis (Zuleika) 
and Sutara Gayle (Jelly) in Paradise at the 
National Theatre. Credit: Helen Murray

The crafty Odysseus devises a pack of lies for the naïve and honest Neoptolemus to serve in order to convince Philoctetes to go to Troy. The ruse does not work but Heracles appears in the end as a Deus ex machina and tells Philoctetes that it is the will of Zeus that he go to Troy. He does.

Kae Tempest maintains the core of the story of Philoctetes living in a cave on Lemnos and being visited by Neoptolemus and Odysseus who try to convince him with gross mendacity to go to Troy. But after that Tempest takes her own path. Lemnos is not a deserted island but a refugee camp or, more accurately, a prison. The island was prosperous at one time, but it has deteriorated into a disgusting place occupied by undocumented refugees, one of whom is Philoctetes. They are the Chorus of the play. In Sophocles’ play the Chorus is made up of sailors from Neoptolemus’ ship.

There is some differentiation among the members of the Chorus but in the end, they represent a group rather than individuals. One of them, Aunty (ESKA) is a seer or prophet, and she provides extensive, some of it sung, commentary at the beginning and the end of the play.

The others are a multi-racial group of prisoners/refugees whose appearance and names indicate the broad spectrum of the downtrodden of the earth. They are Magdalena (Claire-Louise Cordwell), Tishani (Sarah Lam), Nam (Penny Layden), Tayir (Kayla Meikle, Yasmeen (Naomi Wirthner), Zuleika (Amie Francis), Jelly (Sutara Gayle) and Shiloh (Jennifer Joseph). They are an effective group that illustrates life on the island even though I had difficulty recognizing many of them as individuals.

The thrust of the play and Tempest’s brilliance come out in the interaction among the three Greeks, played by women as is the rest of the cast. Lesly Sharp as Philoctetes gives a performance of dazzling intensity and overwhelming power. She represents a man who has lived in a cave for ten years after being abandoned by his colleagues. He is a man of great heroic stature reduced to a cipher with unbearable pain and stench emanating from his leg. He is overwhelmed with hatred for Odysseus and an all-encompassing desire for revenge. Neoptolemus spins tales and lies of rewards for Philoctetes if only he will go on the ship that is waiting for him. Spoiler alert. I will not tell you his final fate, but Sharp’s performance is worth watching with the intensity that she brings to the role.

Gloria Obianyo gives a bravura performance as Neoptolemus. He is just a youngster in the shadow and under the command of General Odysseus. He is fundamentally naïve and honest but is persuaded and ordered to lie. Dishonesty is not part of his character. He tries so hard to induce Philoctetes that at one point he seems to have become even worse than Odysseus. You have to witness the scene yourself to appreciate its power.

Odysseus, the man of many turns and wiles, comes out as that, but also pretty nasty. Anastasia Hille is simply splendid in the role as she tackles his dishonesty, intensity and desire for victory and glory.

Ian Rickson directed this outstanding production with Sets and Costumes by Rae Smith. The set emphasize darkness and the costumes are the clothes of desperate refuges abandoned to their fate.

If Sophocles’ play is Tempest’s entry into Paradise, the exit is all her own. It is done in modern dress, and it is about social conditions today. The fate of refugees, the condition of people in general, the reason for going to war and the results sought or achieved are all topics that she touches upon. Some of it may seem like excessive editorializing but one would be hard put to disagree with her views.

The myth of Philoctetes has found a brilliant and contemporary interpretation and provided some great theatre 2430 years after Sophocles won first prize with his play at Athens’s   City Dionysia. 


Paradise by Kae Tempest in an adaptation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes played from August 11 to September 11, 2021, at the Olivier Stage of the National Theatre, London, England and can be streamed for viewing at

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appears in the newspaper as well.


Sunday, October 31, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” saith the Lord in the Bible. When He said that, the Lord may not have had Medea in mind. The vengeance she wreaks on her husband Jason goes beyond what most people can even imagine.

            In 431 BC Euripides submitted his Medea to the City Dionysia dramatic competition in Athens and his play came in third. It has become one of the most frequently produced Greek tragedies and has been adapted numerous times. Ben Power wrote an adaptation for the National Theatre of Britain in 2014 and the production was filmed and is now available for streaming.

            Carrie Cracknell directed a brilliant staging that brings out much of the power of Euripides’ tragedy enhanced by Power’s additions. Medea is a play about treachery and vengeance, about merciless murder and, worst of all, infanticide committed by a mother to punish her husband.

        The complex role of Medea is handled by Helen McCrory in a bravura performance of extraordinary force. Medea betrayed her father and murdered her brother to enable Jason to steal the Golden Fleece from the “barbaric” city of Colchis. She fell in love with Jason and dedicated her life to him. He threw her over for another woman, the daughter of King Creon of Corinth.

                                                        Helen McCrory as Medea

McCrory needs to express the gamut of emotions that Medea goes through. Her love for Jason turns into passionate hatred. She wants revenge. She has to cajole, plead and beg King Creon to let her stay in Corinth for a day. Her fury, hatred and vengefulness so well displayed by McCrory must be tempered with cunning for her to achieve her objective. She manipulates everyone around her and McCrory delivers every nuance of the complex character to perfection.

Danny Sapani’s Jason is man whose success in stealing the Golden Fleece was based on treachery and murder committed by Medea. Now it is he who commits similar moral crimes by abandoning Medea to marry the king’s daughter. It is for selfish reasons alone. He may have been brave but he is not particularly bright in his understanding of Medea’s character. He brings her a cheque and thinks she will appreciate what he is doing.

Clemmie Sveaas does a fine job as Creon, King of Corinth. He is a no-nonsense ruler who is afraid of Medea and simply wants to get rid of her. Tough as he is, Medea gets around him and commits her crimes.

Dominic Rowan as Aegeus, King of Athens, is a likeable, decent man who wants to help Medea escape from Corinth. He wants to have children and Medea promises to help him using her magical powers. However, she does not take any chances even with an affable friend and makes him swear to protect her.

The Nurse played well by Michaela Coel is the storyteller of the play but Power has provided her with some pedestrian prose that does not work particularly well.

Cracknell makes judicial use of the Chorus of Corinthian Women. Their number of lines are reduced but some are spoken and sung with music composed by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp. There are several effective dance sequences choreographed by Lucy Guerin.

The single set by Tom Scutt consists of a living space for the main action and a raised level for some glimpses of events in Creon’s palace. Power and Cracknell emphasize the domestic side of the play but she does live at what looks like the edge of a forest. We see Medea’s children playing with toys, riding a tricycle and running to greet their father. In the end we see Medea dragging their dead bodies, wrapped in blankets onto the stage.

Power created a final scene of his own for Medea. The Chorus chants a brief dirge and Medea walks off the stage. I will not disclose any more details because the scene is worth seeing without foreknowledge. It is magnificent.


Medea by Euripides in a version by Ben Power, directed by Carrie Cracknell for the National Theatre in 2014 is available for streaming at

Thursday, October 28, 2021


 Reviewed by James Karas

In the production of Sophocles’ Antigone under review, Director Polly Findlay adds a prologue that becomes clear after a few minutes into the  play. The curtain opens on a large, dark office where people are running around, passing messages and in the end huddle around a screen. Something terribly important is happening.

We know we are in Thebes and a civil war is raging. We know that Eteocles and Polyneices, the sons of the late King Oedipus are fighting on opposite sides and both are killed. Their uncle Creon is the winner, supported by Eteocles and Polyneices is on the losing side and is considered a traitor. This is background information and we are or should be aware of it but all we see is the commotion in the offices.

The play proper begins when Antigone and Ismene, Oedipus’ daughters, appear and discuss Creon’s orders that Eteocles be buried with honours but Polyneices the traitor be left unburied to be eaten by the dogs. Antigone has decided to defy her uncle’s edict and intends to follow higher laws and bury her brother.

This is a taut, dramatic and moving production done in modern dress. Antigone and Ismene appear before a dark wall of the revolving stage of the National Theatre in London and the rest of the play is set in the palace offices that we saw in the opening scene. Set Designer Soutra Gilmour and Lighting designer Mark Henderson emphasize darkness with only the area of the actors being lit. 

Christopher Ecclestone and Jodie Whittaker 

Jodie Whittaker gives a powerful and passionate performance as Antigone. In a cockney accent she states her decision to bury her brother in uncompromising terms. The higher morality of the gods and the duty of a sister cannot be countermanded by a human being even if he is a kin.

Christopher Eccleston’s Creon is confident, controlling, arrogant, a king as of right and a defender of the state. Like all tyrants, he is convinced that he is defending the state, he is working for the good of the people. He is also paranoid and demands absolute loyalty from all including family members. He dismisses Antigone and her sister as neurotics or lunatics. Eccleston gives an outstanding performance in the role.

Creon’s son Haemon (Luke Newberry) is the voice of reason trying to persuade his father to act sanely. He is unsuccessful with tragic results.

A far more compelling voice is provided by the blind prophet Tiresias. Jamie Ballard gives a superb performance. Tiresias looks unkempt with a hideous face and a head full of scales or scabs as he warns Creon of tragic consequences if he persists in his desire to destroy Antigone. Creon realizes his grotesque errors but if is too late.

Notably fine performances are given by Luke Norris as the frightened soldier who delivers the news of the illegal burial of Polyneices and Kobna Holdbrook-Smitth as the messenger who delivers the news of the fate of Antigone and Haemon.

Findlay judiciously introduces Creon’s wife Eurydice (Zoe Aldrich) and Haemon at the beginning of the play when we first see Creon. The three stand momentarily for a photo shot and we realize who they are. They both appear much later in the play but seeing them at the start is a shrewd move by the director.

The handling of the Chorus is always an issue in a production of Greek tragedy. Don Taylor in his version of the play allocates the lines of the Chorus among the officials working in the palace offices. They are in fact the Chorus. There is no chanting and the choral odes and speeches are spoken by various members without any awkwardness.

Findlay’s adroit directing gives us a cohesive and taut drama that flows superbly. Sophocles’ play becomes a modern parable about dictatorship and freedom that can be applied to current tyrannical regimes. There is no awkwardness with the presentation of the Chorus and we get an excellent production streamed to our home._____________________

Antigone by Sophocles in a version by Don Taylor William, recorded at the National Theatre in 2012, is available from the National Theatre at

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


By James Karas  

The first Greek International Film Festival of Toronto (GIFFT) took place between October 1 and 4, 2021. It featured full-length films and shorts at the Canada Square Theatre at Yonge and Eglinton and streamed many of them. It had some glitches but the fact that it happened at all deserves a tip of the hat.

I saw three films in the theatre and streamed one to my television set. The results ranged from the exceptional to the incomprehensible. Here are my observations.


Eftihia is a superb film directed by Angelos Frantzis about the life of lyricist Eftihia Papagianopoulou. She led a dramatic and tragic life (1893-1972) writing the lyrics for some of the best-known Greek songs but she has remained largely unknown. She provided some of the most famous composers with lyrics including Vassilis Tsitsanis, Manos Hadzidakis, Apostolos Kaldaras and Manolis Chiotis. Most Greeks recognise Ta kavourakia, Dyo portes ehei i zoi, Eimai aetos horis ftera and Perasmenes mou agapes without knowing that Papagianopoulou wrote the lyrics for them.

She scribbled lyrics on small pieces of paper and sold them to the composers for a few hundred drachmas and took no steps to protect her copyright. It is unknown how many songs she wrote but one partial listing of her lyrics lists 220.

Frantzis’ film covers Eftihia’s life from 1922 and the chaotic escape from Smyrna during the Asia Minor Catastrophe to the end of her eventful life.  He uses two fine actors to represent her as a young woman (Katia Goulioni) and in her old age (Karyofyllia Karabeti). They do masterly portrayals of the gutsy, humorous, chain-smoking and humane Eftihia who can write lyrics but cannot manage money.

That is putting it mildly because Eftihia was a compulsive and addicted gambler who lost most of what she made playing cards and at one point was climbing down a ladder at night to join gambling groups. She was chased by loan sharks, thrown out by landlords and even sold her policeman husband’s uniform to feed her addiction.

Notable performances are given by Pigmalion Dadakaridis as her second husband Giorgos, Dina Michailidou as her mother, Thanos Tokakis as a homosexual friend who is both sympathetic and hilarious.

Frantzis directs a large cast brilliantly and my only note is that there is not enough information about location. I want to see where the action takes place with greater detail than Frantzis provides. But that is a minor matter in an otherwise superb film.


On a dark and stormy night someone lurks around and enters a large mansion situated on the top of a mountain. Anne (Tess Spentzos), a beautiful blonde woman in a sexy nightgown, is terrified by the presence of a masked stranger in her house (Aris Athan). He finds her, brutally rapes her and ties her with ropes. The stranger proceeds to open the safe and grab a big stash of cash. She manages to free herself from the ropes and smashes the intruder with a golf club. Now we have many questions to to unravel.

Her cool, psychiatrist husband (Peter Gerald) comes home and he tells her that nothing really happened. She is mentally ill and did not take her pills that morning and imagined everything. The intruder is still in the house.

The plot proceeds with many twists and turns and acts of violence. The audience at the Canada Square Cinema (fewer than 100 because of Covid-19 restrictions) is not enthralled and they start leaving the theatre in noticeable numbers. No, they are not going to the bathroom because no one returns.

Lurk was written and directed by Vassilis Katsikis and released in 2015 at the Horrorant Film Festival 'Fright Nights' in Greece. There may not have been too many horror film aficionados in the Canada Square Theatre and the happenings on that dark and stormy night were not appreciated.


God’s Fans is a 2016 film written, directed and produced by George Bakolas starring Roula Antonopoulou, George Iosifidis and Dafni Kafetzi. The storyline given on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website is as follows: The art of desiring what you can't live instead of doing the opposite. A film about people who fight to become someone else. I guess it means you should not desire what you can’t live by (why would you?) and you may fight to become someone else. Not like someone but someone else.

There may be a profound or logical meaning to the storyline but it escapes me. What’s more, I have no idea if it has any connection to the film.  

The film has a series of scenes involving an actor played by Roula Antonopoulou who is expecting a premiere of a play in the evening. But someone is preparing a rehearsal in the same place. These events are mentioned a number of times as the film moves through scenes that are confusing or meaningless or both. I tried to glean something, anything, from the movie but failed. 

No doubt Bakolas had something in mind when he wrote and directed the film and there are people who understood what he was after but I confess that I am not one of them.

There were streaks of light across the screen frequently and the edges showed different coloration. I doubt that it was intentional and it seems that whatever the film was stored in it has begun to deteriorate.

I could not find any reference to the film being ever being released.


Ten years ago, the incomparable Angelo Tsarouchas went to Athens, Greece to perform his comedy routines before a Greek audience. He had done that in venues around the world and returning to his ancestral “home” would seem like a cinch. But there were a couple nerve-wracking problems. Angelo does not speak Greek. Yes, he can carry on a simple conversation and understand a good deal of the language but perform his famous comedy routines in Greek?

Angelo Tsarouchas in Greece

The other problem was even more severe. Stand-up comedy has no foundation in Greece. A comic may perform for a few minutes but he is quickly supplanted by what the audience came for: bouzouki and singing.

He found that many Greeks, especially the young, speak English and the full house at the Michael Cacoyannis Institute in Athens not only understood what he said but roared with laughter. A good comedian can keep Greeks entertained in English and lack of stand-up comedy tradition be damned.

Tsarouchas’s performance was recorded and released in 2014 as A Night in Athens, directed by George Tsioutsioulas.

After that Tsioutsioulas decided to produce a wide-ranging documentary about Tsarouchas and the result was Back to Sparta which was shown on the last night of the GIFFT. The documentary was released in 2015 and provides some biographical information about Tsarouchas and gives an idea of his comedy as well as details of the preparation for the performance in Athens.

Tsarouchas has found humour in himself, his family and rich Greek cultural traditions that he manipulates into uproarious comedy. A Greek wedding, his parents, driving home with a lit candle after the midnight Easter liturgy, his weight, Greek sayings and much more have all proven fertile fields for comedy that crosses all social and ethnic boundaries. For example, his doctor tells him to lose 130 (out of his 350) pounds. He goes home and tells his girlfriend to get out but that does not solve the whole problem - he still has ten pounds to go. He is simply hilarious.

Back to Sparta includes a visit to Tsarouchas’s ancestral home in the village of Dafni. It is moving and funny. Most immigrants have a special attachment to their place of origin which almost invariably becomes dilapidated but going there is a sentimental journey that leaves one in tears.

The documentary is informative, perceptive and entertaining but I had difficulty with one aspect of it. Most of the show is taken up with the angst and preparation for the performance in the Cacoyannis Institute. Tsarouchas has a lot to be nervous about. Will anyone come? How many will understand me? Will they get the jokes?

The show was a success but we did not get to see even a single minute of it. Even though the performance was shown in A Night in Athens, a few minutes of the comedy should have been shown. It was like listening to someone tell a joke that he stops before delivering the punch line. I went home after seeing the documentary and turned on YouTube to see several segments of the performance.


The above-noted films were streamed or shown at the Famous Players Canada Square Theatre, 2190 Yonge Street (Yonge & Eglinton), Toronto from October 1 to 4, 2021 as part of the Greek International Film Festival of Toronto (GIFFT).

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared first in the newspaper.

Friday, October 1, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas

The Blyth Festival faced the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic with lumber, nails, screws and a lot of community support. They could not produce any plays indoors so they built an outdoor theatre on a sprawling lawn at the edge of the village. Inclement weather meant cancellation of some performances but there were far more fair-weather than rain-drenched days. You had to walk a few hundred yards on a gravel road to the Harvest Stage on Gypsy Lane but you were warned to leave your high heels behind.

This season they produced five one-actor shows  of about one hour each to run between August 11 and October 3, 2021. I saw Jewel by Joan MacLeod, her first play, which originally premiered in 1987 at the Tarragon Theatre. In the Blyth Festival production,   Rebecca Auerbach plays Marjorie Clifford, directed judiciously by J.D. Nicholsen.

Jewel is a love story that has a tragic result but ends on a note of hope. The backdrop for the plot is the sinking of the mammoth Ocean Ranger oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland on Valentine’s  Day 1982. All 84 people on board perished.

Rebecca Auerbach in Jewel. Photo by Terry Manzo

Marjorie, a simple woman, tells us her life story beginning with memories of Valentine’s Days. When she was very young cutting out paper hearts to give to the most popular boy in primary school was an expression of nascent love. At age 15, one of her friends was described as mature meaning that she had big tits, smoked and was stupid.  In later teens, the girls discovered sleepovers, cigarettes and booze – lots of booze.

Marjorie is in rural Alberta and, however haltingly and amusingly, finds love and marries Harry. They have a farm but Harry goes away to work in the Alberta oil fields and Marjorie finds amusement with a friend whose husband is away frequently. And they drink.

Harry gets a job on the ill-fated rig, the Ocean Ranger, off the coast of Newfoundland and the couple looks forward to financial stability to be added to their loving relationship. The rig sinks on Valentine’s Day, the very date of years past that Marjorie recalled so fondly. The last she hears from Harry is a radio message broadcast on Valentine’s Day 1982, the day he died. He must have sent it in the day before.

Marjorie tries to deal with her loss and her grief. She talks to Harry as if he were still listening to her. She goes for grief counselling including a widows’ group run  by the Elks. She is told that being a widow is like checking into a motel for a night and staying there for the rest of  your life.

She imagines and relives Harry’s death on the rig. She tells us the minutiae of her daily existence. She comes to tentative terms with herself and removes her wedding ring from her finger, her jewel. Love proves to be stronger than grief but life must go on and the play ends on a positive note.

Auerbach is on stage for an hour relating all her experiences and memories from childhood into widowhood with all their permutations. She moves around the stage, drinks from a couple of beer bottles - hers and Harry’s – and listens to the radio for announcements and some music. The Valentine’s Day wishes are important for her, especially the last one.

She is engaging, moving and funny. It is a tough job and she does splendid work. The problem is that she is facing a socially-distanced, masked audience that, it seems to me, is seriously unresponsive. Maybe they laughed and cried under their masks but the theatre is a joint, communal experience not a private event. The production deserves a bigger and more responsive audience where every line of the play evokes a response.         

The Blyth Festival showed enormous gumption in scheduling a full season under conditions that would have frightened most theatrical producers in this Prohibition Era of Pandemic Abstinence.


Jewel by Joan MacLeod continues until October 3, 2021 at the Blyth Festival Harvest Stage, 377 Gypsy Lane, Blyth, Ontario.

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


Friday, September 17, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas

The Shaw Festival had a creditable tradition of producing one-act plays during lunchtime. In about an hour you could see a work that you may have never seen and still have time for lunch and a matinee performance.  We have been able to see works like Chekhov’s The Bear and The Proposal adapted as Love Among The Russians (2006), J.M. Barrie’s Half an Hour (2010),  Trifles by Susan Glaspell and A Wife for a Life by Eugene O’Neill (2013) and Tennessee Williams’ A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur (2014).

This year’s offering is Flush, an adaptation by Tim Carroll of Virginia Woolf’s “biography” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel of that name. The book was written as an interlude from more serious writing and Woolf intended it to be a joke but  her humour and elegant prose produced a wonderful novella that is partly fact and partly fiction. Critics have found many levels of social commentary and critiques but the lighter side suffices for us.

Julie Lumsden as Elizabeth Barrett (Browning) and Flush (Drew Plummer, puppeteer). 
Photo by Lauren Garbutt.

Flush was given to Elizabeth Barrett by Mary Russell Mitford in the 1840’s to provide the bed-ridden poet some companionship. The dog spent several years with Elizabeth, most of the time in her room but with some outings and  adventures. He witnessed the poet Robert Browning’s courtship of Elizabeth with great trepidation. Flush does not understand English but he is very sensitive and intuitive and has a good idea of what is going on. He is jealous of Robert and in fact bites him but is forgiven. He accompanies the couple when they run off to Florence and finds happiness there amidst some difficulties of acculturation.

Carroll has four actors narrate the story and Alexandra Montagnese has created a marvelous a puppet theatre where we see Flush interacting with Elizabeth and Robert. Julie Lumsden represents Elizabeth Barrett, Jonathan Tan represents Robert Browning and Jacqueline Thair plays the Maid. Drew Plummer is the Puppeteer handling Flush as well as being one of the narrators.

The puppet theatre is a small version of the Royal George Theatre stage and we see  Flush as a puppet while the poets and the maid are usually seen only partially, below the neck. The story is narrated and not  acted out although there is some movement.

It is a wonderful story accompanied frequently by rousing classical music. Unfortunately, there were a few issues. The narrators tended to stand in one place as if they were nailed to the floorboards. This is acceptable when there is activity in the puppet theatre but at other times narration may be helped by some movement.

The Brownings and the maid no doubt spoke with an English accent. The actors tried to do an English accent without achieving great success. That is perhaps excusable but Carroll who also directed the production seems not to have paid sufficient attention to volume and enunciation. The story is illustrated by the actors appearing as the poets and the maid in the puppet theatre, but this is a narrated production. We expect the actors to enunciate plainly, be heard clearly and modulate their voices. All these qualities were present but done only adequately. They could have and should have done better.

Bitching aside, Flush is an inspired idea that brings to our attention a wonderful and multi-layered story on the stage and, no doubt, encourages a good read of the original.


Flush adapted by Tim Carroll from the novella by Virginia Woolf continues until October 2, 2021, at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

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

Thursday, September 9, 2021


The Broda Salt Cabin
by A. H. Nedani
Owl Publishing, 2021
335 pp. ISBN 978 1 896512-59-4
Reviewed by James Karas

The Broda Salt Cabin is a first novel set in north-western Greece during the Nazi occupation of 1941 to 1944 and the brutal civil war of 1946 to 1949. In a note about the author, we learn that A. H. Nedani was born in a war-torn Greek village and came to Canada at a young age. The novel, we are told, is based on a true story. Nedani is described as having “a lifelong itch for writing novels” that she satisfied by writing The Broda Salt Cabin.

She had a story to tell and she seems to have plunged into it with relish and an unstoppable urge to let us know all about it. She tells the love stories of Danae, a girl from the mountain village of Broda, in Macedonia, Greece in the late 1930’s during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. Danae and her friends are arrested for singing in Bulgarian, a language forbidden by the dictator, and she is fined.

Danae is the central character of the novel and we follow her fortunes and misfortunes during the 1940’s and well into the 1950’s when she finally finds a way out.

A sampling of the plot. At a wedding, Danae falls in love with a stranger named Nicholas. They know nothing about each other but their love is of such ardour and intensity it is enough to cause spontaneous combustion. He delivers some salt that she is carrying to a cabin near Broda and it becomes the Broda Salt Cabin. It is their cabin and it acquires great symbolic meaning for their love.

Their love affair and marriage occur during the occupation and the rise of the Greek resistance. There is scant resistance to the Germans because the Greeks are divided into the leftist, communist-controlled EAM-ELAS group and the right-wing EDES. Danae and Nicholas despise the communists and suspect them of wanting to give Macedonia to Bulgaria. During their wedding ceremony masked men enter the church and open fire on the guests. The attackers are pro-Bulgarian collaborating with the Germans and hate the Greeks. Danae and Nicholas are patriotic Greeks.

Nicholas falls into the hands of the collaborators and is killed. Nedani mounts a dramatic story about his capture and eventual death from his wounds. The apogee of their relationship occurs during his funeral when Danae jumps into Nicholas’ grave and the pallbearers throw dirt on her seemingly intent on burying her on top of her husband’s coffin.

That is just the beginning. After Nicholas’s death, Danae’s father finds a husband for her in another village and another series of gruesome events follow. Murder, imprisonment, betrayal and all the horrors that evil can devise and humanity perpetrate occur and Danae suffers through them. 

The Nazi occupation and the Greek Civil War are not just the background of the horrific events that are described. They are the cause and the impetus for almost all that happens. Evil, treachery, suffering, murder and torture burst out with almost no constraints. There is also love and compassion but it is in short supply.

Nedani gives some of the historical background of her story without pulling any punches. She makes no secret of her hatred of the Communist guerrillas. She describes historical events such as the pivotal meeting between the Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas and the Italian Ambassador on October 28, 1940, and Churchill’s visit to Athens on Christmas Eve 1944 during the December uprising. Her detailed renderings of these events and others touched upon throughout the novel may be partly imaginary but she is writing dramatic fiction and is not subject to detailed historical fact-checking.

Nedani accumulates dramatic events but she is somewhat skimpy in developing characters. We learn very little about Danae. She is blonde, pretty, shows courage at times, acts foolishly on other occasions but says nothing when her father finds her a husband, a man whom she has never met. At the beginning she appears very gutsy when she stands up to the Judge who is questioning her about singing in Bulgarian, an outlawed language. Danae retorts that Metaxas has outlawed the performance of Antigone, a play that criticizes authority and the reading of the Funeral Oration of Pericles which praises the virtues of Democracy. That may be true but how a teenager from a mountain village who may have gone to public school knows that defies one’s credulity.

Nedani makes some stylistic choices in her writing that may be considered idiosyncratic or, less charitably, infelicitous. In her eagerness to capture the passions, horrors and evils of the time, Nedani has some run-on sentences that I found unnerving. A period or two would have served the narrative and made the paragraph more readable.

In the same vein, she seems to have an antipathy to the use of the personal pronoun and prefers to repeat needlessly and repetitively the name of the person that she is referring to. She refers to the rebel army as “the DSE communist guerrillas” which is true enough but it could be referred to by different and equally accurate names for the sake of variety. DSE is the Greek acronym for Democratic Army of Greece. Some of these infelicities should have been caught by the editor but were unfortunately left in.

The experiences of World War II and especially the Greek Civil War are etched into the Greek consciousness and their memory is passed from generation to generation. They were told by the participants and then by their offspring as if they happened yesterday.  Nedani seems to be one of the heirs to those awful times who needed to expiate her borrowed memories.

As for Danae, we read of her life in the 1950’s with its many reversals but she survives it all. She finally finds the gates of salvation open in a way that thousands of Greeks will recognize. The route led across the Atlantic to Pier 21 at Halifax, Nova Scotia and a long train ride to Toronto’s Union Station. A surprise awaits there but you will have to read the novel to find out what it entails.

And finally, may I add that The Broda Salt Cabin won the Canada Book Award.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021


 Reviewed by James Karas

Alice Childress (1916-1994) wrote thirteen plays and is credited with some “firsts” by an African-American playwright in American theatre, but productions of her works are relatively scarce. The Shae Festival has stepped into the breach by producing one of her best-know plays. Trouble in Mind, at the small Studio Theatre. Social distancing is observed  resulting in many if not most seats in the theatre being unoccupied. No matter because it’s a damn sight better than nothing.

Trouble in Mind  premiered in 1955 in an Off-Broadway production in New York and you can count the number of subsequent productions on your fingers. It did not make it to Broadway and the present production may well be its first in Canada.

Trouble in Mind is a play within a play. Its characters are gathered in a theatre in New York to rehearse a play called  Chaos in Belleville. Trouble  has a cast of four black and two white actors while the director and his assistant as well as the doorman are white. Chaos is is a fictitious play and is supposed to be about anti-lynching.

The cast of Troble in Mind. Photo: Lauren Garbutt.

Racism is the central issue of the play and Childress addresses it fearlessly. Nafessa Monroe plays Wiletta Mayer in a powerful performance as a middle-aged actor who is cast to play the mother in Chaos. Wiletta meets John (Kaleb Alexander) a young black actor, new to the theatre, who dreams of going to the top. She gives him some tips about the theatre which is show business and how to deal with management which, of course is white. She advises him not to admit he has taken acting classes, lie about having experience, do not suggest that he is eager for the job and laugh at their jokes no matter how unfunny they may be. In other words, this is how you deal with whites who know they are superior to you and no doubt consider you inferior.

The other black actors are Millie (Kiera Sangster) and Sheldon (David Alan Anderson). Sheldon is an old man and he needs to cover the necessities of life. He has lived with racism for a long time. Millie is a brash and attractive young woman wearing a fur coat and exuding confidence and a devil-may-care attitude. One suspects it is a veneer that she puts up as a protective shield against the reality that she inhabits. Sangster is excellent.

Judy (Kristi Frank) is an attractive, wide-eyed, Yale-educated blonde who thinks people are all the same. She wants to invite the cast to her parents’ house. Wiletta knows the world much better and asks Judy to ask her parents first. That alone says volumes about American racism and ignorance of its existence by some people. Kudos to Frank.

The most rabid racist is Renard, a character in Chaos, who delivers a masterful defence of racism for the delusional Americans who think racism and segregation are examples of moderation. He quotes Emerson, Henry Clay, Longfellow, Dickens and Hitler. Racism in support of segregation backed up by great men. 

In Trouble he is one of the actors who keeps to himself except for the fact that he does not want to go for lunch with the cast lest someone sees him! Superb work by Galligan.

After Wiletta, the most interesting character is the director, Al Manners (an outstanding Graeme Somerville). He is intense, full of himself and directing his first Broadway show. In his opinion, he is not a racist and wants to direct an inspired  production of a play that includes a mother giving up her son to a lynch mob. The details about this are sparse but the message is clear. Manners is dealing with four black actors who have lived with racism all their lives but he, like all good racists, is not interested in listening to them. The play reaches its climax when Wiletta pressures Manners to respond to her question whether he would give up his son to a lynch mob. He tells her that he and his son cannot be compared to a black parent and her son. In other words, things like that do not happen to white folks.

The play is done in a theatre-in-the-round set with a few props in the playing area designed by Rachel Forbes. Director Philip Akin does outstanding work in putting the whole thing together with a firm and knowing hand. We get a moving, sometimes funny and always superb performance of a play that we have waited too long to see.    


Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress continues until October 9, 2021, at the Jackie Maxwell Studio, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Friday, August 27, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas 

The Stratford Festival has been facing the grim reality of the pandemic and has had to erect  large canopies, including one next the the sparking new Tom Pattern Theatre, to produce a few shows to keep the Festival going and keep our memories of the good old days alive.

Tomson Highway’s  The Rez Sisters is an inspired choice for many reasons but the great quality of the play is sufficient justification on its own. The play premiered in 1986 at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto and won the Dora Mavor Moore Award as the Best New Play. It takes place on a reservation, hence the Rez, the short form for it in the title. The Sisters are seven women who one way or another can claim the relationship suggested by that word.

Through the seven sisters, Highway gives a portrait of life on The Wasaychigan Hill Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. The author tells us that Wasaychigan means window in Ojibway and the play is indeed an opening to the lives of a cross section of women who live there.

Photo: David Hou

They are all indigenous, of course, and they have some common characteristics as well as individual traits. The most common characteristic is the desire to get out of poverty, acquire some “things” and fulfill some dreams and most importantly win at bingo. The pot of gold for these woman lies in The Biggest Bingo Game and the end of the rainbow is in Toronto.

Pelajia’s first words are “I wanna go to Toronto.” The reservation, with its poverty and social problems such as violence and rape, is also a dream factory. The dreams vary from getting a stove, to buying an island or a record player to winning The Biggest Bingo Game.

Director Jessica Carmichael, like Highway, does not want to minimize the problems of the women but she wants us to see their positive side as well. The energy, the boisterousness, and the sense of community are all there. Carmichael puts the production in overdrive and rarely gears down.  

There are several factors that militate against the complete success of the production. The canopy does not help with the acoustics. All the actors are miked for fear that we may not hear them even in the small space under the canopy. The problem is that all the dialogue comes from the loudspeakers and many times the only way you can recognize who is speaking is by looking for moving lips. At times things became confusing.

The Rez Sisters is also a funny play but the mode of the performance drowned out almost all the laughter. That is an unfortunate reduction in enjoying a play that combines humour and drama.

The talented cast no doubt followed instructions and had to settle for the unenviable venue. They deserve kudos for their performance. I list them alphabetically; Brefny Caribou plays the pathetic and mentally challenged Zhaboonigan. Lisa Cromarty plays Marie-Adele Starblanket, a woman with 14 children, suffering from cancer. Irene Poole plays Veronique, a woman married to a drunkard and ridiculed by the others for not having children of her own. However, she had the decency to adopt Zhaboonigan after her parents were killed in a car crash. She wants a stove to feed all the children.

Nicole-Joy Fraser plays the light-hearted Annie Cook who is sure she will win the Biggest Bingo in Toronto and go to every record store and load up on records. Jani Lauzon plays Pelajia, the senior of the group who has strong ties to the community but still wants to go to Toronto. Kathleen MacLean plays the foul-mouthed and slutty Emily Dictionary. Tracey Nepinak has the role of the no-holds-barred Philomena.

Zach Running Coyote plays Nanabush, a dancer, who is in turn a Seagull, a Nighthawk and the Bingo Master. Nanabush is the one who takes Marie-Adele’s soul into the spirit world.

Obviously, the production of The Rez Sisters under a canopy was unplanned and we should be grateful. We are and hope that next year we can see it in a beautiful theatre.


The Raz Sisters by Tomson Highway played until Augusts 21, 2021 under the canopy next to the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

Monday, August 23, 2021


 Reviewed by James Karas

As the whole world knows, once upon a time Alice and her sister were sitting on  the bank of a river and she was bored. She peeped at the book that her sister was reading and noticed that it had no pictures or conversations. That will not do. But wait – there is a white rabbit with pink eyes that just ran by!

The Guild Theatre Festival has undertaken to act out for us some of Alice’s adventures as she follows the rabbit into a rabbit-hole and her wonderfully memorable experiences begin.

David Savoy has adopted a few of Alice’s adventures into a taut and fast-paced play that can be performed with the minimum of props and the maximum of kinetic energy directed by Tyler J. Seguin.

The production needs only six actors – two men and four women. I am tempted to say boys and girls because they display such agility, drive, speed and coordination that they may well power a Tesla for a long distance.

Kiana Wood as Alice. Photo Credits: Raph Nogal Photography

I need to tell you who they are and what they do, alphabetically, please. Cayne Kitagawa plays the White Rabbit, Footman 1, White Knight and Tweedle Dee. Anna-Marie Krystiuk takes on the Eagle, Cheshire Cat March Hare, Tweedle Dum and Card 7.  Muhaddisah is responsible for Dormouse, Cook, Rose and Card 2. Michael Williamson represents the Parrot, Footman 2, Mad Hatter, Daisy, Mock Turtle and Card 5. Lauren Wolanski is the Queen of Hearts, Caterpillar, Duchess, Tiger Lily, Sister and Dodo.  Kiana Woo is the super-charged, Energizer-bunny-you-are-a-turtle-compared-to-me Alice. If you want to know how many roles are played on stage, do your own arithmetic.

A production that emphasizes speed, clarity and humour with a minimum of props needs imaginative staging. Alice needs to go down, down, down the rabbit hole. You achieve that by having Alice stand over a few hoops and have them lifted over her head as she descends into wonderland.

We need a Queen of Hearts dressed in a regal gown. Cast members unfold a large, colourful tarp. They shake it open and the Queen mounts a stand and they drape the imperial attire around her.

The sped and energy with which the actors perform is accompanied with clear enunciation and wonderful vocal variations. We want the actors to do justice to the representation of the various characters and they do.

The production is designed by Nancy Ann Perrin to be played on the open and limited space of The Greek Theatre in the Guild Park & Gardens, Scarborough. The program lists seven people responsible for Paint and Props and they do provide a colourful spectacle as you would expect in Wonderland.

A thoroughly enjoyable ninety minutes and a visit with a group of familiar characters.


Alice in Wonderland adapted by David Savoy from the story by Lewis Carroll will run until August 29, 2021, at The Greek Theatre, Guild Park & Gardens, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough, Ontario.

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