Wednesday, September 28, 2022

BAD PARENT - REVIEW OF SOULPEPPER THEATRE PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

Ten years ago, we saw Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience, a warm, funny and touching paean to immigrants, especially Koreans who open convenience stores and work ungodly hours to survive. The play became a successful TV series and Choi has never had to look back.

His latest play is Bad Parent in which he examines the life of a young married couple that has an eighteen-month-old child. The play requires two actors who handle four parts. Charles and Norah go through the disagreements, arguments and fights of a young couple that must cope with a child, parents and jobs that most people would recognize from direct experience or general knowledge.

The play has a number of monologues and the highly capable actors Josette Jorge and Raugi Yu address the audience directly about past and present events that give cause for friction. Jorge as Norah describes him as being a man who never had to do anything because everything was done for him by his adoring mother. Yu as Charles is spoiled rotten and his mother does not like Norah. Of course not, no one is good enough for her son. All of it can be and I suggest should be done through dialogue but Choi has decided to have the actors step up to microphones and address us.  

Josette Jorge and Raugi Yu. Photo by Dahlia Katz

Communication or lack of communication between the two is a major source of disagreement. They do things without informing the other, let alone discussing it. She hires a Filipino nanny named Nora, he arranges to go into a food truck business with the nanny. Talking to each other may be a solution but they may not be able to do that unless they have microphones in their home.

The child, named Mountain, cries, eats, defecates and urinates. The house is a mess with diapers being a major decorating feature. Mountain sleeps with his parents and Charles buys a bed from IKEA to let the tyke sleep on it. He does not mention it to Norah.

Norah goes back to work and is attracted to her coworker Dale. The relationship remains platonic but it does emphasize Charles’s deficiencies. He is attracted to Norah and the friction between her and her husband rises to a peak when she tells him that she wants a divorce and lists a hefty number of grounds.

The fights rarely become toxic beyond repair and, as I said, many of them would be familiar to most married couples. The switches from Nora to Norah by Jorge and from Charles to Dale by Yu are done smoothly and adeptly and they are a relief for us. There is comedy and touching humanity as the couple works out or fails to work out some of the issues facing them as well as almost all newlyweds and young parents. There is no “bad parent” although each of them considers the other as an inferior spouse and parent.

Sophie Tang’s set consists of an IKEA bed and shelving unit full of household items that serve well when Nora becomes furious and starts tossing things around. Charles is a composer of songs and we hear a couple of his compositions and are treated to blinding light in the process.

Meg Roes directs this funny, touching and enjoyable examination of the rites of passage of love, marriage, parenting and getting used to all those strange territories of life.

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Bad Parent by Ins Choi in a coproduction by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre and Prairie Theatre Exchange continues until October 9, 2022, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario M5A 3C4. www.soulpepper.ca.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

QUEEN GONERIL - REVIEW OF SOULPEPPER THEATRE PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

If you are going to the theatre in the next couple of weeks, head for the Distillery District in Toronto and see King Lear first and then Queen Goneril at the Young Centre for Soulpepper Theatre’s two productions. The first is by William Shakespeare, of course, and the second is by Erin Shields. The plays are more than 400 years apart but they are intertwined and will make you think hard about both.

After seeing King Lear, you will be reminded that Goneril was his older daughter and she with her sister Regan drove their father insane and he spouted such hatred and curses about his children as to be frightful. The angelic Cordelia and Lear died in Shakespeare’s play but so did the evil sisters, Gloucester, his evil, bastard son Edmund (Jonathan Young) and the sadistic Cornwall (Philip Riccio).

Shields’ play is a prequel and in fact takes place seven years before the action in King Lear when he finally divides his kingdom in three parts before going into retirement. The three-way division turns into two when Cordelia cannot express her love for her father the way her hypocritical sisters can lie and exaggerate.

Seven years before that, Goneril is an astute and ambitious woman who wants to become queen to save her country from her father’s approaching dotage and his woeful mismanagement. She is gay and sleeps with her servant Olena.

Sheldon Elter, Jonathon Young, Virgilia Griffith, 
and Tom McCamus. Photo by Dahlia Katz

The sisters have memories of their mother including a music box that was left to Cordelia. It goes missing and Olena (Breton Lalama) is accused of theft. She states she is innocent and refuses to apologize for something she did not do. She is banished but stay tuned for the revelation of who stole the music box, the reason for doing it and what it reveals about the thief. In King Lar Goneril has a steward called Oswald. He appears in Queen Goneril too and there may be a relationship between Olena and Oswald that goes beyond what you may imagine. My lips are sealed.

The sisters, you may have guessed are not on the best of terms but keep in mind the feminist approach to the story where the point is made forcefully that Lear is losing it and the kingdom is in shambles and only a powerful woman like Goneril can save it.

We all remember the Earl of Gloucester whose eyes were gouged out for helping Lear. He is the king’s best friend in Queen Goneril. Let’s go to the first scene of King Lear where Gloucester introduces his son Edmund, a bastard, and brags that there was good sport at his making with a fair but unwed woman. Those comments deserve more attention than I have ever given them.  Edmund in King Lear is indeed a bastard and he tries to destroy his father and half-brother Edgar and everything else.

In Queen Goneril Gloucester (Oliver Dennis), after a few drinks, sexually assaults, to be more precise rapes Regan. He explains his weakness for women to Edmund who has a malleable moral conscience (unlike the prudish Edgar (Damien Atkins) who is in France). We know it was good sport in making Edmund but did he rape his mother?  

In King Lear, Gloucester falls in the hands of Regan and her sadistic husband Cornwall. They accuse him of treachery and Cornwall gouges out one of his eyes. Regan tells him to take the other one out too. That is a marvellous connection between the two plays.  Regan and Cornwall may appear sadistic (they are) in King Lear but Shields gives us a damn good reason for their action in Queen Goneril.

These are some of the fascinating connecting tissues between the old classic and the new feminist play. In some ways they illuminate King Lear and make Shield’s play captivating.

Virgilia Griffith. Photo by Dahlia Katz

The same cast is in both plays. Tom McCamus gives a towering but more limited performance in Queen Goneril. Virgilia Griffith plays the ambitious conniving and evil Goneril with a mission in life that includes that women can be just as good as men, if not better.  Regan (Vanessa Sears) is just as bad, if not worse and Lear’s angelic Cordelia (Helen Belay) is not. The three actors give powerful performances and their characters are fascinating in the hands of Shields and her approach to the position of women in the plot. The cast does well without being hampered by the difficulties of Shakespeare’s language especially the iambic pentameters.

Weyni Mengesha directs judiciously and expertly. 

Shields has written an interesting play that is done well and much of the fascination lies in it’s feminist approach but also in its close relationship with King Lear. Having that play fresh in your mind adds to one’s enjoyment of Queen Goneril so I am not sure how many viewings it will get if it is not paired with Shakespeare’s play. In any event if you want to be rivetted and entertained you should really see both plays. There may not be such an opportunity again in a long time.     

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Queen Goneril by Erin Shields continues until October 2, 2022, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario M5A 3C4. www.soulpepper.ca.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

KING LEAR – REVIEW OF THUNDEROUS PRODUCTION BY SOULPEPPER

Reviewed by James Karas

It takes a lot of courage to put on King Lear. The artistic, material and financial demands can be prohibitive. You need an extraordinary actor who can play Lear and an acting company that can handle the Shakespearean language and a director and artistic crew to put it all together. Good luck.

Soulpepper Theatre under Artistic Director Weyni Mengesha seems to have found all the requisite elements and has produced a stunning and thunderous King Lear.

The star of the production is without a doubt Tom McCamus as Lear. He has a booming voice that takes Lear from his expression of hatred of his daughters and the unbelievable curses he heaps on them, to his fury in general, to his mad scene in the heath to the recalcitrant human being at the end. We see a selfish, arrogant and bombastic king, a man betrayed by his daughters who loses his sanity and an actor who must reach the heights of performance to meet those demands. Lear may well be McCamus’s defining performance. He has been on the stage for some forty years and in this King Lear, he may have hit the pinnacle.

Philip Riccio, Vanessa Sears, Tom McCamus, Jordan Pettle, 
Virgilia Griffith. Photo by Dahlia Katz

King Lear has 25 characters and director Kim Collier uses only sixteen actors to represent them. This works to a large extent but the entire cast except two are listed as playing a name role “& others.” McCamus as Lear and Virgilia Griffith as Goneril are the exceptions.

The acting standards are generally high. Damien Atkins as Edgar, the decent older son of Gloucester and Jonathan Young as Edmund, the evil bastard son. Atkins and Young excel in their roles Young has to become Poor Tom, the almost naked beggar in the scene on the heath and accompany his blinded father to the cliffs of Dover all the while hiding his true identity. No mean task.

Soulpepper stalwart Oliver Dennis does a fine job as Gloucester and appears in minor roles where he is recognizable. Griffith as Goneril and Vanessa Sears as Regan give us all the hypocrisy, ambitions and evil one can take in one evening. Their husbands Cornwall (Philip Riccio) and Albany (Jordan Pettle) are almost as evil but the latter does find his humanity in the vortex of evil and torture.  

Sheldon Elter’s Kent is a tough-looking bruiser and a faithful servant to Lear to the end and we sympathize with the character who in the final scene leaves to face his mortality.

The Fool is an important character in King Lear because he is the king’s jester, speaks truth to power and provides a few laughs. Collier has assigned the role to Nancy Palk, a star of Solupepper. This is a modern dress production and attiring Palk like a jester may not do. She is dressed in ordinary clothes and speaks as if she were just an ordinary individual in the play with some cutting remarks. Unfortunately, she comes out as a non-entity and whatever reason Collier had for presenting the Fool as such, escapes me.

Tom McCamus, Sheldon Elter, Nancy Palk, 
and Damien Atkins Photo By Dahlia Katz

The acting was as I said, was of high quality generally but most of the actors had difficulty handling the play’s often tortuous language and iambic pentameters.

I described this as a thunderous production and that holds true from the booming way of speaking of McCamus and other characters, the thunder and lightning of the heath scene and the noise of battle. Footlights at the rear of the stage flash on and off and the stereo system of the Young Centre makes the theatre feel like a war zone.

The set by Ken Mackenzie was Spartan and efficient. In the opening scene we had the royal throne and a long table and chairs for the division of the kingdom. Two large arches were moved around the stage to indicate palaces and the rest was handled with lighting effects by Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell.   

For the final scene, Collier had the bodies of Goneril and Regan on stage, on each side of the regal throne. A nice touch.

We do not get enough opportunities to see outstanding productions of King Lear and for good reason. But when we do get the opportunity, we should see them.

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King Lear by William Shakespeare continues until October 1, 2022, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario M5A 3C4. www.soulpepper.ca.

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

Friday, September 16, 2022

UNCLE VANYA – REVIEW OF OUTSTANDING 2022 CROW’S THEATRE PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

Anton Chekhov is universally recognized as a great playwright but also a very slippery one. He used to be avoided because his plays lacked the exciting plots that producers were looking for. The intricate canvas on which he painted his view of the world required brilliant directing and subtle acting to do justice to his plays. The Russian of his plays seemed awkward and directors, as far as I can judge, have given up on literal translations and have opted for “versions” of the plays, some by prominent playwrights.

Crow’s Theatre of Toronto gives us an outstanding production of Uncle Vanya in a new version by Lisa Repo-Martell, directed by Chris Abraham. The plot sounds prosaic, but it is nothing of the kind in the hands of Chekhov and especially in Abraham’s delicate handling. We are on a Russian estate maintained by Vanya (Tom Rooney) and his niece Sonya (Bahia Watson). The estate is “owned” by Professor Alexandre (Eric Peterson) but in fact it was bequeathed to his first wife by her late father. Vanya’s mother Maria (dtaborah johnson), a minor character in the play, also lives there. Sonya is the Professor’s daughter by his late, first wife. Dr. Astrov (Ali Kazmi) is a regular visitor to the estate and a key character in the play. We also have “Waffles” (Amand Rajaram), an impoverished landowner living on the estate and the old nurse Marina (Carolyn Fe).

(l t r) Anand Rajaram as “Waffles” Telegin, EricPeterson
as Alexandre, Bahia Watson as Sonya,Tom Rooney as
Vanya, dtaborah johnson as Maria, Shannon Taylor as
Yelena, and Carolyn Feas Marina. Photo: Dahlia Katz

The catalyst for the action is the arrival of the Professor with his beautiful, young wife Yelena (Shannon Taylor). They lived in the city, but the retired Professor returns to his estate with a view to selling it and and thus being able to afford life in the city with the money. This summary tells you almost nothing about the play and the production.

Chekhov presents a group of people and by extension a society and perhaps even humanity in a state of torpor, morass, despair, uselessness, and depression. This applies to most of the characters and to the collective condition of the residents of the estate. Uncle Vanya at 51 is feeling old and useless. He manages the estate for the Professor and now is at risk of being tossed out with nothing to live on. He is attracted to Yelena to no effect, and he is a man at the end of his rope. He attempts suicide and tries to shoot the Professor but is unsuccessful even at that. Rooney, disheveled, wanders around and gives a superb performance reaching emotional highs and lows.

Dr. Astrov is an overworked physician with a love of forestry but in middle age he has become disillusioned. He used to look across a forest and see light but even that has disappeared. He thinks he has fallen in love with the beautiful Yelena, and he does kiss her but the affair gets nowhere. He drinks vodka to excess as does Vanya to find an oasis in his life but in the end, there is nothing. Kazmi is a passionate Astrov in a dismal emotional state and he does an outstanding job

The Professor is revealed as an ineffectual and fraudulent scholar who managed to live on the money from his first wife’s estate. He is an ineffectual idiot, his wife Yelena of high social standing from St. Petersburgh, hates her husband and the estate. Taylor provides statuesque beauty and haughty demeanor in an outstanding performance.

Eric Peterson as Alexandre and Shannon Taylor as Yelena Photo Dahlia Katz

Watson’s Sonya is a pathetic woman, too plain to be noticed by Astrov whom she loves. She tries desperately to be optimistic and decides that the drudge work on the estate is acceptable or betterthan nothing and she puts on a brave and positive face to life.

The servant Marina gave some examples of stoic forbearance. She works and continues with life be it in quiet acceptance or desperation, but we have no way of knowing it. Waffles, the impecunious former landowner gives the best example of putting up with what you have. His wife left him the day after their marriage, and he lost everything supporting her and her children and has not lost his optimism. Rajaram with his long hair, unshaven face ang rags could pass for a homeless person.

Chekhov set the play in the garden, the dining room, the drawing room, and Vanya’s room. Set co-designers Julie Fox and Josh Quinlan, set the play in a large, ramshackle room that works perfectly. My only complaint is there is a piano and a pantry placed in opposite corners at one end of the theatre. Both are almost invisible to about one-quarter of the audience in the theatre-in-the-round arrangement of Crow’s.         

The remarkable success of the production belongs to the prodigious knowledge and astonishing theatrical imagination of director Abraham. He clearly knows his Chekhov and gives a fine-tuned production that lets us see the characters in their world. There is humour and dramatic scenes of drunkenness and high drama. But in the end, we are left with a crucial impression of the people, the society, and the world of the play. That is Chekhov's intricate canvas that Chris Abraham unveils for us.

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Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov in an adaptation by Lisa Repo-Martell continues until October 2, 2022 at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1. http://crowstheatre.com/

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

1939 – REVIEW OF 2022 STRATFORD FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

1939 is the penultimate opening of a production at this season’s Stratford Festival. You may have thought that 1939 obviously refers to the beginning of World War II and draws parallels between dictators invading innocent countries then and now.

Wrong. 

In 1939 King George V and Queen Elizabeth visited Canada and the royal visit has some importance in the play by Jani Lauzon and Kaitlin Riordan. But the play has a much darker and far more important purpose. It pays homage to the hundreds of thousands of victims of Canada’s Residential Schools and the Stratford Festival and by extension the rest of us bow our heads in shame at a national policy that forced children of indigenous Canadians to attend “schools” where the expressed purpose was “to kill the Indian in them” and civilize them.

1939 takes place in a Residential School somewhere in northern Canada. We meet five students, Joseph Summers (Richard Comeau) and his sister Beth (Tara Sky), Evelyn Rice (Wahsonti:io), Susan Blackbird (Kathleen MacLean) and Jean Delorme (John Wamslay). Sian Ap Dafydd (Sarah Dodd) is their teacher and Father Callum Williams (Mike Shara) is the school’s minister and hockey coach.

Richard Comeau (centre) as Joseph Summers with
(from left) Tara Sky as Beth, John Wamsley as 
Jean , Kathleen MacLean as Susan and Wahsonti:io Kirby as Evelyne. 
Photo by David Hou.
Word comes through that the king and the queen might visit the school and the teacher decides to put on a play by Shakespeare to entertain the royal couple. Reporter Madge Macbeth (Jacklyn Francis) writes a story about the production and the sale of tickets for the performance increases very quickly.

That is the basic plot of the play text but there is a far darker subtext. The children live under severe restriction and they are not permitted to leave the school. They use their native language sparingly and with fear, and some of them have limited memories of it. The school that is supposed to civilize them does not even have a library. The text of the All’s Well That Ends Well that they are to put on is provided by the teacher from her own selection and by the minister.

To the great credit of Lauzon and Riordan this is not a heavy-handed and melodramatic portrait of a residential school. There is a great deal of humour and at one point there is a farcical scene but the message is always there.

Amid the comic attempts to pronounce Shakespeare’s iambic pentameters (pretend you are walking like a horse) and the children’s resilience, they write messages on the large blackboards on the stage expressing their longing and their pain. Everything that they write is quickly erased.

The play is episodic with a large number of short scenes some of them lasting less than a minute. But we get the messages. The students become the “actors” in the play and have to dress like “Indians”. Their costumes are made by white women and they express the ideas of the white community about what indigenous people wear. The children complain about the idiocy of the costumes but they have no say.

The school’s hockey team coached by Father Williams wins the championship but the white losers accuse them of cheating. Mrs Macbeth publishes the complaint in her newspaper and there are massive cancellations of tickets for the performance. The players “have to eat crow” and give the trophy to the “winners.”

From left: Richard Comeau as Joseph Summers, Tara Sky as 
Beth Summers, and Wahsonti:io Kirby as Evelyne Rice.  Photo by David Hou.
The children and Father Williams do put on All’s Well in a hilarious way intentionally or not but their majesties do not show up.

The actors playing the five students have indigenous roots and they seem to be men and women in their twenties. The students are smart and within the limits of the residential school regime, self-assertive. There are indications of physical abuse and no one can doubt the psychological harm. The actors are all trained but seem to have limited acting experience. In the beginning they appeared awkward and unsure of themselves but they got into the grove and they performed very well in the second half.

Miss Dafydd, a teacher of Welsh extraction, has first-hand experience about being uprooted and forbidden to speak her native language. She lived through that in Wales. Saah Dodd gives a stellar performance in the role showing a woman who is caught in a situation and job that we can never know if she is under as much duress as her students or believes in it wholeheartedly.

Mike Shara’s Father Williams is a minister without a parish who had to try three times to be ordained. He is hoping that the archbishop who will attend the performance will give him a parish. Shara provides much of the laughter in the play. The journalist Madge Macbeth, dressed stylishly and representing a big newspaper, was impressive in the hands of Jacklyn Francis.

The set by Joanna Yu consisted of three large blackboards and a few chairs that are used for various purposes.

The direction by co-author Lauzon is brisk and gets the numerous scene sequences done without a hitch. There is considerable laughter in the play and the scene around the performance of All’s Well rises to hilarious farce.

The play and the message are timely. There can be few Canadians who do not know about the tragedy of the residential schools. Canada’s crime against humanity will never be expiated.

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1939 by Jani Lauzon and Kaitlin Riordan opened on September 11 and continues until October 29, 2022, at the Studio Theatre, 34 George Street East, Stratford. Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

JUST TO GET MARRIED – REVIEW OF 2022 SHAW FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

 Reviewed by James Karas

Cicely Hamilton’s Just To Get Married has the dual purpose of being a play’s title and a summary of its plot. It describes the status of women in Edwardian England with frightful accuracy. A woman faced a life of poverty as a spinster, or she found a man just to get married and find support.

Hamilton (1872–1952) was a feminist, a suffragette, an actor and a prolific writer. She wrote 36 books in a long career, but she has been almost completely ignored for more than a century. The Shaw Festival to its great credit produced her Dobson’s Choice in 2003 and this year stages Just To Get Married, a wonderful comedy in a terrific and thoroughly enjoyable production. 

Georgina Vicary is 29 years old and living with relatives who would like her to find a husband and move on. She has no money and knows that she has to find a man just to get married. Her aunt and uncle bring Adam Lankester (Kristopher Bowman), a somewhat awkward but otherwise eligible young man, to their country estate and are hoping that he will propose.

He does and Georgina pretends that she loves him and the wedding is planned. Georgina knows her situation but decides to call off the wedding the day before the ceremony. It is a shocking step and she is thoroughly ashamed of her act. Lankester is understandably  insulted and angry. The ashamed Georgina leaves her uncle’s house and goes to the train station to go to London.

That is the basic outline of the play without revealing how it ends.

l to r): David Alan Anderson as Sir Theodore Grayle, Kristopher Bowman 
as Adam Lankester, Andrew Lawrie as Tod Grayle, Claire Jullien as 
Lady Catherine Grayle, Kristi Frank as Georgiana Vicary, Monica Parks 
as Mrs. Macartney, Katherine Gauthier as Bertha Grayle 
and Sophia Walker as Frances Melliship. Photo by David Cooper.

The production directed by Severn Thompson is a rousing success. Kristi Frank is funny, moving, convincing and an excellent Georgina. Bowman as Adam is an upstanding young man, decent, generous and passionately in love with Georgina. He tries to understand her action and his innate humanity never leaves him. The two act and react beautifully with each other in performances that are a delight to watch.

The supporting cast and Thompson’s directing are equally praiseworthy. David Alan Anderson as Sir Theodore Grayle, Georgina’s uncle, is hilarious as he tries to avoid any confrontation. Lady Catherine Grayle, (Claire Jullien), the aunt, wants to get her niece married and she tries to maneuver the would-be couple to get on with it. The rest of the cast deserves nothing but praise.

The Grayle children Bertha (Katherine Gauthier) and Tod (Andrew Laurie) generate laughter in  just about every appearance with well-timed comic sense.

The set by Michael Gianfranceso consists of the drawing room at first and then the library of the Grayle mansion. They are bright and pleasant but furnished on a budget and the library is nice but short of books. The third act takes place at the railway station, and it is adequate. Ming Wong’s costumes are beautiful as becomes a good designer and ladies and gentlemen of a certain class in a certain period.

There are other plays by Hamilton that deserve to be produced and we can only hope the Artistic Director Tim Carroll will select one or more of them.

Just To Get Married was the final production of the season for me and it was the most pleasant way to return to the Shaw Festival and Niagara-on-the-Lake. A Christmas Carol and White Christmas await us in November and December. 

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Just To Ge Married by Cicely Hamilton continues until October 16, 2022, at The Royal George Theatre as part of the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com/

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

 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

CHITRA – REVIEW OF 2022 SHAW FESTIVAL LUNCHTIME PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

Some years ago, The Shaw Festival launched a laudable tradition of staging a one-act play at lunchtime. The plays chosen over the years range from the less known to the unknown one-acters and the chances of seeing them performed were small to none. They can be done in about an hour and you can still have lunch and see a matinee at 2:00 p.m. This year’s choice is Chitra, a play by Rabindranath Tagore, the prolific and famous Nobel Prize laureate. 

In the programme, the Shaw Festival provides some helpful information about the play. Tagore wrote it in 1892 and translated it into English in 1913. The play originates from Mahabharata, the Sanskrit epic poem but there is no information about any productions in Canada and I could not find any mention of it in England. In fact, the only play that I could find produced in England in the last 41 years by Tagore is Red Oleander.  According to the single review reprinted in Theatre Record, this 1926 play premiered in England in 2006 and is one of Tagore’s 50 plays. 

Chitra is a myth about a woman born to a king who wanted a son. He decided to raise his daughter as a man and she became a famous warrior. Something was missing from her life until she met Arjuna (Andrew Lawrie), a warrior prince. She falls in love with him but he has taken a vow of celibacy and is not fit for marriage.

Andrew Lawrie as Arjuna and Gabriella Sundar Singh
 as Chitra, with Taurian Teelucksingh as Vasanta, Sanjay
 Talwar as Madana and Jade Repeta (Corps) in 
Chitra (Shaw Festival, 2022). Photo by David Cooper.

Chitra consults Madana (Sanjay Talwar), the god of love and asks him to make her beautiful and teach her how to be a woman. She also consults Vasanta (Taurian Teelucksingh) the god of Eternal Youth and asks him to make her beautiful for a day to enjoy and get Arjuna’s attention. At its simplest, Chitra dramatizes the powerful awakening of love and sexual desire in both Chitra and Arjuna but it is done on a poetic and heroic level.

In addition to the four speaking parts, the play has four almost silent characters on stage who react to the dialogue and have some dance movements.

The set by Designer Anahita Dehbonehie consists of half a dozen steps rising to a pedestal for the gods. The background consists of an orb of light and some concentric circles suggesting the sky or another world. The effective lighting is designed by Chris Malkowski.

Chitra speaks to the gods and Arjuna with passion, doubt and fear. But her love and passion for Arjuna overcome her hesitation. Arjuna is equally attracted to her and his passion overcomes his vow of celibacy,

The gods are above the mortals but they are imperious without being overweening.

There are some beautiful lyrical passages describing attraction, desire and passion all of which are finally fulfilled. But all is done on an elevated or heroic level which is somewhat static. The acting reflects that and Director and Choreographer Kimberley Rampersad maintain the style of the mythical world of gods and heroic lovers.

We are happy for the offering of an unexpected delight. Maybe it will encourage someone else to produce another one of Tagore’s fifty plays.

P.S. The 2023 list of productions BY THE Shaw Festival has just been announced. Next year’s lunch-time play will be Shaw’s Village Wooing. It was produced at the Shaw Festival in 1964, 1979, 1992 and 1999. So much for my statement that the chances of seeing the lunch time offerings are small to none!  

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Chitra by Rabindranath Tagore continues on selected dates until October 8, 2022, at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.ca

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

THE DOCTOR’S DILEMMA - REVIEW OF 2022 SHAW FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

The Shaw Festival in its 60th season has two plays out of ten by the playwright whose name it bears, a 20% share of its productions. Bernard Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma is now on along with Too True To Be Good.

What is the dilemma? Dr. Colenso Ridgeon has discovered a cure for tuberculosis and has ben awarded the Nobel Prize. He is the only one who can administer the cure and he can only take 10 patients. He has room for only one more and must make a choice between the honorable, decent and altruistic Dr. Blenkinsop (Jason Cadieux) and the ethically compromised wastrel but talented artist Louis Dubedat (Jonathan Sousa).    

That may be the dilemma but Shaw uses much of the play to satirize, ridicule and show his sheer contempt for the medical profession. There are four doctors in addition to Dr. Ridgeon in the play and Shaw’s treatment of them as laughable quacks is merciless.  

(l to r): Allan Louis as Dr. Cutler Walpole, Johnathan Sousa as Louis Dubedat, 
Sanjay Talwar as Dr. Colenso Ridgeon, Sharry Flett as Dr. Patricia Cullen 
and David Adams as Dr. Ralph Bloomfield Bonington. Photo by David Cooper.

But that is only part of the dilemma. The artist is married to Jennifer (Alexis Gordon) , a gorgeous woman, with sexual magnetism. She the driving force of the play. Three of the  doctors fall in love with her to put it politely or, more bluntly, much of their thinking is done by their hyperactive hormones instead of their brains. This does not apply to the decent Dr, Blenkinsop or to Dr. Patricia Cullen (Sharry Flett) who is Dr. Patrick in the original play.  

Director Diana Donnelly gives the play a daring production that has many refreshing virtues and some flaws. She brings the production from Edwardian England to today and provides the means of making some of the more prosaic speeches bearable and at times amusing. Watching the hirsute, pompous and even idiotic doctors in black three-piece suits in some period productions pontificating about their medical knowledge and skills can be snooze-inspiring. Donnelly respects the script but when one of the doctors begins a speech, he steps up towards the audience, a spotlight is zeroed in on him but other activity around him continues as he jabbers on. A good idea.

The doctors can be pompous asses but laden with Shaw’s verbosity they may not be amusing. Donnelly takes care of that by making some of them them ridiculous in their clownish costumes. Dr. Bonington (David Adams) even puts on a clown’s nose and mustache) and their claims to medical knowledge become a joke every time they mention it.

The second act of the play takes place in a club after a dinner congratulating Dr. Ridgeon, the genius doctor, for winning the Nobel Prize. The scene change is awkward as the characters change costumes in front of the audience Everyone is dressed in formal white with Dr. Walpole wearing a white skirt. Jennifer Dubedat appears wearing a stunning white gown that causes severe hormonal hyperactivity among most of the quacks. Dr. Ridgeon is in love with her and his judgment is at least clouded when it comes to whose life he is not going to save.

In the meantime, Louis Dubedat steals someone’s gold cigarette case, borrows money under false pretenses and reveals that he is scum. And Minnie (Katherine Gauthier), his real wife appears which means that he is also a bigamist.

The next act takes place in Dubedat’s studio/residence where the pace of the play falters and there is one sequence when several doctors walk in and out of the bedroom (I guess) and it appears that they had sex with Jennifer. I found the scene confusing because there is no suggestion in the play that this happens while her husband is dying. I may have misconstrued the whole thing.

Alexis Gordon as Jennifer Dubedat and Johnathan Sousa 
as Louis Dubedat in The Doctor’s Dilemma 
(Shaw Festival, 2022). Photo by David Cooper.

Alexis Gordon is splendid as Jennifer. She is smart, manipulative, forceful and a woman to be reckoned with. She handles the men marvelously.

Talwar turns in a fine performance as Ridgeon. He is more straightforward than some of his colleagues and he does not pontificate as much as the others. Sharry Flett is excellent as the Dr. Cullen, attractive and sensible.

Louis’ and Adams’ characters are caricatures and amusing for it. Cadieux’s Blenkinsop is an altruistic doctor caring for the people who otherwise may not receive any medical care.

Sousa is excellent as Dubedat, shamelessly amoral and sees no need to repent for his dishonesty. He is only interested in art.

Donnelly succeeds to a great extent with her approach to the play but she loses it somewhere along the line. We do gain in comprehension the dialogue and not having the actors attempt English accents (with frequently appalling results)  is a great benefit.  

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The Doctor’s Dilemma by Bernard Shaw continues in repertory until October 8, 2022, at the Festival Theatre as part of the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.

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

Saturday, September 3, 2022

GEM OF THE OCEAN – REVIEW OF 2022 SHAW FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

August Wilson (1945-2005) was one of  the most eminent portrayers of the lives of blacks in the United States. His ten-play sequence called The Pittsburg Cycle or the American Century represents every decade of the 20th century. Gem of the Ocean, his penultimate play, opened in 2005 and covers the first decade of the twentieth century.

The play is set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District where Wilson was born and it deals, inevitably, with slavery forty years after Abraham Lincoln put an end to it. No one should doubt that slavery is the greatest crime against humanity ever perpetrated. It started in primordial times and despite some significant progress in the 19th century, it is still very much with us.

Wilson does not deal only with the condition of slavery but more importantly with the seizure of people and their  forced transportation across the ocean to the slave markets of North America. Those people lost their freedom, their society, their identity and even their soul was ripped out of them. They were left with nothing. One character in the play has a copy of the bill of sale by which she was sold for six hundred dollars like a chattel.

Gem of the Ocean takes place in 1904, forty years after American slaves were liberated. Many of the characters of the play are former slaves. Aunt Ester, the central character claims to be 285 years old. That is not a joke because that number looks back to 1619 and the arrival of the first slave ships in Hampton, Virginia.

Aunt Ester is indeed old and Monica Parks does a fine job as the crotchety mistress of the house and as a “soul cleanser.” My small comment about Parks’ performance is that she had too much energy to be very old.

Sophia Walker as Black Mary and Monica Parks as Aunt Ester Tyler 
in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean (Shaw Festival, 2022). 
Photo by Emily Cooper.

Aunt Ester has an interesting circle of people living with her and visitors around whom the plot of the play is constructed. The plot catalyst is the theft of a bag of nails from a mill and the subsequent death of a person thought to have committed the crime. He did not, but preferred to drown rather than face the consequences of being convicted regardless of guilt.

The discovery of the guilty person and the consequences are the external events that drive the play. But Aunt Ester has a visitor from Alabama, Citizen Barlow, who wants his soul  to be cleansed of its sins so he can find redemption. Nathaniel Judah as Barlow is a troubled man and Ester performs a complex ritual which includes seeing a huge, imaginary grave where the bones of slaves are buried. It is like seeing the countless people who died in slavery and paying homage to the suffering of humanity. Wilson forces Barlow and us to imagine the bones of the dead millions in an area half a mile by half a mile. A stunning image.

"Black" Mary is Ester’s set-upon housekeeper, an attractive and intelligent woman who is also learning about soul cleansing. She is the sister of the aptly named Caesar, a well-off businessman and a law-and-order-cop who is a shameless capitalist and has no qualms about shooting people. Allan Louis as Caesar reminds us of every bad cop that we see on the news and he is effective in the role. In one of the highlights of the play, she renounces and denounces her brother. Sophia Walker does an excellent job as “Black” Mary.    

(l to r): Allan Louis as Caesar Wilks, Sophia Walker as Black Mary, 
Nathanael Judah as Citizen Barlow, Jeremiah Sparks as Eli and 
David Alan Anderson as Solly Two Kings (seated, foreground).Photo by Emily Cooper.
 Solly Two Kings, a friend of Ester, is a former slave who now collects dog feces used for tanning leather. He worked on the Underground Railroad helping slaves escape to Canada. He worked on the Underground Railroad with his friend Eli who is now taking care of Ester. They describe Canada as the promised land  for the escaped slaves where they were welcomed and treated with uncommon decency. David Alan Anderson plays Solly and Jeremiah Sparks plays Eli and they give us the essence of decent human beings living in an indecent world but maintaining their humanity.

Jason Cadieux plays Rutherford Selig, a friend of Ester’s and a pathetic peddler who sells pots and pans.

The set by Camellia Koo consists of a long table with ten chairs. There is no need for much more except for the cleansing ritual where lighting designed by Kevin Lamotte provides the background .

Kudos to Director Philip Akin for presenting a well-balanced, beautifully orchestrated production with a marvelous cast.

This is a multi-layered play that gives us the spiritual and “real” inheritance of people who lived through slavery and carry the accumulated memories of centuries. Barlow needs to expiate his sins and the anger of the people of over the drowning of an innocent man that  leads to the burning of the mill, the town’s main employer. “Civilization” needs to explain and expiate its commission of the greatest crime in history.

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Gem of the Ocean  by August Wilson continues until October 9, 2022, at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2022

THE MISER – REVIEW OF 2022 STRATFORD FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

The second batch of openings at the Stratford Festival has started with Moliere’s The Miser to be followed by Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Hamlet-911 and 1939.

Moliere’s play is set in 17th century Paris but the Festival is using Ranjit Bolt’s version which places it in modern England. This version was first produced in 1995 at the Chichester Festival Theatre.  Director Antoni Cimolino transfers it to Canada with glances at Americans in the audience by making numerous references to local places and people. Hounslow, England becomes Scarborough, Alan Clark becomes our Joe Clark (yes, Joe, who?), and Justin Bieber, Westmount, and the FBI for the Americans are thrown in. Making the play Canadian, even North American, is a wise and a well-executed choice obviating the necessity of searching for an English accent.

The Miser is a play about greed, of course, and the old plotline of young lovers impeded by the old, and clever servants who help love and marriage succeed is very much a part of it.  Bolt puts in his own twists to the plot but the essentials of Moliere’s play are there. Harper (Colm Feore) is a pathological miser who keeps his fortune at home because he does not trust banks. His greed has no bounds and the acquisition of more money is his passion.

From left: Lucy Peacock as Fay, Beck Lloyd as Marianne and 
Colm Feore as Harper. Photo by David Hou.

Here comes the next generation. His daughter Eleanor (Alexandra Lainfiesta) is in love with Victor, “the butler” (Jamie Mac). His social and financial position make him wildly unacceptable but he “saved” her life and is clever enough to hoodwink Harper into appointing him as Eleanor’s chaperon. As for a suitable husband for Eleanor, Harper has chosen one of the richest men in the country, the sixty-year-old Arthur Edgerton (David Collins).

Harper’s son Charlie (Qasim Khan) is in love with the impecunious Maryann and what is worse, Fay the matchmaker (Lucy Peacock) is trying to match Harper with her. The young have no money which is not unusual but they are desperate for the stuff and will do almost anything to acquire it. Greed seems to run in the blood. Harper has money but he is unwilling to part with of any of it. Stay tuned for the unravelling of the plot.

Much of the success of the production relies on Cimolino’s inventive directing and on Colm Feore’s performance as the miser. Cimolino shows his creativity and ability to elicit laughter and keep the audience entertained. For example, when Harper searches “the operator” Fletcher’s (Emilio Vieira)  pockets for  stolen money he reaches into his pants and …guess what he grabs? The streak of creativity and brilliance runs through the production.

Colm Feore shows remarkable comic talent. He is exceptionally fit and engages in physical comedy and makes a very funny miser. He dances enough to require a choreographer, Adrienne Gould! He brings the house down when he addresses the audience directly (with the house lights on) about the theft of his money. He improvises about thieves wearing masks just like people in the audience who are suspected of doing the heinous deed. Feore carries much of the evening and garners most of the laughter.

Lucy Peacock dressed in leather pants plays the inimitable and greedy matchmaker Fay. She needs money and she must convince Harper to marry the young Marianne (Beck Lloyd) because she just loves older men of his age. Peacock gives an energetic performance as she convinces the old fool to go after a young woman.

Alexandra Lainfiesta (left) as Eleanor and 
Jamie Mac as Victor. Photo by David Hou.
Th cook-cum-chauffer Jack (Ron Kennel) is the classic bright scoundrel who knows how to get around Harper. He is greatly attracted to the Detective (Steve Ross) and gets laughs that may be the invention of Cimolino. Kennell is a natural comic and can generate laughs with a simple glance.

The lovers have our full attention because, well, they are lovers and they need to find a way to outsmart and outmaneuver Harper. Eleanor must marry Victor and as fate would have it, we find out that his social and financial status are very high. Khan as Charlie is a nimble youth with a need for money that has no relationship to common sense. He goes to a loan shark through  Mr. Simon (Michaek Spencer-Davis) for a hilarious arrangement. But he loves the lovely Marianne who loves him too even though she is prepared to marry Harper.   

The set by Designer Julie Fox looks like an antique shop. Fox does not throw anything out.

A well done and highly enjoyable production of a new version of a classic.

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The Miser by Moliere in a new version by Ranjit Bolt opened on August 26, 2022, and will run in repertory until October 29, 2022, at the Festival Theatre as part of the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca

Jmes Karas is the Senior Edotor - Culture of The Greek Press

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

DEATH AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN - REVIEW OF 2022 STRATFORD FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas 

For the latter part of its season The Stratford Festival has chosen an extremely difficult but phenomenal play that is both timely and overdue. It is Death and the King’s Horseman by Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, and it receives exemplary treatment at the Tom Paterson Theatre.

Death and the Kings Horseman is a complex, poetic play based on a true story. The king of the Yoruba tribe, Nigeria, dies and his horseman, a high ranking official, must commit suicide in order to help his former employer in the next world. This is an entrenched, venerable, highly honourable and honoured tradition that brooks no argument. It is part of the lifeblood of the Yoruba people.

Soyinka has dramatized the incident that occurred in the 1940s, transposed it to the time of World War II and put his stamp on it. Elesin, the Horseman to the King, is preparing to die but goes to the boisterous marketplace for the last time. The Praise Singer questions the Horseman who plans to end his life but also wants to enjoy his last night on earth with a woman that is not his wife.

Anthony Santiago (foreground) as Elesin with (from left) 
Ijeoma Emesowum as Ariyike, Celia Aloma as Olabisi, 
Akosua Amo-Adem as Iyaloja, and Espoir Segbeaya as Wuraola 
in Death and the King's Horseman. Stratford Festival 2022.
Photo by David Hou.

The first scene lasts about 40 minutes of the recitation of poetry by Elesin, boisterous antiphonal exchanges with a chorus of seven women and a chorus of seven men as well as exchanges with the Praise Singer. Much of the scene consists of recitation of poetry with rich language and complex images that would be difficult to understand and appreciate fully. But the production gave us an added problem Much if not most of what was said was incomprehensible.

The Yoruba patois of which most of the audience was unaware was difficult to decipher. At first, I thought of this as unacceptable, but the program informs us that the production has a Yoruba Dialect Coach (Wole Oguntokun). The meaning of the exchanges was fairly clear even if the words were not all understood and Soyinka and director Tawiah M’Carthy clearly intended us to hear the text in its authentic cadences.

In the early 1940s, the time of the play, Yoruba a was a British colony and Simon Pilkings (Graham Abbey) was the District Officer. He is a classic example of an imperial overlord. arrogant, bigoted to the point of being unable to consider the natives as people let alone appreciate their culture. He and his wife wear a native costume that is offensive, but they refuse to remove it because they want to win a prize at a costume ball. But he will not permit Elesin to die because he considers it barbaric. 

The District Officer has Elesin arrested and with an obtuseness that will not allow any argument he does not permit Elesin to fulfil his pr-ordained and honourable duty, his death, an act that has significance far deeper that the Englishman can even begin to understand.

I will not disclose the tragic end of the play in the belief that most people may not know it.

The performances elicited by director M’Carthy are models of superb acting in exceedingly difficult roles. Anthony Santiago as Elesin, the King’s Horseman recites the sometimes tortuously difficult poetry and can project the man of honour, the man who wants to enjoy his last hours on earth and the tortured being who may be denied his ultimate duty as a human being. His performance is superb for the depths of feeling that he displays and the many challenges that he faces.

Amaka Umeh is the lithe Praise Singer who displays vocal and physical agility giving a simply outstanding performance Akosua Amo-Adem plays Iyaloja, Mother of the Market. She is the leader of the seven women who react to Elesin’s poetic recitation and are involved in the rest of the play. One cannot praise her enough for the forcefulness of her acting, her humanity and utterly memorable performance.

Graham Abbey gives a superior performance as the District Officer as does Maev Beaty as his wife Jane, who is a more sympathetic person towards the natives than him.


Maev Beaty (left) as Jane Pilkings and Graham Abbey 
as Simon Pilkings. Photo by David Hou.
There is a riveting scene between Elesin, representing the deeply rooted ethos of the Yoruba and the representatives of supposed civilized ideas of the English who are slaughtering people and being slaughtered in the war in Europe while showing utter ignorance of the convictions and traditions of their conquered subjects.

Rachel Forbes’ set shows the marketplace in the first scene and then switches to a balcony for the finely attired colonial masters including the visiting English Prince. They are having a costume ball and are almost impervious to the actions of the natives, including possibly a riot. The final scene takes place in a holding cell where Elesin is held to prevent him from fulfilling his life’s work.

This is theatre at its best and is worth seeing more than once. I hope the production will be videotaped for watching again in the near future.

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Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka opened on August 27, 2022, and will run until October 29, 2022, at the Tom Patterson Theatre as part of the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca

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