Friday, December 30, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The energetic and only-one-of-its-kind-in-Canada Toronto Operetta Theatre is never far from one of the best operettas ever composed – Die Fledermaus. This year marks its 6th production of Johann Strauss’s masterpiece since the founding of the company is 1985.

The current offering is a reprise of previous productions directed by the inimitable  Guillermo Silva-Marin and conducted by Derek Bate and it has many features that make it worthwhile seeing- if you can get a ticket. Most people know what Die Fledermaus is all about but a few facts may refresh your memory. We are in the house of the well-off Viennese businessman Gabriel Eisenstein (Keith Klassen). He has to spend a few nights in jail but he also wants to go to a grand costume party thrown by the wealthy Prince Orlofsky (Gregory Finney). His lovely wife Rosalinda (Kirsten Leblanc) wants to go to the party and so does their maid Adele (Andrea Nunez).

Eisenstein’s friend Falke (Colin MacKay) goes to the party but, as The Bat, he has a score to settle with Gabriel. Add Alfred (Scott Rumble), an Italian tenor in lust with Rosalinda who is taken to prison as if he were Gabriel and you have a fine mess to unravel. 

Andrea Nunez as Adele and Gregory Finney as Orlofsky
Photo: Gary Beechey

Silva-Marin shamelessly tinkers with the plot for laughs. When Alfred recollects singing to Rosalinda wonderful love arias it was done in Mississauga. Throw in presidents who go to jail and mention Mara-a-Lago and you get the laughs. Strauss’s effervescent music does the rest.

There is some fine singing especially by Nunez as the maid. She has a lovely bell-like voice and fine stage presence. LeBlanc has a big, brilliant voice but its size works against her because she tends to overwhelm the other singers in her duets and trios. She needs to reduce her volume and let the other singers be heard.

Finney sings melodiously as Orlofsky and has a sense of humour. Silva-Marin steals the show in the final scene in the operetta which takes place in the jail. As Frosch the Jailer he holds the mistakenly imprisoned tenor, Alfred. The latter gives Frosch singing lessons with the primary advice being to hold a dime between his “cheeks” while singing. Silva-Marin still has a few high notes left in him and he can provoke much laughter.

Klassen as Gabriel was not at his best in the performance that I saw. His voice appeared small and he was out-sung by his colleagues. The rest of the cast is mostly competent with some variations in quality.

Scott Rumble as Alfred and Kirsten LeBlanc as Rosalinda
Photo: Gaer Beechey

The chorus sang beautifully but when called upon to do a few steps of a waltz, which they did,  by shifting their weight from one foot to the next. They should have been taught how to do a couple of one-two-three spins that looked as if they were waltzing.    

Conductor Derek Bate has only nine musicians and slightly more choir singers but he brings energy to the effervescent music and beauty to the ensemble singing.

Silva-Marin and the TOT work with at least one hand tied behind their back. The Jane Mallett Theatre has little to recommend it except that it is there. It has no orchestra pit and the musicians are simply lined up in front of the stage. The sets are almost non-existent and the costumes are decent but nothing special.

It is all a matter of funding and unfortunately the only operetta company in the country survives by what it can get from donors and whatever grants come from the three levels of government. It is a sad situation. They deserve solid funding for more first-rate singers, designers, artistic staff and a bigger orchestra and chorus and more productions.    


Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss is performed three times on  December 28, 30 and 31 2022 at the Jane Mallett, Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario.


Thursday, December 22, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is an early work by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice that has been on stage for about 50 years after a gestation period that started in 1968. According to Lloyd Webber’s company Really Useful Group the musical had been staged some 20,000 times by amateurs until 2008 alone. It has received numerous professional productions as well and one wonders if there is anyone left who has not seen it. The current revival at the Princess of Wales Theatre follows the 1992 production in Toronto and judging by the packed theatre there may be many Torontonians who have not seen it.

There was a significant number of young people in the theatre and at times it felt as if they were attending rock concert where enthusiasm and boisterous reaction to whatever was happening on stage was de rigueur.

Joseph tells the Biblical story from Genesis of Jacob’s youngest and favourite son. Joseph’s eleven brothers are jealous of him and get rid of him by selling him as a slave while telling their father that he was killed. Joseph ends up in Egypt where he does not have a good time until he interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams and becomes successful. His brothers do not do well and go to Egypt in search of food. The brothers meet and the musical has a happy ending.

The company of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. 
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Lloyd Webber and Rice have crafted a written-through musical based on the story using a Narrator (Vanessa Fisher) and, according to the program, 27 other characters and 16 children. That provides a lot of vocal power matched with lively music and high volumes that propel the musical through about two hours of almost relentless motion. There are variations in momentum but I think Joseph relies mostly on propulsion that keeps the audience in thrall to the music and singing.

After the lively prologue by the marvellous Vanessa Fisher as the Narrator and the lovely “Any Dream Will Do” sung by the fine-voiced Jac Yarrow and the children, the show picks up momentum with “Jacob and Sons” sung by the Narrator, Joseph’s brothers and their wives. It is followed with rousing verve by “Joseph’s Coat” and then the more sedate “Joseph’s Dream.”

A camel (on a bicycle) rolls by and Joseph is sold to slavery during several songs with variable tempos culminating in a raucous song and dance as the brothers celebrate the disappearance of Joseph.

The pace slows down when Joseph is thrown in jail, and he sings “Close Every Door” with the children. The mood and the pace pick up in “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” where he comes up as prophetic dream interpreter and we feel we are in a crazy rock concert. Lights flashing in a kaleidoscope of colours, vehement movement and excitement reaching a pitch. End of Act I.

Tosh Wanogho-Maud (Pharaoh) and the compnay. 
Photo: Cylla von Tiedeman
We then meet the Pharaoh (Tosh Wanogho-Maud). Even slow-paced songs end up on a serious crescendo. There is little emotional rest allowed for the audience in this show. The Pharaoh thinks he is a rock star as he grabs a microphone and raises the stakes, the speed and the volume as he sings with the ensemble. The audience goes crazy.

We slow down to see Jacob and his sons who are not having a good time. But not for long. We are given an opportunity to hear Yarrow’s fine voice until we reach the splendid finale with the ensemble and the children singing with Joseph and the Narrator and the energy and excitement generated are immense. 

The show is over but there is a postscript, a “megamix” where the full company joins in singing tunes from the show with extraordinary vigour and enthusiasm and the audience simply loves it.

The show relies heavily on the varied lighting designed by Bev Cracknell that enhance the singing and excitement significantly. The choreography by Joann M. Hunter adds to the momentum and Morgan Large’s set and costume design are rich and varied without any attempt or pretence to realistic biblical views.

Laurence Connor keeps a tight control on pace and momentum and the show is propelled to its dazzling end and a standing ovation.


Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat by Tim Rice (lyrics) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (Music) continues until February 18, 2023 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario.


Tuesday, December 20, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

As sure as Jacob Marley is dead, Campbell House is not a theatre. City of Toronto Records,  countless lawyers who occupied the place as a club and visitors to its current use as a museum, will attest that there is no doubt that Campbell House in the 200 years since it was constructed has not been and is not a theatre.

But the Three Ships Collective, supported by Soup Can Theatre, have disregarded all historical records and irrefutable knowledge by staging Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol in Campbell House again and again.

If you can get a ticket, you will have given yourself the perfect Christmas present.

This is a mobile production in which the audience of about 30 people moves from room to room in the House to watch different parts of the marvellous performance. We start in a room in the basement where there are seats for all the audience and we meet the ghost of Jacob Marley who will act as our host and guide to the rooms of the House where parts of the play will be performed.   

Photo: Laura Dittmann  

He introduces the mean-spirited and hateful Scrooge (acted by Thomas Gough in a powerful performance) as the skinflint miser who mistreats his faithful employee Bob Cratchit and is ready to evict people on Christmas day.

Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Christopher Lucas) drops by to wish his uncle Merry Christmas and invite him for dinner. He is given short and unpleasant shrift. A couple of gentlemen played by Jim Armstrong and Kat Letwin, come to Scrooge’s office collecting money for the less fortunate and he throws them out unceremoniously.

The very polite Marley leads us to another room in the House where we stand against a wall and Marley gives Scrooge the lowdown about the visitors that he is about to get. We know that there are three: The Spirit of Christmases past (Cihang Ma), the Spirit Christmas Present (Kat Letwin) and the one of Christmases Yet to Come (Melissa McGoogan).

We are taken to different rooms and visit Scrooge’s childhood, see him as a young man in love who turns greedy after the death of his wonderful employer, Mr Fezziwig (Jim Armstrong).

Photo: Laura Dittmann

Marley leads us to the entrance hall of the house, to a room on the second floor, followed by a bedroom. We visit the Cratchit family twice. Once when they are poor but happy and again in the end when they are on the verge of catastrophe but are saved but Scrooge’s transformation and generosity.

All the rooms are almost without furniture except for a few chairs in some of them. This is mobile theatre.

There is a violinist, (Cihang Ma) who plays pieces by Pratik Gandhi and we hear a rousing rendition of “Here We Stand A-Caroling) with Lyrics by Justin Haigh and music arranged by Pratik Gandhi

Dickens’ story has been adopted for performance by Justin Haigh. He is faithful to the story with the necessary changes needed for this production. It works very well. He is also an assistant director.

Sare Thorpe directs and co-produces with Haigh and their efforts provide a delightful and completely unexpected version of A Christmas Carol in a most unusual setting.

The movable settings to different rooms of Campbell House where for most of the time the audience stands in a small crowd provide an intimacy that is almost impossible to imagine in a larger theatre. The cast of a dozen actors most of who take on two or more roles seamlessly give outstanding performances. They are a joy  to watch at a short distance from us in a show that is simply magical, non-gimmicky and a resounding credit to the director and the actors.

It is 85 minutes of phantastic theatre in an unorthodox setting that works perfectly. 

Merry Christmas.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Justin Haigh in a production by  Three Ships Collective with the support of  Soup Can Theatre, continues until December 23, 2022  at Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario, M5H 3H3, 

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

Monday, December 12, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The fishermen of the title are a group of men from Cornwall who were in fact mostly fishermen and enjoyed singing in the the pub in the village of Port Isaac in southwest England. They were noticed by an ambitious music agent from London who undertook the highly unlikely task of promoting the men and some women into a successful singing group. Their story is the stuff of The Fisherman’s Friends, an entertaining musical now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto.

After some inevitable hiccups (they make up the plot of the musical), the singing fishermen   made a recording in 2010 that hit the charts and a movie of their success was made in 2019. It has been followed by an adaptation for the stage that opened in Cornwall in October 2021. The North American tour of the musical with the original United Kingdom cast has had its premiere in Toronto.

It is a a boisterous, energetic and at times powerful musical made up mostly of the singing of traditional sailors’ songs, many of ancient lineage, known as shanties. The plot follows the frantic efforts of the music agent Danny (Jason Langley) to get a recording contract for the group, the saving of the pub where they sing from being sold to an investor and a love interest between Danny and Alwyn (Parisa Shahmir).

Full Company - Photographer: Pamela Raith

I have had no exposure to sea shanties and I enjoyed most of them but there are about thirty of them in the musical leaving very little room for the subplots. The shanties have simple, in-your-face melodies and often repetitive lyrics that would be perfect for singing in a pub especially after downing several pints of ale.

The musical opens with “Nelson’s Blood” a muscular shanty about having a drop of the great admiral’s blood not doing them any harm.  “Pay Me My Money Down” or “I go to jail” is similar with numerous repetitions but you take it for what it is – an old folk song sung by simple fishermen in a pub in a seaside village.

The flaky Danny (who sings well) has a crush on  the daughter of Jim (James Gaddas) the gruff, no-nonsense member of the group who does not approve of the relationship. Danny develops as a character and as a music agent and Alwyn stands her ground against her father’s objections and the relationship becomes real love!

The pub is owned by Rowan (Dan Buckley) and Ann (Mel Biggs and Hazel Askew) and it is not doing well. And when the members of the group hear that the owners have sold the pub to an investor, they become understandably furious but even that has a happy ending. The pub is purchased and saved by Danny.

After some understandable and inevitable problems, the singers get a highly lucrative recording contract and are invited to sing at the legendary Glastonbury festival.

Parisa Sharmir, Jason Langley and full Company - 
Photographer: Pamela Raith

The fishermen sang a cappella in the pub but musicians are added for the musical and they (the musicians) are on stage. That may take away from the authenticity of the usual performance in the pub but without instrumentalists our patience may been tested to its breaking point.

The opening scene shows fishing boats bouncing on the waves of the sea on a windy and foggy night. Very effective.  Lucy Osborne’s set  for the pub is a multi-story structure that is quite superb. Most of the action takes place in the pub.

The book for the stage musical is by Amanda Wittington based on the movie screenplay by Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth. The plot has humour and drama but it is of limited duration and therefore development.

Director James Grieve handles the whole thing with aplomb along with choreographer Matt Cole.

My introduction to shanties may have been too much of a good thing and the plot not enough. That’s probably just me. The audience reacted enthusiastically throughout the performance and gave the show a standing ovation.  


Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical with music as performed by the group Fisherman’s Friends continues until January 15, 2023, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.

Monday, December 5, 2022


 Reviewed by James Karas 

It was a dark and stormy night, sometime in the past, perhaps the 1950’s, in an isolated cottage with no telephone. It is a former family home and a smartly dressed woman arrives with her brother. She is waiting for her husband but he never comes. Her brother has psychological or mental issues or both and the siblings have distant bad memories of their dysfunctional family.

A handyman arrives as does her former boyfriend who happens to be in the neighborhood, accompanied by his girlfriend, maybe fiancée. There are birds attacking people and the menace they pose will be apparent intermittently throughout the play. These birds are vicious people-killers and they strike terror in the house. They may strike at any moment from any direction. By the end of the play three of the five characters will be dead. Who did it? This is a serious mystery.

That is a barebones summary of Emily Dix’s The Birds now playing at Hart Hose Theatre in a production by Bygone Theatre. The play is based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 horror story and was the basis of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie. This information is not mentioned in the programme but it is available on the Hart House Theatre website.

Anna Douglas, Chad Allen, Daid Harper, Oliver Georgiou and 
Kiera Publicover. Photo: Emily Dix 

When I first saw the title of the play, I thought we would be treated to a synonymous work by Aristophanes. A book by Aristophanes was on the bookshelf but this play has nothing to do with the Ancient Greek.

Now for the people in the house on the dark and stormy night. Daphne Daniels - Mrs. Daniels, she tells us - (Anna Douglas) has a loose tongue, argues with her brother about childhood and parental issues and she reveals that her brother has serious issues but we are never quite clear about what is wrong with him. As she enters the house, there is a radio on, blaring with static and all I wanted to do was scream “turn the damn thing off.” She did but not at my behest.      

Her brother Alex (David Harper) had a bad experience with a young friend but we do not find much more about him  except that he has a few loose screws.     

Mitch (Oliver Georgiou), Daphne’s former lover, is a jerk. He arrives with the hapless Annie Hawthorne (Kiera Publicover) and has a ring to give her or is the ring intended for Daphne? On the aforementioned night, Daphne’s marital vows and the imminent arrival of her husband are swept aside and she and Mitch “make up” or is it “make out.”  

Plot development. Hank (Chad Allen), the handyman, drops dead outside a window and we presume he is done in by the birds. He is just a handyman and is left there and not heard of again. Annie has an accident off stage while in the attic and is taken to a room in the house and not seen again. But she is found dead. Cause of death? You may guess if you want.

In the meantime, Mitch the jerk has reformed his asinine character and that is sufficient to win over Daphne as mentioned above.

There is a problem with the performance that is not all the fault of the actors. The acoustics of Hart House Theatre are such that they swallow conversations or at least words. You prick up you ears, of course, but there are words that you do not hear and they may be crucial ones. In a murder mystery you cannot afford not to hear everything. I did not hear everything of The Birds.

The actors do their duty and deliver their dreary lines on cue without any help from the acoustics. Emily Dix also directs. The birds may be in the title but there is not much you can do to show them. If they are meant to strike terror in the audience, they were not very effective.

The brightly lit kitchen and living room designed by Wes Babcock became dark only for a while when there was a power failure. Were the wires chewed by the birds and then somehow repaired? Perhaps Edward Bulwer-Lytton's entire phrase is not applicable to this play.

In any event, the play does conclude and the mystery is solved, I think. But the play does need some more work.


The Birds by Emily Dix, in a production by Bygone Theatre, continues until December 10, 2022, at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, Ont. or

Thursday, December 1, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

The Shaw Festival has wisely chosen Irving Berlin’s White Christmas for its holiday season together with A Christmas Carol. It is based on the classic 1954 movie with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and I have no intention of comparing the stage version with the film. Suffice it to say that it took 56 years before the movie was adapted for the stage with book by David Ives and Paul Blake, not the same as the screenwriters.

The script is pure, imaginary Eisenhower era Americana. It is sentimental, feel-good and perfect for the season when reality may be pushed back. A song-and dance duo made up of a private and a captain in the American army in Europe in 1944 sing of their love for their general and of the longing for home. It is Christmas Eve and they are dreaming of a white Christmas just like the one they used to know. Their dream becomes our dream no matter how far-fetched it may seem.      

Ten years later Bob Wallace (Jeff Irving), the former captain and Phil Davis (Kevin McLachlan) are successful entertainers and they meet the “sisters” of a former army buddy. They are the singing Haynes Sisters, Judy (Mary Antonini) and Betty (Alexis Gordon).  The puritanical Bob is not interested in women but the romantic Phil falls for Betty. Now get ready for boy meets girl and with more than two hours to go the boys lose the girls and, you guessed it, there is a happy ending.

Jeff Irving, Alexis Gordon, Mary Antonini and Kevin McLachlan with the cast 
of White Christmas (Shaw Festival, 2022). Photo by David Cooper

The other plot strand is Bob and Phil’s attempt to help the former general out of his financial depression by organizing a show in the barn of his bankrupt inn in Vermont. Yes, it sounds hokey but Irving Berlin’s songs, a good dose of humour, some marvelous tap dances and love keep the show moving and draw our attention away from the not-that-great plot.

The musical comes from the era when songs had melodies and were a delight to the ear. Betty and Judy sing “Sisters”, Bob and Betty sing “Count Your Blessings” and all of them sing “Blue Skies.” We all join in singing “White Christmas.” The singing ranges from creditable to very good and the dancing choreographed by Allison Plamondon is superb.

Some of the humour may appear dated, some of it is very funny and the enthusiastic opening night audience lapped it all up.   

The American army and officer corps was all-white in 1944 (yes, there may have been exceptions) and the current production draws us away from that by using colour-blind casting. It’s nice to see a black General Waverly (a very good David Alan Anderson) and others on the stage and ignore what was happening in 1944 and 1954.

The cast of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (Shaw Festival, 2022).
Photo by David Cooper.

The costumes by Judith Bowden were beautiful 50’s styles and the set by her showed some cost-cutting necessities and were adequate at best. In the final scene the entire regiment is supposed to have shown up at the General’s Vermont Inn for the show. And they were supposed to be in uniform. Only three soldiers showed up in uniform and we can ascribe that not to unpatriotic conduct by the soldiers who love their general but  by the Shaw Festival’s accountant who, I guess on no evidence at all, figured out the cost of making many uniforms and limited the expenditure to only three.

Paul Sportelli conducted the orchestra and Kate Hennig directed the production. Applaud everyone and remember that it snowed in Vermont at the right time, the general’s failing inn was saved, Bob and Phil and Betty and Judy found happiness and you got to sing “White Christmas” lustily and no doubt off key.   


White Christmas  by Irving Berlin (words and music), David Ives and Paul Blake (book)  continues until December 23, 2022, at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2022


Reviewd by James Karas

Something astounding, unprecedent and almost earth-shaking took place in London, England in 1833. A black American actor played Othello at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. The actor was Ira Aldridge and the reaction came from theatre people, theatre owners  and critics. That is what Lolita Chakrabarti’s play Red Velvet is about and it is a dramatic and shocking portrayal of vicious racism against a great actor in a great role. 

In 1833 the great Edmund Kean collapsed on the stage of the Theatre Royal  while playing Othello. Ira Aldridge, a black American actor, I repeat, went on stage, replacing Kean. As acted by Allan Louis in Red Velvet, he was man of impressive stature with a magnificent and melodious voice able to make an astounding Othello. On stage Louis becomes Aldridge so completely that I saw only Aldridge, But in 1833 Aldridge the black actor faced the brutal racism of some actors, theatre owners and critics as well as the unhindered hatred and opposition to him.

Chakrabarti brings the contemporary hot issue of the abolition of slavery that was considered with disgust by some while others tried to point out some facts about the institution.

We meet the cast of Othello and Charles Kean, the son of Edmund  (played superbly by Jeff Lillico), goes ballistic at the thought of a Negro replacing his father. He speaks stentoriously and mockingly about Aldridge and his acting style. Charles represents racism in its ultimate savageness and ferocity. But he is not alone.

Patrick McManus, Jeff Lillico, Ellen Denny, Nathan Howe, 
Amelia Sargisson. Photo: John Lauener 

Aldridge and Ellen Tree (Ellen Denny) enact two scenes from Othello including the one  where the Moor demands the handkerchief from Desdemona. Aldridge shows the fury of the jealous Othello who is descending into the madness that will lead him to kill his wife. But the black man is touching a white actress. Some of the actors meet the image with revulsion. No one objects to the black servant Connie (Starr Domingue) who serves them tea. 

Denny gives a nuanced performance as Ellen Tree and as Desdemona and she is attracted by Aldridge’s’ forcefulness and display of virility both as Othello and as a person.

The performances received wild ovations from a full theatre but  the racist screeches reached an apogee when the newspaper critics spoke. They were expressions of brutal racism with comments about Aldridge’s thick lips, his pronunciation, and his invasion of the English stage until recently occupied by a great actor like Kean.  Pierre Laporte (Kyle Blair), the manager who is a decent man and a friend of Aldridge’s is pressured by the theatre owners to close the theatre. He does after only two performances. Blair gives a powerful performance as he tries to argue that Aldridge’s style of naturalistic acting may be the problem and the actor needs to tone down his forcefulness in the role. It sounds like an eager rationalization of an act that is based purely on bigotry and has nothing to do with Aldridge’s style of acting.

Aldridge had all but disappeared from the history of English and American theatre until Chakrabarti “discovered” him after assiduous research. Her play begins in Poland in 1867, where Aldridge is an old man enjoying a rewarding and marvelous career in Europe  In the opening scene Aldridge is preparing preparing to play King Lear in Lodz. It then flashes back to Covent Garden in London in 1833. The final scene takes place in Poland where, near the end of his career,  Aldridge is putting on white makeup on his face as he prepares to play King Lear. How is that for biting irony?

Allan Louis and Ellen Denny. Photo: Lohm Lauener

The play points out that Aldridge, in addition to acting extensively, received a knighthood from a German Duke and was honoured by the Emperor of Austria and the Tsar of Russia.

The play does have some creaky parts especially the opening scene in Poland. We meet Halina (Amelia Sargisson who also plays the actress Betty Lovell and Aldridge’s wife (Margaret), a young Polish reporter, and Casimir (Nathan Howe), speaking German. I found this unnecessary and annoying.

The performances of the cast in general are excellent and the those of Louis, Denny, Lillico and Blair are superb.    

The set and props by Julie Fox represent an actor’s  dressing room and the back of the stage where Aldridge is playing. Cherissa Richards’ direction is exemplary leaving us with a splendid production of a stunning play.

Why is Chris Abraham, the Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre  not producing Othello? In Allan Louis, he has a magnificent Othello and wonderful actors for the other roles. If Soulpepper can do King Lear and Lear’s Daughter back-to-back, Crow’s can do an even better pair by offering Othello and Red Velvet.


Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti will run until December 18, 2022, at Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1.

Thursday, November 24, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Ronnie Burnett is not only a master puppeteer, but he is also a master entertainer. He has been in the wilderness for three years, he tells us, and he is back with Little Dickens in Toronto. That suggests A Christmas Carol, of course, but it is as far as you can get from the original and be on the same planet. Burkett wants to make us laugh and entertain us and he does not hesitate to get raunchy – really raunchy – unorthodox, imaginative and, well, a hilarious entertainer. 

Little Dickens starts with strip tease and a song, Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney,” and as you may imagine, it is not appropriate for a grade school production of A Christmas Carol. In fact, Burkett judiciously asks evangelicals to leave the theatre and some of his comments cannot be printed in general circulation media. Yes, the show is intended for adults only and children under 16 are verboten in the theatre.


The show has characters like Schnitzel, Edna Rural and Esmé. The latter is a drunk, washed-out actor who will meet the three Ghosts of Dickens’ novella. But don’t be in any hurry because Burkett has other things to do. We, and I do mean all the audience, will sing Christmas carols, badly, and hear some songs as well and we will laugh because nothing happens on stage or in the audience that Burkett does not interrupt and make it hilarious.

Burkett is a master of using the audience to generate laughter. He took three members of the audience at random (we assume) and used them good naturedly to generate laughs. He could do almost anything and the audience just loved it. A man taken on stage from the audience was asked to remove his shirt. He did and made us laugh. A young man and a woman went on stage and Burkett made us laugh with very little stage business with  them.

We did get to parts of A Christmas Carol but they were parodies beyond recognition. Burkett can come up with pithy comments that are no doubt well-thought out but makes it look as if they just sprang up at the spur of the moment.  He handles numerous marionettes with complete control and mastery. He makes “mistakes” but I think everything is planned and rehearsed. We see him above the stage handling the marionettes and talking all the time, commenting on and engaging us and generating laughter during our rendition of Deck the Halls.

Did I say he is a master puppeteer and entertainer? Did I say you should give yourself a Christmas present and see Little Dickens?

The show is a production of Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes and is presented by Canadian Stage.


Little Dickens by Ronnie Burkett continues until December 18, 2022, at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

Our Place is the ironic title of a new play by Kanika Ambrose, now playing at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. It tells the dramatic, funny and moving story of two undocumented Caribbean migrants in Canada who fight to survive and maintain their humour and humanity. It is superb theatre.

Playwright Kanika Ambrose’s play has four characters and is set in a Caribbean food restaurant in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. Andrea (Virgilia Griffith) and Niesha (Sophia Walker) work for the unseen owner Yvonne and of necessity are paid under the table. They live under the Sword of Damocles which may fall on them at any time if the police find out their status and deport them. 

Andrea is an attractive, fun-loving woman with a lissome body who loves dancing but is not too crazy about working. She has a relationship with Malcolm (Tremaine Nelson), a fun-loving young man who is averse to serious relationships and to providing information about himself.

Niesha is a hard worker who has children “back home” and struggles to support them. Both women come from fictitious Caribbean islands. She is a tragic figure who eschews passing relationships until she meets the charming and manipulative Eldrick (Pablo Ogunlesi). He goes to the restaurant where she works and slowly weasels his way into her life and offers her a way out. He will marry her because he loves her and she will become a legal immigrant. This would involve some expenses that she will have to defray but, he insists, he loves her.

Virgilia Griffith and Sophia Walker. Photo: Gesilayefa Azorbo

Both women look for a refuge, for a place they can call their own. Malcolm, the shallow fun-seeker, can offer nothing more than a casual sexual relationship. Andrea’s fate is devastating.

Niesha’s relationship with Eldrick is developed more slowly as we see a decent woman manipulated into giving all her money and borrowing even more to Eldrick who will use his connections to legitimize her status by marrying her. The final scene takes place in a hotel room after their wedding. Eldrick wants to have sex with his bride. Niesha has finally grasped her fate completely. She tries desperately to delay or avoid having sex with Eldrick. In a heart-wrenching moment, she calls her children in the Caribbean and tells them she loves them. She must make the ultimate choice. I will not disclose it.

The play has a split set in the small theatre. The restaurant with the chairs and tables and a view of the kitchen is the main set.  On the side, there is a large bed representing a bedroom or a hotel room. Kudos to Sim Suzer for designing the set and costumes.

The acting is superb. Nelson does fine work as the fun-loving Malcolm. Griffith as Andrea and the choreographer of the production does superb and provocative dances and maintains a sunny view of life despite the ugly reality that threatens to destroy her.

Ogunlesi’s Eldrick is a subtle, patient, manipulative man who sees his prey Niesha and makes her fall in love with him and then springs his trap on her. She trusts him completely in the beginning and his protestations of love start to sound hollow. A marvelous performance by Ogunlesi. 

                               Pablo Ogunlesi and Sophia Walker. Photo: Gesilayefa Azorbo
Sophia Walker’s performance as Niesha is stunning. We see Niesha as a hard worker, calculating her pennies for her survival and the care of her children. Her relationship with the decent-looking Eldrick develops into love until he starts asking for some money to pay for expenses like the wedding. The truth of his intentions strikes her after the wedding when in her wedding gown in the hotel room, she has to face her horrifying situation.          

All the characters speak in a thick and often incomprehensible Caribbean accent. Director Sabryn Rock who does an excellent job in directing the entire play makes sure that the actors maintain the accent throughout. She also understands that many of us may not be able to follow all that is said and she provides us with surtitles. They helped but I found myself at times trying to read the surtitles instead of following the action. To the credit of the actors, the emotional range of the pay was delivered so missing a few words did not affect the power of the play.

A view of the lives of people that are open to exploitation and living under the fear of deportation is a reality that many  people prefer to ignore. Our Place tells us that we should not. But I do need more exposure to their accent so I will not have to read the surtitles.

Stunning theatre.


Our Place by Kanika Ambrose in a production cy Cahoots Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille will run until December 3, 2022 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

A new play by Hannah Moscovitch is something to anticipate and cheer about. Post-Democracy, now playing at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, has a lot to cheer about but it is also a short play (one  hour) that hits you over the head and sends you home. 

In a program note, Moscovitch tells us that Pot-Democracy is about “the 1% who hold and exert power in our culture.” Most of us have heard and know of them without having any contact with any of them but Moscovitch “hung around”  them in her 20s.

The title tells us that democracy is finished and after its demise the world will be or is run by and for the benefit of the super wealthy. That may have been true for some time and the dictum that the United Sates has the best Congress that money can buy is indisputable.

The 1% in Post Democracy is represented by a family that runs a large publicly-traded company. Bill (Diego Matamoros) is the Chief Executive Officer and his fifth cousin Lee (Jesse LaVercombe) is the Chief Operating Officer. Bill’s adopted daughter Justine (Chantelle Han) is the Chief Financial Officer who is also seriously involved in philanthropy in Africa, travelling in her private jet.

Jesse LaVercombe and Diego Matamoros. Photo: Mike Meehan 

That’s the situation but now we need conflict, tension and plot development. Bill is looking at his cellphone while shuffling his feet around the stage. We will later find out that he is suffering from cancer and he wants to appoint Lee as a temporary CEO. They are in South America to purchase a company that they consider essential for the success of their own corporation. There are some problems. Lee is a sexual predator and he has sex with an underage girl in the hotel where they are staying and trying to close the deal. The young  girl was sent to his hotel room as a gift by the company they want to purchase. It is a grotesque encounter.

There is a culture of sexual impropriety in the company and Bill warns Lee to stay away from from Shannon (Rachel Cairns), the attractive human relations manager who is with them. Bill may be bothered by the animalistic behaviour of Lee and the stories of sexual impropriety in the company but his main interest is keeping it under tabs using non-disclosure agreements with the victims and keeping the news away from the press. The acquisition of the South American company is most important.

Shannon had a troubled childhood and was sexually abused by her stepfather. She engages in a lengthy, enthusiastic and graphic sexual scene with Lee. The moral code of Bill’s company is somewhere between the gutter and the sewer.

Justine does claim to have a moral compass even if she is in her private jet caring about abused girls and she does demand that her father fire Lee.

Rachel Cairns and Jesse LaVercombe. Photo: Mike Meehan

We hear enough and may think we know the conduct of some of the creeps from the 1% sliver of the population but Moscovitch paints them with a quick and broad brush without much detail. She gives herself only one hour and that may not be enough time to produce much more than stereotypes. Lee is a heavy-drinking, swaggering monster who rationalizes that these people (the girls) are paid for what they do, that they have no opportunities and there are millions of prostitutes in the world. He did notice the blood on the girl after their encounter but his morality registered nothing because he has no morality to move the needle. LaVercombe does superb work as the cool. ambitious businessperson and sexual pig. The girl was sent to Bill’s room but he refused her. Was it because of his moral code or because he was contemplating his mortality after the diagnosis of cancer? He does almost nothing about his company’s lax sexual conduct code.

The money and power attached to the purchase of the South American corporation wash away all moral compunctions. Justine’s moral concerns are assuaged in a way that becomes someone in the 1% and you may want to find out about it when you see the play. Han gives a powerful performance.

The set by Teresa Przybylski is an aggressively white room with a red sofa and a portable bar. The bar is needed for Lee and Shannon to drink until they become roaringly drunk. The large red couch can be used for many things. Excellent and economic design.

Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu keeps a brisk pace as we go through the confrontations among the characters. Moscovitch goes for the jugular and Otu follows suit. I would have preferred a more deliberate pace and a more substantial script to represent the rulers of our post-democracy world but Moscovitch does deliver the punches.


Post-Democracy by Hannah Moscovitch continues until December 4, 2022, at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

Thursday, November 17, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

Narcissistic megalomaniacs have no doubt existed since time immemorial but there are so many around us now that it seems that there is a pandemic of them on top of COVID-19. They are obscenely rich, of course, but they want to be richer. They have power but they want more power with which to control everyone around them and beyond. Think of a few political figures such as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin Jair Bolsonaro and the numerous tinpot dictators and you get a taste of them in the political sphere. In business, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bernie Madoff and Jeffrey Epstein, men who want(ed) to have the “most”, who want to be the “first” and when they reach those goals they want(ed) “more”. That is just a small sampling.

Henrik Ibsen took on greed and megalomania and its destructive effects in his 1896 play John Gabriel Borkman. Borkman’s megalomania is so overwhelming that it leaves no room for consideration of investors, people, friends, family and love. His relentless desire to acquire money and power endows him with moral and legal blindness that leads him to destroy everyone around him and in the end be convicted of fraud and imprisoned.  

 Simon Russell Beale and Lia Williams. Photo by Manuel Harlan. 

The production of John Gabriel Borkman at the Bridge Theatre in London in a new version by Lucinda Coxon is directed by Nicholas Hytner. It stars the great Simon Russell Beale, an actor who can exude the power and the tragedy of the megalomaniac and narcissistic Borkman with stupendous effect. His Borkman struts around the stage like an animal. He thinks he had a grand vision when in fact all he had was a delusion of wealth, power and control. Russell dominates the production even when he is not on stage. At the beginning we hear his footsteps as he paces back and forth in a room on the second floor of his house that, in its concrete austerity, resembles a prison or a castle. His hideous character is revealed as all his offenses are revealed including his greatest crime, the betrayal of his love.

There are two women in Borkmans life, his wife Gunhild (Clare Higgins) and her sister Ella (Lia Williams). Both are victims of Borkman’s megalomania and narcissism. Higgins as Gunhild presents a woman full of hatred and bitterness but also a woman harboring an illusory dream of gaining the power and wealth that her husband lost through her son Erhart (Sebastian de Souza). An amazing performance by Higgins.        

Ella is tragic figure who was betrayed by Borkman as he committed the unforgivable crime of abandoning her love for power and money. She raised Borkman’s son and as she approaches death, she wants a monument to her decency by having Erhart take her name. Ella has her illusory dream as well 

Erhart wants nothing to do with his parents or his aunt. He wants to have fun in Rome and has his own illusions. He is leaving with an older and rich neighbour, Fanny Wilton (Ony Uhiara) and Frida (Daisy Ou) a young and ambitious pianist. The three seekers of happiness struck me as the basis of a play that Ibsen did not get around to write. But we know they are chasing a mirage and their illusions may be as bad as those of the other characters.

Vilhelm Foldal (Michael Simkins) is Frida’s father and a former friend of Borkman’s who lost everything and is discarded by his friend as if he were used chewing gum. He is dreaming of becoming a published writer and is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the play.

The set by Anna Fleischle represents the Borkmans’ house outside of Oslo. The furnishings of the house are sparse with the exception of a piano prominently displayed on the second floor. Frida plays the Dance of Death on it.

The production has a superb cast directed by one of the best directors in the business. The play is not one of Ibsen’s best and you can sketch the characters and their illusions almost schematically. But Hytner brings out the best of the play in a memorable evening at the theatre.   

John Gabriel Borkman by Henrik Ibsen in a new version Lucinda Coxon continues until November 26, 2022 at the Bridge Theatre, 3 Potters Fields Park, London, SE1 2SG,

James Karas is the Senior Editor- Culture of The Greek Press. The review is published in the newspaper. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Mary, a new play by Rona Munro, refers to the Queen of Scots and it has nothing to do with her execution by Queen Elizabeth I many years later. Munro has found a niche, writing plays about Scottish history and Mary is a superb thriller that takes place in April and June of 1567. There are only three characters and the Queen is not one of them. In fact, she appears only briefly and it is in the imagination of Sir James Melville, the main character in the play.

Melville (Douglas Henshall) is a powerful lord, a confident man and a loyal supporter of the Queen. He confronts Thompson (Brian Vernel) a young servant of the court and Agnes (Rona Morison) a servant of the royal household in Holyrood Palace, Scotland.

Thompson has been bloodied and knocked senseless by Lord Bothwell, an ambitious and brutal man. We hear much about him and he is the absent villain of the play. The question in the first act is if Mary should be removed from Holyrood to Stirling Dunbar Castle. Melville argues forcefully in favour of Thompson opening the gates for her to be taken to Dunbar. Thompson, on orders from Bothwell, hesitates but eventually informs Bothwell of his intention to take Mary to Dunbar.

Dougla Henshall, Brian Vernel and Rona Morison. 
Photo: Manuel Harlan 

The next scene takes place in June of 1567. Mary was abducted by Bothwell and taken to Dunbar and what he did to her there becomes of crucial importance. In any event, they were married in May 1567. There are some problems and questions about Bothwell. Did he or did he not murder Mary’s husband Lord Darnley, the father of the future James VI of Scotland and James I of England? And more more importantly, did he rape Mary after abducting her? Was it a consensual act that the lustful Mary enjoyed?

In the June confrontation, Thompson has risen in rank and has become confident and even aggressive. Agnes, a fearless woman who does not hesitate to express her opinions and a resolute Protestant and despiser of the Catholic Church, thinks that Mary was raped but she wants the Protestant James VI to become king. (He is the one who becomes King James I of England after the death of Elizabeth I.) In the end Agnes does becoming sympathetic to Mary.

Many of the Scottish nobility want Mary to abdicate because she is unfit to be the queen and she is a Catholic. Melville argues vehemently against her abdication and refuses to sign the letter demanding that she abdicate. Thompson confronts Melville and conducts what amounts to a meticulous and brilliant cross-examination that leads to Melville having to admit that he may be wrong about the rape and Mary’s subsequent conduct and agrees to her abdication.

It is a thrilling play that takes an unusual approach to the famous queen. Thompson and Agnes are fictitious characters but Manville is a historical figure. The three of them take us through cogent arguments that rest on loyalty to Mary and love of Scotland. We are never sure what side we support as the arguments seesaw  between Melville’s principled loyalty and support of the Queen and Thompson’s arguments debunking her as inept as a queen and as a bringer of peace. The “rape” scene in done in a room full of men who are yelling as if they are watching a sports event. It is a horrific image and the quotation marks may suggest what Thompson and Agnes believe which is that Mary willingly gave in to Bothwell and in any event her marriage to him suggests that she did not despise him.  

Brian Vernel and Rona Morison. Photo: Manuel Harlan 
Henshall gives a superb performance as a man of principal, ability and above all loyalty. Thompson starts as a lowly, beaten-up servant but he gains greater authority and becomes  a powerful but subtle persuader.  A marvelous performance by Vernel.

Rona Morison as Agnes is attractive and fearless as she stands her ground against men in an era when she would have been dismissed as unworthy of attention. She digs her heels in, does not hesitate to use foul language and does not budge. Kudos to Morison for a terrific performance.

Mary, as I said, does appear at the end of the play and she says a few words. Mary is played  Meg Watson who graduated from acting school in June 2022. The role is her professional stage debut and one wishes that Munro had given her a few more lines. We could have done without the dozen women yelling at the end of the play.

Director Roxana Silbert does excellent work in pacing a play with numerous tough arguments and keeping us riveted for its 90-minute duration. 


Mary by Rona Munro  continues until November 26, 2022, at the Hampstead Theatre, , Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London, NW3 3EU.