Wednesday, March 30, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is a long and unwieldy play that is rarely produced in its original form. Anglophone theatre companies must rely on one of the many translations and adaptations that are either readily available or commissioned for their production. The Shaw Festival commissioned playwright Kate Hennig to translate and adapt the play for its 2019 season. After the horrors of the pandemic, the Festival opened its doors again and has reprised that production for its 2022 season to the great relief of artists and audiences who have been locked out for two years.  

Hennig helpfully informs us that the play “originally had more than forty speaking parts and more than sixty named parts.” The small stage of the Royal George Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake would have been seriously congested if all those characters were represented by different actors. Instead Hennig and director Chris Abraham have arranged that in this version all the play’s parts would be played by seven women and seven men. Seven of the actors play a single role each while the other seven play from two to five parts.

Tom Rooney as Cyrano and Deborah Hay as Roxane in 
Cyrano de Bergerac (Shaw Festival, 2022). Photo by David Cooper.

Cyrano de Bergerac may be unwieldy but it does have several virtues that guarantee its longevity on the stage. The love triangle has the appeal of myth. The ugly Cyrano (Tom Rooney) and the handsome Christian (Jeff Irving) love the beautiful Roxanne (Deborah Hay) but this triangle has a unique perspective. Cyrano is an extraordinary man: poet, philosopher, scientist and swashbuckler but is a man who never experienced the love of a woman. Even his mother hated him but he is in love with Roxane. Christian is handsome and Roxanne falls in love with his good looks and she is under the illusion that his physical features are matched by a romantic and poetic nature. She wants to be wooed with poetry and dazzled with her lover’s soul.  Christian is about as eloquent as a tree stump.

Cyrano undertakes to court Roxane for Christian with his passionate and glorious poetry. In classic mythical form, Roxanne unknowingly falls in love with the man with the exquisite poetry and great soul while imagining that she loves Christian. I think it is this primordial mythical and magical aspect of the story that draws us to the play. It does have a few memorable scenes but other than that, Cyrano de Bergerac is not a particularly good play.

If a director can find outstanding actors for the roles of Cyrano, Christian and Roxanne the success of the production is all but guaranteed. The shortcomings of the play disappear and the audience enjoys some extraordinary scenes and the retelling of a myth.

The actor playing Cyrano must show us the character’s exuberance, fearlessness, vanity and most of all the depth of his emotions, his passions and his yearning for love. The balcony scene is the heart of the play where Cyrano pretending to be Christian speaks to Roxanne in the darkness. The words, the poetry and his voice build up to a crescendo of emotion that make Roxane tremble with love. It should have a similar effect on the audience.  

Tom Rooney as Cyrano and Jeff Irving as Christian in Cyrano 
de Bergerac (Shaw Festival, 2022). Photo by David Cooper.

The same thing should occur in the letter-reading scene at the end of the play when Roxane realizes that the love and soul in the letters that she received were Cyrano’s and not Christian’s. She had loved the wrong man all her life.

Unfortunately, Tom Rooney did not convey the passion, the love and the pain of a lifetime in those few minutes. Hay’s reactions to Cyrano, though good, did not have the requisite push to reach the heights that were or should have been expressed in the circumstances. Irving as Christian was heroic but we did not expect much from him.

The rest of the actors were a mixed bag, sometimes failing to enunciate, at other times rising to the occasion with Patrick Galligan as de Guiche and Kyle Blair as Ragueneau deserving praise.       

Julie Fox designed the set and the costumes and they did the job for the production.

To be fair I should note that the production received a standing ovation on opening night.


Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand in an adaptation by Kate Hennig will run until May 8, 2022, at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The transmission of live performances from the Metropolitan Opera is back and a redoubtable production of Ariadne auf Naxos was available in theatres across Canada on March 12, 2022. We are amid an invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the event is uppermost in many people’s minds. Host Matthew Polenzani expressed his support for the Ukrainian people and the Met’s General Manager Peter Gelb did the same at greater length. He did not mention it, but the Met has cut off ties with Russian supporters of Putin including superstar Anna Netrebko. Bravo to the Met.

Elijah Moshinsky’s impressive 1993 production of Ariadne auf Naxos has been brought back by revival director Stephen Pickover with a splendid cast and it is a musical and vocal stunner.

Composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal had the ingenious idea of merging low comedy with high opera or commedia dell’arte with Mozarto-Wagnerian high art and, depending on your taste, you may find it exhilarating or a work with an identity issue.

In any event, the richest man in 18th century Vienna is feasting his friends to a lavish dinner and subsequent entertainment with performances of a tragic opera, a musical comedy and then fireworks. Time becomes tight and the host orders that the tragedy and the comedy be performed together lest time runs out for the fireworks.

In the Prologue we meet the artistes of the comedy and the tragedy feuding and throwing temper tantrums at the suggestion that their pieces are to be cut short and performed simultaneously with the other. The Prima Donna (later Ariadne, sung by the inimitable Lise Davidsen) has a fit and the Composer (Isabel Leonard) goes ballistic. But the latter calms down and the lovely-voiced Leonard sings an exuberant paean to the sacred art of music.

The opera of the title begins and we find the distraught princess Ariadne on the island of Naxos. She saved Theseus from the man-eating Minotaur in Crete and he promised her the world and then dumped her on a desert island. Lise Davidsen sings the melancholy “Es gibt ein Reich” (There is a kingdom) where she imagines a quiet place of death. Strauss and von Hofmannsthal find a way of getting her off Naxos in a happier mood than Theseus left her.

The orchestra and the superb cast give us an outstanding production but the star is unquestionably soprano Lise Davidsen. She has a luscious and expressive voice and she displays her low notes and her ability to leap to the high notes in a single phrase with impeccable ease. This is an Ariadne to take her place in the pantheon of memorable singers.  

The final duet sung by Davidsen and tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Bacchus is a marvel of sustained vocal achievement and musical beauty. Jovanovich uses his vocal prowess and dexterity to bring Ariadne out of her catatonic morass and lead her into the sunset and perhaps apotheosis. Bravura singing.

Ariadne’s companions on the island are three nymphs, a Nyad (Deanna Breiwic), a Dryad (Tamara Mumford) and Echo (Maureen McKay). They are put on stands well above the stage floor and look as if they are wearing long dresses. They are beautiful and dramatic.

The comedians are kept busy trying to entertain the unhappy Ariadne. Their leader Zerbinetta (done to perfection by Brenda Rae) works the hardest. Rae has the movements and mannerism of a natural comic and she can sing. Zerbinetta and her talented and acrobatic troupe, Harlequin (Sean Michael Plumb), Truffaldin (Ryal Speedo Green), Scaramuccio (Alok Kumar) and Brighella (Miles Mykkanen) do their best. Rae sings Zerbinetta’s signature aria “O great princess” with flair and humour. She tells Ariadne that men are faithless monsters and she does not subscribe to fidelity by any measure. It seems that only a god can convince Ariadne.

The sets by Michael Yeargan consist of two areas. The Prologue is the basement of the house of the richest man. We see the large staircase on the side and that tells us where we are. For the scene on Naxos, we see the area for Ariadne’s “cave” with lighting changes and room for acrobatic activities by the comedians.

Ariadne auf Naxos has a complex score that reaches back into operatic history and with Wagnerian connections. Marek Janowski conducts the Met Opera Orchestra in a performance that can serve as a full concert.


Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss was transmitted Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on March 12, 2022, at various  Cineplex theatres. An encore will be shown on April 9, 2022. For more information:

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

Thursday, March 24, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Our Father, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers, the title of Makambe K. Simamba’s new play, gives the impression of a work that needs a huge cast covering perhaps generations. In fact, it is a one-person play that covers the lives of Blacks from alpha to omega or, to put it precisely, from here to eternity. All of it is acted by the author in an extraordinary performance.

When the lights go on, we see a young person struggling to stand up. In the background we see e the night sky with small lights flashing. We learn that the young person’s nickname is Slimm. He contorts his body, falls down several times and gets up on his feet with great difficulty. Makambe is a woman with the voice of a woman. Slimm is described as a boy in the script but despite that, I concluded that Slimm could be either a man or a woman and in fact is Every Black Person.

I do not want to spoil the plot for you but some information is essential. Slimm is a 17-year-old student who has been killed. There are eyes watching him and he invokes God and says a prayer, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Slimm is somewhere “up there” but he is understandably lost and looks for an instruction manual. A large book appears on a stand and it is a manual for “Your Journey to Your Ancestors.”

Before meeting his ancestors, Slimm tells us that God is a Savage and relates the story of how God ordered his “homeboy” to build a huge boat in two months and  fill it up with pairs of all the animals. God can cause a flood but he can’t build his own boat? asks Slimm. And then God addresses his friend Abe in disgusting racist terms and tells him to sacrifice his only son. Abe is about to do it but God tells him he was just kidding. Makambe’s telling of both incidents is hilarious.

Slimm starts following the step-by step instruction manual and at the beginning of the rest of his eternity meets his grandmother, his parents, his brothers, his friends Dennis and Rachel. In her bravura performance Makambe becomes all of these people. The scolding mother who is worried about Slimm’s skipping classes, misbehaving and getting bad marks. The father instructs him how to behave when stopped by a cop, the older and the younger brother.

These are not Slimm’s only ancestors. He ranges back to Abraham and Noah to all the Blacks who ever lived and were killed. Slimm near the end gives us his real name and the fact that he was killed in 2012. He gives us dozens of names of victims and their ages from the 19th century to the 21st. It is as if he were reading tombstones until he comes to the end and he does not have to read the last one. It is his own.

Makambe started with a simple but brilliant idea of telling the story of a boy of seventeen after his death and looking back to the long past, to all his ancestors and facing eternity. The task of writing a play on that subject seems insurmountable but she found the means of devising a play and performing it. Aside from acting out all the roles Makambe must perform with considerable physical activity, all of it adding to a stunning performance.

Kudos to Donna-Michelle St. Bernard who directs and, with Choreographic Consultant Shakeil Rollock, choreographs the performance. Trevor Schwellnus’s set consist of a few props on the stage but the video design has a complexity of images as we go through Slimm’s and his ancestors’ lives.

This is a Tarragon Theatre and Black Theatre Workshop co-production and it is based on the world premiere production produced by b current, [sic]. In addition to the in-person run, people can see digital streaming of Our Fathers from Tarragon Chez Vous from March 22 to April 10, 2022.


Our Fathers, Son, Lovers and Little Brothers by Makambe K Simamba continues until April 10, 2022, at the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022


 Reviewed by James Karas

Wildly Romantic is a genial, funny, simple, nostalgic  and wonderfully entertaining film written by Norm Foster and produced by the Foster Festival of St. Catharines. The film is available on demand and you would be doing yourself a great favour by spending 1 hour and 45 minutes watching it.

We are in the wide-open office, described as a prairie, of Radio Station CFTB, St. Catharines, Ontario. The station plays hits, make that request, from the “American Songbook.” The requests come pouring in at 3 or 4 a day and you hear current stars like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Andy Williams and …well, you get the picture. The station is third in line in the popularity standings and its august position is reached because there are only three radio stations in St. Catharines.

Katie, the attractive receptionist/executive assistant, gets all the requests and passes them on to the announcer in the control room (because there is no phone there). The film opens in a moment of crisis. Mick, the morning show host “did it” with the night host in the control room on the control board while Rapsody in Blue (sixteen and a half minutes long) was playing and was caught by Diane. She is the station manager and his girlfriend. Result: Rapsody in Blue is no longer background music for corporal fittings on the control board and the night and morning hosts are fired.

Norm Foster

Sonny, a middle-aged man, walks in and asks for a job and he gets to replace the morning host. But Eugene, a lawyer, comes to demand that Mick be reinstated. Eugene can best be described as a schnook, a decent, stupid, gullible, incompetent man. He likes Katie and she likes him but we need about an hour to get them together.

Diane has a history of having affairs with disgusting males of the species and now considers the (them?) bovine sputum. Sonny is not like that. Diane and he will figure out that they are well-matched AND Sonny will cause the station to have a meteoric rise from third to second standing by playing modern music by the Rolling Stones.

Kudos to the actors. The cast of four, directed by Jane Spence, produce a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  Emily Oriold as Katie is attractive in every way. She passes her time with archery and snooker and she goes after Eugene (in a fine performance by David Leyshon) to get him to ask her for something starting with “d.” The genius lawyer says “deal.” They do go to the pool hall and the future looks brighter. We like them both as amiable, lonely people and we root for them.

Diane (Kirsten Alter) and Sonny (Jacob James) hit it off after some rough spots are ironed out. They are not in the first blush of youth and we want them to find true love. The strength of the film is that the actors draw us into the situation and we enjoy the story however simple, predictable and silly it may seem, we enjoy what is happening. There is some sarcasm, some fine lines but we enjoy the whole situation rather than any particular aspect of the film. I hesitate to use the word “wholesome” but that is what it is. A pleasure to watch.

This is an entirely Canadian production. The actors have worked throughout Canada, frequently in small theatre companies. There biographies make for fascinating reading of dedication, perseverance and love of the theater. Norm Foster, we learn, worked as a radio announcer  in Kingston, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg and Fredericton for 25 years. He has written some 50 plays and ranks as the most produced  playwright in Canada.

St. Catharines runs The Foster Festival and has been producing his plays for years. A bow to that city and a complaint against Norm Foster. In all decency and forward planning, he should have been born in St. Catharines. Instead, he chose Newmarket.  


Wildly Romantic by Norm Foster, directed by Jane Spence is available for streaming on demand from The Foster Festival.

This review oroginally appeared in The Greek Press, Toronto

Wednesday, March 16, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

The Greek National Opera has been around for 80 years and it boasts of 3000 performances of 500 works. In a huge step forward, it has started streaming some of its productions and the latest is a thoroughly entertaining staging of The Marriage of Figaro. It deserves praise for the singing, orchestral playing and the highly imaginative sets.

I will start with the work of Director Alexandros Efklidis and Set Designer Yannis Katranitsas. They have come up with an imaginative and at times brilliant idea for showcasing the goings on in the mansion of Count Almaviva. The action of The Marriage of Figaro in this production takes place in eight rooms and Katranitsas wants us to see all of them alone or as many as five  of them at once arrayed across the large stage of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens. I am not sure what the audience sees in a live performance. I could not make out if it was a revolving stage or the sets were changed as necessary with moving them around.

Angela-Kleopatra Saroglou has dramaturged Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto to give us a fresh and vibrant view of the actions and interactions of the characters and has added a few more people and scenes for good measure. She is credited as Collaborating Director as well.

Dimitris Platanias and Cellia Costea. Photo GNO

We start with frantic activity during the overture where we  see people run in and out of rooms reminiscent of a Feydeau farce. Cherubino is caught with Barbarina. Count Almaviva is in his bedroom in an unmade bed and a pretty woman who is taking some of her clothes off and joins him. I will not tell you who she is and you may assume they are not playing chess. That and much more.

The opera starts in Figaro and Susanna’s new bedroom where Figaro is measuring the space for a new bed. Usually, they are alone but Efklidis provides him with three assistants. Count Almaviva is visible behind the door to his bedroom. As the plot develops, we will see a kitchen where maids prepare food and which has a handy refrigerator that serves as an escape hatch for many of the characters including, of course, Cherubino, who hides in it. And there is a toilet with useful shower curtains and all the amenities of a very busy large house. It also has a garden and they bring out plants and shrubs to accommodate the action in the last scene.

There is a smartly uniformed guard standing at attention by Count Almaviva. There are servants, including one preparing  a tray of food. When Marcelina sings about the happy life of billy-goats and she-goats and frets that poor women are always treated perfidiously and cruelly by men, she is mauled by the guard. He suggestively unbuttons her and then bares his athletic chest.

In the plethora of characters and comings and goings, there is a man in many scenes sitting at a harpsichord with some sheet music in front of him, I could not figure out what he is all about. But he does add to the very busy nature of the production. None of these people and actions appear in da Ponte’s text.

Let us praise the singers. A significant number of them are Greeks. That should not be worthy of comment but it is. Greece has a phenomenal cultural heritage but opera is not one of them. Some great singers, yes, but how many have made a career of their vocal prowess in Greece? Not many, to be polite. But the singers in this production as individuals and more importantly as an ensemble do outstanding work in performing this great opera.

Baritone Dionysios Sourbis is an excellent Figaro. His Figaro is smart (but not as smart as Susanna), inventive, loveable and his light baritone voice sounds beautiful. Soprano Aphrodite Patoulidou’s Susanna is attractive, clever and we root for her from the moment we meet her. He lovely voice captivates us from start to finish.

Bass-baritone Dimitri Platanias is perhaps the most well-known cast member and he plays the muscular, blustering and arrogant Count Almaviva. Efklidis, as I said, wastes no time in showing us that Almaviva has seriously wandering hormones. Platanias sings and acts the role with aplomb and we simply wait for him to be brought to earth and beg “Contessa, perdono.” Platanias shows superb vocal and acting prowess.

Romanian soprano Cellia Costea represents the Countess as a woman that is past her prime and may explain her husband’s roving eye. She is a sympathetic woman who is deeply hurt by his infidelity. She expresses her unhappiness in her great arias “Porgi, amor” and “Dove sono.” All we want is beautiful singing expressing sorrow and pain. Efklidis, in this case unfortunately, creates activity for her. She picks up some sheets of paper and a pen, signs something. She picks up a photo album and looks through it. She does not achieve the emotional depth that we look for and it may not be because she is not capable of doing it but because she is kept busy doing irrelevant things.

Mezzo-soprano Miranda Makrynioti is a petite, agile, hormonally supercharged Cherubino with a delightful voice and a wonderful performance. Marissia Papalexiou plays the plotting Marcelina who, with the devious Dr. Bartolo, (Yannis Yannisis) tries to score some money for breach of promise to marry. In this production she is played as a sexually attractive vixen. A positive change.   

Vassilis Christopoulos conducts the highly capable Greek National Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

The production strives to illustrate many aspects of the opera by showing a wealth of activity that one never sees. The odd time it seems like too much activity. But the result is a colourful, vibrant, well-sung and wonderful performance. A joy to hear and see.


The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a production by the Greek National Opera at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens is being streamed by GNO TV. For more information visit

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

Thursday, March 10, 2022


 Reviewed by James Karas

A recycling warehouse in contemporary Greece is a long way from the farms of California in the 1930’s where John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella, Of Mice and Men, was set. But an adaptation of it has inspired a powerful Greek theatrical production that became a film and is being streamed around the world.

Of Mice and Men tells the story of an incredible friendship between two uneducated drifters who have no family, no friends and no social circle as they seek menial labour on a farm. That is not all. Vasilis (George in the novel) is  intelligent, strong, wiry and the dominant of the pair. Lennie in the novel and in the production under review has the mental capacity of a five-year old. He is a small man who shuffles his feet when he walks, knees apart and hands on his waist. He is pathetic as he speaks in a kind of slur with his tongue often hanging out of his mouth.

Vasilis and Lennie are friends who have a dream that unites them, a dream of owning a piece of land where they can grow vegetables and keep rabbits. Lennie loves patting soft animals and he wants George to repeat the dream to him constantly because he forgets things.

Vasilis Bisbikis adapted Steinbeck’s novella and directed the stage production as well as the film that is being streamed. The adaptation maintains some similarity with the novella but to a large degree it departs from it. There are about half a dozen workers at the recycling plant who sleep and eat in the warehouse. They are fundamentally the wretched of the earth who work there because they have no choice.

Stelios, the boss, [I don’t know who plays the role – more about that below] is a vicious bully, a foulmouthed creep who abuses his wife, Mary. She is a slut, the daughter of a prostitute, who can accurately be described as trash.

The other workers range from the decent to the psychotic with the latter seething with violence. One of them shoots a co-worker’s dog and there is a scene with prostitutes that is enough to make you sick. Another worker beats and almost rapes Mary in an extended scene of violence and foul language. Obscenities are used in almost every sentence.

The plots always returns to George and Lennie, to the oft-repeated dream by George for Lennie’s benefit of the paradisal piece of land and to the incipient violence of Lennie who pats soft animals to death.

Mary invites Lennie to pat her soft hair and the terrified Lennie does so but he loses control and strangles her. The end follows that and if you have not read the novel or seen a movie or stage production, I will not disclose the tragic conclusion.

The film has some extraordinary performances. Dimitris Drosos gives a moving, powerful and astonishing performance as Lennie. He contorts his body, makes the heart-wrenching facial expressions of a severely disabled human being who is desperate to find some, any,  happiness. Vasilis Bisbikis as Vasilis is big and strong and impatient with him. He hurls insults at Lennie and threatens to abandon him but always returns to the deep-rooted love that unites the two men. An astounding performance by Bisbikis. 

I confer the same kudos on the rest of the cast. They portray violent psychopaths, human wrecks and wretched people looking for something human. Bisbikis as director and adapter, however, does not know when to stop when he has a good scene going. The film lasts two and a half hours and it could have been cut down to about two hours. Some of the scenes of violence like the vicious fight and attempted rape of Mary could be shorter. The awful scene with the hookers could likewise benefit by being shorter.

Who are the fine actors who give the memorable performances? In addition to Bisbikis and Drosos, they are Mary Mina, Stelios Tyriakidis, Manos Kazamias, Giorgos Sideris, Gigmaz Erdal, Lefteris Agouridis, Angela Patseli, Mara Zaloni, Erato Aggouraki, Dimitris Galanis  and Dionisis Kokkotakis. These are the names given on the website of  the streaming company. I searched for more details, including reading some reviews from Greek media  and found only the names of the actors playing Vasilis and Lennie. It looks like the Greek movie critics did not know who is who in the cast (or simply did not disclose it)and did what I am doing here: copy and paste the list of names. Some of these names may be from the theatre performance and not necessarily the film but whoever knows is not telling. The names of crew members are given in full. I have no idea how to characterize this except to state that I have never run into it before. 

Nevertheless, the film with its violence, moments of tenderness, extremely foul language and brilliant acting is like a powerful punch in the face. It may daze you but you will never forget it.


Of Mice and Men (Άνθρωποι και Ποντίκια), by John Steinbeck, freely adapted by Vasilis Bisbikis) and performed in Greek was streamed by

This review was initially published in The Greek Press of Toronto