Friday, April 29, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

“Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.”

That is what the unhinged Lady Macbeth says recalling the blood she saw oozing from the bodies of King Duncan and his guards who had been butchered by her husband.

If Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and perhaps William Shakespeare had seen ChloĆ© Hung’s Three Women of Swatow they would have known that murder and blood need not produce insanity, nightmares an any untoward effects. Hung and Tarragon Theatre were not around then to show how to handle blood and parts of the human anatomy in a bathtub.

The play has three characters. The Grandmother (played by Carolyn Fe), her daughter, referred to as the Mother (played by (Chantria Tram) and the Daughter of the Mother, of course, (played Diana Luong), we have three generations of the same family living in Toronto.

There are some issues among the three, Grandmother can chew nails and spit rust, as they say, and drinks hard liquor to excess. She also reads Bible stories about murder. A nice touch that. Her daughter is married to an abusive gambler but she refuses to leave him. How abusive is he and and on what does she base her faith that he will be reformed? This becomes even more inexplicable as the play progresses.

Chantria Tram, Carolyn Fe and Diana Luong. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann  

The granddaughter is a smart, independent young lady who chooses to live with her grandmother rather than her parents. Is she the hope of the family?

These issues are not well-developed at all and the overriding problem in the play is murder and its by-product blood. The Grandmother was forced to marry a man she did not love, and she used her skill with a meat cleaver to dispatch her husband to another dimension. We learn very little about the conduct of the husbands to justify their murders.

Her daughter has sent her husband’s soul only to the same destination as her father but not his body which is now lying in a large bathtub on stage. What do you do with a bathtub full of blood and the body of a man?

The granddaughter is not quite prepared to follow in the family tradition (she is even a vegetarian) and the play will lead us to the climactic relationship among the three women.

Like lady Macbeth, some of us are astounded by the amount of blood the husband in the bathtub has. There is blood on the fridge door, the floor and just about everywhere, it seems. The women keep stirring but some body parts clog the drain. The granddaughter brings five plungers (I hope you bought them from different stores, says the Grandmother) and a couple of large bottles of drain unclogger to help with the job at hand.  

Is this a straightforward horror story or is it black comedy? There is not enough horror in three women trying to drain blood down the drain. The reasons for the murders are not sufficiently developed for us to feel relief and then horror.

Is it a black comedy? There are a few good lines as when the five plungers are brought in or the Mother says that “killing your husband is not a good parenting tactic.” Most of the black comedy lines unfortunately misfired.

Director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster calls the play a black comedy and it may well be intended as such but we need a lot more laughter even if it is uncomfortable, brutal or sadistic

Fe, Tram and Luong are excellent in their roles but the play can use a dramaturge to provide more focus and justification for the brutal acts of murder, be they funny, farcical or serious.

And poor Lady Macbeth went bonkers by just remembering the bloodbath.


Three Women of Swatow  by ChloĆ© Hung continues until May 15, 2022 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. It will be streamed digitally by   Digital Tarragon Chez Vous in May 15-25.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press where this review appears.  

Monday, April 25, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Jake Epstein is a talented Torontonian who has achieved numerous successes as an actor, singer and writer. He has performed on television and in live theatre in Canada, on Broadway and across the United States. But his greatest success to date  may be the show his has created telling us about his successes and failures. In Boy Falls From The Sky he offers a funny, touching and highly entertaining program that gives us glimpses of behind-the-scenes theatrical experiences and vignettes of his private life.

Epstein has mastered the art of storytelling. He knows how to modulate his voice. inject a dramatic pause in his narrative and keep the audience with him, while playing his guitar and singing snippets of songs. In the end, he earns a standing ovation.

The title comes from his performance as Spider man where he had to jump some forty feet from a ladder to the stage floor– many times. He controls the narrative tightly as he tells us of the preparation, the search for advice (fall of all fours with your face towards the stage floor) and the injuries he received leaving him flat in bed. The story is scary, moving and funny.

There are many experiences that he tells us about. He is hired as a dancer and the director notices that he can’t dance. The director asks him why he took the job if he could not dance. Why did you hire me without checking if I can dance? he asks. “You are fired” is the quick reply.

Justin Han, David Atkinson, Lauren Falls and Jake Epstein 
 Photo © Cylla von Tiedemann
His acting career, preceded by love and enthusiasm for performing, started modestly as the paper delivery boy in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1999. His repertoire expanded when he got the part of a hotdog inside someone’s stomach in a skit in his high school drama class.

He gets curt dismissals but he has big successes as well like getting the role of Gerry, Carole King’s husband in Beautiful: The Carol King Musical on Broadway. Epstein does not just mention this and it would not be funny if he did no more. Carole King told him not to make her former husband a villain. On the first curtain call and after every performance after that  Epstein was roundly booed  because he represented a bad man. How do you deal with “a wall of hatred”? he asks. 

Along with the many stories about life in the theatre as an aspiring actor, Epstein tells us about his supportive parents (ten and a half hour drives to New York), his sister and his up-and-down relationship with his girlfriend (he lives in New York , she lives in Toronto), but things work out and he marries her. He lands a great part and people are congratulating him on his success. He has to brazen out the fact that he was fired from the role.

Boy Falls from the Sky has David Atkinson as music director and keyboard player, Lauren Falls paying bass and Justin Han on drums. They provide the musical accompaniment for Jake’s middling singing and help with the pacing and variety of the show.

Again, as much as Epstein deserves kudos as a successful actor and singer, he deserves even more recognition for being able to create such  an entertaining show from his own experiences. It is not an easy achievement but with the help of director Robert McQueen he has developed something intelligent, witty, refreshing and marvelous.


Boy Falls from the Sky written by Jake Epstein and developed by Epstein and Robert McQueen continues until May 29, 2022, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Coal Mine Theatre has a small storefront space on Danforth Avenue, Toronto and it is a splendid small company that produces high quality and adventurous drama. It gave us Annie Baker’s intriguing absurdist play The Aliens in 2017 and this is year it is treating us with her 2017 play The Antipodes.

Performers have been telling stories since time immemorial and The Antipodes does tell a story of sorts but it is telling a story about telling stories. Eight people sit around a table and seven of them, perhaps six, are employed to tell a story or stories. Sandy, the boss, confirms to the older employees that they know what the job involves and instructs the new ones about what the job is. This is a paid, full-time job not a friendly gathering where people exchange tales.

He wants them to be creative, different, and produce something that will change the world. Who are these people? They are being paid for what they do and are told that they will not work past seven or on weekends. What they are looking for may be world-changing but we don’t know what it is, why they are looking for whatever they are looking for, who these people are, how they were chosen and who is paying them.

l to r-Sarah Dodd, Colin A. Doyle, Joshua Browne, Ari Cohen, Murray Furrow, 
Nadeem Phillip and Joseph Zita. Photo: Dahlia Katz 

We learn that they just finished a session about Heathens and start by relating embarrassing stories about sexual experiences. They veer off into the meaning of time and make cryptic references to other stories like the mysterious Alejandra’s and that of the incredible Jerry Madigan and Paragon. Sandy’s perky assistant Sarah pokes her head in throughout the play and looks after orders of food and other needs of the story tellers. She later becomes one of the storytellers with a personal experience involving an evil stepmother and a haunted house.

They veer off into dialogues that makes sense to some of the cast and maybe to to some of the audience but I don’t follow it. Is it perhaps not intended to be followed?

There are many background issues that are brought up during the “breaks.” Sandy’s wife is ill, Eleanor’s mother has dementia and her house is flooded destroying almost everything except some childhood stories written by Eleanor.

Josh has ID and perhaps worse issues and is not being paid.  Dave’s father shoots himself in the face in front of his mother. Danny M2 tells a long story about looking after chickens and making sure the fox does not get to them. He is called to Sandy’s office and never returns. No explanation is given.

We find out more about the operation slowly and opaquely. There is a large corporate structure hoping to make money from the story tellers. This group is one of many and they have been at it for some three months and there may be doubts about their productivity and continuity. Do the stories told by this group or any group have any relevance? What is happening in the outside world?

The realistic telling of some personal stories becomes more frightful and we meet Max, or the voice of Max. The people in the room put on goggles to see him. Is he the CEO of the corporation? Is he a monster? He is one of the countless things in the play that we don’t really understand.

The play moves toward its tragic end (I will not disclose it) opaquely, indirectly, ineluctably and mysteriously. We are not sure how or why the apparent process of storytelling and story-collecting began, how well the process worked and how it ends. One of the philosophical questions raised in the play is the passage of time. Can one hundred thousand years in another dimension pass in a few seconds in our dimension?

This is a complex, elusive, highly allusive and fascinating play. Annie Baker provides some humour, guffaws in fact, and movement so that the heavy arguments are balanced with apparently lighter stories about the lives of her characters. The spectator, I suggest, is well advised to pay strict attention to the side stories as well as many details of the stories told.

That said, let us praise the the director Ted Dykstra for his expert handling of this complex work. It flows as if it were ordinary play that needs about one- and three-quarter hours to unfold. No small achievement.

Ample praise is deserved by the cast who are so superb that they make the play seem simple. Ari Cohen is the nice boss who explains what the job is all about about we soon see the personal and professional undercurrents in his life. Near the end he takes off his baseball cap as a good indicator that worse is about to come.

Sarah Dodd plays the likeable, attractive Eleanor who at the start tells us about losing her virginity as a pleasant event but later we find much unpleasantness in her life. The only other woman in the play is the chirpy and efficient assistant Sarah played by Kelsey Verzotti. She tells a serious story and in both capacities as the perky assistant and the traumatized storyteller she gives a superb performance.

Colin A. Doyle plays Josh, Joseph Zita plays Brian, Nadeem Phillip plays Adam, Murray Furrow plays Danny M1, Simon Bracken is M2, and Joshua Browne plays Dave. They gave superb individual performances and accomplished ensemble acting with superb energy flowing among them despite the complexity of the play.

Go see it. And pay attention.


The Antipodes by Annie Baker continues until May 15, 2022, at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave. Toronto, M4J 1N4.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

Sean Dixon’s new play, Orphan Song, is based on a personal experience that spawned a fascinating imaginary journey into the primeval past when Homo Sapiens, our ancestors, evolved and encountered the more primitive Neanderthals. The personal experience was the adoption by Dixon and his wife of a little girl and entering the wonderful and at times harrowing world of child rearing.

In the play, Dixon imagines a couple, living 40,000 years ago, whose child has died. The distraught parents encounter a group of Neanderthals who quickly perish but a child remains alive. The couple, Gorse and his wife Mo, save the child’s life and decide to keep it. The child is unable to speak and is wild but it does take to Gran, Gorse’s mother.

How do you represent the new breed of humans, the Neanderthals, the creatures and sounds of their world?

The cast of Orphan Song. Photo: Cylla von Toedemann

The humans wear clothes, carry a spear and use crooked walking sticks the way one may imagine them from paintings and movies. They look primitive and they have just started communicating using words or speech. They can count to five and have a limited vocabulary. They supplement their pidgin English with  the use of grunts, noises and gestures that are often incomprehensible. On a couple of occasions. Gorse and Mo speak directly to the audience in modern English.

The Neanderthals are represented by puppets carried by actors. The actors wear black and the puppets have plastic faces but are  made of cloth that is worn by their carriers. They do not have the gift of speech but they make a wide variety of sounds. In fact, we hear sundry sounds of nature and see various animals represented by the puppets including a bear, hyenas, carrion birds and a mastodon. (the program says it’s a mammoth but it looks more like a mastodon).

Gorse, Mo and Gran try to befriend the Neanderthal child which they name Chicky. It is wild, it bites, kicks, wrecks things and, be it a human or Neanderthal child, it is a nightmare. The family moves away from its camp and Mo walks away from them. I could not figure out why she left them but I gather she did so in keeping with some primitive custom of going off to die when you feel that you are a burden to the group. Mo feels that she cannot relate to Chicky.

                                    The cast of Orphan Song. Photo: Cylla von Toedemann

She encounters wild animals as does the rest of the family that is looking for her. They meet Neanderthals again who “speak” to Chicky and there is a final resolution.

It is a tough play to do. Dixon has set an almost impossible task to represent what is certainly unknown and perhaps unknowable. We are grateful for the attempt and one should not be surprised if it is not entirely successful. Beau Dixon as Gorse, Sophie Goulet as Mo and Terry Tweed as Gran must speak a form of primitive English that includes incomprehensible words and grunts. It looks like a mammoth job to master and deliver all of it and they deserve a lot of credit for that. At the same time, one must note the negative aspect: the dialogue is not easy to bear for two hours. The puppets are masterly creations and Kaitlin Morrow deserves huge praise as the Puppet Master and the handler of Chicky. Kaitlin has to produce an array of sounds as the little girl in an astounding performance.

Recognition and high praise are deserved by the puppeteers who are the following:  Phoebe Hu, Germaine Konji, Ahmed Moneka, Kaitlyn Riordan, Daniel Williston.

The set by Graeme S. Thomson shows three large canvases that look like Stone Age cave paintings. One of the canvases is brilliantly folded up to represent a mastodon or a mammoth.

Director Richard Rose has orchestrated a production that makes huge demands. The language, the sound effects, the puppets in their myriad of shapes and the puppeteers receive directorial attention of the first order.

One can give credit for the work done and unfortunately also note that the total of all the parts was not as enjoyable as one would have wished.


Orphan Song by Sean Dixon opened on April 1 and will continues until April 24, 2022, at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

James Karasis the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press, Toronto. This review appeared orignally in the newspapaer. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The production of George F. Walker’s Orphans for the Czar is fortuitous both in its subject matter and timing. It is set in 1905 czarist Russia, a time of social unrest in a totalitarian country where some people rebel while others remain loyal to the old regime out of self-interest.  The czar has his henchmen and spies who want to smother the rebels while some people try to maneuver their loyalty in a direction that will allow them to survive.

Think of a brutal regime trying to destroy a people and a small country and you get a feel for this play.

Orphans for the Czar is suggested by Maxim Gorky’s novel Life of a Useless Man.  

The play is set in a poor village and in St. Petersburg where there are serious demonstrations against the czarist regime by people who want food and shelter. Vasley (Paolo Santalucia) is a pathetic orphan living with his Uncle Piotr (Eric Peterson), the village blacksmith. He is treated as an outsider in the village and gets regular and vicious beatings.  His uncle sends him to St. Petersburg, and he lives with and gets a job in a bookshop owned by “Master”, Piotr’s half-brother or perhaps cousin who is also played by Peterson.

Paolo Santalucia and Eric Peterson. Photo: Dahlia  Katz

In 19 scenes (if I counted them correctly) Walker gives us a frightful picture of cruelty and immorality with some rays of decency in an indecent world. Vasley is an innocent boy and what Frantz Fanon would call one of “the wretched of the earth.” On the promise of food and fear of more beatings, he becomes a spy for the czarist police and betrays the people who buy books from the shop where he works. And he becomes a pimp for the Master, the bookshop owner. Santalucia gives a wonderful performance as the abused and pathetic Vasley who has a center of decency in a sea of indecency.

Eric Peterson gives unfailingly fine performances as Uncle Piotr the blacksmith and as the corrupt, abusive, and syphilitic Master. Rayisha, the blind young girl from the village who is sent to St. Petersburg to find work (and played beautifully and sensitively by Shayla Brown) is a beacon of decency and in the end she survives.

Makarov, the chief spy, is a well-dressed, patrician with delicate manners who inspires fear without displaying the violence that he is capable of. Patrick McManus is perfect for the role. Makarov also acts like a chorus and he gives us some information about what is happening in the streets of St. Petersburg.

Kyle Gatehouse, Patrick McManus and Paolo Santalucia.
Photo: Dahlia Katz

Sascha is his brutal henchman who is sadistic for the pleasure of it and Kyle Gatehouse is scary in the role. Olga (Michelle Mohammed) and Maya (Shauna Thompson) are educated sisters who are on the side of the rebels, maybe. Yakov (Christopher Allen) starts out as a brute who beats up Vasley for the sake of beating him (but insists that he does it to teach him something), may have more decency than we give him credit for.

In its 90 minutes the play moves through episodes in the lives of the above-noted characters. Does Makarov see the evil in what he is doing or does he run away from his brutality to save his skin? What do the two sisters do to survive? And what is Vasley’s fate? A fascinating combination of circumstances and developments.  

The set design by Savoini consists of a dramatic, bare wall that could be the backdrop for executions. There is a set of stairs leading to the Master’s apartment where he gets his visitors and catches syphilis. Three tables with books stacked on them represent the bookshop. The books are pushed off and one of the tables is used to represent other venues like an office or perhaps a restaurant where Vasley gets some food.

Tanja Jacobs does a superb directing job with the numerous scenes and characters. She gets some welcome black humour from the mistreatment of people   

Orphans for the Czar could do a great job informing some Russians of their past and waking them up to the present. But they need to see and perhaps celebrate the uprisings against the 1905 regime but they also need to look in the mirror to see their faces today.  The Ukrainians of today would understand the play much better if the Russians leave a theater standing so that the play may be produced there.

This production is well-worth seeing.


Orphans for the Czar by George F. Walker in a production by Crow’s Theatre opened on April 1, 2022 and will play till April 17, 2022 at the Streetcar/Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1.