Monday, October 31, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Shakespeare wrote King Henry VIII in collaboration with John Fletcher near the end of his career. The play is produced infrequently, and it is not of the highest quality. Shakespeare’s Globe staged the play this year and decided that one collaborator was not enough and it has provided Shakespeare with a third one. The current collaborator is Hannah Khalil who tells us that her “brief was to sculpt the play into an exploration of the female experience.”

She did some pruning and stitching of lines from Shakespeare’s 37 plays and 154 sonnets “to tell a story that feels most relevant to now.” Some of her changes are obvious but most of them escaped me.

Khalil dispenses with the turgid Prologue and replaces it with a woman strumming a guitar and singing Sonnet 116 which is a beautiful paean to the glory of love, permanent and unalterable. “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments.” Henry VIII had six wives so the idea that love “bears it out even to the edge of doom” has no application to him. But reminding us of the ideal or perfect love compared to what Henry did is salutary.

Khalil has added a number of songs to the play giving it a mini-musical flavour that did not do anything for me.

Adam Gillen as Henry VIII. Photo: Marc Brenner

Henry VIII was a monster of a magnitude to rival even 20th century dictators, but Shakespeare was not about to portray him as such out of respect for keeping his head attached to his body. Director Amy Hodge, however, does not hesitate to have Adam Gillen represent him as a ranting, almost unhinged man who is paranoid, egotistical and murderous. He wants a son and Queen Katharine, his wife of 20 years, has given him only a daughter.

As much as Henry wants a son, he wants Anne Boleyn (Janet Etuk) but he can only have her if he marries her. He needs a divorce, and it is hard to come by in the sixteenth century. The Pope is the only one that can grant it.

He leans on Cardinal Wolsey (Jamie Ballard), a trusted advisor and the most powerful man in England. Ballard gives a marvelous performance as the arrogant and corrupt Wolsey who falls from grace when he fails to deliver the much sought-after  divorce. We see a graphic illustration of what can happen to a powerful man who displeases the king. A humiliated Wolsey takes off his red robes of office slowly and methodically in front of us. He is left with only his underwear, a man destroyed. A stunning performance by Gillen.

The masque in the original play is turned into an almost bacchanalian orgy. Henry is seen with a large, gold phallus and that is a good illustration of his and that society’s contempt for women.

The most powerful performance is delivered by Bea Segura. As Katharine she stands up to the King and the nobles who try to persuade her to agree to the divorce. In an era when women had almost no rights and were treated as a little more than producers of babies and toys for men, she shines as a powerful person.    

In her tinkering with the play, Khalil adds the character of Princess Mary (Natasha Cottriall), the daughter of Queen Katharine and future Bloody Queen Mary. She threatens to get even with everyone. The play does not end with the happy baptism of Elizabeth but with a fulsome speech by Elizabeth I.

I am not sure how that or the other additions result in an exploration of the feminine experience or make the play more relevant to us. Shakespeare, like Aeschylus, Seneca and Chaucer, reflected the views of his era. Some of those views changed very little over the ensuing centuries reaching their apogee, I suppose, in the 1928 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. It found that a woman is not a person. How does adding a speech by a great Queen make it more relevant to us?

Henry VIII is produced infrequently because it is not a very good play. Tinkering with it even if one cuts and pastes from Shakespeare’s works does not improve the play nor the position of women in Shakespeare’s time. And it does not help us to see the disgusting position of women in a better light.


Henry VIII  by William Shakespeare played until October 23, 2022, at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London.

Sunday, October 30, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The Tempest, like all of Shakespeare’s plays, is prone to numerous interpretations. In the First Folio it was classified as a comedy, but it could be seen as a romance. The questions of imperialism and slavery are recent topics of examination and there are demands for apologies and reparations by the victims of both. The Tempest can be seen as dealing with both topics and they are inescapable while watching any production of the play.

The current production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London does not seem to focus on those aspects of the play but it does not avoid them either. Prospero is the former Duke of Milan who was dethroned by his brother with the collusion of the King of Naples. He was thrown on an island with his three-year old daughter where he took control of Ariel, a local spirit and the wild Caliban, the son of a witch. The latter is treated like a slave and both he and the spirit Ariel want their freedom. Prospero is an imperialist conqueror by any description. What are we to think of him?

Ciaran O'Brien as Caliban and Ferdy Roberts as Propsero 
in The Tempest. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Prospero is described as a scholar, a man of learning and presumably wisdom who has magical powers and a knowledge of alchemy. In the current production director Sean Holmes gives us a Prospero (Ferdy Roberts) who is arrogant, dictatorial and aggressive. There is scant evidence of his wisdom and humanity. He treats Caliban abominably and even Ariel gets better treatment only because she is useful to him. Prospero is a conqueror who does not think much of the natives.

In this modern dress production Prospero, with his hair tied in a ponytail and sporting a beard, wears nothing but a skimpy, yellow bathing suit for much of the time. Is he sunbathing all day or ready to go to the beach?  He yells most of the time even when speaking with his daughter Miranda. We do not develop much sympathy for the deposed Duke. I found it a confusing portrait of Prospero.

Nadi Kemp-Sayfi made a petite, pretty and wonderful Miranda. She may have not seen a young man before but when she lays her eyes on Ferdinand, she knows what she wants and goes after him. A wonderful performance.

My only issue with Olivier Huband as Ferdinand is that he looks too old to be the innocent and youthful prince with whom Miranda falls in love. As I watched him, I wondered why the younger-looking Ciaran O’Brien was not cast as Ferdinand instead of Caliban. I do not know their ages and they are irrelevant. My comments are about how they looked in their roles.

Caliban is a central character in the play as the representative of the natives of the island. I imagine him as wild, unruly and openly rebellious, but Director Holmes presents him as a clean-cut young man who is perhaps understandably very angry at the treatment he is getting from Prospero. Like many conquerors, Prospero justifies his treatment of his “slave” by telling us he freed him from bondage and that Caliban made an attempt to rape Miranda.

Rachel Hannah Clarke is a perfect Ariel. She moves like a spirit and performs her magical tricks with panache. We have a burgeoning plot by Sebastian (Lucy Phelps) and Antonio (Patrick Osborne) to kill the King of Naples (Katy Stephens). They do a good job in their roles.

Nadi Kemp-Sayfi and Ferdu Riberts. Photo: Marc Brenner
And there is another murderous plot by the butler Stefano (George Fouracres) and the jester Trinculo (Ralph Davis), led by Caliban, to assassinate Prospero. There are two scenes by these nincompoops, and they can be simply roll-on-the-floor hilarious. In this production they did produce some laughter, but the full comic possibilities of the scenes were not accomplished.

The productions at Shakespeare’s Globe are supposed to derive energy from the imagined performances at the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s time. One of the most effective methods is the interplay between the stage and the yardlings, the several hundred people standing on the ground floor. The interaction in this production was moderately successful at the beginning and far more enjoyable in the second half. But they hit the perfect note when Stefano and Trinculo were plotting the overthrow of Prospero and agreed that both would become prime ministers (just in case one of them resigned). There was a huge gale of laughter. At about that time Prime Minister Liz Truss was announcing her resignation.

The opening scene was handled judiciously. There was some commotion and the people on board the ship that was about to founder were shown in a glass cage on stage. They were all wearing tuxedos and party hats as they were returning from a wedding and then ended up on Prospero’s Island.

A credible and enjoyable performance with some disagreement about details.


The Tempest  by William Shakespeare  played until October 23, 2022 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London.

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

Friday, October 28, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

Ruckus is a play and a performance that one finds rarely, accidentally and in utter amazement. It is performed by a single actor with the voice over of a man and lasts one hour. In the end it leaves you breathless.

The writer and performer is Jenna Fincken and this is her first play. Its debut was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2022, and it was “noticed”. It then transferred to the small Southwark Playhouse in London where I was able to see it.

First, the performance. Fincken performs with so much energy, concentration and stamina as if this were an Olympics’ competition. It is not or she would have to be tested for taking enhancement drugs. How else can you account for what she does: runs, no, dashes around the small playing area, uses vocal and physical variations that are simply astounding and gives a simply astonishing performance.

Fincken plays the part of Lou or Louise, a young, intelligent, attractive and spunky teacher. She has two friends, Bryony and Jess (she plays both of them) and Ryan (Matthew Durkan’s voice). We hear Ryan’s voice but never see him. Lou speaks her lines, the lines of the other characters (except Ryan) and describes the context. All of it meticulously directed by Georgia Green.

Jenna Fincken in Ruckus. Photograph: Ali Wright

She performs in a corner with white curtains hanging on each side. Before Lous speaks we see lights flashing and numbers like 824 days ago. At that point the flashing lights go off and Lou sees Ryan and asks him why his friend popped one of the balloons. She is at Jess’s wedding and the balloons form an arch. Lou shares an apartment with Jess and will now have to look for affordable accommodation on her own.

She does not get an answer about the balloon popping and the friend makes a rude comment. She then “accidentally” pours her gin over their shoes. This lady has gumption and will not stand for crap like that.

That is our first impression of Lou. From then on, we will find out that she and Ryan get together and their relationship blossoms and wilts into something with very serious consequences for Lou.

Fincken starts dropping clues about Lou’s relationship with Ryan. They seem innocuous at first. Lou starts smoking so she can get away from people.

She goes on a date with Ryan. He orders her food and acts like a gentleman. After dinner she suggest sex in very plain terms, and he suggests they go to a pub. She insists on getting his way. End of date. Lou has a low opinion of herself and perhaps some difficulty with close relationships. When Ryan suggests that they live together she agrees but feels he has yoked her.

But like any young couple they furnish and decorate their apartment including a collection of farm animal toys.

Jenna Fincken in Ruckus. Photograph: Ali Wright

Time goes by and the number of days to go is flashed on the curtains. Lou’s mother and her friend visit and Ryan takes exception to the latter touching her waist. He touched her elbow, she replies, but it was her waist insists Ryan.

He becomes increasingly possessive. She does not have a key to the back door; he refuses to discuss holiday plans; she can’t log into their joint bank account. She goes away with her friend and realizes that Jess is a free spirit who gets what she wants. She returns home to find that Ryan has trashed the apartment but all is calm.

Things deteriorate until the end. I will not disclose what happens but many of you have probably guessed it.   

Ruckus is a play about coercive control. It involves an insidious pattern of behaviour like the one illustrated by Fincken in the play where her husband controls her life to the extent of isolating her from her family and friends, monitoring her movements, controlling the family finances and ultimately controlling her basic freedoms and dehumanizing her. Just in case there is a misunderstanding about how coercive control is perpetrated, Lou tells us that Ryan never laid a finger on her.

Fincken does it all with finesse, subtlety and surgical precision. The play is not a lecture on coercive control but the story of a woman. It is an extraordinary play, a stunning performance and a great night at the theatre.


Ruckus by Jenna Fincken in a production by Wildcat played until October 29, 2022 at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD.

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

Thursday, October 27, 2022


 Reviewed by James Karas

Dmitry is a big, poetic drama dealing with Russia’s Time of Trouble at the beginning of the 17th century. The history of the period is convoluted, and the play by Peter Oswald with Alexander J. Gifford after Friedrich Schiller deals with the usurpation of the Russian crown and the wars of the period.

The play is the first production at the new Marylebone Theatre in London and my first question after seeing a performance was what persuaded Artistic Director Alexander J. Gifford to stage the play? It has a cast of more than thirty and its poetic diction proved difficult for some of the actors and a few of them could not be heard.

Let’s get to the story. It starts after the death of Tsar Ivan, better known as the “terrible” who died without an heir. That is unless his son Dmitry survived which he did not because Boris Godunov had him assassinated and became tsar.

A young man shows up in the Polish parliament claiming to be Dmitry, the rightful heir to the Russian throne. The Polish parliamentarians accept him and with the blessing of a Cardinal and the help of some Cossacks they all prepare to attack Russia and put Dmitry on the throne and convert it to Catholicism. 

Moving quickly, Dmitry’s mother is found in a convent and says this Dmitry is not her son but she changes her mind and says yes he is. In Moscow there is consternation because Godunov knows that Dmitri was snuffed. The war goes on. Godunov’s son Fyodor is murdered, he commits suicide and Dmitry is found out for sure to be a pretender and he is dispatched out of this world. As we all know Romanov becomes tsar and his family stays on until 1917 when the Bolsheviks put end to the dynasty unless Anastasia survived which she did not. 

Dmitry, the Patriarch and Marina.  Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Oswald tells an epic story that involves many entrenched national, religious and personal interests and it requires a larger stage, a bigger budget, and the resources of a huge organization to do it justice. The Marylebone Theatre has none of these.

The Polish parliamentarians where Dmitry opens are wearing modern, well-tailored suits and they are debating very loudly whether to recognize Dmitry as the tsar of Russia. We know that this is a story about Russia around 1605 and it requires many scene changes. But if we expect a parade of costumes from that era, we will be disappointed. All the action takes place in the paneled stage of the Marylebone with almost no props. This is 17th century Russia looking like a 21st century country. No problem with that and we get the message.

Back to Poland. Prince Mnishek (Mark Hadfield) and Cardinal Odowalsky (James Garnon) with most Polish parliamentarians are, as I said, enthusiastic supporters of Dmitry. Each may be accused of having his own agenda. The Prince plans to have Dmitry marry his daughter Marina and the Cardinal wants to convert Russia to Catholicism. Dmitry agrees to both. Marina (Aurora Dawson-Hunte) also agrees to marry Dmitry.  

Korela (Piotr Baumann), a wild-looking Cossack warrior arrives and pledges his support for Dmitry. The war begins and we have to follow its course by hearing snippets of information from the front. In the meantime, Dmitry’s pretend mother Maria (Poppy Miller) is making her way across Russia and ends up in the Russian camp. The Cardinal, Korela and Dmitry are wounded.  The Pretender Dmitry is visited by the soul of the real Dmitry, the one that Godunov assassinated many years ago.   

Things work out and there is a coronation, a marriage and cries of joy from the populace. The fraud has worked, and Dmitry is the tsar. But it does not last, and the final and inevitable resolution comes. Dmitry is a fraudster and Romanov becomes tsar and the illusion of Dmitry, the heir of Ivan taking the throne disappears. Romanov tells us that the wisdom that is Russia prevails.

Oswald packs more than we can absorb in his play and having written most of it in free verse makes it even harder to digest. The colourful language of poetry proves difficult for some of the actors to deliver properly. There are far too many exhortations and war-like barks of orders. Speedy entrances and exits abound and there are far too many soliloquys that do not add much to the complex plot.

Director Tim Supple tries to maintain a brisk pace but still needs almost three hours to finish the play. A slower pace and a shorter script with more subtlety may have solved the problem

Dmitry is written after Friedrich Schiller’s unfinished play Demetrius, and I do not have a copy of it to comment as to the extent of its use. There is room for plays in verse but the people, the ambitions, the mendacity, and fraud involved in Dmitry did not resonate with me. You may draw your own conclusions and comparisons about Putin’s attack on Ukraine and Russia of 1605, but it strikes me as a bootstrap’s argument at best.   


Dmitry by Peter Oswald with Alexander J. Gifford after Friedrich Schiller played at the Marylebone Theatre, 35 Park Rd, London NW1 6X, U.K.

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Bertolt Brecht wrote The Caucasian Chalk Circle after World War II when he was living in the United States. At the time there were millions of displaced Europeans living in refugee camps and the play is about them. Brecht places his play in Georgia. 

The production at the Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames near London, England uses an adaptation by Steve Waters that places the play in a contemporary United Nations’ refugee camp. Some refugees have mobile phones, but the camp is predictably an awful place for destitute people.

The promise of the play seems simple. A UN representative visits the camp where two groups are arguing about the use of the land. That is the prologue before we are launched into the play-within-a-play that will keep us trying to figure out what is happening for about three hours, including an intermission.

The Singer (Zoe West) enters strumming a guitar and singing. It is Brecht telling us that theatre is the telling of stories and not realistic representation of events. He called it epic theatre.

                                                Photo by Iona Firouzabadi.

The refugees are assigned parts in the story about a revolution that the Singer will relate to us. The Governor of wherever the revolution is taking place is beheaded and his wife (Joanna Kirkland) leaves in a hurry with her clothes but not her baby son Michael. Grusha (Hope Fletcher) rescues the child and takes care of him. Michael does appear but for most of the performance he is represented by a small stuffed toy. 

At the beginning of the second act one of the actors looks at the audience and confirms what we already know: the plot is very confusing.  For a start there are more than 50 characters that are played by nine performers. What’s more, Director Christopher Hayden has decided to use various accents to indicate different origins or status in society by whoever these people are. It looks like a clever idea, but all the accents are presumably English and comprehension if often minimal. Perhaps they are intended to represent other nationalities but if you don’t understand what they are saying, it makes no difference. Hayden was probably not thinking of Canadian visitors.

Jonathan Slinger in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. 
Photo by Iona Firouzabadi.

The play winds itself towards the crucial end where we meet the great Azdak (Jonathan Slinger). He is educated, an officer of the law and completely corrupt. He speaks to the audience and is quite funny. He becomes the judge in the case of Michael’s fate. His biological mother returns and she claims her son. Grusha has the moral claim as the woman who saved Michael’s life and raised him at great risk to her own life.

The trial is a travesty, of course, but Azdak mandates that he will make his decision based on the Caucasian Chalk Circle. It is as described. A circle is drawn on the floor and the child is placed in the middle. The claimants pull the child by his arms and whoever gets him out of the circle wins. The biological mother does pull Michael out but, in the end, Grusha the “real mother” gets to keep him. 

Set and Costume Designer Oli Townsend provides a dramatic set with rickety beds and several levels of shelves that looks like a huge storage facility. Michael Henry composed the music, but it made little impression on me amid the confusing plot. 

The Rose Theatre deserves a great deal of credit for this ambitious production, and I hate being churlish about it. The acting was superb by any measure and the production values were there. But there were several issues, perhaps partly my fault, that made comprehension and appreciation difficult.


The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht in an adaptation by Steve Waters was performed until October 22, 2022, at the Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames, England.

Sunday, October 16, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The Royal Danish Opera gives Rossini’s La Cenerentola a production that is a pure joy to see and hear. It is sung beautifully, and Director Stefan Herheim invests the production with imaginative comic business that makes your head spin. From the start where we see an “angel” in a cloud over Cinderella who is mopping a floor with her cleaning cart beside her to the end when the guardian angel appears again, we go from one delightful prank to the next non-stop.

La Cenerentola was Rossini’s 19th opera, and he wrote it in a leisurely 25 days in January 1817 just in time for its premiere at the Teatro Valle in Rome. It was a bit of a rush job for librettist Jacopo Ferretti who had to grab some material from Charles Perrault, Charles Guillaume Etienne and Francesco Fiorini but when you have one month from the decision to write an opera based on the Cinderella story to opening night, you have to take some short-cuts. The librettist was not the only one who got help from others. Rossini hired a collaborator who put together the recitatives and composed some arias.

Matteo Macchioni and Josy Santos in 
La Cenerentola. Photo: Henrik Stenberg.

Mezzo soprano Josy Santos makes an outstanding Cinderella. She has a gorgeous voice and handles the trills and arching phrases with uncommon beauty. She is young and lissome and moves like a dancer. This Cinderella may be mistreated by her stepsisters, but she gives almost as much as she gets. She shows an independent and strong spirit with them and with Prince Don Ramiro and gives an overall superb performance.

Tenor Matteo Macchioni is an energetic Prince Don Ramiro with vocal authority and beauty in his middle and high notes. His trills are not there but he chooses not to try doing them all. A fine performance.

Tomi Punkeri enjoys being the double of the Prince and having people cow-tow to him in his role. He gives a versatile comic acting performance and superb singing.

Miklos Sebestyen gets the juicy role of Don Magnifico, the ambitious father of Cinderella’s nasty half-sisters and the clown of the opera. He generates the laughs assigned to him and sings with enthusiasm all the time.

Tae Jeong Hwang does yeoman service as Alidoro. He is the angel, the beggar and the wise advisor to the Prince and does a good vocal and acting job in all those roles. 

Clara Cecille Thomsen as Clorinda and Kari Dahl Nielsen as Tisbe ably represent the nasty and ugly stepsisters. I hasten to add that they perform with vocal and comic verve and the adjectives used about the stepsisters do not apply to the performers of the roles.

The chorus sings of course but some of them don wings and become angels and go through the audience to great approval and applause.

Again, I want to give full marks to Herheim’s imaginative, touching and hilarious directing, his continuous inventiveness and the sheer joy that he gives us in the auditorium from beginning to end. 

In this version of the fairy tale, there is no glass slipper and no horse-drawn carriage. At least not according to the libretto. Herheim and Designer Steven Anthony Whiting produce four miniature plastic horses that appear and Cinderella’s cleaning cart is converted into a carriage, and she is transported to the palace in comic style.

The set is imaginative but not ostentatious and it does the job. the changes between the Palace, the house of Don Magnifico, the appearance of the angel, the trip with the horse-drawn carriage are all done with speed and comic touches. Esther Bialas gets kudos for costume design.

Even Conductor Steven Moore is mobilized to appear on stage as an unknown “extra” wearing a silly wig. He is “uncovered” and sent back to the orchestra pit but not before instigating a gale of laugher and using the opportunity to elicit well-deserved applause for the musicians. The applause applied just as much to him for his vivacious conducting.

A fabulous night at the opera.


La Cenerentola by Gioachino Rossini continues until October 26, 2022 at the Danish Royal Opera House, Ekvipagemestervej 10, 1438 København K, Denmark.

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company is back for a full season of productions and that is great news. Its 2022-2023 season opened with The Flying Dutchman and will be followed quickly with a production of Carmen.   

The Flying Dutchman was scheduled for the 2020 season but the pandemic played a dirty trick on scheduling the opera as well as much of the world. This production is a revival of the 2010 COC staging by Christopher Alden with Marylin Gronsdal as the revival director.  

There is some superb singing in the production. Marjorie Owens has a big, dramatic voice and she sang a convincing and moving Senta. For the beautiful Senta’s Ballad she modulates her voice, sings softly where necessary and ascends the high notes and vocal flourishes splendidly. She recounts the Dutchman’s story, a man looking for a faithful wife who will break his curse and redeem him.    

Bass Franz-Josef Selig has a grand voice with marvelous sonority. His Captain Daland dominates the singing when he is on stage. Baritone Johan Reuter has a fine voice but it is not big and this worked to his disadvantage when singing with Selig. He is at his best in the great duet “Wie aus der Ferne” with Senta. He thinks he has found the faithful woman of his dreams and Senta believes she has found the man of her dreams. A scene and a duet to be cherished as done by Reuter and Owens. That tone continues when they confirm their love and their union.

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production 
of The Flying Dutchman, 2022, photo: Michael Cooper

Tenor Miles Mykkanen was a vigorous Steersman and tenor Christopher Ventris made a well-sung and passionate Erik.

The COC Orchestra and COC Chorus gave stirring performances on their own. Johannes Debus conducted masterful performances by both groups.   

Alden fashioned an imaginative production that is very striking while at the same time being eye-brow raising. The set by Allen Moyer consists of a large, gray room with a relatively low ceiling. It is somewhat tilted and shows a dimly lit and narrow area below which may be the hull of a ship or a view of the underworld.

The opera has at least two ships, the Dutchman’s and Captain Daland’s but while this production may have some suggestion of a ship, none is visible at all. Nor is there any indication of a harbour or the sea. The set’s grey tiles make some of the characters who are dressed in gray almost disappear. Much is made of the dutchman’s ship and I found  seeing nothing but a tilted room most of the time, disconcerting.

Franz-Josef Selig as Daland, Miles Mykkanen (back, facing wall) as the
 Steersman, Christopher Ventris (front) as Erik, and 
Rosie Aldridge as Mary. photo: Michael Cooper

The scene with the spinning women is brilliantly staged. The women gesture in unison their spinning as they are seated or standing up by high-backed chairs. The COC Chorus sings gorgeously in this colourful and wonderful scene.

The COC Chorus excels in the boisterous and rousing “Steuerman, lass’ die Wacht!” where both the men and women of the give their best. For some reason, the sailors wear green armbands and the merry-making is very rowdy. The stage lights change into a kaleidoscope of colours that I suppose to simply emphasize the fun. But I could not understand the armbands which looked almost ominous.   

In the end, the Dutchman  feels betrayed and leaves, a desperate man still in search of the faithful woman who will save him. Senta tears away from everyone and runs to a rocky edge. She flings herself into the sea and the Dutchman’s ship sinks. But as it sinks, we see the Dutchman and Senta rise from the water and rise toward heaven. He has found redemption and apotheosis. It is a staggering image and a stunning conclusion to the opera.

Unfortunately, Alden does not see it that way. In his version the distraught hunter Erik aims his shotgun at Senta and shoots her as she is clutching the Dutchman’s portrait. He escapes up the winding stairs and are we to assume there is no redemption and no transfiguration?

You may disagree with Alden’s take on the opera but you will or should enjoy the production for its many superb virtues from Johanne Debus’ and the COC Orchestra’s and Chorus’s performance and the superb singing.   


The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner opened on October 7 and will be performed a total of seven times until October 23, 2022, on various dates at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. West Toronto, Ont.


Reviewed by James Karas

The broken shark refers to the artificial ocean predator that was manufactured for the filming of the now legendary movie Jaws. The attempts to find a mechanical shark that works, have become almost as legendary as the movie, and the four-month delay in shooting has spawned The Shark is Broken that is now playing at The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto.

Three of the stars of the movie were stuck on a boat waiting for the shooting to resume and that wait has been transformed into a 90-minute play by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon. The men on the boat are Roy Schneider (Demetri Goritsas), Richard Dreyfus (Liam Murray Scott) and Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw). Ian Shaw is one of the authors and the son of Robert Shaw. Presumably we can rely on his memory of events, borrowed or otherwise, for the play.

The three characters are crammed on the boat with a view of the ocean and sky behind them. The set is designed by Duncan Henderson and probably represents what the actors from the movie had to endure. The boat looks claustrophobic and they could not have spent too much time sitting close to each other without going stir-crazy. For the theatre audience, the video of the sea and sky by Nina Dunn looks quite stunning.

(L-R) Demetri Goritsas (Roy Scheider), Ian Shaw (Robert Shaw) and 
Liam Murray Scott (Richard Dreyfuss). Photo: by Helen Maybanks.

In Jaws, Schneider plays the police chief, Dreyfus is a marine biologist and Shaw is a shark hunter. Their mission: kill the man-eating shark that attacks people on the beach. But that is a long way off as the technicians on the movie cannot design a working mechanical shark and the actors are stuck waiting.  

They are in New England and clam chowder is the meal of the day, the week and the month and they are all sick of it. Robert Shaw drinks a lot; Schneider is almost the straight man to the temperamental other two as boredom rises to arguments among some very funny lines that the three come up with.

Director Guy Masterson does an excellent job managing talented actors playing stars.

They have time on their hands and resort to telling stories. Because they are stars, their stories create some interest. Robert Shaw reminisces about acting in the theatre in London with Peter O’Toole and George Devine and his life-long alcoholism. Ian has a remarkable resemblance to his father and plays well. We hear much about the so-called Indianapolis speech in the movie where the character of the shark hunter is illuminated but it had to be rewritten and Robert Shaw finally came up with a satisfactory draft.  

Dreyfus’s father wanted him to become a lawyer. He got his big chance in the movies with a starring part in the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravits. He thought he bombed and it was the end of his acting career. It was not.

The marooned actors play games, argue, annoy each other and provide laughter. Aficionados of Jaws may enjoy it and fans of the three actors who starred in it may find it outstanding. Despite the limitations of three actors on a boat during a hiatus in shooting, Nixon and Ian Shaw have crafted a good show that should be enjoyed by all.


The Shark is Broken by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon continues until November 6, 2022, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Cockroach is a play Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho) playing at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. It has three characters, a Bard, a Boy and a Cockroach. The central character is a cockroach, a brilliant, talkative, in-your-face cockroach played with great vigour by Steven Hao. The Bard (Karl Ang) is William Shakespeare or perhaps his ghost, and the Boy is played by Anton Ling. But a play called Cockroach?

Three of Aristophanes plays are called Wasps, Birds and Frogs. The Chorus of Jurors in Wasps are dressed like wasps. In Birds the King of Thrace becomes a bird and a slew of birds appear as silent parts. In Frogs the Chorus is made up of frogs and there is a silent Donkey. Karel and Josef Capek’s The Insect Play depicts much of the insect world from butterflies to beetles, to ants to crickets to flies.

Karl Ang, Steven Hao, and Anton Ling . Photo by Joy von Tiedemann

Which brings us to Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho)’s play which bears no similarity and owes nothing to previous plays that have insects or other animals in them. A cockroach is an ancient and almost indestructible insect that costs incalculable amounts of money and effort to eradicate from areas that it invades. In Cockroach it is an arrogant, brilliant insect that has indeed been around from time immemorial and intends to stay here forever. He speaks voluminously about civilization and with William Shakespeare as his opponent he belittles the West and wants us to know that the civilization of the East is preeminent.

The Bard, the quotes Shakespeare, is adept at wordplay and vigorously defends the West as the superior culture and his own influence. I am not sure what the Boy does or what he represents. The play stuffs so much material in its 90 minutes that I found it difficult to follow and with a disgusting insect and Shakespeare pontificating almost ceaselessly I had difficulty concentrating.

Much of the acting tends to the stentorian method of speaking with the Boy being less so but, in the end, I got very little out of the whole thing.

The bravura performances by Hao,  Ang and Lee directed by Mike Payette did not shed enough light or bring coherence to the playwright’s overreaching ambitions.


Cockroach  by Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho) continues until October 9, 2022 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.


Reviewed by James Karas

Welcome to dinner with a dysfunctional family. Public Enemy is a 90-minute play by Quebecois playwright Olivier Choinière now playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre in a production by Canadian Stage. Elizabeth (Rosemary Dunsmore), an elderly woman is having dinner with her three children and her two grandchildren. The grandchildren are soon sent to an adjoining TV room and the adults continue with an “adult” conversation. Not quite. They have two conversations going on at the same time conducted by two pairs and the grandchildren are heard intermittently arguing or fighting in the next room. You catch some of the conversations, but it is not easy to follow what they are all talking about.

About ten minutes later, the revolving stage turns revealing the grandchildren in the adjoining room. We are back to the beginning and the first ten minutes (I am not sure of the precise duration) of the play are repeated but this time we are watching the children’s activities and rehearing the conversation of the adults.

(L to R) Rosemary Dunsmore, Jonathan Goad, 
Finley Burke, Michelle Monteith, Maja Vujicic, 
Matthew Edison, Amy Rutherford. Photo by Dahlia Katz

The children, Tyler (Finley Burke) and Olivia (Maja Vujicic) get into a minor physical altercation and their fathers Daniel (Matthew Edison) and James (Jonathan Goad) start a more substantial fight. The scene changes to a balcony where a squirrel appears being handled by Daniel as if he were a puppeteer. Are we to I assume that it is a real squirrel, and its handler is not there? I am not sure. The grandson kills the squirrel.

The children are a little weird. Tyler is a hulk of a teenager that looks and is violent. Olivia is mysterious girl and between scenes we see a picture of her face that covers that entire stage staring at us. There must be a message there that I did not get.

Daniel has no job, and he has been living with his mother at her expense. He brings his girlfriend the floozie-looking Suzie (Amy Rutherford) to live with Elizabeth and that does not bode well for anyone except perhaps Suzie.

James and Melissa (Michelle Monteith) are part of the group with Melissa being an overprotective mother while the grandmother may be overly generous. But the family discussion does range over a wide span of tonics. Elizabeth is getting old, and she needs to be put in a nursing home. There are political and financial issues.

What Choinière represents on stage may ring true of how family dynamics work. Many can testify to two-, three- and four-way conversations going on around the dinner table simultaneously. The participants hear the conversation that he or she participated in without any concern about what the others were saying. Fair enough but we are not sitting at the table. We are are watching a performance and however realistic it may be, it is not satisfactory. Seeing the family talk at cross purposes at the table and then hearing the same conversation again from a different angle no doubt represents realism of sorts but my tolerance for it proved limited.

The plot gets clearer later and the fate of the old mother is at stake and where she will end up is of some consequence to her. But by that time, I had given up to trying to figure out who the public enemy of the title is and what the virtues of the play are for it to merit a production.  Some things are simply not to one’s taste.


Public Enemy by Olivier Choinière, translated and adapted by Bobby Theodore  ran until October  2, 2022 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario.