Review: DRY LAND

by Lynn on September 18, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.


Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel

Directed by Jill Harper

Set by Elahe Marjovi

Lighting by Simon Rossiter

Sound by Tim Lindsay

Cast: Mattie Driscoll

Veronica Hortiguela

Jonas Trottier

Reanne Spitzer

Tim Walker

Less a play and more a check list of teenage angst and issues in a production that is not helped by its glacial pace.

The Story. Amy is a pregnant teenage who can’t afford an abortion. She can’t tell her mother. She can’t afford the internet pill that will end the pregnancy. We are in Florida. American health care makes this situation is onerous. Amy asks Ester, another teen, to punch her in the stomach, hard to see if that will make her self-abort. Ester is lonely and needy and does what Amy says. Amy is hard nosed, manipulative and mean.

 The Production. Most of the action takes place in the school in a locker room of the pool. The girls are all on the swim team with Ester (Matti Driscoll) being so good she is trying out of a top swim team. Amy (Veronica Hortiguela) has other concerns. Driscoll is accommodating, awkward, unsure of herself and needs to be liked by Amy. As Amy, Veronica Hortiguela is cold, a bullying, impatient presence, and knows how to push the buttons of Ester. While the timing in the dialogue between Amy and Ester is fine, there is so much information about the two women that I didn’t believe it as a credible play that explored issues deeply. Playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel just dropped facts into the mix without developing them. That makes for clunky playwriting.

Jill Harper’s staging is find in negotiating the space but the scene changes are positively glacial that makes the production seem endless. Do we really have to listen to a song to end before the scene can move on? Does a change of clothes really have to take that long before a character re-appears and moves us along? I don’t think so.

 Comment. Much is made of the fact that this is Ruby Rae Speigel’s first full length play, that she was 21 when it was first produced and it was nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.  That was three years ago and seems to be her only play. She then wrote a film for Netflix. For all Speigel’s good intentions and her going to Yale to be a playwright, Dry Land is little more than a checklist of teenage ills: abortion (check), girls wanting to fit in (check), bullying mercilessly (check), a shocking revelation about a character (check)  a dramatic twist (check) a change of attitude between characters (check). What we don’t have here is the actual play that explains, develops and digs deep to create credible characters to bring all this about. We are to intuit without comment that because Ester was there in Amy’s darkest moment they would have a new understanding and be friends? That because of this Ester has more confidence? That means the audience is doing the work the playwright should have. Sigh.

Cue6 is a wonderful theatre company presenting edgy work. Dry Land is a misstep. I note that almost all the actors have just graduated from a theatre school of sorts and this is their first ‘professional’ job. Better luck next time.

Cue6 presents:

Began: Sept. 5, 20198

Closes: Sept. 22, 2018.

Running Time: less than 90 minues.




Review: A Number

by Lynn on September 16, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Wychwood Theatre, 601 Christie Street, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Dahlia Katz

Set, props, costumes by Cat Haywood

Lighting by Brandon Goncalves

Sound by Dahlia Katz

Cast: M. John Kennedy

Nora McLellan

A bold production of Caryl Churchill’s challenging play that would be even bolder without the intermission.

The Story. We are in England, in Salter’s home. He is a widower and he’s listening to his agitated son Bernard and trying to cope with his news: that Bernard found out he’s a clone, actually a number of them. Incredulous. Salter suggests they sue. How did this happen? Bernard certainly wants to know and so does Salter. Then Salter is visited by another clone of his son, (Bernard B2) and the story gets murky. This being Caryl Churchill it’s also gripping.

The Production. Cat Haywood has designed a tasteful, neat set with picture frames on the wall, upstage is a credenza with a kettle and two mugs on it, centre stage is a table and two chairs, stage right is an easy chair with a cushion on it, and stage left is a washbasin full of water. At the extreme stage left are hooks on a wall with shirts etc.

Salter (Nora McLellan—you read that right) sits at the table wearing a shirt and tie, neat slacks and tan shoes. He faces his son Bernard (B1) (M. John Kennedy) who wears a shirt, pants and shoes. His hair is neatly combed with a part on the left side.

McLellan plays Salter as a man. She wears a wig that is short and full and looks like a man. McLellan is tight lipped, contained and reveals a touch of anger at what seems to have happened—that Salter’s son somehow was cloned perhaps at birth, in the hospital. Salter’s body language is also contained and there is no effort to swagger or do any of that clichéd movement suggesting a man. Salter is Bernard’s father and we take on faith and trust that the person playing him is playing him as a man. Salter is as shocked as Bernard 1 is at such a turn of events. Salter never raises his voice—perhaps the business of being a proper British man comes into play, although not a posh one with a plumy accent. To suggest they sue reveals Salter as a father who wants justice. Salter’s behaviour with Bernard (B2) suggests something else. And in true Caryl Churchill fashion, she reveals information slowly and it packs a punch.

M. John Kennedy as Bernard (B1) is unsettled and bewildered by his learning he’s a clone. He’s not angry. Rather he seems flustered. He doesn’t know how it happened. He’s not sure how he really feels about it. It has put him in a world of true confusion.

In a neat bit of theatre at the end of the scene we see Bernard (B1) take off the shirt and put it on a hook then go over to the bowl of water and wash his face and slick back his hair and then mess it up. The part in his hair is gone and he now becomes Bernard (B2). This man is angry, combative, confident and dangerous. The body language is of a person ready for anything.

The movement in this play is so confined as to grip the audience. Director Dahlia Katz does have Salter move occasionally by walking around the easy chair to break up the scene a bit. Perhaps that is a bit obvious since there is no reason for Salter to walk around the chair but that’s a quibble.

Of concern is that they have put an intermission in this short play which is a mistake. Churchill didn’t write it with an intermission and that should have been respected. I have over-heard someone say that this gives the audience a break because it does get pretty intense. Nonsense! This is Caryl Churchill for heaven sake! It’s supposed to be intense. Is the intermission there to sell drinks? Nonsense! It’s a really small theatre—you can’t make that much money on a can of pop. Or I’ve heard the seats are meant for children and perhaps the adults might find it uncomfortable so a break is in order. Baloney! The seats are padded. We don’t go to see this kind of production for comfort but to feel uncomfortable.

This is what happens when you put in a break where there shouldn’t be one: the momentum of the play is interrupted; getting the audience ‘back’ in the rhythm of the play after the intermission takes time the production can’t afford. Please trust your audience to cope. Take out the damned intermission!

Comment. This is billed as: “Solar Stage presents a Lunar Stage Project. “ Solar Stage is a company that presents theatre for young audiences. Lunar Stage is their first offering for adult audiences. I love their chutzpah not only for doing a play by the always challenging Caryl Churchill, but also for casting Nora McLellan to play Salter, the father.

It’s a fine production. It will be just gripping when you cut the intermission. Thank you.

Solar Stage presents a Lunar Stage Project:

Opened: Sept. 14, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 22, 2018.

Running Time: 85 minutes approx. (but should be 70 minutes without the intermission).


The Festival Players, Prince Edward Country, Studio Theatre, Wellington, Ont.

 Written by Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Andrea Donaldson

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Lindsay Forde

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Maev Beaty

Liisa Repo-Martell

This is a beautiful ache of a play and a production. Andrea Donaldson’s direction and the performances of Maev Beaty and Liisa Repo-Martell are exquisite.

The Story. A Beautiful View by Daniel MacIvor is about relationships, the weight of language and silence in that relationship.  Daniel MacIvor wrote this in 2006.

It’s about two women, Liz (Maev Beaty) and Mitch (Liisa Repo-Martell). They meet by accident in a sporting goods store. Liz thinks that Mitch works there since she’s coming out of a tent. Nope. Both are customers looking for camping stuff. They chat each other up—is there a spark? They share information about each other—where they work, what they do. They are both lying.

Mitch seeks out Liz at her place of work—it’s at the airport so you know Mitch is really interested. A relationship results. Over several years it has its ups and downs.  They don’t know or want to know how to describe it. The play takes this further.

The Production.  I’d travel a long way to see a production as good as this one. I guess I did since I went to Prince Edward County, not that far with a car.

Steve Lucas has designed a simple bare set with a few props: two chairs and a pop-up tent with a mind of its own.

Liz (Maev Beaty) and Mitch (Liisa Repo-Martell) begin the play by telling us they are going to relive their history of meeting etc. for us. When Liz saw Mitch coming out of the tent in the store she assumes Mitch works there. This results in awkward, nervous giggles. As Liz, Beaty is the more composed and reserved of the two; she keeps things inside. Her humour is dry.  As Mitch, Liisa Repo-Martell is the more anxious, wired, emotional but not overly so. She has a sense of humour too.

Director Andrea Donaldson is such a sensitive, nuanced director, creating moments of gentle humour that reveal the heart and soul of the play.

For example, as the two women tell the story of their relationship, Liz saunters off stage, looks around a wall to the audience and gives a reaction to what Mitch is saying. The result is a loud laugh from the audience.  Both Beaty and Repo-Martell listen so intently to each other (and so does the audience) that truthful reactions come organically from the performances.  Together they dig deep and reveal the fragile characters of these women; lonely, yearning for companionship, bold, daring, awkward, reticent and then brave.

Both Liz and Mitch lie to protect themselves then learn to be honest with each other in order to build an honest relationship/friendship/ bond.

At its basic level A Beautiful View is about friendship. These women share a bond.

They have the same tastes in a lot of things.  They are both unsure of themselves and how they fit in. The relationship deepens but Mitch quickly says she’s not a lesbian.

MacIvor is exploring words, language and silence and how they confine and define people.  Liz and Mitch struggle to find words that would clearly describe to others what their relationship is. “Friends”, “soul mates” lovers?? One wonders, what does it matter what other people think. Today we use words like fluid for sexuality, binary, transgender.

I think MacIvor might have been foreshadowing that when he wrote the play in 2006.And in today’s world we certainly look at the play with a fresh perspective.

Comment. So once again, the Festival Players scores with a beautiful rendering of dandy play.

Festival Players of Prince Edward County Present:

Began: Sept. 4, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 23, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes.


At the AKI Studio, 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto, Ont.

Marion Newman,
Photo by Dahlia Katz


Written by Jani Lauzon

Directed by Marjorie Chan

Musical director, Jerod Impichchaachaaha Tate

Set by Christine Urquhart

Costumes by Snezana Pesic

Lighting by Kaitlin Hickey

Sound by Marc Meriläinen

Cast: Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Howard Davis

Richard Greenblatt

Marion Newman

Aaron Wells

A fascinating play about Tsianina Redfeather, a Creek/Cherokee who was an opera singer in the early 1900s. The production is a busy swirl of movement but the deep implications of the story rise above the distractions.

The Story. This is a fascinating play that Jani Lauzon has written. A character named William Morin is a music student who is going off to University on an Indigenous scholarship.  While he is a classically trained pianist his aim is to discover the music of his Indigenous roots.

As he researches and investigates he learns about Tsianina Redfeather, a Creek/Cherokee opera singer who lived and sung in the early part of the 20th century.  The spirit of Tsianina Redfeather seems to oversee William Morin as he struggles to fit in, to find his voice as an Indigenous artist and to discover true Indigenous music that has been appropriated by white musicians and return it to its pure form.

And then Redfeather appears to him and they have an on-going dialogue.  William Morin learns that Tsianina Redfeather also wanted to bring native songs to a white audience and to do it she travelled with Charles Wakefield Cadman, a white American musician who lectured on the American Indian in his travels.  He arranged the music and in a way appropriated it but not in a mean way. Perhaps he was just blinkered. But Tsianina Redfeather went along with it to bring that music and the stories of her people to a larger audience.  Cadman wrote an opera semi-based on Redfeather’s life and it was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918 but Tsianina Redfeather did not insist on singing the title role there. She did sing it on tour and in Los Angeles.

The Production. Designer Christine Urquhart’s set is spare. A curtain of opaque strips hands upstage. A grand piano is stage right. When William Morin is at the piano we see a ghostly woman in Indigenous garb (beaded head-band, traditional dress and moccasins) illuminated behind the curtain, watching him. (I do get a little concerned when William plops his backpack on the top of the piano—a no-no for a piano—but he doesn’t do that again

But when William (Aaron Wells) ‘meets’ Tsianina Redfeather (Marion Newman) and digs deeper into her life and the life of other Indigenous artists, the play deals with deeper issues of appropriation, the total dismissing of the Indigenous voice in their music, stories and history.  It’s interesting to see how both William Morin and Tsianina Redfeather deal with the difficulties they meet in their efforts to be heard and to tell their stories.

It’s different: Redfeather is patient, thoughtful and has wisdom in solving the problems; William is impatient, frustrated but firm and eventually he finds his way through.

Marjorie Chan directs and quite often the staging is busy.  New information flees at us as the stage is a swirl of characters circling each other, flitting from one corner of the space to another and clarity becomes an issue. There is a traditional Indigenous reason for characters to circle each other, but it’s just too busy with five characters circling, moving and interacting,

Marion Newman plays Tsianina Redfeather with quiet wisdom that is compelling. And she sings the music beautifully, conveying their message with clarity.  She wears a traditional Indigenous costume with her headband and moccasins made by Jani Lauzon.

There is care in every detail.

Aaron Wells plays William Morin with a growing frustration of wanting to take advantage of the opportunity he has been given until he realizes he will have to find another way to discover his people’s music. Then he becomes driven but focused. And he too sings in a strong tenor voice.

Richard Greenblatt provides expert piano accompaniment as well as playing Charles Wakefield Cadman, a fussy, fastidious man who thought he was doing good by lecturing on the American Indian. Cadman wrote the opera Shanewis (The Robin Woman) which is partially based on Tsianina Redfeather’s life.

There certainly is a lot to consider with this challenging piece.

Comment. Initially I get the sense I Call myself Princess is more a collection of facts, information and history rather than a cohesive play. At times there are speeches by William Morin that seem simplistic whining about the plight of the Indigenous people.

He has a fight with his partner who is a light-skinned black man on who has suffered more.  I’m not sure that kind of dialogue is useful in trying to get a point across. It seems clichéd. But as the play goes on, playwright Jani Lauzon brings up all sorts of thorny issues of appropriation and deals with them in a thoughtful, measured way.

That issue of appropriation and not allowing an Indigenous voice to speak for itself has certainly filled our media of late.  I think of Robert Lepage not casting any Indigenous actors to be in his production of KANATA which is about the history of the Indigenous people in Canada. This is an attitude that is so blinkered it’s stunning.

That kind of cavalier attitude certainly informs Jani Lauzon’s play but it’s not handled as a rant by the character of Tsianina Redfeather. Lauzon has written her as such a wise woman. She has grace and a watchfulness that allows her to pick her battles.

Redfeather speaks up when she disagrees with Cadman regarding the ending of Shenewis and he goes along with her argument and adjusts the ending. Bravo to Jani Lauzon for introducing us to Tsianina Redfeather, her voice, her story and her accomplishments.

Produced by Paper Canoe Projects and Cahoots Theatre Productions in association with Native Earth Performing Arts.

Opened: Sept. 13, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 30, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours.


At the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Adapted by R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette

Directed by Craig Hall

Designed by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Alan Brodie

Projections designed by Jamie Nesbitt

Original music and sound by John Gzowski

Puppetry directed by Alexis Milligan and Mike Petersen

Cast: Damien Atkins

Kristopher Bowman

Patrick Galligan

Cameron Grant

Claire Julien

Natasha Mumba

Gray Powell

Ric Reid

Graeme Somerville


A good adaptation, sound acting but a production loaded with so many projections the audience has no reason to use its imagination, which means it’s rather tedious.

The Story. Sir Charles Baskerville has died of a supposed heart attack on the grounds of his estate. But his friend James Mortimer thinks something is fishy. Baskerville had a look of horror on his face and there were marks in the ground near the body that suggested that a giant creature might have scared Baskerville to death.  Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson are called to take on the case.

It seems the estate owned by the Baskerville family is cursed.  Lots of bad things happen there since a Baskerville gave up his soul if he could have a woman he coveted. This doesn’t scare Holmes who through brilliant observation discovers clues and that a crime has been committed.  Everything hinges on the performance of Sherlock Holmes to pull this off.

The Performance. Art they successful in pulling this off? They are in the acting. As Sherlock Holmes, Damien Atkins is focused and almost in a trance he is concentrating so hard.  You know this is no ordinary man. He is emotionless and very matter of fact in his speech.  His mind is razor sharp as he finds clues, questions their use and gets deeper into the case.  Equally fastidious in his performance is Ric Reid as Dr. Watson. He is emotional, enthusiastic and committed too.  The other members of the cast play several parts and usually are unrecognizable from one character to another.

However, I smile with sad amusement at the efforts of director Craig Hall to be provocative in his direction. While the adaptation is careful to mention that there are places in the landscape that is to barren one can’t find a marker that sets off one area for another. Yet designer Dana Osborne has rock formation after rock formation float onstage to represent endless scenes on the Dartmoor moors. Jamie Nesbitt’s projections also choke the production.  A bank of screens hangs down from the flies along the side and back walls of the stage. Many and various projections are splashed on these screens to establish the Dartmoor moors, the vegetation, the geography of the various locations, and interiors of houses. The audience audibly gasped when a character went from one floor down into the basement of this manor house and the projection indicated one floor of the house lowering down (as an elevator might) to the basement. I sighed. It’s so 14 years ago in London, Eng. (William Dudley’s set of projections for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Women in White comes thuddingly to mind.)

I wish directors could be warned that theatre is an art form that thrives on the audience being able to use its imagination. With overloaded projections as the ones in this show, the audience is not allowed to IMAGINE almost anything.  As an example—at the end of Act I, the lights come up signifying it is intermission. But just in case the audience had never been in a theatre and had no idea of how it worked, the word INTERMISSION is also splashed on the back wall after the lights come up.

Somebody has not faith in the audience to figure it out.  That’s insulting and boring. However, there is a wonderful piece of business in which a villain is sucked into the mire in mist etc. and the effect is spooky, chilling and so effective.

More of that please and less of the projections.

Produced by the Shaw Festival

Opened: Aug. 11, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 27, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes


Hi Folks, I’m doing a follow-up talk on Stratford and Shaw, November 5 from 1-3 pm at the Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton Street in Toronto.

I did one last spring talking about the histories of both festivals, the present artistic directors and their seasons and what they are doing to ensure a future audience. This new talk will see how both festivals did regarding their shows, plans etc. It’s offered through the University of Toronto Alumnae but you don’t have to have gone to U. of T.

The first hour is a talk. The second hour is a question and answer session. Last time it was lively. I anticipate the same in November.

Here is the link for tickets and info:


At the Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Robert Lepage

Set design by Robert Lepage

Creative director and designer, (huh??) Steve Blanchet

Costumes designed by Mara Gottier

Lighting by Laurent Routhier

Composed and sound by Antoine Bédard

Images designed by Pedro Pires

Cast: Graham Abbey

Wayne Best

David Collins

Martha Farrell

Oliver Gamble

Farhang Ghajar

Alexis Gordon

Tom McCamus

Eli McCready-Branch

Nick Nahwegahbow

Stephen Ouimette

Lucy Peacock

Tom Rooney

André Sills

E.B. Smith

Johnathan Sousa

Emilio Vieira

Brigit Wilson

Visually striking but why am I in a theatre watching a film?

The Story. Coriolanus is a successful general who won many battles for the people of Rome. He is urged to go into politics and become Consul of Rome but just hated the game of having to play up to the fickle population, But his strong mother, Volumnia urges him to do it and he does to a point.

Then he turns on his people when they become too demanding, goes over to his enemy’s side, the Volscians lead by Aufidius  and proposes that they both attack Rome. Then things get messy.

The Production. The big deal about this production is that it is directed by Robert Lepage. His present difficulties aside of being culturally blinkered—by not casting indigenous actors for an upcoming show on the history of Indigenous people in Canada, Robert Lepage is a rock star of a director. He has a true international reputation as a daring visionary as a director.  He has a visual sense that creates images that are arresting and mesmerizing. He’s really big on using technology, such as filmed/videoed sequences, animation, images on images.  His story-telling has a sweep. And Shakespeare’s Coriolanus certainly has sweep.  It’s a story that deals with wars against opposing factions, a fickle population, backstabbing politicians, people angling for power and a pushy mother. It is loaded with the stuff of drama. Coupled with Lepage’s arresting images it definitely grabs the audience.

As the audience files in there is a large bust of Coriolanus centre stage. The eyes are closed and the background seems to shimmer.  As I look at that bust and note that this might be an animation of sorts, I know that when the show starts those eyes will open and an inanimate bust of the man will speak and be animated in his speeches. And lo and behold it’s true.

The bust comes to life when the lights go up on the stage and Coriolanus delivers his thoughts. André Sills plays Coriolanus with vigour, edge, impatience and stature. You can see him trying to contain his anger as he tries to curry favour to become Consul.

When he goes over to the other side, Lepage has Coriolanus get into a sports car on stage and take off at high speed. The speed is suggested when the background whizzes by: from urban to rural, through a dark forest (for a second there I thought of Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Show driving through a similar dark forest, the car breaks down and they seek help in the spooky castle of Dr. Frank N Furter. I know I didn’t blunder into the wrong production because the good Dr. Frank N Furter is up there in my row, disguised as Dan Chameroy), to another town—and comes to stop outside Aufidius’ headquarters.

Lighting designer, Laurent Routhier,  creates a lighting effect on the wheels of the car that give the impression the tires are spinning at break-neck speed and when the car slows down the lighting on the hubcap also slows and we can see the revolve clearly. That’s the kind of dazzling mind Robert Lepage has and the kind of artistry lighting designer Laurent Routhier has as well.  That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

There are speeches delivered between characters as if they are in a radio studio doing an interview. There is a scene between guard who are texting each other with the text illuminated on the set for us to make out their humour, banter and use of emojis. Often there are scenes in bars—lots of politicians doing lots of drinking here. It’s all very him.

All this hipness and technology is thought to appeal to a young, tech-savvy audience. Some wags have called it a production for the ages. Hmmm.

The stage seems raised, with the action set in a frame. Scenes begin and end with the walls from the sides closing in and walls from the ceiling lowering and from the floor rising up to meet in the middle.  The effect is like watching the end of a scene in a film. I thought that odd. Why am I watching a film when I’m in a theatre watching a play? Is this how someone thinks you have to engage a young audience? I don’t think so. Just make them use their imaginations as with that car and you will grab them.

The acting is fine, certainly with André Sills’ bold performance (as mentioned above). Lucy Peacock plays Volumnia with a tight smile as she tries to control her impatience with her stubborn son.  At times her voice can sound shrill with a quiver because of effort. That’s no necessary. Peacock can be steely in her resolve as Volumnia and that makes the character formidable.  Volumnia is smart, tenacious and wily as played by Peacock, but she should just relax the voice.

As Aufidius, Graham Abbey is strapping and watchful. It’s an interesting touch that Aufidius might have  deeper feelings towards Coriolanus than just those of  enemies.

Tom McCamus plays Menenius Agrippa, a friend to Coriolanus, as a world weary politician who always seems to be in a bar. Very telling that.

The result here is that while the acting is fine, it looks like all the action happens downstage in that filmic frame, without variation. As a result, the whole feel of this production is flat, that we are at a remove from the action.

Comment. I can appreciate Robert Lepage’s vision in making this production so modern—filmic, moments of television and radio; setting scenes of intrigue in bars, emojis. But I think the point of suggesting this is a film when it’s done in a theatre, defeats the purpose and doesn’t serve the play.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Opened:  June 23, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 3, 2018.

Running Time: 3 hours, approx.




At the Blyth Festival, Blyth Memorial Community Hall, Blyth, Ont.


Wing Night at the Boot

Written by the company

Directed by Severn Thompson

Set by Jenna McCutchen

Costumes by Jennifer Triemstra –Johnston

Lighting by Itai Erdal

Sound by Heidi Chan

Cast: Georgina Beaty

Graham Cuthbertson

Marion Day

Nathan Howe

Tony Munch

Daniel Roberts

A one joke show performed with joyous commitment by the cast.

The Story.  The show is a composite of various interviews the company did with people who had memories of “The Boot” or as it’s officially know, “The Blyth Inn.” This is the hotel/bar/restaurant that is across the street from the Blyth Memorial Community Hall where the productions are performed. The nick-name of “The Boot” came about because of the farmer’s muddy boots that they cleaned off at the door; or because they took off their boots at the door; or……

There are sweet stories when a family bought the place and ran the bar, shared stories, indulged customers and worked hard to maintain the place. There are endless stories of how people came to the bar regularly and drank until they were sick, puked on the sidewalk and went home. Or they drank until they were blind-drunk, got into fights and bled on the sidewalk beside the puke and went home. There are stories of lost, lonely people coming to “the Boot” for friendship, companionship, to pick up women, men, etc.

You get the point.

The Production. Audience members can buy a beer on stage before the show and during intermission. Some of the cast pour a glass for the patrons in the audience who want to partake. It’s friendly, cheerful, easy and a lovely touch.

Graham Cuthbertson tells a wild story about a regular drinker at the Boot who has to drive to Clinton before the beer store closes. He drives like a maniac and the story involves the police, drunk driving, an accident and damage. It’s funny and horrifying. The stalwart, energetic cast recreate the intricate process of making wings on wing night (Thursdays).

Director Severn Thompson directs with a sure hand. The scenes flow beautifully from story to poignant story in a seamless way. Georgina Beaty plays a disappointed, angry woman whose partner has ‘wandered’ and also a waitress (among others) who is sad in her dead-end job. Marion Day enlivens the various characters she plays. Nathan Howe defines “sad-sack” characters and plays them beautifully. Tony Munch is the gracious hotel owner, among others. And Daniel Roberts plays his various characters with commitment and humour.

Comment. People who have a history with “The Boot” will recognize the characters and the stories. For the rest of us, it’s a one joke show of drinking until you are sick or hurt. No thanks.

 Presented by The Blyth Festival

From: Aug. 8, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 15, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours 15 minutes.


1837: The Farmer’s Revolt.

Written by Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Muraille

Directed by Gil Garratt

Set, projections and lighting design by Beth Kates

Costumes by Gemma James Smith

Sound and music composition by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Matthew Gin

Marcia Johnson

Lorne Kennedy

Omar Alex Khan

Parmida Vand

While 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt is part of Canadian theatre history it is past its best-by date.

The Story. Farmers wanting a better life, cleared land and planted without actually buying the land. They believed that if they worked it and made the land produce they could take possession. Then rich men bought land that had been cleared by these farmers and the farmers had no legal right to own it. They could not afford the cost of an acre. The price of land changed without their knowing it.

Eventually the farmers were organized to protest and fight by William Lyon MacKenzie (coincidentally I went to a high school named after him.)

The Production. Gil Garratt has directed an ambitious, lively production. Beth Kates has designed a very textured set with walls that look like crumpled paper and props of the period, over which are projected an abundance of projections to augment the scenes. Beth Kates’ projections are always imaginative and generally help realize the tone and sense of the scenes, but I fear matters get out of hand here. There is an easel centre stage on which is a large book. A woman enters carrying a camera that gets a close-up of the book. It’s a collection of Canadian plays and a character enters and flips through the pages of the plays, (I see The Ecstasy of Rita Joe) until the person stops at 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt. The camera pans into the title page etc. I can’t read it because the background is uneven and the focus is fuzzy. Too often projections are splashed on the crumpled paper walls or surroundings on the set and making out what I’m supposed to see is difficult, frustrating and distracting if there is a scene going on. This story is complicated enough without having it further complicated with projections that over state the case.

The cast is stalwart in playing various characters but remembering who they all are and how they factor into the story is also difficult because there are so many characters and they have not been properly developed or explained.

For all the good will and enthusiasm of the cast and the busy invention of Gil Garratt and Beth Kates the production doesn’t work because the play doesn’t work.

 Comment. 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt got its start at the Blyth Festival. It was improvised by the actors and ‘written down’ in 1974 by Rick Salutin. It has played across the country, been taught in schools and is a cornerstone of the Canadian theatre. But I fear that it’s passed its ‘best-by’ (buy?). Up until last year the play had rarely been done since the 1970s. Last year the Shaw Festival did a production that was also well-intentioned but ultimately didn’t work either because the play was self-defeating.

The play started in Blyth but only now has it been revived. I think there is a reason for this infrequency—the play is too complicated with too many characters that have not been developed enough to be memorable. Keeping track of all the disjointed storylines, the under-developed characters and the plodding details make the enterprise deadly. Enough.

From: Aug. 1, 2018.

Closes: Sept. 15, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes approx.


At Withrow Park, Toronto, Ont. (between the two mighty trees)

Written by Kaitlyn Riordan and William Shakespeare (I love that juxtaposition in the writing credit)

Directed by Eva Barrie

Designed by Rachel Forbes

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound and composition by Miquelon Rodriguez

Cast: Deborah Drakeford

Nikki Duval

Christine Horne

Jahnelle Jones-Williams

Kwaku Okyere

Troy Sarju

Sienna Singh

Adriano Sobretodo Jr.

Giovanni Spina

Tahirih Vejdani

Jeff Yung

Kaitlyn Riordan’s bold re-interpretation of Julius Caesar with the women firmly in power making the various decisions while the men go about screwing things up.

The Story. Ok, Shakespeare’s story is that crowds are easily swayed and duped into believing what a few good manipulators want them to believe. Julius Caesar is either a great warrior and cares about his people or he’s ambitious and should be killed for it. Several senators believe the latter and get Brutus, the noblest Roman of all, to come into their plot to kill Caesar in the Senate house.

Caesar’s wife Calpurnia didn’t want him to go (“Julie, don’t go.” Those over 50 will know what this means). He ignores her. A soothsayers says, “Beware the Ides of March” (March 15) presumably the day Caesar is meant to go to the Senate. Caesar ignores him too. The results of course are that Caesar is stabbed in the Senate—well, really he was stabbed all over his body, but you know what I mean.

Kaitlyn Riordan’s take on Shakespeare’s play is that women have the smarts to know how the world works and how to avoid the pitfalls. Because there are so few major roles for women in Shakespeare’s plays Riordan decided to put some in or at least flesh out the small women’s roles here so that they have a more substantial voice. Riordan says in her program note that she used dialogue from 17 of Shakespeare’s plays, four sonnets and one poem to make up the speeches of the women. Lines from Hamlet  and Richard III had me chuckling in recognition and for the chutzpah.

Do you think Coriolanus’ Mother )Volumnia) is ballsy? Wait until you see Servilla, Brutus’ Mom in action. Servilla knows how to read the political landscape of Rome and pushes and prods her son to grab his chance to lead. She also knows how to manipulate others to get what she wants. Servilla doesn’t have much affection for Portia, Brutus’ wife, who always seems to have her baby in her arms. Calpurnia, Caesar’s anxious wife, desperate to give him a son, also knows the political landscape and fears for her husband. There is even a meeting between Calpurnia and Cleopatra (Caesar and Cleopatra as you will recall had a ‘thing’ years before). Turning the story on it’s head so that women get to speak and voice their opinions here is wildly imaginative, perceptive and provocative.

The Production. The play takes place in the magical Withrow Park, between two beautiful trees. Rachel Forbes has decorated the space with banners on spears in the distance that suggests the Roman court etc. There is a covering on the ground suggesting the emblem of Rome as well. Costumes are flowing robes/togas etc. Furnishings etc. are spare and simple.

Eva Barrie’s staging is brisk, efficient and she uses the space of the park with flair. There is such a sense of urgency in the production that seems so appropriate. Deborah Drakeford plays Servilla with an icy stare and a fierce conviction. You don’t mess with this woman if you are smart. Calpurnia is played with heightened emotion by Nikki Duval who brings all the longing and passion to the role of a woman who feels forgotten and desperate to save her husband. Christine Horne also gives Portia a certain passion and concern for her husband Brutus. Kwaku Okyere as Cassius and others has great energy but could tone down his enthusiasm a bit so he won’t seem so over-wrought.

The entire enterprise is presented with total conviction. Terrific effort with lots to think about.

Shakespeare in the Ruff presents:

Plays until Sept. 3, 2018.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, approx.

Pay What You Can.  Bring a blanket to sit on.


At the Studio Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Written by Erin Shields

A theatrical Adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

Designed by Judith Bowden

Composer, Thomas Ryder Payne

Sound by Deanna Haewon Choi

Fight director, John Stead

Movement by Valerie Moore

Heavenly (sorry) in every way.

 The Story.  Paradise Lost, is adapted by Erin Shields from John Milton’s epic 1667 poem about the expulsion of Satan/Lucifer and the followers from Heaven to a much hotter place because they challenged the will of God. They wanted to follow free will. And there are questions of the righteousness of God vs. the presumption of evil of Satan.

 The Production. Judith Bowden has designed an intriguingly simple set on two levels. God (Juan Chioran) in a tasteful grey suit looks down on his domain from the upper level. Below there is a wall of what looks like white, frilly clothes.

In Erin Shields’ bracing, whip-smart, dazzlingly written adaptation Lucifer is now a sensual, beguiling, seductive woman, played by the exquisite Lucy Peacock in black leather pants, knee-high black leather boots and a formfitting top that could be snake skin. She is shattering as she calmly, clearly describes the pain of being hurled out of Heaven to Hell and the fire that burned and melted skin and wings on the way down.

But then there is the smile: relaxed, embracing, dangerous and seductive as she tells us how we should be thanking her: “I liberated you from the banality of bliss/I released you from the beigeness of contentment.”


But then Satan decides to get even with God for the sudden eviction from Paradise. She targets Adam, played as a sweet, wide-eyed, protective Qasim Khan and Eve, played by Amelia Sargisson, with pluck, curiosity and gentle impishness.  We see the innocence of Adam and Eve who appear to be naked in their sheer body-stockings and unaware of it, who refer to each other in the third person.

God has told them not to eat the fruit (apple) from the Tree of Knowledge.  Satan thinks that is unreasonable and charms Eve into eating the apple using logic and that smile that can make you do anything she is so convincing.  And of course all hell breaks out when Eve eats the apple and convinces Adam to do it too.

They lose their innocence and become aware and ashamed of their nakedness and that is the beginning of their lives lived in guilt, worry, concern and all the neat stuff of real life. And they begin to refer to each other as “you” and “I”, accusatory pronouns to be sure.

Jackie Maxwell proves once again that she is one of our brightest, smartest directors. Her production is simple yet complex. There is a piece of business in which the snake appears out of that wall of clothing, beguiling, mesmerizing. Lucifer grabs the snake and her arm is pulled into to material right to the shoulder. It’s a struggle getting the arm out but when she does her arm is now the snake. Magic before our eyes.

Again, Lucy Peacock is a relaxed, charmingly dangerous Satan. She is more interesting in her wicked ways than the righteous God, played by the courtly Juan Chioran. The intellectual arguments about good and evil between these two equals is part of the many fascinations of this production.

Sin is played by Sarah Dodd with something like a Bronx accent and tight pants. This woman takes no prisoners.

Comment.  Erin Shields has written a bracing, brilliant, impish, witty, poetic, intellectual, very funny adaptation for our times.  Her sense of language and description will have your eyes popping.  There is intellectual rigor here. And making Satan a woman somehow raises the danger stakes.

I loved every single second of this production.  It’s theatre for adults loaded with whimsy, wit and brains.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Opened: Aug. 17, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 21, 2018.

Running Time: 3 hours approx.