At the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Kevin Elyot
Directed by Joel Greenberg
Set and costumes by John Thompson
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Garth Helm
Cast: Tim Funnell
Alex Furber
Martin Happer
Jeff Miller
Gray Powell
Jonathan Wilson

My Night With Reg is a delicate yet chilling play about the early days of the AIDS epidemic but is timeless because of its handling of male relationships. The production is stylish, beautifully acted and moving.

The Story. London, mid-1980s. Guy is having a flat-warming party (apartment-warming party to North Americans) to celebrate his new digs. He’s invited several old and new men friends. He met the older friends in school and has kept in touch intermittently. John is one old friend and Guy has secretly loved him all those years but didn’t dare tell him.

Guy is single, shy, accommodating to his friends and is the one person they all confide in. John is dashing, charming, rich and very popular. But not as popular as Reg seems to be. All the men in the play are gay and they all have Reg in common.

Over the course of the play there are at least two funerals. Lurking in the background is the spectre of AIDS, which is never mentioned. Because we come with the benefit of hindsight to My Night With Reg we know that the men who died, died of AIDS. Guy often expresses how well he takes care to protect himself. We know from what.

The Production. Everything about John Thompson’s set for Guy’s flat is tasteful, in muted colours. The sofa has two cushions arranged just so. The artwork is conservative and not raunchy. The bar is well stocked because Guy is having a party for friends he hasn’t seen in years. The terrace is being painted by a young fellah named Eric who wanders into and out of the action.

This is a play that can’t be rushed in its production. It is funny, perceptive, subtle and moving. It needs time to reveal the characters, their idiosyncrasies, their relationships to each other and their abundance of secrets.

Joel Greenberg’s direction is full of care and thought. No character is a stereotypical gay man. They are all true to themselves. There is confident affection as friends kiss hello and goodbye. Body language is expansive and joyous in many cases. The acting is superb. Jonathan Wilson creates Guy as a man of shy awkwardness, he is tentative in expressing how he feels, but pulls back when he senses he might embarrass himself. Wilson is a mass of ticks, smiles, shrugs and all consuming sweetness. Guy is the one character we root for from the get go because he’s such a mensch. One realizes how much Jonathan Wilson been missed on a Toronto stage because of this gracious performance.

Gray Powell as John is that dashing, confident man who could appeal to men and women. He has that devil may care attitude. He’s got money. He doesn’t worry about anything except hiding little details of his life from his friends and he handles that with an off-handed aplomb. And yet, you sense a deep sense of regret that he’s attracted to whom he’s attracted. They are all friends there and John really doesn’t want to hurt anybody. It’s just that he can’t help it. It’s a lovely performance of a man who is conflicted.

Jeff Miller plays Daniel with a hint of flamboyance that is more about a man who is confident to be himself, in the company of his friends, rather than a man showing off. Daniel is joyous in his relationship but full of angst that perhaps his lover is cheating, or that a friend of his is cheating with his lover. Daniel experiences a roller-coaster of emotions, and Jeff Miller is such a good actor, he makes the audience feel every plunge and swoop. The whole cast is superb.

Comment. While playwright Kevin Elyot was a prolific playwright and screenwriter, his 1994 breakout award-winning hit play was My Night With Reg. He writes about gay relationships and promiscuity in the age of AIDS. He is never judgemental. His writing is very funny, moving and almost poetic. At one of the funerals the lover of the recently departed says, “The smallest thing will make me miss him.” A feather of a line that pierces the heart.

My Night With Reg starts out to be a play about six friends in the early time of AIDS in London in the mid-1980s. But it develops into a play about relationships and the secrets, lies and hurts that develop when characters hide things from each other. That aspect of the play, the love these men have or had for each, other makes My Night With Reg timeless.

David Mirvish presents a Studio 180 production.

Opened: Feb. 14, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 26, 2017.
Cast: 6 men.
Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission.


At the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Kevin Elyot
Directed by Joel Greenberg
Set and costumes by John Thompson
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Garth Helm
Cast: Tim Funnell
Alex Furber
Martin Happer
Jeff Miller
Gray Powell
Jonathan Wilson

My Night With Reg is a delicate yet chilling play about the early days of the AIDS epidemic but is timeless because of its handling of male relationships. The production is stylish, beautifully acted, and moving.

London, mid-1980s. The play is about a group of gay friends who are invited to celebrate the new flat of Guy. He is shy, single, accommodating and the one person these friends confide in. Guy has secretly loved John since their school days. John never noticed. He was too busy being dashing and popular. But not as popular as Reg seems to be. All the men in the play have Reg in common. Lurking in the background is the spectre of AIDS, which is never mentioned, but we come to it with the benefit of hindsight.

The play is funny, perceptive, subtle and so moving. It is directed with care by Joel Greenberg. The acting is superb.

Full review shortly.

David Mirvish presents a Studio 180 production.

Opened: Feb. 14, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 26, 2017.
Cast: 6 men.
Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission.


Live and in person at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Playing until Dec. 22, 2024.

Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Music by Frederick Loewe

Adapted from the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion

Co-directed by Tim Carroll and Kimberley Rampersad

Choregraphed by Kimberley Rampersad

Music director, Paul Sportelli

Set by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Joyce Padua

Lighting by Mikael Kangas

Sound by John Lott

Cast: David Adams

David Alan Anderson

Alana Bridgewater

Shane Carty

Sharry Flett

Kristi Frank

J.J. Gerber

Patty Jamieson

Allan Louis

Tom Rooney

Taurian Teelucksingh

And a chorus

A beautiful classic musical, with some wonderful performances, but on the whole I found it underwhelming.

The Story. My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is one of the most beloved musical of all time. It’s based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion which is in turn is based on the Ovid poem in his Metamorphosis of a sculptor named Pygmalion who created a sculpture of the perfect woman and then fell in love with her. The gods brought her to life.

We are in Edwardian London (1901-1919). Henry Higgins is a professor of phonetics and speech. He wagers his friend Colonel Pickering that he can take a cockney accented flower girl named Eliza Doolittle whom he discovered in Covent Garden one evening, change her accent and demeanor and pass her off as a duchess in six months.

George Bernard Shaw was writing about the class-conscious English and how an accent can keep a person back from success—regardless of ability, intelligence and talent. Lyricist and book writer, Alan Jay Lerner was an educated, erudite man—he studied at Harvard. And he respected Shaw’s philosophical, shewed, social commentary in the play and kept most of the dialogue intact. It was Lerner’s partnership with the elegant European composer Frederick Loewe that resulted in such a strong and successful collaboration. My Fair Lady was one of Lerner and Loewe’s most successful musicals.

The Production and comment. Lorenzo Savoini has designed a gleaming set that is both the grunge of Covent Garden (1901-1919) and the elegance of the Ambassador’s Ball. There is a walkway above the stage for some scenes and a projection of St. Paul’s Church in the distance.  Higgins’ house is a two storied affair with a wall of books on the upper level and a winding staircase down to the stage and all manner of gadgets and gizmos for recording the voice.

Joyce Padua’s costumes are wonderful. For the Covent Garden scenes they are well worn, rough, dark in colour and sturdy. For the upper-class Ascot scene or Ambassador’s Ball they are beautifully tailored for the men and women. The men wear top hats, the women wear fascinators.

My Fair Lady is a wonderful love story between Professor Henry Higgins (Tom Rooney) and Eliza Doolittle (Kristi Frank), but of course it’s not that simple.  It also has one of the most romantic, lush scores by Frederick Loewe with classic after classic: “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly”, With a Little Bit of Luck”; “I’ve grown accustomed to her Face”: “On the Street Where You Live, “ “I Could Have Danced All Night.” And on and on.

Alan Jay Lerner’s book and lyrics are witty, elegant and intellectual. He has taken Shaw’s play and been true to its philosophy, the social aspects of the class distinctions and the power of an attitude that thinks an accent suggests ability. His lyrics are full of nuance, subtlety and lyrical beauty.

Higgins is fascinating. We have seen the elegant and sophisticated curmudgeon of Rex Harrison. I’ve also seen Higgins played as if he’s on the autism spectrum—highly functional but a social cretin. He is rude, arrogant, pompous, a confirmed bachelor who seems to love his upper-class mother and drops in on her often. He also respects his mature housekeeper, Mrs. Pierce. He sees the phony world he lives in and has no time for the upper-class folks in it. He certainly knows how these snobs operate and can play in that world.  He is a confirmed bachelor. Interestingly he gets on well with Pickering who in turn appreciates Higgins’ phonetic work.

One might call Higgins misogynistic. Certainly his song: “I’m An Ordinary Man” (in which everything is fine until you ‘let a woman in your life.’) But he then changes enough to appreciate Eliza (“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”) One has to consider the times and the attitudes towards women of the time. Then of course there is the perceived snobbishness of the British towards anyone ‘other.’ (“Why Can’t the English”).

Tom Rooney is one of our most gifted actors.  He mines his roles for clues and hints about his characters. And so I’m surprised that Tom Rooney as Higgins seems so understated, perhaps even underwhelming. This performance is less a social cretin and awkward, and more someone who is just ill-tempered and bored. He both knows the world in which he lives and works, and is clueless about the people in it, except as something to observe.  

Eliza Doolittle is perhaps in her 20s.  She sells flowers in Convent Garden—the first scene is late at night, raining but she is hustling to sell her flowers to the people coming from the opera house. She works long and hard hours to pay for her expenses. She wants to elevate herself out of her current state. She is intrigued by Higgins’ bet and takes him up on it to teach her/Eliza proper English, comportment and how to behave. Her main repeated refrain is “I’m a good girl, I am.” Which means she’s not a prostitute. Her biggest fear seems to be that she will be taken for a streetwalker.

This is not a throw-away line; she is fighting constantly for her sense of self-worth. She is illegitimate; her father ignores her and she just wants to do better, but because of her class and poverty, that is all but impossible, until Higgins arrives.

As Eliza, Kristi Frank has a lovely voice and gives a respectable performance, but she can go deeper to mine the many facets of Eliza. She has charm, but she is also driven, angry, and determined. I thought Kristi Frank just skimmed the surface in realizing Eliza in more detail.

For all their differences in their lives and upbringing, both Higgins and Eliza warm to each other as he toils away teaching her how to speak, act and carry herself.  He in a way is creating his ideal woman, who will be independent to a point, banter and volley with him and not want to change him.

Higgins changes Eliza or rather just gives her the means to be the best person she always was, only this time with encouragement, support and instruction of how to act. While she has feelings for Higgins, and he tries to get over his aversion to touch anyone, she responds instantly to the consideration and good manners of Pickering. He treats her with respect and as if she was a lady. Higgins says that he treats all people the same and that seems fair to him.  He does treat them the same, with disdain.

One would think the Shaw Festival was the ideal place to produce a musical based on a Shaw play. There are indeed some wonderful performances in My Fair Lady. Sharry Flett is Mrs. Higgins and every gesture, pause and turn of the head speaks volumes about her wit, elegance and keen idea about how to inhabit that upper-class world. Mrs. Higgins listens to what is going on around her. If ever there is a character who does treat everyone the same—that is to say with respect—it’s Mrs. Higgins.

David Adams plays Alfred P. Doolittle beautifully, as a rough talking dustman. He has the accent, the swagger and the inebriated manner of a man of the lower classes. When Mr. Doolittle becomes a successful public speaker he becomes prosperous and rises up in class and that too is believable. If ‘clothes make the man’ it helps if the man knows how to wear the clothes, and David Adams is true both as a dirty, rough dustman, and a man who can wear a good suit.

Taurian Teelucksingh as Freddy Eynsford-Hill is terrific. He’s elegant, comfortable in that world, and beautiful suit and he can sing.

As Mrs. Pearce Patty Jamieson has the bearing of a woman who knows the importance of her place as the housekeeper. While Higgins and Pickering see no problem with Eliza living in the house with them, while she is instructed, Mrs. Pearce is wise, smart and watchful, and knows exactly what the optics look like. She also plays the small part of the Queen of Transylvania and she is royally elegant from top to tow. Her one word: “Charming” spoke volumes about the graciousness of that Queen.

I wish I could be as positive about the rest of the production which strikes me as unremarkable (this for a musical that is remarkable). I found in too many places It lacks attention to detail and rigor.

It’s directed by both Tim Carroll and Kimberley Rampersad. She also choreographs. This is Tim Carroll’s first musical so he wanted Kimberley Rampersad to co-direct with him because she is familiar with the musical genre. That might be true, but this musical is dripping in the class consciousness of the time. There is a way of holding oneself, wearing the clothes, knowing the difference between a person in the upper and lower classes, and that was hardly addressed, especially with the chorus here. They didn’t look at all comfortable in those beautifully tailored costumes—nor did they look like they knew how to wear those clothes or ‘work’ the clothes. A top hat has to be worn a certain way—news to some of them.  Sharry Flett is credited as a great resource at the Shaw to address these questions of style etc. Don’t they teach this in theatre schools anymore? Pity.

Everybody is microphoned as is the orchestra so there is a blaring to the sound.

Kimberley Rampersad’s choreography is generic and why they are choreographed to do the CanCan in Edwardian London is a mystery I can’t figure out.

The ending of the show has always been tricky—how does one deal with Eliza coming back? Co-directors Tim Carroll and Kimberley Rampersad handle it with sensitivity.

I think the text offers insight….Eliza argues point for point with Higgins, something she never did before. He celebrates that he made her into a real woman—this is London in the early 1900s so it’s offensive to our modern ears. Consider the times.  She says that he treats people badly and others treat her well. His argument is that he treats everybody the same and does not fluctuate – true…he treats everybody rudely. Eliza will hold her ground.  Higgins gives the impression he might be ‘weakening’ into a decent human being….Interesting. I was glad of that, but wished that more rigor had gone into the whole enterprise.

The Shaw Festival Presents:

Plays until Dec. 22, 2024.

Running time: 3 hours (1 intermission)


Live and in person in High Park, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Canadian Stage Company. Plays until Sept. 3, 2023.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Jamie Robinson

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Sound and composer, Richard Feren

Cast: Shelly Antony

Frank Chung

Steven Hao

Stuart Hefford

Ryan G. Hinds

Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin

Megan Legesse

Angel Lo

Jadyn Nasato

Julie Tepperman

Aaron Willis

Louisa Zhu

Raucously energetic; colourful sets and costumes, but ‘acting’ all over the place with a definite divide between those who have a facility with the language and those who don’t. Screaming should not be an acting choice.

The Story. Strange things happen when you go into the forest at night. The website description is succinct of this romantic comedy: “The night before Theseus and Hippolyta’s royal wedding four young Athenians (Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena) flee into the forest in pursuit of true love. They fall into one love triangle then another, and are caught in the crossfire of a custody battle between reigning fairies of the forest. Chaotic hilarity ensues (their words not mine). Will the Athenians end up with their perfect match? Who will win the custody of the changeling child? And what other beloved characters might we meet along the way?”

The Production. This is the 40th anniversary of “The Dream in High Park”, of Canadian Stage producing Shakespeare (for the most part) in High Park. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been produced several times. This is the latest iteration. As with all the productions, it’s been cut to a swift 90 minutes.

A character wearing service clothing arrives on stage wheeling in a cart full of cleaning supplies. He takes a bucket into the audience collecting garbage. People willingly give him their refuse, empty bottles, empty food containers etc. He then takes his bucket and returns to the stage to empty the refuse in the cart. He is Steven Hao and later he will shed his service outfit to reveal the wings of Puck, Oberon’s fairie spirit, or keeps getting confused about which Athenian he is to give a magic potion.  

Director Jamie Robinson has a vision of the play that is vibrant in colour and design and designer Jackie Chau realizes that vision in her colourful, multi-leveled set and costumes. Umbrellas carried by the fairies glow in the dark as do some of the costumes. The costumes for the royals are black with shafts of silver. The whole right side of Theseus’ (Shelly Antony) black jacket has an impressive silver design. It’s both commanding and representative of a man who is a ruler. As Theseus Shelly Antony is courtly, laid-back but in control. He never has to raise his voice because everyone is listening to what he has to say. Hippolita (Louisa Zhu), his intended queen, is regal, sophisticated but with a bit of a watchful demeanor. She is after all a ‘prize’ he won in battle. She’s being cool to figure out what this man is like. Both Shelly Antony and Louisa Zhu play the royal fairies, Oberon and Titania respectively.  Oberon is testy, demanding and imperious. Titania matches him with coolness and stubbornness. Both Shelly Antony and Louisa Zhu have a good command of the language and poetry of Shakespeare.

Alas, the same cannot be said of the four lovers: Demetrius (Frank Chung), Lysander (Stuart Hefford), Hermia (Jadyn Nasato) and Helena (Megan Legesse)—they are all energetic and breathless with stage business.  But where to put the emphasis in a line, the sense of poetry, or subtlety and nuance seems to be a mystery to these young actors. When in doubt, they scream everything. And then when they are really stumped, they scream louder. I can appreciate that they are directed to be energetic and highly emotional, but one hoped someone would have helped them with their actual performances and interpretations.

It is heartening to hear the word “revenue” said with the accent in the middle of the word, as it scans properly in the line of poetry. But where is help with the rest of the text for these actors?

The Mechanicals are wonderful! As Peter Quince, the patient leader of the troupe, Ryan G. Hinds is a sweet, caring, patient man who has gathered his friends to prepare a play for the royal couple on their wedding day. Ryan G. Hinds leads the group with humour except when Bottom (Aaron Willis) wants to play all the parts. Then Ryan G. Hinds as Peter Quince gets a bit short tempered. Aaron Willis plays Bottom as an eager to please, fearless participant in which no part is too small and when Bottom is ‘turned’ into an ass, Aaron Willis gives him a new confidence. As Snug, Julie Tepperman is shy but willing to engage in the theatrics. Tepperman also plays Aegesta the aggravated father of Hermia. (It’s wonderful to see Aaron Willis and Julie Tepperman on a stage after such an absence). Rounding out the group are: Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin as Flute and Angel Lo as Starvling. These actors give the Mechanicals a sense of whimsy, fun, commitment, seriousness and heart. They are a joy.

Language is such a tricky subject in this day and age of sensitive feelings and political correctness. Which brings us to the prickly word ‘chink’ as in ‘chink in the wall.’ In the play of the Mechanicals two characters have to kiss through a ‘chink in the wall.’ In another context ‘chink’ is a racist word and is often changed. I’ve heard examples that were worse or confusing in order not to say it. But in the production in High Park they have solved it by changing the word to ‘hole in the wall’, or ‘cranny’ or ‘crack.’ All very sensible.

Comment. But all is not sensible when it comes to Canadian Stage’s attention, consideration or respect for the actors. That’s troubling. If one goes to the website for A Midsummer Night’s Dream one sees the names and titles of the Playwright, the Director, the Assistant Director, Movement Director, the various creatives, Designers, the Stage Manager, the Assistant Stage Manager, even the name of the Apprentice Stage Manager, and Substitute Assistant Stage Manager. Then at the very end of this list is this:


Louisa Zhu

Jadyn Nasato

Megan Legesse

Steven Hao

Ryan G. Hinds

Shelly Antony

Stuart Hefford

Frank Chung

Aaron Willis

Julie Tepperman

Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin

Angel Lo

If this is the first one reads of the website, you would be hard pressed to know who these people are? Are they the ushers? Volunteers? Concessions people? Nope. They are the actors, you know, ACTORS, the people who are the life blood and beating heart of a company; the folks who show up, in all sorts of weather if it’s out doors, with mosquitoes, and distractions—they show up and bust their guts to do the show–and they are given such short shift here it’s shameful.

At the High Park site in place of a hard-copy programme there are large boards erected with the photos and names of all the creatives I listed above. And there, after the creatives are the photos of the actors with only the word “cast” underneath their photo. They don’t even rate having their characters listed. Shameful. I hope someone with a ‘Sharpie’ fills in the names of the characters these actors play, out of respect. Only when one delves deeper into the website to the digital programme are the actors actually listed with the characters they play. Canadian Stage, do better by these people. It’s been an on-going complaint; actors’ names are never listed on the posters. In the catalogue for the 23/24 season, the director’s photo and title are listed but actors are listed with their names under their photo and the word “Cast” under that. Shameful. If you hired the actor, you know who they will play! List the actor and their character’s name. Do better by these people!   

Canadian Stage Presents:

Runs until Sept. 3, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)


Harper Regan

At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Matthew Jocelyn
Set and Costumes by Debra Hanson
Lighting by Michael Walton
Sounds by Thomas Ryder Payne.
Starring: Vivien Endecott-Douglas
Lynne Griffin
Hardee T. Lineham
Molly Parker
Alex Poch-Goldin
Philip Riccio
Izaak Smith

A challenging play about a woman trying to get her bearings in the face of personal upheavals.

The Story. Things are not going well for Harper Regan. Her father is deathly sick in another city and her boss will not give her two days off to see him. She hasn’t seen her father in two years. She hasn’t spoken to her mother in as many years. There was a rift in the family and the folks are not talking to her.

Harper’s husband, Seth, can’t work. He has been shunned by the townsfolk because it’s believed that he is a pedophile. He was caught taking pictures in a park of young girls. He says it was innocent. Harper believes him. Her parents do not, hence the rift. Harper’s husband and daughter, Sarah, don’t want Harper to go and see her dying father. She ignores everybody and goes. She arrives in her parents city that night but does not rush to the hospital. She waits to see him until the next morning when it’s too late. He died the night before, alone.

This sets off a series of events for Harper totally at odds with the kind of person she is. She changes her clothes sense; acts recklessly; confronts her mother and shifts her opinions and returns home ready to deal with what faces her, one assumes.

The Production. This is an odd production. While the press information describes the play as intimate dealing with intimate relationships, Director Matthew Jocelyn and designer Debra Hanson have set this ‘intimate’ play on the full stage which looks the size of an airplane hanger. Hardly intimate.

There are theatre seats at the very back wall of the stage. When actors are not in a scene, they sit at the back watching. Why is a mystery. The point of the play is that each of these characters seems to be isolated and alone in their own worlds. No one is watching, hence their isolation.

The set is on two levels. One level is on the stage, down towards the audience. There is another level reached by a few stairs upstage centre. Stage right is ramp with a considerable rake that also joins the two levels. The only point of that ramp seems to be to expedite the movement of large furniture as characters bring down a table, chairs and other props.

In the first scene, Harper is asking her boss, Elwood Barnes, for some days off to visit her dying father. Molly Parker as Harper is creased with worry, anxiety and frustration as her Elwood Barnes says no. As Elwood, Hardee T. Lineham is curt, matter of fact and totally uninterested in sympathy.

Molly Parker stands on the ramp wearing heels, playing the scene for about 20 minutes. All I can think about is how standing there on that rake in those heels must cause Parker shooting pains up her legs. What an odd placement of a scene. And more odd still is that Parker is stage right on the ramp and Barnes is over there, stage left, sitting in a chair. Again, hardly intimate. Is this placement to accentuate the emotional distance between characters? Surly realizing the play would have done that, without a symbolic huge stage to play it on.

Each scene begins with an ear-splitting explosion of cacophonous heavy metal music. Perhaps this is representative of the jumbled noise in Harper and her family’s lives. Gradually the noise of the music softens until at the end, when Harper has confronted her family and their difficulties head on, the music is lilting and classical, easy to listen to, almost comforting.

Whether Vivien Endicott-Douglas is playing Sarah Regan, Harper’s angry daughter, or she is playing Justine Ross, an overly bubbly nurse at the hospital where Harper’s father died, Endicotte-Douglas is hampered by a lack of variation in both roles. I wish she was urged to temper and vary both parts.

For some reason Alex Poch-Goldin plays both Seth Regan, Harper’s downtrodden husband, and James Fortune, a kindly, casual dalliance Harper has on her way to transformation. Except for an addition of a tie and perhaps a change in clothes, this similar look of the actor in both roles is jarring. I wonder why that choice is made?

Philip Riccio plays Mickey Nestor, another character on Harper’s journey. He is an embittered, racist, hard-drinker with a twitchy leg and a sneer. A vivid performance and it elicits a startling reaction in Harper.

We see in Lynne Griffin’s performance as Harper’s mother, a kindly woman ready to reach out to her daughter to explain things and why she and Harper’s father felt the way they did about Harper’s husband.

And finally Izaak Smith as Tobias, a young student Harper chats up, is all gangly awkwardness, fists jammed into his pockets. He is both wary and intrigued by this woman who it turns out is following him.

Aside from interesting performances for the most part, this is an odd production of an intriguing play.

Comment. Simon Stephens is a celebrated British playwright and rightly so. His plays are vivid, deal deeply with the human psyche, psychology, family dealings and misfits. He writes plays of substance and Harper Regan is certainly that. A woman who has not seen her father in two years is compelling to hazard everything by leaving her job and her family to see him before he dies and make amends. Yet she deliberately waits to see him until it’s too late. Why is that? She goes on a wild journey of change and discovery behaving in a manner so unlike her. Why? She comes home and faces illusions she had about her family and husband. And in a way she finds a kind of peace. I just wish the production was better at bringing out the richness of the play and that director Matthew Jocelyn focused more on the details of the play than on the odd environment of it.

Produced by Canadian Stage

Opened: March 5, 2015
Closes: March 22, 2015
Cast: 7; 4 men, 3 women
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes.


The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, Dec. 26, 2014 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. Into the Woods at selected movie theatres. A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, plus a mention of other Shakespeare productions from the Stratford Festival and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, Eng. That will play at selected cinemas over the next few months.

Good Boxing Day to you. Ordinarily I would say it’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. But Lynn tells me she’s reviewing films today with a theatrical background. Hi Lynn. Explain.

Hi Phil. I’m reviewing the film of Into the Woods which opened at selected cinemas yesterday.

And I’m also talking about a filmed performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that played at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

Most important I have to say that Daniel Garber, our regular film critic, gave me permission to review Into the Woods and I just heard about the film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this week. I don’t think Daniel would mind.

In both cases the films are based on plays that opened in theatres. In both cases the woods factor heavily, but there is a twist.

Ok we can wait for the twist. Let’s start with Into the Woods. What’s the story?

In the case of Into the Woods, this is the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical that opened on Broadway in 1987. Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics and James Lapine wrote the book (and also directed the musical for the theatre.

For our purposes for the film, Sondheim and Lapine repeated their writing duties. The film is directed by Rob Marshall.

The story melds several fairy tales: Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk. At the centre of them all is a childless Baker and his Wife. They are desperate to have a child but can’t because the Witch next door put a curse on their house.

It seems that when the Baker was a baby his mother was pregnant again and had a craving for greens. So the Baker’s father stole greens from the Witch’s garden, including some magic beans. To call it square the Witch wanted the soon to be born baby to be turned over to her.

One thing lead to another….she took the baby and put a curse of barrenness on the future line of the Baker and his Wife. But there is a way to reverse the curse.

The Baker has to bring the Witch a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. That’s how all the other fairy tales meld together and it all happens in the woods.

Is it a ghost story or something else.

Being a Stephen Sondheim musical, it’s definitely something else. Sondheim delves into the wounded heart.

He knows about desperation and how to express it in a lyric. His facility with language is astonishing. Everybody in the stories is wishing for something better, something else. The Baker and his Wife wish for a child. Jack wishes his aged cow would give milk. Cinderella wishes to go to the Festival (at this point she’s not even thinking about the Prince). They all realize to be careful what they wish for. Then their wishes change. They don’t want to be alone. Even the Witch wants the child she stole—named Rapunzel—to remain with her and not to leave her alone.

The Baker, who wants to solve the Witch’s riddle on his own, realizes that it’s better to include his Wife in the process. And there’s an irate Giant who terrorizes the nearby village.

They all learn about decency, forgiveness, working together, some change for the better, some don’t.

Has this been a smooth transition from the stage to the screen?

Not entirely smooth. A set of the woods was created full of forbidding trees, darkness. The cast is star-studded and exemplary. Meryl Streep plays the Witch with all the flash and dazzle you would expect of that gifted actress. She’s bitter, angry, heartbreaking and sings like a dream. Kudos to the make-up people.

James Corden plays the Baker and his journey is the most profound. He learns how to take charge, be a leader, make hard decisions, and learn that he will not be like his father who deserted him when he needed him. Emily blunt plays the Baker’s Wife and there’s a loving delicacy about her. The Wolf is played by a wily, creepy Johnny Depp. So the acting talent is there.

The problem is director Rob Marshall. In spite of a background in musical theatre, as a film director he can’t get out of the way and let the material speak for itself. He’s so busy moving the camera all over the scene, circling an actor who is singing Sondheim’s difficult lyrics, that it’s all you can do to focus on the person singing.

Aside from the movie stars in the film, there is a host of celebrated British actors in it as well, but you would hardly know it because Marshall has deliberately shot them in gloomy light so you can’t make out their faces.

The Giant is played by a formidable Frances de la Tour, but again Marshall teases us with hints of her face. I found myself sitting forward to try and find the face in the tangle of branches obstructing it. Is Marshall being coy? Don’t show the face at all, if you want to be coy.

We see the Baker’s father in shadow the first time. Then you see his face later in the film in close-up to see that it’s Simon Russell Beale, considered one of the best actors in England. That seems like deliberately sloppy direction for the sake of atmosphere?

Let’s move to the film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream You said there was a twist between the two films.

Into the Woods
and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are filmed versions of plays that originally played in a theatre.

With Into the Woods a whole set was built of the woods, and a village to accommodate the filming of the piece so they were going to adapt the stage play for film.

With A Midsummer Night’s Dream cameras were set up in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, in London last summer and an actual performance was filmed from beginning to end. This is complete with packed audience, including the groundlings, some of whom had their chins resting on their arms which were on the stage as they watched.

The filming of actual performances for broadcasting or showing in a cinema is becoming the norm.

The National Theatre Live series has filmed many of its live productions and broadcast them hours later. The Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is following suit.

Even our own Stratford Festival has filmed three of its productions from last summer: >King Lear, King John, and Antony and Cleopatra and they will be shown in high definition this winter and spring at the Cineplex at Silver City at Young and Eglinton.

And again the woods factor heavily in the story?

Yes. Hermia is in love with Lysander and he loves her. Her father wants her to marry Demitrius. She doesn’t want to. Her father therefore says that he is seeking the law of the land that allows him to marry off his daughter to whomever he likes, or have her put to death. A bit harsh, that.

Helena loves Demetrius but he won’t look at her. So to escape all this angst, Hermia and Lysander escape to the woods in Athens—and they are followed by Helena and Demetrius. There are also meddling and warring fairies in that woods and they get involved as well. Emotions are high.

Again a kind of frenzy of emotions swirls through those woods and all manner of mistaken identity; shifting identities; sexual innuendo comes into play.

As this is a filming of a stage production, how is that transition?

I think it’s better than most. In a stage play the audience can look anywhere on that stage at any character and glean something about the character or the production as a whole. In film, we look where the director focuses his lens and our attention. In filming a straight production while it’s going on the director has to anticipate where the audience might look. The camera has to be ready to film subtext or subtleties all over the place.

As I said this effort is better than most. It also helps that the production at the Globe is so well done; funny athletic, fall down funny. The stage version is directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It’s one of the funniest productions of this I’ve seen and the camera captures that. The acting is very strong for the most part—the biggest exception is Puck who is not impish, devlish, or funny enough.

This production will be joined later for a showing of The Taming of the Shrew January 24 and The Tempest on February 21. Once again Shakespeare comes to the fore, this time in film.

And if you want to see the genius of Stephen Sondheim and a smart theatrical book by James Lapine then check out Into the Woods.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at Twitter @slotkinletter

Into the Woods the film, plays at various cinemas in the city. Check listings for time and location.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream a filmed performance at Shakespeare’s Globe plays at the Bloor Hot Docs cinema tomorrow, December 27.
Again, check listings for time.


July 4, 2013 Matinee

At the Donmar Warehouse, London. Written and directed by Conor McPherson. Designed by Soutra Gilmour. Lighting by Neil Austin. Sound by Gregory Clarke. Starring: Caoilfhionn Dunne, Brian Gleeson, Ciarán Hinds, Michael Mcelhatton, Jim Norton.

 Once again Conor McPherson weaves a tale of down and outers who struggle to get by, often missing, but still struggling. Tommy is a sort of handy-man-scam-artist. He lives in a dump that made me feel more positive about the clutter in my apartment. At least I flush my toilet after all uses and don’t keep my dirty dishes in the loo. And if I get puckish I don’t eat dog biscuits with a slather of jam.

 Tommy’s partner in business is a simple-minded man named Doc. He is not a doctor but the circuitous route from his real name of Brian to Doc is pure McPherson and hilarious. Tommy has brought Aimee home with him because her bully-thug boyfriend smashed her in the face for some reason and her nose was gushing blood. It wasn’t broken but still damaged. Aimee stayed until her thug boyfriend came looking for her, There is a tough old bird named Maurice who owns the house in which Tommy rents a room. Maurice is a stylish man who drinks to forget how much he misses his late wife.

 It’s a play in which the story and dialogue keep you gripped. McPherson writes about people who live in a world of few chances but they keep trying; in which kindness is everywhere; in which a hand is held out; and hope creeps in.



The following review aired on Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 FM. MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE. At Hart House Theatre until Oct. 20.

The host was Rose Palmieri.

1) Good Friday morning. It’s time for our regular theatre from Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn. What are you reviewing today?

I’m reviewing MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE, a challenging play that opened at Hart House Theatre on Wednesday night and will close tomorrow night. So a short run.

2) Today will be a bit different because Lynn will do her review, but we will then be joined by Mahsa Alimardani for a panel discussion about the play.

Ok tell us the details of MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE and why it’s so challenging.

MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE is about a young American woman who went to Gaza in 2003 as a volunteer to work with Palestinian families, and offer non-violent resistance to the Israeli military that were bulldozing properties in Gaza.

Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while she stood in front of it, trying to prevent it from knocking down a Palestinian house. She was 23.

The play is composed of her writings from her journals, diaries and poems that have been compiled by actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner. We see her social awakening as a young girl to her political activism, to her going to Gaza to help.

There are also other jottings that fill in other aspects to her, her humour, prejudices, her great need for recognition etc. It’s a one person play so conveying what that person is about is a challenge.

It deals with a volatile subject—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is challenging. And it presents a skewered, lopsided picture of what is going on there.

Corrie tells us that the defenceless Palestinians are being victimized by the Israelis. But not once does she ask why? Not once does she wonder why those bulldozers are trying to destroy those houses and there are reasons, but the text doesn’t go there. That leaves a huge hole in the play.

Added to that is that I just think Corrie’s writing is not very good. It’s self-indulgent, naïve, rambling, and often precious. When listening to the play and reading it, it’s obvious that Rachel Corrie wanted her prose to be published. And truth to tell there would be no play if she had lived. Her adoring, grieving parents sent some of her work to the Guardian Newspaper in England to see if they would publish it posthumously. That got the ball rolling for Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner (a journalist at the Guardian) to put the play together out of her writings.

3) How does it do as a production?

I found it maddening.

Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu has directed a production so busy in movement, annoying musical underscoring, and cluttering unreadable projections that it was a wonder you could concentrate on the words at all.

Otu has Rachel scurrying all over the sandy set; hauling props hither and yon; digging in the sand to find a notebook she had forgotten, to check on something she wrote; even going into the audience to talk at break-neck, breathless speed, that you are distracted and distanced from the play.

As I quoted Christopher Plummer a few weeks ago, he was referencing directors who load their productions with bells, whistles and dazzle, resulting in all manner of distraction: “If you give the audience too much to look at, they stop listening to the words.” And listening is why we are in the room.

The most poignant, true moment in that play is at the end when we see a film of the 10-year-old Rachel Corrie making a speech at an event about hunger. In it she says simply what she hopes for the future and how we must all work to end world hunger. It’s heartfelt, true, innocent and charming. But Otu upstages even this moment by having Amelia Sargisson, as Rachel, wander around the upper part of the set (still visible in the darkened stage) and even walk across the front of the projection. Totally distracting.

Amelia Sargisson is youthful, buoyant at times and energetic. But too often she plays Rachel as if she is on the verge of tears; distraught.

Rather than drawing the audience into the emotion of the situation—it alienates them. The actress can ‘indicate’ the fraught emotion of a moment but not to go so overboard that the point is lost.

I will chalk this up to two young artists getting their chance with what looks like a powerful play, wanting so badly to do right by the material, and then because of inexperience let much of it overwhelm them. I want to see their work in another context. I look forward to that.

Put for MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE, I found the evening maddening and frustrating.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

You can read Lynn’s blog at

MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE plays at Hart House Theatre until Oct. 20.


The following review of MY GRANNY THE GOLDFISH was broadcast on Friday, March 22, 2012; CIUT Friday Morning 89.5 FM. MY GRANNY THE GOLDFISH is at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until April 15.

The Host is Rose Palmieri

1) It’s Friday morning which means that Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and Passionate Playgoer is here to tell us what she thinks of what she’s seen in the way of theatre.

Hi Lynn

What kind of week have you had?

Eclectic. It started on Monday with a reading of PROUD by Michael Healey at Theatre Passe Muraille.

You’ll recall that this is the play that the Tarragon Theatre passed on programming because the Artistic Director Richard Rose, thought the Prime Minister might sue them and their funding might be in jeopardy.

Michael Healey had been a writer-in-residence at Tarragon for years—they did his plays regularly. This lack of programming made him leave Tarragon
for good.

Andy McKim, the Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille, jumped at the chance to produce a reading of the play as a fundraiser.

The place was packed and many people were turned away.

I won’t review the play of course except to say it’s a first draft and full of Healey’s wit, humour and political smarts. He’s producing the play himself in the fall. Should be interesting.

On Wednesday night I saw the filmed version of the Stratford Shakespeare Production of TWELFTH NIGHT

I saw the production at Stratford directed by Des McAnuff and as you know and hated it.

2) Then why did you see the film?

Well if I am critical of a director and his productions, then perhaps it will improve with a different director doing the filming.

3) And was it better?

No. Barry Avrich directed the film of the staged production and did no one any favours. No subtlety, no nuance, no revelation and annoying camera work. I don’t want to see this play again for a long time thanks to these guys.

And then last night I saw MY GRANNY THE GOLDFISH at the Factory Theatre Mainstage. Written by Anosh Irani

4) What an intriguing title. What’s the story?

A young man named Nico begins the play by telling us that it all started with a lump. Nico is a hypochondriac, but he developed a lump on his back and he went into the hospital to have it operated on and a biopsy done.

He was originally from Bombay. His parent and grandmother live there. Nico is in Canada taking a course in business. He hasn’t seen his family in two years.

We are lead to believe they are estranged, but hisparents are paying his way and sending him money.

While Nico is in the hospital waiting for the results of the biopsy, his grandmother flies from Bombay to Canada to be with him in the hospital giving him moral support. This is a total surprise to him.

The play shifts back and forth from the hospital room to Bombay where Nico’s parents are waiting for a call from the grandmother to report on Nico’s condition.

Both parents bicker, and drink, all the time. The grandmother travels with a flask full of whiskey. There is a history of alcoholism there. Nico does not drink. He just assumes the worst about his health. So in a way that’s his addiction.

5) Sounds like a story full of potential. How does it do as a play?

MY GRANNY THE GOLDFISH is a dud of a play. Actually the problem is that writer Anosh Irani has not written a play. He’s written a group of underdeveloped characters spouting one liners in sit-com situations. No real characters talk like that.

The grandmother arrives but no truths are told in a credible way. She wanders around telling funny stories that are not connected.

She goes to find the doctor only to report back some ill informed information.

Now really Rose, think about it. Nico is a hypochondriac. He’s just had an operation on a lump. Yet he doesn’t seem to be remotely aware or interested in finding out the results. Not once do we hear him getting that doctor to tell him anything. The Granny does but only as a set up for lame jokes.

And the scenes between the parents are more lame one-liners and improbable conversations after another.

In Act II there are revelations that come from no where substantiated by nothing that has gone before.

Irani’s efforts to be funny are obvious, laboured and fall flat.

Mr. Irani is a successful novelist but MY GRANNY THE GOLDFISH is not his shining hour as a playwright, even though he has written plays before. In a word, dire.

6) Ouch…Lynn does the production help to salvage this?

Alas no. Director Rosemary Dunsmore is a terrific actress and director in her own right, but if the material is as unforgiving as this is there is little one can do. That said, I found her staging rather odd.

The Granny moves around that set for no reason. The Granny sits in a chair giving lines then gets up and stands centre stage giving more lines.

It’s a hospital room yet set designer John Thompson has furniture, such as chairs, so far away from the centre of the action it’s jarring when they sit way over there talking to Nico way over here.

As for the acting…As Nico, Kawa Ada is personable and engaging as the frustrated young man loving to his Granny and at odds with his parents.

As Granny, Yolande Bavan seems ill at ease with the lines, the jokes and the pacing. Lots of hesitation there and it results in a flat performance.

As the parents, Sanjay Talwar as the father and Veena Sood as the mother are saddled with unfunnylines and ridiculous situations.

Ms Sood as the mother wears many many bracelets that clang whenever she raises or moves her arms, which is constant. So every times she speaks it’s with this annoying, distracting noise.

Is the costumes designer Robin Fisher kidding by having her wear this stuff? Get them off her!

At one point in the show the two actors playing the parents have to go from back stage through the front of the theatre and then enter through the audience.

I heard those noisy bracelets as Ms Sood clambered and clanged through the theatre. Mind-numbing in their annoyance.


And when your opening night audience is not laughing, as it wasn’t last night, you have to know, if you are the playwright, you have a problem.

You want to say to Anosh Irani—
Why did you write this play? What do you want us to get from it? What truths? Wisdoms?

Now rewrite it; make it shorter, maybe 90 minutes with no intermission.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and Passionate Playgoer. You can read her blog at

MY GRANNY THE GOLDFISH runs at Factory Theatre until April 15.

Tickets at


Live and in person at various locations of the Toronto Fringe Festival, Toronto, Ont. On until July 14, 2024.

Pretty Beast

Written and performed by Kazu Kusano

Directed by Jane Morris

Growing up in Japan, Kazu Kusano had a lot going against her. She had a schizophrenic mother who hated to be touched, which meant Kazu was not held or hugged, ever, by her mother. Kazu Kusano had an alcoholic father. She lived in a sexist society. And she wanted to be a stand-up comedienne. So Kazu moved to the United States; learned English and began telling jokes in clubs in Los Angeles.

She does not shy away from facing cultural cliches about being a Japanese woman. At an audition she was asked “to be more Japanese, like a Geisha”, and laugh demurely with her hand in front of her mouth. Kazu sent that up with some colourful language and blunt imagery. She talks about being looked after by a plain-speaking grandmother, who put her to bed with an inappropriate bedtime story and usually some blunt advice.

Kazu Kusano is irreverent, self-deprecating and very funny in her perceptions of the world.  

Plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace:

July 7, 9, 10, 11, 12. 13.

Check times at

Dead Right

Written by Kate Barris and David Schatzky

Directed by Briane Nasimok

Set by Beckie Morris

Cast: Chris Gibbs

Janelle Hutchison

Allan Price

Kristi Woods

Helena has cancer. She tells her daughter Suzanna, which puts her in a tizzy because she just quit her job to write a play, full time. Suzanna’s psychotherapist husband, Michael wants to be supportive, but always thinks of himself and his practice first. Added to this, Helena and her husband Bud decide on a suicide pact, but then Bud might be changing his mind, or not.

The premise is full of funny possibilities. The cast is hardworking, with Janelle Hutchison as Helena realizing a lot of the humour. Perhaps the writers could give the play another look and trim 15 minutes by tighten up the scenes, after seeing what jokes are working and what isn’t.

It’s a brave and irreverent look at illness and suicide.

Plays at the Alumnae Theatre

July 7, 8, 12, 13, 14

Check times at:

Elephant Song

Written and directed by Kush

Set by Crescent Choudhary, Ezequiel Garcia

Lighting by Eden Philips

Cast: Arjun Kalra

Chirag Motwani

Japneet Kaur

Musicians: Utsav Alok, Dhruv Sodha

“B leads a barren life working as a government clerk in Mumbai. In his quarters, one lonesome night, he sees a white elephant that takes him on a journey in which he begins to question the biases, beliefs and ignorance of the world around him. Sounds of traditional Indian instruments (the sitar) song, and the inspiration of poems of Kabir, permeate the atmosphere.”

Kush’s writing is lush, poetic, esoteric and even mystical. Arjun Kalra’s performance as B is haunted, thoughtful and always compelling.

The script mixes the English dialogue with dialogue in Hindi. The translation of what is being said or sung in Hindi is clearly projected on the back wall of the Backspace so that those not knowledgeable about the language are never left in the dark. Every part of this production was created with care and thought.

Plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace

July 8, 9, 10, 11, 13.

Check times at:

Daniel in Love (For One Night Only)

Written and performed by Daniel Tompkins

Directed by Ryan Bjornson

It takes guts to publicly reveal your faults, errors and demons, and Daniel Tompkins has the guts of a bandit. His show begins with a fanfare of the buoyant overture of Sweet Charity. In keeping with that dazzle Daniel Tompkins enters the space wearing a sparkly jacket, and exuding a lively attitude ready to do his standup comedy routine. It turns out to be rather lackluster in jokes that seem tired or forced. Daniel Tompkins finally comes clean. He says that that persona is a mask, a shield he puts on to please people—to present himself as he thinks they see him, rude, smarmy, and irreverent. He then takes off the jacket and hangs it up and presents himself to us as he is.

It’s easy to see why humour is so important to him. His mother was a teenager when she became pregnant by her boyfriend. He abandoned her. Her parents sent her to Ireland at three months to hide their embarrassment. She returned when she gave birth. The Grandfather shunned him as well until a kind uncle shamed the Grandfather by noting Daniel was a beautiful baby. That changed his mind.

Daniel Tompkins takes us on a journey of his own discovery. He says he’s a gay man who likes to date women. One of those women could see him as he really was, saw his good points and the disappointments. He felt that theatre and performing was what he wanted to do, and how he had to contend with the cruel and supportive comments from teachers. He carried on, but drank a lot to mask the disappointment. When he was at an important event that could have shown him in a good light, he drank so much he ruined every possibility. He finally saw the light and stopped drinking then. His journey since has been full of revelation and poetry that gets him through.

Daniel in Love (For One Night Only)the title become clear—is a moving journey of a man who has been through uncertainty, depression, insecurity, alcohol and finally love, in order to find his true self. It takes guts to tell this story and Daniel Tompkins is bringing with it.

Playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace

Playing: July 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14.

For playing times:

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