Search: MY NIGHT WITH REG

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.

www.mirvish.com

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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.

www.mirvish.com

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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.

www.canadianstage.com

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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.

(PHIL)
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.

(LYNN)
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.

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

(LYNN)
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.

(PHIL)
Is it a ghost story or something else.

(LYNN)
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.

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

(LYNN)
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?

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

(LYNN)
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.

(PHIL)
And again the woods factor heavily in the story?

(LYNN)
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.

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

(LYNN)
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.

(PHIL)
Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com. 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.

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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.

 Lovely.

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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.

(ROSE)
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?

(LYNN)
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.

(ROSE)
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.

(LYNN)
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.

(ROSE)
3) How does it do as a production?

(LYNN)
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.

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

You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

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

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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

(ROSE)
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?

(LYNN)
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.

(ROSE)
2) Then why did you see the film?

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

(ROSE)
3) And was it better?

(LYNN)
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

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

(LYNN)
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.

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

(LYNN)
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.

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

(LYNN)
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.

TAKE THOSE BRACELETS OFF NOW!

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.

(ROSE)
Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and Passionate Playgoer. You can read her blog at www.slotkinletter.com

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

Tickets at www.factorytheatre.ca

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

Written by Oscar Wilde
Adapted for the stage by Kate Hennig
Directed by Christine Brubaker
Designed by Jennifer Goodman
Lighting by Siobhán Sleath
Original music and sound designed by John Gzowski
Cast: Marion Day
Emily Lukasik
PJ Prudat
Sanjay Talwar
Jonathan Tan
Kelly Wong

A puzzling production because while it involves a chorus of children the stories are too literary and sophisticated in their meaning to be for kids. By the same token the performance style is so over done it can’t really be for adults either. A mish-mash.

The Stories. Playwright Kate Hennig took four Stories for Young and Old by Oscar Wilde and adapted them for the stage. They are:

The Happy Prince, about a statue that started out being grand but was stripped of its gold etc. and is now considered shabby by insensitive, greedy adults. A group of charity kids know the statue’s true value.

The Nightingale and the Rose in which a nightingale sacrifices herself for a student who is lovesick for a woman who ignores him. A story of selflessness, devotion and generosity.

The Selfish Giant is about a giant who built a wall around his garden to keep the kids out. One little boy is heartbroken because of this so the giant lifts him up to see the garden. The boy embraces the giant who sees the error of his ways and knocks down the wall. This generosity is rewarded by the kids who come to play there. The true identity of the little boy takes on a religious aura.

And there is a story that is used to link and thread through the others—The Remarkable Rocket about a conceited firecracker who is a blowhard telling everybody how great he is, but when it comes time to deliver and perform, he fizzles. It’s a theme of how egoism can thwart growth or development. Sounds familiar.

The Production. Jennifer Goodman’s set is simple and colourful. The props of birds and insects are clever and inventive. The colourful costumes for various characters are also eye-popping. Sanjay Talwar plays the Remarkable Rocket and wears an all encasing red outfit with a pointed head covering. Jonathan Tan plays a frog, among others, and wears a green frog costume with colourful flipper/frog’s legs. Mr. Tan is very agile and cheerful as the frog. The performances of the company are in the most rudimentary style of pedestrian kids theatre—dialogue is said very earnestly by the actors but in a sing-songy, declarative way. This over accentuates information and everything is presented as if it’s all full of wonder.

It doesn’t work. I don’t blame Kate Hennig who adapted the stories. She does it with imagination and care. And I can’t really fault Christine Brubaker’s direction because the original directive from the Artistic Director was to produce a show for children and adults using puppets etc. Again, I don’t think this was thought through properly. If the intention was to introduce kids to theatre or produce a show for them, then this isn’t it. And the child-like way of presenting the stories isn’t for adults either.

Presumably if parents/grandparents were involving kids in the workshop then the kids probably already go to the theatre. And again, the source material is really not kids’ fare. I think the total absence of kids in the audience would be proof enough.

Comment. Is this a show for both adults and children?

I’m sure the intention of Tim Carroll the Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival is that the show should be for both adults and children. In her program note, Kate Hennig, who adapted the four stories says: that her commission from Mr. Carroll was “a play for puppets and six actors with interaction for children, drawn from four stories by Oscar Wilde and maintaining Wilde’s wit for adults.” The director is Christine Brubaker whose work I’ve seen before and it’s dandy.

In Brubaker’s program note she says that they have included a children’s chorus and they conceived the show with children at its heart. But by her own admission the stories are complex with philosophical musings, psychological ramifications regarding decisions and discourse on the Christian Faith. There is even a literary essay in the program by Dr. Elizabeth Goodenough (a professor of English) that goes deep in analyzing the stories. Not exactly kids fare.

So the long-short answer is that I haven’t a clue who this show is for, and it’s too easy to say both adults and children, when it’s obvious it’s not. I don’t think the programming of this production was thought through carefully enough.

The chorus is composed of young kids who registered for a workshop that took place 45 minutes before the show. They made props and participate by ringing a bell, reacting to a word as the stories are told or other kinds of reactions and involvement.

On the day I saw Wilde Tales there were 20 kids participating and they all sat on the floor around the acting space. If you sat further back than the third row you had difficulty seeing them at all. If the kids are meant to participate, surely we should be able to see them. There were no kids in the audience. The rest of the audience were adults, some of whom were related to the kids. So you see my concern—while the stories do have an element that on a basic level would appeal to kids, they really are sophisticated and would appeal to adults. Yet they are performed in that clichéd manner that talks down to kids and would turn off adults. So who is this show for? Nobody?

Presented by the Shaw Festival

Began: June 8, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 7, 2017.
Cast: 6; 3 men, 3 women
Running Time: 55 minutes.

www.shawfest.com

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

Written by Bernard Shaw
Directed by Tim Carroll
Designed by Dana Osborne
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Dance sequences and puppetry by Alexis Milligan
Music direction and original music by Paul Sportelli
Cast: Neil Barclay
Kyle Blair
Julia Course
Kristi Frank
Patrick Galligan
Élodie Gillett
Jeff Irving
Patty Jamieson
Sarena Parmar
Jacqueline Thair
Michael Therriault
Jay Turvey
Jenny L. Wright
Shawn Wright

A valiant, committed cast tries to lift this dumbed-down, misguided production that does little to serve Shaw’s play.

The Story. Androcles and the Lion is a fable about goodness, faith and a lion who never forgets a kindness. Androcles and his whining wife Megaera are on a jungle path. They are arguing. She’s tired and pampered and wants to stop walking. He is considerate but they need to get to the next village before nightfall. They have been hounded out of their home for religious reasons. She is fed up and attempts to leave but stumbles on a lion that is sleeping. The stumble wakes it. The Lion is suffering from a thorn in its paw. And since Androcles loves all animals almost better than people, he takes the thorn out of the paw and gives comfort to the Lion. All is well and they part. But then Androcles and others are captured and taken to Rome where they will either be fed to the lions or forced into combat in the Coliseum. Interestingly Androcles and his wife seem to have become separated along the way. When he is captured, she is nowhere to be found.

The Production. Before the production proper begins the cast individually and casually come out and chat up people in the audience. They introduce themselves; find out who they are and how they are, why they might have chosen that play; how their day has gone. Some actors hold a coloured ball in their hand. If the audience member wants to be involved in the action of the play, he/she is given a coloured ball. There are five coloured balls.

After this up close and personal stuff the cast move away from the audience, form a circle looking inwards (centre stage) and sing a hymn. Then the person who has been chosen to be the MC for the performance (Julia Course in my performance) explains the rules of the games with the balls etc.

Those in the audience with a ball could throw it on stage any time during the play. The colour of the ball indicates a different result. A certain colour (can’t remember which one and it doesn’t matter) means the cast will sing a hymn; another colour means a cast member will recite a portion of the Preface or the Epilogue to the play; another coloured ball means a cast member will tell a story that pertains to that performance and another colour means a cast member will tell the audience what he/she is thinking at the moment the ball is tossed on the stage. The last ball is special and is a lightening round of the actors commenting.

When an audience member with a coloured ball tosses the ball on stage, the play is interrupted and depending on the colour of the ball, the action is taken (either the cast sings a hymn—they learned nine of them—tell a story pertaining to the play, tell what they are thinking…..). When that action is completed the play continues.

An accommodating person in the audience is chosen to play the Lion. And finally the audience is asked to choose how a pathway in the jungle should be constructed: with benches or something else (I’ve blanked on what the other thing was). The audience chooses benches. The cast set up benches in a zig-zaggy manner representing the path on which Androcles and his lady-wife are walking. Once this is done the ‘production’ finally begins.

As with other Tim Carroll directed productions the house lights in the theatre are generally ‘up’ so that the audience and the cast can see each other. When Carroll was at Stratford for a few seasons he explained that having the lights up referenced ‘original practices’ of producing theatre as in Shakespeare’s day. (What this has to do with Shaw is a mystery, but I digress).

The MC reads the stage directions and the rest of the cast play the parts. The stage directions are important for the part of the Lion (who has no lines) because that part is all stage directions (put up a paw; lick the paw etc.), with perhaps a growl or two. In the production I saw an accommodating man from the audience named John played the Lion with focus and creative attention to the stage directions.

I am grateful for every single actor in this production. No matter how large or small the part, these actors instil every second of their characterizations with commitment, focus and creativity. As Androcles, Patrick Galligan is the most courtly, considerate accommodating husband to his hectoring wife Megaera (Jenny L. Wright). He is coaxing, gently urging and patient with this impossible woman. With the Lion he’s caring as well, even though Shaw has him talking in baby-talk to the creature. As Megaera, Jenny L. Wright plays her with finesse and not with knock-down aggression. There is always subtlety in Wright’s work and her characters are vivid because of it. Besides being the MC, Julia Course plays Lavinia a Christian prisoner who is regal, intellectual and charms a Roman Captain of the guards played with sombre seriousness by Kyle Blair. The banter between these two opposites is wary but the attraction between them is obvious. Ferrovius is a Christian with a gladiator’s sensibility. Jeff Irving plays him with a ferocity that he tries in vain to keep in check. It’s a performance that is startling and hilarious.

It is jarring when a ball is gently tossed on stage. The flow of the performance is interrupted while the cast puts its attention on the ball—do they sing a hymn…? Who ever has to contend with the ball shifts gears momentarily and puts all his/her focus into dealing with that interruption. This too is done almost seamlessly and then they return to the play. Whether the audience can shift gears so easily and then get back to the nuts and bolts of the play is a different matter.

One must ask how does this ball tossing, games playing enhance the play or the experience of watching it? How does Mr. Carroll think this serves the playwright? Answer: It doesn’t. If anything it stops the action and the story telling and diminishes the play, as if what Shaw has to say is irrelevant. This is community theatre or rehearsal hall games at best.

As I said the saving grace of this misguided, badly thought out production of course is the cast. They will always rise to the occasion and try and make sense of the director’s folly. They will do it with commitment, good will, talent, understanding and grace. Bless them.

Comment. Director Tim Carroll has written a program note in which he muses on and assumes Bernard Shaw’s intentions and purposes with respect to Androcles and the Lion. Carroll’s assumptions and conclusions are so mind-boggling in their misrepresentation they illuminate how this production could have gone so far off the rails.

Carroll says: “Bernard Shaw seems to have rejoiced in the genre-busting nature of Androcles and the Lion. In it, he mixes romantic comedy, social satire, political commentary, religious rumination, children’s pantomime and vaudevillian slapstick. He says to the audience, in effect, “you sort it out”.

Mind-boggling.

Shaw never left anything so important as his meaning, intention, purpose or anything else up to the vagaries of the audience. All one need do is look at his extensive stage directions describing in detail everything from the look of the set to the colour of a character’s eyes to realize that. Then there are the extensive prefaces that discourse on aspects, philosophies and theories in his plays. The preface for Androcles and the Lion is twice as long as the play itself! Shaw is known for his deep, dense plays with a philosophical message and Androcles and the Lion is no different. It’s funny and charming but Shaw riffs on faith, religion, Christianity, piety, honour, forgiveness etc. in the work.

Tim Carroll writes further: “I hope we have taken up the challenge of staging the play in the spirit of Shaw himself….I believe the deepest way we can carry on Shaw’s work is to make theatre a kind of two-way experience, he believed it should be. Thus we will constantly involve the audience—though no one will ever be put on the spot or cajoled.”

Mind-boggling.

If Mr. Carroll has misinterpreted Shaw’s mixing of genres to “you sort it out,” doesn’t it follow that he would not know what ‘the spirit of Shaw himself’ was in order to stage the play? It seems so.

I have to wonder what Mr. Carroll thinks the audience is doing when they watch a play if not to be involved, ‘experiencing’ and engaging in the play.

This is what the audience does in a play, Shaw’s or otherwise: after they have made the commitment to being there, buying the ticket at considerable expense in this case and often travelling long distances on lousy roads: they sit facing the stage and listen, hear, see, watch, look, ponder, weight and assess the arguments presented by the characters; they judge the characters as good or bad conveyers of the playwright’s message; they decide if the argument is sound or not; they evaluate the acting, and the application of the play to their own lives, and they do it as they are keenly, carefully involved audiences in the play. And they also have to remember to breathe and swallow.

What in the world is Tim Carroll thinking when he thinks he has to do more to involve the audience? This is not a production in the spirit of Shaw. It’s a production that hasn’t been thought through by a director who has misinterpreted the writing of the playwright.

In an interview with me on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm June 2, 2017, Mr. Carroll said that Shaw’s aim in his plays was to entertain. I regret I didn’t challenge him on that and ask for his definition of ‘entertain.’ Some people are entertained by a silly farce or glitzy musical. Some are entertained by a good production of King Lear where everyone dies. A few get their jollies by reading Schopenhauer.

I only have Shaw’s words to know that what he wanted to do was to educate, instruct, hector, lecture, philosophise to, dictate to and inform his audiences before anything else, humour notwithstanding. As for Tim Carroll’s assumption that Shaw wanted to ‘entertain’, that seems to be dispelled in the scholarly essay by Michel Pharand in the same Androcles and the Lion program for the Shaw Festival as Mr. Carroll’s piece. In it Mr. Pharand notes an interview with Bernard Shaw September 2, 1913, the day after the opening in London of Androcles and the Lion, in which Shaw complained about all the laughter of the audience. It went on so long and loud it extended the performance from 70 minutes to 95 minutes. You say Shaw wanted to entertain, Mr. Carroll? Not bloody likely.

Presented by the Shaw Festival

Began: June 6, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 7, 2017.
Cast: 14; 7, men, 7 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes to 2 hours 20 minutes.

www.shawfest.com

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At the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, England

From the novel The Sopranos by Alan Warner
Adapted by Lee Hall
Directed by Vicky Featherstone
Designed by Chloe Lamford
Lighting by Lizzie Powell
Sound by Mike Walker
Choreography by Imogen Knight
Cast: Becky Brass
Caroline Deyga
Karen Fishwick
Isis Hainsworth
Lilly Howard
Emily Linden
Kirsty MacLaren
Frances Mayli McCann
Amy Shackcloth
Dawn Sievewright

Lively, irreverent, rude, raw, and almost incomprehensible to me because of the thick Scottish accent and the whizzing slang.

The Story. Six convent girls are going to a choir competition in Edinburgh. It’s been an interesting year. Seven girls alone in this one graduating class have become pregnant. Lots of pent up emotions here. The girls take the bus organized for the journey and along the way get into all manner of trouble: drinking, picking up men, getting drunk, loosing their uniforms (stolen actually), setting fire to a pub, tricking people, telling each other their secrets, getting reprimanded by the Mother Superior, singing their bits in the competition dressed in their street clothes, being eliminated, then going completely wild after that.

The Production
. The six girls introduce themselves to us, facing the audience. There are tables and chairs on the stage on the two sides of the stage for those people silly enough to think these are great seats. All they see are the backs of the heads of the girls or the sides of their heads. As this show is fashioned like a traditional Scottish ceilidh, a party where everyone participates. That might be nice when everyone is all there together, but when people on stage are paying something like £39 at least for the privilege, that’s just nuts.

Director Vicky Featherstone directs this with energy, abandon, raucous liveliness and irreverence. The girls sing beautifully when doing their choir pieces and full out belting when they are rocking.

There are the usual types here: the loner girl who is posh, pregnant and terrified to tell her parents, a girl recovering from cancer and finds it’s come back, a girl who is in love with the one who is pregnant, a girl from an abusive family, etc.

It ends in a blaze of ‘care-less’ energy as the girls belt out their last song in a blaze of light, that these are the best years of their lives. Irony drips from the rafters.

Comment. The meaning of succour: “assistance and support in times of hardship and distress.” “The wounded had little chance of succour.” Irony continues to drip…..

The reviews and the reaction to this wild show have been rapturous. Me, I didn’t care. Not a jot. That happens when the accent is so thick I can’t make out 60% of what they are saying—I’m usually good with this stuff, but was defeated here. Also the slang went so fast again I couldn’t make it out. And the actual content, after a while, destructive behaviour is just so tiresome. Is it generational? Do I lack the needed frustration of these girls to care about them? Feh.

The performances of all the girls and the girl band are stellar. Lee Hall’s adaptation I’m sure is stellar too, it’s just that I didn’t have a clue for the most part about what is going on. When I did, I just could not give a rise to compassion. The girls are all so repressed in that school and so eager to bust out, and so devoid of a sense of right, wrong, and in between, it was a hard road to caring or understanding. When their world really came crashing down—when they were reprimanded by the nuns and tossed out of the competition, they then went into overdrive in wild behaviour, destruction, cold-hearted behaviour to strangers, (men), that I was lost. It was heartening that they showed compassion to each other. Yawn. I will read the source material though, just to see what I’m missing, or not.

A rare dud on this wonderful trip of generally great theatre.

Continues open-ended.

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