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.


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



At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Co-created by Susanna Fournier, Ted Witzel and Helen Yung

Text by Susanna Fournier and Ted Witzel

Scenography by Helen Yung

Audiovisuals by Wesley McKenzie

Lighting by Oz Weaver

Performed and interpreted by: Valerie Buhagiar

Sky Gilbert

Chala Hunter

Richard Lam

Christopher Morris

Craig Pike

Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah

Rose Tuong

A deconstruction of Frank Wedekind’s 1894 play Lulu examining sex, lust, love, death reflection and grief in a production full of mind-boggling self-indulgence.

 The Story. This is based on Frank Wedekind’s mammoth work: Pandora’s Box: A monster-tragedy (aka LULU).  Lulu was an amoral woman who slept her way across Europe leaving a string of dead lovers in her wake. This is the first half of the story.

The second half then takes a more personal approach, to ‘untangle Lulu” from a history of violence, and try and find the ‘erotic love within us’ plus sex, death, love and grief, so says the programme note.

The Production.  On either side of the stage are microphones, a table with some props, and in the middle of the space on a raised platform is a bed.  For a long portion of the show a lot of action happens on both sides of the playing space, making it difficult to see or figure out what is going on if one was on the opposite side of the stage. As none of the characters is identified in the program alongside the actors playing them, I’ll refer to the characters as best as possible. A woman, stage right, sings into a microphone. An image of her singing at the microphone is projected on the back wall of the set.

Lulu (Rose Tuong) is dressed as a comedia dell arte character in a white satin jump suit along with various and many coloured wigs, each one more garish than the next. She is pouty, impatient, off-handed and seems incapable of any kind of meaningful love.  The acting is flat which seems a director’s choice. Christopher Morris is a dandy and suave as one of Lulu’s older lovers. Later he will appear nude except for a gauzy ruff around his neck. The reason is mystifying. Other characters wander on and off, telling the story, rather than showing it for the most part.

The acting style for the first section is deliberately declarative, artificial in that emotions don’t seem to be paramount and at a remove. In the second section when the cast engage with one another, expressing feelings, emotion etc. That too does not ring true.

Comment.  A group of actors have examined, dissected, questioned and pondered German playwright Frank Wedekind’s 1894 play: Lulu over the last four years. They have deconstructed six previous versions and this is the seventh.

The story and play are full of all manner of sexual perversion because Lulu was a sexual predator who enticed men wherever she went.  If you didn’t know the story to begin with I think you might be hard pressed to figure out what is going on.  There is no real sense of passion, eroticism or variation to get us into the story. I had to wonder why they were deconstructing anything if we can’t get the sense of what it was they were deconstructing.

The second part: Love and Grief seems to be the more personal component as the cast try and “untangle Lulu”  It’s the actors shifting in and out of the story, with  many trying to relate their attitudes to the original. Often the cast is in the nude perhaps to achieve a sense of eroticism.

Does this retelling and deconstruction work? Let me quote from the programme because it’s helpful to read what the creators really intended:

“We invite you to journey with us and peel back the layers of legacy, so we can meet each other in the pulsing heart of longing, of being and of being together.”

In other words, drivel.

There is another show in Toronto that tries to examine love in its many guises between lovers. It’s called 40 Days and 40 Nights.  In my review I called it ‘twaddle’.

Now I have drivel with  Lulu v. 7//A Femme Fatale.

  Is this an improvement? I don’t think so.

Lulu V. 7//Aspects of a Femme Fatale is pretentious navel gazing with the assumption that the audience will care about such self-indulgence. We are even ‘treated’ to actors commenting how “Ted (Witzel)” or “Suzanna (Fournier)” wanted one or the other to rewrite their portion, that there was not enough Wedekind in that section. If we haven’t seen the process for the previous six versions, why should we care what “Ted” or “Suzanna” felt?  And as a member of that audience I just don’t care because they haven’t met me half way to make me care. .

Because Lulu V. 7//Aspects of a Femme Fatale is so lacking in drama, tension, anything that would hold you regarding narrative, it’s dull, dreary and so full of self-indulgence and self-satisfaction and certainly no varying aspects of a femme fatale.

The saving grace is that it was supposed to be over three hours long and it was only about 2 hours and 45 minutes long.

I so hope there is not a version 8.

A Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Red Light District Co-production:

Opened: May 3, 2018.

Closes: May 20, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours, 45 minutes.



by Lynn on January 20, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer


l-r: Meghan Swaby, Carolyn Fe
Photo: Dahlia Katz







At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Audrey Dwyer

Set by Anne Treusch

Costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Composer and sound design by Johnny Salib

Cast: Don Allison

Matthew Brown

Carolyn Fe

Natasha Greenblatt

Andrew Moodie

Meghan Swaby

A play with good intentions to examine racism, privilege, entitlement and appropriation, to name a few, that falls short because playwright Audrey Dwyer’s focus is too scattered and too skewered in some cases.

The Story. Julie Gordon (Meghan Swaby) is a young twenty-something screenwriter on a tight deadline to write a screenplay “seeking to redress To Kill a Mockingbird through the perspective of Calpurnia – the Finch family maid.” (The words in quotes are from the press release. Right away I see a problem of definition—the novel describes Calpurnia as the “cook”—a huge modern societal, economic and hierarchical difference from the word “maid.” But I digress.)

Julie comes from a wealthy Jamaican-Canadian family. She lives in the family Forest Hill home with her father Lawrence (Andrew Moodie), a retired judge. He came to Canada with his family when he was three-years-old and never went back.  Julie’s mother died when she and her brother Mark were young.  Mark (Matthew Brown) is an up and coming lawyer who has just been profiled in a major article in the newspaper. Lawrence will be hosting a dinner party later that day in which the Senior Partner of a major law firm will be the guest of honour, with the intension that Mark joins that law firm. Never mind that Mark is happy at the firm where he is now, his father says he “can do better at a better law firm.” Mark lives with his white girlfriend Christine (Natasha Greenblatt), who is also a good friend of Julie. Taking care of the Gordon family is Precy (Carolyn Fe) the housekeeper who has been with the family since the children were very small. Precy is from the Philippines.

Much is revealed about the family dynamic as they prepare for the dinner party and for some reason Julie sabotages it in a pretty despicable way.

The Production.  The audience sits on either side of the long playing are. Anna Treusch has created a set that perfectly puts us in the rich world of the Gordon family. On one end is a raised kitchen area with a large, gleaming fridge, smart cabinetry, a central cooking island providing a counter and chairs for a quick bite. In the middle section is a long dining-room table, beautifully appointed with table ornaments. There is the ‘detritus’ of a dinner from the night before, when Lawrence celebrated Mark’s article in the newspaper: plates with left over food, wine/champagne glasses, two empty bottles of Veuve Clicquot. There is also a closed computer at one end of the table.

At the other end of the set is a living room with comfortable chairs, a few end tables and pictures on the wall, one of which is a photo of Lawrence’s late wife. An alcove on the other side of the wall indicates the entrance to the home.

Julie enters quickly from some part of the house, sits at the dining table, puts down a stack of reference books on the table and opens the computer. She is dressed in sweatpants and a hoodie. She writes (taps) with energy and intensity. Distraction is all around her. Precy wants to engage her in conversation but Julie tells her she has a deadline and has to write. Precy disregards her and continues talking.

Lawrence, dressed sportingly in athletic pants, t-shirt and a jacket, is obviously a take-charge kind of guy. He queries Julie about her progress; if she’s filed her various versions of her screenplay in folders or not; and moves her away from the computer so he can show her how to do it, even though she’s said she knows how.

Mark is dressed in casual chic, pants, t-shirt and blazer. He reads what Julie has written and is appalled. Julie feels To Kill a Mockingbird is a racist book and that Calpurnia is a caricature. Mark disagrees. The book and film are his favourites and he contradicts several instances in Julie’s screenplay that are not in the original book. For example: Julie has Atticus Finch hit Calpurnia and treats her badly which is not true in the original.

Julie questions whether Harper Lee, a white woman, had the right to write about black characters such as Calpurnia.  Mark also argues this point too. Interestingly, later in the play Christine asks Julie why she feels she can write about white people since she’s black, seemingly missing her own point from before about Harper Lee appropriating the black voice of Calpurnia. Julie says that she’s studied white people and has observed them and that gives her the right to write about them. Hmmmmm.

We get a sense of Julie’s blinkered agenda being imposed on a classic book in her screenplay. Julie is imposing a modern perspective on a classic that takes place in the 1930s without being able to put anything in context except her rigid perspective. She can’t evaluate the book on its own terms, in its own time period and instead is determined to apply a modern racist agenda on a classic that does sustain it. Mark vociferously expresses his dismay that his sister is distorting To Kill A Mockingbird in her screenplay for her own narrow focus.  Julie replies with equal ire.

Christine also reminds Julie that they usually go to St. Barts to celebrate their late mothers, but again, Julie says she can’t because of the writing deadline. Christine persists in the request.

Talk about a fraught atmosphere. What is clear is that no one in that family has any respect for Julie’s need to meet her deadline. There are constant interruptions regardless of Julie’s insistence that she has to finish her screenplay.

The logical question is: why doesn’t Julie just go to her office/room and write? But then the need for Audrey Dwyer as playwright and director to establish this fraught atmosphere wouldn’t work. So for the sake of creating an emotional situation, the character of Julie looks silly and not a serious writer. Hmmmmm.

Julie interviews Precy about her life and work; if she likes her work; if she goes home to the Philippines often. Precy looks incredulous at the questions and so do we. Precy has been with that family since before their mother died. She has cooked, cleaned,  changed diapers and taken care of them for their whole lives. The fascinating thing is that Julie doesn’t seem to know any of this from her questions. Also when Precy asks Julie if she wants anything to eat, Julie just plops herself down at the counter, waiting to be served, when she’s perfectly capable of getting food herself. Is this Dwyer showing us Julie’s sense of privilege?

Julie disrupts the dinner party in a most despicable way and yet when she is asked why she did it, she has no answer, just a tightly clenched jaw. Why is that? Is she that jealous of her brother and doesn’t want him to succeed? He already has, on his own. I wonder what Dwyer’s intention is with this decision.

Dwyer directs Meghan Swaby as Julie seemingly to be a one-noted, bellowing, ill-tempered harpy.  How do you take Julie seriously as a result? Is that the point?  Why?

Matthew Brown as Mark is grounded, emotional and thoughtful. I’m grateful to Dwyer for providing such an eloquent opponent to Julie’s invective.

Andrew Moodie as Lawrence, is a conglomeration of physical tics (hand clapping to emphasize a decision, laboured sighs before answering a question). Carolyn Fe plays Precy as a matter-of-fact, feisty woman with character and backbone, unafraid to voice her displeasure at what’s happening around her. Natasha Greenblatt plays Christine as a person in a tricky situation, wanting to fit into that family and being solicitous and defensive to what’s going on around her. Don Allison is suave and cool as James, the high-powered lawyer that Lawrence wants his son to impress.

Each of the six characters could have a whole play devoted to them individually.

Comment. Playwright Audrey Dwyer has set up the Gordon family along the same lines as the Finch family in To Kill a Mockingbird. The fathers in both are widowers who worked in law. Both have two children, a boy and a girl. Both families are cared for by a person of colour. The difference is that the Finch family are described as poor and white and the Gordon family are wealthy and Jamaican-Canadian.

There are times when Precy stands her ground and puts Julie in her place for her bad behaviour—just as Calpurnia did to Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. I love the echoes there in Audrey Dwyer’s writing.

I found it interesting that for all his professed care and love for his family, Lawrence doesn’t have any respect? belief? in his children’s abilities to get ahead on their own. He arranged for the newspaper article to be written about Mark. He arranges the dinner party so Mark can ‘present’ himself to James, the high-powered senior partner of an illustrious law firm, in the hopes Mark will be invited to join them. Lawrence arranges for an agent to accept Julie as a client in spite of her seemingly not having published anything. Indeed Lawrence tells James that Julie is a professional writer because she has an agent. Her brother Mark says that Julie has never actually had a job. Mind-boggling even for children of privilege, or perhaps I’m naïve.

Over the course of the play a uniform point is that every character, be they black or white, reveals racist tendencies, in other words to quote Avenue Q.  “everyone’s a little bit racist.” So perhaps that’s what Dwyer is trying to say—we are all a little bit racist.  I don’t need a jumble of a play to tell us what we already know, whether intentional or by insensitive error.

Over the course of the six years of writing Calpurnia Audrey Dwyer wanted to examine such topics as: Mammy culture, the loyalty people have to To Kill A Mockingbird, “how American Blackness trumps Canadian Blackness when we consider what it means to be Black”, and to “examine Canada, Canadians and how we deal with issues of race, class and gender.” I look forward to any one of these five possible plays that Dwyer might write in the future.

But for Calpurnia it’s a jumble of hot-button topics that needs more focus and distillation. Alas I found it disappointing.

Produced by Nightwood Theatre and Sulong Theatre.

Opened: Jan. 17, 2018

Closes: Feb. 4, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.



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.