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

Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore
Music direction by Laura Burton
Set by Michael Gianfrancesco
Costumes by Dana Osborne
Lighting by Michael Walton
Sound by Peter Boyle
Cast: Sean Arbuckle
Evan Buliung
Beau Dixon
Alexis Gordon
Lisa Horner
John Kirkpatrick
Laurie Murdock
Glynis Ranney
Steve Ross
Brad Rudy
Mark Uhre
Blythe Wilson

Lively and joyous with a few concerns including please, PLEASE lower the volume! We actually want to hear and listen to the dialogue and music without having our ears drums burst.

The Story. Nathan Detroit, poor soul, is frantically looking for a private place for his floating craps game. He can’t let Miss Adelaide, his fiancée of 14 years know because she wants him to give it up. The police of course must not know. Nathan needs a quick $1,000 as a deposit on a place for the craps game so he bets Sky Masterson—a slick gambler who bets on anything—on how much cheesecake vs strudel is sold at a particular restaurant. That idea flops too. But Sky is bet that he can’t take any ‘doll’ on a little trip to Havana, Cuba. Sky takes the bet until he realizes whom he has to take. It’s prim, proper Miss Sarah Brown of the Salvation Army. Will he succeed or will Sarah thwart him.

The Production. Director/choreographer Donna Feore and her smart set designer, Michael Gianfrancesco initially create the grey, dark and gloomy world of New York City in the dead of night. That’s when the sharp-dressing, formal, quirky-talking gambling, gangster guys and their sassy dolls come to life.

Feore sets the tone of this lively, slightly dangerous world of mobsters and gamblers with the cleverest bit of business to get us to turn off our phones. A mobster wanders on stage. A phone upstage rings, and rings and rings. The mobster paces in frustration at the ringing. He takes out his gun and shoots it. Silence. Then the mobster looks at us and points, indicating the same might happen if our phones go off.

In a flash that grey world changes into blazing neon colour (Kudos to lighting designer, Michael Walton). Feore makes those people pulse with kinetic energy as a pickpocket goes about his business of relieving people of their heavy wallets, men and women meet for dates, even a poor drunk has his own little story when he thinks he got lucky as he sidles up to a woman in a red dress and begins to fondle her breasts, not realizing ‘she’ is a mannequin. A photographer takes flash pictures of it all. In a wonderful bit of cheek Feore makes the photographer a woman. It’s doubtful that would happen in the 1930s (the approximate time of the show), but since the women in Guys and Dolls rule why not make the photographer a woman too. Love that.

Dana Osborne’s flashy, form-fitting suits for the guys and the skimpy garb for the chorus-girl dolls (except for Sarah Brown and her ‘sisters’) suggests a world of dazzle and preening. The men take pride in how they look and these suits show that off.

But while clothes might make the man, (or woman) it’s an actor’s performance that makes the character and the performances here are very fine. Sean Arbuckle as Nathan Detroit is a man who worries; first about finding a place for the craps game and then about keeping it from Miss Adelaide. He is a man who likes things the way they are, so I guess that’s why he doesn’t marry Adelaide. Arbuckle creates a portrait of a sweet wimp who does love Adelaide but can’t move forward. Blyth Wilson plays Adelaide as almost always smiling, except for her sneezing when she gets frustrated with Nathan’s lack of movement towards marriage. I do wish that Wilson has a bit more edge to her portrayal. Adelaide has grit. Wilson could show more of it. Her singing and dancing are dandy.

Alexis Gordon, as Sarah Brown, has such nuance and layers to her portrayal of this uptight, upright salvation army woman. And she sings with a clear soprano voice that floats with ease. She is equally matched by Evan Buliung as the suave Sky Masterson. Nothing fazes him or intimidates him until he meets Sarah. And what starts as a bet to take her to Havana ends with him falling in love with her. Sky is an honourable man with a conscience and a strong moral centre—all beautifully rendered in Buliung’s performance.

One can go crazy with the puns and word play of Steve Ross’ performance as Nicely-Nicely Johnson. I won’t fall into the trap. Ross plays Nicely-Nicely as a kind of distracted, sweet, always eating ‘nebbish.’ He scurries with a purpose and sings like a dream, especially in “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat.”

Feore’s choreography as always is fast almost to the point of frantic and leaves everyone, including the audience, breathless. Whether it’s the intoxicating throb of “Havana” or the revival meeting vibe of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat,” or the acrobatic-balletic slide of “The Crapshooters Dance” and “Luck Be A Lady,” Feore ramps up the energy level with each number.
Interestingly Feore appears to have told her cast to let the audience dictate how long the applause lasts for each number. The cast holds the last pose as the applause just rolls in and only breaks that pose when it’s thought the applause is lessening. Usually the person ‘charged’ with breaking the pose first, then followed by the rest of the group, breaks the pose when the applause is loudest, just to get the show going. Not with this show. I thought that interesting.

While the show throbs with energy and many scenes of witty humour, I do have some concerns regarding Feore’s staging. The show is full of so many of her witty touches why then are songs sung with clichéd staging. For example, Sarah’s grandfather, Arvide Abernathy (a wonderfully touching Laurie Murdoch) sings “More I Cannot Wish You” in which he expresses his hopes for a life full of love for her. He faces Sarah when he sings it tenderly. But then Feore has Arvide turn away from Sarah and face the audience, still singing. So Sarah is smiling and looking at his back. Arvide turns back to Sarah and continues singing tenderly only to walk away again, this time downstage, again facing the audience. Again, Sarah is left abandoned still smiling at Arvide’s back.

What is that? That staging compromises the audience’s engagement in the song and the characters involved in it. When the two characters are together with one singing to the other (who is listening intently) the audience is right there with them. But when one character veers off on his own (as Arvide does) then the whole point is compromised. Feore has done this too often in other shows as well. Why can’t she trust the music and the people who sing it to grip the audience?

In “Take Back Your Mink” sung by Adelaide and her Hot Box Dancers she places the chorus downstage giving them the focus and Adelaide upstage where she is almost lost, even though she is standing on a raised platform. Surely the staging should be reversed.

And about the volume, it is too loud both when the chorus sings and when anyone speaks. Why is that? How many times do audience members have to be heard to say (at intermission and at the end) ‘It’s too loud” before anyone listens and lowers the volume? It’s not a rock concert. We are there to listen. The orchestra is microphoned as is the cast. Our ears in the audience are hurting. Please solve this.

Comment. How to reconcile the fact that Sky takes Sarah to Havana to win a bet and then takes her to a taverna and plies her with the drink dolce de leche but doesn’t tell her that there is rum in it. In 2017, with rape culture in our headlines every day, this section of Guys and Dolls makes us suck air. Sky is not taking her to Havana overnight. He is taking her there to his favourite restaurant and will then bring her back to New York that night. Sarah loves this sweet milk drink and sucks it back quickly and immediately loosens up as a result. Sky is horrified when Sarah gets very drunk very quickly, and realizes he has to protect her from herself and the rest of the men in the place who don’t care about protecting her.

Guys and Dolls is a wonderful musical with that uncomfortable bit that in a sense brings out the moral streak in Sky. It certainly makes us ponder the world of the show and our own. While I have concerns, Donna Feore has done a fine job of filling the production with her vision, choreography and humour. Her company of actors and dancers is sterling.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Opened: May 29, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 29, 2017.
Cast: 33; 21 men, 12 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes, approx.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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I saw these two productions through NTLIVE. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? will have its encore performance in theatres July 8 and PETER PAN will have its performances June 10 and 11 in cinemas.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

Written by Edward Albee
Directed by James MacDonald
Cast: Conleth Hill
Imogen Poots
Imelda Staunton
Luke Treadaway

This is Edward Albee’s masterpiece of a bickering couple, George and Martha, who actually love each other but get their jollies by arguing, usually in front of other people. In this case the other people are Nick and Honey.

It’s 2:00 am. George (Conleth Hill) and Martha (Imelda Staunton) have just returned from a boozy party at Martha’s father’s house. He is the president of the university and has welcoming parties for new faculty. George is a professor in the history department at the university. Martha is his loud-mouthed, braying, needy wife. Because Martha’s father told her to be nice to Nick (Luke Treadaway) and Honey (Imogen Poots), and because Martha is desperate for her father’s approval, Martha invites Nick and Honey over for a night cap. Nick is in the biology department, young and attractive and Honey is his mousey, passive/aggressive wife. Over the course of the evening Martha and Nick reveal secrets that should not have been revealed and the gloves come off as Martha and George spar with Nick and Honey looking on in drunken horror. Honey gets even in her own passive way.

This is a very intimate production that is masterfully directed by James MacDonald. It lends itself particularly well in being filmed because the camera work is able to capture a reaction, a look, a side-long glance, that might have escaped notice in a theatre. To see Imelda Staunton’s hard, glaring look at George makes one cower in the seat. To witness Conleth Hill’s reaction as George—startled at first then hardened to match and beat her—is also a thing that makes you suck air slowly.

Everybody raves about Imelda Staunton as Martha, and well they should. She is fierce, combative, angry, insulting, seductive, predatory and so desperately needy. She hunts down the latest stud on the faculty (that would be Nick) and toys with him because she knows they think she has power as the president’s daughter. She is in her element as she taunts, challenges and insults George, and in her most angry, she confides to Nick that George is the only man she loves.

But while Imelda Staunton is an atomic bomb of emotional energy, George is a stealth bomber—silent and lethal. He is no wimp. He is articulate, intelligent, savvy, cunning, watchful and at all times can control what is going on. He let’s Martha sound off, but at the end of the day, she comes back to him. It’s getting to the end of the day that keeps them sparring. George and Martha play games and it seems that George makes them up. They have imagined a son. It’s a secret until Martha lets it slip to Honey. George is furious. They spar over the son making up all manner of invective of how the other was a terrible parent. (echoes of Albee’s home-life with his adoptive parents who seemed to hate each other. His mother was contemptuous of Albee because he was gay. This also echoes the/real/imagined baby in The Play About the Baby and Honey’s hysterical pregnancy that got Nick to marry her and then she wasn’t pregnant anymore.). When George admits to Nick and Honey that they could never have children, for the first time I took it to mean that they daren’t have them—they would be so terrible as competitive parents.

George knows how desperate Martha is for her father’s attention/affection, of which she has neither. I liken her to Hedda Gabler without the gun. When George tells her how late it is and how can she have invited guests, Martha says, three times, “Daddy said to be nice to them.” She takes her father’s request literally. We get the message about her neediness.

In his hard-nosed, yet quiet way, George knows Martha’s neediness, George has compassion. He has to put an end to pretending and get Martha on track.

As good as Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill are as Martha and George, they are wonderfully supported by Luke Treadaway as Nick and Imogen Poots as Honey.

Treadaway has that blond haired, blue-eyed sheen. He is not overly muscular but he has body language that transmits how confident he is in himself and his world. He has by far the hardest part because it’s so full of stilted, awkward dialogue “Why, yes, yes, it does.” Etc. OY. Treadaway says it all with an easy grace that conveys Nick’s formality. As Honey, Imogen Poots is dreamy-eyed (because of all that brandy) and quietly stubborn and demanding. She has Nick where she wants him and he needs her because of her money.

This production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?? masterful. It is brilliantly, bracingly acted and directed. See it on the Encore presentation, July 8. 2017.

www.ntlive.org

PETER PAN

Written by J. M. Barrie
Devised by the companies
Directed by Sally Cookson
Cast: Saikat Ahamed
Marc Antolin
Lois Chimimba
Anna Francolini
Felix Hayes
Paul Hinton
John Pfumojena
Ekow Quartey
Madeleine Worrall

To see this at the National Theatre was magical. To be able to see this in the cinema as part of National Theatre Live was terrific too because it brought back the memories.

We do know the story, right? Peter Pan, a boy who never wants to grow up, has lost his shadow when he was overhearing Mrs. Darling tell her children, Wendy, John and Michael stories. Mrs. Darling closed the window on Peter and trapped his shadow. He comes back for it when Mr. and Mrs. Darling are out at a party, and the dog Nana, who is the nanny is tied up outside. Peter charms the children and teaches them to fly and they go off on a big adventure to Neverland where they meet the Lost Boys.

There are some interesting changes in this version: Nana is played by a sassy-speaking Ekow Quartey who wears a frilly hat, apron and bloomers. Quartey also doubles as Tootles, a sweet, meek Lost Boy; Peter was responsible for the loss of Hook’s hand. He cut it off and fed it to the crocodile (nasty kid is this Peter); Hook is a woman with lots and lots of sarcastic attitude and metal teeth. She is played by the wonderful and scary Anna Francolini who also plays the most loving, kind-hearted Mrs. Darling. Tinker Bell is played by an impish Saikat Ahamed with white wings and a kind of shorts outfit and speaks in a cross between baby gibberish and Italian. Felix Hayes plays a bewildered, frustrated Mr. Darling who is ruled by his family. Mr. Hayes also plays Smee the pirate and Twin Two of the Lost Boys. Twin Two is always beside Twin One. Peter Pan is a loose-limbed, petulant, charming Paul Hinton. And Madeleine Worrall plays Wendy as very sensible and kind-hearted but is up for a flying adventure.

It is directed by the gifted director Sally Cookson who uses movement and simple imagery to create the most magical world. This world is composed of playground stuff; ladders, junk, ropes, piping and blinking lights. The crocodile is made of separate sections of corrugated metal with a long snout and two lights for eyes. The separate sections are held by characters who move in a balletic sequence creating the slow, steady lethal movement of the crocodile.

The flying of the characters is equally magical in that the audience does the work of imagining. The intention was to show how it all worked, from the crocodile to the flying and yet the result is that jaw dropping world of the ‘unbelievable.’

Each character who is lifted off the ground is attached to hooks on the side of their costumes. The hooks in turn are attached to wires and ropes that are also attached to another person who scurries up and down a stationary one piece ladder on either side of the stage. If the person is on the top of the ladder and drops down, the character he/she is attached to will in turn fly up. When the person on the ladder scampers up the rungs, the character attached to that person then lowers down. So it’s the combination of these two bodies acting as counter balances that give the sense of flying. Because it’s all visible to the audience they are in on the trick. Wonderful.

In a way you need the wide shot of a camera to capture all of the wild activity. Close-ups again are helpful in negotiating the various reactions of the characters. Occasionally the activity gets the better of the camera work and some things might get lost. The best advice is to look everywhere in the wide shot to get an idea of how it’s all done.

A final bit of magic and faith. Wendy and her brothers come home from Neverland to her worried parents, bringing many of the lost boys with them. Wendy asks if the Lost Boys can stay. The Lost Boys stand in a line and are introduced quickly: Curly, Nibs, the twins, Tootles etc. Except that can’t be right. In Neverland the twins, Twin One and Twin Two are always beside each other. But Twin Two is played by Felix Hayes who is over there as Mr. Darling with Mrs. Darling. We just take it on faith that when “The Twins’ are introduced that both of them are there and not just Twin One (Laura Cubitt). Love that.

Peter Pan is a joyous, magical, prickly show for fearless children and their accommodating parents.

It plays at selected cinemas doing NTLive productions on June 10 and then June 11 for the Encore.

www.ntlive.org.

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