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 Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto, Ont.

By Emil Sher
Based on the book by Ian Brown
Directed by Chris Abraham
Choreographers, Monica Dottor, Chris Abraham
Set and Costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle
Lighting by André du Toit, Kimberly Purtell
Video designer, Remington North
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Cast: Kelly McNamee
Liisa Repo-Martell
David Storch

A heart-wrenching story of a loving family living with and caring for a severely disabled child, given a beautiful production. It’s more a confessional than a play and you sit and listen, but think, “there but for the grace of God….”

The Story and the Production. The play is based on Ian Brown’s 2009 award-winning book “The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son.” Brown is married to Johanna Schneller, the Globe and Mail’s film critic. Their son Walker was born with a genetic disorder that left him severally disabled; unable to talk, eat properly, walk, and generally function as a growing boy. Development is severely delayed.

The book was lovingly, respectfully adapted into play form by Emil Sher In 2014. The play chronicles the long, torturous journey of Ian Brown and his wife Johanna Schneller in caring for Walker while he was at home. Every decision is gut-wrenching. They re-think every decision from every angle because they just aren’t sure if they are doing the right thing. There are only 300 people in the world who have the same disorder as Walker so it’s not as if you can go to a local support group for solace.

When the audience enters the theatre the stage is dark and mostly bare except for a stylish table and chairs up right. At the back is an opaque wall with a door well in it and almost behind the wall is lush greenery. A cone of light shines downstage centre.

As Ian Brown, David Storch steps into the cone of light, takes a deep breath and begins to tells us in an initially measured, sometimes agitated way, about a typical night when he is awoken from his sleep by Walker who is hitting himself and obviously in distress. Brown has to calm Walker and disengage him from his feeding tube and other paraphernalia; lift him out of his crib—he is not an infant but the crib is safer for him; change his soiled diaper while trying to stop Walker’s arms from flailing; carry him downstairs—at this point in the story Walker weight 45 pounds—and then feed him a baby bottle and get him settled so he will sleep. Sometimes the process takes three hours. One exhales slowly. And this is just the opening scene.

Liisa Ripo-Martell plays Johanna Schneller with the same measured manner. You get the sense both actors are approximating the effort it takes not only take care of this boy, but also to keep an emotional even keel and not loose their composure, their grip with the constant need to give care. It is a very hard slog.

Initially there is a playfulness as Schneller and Brown explain how they met (she was his student and she was attracted). They marry and she becomes pregnant. She is tested for genetic disorders and none are found. Schneller says that if she knew her baby had this disorder when she was pregnant she would have aborted him.

When Walker is born it is obvious there is something wrong but their regular doctor is not there and they have to make decisions without sound advice. When their doctor does appear it seems that what to do is interpreted differently by both parents. One hears that nature should take its course and Walker should be allowed to die. The other hears that everything should be done to keep him alive. Dilemmas to keep you up at night.

While both parents are respectful and appreciative of the other’s support, the constant pressure of taking care of such a helpless child takes its toll on the marriage. They fight, snipe, loose their temper, emotions etc.

Also part of this family is their daughter Hailey (Kelly McNamee). As disabled as Walker is that is as healthy and vibrant Hailey is. To accentuate the difference, Hailey is a student of ballet and for most of the performance she affects ballet poses and performs en pointe. We learn later of the bond between Walker and Hailey and that Hailey’s dancing gives Walker such pleasure.

Chris Abraham’s direction is striking and beautiful. The lighting by André du Toit and Kimberly Purtell is particularly evocative. A roving circular frame of light slides across the stage, silently, often following either Schneller or Brown and often enveloping them. I liken that roving light to be symbolic of Walker, always present, always consuming his parents’ attention. Occasionally there is a photo of the actual Walker with his parents projected above the stage. The last one of the evening is the most poignant.

Brown and Schneller often move about the stage, interacting, telling the story, but the last section is performed sitting in two chairs downstage facing the audience. It is the most wrenching, emotionally gripping section of the play. At the end of it both David Storch and Liisa Repo-Martell are awash with tears.

Comment. There is so much to ponder in The Boy in the Moon. When David Storch, as Ian Brown takes that deep breath and dives into telling in great detail, an average night trying to get Walker to sleep after he starts hitting himself, I asked myself, “Who is he talking to?” Really, who is he talking to? Friends? Strangers? An audience? A confessor? I do liken this heart-shredding, loving show to being less a play and more a confessional. As if Brown and Schneller needed to do penance for something, perhaps for deciding to keep Walker alive. They constantly worry about how much pain he is in; how he handles it and how they can help him with it. Half-way through the telling they must make another gut-wrenching decision and they make it. And there is guilt. But there is also joy. Are they grasping at anything when they interpret what they see as a smile on Walker’s face, and they feel that means he is happy? I don’t know. And neither do we actually since Brown and Schneller say there is so little they know about the disorder and how it affects a person.

Both Ian Brown and Johanna Schneller are selfless, devoted parents. They agonize over the pain Walker must be going through. I wonder, therefore, why they did not decide initially to let nature take its course. They never lament the decision to let him live as a cause of their marital problems, their constant need for sleep, being held captive to his need for care. They are almost herculean in their devotion to him. They think about what questions they would ask him if he could reply. They want to know that he’s happy. They want to know if he’s in pain. They want to know so much.

In that last section, when David Storch as Ian Brown and Liisa Repo-Martell as Johanna Schneller are sitting forward talking about Walker and they are awash in tears, that is when theatre and real life become blurred. It’s not the characters who are so moved. It’s the actors. Storch’s face is awash in tears and his nose is running considerably. The same with Ripo-Martell. This isn’t acting, folks. These are two actors with young healthy children of their own, playing parents of a severely disabled child, and they are loosing it for real, it seems to me. And that takes me right out of the moment. It seems almost churlish to comment on such a moving moment, but that’s what I’m doing. Of course bearing witness to their confessional is very emotional. But one listens, ponders and tries to understand because as I said in the beginning, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Presented by Crow’s Theatre

Opened: May 12, 2017.
Saw it: May 13, 2017.
Closes: May 27, 2017.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women
Running Time: 90 minutes approx.

www.crowstheatre.com

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At a pop-up theatre at 270 King St. West at Duncan, Toronto. Ont.

Written by Aaron Posner
Sort of adapted from The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Vinetta Strombergs
Set and lighting by Steve Lucas
Costumes by Christine Urquhart
Cast: Rachel Cairns
Richard Greenblatt
Brendan Hobin
Karen Knox
Craig Lauzon
Daniel Maslany
Sarah Orenstein

A wonderfully stylish production thanks to director Vinetta Strombergs and her dandy cast, of this impish, thoughtful and moving adaptation by Aaron Posner of Chekhov’s play.

The Story. You don’t need to know Chekhov’s play closely to appreciate Aaron Posner’s smart, witty, perceptive, impish, moving play. Unrequited love pretty well sums it up with a few words about art, theatre, pretentious theatre, and the next new thing. Conrad is a would-be-playwright who loves Nina, who wants to be an actress. Nine loves Conrad until she sees Trigorin, a successful writer, whereupon she is smitten and so is Trigorin for a little while. Trigorin is the companion of Emma Arkadina, a successful actress. She is possessively passionate for Trigorin and God help anyone who gets in her way, even Trigorin. Mash loves Conrad but he only has eyes for Nina. Dev loves Mash but she barely tolerates him. Mash plays the ukulele. How sad is that! And Dr. Eugene Sorn, Emma’s brother and a doctor, looks on all this with wistfulness, a touch of melancholy, but generally good spirits and a kind heart. Got all that? And it’s a comedy.

The Production. The production takes place in a spacious pop-up theatre that used to be a golf store. There are four acts that take place in various parts of the site. Director Vinetta Strombergs directs the acts with a clear idea of how to best serve the audience. There are several pillars in the site and negotiating the audience to see properly is an added extra with this space.

The audience sits in rolling office chairs which they take from location to location in the play. Photos of interesting vistas are on the walls. It is definitely set in the present day. The set by Steve Lucas is stylish and ultra modern. The first scene is by the lake of Emma’s family estate. The audience sits around a wood platform/stage ready to watch Conrad’s play. Emma and her entourage sit in front of the audience as if they are part of it.

Another scene takes place in the kitchen late at night where characters meet, sometimes furtively, sometimes by accident. There is a large table, a counter and a fridge that gets a lot of action. People are getting drinks, making drinks, boiling a kettle to make what I think is a hot toddy. Strombergs uses the space so well and imaginatively. No prop is there for its own sake. It’s used, incorporated into the action. Smart. Strombergs also directs her cast to ring every shred of torn emotion from the situation. The floor is practically dripping with each character’s ennui as they pine hopelessly for the one they love but doesn’t return it. However we don’t feel rung out in sympathy—that’s not Chekhov or Posner. At times you want to yell, “Get a grip and get on with it.”

Sarah Orenstein, as Emma Arkadina, has seen it all, got through it and now thinks most of it is boring, certainly her pretentious son. They wrangle. Emma lets Conrad have it regarding his insecurity, his condescension of her and for his incomprehensible play. Daniel Maslany as Conrad, gives as good as he gets, but he is outmatched by his mother. He flings insults, well articulated to be sure, but you just see a young man desperate to make his way on his own, but being put down by his mother. When Emma has it out with Trigorin about leaving her, Orenstein is blazing and formidable.

I’m not sure why Craig Lauzon plays Trigorin so that he looks like a biker, with his head fully covered in a bandana, wearing jeans, boots a leather vest and a t-shirt. That seems an odd choice. Rachel Cairns as Masha is beautifully morose, quick witted, and even sweet in her desperate love for Conrad. Karen Knox is not demure as Nina, but a seductive, yet charming woman who is smart and knows how to go after what she wants, until she comes up against Emma Arkadina.

Richard Greenblatt as Dr. Eugene Sorn hides his doubts about the purpose of life well. He comments with kindness. He sees past the emotion of a character to the heart of their being. Brendan Hobin plays Dev as a quiet yet eager young man who will do anything to win Mash’s love. He doesn’t pine as the others do, but he is tenacious in his devotion to Mash.

While Chekhov’s play looks at the emotional goings on and angst of his characters, he does it with humour. These people are funny. But Posner and certainly Strombergs direction, brings out the gut twisting sadness as each character tries to win their hearts’ desire. It’s still funny.

In a couple of instances, Conrad comes to a cross-roads and doesn’t know what to do so he asks the audience for advice. Daniel Maslany as Conrad is very serious in wanting the advice, he’s also very quick-witted when dealing with the give and take with the audience which makes it hilarious. It’s particularly funny if you know the play, because Conrad does exactly what Chekhov says he does, so never mind the audience’s suggestions. Interestingly, in my audience no one suggested Conrad do what Chekhov said he should do. No matter. It is still funny.

Comment. Aaron Posner has written a very funny take on Chekhov’s The Seagull, and put his own spin on it. The result is fresh, lively, perceptive about the human heart, in tune with today’s world, and beautifully moving.

The Bird Collective Presents:

From: Feb. 28, 2017.
Saw it: March 4, 2017.
Closes: March 19, 2017.
Cast: 7; 4 men, 3 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes approx.

www.mirvish.com

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At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Artistic Director and Co-director, Jeannot Painchaud
Co-director and Choreographer, Dave St.-Pierre
Set design, Illustrator and Video Projections Co-designer by Robert Massicotte
Composed by Stéfan Boucher
Costumes by Liz Vandal
Lighting by Nicolas Descôteaux
Video projections and co-designer, Rénald Laurin
Cast: Colin André –Hériaud
Selene Ballesteros—Minguer
Pauline Baud-Guillard
Aaron DeWitt
Jonathan Julien
Fédéric Lemieux-Cormier
Alexie Maheu
Jérémie Robert
Jérémy Vitupier
Antonin Wicky
Nora Zoller

Cirque Éloize creates Cirkopolis as a circus show with a beguiling twist. It’s full of wit, humour, grace and invention. It’s a bit repetitive which makes it seem too long, but that’s a quibble.

This is not the big, glitzy, garish world of Cirque de Soleil with a tacked on story. Cirque Éloize has the requisite tumbling, juggling, the impossible contortions, rope climbing, trapeze stuff etc. but with a difference.

We are in the soul-crushing world of a big city that frowns on individuality; in which the work is mindless and so repetitive you could lose your mind. Projections of huge turning gears overpowers people. Men (and some women) in the same coloured overcoat, wearing the same coloured hat bring in piles of paper for another man to stamp and put into another pile. The pace quickens. The piles of paper increase.

The colour scheme is dull until a man takes off the overcoat of another person revealing a lithe woman in a flowing red dress and loose blonde hair. A large hoop is rolled out from the wings. The woman twirls it; spreads out inside it while making it revolve in various patterns over the stage. The movement at times is languid and flowing and other times fast and not quite furious. At all times the visual is one of gracefulness, elegance and artfulness. At the end of the routine the woman delicately propels the hoop to circle the stage. The woman lies on the floor, positioning herself in such as way that she is in the middle of the hoop as its circling path gets smaller and smaller and finally drops around her. The large projection of the city and its gears move forward and out of view. Stunning image.

Soon after this is a variation on the theme of working with a similarly large hoop only this one is a double hoop joined by spokes. It’s a substantial piece of equipment and worked by a beefy (male) group of gymnast in grey undershirts and pants. They flip through, revolve inside, jump from spoke to spoke all the while moving with the rolling double hoop. The work is dextrous, energetic, and seemingly requiring lots of muscle.

While Cirque Éloize has the components of a regular circus, they do them with a twist in Cirkopolis. The grinding office motif enters into the scene with juggling. A team of office workers juggle bowling pins to their colleagues while sliding on chairs, standing on a table, racing from one area to the other. Bowling pins wiz through the air and are caught and thrown with the greatest of ease.Their individuality comes out in the colour of the costumes and their circus acumen.

Ballet is incorporated along with eye-popping feats of balancing when five men toss, catch and flip a graceful woman in a maroon dress. They throw her in the air and catch her by the legs that spread into very low splits. The first time that happens the audience gasps. The second and third time it happens the audience cross their legs in “projected sympathy.” The woman is held aloft by the men who are on their backs on the floor, arms up, in a circle. She walks gracefully from one hand to the other until she has made a circle. What is most astonishing in this feat, besides her ease and poise and their strength, is their sensitivity and tenderness as one hand passes her off to the next hand or how they catch and pass her to the next man for another trick. At the end the men quickly leave the stage for her to come forward and take her single bow. Classy. (sorry not to name the artists, the program is not helpful in being specific as to who does what.)

Interspersed with these feats of athletic prowess are scenes that go back to the drudgery of mindless, repetitive work in an overpowering city but it’s all done with impish humour. There is a lot of winking at the audience with this heart-thumping show.

If I have a quibble it’s that too often various feats are similar. A man balancing and flipping on a contraption as he’s suspended in the air echoes three women doing trapeze work later in the show. Two performers climbing a pole, doing all manner of gymnastic wizardry, sliding down it and stopping just before crashing into the floor, echoes a woman who climbs up a rope and for all intents and purposes does the same thing only solo with lots of rope flipping. It becomes just a touch tedious as the evening progresses and makes the 90 minutes of the show lag.

Perhaps it was opening night glitches but it seemed that in two cases when the stars of a feat came forward for their bows they did it in gloom and not a proper spotlight.

That said, Cirkopolis is a bold show of gymnastic, circus excellence, full of artistry, humour and human dazzle.

Canadian Stage and the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts Present:

Opened: March 1, 2017.
Closes: March 18, 2017.
Cast: 11 talented men and women.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

www.canadianstage.com

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