Live and in person at the Red Sandcastle Theatre 922 Queen St. E., Toronto, Ont. Plays until June 4, 2023.

Book, additional lyrics by Evan Tsitsias

Music by Rosalind Mills

Lyrics by Alexis Diamond

Additional music/lyrics by Julia Appleton

Directed by Evan Tsitsias

Music supervisor/music director, Kieren MacMillan

Choreographer, Jen Cohen

Set/costumes by Irene Ly

Lighting by Rachel Shaen

Cast: Mairi Babb

Cory O’Brien

Elora Joy Sarmiento

Astrid Van Wieren

As an old tv show once began, “There are 8 million stories in the naked city.” Seemingly putting them all in a musical is not a good idea.

Writer/director Evan Tsitsias has said in his programme note to INGE(NEW) that he hates rules that restrict us. He tries to break them whenever he can. He hates the slots that we are put in, that define us, or others define us etc. All good. His intention, it would seem is that the musical  INGE(NEW) is trying to break that form of deciding who should play what and that a new model might be in order. This is a good germ of an idea for a play/musical. INGE(NEW) misses in achieving it, good intentions and programme note notwithstanding.

Bridget (Mairi Babb) is about to turn 40-years-old. She is auditioning for a musical, as the ingenue. It’s a part (the ingenue) she has played often. She’s good at it. Of course, she should continue auditioning for such parts. But she can’t find anyone to talk to about issues. When she’s about to begin singing she stops and asks a question. “Is anybody out there?” Silence. She tries again to begin singing the audition song and can’t. And again, and can’t. The attempts to sing and the questions, lead one to believe that perhaps she can’t sing. She’s lost the ability. Something.

Joy (Elora Joy Sarmiento) enters, also ready to audition. Bridget thinks she’s there to be a reader or a scene partner. In fact, Joy is also reading for the ingenue part. There are smarmy, cutting comments from both to the other. Joy’s youth emphasizes that perhaps Bridget is not the ingenue type any more.

Gertrude arrives. She’s older, flamboyant, effervescent and larger than life. She’s auditioning for the part of the mother, a part she has perfected. Bridget reminds Gertrude that in the past she played Gertrude’s daughter. Does Gertrude believe Bridget is now auditioning for the ‘mother’ part? Can Gertrude believe that Bridget is auditioning for the ingenue? It’s all a game of not showing your hand or vulnerabilities.

Then Max arrives to audition for the macho man part. Matters get tricky. Bridget and Max used to be married. Max is now living with Joy. She thinks he’s much younger than what he really is—in his early 40s.

We then go into the real lives of the characters. Bridget is getting older and has to face it, but she’s not ready to accept she should audition for the mother roles. Joy may be pregnant (the character she’s auditioning for is pregnant). Gertrude, for all her good humour, is soul searching her place as well. Then the lines between the characters and their real lives start to blur, blend and cross.

All the while Bridget tries to find the director or someone to talk question. There are only sound effects of crackling electricity as if perhaps they are all held captive there in some place of restricted limbo. Then the sound of a voice in the void is heard. It’s the writer. The actors complain about the parts. The writer says he will change some of it, but there is still the issue of age and types of parts (ingenue, mother etc.).

Bridget sings about wanting to break out of the rut, of not being slotted in one part or another, that there has to be a new model.

This is all very well and good, but INGE(NEW) doesn’t offer the new model or the solution. Bridget instantly has a change of heart and now realizes she can’t play ingenues anymore and will embrace the older parts because they have the best lines and are funny. This is a revelation that needs more development.  It comes from nowhere that is not supported.

Evan Tsitsias’ book has many interesting ideas tries to explore; ageism, formulaic departments of parts; personal vs. professional life; children or not; marriage or not; rut in a career. But the 90 minute piece feels lumbered with all these issues when a more streamlined show would better serve a few of the more important issues. Editing is in order. A list of songs would be helpful for context. The first song is deliberately simplistic while the others try to be more sophisticated and knowing. And with so many people writing lyrics cohesion is problematic.

The cast lead by Mairi Babb is terrific. Ms Babb came into the production eight days after another cast member had to leave for personal reasons. Ms Babb does Herculean work. She is a fine actor who illuminates all the insecurities of an actor getting older than ingenue parts, and conveys the worry of what that means. And she sings beautifully

Elora Joy Sarmiento as Joy is sweet, winning, and can hold her own in the hard world of theatre. She too sings beautifully and conveys the optimism and pluck of Joy. Cory O’Brien as Max is the quintessential dashing male lead. They never seem to have an aging problem while women are too often slotted into ‘types.’

Astrid Van Wieren as Gertrude is bold and brassy and pulls off the larger than life mother of all mothers, with panache.

As I’ve said, there are good ideas here to explore. Another try, edit is in order.

Theatre Myth Collective presents:

Plays until June 4, 2023

Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

Stuff that might be helpful:

Please put the name of the theatre where you are playing on the cover of your programme or what passes for one. The Red Sandcastle Theatre is no where on your printed programme except as a ‘thank you’ at the back.

Please have a phone number or some contact info for tickets on the programme.

Please put the dates of your run in your program, ideally on the cover page.


Live and in person at the Shaw Festival, Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Playing until Oct. 7, 2023.

Book by Arthur Laurents

Music by Jule Stein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Suggested by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee

Directed by Jay Turvey

Music direction by Paul Sportelli

Choreographed by Genny Sermonia

Set and costumes by Cory Sincennes

Lighting by Kevin Fraser

Sound by John Lott

Cast: Ariana Abudaqa

Andi Biancaniello

Jason Cadieux

Krystle Chance

Wren Evans

Kristi Frank

Élodie Gillett

Kyle Golemba

Damian Gradson

Kate Hennig

Allan Louis

Julie Lumsden

Kevin McLauchlan

Mike Nadajewski

Hannah Otta

Drew Plummer

Shakeil Rollock

Jaqueline Thair

And a large chorus

A fine production with a stellar performance of Kate Hennig as Mama Rose.

The Story. The book is by Arthur Laurents. The music is by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim who was 29 when he wrote them.

The musical is suggested by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee who was a burlesque star, stripper, also a writer. But while it’s called Gypsy the story is really about Rose. She was the quintessential stage mother. She pushed and pushed her two daughters, June and Louise, to perform and be in showbusiness.

Baby June was the star of the act, singing, dancing, gymnastics. Louise, her older sister by one year, always played supporting roles in the act. June was preferred and Louise was overlooked, until June had enough of playing children and eloped with one of the chorus boys in the act. Rose just transferred her attention to Louise in the hopes she could carry on her mother’s dreams of a career in show business.

They were accidentally booked into a burlesque house with strippers, which horrified Rose. The burlesque theatre needed a stripper quickly because the one they had was just arrested for soliciting. Louise was pushed into that role and was accidentally introduced as Gypsy Rose Lee.  She was awkward and frightened but she did it.  That led to other jobs until her career and confidence grew and so did her notoriety. This led to a contretemps with her mother.

The Production. Cory Sincennes’ sets of various backstages are appropriately dingy, capturing the gloom, dust and disrepair of the backstage of an American vaudeville theatre. The language of the backstage hands is vulgar, loud and impatient.

Jocko (Allan Louis) is involved with a talent contest that he will rig so that a young girl covered in balloons will win, to get the ‘favour’ of the girl’s mother. Also entered in this talent show is Baby June (Ariana Abudaqa) and her sister, Louise (Hannah Otta). When it’s their turn to sing, their mother, Rose, (Kate Hennig) calls out from the theatre as she walks down the aisle to the stage, to “sing out” and other instructions. When she gets on stage she instructs the lighting man to ‘hit Baby June with a pink light’, as Jocko instructed him to do to the balloon girl, thus giving her an advantage. Rose instructs the orchestra on the tempo for the music. It’s all very efficient and with a smile. She takes an objecting Jocko to the side and lets him know she’s wise to his scheme to get balloon girl to win and she won’t stand for it.

Rose is such a huge part—full of star power and human frailty. She’s a woman whom her daughter Louise says “Could have been a star.” And the wise Rose says, “If I coulda been, I woulda been, and that’s showbusiness.”  The intriguing thing about Rose is that she probably did not have (singing) talent, and yet is consistently played by power-house women with singing talent who could act: Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daily, Imelda Staunton, Patti LuPone, Bette Midler for example.

Rose keeps having new ideas about ‘the act’ for her children, but it’s the same act with a different name. The dialogue for the act is cheesy. Rose is deluded and determined to promote her children as young girls, even though they are young women. She won’t be told, even by her children. She is living a dream vicariously of show-biz success for her children. If they get attention then so does she and she craves it. She felt abandoned, first by her mother, then her husbands and finally by June, when she ran off with one of the chorus boys in the act. Now she puts all her hopes on Louise, who she knew was there, but did not shower with attention—she did remember her birthday.

When Louise begins to come into her own on her own as Gypsy Rose Lee, she distances herself from her mother. In time she tried to leave her mother behind—there was a sign at the stage door that Rose was not to be allowed back stage. They have a row which results in the great show stopper “Rose’s Turn” in which Rose gets her star turn even if it’s in her imagination. Rose’s brilliance in that song is seen by her daughter, in the wings. She sees her mother’s ambition and gives that famous line “You could have been a star, Mama.” And Rose replies, “If I coulda been, I woulda been. And that’s show business.” The truth is revealed, at last, that drives her. The hope of regaining her lost chance at stardom is transferred to her children. What pressure for everybody.  

Playing all the facets of Rose is a tricky proposition. We’ve seen singers who act, play Rose (Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, etc.) We’ve seen actors who sing play Rose (Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, Imelda Staunton).  Kate Hennig is an actor who can sing, all gloriously. She plays Rose with such determination, such nuance and drive, it’s a thing of beauty. When Rose marches down that aisle of the theatre in the first scene, she is committed to her children but not over powering initially. She does not start at level 10 of power. She builds up to it.  Her mind is always working to improve a situation, or change one. She thinks some curtains will make a nice coat—next thing she’s wearing a coat made of the curtains. She always gets ideas when something strikes her.

She meets a kind candy salesman backstage, chats him up, finds out his name is Herbie (Jason Cadieux) and that he was an agent and charms him into being their agent. Hennig plays Rose with a smile, charm, a salesperson’s wiliness and sheer, unstoppable optimism. When June left it was a low point for Rose—another person leaves her—but she then makes that negative into a positive by now focusing on Louise. She sings “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” The lyric is telling and we clearly get the reason when she sings: “Everything’s coming up roses for me (bold and italics are mine) and for you.” It’s Rose who is living vicariously through her children and she will not be shunted aside.  She always has a plan.

Hennig can also sing. It’s a strong, powerful voice. She realizes the nuance and shading in the lyrics and shows us their and her beating heart. In “Rose’s Turn”, is she imagining this star turn on that deserted stage, her name in lights and bold letters? The arms are out, waiting for applause. We give it. She looks thrilled and confused as if so say, “Am I imagining this applause? This adulation? Please don’t stop.”

In the backstage world of grunge, yelling, dust, and guarding one’s space, the appearance of Herbie, the accommodating candy salesman, is a breath of fresh air. Jason Cadieux plays Herbie with grace, courtliness and sweetness. Herbie is a mensch, a decent man who just wants to love Rose and her daughters and live a normal life. Rose does not want that life enough.

As Louise (Gypsy), Julie Lumsden is beautifully introverted, almost folding into herself, when she is second banana to June, but comes into her own as Gypsy. She gains poise, subtlety and the confidence to be coy and alluring. In a profession (stripping) that needed a gimmick to be noticed and rise above the others, Gypsy Rose Lee’s gimmick was that at all times, she was a lady. She left her audiences wanting more and didn’t give it to them.

Jay Turvey has directed this with confidence and keen eye to capture the squalor and lack of glamour of vaudeville and later burlesque. He realizes the many and various relationships of people who just want to be noticed and how devastating that is when they aren’t. A fine production of this deeply felt musical.

Comment. Rose did something right. She pushed her two children to be notable in the theatre in their own way and they succeeded. Louise became Gypsy Rose Lee who was not just a stripper (or ecdysiast as she put it), but one with brains and alure, and a frequent guest on talk shows of the day. She wrote successful books and had her own television show. Her sister June was June Havoc who became an actress, director and writer. June Havoc played the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1982, as Mrs. Lovett opposite Ross Petty in Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street. Talented women who had a determined stage mother pushing them. The stuff of musicals.

The Shaw Festival presents:

Plays until Oct. 7, 2023.

Running time: 3 hours, approx. (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Tarragon Extra Space, Toronto, Ont. Co-produced by Les Chemins Errants & Théâtre Motus (Quebec). Plays Sat. May 27 at 11:00 am and Sunday, May 28 at 11:00 am

Co-creation and direction by Édith Beauséjour, Emmanuelle Calvé & Karine Gaulin

Set and costumes by Josée Bergeron-Proulx (assisted by Ève-Lyne Dallaire

Sound by Édith Beauséjour

Lighting and technique by Patrice Daigneault

Performers: Édith Beauséjour

Karine Gaulin

Music, Visual arts, Theatre2.5 – 6 years

Set in an island world of sea breeze, rolling waves, and rollicking sea shanties, two characters meet and play together through music, song, and joyful painting! This is a beautiful production that will embrace young children with music, rich design, and gentle, mischievous play through art.

The floor of the stage is full of mounds and ‘fluffs’ of various blue and green tissue paper. A character throws a line in from a fishing rod and a hand appears from the ‘waves’ of paper and holds up what looks like a bottle (or plastic to this adult). The character takes it. Then the hand holds up another bottle and the person takes it.

The person actually ‘catches’ the creature holding the bottles, and is dragged on shore.  

Both characters unscrew the bottles and pour paint from them into a sea shell and begin to paint, with their hands, feet, a brush and a roller. The ‘painting’ is framed with a frame from the sea. The two characters fling paint on a sheet – every kid’s dream.

Through songs (in French) this lilting show talks about water, the ocean, salvaging and of course painting.

To this adult, it seemed to be commenting on pollution—those bottles and ‘stuff’ that just plopped up. But perhaps I’m reading too much into it. The young children seemed captivated. Even the six-week-old baby in the mother’s arms in the front row seemed captivated.  Now that is impressive.

Co-produced by Les Chemins Errants & Théâtre Motus (Quebec)

Runs until: Sunday, May 28, at 11:00 am

Running time: 45 minutes.


Heads Up

by Lynn on May 26, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

I’m interviewing the brilliant Rick Miller tomorrow, (Saturday, May 27) at 9:00 am on CRITICS CIRCLE, CIUT FM, 89.5, about BOOM X his latest show at CROW’S and all things theatre. Please listen.


Live and in person at the CAA Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Produced by the Toronto Stage Company in association with Mad Resilience Films, Playing With Fire Productions and Angelica Alejandro.  Plays until May 28, 2023.

Written by Yasmina Reza

Translated by Christopher Hampton

Directed by Mark Datuin

Production designed by Jon Chaters

Costumes by Nola Chaters

Lighting by Mikael Kangas

Cast: Angelica Alejandro

Jarrod W. Clegg

Luke Marty

Amy Slattery


The Story. Two couples meet to discuss what to do about an altercation between their two 11-year-old sons.  Alan and Annette’s son Benjamin hit Veronica and Michael’s son Henry in the mouth with a branch causing Henry’s two front teeth to be bashed out—swelling, damage, orthodontistry. Benjamin apparently did it because Henry wouldn’t let him join his gang.

The couples meet at Veronica and Michael’s house as accommodating, respectful adults who want a fair outcome. Coffee and clafouti are served. Alan calls his son a thug and a savage and appreciates the laws of the jungle….and the God of Carnage who seems to work with no mercy. Alan, a lawyer, is also pre-occupied with a client and constantly interrupts the conversation to answer his vibrating cell phone. His wife Annette starts off as calm but as the play goes on she becomes more hardnosed and infuriated with her husband’s phone calls.

Michael is mild-mannered initially. He wants the whole matter solved so he can go back to his life.  His wife Veronica is the protective mother who is fierce with anyone she perceives as doing her family harm.  She wants an apology from her son’s attacker. She wants her husband to stand-up for their kid. So gradually we see the subtle shifts in the relationships and how easily something that is polite and balanced can turn ugly and totally off kilter.

Where do bully children come from? From bullying, passive-aggressive, whiny parents, like these.

The Production.  Playwright Yazmina Reza has written a play of subtlety, wit and perception at the folly of people/parents who are well-off and overprotective. Reza has laser vision to dissect this kind of behaviour. The play reveals itself pretty quickly as each character reacts to the situation.

One can talk about the furnishings (fine); the lighting (bright) the costumes (dandy) but it all goes for naught if the cast is not up to the task, and for the most part, they aren’t. They are obviously microphoned to be heard but even that is not helpful to Amy Slattery who plays Veronica and Angelica Alejandro who plays Annette. Alejandro in particular is inaudible because she talks so quietly or garbles her words. (Did no one sit in the audience to actually ‘hear’ this show during rehearsal?)  For the most part the acting is laboured, without nuance or any kind of subtlety and the humour for this funny comedy, is almost non-existent. Only Luke Marty as Alan has a sense of the character and the play. It is soon obvious why—he is a classically trained actor. One can’t find anything even close to professional stage work in the bios of the others.

The direction by Mark Datuin is pedestrian at best.

Comment. Writing this negative review gives me no pleasure. When the producer invited me to the opening I had to ask if this was an Equity production—that’s what I review, not non-equity work. The producer assured me that every member of the cast was either an Equity Member or an ACTRA Member/Apprentice. That does not mean that they are trained actors. But one lives in hope every time one goes to the theatre, that this will be a good production. We go with optimism. This production is dispiriting. My initial thought was not to review it, but as a wise friend said, “they have to be told.” And it’s true.

Theatre actors slug their guts out getting training, taking classes, honing their craft—and theatre acting is a craft—auditioning for projects, delving deep into the heart and soul of the work, coping with disappointment. They invest their lives in the art of theatre. They don’t dabble in it.

Everything about this production of God of Carnage struck me as a vanity production for dabblers. Not good enough.

The Toronto Stage Company in association with Mad Resilience Films, Playing With Fire Productions and Angelica Alejandro present:

Plays until May 28, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes.


Live and in person two festivals for children:  

JUNIOR INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN’S FESTIVAL for children 5 to 12 years old.

May 20-22, 2023.

At Harbourfront Centre


Teater Patrasket

From Denmark.

60 minutes (no intermission)

Based on the Carlo Collodi story.

Directed by Alex Byrne

Composer, Bastian Popp

Cast: Dirck Backer

Signe Kærup Dahl

Maria Myrgård

Bastian Popp

Teater Patrasket from Denmark gives this classic story a contemporary interpretation, about a puppet named Pinocchio who wanted to be a boy, but first he must learn to be human. You know the story, right? A poor woodcarver name Geppetto is lonely, so he creates a puppet for company,  out of bits and pieces of things. Miraculously during the night, the puppet comes alive, but is a bit miffed that one of his feet is in fact a wheel. “Why did you make me different?” he asks of the incredulous Geppetto? So one of life’s lessons for the audience—to this puppet, being different was not advantageous.

Geppetto so loves the puppet as if he was real that he sells his only coat for the money needed to buy Pinocchio a school book. But Pinocchio wants to sell the school book for a ticket to the circus. The audience was told there would be dilemmas. It was told that the first dilemma is what Pinocchio should do: go to school or to the circus?  It sounded like the wise, young audience thought ‘school’ was the best choice. Life lessons for both the audience and Pinocchio. Then the audience was asked: “What do you think Pinocchio did?” Hands down, the wise kids (they obviously read the book), said, “went to the circus.” There were other dilemma with more and more offers of what should he do and what did he do.

The craft of Teater Patrasket is stunning. The whimsy of the costumes, the collaborative acting of the story, the puppetry and not just Pinocchio, there were many others, the thorny issue of teaching a person to act with conscience is all there in this wonderful piece of theatre.


Patch Theatre


45 minutes running time.

Created by Geoff Cobham

Dave Brown

Roz Hervey

Temeka Lawlor

Angus Leighton

Composer, Jason Sweeney

Designer, Michelle ‘Maddog’ Delaney

Technical designers, Jason Sweeney

Designer, Chris Petridis

Alexander Hatchard

Animation, Luku

Cast: Temeka Lawlor

Angus Leighton

Before we go into the theatre, we are asked to give up ‘a bit of darkness’ and throw it in a black bag held by a welcoming man wearing a black hat with an iridescent band of blue around the circumference of it. When we go into the theatre, we are given a disk with several lights in it glowing white.

A kid is told good night by an unseen parent. That means ‘lights out.’ But she has a box with all sorts of stuff that produces light. Light pours in from the sides, from the top, from small flashlights and what look like glowing beams. Figures of light create patters and forms in the dark. Light shoots out to the audience. Patterns get more and more complex. Then we are asked to shake the lighted disk we were given. The lights change on everyone’s disk. The young audience whoops. Then it changes again, and again. Jason Sweeney’s throbbing music invites people to rise and dance if they want. Or not.

The show is a delight of light. It’s imaginative, wild, witty and creative.

WEE FESTIVAL for children 0-6 years old.

Various times and days, until June 11 2023.

Venues city wide.

The 2023 WeeFestival will launch a month-long citywide celebration of unforgettable artistic encounters for early childhood from May 16- June 11. The four- week dynamic and diverse program of performances and events for children newborn to six years olds features music, dance, puppetry performances in English, French, or with no words at all.


At the Redwood Theatre, 1300 Gerrard St. E.

Le Mouton carré (France)


Puppetry, Live Music2.5 years +Wordless

The Redwood Theatre – Sat 21 and Sunday 22 May | 11h – 30 minutes

While this has closed (it only played two days) there are more events that will be perfect for young members of the family.

“Pods” populate the stage. They look like mushrooms without the stems. Or bowls turned upside down. A man plays the ‘finger-harp” and whistles or sings or creates percussion on the pods. A woman who could use a laugh is approached by him playing and singing. Sand flows down. Later there is water from a pipe that flows down from the flies. A tiny puppet appears, as if born from under a pod. The puppet begins his journey of discovery. Objects on string float down.

The imagery, puppetry, light and creativity of this show captured the imagination of this young audience.

At the talkback a forthright kid asked what it was about. A younger voice said, “life.” Sounds about right to me. Looking forward to more productions next weekend.  

Both The Junior International Children’s Festival and The Wee Festival always happen around this time of year—Junior over the Victoria Day Weekend and Wee for a longer time in May. The age group for each festival overlaps with the other. It seems a no-brainer that they would be a perfect collaboration—pooling resources, sharing venues, spaces, timetabling etc. But they don’t. For some bizarre reason these two festivals, happening at the same time, catering to our most valuable and precious audience, young people, who represent THE FUTURE, do not collaborate. They have collaborated in the past for a terrific result. Please try again. It’s important.   


Live and in person at the Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Ave, Toronto, Ont. Plays until June 3, 2023.

Written by Adam Rapp

Director Leora Morris

Set, lighting and props by Wes Babcock

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Sound and music composition by Chris Ross-Ewart

Cast: Aidan Correia

Moya O’Connell

And intriguing play about writing, language, meeting a soul-mate and getting a second chance.

The Story. Bella is a professor of creative writing at Yale University. She’s written one book of fiction years before that was politely received and she has not published since. She is funny, self-deprecating, lonely, and might be ill but has to get it checked.  She’s in a rut in a way, until she meets one of her students who challenges her in many ways.    

The Production and comment. The stage is raised and there is only a desk and chair on it,  facing upstage. These will be moved around according to the scene. Bella (Moya O’Connell at her usual compelling best) fills us in as she tells us of her life, her writing, her concerns with her health and she does it in a self-deprecating manner that tries to veil the rut she’s in and her concerns with her health. Her humour aside, Bella is isolated in her mid-life, there is no mention of others.

It soon becomes clear that when Bella addresses the unknown listener—us—she is talking in an almost florid, contrived way, a way she warns her students against in their writing. And it’s clear she is really ‘auditioning’ her thoughts and ideas to us for a book.  Indeed, at times she stops to write down a line or thought. She writes with gusto, energy, a spark.  

Christopher (Aidan Correia) is one of Bella’s students. He shows up at Bella’s office outside office hours—a bit entitled is Christopher that he doesn’t think he needs an appointment. Christopher appears with a start out of a chair in which he has been sitting, in a darkened space off from the rise of the stage. He bounds on stage and effortlessly lifts the chair after him. He slumps in the chair. As Christopher, Aidan Correia is irreverent, smarmy, cheeky and challenging to get a rise out of Bella. Moya O’Connell as Bella, is watchful of this challenging young man and tries not to be unsettled by him. She reminds him of her office hours. He brushes it off. Christopher is articulate, brash, supremely confident about his abilities and dismissive of his classmates. And he’s written a novel. Bella is intrigued.

Bella can talk technically to him about writing and language. And Christopher can talk technically to her too and appreciate what she’s saying. He’s read her book and praises it with conviction. I don’t think he’s calculating to get her on his side. He’s too confident for that. I sense he feels he can charm her with his intellect and abilities. He feels he is far and away better than any student in the class. Moya O’Connell as Bella and Aidan Correia as Christopher play the scene with gusto, an exchange between writing-loving equals not between teacher and student. A bond forms between them. It looks like the situation can sink into cliché with the two of them having a sexual relationship. But playwright Adam Rapp and the careful direction of Leora Morris go in a different direction.

When Bella meets Christopher, she comes up with thoughts that she will soon write down. So aha, she’s just really preparing a book that will result after the play.

I think the production is dandy, directed with care by Leora Morris, but perhaps with a bit too much moving of the desk and chairs to change the scene. Moya O’Connell brings such a fragility, a wistfulness and yearning to Bella. Often, she suggests that this brash young man is unsettling her world. This is a beautifully paced performance.

As Christopher, Aidan Correia is intense, challenging and brash. When he goes on a tear about writing I think the speed at which Correia speaks makes it seem contrived and not a natural observation. More nuance and a more aware pacing would strengthen the performance and not make it seem as if Correia has rehearsed all of Christopher’s exuberance, which of course he has.

Adam Rapp has written an interesting character study of the creative writing professor and her arrogant and perhaps gifted student.  Bella is a professor who warns her students against florid writing but uses that exact kind of dialogue when describing her life, etc.  Bella is a woman who reads great books, but can’t write them. Can she do it when she gets a second chance?  Can she help Christopher write his ‘great novel’? Her enthusiasm for his work is infectious. It buoys him.  Christopher is a mystery, there are a lot of gaps that might explain who he really is. Is he intentionally underwritten to keep us intrigued?

Interesting play with a luminous performance by Moya O’Connell.

Coal Mine Theatre presents:

Running until: June 3.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)


Live and in person at the Capitol Theatre, Port Hope, Ont. Playing until May 28, 2023.

Written by Willy Russell

Directed by Karen Ancheta

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Daniele Guevara

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Deborah Drakeford

Charming and heart-squeezing in every way.

The Story. Willy Russell wrote Shirley Valentine in 1986.  Shirley is 42 years old and lives in Liverpool with her husband Joe.  She’s devoted her life to Joe and their children who are now grown and out of the house, but not settled.  In the process, she’s lost herself.  Her marriage is stale. She’s lonely in it because she misses her ‘self’. She talks to the wall for comfort.  Joe expects dinner on the table as soon as he comes home from work. He is very set in his ways. If it’s Wednesday he expects to get steak and chips. If it’s Thursday he expects egg and chips. I might be mixing up the meals for the days, but you get my meaning. Shirley plans to shaking things up. She is serving Joe egg and chips and it’s not the right day for it.

The cause for this whimsy is that Shirley has a free-spirited friend named Jane who has decided to take Shirley with her on a vacation to Greece. The thought of going off without Joe to a place she’s always wanted to go, makes Shirley lightheaded. She accepts. And waits for the fallout and not just because she’s serving the wrong food on the wrong day.

The marriage was not always stale. Shirley and Joe were happy at the beginning of their marriage. They had fun. They painted the kitchen of their house together and teased each other. But then work and life and kids got in the way. This trip represents a change.

It’s the kind of trip that Joe would not do and Shirley always did what he wanted. She doesn’t even have the courage to tell him she’s going. She leaves a note on the cupboard with enough frozen dinners to tide him over for two weeks.  When she lands in Greece she is able to sit quietly in a chair by the sea, drinking a glass of wine. She’s always dreamed of that.  

She has an adventure and is sexually awakened by Costas, a taverna owner. But the play doesn’t go into cliché. Shirley is content there and finds that she is more confident than she expected.

The Production. It’s terrific. Jackie Chau has designed an interesting kitchen. The cupboards are suspended between rods that hold them up. There is no wall even though Shirley talks to it.  The result is that the cupboards look like they are floating in air. There is a simple table and chairs, a refrigerator and a working stove.

Shirley (Deborah Drakeford) arrives home from shopping, carrying a bag of groceries in her arms. Before she enters her house she pauses outside, takes a deep breath and lets it out in a sigh. Together with director Karen Ancheta, Deborah Drakeford as Shirley, lets us know in one stunning moment, of the sameness and drudgery of Shirley’s life. The routine of it is depressing, upbeat though Shirley tries to be.

She unpacks the groceries and puts them away, while telling us of her life, her husband, the sameness of it, and occasionally asking for confirmation from the wall. She talks about the spark that has gone out of their marriage. She tells us of a popular girl in school who made her feel inadequate only to meet her and find out the now grown ‘successful’ woman envied Shirley all those years ago. She talks of the trip and how she is giddy with excitement. All the while she is actually making Joe his egg and chips. The timing is meticulous of when to cut the potatoes into ‘chip’ size, when to put the oil on to fry them, when to add the butter to another pan for the eggs and when to add the beans in a pot to heat them up. It’s all done with detailed care, making it look effortless, because it is when you have to make the same things on the same days, in ‘like’, forever.  

I’ve seen Deborah Drakeford play Shirley Valentine in another production a few years ago, and now she is playing her again, in a different production. Deborah Drakeford gives a performance as Shirley that is always fresh, deeply thought and wise. She conveys a resigned humour when she is telling us of her life. The scenes in Greece reveal a woman at peace with herself because she’s found her self. She is aware of her strengths, her abilities, her confidence, her sexuality and her new ease with life. She has developed into this vibrant woman who is buoyant, alluring, intriguing and not stale or boring.    

It’s directed with smarts and humour by Karen Ancheta resulting in one terrific, thoughtful production.

Comment. The play was written by Willy Russell, a man!! A man is writing sensitively, thoughtfully and wisely about a woman, in 1986 (and before that in 1980 he wrote Educating Rita about another unhappy woman who discovers her love of learning in later life). So much for appropriation and thinking that only women should write about women, gays can only write about gays, and all the myriad concerns of today. Talent and imagination can conjure a believable world outside one’s experience.

Capitol Theatre Presents:

Plays until May 28, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Theatre Center, Franco Boni Theatre, 1115 Queen Street W, Toronto, Ont. Plays: May 18, 19, 20, 21.

Choreographer, Sara Porter

Creative collaborator, Katherine Duncanson

Sound by Jeremy Mimnagh, after Phil Strong

Lighting by Rebecca Picherack

Video design by Linnea Swann and Jeremy Mimnagh in collaboration with Sara Porter

Costume design, Sarah Doucet, after Sara Porter

Seagull Dress, Sara Torrie

Performers: Jessie Garon

Sara Porter

Whimsical, thoughtful, witty and provocative. A love-letter to the ocean and perhaps all things pertaining to water that l-e-a-k.

In the words of dancer/choreographer/creator Sara Porter:

“What if I fell in love with the ocean? What would you wear to the wedding?”

And from the press information just to be as accurate for the artists as possible:  

Sara Porter Productions is proud to announce L-E-A-K, a fresh new dance work that explores the ecosexual notions of falling in love with the ocean, inspired by the Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides in the world. Choreographed by Sara Porter and performed by Sara Porter and Jessie Garon.

“In L-E-A-K, Sara Porter portrays her experience of the Bay of Fundy through dance, image, and costume, blending her singular style of absurdist stagecraft with serious research about the origin of the ocean, the sex life of seagulls, and the theory of horizons. Delving into the notion that all categories leak, Porter takes an interdisciplinary approach to performance: presenting an interplay between monologue, dance, projected image, text, philosophy, and sound, she evokes deeper considerations of life’s most profound questions.” 

“Sara Porter Productions believes that art is a universal language that should be accessible to all. The organization specializes in creating performance, creative, and educational projects that celebrate play and exploration, with a focus on personal storytelling.”

Sara Porter and her colleagues have provided an intriguing framework in which to view L-E-A-K at the Theatre. I’m not a dancer or know the specific vocabulary in order to describe the work. I do know theatre and its vocabulary and those terms apply nicely to this production. It is a love-letter specifically to the ocean but generally all things to do with water.

We enter the theatre and Sara Porter is lounging there in the centre of the empty stage, sitting on a suitcase it turns out. She wears a blue top with a pattern that looks like shimmering water. Her skirt is light blue. Her legs are stretched out in front and she wears flip-flops. We can hear the faint sound of waves splashing/crashing on a shore. Another character (Jessie Garon) in an illuminated skirt and top pushes a suitcase slowly around the circumference of the space. She is bent over the suitcase (the four-wheel kind) and her movements are slow. Her legs pick up and drop in long, deliberate steps. Is the movement to suggest a tide? Don’t know. Interesting thought.

Eventually Sara Porter gets up and talks about being born in Nova Scotia. She describes how her heavily pregnant mother (she was pregnant with Sara Porter) at the beach, reading a newspaper but it flew away and her mother chased it. This brough on labour but her water didn’t break. That happened at the hospital. Sara Porter describes the breaking of that water in vivid language both linguistic and physical. The breaking of the water was not a gush, but a torrent that sprayed around the room. The force made one think of fierce waves breaking on a rock/beach/shore. It was violent, powerful and eventually lead to the birth of Sara Porter.

Sara Porter and Jessie Garon then create various scenes of wonderful humour, imagination, and whimsy. There is a projection of seagulls gathering on rocks as the waves crash over them. Both Porter and Garon dance on wearing a head piece of a seagull.

When Sara Porter muses: “What if I fell in love with the ocean? What would you wear to the wedding?” She wears a voluminous white wedding dress and Jessie Garon wears a frilly dress with flippers.

There is a video of the two from the shoulders up, in a shower. They tell each other what they love about the other but the sound is not good and one is often in the dark about what is being said. That’s unfortunate. The two then punctuate their comments by squirting the other with a water gun. The scene is sweet, loving, gentle and funny. Wish I knew what they were saying clearly instead of muddled.

Sara Porter describes how one must deal with the tide in the Bay of Fundy. If one wants to swim there are instructions on doing it depending on whether the tide is coming in or going out. Fascinating. The final image is of the two dancing independently, perhaps trying to negotiate the powerful tide.

L-E-A-K is indeed Sara Porter’s love letter to the ocean, water, imagination and dance.  

Sara Porter Productions Presents:

Plays: May 19, 20, 21

Running time: 1 hour and 15 minutes (no intermission) 


Live and in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont. Produced by the Canadian Opera Company. Playing May 17, 20, 2023.

By Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave (with additions by Andrea Maffei)

Based on the “tragedy” (really?) of William Shakespeare

Conductor, Speranza Scappucci

Director, Sir David McVicar

Set by John Macfarlane

Costumes by Moritz Junge

Lighting by David Finn

Choreographer, Andrew George

Cast: Matthew Cairns

Tracy Cantin

Clarence Frazer

Vartan Gabrielian

Alex Halliday

Quinn Kelsey

Őnay Kőse

Adam Luther

Midori Marsh

Liudmyla Monastyrska (May 17, 20)

Alexandrina Pendatchanska

Roland Piers

Charlotte Siegel

Giles Tomkins

Stunning in every way.

NOTE: Opera is not my forte so I won’t be discussing the music, orchestra, playing or the technicalities of singing. I will be discussing the theatricality of the piece.

The story is basically the same with a few trims and edits here and there. Macbeth is a violent soldier in battle. On his way home he sees ‘three’ witches who prophecy that he will become king, a prospect that never occurred to him. Not patient to wait things out, he kills his way to the crown, aided by his supportive, equally strong-willed wife. But things turn sideways for both of them and it ends badly.

I question that it’s a tragedy because neither Shakespeare nor Verdi’s opera has an ‘uh-oh’ scene. It’s that scene, when the protagonist realizes too late (uh-oh), that he’s made a mistake and things can’t really be righted. King Lear realizes that Cordelia really loved him (uh-oh) and he regrets banishing her. Oedipus puts a curse on the person responsible for his kingdom’s bad luck, only to realize (uh-oh) he’s the one responsible. It was prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother, and without realizing it (uh-oh) it came to pass. Without that uh-oh scene you have ‘merely’ a drama, and in the case or Macbeth, a bloody good one.  

Director Sir David McVicar has the guts and daring of a bandit. Rather than set the opera in the wilds of the Scottish countryside, he’s set it inside a church. Designer John Macfarlane has a forbidding church with it’s unmistakable cross on the top painted on the scrim. When the curtain rises we are in the dark sanctuary with a cross up at the back. The pews are full of women in black long dresses, holding their bibles, swaying back and forth, as if in a frenzied trance. There are three ever-present children, who could be symbolically the witches—they stare demonically. But it’s really the women who are the witches. One thinks of the Salem witch hunts in Massachusetts, or Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.  

In the scene where Banquo is murdered, it happens in the church and he’s bludgeoned with the cross. As I said, director Sir David McVicar has the guts of a bandit to place the murder there and by the means that it happens. Is McVicar commenting on the hold of the church on people’s lives, to do damage, to control how they think and act? Interesting.

David Finn’s moody lighting is stunning. Shafts of silver light sharply illuminate areas of the black set, and in other areas there is shadow and gloom. The shafts of light are so vivid and stark that in their way there is a sense of terror and doom.

As I said I’m not qualified to comment on the music, conducting or the singing. But….Quinn Kelsey is an imposing Macbeth. He is an actor who can inhabit this killing machine, but also reveal his cold-blooded ambition and his hesitation and horror when he kills the king to get closer to the crown. As the mistakes pile up in his quest to keep the crown, a desperation takes over.

No one can deny the explosion of crystalline sound that is produced by Alexandrina Pendatchanska as lady Macbeth. She is fearless, imposing and commanding when she is plotting her husband’s rise. As the opera goes on she is haunted by so many things, notably the blood she still sees on her hands. In the sleepwalking scene, hair wildly down her back, she is a sad soul, diminished and possessed. The acting is superb throughout.

While there is no Lady McDuff in the opera, there is McDuff sung by Matthew Cairns—heartbreaking and soul squeezing. McDuff is the grieving husband and father. He’s lost everything because of Macbeth and he will get revenge.

Macbeth is a triumph.

The Canadian Opera Company presents:

Playing May 20, 2023.

Running time: 3 hours (1 intermisson)