The Passionate Playgoer

Short Stories

By Rhoda Rabinowitz Green

Inanna Publications & Education Inc.

ISBN 978-1-77133-281-1

Inanna.publications@inanna.ca

www,unanna.ca

In Aspects of Nature Rhoda Rabinowitz Green has written eleven exquisite short stories that take us into the worlds of music, memory, survival, aging gracefully and sometimes kicking and screaming with full fury. She writes with compassion and sensitivity of the minutiae of being a woman in today’s world which sometimes might be a world that is passing by. Every woman will understand. Every man will be enlightened. And in a few cases you will be justifiably infuriated.

Rhoda Rabinowitz Green studied music seriously in university, particularly piano, perhaps towards having a concert career. In “The Wind at Her Back” she writes of Miriam who is preparing for two major concerts and her celebrated teacher, Ari Zachar,  who is coaching her. Green writes with an insider’s focus about phrasing, pacing, holding back the emotion until the payoff, but her writing does not exclude the reader who is not immersed in the world of music.

In the case of Miriam’s teacher, Green also illuminates the solitary, single-minded life a concert pianist must live in order to succeed. If Miriam mused on having a more personal relationship with Ari, it was not shared with Ari. He knew what he had to do to maintain his high level of expertise and his reputation and that left no room for anyone in his life but himself.

“Finding Maryan” is the longest story in this collection and perhaps the most personal for Rhoda Rabinowitz Green. While I’m sure all the stories are personal, Green puts herself in this one as a witness, recorder and keeper of a memory.

Maryan Filar was a noted, gifted concert pianist and teacher. His reputation as a master was legendary. Rhoda Rabinowitz Green was one of his students and writes beautifully of a how this gifted teacher affected her: “For me, he was a figure of strength, a creator of Beauty. You will understand, then, that it was the music and the man I came to revere and love.” We have all had teachers like that. Rhoda Rabinowitz Green describes it perfectly.

Green writes of Filar’s life growing up in a comfortable home in Warsaw, Poland; loved and cherished by his family, encouraged in his musical gifts. He flourished in music. She describes how he played the “Black Key Etude” by Chopin: “…his fingers butterflies flitting quick and light over the keys.” A stunning image in a book full of them. Filar was diligent and devoted to his art. Life was sweet. And then the Nazis invaded Poland and that lovely world was shattered. Filar wrote a book: From Buchenwald to Carnegie Hall which says everything in five simple, stunning words. Green writes that Filar kept his secrets about that time in the concentration camps but eventually the memories and facts came out in a torrent. Green captures the determination and urgency that Filar had to regain his abilities to play the piano once he was a free man.

When he was an old man in a nursing home, Green visited him and they reminisced. Filar had a life full of memories and now his memory was broken, fading, lost. Green in a sense became his memory, that’s how devoted she was to him.

Rhoda Rabinowitz Green writes of single-minded men devoted to their musical careers and to creating their art. She also writes of devoted, accommodating, trusting women who often have to put their own dreams on hold, or have to trust men to do right by them, and find this doesn’t always work to their advantage.

In “You Make Your Decision” Green writes about Jenny who was devoted to her music and wanted a career.  But she’s not able to pursue that career because of her ambitious husband whose career comes first. He gives lip service to Jenny saying she can get a piano and join various musical groups where her husband’s next promotion will take them. The dutiful wife. The hard-working husband who knows the right buzz-words to use, “I already told you how important it (the promotion) is to me….Jenny nods; it says I know, I know. This is what happens after their discussions, more like persuasions; she sees the logic of the situation and calms down, but her insides begin to churn just thinking about giving up the Lawrence Park house.”  It’s a story that evolves slowly, gracefully but with those jarring bits as Jenny tries to look on the bright side of situations that are far from bright. I hold tightly to the book as I quickly turn the pages. Are my insides churning in understanding and compassion just a touch, for Jenny?

Rhoda Rabinowitz Green writes so vividly in “Dear Doctor” of a situation we all have experienced—the doctor, too busy to deal with his worried patient and the patient, Rose Enfield, who feels embarrassed because she doesn’t want “To bother the doctor” with her concerns.  There is a receptionist named Joy (“So earnestly joyless!) and his “crisp nurse.” The doctor was supposed to do another mammogram and seems to have forgotten and now Rose needs someone to tell her what is happening. She is told by the “joyless Joy” that Rose will have to speak directly to the doctor and that will take time. Rose has copious notes to help her should she be lucky enough to speak to the doctor, notes for reference, to give her confidence, to help her state her case. But if the doctor doesn’t speak with her, what can she do? She can write him a letter setting out all her concerns, frustrations and anger.

It is a masterful letter, full of wit, irony, full-throttled fury couched in nuance and sarcasm. Rose is most confident when writing. Green takes on the medical profession here. There is the busy, all-knowing doctor who has to deal with the troublesome patient who reminds him he didn’t do something important that might affect her life. Green lays out Rose’s concerns, her recollections of what happened or not, who said what and how it was phrased and how she feels she has been treated. The details weave and knit into themselves; the writing lulls you into a situation that we all recognize—those churned insides again. I’m holding the book a bit tighter here, but silently cheering the fearless Rose by the end of the story.

Rose Enfield is also the ‘star’ of  Age Appropriate. In this one Rose writes another letter to another doctor, a plastic surgeon in this case, explaining a decision she made. She had noticed signs of her aging: lines on her face, sagging skin here, a droop there. She thought a bit of a nip and tuck might be in order. Doctor Tucker (is there a sly pun there, Ms Green?) says that it’s not that simple. Rose has to consider the whole package that this can’t be done piece-meal.

Here Rhoda Rabinowitz Green’s laser-sharp observations are withering. There is the snotty comment by the nurse: “Don’t worry, dear, you can be repaired.” Or when Rose expresses concern about the extensiveness of the procedure the doctor queries: “Don’t you want to look your very best for your husband.” (I’m gritting my teeth and exhaling slowly). Green muses on relationships, beauty, the tyranny of wanting to look younger, those damned wrinkles. (When George Bernard Shaw was writing about the aged, brilliant Italian actress Duse, he said her wrinkles “were the credentials of her humanity.”) How Rose reasons out her decision is a thing of beauty.

In Aspects of Nature there are also stories about aging, old age, loosing ones independence but establishing a smaller more focused world, and stories about adult children and their relationships to their aging parents and vice versa. Rhoda Rabinowitz Green has a wonderful, robust sense of language, description, how to express the most complex of emotions and make it all seem effortless. You are so aware you are reading the words of a gifted writer because she takes you deep into the lives of the people in her stories.

No less a personage than Janette Turner Hospital has said of Rhoda Rabinowitz Green’s work: “I have been immensely impressed with the intelligence and subtlety of Rhoda’s work. I do urge that it be given serious reading. I can guarantee it will be worth the while.”

I totally agree. I can hardly wait to read Rhoda Rabinowitz Green’s next book.

 

 

 

 

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Hi folks

I am now the theatre critic for INTERMISSION MAGAZINE, a theatre website based in Toronto. To read my latest reviews, click this link, and sign up for their article alerts here to receive my latest reviews in your inbox.

Lynn

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At the Palmerston Theatre, 560 Palmerston Ave. Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted and directed by Ash Knight
Set and props by David Degrow
Lighting by Jareth Li
Costumes by Christine Urquhart
Sound by Maddie Baustista
Cast: Marc R. Bondy
Walter Bordon
Daniel Briere
Joelle Crichton
Deborah Drakeford
Eli Ham
Courtney Lancaster
Jane Luk
David Mackett
Vijay Mehta
Andrew Moodie
Azeem Nathoo

Shakespeare’s fine play bent out of shape and recognition to accommodate a concept of mental illness. It doesn’t work.

Ash Knight is an actor making his directorial debut with Tragedie of Lear. His diligence in his research is impressive. He consulted both the Quarto of the text and the Folio and used a combination of both. He chose to have a Lear “…well into the throes of Lewy Body Dementia right at the start of the play. “ Gloster is a woman. Edgar initially is played in a drug induced haze as if he has just shot up on heroin (in two scenes). The tie around his upper arm gives that away. The Foole is played as a figment of Lear’s madness and imagination and not a real person seen by other characters.

Knight asks that we not wonder where we are. He wants us to focus on the relationships of father’s and daughters, sisters to sister, mothers to sons, and brother to brothers, He thinks these relationships are what the play is about. He also asks us to consider the treatment of aged parents by their adult children, and their struggles. And he asked us to consider the layers of the characters.

What Ash Knight has not considered are the words of Shakespeare’s actual play because they don’t support most? Any? of Mr. Knight’s choices or his concept.

To show Lear’s madness, dementia etc. Knight starts the play in the storm scene when Lear bellows, “Blow Winds……” and laments that he is going mad. That’s a neat way of choosing that Lear is deep into Lewy Body Dementia. It also seems rather simplistic. And try as Knight does to take this beautiful play and crush, twist, stomp and force it into his concept, it doesn’t work.

And while one can think there are many layers introduced into the characters, if you don’t have actors who can actually convey those layers then you’re lost. Only Deborah Drakeford as Goneril, Eli Ham as Edmund and Marc R. Bondy as Kent have a sense of the language and the characters they are portraying. The rest flounder, bellow and drown unhelped in this unfortunate production.

It plays until Oct. 22, 2017.
www.tragedieoflear.com

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Review: LIFE AFTER

by Lynn on October 15, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Musical Stage Company and Canadian Stage Present:

Life After

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Britta Johnson
Directed by Robert McQueen
Musical director, Reza Jacobs
Choreographer, Linda Garrneau
Set by Brandon Kleiman
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Peter McBoyle
Costumes by Ming Wong
Main Cast: Rielle Braid
Dan Chameroy
Ellen Denny
Trish Lindström
Tracy Michailidis
Kelsey Verzotti

Plays to Oct. 29. (it’s been held over by popular demand). www.musicalstagecompany.com

The hugely gifted composer, lyricist, writer, Britta Johnson has written a poignant, moving show on loss, grief, regret, guilt, love, moving on and letting go.

Alice has had a fight with her often absent father Frank on her birthday. He has unexpectedly come home from an extensive book tour to celebrate her birthday as a surprise. Alice is surprised alright and angry. She has plans. Her father leaves to take a flight back to his book tour. Alice will regret that bad parting for the rest of the show. So will Alice’s sister Kate and their mother Beth.

Johnson has said in her program note that sometimes words aren’t enough to express an emotion so she writes songs to overcome that inadequacy. Johnson is a wonderful lyricist who can encapsulate a host of conflicting emotions in richly worded songs. In one of Frank’s messages to Alice he sings: “Control what you can, let go of the rest.” Sound, thoughtful advice. Britta Johnson’s lyrics are equally as poetic in songs for Beth who laments her absent husband with bitterness. Alice’s sister Kate has her own regrets and Johnson deals with Kate’s sense of loss that is so right and true for that character.

And while one is impressed with Britta Johnson’s prodigious talent one gets the sense in this dense 75 minute show of 18 songs, that perhaps some judicious cutting is in order. The most poignant song in the whole cycle is “Wallpaper” when Beth, Alice and Kate are painting Frank’s room as their final good-by. It is the most effective because it’s only the three of them on stage, quiet, focused and slowly painting. It says everything about their shared sense of loss and grief and yet shows them in a distinctive light. The show should end there but Johnson has three more songs which really re-state what has already been expressed. In Robert McQueen’s overly staged, often unfocused, cacophonous production that quiet scene certainly does stand out in contrast. One wishes that McQueen tamed down other scenes to better serve the story.

This is really a story about a family of four and Alice’s teacher Ms Hopkins. Dan Chameroy as Frank, is suave, charming and appealing. Frank has a secret and Chameroy plays him with a beguiling aloofness that is both mysterious and attractive. And of course he sings like a dream. Ellen Denny plays Alice as a wounded, conflicted teen, missing her father yet angry at him for not being there enough. As Kate, Rielle Braid has her own issues as Alice’s sister. Kate is also angry because in a way she is left out of the father-daughter equation. Tracey Michailidis plays Beth, the wife who is left to tend the house and family while Frank travels to promote his books. Beth’s songs are full of pent up emotion and Michailidis sings them well. Finally Trish Lindström plays Ms Hopkins, Alice’s teacher with a touch of awkwardness. She too has a secret and she tries to be cool about it.

So Life After is really about a family of four and another woman. One wonders, therefore, why there is a chorus of three who mainly flit and twirl around the stage singing at a really high pitch and why there is a need for Alice’s friend Hannah, a ditzy twit played with a one-noted screech by Kelsey Verzotti, who speaks too quickly to be understood. Hannah sings a song about a party that is not earned by the character.

McQueen certainly fills the space of the unwieldy Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs. Characters appear way above the stage on a fire escape, or over there in the aisle, or over there by a door way stage right. Added to this is all the busy movement on stage, seemingly for no reason, and one wonders what all this frantic activity is all about. Scenes are most effective when characters are isolated in their own emotional solitude, but the general swirl of activity leaves one dizzy.

The Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs is one unforgiving room. It’s so wide that it’s difficult to design a credible set on it. Brandon Kleiman’s spare, blonde wood multi levelled set, with a blonde wood table and chairs, covers the space, but again, that means the staging is all over the place. My eyebrows crinkle when I see a chair on the downstage right lowest level of the stage facing up-stage directly in front of my view. That means that when someone sits or stands in front of the chair, which happens often, I can’t see what is happening in the scene upstage. That’s not a good thing.

And then there is the sound of this unforgiving, relatively smallish theatre space. It’s a challenge to project the voice so the audience can hear. In a musical that seems to mean that the production people feel they have to microphone the cast to be heard. Not content with that, they also microphone the orchestra—in the case of Life After that’s an orchestra of six, mainly strings, one piano and percussion. So there are the singers belting out their songs at full, amplified voice trying to compete with an orchestra going full throttle in microphoned loudness and the result is not splendid music, it’s cacophonous noise. Britta Johnson’s splendid music and lyrics come out as noise. Unacceptable.

A new musical by Britta Johnson, one of our most gifted composer-lyricist-writers, is cause for celebration. The fact that I have to say that the production of Life After is such a disappointment gives me no pleasure. Take this under advisement. If you do see it, sit in the middle towards the back. Perhaps it’s better there.

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At the Project Arts Theatre, Dublin, Ireland

Written by Belinda McKeon
In Collaboration with Annie Ryan
After A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Eoghan Carrick
Set by Paul O’Mahony
Lighting by Sarah Jane Shiels
Sound by Philip Stewart
Costumes by Katie Crowley
Cast: Venetia Bowe
Declan Conlon
Peter Gaynor
Chris McHallem
Clare Perkins
Annie Ryan

People are certainly intrigued by A Doll’s House, Ibsen’s masterpiece that he wrote in 1879. An examination of what happens to Nora 15 years after she slammed the door and left her husband just closed on Broadway, under the title A Doll’s House, Part II. Now the wonderful Irish company The Corn Exchange has commissioned a play, Nora, that looks at the play but from the point of view from 2025.

In Nora by Belinda McKeon, we are in an unnamed modern country. The rules are rigid concerning women. They can’t hold equal footing in business with their husbands. In Nora and her husband Turlough’s business he is the boss. However they started the business—an art gallery—together. Turlough was ill for some of the early days and Nora did a deal that clinched their success. Now that deal is coming back to haunt them. The climate is awful. People have to take shots to be healthy. They can’t be out in the rain. This is an interesting tangent to the story.

Appearance is everything in this arty world. Success is the only outcome. Paul O’Mahony has created a stark black and white set. The furniture is spare and black. The floor is white. There is a large white ‘painting’ in the back that could be a view of the harbor. Not sure. Nora wears all white. Everyone else where’s black. I love that irony for people who deal in art. Nora and her husband are hosting an important party and everything has to be perfect. Until unwanted guests arrive.

For some reason Belinda McKeon has divided Nora into two—as mother and her daughter Emmy. Emmy is 15 but is dressed for the party by her mother as if she’s 25, in a slinky black leather dress and high heeled shoes too unwieldy for the kid. It’s as if Nora is offering Emmy up for ogling.

The artistic director of The Corn Exchange is Annie Ryan, a smart director and terrific artistic director. She also plays Nora and that is a mistake. She’s hesitant, awkward and not at all comfortable in her skin. The rest of the cast is fine. Eoghan Carrick has directed this with lots of space between characters to focus on how distant they are in reality. That can be a bit dodgy at times.

Setting this in an art world somehow does not have the power and force of a more substantial world such as the banking world of the original. And dividing Nora in two between herself and her daughter doesn’t work either because it introduces the creepy world of sexual predators (one of Nora’s friends has his eye on Emmy and Emmy’s parents are not interested in knowing) that seems to be tacked on and when it requires its own play, it seems to me.

Nora is part of the Dublin Theatre Festival and plays until Oct. 15.

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At the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, Ireland.

Written by James Joyce
Adapted by Dermot Bolger
Directed and designed by Graham McLaren
Musical director, Jon Beales
Puppetry designer and maker, Gavin Glover
Lighting by Kevin McFadden
Sound by Ben Delaney
Costumes by Niamh Lunny
Cast: Bryan Burroughs
Faoileann Cunningham
Caitriona Ennis
Donal Gallery
Raymond Keane
Garrett Lombard
Janet Moran
David Pearse

Molly Bloom: “I wish some man or other would take me sometime when he’s there and kiss me in his arms. There’s nothing like a kiss long and hot down to your soul almost paralyses you.”

Is it just me or is it getting hot in here. That James Joyce fellah sure could string words together to get anyone hot and bothered by the physical intoxication of sensual, hot sex. Or he could describe the depths of despair so that you too experience it down to your toes. I saw a copy of “Ulysses” in a bookstore here—I needed two hands to lift it. It of course is Joyce’s mammoth love letter to Dublin, sex, resilience, uncertainty, guilt and all manner of human subjects.

Dermot Bolger has done the impossible: he has adapted Ulysses for the stage to run two dazzling-packed hours. Director Graham McLaren has also done the impossible and directed this in part as a music hall extravaganza and odyssey through Dublin and environs as we follow Leopold Bloom through his day.

He is going to a friend’s funeral. He has adventures and misadventures on his way. He meets characters each individual, fully drawn, lively, dangerous, challenging and vibrant with the life of Ireland. Bloom’s wife Molly lays in bed for the most part, musing on Leopold and other men who made her long for that tight, hot embrace. David Pearse plays Bloom beautifully: bald, portly, and fastidiously dressed in a neat suit and bowler hat. His arguments against anti-Semitism are thoughtful and pointed. You see all the many sides of his devotion to Molly and his tendency to stray.

Janet Moran is glorious as Molly. She too is devoted to her husband but also thinks ‘what if.’ Her bed is the centre of the set. Often she is sleeping there as the action swirls around her. When she does rouse it’s to recount some experience or other, usually sexual, and her joy in the telling makes you want to cross your legs.

Occasionally puppets are used as characters. They are brilliant. There are tables and chairs on the stage where some audience members sit. The action takes place around them, on the tables they sit at and occasionally a character sits at the table as well until he/she is engaged in a scene.

This is one glorious production. It almost makes you want to read the mammoth book.

Continues at the Abbey Theatre until Oct. 28.

www.abbeytheatre.ie

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I’m in Dublin for the first week of the Dublin Theatre Festival. The Festival began Sept. 28 and will conclude Oct. 14.

At the Gate Theatre, Dublin, Ireland

Written by Nina Raine
Directed by Oonagh Murphy
Set and costumes by Conor Murphy
Lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin
Sound by Ivan Birthistle
Video designer, Conan McIvor
Cast: Fiona Bell
Gavin Drea
Clare Dunne
Nick Dunning
Gráinne Keenan
Alex Nowak

Nina Raine writes about the politics of deafness in this bristling, pulsing, challenging play. Billy was born deaf. His parents were determined to treat him as if he were ‘normal.’ Then he met Sylvia who was losing her hearing and taught Billy how to do sign language. And all hell broke out as a result.

Conor Murphy’s set is black for the most part: black dinner table, black chairs and black piano. There are three banks of panels above the stage. Sometimes what people are thinking is printed on a panel. Sometimes what Billy is saying is noted there too. Sometimes projections of a character’s hands are shown or characters floating underwater.

The main use is much subtler. Lighting designer Mimi Jordan Sherin illuminates the panels in soft coloured light for the scenes with the hearing family and in black or white light for scenes with Billy alone or with another character. Director Oonagh Murphy and her design team are certainly ‘illuminating’ the text with this clever use of light and the darkness of the set.

Alex Nowak as Billy is in fact a hearing impaired actor. Every actor I’ve seen play Billy in other productions is deaf. They would have to be. Mr. Nowak is the most difficult to understand of the other two production of Tribes I’ve seen. But that just means I have to work harder to hear and listen to what he’s saying. Occasionally in this production what he is saying is noted in letters illuminated above the stage but not always. To be able to read what Billy is saying would make things easier. But Tribes is not meant to make things easier. It’s meant to challenge and engage and that it does in spades.

At the beginning of the play the family is at the dinner table arguing about some niggling point or other. Christopher, the pompous father (he writes critical books winging about all manner of stuff) is holding court and shouting everyone down, as is his style. Beth, his wife (trying to write novels) is arguing back. Daniel and Ruth are their two grown children who have come home to live—Daniel is a lost soul writing the twelfth version of an esoteric thesis and Ruth is trying to be an opera singer. They all flit around the table and the room, animated. Billy sits with his back to us quietly eating, not engaging. He wears a hearing aid behind each ear lobe. Director Oonagh Murphy makes him prominent because his back is to us, his head is tilted down as he eats quietly and is still for the most part.

When they do talk to Billy they look at him and he reads their lips. That is how they communicate. His mother taught him to speak when he was young and he had to learn to lip read then too. The family refused to have him learn sign language because that would make him different, set him apart. He did go to a deaf school initially but he didn’t like it and the family stopped sending him. Billy, also an adult, lives at home.

Then he meets Sylvia who is losing her hearing and Billy is smitten. He learns sign language for her. His physical manner becomes more animated, athletic even as he signs with passion, gusto and pent up emotion. Billy finds his voice in a sense through signing.

But we also see Billy’s continued isolation at the end of Act I. Sylvia is desperate to hang on to her hearing. She plays the piano at Billy’s house when she is first invited. She plays “Clare de Lune.” It’s beautiful. The family gathers around the piano, reveling in the music, except Billy, who sits at the table, obviously uncomfortable and not included because he can’t hear the beautiful playing. This time instead of tuning out his family, he is desperate to be included and he isn’t. Poignant and heartbreaking.

With his new voice is the obvious wish that his family learn sign language to communicate with him and him with them. Another wrinkle in this wonderfully layered play, is that Daniel is obviously got issues. He hears voices. He is probably schizophrenic. He has a stammer so severe that it prevents him from speaking. Sign language might be his only recourse. Ironic.

Alex Nowak as Billy is watchful and graceful in his body language. When he signs he is energetic. As Sylvia, Clare Dunne has as many layers to her character as Nowak does. She is almost sensual when signing ideas and sentences that Christopher throws out to her. She speaks loudly to the family as one might do if one is going deaf. Dunne illuminates Sylvia’s quiet desperation at how her world is shutting down. You ache for her and Billy.

Nina Raine’s play continues to challenge and present all sides of a difficult situation. The production beautifully illuminates the arguments and the subtleties of the situation.

Presented by the Gate Theatre, Ireland.

Closes: Oct. 14, 2017.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

www.dublintheatrefestival.com

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At the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Adapted by Carolyn Burns
From the Original Screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Simon Phillips
Set by Simon Phillips and Nick Schlieper
Lighting by Nick Schlieper
Costumes by Esther Marie Hayes
Sound by Poti Martin
Audio Visuals by Josh Burns
Composer and soundscape by Ian McDonald
Cast: Angus Brown
Tom Davey
Olivia Fines
Kieran Gough
Gerald Kyd
Abigail McKern
Nick Sampson
Jonathan Watton

Playwright Carolyn Burns and director Simon Phillips are determined to reproduce the thrilling Alfred Hitchcock film, North by Northwest, on the stage. I’m not saying ‘adapt’ for the stage. I’m saying they want to put the film on stage as it was on screen. I have to wonder why they bothered since the theatrical result is so much less than the film and certainly not good enough theatrically.

This is the story of mistaken identity with possible terrible results. Roger O. Thornhill is mistaken for a man named Kaplan who various people want. He has information. Nasty people want it and will kill for it. The Feds want him for the same reason but probably won’t go so far as to kill him, but you never know. Spying and espionage are involved.

There is an elaborate bit of business where the cast stand in a line and hold various sheets of paper with a letter on it spelling out the names of the people who made the film. The last name, that of the director, takes a bit of time and deliberate confusion before the name “Sir Alfred Hitchcock” is spelled out. There is a scene in which Roger O. Thornhill hails a cab and is helped by a portly, bald, slow talking Englishman who looks an awful lot like Alfred Hitchcock, who then slowly, portentously walks off stage.

The first name in the list of the creative team for the program for the play is Alfred Hitchcock, the brilliant director of the film. Again, Carolyn Burns and Simon Phillips are determined to re-create the film on stage from the crop dusting scene in which Thornhill is nearly mowed down by a plane, to the race across the faces chiseled on Mount Rushmore, right down to the sly inclusion of Hitchcock into his own films.

Burns has had some success as a television writer with forays into theatre. Simon Phillips has a solid career in theatre and is credited with producing a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies that actually makes sense. One wonders why they don’t know that theatre and film are not interchangeable. You can have filmed segments in a theatrical production. A film can even be ‘theatrical.’ But the two are completely different.

Never mind that theatre is 2500 years old and film is about 150 years old. Never mind that theatre requires the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief and film goes for spectacle (the huge screen the loud sound, the ability to remove any requirement of ‘imagining’ because often the work is done for you with special filmed effects.

Not content to let the audience see a plane (on a screen at the back of the theatre) zooming down right toward Thornhill to kill him, or to watch as Thornhill scurries over the faces on Mount Rushmore, pursued by thugs, Simon Phillips shows us how the trick is done, as people at the sides of the stage use a toy plane and squatting in front of video cameras to simulate the two notable scenes in the film. Distracting or what?

At Thornhill, the dashing Jonathan Watton even assumes the rolling gate of the dashing Cary Grant who played Thornhill in the film and also adjusts his glasses, as Grant did, with one finger pushing the glasses back up his nose. The blonde and cool Olivia Fines as Eve who is trying to come on to Thornhill with ulterior motive even assumes staged poses (one leg bent back at the knee as she kisses Thornhill. The music is intrusive and cheesy as it tries to create a sense of urgency.

There are many moments of clever staging, but there are also too many moments of dead, clunky air and stodgy scenes that make the pace plodding.

Enough!

If I wanted to see the film of North by Northwest I’d go to the movies or watch it on-line. But I expected to see a true theatrical creation when I went to the theatre. I know the difference between theatre and film. How come Carolyn Burns and Simon Phillips don’t?

Opened: Sept. 19, 2017
Saw it: Sept. 27, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 19, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

www.mirvish.com

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Review: GRAY

by Lynn on September 28, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At The Commons, 587a College St. Toronto, Ont.

Written by Kristofer Van Soelen
Inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
Set, props and costumes by Lindsay Woods
Sound by Andy Trithardt
Lighting by Steph Raposo
Cast: Sydney Violet Bristow
Edward Charlotte
Ximena Huizi
Mamito Kukwikila
Michelle Langille
Tennille Read

Four years ago a four theatre artists got together to form a company of women performing classic plays for women. Theatre Inamorata was born. Gray is their first production and interestingly it’s written by a man, Kristofer Van Soelen. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that in this context–a women’s theatre company wanting to do classic plays for women–seems odd. The idea was to look at Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and adapt it in play form from a woman’s point of view, exploring ideas such as: body image, beauty, ugliness, art, creativity, gender issues. All noble ideas. I wish the play and the production were better at realizing their aims.

Jane sculpts a beautiful statue of Dorian, a stunning woman. Jane also is smitten with her. Dorian is hesitant. We are in the world of art and all the pretentiousness that entails. In this case the pretentiousness is focused on Opal a “gallerist” who buys and sells art and looks for the next big thing. Playwright Kristofer Van Soelen uses a mix of swearing and pretentious drivel for her dialogue—Jihadist was used to describe the tyranny of the art world opinions, much of which Opal trashes.

Van Soelen also injects comment about transgendered artists into his play, in this case in the character of Sybil who wants to be an actress. It’s too huge an issue for so slight a play.

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster is an accomplished actress in her own right. I wish she was a better director. The staging is awkward and the acting varies from accomplished (Tennille Read as Dorian) to unfortunate. If a character is described as having great acting ability and then seems to loose that ability before our eyes then there should be a difference in the two scenes of acting to make the character believable. Much more rigor and attention to detail is needed. Speak up. Stop mumbling. Enunciate. And if a character is an expert in art then the actress playing her should know the correct pronunciation for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s last name. The ‘t’ is pronounced. Google Pronunciation is no help. A call to the AGO to talk to the person who curated the Basquiat exhibit last year would have helped.

The play needs to be reworked, tightened, rethought. Try again, do better.

Produced by Theatre Inamorata

Plays until Sept. 30. 2017.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

http://theatreinamorata.com/

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Review: THE ALIENS

by Lynn on September 27, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Music and Lyrics for original songs by Michael Chernus, Patch Darragh and Erin Gann
Set and costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting by Nick Blais
Sound by Sam Sholdice
Cast: William Greenblatt
Maxwell Haynes
Noah Reid

Annie Baker makes silences sing in this meditation on loneliness, otherness, and not fitting in. And the production is a theatre gift.

The Story. KJ and Jasper are best friends. They support each other. They sing together. KJ wanted to form a band and one of the names was The Aliens. They listen to each other when no one else will. They both love the poetry of Charles Bukowski. They are dropouts from school (KJ from university, Jasper from high school). Both are in their early 30s and drifting. They hang out in the desolate back patio of a local coffee shop where only the employees are allowed. Evan is 17 and just started to work at the coffee shop. He’s tasked with telling the two young men to move along as they are not allowed back there. They don’t move. Evan is also a shy, awkward misfit and is charmed by KJ and Jasper who accept him into their world.

The Production. Anahita Dehbonehie has created the most wonderful, bleak, grungy world for this play—the back patio of the coffee shop. It has one picnic table in the middle of the space. The audience is along the two ‘brick’ walls of the space (the brick is suggested not real). Graffiti is on the walls. Cigarette butts are everywhere, including along the ledges of the walls as you leave the space. You have to look hard to see them. Now that’s taking detail to a fine point. There are garbage bins at the back. Above the back wall is a window, which when the performance is happening, is lit, revealing a woman up there drinking from a cup and reading a book. The woman does not look out onto the space. These guys are ignored by the world. (The woman is Kate Sandeson, the stage manager). Again, I love that detail of having a person seen through a window, but not looking out the window. There are a few plastic chairs around the back of the space. Nick Blais’ lighting is often fluorescent-bright, perhaps to suggest specimens under close observation.

At the top of the show Jasper sits on the picnic table with his feet on the seat, smoking, in torn jeans and a sweat-shirt. KJ is upstage sitting in a chair, wearing sunglasses, shorts and a t-shirt. Silence. Silence, Smoke. Silence. KJ begins to sing. Jasper quietly puckers a wad of saliva from his lips and lets it drop on the ground. He’s angry. He was in a relationship with a woman and it ended. From his anger I figure she broke up with him. Silence.

Evan appears. Wild hair, meek-looking young man, timorous voice telling the men they have to leave. They stay. They aren’t threatening. They see a kindred spirit in Evan and include him in their orbit.

Director Mitchell Cushman has meticulously realized the small world of these three men, where they can be themselves without criticism. Jasper is comfortable reading KJ his novel in progress. KJ can sing his songs. Evan can stand there, awkwardly, and listen and watch these guys that intrigue him so much.

In Noah Reid’s quiet, brooding performance as Jasper, there is the anger and sense of pain at the ending of his relation with his girlfriend. He smokes deep and slow and carefully stubs out the cigarette. KJ, played beautifully by William Greenblatt in an understated way seems a philosophical man trying to be cool–those ever-present sunglasses, who is more at sea it seems than Jasper. No action is random. It all means something and there are always surprises. This is Maxwell Haynes Toronto debut acting for Coal Mine as Evan. He is compelling. There is a hint of an up-speak, a voice that seems deceptively awkward and timing that is right on the money. He has a scene when he has to sing and play the guitar. At first he sings softly and woefully off-key. He gets louder and louder, more and more off-key but it doesn’t matter because it is the most gut-wrenching expression of loss and grief you will hear in a long time.

Comment. Annie Baker uses silences often more than words for her characters to express themselves. She notes that often silences should be five to ten seconds long. And these aren’t pauses (those are at least three seconds long she says in the text). These aren’t “Pinter Pauses” either—moments full of possible danger or foreboding or something forbidding.

Annie Baker challenges her audience to consider the silences as important as dialogue. A Baker silence is not just something you wait through until someone speaks. It’s something you regard, observe and consider. It’s a means of expression for KJ and Jasper. It’s part of their dialogue. Evan is just learning its meaning.

Annie Baker writes of the misfits who don’t fit in. In the case of Jasper, KJ and Evan they are ‘the aliens.’ Stunning play. Wonderful, moving production.

Produced by Coal Mine Theatre

Opened: Sept. 20, 2017.
I saw it: Sept. 26, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 8, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours

www.coalmine.com

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