The Passionate Playgoer


l-r Kate Ross, Fraser Elsdon
Photo: Dahlia Katz


At the Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Ave, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Stephen Massicotte

Directed by Kent Staines

Set by David Boechler

Lighting by Jason Hand

Sound and composition by Creighton Doane

Costumes by Trysha Bakker

Cast: Fraser Elsdon

Kate Ross

A gentle, beautiful love story against a backdrop of war, all done with elegant simplicity.

The Story. It’s the day before Mary’s wedding. She’s dreaming about all sorts of things.  Mary came to Canada from England with her parents. They settled in a farming community and she met Charlie, an awkward, sweet farm boy during a thunder storm. He was in the barn, afraid of the thunder and lightening and she ran in there seeking shelter because she’d been walking. She calmed him. He rode her home on his horse when the storm subsided. The spark of friendship to love ignited in that barn. They made sure they ‘accidentally’ met each other on their travels around the area. They went to a dance and fell in love more and more. The First World War was declared and Charlie felt it was his responsibility to go and fight. He wrote to Mary often when he was away. And now it was the day before her wedding.

The Production. David Boechler’s set is simple: there is a slightly inclined platform leading up to a ledge on which to sit. Suspended above is a rectangular slatted screen. Trysha Bakker has designed a simple white dress for Mary (Kate Ross) and farm clothes (boots, farm pants held up by suspenders and a work shirt) for Charlie (Fraser Elsdon).

A tall, slim young man in farm work clothes tells us it’s the day before Mary’s wedding. He is Charlie. Mary comes forward and tells us who she is: from England to Canada with her parents and she loves it. Her mother, a snob we soon learn, doesn’t like living in rustic Canada.  We also know that Mary’s Mother doesn’t approve of Mary’s attachment to Charlie. Of course why would she, he is a ‘dirty farm boy’ as Mary tells us. It doesn’t matter, Charlie and Mary love each other.  And one gets the sense that because of his innate charm Charlie eventually wears down the starchy attitude of Mary’s Mother.

Kate Ross as Mary and Fraser Elsdon as Mary both act with a quiet grace and tenderness. Their thrilling feelings for each other are also obvious. Kate Ross illuminates Mary’s heart and strength in this fine performance. Mary and Charlie give each other strength and that is so clear in these performances.

Over time Charlie gains confidence and becomes less and less awkward. With Elsdon’s thoughtful performance you know that Charlie did not come to the decision to enlist, lightly. And you never get the sense, either in Stephen Massicotte’s play or the performance, that Charlie treats this as an adventure. He’s properly scared and should be.

I don’t think it matters that Kate Ross and Fraser Elsdon are a couple in real life as much as it matters that their wonderful performances make the audience want them to be a couple in real life too.

Director Kent Staines has directed this with a sensitive, spare hand. The love story of Mary and Charlie is almost chaste but you are never in doubt of their love for each other without using heavy body language, petting, and constant kissing. When they do kiss, it’s almost a relief to them and us.

Just as playwright Stephen Massicotte has not shied away from the brutality of war, neither has Staines. There is the terrifying sound of bombs dropping, which makes Charlie think of thunder that paralyzes him in fear. Massicotte deals with the love story in the most poetic of language. And he conveys the horrors of war as well in the most poetic of language but in a different way. It’s subtle but effective. We never feel he is romanticizing war. He’s just dealing with it in a less stereotypical way.

Comment. Stephen Massicotte’s very popular, award-winning play is almost twenty years old. This is its first performance in Toronto, which seems astonishing, but true. I’ve seen it a few times, elsewhere. It never fails to squeeze the heart. This production did too.

Produced by Solo Productions.

Opened: Feb. 1, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 16, 2019.

Running Time:  85 minutes.



In my review of the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Elektra I take exception to Derek McLane’s design of the “singer-unfriendly” raked set and other odd bits about it. Rather than the criticism be specific to him (and his director James Robinson) I made the following general comment:

“Then of course it dawns on me, as in theatre, often the ‘talent’ is the last thing a designer thinks about. And sometimes even the director joins that kind of thinking about the talent less than about the director’s vision.”

Phillip Silver, an excellent designer and faithful reader of my blog, took exception to the generality in an eloquent email and requested I clarify my criticism to be specific to this design and not as a general criticism of designers as a whole.

He’s right. I hope this clarifies the matter.


Each of these plays: The Tashme Project: The Living Archives, Salt and Canadian Rajah, deal with individual stories of resilience, endurance, shame and tenacity. Taken together they have a common theme of racism in one form or another. Each is a story that needs to be told and heeded.

The Tashme Project: The Living Archives

At Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa

Directed by Mike Payette

Video design by George Allister

Sound by Patrick Andrew Boivin

Lighting by David Perreault Ninacs

Set and costumes by James Lavoie

With care and respect the show’s creators, Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa, retell stories of elder Japanese-Canadians’ internment in Canada during WWII.

The Stories and the Production. Julie Tamiko Manning  and Matt Miwa, the creators and performers of this thoughtful, moving production, wanted to know the hidden, untold stories of internment of their Japanese-Canadian families in Canada. Their experiences in Canada, during WWII of being rounded up; taken out of their homes and put in the Canadian internment camp known as Tashme (an amalgamation of the first part of the last names of the three men who created the place) was not something they readily shared. These people were Canadian citizens and were treated as something else, ‘other’ because they were of Japanese descent. But Manning and Miwa were desperate to know their families’ past—“our legacy” as they write in the program—and so they interviewed family elders, friends of friends and then strangers to find out the stories and pass them along.

The structure of the show is methodical. First the two decided what they needed to do and then they sought out various sources. Unfortunately many of those who experienced the internment camp of Tashme were long dead. Manning and Miwa had to rely on Nisei (second generation Japanese-Canadians and now senior citizens) for the stories of their now dead parents or to share their own experiences.

Initially the interviewees were reluctant to share their experiences they kept buried deep inside for all those years, but then the stories poured out. Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa then compiled the stories and both present them, each easily shifting from character to character, sometimes playing old men and women, rambunctious children, officials, etc. Julie Tamiko Manning is the more agile and accomplished of the two in conveying the character and the story. Matt Miwa is physically energetic but often talks so fast and swallows his words you can’t understand what he is saying. Their commitment is obvious. The director, Mike Payette, keeps the pace brisk but never so rushed that you can’t appreciate each story and experience.

The stories cover a whole host of experiences. As young children some of the interviewees talk of having a good time playing. Their parents tell a different story—of humiliation, despair, depression and not giving up. One elder said he never talked about it because nobody asked. That was funny in light of the next generation thinking that it was too painful to be asked and reminded of what they went through. The show does have its humour. But on the whole The Tashme Project: The Living Archives is an important show about a telling the stories of those who were interned and giving them respect and informing the rest of us of this black period in our country’s history.

Factory Theatre presents The Tashme Project: The Living Archives produced by Tashme productions:

Opened: Jan. 31, 2019.

Saw it: Feb. 2, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes approx.


This played at the Theatre Centre on Queen Street as part of the Progress Festival, and closed Feb. 2, 2019 when I saw it.

But it transfers to the Toronto Centre for the Arts and plays from Feb. 7-10, 2019.

The Story and performance. Selina Thompson is an astonishing theatre artist, writer, and provocateur. Last year as part of the Progress Festival she brought her ‘show’ Race Cards to the Theatre Centre. It was an installation of 1000 cards on each of which Thompson wrote a question about race.

This year as part of the Progress Festival she brings salt.

From the press information about salt.:

 “A journey to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

In February 2016, two artists got on a cargo ship, and retraced one of the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle – from the UK to Ghana to Jamaica, and back.

Their memories, their questions and their grief took them along the bottom of the Atlantic and through the figurative realm of an imaginary past.

It was a long journey backwards, in order to go forwards.

This show is what they brought back.

saltis about grief, ancestry, home, forgetting and colonialism.

It’s about where colonial history exists in the everyday, the politics of grief and what happens inside Selina’s head every time someone asks ‘where are you from?’ and won’t take Birmingham or her mum’s uterus for an answer. It’s about being part of a diaspora.”

salt. is also about racism, overt, subtle, in your face, angry, hopeless and not giving in to it. Selina Thompson is a woman of colour. When people ask where she is from she accurately says, “Birmingham.” But then when they ask, “No where are you really from…” suggesting that because of her skin colour she had to have come from somewhere else, she persists, or treats the insensitive question with an answer equal to it.

Because Thompson’s birth parents and adoptive parents are from Jamaica, Montserrat, and England she decided to retrace one of the slave ship routes along with another woman of colour (unnamed) a film-maker to create a film/project. They boarded an Italian cargo ship in February 2016 to begin the journey. The Italian captain forbade them to film during the voyage. They could not go up on the deck. They could not wander the ship at will. They had to stay in their windowless cabin. There was no internet. There was no fresh air. They ate with the crew and heard the captain and officers talking in Italian. The repeated use of the ‘N’ word struck her. In subtle ways the captain tried to intimidate her. When they were at the end of the voyage they were not allowed to leave the ship immediately and were forced to stay for many more hours.  She longed to spit in the cruel captain’s face, but didn’t.

The bitter irony is that Thompson was on a ship retracing a slave ship route while she is in a sense held prisoner on the ship and treated with contempt because of her race. When they do reach land she rejoices in the air, sun, good-will of the people and her relatives in Jamaica.

Selina Thompson is an elegant, poetic, vivid writer and compelling performer. Dawn Walton is her equally gifted director. To make her points about the on-going nature of despair, contempt etc. Thompson hauls out a large, heavy rock of salt. At points in the narrative she puts on safety goggles (and instructs the first few rows of people to do the same) and whacks the rock of salt with an almost equally heavy sledgehammer. Bits break off. She notes the constricting chain of contempt from the captain to his officers, to the Filipino crew, to unions to colonialism to imperialism and on and on. She whacks at the salt chunks with every reference, sweat beading on her face. Energy expended with every strike. Salt, the stuff of life, tears and sweat.

salt. is a powerful, moving journey created by a gifted storyteller who knows how to bring her audience into the experience with respect and care. I loved that at my performance Thompson noted there was a young one in the audience (a mother brought her three young children, one of whom was almost a babe in arms) and so the performance would be deemed ‘relaxed’ so as not to add pressure to be quiet. If the ‘young one’ cried out, we would be calm about it. The ‘young one’ was perfect.  At the end Selina Thompson says quietly she will be in the lobby to give us a gift we are to keep safe, a piece of salt. It is a symbol of sweat, tears, despair and hope.

See this!  It’s at the Toronto Centre for the Arts from Feb. 7-10, 2019.

Selina Thompson Ltd., the Theatre Centre and Why Not Theatre present:

 Opened: Jan. 31, 2019.

Closed: Feb. 2, 2019.Running Time: 65 minutes.


Canadian Rajah

At Campbell House Museum, Queen St. and University, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Dave Carley

Directed by Sarah Phillips

Costumes by Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston

Cast: Jon de Leon

Barbara Worthy.

Commenting on this one might be a bit improper. Chick Reid was originally cast but was struck with pneumonia and had to withdraw. Barbara Worthy stepped in on Wed. Jan. 30 to take her place. I saw this on Sunday, Feb. 3 and Ms Worthy was ‘on book’ (she held the script in her hand) but had that character in her finger tips.

By rights I shouldn’t ‘review’ it or comment, but I will in vague terms because the play is fascinating and the production is accomplished.

The Story and Performance.  This took place in the grand ballroom in Campbell House Museum, a terrific venue if you have never been and so suitable for the play. Dave Carley has written a fascinating play based on a true story.

It’s a two character play involving Ranee Ghita (born Marguerita) the British widow of the (British-born) second Rajah of Sarawak and Esca Brooke the illegitimate son of the Rajah. Sarawak is an important state in modern Malaysia.

Esca Brooke has come from Canada to London, Eng. to ‘gently’ request her to recognize him as the rightful son of her husband. He has papers that prove it.

Both characters give their stories to us separately.  Ranee is played by Barbara Worthy and Esca Brooke is played by Jon de Leon. She is regal, imperious and beautifully turned out in traditional Sarawak garb. She knows that Esca Brooke is waiting to see her. She indicates her contempt for him and keeps him waiting on purpose. He knows it and is ready to leave in disgust but stays. He is beautifully attired in a smart suite and vest. He is a prosperous businessman, but certainly feels the sting of racism by being kept waiting on purpose. When Esca Brooke is finally ushered in to see Ranee she is all tight smiles (Worthy does this beautifully) and treats him with veiled contempt and disregard as she would anyone she feels is inferior.

De Leon has the confident bearing of a smart, hard-working self-made man. But it’s a fragile stance when faced with the determined arrogance and racism of a pompous member of the British aristocracy as Ranee is. Both have embarrassing information to reveal to the other; both try to one-up each other. It’s a match of wills. She thinks she has the upper hand, but we all know what happened to the mighty British Empire.

It’s a fascinating story of Esca Brooke, a man of mixed blood foisted off to strangers to get rid of him as an embarrassment and taken to Canada where his adopted parents emigrated. He’s successful; a loving husband and father, but he craves legitimacy and he will have it from this rude, condescending racist snob.

Bravo to Dave Carley for discovering this gem of a story and writing this fascinating play, and bravo to the two actors who faced several challengers to bring it to life.

Produced by the Canadian Rajah Collective presents:

Plays to Feb. 17. 2019.










by Lynn on February 4, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

Christine Goerke
photo by: Michael Cooper


At the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Music by Richard Strauss

Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal after Sophocles

Conducted by Johannes Dubus

Director James Robinson

Set by Derek McLane

Costumes by Anita Stewart

Lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin

Cast: Susan Bullock

Tracy Cantin

Michael Druiett

Lauren Eberwein

Simona Genga

Christine Goerke

Thomas Goerz

Jill Grove

Alexandra Loutsion

Lauren Margison

Owen McCausland

Simone McIntosh

Wilhelm Schwinghammer

Michael Schade

Lauren Segal

Erin Wall

Beautifully sung and very dramatically acted.  But the raked set is so singer-unfriendly my calves were screaming in pain in sympathy with the singers who had to negotiate that incline, and there were some really odd director’s choices.

Note: As music/opera is not my forte, I won’t be commenting on the singing except to say it was stunning, and will focus on the production as theatre.

 The Story. The story is ‘after Sophocles’ (and not Euripides who also found Elektra’s story intriguing). Elektra is in deep mourning for the death of her father Agamemnon the King of Thebes. She is also in a rage at her mother, Klytämnestra (the widow of Agamemnon and the Queen), because Klytämnestra with the help of her lover Aegisth, murdered Agamemnon when he returned from the Trojan War. All Elektra wants is revenge. She hopes her brother Orest will come home from exile (where she sent him for his protection) and revenge their father’s death. The servants are sick of Elektra’s mourning. Elektra’s sister Chrysothemis just wants a quiet married life and hopes Elektra can calm herself and just accept matters the way they are. Elektra is having none of it.

 The Production. The curtain rises on Derek McLane’s set and initially the expanse and sense of size is impressive. But then I see the rake (incline) of the upstage part of the set that inclines from stage left to stage right and that stuns me. It looks like a rake of a 45 degree angle.  Are the singers really expected to schlep up and down that rake for the whole of the opera? (ok it’s a short opera, but still). My calves are screaming in sympathetic pain at what the singers are about to experience by walking up and down such an angle and sing. Then of course it dawns on me, as in theatre, often the ‘talent’ is the last thing a designer thinks about. And sometimes even the director joins that kind of thinking about the talent less than about the director’s vision.

There is a bank of stairs that spans the width of the stage leading down from the rake. Stage left are exits into the servants’ quarters. Upstage is what looks like a shed of some sort. Against the stage right wall is a large framed portrait (of Agamemnon), a white toy rocking horse, some other stuff stage left which includes a box with some of Chrysothemis’ toys. This is a kind of ‘dump room’ for discarded stuff. Or perhaps it’s the former ‘kids’ room of Elektra and her sister, hence the rocking horse and the toys.

When Elektra (Christine Goerke) makes her entrance she is ‘crazed’ with grief for her father. Her movements are erratic, like a person who can’t stand still. Ms Goerke’s first sung notes just grab you—it’s such a rich, dramatic voice (that’s the extent of that kind of comment). Besides being such a gifted singer Ms Goerke is a wonderful dramatic actress. It’s a performance of rage, desperation, irritation when her sister begs her to accept what has happened and elation when her brother has returned. It’s a lovely touch that she carries, caresses and even wears her father’s coat to hold on to his memory. But I smile when director James Robinson has Ms Goerke sing on her knees and then on her back. I think that is chutzpah on the part of James Robinson and that Ms Goerke can do it with ease is part of her gift.

At one point in the opera James Robinson directs Ms Goerke to get on the rocking horse and ‘ride’ it arm up in a charge. Interesting. Elektra might be reverting to her childhood, and perhaps happier days, but that charge motion might suggest she is in fact leading a charge against her murderous mother, for revenge.

Susan Bullock as Klytämnestra makes her dramatic entrance from the door of the shed, which occurs to me is really the palace. The entrance is with Mimi Jordan Sherin’s bright light behind them. But it looks like they are climbing up from some basement. Sorry, but it looks silly. Ms Bullock is an arresting presence dressed in black holding a cane for support. The character of Klytämnestra has not been having a good time of it. She suffers from nightmares and sleepless nights—killing your husband will do it to you.

I find it interesting that costume designer Anita Stewart has dressed Elektra in a grey-blue long dress and Klytämnestra all in black. Is Klytämnestra trying to suggest she’s in mourning? But wouldn’t it be more fitting if Elektra wear black too? Hmm.

When Orest (Wilhelm Schwinghammer) does arrive, ‘secretly’ and makes himself known to Elektra they plot to murder Klytämnestra and her lover Aegisth in retaliation for their murder of Agamemnon. Orest will sneak into the palace to do the deed. James Robinson directs Wilhelm Schwinghammer as Orest to tip the structure of the ‘shed-palace’ up and back a bit so it’s on a tilt and Orest can tip-toe down the stairs into the palace to kill his mother and her lover. I know that in theatre one must suspend ones disbelief to enter into the production, but this bit of business just knitted my eye-brows.

 Comment. I found it interesting that while this is a German opera, it is based on a Greek play and wondered why librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal didn’t go further into fleshing out the story. The whole idea of the endless cycle of revenge of the gods and then some is left unexplored. Klytämnestra killed Agamemnon when he came home from the war in revenge of him sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to appease the gods and get calm waters to sail to the war. I thought not including that point in the story left a serious hole in the narrative.

While the design and a lot of the direction left me mystified, the singing and acting of the piece is glorious, which is why you go to the opera anyway.

The Canadian Opera Company presents:

Opened: Jan. 26, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 22, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.


At the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.


Written by Margaret Atwood

Directed by Megan Follows

Choreography by Philippa Domville

Set by Charlotte Dean

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Projections by Jamie Nesbitt

Composer/sound by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Praneet Akilla

Claire Armstrong

Tess Berger

Nadine Bhabha

Ingrid Blekys

Déjah Dixon-Green

Deborah Drakeford

Seana McKenna

Ellora Patnaik

Monice Peter

Siobhan Richardson

A vivid, image filled production thanks to director Megan Follows, beautifully acted lead by Seana McKenna.

The Story.  We all know the story of Odysseus: heroic soldier, goes off to fight in the Trojan War to get Helen back, war rages for 10 years, then takes another 10 years to get back to his wife, the patient Penelope. Yes, 20 years in total, it’s all those distractions, see? The Cyclops, the sirens, the alluring goddesses and minor deities until he finally gets home.

Bless Margaret Atwood for giving Penelope a voice to tell her story. Penelope’s story is deeper, richer in psychological intrigue, more layered in consequence and certainly depicts Penelope as a wily, diplomatic woman. Atwood gives Odysseus short shrift in detailing his travails; the most serious drawback to him is that, in my house at least, he’s stupid. He’s also vain, irresponsible and not too astute.

All the while Penelope, his patient, loyal, loving wife tries to cope with the attitudes of Odysseus’ parents who think Penelope is useless, as does Odysseus’ nurse. Her son Telemachus is a spoiled, entitled brat. And there are the suitors who come knocking, thinking Odysseus is dead—well you would too, right? They are eating her out of house and home and they want her to make a decision about which one of these louts she will marry. She stalls them with the help of her 12 maids, but it ends badly for almost everybody, except of course Odysseus who comes out of this smelling sweet. Sweat?

The Production.  Director Megan Follows played Penelope in the Nightwood production of The Penelopiad in Toronto a few years ago, so she knows the play and Penelope inside and out. As a director Follows has a dazzling sense of image. She and her design team worked to create the sense of floating, misty Hades (the underworld) where Penelope and her maids are since they are now all dead. Charlotte Dean’s set of billowy material gives the sense of other-worldliness. Bonnie Beecher has lit it with that deep underworld gloom. Dana Osborne’s costumes for Penelope (Seana McKenna) are arresting. Initially she is swathed in a gown with a long train that billows out behind her; is long enough to wrap her up and then is unfurled again and becomes a tablecloth at a banquet while still part of Penelope’s costume. Osborne’s costumes for the maids are simple grey. The same actresses play the suitors as well and with a quick costume change of a jacket or tunic over the maids’ clothes they are clearly another character.

Megan Follows has an arresting sense of the visual. At the beginning of the play a twitching body (one of the maids) is slowly lowered down from the flies to the stage. That certainly gets our attention and it foreshadows what will happen to them. No spoiler alert here, we are told enough times they will die.

Follows has created body language for the suitors that is aggressive and muscular. One suitor (Claire Armstrong) likes frightening Telemachus (Tess Benger) by starring him down and then thrusting his body towards him, chin up. Quite effective. There is interesting use of climbing silks ( Siobhan Richardson) in which two silk panels are dropped from the flies and Richardson climbs up and does poses to augment a scene. I’m not quite sure of its usefulness.

And while Follows’ sense of images is arresting, sometimes it’s a bit of overkill. When Penelope is going into labour with Telemachus she lies on her back on a table, her head down towards the audience, her legs spread, bent at the knees facing upstage. Projected on the back wall is an ultrasound image of a foetus pulsing, suggesting it is about to be born. At the same time a character puts her arm between Penelope’s legs and pulls out a long swath of red silk and wraps it up like a swaddled baby and gives it to Penelope. The red silk is so evocative of the blood and gore of birth made elegant by the image and our imagination, why then do we also need an ultrasound image? Overkill, but I do appreciate Follows’ gifts as a director.

And I love Follows’ trust in the audience to suspend our disbelief. There are frequent references to there being 12 maids, yet look closely and you only see 10 actors playing them. In the last scene that twitching, hanged body is lowered down from the flies along with several ropes with nooses ready for the rest of the maids. But look closely again and there are 12 nooses suspended, which is one too many, if one of the maids is already hanging. Follow’s makes us pay attention to such details.

The cast is strong—Praneet Akilla is a boyish, confident Odysseus and the only man in the cast of women (at times he also plays a maid). Leading them all is Seana McKenna as Penelope. Her voice is as clear and musical as fine crystal. She has a sense of nuance and subtlety that captures Penelope’s depth of character and intelligence. A sidelong glance and the smallest gesture speak volumes. When Penelope gives birth to Telemachus she holds him briefly but he is then taken away by Odysseus’ old nurse to be cared for. Penelope watches sadly, gently touching her breast thus illuminating the shattering loss of not being able to nurse her baby. That little gesture is stunning. It’s a performance full of such small, telling moments.

Comment.  I love that Margaret Atwood tells the story from Penelope’s brave, loyal point of view—along with her servants—but it still is a man’s world here. She’s not given credit for keeping the suitors at bay. Odysseus is going to kill the maids (we know this cause it’s foreshadowed at the beginning) and tells Telemachus not to tell his mother because according to Odysseus Penelope can’t keep a secret. Where does he get this from—he hasn’t been home for 20 years! Is this just dumb male intuition when it comes to women. What a fool?  He’s a man and he’s entitled in that society.  Women, wives are meant to serve and wait silently.  Atwood gives us the gulp factor—that no matter how much Penelope valued her maids misinformation resulted in their deaths and she is suffering as a result of it. She’s in Hades. The maids don’t talk to her anymore because they feel she betrayed them. She can’t tell them that she was given a drink by Odysseus’ nurse to put her to sleep. She didn’t get a chance to tell Odysseus the maids were true. Telemachus is as entitled as his father and doesn’t know the truth about the maids because they wouldn’t betray Penelope.

And at the end of the story Penelope is still loyal to Odysseus even though she knows his ways and he’d be off when a new adventure presented itself. But he does keep coming back to her.  Atwood conjures a world where a woman’s life is not her own, where she has to live within the dictates of the men in her life. Atwood does it with humour, seriousness and a sense of the world of ancient Greece and our own modern world.

However, of the people on the crew, there is only one man, the rest are women. Brava.    

The Grand Theatre presents:

Began: Jan. 22, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 9, 2019.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes.


Review: HOOK UP

by Lynn on January 31, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

Emily Lukasik
Photo: Dahlia Katz


At Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, Ont.

Music by Chris Thornborrow

Libretto by Julie Tepperman

Direction and dramaturgy by Richard Greenblatt

Set and costumes by Kelly Wolf

LX and video design by Monty Martin

Sound by Chris Thornborrow

Music director and pianist, Jennifer Tung

Percussionist, Greg Harrison

Second pianist, Andrea Grant

Cast: Alicia Ault

Nathan Carroll

Alexis Gordon

Jeff Lillico

Emily Lukasik

A modern opera about teenage sex, consent and its sobering consequences. The story and production packs a punch. Important theatre.

The Story. From the press information: “Three friends hit university—no parents, new friends, new rules and new normal. But freedom is complicated. Hook Up raises questions of consent, shame and power in the lives of young adults navigating uncharted waters on their own.”

Mindy (Emily Lukasik), her boyfriend Tyler (Nathan Carroll) and her friend Cindy (Alicia Ault) are all going to the same university and will live in residence. I reckon they are all 18 year-old or so. Mindy’s parents (Jeff Lillico and Alexis Gordon) help her move into her single dorm room and leave with instructions to be careful, implied is being careful about ‘sex’. Her father warns her gently about Tyler. Too late. Mindy and Tyler have already had sex and have it as often as they can. Cindy hoped to room with Mindy but Mindy requested a single room so she could have more private time with Tyler.

The friendship of the three changes in university. Cindy feels left out of Mindy’s life because she spends so much time with Tyler. Cindy makes up for it by going to parties and ‘hooking up’ with various partners. Tyler joins a study group and Mindy thinks he might be seeing someone else. Mindy goes to a party with Cindy and things go off the rails.

The Production.  Kelly Wolf’s set of Mindy’s room is on a movable base and can be rotated for effect. Cindy and Tyler have scenes above the stage that suggest their separate rooms.  There are several panels above the stage on which are projected e-mails and text messages from the three friends as well as photos and other images.

As with any opera, I won’t comment on Chris Thornborrow’s music except to say that in the scene that changes everything for these three friends, rather than being graphic, what is happening is suggested. Thornborrow’s music is pulsing and gradually driving as the scene builds.  Richard Greenblatt’s sensitive, clear-eyed direction uses splashes of red projections to add to the heightened emotions. The audience’s imagination kicks in and is more effective that a blow-by-blow graphic depiction of what might be happening.

Julie Tepperman’s libretto captures the short-hand of these young adults (teens) on social media so well I had to look some of them up (rotf, tbh) to find out WTF (sorry) they were saying. She has captured the angst of their age, their social pressures and the euphoria of being on their own for the first time and free to do what they like without parents looking over their shoulder, disapprovingly. But she has not drawn them as totally irresponsible. While Mindy and Tyler make out regularly they have limits and those limits are respected. Tyler wants to make sure Mindy is agreeable to some suggestions and if she isn’t, he stops. Mindy wants to experiment but will stop if it gets too weird. Cindy seems free and easy but also has a sense of responsibility towards herself and Mindy. Cindy carries condoms. She senses that Mindy might be going into new territory and wants to make sure she is safe. She stops short of insisting she not do what she is about to do. These are friends trying to do right by each other.

There is a scene at the beginning when the friends are welcomed to the school’s orientation. They are read the rules from both a man (leading the male students) and a woman leading the women: don’t drink in the room, lock your door for protection etc. But the male student says some things as a joke that should set off alarms, suggesting a male culture there is something one should be wary of.

The cast to a person is terrific. Besides being wonderful singers, they are all very strong actors. Mindy, as played by Emily Lukasik is a mix of young euphoria at her new found freedom and soul-crushing despair when she deals with her shattering night at the party. Cindy, as played by Alicia Ault is buoyant, carefree, yet hurt when it seems that Mindy is ignoring her and certainly concerned for her at the party. Nathan Carroll plays Tyler with boyish enthusiasm and certainly naïve confusion as he tries to figure out what his girlfriend wants and what she means when she talks to him. Jeff Lillico plays Mindy’s loving, caring father who tries not to be too smothering. While Alexis Gordon plays Mindy’s mother with just a touch of anxiousness, Gordon absolutely shines when playing Heather. There is an ache to the performance and a resolve that shows the strength of the character, and Heather’s strength is certainly needed. While Richard Greenblatt directs with imagination and care, he deals with the scenes in which Mindy is dealing with the aftermath of the party with such sensitivity and tenderness it’s breathtaking.

Comment. Hook Up deals with issues that young adults, late teens etc. are dealing with daily. To the people involved these are huge issues. Opera, even a ‘small’ opera like this, gives the issues size. We seem to have read about these situations for so long—kid goes to a party, gets drunk, is taken advantage of etc. Does this show make it a cliché? No. Not to the women involved, or their friends who feel guilty for not doing more, or their boyfriends who weren’t there to help.

 Hook Up looks at issues that teens are dealing with and treats them with respect, compassion and generosity of spirit. It’s an important work.

Tapestry Theatre in partnership with Theatre Passe Muraille presents:

Opened: Jan. 30, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 9, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes


At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Kate Hennig

Directed by Alan Dilworth

Set and Costumes by Yannick Larivée

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Alexander McSween

Cast: Nigel Bennett

Laura Condlln

Brad Hodder

Helen Knight

Yanna McIntosh

André Morin

Bahia Watson

Soulpepper remounts the Stratford Festival’s production of Kate Hennig’s gripping play of power, politics and maneuvering for position with Princess Elizabeth (Bess) Tudor in the center of it all.

Background. Those Tudors certainly knew a thing or two about political intrigue. First there was King Henry VIII and his quest for a son to continue his royal line, which required many wives to carry this through. We know what happened to them if they did not present a male heir. Jane Seymour did produce Edward VI but alas died two weeks after giving birth.

Henry married Catherine Parr, his last wife and by all accounts she was his political, intellectual equal. Playwright Kate Hennig beautifully illuminates Catherine’s smarts in The Last Wife, the first play of her Queenmaker trilogy. The second play, The Virgin Trial deals with court intrigue around Bess, Henry’s daughter. And the last in the trilogy, Mother’s Daughter will deal with Mary, Bess’ half-sister. Mother’s Daughter plays at the Stratford Festival this summer.

Story. In The Virgin Trial it is believed that Thomas (Thom ) Seymour was plotting to overthrow the court of Edward VI and then marry Bess which would put her on the throne, thus giving Thom tremendous power. At the time of all this intrigue Bess was a girl of about 15 years-old, but still one who was wily, politically astute, quick-witted and imperious. She was no pushover.

Bess is ‘interrogated’ by Eleanor, a hard-nosed woman of the court and Ted, the Lord Protector whom Bess calls “Uncle Ted” and who is Thom’s brother. It’s all rather murky isn’t it? They know that Bess and Thom have an attraction even though he’s much older than she is. Still being royal makes Bess all the more attractive to Thom.

The Production. The celebrated 2017 Stratford Festival production is remounted at Soulpepper’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts almost in tact, with only one cast change. Helen Knight is now playing Mary. Director Alan Dilworth now has a more malleable space at the Young Centre than he had at the Studio Theatre in Stratford with its fixed thrust stage and the audience curving around it. At the Young Centre the audience is on both sides of the playing area. I’m not sure that change in the placement of the action is an advantage for the play or creates more intimacy.

Yannik Larivée’s set is elegant in its simplicity. A polished longish table sits on a rich rug center stage. A beautiful chair equal to the beauty of the table is at either end of the table. An opaque curtain runs the width of the stage on both extreme sides of the playing area through which characters enter and exit.

Bess (Bahia Watson) enters with confidence. Her hair is tightly pulled back and arranged stylishly. She wears a dress appropriate for a royal teen and flat shoes. When she sits it’s with a straight back, her legs are close together and her hands are neatly folded in her lap.  There is an imperiousness as she waits.

Eleanor (Yanna McIntosh) enters, also with an easy confidence.  She is dressed in black: black knee-high boots, tights, and a sleek skirt and fitted top. The look suggests power. She carefully lays her papers on the table along with a pitcher of water and glasses.

The battle lines are drawn immediately. Eleanor is there to question Bess about recent events. Eleanor asks Bess if she would like some water and Bess decides to try out her haughty royal attitude by ignoring her and then when she is challenged by Eleanor Bess asks for tea only to be told there isn’t any. They wait for “Ted” (Nigel Bennett) the Lord Protector. He arrives, dapper in a pin-strip suit. He is off-handed, jolly, charming and is the ‘good-cop’ to Eleanor’s ‘bad cop.’ Yanna McIntosh as Eleanor is a formidable, take-no-prisoners adversary. She is subtle but lethal.

Brad Hodder as Thom is boyish, ambitious and toys with Bess’ affections to get what he wants. Equally effective are Laura Condlln as Ashley, Bess’ governess and André Morin as Parry, Bess’ secretary.

Helen Knight as Mary is probably the wiliest of the bunch. She knows where the skeletons are in that palace and how to protect herself. Ms Knight is watchful and cool. She also has some advice for Bess when Bess comes asking for it. Knight gives a compelling performance of a really compelling character.  There is danger, intrigue and mystery in that palace and everybody seems to be on high alert.

My concern continues to be Bahia Watson as Bess. While she has the poise of royalty and the girlishness of a teenager, Watson plays Bess as relentlessly petulant, with little variation. Answers are snapped out as if Watson is reacting without listening to the comment. The lack of variation in her performance is brought into stark contrast when one watches the subtle exchanges between McIntosh and Bennett.

Comment. Kate Hennig has once again shown her keep sense of observation in telling a story about court intrigue and politics. The Virgin Trial is bracing, gripping and so contemporary. I can hardly wait for the last installment.

Soulpepper presents:

Opened: Jan. 24, 2019.

Closes: Feb 3, 2019.

Running Time:  one hour and 45 minutes,


At the Five Points Theatre , Barrie, Ont.

Written by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe

Directed by Steven Schipper

Designed by Joe Pagnan

Cast: Michael Torontow

This is the play that many theatre companies want to produce. It’s a one person play with many helpers. There is no set just a room with the audience and the actor and cards on which are items that are the brilliant things in life that make it worth living. And the show is about suicide as well as life in all its shining glory.

Canadian Stage did the play in Toronto last year with Kristen Thomson. Now it’s Talk Is Free Theatre’s turn to do it at the Five Points Theatre in Barrie, Ont. And what a wonderful, moving, funny production it is.

The audience enters the theatre space and sits in chairs arranged in a semi-circle. Michael Torontow dressed in a spiffy sweater, black jeans and black and white sneakers greets us. He is our narrator, guide, charmer and star of the show. He chats a bit about the show and if we are willing, gives us a laminated card on which is a number and a phrase or thing, or idea that is one of the many brilliant things that will be talked about during the show. The instructions are that when Mr. Torontow calls out a number, the person who has that number reads off what is on the card. #1 is ice cream. Other brilliant things are: the colour yellow, the even-numbered “Star War” films, “falling over.”

The idea is that Mr. Torontow plays a character from the age of seven-years-old until adulthood. When his character was seven-years-old his mother (not Mr. Torontow’s actually mother) attempted suicide but failed (thank heaven). The young boy decides to make a list of all the brilliant things in life to give to his mother to cheer her up. Over the years the list of brilliant things took on a life of its own. The list got longer and more introspective as the narrator got older and looked at life differently. The narrator needed the list to remind him of the brilliant things of life as much as his troubled mother did.

The beauty of the show is that each audience brings its own personality to it. Not only do we get to read out loud the thing on the card when our number is called, but audience members are asked to participate in more personal ways.

A gentleman is picked to play the narrator’s father and act out the day the father came to  for the seven-year-old boy’s school to take him to the hospital because his mother….”is sad and did a stupid thing….”

Another man plays the vet that will have to put down the boy’s dog to illuminate the boy’s first brush with death. I was chosen to play Mrs. Patterson, the school guidance counsellor. Mrs. Patterson had a way of disarming a young, troubled kid: she took off her shoe and sock and put the sock on her hand like a sock dog and proceeded to ask the boy questions to try and see if he is coping or not with his mother’s attempted suicide.

Through it all Michael Torontow played our narrator with charm, humour, exuberance, kindness and patience. Audiences can be both timid and gung-ho. It takes a dexterous, quick-witted, sensitive actor to know how to pull words/a performance out of the audience member who has been selected to ‘play’ a part. That guy is definitely Michael Torontow. And his director Steven Schipper brings out the nuance and subtlety of the piece.

Michael Torontow was quietly gracious when he gently prompted the man playing the character’s father on how to say a line or phrase. He was patient with me when I played Mrs. Patterson and her sock dog, forgetting the dog didn’t just bark in answer to a question. The dog could actually talk and be considerate!!! Mr. Torontow never talks down to his audience. In fact he is buoyant, jolly, humourous, and giving. It’s his humanness and his humaneness that makes the whole experience like disparate groups coming together communally to experience a play.

This production is one of the brilliant things in my life.

Talk is Free Theatre in association with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre:

Opened: Jan. 25, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 2, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.


Full Review: ROSE

by Lynn on January 27, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts

From Gertrude Stein’s book, “The World is Round”

Music and book by Mike Ross

Lyrics and book by Sarah Wilson

Directed by Gregory Prest

Choreography by Monica Dottor

Set, lighting and projections designed by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Alexandra Lord

Sound by Kaitlyn MacKinnon

Cast: Troy Adams

Michelle Bouey

Alana Bridgewater

Frank Cox-O’Connell

Oliver Dennis

Raquel Duffy

Jonathan Ellul

Peter Fernandes

Hailey Gillis

Scott Hunter

Raha Javanfar

John Millard

Sabryn Rock

James Smith

Adam Warner

Rose is really a small story given the big, bloated musical treatment by smothering it with too many unnecessary songs, over-fussy direction and a desperation to make us like it.

Background Note.  Rose with music and book by Mike Ross, lyrics and book by Sarah Wilson, is purported to be based on The World Is Round  (1939) by Gertrude Stein, by her own definition, her only children’s book. I’ve read the book. This is no where near a children’s book. But then one must consider that it’s Gertrude Stein describing her book.  Except for the fact that Stein insisted the pages be pink and the book has Stein’s usual repetitive whimsical word play, one might stretch ones imagination and say it’s about a girl named Rose who is nine-years-old going on 35.  This is one of the various references  from which her intellectually confounding line comes: “Rose is a rose, is a rose, is a rose.”   Note there is no indefinite article “a” before the first “Rose” in this case.

In Stein’s book Rose muses on: why she is Rose, her friend Willie (her cousin for most of the book then finds out he’s not her cousin), having a pet lion and climbing a mountain taking her blue chair to get a good look.

The Story.  According to the book of the musical by Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson, Rose can’t say her name out loud; not for roll call at school when the teacher, Miss Crisp asks the students to call out their names to see if they are in class and not if she is asked what her name is. Rose can’t say her name because she says she does not know why she is or where, or when or which she is. Miss Crisp is exasperated with the questions (and is generally harried) so gives Rose short, unhelpful answers.

Rose asks her best friend Willie. He gives her an answer that is good for him, but she is still unsure. He says he would be Willie no matter what name he was called. Rose goes into the woods to find the answer. She has some kind of enlightenment when she meets the Lion Lady and acquires a lion (named Billie) but even that’s not really helpful.  And finally she takes a journey up a mountain meeting all manner of obstacles to find out who she is so she can finally say her name out loud.

 The Production.  Lorenzo Savoini has designed a modern, open pink set with soft pink lighting. In keeping with the notion of ‘round’ there is a circle up stage in the back wall.  Members of the band are scattered around the set: James Smith plays his keyboard upstage right. Adam Warner plays his drums upstage left. Desks are rolled on in the school room scenes. A mountain is outlined in animation on the back wall.

 Frank Cox-O’Connell is our guitar-playing narrator who leads us along into the story, commenting on what is going on. He is a gentle presence and he’s dressed like a bearded logger in a plaid shirt.

In a musical the first song is vital in establishing the mood, atmosphere, attitude, characters and story etc. of the rest of the musical.  The first song in Rose tells us that the town Rose lives in is called “Somewhere”, and everybody there loves to tell you who they are and what their name is.

We are introduced to at least 15 characters who tell us what they do and their name. Then they seem to disappear until Act II where we try to remember who they were. Actors quickly change into other costumes to create more townsfolk, with more professions and more names.   It seems to go on forever only to establish that they all knew who they were and what their names were. Then we finally meet Rose who doesn’t know who she is and can’t say her name.

There are songs sung in school about how the earth is big or small depending on perspective and it’s round and on and on, when we really just need to see Rose’s journey and her relationship with her friend Willie.

Gregory Prest has directed wonderfully elsewhere (Punk Rock) but something else is happening here with Rose. It’s over-directed and it’s fussy at that.  The movement is never ending, although Monica Dottor’s choreography is always inventive—the production just needs less of it.

There are scenes with: energetic loggers, vicious otters, a pride of lions too cool for their own good.

When Rose is climbing the mountain to find the secret of who she is, Prest has her climb on tables that are slid across the stage to suggest a journey so she goes from desk to desk then on higher desks then lower, then higher.

Her dog Love is worried about where Rose is (he doesn’t know she’s gone mountain climbing). He has the audience stand and gyrate, hands in the air, and stamp their feet and bend and sway so Rose can feel the good vibes of the audience as she makes her lonely journey up the mountain.

I’m thinking that I preferred when we just sat there and clapped our hands if we believed in fairies and revived Tinkerbell—but that’s another story.

I can’t comment on Mike Ross’ music because I actually couldn’t hear it because the band and the cast are so overly-microphoned it distorted any melody and the lyrics.  It also left the cast to bellow everything to be heard over it. This imbalance in the sound has to be fixed. Cut the amplification of the band in half and let the cast just sing without bellowing.  The book by Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson is funny with wit and a nice sense of economy.

Hailey Gillis as Rose shines with a true honesty to find out who she is. Gillis’ scenes with Peter Fernandes as Willie are divine because these two are so human and engaging. They both have a keen sense of how to deal with humour. They are both serious when they banter—the secret of humour is that it’s serious business.

The whole company is totally committed.

Comment. Rose is really a small story given the big, blaring musical treatment by smothering it with too many unnecessary songs, over-fussy direction and a desperation to make us like it. In a way you have to forget everything about Gertrude Stein’s book in order to consider the musical.  I’ll make this one comparison: while “The World is Round” is slight with hints of deeper ideas (in Stein’s book, Rose has no problem saying her name out loud to anybody although she wants to know “who” she is), Rose the musical is choking on its determination to make this into a kind of existential quest. The determination to continue up the mountain against all manner of obstacles suggests themes of Samuel Beckett.

To suggest that this show is for kids—it is silly in parts—is to misrepresent the piece. I saw kids as young as five years old going into the theatre to see it. Not a good idea unless the kid is nine going on 35.

 Rose is bloated at two hours and twenty-five minutes. It should be 90 minutes tops. This show needs to be re-thought and rewritten.

Soulpepper Theatre Company presents:

Opened: Jan. 23, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 24, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.


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At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts


From Gertrude Stein’s “The World is Round”

Music and book by Mike Ross

Lyrics and book by Sarah Wilson

Directed by Gregory Prest

Choreography by Monica Dottor

Set, lighting and projections designed by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Alexandra Lord

Sound by Kaitlyn MacKinnon

Cast: Troy Adams

Michelle Bouey

Alana Bridgewater

Frank Cox-O’Connell

Oliver Dennis

Raquel Duffy

Jonathan Ellul

Peter Fernandes

Hailey Gillis

Scott Hunter

Raha Javanfar

John Millard

Sabryn Rock

James Smith

Adam Warner

Gertrude Stein’s small existential story of big ideas of nine-year-old Rose is given the big, bloated musical treatment by smothering it with too many extraneous songs, over-fussy direction and a desperation to make us like it.

Haley Gillis as Rose shines with a true honesty to find out who she is. Gillis’ scenes with Peter Fernandes as Willie are divine because these two are so human.

Full review soon