The Passionate Playgoer

Perfection

Created, performed and written by Mark Correia
With help from Erik Berg

Magician-comedian Mark Correia lives to present a perfect show. He asks us to write something on a piece of paper that would make his show perfect, even before we see it. I put down Gateau St. Honoré but I think that was wishful thinking.

He proceeds to set up various tricks, joking during the set up. He then rushes towards a table laden with various paraphernalia that is important to him, and completely knocks over the table.

Mark Correia is a charming presence as he bumbles through his set ups, (borrowing a cell phone for a trick and then breaking it by mistake) and jokes, and draws out the suspense of the trick. The tricks are audacious, complex, impossible (?) and eye-popping. Never mind wondering how a trick is done. It’s done by magic, silly! And Correia does it all with style.

The Chemical Valley Project

This plays in a double-bill with Perfection which seems a weird paring, but never mind.

Created by Julia Howman and Kevin Matthew Wong
Written and performed by Kevin Matthew Wong

From the program: “Aamjiwnaang, an indigenous community of 800 residents, is smothered by the Canadian petrochemical industry. Two sisters, Vanessa and Lindsay Gray, have dedicated themselves to fighting environmental racism and protecting their community’s land and water. In The Chemical Valley Project, theatre-makers Kevin Matthew Wong and Julia Howman document and explore Canada’s ongoing relationship with energy infrastructure, its colonial pas and present, and indigenous solidarity and reconciliation.”

Kevin Matthew Wong is a committed and personable guide through this thorny subject. He uses video projections on a large screen at the back of the theatre to illustrate his points. There is clever use of gauzy fabric on which are projected dialogue, images, and information. It’s smoothly delivered, and while what is happening to this community is infuriating, it’s not theatrically dramatic or a play. It’s a TED talk, a lecture. One can’t help but admire Mr. Wong’s commitment to the issue.

Nashville Stories

Written by David Bernstein and Jake Vanderham
Directed by David Bernstein

At the top of the show one of the performers says there is no program because “you would throw them out anyway.” Isn’t that why God invented re-cycling? He then read, at break-neck speed, on his cell-phone, who was in the cast. Me, I like a program. It tells you who plays what. It gives you all that neat stuff such as why they decided to do this show; it lists all the personnel, the band etc. The SummerWorks program book has some of this information but not who plays what character, so I’ll just ignore that cause it’s not important, otherwise it would have been properly provided, right?

This is about sad Garth Brooks and his friends Dolly Parton and Shania Twain and how they try to cheer him up after his marriage breaks up. It’s based on Brooks’ infamous 1999 album, ‘The Life of Chris Gaines’. The writers “conjure a surreal hoedown featuring a live bluegrass band.”

I guess ‘surreal’ is another word for ‘drivel.’ The writing is witless, deadly-unfunny, rambling, confused and only clever it seems to those performing it. They all are having such a good time at our expense. The acting is one-noted on purpose I suppose—surreal? The band plays well but I can’t remember the last time I saw a group of musicians who looked like they were bored out of their minds and would rather be anywhere but there.

I kept hearing a jangling noise behind the seats (the ‘back-stage is behind the seats in the theatre, where we could see the ‘performers’ waiting to go on.’) I thought it might be a man fondling his change in his pockets and was too deaf-stupid to hear the noise. I kept looking back to see who that might be and didn’t see anyone at first. The distracting noise continued. Eventually when I looked back there was a ‘performer’ in a short jean skirt, with rows and rows of silver bracelets on each wrist. Every time she moved her arms the bracelets clanged. They were clanging so much I thought she must be doing jumping jacks back there or semaphore with flags to occupy her time until she made an entrance. And eventually she did….to play the worst rock star in the world. How can you be in the middle of noise of your own making and not hear any of it? A puzzlement.

Nashville Stories is dreadful.

Serenity Wild

Written by Katie Sly
Directed by Audrey Dwyer

NOTE: Another production without a program and the SummerWorks Program doesn’t even list the actors because I guess the company producing this didn’t provide the names. (Sigh!).

Amy was abused by her step-father when she was younger. She now has intimacy issues with her boyfriend Liam. She is also emotionally ‘closed’. Liam seems as needy as Amy in that he’s desperate to help her and be there for her, but something as simple as hugging her eludes him.

Katie Sly has written an intriguing play about the effects of child-hood sexual abuse that has deeper implications in adulthood. While the play deals with important issues the characters talk at each other not to each other. Characters don’t listen to the argument and rather respond to the criticism that they are not listening. This makes for tedious viewing. Much of it seems like the same argument repeated.

Liam is described as loving to Amy. His behaviour and words suggest otherwise. He’s needy himself and creepy in that need. Both Amy and Liam are interesting characters that could do with re-examination and re-writing.

Explosions for the 21st Century

Written, designed and performed by Christopher Ross-Ewart
Directed by Graham Isador

What an explosive surprise of a show!

Christopher Ross-Ewart is a sound designer with an intellectually curious mind about sound in our culture and an impish sense of humour in presenting that curiosity. He takes us into his world of common sounds for shows—explosions are common as is birdsong, and the occasional fart. But then he delves deeper, explaining how our world has become noisier and more dangerous with regards to sound. Some sounds that he had to create for a show imitated sounds that were heard for real with deadly results. His explanation for making a sound more pronounced is masterful.

Christopher Ross-Ewart is a thoughtful writer with a curious imagination, a charming way of presenting his thoughts, and most important, he gets us to listen in a deeper more attentive way.

www.summerworks.ca

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Two shows presented by young performers dealing with weighty issues and both are well worth a look.

Almeida (The Glorious)

Created and performed by the participants of the Amy Project:

Nicole Acaso
Adri Almeida
Zeynab Egbeyemi
Xenamay Gezahegn
Destiny Laldeo
Karis Jones-Pard
Jamie Milay
Caroline Manjaly
Rafiat Olusanya
Morgan Paradise
Kaitlyn Rodgers
Fatima Adam
Bessie Cheng

Directed by Julia Hune-Brown and Nikki Shaffeeullah

The AMY Project is a free performing arts training program serving youth, women and non-binary youth. It is a wonderful initiative that creates productions that are challenging, informative, and bracing. Almeida (The Glorious) is a case in point.

The group of young performers bring their own stories of ancestry, culture, body image and life challenges to create the show. The stories are full of difficult experiences, slights, episodes of bullying, feelings of isolation and uncertainty. It is sobering to hear but the cast is so committed and confident in their telling there is not a trace of self-pity or insecurity. Instead, there is humour, generosity and buoyant assuredness. What is so evident is that this group is cherished, both by their families and the organizers of the AMY Project, and the result is a group that feels safe enough to voice their innermost concerns and secrets. Bravo to young people—they are our best teachers.

O Nosso Fado

This was presented by students of Loretto College School in partnership with the Sears Ontario Drama Festival.

Written by Kathy Martinez
Directed by Sara Pedrosa

NOTE: I so wish there was a program to give proper credit to the performers and the wonderful Fado singer.

This is a look at the experience of first generation Canadians towards their working class parents, in this case, mothers, who do cleaning work in an office building. Lucy is 12 and is taken to work with her mother Maria because she can’t stay home alone. Lucy feels resentment and embarrassment towards her mother and the others because they can’t speak English well, they hold on to their memories of ‘back home’, and are taken advantage of by the management. The women need rubber gloves to protect their hands that have been damaged by the chemicals they have to use to clean. Management gives them the run-around and takes advantage of their lack of English. The women are afraid to protest and complain to the union because they fear they will loose their jobs. Finally, the women rally and twelve year old Lucy leads the charge.

The story packs a punch and makes us look and pay attention to those we take for granted.

www.summerworks.ca

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Let’s Try this Standing

Written and performed by Gillian Clark
Directed by Anthony Black

Wow! Wow! Ditto!

In 2010, Gillian Clark was walking along the street, minding her own business, when she was hit by an SUV. The top half of her body went through a store window. The bottom half was pinned to the brick wall. When the paramedics came she asked “Am I going to live.” That says everything about Ms Clark. “Am I going to live.” Not “Am I going to die.”

She sits in a metal chair facing her audience, bare feet on the floor. Still. She smiles. She is charming, personable, bright, affable and very funny. Truly. Funny. She goes through the details of the accident and the horrific damage done to her body, and especially her right leg.

She talks about “Hands” the name she gave to the scar massage therapist. He works on her scars to soften them up so that her leg can work. She is even-tempered, nothing self-pitying about her. She talks about the psychological effects of the accident. She talks of her mother and boyfriend. She goes deep into the physical, mental and spiritual effects of how she coped and copes. There is a moment when she rails and tells us things we don’t want to know and should. Then she recovers. The last scene of her wonderful, moving, compelling show is astonishing. This is a show about a woman who is living to the fullest. Everybody needs to see this.

Highly recommended.

Divine

Written by Natalie Frijia
Directed by Claire Burns
Cast: Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Christina Bryson
Sarah Campbell
Amanda Cordner
Haley Garnett
Kathleen O’Reilly
Rehaset
Khadijah Salawu
Annie Yao

Playwright Natalie Friji was given a challenge to write a genre-based piece. She further challenged herself to write a high-stakes adventure, set as a kind of western with a strong female lead. The result is a play in which all the characters are strong women. It’s about Penn, a diviner, a person with one of those ‘magic’ sticks that finds water. Matters are desperate. There is a drought so bad that people will kill for water. Penn is desperate to find water. Bandits threaten her and her friends. There is a mysterious Preacher who knows a secret about Penn. Matters get worse. How will it end?

Natalie Frijia has written a wildly imaginative story that perhaps goes off too wildly in all directions, but at its core touches on issues that affect us all. It’s directed by Claire Burns with eye-popping creativity. The piece is impressive from the acting to the design to the costumes. You will leave thirsty.

Recommended

The Only Good Indian

Co-Created by Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard.
Performed at my performance by Jivesh Parasram

One of the three co-creators presents the show each night. They work from a central script/lecture but then each performer will make the story his/her own. The show is a play on the word and perception of “Indian” among other things. And of course the title comes from a despicable idea.

Jivesh Parasram says people look at him and assume he is from India. That is incorrect. He is of Indian-Trinidadian descent. He gives a compelling lecture on the history of Trinidad and how his family and others were treated there. This is a show about ‘otherness’ as well, about not belonging. It’s about sugar, diabetes, drudge work, depression, coping, theatre and imagination.

Parasram is an imposing, unsettling presence. That’s a good thing in the theatre.

Recommended

www.sumerworks.ca

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At various venues in the downtown area, Toronto, Ont.

This is the 27th year for SummerWorks, a curated 10 day festival of one act plays, music, dance, live art and other kinds of performance. . Because I’m never here for the Fringe, SummerWorks is my festival of choice to glut on to see new shows and talent and stuff from people more experienced. The volunteers are cheerful, welcoming, efficient, and helpful to a person. Ordinarily it’s a smooth-running festival. I say ‘ordinarily’ because the opening day (yesterday), which I spent at Factory Theatre, had too many glitches.

I know it’s the first day, but come on folks, you’ve been doing this for 27 years! I saw three shows, but slated four. I had to cancel one because they were holding the show because of technical difficulties. I can appreciate that. But I had to cancel seeing it yesterday because my schedule was so tightly arranged that even a variance of one minute would have screwed things up. Cancelling that one show eased the schedule

That said, of the three shows I did see, all of them started late, in spite of the printed material saying the shows start on time. In other years shows have started right on the nose on time. Not on opening day yesterday. Not acceptable. Sorry. (I can only speak for Factory Theatre. I go to the other theatres later in the festival.)

In every case we were let into the theatre five minutes before the show was to start. Not enough time. In every case we started late, in one case as late as seven minutes. We have to be allowed into the house at least 10 minutes before curtain. That makes for a smooth transition to curtain time so we begin on time.

We can print our tickets before hand and come to the theatre ticket in hand, ready to drop them in a box as we go into the theatre. Nope, not this year it seems. This year, even with the ticket in hand we have to go, ticket in hand, to a nice person with a clipboard who has a list of all the people who pre-booked, so our name can be ticked off a long list. Unnecessary and time consuming. Why can’t we just drop our precious tickets in a big box and be done with it? If a person forgot the ticket then the list comes in handy. I have great faith that these glitches will be solved.

Now to the shows of the first day:

Someone Between

Written and Performed by Chantria Tram
Directed by Paula Wing
Original Staging by Milena Buziak
Movement by Andrea Nann

Chantria Tram is a Khmer-Krom. Her’s is the story of living in two worlds, her parents’ world and her own. The story has references to Viet Nam, Cambodia and India. Her parents risked their lives to escape their country. The journey was harrowing as Chantia Tram so expertly tells it. Her mother wants Chantria to keep up the cultural traditions as she (her mother) was taught. This might also mean returning ‘home’ to marry her cousin and perhaps bring him to Canada. Chantria of course has her own thoughts. This makes her someone between two cultures.

Chantria Tram writes with poetic insight and thoughtfulness about her experiences and her parents. She has huge respect for what they went through and how they survived to give their children a better chance. She can appreciate how her mother wants her to carry on the traditions.

The play begins with the opening of the flower festival and the various ceremonies that entails. Tram’s movements are graceful and evoke another culture. Her describing the various ceremonies dispel a mystery we might have had. There is grace, gentleness, cultural respect and appreciation in the piece.

Paula Wing directs this with equal respect and attention. It’s a lovely piece and a wonderful way to begin SummerWorks.

Highly Recommended.

What Linda Said

Written by Priscila Uppal
Directed by Gein Wong
Cast: Tracey Hoyt
Kimwun Perehinec

Priscila Uppal is a York University professor of poetry. She is also a published poet. She was a friend of celebrated Canadian playwright Linda Griffiths. Uppal was diagnosed with an aggressive kind of cancer at the same time that Linda Griffiths was dying of breast cancer. To cope with the effects of chemo, Uppal imagined a free-wheeling conversation with the spirit of the deceased Linda Griffiths and herself in an empty space. The play is the result of that imagined conversation. Alas, the play is dire. As for the production, Tracey Hoyt as Linda and Kimwun Perehinec as Priscila are stalwart.

While there are many passages of poetic invention, there is precious little that makes this a compelling, viable play. The same problems hampered her previous attempt at playwriting, 6 Essential Questions.

Much of What Linda Said seems a stream of consciousness with riffs on sea creatures and great turtles in the ocean, trying to create a painting, and dwelling on the illness. For most of it Uppal is the star of her own invention. She complains about: the medical system; her treatment and the pain from it; her husband with his own issues of depression and drinking; her mother (real problems there, as witnessed with 6 Essential Questions). And while Linda Griffiths is allowed to voice some of her own concerns late in the play, Linda Griffiths doesn’t say much and for all intents and purposes seems an irrelevance. Linda Griffiths, an irrelevance—Mindboggling.

Pricilla Uppal comes off as whiney, self-absorbed, self-indulgent and even narcissistic. The program note says: “In What Linda Said, the two meet in an imagined space where the living and the dead passionately, poetically and comically explore how cancer has affected each of their lives, friendships, art and futures.”

I wouldn’t mind seeing that play. This infuriating play isn’t it.

Not recommended.

Reality Theatre

Written by Julia Lederer
Directed by Rebecca Applebaum
Cast: Akosua Amo-Adem
Krista Morin
Andy Trithardt

Julia Lederer’s plays are full of off-the-wall observations and imagination and Reality Theatre is the latest example.

A man has signed a contract with the devil to remain young forever. A portrait he has of himself keeps aging. (Hmmm that sounds familiar). The devil works in the Starbucks; head office Seattle and trying to change the contract is challenging. A woman who plays the spoon in a production of Beauty and the Beast has philosophised her position in that show into a different realm of reality. Three people are caught in the fast-paced world of ever changing technology, which in turn changes them, because rather than figure out a problem, Google does it for them.

Intriguing.

Recommended.

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In the beautifully renovated Blyth Memorial Community Hall

Mr. New Year’s Eve: A Night with Guy Lombardo

Written by David Scott
Directed by Gil Garratt
Musical Director, George Meanwell
Set and Projections by Beth Kates
Costumes by Gemma James Smith
Sound by Verne Good
Cast: Klaus Anselm
Rebecca Auerbach
Jason Chesworth
Nathan Howe
George Meanwell
J.D. Nicholsen
Birgitte Solem
James Thomson

A sweet play about a Canadian icon.

Guy Lombardo, from London, Ontario, was a Canadian icon. He loved music. Studied it. Practiced and eventually created a band of which he was the band leader. His brothers: Carmen, Lebert and Victor were also members of the band. Carmen was also a songwriter. Eventually the band grew and became the Royal Canadians. Lombardo and his orchestra played many dates in the States, most notably The Waldorf Astoria in New York City. They were most noted for their New Year’s Eve shows.

David Scott hits all the highlights and low points plus those in between in Guy Lombardo’s life. The play begins with us being told that Guy’s demanding father hit him over the head with his violin when he played a wrong note. Such bullying tactics are played out over Guy’s career. He was a dutiful son but it was never enough for his father who was also something of an amateur musician.

For all the information, the play seems a bit thin. We are told in Act I that Carmen wanted to write songs. But then that whole idea is dropped until Act II when we are told that in fact he did write a song with another songwriter. I thought more of a moment should have been made of the song he wrote and his abilities as a songwriter. It just seemed to go by unremarked.

Many of the cast also play instruments in Guy Lomardo’s orchestra in the play and they are terrific. Sophie Tucker (Rebecca Auerbach—great style and strong voice) makes an appearance with the orchestra but with practically nothing else to note her presence.

Ron Kennell plays Guy with an even disposition and a quiet duty as a son who never can do right by his stern father (Is that really George Meanwell with short hair playing the father?? Wonderful). Kennell has such charm as Guy, quiet, appealing and gets the girl in the end.

Gil Garratt directs with conviction and confidence. The scenes change with ease and the actors glide from character to orchestra musician without a hitch.

Presented by the Blyth Festival

Began: June 28, 2017.
Closes: Aug. 19, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours.

www.blythfestival.com

The Berlin Blues

Written by Drew Hayden Taylor
Directed by Brad Fraser
Choreographed by Megan Alfano
Set and costumes by Kelly Wolf
Lighting by Louise Guinand
Sound by Verne Good
Cast: Nyla Carpentier
Jonathan Fisher
Catherine Fitch
Nicole Joy-Fraser
Tony Munch
James Dallas Smith

A comedy that plays on stereotypes and is almost smarmy in its efforts to be funny.

Otter Lake is a small community with indigenous citizens. It’s visited by an aggressive group of Germans who want to create a Disney-like theme park called Ojibway World.
First Nations playwright Drew Hayden Taylor got the idea for the play when he toured Germany and realized that they had an obsession with North American First Nation Culture.

Everybody in the town it seems is employed by the conglomerate building the theme park, even Trailer, a First Nation with a glib joke about everything; who lives in his trailer and doesn’t do much other than that. And drop one-liners.

As the project gets bigger and bigger and generally out of hand when it comes to stereotyping everything it seems, from First Nation to Germans to even single women, more and more of the town’s folk begin backing away from it. Drastic changes happen to restore order.

Brad Fraser, a gifted playwright in his own right, directs this with his own sense of sophisticated humour. Drew Hayden Taylor’s humour, mainly through Trailer, just seems like cheesy stand-up and not really from a character. That said, it’s delivered with dead-pan aplomb by Jonathan Fisher as Trailer. Catherine Fitch plays a stern, brittle Birgit, a stereotypical German woman in charge of the project. Tony Munch as Reinhart has moments of warmth and self-deprecating humour.

As matters escalated from improbably incident to improbable incident, I just found the whole thing tedious, in spite of the herculean efforts of the cast and director.

Presented by the Blyth Festival

Began: July 5, 2017.
Closes: Aug. 19, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours.

www.blythfestival.com

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Review: OTHELLO

by Lynn on August 2, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Memorial Park, Toronto, Ont. among others in Ontario.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by D. Jeremy Smith
Production designer, Nancy Anne Perrin
Sound by Tim Lindsay
Lighting by Michael Brunet
Musical composer and direction by Tom Lillington
Cast: Shelly Antony
Christopher Darroch
Jordin Hall
Helen King
Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves
Fiona Sauder

Quick and easy Shakespeare in various parks in Ontario thanks to The Bard’s Bus Tour in their 23rd year.

The honourable Othello is turned into a jealous mad fellah by Iago, who is his supposed friend. Lots of innocent people are compromised, especially Othello and his innocent wife, Desdemona. It’s Shakespeare. It doesn’t end well for a lot of people.

I am grateful for the scrappy Driftwood Theatre Group and in particular Artisitc Director, D. Jeremy Smith, who brings the Bard on the Bus tour to various communities in Ontario, including Toronto. Artistic Director D. Jeremy Smith always presents an adapted version of the play with a particular slant to it. They are gritty, smart productions.

In this case Smith focuses on Cyprus and the Canadian Peace Keeping contingent there in 1974. Since part of Shakespeare’s play takes place in Cyprus Smith just expands on it. The costumes are those of the Peace Keepers. Othello is a leader of the group. The berets are the familiar powder blue, the uniforms are of the Canadian Forces and others (British, Irish).

The company is a mix of actors who are familiar with speaking Shakespeare’s words, those who are accomplished actors in other forms of theatre and those who are just starting out in their careers. I’m not so much interested in how well the words are spoken—I leave that to others, elsewhere. I am interested in the commitment, energy and focus of the company. For example Jordin Hall is a young actor playing Othello. One can admire his attempt. I’m particularly heartened to read that he has been accepted into the Birmingham Conservatory in Stratford, the teaching wing of the Stratford Festival. I always see the Birmingham Conservatory’s shows and look forward to more from Mr. Hall. Fiona Sauder brings confidence and maturity to Desdemona; I love that she’s not the blushing bride, but one with spunk. Christopher Darroch as Iago is the most accomplished with Shakespeare’s language. And he makes the most compelling villain.

D. Jeremy Smith has directed this 1 hour and 45 minute production to go like the wind. Scenes are directed efficiently. I think it inspired to have stage management change props and set pieces in the appropriate costumes (a soldier, a young woman in a dress) so as not to pull focus. Smith thinks of everything.

I saw this at Memorial Park (the production will travel to several more places before it ends, Aug. 13) and it attracted a large, attentive audience ready with food coolers, comfortable chairs and blankets. There were a few babes in arms who voiced their approval as well. I thought that was swell. Well worth a look.

There is also has a separate component of the evening called The Cyprus Project There are four or five stand-alone video screens for those interested to listen to four Cyprus stories that talk about what happened in Cyprus in 1974 from various points of view. It was fascinating.

Presented by The Driftwood Theatre Group

Tour ends Aug. 13, 2017. Check the website for the various play dates and places:

www.driftwoodtheatre.com

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At the Royal George Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Written by Brian Friel
Directed by Krista Jackson
Designed by Sue LePage
Lighting by Louise Guinand
Original music and sound by John Gzowski
Cast: Christopher Bowman
Fiona Byrne
Diana Donnelly
Patrick Galligan
Claire Jullien
Peter Millard
Sarena Parmar
Tara Rosling

A delicate ache of a play that is beautifully directed and acted. I would see this one again in a heartbeat.

The Story. It’s August, 1936, Ireland in the fictional town of Ballybeg, in the cottage of the five Mundy sisters—Christina, Maggie, Agnes, Rose, Kate—and Michael, Christina’s seven year old son.

Kate, the oldest, is a schoolteacher and the only one with a job. She is a matter-of-fact woman who rules the roost. Rose is a grown woman who is developmentally delayed but has a sense of independence but not the firm grasp of it. She needs to be taken care of to see that she doesn’t get in harm’s way. She and her sister Agnes make extra money by knitting gloves that they sell in the village. They both help their sister Maggie tend the house. Maggie has no income so tending the house is her way of paying her dues. She is lively, irreverent, funny, but hides deep emotions. Christina is the only one who really seems to have had a relationship with a man, Gerry, and the result was Michael. Gerry is an unreliable, care-free man who goes from job to job. He is affectionate to Michael but a disappointment. He makes promises that he breaks all the time.

The sisters’ brother Jack went to Uganda 25 years before as a missionary to work a leper colony. He comes home sick with malaria and he’s obviously changed. He seems to have turned his back on his Catholic teachings.

The adult Michael narrates what happens in the story regarding his aunts and father, tells us of their future and even gives voice to his seven-year-old-self as he interacts with his aunts.

The Production. Designer Sue LePage has created the outline of the small cottage where the five Mundy sister and Michael live. There are a few worn chairs around the kitchen, an old, unreliable radio up by one chair, an old stove where Maggie cooks across and up from the radio, outside at the back is an incline from stage right up to stage left and off. There are flowers too and in the front is a barren yard really where Michael plays (if only in the adult Michael’s retelling).

Director Krista Jackson has done a lovely job of realizing Brian Friel’s delicate, loving play. She illuminates its beating heart with fastidiousness to detail. It is a production as delicate and detailed as fine Irish lace. Jackson has created a familiar ‘choreography’ for the sisters as they negotiate their way around the space and each other. There is the conspiratorial nattering amongst the sisters regarding Kate. She is the oldest, the one who makes money and buys the groceries and the one who is in control of that family. You get a sense of Kate’s firm control over her sisters as well as a sense of fatigue and drudgery in Fiona Byrne’s nuanced performance. Money is always a worry and she knows it more than the others. That can ground a person down and it’s clear in this performance. Every cent is accounted for and every effort is made to buy what they need. Kate frets, scolds, gives directives and runs that family, but you are never in doubt that that attitude is informed by love because of Byrne’s lovely performance.

Rose is impetuous, confident in her own way, but not as mature as she should be, but Diana Donnelly plays her with such life that it’s not immediately apparent that Rose is developmentally delayed. When she rushes off to secretly meet a man the sisters become immediately concerned and so do we, as Rose’s secrets are gradually revealed.

Christina meets Gerry for one of his infrequent visits, Sarena Parmar as Christina is clearly still in love with this charming, disappointing man, but knows in her heart that he will leave her hurting. Parmar gives a lovely performance of one who trusts but knows it will end badly. Kristopher Bowman is a charming, awkward Gerry. He’s not a bad man, he’s just lacking in character and a moral compass. As Maggie, Tara Rosling provides the humour and irreverence that family needs. She is good natured but Rosling shows us a woman who has deep still waters and is watchful of the rest of her family. Agnes and Rose are almost inseparable. They knit together and Agnes takes care of Rose. Claire Jullien plays Agnes with a concerned edge; she is Rose’s defender if she feels Rose is being slighted. There is almost an urgency in Agnes’s knitting, that it’s important to make money from this simple task. We are told by Michael later in the play Agnes will make a stunning decision regarding her and Rose. We see hints of that determination and desperation in Jullien’s performance. Peter Millard plays a fragile, confused Father Jack. Over seeing all this activity, from the point of view of a loving memory, is the adult Michael. Patrick Galligan plays him with the tenderness of a man who knows the sacrifices of those sisters. It’s not a gaze that is sentimental but one that is tenderly matter of fact.

There is a scene in which the sisters are taken out of their dreary lives. One of the sisters turns on the radio and miraculously it works. A rousing Irish reel (I believe) is playing. Four of the sisters, but not Kate, give over to the music, dancing and swaying to it. Eventually Kate can’t resist. Fiona Burn as Kate fairly quivers with the intoxicating music until she bursts into the most liberating, freeing Irish step dance—she loses her usual control and lets the music take over. Fiona Byrne has created the Irish Dance Sequences for the production. In another life Ms Byrne was a champion Step Dancer. It’s obvious here. When the music ends the sisters breathlessly return to their ‘regular’ lives, almost embarrassed at experiencing this fleeting joy. Wonderful, poignant scene.

Comment. Playwright Brian Friel writes with a loving poetic lyricism. The play is based on the lives of his aunts. All his plays are full of his gentle, considerate observations and there is an ache. He writes about the thorny issues of family, poverty, desperation, respect, consideration, trying to do better and love. This is a lovely production. I’m eager to see it again.

Presented by the Shaw Festival.

Began: May 14, 2017.
Saw it: June 23, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 15, 2017.
Cast: 8; 3 men, 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours.

www.shawfest.com

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Confederation and Riel 1861-1870

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

Written and Co-directed by Michael Hollingsworth
Co-directed by Deanne Taylor
Lighting by Andrew Dollar
Costumes by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill
Wigs by Alice Norton
Sound and additional music by Richard Feren
Props and video drawing by Brad Harley
Music by Brent Snyder
Cast: Kevin Bundy
Greg Campbell
Richard Alan Campbell
Jamie Cavanagh
Richard Clarkin
Kat Letwin
Linda Prystawska
Michaela Washburn

The nefarious goings on in Canadian history around Louis Riel, Confederation and the scandals created by John A. Macdonald get the VideoCabaret treatment and it’s a hoot.

Michael Hollingsworth and co-creator Deanne Taylor created VideoCabaret to tell Canada’s history in a zippy, punchy, irreverent way for folks brought up on TV and rock and roll. The latest segment is the story of Canada and confederation and in two parts.

The Stories:

Part I is Confederation and Riel 1861-1870 and Part II is Scandal and Rebellion, 1871-1885.

These two segments are part of a larger history of Canada called The History of the Village of the Small Huts from its very beginnings right up to modern times.

Confederation and Riel 1861-1870

John A. Macdonald and Georges Etiennes-Cartier, co-premiers of The Canadas, which at that time were Ontario and Quebec. They want more territory and power and use any means to get it.

Louis Riel is a Metis studying for the priesthood. But when he sees that his people and their land in Manitoba are threatened by the Americans and also by Macdonald and company, he forgets his studies to lead his people to defend their land and rights. Riel becomes a formidable leader and spokesperson with the government. Thus he is a threat to Macdonald who uses underhanded means to get rid of Riel.

Scandal and Rebellion 1871-1885.

Macdonald, now Prime Minister, continues to make questionable deals. He woos British Columbia into Confederation by promising them a railway. There’s a scandal regarding contracts for the railway being swapped for campaign contributions. Macdonald is caught in the lie and deposed. Riel is still around and the elected member of Manitoba but is prevented from taking his seat in parliament. Matters escalate and Riel has to flee to Montana for his life. It’s a picture of fortunes that rise and fall as the scandals escalate. As committed and noble his intentions were, it ends badly for Louis Riel. John A. Macdonald doesn’t seem to realize how bad anything is because he’s mainly drinking his days away.

The Productions. VideoCabaret has a particular style in presenting its shows. The action takes place in a black box (like a television) with a few levels to it. Scenes are no more than one minute or less so all the information, tone, attitudes etc. have to be packed in with wit, irony and sarcasm and still tell the story in a way that grabs the audience. Deliberately cheesy music underscores each scene (as in old TV shows) and music plays during the blackouts that separate scenes. The makeup, wigs, costumes and props are exaggerated in design and size. For example, John A. Macdonald’s bottle, from which he guzzles his liquor, is as long as his arm. Each of the eight actors in the cast plays multiple parts. They change costumes, wigs and props off stage in the blink of an eye.

The whole cast is wonderfully accomplished with their own quirks and sensibilities but to give you a taste: Richard Clarkin plays John A. Macdonald with a smirk and a subtle slur to the words because of course John A. was a drunk.

Linda Prystawska is an attentive Lady Agnes Macdonald who tries to take the bottle away from her drunken husband; She also plays a flirty woman on the make, and some male politicians with total believability.

Michaela Washburn plays Louis Riel with a curvy wig and a moustache and is so regal, gentlemanly, and controlled you have nothing but admiration for the character.

While the cast is wonderful the masters of ceremonies are writer Michael Hollingsworth who wrote the cycle of plays and his partner Deanne Taylor who co-directs them. Together they have provided the funniest, best history lesson about this country you will ever have.

Comment. I’ve seen all the components of The History of the Village of the Small Huts configured in various ways and I never get tired of seeing this company because playwright and co-director, Michael Hollingsworth, has such a sharp eye for the focus of a scene and what he wants to convey in it. He sees the mendacity, corruption, arrogance, and dishonesty in the politicians, and uses the sharpest wit to bring that out. Sometimes it’s a subtle reaction from a character to something startling, just as the lights are going down, that adds that final zing. Hollingsworth in his plays is the best chronicler of the story of Canada you will find.

Soulpepper presents VideoCabaret

Plays until August 19, 2017.

www.soulpepper.ca

Vimy

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

Written by Vern Thiessen
Directed by Diana Leblanc
Set by Astrid Janson
Costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle
Lighting by André du Toit
Sound by John Gzowski
Co-sound designer, Deanna Choi
Cast: Sébastien Bertrand
Andrew Chown
Tim Dowler-Coltman
Wesley French
Christine Horne
TJ Riley

Playwright Vern Thiessen and director Diana Leblanc have created a gripping, moving production about the terrible effects of war, in particular the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The Story. In his program note playwright Vern Thiessen says Vimy is not about war. It’s about the relationships of four men, who are a cross-section of Canada, who took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in WWI. One is a French Canadian, is an aboriginal from Winnipeg, two are friends who are gay but one of them does not acknowledge it. There is a nurse named Claire and her boyfriend Will. I don’t think it’s simplistic for Thiessen to have a representative of various groups of Canada to represent the country’s diversity. It’s a valid choice. And of course at its heart Vimy is about the war and what it does to young men and women who just want to do right by their country.

The Production. Four men lay in a hospital with their various injuries, both physical and mental from the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Jean-Pau Bert (Sébastien Bertrand) is shattered with shell-shock. He’s been gassed. Initially he doesn’t speak, but when he is shown kindness by a nurse named Clare (Christine Horne) he begins to speak to her, in French, which eventually segues to English. Mike (Wesley French) is from the First Nations. He’s been gassed and his breathing is terribly affected. He feels slighted by the rest of the men and seems to be ready for a fight if he’s looked at strangely. Will (JT Riley) has been shot up. Sid (Tim Dowler-Coltman) has also been shot up. His eyes are covered to protect them from further damage. Sid knows Will but Will ignores him. They both are suppressing a secret that is heartbreaking.

Clare is their Canadian nurse and Laurie (Andrew Chown) is her Canadian boyfriend who enlists.

We learn of their histories, how they are coping, how they hope to be shipped home soon because of their wounds. They talk of their injuries and what happened. The play flits back and forth in time from before some joined up to the present, but we are never in doubt as to where we are.

Gradually Vern Thiessen leads up to what led them to that hospital, The Battle of Vimy Ridge and the horrible odds that were against these young men when they were ordered to go to the top and take it. The men count down the hours to the beginning of the battle.

It is very gripping playwriting because establishing their stories is more important than the battle, which happens in the last quarter of the play.

The cast is exemplary. Relationships are created and developed with meticulous attention to detail. Sébastien Bertrand, as Jean-Paul Bert, is skittish, haunted and almost paralyzed with the shock of the war. As Sid, Tim Dowler-Coltman is a strapping man with a sense of the sensitivity of Sid. Sid longs for Will’s friendship but is rebuffed. But in their earlier time there is a tenderness to their friendship. Will hides a secret as Sid does, but Will struggles with his secret. He knows he is being cruel; he realizes the cost too late. As Will, JT Riley infuses his characterization with the subtlest of details. There is nothing cut and dried in this macho performance. As Laurie, Andrew Chown is all bravado and swagger to show off to Clare, his girlfriend. Christine Horne plays Clare with professionalism to try and hide how she knows how damaged these men are, and that some will not be going home. Her reaction to some bad news squeezes the heart.

Diana Leblanc directed this wonderful production with the intent of showing the stark, primitive surroundings these men had to cope with and the effect on them. Their lives in the hospital are far away to some extent from the noise and terror of the war. But there is always a hint of the awful outside and the war in this thoughtful production. Initially we hear the delicate tapping of the rain on the roof. Much is made of the resulting mud, in which a man could drown in both the rain and the mud. Later when the rain subsides, we hear birds. It’s almost as if one can’t give over to the peace of the quiet. One is always waiting for the blast of a bomb.

The set by Astrid Janson has the men in the hospital sleeping on slabs of wood, not beds, to show how everything in their lives is uncomfortable. A mist hangs in the air suggesting constant rain or gas floating to suffocate them. Shannon Lea Doyle’s costumes are stuffy soldier’s uniforms, worn boots, dirty socks. Clare’s uniform is bloody from tending to wounded soldiers. André du Toit’s lighting is eerie, constantly dark and oppressive to the men who are wounded.

The battle of Vimy Ridge is gripping as it gradually builds and builds in intensity to the inevitable.

Comment. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was more than 100 years ago. Does it have relevance to us today? On the basis of the play and this stunning production, I say definitely yes. Thiessen’s play has put us in the world of the story, of war, talking about the toll it took on these young men and women. This is a war these men thought was justified. They were defending freedom for their country and felt it their duty to sign up.

They suffered more with that war than any other since because it was so primitive and the conditions were hideous: the mud and rain could kill you; there was gas and had little protection from it; they were outnumbered but were still sent in to fight.

On viewing Vimy you are put in that terrible world even though it is far and away from ours and because we can understand the realities of all those characters, I think that makes it relevant.

In a way, it’s not about war as Thiessen says, but about the relationships these men had to each other; the slights they endured, the loneliness, the realization that they were pawns; that war was futile and brutal. You feel what these people experienced because you are put in that world momentarily.

Produced by Soulpepper Theatre Company

Plays until Aug. 5, 2017.

www.soulpepper.ca

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

Written by Kate Hennig
Directed by Alan Dilworth
Designed by Yannik Larivée
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Alexander MacSween
Cast: Nigel Bennett
Laura Condlln
Sara Farb
Brad Hodder
Yanna McIntosh
André Morin
Bahia Watson

An intriguing continuation to Kate Hennig’s trilogy of plays about the Tudors. Alas I found Bahia Watson’s delivery as Bess to be too rapid fire with little heart, mind and nuance.

The Story. This is the second of three plays about The Tudors. Last year we saw The Last Wife, about Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII and his two daughters, Elizabeth (Bess) and Mary.

The Virgin Trial is about the political and sexual intrigue surrounding Princess Elizabeth referred to as Bess, who is now 15 and whip smart politically—she was well taught. Bess may or may not be romantically involved with Thom, the Lord High Admiral and husband to her step-mother, Katherine Parr. Bess flirts with Thom and he returns the attention. There is also the fact that Thom might be involved in a plot to overthrow the government. So Bess is summoned to be interviewed about this by Ted, the Lord Protector to Edward VI, Elizabeth’s brother. Ted is also Thom’s brother. Matters get a bit sticky with all this intrigue. Bess is desperate to keep her name pristine, so even for one so young she is wily in manoeuvring her way around court and interrogation.

The Production. As with The Last Wife, The Virgin Trial takes place in the time of the Tudors but is performed in modern dress and everything else: language, attitudes and themes, are contemporary.

Yannik Larivée’s set is simple and spare. A curtain hangs upstage and depending on Kimberly Purtell’s lighting we can either see through it to view what’s on the other side or the curtain is dark and we see nothing on the other side. There is a wood rectangular table with two chairs, one on either side of the width of it.

Bess (Bahia Watson) sits at the table. Her hair is pulled back in a tight formation. She wears a colourful dress appropriate for a fifteen-year-old, and flat shoes. Her hands are folded in her lap. She waits.

Eleanor, a lady of the court, arrives and places some files on the table with a sense of declaration. As played by Yanna McIntosh, Eleanor is irritated. She has a tight look on her face. She wears a black form-fitting coat, under which is a skirt (?) black tights and thigh-high boots with stiletto heels. This woman is formidable. She flips open a writing pad and flicks a ballpoint pen to get the tip to write. She asks Bess questions with an edge. Bess wants some tea. Eleanor says they only have water. This is a battle of wills between two strong women.

Bess of course is to the manor born. She was primed in court by her father, Henry VIII and her stepmother Katherine Parr. As Bess, Bahia Watson has bearing and the attitude of one born into royalty. She has that smugness of a teenager who has a sense of entitlement. She enunciates her words crisply. It’s just that I don’t believe a word she says. Her dialogue is given in a staccato rapid fire like a machine gun, without variation in tone, pace or nuance. Everybody around her is watchful, reactive, listens, hears and assesses. You can see it in their eyes and faces. Bahia Watson focuses on who is talking but every reply is a response and not quite a true reaction to what is being said or thrown at her. While listening her face is a blank. Perhaps this is how we are to believe a royal behaves? But does it not follow the others at court would do the same?

In contrast, Yanna McIntosh as Eleanor is imperious, cold, formidable and quietly threatening. Just with a flick of her eyes you can see the brains working, assessing. Formidable in a different way is Nigel Bennett, the Protector of Edward VI and the interrogator of Bess. He is jokey, quietly supportive, and lethal when he goes in for the kill with Bess. He knows how to keep his head, both literally and figuratively. He is also ruthless. He orders people who work for Bess to be tortured and he seems to relish it.

As Mary, Sarah Farb is wonderfully calculating and cool. She is perpetually bored with what is going on but knows how to play the game, and certainly helps Bess when she needs it most. As before, it’s directed with efficiency and care by Alan Dilworth.

With any good mystery we wonder will Bess be broken and bested by Ted and Eleanor who appear to be more ruthless and wily that Bess is, or are they. It’s fascinating watching as the characters shift and manoeuvre and manipulate.

Comment. Playwright Kate Hennig is a wonderful, perceptive, vibrant writer. She uses Bess’s story to comment on such contemporary subjects as consent, coercion, political will and manoeuvring. And Hennig is such a gifted writer that she has fashioned The Virgin Trial like a political thriller and a mystery. And while I do have problems with Bahia Watson as Bess, others might not. Acting is such a personal thing. Therefore I am recommending The Virgin Trial because it’s a splendid play and production

Produced by the Stratford Festival.

Began: June 7, 2017.
Saw it: July 18, 2017.
Closes: Sept. 23, 2017.
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes approx.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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At the Court House Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Written by Bernard Shaw
Directed by Tim Carroll
Designed by Dana Osborne
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Dance sequences and puppetry by Alexis Milligan
Music direction and original music by Paul Sportelli
Cast: Neil Barclay
Kyle Blair
Julia Course
Kristi Frank
Patrick Galligan
Élodie Gillett
Jeff Irving
Patty Jamieson
Sarena Parmar
Jacqueline Thair
Michael Therriault
Jay Turvey
Jenny L. Wright
Shawn Wright

A valiant, committed cast tries to lift this dumbed-down, misguided production that does little to serve Shaw’s play.

The Story. Androcles and the Lion is a fable about goodness, faith and a lion who never forgets a kindness. Androcles and his whining wife Megaera are on a jungle path. They are arguing. She’s tired and pampered and wants to stop walking. He is considerate but they need to get to the next village before nightfall. They have been hounded out of their home for religious reasons. She is fed up and attempts to leave but stumbles on a lion that is sleeping. The stumble wakes it. The Lion is suffering from a thorn in its paw. And since Androcles loves all animals almost better than people, he takes the thorn out of the paw and gives comfort to the Lion. All is well and they part. But then Androcles and others are captured and taken to Rome where they will either be fed to the lions or forced into combat in the Coliseum. Interestingly Androcles and his wife seem to have become separated along the way. When he is captured, she is nowhere to be found.

The Production. Before the production proper begins the cast individually and casually come out and chat up people in the audience. They introduce themselves; find out who they are and how they are, why they might have chosen that play; how their day has gone. Some actors hold a coloured ball in their hand. If the audience member wants to be involved in the action of the play, he/she is given a coloured ball. There are five coloured balls.

After this up close and personal stuff the cast move away from the audience, form a circle looking inwards (centre stage) and sing a hymn. Then the person who has been chosen to be the MC for the performance (Julia Course in my performance) explains the rules of the games with the balls etc.

Those in the audience with a ball could throw it on stage any time during the play. The colour of the ball indicates a different result. A certain colour (can’t remember which one and it doesn’t matter) means the cast will sing a hymn; another colour means a cast member will recite a portion of the Preface or the Epilogue to the play; another coloured ball means a cast member will tell a story that pertains to that performance and another colour means a cast member will tell the audience what he/she is thinking at the moment the ball is tossed on the stage. The last ball is special and is a lightening round of the actors commenting.

When an audience member with a coloured ball tosses the ball on stage, the play is interrupted and depending on the colour of the ball, the action is taken (either the cast sings a hymn—they learned nine of them—tell a story pertaining to the play, tell what they are thinking…..). When that action is completed the play continues.

An accommodating person in the audience is chosen to play the Lion. And finally the audience is asked to choose how a pathway in the jungle should be constructed: with benches or something else (I’ve blanked on what the other thing was). The audience chooses benches. The cast set up benches in a zig-zaggy manner representing the path on which Androcles and his lady-wife are walking. Once this is done the ‘production’ finally begins.

As with other Tim Carroll directed productions the house lights in the theatre are generally ‘up’ so that the audience and the cast can see each other. When Carroll was at Stratford for a few seasons he explained that having the lights up referenced ‘original practices’ of producing theatre as in Shakespeare’s day. (What this has to do with Shaw is a mystery, but I digress).

The MC reads the stage directions and the rest of the cast play the parts. The stage directions are important for the part of the Lion (who has no lines) because that part is all stage directions (put up a paw; lick the paw etc.), with perhaps a growl or two. In the production I saw an accommodating man from the audience named John played the Lion with focus and creative attention to the stage directions.

I am grateful for every single actor in this production. No matter how large or small the part, these actors instil every second of their characterizations with commitment, focus and creativity. As Androcles, Patrick Galligan is the most courtly, considerate accommodating husband to his hectoring wife Megaera (Jenny L. Wright). He is coaxing, gently urging and patient with this impossible woman. With the Lion he’s caring as well, even though Shaw has him talking in baby-talk to the creature. As Megaera, Jenny L. Wright plays her with finesse and not with knock-down aggression. There is always subtlety in Wright’s work and her characters are vivid because of it. Besides being the MC, Julia Course plays Lavinia a Christian prisoner who is regal, intellectual and charms a Roman Captain of the guards played with sombre seriousness by Kyle Blair. The banter between these two opposites is wary but the attraction between them is obvious. Ferrovius is a Christian with a gladiator’s sensibility. Jeff Irving plays him with a ferocity that he tries in vain to keep in check. It’s a performance that is startling and hilarious.

It is jarring when a ball is gently tossed on stage. The flow of the performance is interrupted while the cast puts its attention on the ball—do they sing a hymn…? Who ever has to contend with the ball shifts gears momentarily and puts all his/her focus into dealing with that interruption. This too is done almost seamlessly and then they return to the play. Whether the audience can shift gears so easily and then get back to the nuts and bolts of the play is a different matter.

One must ask how does this ball tossing, games playing enhance the play or the experience of watching it? How does Mr. Carroll think this serves the playwright? Answer: It doesn’t. If anything it stops the action and the story telling and diminishes the play, as if what Shaw has to say is irrelevant. This is community theatre or rehearsal hall games at best.

As I said the saving grace of this misguided, badly thought out production of course is the cast. They will always rise to the occasion and try and make sense of the director’s folly. They will do it with commitment, good will, talent, understanding and grace. Bless them.

Comment. Director Tim Carroll has written a program note in which he muses on and assumes Bernard Shaw’s intentions and purposes with respect to Androcles and the Lion. Carroll’s assumptions and conclusions are so mind-boggling in their misrepresentation they illuminate how this production could have gone so far off the rails.

Carroll says: “Bernard Shaw seems to have rejoiced in the genre-busting nature of Androcles and the Lion. In it, he mixes romantic comedy, social satire, political commentary, religious rumination, children’s pantomime and vaudevillian slapstick. He says to the audience, in effect, “you sort it out”.

Mind-boggling.

Shaw never left anything so important as his meaning, intention, purpose or anything else up to the vagaries of the audience. All one need do is look at his extensive stage directions describing in detail everything from the look of the set to the colour of a character’s eyes to realize that. Then there are the extensive prefaces that discourse on aspects, philosophies and theories in his plays. The preface for Androcles and the Lion is twice as long as the play itself! Shaw is known for his deep, dense plays with a philosophical message and Androcles and the Lion is no different. It’s funny and charming but Shaw riffs on faith, religion, Christianity, piety, honour, forgiveness etc. in the work.

Tim Carroll writes further: “I hope we have taken up the challenge of staging the play in the spirit of Shaw himself….I believe the deepest way we can carry on Shaw’s work is to make theatre a kind of two-way experience, he believed it should be. Thus we will constantly involve the audience—though no one will ever be put on the spot or cajoled.”

Mind-boggling.

If Mr. Carroll has misinterpreted Shaw’s mixing of genres to “you sort it out,” doesn’t it follow that he would not know what ‘the spirit of Shaw himself’ was in order to stage the play? It seems so.

I have to wonder what Mr. Carroll thinks the audience is doing when they watch a play if not to be involved, ‘experiencing’ and engaging in the play.

This is what the audience does in a play, Shaw’s or otherwise: after they have made the commitment to being there, buying the ticket at considerable expense in this case and often travelling long distances on lousy roads: they sit facing the stage and listen, hear, see, watch, look, ponder, weight and assess the arguments presented by the characters; they judge the characters as good or bad conveyers of the playwright’s message; they decide if the argument is sound or not; they evaluate the acting, and the application of the play to their own lives, and they do it as they are keenly, carefully involved audiences in the play. And they also have to remember to breathe and swallow.

What in the world is Tim Carroll thinking when he thinks he has to do more to involve the audience? This is not a production in the spirit of Shaw. It’s a production that hasn’t been thought through by a director who has misinterpreted the writing of the playwright.

In an interview with me on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm June 2, 2017, Mr. Carroll said that Shaw’s aim in his plays was to entertain. I regret I didn’t challenge him on that and ask for his definition of ‘entertain.’ Some people are entertained by a silly farce or glitzy musical. Some are entertained by a good production of King Lear where everyone dies. A few get their jollies by reading Schopenhauer.

I only have Shaw’s words to know that what he wanted to do was to educate, instruct, hector, lecture, philosophise to, dictate to and inform his audiences before anything else, humour notwithstanding. As for Tim Carroll’s assumption that Shaw wanted to ‘entertain’, that seems to be dispelled in the scholarly essay by Michel Pharand in the same Androcles and the Lion program for the Shaw Festival as Mr. Carroll’s piece. In it Mr. Pharand notes an interview with Bernard Shaw September 2, 1913, the day after the opening in London of Androcles and the Lion, in which Shaw complained about all the laughter of the audience. It went on so long and loud it extended the performance from 70 minutes to 95 minutes. You say Shaw wanted to entertain, Mr. Carroll? Not bloody likely.

Presented by the Shaw Festival

Began: June 6, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 7, 2017.
Cast: 14; 7, men, 7 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes to 2 hours 20 minutes.

www.shawfest.com

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