The Passionate Playgoer

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

Book, music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien

Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

Music director, Laura Burton

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Michael Walton

Projections by Jamie Nesbitt

Sound by Peter Boyle

Cast: Eric Abel

Gabriel Antonacci

Dan Chameroy

Colton Curtis

Bonnie Jordan

Bethany Kovarik

George Krissa

Robert Markus

Erica Peck

Trevor Patt

Sayer Roberts

Steve Ross

Jennifer Ryder-Shaw

Jason Sermonia

Kimberly-Ann Truong

The Rocky Horror Show is breathlessly lively with rousing choreography, staged almost like a rock concert, with flashing lights at every turn. The performances are cheeky and impish, led by the cheekiest, most impish Dan Chameroy.

The Story. This is Richard O’Brien’s 1973 cult musical that is an homage to science fiction and B horror movies, and is about sex, transvestitisms and letting go of your inhibitions.

A young, conservative couple, Brad and Janet, are driving home from a wedding when their car breaks down in a dark and forbidding wood. But there is a spooky castle over there and surely the people living there will let them use the phone to call for help. They are welcomed into the castle by a creepy butler called Riff Raff and his tarty looking sister Magenta. They are then ushered into a room to meet Dr. Frank N Furter, a fish-net legged, leather bustier wearing man in thigh high heeled boots.  He lives for pleasure to the extent that he has created Rocky Horror, a buff, muscular, tanned man to be his plaything. Frank N Furter is an equal opportunity lover who loves people of both genders and leaves them when someone new comes along.

The Performance. Michael Gianfrancesco’s set looks almost like a cartoon with a cut out car in which Brad and Janet drive; the background is painted as if it is in a cartoon and the spooky painting of the castle is both foreboding and appropriately tacky.

This being The Rocky Horror Show there is an understanding that there will be heckling.

We were told to be lively and participate but we could not bring toast to throw or rice or any other food stuffs. The audience did heckle on cue—Janet was called a slut when she was introduced, and Brad was called an “asshole.” A large part of the opening night audience dressed in costume: black makeup and lipstick, fishnet stockings, heels, leather etc. I went dressed as a ‘theatre critic’ with absolutely no dress sense whatsoever.

Some of the heckles are hilarious giving the lines before the cast says them and the cast was up for it without a blink. Perhaps there are plants in the audience?

The singing is uniformly strong—it is a loud show but you can hear every single word. Erica Peck as Magenta and Robert Markus as Riff Raff are fearless belters.

Dan Chameroy plays Dr. Frank N Furter with swagger, style and knows how to play to the audience and is totally compelling. The build up to the good Doctor’s entrance is impressive. A door opens and a platform appears in bright white light and smoke. The platform moves downstage and on it in silhouette is Dr. Frank N Furter in a cape. He flips it aside and there he is, strapping, muscular, wearing a leather bustier and fishnet stockings and heels. He sings that he is “a sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania.”

Chameroy has a wonderfully strong voice and such a leering way with a phrase. The air is thick with sexual innuendo because of Chameroy’s wicked way of playing his character.

Steve Ross plays the Narrator, a person who comes in for most of the insults and heckles from the audience and he is masterful. He is stodgy, almost formal, officious and knows how to play all the comedy seriously for the best laughs.

This is some of the best work that director/choreographer Donna Feore has done. It is wild, raucous, hedonistic and vibrant. The choreography is appropriately frenzied and leaves you breathless.  Michael Walton has lit this with dazzle as if it were a rock concert, which in part, it is. Dana Osborne’s costumes are witty and daring. The production is sublime.

Comment.  The Rocky Horror Show was written in 1973 and they were talking about gender fluidity even then. So this is a huge surprise—not that it’s so much fun and entertaining, but that it’s sobering how ahead of it’s time this show is. It’s talking about being the ‘other,’ about sexuality, gender issues and it’s doing it with irreverence—in this castle in the isolated woods—because in the big world these people would not be accepted, and worse, they would be eliminated in some places. This isn’t a spoiler—the show is 45 years old and is a cult favourite.  I think that is an important point in 2018. Gender fluidity and sexual duality is everywhere in The Rocky Horror Show.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Opened: June 2, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 31, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx.

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

Written and “performed” by Stephen Fry

Based on the book by Stephen Fry

Directed by Tim Carroll

Designed by Douglas Paraschuk

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Projections by Nick Bottomley

Original music by Paul Sportelli

 Stephen Fry discourses on Greek Myths in this bloated, self-indulgent vanity production that is really a very expensive audio book.

 The Story. Celebrity raconteur, writer, Stephen Fry has divided his presentation of his book Mythos into three sections: Gods, Heroes, Men, with each section having its own performance. I’m going to review all of them together even though I saw them separately.

Gods. Fry goes into great detail explaining how the heavens and the earth came into being with the spirit/deity overseeing it all, how they mated and had children, some hideous with many arms and hands, and how eventually the twelve gods were born. He talks about their names both in Greek as well as the Roman version, although the Romans didn’t look on the Gods with as much reverence or respect as the ancient Greeks. He talks about the mighty Zeus and his prodigious need to impregnate any woman he sees, and was rather inventive and successful at it. He details the other Gods and their idiosyncrasies, what their domains were (Poseidon for example was the God of the oceans etc.), how they interacted with each other and mortals, their personalities,

 Heroes. There is Heracles who if you say the name fast comes out Hercules and his many labours that he has to perform. There is a projection of 10 doors on the stage each noted with a Roman Numeral (Fry made a nice joke about it being a “Roman” numeral). Stephen Fry asks a person from the audience to pick a numbered door and then Mr. Fry discourses in great detail about the task behind that door. He says he only has time to talk about one of the tasks but he does manage to sneak in a lot more doors and what tasks hides behind it.

Thesius was the greatest Athenian hero, and I can assure you that the story on him is more than one sentence.

 Men. Odysseus, Paris, Agamemnon, the Trojan War, and Odysseus’ long, long, ditto trip home.

 The Production. The panels for The Magician’s Nephew (Douglas Paraschuk) are used to project the sky, the stars and various pieces of art that depict the Gods and Heroes etc. In a cloud of smoke and some incidental music (Paul Sportelli) Stephen Fry rises up from the trap to appear smiling and jovial in a comfortable arm chair. He is casually dressed in a jacket, shirt and pants. One notes there is not a glass of water or a jug of water or anything for liquid refreshment. This man goes full tilt without outside liquid aids. Mighty impressive.

From time to time Fry rises from the comfy chair (carefully doing up the buttons of his jacket, to look at the art projected on the panels that refers to a god or hero or man in the story. Almost by surprise is a musical cue and six new panels appear in a different colour: lemon, lime, orange, grape, strawberry etc. This is the beginning to a little game called “Mythical Pursuit” based on “Trivial Pursuit” that used colour coding in its questions. This was an idea of Tim Carroll, the director.  At the top of each panel is something written in Greek. The audience is asked to call out a colour. Mr. Fry then discourses on what the Greek means and the minutiae of how it pertains to the myths. When he finishes he undoes the buttons of his jacket and sits down. I loved that courtliness of buttoning his jacket when he rose to face the audience and unbuttoned the jacket when he sat.

Also we were instructed that if we had a question about the show or the gods or any myths we were to e-mail an address during intermission with our question and the Oracle of delFRY (ugh) would answer it. Just before intermission his chair lowered into the trap. Sure enough after intermission Mr. Fry rose up again and read the question he selected from the e-mails and answered the question, minute in detail and done with a smile.

Stephen Fry is articulate, erudite, mellifluous and just so buoyant in the storytelling (myths means ‘stories’.) He paints a detailed, full picture of who these Gods, Heroes and Men were, their relatives, their friends, the name of the castles and islands where they lived and the names of the pets.

He is so deeply intrigued by these Myths that watching him, mesmerizing at first, telling them is like watching a spider delicately weaving its intricate, artful web. The skill is unmistakable. We lean in closer listening, trying to keep all the names straight—he tells us not to worry about that, that’s his job. Then we realize that we are stuck in the web, it’s a glop. We can’t move or know how this Hero is related to whoever and where are we in the story, and after a while it’s just pretentious information overload.

From what I can tell Tim Carroll’s directorial offerings consisted of when the projections should appear on the panels and when the incidental music should play to begin “Mythical Pursuit”. The rest is left to Mr. Fry.

Comment.  Mythos A Trilogy: Gods. Heroes. Men is really ONE two-hour show  that is bloated into three separate performances of two and a half hours each. What is this but a simple live performance of an audio book and why is it at the Shaw Festival?

Apparently Stephen Fry told Tim Carroll that he wanted to present the Greek Myths for a modern audience. How then to consider the section of “Men” without a trace of irony or comment about men in 2018. There is the meandering, winding story of Odysseus and his ten year absence from his wife, the patient Penelope, as he fought in the Trojan War. But then it took him another ten years to get home, what with that bad luck with the escaping winds, the Cyclops, the sirens and the attractive women beckoning.  I might have expected Penelope to say to him when he finally decided to put a move on it to return and came home: “What happened, dear, did your compass break?”

And of course from a woman’s point of view, how typical of the macho man Odysseus to be given a bag of bad winds tied up tight  and told not to open it and then he does not impart that news to his men, leaving them to think all manner of things, none of it good. The result of course is their curiosity got the better of them and they opened the bag, the winds escaped and that blew Odysseus and his men off course for years. But Mr. Fry offers no comment or subtext. And of course no women are worth mentioning as their own entity and the Myths have plenty of them with spunk, pluck and brains.

Fry does wrap all the stories up at the end, extolling the virtues of men and how far they have come from the gods, but it seems like so much admiration at the stories without a modern context. This unedited, slavish admiration of these stories is shared by his director.

A dapper man on the opening of Mythos: Men was heard to say that he loved the show. That Stephen Fry “was the classics professor he never had.” Very well and good but this isn’t a classics class, it’s supposed to be a place for theatre and really, this isn’t theatre.

It’s obvious Stephen Fry loves words. He has said that he would say in 100 words what could just as easily be said in 10. That’s the problem. One doesn’t get the sense that any cutting or any kind of editing has been done on Mythos A Trilogy: Gods. Heroes. Men and it needs it, drastically.

The first to be cut is the “Mythical Pursuit,” too clever for words and we don’t need it. Ditto the bit about “Ask the Oracle of “DelFRY” (Ugh). Next trade in that self-indulgence for a lot more focus, self-restraint and less preening. Get a very big blue pencil or an axe and cut!!!!

Presented by the Shaw Festival

Opened: June 7 8, 9, 2018

Closes; July 15, 2018.

Running Time: Each part lasts 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission.


At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Written by Beverley Cooper

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

Set by Camellia Koo

Costumes by Sue LePage

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by John Gzowski

Cast: Akosua Amo-Adem

John Cleland

Christel Desir

Deborah Drakeford

Caroline Gillis

John Jarvis

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Dan Mousseau

Nancy Palk

Berkley Silverman

A thoughtful, sensitive production of a bracing play about one of the worst incidents in our history—an innocent boy, Steven Truscott, was given the death penalty because of a miscarriage of justice.

The Story. In 1959, in Clinton, Ontario (near Stratford and Blyth) Steven Truscott, aged 14, gave his school friend Lynne Truscott, also aged 12, a ride on his bicycle to take her to meet some friends. He left her off at the bridge. He cycled away but turned to see her get into a car. Two days later she was found in the woods, dead, naked and raped. Steven was charged with murder. Eye witnesses saw him with Lynne on his bike driving to the bridge. They assumed he did it. People embellished their stories. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to death. There was an appeal and his sentence was changed to life in prison. He spent a long time in prison as an adult even though he was a young teen. A reporter, Isabel LeBourdais, thought there was something wrong with the whole trial and began asking questions. Then the truth was revealed.

The Production. Beverley Cooper has written a docudrama of the case that is full of heart-breaking situations, breathtaking moments of ‘what might have been’, and a clear illumination of the obvious miscarriage of justice in the case. Her technique is part narrative directly to the audience and part play in which characters interact and reveal themselves and the facts as a ‘straight play’ would do.

Camellia Koo’s set is bare and stark with a few props filling in the bits and pieces. Bonnie Beecher’s lighting is evocative and moody setting the atmosphere.

Jackie Maxwell has directed this with such a delicate hand. No one is really a villain. Rumor gets the better of everyone and they must go from there. They believe that what they saw was what had to have happened until they are proven wrong. And because of so many eye-witnesses to Steven and Lynne riding by, they naturally thought he had to have killed her. The police never took Steven seriously when he said he saw Lynne get into a car. They misinterpreted him no matter what he said, and it was easy to see a miscarriage of justice. There is a stunning scene in which a school chum of Steven’s, who thought he was innocent, meets him years later at a party. Jackie Maxwell has the adult Steven stand in light stage right which makes him appear in total shadow, the friend is stage left looking at him. They say nothing. It is so moving and so powerful.

Dan Mousseau plays Steven with such a sweet boyishness. He rides his bike across that stage with the confidence and fearlessness of a 14 year old who is loved, safe and free. His relationship with his mother (Caroline Gillis) is affectionate and caring. And she returns it. And she is naturally upset when he is accused. This is a woman trying to hold on and be calm for him. Nancy Palk as Isabel LeBourdais is methodical, measured and firm in her conviction that this young boy was innocent. The acting throughout is very fine, but Mr. Mousseau is a find. He’s one to watch for in the future.

Comment. Beverley Cooper has written a gripping play that reveals one of our darker moments. How people gave in to innuendo, conjecture and rumor and nearly sent an innocent boy to his death.

Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company

First performance: May 14, 2018.

Closes: June 23, 2018/

Running Time: Two hours.


At the Theatre Centre, part of Luminato, Toronto, Ont.

Written and Directed by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone (600 Highwaymen)

Original music by Brandon Wolcott and Emil Abramyan

Production design by Eric Southern

Sound by Brandon Wolcott

Performed by Abigail Bowde

Nile Harris

Jax Jackson

Bryan Saner

Michael Silverstone

Marianne has had a dinner party. She is in her kitchen leaning on her counter recalling it all. People arrived early and helped. A person arrived late and was applauded for arriving at all it seemed. Someone brought a baby. People gathered in the kitchen to talk. When Marianne went into her back yard she perceived a stranger standing there. Other neighbours came out of their houses to watch and witness and I guess offer protection.

The audience sits in chairs that line the playing space on all four sides. The floor was red. At one point people on one side of the square began to raise and lower their arms in a wave formation. The audience on the other sides joined in until everyone was doing the wave and variations of it, in unison.

A woman (Abigail Browde) in my row began to talk about Marianne and her dinner party. The telling was quiet, measured, thoughtful. She approached a woman on one of the sides of the space and asked her to suggest she was leaning on the kitchen counter. A man (Michael Silverstone?) sitting on another side talked about someone coming late and the people at the party applauded. This was the audience’s cue to applaud and we did.  The first woman talked about the baby at the party and gently took my hand as I walked into the playing space being the baby. I was told to hold my arms up with the hands crossing. I did. After a time I was gently told to sit down.

I hate audience participation. Hate it. I don’t go into an actors’ sacred, safe space (the playing area) and I expect  the same courtesy—keep out of my safe space.

But The Fever created by 600 Highwaymen is different. The whole audience, either singly or together, illustrates the story that the small company of actors is telling. At one point a man asks for help as he falls and people try to come to his aid. He asks someone to help turn him over and they do. Another time a man is lifted up by the audience and passed along hand by hand. One of the company asks for someone to come and join in and someone from the audience does.

At the end of this production we are told what we did—we participated in telling the story; we helped someone who needed it; we helped in other ways; we acted communally and together. It was a terrific experience, not threatening, antagonistic, but gentle, respectful, welcoming.

The production is plays until June 16. The company 600 Highwaymen is from New York. Please see this show and make them feel welcome.

Plays until June 16, 2018.

Running time: 75 minutes.

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

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Keira Loughran

Designed by Joanna Yu

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Composer and sound, Alexander MacSween

Cast: Beryl Bain

Rod Beattie

Juan Chioran

Sarah Dodd

Sébastien Heins

Jessica B. Hill

Qasim Khan

Josue Laboucane

Alexandria Lainfiesta

Amelia Sargisson

And others….

There is nothing funny in this comedy-challenged, error riddled, ill-conceived production.

The Story.  I’ll first reference Shakespeare’s story in detail for context and then note Kiera Loughran’s version.

 Egeon was a merchant born in Syracuse. He was doing business in Epidamnum when his pregnant wife, Emilia, followed him there and soon gave birth to twin boys. In the same hour, in the same inn where they were staying, a poor woman gave birth to twin boys as well (was it something in the water, do you think?). Since she was very poor Egeon bought the woman’s twin boys to be raised as servants to his twin boys.

Emilia wanted the family to go home. They got on a boat with the two sets of twins, and there was a storm. Emilia took one twin of her sons and one twin of the servant babies and tied herself to a mast and Egeon did the same to another mast and of course as luck would have it the ship broke up and the husband and wife with the babies became separated. Egeon and one son were picked up by a passing boat and he lost sight of his wife and the baby boys.

After 18 years Egeon’s son wanted to find his mother and his brother, and the twin servant went with him on the voyage. So the two boys set off. When they did not return after a really long time Egeon went to find them and had been looking for five years. The search brought him to Ephesus (Nice ruins today, terrific library with a secret passageway to a nearby brothel. But I digress).

Because there had been animosity between Ephesus and Syracuse there was a decree from the Duke that if any Syracusian was found in Ephesus he would be put to death (rather harsh) but would be spared if he could pay 1000 marks (rather harsh too). So the Duke of Ephesus decreed that Egeon should die but first he wanted to hear his story. The Duke was touched on the hearing and granted Egeon a one day extension to get the money.

What no one knew was that the both sets of twins were there already. Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio had lived in Ephesus for his whole life. Antipholus was married to Adriana, but he seemed to dally with women not his wife, and even had a necklace made for one of them. Of course Antipholus of Ephesus was accompanied by his servant Dromio of Ephesus.


Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio of Syracuse are newly arrived in Ephesus, have sufficient means to last them on their adventures.  Ephesus is a small town and people know each other. So here we have one half of two pairs of twins roaming around the place at the same time. The two Antipholusess are mistaken for each other and so are the Dromios. This means that Adriana mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her own husband (Antipholus of Ephesus). And that goes for Dromio too.

Until eventually it’s sorted. (This is not a spoiler—the play is 400 years old for heaven sake.)

Kiera Loughran’s version: She has interpreted The Comedy of Errors as a play about gender fluidity. In her version Egeon’s twin children are a boy and a girl and it is the girl Egeon is searching for. For some reason the girl assumes the name of her lost brother—Antipholus—and when she came to Ephesus she put on the disguise of a man, why, I know not—I can’t find a reason for this decision in my copy of the play—but I digress.

The Production. This busy production starts with a loud blast of rock music and the many and various citizens of Ephesus go busting from one side of the stage to the other, sometimes bumping into each other. Two smartly dressed ‘men’ with the same maroon suit and hair style bump into each other and look quizzically at one another. Two other ‘twins’ with a Harpo Marx hair do and pantaloons also look strangely at one another. There is a pair of identical looking police officers dressed from top to toe in the same powder blue uniform with the same hair do. Kiera Loughran is certainly hammering home her point of twinness. I also note that several actors are dressed as women: one wears a fat woman’s garb with drooping breasts. Another wears heels and a suggestive outfit.

When the play proper begins the Duke (Juan Chioran) stands above the assembled and passes judgment on Egeon for being a Syracusian in Ephesus. Chioran is courtly, dignified, speaks with gravitas and is touched at Egeon’s tale of woe. But for some reason the Duke/Chioran is dressed as a statuesque woman with a tilted wide brimmed blue had, a blue form fitted top and a long skirt slit up to the thigh, revealing a lot of thigh and a knee-high heeled boot. Now what is that all about? Is the Duke a cross-dresser? Is this Loughran imposing more of her ‘concept’ on the play? Who knows?

When Ariana is upset that her husband Antipholus of Ephesus is not home we hear her behind a closed door express her ire in Spanish (it seems to me). Spanish in Ephesus (which is now in Turkey). What’s that all about—more xenophobia? Hmmm.

This is a comedy challenged, error-filled, ill-conceived production. I tried very hard to try and understand Kiera Loughran’s thinking. Perhaps she’s looking at how we all have both genders in us at birth and then develop one way or the other and in these cases the development didn’t happen.  So she was looking at that duality by having Antipholus of Syracuse, the woman, dressed as a man but acting courtly, with dignity and maturity, as perhaps a man might act.  But Antipholus of Ephesus, the male twin, acted as a stereotypical woman or just an effeminate man—flighty, hands flapping, almost hysterical and posing.

So how can these two characters actually be mistaken for one another since their behaviour is so different. Really, Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife would not be able to tell the difference between a courtly man and an effeminate one? What’s wrong with this picture?

Jessica B. Hill as Antipholus of Syracuse is poised, gracious and dignified, a princely man if that is the intension.  But what Qasim Khan is directed to do as Antipholus of Ephesus is embarrassing….be effeminate, silly, flighty and hysterical in the delivery. Is this somebody’s idea of what a woman acts like in 2018? Or a gay man? Really?

Loughran is a clumsy stager, upstaging her cast with silly business at the expense of actors actually speaking the lines of Shakespeare. I think of the scene in which Dr. Pinch (Rod Beattie) a school master and others are trying to subdue and bind Antipholus of Ephesus because they think he is possessed. Pinch tries to ‘exorcise’ the demon by putting his hand up in front of Antipholus’ face and exhorting the devil to leave the body. Antipholus puts his hand up to Pinch which puts him in a trance. Another character claps his hands and Pinch is shaken out of the trance. Another character stamps his foot and again Pinch is back in the trance and shaking. Another snap of the fingers and he’s out of the trance and another clap and he’s in it the trance and shaking and weaving around the stage. Ridiculous and at the expense of the actors giving lines.

 Comment. In her program note Keira Loughran references Prince, Antonin Artaud, Swinburne, David Bowie and Jan (formerly James) Morris on their comments on sexuality, finding ourselves, the notion of twins, and living our lives as we wanted to. Loughran says in her program note in part: “The world of Ephesus in this production is an homage to the history, insights and accomplishments of transgender and gender-fluid communities.  Their stories have inspired me to explore what it might take to establish, in the face of persecution, a community that is fiercely committed to inclusion, self-determination and non-conformity. This opened up other ways for us to consider the idea of ‘double,’ to interpret violence, to discover comedy, to understand family.”

This is all very well and good but the play doesn’t support this thesis. Loughran’s concept for The Comedy of Errors doesn’t work and the whole enterprise is deadly.

However there is another production which does prove her thesis without twisting and distorting the material and that’s The Rocky Horror Show.  More on that soon.

The Stratford Festival Presents.

Opened: June 1, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 20, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes


At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Nassim Soleimanpour

Directed by Omar Elerian

Designed by Rhys Jarman

Sound by Rajiv Pattani

Read by Steffi DiDomenicantonio

With the participation of Nassim Soleimanpour

This is difficult to review because every comment could require a spoiler alert. As with his previous play, White Rabbit Red Rabbit,  the script of Nassim is given in an envelope  to an actor/actress at the time of the show who has not seen the script before, nor had any rehearsal of it.

For my performance, Steffi DiDomenicantonio is the reader. There is a new actor every night. To keep it vague, this is a play about language, home, belonging and seeming a stranger in one’s own country.

Nassim Soleimanpour is an Iranian playwright who cannot have his plays performed in his home town in Iran. So he decided to send it out to the world in many envelopes in the hopes that actors and actresses would read it at performances just like this one.

It is playful, witty, irreverent and very moving. Nassim Soleimanpour is an actual participant in the evening. He does not say a word but he conveys his message clearly and with great heart.

Steffi DiDomenicantonio is lively, sweet, funny and perhaps at times does not see that moments are moving for Nassim.

It is a play of building bridges and transcending language to find a common way of communicating.

The thing that is resounding no matter where this play has been done—starting with the Bush in London, Eng.—is the trusting willingness of audiences to engage with the challenge, be willing, trusting participants and to build a bridge to embrace this playwright who at times thought he was a stranger in his own country. Very moving.

Nassim plays until June 16 with a new reader every night.


Part of Luminato.

At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written, Directed and Choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan

Set design by Sabine Dargent

Costumes by Hyemi Shin

Lighting Design by Adam Silverman

Music by Slow Moving Clouds

Company: Mikel Murfi

Rachel Poirier

Alex Leonhartsberger

Elizabeth Cameron Dalman

Anna Kaszuba

Carys Staton

Molly Walker

Saku Koistinen

Zen Jefferson

Erik Nevin


Mary Barnecutt

Danny Diamond

The always dazzlingly creative Michael Keenan-Dolan brings his latest creation to Toronto for Luminato, a dark re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, but nothing like it really. It’s pure Michael Keenan-Dolan. And there are a lot of goose down feathers.

Note: Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lake about a princess who is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse.

The Story. A Holy Man (Irish) has fallen in love with one of his young parishioners—a 17 year-old named Finola. He forces himself on her and tells her and her three sisters who witnessed it that he will put a curse on them if they tell anyone, turning them into filthy animals if they do. This sets in motion all manner of dark, angry deeds.

The Production.  The stage is bare except for a man tethered by a long rope around his neck that is then attached to a large bolder on the floor. He is dressed only in white underpants. He paces the length of the rope around the bolder. He makes guttural bleating sounds like a sheep (a ram?).

Behind him is a stage wide raised platform on which are three musicians who will play fiddle, cello and nyckelharpa. They provide the music and sound effects. Sitting in front of this platform, on either side of it is a brooding man and an older woman in a wheelchair. A huge ladder is on the platform. There are ladders elsewhere and there are large swan’s wings on the floor.

As the man paces three man dressed in black, wearing black gaucho hats come on to the stage from the audience. They look forbidding as they dance around him. They get him down on the floor, splash him with water, dry him off and dress him in a black shirt, jacket and pants. He then sits in a chair (he is the Holy Man) and tells us the story of brooding Jimmy O’Reilly, his mother, Finola (the young woman the Holy Man falls in love with). I assume our narrator is the Holy Man and perhaps his transformation from that almost naked bleater into a clothed narrator, is Keenan-Dolan’s way of telling us what happened in flashback.

Young women in white dresses become swans with large feathered wings as the movement and dance progresses. The narrator says part of the story takes place by Swan Lake a body of water close to the town. Great swaths of a clear plastic sheet is used by the ‘swans’ to suggest the water. They wrap themselves in it, submerge ‘under’ it, and thrash around in it. When matters become darker and the curse has been put on the young women, a black swath of a plastic sheet is used to suggest the forbidding nature of the curse and the effect of darkness and depression on the story.

In the end the company throw fistful of goose down feathers in delicate patterns in the air and on the floor. It looks like a blanket of snow. Magic. There is a kind of fitting retribution. It’s a brooding, dark tale told with clarity, insight and muscularity.

Comment. Teać Darhsa is Michael Keenan-Dolan’s new company. I was able to see some of his brilliant work with his previous company: Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre (The Bull comes to mind—stunning). His work is razor-sharp inventive, witty, dark, brooding and often very funny. He creates images that will stay with you for a long time. His mastery of storytelling through movement and dance is astonishing. Don’t waste another minute. Get a ticket and see it. We don’t see this kind of creative work from elsewhere often enough. When it comes around, grab it!

 Co-produced by Michael Keenan-Dolan, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, Colours International Dance Festival,  Theaterhaus Stuttgart: Dublin Theatre Festival; Theatre de la Ville, Luxemburg

Opened: June 6, 2018.

Closes: June 10, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes.


At the Stratford Festival, Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario

Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson

Story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey

Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

Music director, Franklin Brasz

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Michael Walton

Cast: Gabriel Antonacci

Sean Arbuckle

Daren A. Herbert

George Krissa

Monique Lund

Robert Marcus

Marcus Nance

Denise Oucharek

Trevor Pratt

Sayer Roberts

Steve Ross

Jason Sermonia

Mark Uhre

Danielle Wade

Blythe Wilson

and many others.

This is the best production to have after your original production of The Tempest was cancelled because of a bomb threat.

 Note:  Twenty minutes to curtain of The Tempest on Monday, May 28, 2018, we were told to leave the building and that the performance was cancelled. The police received a bomb threat. They cleared the theatre and we were told to go home. While we were not told the reason we assumed it was something serious.

At the opening of the opening production of the Stratford Festival  O Canada is played and that spiffy audience sings the song.

This time, with The Music Man being the opening production by default, that spiffy audience sang with such passion and defiance it was breathtaking and so moving, as if to say, “No bomb threat will stop this festival from happening.” Then they all applauded and cheered and the show began.

The Story. The Music Man opened on Broadway in 1957. It’s about Harold Hill, a flim-flam travelling salesman who dupes people in little towns into starting a band for their children in which he will sell them the instruments, instructions and uniforms. He will also teach them to play in a new way. And then when he has their money, he skips town. That is until he comes to River City, Iowa and meets Marian Paroo, the librarian. He flirts with her. She ignores him. He’s annoying. This poses a challenge and he pursues her. In the time of #MeToo we don’t look too kindly on a man who pursues a woman who is decidedly not interested.

Harold Hill is pursuing Marian for the sport of it because he plans on leaving town even though it appears he is wooing Marian. I think of other classics like Carousel which had its Broadway debut in 1945. It’s about a carousel barker who marries a woman and is belligerent to her because he’s lost his job and has to take his aggression out on someone and she’s it.  He hits her once. Once is too many. There is a line in the show from the daughter of the woman who was hit, “Mother does it hurt when someone hits you?”

She says something to the effect: “Not when you love the person.”  Uh, I don’t think so beautiful music notwithstanding. So yes, in the time of #MeToo this behaviour is problematic even though Marian seems to have an improving effect on Harold and she is softening in her feelings for him.

The Production. Why do I say this is the best production to follow a bomb threat that? Because Donna Feore’s production is lively, raucous, energetically danced—Donna Feore also does the choreography—leaving the audience breathless.

The music is timeless and classic.  This audience was up for something to cheer and they got it here. In fact their applause for “76 Trombones” went on and on—the cast held their places and milked it–and the audience also gave that number a standing ovation. That is rare to give a standing ovation for a musical number in the MIDDLE of the show.  As for the rest of the productions, the dancers and singers give their all.

Donna Feore is both the director and choreographer and I find she is better at creating the dances than in directing and established relationships. Her dances are always fast, energetic and leaves both dancers and audience breathless.

Her direction and staging are another matter. I find her efforts in establishing relationships to be clunky. How can you suggest love and passion between characters if both characters are often a stage apart? There is a clue to the problem in a bit of a send up scene by Meredith Willson. Eulalie MacKechnie Shinn, the Mayor’s wife, is desperate to perform in any way.

She forms a group of dancers/singers and tells them to “always play to the audience,” so there they are doing intricate work that gets them caught up in each other, but they are always facing the audience. Meredith Willson is making a point.

Donna Feore seems to take this seriously (both here and in other musicals she’s directed) —so singer after singer can be singing the most passionate song to someone but then will break way and sing it to the audience. This means the person the song is meant for is looking at the back of the head of the person singing to the audience, rather than the person for whom it’s meant. This is silly and detrimental in establishing solid relationships.

Also, while Daren A. Herbert as Harold Hill has energy and drive, I don’t find him charming or ingratiating enough to really fool anyone. He is too calculated and cool and it shows. He doesn’t really seem engaged in the con.  I also don’t see any chemistry between his Harold Hill and Danielle Wade as Marian, although she has spunk and charm.

Interestingly, Mark Uhre as Marcellus Washburn, a con-man friend of Har5old’s, has charm and warmth for days, especially when he sings “Shipoopi.” It got me thinking, “what if Mark Uhre played Harold Hill??? Now that would be interesting.

As Mayor Shinn, always hard done by, always trying to keep order and his wife in check, Steve Ross is beautifully flustered, always trying to hold on to his dignity and decorum and failing in the most hilarious way.

So, while the show is lively, energetically danced with the requisite gymnastic moves,  there is a lot more to The Music Man than just out front singing and dancing, and I found that depth missing in this production.

Produced by the Stratford Festival.

Opened: May 29, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 3, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.



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

The following two one Act plays are collectively titled Of Marriage and Men and are about how women can command and manoeuvre a situation when men think they have the upper hand.

How He Lied to Her Husband

Written by Bernard Shaw

Directed by Philip Akin

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Tamara Marie Kucheran

Cast: David Adams

Shawn Ahmed

Krystal Kiran

While I think Philip Akin directs with flair, it seems as if he has envisioned this as part British comedy with a  Bollywood influence. The result is mystifying and uneven acting doesn’t help.

The Story. How He Lied to Her Husband takes place in London in Her flat in Cromwell Road. .

The characters are identified in the program thus: Her Husband, He (Her Lover), She (Herself).   He is having an affair with She, a married woman whose husband showers her with diamonds. He has come to her flat, dressed in white tie and black tails, looking formal and ready for the theatre. She breezes in dressed flamboyantly in a neon blue gown with sparkles swirling all over it.  She wears a full diamond necklace that sticks to her throat and bosom and a diamond in the middle of her forehead, gifts from her husband.  She’s coy and a flirt and scolds He because the love poems He wrote to Her have been stolen and she thinks their affair will be found out.  He is smitten and is determined to whisk her away after He tells her husband of the affair.  And then the husband shows up, and sparks fly.

The Production.  It’s odd.  He (Shawn Ahmed) is dressed sort of formally as an Englishman would to go to the theatre. The husband (David Adams) is dressed in a business suit that seems appropriate. But She (Krystal Kiran)  looks like she would be better suited for a Bollywood movie. What am I to think here? Both Krystal Kiran as She and Shawn Ahmed as He are of South Asian decent. But only Kiran is dressed with such flamboyance.  The music that is played after the conclusion of the piece  is upbeat with an Indian flair like a Bollywood film. Am I to assume the character of She is of South Asian descent because the actress is? Why? He is dressed in traditional English finery and not in traditional Indian garb. Why? Hence the comment that the intention of the piece is mystifying and odd.

Krystal Kiran as She skims the surface of the character in her acting. There is no sense of depth or calculation, just silliness. Shaw’s character might be flighty and coy, but silly? I don’t think so. Shawn Ahmed as He is a bit better but the acting still feels stodgy and full of effort to be effortless.  As the husband, David Adams has a blustering confidence that is fitting.  But on the whole I found this to be a head-scratcher. Philip Akin is a thoughtful director on the whole, but his intention here left me puzzled.

Comment. How He Lied to Her Husband does have the Shaw way with a phrase and an argument. Shaw talks about marriage, love, infidelity and the way men and women differ in their regard of love and marriage.  The arguments are funny, sound and have that perverse way that Shaw looks at things.

The Man of Destiny

Written by Bernard Shaw

Directed by Philip Akin

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Tamara Marie Kucheran

Cast: Fiona Byrne

Martin Happer

Andrew Lawrie

Kelly Wong

Pure Shaw. Sublime production.

The Story. It’s 1796.  Napoleon Bonaparte is at an Inn in Northern Italy waiting for some papers to be delivered to him.  The soldier bringing them arrives and says he was waylaid by another soldier who stole the papers.  It seems the Strange Lady upstairs in the Inn can help with the location of the papers.

The Man of Destiny is about politics, battles, marriage, psychological games playing, one-upmanship and the peculiarities of the British.

The Production and Comment. Philip Akin displays an impish bit of business when the set for How He Lied to Her Husband is changed for The Man of Destiny. Ordinarily the changeover happens during Intermission. Not so here. Akin wants us to see the cleverness of it all, and good thing too.

When we return from Intermission we still hear the Bollywood music playing from How He Lied to Her Husband.  A character in peasant dress comes forward down the aisle of the theatre, looks up towards the stage manager’s booth and says in an Italian accent, with a snap of his fingers, “VIVALDI”. This is Giuseppe who is an inn-keeper in The Man of Destiny. His snapping fingers sets the music to play and the cast from both plays to change the set to a bucolic inn in Northern Italy with lovely scenery in the background. Giuseppe runs the inn.

Here we get the ins and outs of incriminating information. The Strange Lady wants one letter of the bundle to be delivered to Napoleon.  She explains as vaguely as possible that a husband and wife’s honour is at stake. We can surmise whose. In some beautiful badinage between Napoleon and the Strange Lady they discourse on women, relationships and manipulation.  And then in pure Shaw fashion he lets rip with his thoughts on the English as expressed by a Frenchman—or to be accurate, a Corsican—Napoleon.

 I call it ‘sublime’ because evrything here works a treat. Steve Lucas has designed a beautiful Italian Inn with some stunning lighting effects subtly going on for the whole show, daylight shifting into moonlight is quite beautiful.  The acting  is the work of seasoned professionals.  The Italian accented Giuseppe played with impish seriousness by Martin Happer takes everything in his calm, stoical stride, but I do wonder why he has an accent when the others don’t.  Fiona Byrne plays the Strange Lady with steely confidence and never flinches when her character is in trouble, which is often. Her bantering with Kelly Wong’s Napoleon is the work of two masters volleying an argument with shots, lobs and zingers that all hit the mark.

Kelly Wong as Napoleon shows the confidence and brains of a leader who has to be two steps ahead of any one behind  him.  He is never suckered by the Strange Lady. But he knows she’s toying with him and he’s game for the game.  Beautiful work.

Produced by the Shaw Festival

Opened: May 23, 2018.

Closes:  Sept. 2, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.



At the Greenwin Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Ont.


Written by Neil Simon

Directed by Sheila McCarthy

Set by Sean Mulcahy

Lighting by Siobhán Sleath

Costumes by Alex Amini

Sound by Emily Porter

Cast: Umed Amin

Meghan Caine

David Eisner

Kelsey Falconer

Lawrence Libor

Sarah Orenstein

Nicole Underhay

A beautifully rendered production of Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical play.

Note: I was given permission to review the second last preview.

The Story. Brighton Beach Memoirs is the first of Neil Simon’s “Double B” semi-autobiographical plays that chart his rise to the iconic playwright he became. They are:  Brighton Beach Memoirs, about being a teenager in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York and wanting to either be a baseball player or a writer; Biloxi Blues about his time in the army; and Broadway Bound when he did become a playwright on his way to wild success. These plays are of course funny but there is a deeper seriousness to them because they are based in truth.

In Brighton Beach Memoirs it’s 1937. Eugene Morris Jerome, aged 15, lives with his mother Kate, father Jack and older brother Stan, plus his widowed aunt Blanch and her two daughters, the sickly Laurie and the alluring 16 –year-old Nora. So sexual frustration abounds with Eugene.  Money is tight then.  Every dollar counts.  Kate and her sister Blanche love each other but there are simmering jealousies. When that many people live that closely together things boil over.

While Neil Simon is known for the zinger lines and sharp comedy and Brighton Beach Memoirs is very funny, at it’s heart it’s a serious comedy because there was more at stake.  For example, Jack worries that his relatives in Europe who are Jewish would be caught up in Hitler’s anti-Semitism.  He then worries that should they appeal to him for help where would they put them all? He worries about money and needs Stan’s paycheque to make ends meet. One day Stan loses his paycheque in an unfortunate way.

How do you cope with that?

Nora needs her uncle to decide about her future. What he gives her instead is advice on what to do—which to me is more important. So what Neil Simon is dealing with are issues of family, living in fraught times and trying to get by. We can all recognize these people.  And while Neil Simon puts his funny spin on things we know what is happening to the Jerome family was happening to a lot of others as well.

The Production.  The production is terrific.  It’s smart, funny and poignant.

It’s directed by Sheila McCarthy, an actress who knows her way around humour, wit, heartbreaking moments and being true to the text. She brings all that expertise here in her direction. It’s not fussy or show-offy.  Comedy is serious and McCarthy keeps her actors serious as they speak the comedy. They don’t telegraph the jokes.

Humour comes naturally to the character of Eugene and Lawrence Libor plays him with a fine, flat Brooklyn accent and wide-eyed confusion at what is going on around him. He is that perfect, hormone-driven 15-year-old who is trying to understand the world and himself in it.  You certainly see the family dynamic with Kate being the energetic, concerned but frazzled matriarch, played with grace and confidence by Sarah Orenstein.

As her sister Blanche, Nicole Underhay illuminates the ‘overstaying guest’.  Blanche is welcome in that house, but Underhay shows the reticence and sensitivity Blanche has in living with her sister, jobless, and trying her best to help out.  David Eisner plays Jack, the hard-working, fretful patriarch of the family.   He does have the weight of the world on his shoulders and it takes its toll.

At every turn in this solid, generous production, this is a family who love each other, who do the best they can and who have a moral centre that is solid.

Sean Mulcahy’s split level set shows the upstairs with Eugene sharing a bedroom with Stan and Nora and Laurie share another room. Downstairs is a small living room, dinning room and off. We get a sense of the size of the place where this large family lived and coped.

 Comment. Brighton Beach Memoirs has the usual Neil Simon humour but there is something much deeper here because Simon is delving into his own family where the hurts and disappointments are real even when mixed with the natural humour of his characters.

This production at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre, is poignant, heart-squeezing and so worth a visit to the Greenwin Theatre to see it.

Produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre.

Opened: May 28, 2018.

Closes: June 10, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx.