Friday, July 17, 2020. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. AMADEUS on National Theatre Live until July 23, 2020. Streaming for free.

This is the script of the recorded review on CIUT.fm July 17.

Good Friday morning, it’s theatre fix time with me, Lynn Slotkin, your theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

I’m reviewing the National Theatre Live streamed production of AMADEUS  by Peter Shaffer.

It played in London, England at the National Theatre a few years ago, and it’s live streaming now as part of their NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE series. It began yesterday (July 16) and runs until Thursday, July 23.

Peter Shaffer’s play is set in Vienna, November 1823 and in flashbacks from 1781-1791.

Antonio Salieri is dying. In his day he was the top composer, music maven in Vienna in the court of Joseph II, the Emperor of Austria. He was celebrated, promoted, honoured and respected.

On this last night of his life, he mumbles for forgiveness of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who died 32 years before. Salieri in his dying crazed mind confesses that he killed Mozart.

Salieri’s reputation is such that everybody is talking and gossiping about this confession.

The play then flashes back to the decade of 1781-1791.

At that time Salieri was a robust, successful man who asked God to make him a composer and to be famous for it. In return Salieri, would serve mankind and devote himself to serving God. Salieri thrived and prospered in the court of the Emperor as the court composer. And then he met this odious, man-child named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his life changed. Salieri realized that for all his piety to serve God with his music etc. next to Mozart, he was a mediocrity.

Mozart, this hideously rude, immature man, effortlessly produced music that was touched by God and Salieri was livid at what he perceived was God’s betrayal of him.   He vowed to take revenge with no less an opponent than God. He would get even by destroying Mozart all the while seemingly to champion him.

Peter Shaffer’s play is a fascinating look at the creative process of making art in the form of music; the politics of the court of an Emperor even in matters of music; the difference between a genius like Mozart who was effortless in his creation of music and the sham of the mediocrity that was Salieri.

Perhaps the play is called Amadeus rather than Mozart, because it’s an unexpected look at a man we usually know as a genius.

It’s also a look at a playwright—Peter Shaffer—who was at the top of his playwriting game in fashioning an imaginary scenario about two real people.

The production is directed by Michael Longhurst and it is both simple and grandly theatrical. Set pieces are rolled on and off the stage with ease and create the suggestion of the grand surroundings. Kudos to designer Chloe Lamford. The furnishings look rich and antique. The costumes are sumptuous brocades and silks. At every turn we get the sense of the rarified world in which Salieri worked as a matter of course. It also was the world that Mozart aspired to and couldn’t quite be accepted into—of course because Salieri thwarted him at every turn.

An inspired addition to this production is the inclusion of a full orchestra that is also part of the action rather than listening to recorded music, which seems the norm in the other productions I’ve seen. Here the musicians are always on the stage, often interacting with the action, swirling around the stage with their instruments, rather than just sitting firmly in chairs providing the music.

When Salieri reads Mozart’s written music, the orchestra is there to realize the brilliance of the work. Salieri understands it’s exquisite beauty and it causes him real pain because he can’t produce that kind of music and he knows it.

Occasionally the orchestra provides the cacophonous sounds that suggest the mental turmoil of either Salieri or Mozart. That orchestra adds a richness to an already sumptuous production.

Antonio Salieri is played by Lucian Msamati with gravitas, sophistication, elegance and a courtliness that royalty would find impressive, certainly the rather simple-minded Emperor.

Mozart is always a tricky part in this play. The character acts like a man-boy, irreverent, often petulant, immature, rude and impish. The fact that he’s a genius adds to the multi-faceted character.

The reason it’s tricky is that too often the actor playing him tends to overplay all the impetuous aspects and just makes him a one-noted spoiled brat. That’s what we have in the performance of Adam Gillen as Mozart. He shouts the whole part. It is one, long annoying rant with little variation.  I could see the vein in his neck bulge every time he bellowed.

This results in little sympathy, and there has to be some sympathy since we know that Salieri sabotaged him every chance he could. I don’t get the sense that director Michael Longhurst reined in Mr. Gillen since Longhurst had Mozart jumping on furniture, racing around the set, and bellowing.

I think that one noted rant is a mistake. After a while the audience stops listening. Not a good thing.

But I recommend you give this a look because the play is so inventive, the production is beautiful, and Lucian Msamati is compelling as Salieri.

Amadeus streams until July 23 on:

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

You can check my blog for my other reviews at www.slotkinletter.com twitter @slotkinletter

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Friday, July 10, 2020. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA the Stratford Festival on Youtube until July 23. This is the radio script.

Good Friday morning. It’s Theatre fix time with me, Lynn Slotkin, your theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

The Stratford Festival might be closed because of the pandemic but they are still making their productions available on line through streaming etc.

One of their filmed productions is Antony and Cleopatra that played on the Stratford stage in 2014 but  streaming on the Stratford Festival youtube channel now until July 23 for free.

It’s a play loaded with political intrigue, hubris, psychological mind-games, one-upmanship, and follows one of the greatest love-stories of all time between Mark Antony, a mighty Roman warrior and Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt.

Both Mark Antony and Cleopatra are consummate politicians.

Mark Antony earned his abilities as the right hand man of Julius Caesar (before Caesar was killed) and being watchful and quiet as he followed the political intrigue of Caesar’s court.

Cleopatra was at once the consort of Julius Caesar as well as the Queen of Egypt.

She too earned her wiliness by being perceptive in the ways of manipulating people.

As a couple, Antony and Cleopatra were in love and lust with each other.

He was more besotted than she seems to be—she tended to play games with him if he displeased her, ignoring him, playing hard to get.

He had his way of playing her game as well.

It was a volatile time for both—war was always imminent.

As a consummate politician Antony knew how to broker deals even if it meant marrying someone other than Cleopatra, which happened when Antony married Octavius Caesar’s sister, Octavia.

This didn’t go down too well with Cleopatra when she found out.

The relationship between then often seemed like a game of cat and mouse, with Antony seeming like the mouse much of the time.

Which is not to say that he could play his games with Cleopatra.

While their love is obvious, their cold-blooded ambition for dominance with others is also fascinating to see.

Gary Griffin directed the stage play at Stratford.

But for our purposes, Barry Avrich directed the filmed version of the live performance.

It’s a terrific result.

In the theatre the audience might or might not see a reaction that is subtle from a character not at the centre of a scene.

In this filmed version Avrich ensures that all that subtext is obvious by focusing the camera on the actor with the reaction.

A grimace or side-long look at something that is being said is caught clearly in a tight closeup.

The stage production was lusty, bawdy, sexual, passionate and very physical.

All that is accentuated in the filmed version with tight close-ups and medium shots that never misses what we are to see.

As Antony, Geraint Wyn Davies is exuberant, emotional, larger than life, smart and cunning but with total charm.

He is equally matched by Yanna McIntosh as Cleopatra.

Her Cleopatra is supremely confident in her sensuality and her royal stature.

This is a character who has been revered for so many things and she takes control of all of it.

It’s fascinating to see how these two lovers circle one another, play one another and play with one another.

As emotional as Marc Antony is, that is as cool as Octavius Caesar is as played by Ben Carlson.

Octavius is methodical, quiet speaking and makes his points as if flinging darts at a bull’s eye.

He is incensed when he realizes that his sister has been humiliated by Antony who married her just for political expediency.

And as soon as Antony could, he ran off to be with Cleopatra.

The cast is uniformly strong.

Charlotte Dean has created a simple, spare set.

Her costumes are beautiful in creating this exotic world of an Egyptian Queen and her court, and the fighting world of Mark Antony and his fellow Roman soldiers.

This is a clean, focused, beautifully rendered filmed version of the Stratford production of Antony and Cleopatra.

For those who missed it then, this is a fine opportunity to check it out and the other Stratford Productions that are streaming on the Stratford youtube channel.

For information go to:https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/AtHome

You can check out my blog for other postings at www.slotkinletter.com

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This is the first time I’m actually home for the whole summer and not spending my vacation in London, England for obvious reasons as every theatre is shut. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have a whole host of on-line, virtual, streamed etc. theatre work to keep us involved and engaged until we are able to go back into a theatre for real.

The following are festivals and theatre events that hold great promise:

The Hamilton Fringe Festival

Christopher Stanton, the Artistic Director of the Hamilton Fringe Festival will be announcing his virtual fringe festival with ticket information on July 7, 2020. We can enjoy the festival from the comfort of our homes. I look forward to reading what he has in store, and of course reviewing it. 

4th Line Theatre hosts a Farmer’s Market every Friday from 8 am to Noon, until August 28.

4th Line Theatre in Millbrook, Ont.  is one of my favourite places to see theatre in the summer. That’s not possible for obvious reasons but that has not deterred Kim Blackwell, the fearless Managing Artistic Director of 4th Line Theatre. She has come up with the idea of a Farmer’s Market spread over the farm offering local farm produce from local Food Ventures. I went on the first Friday. It was wonderful. Look for my review soon. Here are the details of the Farmer’s Market

Nexicom Presents 4th Line Theatre @ the Farm.

779 Zion Line, Millbrook, ON

In the series of Friday morning markets running until Friday, August 28th, local vendors will be spread out around the farm property with guests following a one-way directional track to ensure proper physical distancing.

The Festival Friday Farmer’s Markets will include vendors: Black Honey, Bullbs ‘N Things, Belly of the Beast, Little Leaf Farms, Pastry Peddler, Taste of Russia, Millar Eggs, Beauty Through Taste, Red Hill Maple Syrup, The Berry Patch, Codie and Kelsie’s Vegetable Patch, Summersong Farm, 4th Line Theatre and Doo Doo’s Bakery

READ MORE HERE: https://www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca/so/00NBTsKfH

SummerWorks (Virtual) Festival

Laura Nanni, the creative, inventive Artistic and Managing Director of the SummerWorks (Virtual) Festival will be announcing her truncated festival in a few weeks. The festival will take place in late July and early August. One of the events is the wildly successful Ministry of Mundane Mysteries by the always imaginative Outside the March Company.

summerworks.ca

Here for Now Outdoor Theatre Festival

This is an initiative of actors and directors from Stratford, Ont. to perform one person plays/poems etc. on the back patio of the Bruce Hotel in Stratford Ont. during July and August. One piece will be directed by Jonathan Goad, a stalwart actor of the Stratford Festival, and a fine director in his own right. Jessica B. Hill will be doing a piece as will Roy Lewis. In all there will be six solo shows playing multiple times. I look forward to seeing and reviewing all of them. In keeping with keeping our distance in these weird times, a maximum of 10 people will be allowed on the patio to watch each show.

www.herefornowtheatre.com

More to come soon.

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Streaming from the National Theatre, London, England, until July 9.

Written by Lorraine Hansberry

Adapted by Robert Nemeroff

Restored text directed by Joi Gresham

Directed by Yaël Farber

Designed by Soutra Gilmour

Lighting by Tim Lutkin

Music and sound by Adam Clark

Cast: Sheila Atim

Gary Beadle

Sidney Cole

Elliot Cowan

James Fleet

Clive Francies

Tunji Kasim

Anne Madeley

Roger Jean Nsengiyumva

Siân Phillips

Danny Sapani

Xhanti Mbonzongwana

Anna-Maria Nabirye

Daniel Francis-Swaby

Mark Theodore

Singers: Nofenshala Mvotyo

Nogcinile Yekani Nomaqobiso

Mpahleni (Madosini) Latozi

The play and the production are brilliant, timely and gut-wrenching.

Background: Lorraine Hansberry is best known for her play A Raisin in the Sunabout a Black family who moved into a white neighbourhood in Chicago, and how they coped with racism.

Les Blancs (Les Blancs, French for “The Whites”) was her last play and she had not finished it  when she died in 1965 at the age of 34. Her ex-husband Robert Nemeroff adapted and finished the play. It was first produced in 1970 on Broadway. Hansberry considered it her most important play.

The Story. Les Blancs takes place in a fictional South African country at the turn of the 19th  and 20th century. More specifically it takes place around the hospital/mission school established 40 years before by Reverend Neilsen and his wife Madame Neilsen.  The Revered came to bring Christianity to the natives and has continued to that day.

Working at the hospital are: Dr. Marta Gotterling who has been there for seven years, Dr. Willy Dekoven who is quiet, drinks too much and knows exactly what is going on in that country to those people, Peter an older Black man who is a servant and Eric a younger Black man who is lighter skinned.  

Charlie Morris is an American journalist who has come to the hospital to write about the good work of Reverend Neilsen. There is Major Rice the military presence, the typical overbearing British colonizer who has lived there a long time and believes that country belongs to people who look like him.  There is unrest in the region. There is local resistance to the white presence and that makes Major Rice more demanding about order and curfews.

Returning to the village for the first time since he left seven years before is Tshembe Matoseh. He went to England to be educated and then travelled the world, gained a perspective, married an English woman and they had a son. Tshembe has come home to see his dying father but he’s too late.  During his time away Tshembe worked for Kumalo, a man who was African and was trying to get the Europeans to recognize the rights of the African people of his country.  Tshembe got a first hand look at how Europeans and others treat Blacks with disdain, condescension and with a policy to not educate them enough for them to govern themselves.

Tshembe is reunited with his brothers: the aforementioned Eric, who is Tshembe’s younger brother, and Abioseh Matoseh, Tshembe’s older brother. Abioseh also went to England to be educated as a Roman Catholic priest. Tshembe is saddened to see that his brother has been totally assimilated in the European sensibility and turned his back on his African heritage and traditions He will soon take the Christian name, Father Paul Augustus, which Tshembe describes as the name of  ‘a murdering Roman Emperor.”

As the unrest escalates the rebels put pressure on Tshembe to join them. He longs to go home but is torn in his loyalties.  He sees what is happening to his country because of the hand-fisted way the ‘settlers’ (white colonists) are treating his people.

The Production. The production is beautifully directed by Yaël Farber, using traditional music, the Xhosa language in some cases, dance and symbolism.

The production begins with the thrum of music that is focused when a group of Black women in traditional garb slowly enter singing a throaty song in the Xhosa language. Adam Cork’s music/soundscape is mysterious, plaintive and seductive. The women walk clockwise around the large Olivier stage. They are followed by a larger group of people also walking slowly, wearing worn clothes. Each person holds his/her right hand in a light fist forward out of which falls a steady stream of sand. This larger group represents the Black servants and workers of the mission: Peter (Sidney Cole), Eric (Tunji Kasim), Abioseh (Gary Beadle) and finally, separate from them is Tshembe (Danny Sapani). To me the steady stream of sand is symbolic of their country slipping through their fingers.  

Walking counter-clockwise, even slower and more deliberately is a character referred to only as “The Woman” (Sheila Atim). She is commanding in her presence because she appears to be in an expressionless trance, her head is tilted down a bit and wears a costume that barely covers her.

This silent woman will slowly circle the stage for the whole of the production, always present and representative of that African country. She walks against the flow of the others going the other way… perhaps symbolic of how Africa was considered backward by the ‘settlers’. The Woman is also symbolic of the thing that haunts Tshembe– the memory of his country that he missed so much. The Woman is a presence, a thought, the idea of that place–majestic, graceful but also almost ground down in despair.   `

As these characters circle the space, the stage revolves. The make-shift wood mission comes into view—barely a skeleton of a structure (kudos to Soutra Gilmour for the evocative design). A few steps rise up to the veranda. Three white characters: Major Rice (Clive Frances), Dr. Dekoven (James Fleet) and Dr. Gotterling, (Anna Madeley) climb the steps, spread across the veranda and look ‘down’ on the Black characters in front of the house. In simple, elegant movement, song and symbolism director Yaël Farber has created the segregated, divisive world of that African country and that mission/hospital. Stunning.

Charlie Morris (Elliot Cowan), the journalist from America, arrives and is eager to begin his research for his article. He’s charming to Dr. Gotterling who greets him. There will be slight flirting between the two over the production. Charlie Morris offers Peter (Sidney Cole) one of the servants at the mission, a tip of coins for bringing his suitcase. Peter is excessively grateful, bowing, thanking etc. As Charlie, Elliot Cowan has that jaunty, confident, curious attitude of a man who is never awkward and always feels he’s doing good. He gives Peter a tip when we figure no one else would. As Peter, Sidney Cole has a skittish body language, always at the ready to rush and do the bidding of the people who employ him or the Major. Cole’s head is bowed in obsequious respect, almost never looks in the face of the person talking to him. But then when Peter segues from the servant to the resistance fighter he stands straight, looks a person in the eye and there is not one trace of wanting to please. The voice is strong and hard. You cringe and are embarrassed for him when Peter ‘bows and scrapes. And he’s compelling when he is in full height as the leader of the resistance. It’s a performance of power.

Lorraine Hansberry (and I must also credit Robert Nemeroff who adapted Hansberry’s notes in order to finish the play) had such a delicate way in creating her characters, their stories and how they faced off with other characters.

We soon realize that Madame Neilsen (a wonderful, quietly regal performance by Siân Phillips) did more to bring education and Christianity to the village and its people than her husband did. Madame Neilsen is now an old, blind woman who is waiting for her husband to come home from wherever he went on business. But we find out she befriended Tshembe’s mother, Aquah, years before and learned some of her customs and the language.  Madame in turn taught Aquah English, French and some Norwegian (the Nielsen’s are Norwegan).  Madame taught Tshembe and his brothers geometry and other lessons. She earned their respect.

When Tshembe returns home to see his dying father he also pays a visit to Madame. She is delighted to see him and wants to feel his face to ‘see’ it. When she realizes he’s cut his hair  she says, “You had such a bush!” the word and image stings to hear it in the 21st century. Tshembe laughs and explains that now he’s “a city man. Do you see my part?” He means of course that he was trying to assimilate into a European lifestyle. Lines like this make one suck air. We know that assimilating for a Black man is so fraught then and now. As Tshembe, Danny Sapani gives a beautifully paced, nuanced performance of a man who is obviously conflicted and out of place in both worlds of his African village and the European world. His anger at what is happening to both brothers and his country fills him with ever bubbling rage. And he’s conflicted. He wants to back to England to his wife and son but is compelled to stay and fight for his country’s independence from the colonizers.

While Madame attempted to learn the language and customs of Aquah, Dr. Marta Gotterling has been there seven years and does not seem to have bothered to learn any of the language. She tends to a young boy and gives instructions in English to his father slowly and deliberately as if talking to a simpleton.  That speaks volumes.

Charlie Morris fancies himself an open-minded American but he too has his arrogant blind-sides. He wants to discuss and talk to Tshembe over a cigarette and a drink about the politics of the place for his story, but Tshembe has heard it all before and is sick of talk. Tshembe is the modern man—educated in England but staunchly connected to his country’s traditions and history.  He is the perfect opponent to Morris and lets him have it with wonderful lines like this:

“What is this meaningless nonsense with you Americans for a handshake, a grin and half a glass of whiskey you want 300 years to disappear and in a few minutes….do you really believe that a rape of a continent will dissolve in cigarette smoke?” You get the sense of his frustration at trying to always having to ‘explain’ to well-meaning but thoughtless people, about his country and what it’s like being Black.

Clive Frances plays the racist bully, Major Rice without one trace of pulling a punch. The contempt he has for the Black people of that country makes one squirm. It’s that condescending attitude of how the British (or any conquering people) are overbearing and think they know how to run a place with a fist, a gun, an insult and a need to keep people under his thumb.

The conscience of the play in a sense is Dr. Dekoven, played with a quiet sense of futility by James Fleet. He knows of the subtleties of what is going on there. He drinks a lot to forget. He offers Eric whiskey for the same reason. He knows how the white colonists have taken and ruined the place and the people.

In the end a young man runs around the set holding a lit torch above his head, climbs up the steps to the mission and slams the torch on the floor and runs off. It was Eric. The place goes up in flames and all in it one assumes—the doctors and Madame. The music swells to a compelling loudness. The Woman stops walking as if in a trance and turns around on the spot, her arms raised holding something in both hands—a weapon? Knives? I could not tell. And she looks up for the first time, to the sky, as if in some kind of ceremonial gesture. It’s both unsettling and thrilling.

Yaël Farber even stylizes the curtain call. Rather than doing a full-tilt bow the cast bent their heads down and brought it back. They did not bow at all. The director was saying something here—“we will not bow down again, ever”. Woow

Comment.  In Les Blancs Lorraine Hansberry has written an astonishing, gripping, timely, beautifully unsettling play for our times. It’s about imperialism, racism and colonialism. It is in perfect keeping of the Black Lives Matter movement. I listened to the words written in the 1960s and how I’m hearing them in 2020.When the Major spits out the word “boy” to Peter it stings to hear it. I must confess I sat uncomfortably when Madame said to Tshembe, “Come in, Child.” It’s a term of endearment she probably always called him when he was a kid. Now he’s a man in his 40s but she is still that child she taught.  Today when race and language are so charged, I heard the word “Child” perhaps in a different way even though Madame didn’t mean it that way.

Interestingly we learn that the Reverend considered the people of the village as his children and he kept them subservient and beholding to him as if they were children. They were taught a little—how to turn a dial or press a button–but were basically uneducated. Tshembe’s father was the person who started the resistance, fighting for more independence and at every turn was thwarted by the Reverend.

Hansberry gives the many sides of the story, from the point of view of the well-meaning, to the wilfully ignorant, to the deliberately oppressive and those who are fed up and will not take that treatment anymore.

Her perceptions of the politics and mindset of the colonizer are razor sharp and her dialogue in getting that across is astonishing.

This is a splendid production of a blistering play that every single person should see.

It plays on National Theatre Live until July 9.

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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This week on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm, on Friday, July 3 from 9 am to 10 am, I’m reviewing Les Blanc (The Whites), the last play by Lorraine Hansberry, that is streaming this week until July 9 for free at: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

The play couldn’t be more timely. Here is the description:

“As an African country teeters on the edge of civil war, its society prepares to drive out their colonial present and claim an independent future. Yaël Farber directs a cast featuring Siân Phillips and Danny Sapani.”.

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Steven McCarthy’s St. Steven’s (“Pure Bliss”) Bagels are not a fluke.

I wrote last month about ordering a dozen sesame seed bagels from Mr. McCarthy, who is not only a gifted actor, director, musician, screenwriter, but also a bagel maker. People on Facebook raved about them. I made an order. I picked them up at Steve’s Parkdale veranda (my apartment is out of his delivery area and his schedule was full of meetings, so I went to his house to get them.)

Steve gave me two bags, with six bagels in each and on each bag. The bags were warm! On each bag was a square label that says “St. Steven’s Bagels” with a dark-haired woman at a microphone underneath which was the phrase “pure bliss”. I ate a warm, chewy bagel immediately, raved and wanted to eat another but thought that might be rude or suggest gluttony, so I waited until I was in the car to hoover down another.

After a pleasant chat about the good neighbourhood Steve let it drop that he and his wife were moving within the next two months, to Hamilton!

I thought I better order another dozen bagels before Steve left. And, forgive me, to see that they were not a one-bake wonder. They weren’t. My tests were rigorous. My arrival time was one hour later than I was told to be there—I got waylaid with stuff. I texted Steve when I was there. I was greeted on the veranda by Ben who barked loudly at me. Ben is Steve and Alyx his wife’s Labrador. The bark was not menacing of an angry dog who would go for your throat if you made one wrong move. Rather it was to tell me he was the boss. I stayed on the step. Ben yawned, licked his lips and spread out on the veranda for a nap.

Steve came out a few minutes later and gave me the two bags. They were not warm. Did it make a difference? No. The bagel was crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. St. Steven’s Bagels are simple, pure and obviously made with care and pride. And they had the same effect as before, it was like eating potato chips—you can’t eat just one. Again, I waited to eat the second one in the car.

Steve, Ben, gripping a Frisbee in his jaws, and I walked up the street—me to the car, he and Ben to get a coffee for Alyx and to say hello to every neighbour on the street who knew them. It was worth the trip to Parkdale to get such delicious bagels. And truth to tell, I’d go to Hamilton in a shot, if he was baking there too.  It’s times like these that I miss hugging because of a job well done, for being gracious and kind. And I feel the same way about Ben too.

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An Appreciation of the Emerging Director Project Showcase from Theatre By the Bay in Barrie, Ont.

It must be something in the water.

How else to explain how the small city/town of Barrie, Ont. (an hour north of Toronto—the Centre of the Universe) could have such a bounty of theatre talent. First there is Arkady Spivak, the dynamo Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre, who has been producing provocative fare for years. And now Iain Moggach, the young Artistic Director of Theatre By the Bay (TBTB) is making his own mark on the theatre there.

While Moggach had to cancel his summer season for Theatre By the Bay because of COVID-19 that has not stopped him in presenting the results of the new training program, The Emerging Director Project, using ingenuity, technology and the mysteries of youtube.

Two young women, Korol Pikulik and Valeria Bravo, received training and guidance in theatre direction from Leah Holder and Iain Moggach. Each young woman picked a play to perform, also by a young Barrie writer, and presented a one time only performance on youtube June 26. (Note: I logged onto the site tonight as well, so perhaps the site is available to watch again. The link is below. )

Korol Pikulik chose to do a 20 minute scene from The Key to Conspiracy by Lori McIntyre. It’s about a Tori, a 17 year-old women who works for minimum wage in a lost articles department and the compassion and empathy she shows to Mr. Lieutenant, a schizophrenic WWII vet.  He comes looking for a lost ‘ring’ and another item. Another customer is impatient waiting in line to be served, but Tori has time and understanding for Mr. Lieutenant who is angry, disoriented and obviously fragile-minded. Tori defends, protects and empathizes with Mr. Lieutenant.

Korol Pikulik explained that she was anxious to use the abilities of youtube to slip out of our rigid perspective into the more malleable perspective shifts offered by this technology giving us a unique viewing experience. She also said that empathy is the ability for us to understand each other no matter the differences. One celebrates such maturity. I also appreciated the performances of the cast. This is not a review because of the emerging nature of the directors’ project. Rather it’s an appreciation.

Valeria Bravo directed Missing Links by Gordon Haney. It’s a wild story of three adult brothers who go camping one day and the various and sundry mishaps that result. There is sibling rivalry, jealousy, bullying, teasing, perhaps a dangerous man, loose in the area and lots of banter about being a disappointment. Valeria Bravo liked the piece because it explored brotherly love and rivalry and she liked the goofy humour.

Valeria Bravo used the youtube technology well. Characters would pass other characters props from one panel (where the character was) to another panel (where another character was as well). So a pair of binoculars was passed from a character to another. He just hand the binoculars in one hand, leaned toward the other character reaching out with the binoculars and the other character reached over to get them and then brought them into the panel/square. We’ve seen this before, but it’s always impressive. But then Ms Bravo takes it a step further. Rather than have each actor face out speaking facing us watching, Bravo had the characters who were talking to each other, actually turn and look sideways as if actually engaging with the characters to whom they were speaking.  Loved that.

I thought both directors acquitted themselves very well as did their casts. I look forward to seeing more directing from Korol Pikulik and Valeria Bravo.

Here is the direct link to the youtube video (where it was streamed. Perhaps it’s still there):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?fbclid=IwAR2PSaoBYL-O6qneDcf25K1IVcLru1AiU-b0K2n7u22k2cFC7T_ePN8ATq0&feature=youtu.be&v=urkbEzIhh0g

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This from the weird and wonderful world department….

The plays Unholy by Diane Flacks and Late Night by Kat Sandler deal with their subject matter as if they were created for television. Both plays premiered a few years ago: Unholy premiered at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 2017 under the auspices of Nightwood Theatre; Late Night was produced at Zoomerhall in 2016 and was an early production of Zoomer Live.

This pandemic brings out a lot of creativity to bring us entertainment and in a moment of art imitating life, both plays were filmed and televised on June 23rd on Vision TV, (part of  Zoomermedia)  Both shows are available online.

UNHOLY

After its initial television air time the full version is available to view online at unholyshow.com.

NOTE: I will start with a brief over-view of each play and then comment on how they translated to television.

Written by Diane Flacks
Originally Directed by Kelly Thornton

Directed for television by Bill Mantas and Ken Grunberg
Cast: Diane Flacks
Barbara Gordon
Niki Landau
Blair Williams
Bahareh Yaraghi

A bracing examination of women in organized religion that is unsettling, thought-provoking and timely.

The StoryUnholy by Diane Flacks (first produced in 2017) is about misogyny towards women in religion. It takes the form of a televised debate between two teams of women—each side has two women. There is a male moderator who poses the questions that each side debates, and offers some cheesy humour he finds clever. The audience decides the winner. The main question for debate is: Should women abandon religion?

The Production. The stage is bare except for two desks with chairs on either side of the stage. Each desk accommodates two panellists on each side of the stage. On one side are: Liz, a lesbian, atheist, provocateur and Margaret, an excommunicated nun. We learn that Margaret worked in a hospital and had to make a terrible decision about an expectant mother and her unborn child. That decision cost her her place in the Catholic Church.

On the other side are:  Yehudit, an Orthodox Jewish spiritual leader who is vociferous in her defence of women in Judaism and Maryam, a feminist Muslim lawyer.

Richard, the moderator is the only one not sitting at a desk. He roams the set freely.

Flacks shows each woman in situations away from the debate when they reveal their personal sides. And in two cases that personal side gets dangerously close.

Diane Flacks explores questions of faith and conscience, misogyny in religion, marriage and independence and a whole raft of provocative questions. Flacks looks at the place of women in various religions from the point of view of an orthodox Jew, a Muslim, a former nun and a woman who rejects all faith and questions the faith of the other women. Her scholarship into each woman is prodigious. The arguments are bracing, fierce and brisling. Hers is an intellect bubbling with invention, curiosity and pointed observations.

Flacks plays Liz, a woman who is the provocateur, who has lost or tossed her faith. She is tough, focused and fearless in debate as she challenges the other debaters.

Barbara Gordon is Margaret, the former nun. She has a soft, caring way and certainly a wounded look when recalling her decision which cost her her place in the Church,

Niki Landau plays Yehudit, the orthodox Jew, with grace and serenity but she also has a back bone of steel when debating Liz. Bahareh Yaraghi plays Maryam, the Muslim, again, with a forthrightness. She has defences, but then are soon slowly removed. Yaraghi gives a performance of a woman that is poised and with purpose.

Questions of Niqab and Hijab are debated. When Maryam’s situation becomes involved with another debater matters becomes complicated.

And finally, Blair Williams plays Richard the moderator with smoothness and a touch of condescension. He represents every negative point that is made of how women are demeaned and not taken seriously by men.

Kelly Thornton directed the play pushing the action that left the audience breathless. The television version is directed by Bill Mantas and Ken Grunberg. The arguments come fast and furious. The intellectual debate reveals nimble minds. The pace is quick. But the tone of the speakers seems like one long shout. More variation is in order. I found the relentless yelling weakened the arguments. If the opponents are yelling the audience  stops listening. That’s not a good thing.  

Comment. Decibel-level concern aside, I thought it was a terrific production of a play set as a television debate presented on television as a debate. The acting from all concerned was superb.

LATE NIGHT

At Zoomerhall, Zoomer Live Theatre 70 Jefferson Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Kat Sandler

Cast: Nigel Downer
Rachel Jones
Kat Letwin
Michael Musi
Alon Nashman
Maria Vacratsis

NOTE: This is my review when it first played at Zoomerhall in 2016. I will comment after this on the television version.

A creation from the gifted Kat Sandler that is confusing as to what it actually is? A TV show that wants to be a play? A play that wants to be a TV show? Both?

The Story. We are in a TV studio for the live taping of Marty O’Malley’s  final show as host of the talk show, The Early Late Show. He has been the suave host for 22 years and now he’s been pushed aside for a younger, hipper, new host, edgy comedienne, Sarah Goldberg. Sarah is introduced during the show and Marty and Sarah spend the rest of the show, sort of co-hosting.

Marty and Sarah banter, lob barbs and during the live show Sarah let’s a bombshell of a bit of news drop. The rest of the program is spent with Alanna the floor director, Davey the intern and the on stage hosts in damage control mode and trying to control the guests who get more and more out of control.

The Production as a play in a tv studio. As we fill in to the playing area a young woman sits behind the host’s desk, greeting us. We learn later she is Sarah Goldberg (Kat Letwin). We are in an actual TV studio with the audience on either side of the playing area. TV cameras and their operators are to my left. To my far right is the desk behind which is a swivel chair on which Sarah sits. To the right of the desk are two very comfy seats for the guests. There are video screens across the way above that section of audience, I’m sure behind me and above the desk so that we can all see the action, especially in close-up.

Alanna (Maria Vacratsis) and Davey (Michael Musi)  enter to organize things before the actual live show begins. This being the only live show they’ve done—it’s usually taped–emotions are high. Alanna barks to Davey to bring her a coffee. He asks what kind with what added. She tells him vaguely and he rushes off to get it and brings back a coffee not to her liking. This gag goes on with him rushing off to correct the coffee order and coming back again with the wrong kind. Very funny. Pure Kat Sandler.

Marty O’Malley  (Alon Nashman) rushes on from makeup with his shirt and jacket collar protected by paper towelling. He looks fit, tanned and dapper in his suit and polished shoes. He warms up the crowd with his easy chat. There are bits dropped about this being his last show. He’s emotional. We sense he’s been pushed out.

When the ‘show’ starts proper Marty introduces Sarah as the new host, he says she is a woman who started on the show bringing him coffee. There is a close-up of Sarah’s face, tight smile, obviously hurt by the remark. She spars back. Sarah is a noted comedienne who takes no prisoners and that includes Marty, her former boss and mentor. The banter is lively. Then Sarah says something that is shocking.

In the commercial break that follows immediately Alanna goes into full warrior-woman mode and demands that damage control begin with her new host. A guest, Kevin Lee Hicks (Nigel Downer), comes on to add to the electricity in the air. He is dressed as a sassy older woman. The hosts are told not to mention something in Hicks’ past. Naturally it’s mentioned. Matters degenerate from there.

Because the audience’s attention is focused on the ‘live TV show” going on (to my right), perhaps not noticed (and should be) is Alanna the floor director (to my left), reacting with a definitely escalating sense of emotion to all the mayhem on stage. Alanna’s reactions add another layer to a rather one-sided situation in the TV show.

Kat Sandler’s direction of her actors, including, I assume the camera angles and close-ups, keeps the pace fast. Every single actor in this production is terrific. Alon Nashman gives Marty O’Malley an elder-statesman distinction. He’s personable, charming, knows how to put on the emotion and work the audience. He also shows a sexist attitude to women. Kat Letwin plays Sarah Goldberg as an edgy, take-no-prisoners-comedienne. She has the energy of the young woman ready to take her best shot. As Alanna, the volatile floor director, Maria Vacratsis is fierce, focused and cutting. Just giving Davey her coffee order is nuanced and hilarious. Michael Musi plays Davey as a nervous, twitchy, sweet man who tries to do right and isn’t very successful. Nigel Downer as Kevin Lee Hicks is a wonderfully understated comedic actor. I’ve seen him do improve. He’s brilliant. He’s terrific here as well. And Rachel Jones does a lovely melt-down as Vivien Lawrence, Marty’s movie star wife who has taken too many anti-depressants along with good scotch to keep things on an even keel.

Comment on the play from 2016. Playwright Kat Sandler has proven herself to be a funny, provocative, perceptive writer. She creates humour from her characters, their relationships, attitudes, from situations and from her loopy sense of what’s funny. Her writing is clean, spare and lethal in the humour department—as can be seen in such Sandler works as Mustard, Liver and The Retreat. She wrote Late Night as part of the Fringe 24 hour playwriting contest, which she won. It has her trade-mark sharp, funny jabs; wild situations; and intriguing characters.

One comes to a Sandler play with high expectations. So I have to ask, what is this? What exactly is Late Night? Is it a play wanting to be a send-up of a TV show that melts down, and an American TV show at that? Why bother since we have seen plenty of these TV talk shows that inadvertently melt down all on their own and don’t need to be sent up?

Is it a TV show wanting to be a play? If so it’s a stretch that doesn’t work. Kat Sandler has peppered her play with all manner of hot button topics such as ageism, sexism, misogyny, infidelity and anti-gay banter without really fleshing out these comments more than just offhanded references. Is Late Night trying to blur the lines between TV and theatre? The only place blurry lines are useful is in an optometrist’s office and they can fix it.

The involvement of Moses Znaimer, head of Zoomermedia in this effort suggests he wants to combine some TV-theatre presence in an endeavour called “ZoomerLive!” of which Late Nightis its inaugural production. If this is the best they can do, then it’s an experiment that needs more thinking.

The Production as Television. What a difference a new viewing perspective makes. Late Night works a treat as a television show with theatrical elements with the viewing audience at a remove in their homes watching it on television. All the mayhem of The Early Late Show is presented in bright colour in full screen. The scenes supposedly backstage or not part of the “live” show are presented in black and white with a square outline of the people in the shot, in the middle of our tv screens. Clever. 

The camera work is razor sharp, flitting from character to character. We are never in doubt as to whose reaction on which we are supposed to focus.  The acting continues to be wonderful with each actor doing compelling individual work.

Produced by Zoomermedia and Brouhaha

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.zoomerlive.com

Available to watch online through July 8, 2020

Late Night was originally presented as a live production in ZoomerMedia’s Zoomer Hall live event space and studio and was recorded and edited for later broadcast on VisionTV.

https://www.visiontv.ca/videos/late-night/

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Friday, June 19, 2020. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. King John at the Stratford Festival, in the summer of 2014. Filmed and streamed on the Stratford YouTube channel until July 9.

(This review was broadcast on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 fm June 19. This is the ‘script-review.’

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with me, Lynn Slotkin.

It played at the Festival in the old Tom Patterson Theatre, in the summer of 2014, but was streamed on the Stratford Festival’s YouTube channel yesterday, and will continue to stream it until July 9.

Today I’m talking about the Stratford Festival Production of Shakespeare’s King John. I’ll do an overview of the stage production and talk about the filmed streaming of that live production.

Once again, men behave badly, war results and there is lots of grief.

King John is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays.

King John of England is asked by the French ambassador representing King Phillip II of France, to relinquish the crown in favour of his young nephew Arthur.

Arthur is the son of King John’s deceased brother Geoffrey and his wife Constance. The request challenges the legacy of John’s rule. 

The notion of giving up the crown is ridiculous to King John and to indicate that he declares war on France.

In a subplot King John has to make a decision about a thorny issue. Two brothers vie for the inheritance of their father’s estate. Robert Falconbridge believes he is his father’s rightful heir.

Robert believes his brother Philip is in fact the bastard son of King John’s predecessor, King Richard the Lionheart, and their mother is being mum (sorry) about it.

There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot, lots of political maneuvering that are so nuanced it’s dazzling with King John being adept at it all, but war is at the heart of this.

This production was directed by Tim Carroll. Carroll uses something called ‘Original Practices’ in his direction. By doing rigorous research into the performing practices in Shakespeare’s day, Carroll creates a production that might be how it was done back then.

He says in his program note that he “hopes it creates a liberating environment for the play of Shakespeare’s incredible language.”

Original practices might involve having the houselights on suggesting the production takes place outside in sunlight.

For King John Tim Carroll imagines how the play would be done indoors, which means the production is lit by candle light.

Much was made of this production being actually lit by candle light alone.

Sort of. 

In the filmed version of this production—directed for film by Barry Avrich—we see many candles flickering in the background. One can be dazzled by trying to tell if that is real candle light. Some of the candles in two candelabras  were actually lit.

Only on closer inspection, when I was actually at the performance, did I realize that those candles that seemed to have fire in their wicks were either electric or some other modern invention.

I found Mr. Carroll’s pronouncement that he was using ‘original practices’ interesting. I was also amused when I read somewhere that he said he could be making it up regarding ‘original practices’.

Research aside, in truth one really doesn’t know what the ‘original practices’ are.

The production begins with the company entering lead by a monk, singing Salva nos, stella maris a medieval hymn in Latin. The sound is gorgeous.

The procession of the cast in their costumes singing in perfect co-ordination in this formation is wonderful.

But as the production progresses you realize Tim Carroll is not so much interested in establishing relationships as he is in arranging the stage with characters in a certain way.

Those listening are arranged around the periphery of the stage. Again, very stylized and rather static.   

It’s interesting to note that with Barry Avrich’s direction of the filming of the live production does not accentuate this static aspect.

In fact the use of close-ups and various film shots gives a human aspect to the production. I found that interesting.

There is a lot of wonderful acting here. As King John, Tom McCamus is a quiet talking, quick thinking, loose cannon. His speech is almost sing-songy that lulls you into thinking this man is a lightweight intellectually.

He isn’t.

When he declares war it is  done quietly and with a lethal smile.

Patricia Collins, as Queen Eleanor, King John’s mother, looks imperious and regal in her red gown. Collins is formidable, shrewd and with a sharp-tongued. She is as politically savvy as her son. And just as dangerous.

Graham Abbey plays Philip, the Bastard—as in Bastard son. This is a character who is a born soldier and perceptive in how battles are fought and won.

Philip is fearless and takes no prisoners, nor suffers fools gladly.  

When the production ends the women of the company enter singing Salva nos, stella maris again with their own stylized pacing after which they are joined by the men, also singing the hymn. Again, it’s gorgeous sounding and the formation on film (and in person as I recall) was thrilling.

While I found Tim Carroll’s staging for the most part to be static and dull, the filming of it by Barry Avrich brought out the human aspect of the rarely done play. It’s worth a look for the fine acting.

While it’s wonderful in this time of isolation to see so much streaming of live theatre (because we miss the real thing so much), the reality is that it’s really television. Watching a filmed version of a play—and Barry Avrich’s filmed version of King John is dandy—lacks that three dimensional aspect; the immediacy and the ‘grab’ of the audience’s attention when you are actually in the theatre watching. Proof? During the streaming there was a steady scroll of comments from ‘viewers’ who remarked on how lovely the costumes were, or how glad they were to see an actor in the part, or sending greetings. How can one pay attention fully to a production if they are so busy commenting with a running commentary? And this film is not the only example. I see that again and again with other filmed performances. Interesting.  

The film of the production is streaming until July 9  on the Stratford Festival youtube channel  along with a bracing discussion before hand with Antoni Cimolino, the artistic director of Stratford, and Tom McCamus and Graham Abbey.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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