At the Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.

Written by Kelly McIntosh and Gil Garratt

Directed by Gil Garrat

Set and costumes by Dariusz Korbiel

Lighting by Rebecca Picherack

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Caroline Gillis

Nathan Howe

Rachel Jones

Robert King

Jane Spidell

A brave attempt to examine the effects of the murders of helpless seniors by nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer, that gets muddled when too many story lines get in the way.

The Story. The feisty Blyth Festival has been doing original Canadian theatre in that little community for 45 consecutive seasons. The plays deal with the life and world around that community.

In the Wake of Wettlaufer was co-written by Kelly McIntosh and Gil Garratt. It deals in part with four siblings trying to deal with their father Frank’s rapidly developing dementia, and with the fall out caused by the deaths of several vulnerable senior citizens in several nursing homes over the yeas at the hands of nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer.  Frank was in one of the nursing homes where Wettlaufer worked. Frank raged at a nurse and the suggestion is that it was Wettlaufer.

It’s an indictment of a health care system that did not protect its elderly patients; that seemed to refuse to fire Elizabeth Wettlaufer when there were complaints, letting her resign instead.

It’s also about the frustrations of four siblings who seem at odds to know the best way to care for their father who is suffering from dementia.

The Production and Comment. Gil Garratt directs the production with confidence. The action generally takes place around a dining room table.

The siblings obviously don’t get along; long-seated animosity? Lynn is the one who stayed to take care of their father Frank as her siblings scattered across the country. Rachel Jones plays Lynn with a sense of exhaustion, worry and resignation. She carries the burden the others don’t have to. Jane Spidell plays Mary who has her own demons and tries to hide them. Brenda is played by Caroline Gillis with compassion. Their brother John is always working, never there to help but is ready to take over without conferring with his siblings. Nathan Howe plays John with a fine sense of arrogance and a closed-mindedness that makes you grit your teeth.  The excellent cast methodically. realizes all the frustration when one sibling tries to take over or doesn’t share information. The focus of all their concern is their father Frank. Robert King brings out the frustration of a man who doesn’t know what is going on in his head, thinks he’s perfectly fine and is angry at those around him. It’s a performance that builds to a shattering explosion.

But the play is a problem because it doesn’t know what it wants to be: a story about a dysfunctional family or an indictment of the health care system.

We see how these siblings don’t get along in Act I. At the end of Act I we see Lynn answer her phone—she says she always has it on in case the nursing home calls—and look stunned at what she is hearing. We never learn what the call was about. We surmise that Frank is dead, but we aren’t sure.

Act II seems to leave that story and deal with the trial of Wettlaufer and how she slid through the system with people covering their butt and hers and not firing her. Much of the dialogue is a taped recording of people at the trial. A large segment is the voice of Justice Eileen E. Gillese who was appointed commissioner of the Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of the Residents in the Long-Term Care Homes System. Her comments are devastating.

In Act II the siblings are not even sure if their father was one of Wettlaufer’s victims and it’s never revealed.

The playwrights, Kelly McIntosh and Gil Garratt, over-wrote the ending. After a long estrangement Lynn and John agree to disagree but move on with their lives closer than before. The play should end there.  But McIntosh and Garratt added a flash-back scene in which Frank is speaking at his wife’s funeral. He recalled many lovely moments the family enjoyed and that they should hold on to those moments. It’s as if those memories are to override the animosity they have shown each other for the whole play.

A cheat.  Please cut the scene, it has nothing to do with the play we have been watching.

It’s brave of the Blyth Festival to tackle such a thorny subject, but this play needs another pass to cut the extraneous bits and flesh out the characters more so there are less holes in the story.

The Blyth Festival presents:

Began: Aug. 2, 2019.

Closes: Sept. 6, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, approx.




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

Written by George Bernard Shaw

Directed by Kimberley Rampersad

Designed by Camellia Koo

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Original Music by Joseph Tritt

Cast: David Adam

Kyle Blair

Martha Burns

Jason Cadieux

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Sharry Flett

Jeff Irving

Tanja Jacobs

Tom McCamus

Gray Powell

Sanjay Talwar

Shauna Thompson

Sara Topham

A beast of a play, a terrific cast with a Hurculean effort by Gray Powell as Jack Tanner, hype up the wazzoo that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, but in spite of it all this production should have been better.

The Story. It’s about sexual politics; man-women relations, marriage, independence, manipulation, and even a discourse on heaven, hell and the Devil.

Ann Whitefield’s father has just died and his will stipulates that she have two guardians: Roebuck Ramsden, an old friend of the family and Jack Tanner, a childhood friend of Ann’s now a confident adult and self-professed Member of the Idle Rich class—Shaw being cheeky.

Jack is also an anarchist—he wrote “The Revolutionists’s Handbook” and he absolutely doesn’t want to be Ann’s guardian. She’s wily, quietly smart, manipulative and she obviously wants Jack as her husband. This is clear to the audience. For all of Jack’s philosophizing, esoteric banter with her he doesn’t have a chance.

To complicate matters Ann is pursued with great insecure ardour by Octavius Robinson a man so insecure and wobbly he can hardly stand up for himself. Octavius is also a good friend of Jack’s so there is that tricky situation. There is no rivalry between the two men, but there is Ann between them, being masterful in playing her games with each man.

Ann gives every indication that she will always do what her parents and guardians tell her to do. Don’t believe a word of it.  Ann knows what she wants and it’s obvious she wants Jack and goes after him with skill, finesse, subtlety and quiet ruthlessness.

The Don Juan in Hell scene (actually Act III of the whole play) is a dream sequence that takes place first in the Sierra Nevada and then with Don Juan in Hell. Beyond Space, Beyond Time.

Jack knows he is doomed to fall under the spell of Ann, a woman with a tremendous life force and resistance is futile. I think Shaw actually meant to name the play “Man and Superwoman” but chose to let us come to that conclusion ourselves.

 The Production and Comment. I call Man and Superman with Don Juan in Hell a beast because it’s a four Act comedy and a Philosophy by Bernard Shaw at his wordiest. It’s about all sorts of philosophical issues not the least of which are: man-women relations, marriage, class attitudes, anarchy and revolution.

Usually the third Act Don Juan in Hell scene is often cut and Acts I, II and IV are played as the complete play.

Not here.

We get the full Shaw that includes the long Don Juan in Hell scene.  Using Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni (which in turn is based on Don Juan, a fictional seducer of women) Don Juan is in Hell and debates the Devil on heaven, hell, damnation, women, the economy, brigands and all manner of philosophical discourse.

With all four acts including 2 intermissions it’s 5 hours and 15 minutes of Shaw at his most impish, diabolical, intellectually bracing, vegetarian self. The Shaw programme adds the 1 hour 15 minute lunch-break to the running time which I think is rather cheeky of them making the play seem longer than it is.

Director Kimberley Rampersad has envisioned a world of books and designer Camellia Koo’s set realizes that world. Her set is composed of two huge, high bookshelves, one on either side of the stage with two movable library stairs to climb to the highest reaches of the shelves, one on each side of the stage as well.  Furniture—a smart antique desk and chairs for the first scene–is spare but beautiful.

The acting is fine with Gray Powell doing Herculean work as Jack Tanner. There is an ease about the performance. Jack flits around the stage, hands in his pants pockets, relaxed, in control and in command. The words gush out of him as he establishes points of his many arguments and theories. He has a keen idea of himself, in that he knows he is a member of the idle rich and tries to do something positive with it. He has written “The Revolutionist’s Handbook” in which he discusses such topics as: “On Good Breeding,” “Property and Marriage,”  “Man’s Objection to His Own Improvement,” “Prudery Explained” and “Progress an Illusion.”  Jack gave a copy of the book to Roebuck Ramsden (a wonderfully blustery David Adams) who would not think of reading it, but still has an opinion of it.

For all of Tanner’s bluster and gushing dialogue and his energetic flitting around the space expounding, that is as still as Sara Topham is as Ann. She is wily, calculating and focused on getting her man. Topham listens calmly, eyes wide in wonder? Disbelief? at what Jack is saying, trying to suggest that she really does not have any opinions of her own, that they all come from her parents or guardians. Ann matches Tanner point for point. Her calculation is clear to the audience and her mother (a wonderful performance full of graceful exasperation by Sharry Flett) but certainly not to anyone (men?) on stage. Ann’s watchful silence cuts Tanner’s verbiage like a machete whizzing through chaff.

Ann’s other suitor is Octavius Robinson and is played with proper, devoted puppy love by Kyle Blair. He is desperate to be married to Ann but as she philosophizes this type of man never marries. They just pine. Kyle Blair pines beautifully.

As wimpy as Octavius is, his sister Violet (a formidable Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster) is a blazingly confident, straight-backed woman without a sense of humour. Perhaps she is funny because she doesn’t have a sense of humour. Violet sees the world, knows what she wants of it and goes after it. She doesn’t have the wiliness of Ann, but she is commanding in her own way. Ch’ng Lancaster carries off the ‘look’ and stature of Violet with great style.

In the dream world of the Sierra Nevada there is the brigand named Mendoza, a Spanish Jew. In gender-bending casting Martha Burns plays both Mendoza, with quiet swagger, and the subtlest of Spanish accents, and the Devil. As the Devil and Burns is so reasoned she is compelling.

But what am I to say about this production as a whole, that is billed as “a once in a lifetime event, only has 17 performances and is unnecessarily overpriced with a top ticket costing $271? (The other show at the Festival Theatre is Brigadoon with a top price of $167.)

It’s underwhelming.

So we got through the five hours and fifteen minutes of Man and Superman. That’s not good enough to earn praise.  It is a once in a lifetime event if you don’t go to the theatre again.  Man and Superman has played at the Shaw Festival five times before and each time had a much longer run over the summer and it was priced along the same lines as the other plays at that time.

Why do I say it’s “underwhelming?” Because it’s under rehearsed. Too many lines were flubbed on the opening night.  The cast etc. obviously needed more rehearsal. When you charge that much money for a ticket and foist it on the public with that much hype you better get it right and those holding the purse strings better find the money and the time to allow the cast and creatives to get it right. It doesn’t look like that happened.

And, this pains me, director Kimberley Rampersad is not ready for this huge a directing task. She is a dancer-choreographer who is transitioning to directing.  She took the Shaw Festival’s director’s training program two summers ago and was an assistant director during that summer season. Artistic Director Tim Carroll then assigned her to direct the lunch hour show of O’Flaherty VC. last year. And she did a good job. Last year she directed a musical and co-directed a play elsewhere.

 And now Tim Carroll thinks she’s ready to tackle Man and Superman with Don Juan in Hell, one of the most difficult plays in the canon?

Sorry, no.

You don’t teach an eager artist about directing by throwing them in the deep end and hoping they can swim and learn the intricacies of directing on a huge stage by osmosis. (Tim Carroll’s troubling penchant for using the multi-million dollar Shaw Festival as his incubator for pedagogical exploration is best left for comment for another time.)

But to my concerns with the production: at the beginning of Man and Superman the cast of characters march out and line up along the lip of the stage and then do a dumb show of passing cards to characters in some kind of choreographed formation. Since we don’t know who these characters are yet the point of the dumb show is confusing and mystifying. Not a good idea to start a production by confusing the audience.

Because Shaw references Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni in Man and Superman and Shaw considered the play an opera (it is grand enough to be considered thus) Rampersad imagines the first scene between Ramsden and Octavius to be sung through, complete with harpsichord accompaniment. This is an interesting idea but ultimately distracting. Again one is confused—why are we listening to Shaw’s dialogue sung like an opera’s recitative with a harpsichord that occasionally drowns out the dialogue, when it’s supposed to be a play? Again, don’t confuse the audience.

Fortunately this concept does not continue too long and we go back to ‘just’ listening to Shaw’s dialogue as it’s spoken. But then…Octavius (Kyle Blair) sits in a chair talking to Ramsden (David Adam) and for no reason Octavius gets up, walks about ten feet downstage away from the chair, turns and continues talking, until he then returns to sit in the chair. He does this several times. What is that? Simple rule of staging—don’t move a character for no reason.

Too often characters scurry up and down the movable library steps positioned upstage and too often that movement and conversation upstages the conversation going on downstage.

I noticed that very often Kimberley Rampersad staged scenes upstage about the middle of the large stage. I wonder if the people sitting in the first four rows of the theatre can see that far back of the stage. When I sat in the second row, even fleetingly, I couldn’t see that far back. (terrible seats by the way)

In the Don Juan in Hell scene, we are in Hell (duh).  Don Juan, Doña Ana and The Statue are waiting for the Devil to appear. She (Martha Burns) rises up out of the mist from a round circle in the floor as per Shaw’s stage direction. Very dramatic.  Later Don Juan decides to leave Hell for the nicer atmosphere of Heaven.  So he stands on the round circle in the floor and then he too lowers down and disappears. Also dramatic.

Here’s my question? Where are these characters coming from and going too? Is the Devil rising up from a basement in Hell?  Is Don Juan lowering into an underground path to eventually rise to Heaven? Staging has to make sense and not just look good.  This is fundamental to directing.

This production of Man and Superman needs to be better and it’s frustrating that it’s not, good acting notwithstanding.

The Shaw Festival presents.

Began: Aug. 17, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 5, 2019.

Running time: 5 hours and 15 minutes including two 15 minute intermissions.


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

Written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur

Adapted by Michael Healey

Directed by Graham Abbey

Set by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Composer and sound designed by John Gzowski

Cast: Maev Beaty

Michael Blake

Ben Carlson

Juan Chioran

David Collins

Sarah Dodd

Rosemary Dunsmore

Farhang Ghajar

Michelle Giroux

Emma Grabinsky

Randy Hughson

John Kirkpatrick

Shruti Kothari

Daniel Krmpotic

Josue Laboucan

Jamie Mac

Gordon S. Miller

Amelia Sargisson

Mike Shara

E.B. Smith

Johnathan Sousa

Michael Spencer-Davis

Sophia Walker

Michael Healey has written a savvy, respectful, very funny adaptation of the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur classic that speaks to our troubled times. The cast is superb.

 The Story. The Front Page was written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and opened in New York in 1928. Michael Healey has adapted the play for the Stratford Festival.

It takes place in Chicago, in the press room of the court house. A bunch of reporters are covering the hanging of Earl Williams, a white man who is accused of killed a black cop and there is a lot of time to kill while they wait for the next morning when the hanging will take place.

Both Hecht and MacArthur in fact were reporters in Chicago before they went into playwriting so they have the knowledge of the world of the reporter, the newspaper business and all the shenanigans in between.

The reporters and others in that press room spend the time waiting, playing cards, trying to find shreds of information to create a story to submit to their papers, blithely making up facts and giving everybody a hard time.

The prize reporter is Hildy Johnson who is quitting to get married, but is blocked by his colleagues, his editor, the joke of a sheriff and the corrupt mayor.

Then the prisoner escapes and all hell breaks loose as everybody goes into overdrive trying to get the scoop about what happened, especially Hildy Johnson.

The Production. Lorenzo Savoini’s design of the press room looks like a bunch of slobs work there. Crumpled up bits of paper are strewn across the floor. There are wastepaper baskets in the room, but they don’t seem to be used much, except by the most fastidious. Desks are placed around the room. There are old fashioned phones that require two hands to use, one to hold the receiver and one to hold the place into which one talks. There is nothing grand or comfortable about the place.

The production is directed with split-second precision by Graham Abbey. It would have to be precise with 23 characters on that stage at one time or another. It’s raucous, loud—everybody yelling over everybody else to be heard. I didn’t mind the yelling—I’ve heard worse in over-microphoned musicals.  Reporters rush in and out of the room trying to get a story. The speed of the comings and goings ramps up until the end when it looks more like a farce than a serious comedy. With this fast and furious world the sound level is raised and I can believe it.

Beside the precision, Abbey has a keen eye for the comedic gesture, the sight gag, the visual joke. But he also knows how to bring out serious moments by framing the scene and staging it so that there is no doubt where the focal point is.

A case in point is a scene involving a reporter named Wilson who is black. One of his colleagues nonchalantly uses the “N” word in regards to the condemned man and the black cop he is accused of killing.

E.B Smith plays Wilson with straight-backed confidence and dignity. When he hears the ‘N’ word Smith as Wilson sits looking forward, his face a stony expression.  Just as subtly, the person who says the word momentarily realizes he might have been inappropriate as he looks at Wilson. Graham Abbey leaves no doubt in his staging that the focus if this important exchange is Wilson and the racism around him.

Someone asks Wilson his opinion of Earl Williams the man condemned to be hanged. Wilson says he has no opinion because as a reporter he is only supposed to present the facts fairly and openly without having an opinion to sway him or others. He says that if the little paper he works for is not scrupulously honest then the vultures will be out ready to pounce and kill the paper. As Wilson, E.B. Smith is forceful, precise, and compelling in his truthfulness.  Scenes like this give the production a serious, solid grounding among the humour.

E.B. Smith plays Wilson with a dignified elegance and stature that puts him in a class alone from the other reporters.  He plays poker with the others and is as raucous in language as they are when bantering, but when dealing with a story, he is all business. His jacket is buttoned up. His back is straight and he commands respect.

The star of course is Hildy Johnson and he is played with effortless energy, command and determination by Ben Carlson.  He’s like an explosion on that stage and always riveting. This is a man who just wants to leave that paper and the rough and tumble world it represents and marry the woman he loves and live quietly. But the world is closing in on him: there is his exasperated future mother-in-law (played with a delicious fury by Rosemary Dunsmore); his loving but impatient fiancée Peggy, played with cool intensity by Amelia Sargisson; the intoxicating story he can’t resist; and the colourful buffoons who are so interesting (Mike Shara as the walking disaster windbag, Sheriff Hartman and Juan Chioran who is sartorially splendid but morally slimy as The Mayor).

Ben Carlson is ably paired with Maev Beaty who plays Cookie Burns. She is tough, in total command of that paper and everybody who works there. For every twist and turn in the plot, Cookie Burns is right there figuring the angles just as her late husband Walter would have done.

The whole cast is superb.

Comment.  Michael Healey has adapted The Front Page, the 1928 classic so that it has one foot firmly in 1928 when it was first done and one foot in 2019.  Michael Healey is of course a successful playwright (The Drawer Boy).  And he is a political animal having written plays about Joe Clark ( 1979) and Stephen Harper (Proud).

He knows a classic such as The Front Page when he sees one and certainly has respect for it and its world. But Healey is also inventive and creative.  So while the time frame is the same as are many details in the story, there are inclusions that let us know the world is changing.

McLaren who used to be a man in the original version is now a fearless woman. Hildy’s irascible editor, Walter Burns, is dead and the paper is now run by his equally irascible wife Penelope “Cookie” Burns.

There are references to ‘fake news.’ At the top of the show I hear an ad on the radio for a political candidate urging people to “Make America American Again.”

I think the most telling sign of change is with the character of Wilson who is black. He has to listen to racist remarks from his colleagues and not flinch. And while many of the reporters are lazy and don’t care about facts there is Wilson, Hildy and a few others who do take the job seriously and look for the truth.

The play is masterful in depicting a time that mirrors our own. I think Michael Healey’s adaptation polishes up that mirror and sharpens the image of the world we live in now.

The Stratford Festival presents:

Began: July 30, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 25, 2019.

Running Time: 3 hours approx.


At Withrow Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed, dramaturged and choreographed by Sarah Kitz

Adapted by Sarah Kitz and Andrew Joseph Richardson

Scenography by Claire Hill

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound design, composer and lyrics by Maddie Bautista

Props designed by Isabel Martins

Cast: Andrea Carter

Jason Gray

Jani Lauzon

Eponine Lee

Richard Lee

Tiffany Martin

Kaitlyn Riordan

Giovanni Spina

Sarah Kitz directs a lively, energetic production that uses the space wonderfully well, but has a concept that includes extra speeches that are not supported by the play. Troubling. 

The Story. (This will be long to give a sense of what is going on here.)  The Winter’s Tale is about the damages caused by irrational jealousy and about love. It’s about King Leontes of Sicilia and his pregnant wife Hermione. (They also have a young son named Mamillius).  For the past nine months his boyhood friend King Polixenes of Bohemia has been visiting Sicilia and now wants to go home to his kingdom and family!! Leontes wants him to stay but Polixenes gently tells him he has to go home.  Leontes asks Hermione to ask their friend to stay. She does and Polixenes agrees to stay a bit longer after she entreats him. Leontes is upset because Polixenes refused him but agreed when Hermione asked him to stay. From then on Leontes’ jealousy is in full bloom. He believes that Hermione and Polixenes are having an affair and the unborn baby is really Polixenes’. Leontes orders Hermione to be imprisoned. She knows this behaviour is not like him and says: …”how will this grieve you, When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that You thus have published me!”  He also sends minions to seek the advice of the Oracle.


In the meantime Leontes orders his servant Camillo to kill Polixenes. Camillo argues with his boss but eventually agrees because Leontes rails at Camillo. Camillo in turn warns Polixenes of the plan and they both escape to Bohemia.

It goes from bad to worse. Hermione delivers a baby girl she names Perdita (lost). Paulina a member of the court brings the baby to Leontes to try and convince him the baby is his daughter. He won’t hear of it. He orders Antigonus, another courtier, to kill the baby. Antigonus can’t do it and takes the baby to a desolate place with a case of money for whomever finds the baby. Antigonus then exits pursued by a bear (who also devours him). Two shepherds, a father and his son, find the baby and bring her up as their own.

In court the decree of the Oracle is read: “Hermione is chaste, Polixenes blameless, Camillo a true subject, Leontes a jealous tyrant, his innocent babe truly begotten, and the King shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found.”

Leontes still doesn’t believe Hermione is true. Then in quick succession: we learn that Mamillius has died because he misses his mother so much and is upset by what has happened. Hermione faints when she hears this and is presumed dead because Paulina says she is. Leontes is shaken from his jealousy and is now penitent.

Sixteen years later, in Bohemia. Perdita is in love with a young man and he with her. He is Florizell, son of King Polixenes but Perdita doesn’t know that. He is keeping it secret from her. His father and Camillo dress in disguise to check her out. They observe a ceremony when Florizell and Perdita promise each other to each other. Polixenes breaks up the proceedings because he can’t have his son, a prince, keeping company with a peasant girl. Florizell and Perdita escape to Sicilia pursued (not by a bear) but by Polixenes and Camillo.

When they arrive at Sicilia the truth is discovered. Perdita is Leontes long, lost daughter. Paulina shows the assembled a statue in the likeness of Hermione. Paulina will try and awaken Leontes faith. The statue moves and is warm to the touch when Leontes touches it, (“Oh, she’s warm!”).  Forgiveness, love, recognition, repentance. What was once lost is now found.

The Production. Withrow Park is a wonderful setting for The Winter’s Tale. The action takes place between “the two trees” just at the bottom of a gentle hill, down from the concrete building that houses the washrooms.

It’s directed by Sarah Kitz for whom I have tremendous respect. She negotiates her cast around the huge space of the park with efficiency and resourcefulness. And while much of the cast is not comfortable with the words or cadence of Shakespeare’s language, they make up for it with commitment and energy. Richard Lee plays Leontes initially as loving husband and father until he snaps into a jealous husband and wreaks terrible damage as a result. But just as quickly he is plunged into gut-twisting regret when he looses everything. Jani Lauzon is a fearless Paulina trying to make Leontes see the error of his ways. Young Eponine Lee is an impish Mamillius, an agile growling bear and forthright as Time.

For me Sarah Kitz’s previous directorial work has been clear, focused and realized the play. But with The Winter’s Tale I found her concept and interpretation of the play troubling.  In her program note she says that the play “explores patriarchy and the anxieties of inheritance…In the imaginary kingdoms of Sicilia and Bohemia, two Kings descend into paroxysms of destruction and anxiety, believing that their male lines of dynastic power are being corrupted by women.

For Leontes in particular, suspicion becomes fact at the speed of light and no ones thoughts but his own are necessary. The fairytale King defines the world. He is the law. This is what makes him so dangerous…there is an extraordinary possibility of redemption and reconciliation at the end of the story. In our contemporary telling, we strive to keep current with these gestures, looking for ways that we can move towards forgiveness and healing now.”


I totally disagree with Ms Kitz’s thesis of the play being about patriarchy, men in power who are ruthless and the anxieties of inheritance because the play doesn’t support them. More concerning is that Kitz has added an astonishing speech by Hermione  to solidify her thesis. It’s the scene in which Hermione’s statue has come to life (‘Oh, she’s warm) and she tells Leontes that she hated him for what he did to her.  She  says she left the palace and wandered the world and saw women kept silent by strong men, objectified and suffered hurts and pain inflicted by strong men on women both weak and strong. If you have to add speeches to prove your thesis about the play then your thesis doesn’t work.

If Hermione is educated by her travels, why does she come back to the palace? Also after she is reunited with her daughter why does she hold out her hand to Leontes in forgiveness, even though the added speech does not suggest that? Her holding out her hand to him in forgiveness is not earned.

Comment. The Winter’s Tale is a problematic play for many reasons not the least of which is trying to figure out what got into Leontes, certainly since so many people in the court have a high opinion of him.  Everybody knows this behaviour is not like him, so thinking he’s a jealous tyrant doesn’t work. Hermione certainly knows as much when she says that he will grieve when he finds out how wrong he’s been. She says it with kindness.  What could be the problem? What is different this time? His wife is pregnant and he’s affected too!

If Leontes is so powerful and dangerous, then how come every time he gave an order: for Camillo to kill Polixenes or to Antigonus to kill the baby, they ignored him. Camillo runs off with Polixenes and Antigonus puts the baby in a desolate place with money for those who find her to take care of her. Paulina too rages at Leontes for what he has done and forces him to take a look at his daughter. And it was women (Paulina and Hermione)  kept Hermione hidden for 16 years and watched while Leontes, consumed with grief and regret, suffered for 16 years.

Nope, the play is not about the patriarchy raging, destroying and anxious about their dynasties. The play doesn’t support it. And I got a headache from gritting my teeth while  the concept and the added speech distorted the play to conform to that thesis. That pains me.

Shakespeare in the Ruff presents:

Began: Aug. 14, 2019.

Closes: Sept. 2, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours approx.


At 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont.

Written by Ian McLachlan and Robert Winslow

Directed by Robert Winslow

Original music composition and Musical Director, Justin Hiscox

Original lyrics by Ian McLachlan

Costume designer, Meredith Hubbard

Set and props by Esther Vincent

Sound by Esther Vincent

Cast: Kevin Bundy

John Godfrey

Asha Hall-Smith

Justin Hiscox

Kristina Nicoll

JD Nicholsen

Melissa Payne

Jonathan Shatzky

Beth Thompson

And many others.

A gentle play with many plot lines that could use solidifying and more depth.

The Story. Walter and Abigail White are a loving couple with three darling children. They all live on a farm but Walter does not work the land. Rather he works on construction sites hauling gravel and using it on roads. Walter takes out a loan, unbeknownst to Abigail, to buy to new horses to do the hauling. Delbert Gray, the dapper but creepy bank manager who loaned Walter the money, comes calling for the monthly payment. He’s got designs on Abigail and could make things easier for her and Walter if she was more ‘accommodating’ to Delbert. As I said, he’s creepy. Then Walter gets hurt on the job and can’t work.

Two men down on their luck, Thomas Fortune and Billy Fiddler, come by looking for work and food. They stay to help out Abigail. Both Thomas and Billy are on their way to Spain to fight in the civil war. Also Billy knows Walter. They both were children under Dr. Barnardo—kids who were shipped to Canada from England to help on farms etc. And there is also reference to the Bonner Worth Woolen Mill strike of 1937. Abigail’s sister Audrey is a staunch social activist and was involved in the strike where tear gas was used. With money worries, Abigail thinks up a plan that just might save them. Lots of goings on in Carmel.

The Production. Esther Vincent has created a simple set that defines the kitchen of Walter and Abigail’s home. Many scenes take place around their table. Director Robert Winslow uses the upper level of one building and the various locations of the barn, the yard and the fields to create a sweep of the place. He has an eye for the grand image: an old time green pickup truck comes roaring around the back of one of the buildings for a good effect. Two beautiful horses are led to the front for another effect. Later they will be used to haul a load. One does wish for smoother transitions from scene to scene. They seem a bit clunky and that drags things down. A trick to fool Delbert Gray into thinking that Abigail was coming to his office when it was really a substantial bearded neighbour in disguise as Abigail, just didn’t make sense at all. Moments that should have been developed are just dealt with in a perfunctory way. Unsatisfying. Perhaps another director would have been more firm with the playwright.

As always the production is a mix of professional actors (Kristina Nicoll is sweet but resourceful as Abigail, Kevin Bundy is a good natured, decent man as Walter and JD Nicholsen is the most wonderfully creepy but dapper Delbert Gray) and those from the community are headed by the spunky Ahsa Hall-Smith as young Ruth White, our narrator.

Justin Hiscox has written original music and songs for the production and Ian McLachlan has written the lyrics—songs about resistance and striking etc. I’m just not sure they are appropriate or helpful to the plot.

Comment. Robert Winslow is to be championed and commended for starting 4th Line Theatre Company all those years ago. He seemed to do it all: write, direct and act in the plays. Then other playwrights and directors were invited in. The plays still dealt with the history of the area around Caven, Millbrook and environs. The plays got deeper especially from the likes of Alex Poch-Goldin, Maja Ardal and Judith Thompson. So it pains me to say that Carmel seems light. There are two references to the Barnardo children pertaining to Walter and Billy and they are fleeting. That just doesn’t seem substantial enough to refer to Carmel as third in the Barnardo children’s series.

So much is unexplored: how did Billy and Thomas meet really and decide they would go to Spain; Abigail solves their monetary problems with a terrific idea and that idea should have been explored more than it is; Walter becomes despondent after a pretty emotional time. He looks like he will kill one of his horses. Why would he do that? Not explained. Frustrating.

4th Line Theatre presents:

Began: Aug. 6, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 31, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.




My last two from SummerWorks, Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Rohinton Mistry’s THE SCREAM

 Written by Rohinton Mistry

Conceived, adapted and performed by Anand Rajaram

Set, costume and make-up by Roxanne Ignatius

Sound by Nicholas Murray

Lighting by Mark Andrada

An man is treated badly by the other people in his dwelling because he is old, has an unsightly skin disease and either imagines or actually hears a scream coming from outside. The old man’s story-telling is masterful (because Rohinton Mistry is a masterful story-teller) and because Anand Rajaram, who is performing his adapted piece, is a wonderful actor.

Rajaram is expressive, nuanced and theatrically savvy. The costume by Roxanne Ignatius looks like traditional garb for an old man from India. The make-up of blotches of red on the old man’s face impressively illustrates the man’s disease. Roxanne Ignatius also created the set. The walls are a riot of faces with the mouths opened in screams. There is a window at the back of one wall through which the old man looks out to the street to see where the scream is coming from.

Nicholas Murray has created a sound scape of rumbling, bell ringing sounds that underscore the whole show that is some of the most annoying, intrusive, overwhelming noise I’ve heard in a long time. Too much of the story-telling is rendered incomprehensible because the soundscape drowns it out. Mark Andrada’s constant blinking, floating lighting effects only adds to the distracting frustration. Is this supposed to be ambient lighting from the street? Why?

To say that this production is overproduced is an understatement. I would love to ‘hear’ this show again without any set, intrusive lighting and no sound effects except the mellifluous voice of Anand Rajaram.

Has closed.


Safe and Sorry

Part  of SummerWorks Lab.

Co-created and performed by Lauren Gillis and Alaine Huytton

Directed by Chelsea Dab Hilke

Co-performed by Angela Blumberg

Sound by Kelly Anderson

Film design by Peter Demas

Costume designed by Lauren Gillis and Alaine Hutton

A man with a sporty facial hair design gives a seminar for men on how to pick up women that will give them the impression they (the men) are respectful and only want the women to feel safe in their presence. The intention after the pickup is not for cordial conversation and discussion of life, art and history—it’s to have sex. So the safe and respectful attitude is a pretense. The lecturer, a calm, quiet speaking Lauren Gillis who is intriguing and gently compelling, stands in contrast to the various characters played by Alaine Hutton. Hutton’s characters vary from an awkward, shy mumbler who has no finesse around women and a twitchy thug-like clod who doesn’t look like he would have much use for the subtle line, he’d get right to the point. Angela Blumberg plays a stage hand in pants and white sleeveless t-shirt that brings props on and off, very efficiently. You believe she’s a man too.

The thesis of the piece is put simply in this line: “When I am on a date, where do I put my hand so that it will be obviously sexual, but not creepy?”

The creators then go on to expound on this in the most esoteric and elliptical way. Interesting that women dressed as men are pondering the question posed by men.

Has closed.


At the Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge, Cambridge, Ont.

Written by Reginald Rose

Directed by Marti Maraden

Set by Allan Wilbee

Costumes by Jennifer Wonnacott

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Cast: Neil Barclay

Benedict Campbell

J. Sean Elliott

Kevin Kruchkywich

Jeffrey Wetsch

Terry Barna

Keith Dinicol

Omar Forrest

Cyrus Lane

Skye Brandon

Thomas Duplessie

Jacob James

Brad Rudy

The Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick J. Flynn is the voice of the Judge.

Reginald Rose’s bracing 1954 jury-room drama is being given a splendid, gripping, moving production thanks to director Marti Maraden and her wonderful cast.

The Story.  Manhattan, 1957. A jury of 12 white men deliberates in the jury-room over the fate of a teenage boy accused of murdering his father. Most of the jurors are sure the kid did it. One lone man is not sure. He has reasonable doubt. The story involves him arguing with and questioning the other jury-members until they change their minds. It’s rough going along the way, but justice prevails.

The Production.  The curtain is up on Allan Wilbee’s set of the wood-panelled jury room with a long wood table and chairs for twelve. There are other chairs around the room with a bank of windows stage left. Stage right is a wall on the other side of which is the bathroom. When there are scenes in the bathroom the wall recedes revealing the sink and a door to the cubicle and the space of the bathroom. There is a door slightly up left that leads out of the jury room. There is a clock stage right, on the wall that works and shows that time is ticking away as they deliberate.

We hear the voice of the judge give the instructions to the jury. It’s the voice of The Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick J. Flynn of the Superior Court of Justice, Central South Region-Waterloo Regional Municipality. I thought having the Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick J. Flynn give the instructions (we never see him, we only hear him), was masterful. It lends a note of solemnity and seriousness. I’m assuming this was a decision of director Marti Maraden. Terrific work here.

The guard (Omar Forrest), the only black character in the play, leads the jury into the jury room. Do I detect a look of suspicion from him to them and then from them to him? My imagination? Not sure.

The men are in suits and ties. Many wear hats. They put their hats on a shelf up stage where they can also hang their jackets. Juror #1 (Jacob James) is the foreman and tries to organize the group so they can get down to business and discuss the case. Jacob James plays Juror #1 with as much authority one can muster when the others either bully or shout him down. Lots of dignity with Mr. James.

The battle lines are quickly drawn. The loudmouth, racist bully Juror # 10 (a ranting Brad Rudy) knows the kid is guilty and assumes the others do too. He lumps the teen into the group of “they” and “them” who are low-lifes, liars and cheats.

Juror #3 (a gripping, incendiary Benedict Campbell) has had a troubled relationship with his own son from whom he is estranged. He felt his son was disrespectful to him even though he beat him up for walking away from a fight. The son retaliated when he was 16 and left. Juror #3 has misplaced his anger from his son onto this teenaged young man on trial. He believes the teen is guilty because he wants to get even with him as a vicarious way of getting back at his son. Campbell gives an explosive, fearless yet heartbreaking performance.

There are the more reasoned jurors: Juror #11 (Neil Barclay) a courtly, fastidious German gentleman who knows the tyranny of the bully and the loudmouth; Juror #9 (a thoughtful Keith Dinicol) is an old man who is meek but not a pushover. He stands his ground with sound reasoning and thoughtful questions; Juror #2 (a wonderful Cyrus Lane) is browbeaten and seems easily cowed by the louder jurors, but he eventually too stands his ground. And then there is Juror #8 (Skye Brandon) who just doesn’t know if the teen is guilty or not. There is so much that does not make sense in the case. He has questions and asks them of his fellow jurors. Many are exasperated with him because he is holding them up from going home or to a ball game. Skye Brandon as Juror #8 is calm, conflicted and so unsure of the truth, but knows that he can’t throw this kid away. Slowly Brandon carefully, respectfully changes the mind of the skeptics. It’s a lovely, strong, compelling performance because it’s so quiet.

Director Mari Maraden has staged this group of men so that they are almost always moving, either in their chairs or up from the table, away from it, to a window, back to the table and it is all effortless and natural. The relationships are also clearly, carefully defined and established. And with her gifted cast she has conveyed the urgency of the life and death debate so that by the end of the play no one takes it for granted.

Comment. Playwright Reginald Rose has created a microcosm of the world in his play 12 Angry Men. It has the loud-mouthed bully who wants to overpower the meek; the raging man with misplaced anger who can’t see his error; the easily bullied; the outsider with more grace and dignity than his tormentors; the quiet ones in the middle and the lone person who sees the problem of the mob rule and says that this is wrong and goes about changing it. Our present world is angry, hateful, racist and scared. 12 Angry Men is more important than ever in showing that can change when one person stands up and provides another way of thinking that is reasonable and just. Please see it. The production is terrific and important.

Drayton Entertainment presents:

Began: Aug. 7, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 24, 2019.

Running Time: approx. 2 hours 15 minutes.


At the former Annex Queen Video on Bloor St. West

Created by Mitchell Cushman, Vanessa Smythe and Nick Bottomley.

Production design by Anahita Dehbonehie and Nick Blais.

This is a totally immersive experience from Outside the March. The experience is described this way: “…a new Escape Room-inspired experience set in a VHS video store…The Tape Escape is Outside the March’s foray into the booming world of escape rooms—a series of story-based, puzzle-infused mysteries staged inside of a brick-and-mortar VHS rental store. Step back into the world of the 1990s with this love letter to the lost art of browsing created in an installation of over 5000 VHS tapes. Audiences will experience the show in small groups, solving a series of movie-themed puzzles and mysteries to uncover the untold tales of the store’s staff and membership base.”

Well, yeah, browsing is a lost art because the places we brows (bookstores, video stores, record stores etc.) ARE ALL CLOSING! But I digress.

You can sign up for any or all of the three different stories to follow:

Love Without Late Fees

Six Tapes to Find the One. “Two single renters jump start their relationship by sharing six video rentals.

A Grown-up’s Guide to Flying

Second shelf on the right and straight on ‘til morning. Gene is celebrating her 8th birthday. A beloved relative leads her on a treasure hunt through the nooks, crannies and shadows of the video store. Peter Pan is the guiding force.

Yesterday’s Heroes

Embark into What Was. “Buried somewhere in the walls of The Tape Escape, a whispering voice calls out to you again and again. Venture on a quest through the shelves overflowing with stories to find the one that can’t be recorded over. …..”

I saw A Grown-up’s Guide to Flying and Yesterday’s Heroes. For both I was in a small group and together we followed clues that lead us through the store to the next clue closer to the solution. As each piece is about 45 minutes, that’s how long we had to solve the puzzles and find the clues and solutions. Instead of being locked in a room, unable to get out until the puzzle is solved, we just run out of time without the final piece and we could leave.

With A Grown-up’s Guide to Flying it was like being in a maze of clues and information. The store guides help a lot leading us to the next clue. But while I knew that Peter Pan was the theme it was hard to get a handle on the secret or the mystery.

With Yesterday’s Heroes my group was smart about the clues and curious about the adventure. There were secret rooms with codes to get into them or not. Again, the point of the mystery was buried in clues and journeys into the bowels of the store. And I got more and more frustrated about the exercise. The film of A Christmas Carol was central to the story. I envisioned that we had to find the original, brilliant one with Alistair Sim.

Nope. One of my smart group mates saw a hieroglyphic clue of a frog and other etchings and concluded that the film was the one by the Muppets. To which I said to myself: “GET ME  OUTTA HERE!!!!

The Tape Escape is not theatre, site-specific or otherwise. It’s games playing, treasure hunting and group collaboration. As always the design of the place is inspired and brilliant so kudos to Anahita Dehbonehie and Nick Blais. The story-telling is obtuse, confusing and buried me in minutiae without a glimmer of what we were looking for. Also going down stairs to the bowels of the place is dangerous—a narrow staircase, no banister and low ceiling.

See this if you like games, video games, treasure hunts etc. Otherwise, just watch Netflix.

Outside the March presents:

Held over to Aug. 25.


Continuing at SummerWorks, Toronto, Ont.


At the Toronto Media Arts Centre, Gamma Gallery,

Created and performed by Mandy E. MacLean

Directed by Leah Holder

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

The SummerWorks booklet listing the shows is clearer in describing the story, than the actual production is.  The audience sits in fold out chairs in a circle in a small room. And we wait. And wait, and ditto. A young woman rushes in wearing a name tag which I can’t read, carrying a bag of stuff and apologizes profusely for being late. And apologizes and ditto.  She proceeds to perform what seems like a stream of consciousness gush of the various things that she is frightened by: the dark, being herself; loneliness, not being invited to parties etc. She goes into her dark basement but has a flashlight and writes things on the floor in chalk. I can’t read it because the room is dark except for a flashlight that illuminates the floor but only for her to see. I must confess I’m getting frustrated. There is reference to a father who only seems to sit in a chair and stare. At the end we are thanked and asked to fold up the chairs and leave.

I notice now in the light that there is a table close to the door with a box of Tim Bits on a table. Close to the box is a roll of peel off labels and magic marker on which to put your name. I realize this has been a therapy session and it was the young woman’s turn to speak. Had director Leah Holder had some one telling us we need name tags for the meeting, we would have gladly put our names on a label and stuck it on. We would have known where we are and why we are here.

Mandy E MacLean is an energetic actress but her writing of the show needs attention. The story has to be fleshed out and clarified better than here. Also having a title that no one can pronounce or knows the meaning of until we get the program at the end, is not a good idea. Hiraeth means ‘a longing for home’ in Welsh.

Continues until Sat. Aug. 17, 2019.


White Heat

Written by Graham Isador

Directed by Jill Harper

Sound and composition by Chris Ross-Ewart

Lighting by Kim Purtell

Cast Makambe K Simamba

Tim Walker

This is part of the SummerWorks Lab and so is still in development.

Writer, Graham Isador has based White Heat on the recent violence focusing on journalists as they struggle to write the truth, but have to deal with the hateful rhetoric and worse of white supremacists.

Alice Kennings is a journalist for a paper. Her columns are provocative. She has written that it is quite ok to punch a Nazi in the face. There has been a terrible backlash especially from a white supremacist radio show headed by “The Captain” who couches his invective in such a way that his followers harass and threaten Alice.

The Captain is an angry man. His marriage broke up and he is the sole parent to a three year old daughter. He runs a coffee shop to make money. He rages on the radio. He meets Alice for coffee to try and talk about their ideas and differences. The conversation breaks down because The Captain feels he is right and she is wrong and there is nothing to discuss. It’s true, they have nothing to discuss if both are not listening.

The anger of the two characters does prove the point that there is no meeting ground for discussion. Is that the point of Graham Isador’s play? Does he want there to be common ground on which they can discuss? Questions, questions. Interesting subject to ponder.

Makambe K. Simamba as Alice and Tim Walker as The Captain are both impassioned. Simamba has a clear conviction in her clause. She is fearful of the many trolls she endures but staunch in her belief she is right and her opponent is not.

Tim Walker plays characters like The Captain with a barely contained fury. He just builds and builds in his anger. He is dangerous.  Director Jill Harper has Makambe K. Simamba directly address the audience for the most part. And she has The Captain deliver his radio show from various positions in the space. I wonder why? Seems a bit too much movement here. Something to investigate.

Plays at the Longboat Hall in the Great Hall

Runs until Wed. Aug. 13, 2019.


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At the Studio Theatre, Festival Players, Prince Edward County.

Written by Duncan MacMillan with Jonny Donahoe

Directed by Dylan Trowbridge

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Gavin Crawford.

Brilliant and moving.

The Story. The Narrator (Gavin Crawford) tells the audience what happened when he was seven-years-old when his mother first attempted suicide. His father was taking him to the hospital to see her and said that his mother did something stupid. When the boy learned why she was in the hospital he decided to make a list of “every brilliant thing” in the world that makes life worth living and he would give it to his mother to cheer her up.

Things are rarely that simple. The Narrator began making the list at seven-years-old.

Number 1 was Ice cream. No argument from me.

Number 2 was Water fights.

Number 3 was Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch television. Number 4 was The colour yellow.

Number 5 was Things with stripes.

Number 6 was Rollercoasters.

Number 7 was People falling over.

He continued to build the list as he got older and went to university, met a young woman; fell in love; etc.  Other people added to the list.

The Production. The audience sits on three sides of the rectangular studio theatre. There is a single line of chairs on either side. On the audience side of the rectangle are about six more rows that are on risers so everyone can see. At the other end is a suitcase with stuff in it.

The Narrator (Gavin Crawford) enters the room in worn jeans and a t-shirt. He has a stack of cards which he distributes to the audience with care, respect and consideration. He asks if people will read what’s on the card when he calls out the number. On each card is a number and a word, phrase, idea. During the narrative of the show the Narrator will call out a number and the person with that card replies what the word, phrase or idea is. This is done several times.

He continues with conversations he had with his father—a willing soul poses as the seven-year-old-boy and has to comment on the facts that are being told to him.  The Narrator intersperses the story and says “Number 1.” I reply “Ice Cream” in a loud, clear voice. He continues to call out the next six numbers and the audience members reply with conviction, enthusiasm and good humour.

The Narrator later calls out 253,263 and a clear-voiced young man in the front row read out: “The feeling of calm which follows the realization that, although you may be in a regrettable situation, there’s nothing you can do about it.” He read it with nuance, pacing and humour. He was Dylan Trowbridge, the sensitive director of the piece (and a dandy actor in his own right). Trowbridge keeps the tone easy-going, no rushing and he has Crawford always roaming around the playing space engaging with the audience. The lights are not down dark but are up a bit so that we can see each other.

Gavin Crawford is a personable, funny, considerate man and a serious, engaging Narrator. There are various characters who are played by audience members and they are asked gently if they will agree to do it. One character requires a sock. That is the guidance teacher in the school our sweet seven-year-old-kid goes to. The kid is called into the guidance teacher’s office for a chat and to see how he is doing since his mother is in the hospital. The guidance teacher had a disarming way of making the kids feel at ease. The teacher used a sock as a means of communication.

I have seen Every Brilliant Thing in Edinburgh at the Fringe with Jonny Donahoe, who is listed as a co-writer of the piece. I have seen it in Toronto with Kristen Thomson, twice. I saw it in Barrie, Ontario with Michael Toronto. And now at Festival Players in Prince Edward County with Gavin Crawford. In the first three instances the guidance teacher was played by a woman in the audience and was called Mrs. Patterson. In the Festival Players edition of the show the teacher was played by a man and was called Mr. Patterson. It was the need of a sock, you see. It’s hot summer in Prince Edward County. All the women (except me) in that theatre wear sandals on bare feet. (I wear a mini-socky thing that is invisible in my sneakers) No woman in that audience was going to be able to take of her sock and use it for the scene, so the guy in front of me was chosen to be Mr. Patterson and he took off his snugly fitting sock and did the scene with ease. I thought that decision of both the director? The actor?  to change the character to a man was masterful.

Gavin Crawford is a wonderful Narrator. I have a rather frisky audience. They all know each other it seems. Some even talk back during the show. But Crawford soon gets a handle on that and they stop and got down to the business of listening and eagerly participating.

Comment. Every Brilliant Thing is a play about life and the brilliant things, ideas and attitudes that make life worth living. It’s a play that embraces the audience in a respectful way and makes them act as if they are in a communal effort. Lovely show and it gets you thinking about your own list.

Presented by Festival Players

Began: Aug. 2, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 70 minutes.