SummerWorks shows: The Breath Between, CHILD-ISH Wah, Wah, Wah, and Rochdale until Aug. 18, 2019 at the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

My favourite summer festival is SummerWorks Aug. 8-18.  (I’m never here for the Fringe). I love the rough and tumble mix of Indie theatre work, music events, and various arts that play at various venues but centering around the Theatre Centre

For the theatre component there are plays that are both finished or still developing. The developing work is part of the SummerWorks Lab. SummerWorks is a welcoming home to emerging and established talent.

How do I chose what to see? Often I will decide if I like the playwright,  director, actors, the story, or if they are young talent.

So last night I decided on The Breath Between by the AMY Project because I like what they do;  Child-ish because it’s directed by Alan Dilworth and the story is intriguing; Wah, Wah, Wah, is directed by Bilal Baig and it’s created by an emerging talent named Celia Jade Green who has created, choreographed and performs it; and Rochdale because it’s written by David Yee and directed by Nina Lee Aquino—both established artists. And of course the name Rochdale just grabs me because of all it stands for.

And it also matters if the plays are in the same place, as they were at the Theatre Centre so with a tight schedule, the plays are easy to go from one theatre to another. The Theatre Centre has two performance spaces—the Franco Boni Theatre and The Incubator– so I was charging from one to the other.

The Breath Between

Created by the AMY Project

Directed by Kumari Giles and Julia Hune-Brown

Scenic design by Karis Jones-Pard

Lighting by Senjuti Sarker

Created and performed by: Jericko Allick

nevada jane arlow

Taranjot Bamrah


Daniella Leacock

Claudia Liz

Alice Cheng Meiqing

Lyla Sherbin

Fio Yang

It’s a terrific company in which AMY stands for Artists Mentoring Youth.  From the programme: “…it provides free performing arts training programs to young women and non-binary youth from black and Indigenous People of Colour and 2LGBTQ and other equity-seeking communities.

AMY breaks down barriers to participation by providing meals and transportation, accessible queer and trans inclusive and anti-racist environments and more.

With the mentorship of professional artists, AMY participants learn to tell their stories with honesty integrity and artistic rigour.”

From the programme: “The Breath Between is a collection of monologues, poetry, movement and music that explores themes of queer resilience and dreams of what new worlds we will make together in apocalyptic times.”

The group of performers paints a picture of a time when people live in temperature controlled domes because climate change has run amok and the temperature outside is unbearable. Everything is out of control. Corporate greed is everywhere. A bottle of water will be $17.

The group decides to travel away in a space ship for a better life and environment. They tell stories of living with racism, anti-gay attitudes and general attitudes of not being welcome. They decide as a group what to do next.

I always think it’s a bold, brave enterprise for non-professionals to tell their stories with honesty and without embellishment.  Some parts of the presentation were a bit rocky but will smooth out with playing. Slow down in speaking. Speak clearly and enunciate and don’t drop your words at the end of a sentence. Your words are important. I want to hear every one of them.

I thought The Breath Between could use some gentle editing to focus on the stories, the world they were escaping and how that world came to be and the world they wanted to create instead. The piece was a bit unwieldy but still intriguing.


Written by Sunny Drake

Directed by Alan Dilworth

Set and costumes by Ken Mackenzie

Sound by Deanna Choi

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Movement by Monica Dottor

Cast: Itir Arditi

Walter Borden

Maggie Huculak

Sonny Mills

Zorana Sadiq

It’s part of the SummerWorks Lab so is work in development and exploration.

Sunny Drake is the playwright and his idea was to interview 33 children over the past 2 ½ years ranging in ages from 5 to 11 years old about all manner of topics ranging from love, kissing, death, gender and consent, among others.

Some of the interviewers would also be children. Sunny Drake would then take their words, create a verbatim script and have adult actors perform it. For my performance the actors read from scripts. They are beautifully directed by Alan Dilworth

The result was terrific. First of all, kids are just naturally funny.Their observations are quirky to us but serious to them. They naturally frame their thoughts and observations in incongruous ways and that’s funny. Humour comes from juxtaposing the incongruous.

Added to that are actors who have the subtlety and nuance to take those words and with a turn of phrase or a look, or even shifting pages of the script draw every laugh out of the work. The actors entered into the serious world of the child. They didn’t baby talk or sound condescending. Walter Borden talking about kissing with his eyes wide open and an impish smile says it all. Sonny Mills talking as a kid being gender non-binary and trying to keep secrets from a hovering mother is very funny. Maggie Huculak as that clinging mother, but gentle about it is funny, as is her being a precocious kid. Hilarious.

There are also moments of seriousness when they are talking about death and  uncomfortable moments in their lives. I thought Child-ish was a bracing, funny, thoughtful exercise and look forward to the next segments of the development.

Wah, Wah, Wah.

Created, choreographed and performed by Celia Jade Green

Directed and dramaturged by Bilal Baig

Lighting by Echo Zhou

Sound by Phoebe Wang

It’s created, choreographed and performed by an artistic wonder named Celia Jade Green. Green investigates questions around sexual harassment.

As the program says: “A young, queen woman grapples with the messiness of being violated.”  At the beginning of the piece the young woman wants to tell us what happened to her but hesitates.  She almost reveals her secrets but then backs out.  She tells snippets of having men yell cat calls at her.  When she was 11 years old, riding her bike a man called out something suggestive.  She wanted to stop and face him and tell him “I’m 11.”  The young woman went to Europe after high school and told of being followed by a man but getting away from him. She tells of meeting a young woman in Spain and enjoying her company at a dance club, but when an imposing man appeared at the door, our young woman became fearful again. She had brave thoughts of facing down her ‘oppressor’ but usually backed off.

She hitch-hiked in France, was picked up by two men in a truck and sat between them. The way Green describes the big burly men and how she was squeezed between them has you gripping the arm rest (if there is one) hoping nothing happens.  There is a litany of these stories in which the prospect of trouble looms.  But the one story she has been trying to tell involved a teacher in university.  By this time she is so uncertain that anything happened and wonders if she imagined it.  And realizes that she must do something about it because something could have happened. She leaves us with a sobering question as well and I’m not going to tell you what it is because you must see this show to find out.

Loved Wah, Wah, Wah.  I loved being heartsick for the young woman’s situation and held my breath as she both told and danced the story. Her choreography is graphic, vivid and elegant all at once.  Her story-telling is compelling and has you hooked. And Bilal Baig’s direction also brings out the gripping nature of the piece.

The title is wonderful as in that whiny baby cry of Wah, Wah, Wah. But the reaction to the piece is anything but a childish whine.


Written by David Yee

Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

Set by Mona Farahmand

Costumes by Tiana Kralj

Sound by Jonathan North

Choreography by Brandon Pereira

Cast: Dean Bessey

Ori Black

Julia DeMola

Sofia Gaspar

Claudia Hamilton

Nelvin Law

Sabrina Marangoni

Brandon Pereira

Tomasz Pereira Nunes

Adrienne Ross Ramsingh

Carina Salajan

Margarita Valderrama

Rochdale…a name that is full of history and possibilities for a wild ride?

It was a huge disappointment. David Yee’s play is a mess of stuff. It takes place in 1969 in Toronto and the programme says: “…Rochdale College—an experiment in cooperative housing and alternative education—is about to become very famous for all the wrong reasons.”

The reasons are of course, drug taking and selling; bikers moving in and causing trouble; no order; people refused to pay rent; bills piled up; their governance failed and it was total chaos.

It starts with the chaotic, out of control nature of Rochdale. Whitman has returned to Rochdale after disappearing for two months. She was the head of the governing council and in a sense ran the place and tried to keep it in order. When she disappeared she didn’t tell anyone, and certainly not her boyfriend Dennis. Everybody thought she was dead. When she returns (telling only Dennis why she left) she says she didn’t know which number to call to tell him so she didn’t contact him at all. (Seems lame to me).

The story goes from the wildness of the tenants for most of the play that then segues into some dangerous events when a body is found in a person’s room and they don’t want to call the police for certain reasons.

Then the play shifts into debates about racism and finally when chaos consumes the whole place, Whitman makes a decision. She tells Dennis that her father had followed the rules of living and but was shafted. She wanted Rochdale to be different. She wanted to run the place that would make her father proud. That idea comes from no where and is supported by nothing.

Nina Lee Aquino directs the large cast playing hippies in full regalia of beads, tie-dyed clothes and a constant state of being high.

The play is unwieldy and needs ruthless cutting and more focus.

The Breath Between, CHILD-ISH, Wah, Wah, Wah and Rochdale continue at SummerWorks over various dates until Aug. 18.

Comment: I love SummerWorks. I love the buzz of the place when it’s full of theatre goers who are eager for a lively, new experience. I love the welcome from all the volunteers and the efficiency of how it’s run.

But, yesterday, of the four shows I saw, three of them started late. The curtain was held to accommodate people who bought their tickets late. In one case they started 10 minutes because tickets were still being sold even thought the show was supposed to start. Fix that please!


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

Written by Sam Shepard

Directed by Frank Cox-O’Connell

Set by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle

Lighting by Simon Rossiter

Composed and sound by Andrew Penner

Cast: Eion Bailey

Cara Gee

Stuart Hughes

Alex McCooeye

A relentless play and a production with all the noise and supposed anger but it all seems so tame.

The Story. Eddie and May are obsessed and in lust with one another. But they can’t live with or without each other. They met in high school and the attraction was instantaneous, passionate and volatile. Over the years they would cling to one another and then part in a rage.

This time Eddie has driven 2000 miles to come and find her in her motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert. There are accusations about Eddie keeping company with someone called “The Countess.” May has also had lovers. Both Eddie and May are intensely jealous. “The Countess” also has her moments. She pulls up outside the motel and torches Eddie’s truck and trailer with his horses in it—Eddie is a rodeo rider. We hear about this from Eddie who sees this outside the window, we don’t actually see her.

On the periphery of the story is “The Old Man” who watches from the sidelines, drinks and occasionally enters the story. He knows lots of back-story about May and Eddie. And there is Martin, a simple, good natured man who is sweet on May.

The Production.  Since ‘volatile’ factors into the behaviour of May (Cara Gee) and Eddie (Eion Bailey), there is lots of yelling, jumping on the bed and fierce door slamming. Kudos to set designer Lorenzo Savoini for designing and the crew building such a sturdy set. When those doors slam with a bang no wall wobbles.

Director Frank Cox O’Connell directs with attention to the stage direction that the play is “performed relentlessly without a break.” The pace is fast, furious, angry, and pulsing with emotion. Eion Bailey as Eddie, is a rugged, unshaven and charismatic. I love the touch of having duct tape hold his cowboy boot together. (Kudos to costume designer, Shannon Lea Doyle for her work). He explodes into the motel room and prowls around it; he hovers over May almost cornering her. The animal instinct from him fills the room. As May, Cara Gee is a disappointment. She either yells without variation or poses. There is not a genuine reaction or moment in her performance. Stuart Hughes plays The Old Man as a bitter, dangerous man who spends his life regretting and drinking. He holds the secrets to the story and he lets them out sparingly. We get a sense of the heat in the play only from Hughes who plays it with his shirt totally unbuttoned. Finally Alex McCooeye plays Martin as a sweet lunk-head, good natured but dim. Still there is something imposing about him and I don’t think it’s because Mr. McCooeye is so tall. He knows how to suggest a silent danger that is effective.

For all of Frank Cox-O’Connell’s efforts to invoke the wild-west attitude of Sam Shepard’s play, the raging emotions, the aggravating heat of the Mojave Desert, I couldn’t help but think that this production was “Sam Shepard-lite.” It takes more than a soundly slammed door to suggest danger. It takes more than screaming and posing to suggest frustration and rage. Sadly it just seemed to be missing here. A Canadian thing?

Comment.  Sam Shepard writes about wild America. His characters are on the margins of polite society, something like our own George F. Walker’s characters here are on the margins. They function but have that sheen of being dangerous. And in Fool For Love Shepard goes deep into taboo country for his play. Always fascinating but so tricky to realize.

Soulpepper Presents:

Closes: Aug. 11, 2019.

Running Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. No intermission.


At the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines, Ont.

Book and lyrics by Norm Foster

Music and lyrics by Steve Thomas

Directed by Patricia Vanstone

Musical Director, Steve Thomas

Set and costumes by Peter Hartwell

Lighting by Chris Malkowski

Musicians, Ian Copeland and Michael Allen

Cast: Griffin Hewitt

Gabriel Jones

Breton Lalama

Jonathan Whittaker

The Story. Sam and Paula have been generally unhappily married for 35 years. They are calling it quits and dividing up their possessions. He gets the cutlery because he likes to cook. She gets the power tools. There is no real animosity because they both realize they aren’t happy but they don’t blame the other. They both carry their own disappointment so it’s time to move on and separately.

But as they divide up the stuff they reminisce about it. They met in university. He wanted to be a lawyer and she wanted to be a writer. It didn’t work out that way but they did think about that time wistfully. They ponder an old wedding present. What was it? It was a wishing stick. Sam just blurted out that wouldn’t it be great to go back in time and warn their younger selves about what to expect. And that’s what happens. This being a Norm Foster play there are a lot of laughs, funny situations and dialogue that floats a joke with ease. There is not a pat, expected ending. It’s earned.

 The Production.  Designer Peter Hartwell’s set is simple and effective. The small band is upstage centre and the action happens around it. There are entrances and exits on the stage left and right sides.  Patricia Vanstone directs with her usual economy and sensitivity to the material.

Sam (Jonathan Whittaker) wears a loose jersey and slim jeans. Paula (Gabrielle Jones) wears dark a leotard and a crisp, big button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up. (note: I might be wrong about her leotard I was so distracted by the shirt cause I wanted it. Sorry.) I found it interesting that both actors wear wedding rings even though the characters are breaking up. I don’t think it’s a mistake. I think it was a deliberate move. This couple isn’t angry with one another. They are just ending a bad situation that has kept them unhappy for a long time. Taking off the rings might prove too final at this point in the beginning of the play.

As their younger selves Griffin Hewitt is in slim pants and a preppy shirt and Breton Lalama wears typical student gear that is stylish and comfortable.

When the older Sam and Paula go back in time they pose as liaison guides for their younger selves, but the younger selves don’t know it. Sam and Paula fell in love that first day. They were besotted with each other. One of the songs perfectly expressed how the older Sam and Paula felt about each other—they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. It isn’t a groping salacious song. It’s one of wanting to be tactile; to touch, feel, hold and caress. It’s a lovely song as are they all.

The cast is beautifully balanced and meshed. As Sam, Jonathan Whittaker is laid-back and unsmiling, but he does have a sense of humour. Gloomy is not the appropriate word, but he is a man that might be consumed with unfulfilled dreams and so being inexpressive might be how he protects himself. Gabrielle Jones as Paula is a perfect foil for him. She is take-charge, energetic, expressive and sometimes even volatile. But she also can control her emotions. Both sing well and know how to convey the meaning of each song.

As young Sam, Griffin Hewitt is boyish, a touch uncertain about his course in life and sure of his attraction to Paula. He sings beautifully. Breton Lalama as young Paula is buoyant, lively and direct. You can see that she will grow into Paula. She too sings beautifully.

The information that has kept both Sam and Paula unhappy comes out gradually as the couple re-live their younger selves. A decision is made that seems true to the play and not just tacked on.

The music enhances the story-telling in a deeper way than just dialogue. The songs are jaunty, thoughtful and beautifully express the personalities of the characters singing them. Steve Thomas’ music is lovely, melodic and memorable. That both Norm Foster and Steve Thomas did the lyrics and are true to the characters without being glaringly unbalance is a masterstroke.

A terrific evening in the theatre.

Comment. People are never satisfied! After the opening night of Beside Myself the wonderfully insightful, funny musical at the Norm Foster Festival at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines, a forthright audience member went up to Norm Foster, the man at the centre of the Festival and wanted to know if there would be a CD of the music show. He wasn’t the only one. Alas no. I hope they correct this if they do another musical in the future.

The Foster Festival Presents:

Began:  July 31, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, approx.


A (Musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream

Various locations across Southern Ontario

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by D. Jeremy Smith

Composed by Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington

Production designed by Julia Kim

Cast: Steven Burley

Nick Dolan

Nathaniel Hanula-James

Kelsi James

Marissa Orjalo

Siobhan Richardson

D. Jeremy Smith

James Dallas Smith

This is the 25th season of producing Shakespeare in various venues across southern Ontario by this wonderful organization called The Bard’s Bus Tour produced by Driftwood Theatre. A passionate, gifted wonder known as D. Jeremy Smith created the company, adapts the shows, directs them and for the past few years ensures that they are free. Audiences of course are invited to drop some money in a bucket but basically the performances are free.

This year’s offering is A (Musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream. I saw it in the wonderful setting in Withrow Park in Toronto for one of its two performances (the production travels around southern Ontario to various venues). The park lends itself to the magical aspect of the play.

The Story. In Athens. A father, Egeus (D. Jeremy Smith) wants his daughter Hermia (a feisty Marissa Orjalo) to marry Demetrius (a strapping, confident Nick Dolan), a man of his choosing. She wants to marry Lysander (boyish, charming Nathaniel Hanula-James). The father balks and says that she marries Demetrius or according to the ancient law of the land, she dies. (Now that is harsh). Egeus is telling this to Theseus (an imposing James Dallas Smith), Duke of Athens. Theseus has just ‘won’ Hippolyta (Queen of the Amazons) (played by a commanding Siobhan Richardson) in battle and will marry her.

Hermia and Lysander scurry away through the forest to his old aunt’s for safety. In the forest there are fairies lead by Titania (Siobhan Richardson) and Oberon (James Dallas Smith) who have their own issues. There is a trickster named Puck (D. Jeremy Smith). There is mistaken identity, misplaced love and passion; some mechanicals who are rehearsing a play; more high jinx when one of the mechanicals is given the head of a donkey by Puck. And finally, breathlessly, it all works out. In this production, they also sing about it.

The Production.  D. Jeremy Smith directs this with swiftness, economy and a wonderful sense of using the vast space of the park. While scenes take place ‘down stage’ we can see characters in the distance scurrying across the upper part of the park as they engage in the same scene. This is not distracting. This is inclusive. There is a nice use of ladders as part of the humourous business. The cast handles the language well and the frustration of unrequited and requited love. A fairie king and queen have as much aggravation and intensity in love as the commoners do.

This person D. Jeremy Smith seems to factor heavily in this performance as Egeus and Puck. That’s because the original actor in the parts, Ahmed Moneka, had to be by the side of his wife who went into labour on the day of the show and director, producer, adaptor, dynamo, D.(dynamo??) Jeremy Smith took over for Mr. Moneka. Mr. Smith proved to be an impish, mercurial, whimsical Puck and a forthright Egeus.

I love seeing this company every year. The productions are buoyant, smart, capture the essence of the play even thought they are edited, and joyous. But I think adding music in this case is a misstep. The play is magical and poetic. The music of Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington seems almost monotoned or dissonant when melodic is called for. And some of the cast can’t sing as well as they act. A misstep.

Besides this, the production is full of joy. And the baby was safely delivered.

The Bard’s Bus Tour:

Plays in various locations around Southern Ontario until Aug. 18.

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission.



At the Dockside Theatre,  Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont.

Written and choreographed by Tracy Power

Directed by James MacDonald

Set and lighting by Narda McCarroll

Costumes by Cindy Wiebe

Sound by Steve Charles

Cast: Kate Dion-Richard

Katie Ryerson

Advah Soudack

Andrew Wheeler

Morgan Yamada

The Story. Women can’t and shouldn’t play hockey. Women are too fragile for the rough and tumble of the game of hockey. Women aren’t strong enough for all that cross-checking and high-sticking of hockey. Them’s fightin’ words to the Preston Rivulettes, a women’s hockey team formed in 1930.

Tracey Power’s bracing, gripping, fascinating play about this team of women hockey players certainly captures the ups and downs of the team. Four women: Helen Schmuck, Marm Schmuck, Hilda Ranscombe and Nellie Ranscombe played baseball in the summer but wanted to play a sport in the winter along with their baseball team, the Preston Rivulettes. They chose hockey.  They chose Herb Fach, who managed the local arena, to be their coach. Herb, a dour, irascible, easily aggravated man, reluctantly agreed.

They debuted in the Ladies Ontario Hockey Association after only a few months practice. And they won the first game they played against the Grimsby Peaches. (you gotta love those names). Since the Rivulettes joined late in the season, that first game was also the qualifying game for the Division Championship playoff. And they won that too.

Their track record was astonishing. Their fundraising was not. As the Eastern Division Champions they could then play the Western Division Champs (The Edmonton Rustlers) but they didn’t have the money to travel there, so the Edmonton Rustlers paid their way to the first ever Dominion Championships. (Classy) The Rivulettes lost because too many of their team were sick with the flu.

Over the course of their success WWII interrupted the playoffs or they didn’t have the money or their personal lives took over. But they prevailed and over a ten year span had a record of 346 wins, 2 loses and 2 ties. The team was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Hilda Ranscombe was the star of the team and she would be inducted in the Hall of Fame on her own.

The Production. It’s a terrific story and Tracey Power has captured the ups and downs for the team’s trials and tribulations. She also put the team in perspective of the times. The comments about women not being able to play a sport is something you hear even today. Their tenacity is something you also see happening today as well. Marm Schmuck was very conscious of her Jewishness especially in an anti-Semitic world. When the team played in Montreal she noticed a sign at the door of the arena that said “No dogs or Jews Allowed.” Her other teammates and the coach didn’t see it, and when she told them about it, they were embarrassed at being blinkered. There was a scene in which Marm was listening to the news and heard about the ship the St. Louis that was sailing to North America with 900 + Jews on it (sent from Germany as a gesture but really a propaganda ploy by the Nazis to show that no port would take the Jew in.). The ship was refused by Cuba, the United States, and to our shame, Canada. The ship had to return to Germany where most of the Jews on board died in concentration camps. (Some were taken in by Britain and Belgium).  Power has painted a world of the team and the world the team was in.

She also choreographed it and her work is stunning. The group of four who made up the team are played by the following gifted actresses: Kate Dion-Richard plays Helen Schmuck, Katie Ryerson plays Hilda Ranscombe, Advah Soudack plays Marm Schmuck and Morgan Yamada plays Nellie Ranscombe. Andrew Wheeler plays Herb Fach and he’s terrific too. Fach believed women should not play hockey. But he got this group to prove him wrong and win his respect. Andrew Wheeler is terrific as Herb Fach.

Rather than being on ice skates, Power created flowing, synchronized movement suggesting skating and individual choreographed ‘arrangements’ for each game the women played. Impressive.

James MacDonald directs this with his usual attention to detail and the gripping emotions of the piece. The women had such camaraderie, affection and respect for each other. They had their own lives and issues but they shared them for the most part with their team players. Power doesn’t shy away from serious issues in the play. She deals with them head on.

This is a terrific story and a wonderful production. What a gift.

A Western Canada Theatre Production at the Thousand Islands Playhouse

Began: July 24, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (with an intermission).




In High Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Liza Balkan

Set by Joanna Yu

Costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Rebecca Picherak

Composed and sound by Richard Feren

Choreography by Monica Dottor

Cast: Emma Ferreira

Can Kömleksiz

Richard Lam

Allan Louis

Nora McLellan

Christopher Morris

Natasha Mumba

Rose Napoli

Jamie Robinson

Heath V. Salazar

Helen Taylor

Emilio Vieira

Charming, bright, smart, wonderfully acted and directed in enchanting surroundings, but boy were most of the men in the play dumb. Not Benedick, he was a sweetie and wise, but the rest of them, Oy!

The Story. Beatrice and Benedick have a prickly relationship. They were a couple years before but he dumped her and she’s still smarting. She never misses a chance to throw a smarmy remark his way and he returns it. They of course are made for each other but how to make them realize it? Another plot line is the love of Claudio for Hero and she him. He wants to marry her but is easily duped by the dastardly Don John into thinking Hero is untrue. Oh Lord, what fools these men are! But I digress.

The Production. It’s the 36th year of Canadian Stage doing Shakespeare in High Park. Canadian Stage is collaborating with the Department of Theatre, School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design at York University.

The two directors, Liza Balkan for Much Ado About Nothing and Severn Thompson for Measure for Measure, are respected actors transitioning to directing and took the Director’s MA Program at York.  After they finish the program, they each direct a Shakespeare in High Park. Both women have been directing elsewhere, but the York training takes them to another level.

The main structure of the set is multi-leveled with walkways off here and there. Joanna Yu’s set is festooned with colourful streamers and other notes of celebration. The army is returning from battle.

Much Ado About Nothing is directed by Liza Balkan who is gifted in realizing the great humour in the play as well as the pathos and the anger. For Much Ado About Nothing Liza Balkan has the cast engage the audience with respect but it’s not all played only to the audience. Characters interact with each other as well. There is nothing phony about playing to each other and the attentive crowd.  The production is lively, energetic and wonderfully funny.  

 Initially Rose Napoli, who plays Beatrice, appears on stage in rustic top and jean shorts and does about 10 minutes of stand-up it seems and discourses on women, politics, men, gender issues etc.  She’s abrasive, funny, powerful and takes no prisoners.  When the play proper starts she has a good handle on the language and the feisty personality of Beatrice. Liza Balkan has directed Napoli to always be on the move, flitting energetically here and there. Beatrice loves sparing with Benedick played with bemused good humour and a bit of warranted confusion by Jamie Robinson. He is less energetic than Beatrice. He’s more tempered, cautious, but still with lots of confidence. And when they realize they love each other she doesn’t need to flit so fast and so often. Lovely transformation.

Emma Ferreira plays Hero as a gentle, loving soul. She shows lots of backbone when she ‘reappears’ as ‘another Hero.’ She is firm, confident and stands her ground with Claudio who is repentant. Allan Louis as Leonato is courtly, gracious, but hot-headed when he thinks his daughter has been untrue—not maligned, but untrue. OY.

Christopher Morris is a gracious Don Peter and a calming presence. Natasha Mumba is a wonderfully oily, creepy Don John unapologetic and angry at the world. Emilio Vieira does a lovely turn as Claudio, easily influenced, quick to judge and just as quick to realize he’s wrong. You just wish that the character would learn a few things from his mistakes….but that’s men, eh? (ooops, sorry, digressing again). Nora McLellan plays Dogberry dressed as a scout master it seems—khaki shorts and shirt tucked in and a wide hat. She has all the wonderful officiousness of a man with a little power and a wonderful set of malapropisms. McLellan is very serious and therefore very funny.

There are wonderful dances during the production and at the end choreographed by the gifted Monica Dottor. Loved this production.

The cast of 12 play in rep with Measure for Measure.

Comment. Lord what fools these men be, with apologies to Shakespeare. Claudio is told by the shifty Don John that Don Peter (head of the regiment in which Benedick and Claudio were a part) was wooing Hero for himself and not Claudio. And Claudio believed him and was in a rage. When the truth came out, Claudio calmed down and proposed to Hero and she readily accepted (oh dear!).

Then Claudio is told by the dastardly Don John that Hero is unfaithful and he can prove it by showing Claudio that Hero is seen talking to a man at her window at midnight the night before the wedding. Don Peter was there too as a witness. Claudio then brings this up at the wedding, just before he is to accept Hero. He humiliates her in front of everyone. He doesn’t talk to her in private to get her side of the story. (I guess if he did ask her side she would tell him that it wasn’t her at the window and could he really see that well since IT WAS MIDNIGHT AND DARK!!!). And Hero’s father, Leonato also takes Claudio’s side and further humiliates his daughter in public. Only Benedick is thoughtful and reasons out various sides of the story.

The truth outs, but boy is it painful to women. And Hero marries Claudio in the end when he is contrite for a few seconds. I fear for that marriage.

The natural setting in the park, surrounded by trees with the terraced hill where the audience sits and eats their picnics, is magical. Sure planes fly overhead, dogs bark, kids playing elsewhere are loud, but when the show starts, nothing matters. The audience is silent. I note some people can’t help recording the show on their devices. Attentive ushers quietly scurry down the aisle to get the attention of the person, and in a smiling sign language of hands making a box and a shake of a head, the person puts the device away.

Presented by Canadian Stage

Began. July 4, 2019.

Closes: Sept. 1, 2019.

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission.


Measure for Measure.

High Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Severn Thompson

Set by Joanna Yu

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Lighting by Rebecca Picherak

Composed and sound by Richard Feren

Choreography by Monica Dottor

Cast: Emma Ferreira

Can Kömleksiz

Richard Lam

Allan Louis

Nora McLellan

Christopher Morris

Natasha Mumba

Rose Napoli

Jamie Robinson

Heath V. Salazar

Helen Taylor

Emilio Vieira

A terrific production, both directed and acted, of a woman trying to survive quietly in a world full of men with power who want to compromise her.

 The Story. It’s Vienna and morals are going to hell in a hand basket.  Duke Vincentio has allowed this to happen and doesn’t want to come down on the people with stringent laws to get things back on the right track because then they won’t like him.  So he says he’s leaving the city and is putting Angelo, his second in command in charge.  Except the Duke doesn’t leave but disguises himself as a priest so he can see how things are going in the city.

Angelo is a by-the-book man.  As lax as Duke Vincentio was about the law, that is how stringent and blinkered Angelo is. He is unmovable when it comes to the law. So he resurrects a law that says if a man gets a woman not his wife pregnant, he must die. (a bit harsh, that.) A man named Claudio got his fiancé pregnant.  Angelo condemns him to death.  Claudio’s sister Isabella is about to become a nun and is urged to go to Angelo to plead her brother’s case. She is so eloquent that she charms Angelo but he doesn’t budge. However he asks her to come back the next day. She does and Angelo suggests that he will save her brother if she sleeps with him. Let us all gulp in unison. She tells this to Claudio who is horrified. But then….he reasons that the sacrifice of her chastity is less than him losing his life. I love her line: “More than our brother is our chastity.” The play is full of moral dilemmas.

The Production. It’s wonderful.  Severn Thompson directs this with such confidence in bringing out those moments that make you gulp. There is a lot of humour, especially with a character named Lucio (a randy, sly Emilio Vieira) who is a shady character and is at home in the seamier side of Vienna.

Isabella is played by Natasha Mumba with conviction, pride and a sense of dread when she has to consider what Antonio wants from her. That wonderful line: “More than our brother is our chastity” was cut and I missed it because it says so much about Isabella and her hard convictions. She is preparing to be a nun. She is a woman. Who are we to condemn her convictions? But Mumba is so fearless and convincing in conveying Isabella’s convictions and beliefs that I can deal with the cut.

Antonio is played by Christopher Morris as an arrogant, matter of fact man, who is clear and firm in his reasoning. He is not pure evil because Christopher Morris illuminates his own convictions. He is steely when he challenges Isabella when she says she will report him, and he says who will believe you? Angelo has the law on his side and also power over this strong woman.  As the Duke Allan Louis is as shady as the others in the play but is more subtle. There is a lilting humour when he is in disguise as the priest. When the Duke reveals his own feelings for Isabella and takes her hand. When she hears his comments she immediately drops his hand. Such a resounding moment, in a production full of them.

Comment. Since the Duke knows what’s going on one can assume that Antonio gets his comeuppance. But this is Shakespeare.  He’s not finished when Antonio is exposed. The Duke also is charmed by Isabella and makes her an offer too.  The whole idea of men having the power even though women have brains and can try and stand up to them, is so clear in Shakespeare.  What a brilliant writer.  I wonder that because Shakespeare wrote with such authority about how men had such power over women and how smart women were in dealing with that overwhelming power, that perhaps Shakespeare was a woman.

But I digress.

Presented by Canadian Stage

Closes: Aug. 31, 2019.

Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission.



At the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Jessie Nelson

Music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles

Directed by Diane Paulus

Set by Scott Pask

Costumes by Suttirat Anne Larlab

Lighting by Ken Billington

Sound by Jonathan Deans

Choreography by Lorin Latarro

Cast: Ephie Aardema

Melody A. Betts

Ryan Dunkin

Christina Dwyer (Desi Oakley Aug. 2-12)

Steve Good

Larry Marshall

Jeremy Morse

Eadie Murphy

Jeremy Woodard

A really prickly but ultimately uplifting story of tenacity, endurance and the lasting, joyous effects of pie.

The Story. Jenna is a waitress who is a gifted pie maker. She learned it from her mother and is carrying on that tradition. She is also carrying on the tradition of being abused—her father abused her mother, and now Jenna’s husband Earl abuses her.  And she finds that she is pregnant—the trials of sleeping with her husband albeit infrequently. She finds solace in her colleagues at work, Dawn and Becky. They urge her to leave Earl. Still there are her pies. She is creative in what she puts in them and how she names them—usually it depends on her mood. One pie was erroneously described as “Deep Shit Blueberry Pie” instead of “Deep Dish……”

The Production. Waitress (the musical) is based on the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly. I never saw it. Director Diane Paulus has imagined a fast-paced, raucous, neon-coloured world of Joe’s Pie Diner. Scott Pask’s simple set of the diner sign, the place where the orders are picked up,  the various tables and chairs and the pie shelves slide on and off efficiently allowing the sets to change in a flash.

Jenna, played by Christine Dwyer, is a funny woman with a belting voice. Dwyer imbues Jenna with a mix of sweetness and sadness, but also pluck. She takes most things in her stride but certainly is afraid of her needy, bullying husband Earl, played so well by Jeremy Woodward and with so much anger and bad humour he had to apologize at the bow, or in his case should that be boo? Wonderful.

Jenna finds solace in her two friends from work: Becky, a sassy, steely-voiced Melody A. Betts, and Dawn, played with nerdy hilarity by Ephie Aardema. Jenna has a thing with her gynaecologist, Dr. Pomatter, a dashing Steve Good; Dawn finds her own true love in the obsessive and compulsive Ogie played by Jeremy Morse, who takes full advantage of this bound to please role.  The manager of the diner, trying to control these wild women is Cal played with exasperation and irony by Ryan G. Dunkin. Joe, the owner of the pie shop is also a fussy customer and Larry Marshall plays him with a lovely laid-back cynicism.

Sara Bareilles has written a quirky musical with melodies that creep up on you. And her lyrics are as quirky as well. “I Love You Like A Table” is one love song you won’t soon forget.

Comment. This is a musical with an edge. Stuff happens in it that makes ones eye-brows crinkle. There’s the business of the spousal abuse. There are inappropriate relationships. The relationship between Dawn and Ogie, while cute and sweet, gives one pause when Ogie wildly sings that she is “Never, Ever Getting Rid of Him.” Woooow.

Let’s talk about the sound, shall we. Audience members blame the theatre company (Mirvish Productions)  for the blaring sound, as if the booking company decides how loud everything is. In fact it’s the production company of the show that is touring that makes that decision. I guess they think the audiences are deaf and so the sound must be blaring. Well the audiences are deaf because the sound is too loud. Really, it’s so loud one can’t make out the lyrics. Now that can’t be right. So if the production companies insist on destroying our hearing with their over amplified sound, can they at least provide us with surtitles so we can make out the lyrics. I think it’s rather important to know what they are.

Presented by Mirvish Productions.

Began. Jan. 9, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 18, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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

Written by Mae West

Directed by Peter Hinton-Davis

Designed by Eo Sharp

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Music direction by Ryan deSouza

Cast: Kristopher Bowman

Fiona Byrne

Julia Course

Diana Donnelly

Allegra Fulton

Katherine Gauthier

Cameron Grant

Monice Peter

Ric Reid

Ben Sanders

André Sills

Jonathan Tan

Mae West continues to surprise with this fascinating play of the seamier side of life and society, given a stunning, deeply thought production by Peter Hinton-Davis.

The Story.  It was written in 1926 by Mae West. Yes, that Mae West. The play ran in New York in 1926 for a year but then the police busted them and arrested the cast and Mae West for indecency. She starred in it. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail and served eight, getting off for good behaviour (which I’m sure she thought was an insult).

It’s about a street-smart prostitute in Montreal named Margy LaMont and the shady folks in her world of pimps, shakedown artists and the walking wounded of her profession. She meets a young rich man named Jimmy Stanton who falls in love with her, not knowing about her real background.  He wants to marry her and Margy really thinks she can make a go of going straight and wants to marry him too.  But there are complications…as there always are.

The Production. Peter Hinton-Davis directed this with flare, intelligence, exquisite details and economy. I think his ideas are terrific. He always gets me sitting forward in my seat, pondering his ideas, concept and always the play.

Eo Sharp has designed a set and costumes that grab you for all the right reasons. She fills the compact stage with luggage of all shapes and sizes. Since the play takes place in Montreal, Trinidad and upstate New York and the scenes change quickly from one location to another, then luggage says everything about movement, travel and impermanence. Luggage is used as props for easy-access containers for clothes instead of a closet and a trunk contains all manner of liquor and drugs for the scenes in the seedier locations. There is no need of a bar for this.  Clever.

Two beautiful end tables on which are huge vases of white gladioli say everything about Jimmy’s family’s elegant home in upstate New York.

With the help of his stellar team Hinton-Davis has created a dangerous world in which the characters have to have their wits about them. Bonnie Beecher’s muted lighting accentuates that sense of mystery. One can imagine people silently appearing from the gloom into muted light, providing a prickly presence. A detective, Dawson (Ric Reid) appears out of no where, lurking, watching and overseeing this ‘under’ world, ready to pounce.

Mae West has created a world and certainly Hinton-Davis’ direction realizes it in which the toughest people survive, such as Margy (a wonderful Diana Donnelly). It’s a world with allure and so society dames dabble in this ‘under’ world for adventure and pay the price; it’s a world in which rough charmers like Rocky (Kristopher Bowman) take advantage of those society dames, drug them and rob them. In a fascinating twist, Margy has a moral sense and knows the dangerous game Rocky is playing and stares him down.

Diana Donnelly gives a terrific performance as Margy. She is tough, wily, intelligent and strangely moral.

In Peter Hinton-Davis’ production there is gender-bending, an idea that one could reason in that world would not be out of place.  Jonathan Tan does a nice turn as Agnes, a friend of Margy’s. Tan is in heels, a long coat and makeup. He captures the fragility and femininity of Agnes, her anxieties about her abusive boyfriend and how she fits in that world.  Some women play police officers. This is 1926.

Julia Course plays Jimmy, Margy’s fiancé.  Course has her short, blonde hair slicked back and she wears fitted suits and is quite elegant in them. She has the stance and walk of a man here. But while I can accept the gender swapping in other cases, I’m having trouble accepting the conceit with Jimmy  played by a woman. I am not sure what is to be served by a delicate boned woman playing a man as a man. This is not to criticize Course’s acting—she’s a wonderful actress (witness her work as Laura in The Glass Menagerie.) The problem here to accept the conceit is mine.

But Hinton-Davis always gets me thinking and that’s the most important thing in the long run.

Comment.  Certainly in Sex Mae West displays her eye-popping way with dialogue. It’s the tough lingo of the street and she knows the colloquial usages for a gritty kind of play. One has to be mindful that this is 1926 so perhaps to our ears in 2019 the language might sound strange. Get over it. She creates a credible, gritty world. The characters are sharply drawn and have deep, colourful lives.

Mae West also wrote The Drag about homosexuality that is astonishing in its perceptions and The Pleasure Man that reads like so many one liners in a vaudeville show, but then packs a wallop at the end. Her novel Babe Gordon (or The Constant Sinner as it’s also titled) is startling in its clear-eyed dealing with an 18 year-old prostitute named Babe Gordon who focuses on men who can and want pay her way until she dumps them for someone better. And for an equally stunning read, there is her autobiography, “Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It.” At every turn, Mae West is much, much more than a sex symbol with flouncy body language and a way with a phrase. She wrote with perception of what one might call the seamier side of life and how society perceived it. She had a moral compass. At every single turn, Mae West surprises.

Produced by the Shaw Festival.

Began: June 21, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 13, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


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

Written by Tennessee Williams

Directed by László Bérczes

Set by Balázs Cziegler

Costumes by Hanne Loosen

Lighting by Mikael Kangas

Cast: Julia Course

Allegra Fulton

André Sills

Jonathan Tan

A generally beautifully acted production but the director László Bérczes makes two directorial decisions that diminish the emotional punch of the play.

The Story. The Glass Menagerie is Tennessee William’s semi-autobiographical play. The play takes place in the 1930s. It’s about the Wingfield family. Amanda is the matriarch. Her husband left the family years before.  He has been described as a telephone man who fell in love with long distances.

Tom is her son who writes poetry, works at a shoe warehouse and hates it and longs to leave the family for a life of adventure as a merchant marine. Laura is Amanda’s daughter and Tom’s sister. She is emotionally fragile, terribly shy and devotes her time to a collection of small glass figurines and playing records on the Victrola. She has a slight limp from a childhood illness.

Lastly there is Jim, the Gentleman Caller. He is beautifully described in the play as ‘that long delayed but always expected something that we live for.” Jim was a friend of Tom’s from his schooldays, showed great promise that has not been realized and now works at the warehouse with Tom. Laura also knew Jim in high school years before and was smitten with him but was too shy to let him know.

The Production. At the beginning of Tennessee William’s play, Tom enters to set up the premise of the play when he says: “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket. I have things up my sleeve….”; that he is the opposite of a stage magician; that it is a memory play; that it is dimly lighted;  that it is sentimental.

Director László Bérczes does most of his directing in his native Hungary. He was invited to come to the Shaw by Artistic Director, Tim Carroll. While most of Bérczes’s direction is respectful of the play, there are a few instances that are eyebrow-knitting.

Bérczes ‘upstages’ Tennessee Williams’ beginning with his own distracting stage business. Bérczes continues the penchant of the Shaw in recent years to have an actor(s) come out before the show and chat up the audience to welcome them. Why, one wonders? Surely the play does that job.  In this case André Sills enters the theatre as the audience fills in. He is affable, smiling, charming and chats up people in the front row etc. as he walks around the space quietly addressing the audience.

He wears a toque and work jacket. He is dressed like a merchant marine and he is doing magic tricks for people sitting in the four sections of the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre. I wonder if it is André Sills doing the magic or Tom, the character in the play. When he quotes Shakespeare’s Othello and says “it could be about my sister’ I realize that it’s Tom doing the tricks because I know the play. How many others can say the same? How is the audience to know he is a character in the play and not the charming actor greeting them?  Why do the Shaw powers that be and in this case too the director, insist on bringing out the actor (s) to chat up the audience? Why do magic tricks before the show starts to inform a moment in the play that perfectly informs the play if they only trusted it. Tom is a man who is consumed with frustration and disappointment. This ‘pre-show’ business suggests otherwise and that distracts from the play.

The set by Balázs Cziegler suggests the cramped, shabby quality of the Wingfield apartment. There is a well-worn couch, a table and mismatched chairs in the dining room. I’m not sure why there are so many single stairs from one room to another. Characters seem to rise up one step and come down another a few feet away. I wonder how many rooms there are in the apartment we can’t see. So, odd steps.

There is a nice sense of gloom in Mikael Kanga’s muted lighting. Hanne Loosen’s well-worm costumes are terrific, especially for Laura. Julia Course (as Laura) is tall and slim. She wears a long, slim skirt, a buttoned crème coloured blouse and a long crème coloured sweater. Course’s posture for Laura is slumped so she looks incredibly frail and fragile, like a delicate piece of her glass that could shatter in any moment.  The whole look accentuates Laura’s fragility. Stunning.

Bérczes establishes the careful maneuvering that family must do not to bang into each other in such cramped quarters. The frustration and disappointment the characters have in their lives and with each other is nicely established. Most important is the love they all have for each other. Amanda wants the best for her children. She tries to make Laura self-sufficient by sending her to business college so she can work and support herself. When this is a failure she goes to plan B, to try and get her married. Amanda is not a monster. She has seen the good life and its possibilities and she wants that for her children. She knows Tom is frustrated but she needs him there for support and his pay cheque. Laura and Tom are devoted to each other and they cling to Amanda as one does in a raging storm for support.

The performances for the most part are wonderful and get to the heart and soul of the characters. Allegra Fulton gives a towering performance as Amanda that is both southern-belle charming and anxious. It’s a performance full of nuance, gentility, steely resolve and determination couched in velvet. There is such drive in Amanda to survive and to instill that in her children.

As Tom, Andre Sills has all that pent up emotion, frustration and sense of being trapped that is beautifully effective. The bond between Tim and Laura is tender, loving and impish as they share subtle jokes between them.

Julia Course is a wonderful actress but her performance as Laura is revelatory. She looks  frail and waif-like and almost shrinks with shyness when the Jim the Gentleman Caller comes calling. She hobbles when she walks but mainly devotes her time to her records and her glass figurines. She is the mediator in that family between her brother and her mother. She knows both of them so well.

As Jim, the Gentleman Caller, Jonathan Tan is the weak link. He has a sunny disposition and a suggestion of confidence, but not the depth needed to realize the variations, disappointments and possibilities of Jim.

As I said earlier Bérczes does reveal the play in a respectful way, but then invokes two directorial choices that get my eyebrows knitting they so disrupt the play.

In the scene between Laura and Jim she is awkward and stiff she is so shy. But eventually Jim makes her relax and engage in conversation. She sits on the floor—a huge feat for a woman who hobbles. She reminds Jim of his glory days and that she knows how wonderful he was and thinks he still is. We must see from this one scene the possibility that this odd couple are made for each other. They give each other confidence. In that one scene they fall in love with each other.

Jim dances with Laura in spite of her saying she can’t dance (that limp) and he wouldn’t be able to budge her. He does better. She blossoms in that dance. She imagines she is graceful, elegant and supremely confident. She is so suddenly confident that she gracefully raises a leg, twirls and kicks her prized glass figurine, a unicorn, off the table and doesn’t realize it. Jim tells her it’s broken and she, still in her reverie says, “It doesn’t matter.” She says it without irony or subtext. While that accident does bring Laura into the real world, she would not change into a confident woman this fast just because a guy she likes dances with her.

While the news that Jim is engaged results in Laura slinking back into her frail, withered self we had to have seen how conflicted she would be with the damaging of her favourite piece of glass. That is missing because the director has removed the heartache and lowered the stakes for Laura. That’s a cheat.

And at the end of the play, Tom describes how haunted he has been over the years by his sister, seeing her face in windows, in other strangers etc. He wants her to put him out of his guilty misery and blow out her candles she he can’t see her face in the light (he has the candelabra used for that fateful dinner with Jim). He says: :Blow out your candles, Laura” and she doesn’t as she comes into his memory, but one can’t tell if it’s deliberate. So Tom takes the candelabra and HE blows them out. Huh? That’s another cheat.This negates the whole play.

If it was that easy for Tom to erase the memory of his sister’s face, then why do we need the play? As I said, lovely performances for the most part, a straightforward rendering of the play for the most part and then the director adds two directorial touches that lower the stakes for two characters and takes the heart and soul out of the play.

Well that’s another cheat. Where is the weight of the moment? Where is the consuming guilt if he can blow them out? This diminishes the scene and leaves me feeling dissatisfied even thought I thought most of the acting was superb. The director left well enough alone for the most part but those last two scenes didn’t help make the play heartbreaking.

Comment.  While The Glass Menagerie is a classic it seems like tame programming since one can see productions of it at community, professional and summer stock theatres across the country. That said, I’m grateful for the wonderful performances of Allegra Fulton, André Sills and Julia Course.

The Shaw Festival Presents:

Began: May 22, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 12, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


At Town Hall 1873, Port Perry, Ont. Part of the Theatre on the Ridge Festival

Written by Robert Chafe

Directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey

Set and production designed by Carey Nicholson

Lighting by Colin Hughes

Costume coordination by Judith Sanders

Cast: Demi-Lee Bainbridge

Duncan Gibson-Lockhart

Frances Loiselle

Daniel McCormack

Musicians: Manon Ens-Lapointe, Michael Williamson

A young British nurse named Myra Grimsley was posted to a remote community in Newfoundland just after WWI. There was no doctor so Myra was it. She tended to the community with efficiency, directness and a strong backbone. She coped with their old wives’ tales for remedies and set them straight. She revelled in the harsh winters and seemed to thrive. Her contract was for two years but she stayed and worked there even after her contract was up.

For one thing she was wooed by Angus Bennett, a matter-of-fact man in the community. He was a man of few words but Myra understood all of them. They married and by all accounts it was a strong, loving marriage.

I love Robert Chafe’s play. It captures the idiosyncratic people of Newfoundland we have come to know from this true story and others, (ok, let’s say it all together: Come From Away.) And he has taken the story of Myra Grimsley and made her story sing. She was of strong pioneer stock who didn’t shy away from a challenge and looked at every situation as an opportunity. There is a harrowing scene late in the play that illuminates the kind of take charge woman Myra was. She was not afraid of any challenge and knew how to tackle even the most daunting situation with calmness and a clear head. She was revered and honoured in Newfoundland. And she lived to be 100. Astonishing.

Director Jeannette Lambermont-Morey rose to the occasion of the play and even more impressive, took a generally young cast and made them rise to the occasion too. Lambermont-Morey staged and directed this complex play with various locations with imagination, spareness of props that were used to create vivid images and a clear eye for the telling detail. She added two musicians (Manon Ens-Lapointe on vocals and violin and Michael Williamson, vocals and guitar) to get us in the mood beforehand by playing traditional Newfoundland music) and they also added musical accompaniment during the production for the authentic Newfoundland sound. Demi-Lee Bainbridge and Daniel McCormack play various characters with energy and commitment.

The set by Carey Nicholson was simple and effective. A table and two chairs became everything from a table and two chairs, to a bed, a horse drawn carriage/sleigh and a cart.

As Myra, Frances Loiselle conveys the starched quality of Myra, very professional, prim, proper but also able to warm to her neighbours and community. As Angus, Duncan Gibson-Lockhart revealed a man as spare in his talk as Myra was. There was glinting humour in this contained performance. Together Loiselle and Gibson-Lockhart illuminated how and why Myra and Angus was made for each other.

NOTE: I went to see this production because I like the work of Jeannette Lambermont-Morey, love the play and have never been to Port Perry. What a charming town. Carey Nicholson is the Artistic Director of Theatre on the Ridge. She is determined to being interesting work to her community. The attentive audience was up for it. A lovely evening in the theatre.

Theatre on the Ridge presents:

Began: July 17, 2019.

Closed: July 17, 2019.

Running Time:  2 hours, approx.

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At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Created by Danielle Joy Kostrich

Directed by Leah Holder

Set by Joe Pagnan

Lighting by Elizabeth Richardson

Sound by Joshua Doerksen

Cast: Keelan Ballantyne

Alyssa Bartholomew

Drew Carter

Gabriella Circosta

Alex Clay

Alex Hurst

Avi Petliar

Madison Stewart

“What do you know about the Second World War?” The question was posed last year to drama students at Eastview Secondary School in Barrie, Ont. by playwright Danielle Joy Kostrich. The answers formed part of the wonderful show known as The Cenotaph Project. The bulk of the show concerns the lives of various young men and women from Barrie, Ont. who did sign up for the Second World War and sometimes paid the ultimate price. Their names are on the Cenotaph in downtown Barrie.

Clint Lowell taught high school in Barrie and encouraged his students to research the names on the Cenotaph and find out their stories. Those stories formed the basis of his book, “The Boys From Barrie.” Those stories in turn comprise The Cenotaph Project. A group of young actors ranging in age from 17 to 29 realize the stories.

A young man Dominic D’ambrosio was Canadian of Italian descent. He was unsure of who he really was: Canadian or Italian, and further wondered if he should support Italy even though  they were on the ‘other’ side?  A fascinating dilemma.

A young man loved music and musical theatre but enlisted in the military as his profession. The young actor playing him found many similarities between them but wondered why his character didn’t follow his love of music as his profession. Other young men signed up to fight in the war and were terrified, but felt it their duty.

Through their research the young cast discovered many things they didn’t know about World War Two, about themselves and the people they researched. They questioned if they could find the courage to enlist if they were faced with the prospect of war, as these young men and women did.

Danielle Joy Kostrich’s script is finely written, captures the dilemma’s of the young men and women faced with the daunting decision to enlist, and shows how the young people enacting the Cenotaph stories have a deeper understanding of what happened in World War Two.

Leah Holder’s direction is spare, clear and very evocative using simple props. The cast is focused and make these lives so richly moving. At the end, when the cast explained who they were and the person they played, they teared up with emotion. Me too.

Theatre by the Bay presents:

Began: July 17, 2019.

Closed: July 27, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.