Live and in person at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Playing until Sept. 28, 2024.

Written by Henrik Ibsen

In a new version by Patrick Marber

From a literal translation by Karin and Ann Bamborough

Directed by Molly Atkinson

Set and costumes by Lorenzo Savoini

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Composer and sound by Mishelle Cuttler

Cast: Bola Aiyeola

Joella Crichton

Brad Hodder

Kim Horsman

Tom McCamus

Gordon S. Miller

Sara Topham

Some fine acting and scenes of inventive direction, but the overall effect is an uneven, disappointing production.

The Story. Hedda Gabler is a strong-willed woman living at a time when women had to conform to a certain code of behaviour in order to be considered respectable. She was brought up by General Gabler, who instilled in her a way to expect to live. She should marry well, have servants and would entertain in a grand house.

Hedda was attracted to wild men of questionable character, such as Judge Brack and Eilert Lovborg. But she knew a close association with them would be socially wrong. So she married the only respectable man who showed interest, Tesman, a nerdy scholar who wanted to marry her and hoped that a professorship would lead to a good living.

They have just returned from an extended honeymoon where Hedda was bored to say the least. In the meantime, Tesman went into debt to buy Hedda’s ideal house. Judge Brack worked in the background to help secure the house. Tesman’s Aunt Juliana put up her annuity to secure the furniture, which concerned Tesman when he found out. And Tesman learns that Lovborg might be vying for the same professorship now that he has written a hugely successful book. Things begin to unravel quickly and Hedda felt not only bored in this marriage, but also trapped and desperate when she realizes that her social status might be jeopardized by ‘slippery’ Judge Brack.

The Production.  Lorenzo Savoini has designed a beautiful set to suggest the grand size of the house. There is only a chaise downstage and a fireplace upstage, otherwise the stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre is bare. A lighting effect on the whole width of the stage of the theatre illuminates the shadows of two large window settings, which also give the sense of the size of the house.Bravo for this simple and effective lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak.

When Aunt Juliana (Bola Aiyeola) arrives to see her nephew Tesman (Gordon S. Miller) and his new bride Hedda (Sara Topham) she looks up and around the space, adding another means of suggesting the size of the place—Kudos to director Molly Atkinson. Gordon S. Miller is a lively Tesman who is passionate about his work, and eventually stands up for his rights with Hedda.

When Hedda (Sara Topham) makes her entrance she is cool, regal, haughty and in command. The emptiness of the Tom Patterson stage provides an expanse over which Hedda can rule.

Sara Topham as Hedda strides across the stage, owning it.  The problem is that too often it looks like Molly Atkinson could not stage characters to appear as if they were having ordinary conversations on such a large stage. There is often such a distance between them, as if that is how she could ‘fill up’ the space.   Interestingly Molly Atkinson is more successful in staging/directing intimate scenes that take place on the chaise between Hedda Gabler and Lovborg (Brad Hodder) a former lover. The attempt at secrecy and reliving their former seductive connection is nicely achieved.

While Sara Topham has the hauteur of Hedda Gabler, the regal bearing and arrogant condescension, it seems as if she is skimming the surface of this deeply complex woman. There is more nuance to Hedda than Topham has invested.  

As Lovborg, Brad Hodder is a combination of a man who needs to appear as if he is reformed from his previous wild reputation, but also show that that wildness is close to the surface. The audience also gets an intriguing look at Judge Brack (Tom McCamus), an elegant and outwardly charming man, who keeps his darker purpose hidden for the most part. Judge Brack is one of Hedda’s wild, inappropriate men in her past, who will tighten his grip on her (figuratively and literally), leading her to make a drastic decision about her future. Tom McCamus is both seductive and dangerous.

Joella Crichton is a good actress, as was seen last year in her performance in The Wedding Band, but in Hedda Gabler she makes Mrs. Elvsted seem flighty and light-weight. Mrs. Elvsted has more depth than that. And I got the sense that Joella Chrichton was given line readings by her director, with deliberate pauses before words, thus making the performance seem laboured and tentative.  

Patrick Marber is a wonderful playwright, director and adaptor in his own right, but I found his new version of Ibsen’s classic, problematic. Most important is that this version seems wrong for this production. Patrick Marber initially adapted Hedda Gabler for the 2016 production directed by Ivo Van Hove for the National Theatre in London. In an Ivo Van Hove production more often than not, it’s about the director and his ‘vision’ rather than the playwright’s vision of the play (an exception would be his thrilling production of A View from the Bridge).  

This version is blunt where nuance, irony and subtlety are in order. When Hedda says they will have to fire the maid because she has left an old hat on the chaise, Auntie Juliana defends herself because it’s her hat and she bought it especially to impress Hedda. As Aunt Juliana, Bola Aiyeola shows her hurt but then she says to Hedda with an edge, “Don’t be mean.” Really? In a thousand years that character would never say that to Hedda because she was always careful not to put her nephew in jeopardy with his wife. That line or even a hint of it is not in any production I’ve seen or the various adaptations I have. I reckon that Patrick Marber put that line in because Ivo Van Hove told him to—playing fast and loose with the text.

Also, there is little here to suggest that Hedda and Brack are on the same wavelength even though they toy humourously with each other at the expense of others. I think of the ‘triangle-train’ reference in other versions of the play. Brack wants to be an important part of a domestic connection to a husband and wife that will form a triangle between Hedda, Tesman and himself.  Hedda says that she longed for another person on the train besides her boring husband to amuse her. Brack suggests that he would have loved that position. He says this to Hedda when Tesman is away. When Tesman returns, Brack says quietly to Hedda something like: “The triangle is complete….” In other productions Hedda would say, (in perfect balance) “The train moves on.” This dialogue illuminates the seductive connection between Brack and Hedda—secretive and eventually dangerous. To remove it from the adaptation diminishes the connection.     

Comment. There are some good aspects of this production but the overall effect is one of disappointment.

The Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until September 28.

Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes (1 intermission)

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This brilliant post is from Sky Gilbert’s blog: ANOTHER BLOG THAT NOBODY READS. It’s from Sat. 2, Sept. 2023. It’s vita reading in these self-absorbed, fragile-minded, timorous, angry, fractious times, when bravery, guts, and a good dose of a sense of humour are needed to deal with the every day.

Saturday 2 September 2023

When Theatre Was Fun

(Apologies to Joe Brainard)

I remember when theatre was fun

I remember when we used to anticipate rehearsal with longing, not fear

I remember when directors were not perfect (no one was)

I remember when there were no rules about being together and rules about touching one another

I remember when actors wanted to be vulnerable

I remember when actors went into psychotherapy but they wanted to know how fucked up they were instead of being afraid of it

I remember Marylin Monroe

I remember James Dean

I remember when actors were brave and eager to confront startling issues and ‘hot topics’ and to play crazy characters (and you could say the word ‘crazy’) and it was all part of the fun

I remember when my friend David Roche used to call theatre ‘four people being rude in a room’ 

I remember ‘hump the hostess’ and ‘get the guests’ and ‘what a dump!’

I remember when people with mental health issues didn’t have to apply for their own grants in a special category but worked with us — because a lot of real artists have mental health issues anyway — and the whole theatre community understood that and welcomed people with mental health issues with open arms, as art itself was a mental health issue

I remember the imagination

I remember the subconscious

I remember dreams

I remember ‘madness’

I remember not policing language

I remember jokes

I remember real sensitivity, not when people broke the unspoken terrifying politically correct rules, but real people were sensitive to real human things in the moment

I remember when we didn’t lie except in the right way

I remember when we didn’t do lip service piously to all sorts of dogma that we didn’t really believe in — but we now think that we must — in order to continue our work

I remember when art was political, but you didn’t have to agree with the politics to do it

I remember when it was about your body and your soul and most of all your heart and not your social justice ideas

I remember when theatre was surprising and unsettling

I remember when actors and writers and directors didn’t hold artists up to impossible expectations that they.could never realize themselves

I remember when we had to learn how NOT to judge, instead of  HOW to judge

I remember when thought was free

I remember when no idea was a crime

I remember when everyone knew that a lot of artists have been criminals, and artists weren’t afraid to welcome the criminal element in their work which, after all, to quote Penny Arcade, is what separates art ‘from academia’

I remember when theatre was yeah sexy and boozy and in your face

I remember when actors used to yell at the audience directly — not religiously and passive aggressively lecture them about politically correct dogma

I remember the God DIonysus

I remember when there were awful bad people in the theatre and there were things like sexism and homophobia; but we tried to deal with it without demonizing everybody, and turning acting and directing into a terrifying nightmare in which we were all afraid to be honest with each other

I remember feeling things, as a group

I remember when theatre was a place where —  though we were often wearing a mask — we could be ourselves

I remember hiding in theatre, in a very good way

I remember catharsis

I remember seeing horrible images in rehearsal and onstage, and not turning away or asking for sensitivity training or check-in days, or crayons to do colouring

I remember laughing from the gut and not feeling guilty 

I remember when theatre was fun

Do you?


Live and in person at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Plays until July 21, 2024.

Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

Book by Winnie Holzman

Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire

Directed by Joe Mantello

Set by Eugene Lee

Costumes by Susan Hilferty

Lighting by Kenneth Posner

Sound by Tony Meola

Projections by Elaine J. McCarthy

Cast: Austen Danielle Bohmer

Aymee Garcia

Kayla Goldsberry

Blake Hammond

Erica Ito

Kingsley Leggs

Xavier McKinnon

Lauren Samuels

Wayne Schroder

Tregoney Shepherd

Mitchell Tobin

Alex Vinh

Lively, energetic, tuneful, with some strong performances. But as seems to be the norm with touring Broadway musicals, the orchestra drowns out the singers and the singers try to compensate by pushing their voices resulting in the lyrics get muddied. And the story has always been problematic.


WICKED, the Broadway sensation, looks at what happened in the Land of Oz…but from a different angle. Long before Dorothy arrives, there is another young woman, born with emerald green skin—smart, fiery, misunderstood, and possessing an extraordinary talent. When she meets a bubbly blonde who is exceptionally popular, their initial rivalry turns into the unlikeliest of friendships…until the world decides to call one “good,” and the other one “wicked….The untold ‘true’ story of the Witches of Oz.”

An unhappily married woman has a one-night-stand with a ‘snake-oil-salesman’ who offers her an emerald green elixir to ‘calm her down.’ When she gives birth nine months later, she and her unsuspecting husband are horrified that the baby has emerald green skin. The child is named Elphaba. She is smart, bright and has magical powers, but nothing will get her father to love her. Elphaba is sent away to a private school where she is shunned by her classmates because of her skin colour. She is roomed with Glinda, blonde, beautiful and very popular. Glinda is not smart, wise or briming with character. She loathes Elphaba and the feeling is returned. Then a dashing, but superficial prince named Fiyero, arrives. Glinda zeroes in on him and the attention is returned. But slowly his attentions turn to Elphaba. There is also the Wizard of Oz who intrigues Elphaba because of her magic abilities. She wants to meet him and feels they would be kindred spirits. Terrible complications arise. Glinda will become ‘The Good Witch,’ and Elphaba will be known as “The Wicked Witch of the West.”

The Production and comment. Background Note. Wicked has been running on Broadway since 2003. It has garnered all sorts of Awards including Tony Awards and Grammy Awards. It has had successful runs in the West End in London and internationally. In other words, it’s a huge success.

When the orchestra strikes up, I note the word LOUD! in my programme. When the flying monkeys and other citizens of Oz scurry on bellowing that the wicked witch is dead, I write ‘ear-splitting’ in my programme. T’was ever thus with most touring Broadway musicals. The powers that be who control the sound levels feel the audience must experience an explosion of sound rather than experience a reasonable sound level that allows them to actually hear the lyrics and music clearly. This is not the fault of the theatre (and Mirvish Producitons, which is presenting this show), it’s the originating creator of sound—Tony Meola, take a bow. One complains about this recurring noise of sound that is too loud and is ignored. Perhaps the sound folks are deaf. But to continue….

Eugene Lee’s Tony Award winning set of Oz etc. is a huge neon creation of large gears and a huge clock and above the set is a forbidding red-eyed (metal?) monster of a bird-thing. The reason for the gears and monster is explained in Gregory Maguire’s book on which this musical is based, but not actually explained in Winnie Holzman’s book of the musical.

The citizens of Oz sing “No One Mourns the Wicked” in the first song, which is really the end of the story (the story will then flash back to how it all started). Glinda, the Good Witch (Austen Danielle Bohmer) is in a large bubble that floats above the folks below, smiling but looking troubled as her followers/and fans sing of how they are glad of the death of the Wicked Witch. Glinda doesn’t say anything to change their minds.  As the story does unfold we learn the truth about the so called Wicked Witch (Elphaba, played wonderfully by Lauren Samuels). Joe Mantello directs with a grand vision and attention to the breathtaking pace.

On the surface Wicked looks like it’s a story of two different women who become friends. Glinda is smiley and bubbly in attitude, attractive to everybody, and thought to be the “Good Witch.” It’s not that she’s good. Rather it’s that she’s compliant, accommodating, never challenges anyone because she wants to be liked and popular.

Elphaba is generally loathed because of her emerald green skin. She’s different and different is to be shunned. Elphaba has a conscience and lives a principled life. She has ethics. She can spot phoniness a mile off and has Glinda’s number. She believes initially Glinda is vapid and without backbone. And Elphaba’s moral fiber shows when she is furious when she learns the decree that animals can no longer teach at her school. That means that her beloved Doctor Dillamond (Kingsley Leggs), a goat, cannot teach her any longer.  Elphaba is also horrified that an Ozian Official wants to keep uncooperative animals (and humans?) in cages to calm them down.

Overtime Glinda and Elphaba became friends, sort of. Perhaps Elphaba just comes to accept Glinda’s innate silliness and Glinda comes to see Elphaba’s goodness. They have a song in Act II called “For Good” in which Glinda and Elphaba sing of their friendship in the most whimsical, philosophical leanings.  

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.”

All I can say is “ohhhhh PULLLLLeeeeze!!” You wonder if composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz and writer Winnie Holzman were in the same room or if they both looked at the other’s work. It’s a very clever play on the words of ‘better’ and ‘good’ but the song is dishonest because neither character changed because of knowing the other. Glinda never developed a deepened character and Elphaba never lost her moral fiber.

On a deeper level Wicked is a metaphor for the dangers of exclusion, segregation, racism, dictatorship, Fascism, and how quickly lies can spread by blinkered, lemming-like people who are so stupid they would believe anything, as they have believed the lies about Elphaba. Fiyero (a fine performance of grace and style by Xavier McKinnon) has a wonderful line in which he wonders if people can be that stupid that they would believe the lies about Elphaba—and of course they can be that stupid, just look at ‘social’ media. Fiyero is the one whose consciousness has been raised by knowing Elphaba.

Elphaba is so fed up with people thinking her evil that she decides to play that game and act it. Lauren Samuels as Elphaba sings the rousing “Defying Gravity” in which Elphaba will live by her own rules and not others. Lauren Samuels has a stunning strong voice, and her acting chops are dandy. By contrast Austen Danielle Bohmer as Glinda is tentative in her acting and unsteady in her high notes. She fares better in duets with Lauren Samuels.

When Elphaba is planning an escape she asks Glinda to promise her that she (Glinda) will not tell the citizens the truth about her (Elphaba), that she was in fact a decent person. Glinda agrees. Here is my endless concern with this work—why does Elphaba want the citizens to believe a lie and not the truth about her? It’s never explained and Glinda (of course) never asks—always wanting to be compliant and agreeable to the end. Elphaba’s planned escape will be permanent, so why the mystery about her true nature?  

Wicked is rousing, lively and tuneful. It’s based on Gregory Maguire’s clever book of the same name and has just enough seriousness and depth of the story to make it look like it’s about something important.

Mirvish Productions presents:

Plays until July 21, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (1 Intermission)


Live and in person at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Soulpepper presents the Soho Theatre and Haley McGee Production in association with Luminato Festival Toronto. Plays until June 23.

Written and performed by Haley McGee

Directed by Mitchell Cushman

Scenic designer, Zoë Hurwitz

Lighting by Daniel Carter-Brennan

Sound by Robert Moutey

An exquisite piece of theatre.

Age is a Feeling is written and performed by Haley McGee who first did this at the Edinburgh Festival, where it won a Festival First Award. It then played the Soho Theatre in London, England where it was nominated for an Olivier Award.

Now Haley McGee, who is Canadian but living in London, England for the last six years, has brought her show ‘home’, to the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until June 23.

It’s the journey of a woman’s life through the years from the age of 25 until about 90 years old, when she dies. It’s about her searching for happiness, love, fulfillment, adventure, the meaning of mortality and life. It’s not necessarily autobiographical (as her previous show The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale), but parts of it could be.

According to the show’s information “Age is a Feeling celebrates the glorious and melancholy unknowability of human life. Inspired by hospices, mystics and trips to the cemetery, Age is a Feeling wrestles with our endless chances to change course while we’re alive. A covert rallying cry against cynicism and regret. A call to seize our time.”

Zoë Hurwitz has created a beautiful, calm set full of mystery and flowers. In the center of it all a bit upstage, is Haley McGee sitting in a high lifeguard chair, looking out at the audience, the world, etc. That lifeguard chair seems a fitting metaphor—the person who sits there potentially saves lives, and here McGee tells her long, vivid, complex story of a suggested life, full of incident and events. On the stage are 12 perpendicular formations of flowers in pots on which is a large sign with one word on the sign such as: egg, dog, crabapple, oyster, bus, plane etc.

Haley McGee takes some of the signs off the flowers and fans them out to the front row, so that they can’t see the word, asking an audience member to pick two of the cards. Depending on which cards the audience member picks, dog, egg etc. those are the stories Haley McGee will tell. The other stories will not be told that performance. If one does want to know the stories that were not told, one can buy Haley McGee’s book and read it for all the stories.  

For my performance Haley McGee told stories about meeting a man on the bus and chatting to him, and how they formed a relationship. Another was about wanting a dog and finally getting one and loving it intensely. Another was about planting a crabapple tree when a loved one died.

Each story was richly detailed, beautifully told, usually about searching for love, or friendship or trying to cheer up a distant person. Haley McGee’s observations on life, love, the search for fulfillment, are exquisite. There is such a depth of emotion and humour in each story and in the telling.

And she is masterful in telling them, she is never rushed, so that you are hanging on to every word as she goes through the spectrum of emotions in the story-telling.  She talks of the love between friends, between an old couple that have been together for years, the blush of young love.

It’s beautifully, sensitively directed by Mitchell Cushman.

Age is a Feeling is exquisite and will leave you feeling buoyed, exhilarated, tingling, and glad you saw it.

Soulpepper presents the Soho Theatre and Haley McGee Production in association with Luminato Festival Toronto.

Plays until June 23, 2024.

Running time: 75 minutes, (no intermission)


Live and in person at the Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont. Plays until June 22, 2024.

Written by Sophia Fabiilli

Directed by Krista Jackson

Set and costumes by Sue LePage

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Deborah Drakeford

Lucy Hill

Nora McLellan

Justin Otto

Courtenay Stevens

Note: I first saw Liars at a Funeral last summer at the Blyth Festival. It had the same cast as this one except for two new actors (Deborah Drakeford and Courtenay Stevens) here at Thousand Islands Playhouse. This is not a remount. It’s more like a refresh with director Krista Jackson revisiting the production to see if scenes can be funnier, re-imagined and deeply felt. She has also used the many and various strengths of Deborah Drakeford and Courtenay Stevens to re-imagine the characters, and not do a copy of the previous actors. The result is a fresh, very funny and moving production. Much of the following review re-uses the Blyth review with appropriate changes to reflect the new actors and scenes that have been heightened. I was so glad I saw Liars at a Funeral in Thousand Islands Playhouse.

“Buoyant, very funny, lively and leaves you breathless with laughing.”

As Tolstoy said (at the beginning of “Anna Karenina:”) “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He could be talking about Mavis (Nora McLellan) and her family in Liars at a Funeral.

No one is talking to anyone in the family: Mavis’ daughter, Evelyn (Deborah Drakeford), is estranged and living in Montreal; Evelyn’s marriage broke up and her husband Wayne (Courtenay Stevens) married Evelyn’s twin sister Sheila, who has since passed away. Needless to say, the sisters didn’t talk to each other. And Mavis’ twin granddaughters, Dee Dee and Mia (both played by Lucy Hill) are not talking to each other as well. There seems to be a curse in that family of twin girls who then don’t talk to each other for whatever reasons. Mavis has to do something drastic to stop the curse and get the family talking to each other again. So she plans her own ‘fake’ death and her funeral too, which, she figures, will get everybody to attend and hence come together. Only her granddaughter Dee Dee (Lucy Hill) and Dee Dee’s friend Quint (Justin Otto) who works at the funeral home, know about the plan.

But things go wrong, as they do, when the funeral home director, Leorah (Deborah Drakeford), comes back early after being away.  Things go into overdrive in trying to keep Leorah from seeing Mavis (who spends a lot of time climbing into and out of her casket as she tries to bring off this trick).

Playwright Sophia Fabiilli has written a devilishly funny, complicated farce. Fabiilli has a wonderful facility with language and the jokes come naturally from people who are funny and irreverent. To ramp up the laughs not only do people enter and exit rooms just as someone arrives that they should not see, Fabiilli does it with twins. To further complicated matters and raise the humour bar, almost the whole cast plays two parts. You can imagine…. Doors are always swinging open or shut with characters entering and exiting and it’s done quickly, as farces should move.

Director Krista Jackson has a keen sense of timing, pace and humour. How does one keep it all straight? Who comes in the room just as someone is leaving? What twin is it? Did the actor put on the right costume for the right character? Most important, is this the scene where the ‘zipper’ is up or down? And of course, a neat trick that got my eyes popping—if a twin sister climbs into the casket to hear how things are going ‘out there,’ how did she then get out of the casket (without us seeing her) to play the other twin who just came in the door?

The cast is terrific . Nora McLellan is Mavis, buoyant, committed, funny, anxious that this scheme work and loving her family. Nora McLellan invests Mavis with such good will and energy you want this to work out even if she might not have been the best of mothers in the past. And McLellan has a gift in being funny and moving at the same time. Her determination as Mavis to keep things upbeat but knowing it could all go bust at any time. There is an urgency to ensuring this works. Nora McLellan is terrific.

Deborah Drakeford plays Evelyn the estranged daughter, with an uptight anxiety at being there at all. She has secrets she can’t share but knows she needs to be at this funeral because she has been estranged from her mother, and regrets it. Evelyn is a caring woman, kind, loving and wary of what is going on around her. As Leorah, the raunchy, sexually charged funeral home director Deborah Drakeford is commanding in her tight leather pants, free-spirited, coy and alluring. As uptight as Evelyn is, Leorah is as prowling and sexually charged.  Courtenay Stevens plays both Frank and Wayne and brings his considerable talents as a clown to both roles. He has a dexterousness in his body language and knows how to mind a line for a laugh. Frank is ‘posing’ as Evelyn’s boyfriend from Montreal. He is attentive and tries hard to appear ‘macho.’ Courtenay Stevens also plays Wayne, Evelyn’s ex-husband. Wayne drinks too much and is a bit of a pushy boor. Again, Stevens is varied and very funny.  

Lucy Hill plays both Dee Dee and Mia, twin sisters with different attitudes and personalities. Justin Otto plays both Quint the awkward, insecure assistant at the funeral home who is sweet on Dee Dee, and Justin Otto also plays Cam, a lively jock who loves Mia.  I was mighty impressed with Lucy Hill and Justin Otto last year at Blyth—two young actors who were new to me. This year their performances are deeper, funnier and very confident.

Sue LePage’s set design of the funeral home is tasteful and efficient. The décor is deep purple. There are four doors for fast entrances and exits. Sue LePage’s costumes are witty, sly and slinky in the case of Leorah who wears a form-fitting top and patterned black tights or leather pants and black boots. Louise Guinand shines a flattering light on the whole enterprise.

Liar’s at a Funeral is wildly funny and made more so in this production. See it at the Thousand Islands Playhouse to get your heart pumping with the humour and joy of it, and then go out on the deck of the theatre and calm yourself by looking at the beauty of those thousand islands in the shimmering water.

Thousand Islands Playhouse presents:

Runs until June 22, 2024

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Tarragon Extra Space, The Wee Festival, presents Florschűtz & Döhnert (Germany), Toronto, Ont. Playing until Sunday, June 9, 2024.

This show is absolutely delightful. Magical even, To hear a room full of children two years old to about five laughing together, without hesitation is stunning. How do these artists know how a child will take to an image?

 A man sitting on a ladder holds a fishing pole and line out over a circle. A woman wearing a hat stands in the circle. The man carefully places the end of the line on the hat of the woman and slowly lifts the hat off her head. The children roar with delight.  With every lift of the hat, they roar again. Magical.

She finds an egg that she calls a bird. She places it in her hat for safekeeping. Also there are feathers. He takes a feather and drops it, watching it float down, saying “Rawums” because that is the sound they imagine a falling object makes. The young audience roars with delight again.

He takes a small, heavy bag and drops it, waiting for it to float down, which it doesn’t…Thud. Laughter. Balloons are used to lift a bird, a chair, a house. The images created by such artistry is stunning. The children squeal with delight.

Michael Döhnert is the man and Melanie Florschütz is the woman. They got the idea, created the objects, balloons, birds, houses.

It was a privilege to sit in this audience of young children, watching theatre artists who know how to create magic for young audiences. And the older ones too. Please see this if you can.

Fri. June 7: 10 am (PA day)

Sat. June 8: 4 pm

Sun. June 9, 11 am.


Florschütz & Döhnert (Germany)

A trip to the wonderful world of Gravity!

“Rawums” according to the artists behind the piece, is the sound of something falling. Two curious characters explore and discover the laws of gravity! Why does a feather hover gently in the air, while a bag crashes heavily on the ground? But then what about a house? a chair? or even a person? Can they fly? They’re determined to find out!

A show about floating, flying, and falling.

Production: florschütz & döhnert
Coproduction: Theater o.N./ZINNOBER and SCHAUBUDE BERLIN
Artistic cooperation: Werner Hennrich
Idea, scenography, objects, play: Michael Döhnert and Melanie Florschütz

About Florschütz & Döhnert

The theatre company Florschütz & Döhnert is based in Berlin, Germany, and tours around the world. Artists Melanie Florschütz and Michael Döhnert have been working together since 1996, the company Florschütz & Döhnert was formed in 2004: Melanie studied the art of puppetry in Stuttgart, Germany; while Michael is a composer, guitarist and singer. At the centre of Florschütz’ & Döhnert’s productions is the idea of the actor as author. In their numerous productions for children they always seek a synthesis of music, the various means of expression of puppet and object theatre and human acting. The subject of the play determines the theatrical form it will take, always aiming for poetry and diversity.

Accessibility of our shows:
All shows by florschütz & döhnert invite the audience to experience theater with their individual prior experience and abilities. The productions work without words and are visually comprehensible. The associative visual language is open to people of all ages! Beyond language skills, the productions offer a “reading” between the lines and complex sensory impressions on several levels, which can be experienced according to ability. The resonance from deaf and hard of hearing people, people with limited mobility, cognitive and mental impairments and other 


Live and in person at the Festival Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Runs until Oct. 27, 2024.

Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell

Music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick

Conceived by Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick

Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

Music director, Laura Burton

Set and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Haley Parcher

Cast: Carla Bennett

Devon Michael Brown

Jeremy Carver-James

Dan Chameroy

Juan Chioran

Starr Domingue

Henry Firmston

Jordan Goodridge

Bonnie Jordan

Alex Kelly

Bethany Kovarik

Jeff Lillico

Amanda Lundgren

Gracie Mack

Anthony MacPherson

Jordan Mah

Kevin “Koovy’ McLachlan

Jamie Murray

Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah

Steve Ross

Jason Sermonia

Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane

Mark Uhre

And a large chorus.

Joyful, funny, smartly directed and choreographed and breathlessly performed.

The Story. Something Rotten! is not one of your better-known musicals because it opened in April, 2015 just before a little epic named Hamilton opened in August, 2015. Everything disappears when next to Hamilton.


The book for Something Rotten!  is by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell. The music and lyrics are by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick.

Something Rotten! is a wild, funny musical about trying to be successful writers during the time of Shakespeare (1595), who is at the top of his game. Two brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom run a theatre in London, England, and are always playing catch-up to Shakespeare who is wildly successful.

Nigel is the poet-playwright of the two brothers, and he likes Shakespeare’s work and even shows him some of his poems. Shakespeare is not above stealing lines or ideas from Nigel.  Nick hates Shakespeare and needs something to better him so he goes to a soothsayer named Nostradamus to read the future about what will be the rage.

Nick is told something called a musical will be the new rage—it’s a kind of theatre when actors will talk but when anyone least expects it, the actor will start singing. Nick thinks this is wild but he’s desperate and goes along with it. And Nick is also told what the subject matter is of Shakespeare’s next hit….so stealing is not really a crime here as long as you can sing and dance to it.

The Performance. The Kirkpatrick brothers, Karey and Wayne get off to a rousing start with “Welcome to the Renaissance” that sets the time, tone and pace of the show. It’s a rousing ode to what is going on in world/England at the time; it’s lead in song with beaming joy by the Minstrel, exuberantly played by Jeremy Carver-James and the chorus.

It also establishes that the sound for the orchestra and singers is too loud and not balanced. The singers sound almost piercing and the band thumps away and almost drowns out the words. Now that can’t be right. The Festival Theatre is stunning acoustically. The audience can hear a whisper when the natural voice is properly projected for Shakespeare etc. Why can’t that balance be achieved for this musical. (That piercing volume was not a problem for La Cage Aux Folles at the Avon). Something Rotten! is not a rock concert—can’t something finally be done about this endless problem of “TOO LOUD!” End of rant.

While this new creation of “a musical” might seem odd to those folks in 1595 used to people talking to each other, without oddly bursting into song, there is nothing artificial or forced from the acting of this gifted, superb cast. Nick Bottom is beautifully played by Mark Uhre as an impatient, nervous, irritable man, worried about the future of his theatre. He is frustrated by the easy success of that show-off Shakespeare (Jeff Lillico). Mark Uhre illuminates that frustration in his intense, energetic performance of the fittingly titled, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” It’s free-wheeling and full of passion.  

As Nigel Bottom, Henry Firmston is a reasonable, calming, sweet presence to the excitable Nick Bottom. Henry Firmston realizes how thoughtful and gracious Nigel is. He is a true poet, uncertain of his abilities but clear on when something doesn’t work or is morally wrong. Nigel tries to help Nick but Nick’s raging anxiety is a problem. Starr Domingue as Bea, Nick’s patient, capable wife sings “Right Hand Man” with such confidence and concern that you know she would and could move mountains for him, if only he’d notice and trust her.   

As Shakespeare, Jeff Lillico is all swager and pomposity, with a rock-star attitude, and he can sing wonderfully as well. “Will Power” is Shakespeare’s ode to himself, complex, clever, challenging and tossed off as easily as flipping his hair back for effect.

The always hilarious Dan Chameroy plays Nostradamus, the soothsayer. There is not a moment in which Chameroy doesn’t realize at least four laughs. In a bit of 1595 social commentary there is the character of Shylock played with aplomb by Steve Ross. His family and friends must be kvelling he’s so good. Shylock is a money lender, the only job he says a Jewish person could have at the time. He peppers his dialogue with Yiddish expressions. Shylock is quite happy that Shakespeare has said he will include him as a character in one of his plays. Shylock looks forward to being depicted as “the nice Jew.” Irony makes one sigh or say ‘Oy.’

Something Rotten! is directed and choreographed by Donna Feore who outdoes herself here. The pace of the dancing is, fast, furious and breathtaking. It’s creative, inventive choreography. Donna Feore also realizes every single joke in the script and visual jokes that arise from situations. She will have the audience laugh so hard their cheeks will hurt, all of them.

Something Rotten! references other musicals and Donna Feore raises the stakes here by also referencing other musicals she has directed and choreographed. It’s a double whammy to try and see how many musicals are referenced and how many she has directed by the clues. The whole cast is wonderful and so is this musical.

Comment. Shall we talk about the ‘elephant in the room’ in Something Rotten!? I speak of Shylock and the references of Jews. Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell do subtly reference how Jews have been depicted in plays, literature etc. so Shylock looking forward to being depicted in Shakespeare’s play as a ‘nice Jew’ is wishful thinking on Shylock’s part, we know it from hindsight. And Shylock is partially correct when he says he can only be a money lender at that time—he could also be a tinker or a tailor—the jobs were limited to those three for him.

Even a subtle reference to Jews in a musical these days, makes one suck air, ever so slowly. The world is fractious and angry. Antisemitism is on the rise. What to do? Exhale, ever so slowly and laugh in the face of the anger.

Last year with Spamalot the is a song called “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” (if you don’t have any Jews). Uncomfortable though that might sound, it’s true. If one makes a list of the top twenty or so Broadway composer/lyricists over the last 50 years they are all Jewish: Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Cy Coleman, Jerry Herman, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, etc. At the bottom of that list (but certainly not last or least) is gentile Cole Porter. One can also now add Eric Idle, Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Apparently there were a few complaints last year about the Jewish references and allegedly the Stratford administration felt it necessary to add something to the musical to temper the reference. That is unfortunate. Spamalot is a wonderful show and has been making people (of all ethnicities and religions, and dare one say it, Jews the most) laugh. Today’s headlines make people sensitive when other times one would slough off a funny reference. A sense of humour is such a defensive shield.  

The Stratford Festival Presents:    

Plays until Oct. 27, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (1 intermission)


The wonderful Wee Festival for very young children from 6 months to 5 years old concludes this weekend.

The shows are Rawums, Solalie and Aria. The shows are delightful, engaging, fun and embracing of the young mind and even those a bit older. I have never been disappointed with the various works that have been programmed from around the world and around the country. Artistic Director, Lynda Hill is a master at knowing what engages children.

Check out the schedule and information here:

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Live and in person at the Festival Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Plays until Oct. 26, 2024.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Seana McKenna

Set and costumes by Christina Poddubiuk

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Composer, Paul Shildon

Sound by Verne Good

Choreographer, Stephanie Graham

Cast:  David Collins

Laura Condlln

Sarah Dodd

Austin Eckert

Deborah Hay

Jessica B. Hill

Andrew Iles

Tarique Lewis

Vanessa Sears

André Sills

Emilio Vieira

Scott Wentworth

Rylan Wilkie

And a chorus

A beautiful production, both acted and directed, that illuminates love in its many forms.

The Story. Twelfth Night is a play about love in many guises. It starts with Duke Orsino of Illyria who is smitten with the Countess Olivia. But she spurns his many entreaties because she is in mourning for her brother’s death. She has sworn off men for seven years!

In the meantime, there has been a storm that has separated twins, Viola and her brother Sebastian. She thinks he’s dead. He’s not…separately they wash ashore on Illyria.

Viola decides to dress as a man (for protection) and go to work for the Duke as his page named Cesario. But instantly, she falls secretly in love with him. Orsino uses Cesario to curry the favour of Olivia. And as luck would have it Olivia is smitten with Cesario too.

Sebastian also appears to complicate matters further. So now we have mistaken identity with Cesario spurning the advances of Olivia, which changes when Sebastian enters the scene.

There is also Malvolio who works for Olivia. Malvolio is the officious head of Olivia’s household and is secretly smitten with Olivia. Other members of Olivia’s household tend to make fun of Malvolio. So there is lots going on in this comedy with dark touches. 

Twelfth Night is a wonderful, funny, bitter-sweet play of unrequited and requited love, mistaken identity and yearning.

The Production. Designer Christina Poddubiuk has created a spare and elegant design for this production, (set in 1967) where a few round rock-like props etc. at the bottom of the stairs suggest the tasteful richness of both Duke Orsino’s and the Countess Olivia’s houses. A mobile that looks like various sails is suspended above the stage, echoing the sailing-storm motif at the beginning of the production.

Poddubiuk’s costumes beautifully illuminate the characters, their social standing and their elegance. Duke Orsino (André Sills) wears casual but tasteful pastel shirts, jackets and pants. André Sills plays Orsino as a man comfortable in his style. He’s briming with emotion, his love for Olivia (a regal Vanessa Sears) and his yearning to win her over. He is giddy when he hears of her devotion to her dead brother—in mourning for seven years which means she’s giving up men and their dalliances. There is delicious confusion from Orsino when he develops a closeness to his page Cesario (Viola in disguise, with Jessica B. Hill playing him). The furtive looks to Cesario, Cesario’s secret looks back to the Duke, are beautifully orchestrated by director Seana McKenna who directs with care and supreme intelligence.

Seana McKenna does something I’ve never seen a director do with Twelfth Night—she visually establishes the love and affection that Viola and Sebastian (Austin Eckert) have for one another by having both brother and sister appear on the boat (before the storm that will separate them). They good naturedly josh one another (a gentle, joking tap on the arm) and reveal their closeness in affection. Then with a thunderclap there is a startled reaction when they realize they will be separated and they will think the other has drowned. It’s such a simple bit of theatrical business, but it’s resounding in establishing the huge emotional cost it is for Viola to think she has lost her brother. This makes Viola emotionally fragile and desperate to move forward, to offer her services as a page to the Duke.

Jessica B. Hill is a gracious, graceful Viola. She speaks the dialogue with assurance and confidence. As Cesario, Jessica B. Hill is a revelation. She wears a trim man’s blue suit, vest and tie and a short, curly wig to hide her long hair. The result is the understated essence of a young, courtly man who can charm both a Duke and a Countess who think this is a man. Jessica B. Hill doesn’t force the masculinity of Cesario, rather she underplays it. A leg placed just so and a hand in the pants pocket is the subtlest relaxed pose of a young man. And there is such yearning and longing in her love for the Duke, certainly since she must suppress any overt show of it.

While the Countess is subdued in her mourning (wearing all black, initially, until she sees and is smitten by Cesario), her household is raucous. Her drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch (an irreverent Scott Wentworth) is trying to gull money from his dim-witted friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played with great humour by Rylan Wilkie because of Sir Andrew’s cluelessness. Joining them in irreverence is Sarah Dodd as Maria, a saucy, mischievous confident to Olivia, but in cahoots with Sir Toby.  The character that Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria plot to bedevil is Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, usually played as a man, but here played by Laura Condlln who is simply brilliant.

Malvolio is a repressed, officious soul. She is dressed in a black skirt and jacket that is fitted and buttoned to the neck. She wears black, flat shoes. Her facial expression is pinched and disdainful of everything around her. Her arms are tight to her body. When she makes notes of transgressions, it’s in a little black book so you can imagine how small and tight her handwriting is. Everything in this performance screams ‘repressed.’ So that when Malvolio finds a letter to her thinking it’s a love letter from Olivia—when it really is a trick of Maria, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew–Malvolio’s body language becomes free, expansive and joyful. It’s both funny and heartbreaking.

Offering clownish wisdom and song to both Orsino’s and Olivia’s houses, is Feste a clown and musician, played as a free-spirited hippy by Deborah Hay. Her voice is pure and wistful and her comic timing is impeccable.

Comment. Seana McKenna has beautifully illuminated the heart and soul of the play, never tipping it too much into comedy and sacrificing the ache of it, but also balancing both the comedy and the heartache in equal measure.  I loved this production.

The Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until Oct. 26, 2024.

Running Time: 3 hours approx. (1 intermission)


Lynn Slotkin



I’m giving short reviews of Twelfth Night, Something Rotten! and Hedda Gabler, at Stratford, tomorrow (Sat. June 1) at 9 am on CRITICS CIRCLE, 89.5