by Lynn on January 21, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

(l-r) Tara Rosling, Cara Gee, Monica Dottor, Pamela Sinha, Sophia Walker, Christine Brubaker, Raven Dauda, Kelli Fox, Bahia Watson and Megan Follows. Photo credit: Robert Popkin

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, January 20, 2012 CIUT Friday Morning, CIUT, 89.5 FM. THE PENELOPIAD, at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. THE GOLDEN DRAGON at Tarragon Theatre and AVENUE Q at the Lower Ossington Theatre.

Damon Scheffer is the host of the show.

1) Good Friday Morning.

Lynn Slotkin, our travelling theatre critic and passionate playgoer, has returned from London and is here to talk about theatre she’s seen since she got back.

Hi Lynn

What have you seen this week?


Three plays. First Margaret Atwood’s epic play THE PENELOPIADbased on her wonderful book of the same name, is produced by Nightwood Theatre.

Then THE GOLDEN DRAGON, by Roland Schimmelpfennig, an absurdist, metaphoric play that takes place in a Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese fast-food restaurant, and is about the people who work there, live in the neighbourhood, and eat there.

It’s at Tarragon Theatre.

And finally a production of AVENUE Q, an edgy musical for adults about a group of young people trying to find their way in the big city, using puppets.

It’s at the Lower Ossington Theatre.

2) As we usually do, let’s go in order. What is THE PENELOPIAD about?

Margaret Atwood takes THE ODYSSEY, about Odysseus’s heroics in the 10 year Trojan War, and his long 10 year journey home, and skewers it.

Atwood looks at the story from the point of view of Penelope, Odysseus’s patient, faithful wife and what she had to endure for the 20 years it took him to return home.

The PENELOPIAD is about Penelope’s trials and tribulations waiting for him, her loyalty to him as suitors came from far and wide to try and win her hand, and her wiliness in keeping them guessing and at arm’s length.

She was aided by 12 loyal maidens. Penelope promised to pick a suitor but first she tells them she has to weave a shroud for her father-in-law.

She would weave all day but at night she and the maidens would unravel what they did and begin again. Until one terrible day when the suitors figured they might have been tricked. They took their vengeance on the maidens by raping them. The women never revealed the secret though.

By that time Odysseus came home and killed the suitors, but he also had his bull-headed revenge on the maidens.

3) Sometimes Atwood’s writing can be rather dense. How does the book translate to the stage?


I found the book of THE PENELOPIAD to be unlike any Margaret Atwood novel I’ve read. It’s funny, cheeky, pointed, certainly perceptive and just puts such a spin on society’s attitude to women, and women’s attitude to each other.

As director Kelly Thornton says in her program note: “THE PENELOPIAD shines a bright light on the voicelessness of women in history, in myth and in culture.”

Rather than being two dimensional, Atwood’s characters are full bodied and vibrant. And of course it portrays the matcho and grand Odysseus in a less than flattering light, as an adventure seeking, skirt chasing man who expected his little woman to wait patiently for him at home without complaint.

We learn all about this as a flashback from Penelope as she spends her time in the underworld because she’s dead and looking back on her life.

So we start with a wonderful epic book which has been dramatized by the author. And it’s given an equally epic production in its spareness, vividness, imagination, and compelling theatricality by director Kelly Thornton and her splendid cast.

4) How does Thornton take this huge story and put in on the stage?

She does it with incredible imagination and a terrific set and costume design by Denyse Karn. The stage is bare except for a circle outlined on the floor. A platform represents Odysseus’s ship that he sails to take Penelope home after their wedding. He stands proudly on his boat. He wears a cape. A character pulls the cape back until it looks like a triangular sail and holds that pose.

Billowing blue material suggests waves and water. A sheet held up represents more water and gloved hands peeking above that with their fingers tight together touching the thumb and releasing, looks like ducks with their beaks opening and closing, letting out quacks as they go.

Thornton’s production if full of images that take the breath away and just make you smile in delight and even gasp in horror.

The cast of 13 women is composed of some of the finest actresses in the country beginning with Megan Follows as Penelope. She is demure, thoughtful, resigned, regal, wiley and charming.

Kelli Fox is a wonderful actress and plays Odysseus and it’s full of swagger and quiet arrogance. Fox doesn’t do a caricature, it’s a full bodied guy. The whole enterprise is terrific.

Don’t miss this.

5) Now THE GOLDEN DRAGON. What’s the story of this one?

This is the latest collaboration between German Author, Roland Schimmelpfennig and Canadian director, Ross Manson.

The play takes place in the Golden Dragon a Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese fast-food restaurant, where five Asians work in the kitchen preparing the food.

The youngest worker is an illegal immigrant who has a terrible toothache and screams a lot, but they can’t take him to a dentist because he’s an illegal alien.

But the tooth must be attended to and they do it in the most primitive manner. When the tooth is pulled out by pliers it flies through the air and lands in the soup of a customer.

The immigrant has left his family in China to come and look for his sister who seems to have disappeared.

In the restaurant are two stewardesses who are ordering food. One of them finds the tooth, in her soup.

In the neighbourhood of the restaurant are an old couple; two old men who are friends; a young woman and her old grandfather. Various characters order food; the recipes of the dishes are recited; people bicker; get drunk; hear bad news and leave their loved ones.

Interspersed in the various vignettes of characters is the telling of the fable of the ant and the cricket. An industrious ant prepares for winter by gathering food etc. The cricket is happy go lucky, doesn’t do anything and is totally unprepared when winter comes. The cricket asks the ant for help and gets a lecture instead. It ends very badly for the cricket.

Later the cricket will become a young woman who is brutalized by one of the two old men who are friends.

It soon becomes clear that nothing is what it seems in this play.

6) How so.

We’re told that the five kitchen workers are Asian, except that none of the actors playing them is really Asian. Two are white, one is black, one is Indian and one is a mix of Asian-white. This sets up an amusing visual joke. Male characters are played by women. Female characters are played by men. Old characters are played by young actors etc. So we have a young man play a grandfather, and an older woman play his granddaughter.

And it’s obvious the play is loaded with metaphors and symbolism. Perhaps the fable of the ant and the cricket represents the innocent woman who is then brutalized by the more experienced older man. Perhaps that young woman was in fact the restaurant worker’s missing sister. The lost tooth perhaps represents displacement.

The play deals with important ideas of displacement, finding ones home being protected and being taken advantage of.

But I found that Schimmelpfenning deals with them in those murky metaphors and dare I say it, smothering pretentiousness. I found the play mystifying,

7) Fighting words. How do you mean?

The play is translated from the German by David Tushingham.

It’s a mix of actual dialogue and the actors also verbalizing the stage directions, with the verbalized stage directions taking up the brunt of the dialogue.

So the cast would announce, “Five Asians worked in the Golden Dragon a Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese fast-food Restaurant.”

Hearing that description once is funny. It’s repeated all through the play. This technique isn’t new, and it does wear thin after a while.

And as for the metaphors, the play should be able to tell me what it means to be. I shouldn’t need a long meandering director’s note to clarify matters and we have that here.

All these stage directions don’t give much opportunity to ACT but this cast of five does Herculean work. The cast is hugely talented and often rises above the stilted format of mixing verbalizing stage directions, and acting.

Especially impressive is Tony Nappo in many roles. He has an easy smile that covers danger. This is a dangerous actor, full of mystery, charm, swagger and humour.

And Anusree Roy a gifted actress, plays the young man with the tooth problem and others. She can change from character to character on a dime, from a man howling in pain, to an old South Asian man mortified at his violent friend, to other completely different types.

It’s directed by Ross Manson who uses music and lighting effectively. The staging is fluid.

But the appeal of Schimmelpfennig as a playwright escapes me. I find his plays cold, emotionless and obvious in their intent to be important.

8) And now for something completely different AVENUE Q done by a non-Equity company. You tend not to review those. Why did you change your mind here?

I changed my mind because I got a dandy e-mail from the publicist saying that the cast are recent graduates from various performing arts programs, are very
talented and needed and wanted to be considered professional even though they might not have the magical Equity card. That sold me.

9) And were you glad you went?

Very. This is a tricky show. A celebrated Broadway musical. Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Book by Jeff Whitty

It’s about a group of young people trying to find their way in the big city. One is named Princeton who doesn’t know what to do with a BA in English.

Kate Monster is a teacher who wants to open her own school. There are others with their own problems, especially Trekkie Monster –no relation to Kate-who loves to watch porn all day.

And all the characters are played by hand-held puppets. We see the various young actors holding and manipulating the puppets while acting the parts—so that actor and puppet soon become one.

It has nothing to do with the Muppets, but if you insist, it’s like the Muppets but with attitude. It’s well directed by Seanna Kennedy, and beautifully acted and sung by a talented cast especially by Adam Proulx who plays Princeton and Rod and Kira Hall plays Kate Monster and Lucy (who is a floozy). They have charm for days, talent, optimism.

The show blew me away.

I do have a problem….Popcorn. They sold popcorn in the lobby to take into the theatre. Why do that to a hard working cast?

What is that..the need to graze at all times? It’s not a sporting event. Or the movies. These people trained to do theatre. Keep your noisy food outside. I don’t want to hear snapping pop cans or munching popcorn during a show.

So there.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

THE PENELOPIAD plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until January 29.

THE GOLDEN DRAGON plays at the Tarragon Theatre until February 19.

AVENUE Q plays at the Lower Ossington Theatre until
February 9.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.