by Lynn on September 9, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, CIUT 89.5 FM. COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA at the Shaw Festival until Oct. 19, and ELEKTRA at the Stratford Festival until September 29.

The Host was Rose Palmieri.

1) The Toronto International Film Festival might have begun yesterday, but that hasn’t stopped Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and Passionate Play from talking about her favourite subject, theatre.

Hi Lynn. What’s on tap this week?

Hi Rose. I have two classics, one each from Shaw and Stratford. Come Back, Little Sheba written by the American writer, William Inge in 1950.

And Elektra, written by the Greek master Sophokles about 2500 years ago, and translated for this production by Canadian poet Anne Carson. (odd spelling of the play and the playwright are as in the program).

2) Why did you choose these two?

Because both are terrific stories in their own way.

COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA is a gem of an American play full of longing, loneliness, disappointment, but such emotional truth.

ELEKTRA is an epic Greek drama that results when the fury of the gods get involved, carried on by jealousy, rage, revenge and lust. And I picked both to talk about because both productions are stellar.

3)Ok, lots to look forward to. Let’s start with COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA. What makes this a gem of an American play?

William Inge knew about the ache of the human heart. He knew about people in hard situations and how they coped. He knew how lonely marriage can be and disappointing and how a person can convey that disappointment subtly.

Come Back, Little Sheba is about two such people. Doc and Lola Delaney are the couple in question. He makes his own breakfast (it’s the 1950s, the women made breakfast for their husbands as a rule) and that of Marie, the young woman who is there as a boarder. He dotes on her and he is jealous of her boyfriend.

Doc’s wife, Lola, is a perky, cheerful woman who flirts with any young man, and positions herself so that she overhears Marie and her boyfriend in intimate moments.

While Doc and Lola are pleasant to each other, there is little affection—so they look elsewhere for it. And we soon learn of the dark secrets both Doc and Lola have. Tensions build and the result is shattering, that paves the way for Doc and Lola to face their demons.

4) Does the production rise to the challenge of balancing the subtlety with the shattering aspects.

It does. It’s directed with exquisite sensitivity by Jackie Maxwell, who has an affinity for plays by William Inge. True emotions seems to bubble beneath the surface in Inge plays so the direction is vital to keep that delicate balance in check. You know all that good natured banter between Doc and Lola is hiding pent up emotion.

As Doc, Ric Reid is fastidious and up beat, but he gradually reveals how impatient he is with Lola and her chatter. How that manifests itself and is finally resolved is what makes this shattering.

And he is beautifully partnered by Corrine Koslo as Lola. Lola is buoyant, cheerful but with just a hint of too much good will. You realize how needy she is when she stands at a doorwell and listens to Marie and her boyfriend making out. It’s that hope, anticipation that is so moving.

Both Ric Reid and Corrine Koslo are giving stellar performances.

5) And now Elektra, written 2500 years ago. Is it relevant at all?

Absolutely. It’s about revenge, murder, jealousy, passion. And it’s about a family in crisis. Stuff we all can identify with in 2012. Elektra longs for the return of her long absent brother, Orestes, so he can avenge the death of their sister years before.

Years before their father, Agamemnon had to appease the gods by sacrificing his daughter, Iphigenia. He then went to fight in the Trojan war for about 10 years. In the meantime his wife, Clytemnestra was enraged at the murder of her daughter. She took a lover, Aigisthos and when Agamemnon came home Aigisthos killed him.

Years before Elektra, seeing all the danger, took her infant brother Oresteis and gave him to a trusted person to raise and keep him safe until he was able to come back and avenge the family honour. And so she’s been raging and waiting all that time and eventually he returns to revenge all those deaths.

Sounds like a really modern story to me. And it was given a terrific production as well

6)How so?

It was directed with tremendous flair by Greek Director Thomas Moschopoulos. He obviously knows his way around the pitfalls and the beauties of Greek Drama. He has directed at Epidaurus, the first Greek Theatre and filled all 14,000 seats. He also directed the closing ceremonies at the recent Greek Olympics, so he knows his way around spectacle, as well as directing for small spaces, as the Tom Patterson Theatre.

Both the set and lighting are striking. Moschopolous certainly has a vivid eye for the visual.

All the bloody bits happen off stage in classical Greek drama, but it’s quite dramatic seeing the bleeding bodies hauled on stage, the results of all that mayhem when revenge takes place.

Often the text is given rhythmically with the beat of the words deliberately underscored, (Greek Rap?) and then subtly the text is given in regular contemporary speech. I love that melding of the classical and the modern. Again, showing how contemporary this play is.

The chorus is expressive and driving when giving us the background and narrative.

As Elektra, Yanna McIntosh is giving one of her finest performances. It’s full of fury, sensitivity, and is absolutely single minded. As Clytemnestra, her murdering mother, Seana McKenna is cool and stylish as a Prada-wearing cougar. She is ruthless and cutting and also compelling.

I am intrigued by Orestes as played by Ian Lake. He is clean-cut- blond and when he makes his appearance to avenge his father and sister, he is in a white shirt and tie and shorts looking like a model of Hitler youth. Moschopoulos was certainly making a statement.

I think it’s cheesy to say that Elektra was electrifying, but I will—it was.

Since we have a few minutes, I did have a concern. I was in my seat waiting for the show to begin, reading the program, when I saw/heard one of the actors from the play, come into my section, in costume, and ask those around me if they were familiar with the story of the House of Atrius. This give the complex historical background to Elektra. I had to look up and see him there in the aisle to believe I heard properly. My eyebrows were knitting. The good folks in the audience near him said they did not know the story. So he obliged them with the history of the House of Atrius at what I consider breakneck speed. It’s so complicated that it’s like hearing the story of Geneses with all those begats and who begat whom, and then expecting the audience to remember it all. Impossible. Defeats the whole purpose.

An actress, in costume, sat in the empty seat beside me and engaged me in conversation. She asked if I was listening to the story told by her colleague over there. I said that I was trying not to. She said that their director wanted the actors to engage the audience beforehand to put the play in context and to give the background. I am embarrassed to say that I lost my patience with this pretension and referred to her director in a rather derogatory way. I said that surely the play should stand on its own and be able to convey all that’s necessary for us to understand it. The poor actress….after a bit more banter she moved off to engage other audience members.

I hate this need to break down the ‘fourth wall’ and engage the audience. What do they think I’m/we’re doing in the audience if not engaging? We’re there aren’t we? We make a commitment to look, listen and hear what’s going on on stage, what more do they want? Put in another way, just as I wouldn’t think of going on stage while the show was in progress to ‘engage’ an actor in his/her space, so I expect them to keep their distance and not come into my space either while the show is going on or before.

The director needs to tell us the story of the House of Atrius? Fine, put it in a program note. Don’t begin your show, which is rich in tension and drama, by having cast members jokingly tell us the history and background of the play, thus undercutting that tension.

I hate ‘audience’ participation. Why do I have to participate to make their production work in any other way other than listening and watching intently?


Thanks Lynn. That was Lynn Slotkin out theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog on

COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA plays at the Shaw Festival until October 19.

ELEKTRA plays at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival until September 29.

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1 LD September 9, 2012 at 11:30 pm

I saw Elektra on Saturday. Personally, I thought that breaking down the fourth wall, as you put it, was a terrific touch. The actress I spoke with explained that the goal was to reinforce the chorus’s role as representatives of the audience – if they represent us, why not speak with us? I enjoyed how this humanized and personalized the chorus actors on stage.

Once the play started, it was all business and the fourth wall was rebuilt solidly.