by Lynn on September 22, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast Friday, September 21, 2012 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: JULIE SITS WAITING at Theatre Passe Muraill Backspace, until September 23, and NO GREAT MISCHIEF at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until Oct. 21.

The host was Rose Palmieri

1) Good Friday morning. The Toronto International Film Festival is over and that means the theatre season can begin in earnest.

Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer is here to tell us what she’s seen and what to look forward to.

Hi Lynn. What are you going to talk about today?

Hi Rose. I have two. One is JULIE SITS WAITING, a contemporary opera about internet dating, infidelity, rough sex, and the dangerous results.

The other is NO GREAT MISCHIEF, based on the novel by Alistair MacLeod, set in Cape Breton, about the MacDonald family, their tragic history and their stories.

2) An opera about internet dating and infidelity sounds intriguing, so tell us about JULIE SITS WAITING.

The libretto is by Tom Walmsley, a muscular, bold playwright. It’s his first opera. Music is by Louis Dufort from Quebec and is composed in the electroacoustic music tradition. It’s called ‘an electroacoustic tragic opera. I would question that loose use of ‘tragic’, but more on that later.

Julie is married to a cop named Rick. She is a mother to a young teenaged daughter. She arranges a date via the internet with Mick who turns out to be an Anglican Priest. Both engage in rough sex and are turned on by it, bruises notwithstanding. Both know what they are doing.

Matters turn ugly when Rick has a heart attack. Guilt rears its ugly head. And both Julie and Mick sing about it long and loud.

3) Is the art form of Opera lend itself to telling the story effectively?

I don’t think in this case. Electroacoustic music notwithstanding, I think opera elevates a story to some kind of rarefied space. The emotions are heightened. But here I just thought it was a sordid little tale about sordid little people who were in it for the rough sex and the thrill of it.

It’s about infidelity, satisfying sexual urges, going against every oath Mick made when he became an Anglican priest. I know it’s billed as being about passion and tragedy but I don’t buy it.

Unless I missed it in the strong singing, I can’t recall hearing why Julie entered into this affair in the first place. Why did Mick? Again, perhaps I missed it but we should be told.

As for tragedy, sorry but I follow the classic definition—when the main character(s) realize too late that a decision they made innocently was the wrong one. These two jumping each others bones for rough sex and then feeling guilty does not constitute tragedy.

4) You don’t sound too impressive with this effort.

To be fair I thought Fides Kruger as Julie and Richard Armstrong as Mick are very strong, expressive singers. Kruger is one of the producers and she is passionate about the project. But everything about this production smacked of overkill.

The backspace at Theatre Passe Muraille seats about 60. It’s small. Both singers wear head mikes. WHY? To be heard over the recorded electroacoustic music?

This very busy, fussy production was directed by Alex Fallis and Heidi Strauss. It might be called JULIE SITS WAITING, but she does precious little sitting and waiting. She is always on the move, rarely landing except to writhe around with Mick.

There is a soundscape of crashing waves, thunder, rumbling to simulate their sexual climax? How clichéd. And there is also an extended video design of twirling shifting light, spiralling all over the place, suggesting the same thing? Again cliché.

It’s only a 67 minutes and that felt long.

5) What about NO GREAT MISCHIEF. This is a remount for Tarragon isn’t it?

Yes it was first done in 2004. It’s about the colourful history of the MacDonald family of Cape Breton as seen through the eyes of two brothers: Alexander and his older brother Calum.

It starts in the present with the adult Alexander, a prosperous dentist, visiting Calum, unconscious in his room from to much drink. Alexander brings food and more drink and takes care of his brother from long distance in a way—Alexander lives in Windsor and drives the 4 hours to Toronto to see Calum.

Then the play goes into flashback. They were orphaned very young when their parents fell through the ice and perished. Their grandparents raised them. It’s a family full of wild, bold characters and crushing tragedy. In those days Calum protected Alexander. Calum worked in the mines and was respected for his abilities but then things went wrong.

Alexander had abilities as well and went to university and moved away from Cape Breton but the family ties were strong.

6) Alistair MacLeod’s book, NO GREAT MISCHIEF is rich with description. How does it translate as a play?

Playwright David S. Young adapted the book. The book is rich in description—always a tricky proposition to translate theatrically. But Young has characters do the description as well as act out the situations, history songs, images etc.

Young has retained the spicy flavour of the people, that place, those times and the stories. Charlotte Dean’s design is very spare with a few props. Richard Rose’s direction is also spare and clever in its movement and creation of images. You imagine that Alexander and Calum riding in a car with simple movement just sitting in two chairs.

As Alexander, R.H. Thomson is both confused and concerned as he tries to take care of his sad brother when they are both adult. But he is a revelation as he recreates Alexander’s much younger self as a child. Thomson is wide-eyed, curious, the voice is light. A kid.

And as Calum, David Fox is sturdy, daring, almost reckless and very moving in the last scene, as is Thomson. Lovely work from both of them.

Special mention must be made of Mike Ross for his composing of the music and arranging the traditional songs that the cast sings. Beautiful.

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

JULIE SITS WAITING plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until Sept. 23.


NO GREAT MISCHIEF plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until Oct. 21.


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