by Lynn on November 9, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, November 9, 2012, on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING: ALLIGATOR PIE at the Young Center for the Performing Arts until November 25, and THE ANGER IN ERNEST AND ERNESTINE at Unit 102 Theatre, 376 Dufferin St. until Nov. 24.

The host was Rose Palmieri

1) Good Friday Morning. It’s time for some theatre reviews by Lynn Slotkin, our Passionate Playgoer and theatre critic. Hi Lynn. What’s on tap today?

I have two reviews. One is Alligator Pie, based on a selection of Dennis Lee’s beloved kid’s poems from all his books and not just Alligator Pie.

And the other is The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine, a dark comedy by Robert Morgan, Martha Ross and Leah Cherniak. This is the 25th anniversary of that first production.

2) Let’s start with Alligator Pie, which is composed of the poems of Dennis Lee. How do you make these whimsical poems into a theatre piece?

The poems lend themselves to singing, skipping, bopping and clomping because the poems are so seductively simple. They have their own beat. The show incorporates such poems as ‘Alligator Pie’, ‘Trickin’, and Psychapoo.

Poems about friendship; between two young people or between a cat and an old wizard; silly poems; serious ones; all appealing to young audiences both in age and in heart.

The poems have been selected and presented by the Creation Ensemble, a group of five Soulpepper Academy graduates (Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross)—who were trained over a two year period to develop and expand their acting talents.

It was obvious that they had loads of other talents too—creative, inventive, musical, irreverent, so Soulpepper Artistic Director, Albert Schultz told them to go off and create shows.

Alligator Pie is the first and it’s a rousing, joyful, hugely creative work. Each poem is either set to music and sung by the group. Or they create a percussive rhythm for each by using the most unlikely stuff from snapping staplers so they sound like castanets; the ripping sound of quickly pulled sticky tape, whacking tubes on each other so that it sounds like chopsticks, or stomping on bubble wrap. Sort of like Dennis Lee meets Stomp.

3) It sounds like an ideal kids show.

It’s a terrific show for kids and their parents and anyone who once was a kid. But for all the enthusiasm and creativity of the cast, the results are too clever by half for this simple work.

Often images are so vivid the poem it is supposed to support disappears and all you remember is the image. In one instance plastic umbrellas are used in terrific ways; from being twirled to hooking onto each other to open them. But I defy anyone to tell me the name of the poem it was supposed to illuminate. Much too often the performance became more important than the poem.

I don’t think that’s a good thing.

4) But Lynn, no disrespect, but if the audience is loving it, what difference does it make if the performances are over the top?

It makes a ton of difference. Theatre is an art form in which the words of the author are supposed to be served. And while ego is there, when it overpowers everything, then we have a problem.

I found the same problem when this group and other Soulpepper academy members did a show on ee cummings. The cleverness of the performances and their invention overpowered the work and it became secondary.

I think there has to be an independent person—director, consultant, somebody to say NO, very often when self-indulgence rears its ugly head. This won’t diminish the creativity of the enterprise. It will focus and shape it so that the poems are more important than the cleverness with which they are performed.

These are hugely talented people. They listen and watch each other on stage with respect and attention. And they know how to work the audience.

In one scene one character asked another a question and a little kid reacted just loudly enough for Raquel Duffy (playing one of the characters) to do a double take and indicate that was a perfect response from the kid. That was a smart, generous and true reaction from the actress. They are all capable of this kind of connection.

More of Dennis Lee please and less of the cleverness submerging the words.

5) And tell us about The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine.

This was first produced by 25 years ago by Theatre Columbus and was created by Robert Morgan, Martha Ross and Leah Cherniak. Ross and Cherniak created Theatre Columbus, a clown based company.

The play uses humour to examine anger, specifically in a long-term relationship. Ernest and Ernestine are just married and love each other with those dewy eyes that young married have.

But while Ernest is meticulous about everything, Ernestine isn’t so much. He lays out his breakfast stuff neatly and pours his cereal with precision. She’s always late, in a rush, pours the cereal all over the table as well as the bowl, eats on the fly and makes a mess.

And while they love each other frustration and anger at the other gradually rears its ugly head. Painful words are said. Their love is tested.

6) Tell us about this 25th anniversary production.

It is produced and performed by Daniel Stolfi as Ernest and Jennifer de Lucia as Ernestine.

Both are solid performers; with a gift for comedy and are engaged to be married, which adds another dimension to the production. Stolfi in particular has a real flare for comedy. He makes Ernest into an upright, uptight guy, but Stolfi is also agile. He does a wonderful riff on Michael Jackson singing “Billie Jean”—complete with moon-walk and crotch grabs.

De Lucia is the more serious of the two and while she has gifts as a comedienne, I think she is hampered by director Robert Morgan—who was in that original production 25 years ago playing Ernest. Too often I thought De Lucia is asked to mug. She flits around the stage with a quick flat-footed, stiff-legged clomp. She bangs at her shoes trying and trying to get them on.

Which is exactly as Martha Ross did it 25 years ago in that original production, and the kind of schtick she uses in her work. I am only assuming this, but I think Robert Morgan told De Lucia to do that broad, mugging and for me that’s not funny.

Don’t do that to an actress—ask her to do her performance like another actress. De Lucia can find her own way into that part. Besides that I think the pace is laboured and slow.

Sorry but characters coming on and seeing the audience and being startled and surprised is just so ‘yesterday’.

In this production of The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine Stolfi and de Lucia come on separately and do that surprised look stuff, and draw it out, and it just wears thin.

I can appreciate paying honour to this work, from a celebrated company, but I think The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine is past its ‘best by’ date.

I do want to see Daniel Stolfi and Jennifer De Lucia in something else with another director. But I will have to pass on recommending it.

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

ALLIGATOR PIE continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until November 25

Unit 102 Theatre, 376 Dufferin St. until Nov. 24

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1 martin julien November 9, 2012 at 11:59 pm

I have not seen this current production of THE ANGER IN ERNEST AND ERNESTINE. But, I did see the original production at the Poor Alex; I did see the remount eight years ago at Passe Muraille with Rick Roberts and Jenny Young; and I have worked recently with original creator Robert Morgan (as well as Martha Ross, Jenny & Rick.) Two points, really. I cannot believe that Morgan would have De Lucia “re-create” Ross’s performance. It blatantly goes against everything these artists have built their practice on. Recognizing the audience, as a trope, is as old as Aristophanes, and well-used in every commedia/clown piece I’ve known. It is very effective and important as a theatrical method of recognition and response, and works to create meaning, pathos and complicity. If it was poorly done in this case, well….let’s all keep trying. But this theatrical gesture will never grow old – never be “yesterday” I believe this is a parochial judgement of the action and method of the piece.