by Lynn on June 14, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following  two reviews were broadcast on June 14, 2013, CIUT Friday Morning, 89.5 fm; Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Shaw Festival until  October 19; and Passion Play at Withrow Park and Eastminster United Church at 310 Danforth until  June 30.

 The guest host was Phil Taylor.


1)   Good Friday Morning. Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer is here with our theatre fix.

 Hi Lynn. What do you have for us today?


Hi Phil. I saw two established plays being given startling productions. Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde now at the Shaw Festival, and Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl that is playing both in Withrow Park if it’s not raining and then Eastminster United Church. 310 Danforth Ave.


2)   Tell us first about Lady Windermere’s Fan by the witty Oscar Wilde.


It was first performed in London in 1892 in London, England. It has all those things that are as up to date as tomorrow: intrigue, rumour, innuendo, a fallen woman wanting to get back into society and society not being very accommodating. Lady Windermere is the 21 year old wife of Lord Windermere who is a bit older than she is and rich. It’s her birthday. Her husband has given her a present of a beautiful fan and had her name (Margaret) engraved on it. There is to be a party that night in her honour.

 But earlier in the day she is visited by Lord Darlington, very suave but with a questionable reputation. He has come to tell her that her husband is being unfaithful with a woman named Mrs. Erlynne.

 Darlington tells Lady Windermere that he loves her and wants her to leave her husband, and later asks her to run away with him.

 Later Lady Windermere does some snooping and finds her husband’s locked bank book with several large sums of money going to Mrs. Erlynne. When Lord Windermere comes home he realizes what his wife has done and is furious. But he implores his wife to invite Mrs. Erlynne to the party.

 She has a bad reputation for sure but she is trying to repent and needs to be brought back into society.

 Well we see the dilemma. Is Lord Windermere cheating on his young wife? He is not forthcoming with information on why he is giving Mrs. Erlynne lots of money.

 Lady Windermere’s own fan also implicates her in what could be a sticky situation.

 It’s all written with impeccable style and wit by Oscar Wilde who knew his way around humour, moral dilemmas and dangerous, bitchy society.


3)   Is the production as stylish?


It’s a beautiful looking production. The sets (Teresa Przybylski), costumes (William Schmuck) and lighting (Louise Guinand) are stunning. Every scene seems to evoke a painting. It’s directed by Peter Hinton who always has a clear vision of what he wants his productions to be. He is an intellectual and that translates into his productions.

 And art and artists factor heavily here, such as John Singer Sargent, Whistler, Mary Cassatt etc. According to the program Peter Hinton used their work and others to elucidate the journey of the play and assigned a painter to each of the four acts.

 That’s all very well and good but I found the result confusing if not distracting from the actual play.


4)   How so?

 5)   (LYNN)

As I said earlier, every scene seemed to evoke a painting. Am I supposed to be familiar with the paintings of the period to fully appreciate the production? Do I have to read a program note before hand to learn the director’s intention? Surely the production should do that? Where is the play in all this if I’m looking at the posing around it? For example, as the audience files in various characters in beautiful gowns, walk out slowly in front of the curtain and pose in a pool of light. They all carry a fan. They stand in front of the curtain that is sectioned with light and a number in each section.

 It looked like a contact sheet of posed photographs. What does that mean?

 The rising curtain for each scene suggests an aperture of a camera, part rose up and part moved to the sides.

All very slowly.

 At Lady Windermere’s birthday ball, scenes seemed separate from the dancing behind it, all of it posed and again, very slow. Why?

 While it looks beautiful; and Hinton obviously has a meticulous concept for the play, I found all the posing, and the suggestions of paintings distancing from the actual play, and that’s frustrating.


6)   How are the performances? Do they redeem the production?


The performances are very fine. As Lady Windermere, Marla McLean is pert, gracious and has that confidence of a 21 year old with a stubborn side. She is adamant about not having Mrs. Erlynne anywhere near her, although she relents.

 As Mrs. Erlynne, Tara Rosling gives a fine performance of a woman with a past and the reasons she deserves  to have a lousy reputation. She’s cool, imperious, and dangerous.

 As the Duchess of Berwick, Corrine Koslo is properly condescending, frivolous and smothering of her daughter Agatha. Kate Bessworth plays Agatha as a demur, downtrodden daughter who proves to have a spine when she is finally free to go out with a man.

 Martin Happer as Lord Windermere is indignant at his wife’s prying,  as well as anxious in trying to hide his secret relationship with Mrs. Erlynne.

 In the small part of Mr. Cecil Graham, a kind of Oscar Wilde character, Kyle Blair is elegant in his costume, knows how to wear it with style and lets the bon mots drop perfectly. Wearing the clothes and giving off the sense of ‘to the manor born’ is difficult in some cases in this production, but Kyle Blair nails it.

So to sum up, Lady Windermere’s Fan is a fascinating play, with fine acting, in a stylish production but there is so much effort to create the style, that ultimately I found it a disappointment and frustrating experience in actually trying to see the play.

 It’s like looking at the tree and not seeing the forest.


7)   And what about Passion Play?


Sensational. It’s a herculean effort of three theatre companies, (Outside the March, Convergence Theatre Company and Sheep No Wool) getting together to produce Passion Play by American playwright, Sarah Ruhl.

 At its centre is the medieval Passion Play that recounts the crucifixion of Christ. Whole villages would put on this play once a year in which the townsfolk played all the parts. Usually the same actor played the same part year after year.

 What Ruhl does here is to take that experience as a basis for seeing how the play is referenced in three different time periods.

 Act I is 1575 in England just before Queen

Elizabeth 1 was about to shut down the Passion Plays in order to control religious representation.

 Act II takes place in Oberammergau, Germany (the place that the Passion Plays originated in the Middle Ages). Only for our purposes it’s 1934 and the Nazi Party is on the rise.

 And the last Act takes place in Spearfish, South Dakota in the time of the Viet Nam War and the time of Ronald Regan as president.

 Ruhl shows the shifting relationships of the characters who are putting on the plays.

 In Act I the man playing Pontius Pilate is in love with the woman playing Mary but she won’t have anything to do with him, perhaps because he’s a fisherman and smells of fish.

 In Act II, the focus of the Passion Play is the Jews and how they are reflected in Nazi Germany. There are also references to gays having to hide their relationship; and the cruel treatment of anyone thought to be either physically or mentally challenged.

 And in Act III a man who had been in the Passion Play goes off to Viet Nam and comes back broken, his faith shattered. And he questions everything the play might have stood for.

Passion Play is a huge play and producing it is a huge undertaking.


8)   Why do you say it is sensational?


Because everything in this triple collaboration works a treat and the result is thrilling. I saw it last night and Act I was supposed to take place in Withrow Park and then move for Acts II and III to Eastminster United Church.

 Because of the rain we saw all three acts in the Church. The logistics are a nightmare and they pulled it off with patience, resolve and cooperation. Special Kudos go to Colin Doyle a co-producer, ticket taker, calmer-downer, and all round charmer who got everyone in their seats on time. The audience was accommodating too.

 There are three directors, one for each act. Alan Dilworth directed Act I; Aaron Willis directed Act II and Mitchell Cushman directed Act III.

 Each has his own vision for the act; each shows the director’s distinct way of creating, but they all work to produce a cohesive whole.

 There are 11 actors and each and every one of them is strong, smart, creative and convincing.

 Maev Beaty, an enormously talented actress in this city plays Queen Elizabeth 1 with an imperious air; Adolph Hitler with an every growing frightening rage and mad eyes; and Ronald Reagan with a folksy manner and benign eyes. Stunning.

 As Pontius, Cyrus Lane is compelling. He’s downtrodden, dangerous, lost, and in the end crazed. Stunning.

 As Mary, Mayko Nguyen shifts from being almost demure but with an edge in Act I; coy and coquettish in Act II, and confident and conflicted in Act III. Stunning.

 This is a theatrical event and as such the audience was a cross section of ages. I thought that was heartening.

Passion Play is a terrific accomplishment.

 Don’t miss it!


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

 Lady Windermere’s Fan plays at the Shaw Festival until October 19.

 Passion Play continues at Withrow Park (weather permitting)  and Eastminster United Church until June 30.



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