by Lynn on September 8, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, September 6, 2013, Fortune and Men’s Eyes at Dancermakers in the Distillery District until September 8 and The Three Musketeers at the Stratford Festival until October 19.

 The guest host was Phil Taylor.


It’s Friday morning and time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.  Hi Lynn

 1) What’s up this week in the theatre.


I’ve got two with a kind of an historical place in theatre. The first is Fortune and Men’s Eyes written by Canadian playwright John Herbert in 1967 where it premiered Off Broadway in New York. This revival plays at Dancemakers in the Distillery District.

 And then The Three Musketeers playing at the Stratford Festival.


2) What’s the story? FORTUNE IN MEN’S EYES first.


While Fortune and Men’s Eyes was first produced Off-Broadway in 1967, it’s still considered one of the cornerstones of Canadian theatre in the late 1960s. It is both poetic and brutal as it traces the six month journey of Smitty, a young man who goes from being an innocent in jail for the first time, to a cynical, hardened inmate.

 He shares the cell with Rocky, a tough bully who offers Smitty protection and friendship.  What Smitty soon learns is that he will have to repay Rocky by being at his beck and call be it for cigarettes or sex. Rocky assures Smitty he’s not queer; he’s just an opportunist.

 Also in the cell is Queenie, openly gay, manipulative and dangerous, and Mona, a fragile, sensitive young man who is ground down by the prison system but sees a friend in Smitty.

 The play is an indictment of a corrupt, violent penal system that turns a blind eye to the violence and violation among the prisoner population and then ratchets up the tension when guards carry off prisoners to secret torture rooms to do further damage.

 Playwright John Herbert knew where of he spoke.  The fragile Mona is a stand-in for him.  At one point Mona tells of being arrested when he is gang attached by some thugs who then turn the tables and say he enticed them.  That happened to Herbert and landed him in jail for the first time. He was assaulted in prison.  He was taken to that secret torture chamber and beaten up by the prison guards.

 Does this stuff go on 50 years after the play was written? I would think so.


 3) Do you think the play is dated?


 Is the play dated if it was first written about 50 years ago and talks about a particular segment of the prison population? Why should that matter? It happened to John Herbert and the experience caused him to write a searing play about it, that has stood the test of time.

 Herbert wrote many plays after that, a few were published, but none with the resonance and staying power of Fortune and Men’s Eyes.


 3) How’s the production?


Stefan Dzeparoski is the director. He directed this and his last two productions with varying degrees of bringing it off. Mr. Dzeparoski is a definitely a director with a vision. Nothing wrong with that. It’s when that concept gets in the way of the play that I get concerned.

 The space of the Dancemakers in the Distillery District offers challenges of its own. It’s huge. Hardly conducive to doing a play in which the claustrophobia of the cell would make any person go bonkers. Four prisoners live in what should be a tiny cell. But things being what they are in this packed theatre season, Birdland Theatre which is producing the play, has to live with the space that is available.

 Designer Joseph Pagnan has all four men wearing only sweat pants. Sex is always simmering under the surface.  Pagnan suggests the bunk beds with only a simple mat on the floor, with some personal items of each inmate.

 Ropes of various lengths hang down from the flies, in which a weigh is attached to the end of it. The symbolism escapes me. Upstage a life-sized human shape with a clock for a face represents what should be a fifth character, the prison guard. Other members of the cast voice the lines of the guard. It saves money and works when various inmates put their arm around the ‘prison guard’, take a microphone handing down, and say the guard’s lines.

 Rocky’s rape of Smitty in the shower is suggested in a stunning, emotional scene. You get the sense of the brutality and strength of Rocky and the powerlessness of Smitty, without any need for being overtly graphic.

 Some bits of direction leave me scratching my head.  An animated white dove is projected onto the torso of a character or onto the back wall. Is this symbolism for their once innocence? It’s confusing and doesn’t work. Many scenes are underlined with a sound cue as if to reinforce where the drama is.  We’re an audience, we can figure it out and having those sound cues really serves no purpose and gets in the way.


 4) How’s the acting?


 The cast is honourable.  As Smitty, the sweet innocent, Julian de Zotti is clean cut, trusting and ultimately reduced to being as brutal as his cell mates in very short, believable order.  As Rocky, Cyrus Faird is all swagger and dangerous.  As Queenie, deceptively disarming, Alex Fiddes has a wonderful fey demeanour, seemingly vapid and silly but always thinking how to manipulate the satiation.  And as Mona, David Coomber shows all the mental and physical fragility of this brutalized man. He tries to keep out of trouble but in this bullying environment that proves to be impossible.  

For the most part, this is a worthy, compelling production.


5) And the swashbuckling The Three Musketeers. It’s a complicated story, isn’t it?


Very complicated. Written by Alexandre Dumas. Adapted in 1968 by Peter Raby.

 It involves espionage, political intrigue, villainy, bravery, and lots and lots of sword-fighting. The three Musketeers are Athos, Porthos, and Aramis and they are protectors of King Louis XIII, set in the 18th  Century.

 Eager to join them is D’Artagnon, a poor boy from the country. He has a letter of introduction to join the guards but it’s taken from him on his journey by an arrogant man who turns out to be one of the royal court. We learn that Cardinal Richelieu is trying to instigate a war between France and England.  He is aided by the beautiful and dastardly Milady De Winter. So there is a lot of intrigue in this complicated story.


6) It’s billed as family fare. Is this really for families.


Perhaps for older kids, but in truth, definitely not for younger ones. They will be bored to tears except for the sword-fighting, which is terrific.

Miles Potter directs this and in a wonderful bit of business, at the beginning of the production, you hear the sword fighting in the dark before you actually see it. It goes on for some time, sword clanging against sword, fast, furious, and dazzling. You can just imagine the fight. The eight year old kid sitting up the row from me was sitting forward in his seat. When the lights come up and we see the fight, it’s thrilling. And when we see who is fighting, it’s a wonderful moment. But when the play gets into the politics, and the complex intrigue the play bogs down, and that kid up the row leans back into his seat, just waiting for the next sword fight.


7) How do you fix it?


The Three Musketeers has been done at Stratford three times I believe since the beginning of the festival. They have always used the adaptation of Peter Raby. Get rid of it and never use it again if you do the play again. This country is full of playwrights who could do a lean, clean adaptation that would be family fare. Get those kids in to the theatre and grab then with the pace and thrust of the play and they will come back. The Raby version is dense and dreary.

hat said, Miles Potter’s direction does try to keep the pace furious in the fight scenes. It’s full of moody lighting and sound effects. The acting of the swashbucklers brings out the different personalities of these characters. As Athos, Graham Abbey is brooding, thoughtful with a hint of a sense of humour. As Porthos, Jonathan Goad plays the fun loving buffoon except with sword fights come into it. As Aramis, Mike Shara is a dashing lady’s man who gets into countless adventures, but none like the ones they all get into together. And as D’Artagnan, Luke Humphreys is a combination of boyish charm and brashness.  He never backs down.

As the embodiment of charm and evil, Milady De Winter, Deborah Hay is all grace, elegance, and cold-hearted manipulative. She has no problem killing anyone, or having someone killed. Scary for all the right reasons.

There’s a lot to like in the production, but that overwhelming script has to be revised by another writer.


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

Fortune and Men’s Eyes plays at Dancemakers in the Distillery District until September 8.

The Three Musketeers  plays in Stratford until Oct. 19

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