Text of Broadcast Review of TEA AT THE PALACE the pics of plays and people for which I was grateful

by Lynn on December 27, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following play was reviewed on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 fm : Tea at the Palace at Tarragon Extra Space until Dec. 29; plus a look back at shows and people for which I was grateful.

The guest host was Phil Taylor.


Good Friday morning on this last Friday in the year, it’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn.


Hi Phil


What theatre treats do you have for us this week?


There was one opening yesterday afternoon and that was Tea at the Palace by Puppetmongers. You will recall we had the company’s two creators as our guests last week; Ann and David Powell, a brother and sister duo who have been creating puppet shows for almost 40 years.


I recall they said that the show is based on two Russian tales and takes place in Medieval Russia. What are the specifics of the stories?


First is the story of a young Tsar (or King). He inherited the crown from his mean father. The question is whether this Tsar is a better, more compassionate leader than his father. His wisdom is tested when a peasant discovers a samovar in the dirt on his land. The rule is that everything and everybody belongs to the Tsar. The peasant’s snoopy neighbour turns in the peasant to the authorities for saying that he can drink tea just like the Tsar. Blasphemy. The peasant and neighbour have to appear before the Tsar.

First the Tsar hears the neighbour’s side and then he wants to hear the peasant’s side. He likes what he hears from the peasant and invites him to tea, so a bond is formed and the peasant of course is saved. The Tsar proves himself to be compassionate.


What about the next story?


The next story melds into this one. There is a dispute over an apple tree. Its roots are planted on an old woman’s property. But the apples fall on the neighbour’s land. Who owns the tree?

The neighbour, the old woman, and the old woman’s daughter, Favronia, travel to see the Tsar to have him resolve the issue. He hears both sides and decides the since the apples fall on the neighbour’s side he gets the tree.

Favronia disputes this with the Tsar, in a gracious way. He sees her wisdom in such matters.  The old woman gets to keep her tree. Favronia and the Tsar become friends and over time they fall in love. But the court tries to put a stop to that saying he can’t marry a commoner. Favronia questions that. There is fine print.

She can marry the Tsar if she answers three questions to which the court feels there are no answers. How will Favronia do?  See this wonderful show and find out.


How do the puppets factor in to this?


All the characters are puppets manipulated by David and Ann Powell. We see them manipulate the puppets; not marionettes, but hand-held puppets in some cases; miniatures in other.

There are various sizes for the Tsar and Favronia.  At one point there is a life-sized version of the Tsar and Favronia as well as miniatures. The Powells also created the set of structures that can be at once the palace, then with a flip of a section it becomes the inside of it; then another flip and we are outside; and the country side.

The design of the various structures used in the proceedings are efficient, multi-purposed, and clearly indicate when time of day it is and that the seasons pass.

I also liked how the dilemma are dealt with and how the kids in the audience get into the story.


How so?


The Tsar is very fair minded. I loved that he wanted to hear the sides of the stories of all the participants. I also loved that when a kid in the audience thought a decision was unfair, he said so. The Tsar said that since the apples fell on the land of the neighbour he should get ownership of the tree. The kid in the front row said out loud, “That’s not fair.”

I saw David Powell smile, but he said nothing and went on with the show—sometimes there is adlibbing but not this time. So I love that it’s a story to test fairness, what is right; how do you make decisions; and that of course gets its audience involved.

And as performers both Ann and David are animated and impish in their own way. Although David is the one prone to being irreverent and adlib and inject some topical humour of his own.

Nothing to take the story off track.  Both keep the story light, funny and short. And they are masters when manipulating the puppets. Their shows have a gentleness but a strong point. The shows are playful, spirited, inventive and a lovely way to get kids interested in theatre.

And I found that the parents enjoyed it too. I always love it when parents bring kids to see theatre.


It’s always a tricky proposition taking kids to the theatre. What words of advice do you have for parents when planning a theatre outing.


Always check to see that the show is age appropriate. Don’t take a kid of 3 to see a show if it’s recommended for kids 5 and older. I don’t want a young kid to be taken and be bored or cranky. That sets a bad precedent for the kid.

Tell the child what to expect: the lights will go down to cue us that the show is about to begin and all noise stops. And don’t be afraid. Tell the child; no talking, no noise; no eating (YES NO EATING!) and reiterate no talking.

How many times have we seen parents give long explanations to kids during the show who don’t get it? That shows the kid is too young and the only thing they learn is that it’s ok to talk in the theatre. Not everything has to be explained. Urge the kid to listen and think, and the parent can explain later.

Don’t ever bring babies to the theatre. NEVER.

I can’t tell you how many times parents have brought babies thinking the kid will sleep. They make noise. They gurgle. Parents then rock them and bounce them to get them quiet. Doesn’t work. Again, it’s unfair to the kid.

I took young cousins to the theatre years ago and primed them and primed them to within an inch of their lives. When we were leaving their mother, my cousin called out, “no farting in the theatre and don’t forget to applaud.”

Brilliant advice to all of us.


This is the usual time of year when everybody is giving their top 10 or so lists of shows. You have something different.


Yes, I have a list of productions and people I am grateful for.

First plays:

Iceland by Nicolas Billon- about the domino effect of the financial crisis. Crisp; taut; and wonderfully acted.

Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris who takes the story of Raison in the Son about a black family moving into a white neighbourhood, and turns it on its head showing the story from a white perspective at first and then other sides of it. Imaginative writing and a fine production from Studio 180.

The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez. Takes place during the Civil War in the states and echoes the Blacks in the States being freed from slavery with the Jews leaving Egypt and their slavery there. Such an elegant parallel. A terrific co-production of Obsidian Theatre and the Al Green Jewish Theatre Company.

KAMP from World Stage. A day in the life of Auschwitz as presented by puppets an inch high. Stunning. The action of these tiny stick puppets is videoed and thus magnified on a screen so we could see how they worked.

Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl as presented by three companies: Outside the March; Sheep No Wool Theatre and Convergence Theatre. A huge undertaking that was truly a theatrical event.

Late Company by Jordan Tannahill. At Summerworks. About two sets of parents meeting to discuss the death of the son of one of them from bullying. Shattering and deserves a remount.

 Stratford and Shaw were particularly strong this year.

And three indie shows that just blew me away:

Savage in Limbo by John Patrick Shanley, the first show by a new company: Bob Kills Theatre.

After Miss Julie produced by Red One Theatre Collective.

And Danny and the Deep Blue Sea again by a new theatre company called Baro Theatre Company. All were gutsy, daring, fearless and provocative.


And what people get your special mention?

Tony Nappo—He was in three shows this year: Sudden Death playing a coked up hockey player; Murderers Confess at Christmastime playing a kindly, gentle paraplegic in a wheel chair who is in love with a woman who does not return the favour, and finally God of Carnage in which he was a down to earth ordinary guy who could push back when he was insulted. Nappo is always creative; surprising and enlivens a part.

Laura Condlln—She was in 4:48 Psychosis playing a depressive who wants to kill herself; in This playing a woman coming to the end of her first year of grieving for her dead husband; and in all three plays of The Norman Conquests in which she plays a woman who is worn-out by her demanding family and her need for a dirty weekend with an unlikely man. Condlln is always right in the moment; gripping; and compelling in anything she plays.

Brent Carver; Brilliant; He did his own concert this past year. That man can meld songs into a story you never thought of. A voice to break your heart.

Antoni Cimolino living up to his commitment to bringing serious theatre back to Stratford and making the text and the actor his focus. Audiences have come back too.

Jackie Maxwell head of the Shaw Festival, by staying the course and keeping her aim high for quality and productions.

Caitlin Driscoll—who played a scheming manipulator in Foursome and a sad drunk in Savage in Limbo. She’s a chameleon—blending into such different characters until you realize with a start it’s the same actress.

Haley McGee—in Moss Park she was a young woman coming to terms with her immature boyfriend. And she was the playwright for Weather the Weather the outdoor show from Theatre Columbus that I thought was whimsical, thoughtful and smart.

Melissa D’Agostino and Diana Bentley the creators of Bob Kills Theatre, (Savage in Limbo); Claire Armstrong the producing force and star of After Miss Julie. And Brooke Morgan the creator of Baro Theatre and one of the actors in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. Women who have the guts of a bandit to put on tough theatre and get audiences to flock. Bravo.


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

Tea at the Palace plays at the Tarragon Extra Space until Sunday, Dec. 29.


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