Broadcast Text Review of: THE INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL’S GUIDE and Various Shakespeare companies in parks

by Lynn on July 30, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, July 31, 2015. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures until Oct. 10 and Out door Shakespeare

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre talk time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What’s up this week?

I have a mix of shows. The main one is the provocatively titled, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.

(The play is known as I-HO for short. I love that.)

It’s written by American playwright, Tony Kushner—who also wrote Angels in America. It’s at the Shaw Festival.

And I also want to look at three outdoor Shakespeare theatre companies that have been doing Shakespeare in parks for several years.

There is Driftwood Theatre Group, The Bard’s Bus Tour, which is doing Hamlet around Ontario.

The Humber River Shakespeare Company is doing Falstaff & The Merry Wives of Windsor at various locations along the Humber River.

And Shakespeare in High Park, going into its 33rd year of producing Shakespeare in the most enchanting section of the park. This is produced by Canadian Stage. This year they are doing two plays in repertory: The Comedy of Errors and Julius Caesar. I’ll just talk about The Comedy of Errors.

A full slate. Let’s begin with the huge titled play: The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. What is that about!

It’s about a family in distress. The father, Gus, wants to kill himself because he thinks he’s got Alzheimer’s Disease. He’s tried once and failed. He wants to sell his house and help his three adult children.

Pil is the oldest. He’s a high school teacher. He is devoted to his husband but is besotted with a male prostitute to whom he pays a lot of money for his favours.

There is the sister Empty, known by her initials but it comes out sounding like empty, which is prophetic it turns out. She is a labour lawyer. Her partner is pregnant and Empty doesn’t really want to be a parent. Vito is the youngest. He is a labourer. He does etc. And there is Gus’s sister Clio, a former nun.

They rally around Gus.They argue on what to do. They blame, accuse and love each other. And there is politics.

Gus is a retired longshoreman who could have been a professor of classics or political science he is so devoted to both. He is a long time Communist who believes in the power of revolution. He led a strike years before that got the workers a better salary. His children grew up learning about this stuff and can argue a point as fiercely as their father.

That is why I want you and Philip Conlon to see it if you possibly can.

Politics are so hard to do without becoming boring to the ordinary audience. How does the play handle it?

I will say there are references to the Communist Manifesto, the thoughts of Stalin and Lenin, political pamphlets written in the 30s and 40s that Pil and his father certainly reference. Empty also wrangles and gently spars with her father about dogma as does Clio the sister and Vito Gus’s son.

The danger is that the audience might think they are lost they shut off. The trick is that WE, the audience do not need to know the political minutiae that Gus and his family know. We NEED to know that this is the world of these characters. This is how they have spoken at the dinner table and elsewhere forever, since the kids were young. Each character is articulate, thoughtful, angry and knowledgeable. I believe every single word that comes out of every single mouth of every single character—this is the power of Tony Kushner as a playwright.

The play is epic in size not just for the politics but for what is at stake for this family. How do these grown children convince Gus not to end his life? It is a grand play, like an opera, or a complex symphony.

And how is the production?

Stunning. Emotions are high. The air is electric with dazzling thoughts expressed with commitment, intensity and passion. Often there are scenes in which Gus the siblings and their partners are all arguing at the same time. Again, we can shut off but the beauty is that you can hear every argument if you listen and each one is distinct and clear.

Director Eda Holmes directs this with such a sure hand, with such attention to the intricate details, that clarity shines through, no matter how complex the thought.

The cast is powerful beginning with the raging Jim Mezon as Gus. He prowls the stage and roars his disapproval, or approval. He is such a compelling actor in this mesmerizing part.

Steven Sutcliffe as Pil, Kelli Fox as Empty, Gray Powell as Vito and Fiona Reid as Clio do blazing work. They all do as a matter of fact.

The production will leave you breathless and elated. Brilliant. If you love great theatre see this.

If you love great theatre and don’t make the effort to see it, I don’t want to know you.

There is is a lot of Shakespeare in various outdoor venues. Tell us about it all.

They vary in slickness with the most spiffy being Shakespeare in High Park produced by Canadian Stage Company. It has a permanent stage of beautiful wood. Simple props and beautiful costumes.

I’m talking about The Comedy of Errors. Twin brothers and their twin servants get separated in a ship wreck and separate but think the other is dead.Through a wild case of mistaken identity they find themselves in the same place, unbeknownst to the other.

This is the best cast I’ve seen for a long time, of really experienced actors: Allegra Fulton, Dylan Trowbridge, Kyle Golemba—the last two play twins; and Jessica Greenberg and Naomi Wright play the twin servants. All are lively and very funny. The venue is big and so is the audience so the actors are miced and that’s a good thing.

A quibble is that you would think with such a successful operation they could give us all programs. Instead they have the cast names on huge billboard we can read before we get into the site. Chinzy! You can do better, Canadian Stage. A program please.

How about Hamlet?

As we heard last week when I interviewed director D. Jeremy Smith and actor Paolo Santalucia, it’s a very cut down Hamlet but the story is told.

The pace goes like the wind. The stage is simple as are the props. The actors vary in ability with Paolo Santalucia acquitting himself well as Hamlet. He has the words I just wish he would slow down occasionally so we can hear what he is saying. Natasha Mumba is a touching, spunky Ophelia. Jon De Leon is a commanding Claudius.

As usual, D. Jeremy Smith keeps the pace moving and the relationships cohesive.The actors are micophoned and I think that’s a problem because the volume is too loud and too spotty. Too often the sound cuts out and the actor’s voice carries. The audience is attentive. They surround the stage and are close. Ditch the microphones. And the company provides programs.

And Falstaff. Such a trouble maker. Tell us about that?

Falstaff & the Merry Wives of Windsor. It finishes its run this weekend at The Montgomery Inn in Etobicoke.

Sir John Falstaff is a carouser, a flirt, a rogue and he tries to arrange to seduce both Mistress Ford and Mistress Page unbeknownst to their husbands.

Also, Anne Page wants to marry the man she loves but her mother and father separately have a future husband of their choice.

The play involves characters trying to fool other characters, thwart Falstaff and reveal him as a rotter, and ensure that Anne Page marries her fellah.

The stage is simple and the costumes are modern dress—Falstaff wears shorts—you gotta love the guy. They are not miced and we can hear perfectly well because we are listening.

Kevin Hammond is the artistic director of the company; he has directed the show with simplicity and efficiency. He also plays several characters including a jealous husband. As Falstaff, Dan Karpenchuk is impish and flirty with a glimmer in his eye. You are charmed by this Falstaff but wary. The company provides a program.

All the productions are fun—the venues are delightful and it’s lovely to see such a cross section in the audience, from kids to grandparents.

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

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures plays at the Shaw Festival until October 10.

Hamlet plays at various venues around Ontario until Aug. 16.

Falstaff & the Merry Wives of Windsor plays at Montgomery’s Inn in Etobicoke until Aug. 2.

Comedy of Errors and Julius Caesar plays in High Park
Until September 5-6.

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