Live and in person at Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre, Waterloo, Ont. Plays until Dec. 3.

Written by Steven Ellott Jackson

Directed by Todd Davies

Lighting by Noah Snow

Sound by Thomas Humpries

Cast: Andre Furlong

Zivy Hardy

Inese Hill

Ashley King

Lia Mendonca

Katherine Schill

Jackie Wray

This is a “comment” and not a review because the show has closed after a short run.

Playwright Steven Elliott Jackson is fascinated with creating plays about real people in imagined situations. In The Seat Next to the King he wrote about a chance encounter in a men’s washroom between Bayard Rustin (a close friend of Martin Luther King) and Walter Jenkins (a top aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson). In The Garden of Alla he wrote about noted actress, Alla Nazimova.

In his latest play The Funeral to End All Funerals Steven Elliott Jackson tackles the formidable, literary Mitford siblings: Tom, Unity, Nancy, Pamela, Jessica, Diana and Deborah. All were writers in varying degrees of ability and fame. They came into their own from the 1930s into this century.  Politics factored highly to some. Some had questionable ‘friends’—Unity was close to Adolph Hitler and thought his ideas were swell. Another sibling was a Fascist. Nancy was probably the most notable of the Mitford siblings with her many books and references to her by other literary titans of the time.

The siblings arrive at a funeral home for a funeral. A shiny casket with a rose on top commands the space. Each sibling signs the guest book and greets his/her sibling, usually with disdain, contempt, etc. They generally didn’t like each other. Past hurts and insults are revived.

I found Steven Elliott Jackson’s play fascinating, not just because the Mitfords were so interesting, but also because of the way Jackson handled the information about each of them. One sibling chides Unity because she is the close friend “of the greatest murder in history.” Steven Elliott Jackson just leaves that fact there, unexplained until Act II when we learn that man was Adolph Hitler. There is reference to some trouble in Tom’s life in Act I and again it’s fleshed out in Act II that he was gay and that was something that was not discussed.

I thought Steven Elliott Jackson’s subtle handling of the information was refreshing. The siblings knew the background of the information mentioned, while the audience might not (if they weren’t familiar with the Mitfords), but Jackson wasn’t going to let the audience flounder with lack of information. He deftly referenced what happened in Act I and fleshed it out in Act II.  The title is a play on words and Steven Elliott Jackson’s words are dandy.

Director Todd Davies maneuvered the cast around the set with ease. Relationships and reactions were firmly established. And while the acting varied in accomplishment the cast was committed to the work.

Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre presents:

Played until Dec. 3, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes (1 intermission)


Live and in person at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Produced by That Theatre Company and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Playing until Dec. 17, 2023.

Written by Tony Kushner

Directed by Craig Pike

Set by Brian Dudkeiwicz

Costumes by Louise Bourret

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by John Gzowski

Cast: Kaleb Alexander

Brenda Bazinet

Wade Bogert-O’Brien

Soo Garay

Christine Horne

Allister MacDonald

Jim Mezon

Ben Sanders

This is Tony Kushner’s two-part mountain of a play given an impressive, compassionate, beautifully rendered production.

The Story.  The play takes place in America at the beginning of the AIDS crisis and talks about gay issues, AIDS, politics, compassion, community, forgiveness and Roy Cohn.

I call it “a mountain of a play” because it’s so mammoth that it’s presented in two parts over two days, or as an all-day affair on selected matinee and evening days.

The first part is called Millenium Approaches and introduces the various characters, and the seemingly separate relationships, as well as the anticipated arrival of an angel with instructions in how to proceed. Millenium Approaches also introduces the politics of the time, the separateness felt by the gay community, the horror of this mysterious disease called AIDS and this evil man named Roy Cohn who is told by his doctor that he has AIDS. Cohn informs his doctor that in fact he has liver cancer, and if the doctor says otherwise, Cohn will destroy him. And he says, that only homosexuals get AIDS. He, Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. He is a heterosexual who sleeps with men.

The second part is called Perestroika and examines those relationships and how they all intersect. In Russian, Perestroika is described as ‘restructuring’ and was applied to the political and economic situation in the Soviet Union. For the purposes of the play, Part II, Perestroika, is a restructuring of the relationships in the play, society, community and culture.

 It’s theatre for people who are serious about theatre, and there are a lot of them.

Millenium Approaches

It first premiered in 1991 in San Francisco at the Eureka Theatre Company who commissioned Tony Kushner to write the play.

The players:

Joe Pitt is married to Harper.

He is a lawyer/law clerk for a judge. Joe is a Mormon, who is a protégé of the dastardly Roy Cohn. He wants to give Joe an opportunity to go to Washington to work in the Justice Department. Roy Cohn wants Joe in the Justice Department so that Joe can act as his (Roy’s spy). Joe says he has to ask his wife, Harper. Harper is fragile emotionally and on valium. The marriage is in trouble. Harper is lonely.

Hannah Pitt is Joe’s mother.

Louis Ironson is in a relationship with Prior Walter who is sick with AIDS.

Louis works as a word processor in the Brooklyn Federal Court of Appeals. Louis is not sure he can stay with Prior if he is sick. Louis meets Joe briefly in the men’s washroom of the Federal Court—Louis was crying over Prior when Joe walked in and wondered if everything was ok.

Belize is a friend of Prior, Black a former drag queen and now a nurse tending to AIDS patients, one of whom is eventually Roy Cohn.

Millennium Approaches fleshes out the characters and their relationships. There are huge speeches about politics, ethics, Ronald Reagan, justice, the law, and coping with disease. Prior in his haze imagines that an angel is coming to make things right….

And still on the hallucination theme, Ethel Rosenberg appears to Roy Cohn in his stay at the hospital because he was directly responsible for her death.


The characters and the situations are further developed. For instance, Joe leaves his wife Harper because he realizes that he is gay too. He begins a relationship with Louis—Louis sensed that Joe was gay when they accidentally met in the washroom. Louis is an intellectual, presumably politically knowledgeable and has huge speeches when he mouths off about all sorts of things.

The Production. While I divided the play into both parts for the description, I’m considering both parts together.The production is very impressive. This is a herculean accomplishment for Craig Pike who is producing and directing this production. This is his debut as a director. Both parts are beautifully realized, thoughtful, detailed. And it’s loaded with surprises.

Tony Kushner’s stage directions in the text say that the production should be as simple as possible. So rather than have many set pieces and props to establish a scene, Craig Pike has actors bring on a bench, a few chairs and two beds when they are needed. And that’s it.

Each scene is enhanced with Bonnie Beecher stunning, evocative lighting and John Gzowski’s subtle sound design. For instance, the scene with Joe and Louis in the washroom is created on a bare stage with Louis miming washing his hands and the sound of water running, presumably in a sink.   A conversation in a restaurant has two characters in two chairs facing each other, with the ambient sound of tinkling cutlery or cups and saucers, etc. When the angel is ‘approaching’ there is a sound effect of what seems like huge wings flapping. Is the angel going to descend from the ceiling? Crash through a wall. We are prepared. But no, the angel (Soo Garay) struggles on, pushing two walls apart, looking formidable, but surprising.  

This is a true ensemble of gifted actors. The whole cast listens to each other with such intensity, that the audience is gripped too. 

Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Joe is a mass of confusion and contradiction. He is so unsure of himself and so full of guilt at what he knows to be the truth about himself, that his speech is halting. He seems to be editing himself or afraid to tell the truth. As Harper, Christine Horne is compelling. Harper knows she is sick/delicate but she is not afraid of facing and staring down Joe. Brenda Bazinet plays multiple parts, and especially Hannah, Joe’s mother. Bazinet is formidable. Each one of her characters is distinct, detailed and full of nuance.

Allister MacDonald as Prior is emotional and fragile. His mood swings are severe. Between being sick with this mysterious disease and losing his lover, Prior is both knowing of his situation and fearful of it. He has moments of clarity and of despair.

Ben Sanders as Louis is an intellectual motor mouth, always discoursing on philosophy, politics and race relations, but is a total disappointment as a friend, partner or a person of character. Ben Sanders brings out all of Louis’ fragility as a man conflicted and always challenged for his lack of character.

Jim Mezon is a raging bull as Roy Cohn, the embodiment of evil in America. He talks fast, is abrasive, sometimes charming, mostly impatient. When he is in his office or in a meeting etc. sitting, listening to someone talking, his foot ‘taps’ quickly, the impatience to get on with it is focused in that tapping foot.  

For me the beating heart and soul of Angels in America is Belize—who is beautifully played by Kaleb Alexander. Belize listens with absolute stillness while Louis mouths off about race in America—he’s talking to a Black man and he’s explaining race to him. When Louis is finished, Belize (Kaleb Alexander) in the quietest voice and seductive drawl lets Louis know he’s full of baloney—I think he used a stronger term. He calmly explains that Louis does not know what he’s talking about because he comes from a place of privilege and he’s blinkered to the reality of the poor people and the oppressed. The dialogue is scathing. One can feel Belize’s contempt, but not cruelty. One is also aware of Louis’ embarrassment at being put in his place.  

I think Angels in America both parts and as a whole is a huge accomplishment in the theatre and That Theatre Company which is co-producing it with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, should be commended

Comment. Playwright Tony Kushner writes about the AIDS epidemic, gay issues (he called the whole play “A Gay Fantasia”) and politics, etc. But he imbues his characters with such compassion for each other.  There are characters who are lost but never stop trying to find their way. Is the play dated since AIDS is tamed by medication? I don’t think so. People who are treated as “other” for whatever reason (sexuality, gender identification, race, religion) are still bullied and under threat. The play is still timely, unfortunately. Bravo for That Theatre Company and Buddies in Bad Times for collaborating to produce it.

That Theatre Company in Association with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents:

Plays until Dec. 17, 2023.

Runing time: Millenium Approaches is 3.5 hours long (with 1 intermission and a five minute pause) and Perestroika is 4 hours long, (with 1 intermission and a five minute pause.)


Live and in person at Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until Dec. 30, 2023.

Adapted by Joe Landry

Based on the story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern

From the screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra and Jo Swerling

Directed by Herbie Barnes

Set and Costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle

Lighting by Shawn Henry

Sound and Foley Consultant, John Gzowski

Cast: Caitlyn MacInnis

Amy Matysio

Shaquille Pottinger

Anand Rajaram

Cliff Saunders

Inventive and joyful.

It’s a Wonderful Life, a Live Radio Play of course is a change of pace from a regular play, but this is no less moving, joyful or celebratory.

The story of George Bailey is the basis of the radio play but how it’s told in front of the theatre audience is what is so magical and interesting. We see this hard-working, energetic cast read the script at microphones, while other cast members make the sound effects needed to create the world of the play. A door closes in a door frame upstage to suggest a person is coming through a door-well and arrives at a destination. A bowl hauled out of a pail of water causes a sound effect to suggest a character is drowning. There are things located around the set that provide sound effects of a person walking, followed by the door closing, followed by other sound effects. Kudos to John Gzowski for the sound and foley work.

Director, Herbie Barnes has directed his cast to be nimble, quick, agile, energetic and very inventive with voices, characterization and body language (even though this is radio) to realize their many and various characters. It’s the kind of activity that shows the theatre audience how radio and even theatre might be made. The audience sees the tricks of making sounds using props and stuff that makes noise.

The story of George Bailey (Shaquille Pottinger) is there front and center. We see George as a young kid who saves his young brother from drowning. George grows up and wants to go to college but there isn’t enough money so he goes to work at a savings and loan company. He works for a mean, stingy man but George’s humanity and kindness towards his fellow citizens is clear. He is always helping others. He rises up in the company. There are bumps along the way—the bank might fail. People need money so George helps out with his own savings.

A parallel story is Clarence (Cliff Saunders) who is an angel waiting for his wings. To earn his wings he has to save George who has fallen on hard times and wants to end it all. Clarence shows George what life would be like without him on earth. Startling. Then George is shown a miracle he didn’t expect. Clarence gets his wings and George gets back his zest for life.

The performances are deliberately broad to accommodate the radio audience at the time. So, Shaquille Pottinger as George is exuberant and sweet. Cliff Saunders playing many parts is almost manic and therefore funny as he segues from character to character. Anand Rajaram also plays many parts including George’s father, which he does in a Jimmy Stewart accent and voice—harkening back to the film in which Jimmy Stewart starred. Rajaram is an explosion of invention playing many and various characters with style and verve. Caitlyn MacInnis and Amy Matysio play the female characters with distinction and detail.  

Young People’s Theatre Artistic Director, Herbie Barnes told the opening night audience that he programmed It’s a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play because it was a show for the whole family to see together and then discuss afterwards. What magic for kids to see how a sound is made, from a door slamming, to water splashing, to a fluttering of hanging metal that makes a tinkling sound. Wonderful.

Herbie Barnes also wrote a programme note that is so worth repeating and so I will:

“As we programmed our 2023.24 season—over a year ago—we had to try to foresee what might be of most importance for young people. Immediately post-pandemic (last season) we focused on bringing back joy.

When we selected It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play as our holiday offering, we had already noticed something else—the struggle that so many faced in re-learning how to share space with one another. Altercations on our transit systems, in our classrooms and on our streets started to appear in headlines.

Our time of isolation made us forget that we are a community and that we need each other to exist. It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is a shining example of that simple fact. George Bailey spends his whole life giving to his neighbours. And in this play, his community is finally able to return that generosity.”


Young People’s Theatre presents:

Plays until Dec. 30, 2023.

Running time: 80 minutes, approx.


Live and in person at the Capitol Theatre, Port Hope, Ont. Plays until Dec. 23, 2023.

Written and directed by Rebecca Northan

Music director and arranger, Chris Barillaro

Choreographer, Hollywood Jade

Set and props by Anna Treusch

Costumes by Joyce Padua

Lighting by Nick Andison

Cast: Christy Bruce

Paul Constable

Madison Hayes-Crook

Robbie Fenton

Clea McCaffrey

Zoë O’Connor

Hal Wesley Rogers

Steve Ross

Irreverent, naughty, hilarious, beautifully produced and performed.

The good citizens of Port Hope like it both ways. Their pantos, that is. They like their pantos naughty and nice. So there are two versions of Jack – A Beanstalk Panto. One is nice for families and their children. The other version is for adults and no children and is ‘naughty’, with lots of double entendres and a plethora of something called ‘Dick jokes’, obviously jokes about a guy named Dick.

Playwright/director Rebecca Northan has fashioned a modern version of the English fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. We are in Port Hope, which makes sense, since that’s where the Capitol Theatre is, at a café called Beanie. A friendly, compassionate person named “Jack” (Zoë O’Connor) short for Jacqueline is the barista. She fills each customer’s orders with a smile and cheerfulness. She is even known to help out with a free drink if a customer has fallen on hard times. Gus (Steve Ross) is unemployed and comes into the café every day for a coffee, to chat with Jack, bolster her self-confidence and to read.

Gus whips out the biggest, thickest book, (soft cover) I’ve ever seen a character whip out. It’s so big and thick he needs two hands to hold it. When Pearson (Paul Constable) arrives, looking corporate in a tan coat, he is greeted with booing from the audience. Pearson owns the café and is the villain.

Milk is needed for the café and the café cow, Milky White, is not co-operating in producing milk. Gus carefully, gently massages Milky White’s udders to see what the problem is and finds that she is dry.  The dastardly (boo, boo) Pearson orders Jack to sell the cow and bring him the money. Jack in turn trades Milky White for some magic beans she gets from a mysterious stranger. When Pearson hears this, he fires Jack.

Jack scatters the magic beans. A beanstalk grows to the heavens and Jack climbs it and meets, a harried Housekeeper (Christy Bruce), some disco-dancing hens, one of which lays golden eggs, a flirtatious rabbit, a brightly dressed, ill-tempered Giant (Paul Constable) and just when your seat mate says, “Where’s Steve Ross” the Harp (Steve Ross) arrives in a form-fitting gold lamé gown with an elaborate gold head covering ready to lull the ill-tempered Giant to sleep.  

Writer/Director Rebecca Northan has created a naughty version of this modern fairy tale that speaks to our world, humanity, humour and total irreverence for the phony, mean, cruel and greedy. Pearson comes in for a lot of booing.

As Jack, Zoë O’Connor brings out all the humanity and compassion in that caring character. She is an observer of the world. She talks thoughtfully about gender issues and the changing world of pronouns. She stares down Pearson when he is being unreasonable—firing her when she needs to pay rent, pay off a student loan, and buy food. The audience does the rest by booing him. Because Paul Constable as Pearson is such a nimble comedian and can play off the audience, his responses are varied, smart, and very funny. Comments on the Greenbelt and his good friend Doug Ford are met with a round of booing. Paul Constable also plays the Giant and while he bellows about everything, the Giant is not as ‘boo-able’ as Pearson because Pearson is greedy and corporate. The Giant is just ill-tempered.

Christy Bruce as the Housekeeper is a wonderful comedienne/improvisor. She is funny down to her finger tips and can read an audience and ‘play’ them beautifully. As the Housekeeper she is both harried trying to tend to the Giant’s needs and irreverent when dealing with disco-dancing-chickens. As Gus, Steve Ross brings out all his kindness and caring consideration for Jack. He gently encourages her to be brave and stand up for herself. Steve Ross’s full comedic powers are realized when he plays Harp in that form-fitting gold lamé dress. When Harp holds out one arm, the gold fabric drops down from the arm creating ‘the harp’ that will sooth the Giant to sleep. Steve Ross can improvise with effortless ease and do a slow pan to the audience to ramp up the laughs. And he’s elegant and stylish in that gold frock.

The hard-working dancers are spirited in Hollywood Jade’s choreography. Watching them dance leaves everyone breathless and smiling.

Kudos to Joyce Pauda for the clever costumes. Anna Treusch has created a colourful, set and clever props.

Because Northan is a masterful comedienne and improvisor, she knows the minutiae of crafting and creating a joke or realizing a funny moment based on an audience’s reaction. Her gifted cast is a collection of equally smart actors who know how to float a laugh line for the biggest laugh.  

As with all good comedians, every joke, every reaction is played absolutely straight—no joke is telegraphed. A side-long look to the audience gets a brilliant response. Jack – A Beanstalk Panto speaks to our modern world with sensitivity, perception, whimsy and the right amount of silliness. It’s a great show for the holidays and after.

Capitol Theatre Presents:

Plays until Dec. 23, 2023.

Running Time: 2 hours (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. Produced by Talk is Free Theatre. Plays until Dec. 2, 2023.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by Tim Rice

Directed by Saccha Dennis

Music director, Jeremiah Sparks

Choreographer, Michael Challenger

Sets and props by Adriana Bogaard

Costumes by Des’ree Grey

Lighting by Isabella Cesari

Cast: Astrid Atherly

Jahlen Barnes

Kyle Brown

Sierra Holder

Michael-Lamont Lytle

Andrew Prashad

Danilo Reyes

Shakura S’aida

Suchiththa Wickremesooria

Ocean Williams

A well-intentioned interpretation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice classic, that doesn’t quite work, but one has to be impressed with the effort to realize the idea and the strong cast.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 rock opera concept album (and 1971 Broadway hit) follows Jesus Christ and his followers as they work for good. Jesus is loved by Mary. But Judas feels that Jesus is getting above himself, believing what is being said about him and it will end badly. Jesus and his followers are considered dangerous by Caiaphas and his henchmen and plot to bring Jesus down. Jesus foresees his downfall. He knows Judas will betray him and Peter will deny him.

Director Saccha Dennis has reimagined the musical to reflect what happened Dec. 4, 1969 to Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Black Panther Party, when he was killed in Chicago by the FBI, after he was betrayed by informant, William O’Neal.  The Black Panther Party was formed to fight for African American equality and establish revolutionary socialism through community-based programs and challenge the police and politicians. J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, felt that Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party was a dangerous organization and Hoover was going to stop them. The result was that based on informant William O’Neal’s information, Fred Hampton died in a hail of bullets when the FBI raided;; Hampton’s apartment in a pre-dawn raid.

Director Saccha Dennis has placed her production in the late 1960s. In Adriana Bogaard’s design there are posters on the walls: some referencing The Black Panthers, one saying “Free Huey” (Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers was in jail for manslaughter. The sentence was eventually reversed), one poster saying “In Memoriam: Jonathan Jackson” (which seems wrong for the time because if this was the Black Panther Jonathan Jackson, he died a year after Fred Hampton died in 1969). There is an over-head projector at the back. There is a desk and chair over here, another chair over there, a rug, a moveable door-well and a couch stage right.  

At the top of the show, director Saccha Dennis has characters enter and a man dressed in black ‘leather’ draws a large square in chalk on the floor. This is Judas (a wonderfully dramatic Jahlen Barnes).  The characters then move the scattered furniture into the square forming the Black Panther office. This is a clever way of setting the stage and the place.

The Last Supper is staged with Jesus sitting on the couch with his disciples around him, with boxes of take-out on a table in front of them. Loved the efficiency and ‘community’ of that scene.  

When Jesus is crucified, a cross is drawn on the floor in chalk and he positions himself on the cross on the floor and plays the scene that way. Saccha Dennis nicely solves the problem of the crucifixion by having Jesus fit on the cross on the floor.  

Michael Challenger’s choreography is lively and buoyant. The cast lead by a pensive Kyle Brown as Jesus and Jahlen Barnes as Judas are some of the most talented singer/actors around. The problem is that you could not hear them, almost at all. The piano (upstage right, Jeremiah Sparks doing yeoman’s work playing) is amplified and none of the singers are microphoned. Not good. What an odd decision—not to microphone the singers. I was not alone in not hearing the singers—and I was in the third row. (eye-brows knitting here).

 I appreciate Saccha Dennis wanting to use 1969 technology (the over-head projector) but one could not read whatever is projected on the back wall. The image is fuzzy and unfocused. Is that an image of the 10 points of the Black Panther Party on the back wall, that a character points out? One can’t see it clearly. At the end of the show photos of people are projected from the over-head projector onto the back wall, but I could not make out their names—except if I peered hard, I could see that the last name is Fred Hampton. Who are the others? Are they members of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party? There has to be context for the audience who might not be familiar with a political group that lasted from 1966-1982 in the United States, and in particular, the ones involved in the Chicago branch.

I appreciate Saccha Dennis’ vision and industry in realizing her interpretation but too often scenes are unfocused there is so much going on. Furniture, the rug, that door-well seemed in constant movement that it detracted from the singing going on in front of it.

When Judas enters for is first song there is a lot of activity of characters moving around the space to the point I could not find Jesus in all that movement. It’s tempting to be clever with staging. Simple I think is better in focusing the action and our attention.

Mary’s (a powerful Ocean Williams) famous solo “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”, seems lost when she begins to sing it upstage looking at the side for some reason,  and now downstage center, nailing the audience’s attention.

While I don’t think this production of Jesus Christ Superstar quite works, I do look forward to seeing other productions directed by Saccha Dennis.

Talk Is Free Theatre presents:

Plays until Dec. 2.

Running Time: 2 hours (1 intermission)


I had a great time recently giving a talk to the Arts and Letters Club Members about how the world and our theatre is going to Hell in a handbasket.

I blame it on the pandemic.

For two years or so everything was shut down. We were isolated from our friends and family. We yearned to be out and socialize but couldn’t. Initially because we were fragile we reached out to our neighbours or they reached out to us, to offer to shop or do errands for those less fortunate. That lasted a short while.

We were wary of people on the streets; to wear a mask or not to wear a mask became almost a political statement. In a short time, we went from being kind and considerate to being prickly and territorial. If someone accidentally knocked into us on the street the reaction was anger not consideration.  Belligerence and lost temper seemed the norm.

Those smart theatre makers with ingenuity made up for the lack of in person performances with filmed/zoomed/or streamed productions. I saw wonderful stuff around the world, across Canada and especially in Toronto and reviewed it. I actually loved being at home. I was out every night so often when the theatre was live, that I just loved being home for a change.  

The pandemic is over, sort of, and theatres are now open and my theatre going has resumed with a vengeance.  The same can’t be said about theatre attendance. Except in a few cases, it’s down.  Getting the audience back has been difficult. People are timid about coming back to the theatre, even if we are wearing masks. They either don’t want to be in crowds or they find they can live without paying high prices for tickets.

The Media is Decimated

What used to be a robust media that reviewed theatre as a matter of course, is now decimated. We have four daily newspapers that all used to review theatre. Now only the Globe and Mail has a full-time theatre critic—J. Kelly Nestruck—in all of Canada.

The Toronto Star uses freelancers to cover theatre productions and not regularly at that. That means there is no consistent critical theatre voice there.

We used to have the reliable NOW Magazine that covered everything. It’s gone and Glenn Sumi, NOW’s intrepid theatre/film critic seems to be doing triple duty reviewing for his own blog, “So Sumi” and freelancing at the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.

My York University four-year honours BA in Fine Arts Degree specializing in History, Theory and Criticism of Theatre is no longer offered. Why would it be?  There are no theatre critics jobs.

Critics or Cheerleaders

Apparently, theatre reviews are still considered important because so many bloggers are writing them. I certainly think theatre criticism is important. I’ve given short workshops on the basics of reviewing. Theatre is thousands of years old. You can’t teach even the basics of theatre criticism in a short workshop  but you try.

And there is a sweeping variation between those  who are “true critics” who have been trained in reviewing with rigor (Glenn Sumi, Drew Rowsome, Istvan Dugalin, Paula Citron, Christopher Hoile, me).

And “cheerleaders” who gush about everything without variation, nuance or background in the artform of theatre criticism/theatre. They want to be up close and personal with the people they review. There goes the idea  of arm’s length distance between reviewer and those we review. The idea of objectivity. I think “distance” is the best practice, otherwise the review could be written by the artist’s mother.

Censorship & Lecturing.

Theatre reviews seem to be a hot topic. In the last few years some theatre makers tried to decide who could review their shows and who couldn’t, sometimes on the basis of skin colour. I believe that’s called racism if not censorship.  Not a good idea.

Others wanted to give lectures on their culture to explain their process/ideas/story/ceremony etc. Well-intentioned but highly inappropriate and it betrays a lack of knowledge of what a review actually is or who it’s for etc.

I’ll write more later on this thorny subject of theatre reviews and criticism.

Education or Daycare

Troubling changes are also happening at theatre schools and elsewhere in the theatre.

At theatre schools students are voicing their opposition over curriculum, questioning why they have to study the plays of “dead white men” such as Shakespeare or the classics. I heard from one instructor that at a rehearsal for a production the student didn’t like the line and wanted to change it. The director tried to explain that the character said the line and it was appropriate for the character. The student was determined.  The playwright was Morris Panych and I doubt he would stand for a change.  We are now changing lines in plays so as not to hurt the feelings of students etc. So, we have situations where students want to change words because they are offended, never mind that it’s appropriate for the character.

This isn’t theatre education. This is enabling daycare for theatre wannabees.

One wonders, where will these theatre students get the life lessons to understand and to delve into the hard lives of troubled characters if their feelings are so fragile they are rendered inert?

How will they find the moral fiber to discover the difficult character if they can’t/won’t stand up to scrutiny? Will they even get jobs or will this handholding continue?  I don’t think so.

Shaw Festival-Cult of Sensitivity

And then we hear about the debacle at The Shaw Festival last year about the concert version of Assassins  by Stephen Sondheim. This had been in the works for a few years and then COVID delayed the production. Then there was a director change. And finally the show continued with rehearsals. But an actor refused to sing the ‘N’ word because he found it offensive. It’s supposed to be offensive. It’s sung in a song by a racist. The actor is not racist. The character is.

That seems to be the next big hurdle in the theatre, trying to convince actors that their character does not necessarily hold attitudes and ideas similar to them as people.  As I heard once last year in an announcement before a show, at the Shaw Festival funnily enough: “We, the actors have faith that the audience can tell the difference between the character and the person saying the words.” Loved that.

But, to Assassins, The ‘N’ word was changed  during rehearsals to accommodate the actor. No one passed this by the Stephen Sondheim people for formal permission. Eventually the Sondheim organization found out about the word change. They insisted the ‘N’ word be used as the lyric or they had to cancel the show. The artistic director of the Shaw Festival put it on the acting company to solve the problem. They were to vote confidentially on whether to cancel or not. And it had to be unanimous. The vote wasn’t unanimous. The show was cancelled. Then actors felt hurt and troubled because they were responsible for the cancellation.

Does anyone know the meaning of the word “consequences” anymore? How about, “we’ll have to find another actor for the part”. What happened to life lessons?

We seem to be developing a generation of people who want to be seen, to have space, to voice their opinions—all good—without seeming to know background, history, the consequences of their actions or on whose shoulders they stand.

Still to come: What theatre criticism and reviews are really about, who writes them and for whom; correcting misunderstandings regarding reviews etc.; the new misinterpretation of racism.




by Lynn on November 26, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Playing (extended) until Dec. 10, 2023.

Written by Morris Panych

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

Set by Ken MacDonald

Costumes by Joyce Padua

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound and composition by Jacob Lin

Cast: Benedict Campbell

Corinne Koslo

Nancy Palk

Johnathan Sousa

In this age of youth and all things ‘young,’ a bold and daring play about seniors trying to find their way after being stuck in their routine. A mysterious stranger gets them startled out of their routine and started on their journey.

The Story. We are in the leafy neighbourhood of Withrow Park in Toronto’s east end, Logan Avenue. Janet, her ex-husband Arthur, and Marion, Janet’s sister, all live together in the large house overlooking Withrow Park. There is a knock on the door and it’s a stranger, a young man named Simon, who has come to introduce himself because he just moved into the area (One wonders, who ever does that, introduce themselves to the neighbours?? It’s one of the delicious mysteries of Morris Panych’s play). Marion and Arthur view Simon with suspicion. Janet invites him to dinner. A shift occurs in the lives of Janet, Marion and Arthur, as a result.

The Production. Ken MacDonald has designed a beautiful set of the interior of the house. It’s beautifully appointed with large, stuffed furniture. People with a conservative, elegant taste live here. Various polished, dark wood china cabinets festoon the living room. There are framed pictures on the walls. There are three large comfortable chairs, with side tables, arranged for easy conversation. Large windows look out onto the lush greenery of the park. Plants are arranged around the space. But something is odd in Ken MacDonald’s beautiful set—the trees of the park are growing through the walls of the house. Ken MacDonald’s sets always add a layer to the play that makes us look and notice.

Janet, an energetic, lively Nancy Palk is going off to the “unfriendly fishstore” and wants to know if her sister Marion, a laid-back Corrine Koslo, wants anything. Marion is not forthcoming with information. She is a bit reticent, as if she is hiding something. There is also an eye-doctor appointment for Janet in the future, she is having difficulty seeing. All this information is handled matter-of-factly by Janet.

But before Janet leaves, there is that knock at the door. We see a blurry image through a window of the man standing at the door—Simon (an unobtrusive Johnathan Sousa)—a polite man who has come to introduce himself as new to the neighbourhood and just wanted to say hello. He doesn’t come in, he just says hello. Janet is charmed. Marion is suspicious.

Arthur (Benedict Campbell) enters from in the house. He is told about Simon. Arthur seems almost timid in his behaviour. He lives there because it’s comfortable. He realized he was gay when he was married to Janet. He had an affair with a pediatrician who left him for someone else and he was so devastated.  Janet took him in. To add another wrinkle, Marion secretly loved (loves?) Arthur. They had one date and Marion fell in love with him. Arthur had eyes for Janet and eventually married her.

Each longs for something away from that house: peace, happiness, contentment? But they seem stuck. Until Simon arrives. Who is he? (During intermission a young man up my row said he believes Simon is a ‘Christ figure’). Is Simon like “The Gentleman Caller”—”That long delayed, but always expected something that we live for?” Is he the cat among the pigeons, set to agitate their peaceful existence? I don’t know, but there are changes afoot. Then he mysteriously disappears for whatever reason. Arthur, Janet and Marion do not know why or how. But it affects their lives and there is a shift.

Morris Panych’s dialogue is witty, articulate, introspective and impish. Often characters listen but don’t actually hear what is being said to them. So often they take things said to them at face value and misinterpret who is being talked about. Often we hear…”NO, the whippet!” when a character has misinterpreted who is being spoken too by a person in the park.

Panych has looked at people past middle age, examined how comfortable they are in their lives, and how unsettled they are as well; unsettled with change, life and disappointment. Arthur had to leave that house to take care of himself. Janet had to become the person being taken care of after years of being the one who cares for everybody. And Marion becomes a caregiver after years of sitting, watching and perhaps fretting.

The play is delicate, both huge and small in implications, very funny, quirky and human as only Morris Panych can make quirky human.

Director Jackie Maxwell adds her gentle, careful touch to guide the relationships of the three house-mates. One gets the sense of the simmering subtext among the three; the unhappiness and the complacency. The acting is superb. As Janet, Nancy Palk moves quickly establishing her busyness, her industry in getting things done, her responsibility of being the driving force in that house. Marion sits. Corine Koslo as Marion, watches and is on the edge of engagement. As Arthur, Benedict Campbell frets. He frets about his failed, disappointed relationships, his marriage, and lots more. His fretting makes him inert. Then Simon arrives and Jonathan Sousa as Simon, is charming, mysterious, friendly and perhaps even dangerous. One is wary of this young man. As if by magic, he changes the dynamic in that house.

Comment. Withrow Park—a play about senior citizens facing their demons. How modern and refreshing.

Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 15, 2023

I saw it: Nov. 18, 2023.

Plays until: Dec. 10 (extended)

Running time: 2 hours approx. (1 intermission)



by Lynn on November 24, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Factory Theatre, Studio, Toronto, until Dec. 10, 2023.

Written by Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Soheil Parsa

Set, props and lighting by Trevor Schwellnus

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Wardrobe stylist, Allie Marshall

Cast: Karl Ang

Haunting, chilling, beautifully directed and a performance by Karl Ang that is astonishing.

The Story. The simple outline from the Factory Theatre website: “Monster peels back the psychological layers of 16 different characters to reveal the dark heart of individual experience. With a masterful blend of suspense, humor, and raw emotion, Monster invites you to confront your fears and embrace the complexities that make us human.” There are characters ground down by life, circumstance, parental cruelty and an overwhelming need for revenge. One scene is particularly brutal.

The Production. The production starts in darkness. An angry voice tells someone to shut up (adding an insulting epithet) as the movie is about to begin. Is he a monster? Over the course of the 75 minutes of the play we will meet an array of people who angry, insulting, condescending, abusive and behave badly in various ways. Does that make them monsters?

Trevor Schwellnus has designed a simple set of a bare stage with a bank of eight lights at the back of the stage. The lights go up and illuminate Karl Ang, a young man in a sweater and pants. He is personable, charming, curious and at this point, certainly not the angry man in the dark. Or is he?

Over the course of the play Ang will play all the characters, both men and women. With a subtle movement of one finger around the ear he becomes a sweet woman putting her hair around her ear to keep it off her face. The voice is light and lilting. He changes from a supportive partner to her irritated boyfriend who just wants to be left alone. Then the tone is sharp, the voice is deep and commanding. It’s an effort for the character to contain his irritation for this woman and this time. Names of the various characters wiz through the air: Al, Dave, Janine, Pam, “Boil Boy,” and much more.

Karl Ang gives an astonishing performance. There is nuance, subtlety, variation in body language, voice, expression and vigor.  He shifts from one character to another with ease and a clear sense of who each character is. It all seems effortless. Each character is full bodied.

Soheil Parsa directs Monster with exquisite invention, control, imagination and a ramped pace that keeps one breathless. He creates scenes that could be in the movies, watching horror, with lighting capturing the nuances in the performance. At times Trevor Schwellnus’ lighting makes Karl Ang look forbidding, he is surrounded by such shadows and bright light. You are convinced that here is a monster. In other softer light, Ang’s features are pleasant, calming, inviting. Between this gifted actor and his equally gifted director, we are kept unbalanced as to whom we will meet next. At one point the scope of the play expands out away from the 16 characters we will meet, to encompass an angry world. This is established by Thomas Ryder Payne’s chilling soundscape of bombs dropping somewhere not getting louder and closer, but present. In our fractured world, this adds another example of a “monster.”

Playwright Daniel MacIvor weaves compelling, intricate stories of the various characters and the experiences they endure. Sometimes the result is anger, sometimes revenge. Each story is carefully crafted with characters fully detailed and created. There are the women who love their angry partners, who stay the course, who calm them down and convince them that a life together is better than apart.

It’s like MacIvor is creating an intricate spider web and the audience is mesmerized watching as each delicate strand is created joining the various other strands. In a way the audience is drawn into the web until we aren’t sure where we are or to whose story we are listening. This isn’t a fault of the writing. It’s one of its many strengths—to keep the audience unsettled until the very end. And when we hear the conclusion of the final story, in a way a beginning, the result is jaw dropping.

Comment. Monster is a play written by a playwright at the top of his game, directed by a masterful director, guiding his equally gifted actor. Well worth a visit for people serious about theatre.

Factory Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 22, 1923.

Closes: Dec. 10, 2023.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)


I’m interviewing Craig Pike (Craig’s Cookies, That Choir, That Theatre Company) as he readies his production of ANGELS IN AMERICA opening at Buddies next week. I’m interviewing him Sat. Nov. 25 at 9 am on Critics Circle 89.5. he has a lot to say. Listen in.


Live and in person at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Presented by Mirvish Productions. Plays until Nov. 27, 2023.

Written by Aaron Sorkin

Based on Harper Lee’s novel

Direct by Bartlett Sher

Original music by Adam Guettel

Scenic design by Miriam Buether

Costumes design by Ann Roth

Lighting design by Jennifer Tipton

Sound design by Scott Lehrer

Cast: Mary Badham

Ian Bedford

Anne-Marie Cusson

Christopher R. Ellis

Travis Johns

Steven Lee Johnson

Ted Koch

Mariah Lee

Justin Mark

Melanie Moore

Jeff Still

Richard Thomas

Yaegel T. Welch

Jacqueline Williams

Gregg Wood

A terrific dramatization by Aaron Sorkin of Harper Lee’s stunning novel given a respectable, if obvious, production. Richard Thomas gives a fine performance of the courtly, honourable Atticus Finch.

The Story. It’s based on the beautiful 1960 novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” by southern writer, Harper Lee. The story is narrated by a young tom-boy nicknamed Scout by her family and her brother named Jem. Their father is Atticus Finch, a fair-minded lawyer and a widower. They have a housekeeper named Calpurnia. One summer in 1935 their idyllic lives change when Atticus defends a black man named Tom Robinson, accused of raping and beating up a 19-year-old neighbour, Mayelle Ewell, who is white.

During the trial Scout, Jem and a new friend, Dill Harris, sneak into the courthouse to see Atticus defend the man. The children are given a rude awakening about how black people are perceived and treated by whites at that time. They see how fair-minded and serious Atticus is. Atticus proves that Tom Robinson didn’t commit the crime and points suspicion elsewhere. The person who is suspected threatens to get even with Atticus. He almost achieves his goal too.

There is also a mysterious neighbour named Boo Radley. The children have never seen him but often talk about him and wonder what he is like. In a sense Boo Radley is another example of how people treat those who they perceive as different in some way. Something happened in Mr. Radley’s life and he has almost never stepped foot out of his house, as far as anyone can tell. Mr. Radley comes to Scout and Jem’s rescue when they are threatened one night. They learn another lesson in tolerance and understanding by that experience.

The Production. Playwright, Aaron Sorkin has shifted the order of the details in the novel: the trial of Tom Robinson comes at the end of the book, in the play, the trial is front and center, including the part that Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas) had to be convinced to take the case. He didn’t think he was a good defense lawyer, but the judge in the case, Judge Taylor (a wonderfully laid back and honourable Jeff Still) convinced him in a bit of gross lack of ‘professionalism.’ Judge Taylor is as decent as Atticus and knew that Tom Robinson needed a smart, good lawyer and made the move to ensure that Atticus took up the case.

Miriam Buether has designed an efficient set of moving parts that move on to be Atticus Finch’s house, the court room and the local jail, among others. Ann Roth has designed functional clothes dark clothes for the majority of the characters with a light tanned coloured suit for Atticus, so that he stands out.   

Bartlett Sher had staged a lot of activity at the beginning of the production. Scout (Melanie Moore) enters with conviction and purpose to begin the story. Melanie Moore as Scout is a bit forced in trying to convey she’s playing a young girl. She is followed by Jem Finch (Justin Mark) Scout’s older brother by three years. Justin Mark as Jem has that older-brother-seriousness when dealing with his young sister. Then their young friend Dill Harris (Steven Lee Johnson) arrives who is between Scout and Jem in age, enters to add other aspects of the story. Steven Lee Johnson as Dill has that lovely mix of precociousness and an eagerness to please his friends. I found Mr. Johnson the best of the three actors playing children. (Note: Truman Capote was a childhood friend of Harper Lee and is the model for Dill).  

Once the story is established set pieces are pushed on, chairs arranged, tables positioned. A lot of activity is going on. So, when Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch makes his anticipated entrance, all the activity stops and Richard Thomas makes his star-entrance along the top of the stage down stage, walking with a purpose, briefcase in hand, to expected applause. Loved that set up. I never get tired watching a smart director nudge the audience into recognizing the star and reacting appropriately.

Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch has that relaxed demeanor of a decent, honourable man. He believes in the decency and goodness of his neighbours until his Black housekeeper Calpurnia (a wonderful Jacqueline Williams who is watchful, quiet and knowing about the fact that the neighbours are far from decent) sets him straight. Atticus is respectful of all his fellow citizens. He treats Tom Robinson (a fine performance by Yaegel T. Welch) with respect and kindness. This is beautifully illuminated in Richard Thomas’ performance.  

I love Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the novel. And there are lovely touches of business in Bartlett Sher’s direction: Scout tenderly putting her head on her father’s shoulder; Bob Ewell looking sideways menacingly at his daughter Mayelle in court to terrify her into lying about what happened to her. But overall, I think this touring production is obvious, forced in some of the acting, and almost too amplified. It’s as if the creators need to tick all the boxes and underline the points to ensure the audience hears everything, instead of trusting them to listen and pay attention to the details. The story represents a terrible miscarriage of justice, representative of a racist mindset—have faith that the audience will ‘get it’ without having to present it with broad strokes, and too slow a pace of the ending that it overplayed the poignancy.

Mirvish Productions present:

Opened: Nov. 21, 2023

Plays until Nov. 27, 2023 but returns May 28 to June 2, 2024

Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes (1 intermission)