Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Playing until April 21, 224.

Written by Christine Quintana

Directed by Guilermo Verdecchia

Set by Shannon Lea Doyle

Costumes by Fernando Maya Meneses

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound by Alejandra Nuñez

Co-sound designer,Christopher-Elizabeth

Projection designer, Samay Arcentales Cajas

Cast: Miranda Caleron

Mónica Garrido Huerta

Sam Khalilieh

Caolán Kelly

Rosalba Martinni

Mariló Núñez

Michael Scholar Jr.

Margarita Valderrama

Juan Carlos Velis

Wild, bold and imaginative, but another pass is needed to tighten and develop character.

Luz is planning a 21st birthday party for her youngest sister Lina—a university student. The family is invited: Rosa, a bitter woman who we learn later is a successful architect; There is Abuela, grandmother in Spanish who lives with Luz and Lina; Omar, the next door neighbour who takes care of his aged father; Henry, who drops by and is a friend of Rosa, and finally Lina who arrives with her friend Tash, but is hesitant to bring them to meet the family.The dynamic is established immediately. Almost nobody wants to be there because they all have issues.

Luz is anxious that tradition be followed and that means there is a 21st birthday party for the person turning 21 and she bakes her famous cake and sets out a table full of food. Rosa arrives with the chip on her shoulder towards her sister, firmly intact. She doesn’t want to be there and thinks the idea is silly. She can barely contain her anger at being there. Luz answers Rosa’s invective with a barb of her own. Omar is happy for respite from taking care of his aged father. Henry is a little jumpy. He was in a relationship with Rosa but married someone else and now they have children and that takes up his time. Lina arrives and her frustration at being there precedes her through the door as she leaves Tash outside to wait on the steps. Only Abuela is a calm presence. The three sisters are her family and she loves them, moods and all. She is the one who notices Tash is sitting outside on the steps. Tash is invited in and is charming to everybody.

I get the sense that the death of their parents’ years before might have been the cause of the unease. The mother suffered from bouts of depression and there was a mystery about how both parents died. Rosa resents her older sister Luz for being a take-charge person. She is a professor at the university and runs the house in a precise way and perhaps Rosa resents it even though Rosa doesn’t live there anymore. And Lina seems to pine in the absence of her parents who she doesn’t seem to remember. And she’s anxious about how Tash will be accepted by her family. Lina longs to know her Mexican roots. When she was younger Abuela used to talk to her in Spanish all the time but stopped, so Lina does not really know the language of her parents or grandmother.

I know there are three sisters and one immediately thinks of Chekhov, but Christine Quintana puts her own spin on the story and references her own Mexican roots and culture.

Do the matters get resolved? I would more accurately call it ‘explained’ rather than resolved. Christina Quintana has written a bold, wild play because of what happens in Act II. Act I just seems like a lot of raging for no reason—I know we must have patience and hope that Act II will resolve things. But Act I seems a litany of hurts and accusations like ticking boxes of concerns without a hint of the reasons. I longed for some character development in Act I. Act I ends with the earthquake that almost levels everything for ACT II and the explanation.

Act II seems a mix of Day of the Dead (a specific date when Mexicans remember and celebrate the memory of their dead family and friends), and Deus ex Machina….when a play has an artificial ending to resolve conflict and solve problems. I hesitate to detail what happens because it is such a surprise of the play.  So I’ll leave it there.

It’s a bold move by playwright Christine Quintana to conjure this dramatic event—the earthquake—to get the family and friends to talk to each other and express what they are feeling and experiencing. It’s just that it feels contrived, which it is, and therefore rather false. Everybody gets to tell their story in Act II as if the Earthquake has opened the world and let out their pain. I think the play needs another pass to tighten up the flabby bits about character and situation.

This does not diminish the play. I like Christine Quintana’s writing. I like the boldness of melding the Mexican celebration of the dead with a dash of Greek theatricality, all at the mercy of a fierce earthquake in British Columbia—where the sisters now live. That illuminates an impressive imagination. I also like that Abuela, a calming presence, speaks almost always in Spanish, and with gesture and nuance we understand what she is trying to convey (if we don’t speak Spanish). She knows English and it’s always a surprise and a twist when she speaks it. That too is illuminating. And there is a wonderful speech in Act II from Tash to Lina that is terrific.

Tash is watchful and open-hearted. Lina is self-absorbed and perhaps selfish Tash would have noticed that.  The speech is true and comes from an honest place. All these characters want is to be happy and settled.

The set by Shannon Lea Doyle is quite wonderful. It is Luz’s house and it’s neat and comfortable looking. It’s furnished so that it looks like company is welcome, lots of comfy chairs and tables for drinks etc.  The book shelves are loaded with books.

And when the earthquake hits we see the destruction of the place in Act II—that’s impressive too. And the sound of the rumbling earthquake shakes the theatre. Kudos to co-sound designers, Alejandra Nuñez and Christopher-Elizabeth

There is a photo/portrait of the dead parents in a warm embrace on the wall so we get a sense that perhaps they are the dearly departed parents. Guillermo Verdecchia has directed the production with care and attention to detail.

As Luz, Mariló Núñez is efficient, tense and forces herself to be cheerful, although she is anxious that the party work out. She knows how fraught these events can be for her family. And we sense that she is bracing for fireworks, certainly from Rosa (Miranda Calderon). As Abuela, Rosalba Martinni has the confidence of a wise woman who has seen it all and accepts the world, but wants her children to be happy. As Tash Caolán Kelly has an easy charm of a person trying to fit in to this family.  As Rosa, Miranda Calderon, and Margarita Valderrama as Lina would do well not to push their words so much—it makes the delivery choppy.

Christine Quintana writes a story referenced by her Mexican roots, but it will have resonance no matter what background you are.

Tarragon Theatre presents:

Runs until April 21, 2024

Running time, 2 hours 20 minutes (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba, John Hirsch Stage. Plays until April 13, 2024.

Written by Stefano Massini

Adapted by Ben Power

Directed  by Richard Greenblatt

Set and costumes by Gillian Gallow

Lighting and video by Hugh Conacher

Original composition and sound by Ashley Au

Cast: Ari Cohen

Jordan Pettle

Alex Poch Goldin

The sprawling story of the Lehman brothers, three immigrants from Bavaria who came to America to make their fortune and started a financial empire with spectacular results, both good and bad; given a clear, impressive production beautifully acted and directed. 

The Story. The story begins in 1844 on a New York City dock.Chaim Lehman (pronounced “Laymahn”) has just arrived by boat after one and a half months from Bavaria. He talks with conviction of the American Dream. He has come there to the centre of that dream–America–to make his way in the world.

First he must deal with people, like the customs person who can’t pronounce Chaim (that ‘ch’ sound from the German) or Lehmanso Chaim becomes Henry, and Lehman becomes Lehman (pronounced Leeman). Henry starts a small shop in Montgomery, Alabama that sells fabric. He is soon joined by his two brothers, Emmanuel, the middle brother and Mayer, the youngest. Still there are not many Jews in Montgomery, Alabama.

Henry is considered the ‘head’, the man with the ideas who is always right. Emmanuel is known as ‘the arm’, who has the brawn or energy. And Mayer, who has a baby-face like a potato refers to himself as ‘the potato’ acts as the calming presence between his two demanding brothers. Mayer also has several impressive ideas of his own.

All of them reveal an affinity for business, knowing an opportunity when it appears and taking full advantage of those opportunities. The brothers were full of ingenuity. They saw an opportunity to keep the store open on Sundays while everybody else went to church, and presented an opportunity for the churchgoers to also buy fabric etc. The etc. became shovels and seeds. The store grew into a banking empire.

The Production and comment. Richard Greenblatt has directed a clear, spare production. Gillian Gallow has designed a simple set that consists of a moveable table and chairs and that’s it. The table and chairs are moved to represent a new scene or location.  Projections appear on the back of the stage indicating various locations and images that augment a scene. It opens with a projection of a huge highrise building with the words Lehman Brothers at the top. It establishes the size that banking empire became for context. Kudos to lighting and video designer, Hugh Conacher.

Henry Lehman (Alex Poch Goldin), enters, wearing a brown suit,  suitcase in hand, having landed in America from Bavaria, after a voyage on a boat for one and a half months. Henry Lehman seems hunched a bit, as played by Alex Poch Goldin, but there is an enthusiasm, a buoyancy when he says “America!” This is the place of his dreams to succeed. His posture straightens after that. Poch Goldin plays Henry as a man on a mission. He has no time for small talk or jokes. He is focused on work. He takes his ‘calling’ as ‘the head’ very seriously. And he is never wrong.

The other brothers arrive after that. Emanuel Lehman, known as “The Arm,” was a man of action and Ari Cohen plays him as watchful and serious. He sizes things up and makes decisions quickly. Emanuel went to New York City to check things out, and instantly decided the business needed a New York Office and he would head it.  

Henry and Emanuel are wary of each other and always seem to be in competition although they never really fight. The brother who seems to keep the peace between them is Mayer, played with nimble finesse and humour by Jordan Pettle. He is the baby brother, the one with a face as smooth as a ‘potato’ and so he is called “the potato.” Mayer has many good ideas that he slides in with quiet determination.  

Jordan Pettle was also in the Toronto production last year of the play playing Mayer—it was a completely different production. This does not mean he is repeating his performance. He is not. The performance in Winnipeg is athletic, agile in its own way, animated in a different way, and still clearly illuminating Mayer’s intelligence and business smarts. I found Pettle’s performance more animated and that comes naturally performing with Alex Poch Goldin and Ari Cohen.

There is a smooth fluidity to director Richard Greenblatt’s direction. Movement is intentional and not superfluous. The table and chairs are moves swiftly to change scenes. Often a brother would climb on a chair and onto the table to make a point. It all seems natural.  

Alex Poch Goldin, Ari Cohen and Jordan Pettle are fine actors playing the parts of brothers who are Jewish. All three actors are Jewish. Should this matter? Should only Jewish actors play Jewish characters. Personally, I don’t think so because it opens up all sorts of thorny issues (only gay actors should play gay characters, for example). There certainly have been enough gentile actors playing Jews recently—Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein for example.  I’m sure the debate will go on no matter what the play. That said, these three fine actors bring a shorthand of sorts to their roles; they know how being Jewish defined the Lehman Brothers just as how that defines them. Lots to think about.  

The story is huge with all the financial implications as the business grew. It’s also a small family story of different personalities all working together for a common purpose—to make the business grow and eventually to make money. That is their product—money. They go from opening their dry-goods store in Alabama, to expand the business by moving to New York City to run their own bank.

As I have said in a previous review, the brothers were brilliant at business. They could see an opportunity when it presented itself and ran with it without hesitation on how it might look. To an outside eye, their business acumen could garner anti-semitic comments. If they were gentile businessmen and not Jewish, their business smarts would not have been commented upon. Such is the world.

This production was well worth a trip to Winnipeg.

The Royal Manitoba Theatre Company presents:

Plays until April 13 2024

Running time: 3 hours (1 intermission and one pause).

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Live and in person at the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing in two parts until: April 13 (Part I), April 14 (Part II).

Written by Matthew López

Directed by Brendan Healy

Choreography by Hollywood Jade

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting Kimberly Purtell

Composer and sound designer, Richard Feren

Cast: Salvatore Antonio

Aldrin Bundoc

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff

Hollywood Jade

Qasim Khan

Breton Lalama

Daniel MacIvor

Jim Mezon

Landon Nesbitt

Ben Page

Louise Pitre

Gregory Prest

Antoine Yared

A mountain of a play, well-acted and reverential

The Story. The Inheritance by Matthew López is a two-part mountain of a play. It’s a reworking of E.M. Forster’s classic novel, “Howard’s End that is set in England and centers around three families. In Matthew López’s version, it’s about three generations of gay men after the height of the AIDS crisis, set in contemporary times in Manhattan.  

Eric and Toby are a 30-something couple who have been together for seven years and have decided to get engaged. Eric is a lawyer with a conscience. Toby is a brash writer who has written a novel and has turned it into a play bound for Broadway. Eric meets an older man named Walter who is haunted by his past. Toby falls in love/or is besotted by Adam, the young man cast in his play and so the relationships are always in flux here.

Also at the center of this is a mansion in the country that has been the private residence of Walter that he turned into a hospice for men dying of AIDS during the epidemic. The house has a special significance to Eric.

Over the seven hours running time of both parts together, we witness partners who separate and go off with other partners, look longingly at the ex and wonder if they made a mistake, make value judgements about new partners of friends and try to make sense of their ever-changing world.  

The Production. The set by Michael Gianfrancesco looks like a backstage of a theatre with a long table and chairs, as if there is a rehearsal about to take place. Characters arrive with scripts, (the galley of an unpublished book?) binders and computers that they look at as the audience fills in. When the production begins the character of Leo (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff) steps forward to say that he has a story to tell but doesn’t know how to tell it. He notes books he loves, and holds up his favourite—I assume it’s “Howard’s End”(who can see a small book from the stage if you are half-way back in the theatre?). This conjures the ghost or E.M. Forster in the name of a character named Morgan (Daniel MacIvor). E.M Forster is really Edward Morgan Forster.

Morgan, played with quiet grace by Daniel MacIvor, begins to question Leo about his story and the various characters in it in order to help Leo get through his writer’s block. Morgan will wander in and out of the narrative in time to get it going when Leo has difficulty finding what to say.

The Inheritance has a character of Henry (Jim Mezon), who used to be Walter’s (Daniel MacIvor) partner until Walter died. Henry is secretive, not necessarily closeted.  And in that way, The Inheritance is closer to E.M. Forster and his efforts to hide his homosexuality. He lived his whole life hiding it. Of course in England it was illegal to be gay until 1965, so Forster hid it. He wrote a book called “Maurice” which was about homosexual love in the 20th century. But Forster forbade it to be published until after he died. You weep for him.

Both parts of The Inheritance are approx. 3 ½ hours each with two intermissions. Why is this such a daunting big deal to some? It’s not as if you are crossing the desert with only a thimble of water, or flying to a far away land and are trapped in a plane. It’s a play. The seats are comfortable, for the most part.

Each part has a cast of  approximately 13 playing a few parts each in some cases. The play takes time to work out the relationships of the characters. And playwright Matthew López luxuriates in taking his time to riff on politics, being a Republican, being rich, suffering, being judgmental and trying to see another point of view.

In one scene in Part II, Eric (Qasim Khan) has connected with Henry Wilcox (Jim Mezon), who was Walter’s partner. Eric introduces Henry, who is an older man, to his friends who are in their 30s. Eric was afraid how the acerbic, quick-witted Henry would deal with his friends. Jim Mezon as Henry has that body language of a man of power, confident in that power and his ability to read the room and deal with the various challenges. But Henry also knows that these are Eric’s friends as is he, and he, Henry, must act accordingly to make a good impression. Mezon is mesmerizing when ‘discussing’ politics, Republicans, aiding those who had AIDS and generally the world, with Eric’s friend Jasper, played with wit and condescension by Salvatore Antonio. He is jolly on the surface, but Henry’s razor-sharp brain gleams in the back and forth of the dialogue. He has a last line he bellows and that sends a shiver down everybody’s back, it’s so true.  

As Eric, Qasim Khan gives a nimble performance of an agile-thinking man who ponders a lot of questions. Eric is a man searching for a purpose to his life, perhaps to perform the great gesture to serve humanity. Khan’s performance embodies Eric’s humanity and generosity.

As Toby, Antoine Yared shows all the self-indulgence and narcissism of that troubled character. But he also conveys how lost and losing ground Toby is. As both Leo and Adam, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff is sensitive, brash, caring and trying to hang on. Louise Pitre plays Margaret, a woman who lives at the mansion in the country and takes care of it, who makes an appearance at the end of the play. The performance is quiet and understated.    

 The Inheritance is directed with exquisite care and detail by director Brendan Healy. The tone is almost reverential. His vision of the production shines soft light (kudos to Kimberly Purtell) on various characters so that at times they look like ghosts floating in the air. The soft sounds of Richard Feren’s piano underscoring plays without intrusion.  

Great swaths of the narrative are delivered in the third person by the cast to the audience to fill in details of the story. Judicious cutting was in order. Some characters are florid. Some never know when to shut up.

There are side-long jokes to the audience about how long a show was that they saw, then a character says “but there are two intermissions” so it’s a little insider joke to the audience. (Each part of The Inheritance has two intermissions). It’s too cute and self-indulgent to be sure.

Do you need to have read “Howard’s End” to appreciate The Inheritance? You can always Google a precis of “Howard’s End” to find out what it’s about and read it later because it deserves to be read.

The Inheritance references gay issues, AIDS, the ghosts of those lost to the disease, relationships, politics and who did most to help during the epidemic. Playwright Matthew López does have a facility with language and at times you wonder “do people really talk in this heightened way?” But the cast is so accomplished that the words and thoughts go zinging through the air.

Comment. If ever there was a play that demanded absolute silence from an audience to appreciate it, The Inheritance is it.  What then to do with the annoyingly placed snap-fizz sounds of pop cans being opened in the theatre at the most inappropriate time and the crinkle crinkle of cellophane bags of popcorn into which noisy hands were plunged, followed by the chomping of the morsels. We aren’t at the movies, where the sound is amplified three times normal. Or a baseball game. As it was the cast is microphoned (alas projection) but boy did that cast have to act against all that noise.

Do ya think that if you didn’t allow food or drink (except water) in the theatre that people would stay away in droves? How does Young People’s Theatre manage to be firm with its young audiences—“no food or drink in the theatre except bottled water.” I have not witnessed any mutiny the many times I’ve been there. They are trying to set an example and create respectful audiences. But there is Canadian Stage among others, negating all that education, by selling noisy bagged food and canned pop that is allowed into the theatre, producing a cacophony that interrupts the play. Mind-boggling.  

Canadian Stage Company presents:

Plays until: Part I plays until April 13, 2024.

                     Part II plays until April 14, 2024.

Running time: 3 ½ hours each part (2 intermissions)


April 5 & 6.

Agrimony and Soft.   The program features two contemporary works from Canadian choreographers: the inquisitive and gentle exploration of authenticity in Agrimony from Canadian Métis dancer and choreographer Sophie Dow and an athletically-charged contemplation of the futility of modern-day life in Soft from Chimera Artistic Director Malgorzata Nowacka-May.  

Agrimony is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Dow and songwriter Laura Reznek, who will perform an original indie pop musical score live on stage. The work is an exploration of the masks we wear in life to shield us from life’s challenges and traumas, and features four dancers in intricately carved masks.   Named after the natural healing properties of the small yellow flower, agrimony, Dow’s choreography speaks to her own experiences overcoming personal challenges, including a series of traumatic brain injuries in 2016 that took many years to recover from, deeply impacting her sense of self and connection to loved ones.  

Nowacka-May’s Soft is a visionary work featuring eight dancers that explores the dissonance of life’s mundane, daily tasks and the raw, instinctual fear that holds us back from realizing our greatest potential.   Nowacka-May can speak to the many influences of this highly kinetic work: her fascination with the horror genre and its commentary on societal values, her exasperation with the mundanity of online life – filling out forms, changing passwords, neverending email inboxes – and the intense limits to which she pushes her dancers in preparation for her athletic dance works.  

April 18-20

Three of the World’s Best Choreographers On Stage
Harbourfront Centre, with the support of the Goethe-Institut Toronto and the German Federal Foreign Office, presents the work of three masters of choreography in a Canadian premiere of a striking mixed program of contemporary dance. Swan Lakes and Minus 16 mark the final show of our phenomenal contemporary dance series Torque.

Choreographer and artistic director of Gauthier Dance//Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart, Eric Gauthier, brings Hofesh Shechter and Marie Chouinard’s daring interpretations of the iconic ballet Swan Lake. This will be followed by a presentation of the theatrical cult classic Minus 16 from legendary choreographer Ohad Naharin. April 18–20.


March 27, 2024.

Not a rant, but some thoughts on Theatre Criticism:

There seems to be a lot of confused talk about theatre critics and theatre criticism lately, mostly by those who don’t actually know what the point and purpose is of theatre criticism. There is an effort to make it a ‘them (the artist) vs. us (the critics)’ situation, when in fact it is an us (both together) for the artform of ‘theatre.’  Let me try and help clarify what a review is; who it’s for; and why reviews are important, for those who are confused.  I’m only speaking for myself, as I always do.

I have some experience here for context: I studied theatre history and theatre criticism at York University in a four-year undergraduate honours program, History, Theory and Criticism of Theatre. The basis of the program was the European tradition of theatre, the roots in this case. And from that background one can broaden one’s focus. But also added to that basis were many courses of “Non-traditional Theatre”, which led to studying the Noh and Kabuki Theatre of Japan, which led to Chinese Opera, which lead to South Asian Theatre, puppetry and mask from Indonesia, works from South Africa and Kenya, which led to South America. European theatre was the beginning that led to other cultures.

I took theatre courses in other areas of theatre for a grounding: design, stage management work etc. No desire or talent in that. I learned in a high school production I can’t act. Don’t want to. Moving on. I took courses in other artforms for context (dance history in my case).  I was lucky to have such a wealth of available knowledge in my education. And I discovered my calling of theatre criticism when we had to write an analysis of a character in a play and what the set would look like, in second year. That was enough. I found my passion.

The beauty of a solid, broad-reaching theatre/life education is that we learn the basics of the craft and art, taught by caring, rigorous teachers who then challenge our ideas to see that they are well founded and supported. A critical or positive comment without example is just blather. Further to this comment, in my Theatre Criticism Course we had to write weekly reviews for marking and comment. I recall one in particular: I got the review back marked, with comments. Over the first four paragraphs my Theatre Criticism Professor wrote the word “drivel.” I remember blushing and being embarrassed at the comment. Then I took a breath and looked carefully at the four paragraphs to see what he was talking about. And he was right. It was drivel, self-indulgent, waffly and lacking in the proper rigor needed. Fortunately, I learned life skills to cope with criticism, harsh comments, and learn from it to be a better critic. Life skills—they are important to help one cope with life in all its variations.

I was smitten with the theatre at 12 and have been going steadily to the theatre ever since.  My reviews have been published in various publications since 1972. I did reviews on CBC Radio’s Here and Now for 10 years and since 2011 have done reviews weekly on, first for CIUT Friday Morning and now Critics Circle. I also publish my own theatre blog The Slotkin Letter that contains my reviews of what I see in Toronto, environs, New York, London, and elsewhere.  

I find that writing reviews is the best way of spreading my enthusiasm for theatre. It’s also the best way of informing the reader, and one hopes to create a better, more observant audience. A better, more discerning audience improves the artform.

What is a theatre review?

Ideally, the critic tries to move toward an objective, arm’s length evaluation about a piece of theatre that has affected the critic subjectively. Again, that objectivity should be based on their training and the nature of the work. We all have likes and dislikes. The trick is not to let personal feelings, friendships or animosity get in the way of being fair in the assessment. That’s what I mean by objective.  I review on the basis of merit, not taste. If I have a bias, I say so. How the play affected me emotionally is not what a rigorous review is about. I think of E.B. White’s wonderful poem “THE CRITIC” as the example:

                                    The Critic leaves at curtain fall

                                    To find in starting to review it,

                                    He scarcely saw the play at all

                                    For watching his reaction to it.


The opinions vary according to the critic’s background in the art of theatre, knowledge of theatre history, theory, life experience, theatre-going experience, education, gender, age etc. When watching the work, we try and figure out the intention of the playwright and director (putting ourselves in their shoes, but at a remove) and then assessing if it worked or not in terms of the play.

The opinion is based on sound background in the art of theatre and how to make an assessment about the work based on that background. And a critical assessment of the work is imperative in a review—I don’t mean the opinion has to be negative; I mean the work has to be assessed with rigor to come to an evaluation of the work.

We listen to the playwright tell their story from their point of view, their background etc., but we  hear the story from our point of view, how it references our background, no matter how different, how we apply their story to our experiences. That’s how so many different stories bridge the gap of our differences and join us in our similarities.

Mixed into this is education, life experience, ability to analyze and making comment about the positive aspects of the work followed by constructive suggestions on how to improve or make the work stronger, if necessary. These aren’t complaints, these should be sound constructive criticism. I see my role as telling the truth about the evaluation of the event in a fair-minded, respectful, entertaining way so that the quality, flavour, story, artistry and the many other elements of a show are conveyed to the reader. A review without rigor helps nobody.

The theatre has survived and thrived for 2500 years because of the rigor from the creators and the commentators. To do less and expect less is an invitation to mediocrity.

Involved initially is the story: what is the play about? This does not mean a whole repetition of the play’s events. It’s more a precis, first to get the reader to continue reading the review, but without giving any surprises away. Ideally the review should be the impetus to get the reader to buy a ticket to see the show for themselves, if they haven’t already seen it.

The review states where the play is in the context of the playwright’s work? How does the work reflect the world of the play and the world we live in? What’s the point of the play? Was it worth doing? All these assessments take time, rigor, education (in my case at least), frequent theatre going, and love of the form, endless love, even when disappointed and huge celebration when it’s terrific.

A review is a record of the theatrical event citing all the details of the play, performance and creative aspects of it. A heart emoji or the word “Awesome” on a tweet just doesn’t cover the attention a work of theatre deserves. People worked hard in creating the work. It deserves diligence and fairmindedness in the assessment. It’s possible to nurture the creators and still be constructively praising and critical.

Who is the review for?

It’s for the audience.

The audience—seemingly the most maligned, disparaged, disrespected, insulted, forgotten group in the theatre these days. Someone has to speak for them. For me, that’s the critic. As an example, the audience shows up ready to be attentive to the work and often an artist comes into the audience’s safe space without asking consent. Consent applies to the audience as much as it does to individuals in other instances.   

The review is not to explain the theory and analysis to the playwright, director or any of the creatives, of their story, ritual, ceremony, celebration, culture, ethnicity or any other thing that get confused in the review. It’s for the audience. That’s where the critic/reviewer is sitting, ‘imbedded’ if you will. And for me, sitting in the audience is the only place the critic should be imbedded. (If the critic is observing from anywhere else and close to the creative process of the playmakers for example, then it’s more like “in-bedded” or even “in-breded”). The critic conveys what it was/is like to be in the audience observing the play; to explain the meaning/point of the play from their point of view; who’s in it and how successful everybody was in their respective parts.

Understood, is that the review should serve the artform. Or at least should be understood, since so many seem to forget that.  

How to prepare.

Ideally the critic has the education of theatre history as background. I try and read the text of the play if it’s available. I research the playwright, director, history of the play, context, actors, and the theatre it’s in.

I’m finding that some companies want to ‘educate’ the critic by having us go to a lecture on the background of the play; the context of its creation; the story behind the creation; the culture of the playwright. This is very well intentioned and totally inappropriate, and a conflict of interest, to say the least.  In these instances, one is being told the intention of the creators instead of discovering them, without influence, on one’s own, by watching the play. If the play can’t convey all that was intended by the creators, then they have failed. If I can help it, I don’t go to talk-backs for the same reason (unless trapped in the row and the talk-back happens immediately after the show without letting people leave). The audience might want to know the creators/playwright’s/actors’ intention, but for the critic, that is the job of the play. And if I can’t figure out the intension of the playwright by watching the play, I should say so.

Advice from theatre makers:

When I was a student I interviewed actors/theatre makers etc. on their opinions of critics and criticism. It was a great education. Here are the questions and answers of Sada Thompson, theatre/tv actress, doing a show on tour at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in the 1970s. It still stands up after all these years.

  1. Do you read reviews?

“I do not read reviews when they first come out. Usually after the show closes. Tho I did read a good many on the road. I’m inclined to believe descriptions of what you do, how you look etc. make most actors self-conscious”.

  • Do you have a favourite critic?

“I have no favorite (She was American) contemporary critics—since I don’t know the bulk of any critic’s work—who is writing today. I love to read criticism of the past—Hazlitt, Shaw, Beerbohm, Stark Young, Agate, Henry James.”

  • What’s the critic’s purpose?

“The critic’s purpose generally is to encourage or discourage people about seeing a play or performance or both. But there are critics who not only discuss immediate impressions—but have a sense of where creative work stands in its own time and in relation to the past and to the future. Who know something about all the arts and can appreciate and discuss how they are used in theatre.”

  • What’s the critic’s responsibility?

“The responsibility of the critic is to tell the truth, to give the work they judge their full attention, to try to be fair as far and they are able, to ignore fashion. To have a love of the theatre and some vision about its possibilities. To find the art in themselves and not themselves in the art.”

  • Final words of advice.

Educate yourself. Read about and see as much theatre as you can. And if you get jaded by it all, quit.”

Sound advice to this day.

Happy World Theatre Day.


NOTE: Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.


Review: CLUE

by Lynn on March 25, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Grand Theatre, London, Ont. A co-production with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Playing until March 31, 2024.

Based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn

Written by Sandy Rustin

Additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price

Based on the Hasbro Board Game Clue

Original music by Michael Holland

Directed by Dennis Garnhum

Set and costumes by Brian Perchaluk

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Cast: Sharon Bajer

Petrina Bromley

Rosie Callaghan

Kamal Chioua

Beau Dixon

Alex Furber

Jesse Gervais

Toby Hughes

Reena Jolly

Tracy Penner

Derek Scott

Rosalie Tremblay

It’s a dark and stormy night in 1954, in Boddy Manor not too far from Washington, D.C.

Wadsworth (Jesse Gervais) the butler welcomes six strangers to the house: Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White, Colonel Mustard, Mr. Green, Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum. They are all being blackmailed and the person who invited them knows a dirty secret about each of them. Some appear to know some others or the staff of the manor. That too is a mystery. And then people begin to be murdered, in various ways, and in various rooms of the house.

Ah the house. Brian Perchaluk has designed a multi-roomed two story house that is so huge that it must fit on a revolve and turned in order to see the many and various rooms. There are secret nooks and crannies in the walls, the corners, the ceilings and elsewhere to hide the dastardly murderer.

Director Dennis Garnhum has a dandy bit of business at the beginning so that the audience can get the full measure of the house. Wadsworth, the deep voiced, smooth butler, played with elegant haughtiness by Jesse Gervais slowly leads the assembled guests from one room to the next, opening doors to each room, while the revolve turns slowly. No one speaks which would pull focus from the trick of the turning house to reveal it’s size. When the rooms have been revealed, then the talking begins.

They all have something to hide and do their best to hide it. Mrs. Peacock is flighty and ditsy as played by Sharon Bajer. Mrs. White is condescending as played by Petrina Bromley. Colonel Mustard is strapping but not too swift as played by Beau Dixon. Mr. Green is played by Toby Hughes as lively in an effort to cover up something he wants to hide. Miss Scarlet is strikingly sophisticated as played by Reena Jolly, and Professor Plum is played with understated composure and confidence by Derek Scott. Jesse Gervais as Wadsworth deserves special mention for a scene of extended milking that to say more would give away a surprise.

The clues come fast and furious.  The people are murdered at a startling rate. The house revolves. The delivery is deliberately declarative suggesting urgency or just an impish way of sending it up but still being serious. It’s funny and really well done.

 A co-production with the Grand Theatre and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Plays until March 31, 2024

Running time: 90 minutes.


Jordan Baker: Photo by John Lauener

Live and in person at Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Crow’s Theatre Presents the Goodman Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Vineyard Theatre Production: Plays until April 14, 2024.

NOTE: This is Crow’s presentation of the Broadway production, adapted for Toronto, based on the original design, completely built and installed by Crow’s Theatre.

Written by Lucas Hnath

Adapted from interviews with Dana Higginbotham

Conducted by Steve Cosson

Directed by Les Waters

Sound by Mikhail Fiksel

Set by Andrew Boyce

Costume by Janice Pytel

Lighting and Supertitle Design by Paul Toben

Illusion designer, Steve Cuiffo

Cast: Jordan Baker


Dana H follows the true story of Dana Higginbotham, a chaplain in a psychiatric ward who was abducted by one of her patients and held captive for five months in a series of motel rooms in Florida almost 30 years ago.

Over a series of recorded interviews with Dana Higginbotham conducted by Steve Cosson (a theatre director and writer), we learn that Dana Higginbotham, at various times in her practice, gave comfort to the dying in hospice care, also tended to their families, and worked in a psychiatric ward. She met Jim (we only know him by this name) when he was released from prison and didn’t have any place to stay so Dana Higginbotham and her then husband took him into their home over that Christmas. We learn he was a member of The Aryan Brotherhood which gives us an idea about Jim. Dana knew deep down that taking him in was not a wise thing, but still she did it because Jim was in need of shelter.

It was obvious he was not stable but Higginbotham knew how to deal with fragile-minded people, until he kidnapped her. It wasn’t to get money. There was no ransom. Jim was violent towards Dana H (as she is known in the play) at times, threatening with an attempt at kindness. He told her that many people were out there watching for him, so he was protecting her. When they were in public he usually had a concealed knife to her neck.

A few times they came to the attention of the police and Jim was charming there, managing to convince them that he was protecting the fragile-minded Dana. The police and Jim joked about it. Dana felt abandoned and isolated as a result. She could not trust the police. Nor did she really try and escape. In a way her relationship with Jim was a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome where a psychological bond forms between the hostage and the kidnapper.

You get the measure of Dana’s strength and resolve when she gives some biographical information about herself. She says that her mother was hateful. Her mother told Dana that she was evil from the age of three. How does one deal with that psychological abuse?

Playwright Lucas Hnath (Red Speedo, Hilary and Clinton, A Doll’s House, Part 2) is Dana Higginbotham’s son. He took the various transcripts of the interviews with Steve Cosson, and condensed them into the text of Dana H.

Here is the fascinating theatricality of it: it is both verbatim theatre, in which the actress (I’m using this word for clarity) playing Dana H uses the exact words, including the repetitions, coughs and little sighs of the recorded interview, and she is lip-synching to the actual voice of Dana Higginbotham on the recorded interview.    

Jordan Baker is the actress in this production. The set is of every cheap motel room anywhere. There is a comfortable chair center stage. When the production is about to begin Jordan Baker enters wearing black pants, a loose top, a long, red sweater-coat unbuttoned and stylish shoes. She sits in the chair. She is accompanied by a stage hand who hands her a microphone pack and earbuds. She puts the buds in her ears and the pack under the sweater and when she is settled, he leaves. She gives a nod to the stage manager that she is ready and the recording begins.

The voice we hear of Dana Higginbotham is clear, the diction is crisp, and the delivery is measured. Jordan Baker lip-synchs with exquisite precision. This is a performance in every way except vocally. She ‘mouths’ the words with facial expressions to suggest thought, consideration, reaction, and emotion. The laughs come naturally. Occasionally we hear the delicate clink of Dana H’s bracelets. In those instances, Jordan Baker adjusts the bracelets at the precise moment of the sound of the clinking. It’s a stunning achievement. A pinging sound separates segments of the recording, perhaps to alert the actress playing Dana H.

Initially one is struck by the precision of the melding of voice and the lip-synching of the mouthing and the emoting suggesting she is actually speaking. Then after a while the artifice disappears and you believe that that is Dana H up there, actually talking.

At one point the room is empty (was Dana H moved? We can imagine). A woman from stage management in a house-keeping uniform, enters the room with sheets etc. to clean the room. She takes off the bedspread, the white top sheet and then the bottom sheet. There is a large blotch of blood on the bottom sheet. The woman from house-keeping doesn’t flinch at the sight—but the audience would—and continues as if a bloody sheet is the norm for such a motel. It’s a stunning bit of ‘direction’ not to react. In a way it further isolates Dana H so that even with bloody sheets, no one would notice and alert the police.

Les Waters has directed this, as he did the Broadway production. The meticulous care of the various reactions, physicality, facial expressions, when to cross one’s legs or not, was handled with such attention it made this performance and production breathe with pulsing life.


Crow’s Theatre Presents the Goodman Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Vineyard Theatre Production.

Plays until April 14.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)


Live and in person at Theatre Orangeville, in Orangeville, Ont. Playing until March 24, 2024.

Written by Krista De Silva

Directed by David Nairn

Set designed by Beckie Morris

Lighting designed by Jeff Johnston Collins

Costumes designed by Alex Amini

Cast: Mark Crawford

Jane Spence

Daniela Vlaskalic

This is a world premiere of a what is billed as a ‘romantic comedy’, but that isn’t the half of it. It’s about hope, love, grieving, making your bed properly and getting out of your pajamas to face the world.

Madeline Holland (Daniela Vlaskalic) is still grieving three years after the death of her novelist husband, Rhys.

Her tough-talking sister-in-law Tammy (Jane Spence) does her best to rouse Madeine out of her lethargy without much success. Then Noah Boyd (Mark Crawford), a ghostwriter hired to complete Rhys’s unfinished novel, arrives from New York and things change.

Rhys wrote a successful series of fantasy novels and one of his fans was Noah, himself a novelist, albeit there has only been one novel. Rhys only left squiggled notes regarding his unfinished novel. Noah’s job is to first be able to read the notes and then put them together to sort out the novel. Madeline is not helpful at first, she’s too emotional in being reminded that Rhys isn’t there. But then things change, as they do, when attractive people are put in close proximity.

Noah is almost reverential when shown to Rhys’ office. Then becomes frustrated when Rhys’ writing seems to be more like hieroglyphs than writing. He is further frustrated when Madeline proves initially to be unhelpful.  

Beckie Morris has designed an efficient and homey kitchen/living-room. There is a couch where Madeline sleeps, or rather in which she falls asleep after a drink or two.  Just off that is Rhys’ properly messy office with a swivel chair, a desk and lots and lots of post-it-notes on a bulletin board, and the requisite number of piles of papers, the order and contents of which only the late Rhys would know about.

Alex Amini’s costumes are comfortable/casual for the three characters who dress for comfort and not to give an impression of anything other than who they are.

Playwright Kristen Da Silva has a lovely light touch with her dialogue and situations. She has a keen sense of comedy. Just the physicality of Madeline still being under the covers, fully dressed on the couch the next morning, is funny in itself. As played by Daniela Vlaskalic, Madeleine is groggy, annoyed at being disturbed by Tammy first thing in the morning, but is ready to defend herself.  

Tammy the sister-in-law is a devotee of motorcycles and rides one with lots of noise as she approaches Madeline’s house. Tammy owns a garage and knows her way around vehicles.  She is matter of fact in her language and outlook and as played by Jane Spence we get the sense of a woman who cares about her sister-in-law but will not let her off the hook in lounging all day. Both Daniela Vlaskalic and Jane Spence toss barbs at each other with ease and finesse so we get the measure of their linguistic abilities and their love and care for each other.

Mark Crawford as Noah brings his own expertise with humour. Initially Madeline believes that she is expecting a person who is renting a cottage on the property. She also knows that a writer is coming from New York. She mistakes this shy man who appears at the door for the renter and not the writer, until she learns that this man is both. The confusion in the identity is handled beautifully by the three accomplished actors. As the relationship between Noah and Madeline changes from frosty to warmer, Da Silva has a poignant bit of business regarding a stuck door and why Madeline is upset when Noah fixes it. This mixes the humour with the still credible mourning.

David Nairn directs the play with his own touches of humour and gentle pacing. The play zips along with these characters maneuvering their way around each other, getting the measure of each other.

By the Light of a Story is sweet, funny and poignant. Just right for the coming of spring/warmer weather/or whatever is thrown our way.

Theatre Orangeville Presents:

Runs until March 24, 2024

Running Time: 90 minutes.


Live and in person at the AKI Studio, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Good Old Neon playing until March 17, 2024.

Written by Alexander Offord

Directed by Nicole Wilson

Set by Kris Van Soelen & Nicole Wilson

Lighting by Connor Price-Kelleher

Sound by Alexander Offord

Cast: Allan Cooke

Hayden Finkelshtain

Nicole Wilson

The play Dead Elephants by Alexander Offord and produced by the always inventive Good Old Neon company, uses the metaphor of some notable elephants in history to reference grief, mourning, the death of a child, cruelty to animals, greed and our relationships to animals.

The central story is the silent 1903 film, Electrocuting an Elephant, in which Topsy the elephant was electrocuted because it crushed her circus handler. The circus owner decided to film the event and charge people to watch the electrocution.

There was much discussion between the circus owner and the humane electrician brought in to do the job—how many volts were needed; how long would it take to do the job?

There is the story of Jumbo the elephant that escaped from a circus in St. Thomas, Ont. and was hit by a train when the elephant stood on the tracks, unmoving.

At the heart of the play is a couple (Hayden Finkelshtain and Nicole Wilson) going through deep grief at the death of their infant daughter. It was caused by a home accident that haunts the wife more than the husband. He is distraught at his wife’s emotional withdrawal. She is crushed by grief. They both seek professional help separately, but communication seems impossible for them.

The metaphor of the deaths of the elephants noted in the play stand in for the death of the innocent infant. It’s a bold, if unwieldy literary device here. Playwright Alexander Offord even uses language of separation to describe how Topsy was separated as an ‘infant’ from its mother in Sri Lanka to be taken across the ocean to a circus. It conjures a moving image.

I have always found Nicole Wilson’s direction vivid and impressive—Frankenstein(esque) is a case in point. And while I found her directorial ideas in Dead Elephants also bold, I thought the staging and many of the set pieces unwieldy, where more economy was needed.

Kris Van Soelen and Nicole Wilson designed huge moveable structures supporting a desk and chair for the circus owner to do business; another large structure with bales of hay; others that represented a train. The AKI Studio is large and it looked unwieldy to push and maneuver these structures around the set.

A ‘pigeon’ (Allan Cooke) stares us down as we enter the studio—he wears a helmet with a beak, eyes on the sides, an intriguing costume, and he coos and makes pigeon noises in appropriate places. The ‘pigeon’ also moves set pieces on and off and tends to props. We learn late in the play the significance of the pigeon to the story.

Hayden Finkelshtain plays many parts from an electrician to a vaudevillian in a pink sequined jacket to the grieving father. Nicole Wilson also plays the cigar smoking, arrogant circus owner, a vaudevillian in a pink sequined jacket that partners the other vaudevillian and the emotionally distraught wife and grieving mother.

The most effective scenes are between Hayden Finkelshtain and Nicole Wilson as the grieving parents. It’s raw, angry, angst-ridden and heartbreaking. The production is huge in implication, metaphor and all manner of indications of larger issues. I just don’t know why so much effort seems to have been taken when more clarity and less ‘stuff’ is in order. And while Alexander Offord’s script also has huge implications, I got the feeling that it was overwritten with repetition. Again, less is best.

Experimentation in the theatre is great when trying to create a meaningful play. I also think that clarity is a good thing too. I thought Dead Elephants suffered from too much metaphor and not enough clarity.

Good Old Neon presents:

Plays until March 17, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the CAA Theatre, Toronto, Ont. David Mirvish presents the Neptune Theatre production. Plays until April 6, 2024.

Written by Tom Stoppard

Directed by Jeremy Webb

Set by Andrew Cull

Costumes by Kaelen MacDonald

Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy

Sound design and composition, Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Mallory Amirault

Helen Belay

Michael Blake

Walter Borden

Billy Boyd

Drew Douris-O-Hara

Raquel Duffy

Pasha Ebrahimi

Jonathan Ellul

Santiago Guzman

Dominic Monoghan

Jacob Sampson

Erin Tancock

A play about identity, fitting in, being aware, beautifully acted and directed. Tom Stoppard at his imaginative, creative, impish best, (until he topped himself with the next play).

The Story. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters who are there for comic relief mainly because no one can tell them apart. They aren’t twins. They are merely indistinguishable as personalities. They are there also to act as a means of accompanying Hamlet to English on behalf of Claudius, to be presented to the British court. They bear a letter for the court which then requests that Hamlet be killed. When Hamlet finds out he secretly takes the letter and replaces it with his own ordering the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead.

In Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, the mistaken identity is played up even further, with Stoppard having both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern questioning their own identity, in which they are not sure which of them is which. This being Stoppard there are liberal sprinklings of philosophy, history, language, linguistics, psychology, musings on chance, coincidence, lashings of Waiting for Godot and a backdrop of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for context.

The Production. At the beginning of the production, Rosencrantz (Dominic Monaghan) and Guildenstern (Billy Boyd) are playing a game of flipping a coin and seeing how many “heads” Rosencrantz can score and how many” tails” Guildenstern can score. The person who calls and gets ‘heads’ keeps the coin. So far Rosencrantz has about 92 ‘heads’ (and coins in his pouch) and Guildenstern has none. This gives Guildenstern the occasion to muse on chance, coincidence philosophy and all manner of minutiae as he waits to score ‘tails’.

As Guildenstern, Billy Boyd never seems surprised or frustrated by the constant revelation that it’s ‘heads.’ Rather, he is patient, composed and willing to flip again. At the same time, Rosencrantz, an equally calm, but not as philosophical as his partner, just keeps calling ‘heads’, and putting the coin in his pouch. As played by Dominic Monoghan Rosencrantz is not emotionally involved. It seems an inevitability he would have 92 ‘heads.’

As both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play the game, muse, philosophize and flip the coins, I got the sense of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot Vladimir and Estragon musing, philosophizing and talking to pass the time as they waited for Godot to arrive. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern talk to pass the time as they wait for a ‘tails.’

Director, Jeremy Webb has created a bracing, lively, nuanced production in which the dense philosophical questions float in the air and don’t bog down the proceedings. Kaelen MacDonald has designed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s costumes with wit. Rosencrantz has a full ruff around his neck and wears a blue suit/costume with a dark green vest and Guildenstern wears a ruff that is open at the neck and a dark green suit/costume that is a bit different from his partner,  with a dark blue vest. Clever.

Andrew Cull’s set of two large moveable bleachers keeps the swirl of activity going. At times Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sit on the bleachers while the rest of the characters move them around. They are of the action but apart from it.

Both Dominic Monoghan as Rosencrantz and Billy Boyd as a Guildenstern are wonderful. They bounce the lively dialogue off each other like ping-pong champs. Much has been made of their great friendship off stage as a reason for their wonderful rapport. I think it’s more fundamental than that—they are fine actors. Monoghan illuminate an innocence of Rosencrantz. He is in a heady world and has no clue about it. He looks around as if he is lost, but sweet about it. Guildenstern is the philosopher and Billy Boyd plays him with care and attention to the thoughts as the dialogue winds and winds around the idea of it always being heads with nary a tails in sight. Both characters engage with innocent curiosity with the world-weary players, headed by a confident Michael Blake as The Player. The players play rings around the two innocents. The humour in Stoppard’ script dances, it’s in such good hands.  

Comment. This production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is lively, funny, deeply thought and worth a visit to the CAA to see it.

David Mirvish presents the Neptune Theatre’s Production:

Plays until April 6, 2024.

Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes (2 intermissions)