Hi All

Further to my shameless plea for donations to the fundraising for CIUT.FM for the week of Nov. 14-20, and in particular CRITICS CIRCLE just click

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Hi Folks,

It’s that fund-raising time again for CIUT fm. From November 14-20, 2022.

This is my shameless plea to donate to keep the only independent radio station going and to give you radio that covers the arts, unlike any other outlet. The mainstream media has drastically cut down its arts coverage, not CIUT FM.

There are four mainstream daily newspapers that covered theatre regularly. Now there is only one.

On my show, CRITICS CIRCLE  on Saturday mornings 9 am to 10 am (formerly CIUT FRIDAY MORNING,) 89.5 fm we do theatre and film reviews every week, plus interviews. I review theatre around the city and the province. I have supported and championed the marginalized voices through their plays for decades.  For me, theatre is vital in reflecting the world we live in. 

CIUT 89.5 fm gives voice to those who need to be heard.  Our shows are all volunteer. Please go to https://ciut.fm and donate—noting CRITICS CIRCLE– so we can continue to provide needed arts coverage.

Added Bonus: The wonderful Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company at the Meridian Centre in North York is offering TWO tickets to the opening night, Nov. 17, to OLD STOCK: A Refugee Love Story, to the first person who donates $250, noting CRITICS CIRCLE in our fundraising. The show is wonderful. Please donate. Thanks.

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Live and in person at Hart House Theatre, from the Howland Company and Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Until Nov. 12.

www.harthousetheatre.ca

Adapted and directed by Paolo Santalucia

After Anton Chekhov

Set and costumes by Nancy Anne Perrin

Lighting by Christian Horoszcak

Sound by Andy Trithardt

Cast: Ruth Goodwin

Steven Hao

Kya Harper

Christine Horne

Cameron Laurie

Dan Mousseau

Robert Persichini

Hallie Seline

Maher Sinno

Shauna Thompson

Caroline Toal

Ben Yoganathan

Ethan Zuchkan

A fully committed, well-intentioned attempt at adapting Chekhov’s Three Sisters that unfortunately misses.

The Story. With a classic as well known as Chekhov’s Three Sisters one should talk about the original story in order to reference the updated adaptation. So—we are in a small garrison town. Three sisters—Irina (the youngest), Masha (the middle one) and Olga (the oldest) are celebrating Irina’s ‘name day’. They came there from Moscow 11 years before, when their military father was stationed there with his brigade. Since then the sisters yearn to return to Moscow and even more so since their father passed away one year before. The sisters remember Moscow as vibrant, exciting and there was plenty to occupy them. This little town is not vibrant, exciting and there is little to do except to entertain the soldiers waiting for action. Even the weather is better in Moscow.

Irina is the one who pines the most for Moscow. She is loved by Tuzenbach, a sweet but uninspiring man. Solyony also loves Irina in a rather morose way and considers Tuzenbach to be his rival.

Masha is married to Kulygin and she is unhappy. Kulygin is devoted to Masha but he bores her. But then Masha meets Alexander Vershinin, an officer in the military and there is an attraction and they fall in love. Vershinin is unhappily married as well to a mentally fragile wife.  Olga is a hard-working school teacher who hopes she is up for a promotion to run the school. Andrei is the sisters’ awkward brother. He loves Natasha, an equally awkward woman, whom he eventually marries. Andrei begins to gamble and jeopardizes the sisters’ house. There are others in that household but that gives the background.

Paolo Santalucia, the adapter and director of this production updated the play. While he says in his program note that his version of Three Sisters is not a metaphor for the pandemic of the last two and a half years, that closed theatres, the pandemic certainly informed his adaptation. He yearn to go back to the theatre just as the three sisters yearned to go back Moscow. That is a fair comparison—a pandemic prevented Santalucia from going into a theatre and the sisters were bound by family obligations to follow their father to this small town. But societal realities for the three sisters’ yearning and Santalucia’s yearning couldn’t be more different. One might ask, what is preventing the sisters from returning to Moscow now that their father is dead? While the pandemic closed theatres, theatre work continued in other forms. Santalucia is a resourceful artist—finding another way of doing theatre is a viable option for him. In his update Santalucia had the sisters pining to return to ‘the city’ without naming it. That clouds the issue of their longing. Where did they want to return to? We are never told. Chekhov was specific. Santalucia removes the specificity and lessens the idea of yearning to return.

In his version Santalucia changed the gender of Alexander Vershinin from a man to a woman who is now known as Alex Vershinin, a woman and officer stationed in the town with a husband and young daughter. Alex Vershinin still falls in love with Masha and she with Vershinin. For the most part Paolo Santalucia follows the story of Chekhov’s play. Whether it still works as a play ‘after Chekhov’ is another matter.

The Production. Set and costume designer Nancy Anne Perrin has created a set of the sisters’ house that is on two levels. The upper area is the dinning room where a large dining room table is located. Two characters casually dressed are playing a card game I believe. It’s difficult to tell because the table is so high up and at the back of the set, we can’t see properly. A bit of a miss-step there. There are references to flowers in the text but one is hard-pressed to find them on this set.

On the lower level, characters sit in chairs or lay on a couch. Masha (Caroline Toal) lays on the couch trying to read while all sorts of talking goes on. She fidgets and shifts around with agitated movements, indicating her displeasure at the noise.  Irina, a buoyant Shauna Thompson, is celebrating her birthday and is happy about that, but thinks back to Moscow and how she misses it. As Olga, Hallie Seline is the hardworking teacher who frets about getting promoted to head mistress of her school.

Nancy Anne Perrin also designed the costumes and they are appropriate to the times for the most part. However, the costumes for Natasha (Ruth Goodwin) are eye-brow-knitting. Natasha is Andrei’s bumbling, inappropriate girlfriend and later wife. She is initially garish, gauche and out of place. Her costume for her first entrance is none of these things. The colours are just bright. If they aren’t garish then Natasha’s transformation from this awkward woman to one who is imperious and more stylish just falls flat and that’s what happens here. Ruth Goodwin as Natasha is certainly formidable when she marries Andrei and takes the place of the head of that household, but the costumes have to do their part too to help create this monster of a woman.  

The Hart House Theatre is an unforgiving barn of a place when it comes to acoustics. Being heard is a challenge if one is inexperienced in working in such a sound-sucking room. So, after trying to make out what some actors are saying, it is a pleasure when Robert Persichini as Ivan (Chebutykin) a doctor arrives. Persichini’s voice carries effortlessly to the rafters and back. Ivan is one morose man, who has lost his zeal for tending to the sick (not the first time one hears of such a character in Chekhov). Persichini loves the sisters because he secretly loved their mother. He observes those there and sees the folly of their ways, but is sad about it all.

When Alex Vershinin (Christine Horne) arrives to pay her respects to Irina on her birthday, she meets Masha. The attraction should be instantaneous and I didn’t get that sense between Christine Horne as Alex and Caroline Toal as Masha. I found the gender switching of Alex from a man to a woman to be arbitrary, even though our world is becoming more aware of gender fluidity. And I didn’t get the sense of helpless, passionate love between the two of them. Alex saying she loved Masha is in the text but the words are not established by performances that set up this relationship.

Similarly, the rivalry between Tuzenbach (a courtly Cameron Laurie) and Val (Solyony) played with understatement by Maher Sinno. I thought Val could have been more substantially written to give the character more presence.

Theo (Kulygin) is Masha’s devoted, awkward husband. Colin Doyle usually plays him but he was out sick on the opening. Dan Mousseau is the alternate for this role and he is arresting. This is a performance of size, detail, wonderful awkwardness but sweetness and you couldn’t stop watching him because Mousseau is that good in the part.

As Anfisa, the aged maid/nanny etc. who has been with the family since the sisters were children, Kyra Harper is fragile-minded because the character is 80+. She is fretful because she is forgetful and feels she will lose her job. It’s a performance of real sadness and Kyra Harper gives a lovely performance of a woman terrified of this new matriarch (Natasha) and fears the sisters will not be able to save her.  

Comment. I can appreciate the intention of rethinking and modernizing Chekhov’s Three Sisters and I was glad of many of the performances. But the reality is that this production of Three Sisters missed making its points.

The Howland Company and Hart House Theatre present:

Closes Nov. 12.

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

www.harthousetheatre.ca

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Live and in person at the Young Center for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont. until Nov. 20, 2022.

www.soulpepper.ca

Created by: Divine Brown

Frank Cox-O’Connell

Beau Dixon

Raha Javanfar

Travis Knights

Andrew Penner

Mike Ross

Sarah Wilson

Written by Sarah Wilson

Directed by Frank Cox-O’Connell

Music Director, Mike Ross

Lighting Designer, Simon Rossiter

Sound Designer, Andres Castillo-Smith

Video Designer, Frank Donato

Performers: Divine Brown

Beau Dixon

Erin James

Raha Javanfar

Travis Knights

Erika Nielsen

Amanda Penner

Andrew Penner

Mike Ross

More than “just” a concert. It’s an evening full of exquisite artistry from a group of musicians with music pouring out of their fingertips. It’s a stunning, smart, thoughtful show.

The Golden Record is a kind of time capsule of music, sounds, images and photos that was sent into space on The Voyager space ship in 1977, in case extraterrestrials found it and wanted to know what life was like on earth. The Voyager space ship was sent into space to gather information about space to send back to earth. I do love that arrogance—that the extraterrestrials would need to be told about life on earth. Carl Sagan, the astronomy, and a committee decided what music, sounds, of animals and birds etc. would go into space. All the music, sounds etc. were put on a record called the Golden Record including a small record player and instructions in how to play the music etc.

The stage is full of music stands, instruments, a record player down stage, a back drop on which video images and photos will be projected and something that looked like a drawing which turned out to be the instructions for the small record player.

The ensemble enters through Simon Rossiter’s hazy, white light, gets into position and begins a raucous version of “Starman” by David Bowie, thus establishing the tone, vibrancy and punching energy of the evening. Hang on to your arm rests.

Mike Ross, the estimable music director of the ensemble, often acts as the narrator, giving the audience the information, background, history etc. that would go with the music. The evening is not an exact replaying of what was on the record. Sometimes they included their own selections. The cast of nine singers/dancer/musicians led by Mike Ross do give the music their own spin. But they also offer commentary—perceptive, thoughtful and often quietly blistering. For example, the ensemble is multi-racial and multi-cultural. They have great fun noting that Carl Sagan and his small committee were all white and would look at music etc. from a white perspective. So, when the Sagan Committee chose a song by Louis Armstrong for inclusion, the ensemble noted it was a boring rendition of the song, without a trace of the Louis Armstrong voice. So, the ensemble corrected that mis-step and picked “Saint Louis Blues” to sing that did show Armstrong’s raw, growly style.

Often the performers mix pieces of music together; for example Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier: Prelude in C” played on the piano by Beau Dixon while Mike Ross sings the Neil Young song “After the Gold Rush”. The combination is startling and beautiful.

Music from Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”), Igor Stravinsky (“The Rite of Spring, Part II-The Sacrifice”) and Beethoven (“Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67) are melded and it is glorious. “Bad Moon Rising” from Creedence Clearwater Revival was played with “Men’s  House Song” a traditional song from Northern New Guinea. This eclectic melding of music from different time periods, countries, and ethnicities makes you listen to the music and appreciate it in an entirely different way.

Nothing is ordinary when Beau Dixon and Mike Ross are involved. They both perform “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, Billy Rose) on one piano, either standing or kneeling. They shift places at the keyboard, intertwine arms to play and even bodies.

Dancer Travis Knights provides his voice through movement and tap dancing. His dancing coupled with Divine Brown’s singing of the traditional song, “Sinnerman” are eloquent, heartfelt and breathtaking. It is life and death in song and movement. Bring Kleenex.

The Golden Record will change the way you listen to music, songs, dance and how you see the world. Every single person involved is an artist of the first order. You don’t see quality like this often so rush to see this to fill your heart and soul.   

Soulpepper Theatre Company presents:

Plays until: Nov. 20.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

www.soulpepper.ca

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Review: THE WALTZ

by Lynn on November 10, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. until Nov. 13.

www.factorytheatre.ca

Written by Marie Beath Badian

Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

Choreography by Andrea Mapili

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Ericka Leobrera

Anthony Perpuse

Sweet but slight.

NOTE: This is the second part of what will be a trilogy of plays. The first play in the series was Prairie Nurse. It’s about the playwright’s mother who came from the Philippines to Saskatchewan to work as a nurse. The Waltz takes place about 20 years later.

The Story. The Waltz is about the possibility of love at first sight, and other things. It’s about a meeting and perhaps blossoming relationship between Romeo Alvarez and Bea Klassen. Romeo is the son of one of the Philippine nurses who came to work in Saskatchewan. He’s on his way from Toronto to British Columbia to go to university. He promised his mother he would stop in Saskatchewan and say hello to a man she knew years before.

Romeo wrote to the man and the man wrote back inviting Romeo to drop by on his journey to the University of British Columbia. Romeo didn’t count on being met by Bea Klassen, also of Philippine descent, who greeted him with a cross-bow. (!) Bea was prickly to be sure, suspicious and rather dangerous. Romeo had to quickly explain his reason for being there and produced the letter from his mother’s friend. Bea was still suspicious and gave Romeo hard time about why he was there, what he wanted etc.

That doesn’t sound like love at first sight. It’s the dance and hoops that Bea is making Romeo go through. It turns out that the man Romeo is there to see is a close friend of Bea’s family. She considers him almost an uncle and she comes from the city of Saskatoon to this cottage in the country to gather her thoughts.  She loves the quiet and isolation of the place and she feels at peace there. So with all Bea’s prickly, combative banter towards Romeo he replies as quickly as she challenges him. Over time she relaxes and begins to trust him. They share the same ethnic background and have similar background stories. We glean that Bea had been bullied at school and so had to develop a thick skin. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imagine she was bullied because she was from a different ethnic background from those in Saskatoon.

Romeo’s parents argued all the time and he could hardly wait to leave Toronto and go across the country to school and be on his own.  Over the time Romeo is there with Bea, we see that both young people are dutiful to their families—after all Romeo made this great detour on his way to BC to say hello to his mother’s friend. They are proud of their Philippine background, even the few words of Tagalog that they know. The Waltzis a celebration of the Philippine culture, from the various dialects, to the food to the customs etc. Over time it’s revealed that Romeo taught dance back in Toronto, such as the waltz and he shows Bea some of his moves, not in a seductive way, but in a winning her over way. 

The Production. The Waltz deals with ‘love at first sight’ with great caution and perhaps a bit of an edge. It’s a gentle, blossoming, tender story. I found it sweet but slight. We’ve seen shows like this before: prickly person, unsettles the other person who persists in being polite, but matching the prickly banter. Eventually there is a breaking down of the barriers.

The problem I have with The Waltz is that so much of the dialogue seems clever for its own sake. It’s like watching two people spinning their wheels in an argument that is going nowhere. And then for no reason Bea changes course from being cool and challenging, to softening and being funny and agreeable. I found the change in her attitude so quick; I could not see anything in the dialogue that would lead to such a change in attitude, except that if Bea didn’t change, we’d still be there listening to both of them spinning their wheels.

I found the two actors: Erika Leobrera as Bea Klassen and Anthony Perpuse as Romeo Alvarez to be charming, personable and right into the quick timing of the back-and-forth banter.

Nina Lee Aquino directed this with efficiency, but I think she had to do a lot of theatrical stuff because of the slight script. For example, Romeo makes his first entrance from the back of the audience carrying all his luggage, duffel bag and boombox—at least 6 bags/suitcases and that boom box—he was taking to BC. Initially it’s an hilarious image in a mean way, seeing Romeo struggling with all that stuff out of the car and hauling it to the porch of the cottage. My question is WHY?  Who empties his car of the luggage he is bringing for the year to go to university, before he even meets the guy who invited him? Makes no sense.

Jackie Chau has designed a substantial set of the porch of the cottage complete with swing handing down from the top of the porch it seems. The swing is used only twice as I recall, by Bea who only sits on the swing. Why have it at all if it’s not going to be used.

Glad of the acting, but The Waltz is still a slight play and a touch frustrating.

Factory Theatre Presents:

Plays until: Nov. 13, 2022.

Running Time: 90 minutes, (no intermission)

www.factorytheatre.ca

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Live and in person at the Grand Theatre, London, Ont. Closed Nov. 5.

Again, time got away from me so this is a comment on the show.

Written by Trina Davies

Directed by Jillian Keiley

Music director, composer and pianist, Allen Cole

Choreographer, Genny Sermonia

Set by Shawn Kerwin

Costumes by Joseph Abetria

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Richard Feren

Tap Dance Choreographer, Andrew Prashad

Cast: Tess Benger

Jesse Gervais

Cyrus Lane

Katelyn Mcculloch

Christian Murray

Andrew Prashad

Jan Alexandra Smith

Tahirih Vejdani

Anthony Raymond Yu

The disappearance of Ambrose Small, a large presence in Canadian theatre, has lots of facts but little substance in solving the mystery. And presenting this as a vaudeville show is eye-brow-knitting.

The Story. Ambrose Small was a successful theatre entrepreneur. He owned several theatres in Ontario, but on Dec. 2, 1919 he disappeared never to be seen again. He was known to disappear frequently to womanize. But this time there was no trace of him for weeks. His wife Theresa Small offered an award if he was found alive and a lesser award if he was found dead. He had a mistress. Did they run off together? Was there foul play? Questions remain over 100 years after his disappearance.  Some have seen his ghost in the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., one of his holdings. I guess that’s an added bonus since the Grand Theater commissioned Trina Davies to write the play.

The Production. In her program note director Jillian Keiley wrote that because Ambrose Small loved Vaudeville the production is presented as a vaudeville entertainment. I describe that decision as “eye-brow-knitting” because it diminishes the seriousness of the story of the disappearance of this notable theatre mogul. With the accomplished cast deliberately sending up their performances—Jesse Gervais as Ambrose Small deliberately over-plays everything except wink at the audience. Andrew Prashad is the tap-dancing Emcee, which he performs effortlessly. Again, one has to ask, why tap-dancing? Cyrus Lane as Jack is a commanding presence; Tess Benger as Clara is captivating; Jan Alexandra Smith plays Theresa Small with authority, and as I said, the whole cast was fine.

Allen Cole wrote the music, was the musical director and provided the piano accompaniment. Because the piano was microphoned and the cast wore head microphones, there was so much amplification it was hard to hear what the cast were singing. Attention to the balance of the sound would have been helpful.

Trina Davies certainly did a lot of research into Ambrose Small’s life—both private, public and theatrical. Did Small plan on selling his theatres and running off with his mistress Clara with the money? Act I ended with Ambrose disappearing. Act II was taken up with the many and various possible scenarios of what could have happened to Ambrose Small—all of them inconclusive since he was never found.

Comment. While I appreciated the talent involved in this enterprise, I found Grand Ghosts frustrating from the vaudeville performance style that diminished the weight of the story to the inconclusiveness of what actually happened to Ambrose Small. It seemed like a lot of fuss for little return.

The Grand Theatre Presents:

Closed: Nov. 5.

Running time: two hours, 1 intermission.

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Live and in person. produced by Crow’s Theatre and Modern Times Stage Company, at the Streetcar Crow’s Nest, Dundas and Carlaw, Toronto, Ont. Until Nov. 6.

www.crowstheatre.com

Apologies, time got away from me and so this is a comment (the play has closed) and not a review.

Written by Rajiv Joseph

Directed by Rouvan Silogix

Set, props and lighting by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Mina Wong

 Sound by John Gzowski

Cast: Christopher Allen

Andrew Chown

Mahsa Ershadifar

Sara Jaffri

Ali Kazmi

Ahmed Moneka

Kristen Thomson

Director Rouvan Silogix’s bold production of this bracing play presses you to the wall and leaves you breathless.

The Story. Baghdad, Iraq. 2003. The American military has invaded Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction. They find a Bengal Tiger in a cage in the Baghdad zoo. One soldier named Tom finds/steals the gold pistol and gold toilet seat of Uday Hussein, late son of Saddam Hussein. He mentions this to his agitated but dim friend Kev. Tom taunts the Tiger in the cage and the Tiger bites off one of Tom’s hands. The Tiger is killed but its spirit roams the landscape observing the folly of what is going on in Baghdad. Tom is treated for his wounds. His friend Kev is unsettled and agitated in this strange land where the invading forces don’t know the customs, people, language or even how to properly pronounce the place they are occupying—Kev pronounces it Eye-rak, with a long “I” instead of a short “I”. In the heightened anxiety of the place various things happen: the Tiger roams the city and comments on the goings on; Tom returns from recovering sporting an artificial hand. He wants his gun and toilet seat back; Musa a translator for the Americans and the former gardener for the now dead Uday Hussein is haunted by the memory of what Uday did to his younger sister; Kev is killed in the desert and his spirit returns to converse with Tom but this time Kev is intelligent, conversant in Arabic and calmly philosophical. There are various Iraqi characters who remain calm for the most part when faced with the American soldiers.

Rajiv Joseph has written an esoteric, existential play about philosophy, communication, mysticism, the search for purpose, revenge and a bit of peace.  

The Production. Director Rouvan Silogix has directed an exhilarating production that is stark as well as beautiful, beautifully staged and almost choreographed in its elegance. He has captured the rawness and heightened fear of war, certainly with the constant agitation of Kev (Christopher Allen and Tom (Andrew Chown). Both actors yell often but I can contend with that—it’s war, the have no idea where the enemy will come from. Calmness is not their forte. In contrast to them is Kristen Thomson as the Tiger, resigned, frustrated, musing philosophy and a fascinating presence. Musa, (Ahmed Moneka) the gardener/translator is haunted by the death of his sister, wanting revenge on the dead Uday (a vibrant, arrogant Ali Kazmi)  to the point that he imagines him alive and confronts him. Uday taunts him relentlessly.

Playwright Rajiv Joseph has created the atmosphere of foreboding in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and director Rouvan Silogix has ramped it up. Lorenzo Savoini’s elegant set of Persian rugs and the showers of coned haunting light set the mood. John Gzowski’s evocative sound scape of explosive war surrounded us in the room, creating no place to hide. Actors created that sense of intense fear and dread about what the next minute would bring. Terrific production.

Crow’s Theatre and Modern Times Stage Company present:

Played until Nov. 6.

Running Time: 2 hours (plus one intermission).

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Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space until Nov. 6, 2022.

www.tarragontheatre.com

Written and directed by Yolanda Bonnell

Set by Rebecca Vandevelde

Costumes by Julia Surich

Lighting by Echo Zhou

Sound by Miquelon Rodriguez

Cast: Shandra Spears Bombay

Samantha Brown

Theresa Cutknife

Nicole Joy-Fraser

Ange Loft

Monique Mojica

Pesch Nepoose

Tyler J Sloane

The Story. My Sister’s Rage is by Yolanda Bonnell who also directed it. It’s about family grief, generational trauma and coping with death from an Indigenous point of view. And while it is decidedly serious, it’s also funny.

A family of three sisters and their children are standing vigil over their matriarch who is in a coma in the hospital. The mother’s condition fluctuates from improving etc. to failing all while in a coma. And of course, this situation brings out the feelings, animosity and hidden truths of all involved.

The sisters: Sandra, Olivia and Renna have not seen each other for a long time. Sandra and Renna moved away to the city to get on with their lives. Olivia has stayed on the reserve, working in the Band Office and taking care of their mother. Sandra and Renna do not seem to have kept in touch with Olivia. So when they are summoned to come back because their mother is in a coma, there is an initial coolness between them when they meet, until they have it out with each other. 

In the case of Sandra, there is an added sorrow because years before her daughter disappeared and was latter found dead in a river. Foul play was evident but the police did not investigate the case.  Sandra never got over it and began drinking and didn’t stop, even when she came back to see her sick mother. There is a kind of reckoning there, initially with her children telling her that they feel forgotten by her and her drinking. And then Olivia tells Sandra the blunt truth about her drinking and it has to stop and she must face the truth that her daughter has died and she has two other children who need her.

Sandra’s two remaining children, Valerie and Tash, feel lost and resentful because they don’t feel that Sandra actually ‘sees’ them.  She is so mired in her own sorrow, she can’t see her two other children have suffered too.

Olivia has one daughter, Laney who has to deal with her mother’s anger at being the one who stayed behind and took care of her sick mother. Laney has to cope with her own mother’s residual resentment and frustration, while also fretting about her grandmother.

Renna’s daughter Stephie was not only the cousin of the dead girl but also they were best friends. There are a lot of wounded people in this play who all seem isolated in their own grief because their mothers are not giving them the comfort and support they need. The cousins in fact seem to bond better than the sisters do, although the cousins have some prickly moments.

It’s not a spoiler alert that eventually the mother dies and there is a kind of cleansing of old wounds of the sisters and cousins in the traditional burial and celebration of the mother/grandmother.

The Production. Yolanda Bonnell knows and says that in grief, humour is a healer. And her play is often funny because of irreverent things that the characters say to each other.  But Bonnell has also written a character named Wanda (Monique Mojica ) who is a constant presence. Wanda is a witness to the anger, frustration and grief of the characters as well as a person who watches over them, trying to pass on comfort. At times she might seem like a trickster—a magical presence in Indigenous culture, a presence who might shift and manipulate the proceedings. Wanda is comic relief. She tells jokes that are corny, sometimes scatological sometimes hilarious. We know her purpose and buy into her efforts. Also present is the sound of a symbolic crow, overseeing the proceedings. Kudos to Miquelon Rodriquez’s sound, Rebecca Vandevelde’s multi-leveled set and Julia Surich’s costumes.

Playwright/director Yolanda Bonnell has the sisters individually talk to their comatose mother, thus revealing their concerns, personalities and character. And she gradually reveals the many and various animosities that have consumed these sisters for so long.  Every family has gone through this. I don’t think it’s a cliché, but just something that’s familiar.

Yolanda Bonnell also directs her own show. A playwright directing their own work always gives me pause or concerns. After all who will tell the playwright that they should cut their play or tighten scenes, if not the director? Who will tell the director that perhaps they are getting too fussy in the direction, if not a playwright perhaps. But since she’s both the playwright and director, the stuff needing attention is not getting it.

While I appreciated Yolanda Bonnell’s work as a playwright, the play often takes too long to set up stories. There are eight characters and all of them have their own story. Perhaps judicious trimming is in order.

We have to take on faith that Sandra (Shandra Spears Bombay) would stop drinking, get herself out of her depression over her dead child and embrace her other children because she finally saw the light after Olivia (Nicole Joy-Fraser) told her the painful truth. She was confronted by her children, Tash (Tyler J Sloane) and Valerie (Samantha Brown) over this issue, but it didn’t result in change—only when her sister confronted her did it work.

As for the direction, the pace could be tightened. The character of Wanda who provides comic relief initially seems laboured in the joke telling. Although Monique Mojica as Wanda is charming and irreverent, she seems to be directed to deliberately draw out the jokes. I think this defeats the purpose of getting a laugh.

The script and the characters are funny on their own. And sometimes a simple door sticking provides a lot of laughs when a character swears that yet again, the door sticks.

Aside from my concerns of the play needing trimming, pacing and some direction, I thought the acting was fine. As Olivia, Nicole Joy-Fraser is consumed with frustration and anger at her situation. Her movements are quick, her voice is brusque and direct. And there is s grinding despair about the character, but Nicole Joy-Fraser fills her character with determination and resolve.

As Sandra, Shandra Spears Bombay is trying to drown her sorrows in liquor and casual sexual encounters. It’s a performance full of irreverence that hides the sorrow and need to forget. Sandra is feisty and combative when faced with the truth, but it eventually brings her around. As I said, the acting of the whole company is fine.

Comment. While the play is centred in Indigenous culture, it is also applicable to other cultures as well.The best way to make a universal statement is to be very focused and specific.So while we are looking at an Indigenous family grieve such applications apply to probably all cultures. There is the Irish wake that is a bust-up party to celebrate the dearly departed. There is the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva for the departed when family and friends are welcome to come and tell stories and reminisce with the grieving family, and I’m sure other cultures have something similar to remember the dead and comfort the living.

I thought it interesting that the title suggests that it’s one sister’s rage—as in ‘s and not s’. Yolanda Bonnell makes us ponder just what sister is she talking about? And who is doing the observing—who is taking when she says, “My Sister’s Rage?”  Bonnell has interesting things to say about grief, trauma, and families from an Indigenous point of view, but with clear universal applications.

Tarragon Theatre, in association with Studio 180 Theatre and TO Live Present:

Plays until: Nov. 6, 2022.

www.tarragontheatre.com

Available for viewing on demand anytime from Nov 16 at 8pm until Dec 11 2022 at 11:59PM.

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Live and in person produced by B & E Theatre in association with The Church of the Holy Trinity, Eaton Centre, Toronto, Ont. Runs until November 13, 2022.

https://bnetheatre.online.red61.ca

Written by John Patrick Shanley

Directed by Stewart Arnott

Costumes by Lara Berry

Lighting by Gareth Crew

Sound by Stewart Arnott, Jack Considine, & J. D. Smith

Cast: Brian Bisson

Deborah Drakeford

Emma Nelles

Kim Nelson

A dandy production of a bracing play that challenges us to confront our doubts.

The Story. It’s 1964, the Bronx in New York City. The assassination of President Kennedy shook the population, made them unsteady in what they believed in. Sister Aloysius is the principal of her Catholic school. She is a watchful, perceptive, stern, pragmatic administrator. She knows all the tricks of every prankster-child in the school. She knows that when a kid has to go home with a bloody nose, he gave himself the injury by shoving a ballpoint pen up his nostril. Sister Aloysius wants to ban ballpoint pens and restrict the kids to using fountain pens. She believes in formality, order and procedure in all things. She is suspicious of unusual behavior.

She is suspicious of Father Flynn, a popular parish priest who teaches sports at the school. She believes that Father Flynn is doing something improper with a young Black boy named Donald Muller at the school. She asks a young teacher in the school, Sister James, if she has seen anything improper regarding Father Flynn. She asks Sister James to be vigilant and report anything odd that she sees. Sister James says that she has not seen anything suspicious but then remembers that she thought she smelled liquor on Donald’s breath.

Sister Aloysius confronts Father Flynn. He denies anything happening between him and the boy. He says he caught Donald drinking the altar wine but chose to keep it quiet because if the news got out Donald would lose his position as an altar boy. Now that Sister Aloysius knows, the boy must lose his position. Sister Aloysius is not convinced by this story. She speaks to the boy’s mother in her office. Mrs. Muller wants to ignore the possibility that the priest is showing special attention to her son for whatever reason because the boy has such a hard time at home. His father beats him if he does anything wrong; if he is not the boy he expects him to be, and certainly if he lost his position as an altar boy. Mrs. Muller is trying to protect her son at all cost. Mrs. Muller wants to forget the matter until June when Donald will graduate to high school.

Sister Aloysius is shaken by this encounter but does not push her agenda here. Instead, she is relentless with Father Flynn, whom she confronts with her suspicions. “You have no proof,” he cries. “But I have my certainty,” she hisses. An answer that is a gut-punch, no matter where our doubt is about the truth.

The Production. The production takes place in The Church of the Holy Trinity. (a quibble…the echo is sometimes a problem, so we just listen harder). It’s billed as an immersive production, but that isn’t quite accurate, even though Father Flynn (a thoughtful, low-key Brian Bisson) enters from the back of the Church to the front to begin his sermon, thus making it seem as if he is preaching to us, his congregation. But for the rest of the production, the action is performed on the raised ‘stage’, clearly separated from the audience.

Sister Aloysius (Deborah Drakeford) enters her office through a doorway up centre. She sits at her desk and methodically checks work. As Deborah Drakeford plays her, Sister Aloysius is straight-backed, upright with just a touch of rigidity. Her hands are almost always clasped in front of her. She summons Sister James (Emma Nelles) to her office to comment on her enthusiasm for her students and her subjects—Sister Aloysius is not happy about that enthusiasm. She prefers a more controlled demeanor—perhaps like herself. While Sister James is concerned for the health and welfare of the student with a nose bleed, Sister Aloysius is more suspicious, knowing that the student caused the nose bleed by shoving a ballpoint pen up his nose.

Sister James likes and admires Father Flynn for his position in the Church and for his rapport with his students. But Sister Aloysius puts a note of doubt in Sister James’ mind when she is asked if Sister James is aware of any odd behaviour with Donald Muller and Father Flynn. Sister James’ trust and belief in people and the system are compromised, put into doubt when Sister Aloysius asks her to be watchful. As Sister James, Emma Nelles gives sensitive, initially buoyant performance of a young nun embracing her calling. She loves teaching and passing on that enthusiasm to her students. But under Sister Aloysius’ scrutiny you can see the enthusiasm slowly seep away and doubt take its place.

Sister Aloysius invites Mrs. Muller to come and discuss the situation with her son Donald. It’s only one scene, but Kim Nelson as Mrs. Muller squeezes every second of humanity, concern, trepidation, confliction and capitulation out of that scene. Kim Nelson gives a powerful performance in that one scene. Mrs. Muller is perfectly turned out in Lara Berry’s costume of a skirt, top, coat shoes and cotton gloves. She holds a handbag in front of her with both hands, but those cotton gloves just finished the look and squeezed my heart at the same time. As Mrs. Muller says, she has been ‘summoned’ to the ‘principal’s office’ to discuss her son, and she is going to be dressed perfectly for a kind of protection for this situation. Kim Nelson carries Mrs. Muller’s home-life-baggage through the door of that office. It’s in her face and body language. She knows her son and loves him no matter what. She knows her husband beats the boy for any transgression and she will do anything to protect him. So she tells Sister Aloysius that if Father Flynn is the only friend and protector her boy has then she will look the other way and ignore Sister Aloysius’ concerns. It’s a formidable performance against the formidable performance of Deborah Drakeford.

This is not to say that Sister Aloysius is a total harridan. Absolutely not true. Deborah Drakeford as Sister Aloysius illuminates a woman who has known loss and sorrow. She has found solace and order in the Church. In her own way she knows what is going on in that school and knows every single student and their individuality. She knows that someone will eventually hit Donald Muller. She is aware of the angry, racist world in which they all live. Sister Aloysius cares deeply for everybody in her charge. She just shows it in a contained, objective way. She is determined to keep everybody safe in that school and that means going after anyone who might do harm, in this case Father Flynn.

As played by Brian Bisson, Father Flynn is personable, affable and a winning teacher who charms his students as a basketball coach and their priest. He urges the students to do their best in basketball practice and then invites them for cookies in the rectory. This is a quiet, playful performance by Brian Bisson when interacting with the students. But Bisson becomes combative when up against the suspicions of Sister Aloysius. He invokes procedure when dealing with her suspicions. She is not above using trickery.

Who is telling the truth. The beauty of the play and the production, under Stewart Arnott’s careful direction, is that we are always in doubt. Stewart Arnott establishes the relationships in a nuanced, subtle way. Scenes build steadily and are subtly compelling until we can’t move for looking and being caught up in the high stakes of the arguments.

Even in the last scene with Sister Aloysius and Sister James, there is doubt, but it has shifted craftily by the playwright, leaving us all to think, wonder and contemplate what we believe, think and are not sure about.   

Comment. As Father Flynn says in the first lines: “What do you do when you are not sure?” John Patrick Shanley has created a crackly good play that has us question for the whole of the play, what we are looking at. Is Father Flynn innocent? Is Sister Aloysius guilty of being a vigilante without proof? Where are our sympathies? Where is our doubt? Terrific play and gripping production.

B & E In association with The Church of the Holy Trinity presents:

Runs until: November 13, 2022.

Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (one intermission)

https://bnetheatre.online.red61.ca

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Live and in person at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, Ont. until November 5, 2022.

www.theatreaquarius.org

Written by Marcia Johnson

Directed by Esie Mensah

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Tim Rodrigues

Sound by Christopher Stanton

Cast: Percy Anane-Dwumfour

Kevin Hare

Kaylee Harwood

Germaine Konji

Keren Roberts

A wonderfully clear production thanks to director Esie Mensah and her dandy cast.

The Story. The story takes place in two time periods in two places: 1952 in Kenya and in 2015 in London, England. In 1952 in Kenya, Mercy a restaurant owner, is hired to cook for the impending visit of Princess Elizabeth (soon to be Queen) and the Duke of Edinburgh.  

 In 2015, in London, England, Tia a young Kenyan-born Canadian, is working as an intern on a TV drama series about the British royal family (think The Crown) – while also pursuing a writing project of her own.

In both the 1952 section and the 2015 section the story initially is being told and managed by white voices to the exclusion of black voices. And then Mercy in Kenya in 1952 and Tia in London in 2015 decide to correct the exclusion. The play explores questions of colonialism, nationalism and who gets to have a voice.

The Production. I find the structure of Marcia Johnson’s play problematic. Each scene bounces back and forth between 1952 and 2015. The two previous productions I’ve seen over the last few years have done little to clarify the situation, with many shiftings of tables and chairs to establish the different time periods and scene locations. I have often thought that projections indicating the year and location would help but these weren’t used in the two previous productions. Esie Mensah, a wonderful dancer, choreographer and now director has solved this problem efficiently, simply and with great detail, even without the time/place projections.

Designer, Jackie Chau has created distinct spaces on the stage for each time period and country. The scenes in Kenya in 1952 are placed stage right. The entrance to Mercy’s restaurant is up centre through parting double doors over which is an arch. A simple table and chairs are a bit stage right. There is a vibrant table cloth with a bold design covering the table. Later when the action shifts to the lodge in Kenya where Princess Elizabeth (Kaylee Harwood) and the Duke of Edinburgh will stay for their visit, there is a long table and chairs again with a table covering. There is a stairway with a bold pattern on the rise of the stairs in the Kenya scenes also stage right. The London scenes are placed stage left with a desk, some chairs and another staircase with another pattern, rather somber and a bit ponderous. That said “London, 2015” to me.

Jackie Chau’s costumes for each time period and country are just as distinctive. The clothes for Mercy (Keren Roberts) and Faith (Germaine Konji) are traditional for Kenya, the colours and patterns are very vivid and arresting. Talbot (Kevin Hare), the Princess’ envoy is dressed in a prime suit and tie. The clothes for Tia (Germaine Konji) and Robin (Kaylee Harwood) in London are casual. Great care went into the choosing of the fabrics, design and table coverings to appear as authentic to Kenya in particularly as possible.

By establishing distinct areas for the two time periods and locations, director Esie Mensah cut down on the need to shift the furniture to many and various locations as each scene moved from time period and back and from Kenya to London.

The acting was fine and Mensah established the relationships nicely. As Mercy, Keren Roberts plays her with all the bubbling rage that consumes Mercy. She is an anti-monarchist. She remembers the damage the colonials have done to her country. She protested years before. She has no love for the English and certainly not the royals. Keren Roberts as Mercy is staunchly proud of her country. When she has an opportunity to voice her opinion to the Royals, she takes it, never flinching or standing on ceremony. This Mercy commands respect.  

Faith is a calming soul between her mother Mercy and the rest of the world. As played by Germaine Konji, Faith is a confident woman with a softness and a diplomacy that is effective and soothing. Faith reads the world better than Mercy does. Diplomacy seems to be in her bones. She gets things done without fuss.

Kaylee Harwood as Robin is a very contemporary English woman in London, 2015, comfortable in her world and confident. As Princess Elizabeth in 1952 Kenya, Kaylee Harwood is poised, controlled and obviously following the demanding protocol of a Princess. Kevin Hare as Talbot is proper, efficient and exceedingly polite. What I thought was strange about this otherwise fine performance is that Kevin Hare did not play Talbot with an English accent, and Talbot would surely be English since he was the envoy of the Princess. As Maurice, English writer of the series on the Royals, Kevin Hare is contemporary and does play him with an English accent.

Finally, Percy Anane-Dwumfour as Montague in Kenya in 1952 and Steven in London in 2015 plays both men well, differentiating their demeanor, posture and composure.  

Comment. Playwright, Marcia Johnson wrote Serving Elizabeth after she saw the episode in the T.V. series The Crown in which Princess Elizabeth went to Kenya in 1952, interacted with several Black people and precious few of them actually had speaking parts. Marcia Johnson corrected that lapse by writing Serving Elizabeth in which the Black characters have plenty to say and in their confident way they say it and are heard. In the London, 2015 scenes, Tia is aware of this lapse when she reads the script for the T.V. series that Maurice is writing about the Royal Family (hence we assume The Crown) and sees that he has given practically no dialogue to Black characters, so she decides to write her own script. The whole idea of “who gets to have a voice” is examined in Serving Elizabeth. Director Esie Mensah ensures that that voice is clear, strong and commanding in her meticulous direction.

Theatre Aquarius presents:

Plays until: November 5, 2022.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (1 intermission)

www.theatreaquarius.org

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