Live and in person at the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Playing until Oct. 1, 2023.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Peter Pasyk

Set by Julie Fox

Costumes by Sim Suzer

Lighting by Arun Srinivasan

Composer and sound design, by Thomas Ryder Payne

Fight director, Geoff Scovell

Choreographer, Stephen Cota

Cast: Elizabeth Adams

Hilary Adams

Celia Aloma

Cristo Graham

Jordin Hall

Matthew Kabwe

Wahsonti:io Kirby

Qianna MacGilchrist

Chris Mejaki

Chanakya Mukherjee

Tyler Rive

Andrew Robinson

Tyrone Savage

Michael Spencer-Davis

Jane Spidell

Amaka Umeh

Hannah Wigglesworth

A stylish production envisioned by director, Peter Pasyk, in which a group of aristocratic young men vow to live to learn without distraction (without women) for three years, until they meet a group of equally aristocratic young women, who charm them.

The Story. King Ferdinand of the Kingdom of Navarre and his three companions: Longaville, Dumaine and Berowne, make a pact to remain celibate and study for three years.  There are other conditions to which King Ferdinand has his colleague agree, pertaining to how many times they may eat per day (once) and how much/little sleep they will have. To strengthen his pact, King Ferdinand decrees that no woman shall lodge within one mile of his court for the three years.

He seems to have forgotten that the Princess of France and her three ladies-in-waiting; Rosaline, Maria and Katharine are scheduled to arrive on diplomatic business on behalf of the King of France. Fortunately, Berowne is in the know (he’s the smartest (sort of) of the lot of men and knows the women are expected. He also offers logical opposition to the stringent conditions of the three years.

Matters of celibacy and scholarly study go out the window when the men see the women and their resolve dissolves. The men can’t tell each other, to save face, so they each conspire to privately write to the woman who has charmed him. The ‘situation comedy’ ramps up when a hapless messenger delivers the wrong letter to the wrong woman.

The aristocratic women have their own plans to get even with these fellows. There are also common folk who are smitten and they have their own ways of dealing with the pangs of love.

Love’s Labours Lost is a comedy with serious notes and lots of wisdom, from the women. The women tap dance rings around the men for smarts and offer a reasoned solution to these guys. One wonders if they will be wise enough to take up the challenge.   

The Production and Comment. Director Peter Pasyk, set designer Julie Fox and costume designer Sim Suzer have created a modern world of money and privilege. From the precisely shaped topiary and curved manicured lawn it looks like the leaves and grass were cut by nail scissors and not gardening shears for that perfect look. We get the sense of the size of the King of Navarre’s manor house by the huge wood doors and the two ‘impressive’ moose heads on either side of the door.

Ferdinand The King of Navarre (Jordin Hall) and his three friends: Berowne (Tyrone Savage), Dumaine (Chanakya Mukherjee) and Longaville (Chris Mejaki), gather for Ferdinand’s press conference announcement of their plans for the next three years. The men are beautifully dressed in Sim Suzer’s pastel-colour-coordinated, beautifully tailored casual suits. Every word Ferdinand says in his speech announcing his plans, is videoed as is his ‘argument’ with Berowne over the onerous conditions of the three years. As is the penchant for our world, it seems every minute of every day is recorded for posterity, only Ferdinand has servants for that.

The announcement done, Ferdinand provides ‘simple’ clothes to his colleagues and himself for their three years of simple living: it’s an ensemble of white pants, a white top, a white robe and sandals. The clothes look to be silk. I love the wit and impishness of Sim Suzer’s costumes.

When the Princess of France (Celia Aloma) arrives with her ladies-in-waiting: Rosaline (Amaka Umeh), Maria (Qianna MacGilchrist) and Katharine (Elizabeth Adams) they too make a statement about their privilege and status. They are dressed from top to toe in designer clothes and carry designer ‘bags.’  They are assisted by Boyet (Steve Ross) the Princess of France’s officious and proper majordomo.    

The women all move with that exaggerated body language that shrieks confidence and attention being paid. When Ferdinand and his colleagues are introduced to the delegation from France, the men don’t have a chance. They are totally smitten and their commitment to their oath to Ferdinand dissolves.

Love seems to have aroused the hormones of many others on Ferdinand’s estate. Don Armado (a preening Gordon S. Miller), in a chic track suit that looks like fitted pajamas, long, flappable hair, and a wonderful Spanish accent that plays fast and loose with pronouncing ‘s’ with a ‘th’, sometimes, is in love with Jaquenetta (Hannah Wigglesworth), a lusty young woman in the household. He sends her a soppy letter that is delivered to the wrong person as well.

Costard (wonderfully played by Wahsontí:io Kirby) is a grounds person who is dexterous and suggestive with a leaf blower, when in close proximity to Jaquenetta. Costard is attracted to Jaquenetta as is Don Armado. Overseeing this is mayhem is Dull who is more taciturn than dull (Jane Spidell) and Moth played with great irreverence by Christo Graham.

There to instruct the ‘scholars’ are two pedants, Holofernes (Michael Spenser-Davis) and Nathaniel (Matthew Kabwe) who attempt to one-up each other in Greek, Latin, and obscure English. They don’t appear to be in love with anyone except their own intellect.

Director Peter Pasyk has a lively sense of fun, if a bit predictable–Costard’s wayward leaf blower. Love’s Labors Lost is a great opportunity for those in the Birmingham Conservatory of the Stratford Festival, to step forward into leading roles and flex their acting muscles. Many in the cast have been trained over the years in the Conservatory. Peter Pasyk has a sensitive but firm hand in guiding his cast of young actors. And while the acting abilities are a bit uneven across the board, they are all committed.

As Ferdinand the King of France, Jordin Hall is stately, determined that his extreme idea of study for three years will succeed, and instantly thwarted when he sees the Princess of France. Both Tyrone Savage as Berowne and Amaka Umeh as Rosaline have gone from strength to strength over the years. The interplay between Berowne and Rosaline is like watching championship tennis between equals. They lob quips, volley and slam shots to make points. It’s always with the intention of illuminating their characters. Tyrone Savage and Amaka Umeh are two actors who are always compelling. As Moth, Christo Graham is irreverent to be sure, as he observes the goings on there but there is also a layer of watchful observation that goes deeper. Nothing surprises this character which makes him even funnier.

Once again, Shakespeare writes women characters who dance rings around the men for smarts, wisdom, common sense, wit, whimsy and in the end, maturity. The play is bracing and funny. For the most part, the production rises to the occasion.     

The Stratford Festival Presents:

Runs until: Oct. 1, 2023

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (approx.) (no intermission)


Heads up for the week of Sept. 11-17, 2023.


Sept. 8 – Oct. 1, 2023

At the Studio Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Peter Pasyk

A group of courtly men swear to dedicate their lives to scholarly pursuits. Then a group of charming women change their minds, sort of.


Sept. 12-Oct. 1. 2023

At the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, Dundas and Carlaw.

By Michael Healey

How Google tried to buy Toronto and failed.


Sept. 12-16.

At Trinity St. Paul’s

Composed by Spy Dénommé-Welch and Catherine Magowan

This intercultural production showcases the rich talents of four Indigenous singers and an ensemble of five historical instruments


Sept. 13-Oct. 7, 2023.

Written by Ahmed Moneka and Nicky Lawrence

Staged at Fort York National Historic Site, Spaciousness is a compelling new theatrical experience. Be transported to the past to encounter a multitude of characters who bring to life expansive stories of love, life, and loss during the War of 1812. Then be brought back to present day with a story of surviving conflict that encourages us towards peace.

Traverse the grounds of Fort York and meet a cast of characters while travelling from one historic building to another, becoming immersed in stories of life during wartime.

Spaciousness poses vital questions about conflict and peace while focusing on lives lived through war and histories traditionally obscured from this time and place.


Sept. 14-16, 2023

At the Stratford-Perth Museum, Stratford, Ont.

By Booth Savage.

A love story for two actors.


Sept. 15-23, 2023.

Written by Madeleine Brown

Peterborough Alternative and Continuing Education, 201 McDonnel St., Peterborough, Ont.

Presented by Theatre Direct.

Inspired by real-life student activism, Give ‘em Hell is a new play that retells the final school year leading up to the 2012 closure of Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School (PCVS).

Theatre Direct is organizing a Toronto – Peterborough return shuttle for this performance. Please e-mail for pricing and to register. Limited spots available.



by Lynn on September 10, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Stratford Perth Museum, produced by Here for Now Theatre,  Stratford, Ont. Playing until Sept. 23, 2023.

Written by Judith Thompson

Directed by Murdoch Schon

Set by Bonnie Deakin

Costumes by Barbara Kozicki Beall

Cast: Clare Coulter

Allegra Fulton

Caroline Gillis

Michael Neale


Cait Watson

A senior in a nursing home imagines herself as a Warrior Queen, proving that old age is not for sissies. A world premiere from Judith Thompson in a production worthy of celebration.

The Story. Mrs. Nurmi is a bitter, old woman, living in a run down, shabby nursing home in Cornwall, Ont. Almost no one visits. One day her beloved grandson Jake comes with a great idea for a podcast series on the stars. All he needs is the money and he wants Mrs. Nurmi to provide it. Mrs. Nurmi is also estranged from her daughter (Jake’s mother) and we learn why eventually. When Mrs. Nurmi has to face these obstacles, she conjures her alter-ego, Queen Maeve, a warrior Irish queen who led her troupes 3000 years ago.

The Production. Director Murdoch Schon’s production is suffused with care. The audience sits under a tent and one side is open to the fields in the distance. Bonnie Deakin’s set of Mrs. Nurmi’s modest room has a comfortable easy chair with well-worn pillows, a set of drawers and other bits. To the far stage left side is a covered stump, a standing microphone and various musical instruments, especially penny whistles and a variation of a flute. This is where musician Cait Watson sits quietly creating beautiful, ethereal, Irish-sounding music for the show. She wears a costume that looks like it’s from another time; robes over robes. It can reference those times when Mrs. Nurmi becomes Queen Maeve, ready to wreak havoc, but accompanied by lilting Irish music and various sound effects. When she isn’t playing the music, Cait Watson watches the scene attentively, and of course so do we.

Mrs. Nurmi (Clare Coulter) sits in her easy chair. She wears a nightgown and pajama bottoms. Siobhan (Caroline Gillis) her Personal Service Worker, (dressed in functional pants and a top) slowly cleans the floor with a large mop. The strokes are methodical and thorough. She does not rush this job. It’s important for Siobhan to take care.

When she leaves, Mrs. Nurmi played by the fearless Clare Coulter, rises and stands center and discourses on her world, how she found herself in Cornwall, of all places, the shabbiness of the nursing home, her loneliness, her beloved grandson, her estranged daughter, getting older. It’s a performance by Clare Coulter, this towering presence in Canadian theatre, that is quirky, knowing, ferocious, prescient and so full of detail that one thinks to one’s self “God, I’ve missed seeing you on a stage.” And the same can be said of the playwright, Judith Thompson. The dialogue dances and trips off the tongue. It’s poetic, literate, and conjures a woman of intelligence and imagination.

Mrs. Nurmi’s beloved grandson, Jake (Michael Neale), arrives (we see him walking outside the tent making his way inside), bearing a bouquet of flowers. He’s just travelled far from Sudbury to Cornwall, by bus, just to see her. She is delighted. So is he. She wants to know all about how he’s kept himself. Here Clare Coulter’s face crinkles in a smile. She is exuberant and totally loving to Jake.  Michael Neale as Jake is a bit awkward yet lively, buoyant it seems. He’s been fine but has had some bad luck. He’s got a great idea for a podcase series on the stars—he’s always loved the stars. It’s just that he needs money for the technical side and hopes that his grandmother will provide it.

In a flash, Clare Coulter’s loving Mrs. Nurmi disappeared. The face sagged; the eyes peered. Suspicion entered the room. Jake pleaded in desperation. Mrs. Nurmi knew the money would be used for drugs and she promised his counsellor she would not give him money. And then from nowhere Mrs. Nurmi had a huge sword in her hand. She was transported back 3000 years. She spoke Irish? Perhaps intoning a spell. She swung the sword overhead and Jake fell to the ground.  Clare Coulter as Mrs. Nurmi says with regret that she killed her grandson. “Figuratively.”

Mrs. Nurmi conjures her Queen Maeve when she is triggered—either challenged, lied to, tricked etc. Her daughter Georgia (Allegra Fulton) comes to visit to commiserate about her son Jake. Georgia is estranged from Mrs. Nurmi because of past behaviour both to her mother and her son. Mrs. Nurmi can’t forgive her. Georgia is an artist. She is beautifully dressed, as if she’s trying to impress her mother. Allegra Fulton as Georgia is dramatic, emotional guild-ridden, and defensive about her past behaviour. Trying to get her mother to see her point of view is impossible.

This too conjures Queen Maeve and her impressive sword to wreak vengeance on those who have disappointed her. Mrs Nurmi lives a life of solitude because she has chased everybody away, except Siobhan (Caroline Gillis), the Personal Service Worker. As Siobhan, Caroline Gillis offers Mrs. Nurmi kindness mixed with firmness. While Mrs. Nurmi is obstreperous and doesn’t want to wash or clean up, Siobhan firmly but kindly convinces her this is good for her and finally Mrs. Nurmi agrees.

The synopsis of Judith Thompson’s play (in the programme) suggests that the play asks if forgiveness is impossible; will we know when we need to make amends? Is it ever too late to find true empowerment? There are no pat answers in Judith Thompson’s play. Mrs. Nurmi is a tough old woman who never gives an inch with her two relatives. And they have their own issues. Jake is an addict who we know little about except that he has issues with his divorced parents and perhaps that’s a reason he took drugs. Gloria, again a wonderfully regretful performance as played by Allegra Fulton, is guilt ridden by her behavior towards her son and is full of remorse about what happened to him. Mrs. Nurmi doesn’t seem to have any regret about her behaviour. If she feels she was a bad mother, she never says it to the person who needed to hear it—her daughter. If she feels regret, remorse or guilt for her behaviour to anyone, she doesn’t tell them directly—just to the air in her solitary room. Does that count? I don’t think so. This is not a neat ending. But it’s a true ending.  

Comment. Queen Maeve is a bristling play by Judith Thompson, one of our leading playwrights. It has at its center Clare Coulter as Mrs. Nurmi, alias Queen Maeve. Two perfect reasons to take a trip to Stratford to see Here for Now Theatre’s production of this bracing production.

Here for Now Theatre presents:

Opened: Sept. 9, 2023

Closes: Sept. 23, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission).


Marti Maraden: Photo by Ann Baggley

Marti Maraden was an oasis of calm. Soft-spoken, impish-grinning, gentle-hugging. No matter the aggravations you had in your day—difficult people, disappointments, challenges—Marti would meet you at her front door with a smile and a hug and the aggravation would slip away.

Her house was not only pristine and neat, it exuded warmth and calm, like its owner. Light poured in through the curtains.  The house was filled with mementos, pictures of family and friends, books (lots of Shakespeare), a piano, all perfectly placed. (It made me want to tidy when I got home, such was Marti’s effect). There were pots of flowers and herbs on the back deck. There was always tea, cookies and conversation. Marti listened intently, offering carefully thought-out comments and advice. I never heard her raise her voice on stage or in person. And it speaks to her effect on people, that I doubt anyone would be loud in her presence.

She was an extraordinary actress, director, artistic director, mentor and cherished friend. She could charm the most obstreperous and prickly people and win them over. They would be friends for life.  

In one of the many, many tributes about Marti, Ric Waugh said, “She was softness and light with a spine of steel.” All three descriptors were present in her wonderful work as an actress and director. I was fortunate over the years to see so much of her work in both capacities: an ethereal Juliet, a luminous Ophelia and Irina, this last in the legendary production of Three Sisters with Maggie Smith and Martha Henry. Marti did stunning work at the Shaw Festival. And on and on.

Marti’s was a career of ‘firsts’. Marti became one of a very few women (Diana Leblanc, Martha Henry) making a living as a director. She was the first ever, and still only, woman Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival.  

When Marti began directing she found a new way to blossom. This is when her ‘spine of steel’ came in. She dug deep into every production to realize the playwright’s intention. She faced the challenges of each production head on. She directed probably the best production of The Merchant of Venice I have ever seen, with Douglas Rain as Shylock and Susan Coyne as Portia. It shimmered with dignity, heartache and when you least expected it, compassion.

I gladly drove to Ottawa to see her productions when she became Artistic Director of English Theatre of the National Arts Centre (1997-2006). I was particularly impressed with her production of After the Orchard by Jason Sherman—a reworking of The Cherry Orchard transplanted to Ontario, where a Jewish family debates what to do with a cherished family cottage. If ever there was a play I want to see again, it’s this one, all because of Marti’s sensitive direction.

I gladly went to Chicago when she directed for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Marti directed several productions for Drayton Entertainment. Sweet and challenging productions such as On Golden Pond, Driving Miss Daisy and The Odd Couple. Then she blew us away with the angry muscularity of A Few Good Men and Twelve Angry Men.

It’s important that actors and theatre creators respect the director. In Marti’s case, they also adored her. From all the tributes that have poured in from actors and colleagues. it’s clear they would all swim through oceans of gore rather than disappoint her if they didn’t give 110% to the work.

Marti and I had a ‘short-hand’ routine. As many of you may know, I give out Tootsie Pops to theatre creators to say ‘thank you for making the theatre so special for me.’ After one of her openings, I would approach Marti, ‘Tootsie’ firmly in hand. She would approach me, smiling, eying the Tootsie, her eyes gleaming and say, “Do I deserve one of these?” and then just as firmly pull it out of my hand, laughing.

Marti took ill while visiting family in Sweden. She was taken to hospital where she had surgery. Marti was intensely private. The small group of friends responsible for providing information about her situation was aware and respectful of that. A site was established to provide information. The last notice, announced the unthinkable:

“Our beloved Marti died early this morning (August 31). After her surgery, she developed organ failure and intensive care efforts were not successful. She didn’t regain consciousness. Her cousin has said: ‘She had a calm last night and slept until the end. We will always remember Marti with joy and lots of good times together.’

With her bright smile and twinkling eyes, Marti has made each of us feel special and treasured. Please reach out to each other to share support and love as we all face this profound loss of Marti.” That last line says everything about her effect on us all. We carry it forward.

But I’m still heartbroken at the loss of this glorious friend.

All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust. – J.M.Barrie, Peter Pan



Live and in person at the Festival Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Playing until Oct. 28, 2023.

Lucy Peacock as Germaine Lauzon. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

Written by Michel Tremblay

Translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco

Directed by Esther Jun

Set by Joanna Yu

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Composer and sound designer, Maddie Bautista

Cast: Bola Aiyeola

Akosua Amo-Adem

Joelle Crichton

Allison Edwards-Crewe

Ijeoma Emesowum

Diana Leblanc

Jane Luk

Seana McKenna

Marissa Orjalo

Lucy Peacock

Irene Poole

Jamillah Ross

Tara Sky

Shannon Taylor

Jennifer Villaverde

Michel Tremblay’s wild ride of a play that still has resonance today with many shining performances.

The Story. Germaine Lauzon is a working-class Montreal housewife who has just won a million Gold Star stamps from a local grocery store. In order to trade those stamps for goods/furniture/appliances, she has to paste the stamps in booklets. She decides to have a stamp pasting party and invites her sister Rose, her daughter Linda and her friends in the apartment building. There will be 15 women in all (including Germaine).

Germaine gleefully tells those in attendance what she will buy with the stamps—she will redecorate the whole apartment. The women react to this news seething with anger and jealousy in varying degrees. Over the evening they individually vent about their disappointment in life and then they get even with Germaine.

In typical Michel Tremblay fashion, he does not judge his beloved characters. The play is bitter-sweet and hilarious.

The Production. Playwright Michel Tremblay wrote and set Les Belles-Soeurs in Montreal in 1965, during ‘the Quiet Revolution’, which changed the course of Quebec and was anything but quiet. The translation by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco captured the language (joual) and tone of the times and that place. From the distance of 1965 to 2023 to some the play might seem dated. How? It’s about 1965 and informed that time. We see echoes of it in our world. That’s the beauty of theatre, to transcend time. And how many of us can name anybody as a neighbour, let alone 14 people? Different times but not dated.  

Michel Tremblay grew up in a crowded house of women—five women raised him. So, when he began writing he knew instinctively how to write for and about women. He wrote about the strong hold of the Catholic Church on family life at the time; the dominance of men over the women in the home; the demand for sex as a marital right; the grinding effect of poverty on the working class; the bitterness of disappointment. And through it all he found humour that made one laugh out loud.

Joanne Yu’s set of Germaine Lauzon’s apartment is homey, perhaps a bit shabby and well worn. We get a sense of the apartment building where Germaine lives with her family, by the line of laundry drying strung along the top of the stage. As per a line in the play, there is no underwear—a lovely touch.

Michelle Bohn’s costumes are terrific. They speak volumes about the characters and their attitudes. Initially Germaine Lauzon, played by a lively Lucy Peacock, appears a bit hunched, in a house coat and fuzzy slippers. She shuffles her feet as she prepares the house for her guests. Then Germaine changes into a dress with a belted waist and a sash that announces she is a winner and the body language changes. As played by Lucy Peacock she is confident, buoyant and effervescent. She is not aware of the jealousy and anger of her guests towards her good fortune.

Marie-Ange Brouillette (Shannon Taylor) is a bitter, disappointed woman who appears in a non-descript dress, suggesting she put little effort into her appearance. That says so much about her. Others are in black, prim, proper, almost buttoned up. Pierrette Guerin (Allison Edwards-Crewe) is Germain’s estranged sister. She works in a club and so her reputation is not pristine according to many of the women. She is dressed in pants in red with a vibrant coloured coat and top. She knows what people think of her. She will stare them down. The clothes say everything.

Olivine Dubuc (Diana Leblanc) is a woman of a certain age, wears a beret and nondescript clothes, and is in a wheelchair pushed (and occasionally thumped) by her daughter-in-law Thérėse Dubuc (Irene Poole). Olivine is generally silent, still and seemingly comatose. When she is ‘awake’ she looks confused, annoyed and perhaps obstreperous. She is also hilarious and you cannot take your eyes off her.  Director Esther Jun keeps moving the wheelchair from upstage in full view to other parts of the stage, obstructed by other characters. In one scene Olivine slowly slides out of her chair onto the floor and rolls downs a bit downstage and over a step. Part of the movement is obstructed and a surprise when we finally see it. It’s hilarious, but would have been more shocking and funny had we seen the whole slide and roll clearly of Diana Leblanc as Olivine. Michel Tremblay wrote that part to be ‘hiding’ in plain sight; why try to hide her?

With 15 characters to maneuver director Esther Jun has created a production that always seems to be moving. It’s not forced. And again Tremblay wrote this cohesive play so that every character had a story and a scene to spotlight it. In true illuminating style, lighting designer, Louise Guinand gives each woman her own spotlight in which to shine. Each story is distinct, revelatory and often stunning. There are so many standouts. The aforementioned Lucy Peacock as Germaine Lauzon. She is curt to her daughter Linda (Ijeoma Emesowum) who is none too happy about being corralled into this stamp pasting party. Linda is petulant and wants to go out with her boyfriend. A fine performance by Ijeoma Emesowum.

As Pierrette Guerin, the outcast, Allison Edwards-Crewe is brassy, tough and heartbreaking as she navigates a world controlled by men. Angéline Sauvé, as played by Akosua Amo-Adem, prim, proper, black-clad and has a terrible secret she is trying to hide. We sense her terror when Pierrette Guerin appears. Akosua Amo-Adem as Angéline Sauvé, is so self-contained and compelling.  As Rose Ouimet (Germain Lauzon’s sister), Seana McKenna appears commanding, in control and forthright. It’s a different story when she tells of her sexually demanding husband. It’s as if Rose’s strength dissolves as Seana McKenna reveals the tight, claustrophobic world in which Rose lives. Each woman has secrets and disappointments—they all know luck is not on their side—but Rose is a person apart and McKenna’s searing performance makes one grip the armrest. Shannon Taylor is a fine actor. As Marie-Ange Brouillette she is an angry, jealous woman at Germaine’s good fortune and is the first to take advantage of the situation (nicely illuminated in Esther Jun’s direction). But as Marie-Ange Shannon Taylor does not hold back and her rage comes out in a torrent. A more tempered release of that rage would have held more surprise longer for the audience.

Comment.  In Les Belles-Soeurs Michel Tremblay has created a specific world of these women in which he makes a universal statement. In Esther Jun’s Stratford production many of the actors illuminate that specific world in which they are cohesively joined. Some, however, give the sense they don’t know that world and seem to be in a different play. It’s as if the effort to be universal was more important than first creating the specificity. It works from the specific to the universal, not the other way around. Still, I was grateful for those shining performances and to hear Michel Tremblay’s towering play again.   

The Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until Oct. 28, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours, 22 minutes (1 intermission)


Review of: her.

by Lynn on September 7, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E., Toronto, Ont. Produced by zippysaid Productions. Opened, Sept. 6. Plays until Sept. 10, 2023.

Written and performed by Deborah Shaw

Directed by David Agro

Music composed by Beverly Lewis

A play about keeping secrets at all costs and finally having to face the truth and its consequences.

The Story. Toronto, 1954. Ilsa is hosting an afternoon of coffee, pastries and gossip with her good friend Helga who brings her great-nephew Gunter along. Gunter is visiting from Boston where he is studying history. Matters become prickly when Gunter starts asking Ilsa about stories he’s heard about Ilsa’s war time past, stories she has not told anyone; stories she wants to keep secret. Finding the truth becomes a game of cat and mouse.

The Production. The set for her. is elegant and spare. There is an empty frame hanging on the wall (we imagine a painting). There are black chairs for guests; a table with four beautiful tea cups and saucers ready for guests as well.

Ilsa (Deborah Shaw) appears carrying a silver tea service and later an arrangement of pastries. Ilsa is fastidious looking; perfectly dressed for the time in a dress and simple heels. Her hair is done up with a pearl hair clip holding the hair in place. When she goes to answer the door Deborah Shaw as Ilsa gives herself one smooth pass of her hand over her perfect hair, as she goes into the wings, ready to greet her guests.

Ilsa’s voice is bright and cheerful in greeting her guests, with just a touch of an accent, suggesting she grew up in Europe (her name suggests Germany, but we find that out later). Helga and Gunter are ushered into the room. This is all suggested—there are no other actors playing these parts. Ilsa is not imagining these characters, it’s a performance choice of Deborah Shaw as Ilsa and director David Agro. In a clever creation of the dialogue we ‘hear’ what her guests are asking her by how Ilsa answers, all performed with subtlety and nuance by Deborah Shaw. She pours coffee—a bit into each cup. She offers pastries. Elsa is a baker and is very proud of her pastries.

When the conversation is pleasant, the smile is ever present, gracious. When Gunter asks a difficult question Deborah Shaw’s face drops, becomes glacial, as she tries to deflect the question. David Agro’s direction is clear yet understated.

Over the course of the hour play we hear what happened to Ilsa, her family and the family bakery in Germany; her marriage, her three children, the secrets, the rumors that arose in that small German town and what Ilsa was determined to hide.  The story unfolds slowly and compellingly.    

Comment. It’s always good to see theatre so full of conviction and tenacity as the production of her. is. But I have some concerns and a quibble. One concern is that we are told of various rumors that haunted Ilsa while we learn the whole truth of what happened to her and her family. What we don’t know is what the rumors were. Did they pertain to one incident in her life or her real identity. We don’t know and it would strengthen the play if we did. She grew up in a small town in Germany and someone knew the truth about her—are we to assume no one else knew? Another concern is that there was a shattering incident in Ilsa’s family in 1944. What happened to her as a result? (without giving too much away)…We know some of ‘what’ happened. We need clarification of ‘how’ that happened after the shattering incident.

The quibble, if the characters that Ilsa is talking to are not there, but assumed to be there, why does there have to be anything in the tea pot to pour into the cups. Why can’t that be imagined too. Making the production even more spare than it is, simplifies matters. I’m glad I saw her.

zippysaid Productions presents:

Opened: Sept. 6, 2023.

Closes: Sept. 10, 2023.

Running time: 60 minutes approx. (no intermission)

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Heads up for the week of Sept. 4-10, 2023.


Aug. 25-Sept. 9, 2023.

Memorial Hall, Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.

Written and directed by Andrew Moodie

About Elijah McCoy, a child of run-away slaves. Who grew up to invent an engine that revolutionized train travel. “The Real McCoy” is a phrase associated with him.


Aug. 31-Sept. 10, 2023.

At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Written by Trudee Romanek

About Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld a Canadian sports icon who represented Canada at the 1928 Olympics. Her family escaped the violence of Russia to the safety of Barrie, Ont. where Bobbie developed her passion for sports.


Sept. 6-10, 2023.

Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Deborah Shaw

Directed by David Agro

About a woman with a terrible secret. Gripping, evocative.


Sept. 6-17, 2023.

At Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Sept. 6-17.

Written by Marie Beath Badian

Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

Two teens meet on a porch and talk about their families and histories, accompanied by the music of a boombox.


Sept.6-23, 2023.

At the Stratford Perth Museum, Stratford, Ont.

Written by Judith Thompson.

Directed by Murdoch Schon.

Queen Maeve is a searing, often hilarious piece of theatre featuring an ordinary woman in a drab nursing home who when triggered, transforms into Queen Maeve, Irish Warrior Queen, confronting her cherished grandson, her complicated, dramatic daughter, and an empathic, efficient P.S.W. just doing her job.

The play asks the questions: Is forgiveness ever impossible? Will we know when we need to make amends? Is it ever too late to find true empowerment?


Sept. 8 – Oct. 1, 2023

At the Studio Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Peter Pasyk

A group of courtly men swear to dedicate their lives to scholarly pursuits. Then a group of charming women change their minds, sort of.


Sept. 10, 2023, 7:00 pm one night only, a reading.

At the Assembly Theatre 1479 Queen St. W.

By George F. Walker

It’s a play about women dealing with and living with abusive men. Hard hitting, funny, and George F. Walker at the top of his game. The play has only had one production at the Kingston Fringe this summer. This is a chance to see it here in the reading which I hope leads to a production.


Review: BOBBIE

by Lynn on September 5, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. Presented by Theatre by the Bay until Sept. 10, 2023.

Written by Trudee Romanek

Directed by Lynn Weintraub

Set by Logan Raju Cracknell

Lighting by Tim Rodrigues

Costumes by Selina Jia

Mathew Magneson

Composer, Alondra Vega-Zaldivar

Projections by Khaleel Gandhi

Cast: Ori Black

Olivia Daniels

Nadine Djoury

Matthew Gorman

Trudee Romanek’s play is a good beginning to look into the extraordinaire life of athlete Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld.

The Story. Russia in the early part of the last century was not safe for Jews. Pogroms, racism, and violence made Max Rosenfeld, his wife Sarah, their young son Maurice and their barely one year old daughter Fanny, leave Russia for Canada in 1904. They settled in Barrie, Ont. where Max had family. He became a scrap and antiques dealer who fixed and cleaned stuff for resale.

Tradition meets the yearning for independence when Fanny’s mother, Sarah, wants Fanny to become a good cook and homemaker and find a good man to marry, while Fanny longs to play sports. Mother and daughter are always clashing over the ‘place’ of a young Jewish woman. Father and son clash over what to do about the anti-Semitism that both endure. Max Rosenfeld wants his son Maurice to ignore the taunts and just look down and do nothing and it will eventually go away. Maurice wants to defend himself. Culture clashes, traditions, independence and the tenacity to follow one’s dreams, are what Bobbie is about.  

The Production. Director Lynn Weintraub and designer Logan Raju Cracknell have envisioned a set in a multi-leveled formation of boxes and crates with stairs going up center and then down at the back to stage right.  Lynn Weintraub’s different placements and staging of the scenes represent different locations in the house of in Max’s shop. Occasionally it’s confusing where the characters are. For example, often Sarah stands at the top of a section then goes down the back stairs. Where is she in the house when she is at the top section and where is she going when she goes down those many stairs at the back. It has to make sense and in those instances it doesn’t.

At the top of the play Fanny Rosenfeld, played by a smiling and charming Olivia Daniels, enters and is nicely surprised by the audience that showed up to hear her story. Her manner is easy and welcoming. She tells us who she is and that she has a dilemma and wants the audience to help her solve it–who she is really.  It’s a strange way to begin because we don’t know anything about the charming woman greeting us, or asking for our help. But then the story unfolds and we get a good idea.  

All through the play Fanny Rosenfeld as played by Olivia Daniels is determined, resourceful and self-aware. There is something almost understated in Olivia Daniels’ performance as Fanny: quiet, not making waves etc. but determined to play sports. She knows how to get her brother Maurice (Ori Black) on side. She wants to wear his summer shorts rather than her billowing bloomers because they are easier in which to run. Even then, Fanny was forward thinking. She is determined to run, play sports and improve. She plays sports with her brother’s friends to practice. When she enters races at school she gets noticed for her abilities. And goes from there.

She gives quiet, determined opposition to her mother, Sarah (Nadine Djoury) and her mother’s insistence Fanny learn how to cook properly and tend house so she will be prepared to be a dutiful wife and homemaker. To Sarah, Fanny’s main job is to find a husband. To Fanny, she has to run. How Fanny also chose her middle name of “Bobbie” shows Fanny’s impish determination.

Fanny’s father Max Rosenfeld (Matthew Gorman) was a conscientious worker, always fixing and polishing the stuff he bought and then resold. He did not want trouble and always said to keep one’s head down and not seek out trouble or attention. Fanny’s older brother, Maurice (Ori Black) was a reluctant conspirator with Fanny, keeping her secrets when she went off to train or when she ran a race and didn’t want their parents to know.

Fanny was able to get a job at a company as a stenographer. Fanny’s company knew she was Jewish and they hired her anyway, and they let her off work to run races. Maurice was not so lucky. Many jobs were denied to Jews and advertised it. Fanny suggested Maurice go to university. He told her another truth of the time: there was a quota on how many Jews universities would accept. One night when Maurice left the house to walk off his frustration, he was beaten up by a gang of anti-Semites. When he returned home, bleeding and bruised, his father didn’t want to go to the police and to forget it and not make trouble. Maurice wanted to retaliate.  As Maurice, Ori Black is a man frustrated by the confines he must endure as a Jewish man. He is not meek, mild or wants to be silent. This is a well realized performance of a loving brother and a frustrated, angry man who wants to be able to prove himself without limit.

Fanny experienced anti-Semitism as well in sports: in a hocky game a member of the other team spewed anti-Semitic insults. When Fanny was at the Olympics, there was a controversy about who won a race—Fanny thought it was her and so did the lead judge. The judge was outvoted. Fanny and her supporters wanted a formal protest. In the end the protest did not take place and should have.

Trudee Romanek has detailed the anti-Semitic fraught world that the Rosenfeld’s lived in in Canada and the wider world. The parents experienced violent horrors in Russia and chose to escape it. Max and Sarah Rosenfeld kept telling their children that that violent behaviour is what they escaped from and wanted to save their children the same fate. The children prove that that’s not possible.

While Trudee Romanek has created an interesting play about an unfortunately forgotten presence in sport and the world, I found the play could use another rewrite and rethinking of areas that need to be stronger.

As written, Sarah Rosenfeld is really a one-noted cliché and Nadine Djoury seems to be directed by director Lynn Weintraub to play her as a constant whine about how Fanny has to get married as her future. This is not Nadine Djoury’s fault—it’s how it’s written. (I would say that Ms Djoury could project more to be heard, especially when her back is to the audience). The character needs to be fleshed out and given more scope to be taken seriously. Max Rosenfeld is a man who knows the horrors of war (as does his wife), and Matthew Gorman plays Max as a quiet man who does not want to make waves. Almost timid. Again, more information to flesh him out is in order. We need more information of how he fits in to life in his small town. What has he endured there? We don’t really know.

Matthew Gorman also plays Mr. Stewart, an anti-Semitic newspaper publisher who never misses a chance to criticize Fanny in print when she becomes a notable athlete. Mr. Stewart is also the father of Evelyn (Nadine Djoury), Fanny’s friend and again he was rarely polite to her.

Fanny finally faces Mr. Stewart and sounds him out about his attitude towards her family, saying  her family never did anything negative to Mr. Stewart or his family. Matthew Gorman as Mr. Stewart rails at her and her people. Mr. Stewart says that he came to Canada as an immigrant and worked hard and saved to become a good citizen. He says that the same could not be said of Fanny’s family. Her father bought things cheap and then fixed and polished them and sold them at a profit, thus playing on the stereotype. Her father never ran for public office or contributed to the community as he, Mr. Stewart, did.

While Trudee Romanek has written a bracing conversation here between Fanny and Mr. Stewart, little opportunity is given to Fanny to challenge his blinkered attitude and perhaps change his anti-Semitic mind. I think this is a missed opportunity. Fanny has learned a lot from her own experience and that of her brother about restrictions in job opportunities for Jews, quotas in universities for Jews, and who can come into an establishment or not. (“no Jews or dogs allowed”). Mr. Stewart has no idea about these it seems, so Fanny telling him what he doesn’t know, is in order, otherwise anti-Semitism continues in this character at least.

It’s charming to have Fanny introduce herself and welcome the audience to hear her story. I think it’s unnecessary and confusing to ask the audience to then help her figure out something later, about her life. Fanny doesn’t need help figuring out her life. That’s clear from the beginning of the play. That extra bit about the audience’s help is unnecessary and should be cut.  

Comment. I’m grateful to playwright Trudee Romanek for Bobbie because it certainly gives us a sense of who Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld was, her independence, resolve and tenacity. She bucked tradition and didn’t become a demur housewife like her mother. She did what was right for her and that was to shine in sports.

Trudee Romanek also illustrates the old world thinking of Bobbie’s parents, that if there is trouble, you put your head down, don’t argue back and hope it goes away. This is put against the new world thinking of Fanny and her brother Maurice, that you stand up to that kind of behaviour, Fanny with words, and Maurice wanting to be more forceful. The audience draws its own conclusions. I also found it interesting that the play ends in 1928, when Fanny competed in the Olympics. One wonders what Fanny and her family would think of what happened in Europe from 1933 to 1945 regarding Jews. Interesting play. Another re-write, please.

Theatre by the Bay presents:

Plays until Sept. 10, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Memorial Hall, Blyth, Ont. Produced by the Blyth Festival. Runs until Sept. 9, 2023.

Written and directed by Andrew Moodie

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Tamara Marie Kucheran

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Peter N. Bailey

Matthew G. Brown

Richard Alan Campbell

Xuan Fraser

Michael Pollard

 Alicia Richardson

Nawa Nicole Simon

The Story. The Real McCoy by Andrew Moodieis based on the life of Elijah McCoy who was born to runaway American slaves who escaped to Canada, to Colchester, Upper Canada. Elijah McCoy was curious from a young age, concerned about how things worked and were put together. A teacher encouraged Elijah and his family to let him follow his dream to be an engineer by accepting a scholarship to study Engineering at Edinburgh University.

When he graduated he found work in Michigan, but because he was Black plum jobs were not available to him.  He got a job on the railroad helping to lubricate the trains on their voyage. The trains had to be stopped every 10 minutes to lubricate the engine. This was very inefficient so Elijah invented a lubricating cup that would keep the trains running and lubricated at the same time, without stopping on the voyage. While he took out a patent on his invention, he was not able to get the recognition due him because he was Black.

Elijah McCoy’s story is one of curiosity, accomplishment, difficulty and even sorrow. Andrew Moodie illuminates McCoy’s life with a blend of fact and fiction.

The Production. Steve Lucas has designed a simple set of boxes that represent many locations. Andrew Moodie also directs the play. He uses the space well and establishes the relationships of characters with efficiency and focus. As Young Elijah, Matthew G. Brown exudes a wide-eyed curiosity about how things work and fit together. When his loving and supportive father, George, (Xuan Fraser), gives Elijah a puzzle toy, Matthew G. Brown tries to fit it together, almost forcing pieces to fit. His father urges him not to force them—Xuan Fraser as George, is patient, supportive and loving to his son. Then Elijah realizes that one of the pieces is missing—his father deliberately held it back, not through meanness, but to see how Elijah figures out the problem. It’s a kindness that informs Elijah’s life.

Overseeing all of what is unfolding on stage, is the Elijah McCoy (Peter N. Bailey) as an adult. Peter N. Bailey is dressed in a three-piece suit and tie. He’s courtly, assured but not in an ostentatious way, and confident enough to know how to solve problems without being distracted by those jealous bullies of which he is surrounded.

Elijah had to contend with racism his whole life. Playwright Andrew Moodie writes these scenes with a gentle, delicate hand. The racism Elijah endures is subtle, which is perhaps hard to imagine in those early years. One might have expected more hard-hitting racism, but this gentler depiction is how Andrew Moodie presents it. Interestingly, Moodie directs the two white actors—Michael Pollard and Richard Alan Campbell—playing various white characters, to act in a broad, almost cartoonish way. Those actors playing Black characters (Young Elijah (Matthew G. Brown), Older Elijah (Peter N. Bailey), Elijah’s father George (Xuan Fraser), Elijah’s mother and others (Nawa Nicole Simon), and Mary Eleanora Delaney and others (Alicia Richardson), all present their characters as multi-faceted, with dignity, compassion and confidence.   

Comment. Playwright Andrew Moodie is being cheeky when he entitles his play The Real McCoy, as if Elijah McCoy, engineer-inventor extraordinaire is the source of that phrase. He may be, Andrew Moodie, teasing us here.  What is not in question is Elijah McCoy’s importance to the world of invention, and not just the lubricating cup—for purposes of this play, that lubricating cup is the focus.  I’m glad of Andrew Moodie’s play and the introduction of Elijah McCoy, an extraordinary inventor.

The Blyth Festival presents:

Plays until September 9, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (1 intermission).


Live and in person at the Stratford Perth Museum, Stratford, Ont. Produced by Here for Now Theatre. Playing until Sept. 9, 2023.

Written by Daniela Vlaskalic

Directed by Kelli Fox

Set by Darren Burkett

Costumes by Barbara Kozicki Beall

Cast: Siobhan O’Malley

Allison Plamondon

Callan Potter

And intriguing play that could go deeper in its mysteries. Terrific performances and a bracing production.

The Story.  It’s the end of WWI. Jill and Nellie are friends who are trying to make a go of being independent, working a farm that Jill owns. Her father gave her the money to buy it. Nellie is the one who does most of the hard work. Jill has fragile health so she keeps the books and tends to the house and meals. She has coughing fits if she’s upset. Money is always an issue. Jill hesitates to ask her father for more money. Nellie is supportive. And then Henry arrives. He is back from the war and he’s looking for his grandfather who he thinks still owns the farm. How he fits is one of the many mysteries of the play.

The Production. The setting is perfect. We look out from the tent where we are sitting and there are trees, hedges and flowers. In the distance is a vast field. It all says ‘farmland’. Darren Burkett’s set of the front room of the house is cleverly created with crates that are piled up on each other to form a table, a cupboard, a place to put dirty dishes and a fireplace. There is a wood dining table, various chairs, one of which is a rocking chair.

Barbara Kozicki Beall has designed costumes that fit the times (after 1918). Jill (Siobhan O’Malley) wears a long dress, cinched at the waist and Nellie (Allison Plamondon) wears work pants, boots and a shirt. Henry (Callan Potter) is in what looks like his army uniform, or just brown pants and a brown shirt.

Kelli Fox directs with her usual attention to detail. The relationship between Jill and Nellie is close, caring and supportive. We assume they are a ‘couple’ because when Jill goes upstairs to bed she asks if Nellie is coming. It’s a subtle hint in playwright Daniela Vlaskalic’s dialogue. That’s enough to suggest the relationship.

As Jill, Siobhan O’Malley is a bit anxious, perhaps fragile because of her health, efficient in the home and a worrier. It’s a tempered performance that reveals Jill’s personality, slowly. As Nellie, Allison Plamondon is matter-of-fact, a worker who takes charge and gets things done. Both O’Malley and Plamondon give their characters a sense of integrity.

Henry (Callan Potter) makes his entrance casually walking across the open tent in the distance. We see him, but he takes his time appearing at the ‘house’. A lovely directorial move by Kelli Fox to get the audience’s attention and then raise their curiosity. This also creates a sense of tension that will be built on gradually.

Henry is beautifully played by Callan Potter. He is charming when he meets both women. He appears open without any ulterior motives. Henry explains that he’s been at the war and then went out west to get on with his life. He didn’t know his grandfather was dead, or that the farm was sold. He begins to work there and help out and this causes a shift in the relationships of Jill and Nellie and then how they perceive Henry.

Jill regards him warily. Siobhan O’Malley plays Jill here as if this man is crowding her territory with Nellie. It this Jill’s natural sense of protecting her world? Is Henry really plotting to separate Nellie from Jill so that he can have Nellie for himself and thus, the farm? Can we assume that Henry is “The Fox?”  

I don’t think this is a natural assumption because playwright Daniela Vlaskalic does not dig deep enough here to clearly establish this. Mystery is fine, but it has to be solidly established, and I don’t think it is here.  The programme note is provocative saying: “Henry, determined to start a new life for himself begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the women, threatening to tear apart their dream of independence. The Fox resonates with mystery, sexual tension and a foreboding slow burn that culminates in a surprising ending.”

Uhm, not quite. I wish the play was as provocative as the description of it. The writing has to be more pointed and focused to believe that Henry is playing a game of cat and mouse with the women. It’s odd that Henry didn’t know his grandfather died and the farm sold. True he was travelling after the war, but surely as his next of kin, Henry would have known or kept in touch. If not, why not. I think that’s a question that should be answered.

There are times that it appears that Nellie is ‘playing’ Henry, suggesting a returned affection. Allison Plamondon as Nellie has a slyness to her that is so interesting. Is she “The Fox?”

Comment. The production of The Fox is first rate. Wonderful performances especially from Callan Potter, a new face on the scene: charm, confidence, an easy grace and conviction. I think the play needs to be clearer in its mystery. Interesting possibilities though.  

Here for Now Theatre presents:

Plays until Sept. 9, 2023.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. (no intermission).

ADDENDUM: 1. How come there is no reference in the title page that this is based on a D. H. Lawrence short story of the same name? There is reference to it a page later in director Kelli Fox’s director’s note. I don’t want to read the director’s notes or the playwright’s note explaining their play. So I didn’t read it until later. I want the play to do the explaining. That D.H. Lawrence reference should have been on the title page for full disclosure.

ADDENDUM 2. Callan Potter. Of course I know that his parents are director Miles Potter and actor Seana McKenna. I just didn’t mention it initially because I didn’t want to diminish his acting accomplishments by saying who his celebrated folks are and that he came by his ability by osmosis. Callan Potter is a fine actor in his own right. He has talent. His folks are talented too. Now let’s all get on with our day.