Live and in person at the Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont. Plays until June 22, 2024.

Written by Sophia Fabiilli

Directed by Krista Jackson

Set and costumes by Sue LePage

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Deborah Drakeford

Lucy Hill

Nora McLellan

Justin Otto

Courtenay Stevens

Note: I first saw Liars at a Funeral last summer at the Blyth Festival. It had the same cast as this one except for two new actors (Deborah Drakeford and Courtenay Stevens) here at Thousand Islands Playhouse. This is not a remount. It’s more like a refresh with director Krista Jackson revisiting the production to see if scenes can be funnier, re-imagined and deeply felt. She has also used the many and various strengths of Deborah Drakeford and Courtenay Stevens to re-imagine the characters, and not do a copy of the previous actors. The result is a fresh, very funny and moving production. Much of the following review re-uses the Blyth review with appropriate changes to reflect the new actors and scenes that have been heightened. I was so glad I saw Liars at a Funeral in Thousand Islands Playhouse.

“Buoyant, very funny, lively and leaves you breathless with laughing.”

As Tolstoy said (at the beginning of “Anna Karenina:”) “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He could be talking about Mavis (Nora McLellan) and her family in Liars at a Funeral.

No one is talking to anyone in the family: Mavis’ daughter, Evelyn (Deborah Drakeford), is estranged and living in Montreal; Evelyn’s marriage broke up and her husband Wayne (Courtenay Stevens) married Evelyn’s twin sister Sheila, who has since passed away. Needless to say, the sisters didn’t talk to each other. And Mavis’ twin granddaughters, Dee Dee and Mia (both played by Lucy Hill) are not talking to each other as well. There seems to be a curse in that family of twin girls who then don’t talk to each other for whatever reasons. Mavis has to do something drastic to stop the curse and get the family talking to each other again. So she plans her own ‘fake’ death and her funeral too, which, she figures, will get everybody to attend and hence come together. Only her granddaughter Dee Dee (Lucy Hill) and Dee Dee’s friend Quint (Justin Otto) who works at the funeral home, know about the plan.

But things go wrong, as they do, when the funeral home director, Leorah (Deborah Drakeford), comes back early after being away.  Things go into overdrive in trying to keep Leorah from seeing Mavis (who spends a lot of time climbing into and out of her casket as she tries to bring off this trick).

Playwright Sophia Fabiilli has written a devilishly funny, complicated farce. Fabiilli has a wonderful facility with language and the jokes come naturally from people who are funny and irreverent. To ramp up the laughs not only do people enter and exit rooms just as someone arrives that they should not see, Fabiilli does it with twins. To further complicated matters and raise the humour bar, almost the whole cast plays two parts. You can imagine…. Doors are always swinging open or shut with characters entering and exiting and it’s done quickly, as farces should move.

Director Krista Jackson has a keen sense of timing, pace and humour. How does one keep it all straight? Who comes in the room just as someone is leaving? What twin is it? Did the actor put on the right costume for the right character? Most important, is this the scene where the ‘zipper’ is up or down? And of course, a neat trick that got my eyes popping—if a twin sister climbs into the casket to hear how things are going ‘out there,’ how did she then get out of the casket (without us seeing her) to play the other twin who just came in the door?

The cast is terrific . Nora McLellan is Mavis, buoyant, committed, funny, anxious that this scheme work and loving her family. Nora McLellan invests Mavis with such good will and energy you want this to work out even if she might not have been the best of mothers in the past. And McLellan has a gift in being funny and moving at the same time. Her determination as Mavis to keep things upbeat but knowing it could all go bust at any time. There is an urgency to ensuring this works. Nora McLellan is terrific.

Deborah Drakeford plays Evelyn the estranged daughter, with an uptight anxiety at being there at all. She has secrets she can’t share but knows she needs to be at this funeral because she has been estranged from her mother, and regrets it. Evelyn is a caring woman, kind, loving and wary of what is going on around her. As Leorah, the raunchy, sexually charged funeral home director Deborah Drakeford is commanding in her tight leather pants, free-spirited, coy and alluring. As uptight as Evelyn is, Leorah is as prowling and sexually charged.  Courtenay Stevens plays both Frank and Wayne and brings his considerable talents as a clown to both roles. He has a dexterousness in his body language and knows how to mind a line for a laugh. Frank is ‘posing’ as Evelyn’s boyfriend from Montreal. He is attentive and tries hard to appear ‘macho.’ Courtenay Stevens also plays Wayne, Evelyn’s ex-husband. Wayne drinks too much and is a bit of a pushy boor. Again, Stevens is varied and very funny.  

Lucy Hill plays both Dee Dee and Mia, twin sisters with different attitudes and personalities. Justin Otto plays both Quint the awkward, insecure assistant at the funeral home who is sweet on Dee Dee, and Justin Otto also plays Cam, a lively jock who loves Mia.  I was mighty impressed with Lucy Hill and Justin Otto last year at Blyth—two young actors who were new to me. This year their performances are deeper, funnier and very confident.

Sue LePage’s set design of the funeral home is tasteful and efficient. The décor is deep purple. There are four doors for fast entrances and exits. Sue LePage’s costumes are witty, sly and slinky in the case of Leorah who wears a form-fitting top and patterned black tights or leather pants and black boots. Louise Guinand shines a flattering light on the whole enterprise.

Liar’s at a Funeral is wildly funny and made more so in this production. See it at the Thousand Islands Playhouse to get your heart pumping with the humour and joy of it, and then go out on the deck of the theatre and calm yourself by looking at the beauty of those thousand islands in the shimmering water.

Thousand Islands Playhouse presents:

Runs until June 22, 2024

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Tarragon Extra Space, The Wee Festival, presents Florschűtz & Döhnert (Germany), Toronto, Ont. Playing until Sunday, June 9, 2024.

This show is absolutely delightful. Magical even, To hear a room full of children two years old to about five laughing together, without hesitation is stunning. How do these artists know how a child will take to an image?

 A man sitting on a ladder holds a fishing pole and line out over a circle. A woman wearing a hat stands in the circle. The man carefully places the end of the line on the hat of the woman and slowly lifts the hat off her head. The children roar with delight.  With every lift of the hat, they roar again. Magical.

She finds an egg that she calls a bird. She places it in her hat for safekeeping. Also there are feathers. He takes a feather and drops it, watching it float down, saying “Rawums” because that is the sound they imagine a falling object makes. The young audience roars with delight again.

He takes a small, heavy bag and drops it, waiting for it to float down, which it doesn’t…Thud. Laughter. Balloons are used to lift a bird, a chair, a house. The images created by such artistry is stunning. The children squeal with delight.

Michael Döhnert is the man and Melanie Florschütz is the woman. They got the idea, created the objects, balloons, birds, houses.

It was a privilege to sit in this audience of young children, watching theatre artists who know how to create magic for young audiences. And the older ones too. Please see this if you can.

Fri. June 7: 10 am (PA day)

Sat. June 8: 4 pm

Sun. June 9, 11 am.


Florschütz & Döhnert (Germany)

A trip to the wonderful world of Gravity!

“Rawums” according to the artists behind the piece, is the sound of something falling. Two curious characters explore and discover the laws of gravity! Why does a feather hover gently in the air, while a bag crashes heavily on the ground? But then what about a house? a chair? or even a person? Can they fly? They’re determined to find out!

A show about floating, flying, and falling.

Production: florschütz & döhnert
Coproduction: Theater o.N./ZINNOBER and SCHAUBUDE BERLIN
Artistic cooperation: Werner Hennrich
Idea, scenography, objects, play: Michael Döhnert and Melanie Florschütz

About Florschütz & Döhnert

The theatre company Florschütz & Döhnert is based in Berlin, Germany, and tours around the world. Artists Melanie Florschütz and Michael Döhnert have been working together since 1996, the company Florschütz & Döhnert was formed in 2004: Melanie studied the art of puppetry in Stuttgart, Germany; while Michael is a composer, guitarist and singer. At the centre of Florschütz’ & Döhnert’s productions is the idea of the actor as author. In their numerous productions for children they always seek a synthesis of music, the various means of expression of puppet and object theatre and human acting. The subject of the play determines the theatrical form it will take, always aiming for poetry and diversity.

Accessibility of our shows:
All shows by florschütz & döhnert invite the audience to experience theater with their individual prior experience and abilities. The productions work without words and are visually comprehensible. The associative visual language is open to people of all ages! Beyond language skills, the productions offer a “reading” between the lines and complex sensory impressions on several levels, which can be experienced according to ability. The resonance from deaf and hard of hearing people, people with limited mobility, cognitive and mental impairments and other 


Live and in person at the Festival Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Runs until Nov. 18, 2024.

Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell

Music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick

Conceived by Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick

Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

Music director, Laura Burton

Set and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Haley Parcher

Cast: Carla Bennett

Devon Michael Brown

Jeremy Carver-James

Dan Chameroy

Juan Chioran

Starr Domingue

Henry Firmston

Jordan Goodridge

Bonnie Jordan

Alex Kelly

Bethany Kovarik

Jeff Lillico

Amanda Lundgren

Gracie Mack

Anthony MacPherson

Jordan Mah

Kevin “Koovy’ McLachlan

Jamie Murray

Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah

Steve Ross

Jason Sermonia

Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane

Mark Uhre

And a large chorus.

Joyful, funny, smartly directed and choreographed and breathlessly performed.

The Story. Something Rotten! is not one of your better-known musicals because it opened in April, 2015 just before a little epic named Hamilton opened in August, 2015. Everything disappears when next to Hamilton.


The book for Something Rotten!  is by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell. The music and lyrics are by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick.

Something Rotten! is a wild, funny musical about trying to be successful writers during the time of Shakespeare (1595), who is at the top of his game. Two brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom run a theatre in London, England, and are always playing catch-up to Shakespeare who is wildly successful.

Nigel is the poet-playwright of the two brothers, and he likes Shakespeare’s work and even shows him some of his poems. Shakespeare is not above stealing lines or ideas from Nigel.  Nick hates Shakespeare and needs something to better him so he goes to a soothsayer named Nostradamus to read the future about what will be the rage.

Nick is told something called a musical will be the new rage—it’s a kind of theatre when actors will talk but when anyone least expects it, the actor will start singing. Nick thinks this is wild but he’s desperate and goes along with it. And Nick is also told what the subject matter is of Shakespeare’s next hit….so stealing is not really a crime here as long as you can sing and dance to it.

The Performance. The Kirkpatrick brothers, Karey and Wayne get off to a rousing start with “Welcome to the Renaissance” that sets the time, tone and pace of the show. It’s a rousing ode to what is going on in world/England at the time; it’s lead in song with beaming joy by the Minstrel, exuberantly played by Jeremy Carver-James and the chorus.

It also establishes that the sound for the orchestra and singers is too loud and not balanced. The singers sound almost piercing and the band thumps away and almost drowns out the words. Now that can’t be right. The Festival Theatre is stunning acoustically. The audience can hear a whisper when the natural voice is properly projected for Shakespeare etc. Why can’t that balance be achieved for this musical. (That piercing volume was not a problem for La Cage Aux Folles at the Avon). Something Rotten! is not a rock concert—can’t something finally be done about this endless problem of “TOO LOUD!” End of rant.

While this new creation of “a musical” might seem odd to those folks in 1595 used to people talking to each other, without oddly bursting into song, there is nothing artificial or forced from the acting of this gifted, superb cast. Nick Bottom is beautifully played by Mark Uhre as an impatient, nervous, irritable man, worried about the future of his theatre. He is frustrated by the easy success of that show-off Shakespeare (Jeff Lillico). Mark Uhre illuminates that frustration in his intense, energetic performance of the fittingly titled, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” It’s free-wheeling and full of passion.  

As Nigel Bottom, Henry Firmston is a reasonable, calming, sweet presence to the excitable Nick Bottom. Henry Firmston realizes how thoughtful and gracious Nigel is. He is a true poet, uncertain of his abilities but clear on when something doesn’t work or is morally wrong. Nigel tries to help Nick but Nick’s raging anxiety is a problem. Starr Domingue as Bea, Nick’s patient, capable wife sings “Right Hand Man” with such confidence and concern that you know she would and could move mountains for him, if only he’d notice and trust her.   

As Shakespeare, Jeff Lillico is all swager and pomposity, with a rock-star attitude, and he can sing wonderfully as well. “Will Power” is Shakespeare’s ode to himself, complex, clever, challenging and tossed off as easily as flipping his hair back for effect.

The always hilarious Dan Chameroy plays Nostradamus, the soothsayer. There is not a moment in which Chameroy doesn’t realize at least four laughs. In a bit of 1595 social commentary there is the character of Shylock played with aplomb by Steve Ross. His family and friends must be kvelling he’s so good. Shylock is a money lender, the only job he says a Jewish person could have at the time. He peppers his dialogue with Yiddish expressions. Shylock is quite happy that Shakespeare has said he will include him as a character in one of his plays. Shylock looks forward to being depicted as “the nice Jew.” Irony makes one sigh or say ‘Oy.’

Something Rotten! is directed and choreographed by Donna Feore who outdoes herself here. The pace of the dancing is, fast, furious and breathtaking. It’s creative, inventive choreography. Donna Feore also realizes every single joke in the script and visual jokes that arise from situations. She will have the audience laugh so hard their cheeks will hurt, all of them.

Something Rotten! references other musicals and Donna Feore raises the stakes here by also referencing other musicals she has directed and choreographed. It’s a double whammy to try and see how many musicals are referenced and how many she has directed by the clues. The whole cast is wonderful and so is this musical.

Comment. Shall we talk about the ‘elephant in the room’ in Something Rotten!? I speak of Shylock and the references of Jews. Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell do subtly reference how Jews have been depicted in plays, literature etc. so Shylock looking forward to being depicted in Shakespeare’s play as a ‘nice Jew’ is wishful thinking on Shylock’s part, we know it from hindsight. And Shylock is partially correct when he says he can only be a money lender at that time—he could also be a tinker or a tailor—the jobs were limited to those three for him.

Even a subtle reference to Jews in a musical these days, makes one suck air, ever so slowly. The world is fractious and angry. Antisemitism is on the rise. What to do? Exhale, ever so slowly and laugh in the face of the anger.

Last year with Spamalot the is a song called “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” (if you don’t have any Jews). Uncomfortable though that might sound, it’s true. If one makes a list of the top twenty or so Broadway composer/lyricists over the last 50 years they are all Jewish: Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Cy Coleman, Jerry Herman, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, etc. At the bottom of that list (but certainly not last or least) is gentile Cole Porter. One can also now add Eric Idle, Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Apparently there were a few complaints last year about the Jewish references and allegedly the Stratford administration felt it necessary to add something to the musical to temper the reference. That is unfortunate. Spamalot is a wonderful show and has been making people (of all ethnicities and religions, and dare one say it, Jews the most) laugh. Today’s headlines make people sensitive when other times one would slough off a funny reference. A sense of humour is such a defensive shield.  

The Stratford Festival Presents:    

Plays until Nov. 18, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (1 intermission)


The wonderful Wee Festival for very young children from 6 months to 5 years old concludes this weekend.

The shows are Rawums, Solalie and Aria. The shows are delightful, engaging, fun and embracing of the young mind and even those a bit older. I have never been disappointed with the various works that have been programmed from around the world and around the country. Artistic Director, Lynda Hill is a master at knowing what engages children.

Check out the schedule and information here:

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Live and in person at the Festival Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Plays until Oct. 26, 2024.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Seana McKenna

Set and costumes by Christina Poddubiuk

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Composer, Paul Shildon

Sound by Verne Good

Choreographer, Stephanie Graham

Cast:  David Collins

Laura Condlln

Sarah Dodd

Austin Eckert

Deborah Hay

Jessica B. Hill

Andrew Iles

Tarique Lewis

Vanessa Sears

André Sills

Emilio Vieira

Scott Wentworth

Rylan Wilkie

And a chorus

A beautiful production, both acted and directed, that illuminates love in its many forms.

The Story. Twelfth Night is a play about love in many guises. It starts with Duke Orsino of Illyria who is smitten with the Countess Olivia. But she spurns his many entreaties because she is in mourning for her brother’s death. She has sworn off men for seven years!

In the meantime, there has been a storm that has separated twins, Viola and her brother Sebastian. She thinks he’s dead. He’s not…separately they wash ashore on Illyria.

Viola decides to dress as a man (for protection) and go to work for the Duke as his page named Cesario. But instantly, she falls secretly in love with him. Orsino uses Cesario to curry the favour of Olivia. And as luck would have it Olivia is smitten with Cesario too.

Sebastian also appears to complicate matters further. So now we have mistaken identity with Cesario spurning the advances of Olivia, which changes when Sebastian enters the scene.

There is also Malvolio who works for Olivia. Malvolio is the officious head of Olivia’s household and is secretly smitten with Olivia. Other members of Olivia’s household tend to make fun of Malvolio. So there is lots going on in this comedy with dark touches. 

Twelfth Night is a wonderful, funny, bitter-sweet play of unrequited and requited love, mistaken identity and yearning.

The Production. Designer Christina Poddubiuk has created a spare and elegant design for this production, (set in 1967) where a few round rock-like props etc. at the bottom of the stairs suggest the tasteful richness of both Duke Orsino’s and the Countess Olivia’s houses. A mobile that looks like various sails is suspended above the stage, echoing the sailing-storm motif at the beginning of the production.

Poddubiuk’s costumes beautifully illuminate the characters, their social standing and their elegance. Duke Orsino (André Sills) wears casual but tasteful pastel shirts, jackets and pants. André Sills plays Orsino as a man comfortable in his style. He’s briming with emotion, his love for Olivia (a regal Vanessa Sears) and his yearning to win her over. He is giddy when he hears of her devotion to her dead brother—in mourning for seven years which means she’s giving up men and their dalliances. There is delicious confusion from Orsino when he develops a closeness to his page Cesario (Viola in disguise, with Jessica B. Hill playing him). The furtive looks to Cesario, Cesario’s secret looks back to the Duke, are beautifully orchestrated by director Seana McKenna who directs with care and supreme intelligence.

Seana McKenna does something I’ve never seen a director do with Twelfth Night—she visually establishes the love and affection that Viola and Sebastian (Austin Eckert) have for one another by having both brother and sister appear on the boat (before the storm that will separate them). They good naturedly josh one another (a gentle, joking tap on the arm) and reveal their closeness in affection. Then with a thunderclap there is a startled reaction when they realize they will be separated and they will think the other has drowned. It’s such a simple bit of theatrical business, but it’s resounding in establishing the huge emotional cost it is for Viola to think she has lost her brother. This makes Viola emotionally fragile and desperate to move forward, to offer her services as a page to the Duke.

Jessica B. Hill is a gracious, graceful Viola. She speaks the dialogue with assurance and confidence. As Cesario, Jessica B. Hill is a revelation. She wears a trim man’s blue suit, vest and tie and a short, curly wig to hide her long hair. The result is the understated essence of a young, courtly man who can charm both a Duke and a Countess who think this is a man. Jessica B. Hill doesn’t force the masculinity of Cesario, rather she underplays it. A leg placed just so and a hand in the pants pocket is the subtlest relaxed pose of a young man. And there is such yearning and longing in her love for the Duke, certainly since she must suppress any overt show of it.

While the Countess is subdued in her mourning (wearing all black, initially, until she sees and is smitten by Cesario), her household is raucous. Her drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch (an irreverent Scott Wentworth) is trying to gull money from his dim-witted friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played with great humour by Rylan Wilkie because of Sir Andrew’s cluelessness. Joining them in irreverence is Sarah Dodd as Maria, a saucy, mischievous confident to Olivia, but in cahoots with Sir Toby.  The character that Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria plot to bedevil is Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, usually played as a man, but here played by Laura Condlln who is simply brilliant.

Malvolio is a repressed, officious soul. She is dressed in a black skirt and jacket that is fitted and buttoned to the neck. She wears black, flat shoes. Her facial expression is pinched and disdainful of everything around her. Her arms are tight to her body. When she makes notes of transgressions, it’s in a little black book so you can imagine how small and tight her handwriting is. Everything in this performance screams ‘repressed.’ So that when Malvolio finds a letter to her thinking it’s a love letter from Olivia—when it really is a trick of Maria, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew–Malvolio’s body language becomes free, expansive and joyful. It’s both funny and heartbreaking.

Offering clownish wisdom and song to both Orsino’s and Olivia’s houses, is Feste a clown and musician, played as a free-spirited hippy by Deborah Hay. Her voice is pure and wistful and her comic timing is impeccable.

Comment. Seana McKenna has beautifully illuminated the heart and soul of the play, never tipping it too much into comedy and sacrificing the ache of it, but also balancing both the comedy and the heartache in equal measure.  I loved this production.

The Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until Oct. 26, 2024.

Running Time: 3 hours approx. (1 intermission)


Lynn Slotkin



I’m giving short reviews of Twelfth Night, Something Rotten! and Hedda Gabler, at Stratford, tomorrow (Sat. June 1) at 9 am on CRITICS CIRCLE, 89.5


Live and in person at the Lighthouse Theatre, Port Dover, Ont. Playing until June 8, 2024.

Written by Norm Foster

Directed by Jane Spence

Set by William Chesney

Costumes by Alex Amini

Lighting by Kevin Fraser

Cast: Ian Deakin

Melanie Janzen

Brigitte Robinson

Norm Foster is an equal opportunity writer, with a huge heart. He first wrote a play called: Jonas and Barry in the Home about two vastly different men who meet in a senior’s home and become friends. He says he had such fun writing it he wrote another play, Doris and Ivy in the Home,  this time focusing on two women. The plays are not carbon copies of the other.

“Doris and Ivy in the Home is about two women who are from different parts of the world. Doris is a boisterous retired prison guard from Alberta. Ivy is a disgraced Olympic skier from Austria. These two women are as different as the day is long, but as always happens, life throws us a curve and we befriend people we never expected to get close to. And so it happens with Doris and Ivy. “

Both women were married at one point. Doris stayed married to her husband but it seemed a loveless marriage until he died. Ivy married often and not successfully. Ivy is being pursued in the home by Arthur but she is not ready to accept his ardent advances, but they are friendly.

As with all his plays, Norm Foster sees the humour and humanity in the ordinary, easy-going situations in life. Doris, as played by Melanie Janzen is lively, flamboyant—perhaps a bit too much so—and offers her own charm. As Ivy, Brigitte Robinson is elegant, sophisticated and gracious, except when having to correct Doris when she keeps thinking Ivy is from Germany and not Austria. Both women form a bond that plays off the other. They find a common ground and appreciation of the other.

As Arthur, Ian Deakin plays him as a robust man, an intellectual and curious about the world. He is smitten by Ivy and gently but steadily pursues her. It’s touching not predatory. The whole production is directed with sensitive care by Jane Spence.

William Chesney has created a lovely set that is serene, calm and depicts a well-cared for patio. Alex Amini’s costumes are casual for Doris and Arthur and a touch elegant for Ivy.   

Doris and Ivy in the Home is a sweet play about two characters you would never imagine would be friends, and when they do, it’s as natural as anything.

Lighthouse Festival presents:

Plays at Port Dover until June 8.

Plays at Port Colborne from June 12-June 23, 2024.

Running time: two hours (1 Intermission)


Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until June 16.

Written by Zahida Rahemtulla

Directed by Paolo Santalucia

Set and lighting by Ken Mackenzie

Costumes by Ming Wong

Sound by Jacob Lin

Cast: Bren Eastcott

Zaittun Esmail

Nimet Kanji

Vijay Mehta

Salim Rahemtulla

Sharjil Rasool

Pamela Mala Sinha

Parm Soor

Sugith Varughese

From the play information: “Bashir Ladha, a bohemian philosophy podcaster, finds himself unwittingly thrust into the spotlight when he is chosen to assume a distinguished religious position that his parents have eagerly accepted on his behalf. Before Bashir can object, two committee representatives are at his door to congratulate him. As the representatives start to suspect a mistake has been made, Bashir’s jubilant grandparents and relatives arrive to commemorate the honour. A charming farce ensues, prompting questions around whether the seemingly wrong Bashir may, in fact, be the right one.”

This is the debut by Zahida Rahemtulla and looks “ at values passed down through generations, the ties of community, and how we are shaped by those who love us most— even when we try to run away from them.”

The Wrong Bashir deals with generational issues within families, Bashir (Sharjil Rasool) and his father Sultan (Sugith Varughese) are always at odds. Sultan had to give up an opportunity to go to university to help his family financially. He became a bus driver for the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). Sultan does not want Bashir to squander his chances at a better life, which involves university. Bashir wants to go his own way and, in a way, looks down on his father’s lost chances. Each is disappointed in the other, but neither of them talks to the other to set any record straight.

While this situation is particular to this family, anyone watching the play would see resonance in their own experience—hence the beauty of theatre to bridge our similarities and connect us. I loved how the various characters peppered their English dialogue with particular expressions in their own dialect. Translation was not necessary because one never feels left out of information in the main. But I loved hearing the roar of approval and knowledge by the South Asian audience I was with.  That’s also part of the joy of seeing theatre that is outside one’s experience—to hear how others who know, react to an expression or situation. Wonderful.

Director Paolo Santalucia has created an energetic production that realizes the heightened emotions of the characters. As Bashir, Sharjil Rasool beautifully conveys the ennui, angst, and concern of Bashir when he thinks he might have to accept this honour. This is a young man who knows the truth about his situation, which he can’t share with his family because they would be so disappointed. And it’s to writer Zahida Rahemtulla’s credit that the emotion was ramped up for Bashir.

As Sultan, Sugith Varughese brings a quiet dignity to his role. Sultan is at odds with Bashir, wants the best for him, and is frustrated that they can’t see eye to eye. Varughese is quietly resigned about his situation but has the dignity to know he made the right decision in his life. Sultan is a calming influence in that family, a thoughtful presence. Nimet Kanji plays Najma, the mother of the family. She is a worrier, a bit mournful and tends to see the dark side of a situation. She is quite funny in her mournfulness.  As Nafisa, the daughter, Bren Eastcott realizes Nafisa’s independence, smarts and resolve. She knows her brother and does not hesitate to try and clearly set him straight.

Gulzar (Pamela Mala Sinha) is a family friend, and it seems the community gossip. She knows everything and spreads what she knows to one and all, whether it’s true or not. Pamela Mala Sinha plays her with impish understatement, although she is the only character in traditional garb, that is colourful and arresting. You are never in doubt as to who wants to be the centre of attention. It’s a delicious performance.

What a brave, huge accomplishment for Zahida Rahemtulla to create a play with nine characters, all lively, well drawn and members of the Ismaili community, which one rarely sees on a mainstream stage. Such a welcome addition. Sweet, charming, funny and loving.

Crow’s Theatre presents:

Plays until June 16, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours (with one Intermission)

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Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Playing until June 9, 2024.

Written by Audrey Dwyer

Directed by Mike Payette

Set by Jawon Kang

Costumes by Christine Ting-Huan Urquhart

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound and composers, Spy Dénommé-Welch and Catherine Magowan

Cast: Troy Adams

Helen Belay

Daren A. Herbert

Nicole Joy-Fraser

Emerjade Simms

Unsettled Scores: Spy Dénommé-Welch and Catherine Magowan

From the programme notes:

“When John Hall is confronted by his ancestors, he is forced to revisit his entire life.

Worlds collide as he travels back through time rediscovering life as a husband, father, son, war scout and freedom fighter. As he relives his dangerous past, John must decide – continue life as the oldest man, abandon everything and serve those on the earthly plane or exist in the Unknown.

Based on true events, Come Home – The Legend of Daddy Hall is told through poetic text, music and song. A play about the afterlife, love, legacy and being legendary. Come Home asks where we come from, where we’re headed and what we may be asked to do when we get there.”

From the playwright: “John Hall walked in this very neighbourhood (around Tarragon Theatre) hundreds of years ago. He lived throughout Ontario. He was married multiple times, had many children, escaped enslavement twice (crossing through deep bodies of water), was in the War of 1812, and died at a very old age. My research provided numerous tales of major differences and a few similarities. One thing was made clear: John spent miles travelling searching for home.

I begin to think about John’s relationship with his family, the land he lived on and the relationships he made along the way. He was guided by those he met and surely, those who left him far too early. I considered John’s long life and the ways certain relationships were severed. It made me think of ancestral lineage and what it means to cross over. Can your steps from life to death be legendary?….”

Audrey Dwyer.

This is a full-bodied production. The set by Jawon Kang is magical and mysterious as we peer through the tangle of hanging ‘branches’ ‘foliage’ overgrowth over time, until the growth is pushed aside and we see into the action of John Hall’s (Daren A. Herbert) life.

Similarly Christine Ting-Huan Urquhart’s costumes are vibrant and evocative. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting is eerie with the sense of the past and deep mystery. As always the score of Unsettled Scores, Spy Dénommé-Welch and Catherine Magawon is almost like another character, adding to the feeling of the story.

Daren A. Herbert as John “Daddy” Hall is both an innocent, a charmer and a rascal as the ever-attractive Daddy Hall, who never met a person, man or woman, he could not charm. The rest of the cast is does good work.

There is directorial detail in Mike Payette’s direction. He conveys the sense of the mystery of John Hall’s life.

Audrey Dwyer’s text is like lyrical poetry with line after line of description that again adds to the mystery of John Hall’s life. But I must confess that without the programme notes, or explanations of the play and the wonderful Google, I would have no idea what this show is about, who John Hall was, why he mattered, who he was, or that it flipped back and forth in time. I can appreciate wanting to find home and find out who he was (was he a Black man? And Indigenous person? Both?), but without a clear narrative along with the esoteric poetry this ‘play’ left me confused and frustrated.

Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Plays until June 9, 2024.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)


Hi Folks,

This is my semi-annual shameless plea for the CIUT.FM fundraiser.

We are aiming to raise $100,000 in this fund-raising session.

CIUT.FM including the radio show I do, CRITICS CIRCLE CIUT fm, 89.5 fm, is almost all volunteer. We are the only community radio station in the city and it seems the only radio station still doing theatre reviews.

I also do interviews with people making theatre that matters. I recently interviewed Seana McKenna about her upcoming Stratford Festival production of 12th Night.

We give voice to radio that people want to hear dealing with stories worth telling.

We don’t get government funding, hence our fundraiser.

Please go to and donate and please note CRITICS CIRCLE.

Much thanks as always.