Live and in person at the Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Terra Bruce Productions.  Plays until Aug. 20, 2023

Original concept and story by Walter Schroeder

Book by Victoria Wells-Smith

Directed by Keith Pike

Arranged by Aaron Eyre

Additional Arrangements and musical direction by Paul Moody

Choreography by Victoria Wells-Smith

Set by Joshua Quinlan

Costumes by Graham McMonagle

Lighting by Frank Donato

Sound by Brian Kenny

Cast: Alexander Batycki

Celeste Brillon

Dylan Corscadden

Eric Dahlinger

Luciano Decicco

Kenzie Drover

Timothy Harder

Jaden Kim

Océane Kitura Bohémier-Tootoo

Sarah Parlatore

Ali Powell

Rebecca Sellars

Michele Shuster

Levi Stepp

Jacques St-Pierre

Mikayla Stradiotto

 Diego Terán


The Story. Here’s their handy synopsis: “It’s 1963 and Marco Del Monte is going back to his former high school–Northumberland high—to lead the school’s vocal department.

It wasn’t his first choice. But after several not-so-great-auditions he decided he would have to take a teaching job. His sister Debra is still a student at the old-fashioned and conservative prep school. Once there, Marco meets Sophia—a quirky, free-spirited dance teacher and together with their fantastic students, they create something the school has never seen before.”

And it’s a jukebox musical using songs of the early 1960s to forward the story or express the emotions of the characters.  

The Production. It’s 1963 in New York City. A spotlight is on a record player that sits on a stand. A woman enters with a determined walk, puts a record on the record player and then puts the needle on the record. The music that plays is upbeat, rock music. The woman begins to sway and move to the music. She gets more into the music and is going full tilt until the end when she takes the needle off the record. At this point we don’t know who she is or the context of her playing the music, except she likes it a lot.

Then others come out of the wings and put a graduation cap and gown on the woman revealing she is Principal Sherman (Michele Shuster), head of the Northumberland High School. She is officious, commanding and overly enthusiastic to all she meets. For some reason director Keith Pike directs her to speak in a voice so swooping in modulation you can hardly understand a word she is saying. Her main job seems to be commanding her minion John (Dylan Corscadden) to follow her with a large bowl/bucket to catch the drips in the leaky roof of the school. The school is old and crumbling. Principal Sherman tries to keep a handle on following the conservative rules of the school.

Then a young man enters, in a suit and tie and sings “It Never Rains in Southern California.” Again, we don’t know who he is or why he’s singing the song. He turns out to be Marco (Luciano Decicco), a former graduate of the school. He tried to have a career in opera but he couldn’t get any jobs after several auditions. Why he was in California at all is never explained. It’s not as if it’s a bastion of musical opportunities, and singing the song doesn’t explain anything except he was lonely. So Marco came home and decided his life should have stability, so he is now the head of the vocal department of the school. His sister Debra (Ali Powell) is a dancer in the school.

Marco is introduced to Sophia, the confident dance teacher. Together they have to plan the school production. In keeping with tradition Marco plans to do a production based on the classical music of the 1800s. Sophia suggests they go wild and plan an evening of 60s music, as in the 1960s but have to keep it quiet from Principal Sherman.

There are all sorts of other stories of unrequited love, requited love between a poor young man and his rich girlfriend, a break-up of a friendship because of jealousy, and generally excitable students who so over perform every reaction you wonder if they are on anything. And we learn that the future of the school might be in jeopardy. A huge donor wants to withdraw her funding—I don’t know who the actor is who plays her (not listed in the program and unrecognizable in the cast photos).

Again, Keith Pike directs her to be so exaggerated in her delivery of the lines, comprehension is a challenge. Indeed everybody seems directed to over-act; over-emote; over-react and do everything to show they are not capable of being a cohesive ensemble because they are all grabbing at our attention. Why the character of Norm (Levi Stepp—directed to be so over the top he is grating) is even in that so called professional school, is a mystery.

Let’s Dance The Musical is a mess. The book by Victoria Wells-Smith has more holes in it than the roof of Northumberland High. Characters sing songs of emotion, whistfullness, and heartache before their characters are fleshed out to us or given context. Note Marco sings “It Never Rains in Southern California” before we know who he is or why he’s singing the song.   In other cases, characters are little more than sketches. Someone named Peter (Alexander Batycki) sings (beautifully), “Down in the Boondocks” about his love for a rich girl while he’s a poor kid, without any context at all it seems. Who is he? Who is his girlfriend? Why is he singing the song? Just to tick a box of class distinction?  CONTEXT PLEASE!

We are told that Debra (Ali Powell) is the best dancer in the school and Andrea (Rebecca Sellars) is the best singer, yet they don’t have any number that would show them to the best of their abilities. Marco has a scene where he is auditioning for an opera job. Luciano Decicco as Marco is downstage singing his heart out and up stage behind him is Debra doing barre work showing her technique. Really? Whose scene is it? Where are we supposed to focus? Any clues director Keith Pike?

Later Andrea is given a chance to show her powerful voice only it’s in a duet with her once estranged friend Brenda (Kenzie Drover) who is accompanying her on the guitar. Both women are so over amplified, that what should be beautiful singing now sounds like shrieking. Now that can’t be right.

When the students are ready to do their show for the sold-out audience it was confusing what was a rehearsal and what was the show, because neither Marco or Sophia introduced them or explained, this is not going to be what you expected. It’s common sense to think about the details.

Let’s go back to that very first scene. It’s obvious that Principal Sherman loves rock music, music from the 60s because she was secretly dancing to it in the first scene. Yet writer Victoria Wells-Smith doesn’t then reference that at the end to have her naturally embrace the decision to do a show of 60s music. We only see her dancing at the finale with the other students with no reference. Another good opportunity for context, ignored.    

One scratched one’s head wondering why anyone thought this was a good idea. And then I thought that with all the deliberate over acting, mugging, bad direction and bad writing, maybe it was actually a sendup of a second-rate arts school with misfit students doing a second-rate production. Even that doesn’t work here.

Juke box musicals, with their surprise mix of established songs in the narrative, are often clever and funny. Let’s Dance The Musical is neither.

Comment. Why?

Terra Bruce Productions

Plays until Aug. 20, 2023

Running Time: 2 hours (1 intermission)


Live and in person at the Stratford Perth Museum, Stratford, Ont. until Aug. 26, 2023. Produced by Here for Now Theatre.

Written by Steve Ross

Directed by Jan Alexandra Smith

Costume and sets by Darren Burkett

Cast: Sean Dolan

Robert King

Linda Prystawska

Compelling play and production.

The Story. From the programme: “Family is everything. A good marriage. Happy children. A rock-solid foundation. But nothing is ever simple or straightforward. What happens when things start to unravel? When tragedy strikes is it just too much? How does one woman move forward when everything she loves is taken from her?

Production. Preamble on why I love HERE FOR NOW THEATRE:

It’s small but mighty.  In a way it’s the other Stratford festival. The company was started by Fiona Mongillo, the artistic director. It mainly focuses on women’s stories and experiences. They are written mostly by women, directed by them and the casts and creatives are mainly Stratford locals…all professional. The plays are short, about an hour to an hour and a half. This year they are performed under a tent with one side looking out onto an idyllic meadow.  And the plays pack a punch or are wildly funny or may be an opera for kids. The offerings are varied in theme but all are uniformly real quality.

Now to Life Without. Here’s my first contradiction.  While Here for Now Theatre’s plays might be written mainly by women, Life Withoutwas written by Steve Ross, a man. He is mainly known as an actor, but he’s also a playwright.

A few years ago he wrote goldfish for Here For Now Theatre, about an irascible, lonely old man and the woman who moved in across the street who befriends him. Steve Ross delves into the lonely heart and finds stories.

There are three comfortable chairs on the stage facing the audience.  A man arrives from outside the tent and sits in the far seat stage left. He smiles and seems pleasant. Then a woman arrives and sits in the end seat from the man, stage right. Her name is Liz (Linda Prystawska). She seems nervous, or ill at ease. She doesn’t acknowledge the man. She begins to talk about her life. She talks about her husband Jack. He was a decent man. A good husband and an attentive father to their daughter Clare. When they had Clare they were devoted to her. But something changed when Clare was 14. Secretive, distant and aimless. The parents found her unconscious in the house. She was drunk and passed out. And she tells them, “She’s pregnant.”

So Liz goes on with the story. She’s angry with disappointment at her daughter. She can’t understand how this could happen, and she, Liz, was not aware of any problems etc. We find out that Clare had been drinking since she was 12-years-old

She’s agitated; never looks at anyone, us, the other guy in the chair—she’s just hard-nosed-angry. The other guy remains silent throughout this opening monologue. He does react as if he’s listening, but it is a mystery who he etc. Of course, we find out.  

When Liz finishes her long monologue we hear from him and it’s all directed to the audience—not Liz. He’s Jack (Robert King), the husband. He is more easy-going than Liz, not as edgy. He talks about meeting Liz and how they hit it off. They dated; got married and enjoyed their own company until a few years later Liz got pregnant with Clare.

I found it interesting that Jack said he did not go to any of the pre-natal classes with Liz, but was right there with her at the birth in the hospital. He was an attentive, loving father. He could not take his eyes off his daughter. Naturally he had a soft spot for her, but was terribly disappointed with her when she was found passed out and learned she was pregnant. Clare was going to have the baby. She never talked of the baby’s father—not in the picture. Clare never bonded with the baby, a boy they named Josh so his upbringing was left to Liz and Jack.  Again, the grandparents doted on the kid until matters spiraled again out of control when Josh (Sean Dolan) was a teenager.

Director Jan Alexandra Smith has directed a solid production. I loved the guessing game of the production. The story is harrowing to both Liz and Jack who sit in their chairs and direct the dialogue to us. One wonders if they are in the same room at the same time? Who is Liz addressing when she is telling the story, a therapist, some probation officer? Who? Is Jack in the room with her as well? Does she see him? He does look directly at her but she doesn’t acknowledge him. To give away more would be to give away too much.

I don’t find the guessing game confusing—I think it’s part of the allure of the piece and Jan Alexandra Smith’s subtle direction. And I found the acting just terrific.  Linda Prystawska plays Liz as an angry, unforgiving woman so disappointed by so much in her life. As long as her daughter was young and cute Liz was fine. When Clare strayed, Liz was wounded and hurt. Forgiveness is not part of her human arsenal.

Robert King plays Jack her husband, as a more accommodating person, loving, forgiving, confused of course, but gentler. And then there is Sean Dolan as Josh, the grandson as a teenager—this is a character trying to find his way. He’s had a terrible time in life, but he might get through it.  Terrific acting.

Steve Ross knows how to fashion a story of family trauma and drama. He weaves an intricate, complex story of people with issues, who love each other, but disappointment creeps in. Liz looks so rigid in her dealings with various people. One wonders if she can soften and forgive. Jack is more adaptable and caring it seems, but his perspective is different. And we see a young man in Josh who is struggling too, to make it through. Josh has wisdom that will inform his life.

I found the dialogue between Liz and Josh was heartfelt and smart. Each has their point of view and can defend it without being vindictive and hurtful.

It’s about a family going through a hard time. We can all identify with that; we can see similarities in our lives and how we handled it and if we handled it better than the people on stage or not. That’s the beauty of theatre….it holds a mirror up to society, and that’s us.

Comment. I liked Life Withouta lot and I think it’s worth a trip to Stratford to Here for Now Theatre.

Here for Now Theatre presents:

Running until Aug. 26, 2023.

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (approx.)


Live and in person in High Park, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Canadian Stage Company. Plays until Sept. 3, 2023.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Jamie Robinson

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Sound and composer, Richard Feren

Cast: Shelly Antony

Frank Chung

Steven Hao

Stuart Hefford

Ryan G. Hinds

Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin

Megan Legesse

Angel Lo

Jadyn Nasato

Julie Tepperman

Aaron Willis

Louisa Zhu

Raucously energetic; colourful sets and costumes, but ‘acting’ all over the place with a definite divide between those who have a facility with the language and those who don’t. Screaming should not be an acting choice.

The Story. Strange things happen when you go into the forest at night. The website description is succinct of this romantic comedy: “The night before Theseus and Hippolyta’s royal wedding four young Athenians (Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena) flee into the forest in pursuit of true love. They fall into one love triangle then another, and are caught in the crossfire of a custody battle between reigning fairies of the forest. Chaotic hilarity ensues (their words not mine). Will the Athenians end up with their perfect match? Who will win the custody of the changeling child? And what other beloved characters might we meet along the way?”

The Production. This is the 40th anniversary of “The Dream in High Park”, of Canadian Stage producing Shakespeare (for the most part) in High Park. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been produced several times. This is the latest iteration. As with all the productions, it’s been cut to a swift 90 minutes.

A character wearing service clothing arrives on stage wheeling in a cart full of cleaning supplies. He takes a bucket into the audience collecting garbage. People willingly give him their refuse, empty bottles, empty food containers etc. He then takes his bucket and returns to the stage to empty the refuse in the cart. He is Steven Hao and later he will shed his service outfit to reveal the wings of Puck, Oberon’s fairie spirit, or keeps getting confused about which Athenian he is to give a magic potion.  

Director Jamie Robinson has a vision of the play that is vibrant in colour and design and designer Jackie Chau realizes that vision in her colourful, multi-leveled set and costumes. Umbrellas carried by the fairies glow in the dark as do some of the costumes. The costumes for the royals are black with shafts of silver. The whole right side of Theseus’ (Shelly Antony) black jacket has an impressive silver design. It’s both commanding and representative of a man who is a ruler. As Theseus Shelly Antony is courtly, laid-back but in control. He never has to raise his voice because everyone is listening to what he has to say. Hippolita (Louisa Zhu), his intended queen, is regal, sophisticated but with a bit of a watchful demeanor. She is after all a ‘prize’ he won in battle. She’s being cool to figure out what this man is like. Both Shelly Antony and Louisa Zhu play the royal fairies, Oberon and Titania respectively.  Oberon is testy, demanding and imperious. Titania matches him with coolness and stubbornness. Both Shelly Antony and Louisa Zhu have a good command of the language and poetry of Shakespeare.

Alas, the same cannot be said of the four lovers: Demetrius (Frank Chung), Lysander (Stuart Hefford), Hermia (Jadyn Nasato) and Helena (Megan Legesse)—they are all energetic and breathless with stage business.  But where to put the emphasis in a line, the sense of poetry, or subtlety and nuance seems to be a mystery to these young actors. When in doubt, they scream everything. And then when they are really stumped, they scream louder. I can appreciate that they are directed to be energetic and highly emotional, but one hoped someone would have helped them with their actual performances and interpretations.

It is heartening to hear the word “revenue” said with the accent in the middle of the word, as it scans properly in the line of poetry. But where is help with the rest of the text for these actors?

The Mechanicals are wonderful! As Peter Quince, the patient leader of the troupe, Ryan G. Hinds is a sweet, caring, patient man who has gathered his friends to prepare a play for the royal couple on their wedding day. Ryan G. Hinds leads the group with humour except when Bottom (Aaron Willis) wants to play all the parts. Then Ryan G. Hinds as Peter Quince gets a bit short tempered. Aaron Willis plays Bottom as an eager to please, fearless participant in which no part is too small and when Bottom is ‘turned’ into an ass, Aaron Willis gives him a new confidence. As Snug, Julie Tepperman is shy but willing to engage in the theatrics. Tepperman also plays Aegesta the aggravated father of Hermia. (It’s wonderful to see Aaron Willis and Julie Tepperman on a stage after such an absence). Rounding out the group are: Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin as Flute and Angel Lo as Starvling. These actors give the Mechanicals a sense of whimsy, fun, commitment, seriousness and heart. They are a joy.

Language is such a tricky subject in this day and age of sensitive feelings and political correctness. Which brings us to the prickly word ‘chink’ as in ‘chink in the wall.’ In the play of the Mechanicals two characters have to kiss through a ‘chink in the wall.’ In another context ‘chink’ is a racist word and is often changed. I’ve heard examples that were worse or confusing in order not to say it. But in the production in High Park they have solved it by changing the word to ‘hole in the wall’, or ‘cranny’ or ‘crack.’ All very sensible.

Comment. But all is not sensible when it comes to Canadian Stage’s attention, consideration or respect for the actors. That’s troubling. If one goes to the website for A Midsummer Night’s Dream one sees the names and titles of the Playwright, the Director, the Assistant Director, Movement Director, the various creatives, Designers, the Stage Manager, the Assistant Stage Manager, even the name of the Apprentice Stage Manager, and Substitute Assistant Stage Manager. Then at the very end of this list is this:


Louisa Zhu

Jadyn Nasato

Megan Legesse

Steven Hao

Ryan G. Hinds

Shelly Antony

Stuart Hefford

Frank Chung

Aaron Willis

Julie Tepperman

Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin

Angel Lo

If this is the first one reads of the website, you would be hard pressed to know who these people are? Are they the ushers? Volunteers? Concessions people? Nope. They are the actors, you know, ACTORS, the people who are the life blood and beating heart of a company; the folks who show up, in all sorts of weather if it’s out doors, with mosquitoes, and distractions—they show up and bust their guts to do the show–and they are given such short shift here it’s shameful.

At the High Park site in place of a hard-copy programme there are large boards erected with the photos and names of all the creatives I listed above. And there, after the creatives are the photos of the actors with only the word “cast” underneath their photo. They don’t even rate having their characters listed. Shameful. I hope someone with a ‘Sharpie’ fills in the names of the characters these actors play, out of respect. Only when one delves deeper into the website to the digital programme are the actors actually listed with the characters they play. Canadian Stage, do better by these people. It’s been an on-going complaint; actors’ names are never listed on the posters. In the catalogue for the 23/24 season, the director’s photo and title are listed but actors are listed with their names under their photo and the word “Cast” under that. Shameful. If you hired the actor, you know who they will play! List the actor and their character’s name. Do better by these people!   

Canadian Stage Presents:

Runs until Sept. 3, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)


Live and in person at the Theatre Centre, (Franco Boni Theatre) a 1s1 Production , co-produced by Why Not Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Plays until Aug. 12, 2023.

Adapted, created and directed by Ramesh Meyyappan

Lighting by Andre du Toit

Set by Jung-Hye Kim

Costumes by Carlyn Rahusaar Routledge

Sound/composer, Jenna Geen

Cast: Dawn Jani Birley

Joshua Bosworth

Sturla Alvsvåg

Ramesh Meyyappan has created, adapted and directed a fascinating and beautiful piece of theatre, based on Macbeth but from Lady Macbeth’s point of view as first a buoyant expectant mother, and then as a grieving one.

From the production material: “Lady M (Margaret) is a new, Deaf-led adaptation of Macbeth that explores Shakespeare’s famous power couple with an intersectional experience for both Deaf and hearing audiences.”

The production is set in the First World War. Macbeth (Sturla Alvsvåg) and Duncan (Joshua Bosworth) are both fighting for the cause. They are both fearless and tenacious. Macbeth gets a letter from his wife Margaret (Dawn Jani Birley) saying she is pregnant. She encloses a small blue knitted baby cap for him to hold dear during battle.

When Macbeth returns home for leave, he is accompanied by Duncan to help celebrate. They all drink to their health. Things might not be what they seem. While Macbeth is asleep because of the drink, Duncan questions Margaret if the baby is in fact his. We are now drawn into a delicate, dangerous dance between the three characters.

As the information states, this is a new Deaf-led adaptation of Macbeth produced by 1s1 a company created by Deaf-Artist, Dawn Jani Birley, creating “Deaf-led projects by culturally and linguistically Deaf professional artists”

The melding of the languages—both American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken—is seamless. When Macbeth returns and embraces Margaret, he signs in ASL to her, but also vocalizes what he is tenderly saying to her. Both the Deaf members of the audience, and the hearing members are included equally in the story and conversation.  

As Lady M (Margaret) Dawn Jani Birley is such a vivid presence. Emotions bubble inside her. She is as eloquent with her hands signing as she is expressive dramatically with her whole body. There are so many ‘sides’ to her character: loving wife, perhaps sensual lover; deceptive participant, all compelling.  Sturla Alvsvåg is a boyish Macbeth; energetic in battle and tender in his embrace of Margaret. When he learns he has been deceived, he is brutal.  And as Duncan, Joshua Bosworth also has secrets and hides them well, until he gets the upper hand and plays it.

Director Ramesh Meyyappan has created some of the most arresting images in the theatre that I have seen in a long time. His staging of Margaret’s quick change from grieving mother to a younger time is almost balletic it’s so graceful and magical. His work is economical and startling. The lighting by Andre du Toit creates such a compelling, provocative atmosphere, as does the sound of Jenna Geen. It’s almost like a foreboding sound. Everything about this stunning production is exquisite and gripping.

Bravo to 1s1 and Why Not Theatre for bringing such a challenging, beautiful production to Toronto.

1s1 Production and Why not Theatre present:

Runs until Aug. 12, 2023.

Running time: 60 minutes.


Live and in person at The Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont. Plays until Sept. 3, 2023.

Adapted and directed by Gil Garratt

From the plays by James Reaney

Set and lighting by Beth Kates

Costumes by Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Geoffrey Armour

Masae Day

Paul Dunn

Randy Hughson

Rachel Jones

Cameron Laurie

Steven McCarthy

Hallie Seline

James Dallas Smith

Mark Uhre

NOTE: Adventures in Weather Part III

I was going to the Blyth Festival this time to see the third and final part of The Donnelly Trilogy. I didn’t check the weather. I wanted to be surprised. It was a beautiful drive out there. I followed the driving instructions on WAZE to the letter. I missed traffic jams, accidents, reported on whether or not there was a car still on the side (as requested by WAZE), and smiled when the voice announced, “road-kill ahead.” Clouds rolled in as I got closer to Blyth and away from the Stratford area. The rain was gentle, not fierce. When I rolled into Blyth about 6 pm, it was still raining. I drove to the local Tim Hortons for my traditional supper of their world-famous chili. I then checked my e-mails. The Blyth Festival wrote that they had to move the performance from the outdoor Harvest Stage to the indoor Memorial Hall because of the rain. I drove the short distance to the Hall, rolled down the windows a bit and ate the chili in calm peace. The performance was at 8:00 pm. I toyed with the idea of having a double-scooped cone of ice-cream but the chili was filling. There was no angst on this trip. No cramping happened in my hands because I didn’t need to grip the steering wheel. No clothing or car seat were soiled because of frightening driving conditions. It was a perfect way to be prepared for the horror that would befall the Donnelly family.

The hard ache of the end of the Donnelly trilogy. Wonderfully done. Uncooperative weather has wreaked havoc with the playing schedule of the outdoor Harvest Stage and in true trouper style, the cast and creatives shifted and accommodated the change from outdoors to indoors without a hitch.

The Story and production. James Dallas Smith came out with his guitar and got to the point. He sang a song about how the Donnellys were going to die. He was almost impish about it.  The previous two parts: Sticks and Stones and The St. Nicholas Hotel kept building the animosity the townspeople had for the whole Donnelly family, the violence towards them, and the retaliation they took was relentless so we knew that the end was not going to be pleasant. Handciffs is Part III of the trilogy, when everything comes to a violent end.

Church and state were not separate here. One priest was removed from the area because he was too fair-minded and actually defended the Donnellys. He was replaced by Father Connolly (Paul Dunn) a self-righteous man, smug, arrogant and not above telling people how to vote. The Donnellys refused to vote for a Conservative candidate. They insisted on voting for whomever they wanted. That went against them.

 More than once James Donnelly (Randy Hughson) and his wife Johanna Donnelly (Rachel Jones) were challenged and threatened by neighbours who came to their door. Mr. and Mrs. Donnelly rebutted every challenge. As James Donnelly, Randy Hughson spoke with controlled emotions but one knew he was suppressing rage. Randy Hughson gives James Donnelly such stature, grace and humanness. He is a decent man who was treated abysmally by his thug, narrow-minded neighbours. As Mrs. Donnelly, Rachel Jones did not hide her fury. She showed her contempt and disgust to anyone who showed disrespect to her family. Mark Uhre has played Michael Donnelly in a previous part as well as villains in Handcuffs. I particularly like him as a so-called-religious Conservative candidate who crossed himself whenever he exited a scene. Masae Day plays a demur, quiet Bridget Donnelly, the Donnellys’ niece who has come from Ireland to stay with them. Cameron Laurie plays among others, Pat Farrell a 10-year-old boy who is witness to the murder of the Donnellys. As that young boy, Cameron Laurie brings out all the truth and conviction of the character.

Again, director Gil Garratt beautifully uses the space—be it the Harvest Stage or the Memorial Hall stage—to show the sweep and breadth of the story. He has a lovely sense of what makes a vivid image on stage. And he knows instinctively how to make the audience “imagine” what is happening when it’s only suggested. A man holds a shovel as he approaches a fearful Bridget Donnelly and then we are told what happens as the man whacks the shovel on the ground. Of course we imagine that it’s not the ground he’s hitting. Suggestions of stage business like that make the whole scene gripping. Beth Kates’ stunning lighting design of a fire that consumes the Donnelly home is harrowing and gut twisting.

As Will Donnelly, Steven McCarthy brings all his courtliness to the character and quietly tells the audience of the two years of trials, appeals and the final disgraceful acquittal of all accused—it’s not a spoiler, it’s history and our rage should not be in the telling of what happened but that the murderers were acquitted in yet another miscarriage of justice towards this family.  

Comment. The Donnelly Trilogy is a stunning accomplishment of theatre. Please see them. So worth your time.

The Blyth Festival presents:

Runs until September 3, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours (1 intermission)


Live and in person at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont. Playing until Aug. 26, 2023.

Written by Robert Winslow

Directed by Kim Blackwell

Musical direction and original music compositions, Justin Hiscox

Costumes by Korin Cormier

Set by Kim Blackwell

Choreography by Rachel Bemrose

Cast: Indigo Chesser

Jasper Chesser

Katherine Cullen

Lily Cullen

Peter Dolinski

Colin Doyle

Jason Edmunds

Michael Field

Andria Fisher

Cadence Fisher

Eli Fisher

Thomas Fournier

Franny Galvin-Hynes

Linda Gendron

Sierra Gibb-Khan

Matt Gilbert

Jason Gray

Mark Hiscox

Ken Houston

Josh Lambert

Caoimhe MacQuarrie

Deirbhile MacQuarrie

Riordan MacQuarrie

Siobhan MacQuarrie

Saoirse MacQuarrie

Adrianna Malloy

Venessa McCraken

Ayla McCracken-Reed

Ian McGarrett

Grogan McKellar

Robert Morrison

Zach Newnham

JD “Jack” Nicholsen

Darragh O’Connell

Lindsey Partridge

Kelsey Powell

Zack Radford

Julia Scaringl

Autumn Smith

Sarah Steven

Mikayla Stoodley

Phil Stott

Evan Tsimidis

Robert Winslow

Musicians: Jason Edmunds

Justin Hiscox

Mark Hiscox

Cody Inglis

NOTE: Adventures in weather Part II.

The weather for the opening of The Cavan Blazers at the 4th Line Theater in Millbrook, Ont. called for thunderstorms, possibly growing to tornado strength at about 7 pm. on the opening (Aug. 3). Thunderstorms, possibly tornado strength, at about 7:00 pm. The show was to start at 6:00 pm.

Ha! A little rain and wind don’t scare me! (Remember my Blyth adventure!)  I got in my car and set off really early cause I wanted a BBQ sausage that they make before the show. Just to be safe, I took my ‘rain-shell’ and decent sized umbrella, with the chocolate motif (that means the whole hood of the umbrella is festoon with all sorts of chocolates).  The weather on the way was beautiful. I got there at 4 pm. I had my sausage and a bottle of water and enjoyed sitting at a table outside the barnyard, enjoying the company of friends and the sausage.

There was rumbling in the distance. Clouds passed over us and seemed to be going over in ‘that direction’. A person in authority (Kim Blackwell, the director of the show and the mighty Managing Artistic Director of 4th Line Theatre) had a fancy thingy that could tell you the weather to the minute. The expected rain would spit at about 5 pm, not last long and then go ‘over there’ away from the theatre. We’re laughing. On cue at 5:00 pm, some rain drops dropped. We remained and were assured ‘the weather’ was going ‘over there.’

We took our seats and the show started at 6 pm after speeches and thank yous to donors. All was good. Impressive use of the space; cue the trained racing pigeons; lovely mix of professional actors and committed community actors. The story of religious intolerance was intense between the majority Protestants towards the minority Catholics in the Cavan area in the 1850s.

Clouds rolled in that did not look theatre friendly. Thunder could be heard in the distance. No lightening. Ha. The show continued. Children appeared in the distance in the meadow as part of the performance. They are so committed. A man rode in on a horse and sauntered around the barnyard.

The dark clouds above got darker. The thunder, thundered. We paid attention to the play and the vast stage. Then rain fell in more than drops. More like streaks. On cue, the audience that was not under the protective overhang of the barnyard structure, put on their raingear, hoods, a few umbrellas went up. I was just in front of the overhang, so little protection. I put on my shortish, blue, non-rainproof (I learned to my sorrow), thinnish, jacket that was obviously too small to cover my ample upper-frontals. I kept tugging at the sides of the jacket, willing then to be larger. No deal. I took off my baseball cap and put that on my knee to cover some of my pants. I put on the hood of the blue, non-rainproof jacket. The rain plastered the sleeves to my arms. Kind of chilly, that. The actors continued acting as rain pelted them.

The rain rained harder. It was about 7:00 pm (right on time as the forecast said, but not that smart thingy before). There was a 15-minute hold on the show to see if the rain would subside. The audience scattered to the various tents around the site for protection. I went to get my umbrella, with the chocolate motif, from the car. I went back to my seat, put up the umbrella, was nice and sort of dry and waited for the show to resume. We were told to return quickly by the lovely staff at the farm and resumed the show. I positioned my umbrella in such a way that I could open it a bit (one of those spring-snap opening versions) and cover my knees. It was not malleable enough to cover my ample upper-frontals, but no matter.  Most of the audience returned. I saw a lot of empty seats. I figured those who did not return were WIMPS and not hardy souls up for a challenge!

The show progressed. The animosity of one side for the other rose on the ‘stage’. Violence increased. The audience was riveted to the action. Clouds got darker. Thunder rumbled over head and not ‘over there.’ We held tight. It started to sprinkle, then heavier, then poured hard. The actors kept acting, telling the story. The rain was ‘drowning’ out the actors. Another rain delay was called and there was much conferring with those fancy hand-held-weather-thingies, and finally, with regret, they had to cancel the show at about 8:00 pm with about 20 minutes left. We all reluctantly went home. Note: I’m reviewing what I saw anyway because it’s so worthy!

It was not raining hard on the way home until I got to the outskirts of Toronto. Then the rain pelted. People are crazy in traffic. They zoom along and it’s terrifying. I was not able to see the lines in the lane (Déjà vu from the Blyth adventure). Where do truck drivers get the guts? Construction was everywhere, of course. We had to go from multi-lanes into one. Stressful. Hands gripped the steering wheel so hard, I had a difficult time unclenching it. I finally got out of the torrential rain. Alas, I think strong chemicals will be needed to clean the driver’s seat, UGHain.

When the going gets tough, the tough get ice-cream, a double scoop in a waffle cone. Delicious. But it dripped on my pants. Sigh.  

The Story.  All the plays at 4th Line Theatre Company are original and are based on the history of the surrounding area, in this case Cavan, near Millbrook and Peterborough, Ont. The Cavan Blazersby Robert Winslow, premiered at the Farm in 1992, and has been remounted about 5 times since the initial production.

It’s 1854 in the area around Cavan, the majority of the people there were Protestants from Ireland. They wanted a fresh start and came to Canada. There was a small enclave of Irish Catholics who also came to that area to make a fresh start. But the animosity came with them to Canada.

Patrick Maguire was a justice of the peace in Cavan and also a minister. He longed to have their own Catholic Church in a parish, but they needed supporters and their numbers were small for a parish. Their first “church” gathering was in his own living room, much to the surprise of this wife Ann. She requested some warning from her husband. He was rather sheepish. Patrick Maguire was a calm man who did not want to cause any trouble. He just wanted to live quietly and peacefully. But he also wanted the freedom to worship with his fellow Catholics. To this end he arranged for a Catholic priest to come and lead the congregation. He also made inroads to get enough Catholics to come to the area so that a parish could be established. That would be followed by a bricks and mortar building.

But that was difficult because the larger faction of Protestants, led by Dane Swain wanted to keep the Catholics out at all cost. Their penchant for burning the barns of Catholic farmers earned them the name of The Cavan Blazers. While Dane Swain was the controlling and formidable leader of the Protestants, he didn’t seem to be a thug. He was a man of few words but he made them count. He would threaten, often it led to violence, but he also didn’t want his men to get carried away. So, he was complicated.

The Production. The play takes place outdoors at 4th Line Theatre Company, in the barn yard, on the Winslow Farm, in Millbrook, Ont. This is the family farm of Robert Winslow, the founder of the 4th Line Theatre Company, and the author of the play. 

The production is directed by Kim Blackwell. Her production is smart, thoughtful, creative and well done. She uses a company of a few professional actors as well as devoted folks from the community who love being involved with 4th Line Theatre. Kim Blackwell always uses the whole expanse of the farm. So, at the beginning of the show, on cue, a flock of trained racing pigeons fly up in formation from the meadow over there, and disappear into the distance. It is an impressive beginning.  Children appear in scenes from the meadow. A character on a horse crosses the bridge over there and moseyd into the barnyard. The barn provides a makeshift church for Justice of the Peace, Patrick Maguire (JD “Jack” Nicholsen) so he can run his services for his parishioners. Nicholsen is always a commanding presence in a show. Here, he is that mix of gruff but generous of spirit. He certainly was chastened by his wife Ann (Katherine Cullen) when he plopped the service for 50 in their living room.  

While the acting varies, as one might expect from the professional actors and those that are from the community and are eager to participate, the whole company acts with heart and commitment.

It’s always a treat to see Robert Winslow in one of the 4th Line Theatre plays. I have seen a production of The Cavan Blazers when Robert Winslow played one of the main characters. Here he plays John Knowlson, a Justice of the Peace and a slightly secondary character. Robert Winslow is always compelling. Knowlson is trying to help the Catholics, even though he isn’t Catholic.  John Knowlson is passionate, committed and wise. He has all sorts of ideas for the betterment of the area. Another dandy performance from Robert Winslow.

Colin Doyle as Dane Swain is a lovely surprise. Colin Doyle usually plays comedic characters, but Dane Swain is a wonderful change of pace. As I said, Dane Swain is a man of few words and because of that he commanded respect. He could get his men to calm down with one bellow.

He operates from contained anger and rage, trying to keep the Catholics out, but he is not as full of fury as some of his men. He is not above violence but tries to intimidate people by staring them down.

Katherine Cullen’s performance as Ann Maguire is also highly commendable. She is matter of fact about how upset she is with her husband, Patrick, but she is kind. However, Katherine Cullen shows Ann Maguire’s full true power when she wrangles with Dane Swain. Here are two enemies but with a twist: Dane Swain is Protestant.  Ann Maguire is Protestant as well, but she is married to Patrick Maguire, who is a Catholic. He loyalties are to her husband who does not want to make trouble, not to Dane Swain who looks for trouble. She wants to know why Swain is bedeviling her ‘people’ who are mostly not challenging or bothering anybody. She uses reason, thoughtfulness and is not afraid to raise her voice to the man.  He has no hesitation in challenging her in return. He is not polite just because she is a woman. He wanted her gone as much as she wanted him to stop harassing her community. The wrangling was true and full of conviction. Lovely acting from these two fine actors. (Does it matter that they are married in real life? Naaaaa).

Zack Radford as Constable Hutchinson offered a varied, nuanced performance of the Constable who was often challenged in his job. Ian McGarrett also gave a tempered, well-paced performance as Justice Huston.

While appreciate that some of the cast is inexperienced in acting in theatre, I would offer that the trick is not to bellow everything so that we ‘hear’ you. The trick is to talk softer, but still project so that you make us listen to you. And while many were playing ‘villains’ it’s not necessary to “play” the villain but to make up believe you are the villain. That does not mean overacting “mean”. It means tone it down. We’re on your side. We’re there ready to listen to what you have to say.

Robert Winslow’s play illuminates religious intolerance in the area of Cavan in the 1850s. Alas times have not improved.

Comment. As you read above, the good people of 4th Line Theatre had to cancel the show about 20 minutes before the end because the rain was pelting down. I’m sure the actors and audience wouldn’t have minded trying to delay and come back but it was not to be.  They tried as best as they could to try and finish the show properly, but the weather was not co-operating.

Or rather, considering the subject matter—religious intolerance, I thought the constant thunder during the show and the resultant rain, was kind of a dramatic expression from on high. Pathetic fallacy is what it’s called in high school English class-when the weather was in sympathy with what was going on. Two religions, the Catholics and Protestant, were fighting for their cause. We had thunder, rain and dark clouds to go with the gripping drama.

I’m always impressed with 4th Line Theatre shows. They are professional, efficient and the setting is idyllic. They did everything to protect their audience and their cast and finally called it because of rain. People were contacted the next day to tell us how we can come back and see the show again and how it ends—a rain check if you will. And I hope people take full advantage of that offer to see how it’s all resolved.

4th Line Theatre presents:

Playing until Aug. 26, 2023.

Running time, weather permitting, 2 hours. 30 minutes. (1 intermission)




The Mnjcc welcomes submissions from racialized persons / persons of colour, women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ2S+ persons, and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas.


• Plays must be in standard theatre script formatting.

• If you play has more than 6 roles, you must demonstrate which roles can be played by the same actor.

• Play pages must be numbered.


• Playwrights do not need to be Jewish but must be Canadian (dual citizenship is acceptable).

• Playwrights with Canadian citizenship living abroad (i.e Israel, USA, Europe, etc.) are welcome to submit.

• Play content must have a Jewish focus, depicting a prominent theme or aspect of Jewish or Israeli life.

• Plays must be no less than one hour and no more than two hours in length.

• Novel, short story or poetry adaptations are accepted, but the playwright must have the rights to the original source, or the source of the adaptation must be in the public domain.

• Musicals are eligible. Please submit lyrics and/or musical tracks with your play.

• Plays must be in English.


• Plays that have been previously produced under a Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA) production agreement. Workshops are eligible.

• Plays that have been previously produced outside of the CAEA agreements and staged for more than one week, except for Fringe productions.

• Plays that have been previously submitted to the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition in the last ten years.

• Plays with more than 6 roles that cannot be divide among 6 actors.

• Plays that are not written in English.

• Screenplays will not be accepted.


• The winning playwright will receive $1,000 (CDN) and an 8-hour CAEA workshop with a director and up to six actors. This workshop concludes with a public reading.

• The winning playwright will be announced in January 2024.

• This program is generously funded by The Asper Foundation.


• The jury members are representatives of Manitoba (Winnipeg Jewish Theatre), Ontario (Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company), and Quebec (Segal Centre for the Performing Arts) Jewish-arts communities.

• Jurors do not provide feedback on submitted plays.


Click here to complete the entry form


Questions:Deanna Di Lello, Coordinator of Adult Arts and Culture •

FANTASTIC forward thinking, truly inclusive, diverse and equitable guidelines. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE JEWISH TO SUBMIT!! Imagine that. Let’s continue this wise thinking and stop this blinkered, constrictive notion one has to be only in a small group to write about that small group.


This is a terrific opportunity for Playwrights.

The Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition  

This unique playwrights’ competition recognizes the most outstanding unproduced Canadian plays with a Jewish focus. The winning playwright will receive $1,000 (CDN) and an 8-hour CAEA workshop with a director and up to six actors. This workshop concludes with a public reading. Submission deadline: September 5, 2023. Visit for details.  


Live and in person, produced by The County Stage Company at the Eddie Hotel and Farm in Prince Edward County, 15786 Loyalist Parkway, Bloomfield, Ont. Playing until Aug. 6, 2023.

Adapted and written by Patrick Barlow

From the original novel by John Buchan

Directed by Monica Dottor

Set by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Lindsay Forde

Lighting by Kristen Leboeuf

Sound by Rebecca Everett

Cast: Helen Belay

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Brandon McGibbon

Courtenay Stevens

Warning! Alfred Hitchcock directed a taut spy murder thriller called The 39 Steps in 1935. The version at the County Stage Company is nothing like that. While this version of The 39 Steps is loosely based on the original story, Patrick Barlow has adapted it and written it as a fast-paced-farce-full-blown-comedy. There is still murder. But it’s funny.

The Story. Richard Hannay is our dashing hero. He has just returned to London from travels and he’s bored. He decides to do something that is utterly frivolous, useless and nonsensical—outdoor theatre in the country. He goes to the theatre for amusement and to try and relieve his boredom. An attractive woman named Annabella Schmidt sidles up to him and sits beside him. She then fires a gun into the air causing a commotion and then asks if she can go home with him. Being the gentleman that he is, Hannay agrees.

What follows is intrigue, mystery, the makings of a political, spy thriller with thugs dogging Hannay’s every movement. Why is no one dogging Ms Schmidt you might ask? She was stabbed in the back, in the night, in his apartment. Hannay tries to solve who killed her and who is chasing him and why. In truth, all sorts of people are chasing Hannay because they believe he killed Annabella. She knew that there was skullduggery afoot that involved highly sensitive secret information that someone wanted to overthrow the government. Hannay tries to find out who had the information and who was trying to steal it.

The Production. Patrick Barlow adapted the play from a novel by John Buchan and the movie by Alfred Hitchcock. It seems like it’s a cast of hundreds and some sheep.  They are all played by four gifted actors: Helen Belay, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Courtenay Stevens and Brandon McGibbon.  Helen Belay, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Courtenay Stevens play multiple parts. Brandon McGibbon plays only Richard Hannay. But has to run away from thugs, climb outside a speeding train, escape being handcuffed to a lovely woman, almost fold his tall body into a small trunk, and look dashing in the process and with aplomb. It’s true he has a plethora of partially placed mustaches, but the result is hilarious.

The other actors are equally accomplished.  Courtney Ch-ng Lancaster plays the mysterious and sophisticated Annabelle Schmidt, sweet and Scottish Margaret, and confident and compelling Pamela. and she does it all with supreme style, detail, nuance and a keen sense of the humour, as do they all. There are two Clown roles played by Helen Belay and Courtenay Stevens. It seems they play 300 parts between them, sometimes playing three parts in the same scene. I exaggerate but the quick changes between characters is impressive. Lots of business with changing hats which changes the characters before your very eye-balls.

As one Clown, Helen Belay plays a shaky memory expert, various policemen with varying accents and all manner of other characters and those sheep.

She is ably matched by Courtenay Stevens as the other clown who is a train conductor, a strange professor and various other characters as well. Both Belay and Stevens are two consummate comedic actors with talent for both the physical agility and that serious-faced ability to float a joke.

Guiding the frivolity with a sure, funny hand is director Monica Dottor. She is also a gifted choreographer, so she knows how to create both the visual and literal joke with finesse and grace.  Every moment is full of comedic invention. The simple matter of walking or standing outside a speeding train on the thinnest of ledges, complete with flipping out a coat tail, is done with style. Sure, we’ve seen this mimed before. This is done with a flourish. I would see anything directed by Monica Dottor. These four actors had me there at ‘hello.’  

Steve Lucas has created a wonderful set that changes with a push of a wall before our eyes, letting us into the wonder of doing theatre, under a tent in a field in idyllic surroundings. The costumes by Lindsay Forde are smart and stylish. For the Clowns alone they look like both pajamas and smart suits, certainly not the obvious for Clowns.

Comment. Richard Hannay got his wish…to do something silly, frivolous and irreverent—theatre outdoors. One embraces the adventure of such a venture, willingly.

Warning! The play takes place outdoors in the idyllic setting of The Eddie Hotel and farm. Bug spray is provided although the bugs get nasty around 9 pm, the show is over before then. Quite considerate of the company to arrange that.  

Produced by Country Stage Company

Plays until Aug. 6, 2023.

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. (a small intermission)


Comment on the 21st Female Eye Film Festival: July 26-July 30, 2023. At the Hot Docs Rogers Cinema, Toronto, Ont.

A change of pace. I was invited to the 21st Female Eye Film Festival that played July 26-July 30 at the Hot Docs Rogers Cinema. The festival’s tag line is: “Always Honest, Not Always Pretty.”

They got that right. The selections of films from across the country and around the world were challenging, informative, bracing, hard-hitting, shocking and always relevant. The Director’s Statement from Leslie Ann Coles, the Founder, Executive/Artistic director of The Female Eye, says that this year’s festival is pared down as they recover from the difficulties of COVID. But as a first-time visitor to the festival, what I saw was stunning in scope.

Over the three days I was able to see what was on offer in programs composed of shorts, documentaries and features from North America, Canada and Internationally. They were categorized under such headings as: Redemption, Individuation, The Personal is Political, Excavating Truths Violence Against Women, Lost and Sexual Rights and Liberty. The power, both gentle and full on that poured out of those films was compelling.

Here are some standouts in a festival loaded with them:


American Dream

Directed by Angela Garcia Coombs. From USA

About a recovering addict trying to get ahead while suffering the dangers and indignities of gig work in the luxury homes of the privileged. She showed tenacity, determination and resilience.

Every Day

Directed by Tara Alexandra Brown and Vin Chandra. From USA

A young woman named Maddie takes a job as a tutor and meets and bonds with the nanny. Maddie is recovering from an earlier trauma and the new relationship triggers memories of the earlier trauma. The film evolves slowly and as more and more information is revealed you find yourself gripping the armrest harder and harder.


Tiger Mom

Directed by Munara Muhetaer. From Canada

A Chinese-Canadian teenager is trapped under the thumb of his demanding, controlling mother until he rebels. You think the film might go down a familiar path, but it veers in another direction, just as reasonable and effective. Beautifully done.

The Personal is Political


Directed by Ragda Alazizi. From Germany/Syria

A short film of stories of women protesting brutal regimes and in particular, one woman imprisoned in Saydnaya Prison in Syria. About women staring down their oppressors. Brutal and powerful.  


Directed by Riffy Ahmed.

Euripides’s tragedy of a betrayed wife who takes violent revenge as reinterpreted through a BIPOC lens. Poetic, graceful and gripping.

Excavating Truths; Violence against women.


Directed by Jennifer Greco. From Colombia

A young woman returns home for the funeral of her school friend and to confront her mother about a trauma the young woman endured at the hands of a friend of the family who sexually abused her when she was a child. The mother is generally silent until she gives her own truth.

Again, the resilience of women beautifully portrayed.



Directed by Lisa Robertson. From Canada

A woman nervously meets the daughter she gave up for adoption years before.

In this elegant, heartbreaking short film, the questioning daughter wants to know so much about her birth mother, why she gave her up and what happened to her. If ever there was a short film that begged to be expanded into a feature, Smokebreak is it. The subject is deep with questions on both sides for the woman who gave up her child and the child who is now an adult.

Sexual Rights and Liberty (Foreign Shorts and Canadian Documentary)

Koromousso, Big Sister

Directed by Habibata Quarme and Jim Donovan

A group of African-Canadian women challenge cultural taboos surrounding female sexuality, and female genital mutilation. Powerful is an understatement.

All the performances in all the films were stunning.

So glad I was introduced to this worthy festival.