Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: (Toronto) War Horse

Joey (Brad Cook, Bryan Hindle, Caden Douglas) and Emilie (Addison Holley). Photo by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Stunning, Emotional, Amazing
by Dave Ross

As I stepped out of the Princess of Wales Theatre on King Street last night, the idea of composing a review of the production I had just seen seemed an impossibility. What was there to say? I was literally gobsmacked at the theatricality of the production I’d just seen. The first thought that came to mind was that War Horse is the most powerful and compelling piece of theatre I’ve seen to date.
The story of War Horse is a simple one, adapted from the children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo. The Narracott family purchases Joey, a young foal. The youngest Narracott, Albert falls in love with Joey breaking him in and adapting him to life on a farm, and all seems well and good until the First World War intervenes. After Joey is sold to the British Army to pay off his family's debts, Albert rushes to the front line in France in an effort to find his four-legged friend. The story is a cathartic one, whose scenes of horror and despair are as moving as its sentimental and uplifting conclusion.

CPC's Video of the Week, February 29, 2012

Behind the scenes at Stratford as here comes 60!
Preparing the curtain for You're a Good Man Charlie Brown

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

News: (Ottawa) Rideau Awards nominations announced

Administrators of Ottawa's Rideau Awards have announced the finalists for this year's prizes. The organization and award, created to promote English- and French-language theatre in the Capital, are given in a wide variety of categories: outstanding production, direction, performances, design, creation, translation, Fringe work and emerging artist. One prize is given in each category in each language.

To be considered for the prize, production companies must pay a $25 fee and set aside a block of tickets for Rideau, who subsequently send theatre practitioners to judge and vote on the work. Companies must also meet the criteria set forward by Rideau as to professional standards (even if they are not working under the standard Equity or Union des artistes contract).

Awards will be announced April 22, at the Shenkman Arts Centre. (GLC)

See the press release.

After Dark, February 28, 2012

The Safe Haven of Fluff
Are theatres playing it too safe?
By Gaëtan L. Charlebois

In about three months I will be 55 years old. I remember the day John F. Kennedy was shot. I remember Nixon's resignation. I remember the end of the Vietnam war, the fall of the Berlin wall, 9-11, the deaths of Milosovic, Saddam and Ghadaffi.

I also remember lineups for gas at gas stations, taxes going up and down, the stock markets all over the place, cuts and cuts and cuts to social programs and the arts.

I remember marches and letters and people giving up the theatre because houses were closing for good, companies were going bankrupt and arts Councils had no money.

Been there, done that. Take a deep breath all - an Ativan if you got - and calm down. Simply, if I read one more editorial about how theatres around the world are playing it safe to weather the storm I shall scream.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: (Vancouver) Hunchback

Hunchback retells 1831 novel with modern flair and fantasy
Not Disney
by Jonas Gifford

Born at Edmonton's Catalyst Theatre, Hunchback retells Victor Hugo's novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, with dark but imaginative staging and an emotive and modern score.

Set in 1482, Hunchback is named after Quasimodo (Ron Pederson), a hunchback adopted in infancy by Claude Frollo (Scott Walters), the Archdeacon of Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris. Frollo and Quasimodo share powerful affections for a beautiful gypsy Esmeralda (Ava Jane Markus). Esmeralda also captures the carnal lust of philanderer and Captain Phoebus de Chateaupers (Andrew Cohen), but tragically succumbs to medieval criminal law after rejecting the jealously obsessive Frollo.

News: Thousand Islands Playhouse names new Artistic Director

Press Release:

            On Monday, February 27th, 2012, Liz Austin, President of the Thousand Islands Foundation for the Performing Arts, announced the successor to Greg Wanless, founding Artistic Director of the Thousand Islands Playhouse.  “After an extremely thorough process that involved a selection committee made up of Board members and several members of Ontario’s professional theatre community, we have selected Ashlie Corcoran, currently of Toronto, to take on the position of Artistic Director at the end of the 2012 season.  Ashlie brings an impressive new energy and commitment to our theatre and the performing arts scene in Ontario, and will be a fitting successor to continue Greg’s artistic vision of a Playhouse by the river in the 1000 Islands.  Her versatile directing and play development experience, especially with her commitment to Canadian work, echoes the Thousand Islands Playhouse’s 30 years of devotion to the creation of theatre for a wide range of audiences. We are very excited to be welcoming Ashlie into the Playhouse and Gananoque communities.”

Openings We're Tracking, February 27-March 4, 2012

Gordon's Andrew Wheeler
(photo by Michael Cooper)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review: (Toronto) High Life

Mike Ross, Michael Hanrahan, Oliver Dennis & Diego Matamoros
(photo: Michael Cooper)

A Brotherhood of Men
Testosterone fills the iconic High Life
by Beat Rice

Something strange about us humans is that we like watching people get up to no good. The Canadian work, High Life, directed by Stuart Hughes, is a testosterone fueled play with an all male cast of four who plan to execute a bank heist. The core group of Dick, Bug, and Donnie, played by Diego Matamoros, Michael Hanrahan, and Oliver Dennis, are old friends with a history of petty crimes, heavy drug use and jail time. Newcomer Billy, played by Mike Ross, is also an addict and claims to have a criminal history but has never done time. The need for Billy for the heist creates conflict within the group.

The Sunday Read: Arden Ryshpan on Non-Equity Shows

(photo by Michael Cooper)

So what’s the problem with reviewing that non-Equity show anyway?
by Arden Ryshpan, Executive Director, Canadian Actors' Equity Association
A couple of weeks ago, Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (Equity) sent a letter to the newspapers in Toronto, asking them not to review two up-coming shows being presented by Dancap Productions Inc; “In the Heights” and “Shrek”. 
The request followed on an article, printed at the time Aubrey Dan announced his season, which not only pointed out that several shows would be non-Equity but quoted Dan as saying that he didn’t believe that audiences could tell the difference. 
These non-Equity shows are not just not Canadian Equity, they aren’t American Equity either. These shows advertise themselves as being “direct from Broadway” but may in fact be several generations removed from Broadway. In some cases, the original producer has already mined all the major markets with a full blown touring production and has now licensed a non-union producer to take a version of the show out on the road. In other cases, the original producer has no interest in sending out a tour themselves and immediately licenses it to a non-union producer – that’s the real meaning of “direct from Broadway” in the case of some of the productions that make their way over the border. Unfortunately, no one tells the audience that.

The Abominable Showman, February 26, 2012

Rex Reed (from Facebook)

On the Town with Bugs
Why people love nasty reviews, and a sampling of the nastiest reviews in showbiz history
By Richard Burnett
There are reviews and then there are nasty reviews. 
The curmudgeonly film critic Rex Reed – who currently writes the column “On the Town with Rex Reed” for The New York Observer – has famously dropped a few doozies over the course of his long career, such as this classic one-liner about the 2009 movie Shrink: “The director of this fiasco, somebody called Jonas Pate, couldn’t direct a dune buggy across the surface of the moon.”
Watching Dogville, Reed wrote, “is like climbing the Matterhorn with a cement block tied to your back.”
He is no fan of Barbra Streisand either. “To know her is not necessarily to love her,” Reed once noted.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Translations

Little Theatre/Big Play
OLT does it again
by Jim Murchison

This week I went to see Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Translations. It is a very ambitious project that explores issues of language and assimilation in 19th century Ireland. Writer Brian Friel has always insisted that Translations is a play about language and only language. Although the play is written in English, the majority of the characters speak predominantly in Irish (Gaelic). Through theatrical convention we are afforded the opportunity to hear them in English. 
Robin Riddihough’s set is a slice of Irish countryside. Large red gates lead into a converted barn where lanterns hang near the steps and lobster traps lean against fieldstone walls. There are tables and chairs there as well, although one might just as well choose to sit on the steps. In every little shelf and storage area there are books. This charming cozy little venue is used as a rustic adult schoolhouse where Gaelic, Greek and Latin are studied along with math and other subjects.

Theatre For Thought, February 25, 2012

joel fishbane
As far as theatrical trends go, our obsession with One-Man Hamlets has to be one of the most bizarre. No one ever seems interested in solo-versions of King Lear or Henry VIII, yet new one-man versions are cropping up all the time (and yes, it is always one man). Artists who have tackled the idea include Clayton Jevne (Victoria), Michael Birch (New York) and the folks at the Classical Theatre Company in Texas. Until recently, the latest version was Rhaoul Baneja’s Hamlet (Solo) which has had a life of its own since appearing at Theatre Passe Mureille in Toronto. But Baneja will have to make some room on the bench: thanks to BJ Harrison, there’s a new one-man Hamlet in town.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Friday Five, February 24, 2012

Five Reasons Why We're Stopping The Friday Five
Your worst nightmare has come true. The gates of hell have swung open and flaming horrors scream through your mind, devouring your happiness, your sanity, your very will to live. Where once you had faith, there is now only darkness. Where once you had strength, there lies a broken child. Where once you had hope, there sits a steaming pile of hopeshit. The Matt and Kyle and Matt Friday Five has come to an end, and with it, the end of all things. Why? Choose one of the answers below. 
by Kyle Gatehouse of Matt and Kyle and Matt

CharPo's Real Theatre! February 24, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) 33 (A Kabarett)

(photo by Toni Mustra)

Weimar Germany as seen outside of Cabaret
by Jim Murchison

’33 (A Kabarett) is billed as a cabaret of ghosts. It is loosely based on the demise of a real life cabaret called the Eldorado that was closed down by the Nazis and later operated as a Nazi headquarters. The only one left in the theatre as the play opens is the Master of Ceremonies. He has bittersweet memories of his friends and colleagues who were taken, a few clothes and his own fear. Everyone is gone.

Review: (Toronto) Obeah Opera

l-r Bemnet Tekleyohannes, Joni NehRita, Nicole Brooks, Macomere Fifi and Saidah Baba Talibah (Photographer: Nation Cheong)

Both Thought and Entertainment
The magical Obeah Opera
by Axel Van Chee

There is nothing like an accidental education, especially one that is delivered via beautiful music. The world premiere of the powerful Obeah Opera produced by b current & Theatre Archipelago proves to be just such a thing: it is both thought provoking and entertaining. The opera is sung entirely a cappella, using only female voices. For two hours starting with the very first chord, it is as if you are transported to a lush, distant Caribbean Island, and serenaded by the Islanders with their oral history. It is like Obeah, it is magical.

Review: (Toronto) The Big Smoke

A Solo Fails to Stir
Structure and script hamper a tale of life and death
by Beat Rice

The Big Smoke is a unique one-woman show that is also a different kind of musical. The narrative is sung and in some parts spoken by co-writer, composer, and performer Amy Nostbakken. The play is sung in a jazzy style and is done entirely a cappella.
The story follows Nathalie's last summer before she dies. She is a young painter from Toronto, in London to compete for an exhibition spot. She tells us about the gallery openings and shows she and the other young artists attend, of raunchy nights in clubs, and of trysts with different men. It was unoriginal and shallow. We do not find out enough about the character's nature to care about her decline in the end. There were many details in the story-telling that felt petty and made the show longer than it needed to be. Detailed descriptions are effective when one knows why they are being provided.

Review: (Vancouver) Intimate Apparel

Daren Herbert and Marci T. House (Photo by David Cooper)

A Play gets one of many airings
Intimate Apparel is a Canadian staple this year - should it be?
by Jay Catterson

Intimate Apparel, written by Lynn Nottage, and directed for Arts Club Vancouver by John Cooper, centres around the life of an African-American seamstress named Esther and is set in turn-of-the-century New York City. Her talent and passion for sewing has provided her with a stable job sewing corsets and lingerie for wealthy women, enabling her to set aside her life's earnings inside a patchwork quilt in hopes of starting a beauty shop. She mysteriously receives a letter from a Panamanian laborer, and although she cannot read and write, she corresponds to this gentleman with the help of her friends, eliciting a clandestine penpal romance. Surprisingly he proposes to her via correspondence, and she accepts, setting up the dramatic events that challenge Esther's notions of love and self-worth.

CPC's Picture of the Week, February 23, 2012

It's the Horse, of course, of course
War Horse, premiering this week
Albert Narracott (Alex Furber) and Joey as a foal (Patrick Kwok-Choon, Rahnuma Panthaky, Mairi Babb). Photo by Brinkhoff / Mögenburg

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

News: Theatre Calgary announces huge, ambitious 2012-13 season

Theatre Calgary is going out on a limb next year and presenting a six-play season that should cost the company a pretty penny. It includes two musicals (Next to Normal, opening the season, and Anne of Green Gables, closing it), a costume drama (Pride and Prejudice), a work virtually written for top actors (God of Carnage), the large-cast seasonal favourite (A Christmas Carol) and a new work with a foreign setting (The Kite Runner).

You may recognize this last for its previous incarnations: a magnificent novel and movie.

TC may be able to save some money in coproductions (Pride is with the NAC, Normal and Kite with Citadel), but you cannot fault the house and artistic director Dennis Garnhum for ambition.

See the company's website

CPC's Video of the Week, February 22, 2012

Promo for Soulpepper's production of Lee MacDougall's High Life
a deliciously dark work about losers and a heist

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

After Dark, February 21, 2012

The Insidious Nature of Theatre
Damned if it's not everywhere
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Believe it or not...

There was a time when Radio-Canada, through it's primetime Sunday (hit) series Les beaux dimanches, would broadcast plays by ours and the world's greatest playwrights. (They even did my play, which brought it an estimated audience of 800,000 and sent me on a three-month trip through Europe...God bless those times.) There was a time when CBC showed opera and theatre and ballet. There was a time when even the American giants presented plays or the work of playwrights on shows like Playhouse 90 and The Goodyear Television Playhouse; on the latter Paddy Chayefsky tested the waters with his piece, Marty (before it went on to its movie version and an odd little Oscar for Ernest Borgnine in the role Rod Steiger created on TV) as did William Gibson with his seminal The Miracle Worker on the former.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Interview: Dennis Foon on New Canadian Kid

Warona Steshwaelo and Mike Payette in New Canadian Kid
(photo: Ashley Belmer)

Veteran Canadian Writer
Upstage  host Eric Sukhu spoke with playwright Dennis Foon about his play New Canadian Kid presented by Black Theatre Workshop as part of Black History Month. Below is an abridged version by Estelle Rosen, CharPo Editor-in-chief. 
Tell us about New Canadian Kid.
New Canadian Kids started many years ago when I was working on a project with a school in Vancouver. Speaking with kids from 42 different language groups about their experience as a New Canadian was an eye-opener for me.
Even though I was an immigrant, I hadn’t given it a lot of thought. My own family were immigrants but hearing about what it’s like coming into a country not knowing anyone or even the language allows you to feel it from their perspective. 

We don’t think about these things; you just deal with it. The heart of the show.puts you in the shoes of the immigrant and allows you to feel the experience. 
The hardest thing for kids is seeing their  parents in crisis. Seeing their parents trying to make a new life and often not able to maintain their positions as engineers for example is stressful for kids. 

Openings We're Tracking, February 20-26, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review: (Toronto) Everything Under the Moon (World Stage 2012)

Remembering the Awe
World Stage brings it all home
by Beat Rice
Remember those moments when you were a kid and being in awe of something? Remember how your imagination used to bubble up as you listened to someone tell you a story? You can now relive that pure kind of joy at the Harbourfront Centre. Everything Under the Moon is a multidisciplinary piece that involves story told through song and shadow, music and puppets. It incorporates beautiful visuals in the form of light and dark, and hand animated action, using overhead projectors. Everything Under the Moon tells the story of a honeybee and a brown bat, who become friends as they travel north and south.

The Sunday Read: Actor's Notes - Paul Hopkins and In Absentia

l-r Paul Hopkins, Jillian Fargey, Jade Hassouné (photo:

From With-In Absentia
Actor's notes 
by Paul Hopkins

I’m currently performing in Morris Panych’s new play, In Absentia, at the Centaur. I play Tom, husband to Colette. To me, this is a story about love. And boy, do I love this play. It reminds me of what I love about theatre: The opportunity to explore the big questions. Below are various thoughts, questions and obstacles that I had during the rehearsal process. The audience only gets to see a prepared meal. What’s below might give a taste of some of the ingredients that went into it.
FYI - The play, in case you haven’t seen it: Colette lives in a house next to a lake in cottage country. A year earlier, her husband was kidnapped, in Columbia. She’d agreed to pay the ransom but then never heard back from the kidnappers. Since then she has remained in limbo, not sure whether her husband is alive or dead. She has taken to talking to an imaginary husband, and receiving consolation from her neighbour and sister. The play begins when a young man shows up at her door, seemingly out of nowhere. The play moves forward from this moment but is comprised of little scenes that jump back and forth in time.

The Abominable Showman, February 19, 2012

The Windmill As it stands today by schau mal einer an, via Google’s Panoramio picture-sharing website

The Theatre of War
As Canadian troops train in combat operations overseas, the Abominable Showman pays tribute to one of the finest wartime theatres ever, The Windmill, where T&A provided Londoners and allied soldiers much-needed relief during World War II
By Richard Burnett
My British father was 10 years old when World War II started, and almost 16 when the war finally ended in 1945. Two years later my dad would serve in the British military as a member of a Sexton tank crew in Germany, from 1947-1949. There he saw the carnage inflicted on Germany by the allies.
But my father had also survived The Blitz, when the Nazis bombed London almost every night between September 7, 1940 and May 10, 1941, killing 20,000 Londoners (as well as another 20,000 Brits living outside the city) and destroying or damaging over one million homes in London alone.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Charlebois Post - Canada Articles on The Healey Affair

Editorial: Steve Galluccio on The Healey Affair

The Quebec Thing
The Healey Affair - Not Here
by Steve Galluccio
Going back to the Mike Healey/Tarragon affair... 
It is clear now that the Tarragon did not produce the Healey play, which was supposedly anti-Harper, fearing reprisals from the Harper government. 

Obituary: Jennifer Cook

The unsung heroine
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Jennifer Cook, who died this week after a prolonged illness, was one of the great unsung heroines of Canadian theatre having touched the lives of artists across the country. She began her work in Canadian theatre at Centaur where she served as secretary to the artistic director and general manager (under Maurice Podbrey). She became friends with many of the creators simply passing through the company, and was a close accomplice of virtually all who worked there. It was during this period that I met her and before long she was not only my best friend, but also managed my career as a playwright, ushering my work into CBC radio and coproducing my play Michael (which was subsequently performed, in French, at Quat'Sous, largely thanks to her involvement).

Review: (Toronto) Beckett: Feck It!

Laura Condlln, Shannon Mercer and Sofia Tomic (Photo by John Lauener)

See It!
A Beckett noob gets bit
by Stuart Munro
I confess. Even though I went to a performing arts school, I don’t know anything about Samuel Beckett. Certainly the name had come up more than once, and I knew the title of Waiting for Godot, but that was the extent of my experience. (It was a music theatre school. Ask me about Sondheim sometime.) So I didn’t know what to expect from the opening night of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre’s Beckett: Feck It!
I certainly didn’t expect to love it.
Beckett: Feck It! combines four of the shorter plays by the Irish playwright with more contemporary Irish classical music which the playbill asserts is “inspired by his work.” The formula feels a bit artificial, as if the creators were looking for a way to link the plays together with something more than a fade out/fade in. But even given that, the structure works; the music and song always have the same tone and energy of what’s preceded or what’s to come. Soprano Shannon Mercer possesses a beautiful and clear voice and delivers all the music in convincing German and Irish. Ms. Mercer appears in one of the short plays as well and manages to hold her own alongside the more seasoned actors.

Theatre For Thought, February 18, 2012

joel fishbane
As frustrated as I can be with some of David Mamet’s work, I remain doggedly convinced that he is one of the finest playwrights of the modern age. It is, I think, a glorious thing to experience anything he has written: he has the ability to cut through the great chafe of life and, in prose that is lean but never anorexic, reveal wisdom in all areas: art, lust, guns, even campaign buttons. Oh and race. Let’s not forget that. 
Mamet’s 2006 book The Wicked Son dealt with anti-Semitism and self hatred among the Jews; not content with this controversy, he returned to Broadway in 2009 with Race, a play that tackles the great racial divide that has haunted America ever since Thomas Jefferson was forced to remove references to slaves from the Declaration of Independence (it’s true, look it up).

Friday, February 17, 2012

News: (Victoria) Pacific Opera announces new season

As they prepare to climb into their latest production, Carmen, Pacific Opera has announced its plans for the 2012-13 season.

Along with some standard-issue regional house content (Tosca), the company is taking a couple of interesting chances with Verdi's lesser performed Macbeth and a light-hearted gem from the Benjamin Britten opus, Albert Herring.

The Friday Five, February 17, 2012

(fig. 1)

Try these out with your friends!
by Matt Raudsepp of Matt and Kyle and Matt

1. Nobody To My Left/Somebody To My Right: Safe (fig. 1)
The Holy Grail of assigned seating. Some “theatre goer” didn’t go, and you find yourself with an empty seat next to you. Throw that elbow open and extend a foot into nothingness… this play is going to be good! Pro Tip: use the empty spot for your jacket, bags, and program.

CharPo's Real Theatre!, February 17, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

News: Keynote speakers announced for APASO

The Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) is hosting the annual meeting of The Association of Performing Arts Service Organizations (APASO), in April. The announced speakers are Simon Brault, CEO at the National Theatre School and writer of No Culture, No Future and Tim Jones, President and CEO of Artscape.

Press release:


by Natasha Gauthier
(click to enlarge)

Blog: Critical Condition, February 16, 2012

Oh! The Fucking Week
When seven days can be as exhilarating as it is frustrating
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Have you ever had one of those weeks where, while running errands on a gray, rainy day, you are at a stop light and you think: I have two choices; I throw myself into the oncoming, or I cause a catastrophic accident which will kill a dozen, much to my delight. It is a sorry emotional state; a mixture of excitement at how fast things are going and rage at how you seem to be the only one in the whirlwind (it's like no one else notices). You are feeling both love for the world and a deep misanthropy at the same time.

CPC's Picture of the Week, February 16, 2012

Marilyn Koop's magnificent art for Beckett: Feck It! at Canadian Stage