Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: (Stratford) You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown

Stephen Patterson (photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Happiness is Stratford’s Charlie Brown
Two Boys, Five Days, Five Plays ends on a high note
by Stuart Munro
As I sat in my seat waiting for the curtain to go up on Wednesday night’s opening of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, I was a little worried. In her director’s notes, Donna Feore talks about using contemporary movement in order to make sure the kids of today will see characters they recognize on stage, and while I agree with the goal, I wasn’t sure I agreed with the planned execution. Could Schultz’s classic, timeless characters work as 21st century youths? Had the 1999 makeover of the show done enough to make Charlie Brown and his companions modern?

Review: (Montreal) Life and Times Episode 1 (FTA)

All The Life, All The Times
FTA asks its audience to endure
by Chad Dembski
When I say a three hour and a ½ experimental musical theatre performance based solely on the verbatim transfer of Kristin Worrall who was asked to tell the story of her life, do you get excited or scared?  It’s a bit like reading a personal blog, you might become equal parts curious, amused, bored, and touched.  Kristin's life growing up in Rhode Island somewhere around the early 80’s (a guess) is like any middle class North American.  She is preoccupied with figuring out who her parents are, finding a best friend, and making it through elementary school.

CPC Picture of the Week, May 31, 2012

David Hou's photo of Yanna McIntosh in Cymbeline at Stratford
show you the absolute craft of the company. Notice the texture of the 
gown (the embroidery), the ruffles, jewels, and even Ms McIntosh's hair style. 

NEWS: Toronto Theatre Critics Announce Awards

Winner Nicole Underhay in Small Room (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Press release:
(Links are to Charlebois-Post reviews of winning productions)

We are pleased to announce the winners of the second annual edition of the Toronto Theatre Critics' Awards.

The TTCAs were established in 2011 to honour the best in Toronto theatre. This year, the awards were decided by critics from The Globe and Mail (J. Kelly Nestruck), The Grid (Martin Morrow), National Post (Robert Cushman), NOW Magazine (Glenn Sumi) and Toronto Star (Richard Ouzounian). 

Productions that opened from May 2011 to May 2012 were eligible for consideration. In addition, the TTCA voters decided to give a special citation to actor Eric Peterson. See below for the full list of winners.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: (Stratford) 42nd Street

Cynthia Dale (photo credit: David Hou)

Come And Meet Those Dancing Feet
Stratford’s 42nd Street is flashy, if uneven
by Stuart Munro
There is a fantastic moment early on in the Stratford production of 42nd Street. Cynthia Dale, in her first Stratford opening night for a number of years (following a parting of ways with the former artistic staff), approaches Sean Arbuckle, the show-within-the-show’s director, and tells him how thrilled and honoured and humbled she is to be back on stage working again. The audience greeted her entrance with thunderous applause, and there was a bright gleam in her eye—the obvious double meaning of her lines not lost on anyone. It is an incredible instant of art imitating life in the realist way.
Realism then promptly flies out the window.

Review: (Montreal) The Debacle (FTA)

(photo credit: Scott Munn)

by Joel Fishbane

Enigmatic and challenging, Zuppa Theatre Co’s The Debacle is in many ways the quintessential FTA show.  Now in it’s sixth year, the Festival TransAmérique is an international, multidisciplinary festival renowned for importing the unique and experimental. Most shows at the FTA will defy convention and that’s precisely what The Debacle does, situating its plot-free narrative inside a cramped and cluttered crawlspace that may be real or may be a mere representation of our heroine’s mind.

Video of the Week, May 30, 2012

The ultimate showbiz anthem: The Lullaby of Broadway

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: (Stratford) Much Ado About Nothing

Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay (photo credit: David Hou)

All Things Sort So Well
Stratford’s Much Ado is a fantastic romp
by Stuart Munro and Dave Ross
Much Ado About Nothing has long been one of our favourite Shakespearean comedies, thanks in large part to the 1993 film version which helped introduce us to the bard. As such, we both had high expectations for Stratford’s production of the famous comedy, and we were not disappointed.
Stuart Munro: I was impressed right as the lights were going down and we heard a soundscape of a battleground. It’s not made explicitly clear in the text that some sort of civil war has just ended, and I appreciated this gentle reminder that our main characters are all returning from battle. The lights came up on the sweeping staircase of Santo Loquasto’s Brazilian inspired set, and Robert Thomson’s gentle lighting always made it seem as though sunlight were streaming through some unseen overhead foliage. The stage was always lush and warm.
Dave Ross: My only criticism of the set would be that large staircase winding downstage left which may potentially restrict the view of patrons on that side of the theatre. (In fact, friends of ours on that side commented they had a hard time understanding the dialogue on occasion.) Most of the action is set downstage which mostly mitigates the problem.

After Dark, May 29, 2012

Politics is exhausting
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

In a discussion on politics and Queer culture, a woman once said to Larry Kramer, "I have been on the forefront of the civil rights movement. I was then an active feminist. Now I fight for Queers. When do get I to sit down?" Kramer said, "You don't." Kramer, who - in my humble opinion - is a Queer prophet, can also be incredibly tiresome.

I realized last Thursday (again!), that even when you agree with and even revere people, you wish they would just fucking sit down sometimes and realize, too, that they really should. If only for the good of the cause.

I am fritzed!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Appreciation: Peter Hinton

Farewell, Peter Hinton!
What is lost at NAC
by Jim Murchison
As the the capital region says goodbye to Peter Hinton, the trepidation Ottawa had at his arrival after Marti Maraden's departure is a distant memory. Make no mistake when you invest 7 or 8 years of your life in a community, your replacement is looked on with suspicion. At the time that Peter Hinton took over the helm I was an insider on the marketing end of things. Arts Marketing had a contract to sell subscriptions and I was a member of that team. For the most part, we were calling people that already had subscribed and I had to really push my points across to convince them that a Peter Hinton season was worth subscribing to. Peter Hinton made a point of dropping by the subscription office to give us an idea of his direction and his plans. Having said all that, the number of people that didn't want to subscribe, compared to the number of people that felt Ottawa was losing one of the best assets the NAC ever had in Marti Maraden was about 3 to 1 and not in Mr. Hinton's favour.

Openings We're Tracking The Week, May 28 - June 3, 2012

Seana McKenna in The Matchmaker (photo credit: On The Run)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: (Shaw Festival) Ragtime

Eden Kennedy and Jay Turvey (photo credit: David Cooper)

The Music of Something Beginning
Shaw’s Ragtime explodes off the stage
by Dave Ross and Stuart Munro
Our weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake has come to a close with the Shaw production of the Tony Award winning Ragtime. This extraordinary work by composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and author Terrence McNally narrates the changing face of America “as the twentieth century emerges.” We follow three families: the white middle-class of family of New Rochelle, known only by their familial designations; the African-American struggle of Coalhouse, Sarah, and their young son; and the newly arrived immigrants from Eastern Europe, Tateh and his daughter, the little girl. Over the course of three hours their paths are slowly intertwined to become one story.

The Sunday Read: Greg Wanless looks back at 30 years at Thousand Islands Playhouse

Greg Wanless and Mo Bock in The Melville Boys

With Kathryn MacKay, associate
producer and wife
Reaching Middle Age
An Artistic Director looks back at a lifetime in the Islands
by Greg Wanless

The First Ten Seasons 1982-1991
The first decade of the Thousand Islands Playhouse could be typified as one of high energy, constant excitement and surprises. I had come from performing at the Stratford Festival with the intention of creating a similar festival in Gananoque, and my enthusiasm was matched by that of countless business people and theatre artists who worked alongside each other to transform the Canoe Club into a functioning professional theatre space.  In the first year, I even called actors such as Hume Cronyn and Martha Henry – and programmed two classics (Comedy of Errors and The Beggar’s Opera) and one contemporary piece (On Golden Pond)  for the inaugural season. Interestingly enough, it was the final show, Beggar’s Opera, that outsold everything. The others had houses of 35-75 people, but that show was getting 100 people a night – mid week! We were always on the edge, survival was not an issue – but the second two seasons each doubled the attendance figures of the previous season.

First-Person: Ann-Marie Kerr on The Debacle

(Photo credit: Scott Munn)

Musical Chairs – moving from director to actor in a solo show
The jarring jars
by Ann-Marie Kerr
Sue Leblanc-Crawford of Zuppa Theatre in Halifax approached me a few years ago to direct her in a solo show. We would co-create it and with any luck it would tour the world.  When we started, we waded into intimate territory immediately. We found that we had 100 things in common including coming from families of 7. We realized a mutual obsession with death and dying, our own and others, how it would happen and when. Like with lots of theatre made from scratch, the process had us soaring and falling daily. We’d try ideas for days and weeks at a time only to cut the heart of them knowing they didn’t work or they weren’t taking us to centre of the piece. We scraped away at the surface for a long time and then finally began to see what might be the core of the show.  It was our abject terror of being the only one left, being the end of our family line.  The show became about a woman finding the courage to crash through the immobilizing fear of losing everyone but needing to go on.  

The Abominable Showman, May 27, 2012

The song remains the same
The Obies vs The MECCAs highlights some of the real differences between New York and Montreal —but the anglophone theatre scenes of both cities actually have much in common 
By Richard Burnett
Like they say, good boys and girls go to heaven, bad boys and girls go to Montreal. 
You should’ve seen Montreal during her jazz era Sin City heyday, a wide-open scene fuelled by Prohibition stateside. Quebec was the only jurisdiction in Canada and America where alcohol was legal. 
So the thirsty came to Montreal from all over the continent: gamblers and racketeers followed by the world’s most famous entertainers, everybody from Louis Armstrong to Frank Sinatra, who held court at the Chez Paree nightclub. 

Tour Whore, May 27, 2012

Comfort Food
by Cameryn Moore

I just finished filming some short-short promo videos for my upcoming presentation of Phone Whore in the Zoofest Festival in Montréal, and it’s all getting a little meta. The promo videos are from an imaginary webcast series called Cooking with Cameryn Moore the Phone Whore. The amount of coordinating and dishes and shifting shit around was a little discombobulating, and yeah, the whole time I worried about the phone ringing with an actual caller. 

The filming was challenging enough, it’s a whole new project. But the kitchen situation, well, that’s a chronic issue: the kitchen is not my own. I’m on tour, remember? So I have found out that here there was only one pan large enough to handle the baking of the bacon, and the tongs are weird, and I couldn’t really tidy up the kitchen because I don’t know where all that mail on the table needs to go, and even though I firmly believe that everyone likes the smell of bacon except vegetarians and people who keep kosher or halal, that’s just a belief, not an actually proven or prove-able fact. And there’s no jarred crushed garlic in the fridge, and I’m not sure about the freshness of the olive oil, and etc. etc… 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: (Shaw Festival) Misalliance

Krista Colosimo, Ben Sanders (photo credit: David Cooper)

Endless patter...Good endless patter
Shaw Fest delivers a brilliant cast
by Dave Ross

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw is an unfamiliar play to me, but almost anyone I spoke to lit up when I mentioned I was seeing it. It was described to me as a very “talky” play, and even Shaw himself commented that it was “nothing but endless patter.” The story follows the antics of the Tarleton family. The daughter, Hypatia (Krista Colismo), is the heir to the Tarleton Underwear fortune. Her brother Johnny (Jeff Meadows) is set to be the businessman in the family, and Hypatia is engaged to the off-putting Bentley Summerhays (Ben Sanders). There is much discussion of the very-vocal Hypatia’s future: she feels trapped in her existence, and admits early on that she is not in love with Bentley. Indeed, no one in the Tarleton home likes him. Things are thrown into further upheaval when a plane crash-lands on the house, introducing Joey Percival (Wade Bogert-O’Brien) and an exotic foreigner, Lina Szczepanowska (Tara Rosling). 

Theatre For Thought, May 26, 2012

joel fishbane
Were one to judge novelist John Irving’s new book by its cover, it would seem to have little to do with theatre. Perhaps best known for The World According to Garp, Irving’s latest book, In One Person, concerns a bisexual whose coming of age begins in the repressed 1950s. Yet the novel begins with an epigraph from Richard II (“Thus play I in one person many people / and none contented”), moves on to a deft exploration of Ibsen’s women, pauses to poke fun at amateur theatre and then bases an entire plot thread around a production of The Tempest.  “What I really think,” the director tells the main character, “is that gender mattered a whole lot less to Shakespeare then it seems to matter to us.”
The director is pretty wise about most things in the book, but I’d argue that on this particular point he generally misses the mark. Gender mattered a lot to Shakespeare – this, along with sexual politics, is one of his most pervasive themes. As we sit on the eve of another summer of Shakespeares on the stage, in the park and by the sea, we find that the vast majority of our summer fare will be the very plays where Shakespeare’s sexual politics take centre stage. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

News Roundup, May 25, 2012

Walterdale poster art
MONTREAL: Théâtre d'Aujourd'hui has rescinded its Thursday decision to forbid the wearing of the red square badge (symbolic of support for the student movement in Quebec). The company came in for harsh criticism for the initial decision this week. In a press release today the company said, "We are sorry this...put into doubt [the company's] determination to permit free speech..."

TORONTO: The Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) has announced the date of the gala for presentation of the Dora Awards: Monday, June 25. Thom Allison will host at the Bluma Appel Theatre. Nominations for the awards will be announced June 5.

EDMONTON: Walterdale Playhouse has announced its new season. Included in the lineup are The Weir, Summer and Smoke and the musical Anything Goes. (See website)

Review: (Ottawa) Circle Mirror Transformation

(poster art)

The Drama of The Search
Lise Ann Johnson says farewell with a beauty
by Jim Murchison

Annie Baker's play Circle Mirror Transformation takes place entirely in one brick room in a Community Centre in Shirley, Vermont. Five people meet there for a 6 week summer Program of Drama for Adults. The purpose of the program is not to put on a play but is solely dedicated to theatre games.
One of the things about going to opening nights is you see the same people at the theatre repeatedly. That may be a good sign that the subscription campaign has gone well or it may be that we are performing for a very limited audience. Choosing to do plays about theatre experiences sometimes makes me worry that we know our audience too well and that we are playing to a kumbaya, sing around the campfire, aren't we wonderful scenario.

Review: (Montreal) 8 Ways My Mother Was Conceived

Many Ways This Piece Is Even Better
Michaela di Cesare and her director find the should of a play
by Chris Lane

“I compiled a list of the lies my mother told me.”

Lies, or myths, or half-truths, or lies that you tell yourself, or the ever-elusive truth. These all colour the narrative of Michaela di Cesare’s life, centred around the pervasive family belief that her mother was immaculately conceived, thus maintaining her grandmother’s virginity before marriage. 8 Ways my Mother was Conceived is – as the playwright-performer puts it – an autobiomythography about di Cesare’s experience growing up dealing with her Catholic Italian-Canadian family’s mythology and her own Virgin Complex and expectations of herself.

Review: (Toronto) The Hunger

The Gingerbread Man
Not a pleasant night
by Dave Ross

A man dressed in black, wearing a mask, stepped into the lobby of the theatre this evening. He mingled with the crowd waiting to enter the theatre, and started silently directing the audience into the performance space. And then he walked into a few chairs and nearly fell over. This was clearly not part of the act, and was a bad omen at the opening night of Uncanny House’s The Hunger, running now at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre in Parkdale.
Before proceeding further in this review, I need to state that The Hunger is my first experience with an immersive performance installation. Until now, theatre for me has always been relatively traditional. It should also be noted that I’ve not included any names in this review—Uncanny House is a collective of artists, and the news release is unclear as to who was responsible for specific aspects of the production. No program is provided. This performance is billed as a “surreal, immersive experience” that explores the themes of escapism and consumption, while instilling a sense of child-like wonder. The news release states that this production “strives to distill the essence of… Hansel and Gretel.” These are lofty aims, aims that are not met even once during the production.

Review: (Toronto) Turn of the Screw

(photo credit: Darryl Block)

Suffer the Children
Against the Grain scores again with Britten
by Axel Van Chee

Against the Grain Theatre has done it again. The company has set a very high bar for their future endeavors this time around with a stunning production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, opening at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. It is musically satisfying, theatrically absorbing, and they really should consider keeping this in their repertoire. It is perhaps the best production of the Screw that I have seen. 

CharPo's Real Theatre ! May 25, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: (Toronto) Home

Oliver Dennis & Michael Hanrahan (photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Storey's Story
Soulpepper goes Home
by Jessica Yen
Home, written by David Storey is a slow to unravel story about communication and trying to find familiarity in an unfamiliar place. The ensemble cast is what makes this tricky 80 minute plotless play a treat for audiences. 
The set, designed by Ken MacKenzie, is elegant and effective in that it is familiar and yet nondescript enough that the reveal of the play's true location is not given away. Jack and Harry are dressed impeccably as English gentlemen and for the first half of the play it is easy to believe that this may very well be a period play. Their exchanges are a wonderful display of nuance and wit. Oliver Dennis keeps conversation afloat and the physical details of his character are engaging to watch, from the way he holds his hat to the way he leans across the table. Michael Hanrahan as Harry is the yin to Dennis' yang. They navigate the non-sequiturs and silences with precision and sensitivity. 

Review: (Vancouver) High Society

Steve Maddock and Jennifer Lines (Photo by Tim Matheson)

A Touch of Class
Arts Club serves up a good Porter
by Jay Catterson

High Society, the Cole Porter stage musical adapted from the Philip Barry play The Philadelphia Story and the 1956 movie of the same name, which starred screen legends Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, hits the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in this Arts Club Vancouver production. For those of you familiar with the movie, the core story is the same; wealthy socialite Tracy Lord is in the midst of planning a lavish wedding to her stodgy fiancée, but over the course of a weekend and debaucherous pre-nuptual soirée, she has the difficult decision of choosing between her fiancée, her ex-husband, and a tabloid news reporter for her hand in marriage. But for the stage musical, High Society has been augmented with a book by Arthur Kopit and other classic Cole Porter tunes pulled from different shows. (Hmm, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue? I sense a theme here!)

CPC's Picture of the Week, May 24, 2012

Scott Munn's exceptional photo of Susan Leblanc Crawford in The Debacle, opening at FTA. The use of light (and of objects not fully visible) provides mystery and draws the eye to the actor's face.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shaw/Stratford Preview

Julie Martell in Ragtime (photo credit: Emily Cooper)

Two Guys, Five Days, Five Plays
by Stuart Munro
Starting this Friday, fellow CharPo contributor Dave Ross and myself will be heading into the heart of Ontario’s theatre world and installing ourselves at the Shaw and Stratford Festivals. Two Guys, Five Days, Five Plays will have us in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the opening nights of Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance, and Ahren and Flaherty’s Ragtime. We’ll be taking Sunday off (for Jesus) before heading to Stratford and the openings of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Dubin and Warren’s 42nd Street, and Gesner’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

News Roundup, May 23, 2012

TORONTO: Performances continue tonight of Lost in Yonkers presented by the Harold Greenberg Jewish Theatre and starring Happy Days mom, Marion Ross. Performances were put on hold so that actor  Linda Kash could be with her family following the sudden death of her husband, actor Paul O'Sullivan, in a car crash last Friday. Kash will not be returning to the show and has been replaced by Finnerty Steeves, who recently played Kash's role in an off-Broadway revival of the Neil Simon play. Kash is known as the angel in the Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercials. O'Sullivan was a television actor and member of Toronto's Second City troupe. Kash and O'Sullivan have three daughters.

VANCOUVER: Nominations for the Jessie Richardson Awards have been announced. Among contenders in Large Theatre, Small Theatre and Young Audience categories are, of course, the now defunct Vancouver Playhouse as well as Art House, Rumble, Green Thumb and Shakespeare by the Sea. Awards will be presented June 25. (See full list of nominees at the Awards website)

NEW YORK: The New Yorker has reported that the GM of the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, will allow Opera News (published by the company's Guild) to review Met productions after pressure was put on them to stop when they published a negative review of Robert Lepage's Götterdammerung (the last opera of Lepage's Ring Cycle). The move by Gelb follows a huge outcry from aficionados worldwide online and in print. (Read the New Yorker piece)

CPC's Video of the Week, May 23, 2012

Looks like you'll cry...
Audience reactions and some
pretty stirring moments from the musical.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

After Dark, May 22, 2012

Dog's Life
Sometimes, when the dust has settled, it is nice to go back
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I was walking my dog a few days ago when off in the distance, coming toward me, was a man and his dog. In a few seconds a profound malaise came over me. A critic's nightmare: you are about to run into someone to whom you gave a negative review. The someone coming toward me was Andrew Shaver, director of Haunted Hillbilly now playing at Centaur. 

Now Andrew probably does not remember this but before I started the whole CharPo business I had run into him at a depanneur - I was recovering from a very long illness - and he said, "When are you coming back." So he is, to some extent, responsible for the existence of The Charlebois Post. Since then our meetings on the street have had more to do with our two crazy dogs. His is big, mine is small and they both have a chip on their shoulder. It culminated with my dog attacking his and me getting so pissed at my idiot animal that I did a César Milan trick: I lifted my Jack Russell up by the scruff of the neck and presented his gonads to Andrew's dog. When I put my dog down, he got on his hind legs, put his front paws on the shoulders of Andrew's dog and they kissed. Good times.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Sunday Read: Joel Ivany on Turn of The Screw

Killing Curiousity
Staging Britten's brilliantly dark piece
by Joel Ivany

It is a curious story.
Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera, The Turn of the Screw, opened in 1954 at Teatro La Fenice in Venice.
Against the Grain Theatre will be producing the eerie tale from May 24-27 at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, on U of T campus.
It’s quite an exciting theatrical piece to be preparing.  Described primarily as a ghost story, it can also be interpreted, though rarely is, as a love story.