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Monday, 21 December 2009

Look for Forum on Toronto Stages

The 2009 production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is heading to stages in Toronto, according to a press release from the Festival.

Mirvish has picked up the production and will run it as part of the 2010/11 season.

No casting has been officially announced, but in an article in the Toronto Star today Richard Ouzounian's source "Deep Swan" hints that most of the Festival's original cast will be present and accounted for, and that hopes are strong that Bruce Dow (left) and Sean Cullen (right) will share the lead.

Monday, 9 November 2009

More 2010 casting news: Sean Cullen, Paul Nolan, Mike Shara, Sophia Walker all return

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival announced more 2010 casting in a press release today.

Sean Cullen (above left) will return to play Smee in Peter Pan, opposite Michael Therriealut. The two starred together in the Toronto run of The Producers five years ago. Joining the cast as little Michael Darling is Stacie Steadman (above, right). Mr. Cullen has also been cast as Vinnie the M.C. in King of Thieves at the Studio Theatre.
Paul Nolan (above left), has been cast as Orlando in As You Like It, with Mike Shara (above right) as Oliver.
Sophia Walker (above left) now has the role of Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona; Nikki M. James was to play that part but recently pulled out of the 2010 season for unstated reasons. Mike Jackson (above right) will return to play Billl Calhoun in Kiss Me, Kate.

Marti Maraden's production of The Winter's Tale will also include performances by Dan Chameroy, Sean Arbuckle and Ian Lake (above right, middle, and left, respectively).

And Richard Ouzounian's source appears to be a good one; earlier today he reported that Jewelle Blackman (above left) and Nathalie Nadon (above right) would be appearing in Jacques Brel, which the press release has now confirmed.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Nikki M. James pulls out of 2010 season

J. Kelly Nestruck of the Globe and Mail reports that Nikki M. James (right), who was cast as Ariel (The Tempest) and Julia (Two Gentlemen of Verona), has pulled out of the 2010 Stratford season for personal reasons.
Replacements have not yet been announced.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

2010 Birmingham Conservatory participants

Aside from the casting listed earlier this week, the following actors are likely to have roles in the 2010 season by virtue of the fact that they are participating in the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training this fall and winter:

Bruce Godfree
Amanda Lisman
Paul Nolan
Andrea Runge
Anand Rajaram
Quincy Armorer
Skye Brandon
Jennifer Paterson
Christopher Prentice
Suzanne Roberts Smith

Chilina Kennedy (above left) and Cara Ricketts (above right) are also in the Conservatory this year, and have already been cast in Kiss Me, Kate and Evita, and As You Like It and A Winter's Tale, respectively.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Casting released by Festival

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival announced some key casting in a press release last week (sorry for the delay - I was on vacation). So who is back?

In no particular order, these faces will be seen on our stages again next year: Bruce Dow, James Blendick (right), Sarah Topham, Lucy Peacock, Seana McKenna, Tom McCamus, Dion Johnstone, Yanna McIntosh, Ben Carlson, Michael Therriault, Juan Chioan, Trish Lindstrom and a whole host of other favorites. Not all the roles have been announced yet, but here's who you can see in what (so far)...

Joining Christopher Plummer in The Tempest is Nikki M. James (Ariel), Trish Lindstrom (Miranda), Bruce Dow (Trinculo), Dion Johnstone (Caliban), John Vickery (Antonio), Geraint Wyn Davies (Stephano), Gareth Potter (Ferdinand), Peter Hutt (Alonso), Timothy D. Stickney (Sebastian) and James Blendick (right) as Gonzalo.

Brent Carver will be joined in As You Like It by Ben Carlson (Touchstone), Andrea Runge (Rosalind), Lucy Peacock (Audrey), Cara Rickets (Celia), Tom Rooney (both Duke Frederick and Duke Senior).

As previosly announced in the Toronto Star, Kiss Me, Kate will feature Juan Chioran and Monica Lund as the leads, joined by Chilina Kennedy as Lois Lane.

However, contrary to previous rumours, it will be Chilina Kennedy playing the lead in Evita, with Juan Chioran as Juan Peron. Vince Staltari joins the cast as Magaldi.

Dangerous Liasons will feature Seana McKenna as La Marquise de Merteuil, opposite Tom McCamus as Le Vicomte de Valmont. Joining them are Sarah Topham (La Presidente de Tourvel), Bethany Jillard (Cecile Volanges), Yanna McIntosh (Mme de Volanges) (right) and Martha Henry (Mme de Rosemonde).

Back at the Festival for the first time since 2005 is Michael Therriault (left), taking the lead in Peter Pan, opposite Tom McCamus as Captain Hook. Rounding out the cast are Paul Dunn (John) and Sarah Topham (Wendy).

The Winter's Tale will feature Ben Carlson as Leontes and Yanna McIntosh as Hermione, with Seana McKenna (Paulina), Cara Ricketts (Perdita), and Tom Rooney (Autolycus).

Mike Nadajewski is joining Brent Carver in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.

Lucy Peacock and Tom Rooney will play Nana nad the Narrator in Tremblay's For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again.

Over at the Studio Theatre, The Two Gentlemen of Verona will be played by Dion Johnstone and Gareth Potter. Other roles will be filled by Nikki M. James (Julia), Claire Lautier (Silvia), Bruce Dow (Speed) and Robert Persichini (Launce).

Evan Buliung (left) returns to play Mac in George F. Walker's King of Thieves, with Laura Condlln playing Polly. Jennifer Tarver directs.

As previously announced, Geraint Wyn Davies will also be at the Studio, presenting Do Not Go Gentle.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Actor and Festival alumni Douglas Campbell passes away

Actor Douglas Campbell (left, as Falstaff in 2001) has passed away at age 87. Mr. Campbell was a founding member of the Stratford Festival company, and contributed greatly to establishing professional theatre in this country.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival issued a press release expressing their sadness, with this note from fellow thespian Christopher Plummer:

“Douglas, that proud and warlike Campbell who fought so valiantly in defense of theatrical integrity, is gone. And with his passing, gone too is a great part of my youth when he showed me what discipline meant and gave me the moral support I needed so desperately. A rebellious fugitive from the venerable Glasgow Citizens Company, he was brought to this country by Tyrone Guthrie in the early fifties and like a true pioneer Douglas did more for the growing up of professional theatre in Canada coast to coast than almost anyone I can think of. As a lover of the night he always managed to outlast any overzealous drinking competitor that dared challenge his capacity. He had a gregarious soul and a great heart so it is no small wonder that he was the best Falstaff I have ever seen. Douglas sprang from those Babylon days when the stage was revered and respected and his own devotion to his art, which he carried with him to the end, shone like a beacon of hope to anyone eager and wise enough to follow in his path.”

(Below is an image of Mr. Campbell as King Lear (front) with Nicholas Pennel as Fool, in 1985.)

Further articles about Douglas Campbell's distinguished career on the stage can be viewed at CBC, Playbill and the Toronto Star.

Monday, 5 October 2009

2010 Casting Rumours

In his column today, Toronto Star critic Richard Ouzounian suggested that it will be Monique Lund (left) and Juan Chioran (right) playing the leads in next season's Kiss Me, Kate. Ms. Lund was here in 2008 playing Max in Cabaret, and Juan Chioran graced the Stratford stages this year in Three Sisters and Bartholomew Fair. Mr. Ouzounian also hints that Chilina Kennedy and Paul Nolan (this year's Maria and Tony in West Side Story) will play the other couple.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Trespassers, where the Truth is Relative; Phedre, where the truth hurts

The Trespassers, written and directed by Morris Panych
Featuring Kelli Fox, Lucy Peacock, Robert King, Noah Reid and Joseph Ziegler (above)

The Story: In a dying rural town young Lowell is giving a statement to a police officer about recent events in his family’s history. Since Lowell may or may not be bipolar, and recent events may or may not have been criminally related, the police officer and the audience are left to decide.

The Trespassers is a beautifully written play. One can literally feel the bones of its construction, see the layering of story and its characters, and hear magic in some of the lines. Told in a non-linear fashion, with intriguing silences built into the dialogue, it is the type of story-telling that the similarly constructed Rice Boy aspires to be.

At the heart of the story is 14-year-old Lowell, remarkably played by Noah Reid, who both narrates and relives events for the police officer, a very stoic Robert King. The officer never interacts with the other characters on the stage – to him, they are just parts of Lowell’s statement. This means the audience is never sure if what they see and hear is the truth, or just a story, which is what Lowell’s grandfather Hardy describes as the part between the truth and a lie.

Joseph Ziegler’s journey as Hardy is inspiring – one wants to debate with and later weep for a man so physically changed. This task falls to daughter Cash (Kelli Fox, right), who manages to show tender love for and overwhelmed bewilderment for both her father and son. Understanding them all better than they themselves do is Roxy, a jaded ex-stripper who still has some dreams, portrayed here by Lucy Peacock (left), who provides a heart-as-big-as-the-stage core for the piece.

The Trespassers closes October 3 at the Studio Theatre, although it has all the hallmarks of an audience favourite, so if you miss it, it is sure to be remounted soon at a different theatre near you.

Phedre, by Jean Racine, adapted by Timberlake Wertenbaker
Directed by Carey Perloff
Featuring Jonathan Goad, Roberta Maxwell, Tom McCamus and Seana McKenna (above)

The story: Phedre is Theseus’ second wife and has a terrible secret – she is in love with her son-in-law, Hippolytus, who is secretly in love with Aracie, the sworn enemy of his father. When Theseus is reported to be dead, Phedre follows her nurse’s bad advice again and again, leading to fateful consequences for all concerned when the truth is revealed.

Written in the 17th century about events from Greek mythology, Phedre is a melodrama filled with passion, lust and revenge. With actors like Seana McKenna, Tom McCamus (right), Roberta Maxwell (left) and Jonathan Goad in the cast, this production should have been stunning, showcasing the best of what Stratford can do.

Instead – and it hurts greatly to say this – this production of Phedre was boring. Stiff, actually. And it was not due to the actors efforts.

Starting with the costumes, which were made of heavy, rich brocades and silks, cut to resemble 17th century fashions, this was certainly meant to imply Racine’s own time period. Instead, they weighed down the actors, confining them, nearly tripping them on more than one occasion.

Contrast this with the elemental set designs – a well of water at one end and an enormous, shimmering, textured wave of material that suggests either water or a rocky outcropping, or wind – take your pick as it is very abstract and overflows one corner of the stage. It is wild, and dangerous-looking and evokes exactly the kind of mood one expects from this play, which is very much absent otherwise.

The director, Carey Perloff, is a well-respected director in other areas, but here, it felt like she did not trust her cast. For instance, in the scenes of most passion, while one actor delivers lines meant to enrage, enrapture or horrify, the other actor stands unmoving, not reacting, just waiting for his or her turn to speak. Their movements seemed reigned in, and as stiff and formal as their costumes. There was one shyly romantic moment shared by Jonathan Goad as Hippolytus and Claire Lautier as Aracie (right), but the emotion was all too brief in an otherwise bereft play.

There were further problems with the direction, but for all their efforts, the most heartbreaking thing about this production of Phedre is knowing how much better it could have been. It continues in repertory at the Tom Patterson theatre until October 3.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Casting news

Fans of 2008's Cabaret will be pleased to learn of the return of Trish Lindtrom to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2010. According to her Tarragon Theatre bio, she will be appearing in The Tempest and in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Zastrozzi: where ideas meet imagination

By George F. Walker
Directed by Jennifer Tarver
Featuring Oliver Becker, Amanda Lisman, Sara Orenstein, Rick Roberts (left), Andrew Shaver and John Vickery (far right)

The story: Zastrozzi, the master criminal of all Europe, is out for revenge on Verezzi, a younger man accused of killing Zastrozzi’s mother. When Zastrozzi and his henchman Bernardo finally catch up with Verezzi, they find that the man responsible for keeping Verezzi one step ahead of them may prove to be the bigger foe.

The story summary just provided does not come close to describing the events of this early Walker play. It is a slippery, shrewd piece that keeps the audience guessing at its true style and message. Just when you think it is set in contemporary Europe, the costumes become a mix of “now” and “19th’ century”. Just when you think it is about revenge, an idea that was falling out of fashion in the late 19th century when the play claims to be set, it becomes about art. Just when you think it is about art, it becomes about religion and the natures of good and evil. Just when you are ready for the ultimate smack-down, it becomes about the various ways humans deny their own natures. Finally, heads spinning, Zastrozzi reveals an unsettling penchant for nihilism, and all of the above is done with as much sly humour as melodrama. If there is such a thing as an existential romp, this production is it.

Jennifer Tarver’s direction is as deft as it was in last year’s Krapp’s Last Tape, and in this (literally) whip-fast version, neither she nor the cast miss an opportunity to test boundaries.

Rick Roberts plays the title role with a coolness nearing swagger, but just as he makes Zastrozzi nearly ridiculous, Mr. Roberts tears away the surface to reveal a cruelty that is sickening. Wielding a rapier almost without looking, Mr. Roberts’ Zastrozzi is a man who holds himself above all others, even those for whom he cares (in his own way).

Ultimately Zastrozzi’s foil is the Victor, played by John Vickery. In a crafty bit of staging, Zastrozzi, the master criminal, is dressed all in white, while Victor is clad in black, and wears a long coat that he never removes, making one wonder how much he is hiding. Although Victor is described as ordinary, Mr. Vickery plays the role with an edge – a thinking man’s nemesis, and arguably gives the best performance in the production.

Both characters of Bernardo (Oliver Becker, left) and Verezzi (Andrew Shaver, right) do not like to think: Bernardo, because he likes things simple, and Verezzi, because it seems beyond him to do so. As Bernardo, Mr. Becker provides some comic relief, but is as menacing as Zastrozzi in his own way. Mr. Shaver is almost all comic, because Verezzi is completely, idiotically, oblivious to the turmoil of those around him. As such, it would be very easy for Mr. Shaver play Verezzi as only a twit, but he instead provides a subtle core that makes the audience feel just a wee a bit sorry for him.

The women provide another study in contrasts. Where Sarah Orenstein’s Matilda (left) is a world-class fighter and lover – Zastrozzi’s equal, in fact – Amanda Lisman’s Julia (right) is a bird-voiced virgin who talks too much (like Verezzi, but with more self-awareness). Ms. Orenstein and Mr. Shaver provide one kind of sex-scene while Ms. Lisman and Mr. Roberts provide another, very different kind, but audience members will have to decide for themselves on their efficacy.

The excellent direction and performances, plus superb, imaginative weapon-work, gutsy costumes, sound and lighting (provided by fight directors Tom Campbell and Simon Fon, Theresa Przybylski, Jesse Ash and Robert Thomspon, respectively), makes Zastrozzi a wild, wild ride. In the small Studio Theatre you will get to know them all, perhaps a little too intimately for your own comfort, but you will not regret it.

Zastrozzi is my favourite production of the 2009 season, and I would not hesitate to see it again. It continues in repertory only until October 3rd.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Love, Loss and Letting Go: the pattern of life in Rice Boy

Rice Boy
By Sunil Kuruvilla, Directed by Guillermo Verdecchia
Featuring Deena Aziz, Raoul Bhaneja, Anita Majumdar, Araya Mengesha, Sam Moses

The Story: Set in the 1970s, 12-year-old, Canadian-born Tommy questions why his father takes them back to India, where he has a hard time adjusting to the culture. He bonds with his older cousin Tina, a paraplegic who is about to be married but who has never left her home. Together they sneak out and discover a world foreign to both of them while the adults at home try to sort out their messy lives.

Upon reading the notes for Rice Boy, based on past productions of the play, one could expect to see a play about an Indian immigrant’s dilemma in Canada. Or about a Canadian’s dilemma in moving to India. With this latest rewrite of Sunil Kuruvilla’s Rice Boy, one gets neither, so look at the people inside the saris and find an altogether more universal quandry. The costumes, music and lighting all deceive one into thinking this is a play about India, but it is not.

Each character is haunted. Father, played by Raoul Bhaneja (far right), still wonders about his wife who drowned ten years earlier. Grandfather (Sam Moses, right), sleepwalks because he lost his wife three months ago and must find her. Uncle (Sanjay Talwar) is obsessed with the thought that his wife will leave him for another man after Tina’s wedding, but his wife (Auntie, played by Deena Aziz) cannot forget his emotional infidelity. Their servant girl (Asha Vijayasingham) clings to thoughts of former romance with her estranged husband, and back in Canada a grieving father (Jonathan Purdon) is haunted by an image on a milk carton.
Only two characters remain pragmatic. Fish Seller (Anand Rajaram) is Servant Girl’s estranged husband, but has moved on from their relationship. Tina (Anita Majumdar) pushes her family’s buttons, gets her own way, taunts her young cousin and finally - disappears. We are not told what happens to her, and the mystery is what haunts Tommy (Araya Mengesha) back in Canada.

Looking at Rice Boy from this perspective the stories are all too familiar, and while there are occasional references to math professors being underemployed in fast-food joints, the immigrant’s dilemma is not at the heart of this revision.

Anita Majumdar gives a Tina a surprising edge, sometimes as bratty as Tommy, other times betraying a strength that would not hold her back but for the use of her legs. Raoul Bhaneja and Araya Mengesha (left, with Sam Moses) have a great dynamic as Father and Tommy. Mr. Mengesha pulls off a 12-year-old’s brattiness, curiosity and budding rebellion very well, and Mr. Bhaneja is great as the anxious father who – for the most part – puts on a brave act in front of the others. It is his newfound ability to move on, realized at the end of the play, which reconciles he and Tommy, and gives the audience faith that a new balances can be struck, and new happiness discovered.

All the while, the intricate rice-flour kolam patterns are created and then swept away, a metaphor for the play’s ultimate truth, that “things are transitory and should be celebrated and embraced for their impermanence”. I do not know if former versions of this play focused more on assimilation issues, but this one has a very simple message - seize the day, but then let it go.

Rice Boy continues in repertory at the Studio Theatre until October 3.

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