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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Tom Patterson Productions Extended

[PRESS RELEASE]
Three more shows extended at Stratford
Tom Patterson Theatre remains open for an additional week

August 25, 2010… The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is delighted to announce that the Tom Patterson Theatre’s 2010 season will be extended by one week to October 3. Demand for tickets for all three productions at the theatre has been extremely strong.

“I’m delighted that these three productions have proven such a hit with our audiences. Jacques Brel was a true poet for our times, and our success with the show that bears his name – so brilliantly directed by Stafford Arima, a newcomer to the Festival – proves once again that poetry belongs on stage,” says Artistic Director Des McAnuff.

“For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, beautifully staged by another Festival newcomer, Chris Abraham, deepens our already warm and long-standing relationship with Michel Tremblay, arguably Canada’s leading playwright. Finally, it has been such a pleasure to welcome back Marti Maraden, who has given us in The Winter’s Tale a tremendously sensitive and entertaining production of one of Shakespeare’s most moving plays.”

“Excellent reviews and word of mouth have kept ticket sales for all of the shows at the Tom Patterson Theatre moving very swiftly,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino.

“Having sold-out houses is, of course, a mixed blessing for any theatre company – while it is most rewarding to see such great demand, it’s very hard to have to turn away patrons eager to buy tickets. These extensions will create some much-needed supply.”

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again will have two additional performances:
2 p.m. on September 28; and
8 p.m. on October 2.
The production – Tremblay’s moving tribute to his mother – features a tour-de-force performance by Lucy Peacock, exquisitely supported by Tom Rooney.

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris will also have two additional performances:
8 p.m. on October 1; and
2 p.m. on October 3.
This musical revue features touching, funny and heart-wrenching performances by four masters of song and stage: Jewelle Blackman, Make Nadajewski, Nathalie Nadon and Tony Award-winner Brent Carver.

The Winter’s Tale will have one additional performance:
2 p.m. on September 29.
Ben Carlson, Yanna McIntosh and Seana McKenna lead a stellar cast in this poignant Shakespearean tale of love, loss and redemption.

Last week the Festival announced an encore performance of The Tempest, featuring Christopher Plummer as Prospero. Scheduled for 2 p.m. on September 13, it will raise funds for the Festival’s New Play Development activities.
Six other shows have already been extended this season: Kiss Me, Kate, Evita, Peter Pan, Do Not Go Gentle, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and King of Thieves.

Tickets for all performances are available by calling 1.800.567.1600 or visiting http://www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com/.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival runs until November 6, featuring As You Like It; Kiss Me, Kate; The Tempest; Dangerous Liaisons; Evita; Peter Pan; The Winter’s Tale; Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris; For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again; Do Not Go Gentle; The Two Gentlemen of Verona; and King of Thieves.
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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Audrey M. Ashley, First Lady of Canadian Theatre Critics, Dies at 83

by Kenneth Jones, Playbill

Audrey M. Ashley, the retired theatre critic of The Ottawa Citizen in Ontario, and one of the major theatre critics of 20th-century Canadian theatre, died Aug. 16 in her Stratford, Ontario, home with her family at her side.

The British-born 83-year-old Ms. Ashley had battled multiple myeloma that slowed her body, but not her feverish mind. In recent years, she wrote a memoir about her life (and her theatregoing life) in England and Canada. The book, "The Time of My Life," is dedicated to her son, Warwick, who announced the news of her passing. She is also survived by her husband, James, daughter-in-law Erin and grandchildren Devon and Meredith.

Full obituary by Kenneth Jones, Playbill.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Sheer Pleasure

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again
By Michel Tremblay, Translated by Linda Gaboriau
Directed by Chris Abraham
Featuring Lucy Peacock and Tom Rooney
Photos by David Hou

The story: A narrator returns from his mother’s funeral and becomes immersed in his memories of a funny, loving woman whose flair for dramatic storytelling inspired his career as a writer.

A large diamond of plush, vibrant red carpets the floor, a single table and two chairs near one point. An old record-player churns out tunes from 1950’s Quebec, and a clothesline awaits its laundry. A man enters, his footsteps quiet on the carpet. He looks both sad and ponderous, but not unhappy, and begins to tell us about his mother, Nana.

Within moments a hurricane of a woman storms into the stage and begins a litany of tirades about her kid – the narrator - whose run-in with the police has driven her to near death. And so begins the emotional roller-coaster of For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again.

No need to worry. This is not a dysfunctional relationship, no Oedipal complexes are present. It is merely the author remembering how various points in their relationship came to bear on his own life. There is much laughter, much tenderness, even during moments of stand-off between mother and son.

Tom Rooney is the narrator (right), who is in fact the author of the play. Each entrance of Nana takes him – and the audience – to a different point in time, and to a different point in his relationship with his mother. While it may look like Mr. Rooney is merely staying out of Nana’s way during all her rants, there is great subtlety in the way he reacts – the way he asks the audience to react – to this dynamic, complex woman.

Nana is played by Lucy Peacock (left), in what must be called a virtuoso performance. From her whirlwind first entrance, through her ranting, hilarious monologues, to her wrenching portrayal of a woman struck by cancer, and finally her joyous – yes, joyous! – parting, Ms. Peacock is simply mesmerizing. In one particular monologue about the nature of theatre, she conveys a layperson’s amazement so well it is almost metaphysical in character. It is truly one of the best moments on Stratford’s stages this season.


This autobiographical play, written as a farewell to the author’s mother, is neither saccharine nor bitter. It achieves a fine balance between sadness and laughter, and the actors who perform it delicately dance the line between regret and joy. Short, sweet, and poignant all at the same time, go see For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again for the sheer pleasure of their performances. Tissues are a must for anyone whose mother has passed away, or whose life has been touched by cancer.

It continues in repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre until September 26th.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Bank Robbery Walker Style: King of Thieves

King of Thieves
By George F. Walker
Directed by Jenifer Tarver
Featuring Nigel Bennett, Jay Brazeau, Evan Buliung, Laura Condlln, Sean Cullen, Nora McLellan
Photos by David Hou

After last year’s success with Zastrozzi and Anything Goes (Factory Theatre) George F. Walker has a new fan base in Stratford. His plays challenge perceptions and perspectives, can turn your mind inside out, leave your head reeling. When combined with brilliant directors such as Jennifer Tarver, and solid actors like Nora McLellan and Evan Buliung, they are stunning, exciting works of theatre.

There was every confidence that his new play, King of Thieves, would be excellent - based on the same story and characters found in The Beggar’s Opera and Threepenny Opera, what great fodder for a playwright of Mr. Walker’s talent?

Instead, the play is simply shrug-and-a-sideways-head-nod meh. As Mr. Walker’s plays go, it is not mind-numbingly challenging, it is as straightforward as they come. It is a criminal world, where the authorities are just as corrupt as the thieves, but maybe not as corrupt as the bankers, and so the thieves become the heroes.

Yes, it is a timely statement full of bitter irony – leaders of the banks collude to bring down the economy, and then gouge the common man to build it back up again. The most satisfying part of Walker’s story is that in his 1929 version, the bankers are made to pay for their crimes, unlike those who were bailed out in our recent economic collapse. That they go out singing in three-part harmony is disturbing, precisely the kind of darkly disturbing one has come to expect from Walker’s play – which means the play is not without hope for later rewrites.

In fact, it is only in the second half of the play as people begin getting bumped off that it becomes more Walker-esque. Two girls have their throats slit, but break into song as their bodies – literally dead weights – are carted off. The cart returns again and again like a grim reaper on wheels, anticipating another character’s death. Both funny and deadly serious – that is what makes George F. Walker plays extraordinary.

Sean Cullen (left) plays Vinnie, the night-club owner / narrator of the piece. As the night-club owner he is great, but the narration is rarely necessary. The character would be more effective as a type of chorus, as Mr. Cullen is certainly expressive enough to convey deeper meaning without stating the obvious. As Macheath (Mac for short), Evan Buling is fine, but the part is no challenge for him, either. (If you were lucky enough to see his recent work in Yasmina Reza’s Art at Canstage, there is no comparison.)

In this case, the female of the species is far more deadly than the male. Myrna Peachum is an ex-burlesque dancer with a passion for booze, crime, her hubby and guns – we see her cleaning a Colt, then a machine gun, loading them with bullets hidden in her brassiere. She is an utter hoot to watch as played by Nora McClellan (left). As her daughter Polly, now married to Mac, well let’s just say you do not mess with her family. Laura Condlln’s icily intimidating performance is also full of heart, making her character one of the most fleshed-out and believable.

Performances by Jay Brazeau and Nigel Bennett as are also noteworthy as Mr. Peachum and FBI Agent Brown, as each tries to foil the other, and Oliver Becker is back as the thug Pork, although he was far, far more menacing in last year’s Walker play, Zastrozzi. The entire cast can be applauded for their fine work with New York and Southern accents.

This play is actually a musical, a first for the Studio Theatre. A ragtime-jazz score by John Roby (also the band’s conductor) is toe-tapping, although Mr. Walker’s lyrics are a bit clunky. That it is a musical is not bad – it is the type of quirkiness one expects from Mr. Walker – but that the story is not tightly crafted is bothersome. Do not let that stop you from enjoying the actors though.

King of Thieves continues in repertory until September 18.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Jolly Follies: The Two Gentlemen of Verona opens at Stratford

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Dean Gabourie
Featuring Dion Johnstone, Claire Lautier, Gareth Potter and Sophia Walker
Photos by David Hou

The story: First boy loves first girl and is scorned for it by second boy. Second boy leaves to make his fortune and promptly falls in love himself with second girl. First boy declares undying love to first girl, they exchange rings and a tearful good-bye as first boy goes to make his fortune with second boy. First boy promptly forgets first girl and friendship with second boy as he declares his love for second girl, and schemes to win her by getting second boy banished. First girl, missing first boy, disguises herself as third boy to surprise him, but is instead surprised and heartbroken to discover first boy’s inconstant heart. Second girl, missing second boy, runs away from home to find second boy, and is captured by bandits and first boy before all lovers are happily (?) reunited.

This is early Shakespeare, so early one might wish to believe it was written by someone hoping to copy the immortal Bard’s style and failing miserably. But Bill had to start somewhere, and Two Gentlemen of Verona has seeds of his later brilliance; but there is no doubt it is a silly play, with silly characters, and it is no wonder it is so seldom performed.

In this production we are treated to a 1920’s vaudeville show – the actors are old-time stage stars with their own acts (of which we get glimpses), they always seem aware us in the audience, and we get to see their lives behind the curtains, as it were.

Associate director Dean Gabourie’s decision to frame the play as a vaudevillian performance is nothing to sneeze at, and it works for two reasons: 1) the one-dimensional aspect of the characters allows for a silent-film-like, melodramatic treatment (complete with tinkling pianos in the background) and 2) the obvious enjoyment the actors get from being permitted a touch of melodrama reminds the audience to relax and not take the play too seriously – because you can’t, it is far too absurd. There is a reason that the bandits in the forest are made to resemble Charlie Chaplin (and later the Keystone Kops), or that the Duke (John Vickery) occasionally sounds like Snidely Whiplash, although Mr. Gabourie could have gone even broader with the metaphor.

The honourable Valentine and the dishonourable Proteus (the two gentlemen of the title) are portrayed by Dion Johnstone and Gareth Potter. It is a pleasure to see Mr. Johnstone cast as the nice-guy here, except it’s hard to conceive of him playing someone so dim-witted. Mr. Potter is not as degenerate a Proteus as he could be – a little too much charm and not enough smarm, perhaps. The troublesome near-rape scene is mild at best, but the problematic reconciliation scene is given weight by Proteus being on his knees, and Valentine looking to Silvia (Claire Lautier, right) for permission to forgive him, which she sanctions.

This is because Silvia is a character who always sees worth where it is due, as Ms. Lautier’s performance clearly indicates. She also allows Silvia to be a glamorous diva who gets what she wants, a temperamental daughter who does not get what she wants, and even a sympathetic “rival” who hopes Julia gets what she wants.

Sophia Walker (left) plays Julia first as a volatile actress who torments her maid Lucetta (Trish Lindstrom with a trace of Seana-McKenna-like archness), then as the disguised Sebastian. In fact, her scenes as Sebastian are more heartfelt and believable – Ms. Walker may slip from vaudevillian into Shakespeare by accident but it suits her better.

Finally, there are two scene-stealers in this production. Otto, a sleepy older basset hound who plays Crab to his owner Robert Persichini’s Launce is the predictable one, but the other is Stephen Russell as Sir Eglamour – a teeny, tiny part, but with a few waggling eyebrows and an “oh, madam!” here and there, Mr. Russell gives longevity and more than his fair share of laughter to this otherwise brief role.

Two Gentlemen of Verona is a pretty inane play, but this is possibly the best treatment of it you are ever likely to see. And as it is so rarely performed, grab your chance while you can, because it runs in repertory at the Studio Theatre only until September 19th.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Behold there were voices: The Book of Esther opens at Blyth

The Book of Esther
By Leanna Brodie
Directed by Leah Cherniak
Featuring Maggie Blake, Nathan Carroll, Eric Coates, Marion Day, Brad Rudy

The story: In the 1980’s 15-year-old Esther Dalzell runs away from her evangelical parents and her rural agricultural existence in Baker River for the wilds of Toronto. She finds shelter with Todd Wishart, a middle-aged gay man who takes in “strays” until they can find their feet. One of his other strays is A.D., a street-savvy gay teen, who takes it upon himself to show Esther the world she has been missing.

The lynchpin in the story is Esther – Seth hangs on tightly to the century farm for her inheritance; to Anthea she represents a stop on the map to heavenly glory. To A.D. she is the bumpkin who needs to be shown the world; to Todd, she needs help, but also represents a way to connect to friends long lost. But it is Esther who is trying to find herself. That she ultimately finds a happy medium between the life she knew and the life she wants will come as no surprise, but her journey is life-changing for nearly all the other characters in the play.

Seth, her father (played by Blyth Artistic director Eric Coates), is best described as a staunch resident of the State of Denial, and is perhaps the person who journeys farthest. He faces near death, the loss of his beloved farm, and finally the truth about his best friend, Todd. Of their long-ago dispute and reconciliation – the former is too thin and the latter too neatly resolved; either the author or director could provide more dramatic tension to really tug at the heart-strings or plumb the characters’ depths.

That being said, Brad Rudy, who plays Todd, puts heart and soul into selling the pent-up frustration and anguish from that dispute during his confrontation with Seth, which is a long way from the patient, listening man that he also portrays when dealing with the characters of Esther and A.D. To his credit, Mr. Rudy also never once gets campy while ‘playing gay’, which is a refreshing change from other gay portrayals lately in the media.

A.D. could stand for “attention deficit” as frenetically played by Nathan Carroll. A.D. becomes a runaway in reverse – he goes to Esther’s farm and discovers as much about the beauty in rural life as Esther does about urban life. It is thanks to Mr. Carroll that we get to laugh most often as his energy that overwhelms the others and his wide-eyed delight as A.D. discovers simple pleasures (“Pie!”).

Esther grows up in the course of this play. At first she is forlorn, shy and unsure about everything except that she is unsure. Then actor Maggie Blake takes her through her first crush, her first taste of samosas, her fear of subways, and through a mountain of guilt back to the farm. But her journey does not end there, because little there has changed. It takes A.D. arriving and Todd coming home to galvanize Esther and the others into the future, a future that is not as rosy as a prairie sunset by any means.

The only character who does not change is Anthea, who remains righteously evangelical to the bittersweet end. There is one, brief shining moment when clarity and self-doubt shake her beliefs, but she quickly douses it and slips back into her comfort-zone of platitudes. As a crazed Anthea, Marion Day can thump bibles better than Tammy Faye Baker, with a smug smile to boot. At the same time, Ms. Day evokes some sympathy for Anthea, showing the pathetic side of entrenched, irreconcilable, yet hypocritical religious beliefs. Anthea just never gets it, and we feel sorry for her because of it.

With clever use of scrims, projections and a set that doubles easily for a Parkdale apartment and rural farmhouse (yes, it does), The Book of Esther could have easily been a tiresome tirade about sexual-societal-religious tolerance. Although there is some bad blocking in which actors cannot be heard, the awakening that takes place in most of the characters is, while not exactly uplifting, is at least affirming. The play could even end one short scene earlier – as the poet said, “a good play needs no epilogue.”

The Book of Esther continues in repertory at the Blyth Festival until September 4th.

Blyth Festival Artistic Director Honoured by Playwrights Guild of Canada

NEWS RELEASES
Tuesday, August 10 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Blyth Festival Artistic Director Eric Coates was honoured recently by the Women’s Caucus of the Playwrights Guild of Canada (PGC).

Mr. Coates is the recipient of the “Bra d’Or” award, which recognizes his efforts to support and promote the work of Canadian women playwrights. It was presented August 6, following the opening night performance of The Book of Esther by Leanna Brodie. Ms. Brodie presented the award on behalf of the Women’s Caucus.

Under his tenure, the Blyth Festival consistently features work by female Canadian playwrights. In the 2008 season, three of out four plays were written by Canadian women—all of them world premieres.

Marcia Johnson and Tara Goldstein, Former and Current Chair of the PGC Women’s Caucus, note that this is a great accomplishment for a theatre which produces for only three months each year.

“Eric Coates is helping to bring female Canadian playwrights into the mainstream,” say Johnson and Goldstein. “We applaud his efforts.”

Eric Coates pictured with Leanna Brodie.

Media Contact:
Heather Black
Interim Director of Marketing and Development
519-523-9300/1-877-862-5984 Ext 211
hblack@blythfestival.com

Keywords: Blyth, Blyth Festival, Canadian theatre, summer theatre, theater, Eric Coates, Bra d’Or, Playwrights Guild of Canada

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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Evita: It isn’t me, it’s you


Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber
Directed by Gary Griffin
Featuring Juan Chioran, Chilina Kennedy, Josie Marasco, Vince Staltari, Josh Young

The Story: In the 1940’s a girl from the sticks makes good by climbing to stardom as a radio actress, film star and finally First Lady of Argentina, becoming beloved of all – a Cinderella story. Except that Eva Duarte is no Cinderella.

For traditional Stratford audiences, Evita might be a bit of a shock. First of all, it is about a villainess with no redeeming qualities whatsoever (at least, that is the way this production depicts her). Secondly, there is no dialogue, only music, and that music is rock music and that music is LOUD. So loud that in some moments audience members have been seen covering their ears. So loud that in these same moments the leads sound like they are screaming to be heard over the music, and that is not fun for the audience, and it cannot be much fun for the actors either.

Why the directors and sound engineers cannot seem to balance the music and vocals is anyone’s guess, but it does the production (and audience) a huge disservice, because this is an extraordinarily talented cast. (And by the way, there are over 110 costumes in Evita, so rounds of applause please for the wardrobe department, and their attendants for some astonishingly swift costume and wig changes.)

Josh Young (right) as Che (Guevara), our narrator cum Greek chorus for the evening. If we ever have a doubt about Eva’s intentions, Che shows us the truth through the eyes of an objective outsider – although just how objective is up for interpretation. Mr. Young oozes charisma as he helps Che through his own transformation into someone as galvanizing as the woman he criticizes, and although he too is overpowered by the musical score when it turns discordant, the effect is not as jarring as it is with the others.

One of the others is Juan Chioran (left), who is an imposing Juan Peron, the Argentine Colonel who rises – with a sufficient push from his ambitious wife – to become El Presidente. The clever use of a poker game shows how he originally came to power, although this production treats Peron as less ambitious, and suggests that the push Eva gives him may be aided by pharmaceuticals. His military underlings are brutal in their condemnation of his new wife (“Peron’s Latest Flame”), although Mr. Chioran allows a real affection for Eva to glimmer from under Peron’s epaulets.

The number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, seems to be out of place as the only song not involving one of the main leads, and one of the only songs with a straightforward melody – until you realize that it allows the “Mistress” who sings it to be the ‘anti-Evita’, a woman of similar origins to Eva, but who retains a naivety and an innocence that Eva never possessed. Sweetly sung by a bewildered-looking Josie Marasco, it takes one’s breath away in its sharp contrast to the main character.

Chilina Kennedy (above) plays Maria Eva Duarte, later known as Evita, with a glittering steeliness that illustrates all of Eva’s ambition and none of her (supposed) softness. Ms. Kennedy has Eva coming out fighting, and one is kept wondering when we will see some inkling that we should admire her, or feel some sympathy for her struggle; however the character seems to be designed to be thoroughly repellant. This is no fault of Ms. Kennedy, whose stunning pipes are more than equal to the demanding vocal score (she both looks and sounds rapturous through the memorable “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina). She is completely believable even though the character she plays is completely unlikable – in short, although it remains a puzzle why the Argentinean people adored her so, Ms. Kennedy makes Eva someone we love to hate. Even as she realizes she is dying, Eva has the nerve to censure her creator for the state of her health; even in her death Ms. Kennedy’s Evita looks smugly out at the audience as if to say, “See? None of you will ever forget me.”

No, we won’t.

Evita continues in repertory at the Avon Theatre until November 6th.

No hearing assistive devices required.


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