Category Archives: Theatre

The Financier (Tucaret) – Memorable “Theatre Under the Stars”

Second summer in Sandy Hill and first outing to Odyssey’s “Theatre Under the Stars” in Strathcona Park. This summer’s production The Financier is an English translation of Alain-Rene Lesage’s Tucaret – an amusing comedic romp about deception, greed and posturing of the Baroque French upper class.  It’s a who-done-it of pretence as the story unfolds to reveal who really holds the upper-hand in this convoluted caper of deceit.

Tucaret

Tucaret (Andy Massingham), the eponymous financier, is a treacherous loan-shark financing the house-hold of his mistress, the Baroness (Chandel Gambles). The Baroness plays him while in turn funding her own deceitful lover the Knight (Attila Clemann). No sooner has Tucaret gifted the Baroness that she is scammed by the Knight and his wily valet Frontin (Jesse Buck).  An attempt by handmaiden Lisette (Alanna Bale) to protect her mistress’ assets soon sees her supplanted by Marine (again Bale) Frontin’s handpicked accomplice. Throw in to the mix a drunken Marquis (Mark Huisman), a wife (Nichola Lawrence) confined to the Provinces and a social occasion that puts to shame any awkward family dinner you may have experienced and the scene is set for the veritable collapse of this house of cards. The climax is an uproarious frenzy of feverish de-masking.

Odyssey creates unique theatre with masked actors, an outdoor set and the use of props to mimic the fractious fragile treachery on stage.  The masks and choreography are beautifully done; the former fitted individually to each performer while the latter lends an air of ‘marionette’ styling which lends itself well to the “pretences” at hand. Yet these aspects separate the audience from the actors and make it difficult to connect with the characters.  Although the cast performed well – one remains slightly detached without any sense of stand-out performances due to the obscured facials expressions. While the choreography is masterful the execution was distinctly more successful by some – the delightful Alana Bale in particular – than others.

The Financier is an enjoyable period comedy but it was the overall experience that lingers.  The ensemble of the proficient, distinctive cast performance, the costumes, the masks, the set and the open-air setting all come together to create a memorable evening; one to surely add to the summer calendar.

Note: Odyssey Theatre has teamed up with Le Cordon Bleu’s Signatures Restaurant to offer a “picnic & play” option which is highly recommended.

The Financier (Tucaret)
July 24- August 24th
Evenings 8:00PM, Saturday & Sunday Pay-What-You-Can Matinees 3:00PM
Strathcona Park – Range Road & Laurier Avenue

Two Additional Dates for Triumphant Glengarry Glen Ross @ The Gladstone

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613. Heading in to David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross one wonders if, The Avalon Studio production will compare favourably to the excellent movie version with Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin & Al Pacino. Be assured, this is no poor cousin but a relentlessly vicious and vital theatrical experience of Mamet’s world of shady salesmen and dark deeds. GGR-held_overGlengarry Highlands & Glen Ross Farms – two undesirable developments in Florida – follows 24hours in the lives of a gang of thuggish real-estate agents competing on the company leader board in a race of diminishing markets with a punishingly masochistic office manager at the helm. Prepare for profanity and to witness every unethical trick in the book in David Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece; an uncompromising ode to ethical vacuity and the desperation wrought by the art of the deal. Act1 delivers three quick-fire 2-hander scenes set in the cloying red Chinese restaurant across from the office. Shelley “the Machine” Levene (Tom Charlebois) is the aging company man facing off with the younger office-manager John Williamson (Leslie Cserepy). Levene accuses the boss of dishing out poor leads “You’re giving me fucking toilet paper.” Charlebois’ metamorphose from false bravado to sweaty, twitching desperation versus Cserepy’s taunting cocksure sadist imbued the theatre with a contagious and palpable tension. The introduction of Dave Moss (John Muggleton) and George Aaronow (Chris Ralph) alleviated the mood as Muggleton & Ralph take unethical lows to a new high with well-paced quick-talking dialogue prompting a spontaneous outburst of applause. Act 1 closes with Ricky Roma (Steve Martin) smooth talking a chance encounter with James Lingk (Dale MacEarchern) the puppet-strings fairly visible so silky is the spider web spun. Martin is slightly reminiscent of Al Pacino in this role which temporarily breaks the spell before he hits his stride. GlengarryBWCharacters established, the 2nd act concerns the investigation of the overnight office burglary of the “good leads”. The office, in complete disarray, sees Moss incandescent at the interviews being conducted by Detective Baylen (David Whiteley). John Muggleton fairly owns the stage in this brief explosive scene. Meanwhile client Lingk is swimming with sharks when faced with Roma & Levene as he tries to cancel his purchase of the day before.  And the stage is set for the final downward spiral as the production dives gleefully to its heart of darkness. Individually adept the cast work seamlessly as a team creating an evening that is sharp, ruthless and vigorous. Geoff Gruson’s direction is assured; he keeps the motley gang of character performances tight; maintaining a captivating tempo where individual performances shine without detracting from the ensemble. Glengarry Glen Ross is Mamet at his best; capturing a powerfully impotent and angry “world of men”. This revival, from dimmed lights to curtain call, fervently and competently embodies the salesmen’s maxim “Always be Closing”. Glengarry Glen Ross June 24- July 5th Now til July 12th Evenings 7:30PM, Matinees 2:30PM The Gladstone, 910 Gladstone Ave.

Corpus: Theatre Raising the Past & Raising the Bar

A play that tackles the holocaust is never going to be uncomplicated yet Darrah Teiltel’s tale, in its world-premiere, recalling events in Auschwitz between a Nazi camp wife and a Polish Jewish prisoner is fresh, modern, entertaining and strikingly amusing. Director Bronwyn Steinberg assuredly marks out present from past with maps tile-ing the stage and characters that are vividly real. The tragedies of the past are delineated from the chaos and humour of the present; this juxtaposition deftly resonating with the truth that history never exists in a void and is forever influenced by the outsider’s perception.

Moving in flashbacks between 1940’s Poland and modern day Toronto as Genocide research student Megan (Sascha Cole) pulls the curtain back on the unconventional relationship between Eva Reiniger and Auschwitz prisoner & SonderKommander Eli.  The work obsessed, overwrought and forlorn Megan defies her Professor (John Koensgen) when the mysterious Heinrich reaches out over the internet from Berlin to tell her that Reiniger survived the evacuation of the camps and is desperate to share her memories…

With actors feet apart conversations are held on video chats with screens at either end of the theatre. The sound and video design and the set are nothing short of successful. The staging and use of innovative props is stunningly evocative. Steinberg’s innovative re-positioning of the theatre and use of the full space transports the audience with her remarkable cast through time and territory.

CorpusThe five cast members work together beautifully. Without overshadowing one another the presence of each was riveting. Colleen Sutton as Eva is nothing short of mesmerising as she primps in the mirror before her first Polish lesson, Eli (Eric Craig) defines enigmatic while Laurie Fyffe brings the older Eva’s fears confusion and need for confession vividly to life – these characters lingered long after the curtain dropped. Daniel Sadavoy brings humour with a nimble Baron-Cohen take on Heinrich alleviating tension yet becoming achingly vulnerable when reaching out of cyber-space to try for a literal connection.

The only perceived stumble in a remarkable production is a lag at the opening of the 2nd act where Megan’s publishing success of Eva’s survivor story is slightly drawn out and lacks the compelling transfixing quality of the rest of the play.  This is but a small and even insignificant criticism of a truly excellent production which raises the bar in Ottawa’s Professional Theatre. Bravo Counterpoint Players.

Prix Rideau Awards: Theatre Stars Shine Bright in Sandy Hill

Prix Rideau Awards Bate HallArticle also published on Apt613.ca
On Sunday evening a cavalcade of theatre luminaries gathered in Bates Hall, Sandy Hill to honour the brightest amongst their ranks.

warming up at the barThe Prix Rideau Awards founded in 2006 celebrates locally produced professional theatre and artists in both French and English. It is inspiring to see categories, including best male and female performers, best director, emerging artists, etc single out standout achievements in both official languages at one event.  This year’s nominations included 40 English theatre productions and 14 French language plays making for a packed hall of nominees, supporters, advocates and fans of local theatre and arts.

Annie Lefebvre keeps her head pre-show

Annie Lefebvre keeps her head pre-show

This year’s awards hosted by Tania Levy & Hugues Beaudoin-Dumouchel saw former host Annie Lefebvre literally beheaded in the show opener. Her corpse-less-head then overseeing proceedings from a table top.

The night was beautifully animated and the delivery, especially for a performing arts award show – these folks love the stage – was succinct and moved at a enjoyable pace with an engaged and bellicose audience.

Alain Chauvin & Elise Gauthier

Alain Chauvin & Elise Gauthier

Tina Goralski who won the 2013 “Derriere le Rideau/Behind the Curtain” French-language award for “A tu et A moi” delivered a particularly moving speech on the power of bilingual theatre – this from an Albertan Anglophone no less.  Brad Long taking “Outstanding Performance, Male” for “We Glow” had the crowd tittering with “the actor’s cliché” of no prepared speech.

Gabrielle Lalonde and Guest

Gabrielle Lalonde and Guest

The host’ were at one point stage-rushed for an impromptu “selfie” by a couple in the crowd. A bouquet toss was held for the “best dress” in the audience and Emily Pearlman made us well-up when, accepting “Best Director” for “Hroses”, she dedicated her win for a “play about love to the person that I’m so in love with”.

Exec Dir Matt Miwa

Exec Dir Matt Miwa

Executive Director Matt Miwa deserves a big hand for producing such a polished evening alongside the entire Prix Rideau Awards organising team and arts community for standing up for this much deserved recognition.

And the Winners Are…. PRix Rideau Award Winners 2013

Emerging Artist Award Eng: Melanie Karin
Prix d’Artiste en Emergence: Lissa Leger

Derriere le Rideau Award: David Whiteley ‘Billy Bishop’, ‘Absurd Person Singular’ & ‘ Private Lives’
Derriere le Rideau Award: Tina Goralski ‘A tu et A Moi’ Compagnie L’Atelier

Outstanding Performance, Female:  Katie Swift ‘Hroses’ Evolution Theatre
Interpretation Feminine de L’Annee: Magali Lemele ‘Je n’y suis plus’ en co-production avec Le Theatre Francaise du CNA

Outstanding Design : Al Connors (Sound) ‘Hroses’ & Brian Smith (Set) ‘God of Carnage’ Third Wall Theatre
Conception de L’Annee: Gabriel Tsampalieros (Scenographie) ‘Je N’y Suis Plus’ Magali Lemele en co-production ave Le Theatre Francaise du CNA& Melanie McNeil (Scenographie) ‘le fa le do’ Theatre Catapulte

Interpretation Masculine de L’Annee : Yves Turbide ‘Fool for Love’ Theatre des Cybeles

Outstanding Performance Male : Brad Long ‘We Glow’ Theatre 4.669

Outstanding New Creation: Emily Pearlman & Brad Long ‘We Glow’ Theatre 4.669
Nouvelle Creation de L’Annee: ‘Ik Onkar’ Theatre la Catapulte

Outstanding Direction: Emily Pearlman ‘ Hroses’ Evolution Theatre
Mise en Scene de L’Annee: Caroline Yergeau ‘Porc-Epic’ Theatre Belvedere

Production de L’Annee: ‘Ik Onkar’ Theatre la Catapulte
Production of the Year : ‘The Vibrator Play’ Same Day Theatre

The Anger in Ernest & Ernestine: Vacant House Theatre explodes on to theatre scene

Ernest stage This post also published on Apt613.ca
As the virtual curtain fell on “The Anger in Ernest & Ernestine” this tweet went out: venue is insane but the talent is undeniable. The setting in the tiny basement of the Backpacker’s Hostel on York Street is uninviting. Seating –12 max- includes dingy stained sofas and cushions on the laundry room cement floor. With the actors literally at arm’s length it all heralds an amateur evening… and then the play begins.

The 1987 work by Leah Cherniak, Robert Morgan and Martha Ross follows the downward trajectory of blissful newlyweds Ernest and Ernestine – and the simmering anger within each – as their relationship implodes in an overheated, cramped subterranean apartment.  The tale of the growing cracks between the poorly matched free-spirited Ernestine & bookish methodical Ernest is in turn funny, relate-able and charming. The anger within each is embodied in shadow actors creating a vibrant four-hander dynamic as the wedded pair strive to balance each other and their internal “partners”.

Graduates of the now defunct Ottawa Theatre School, Karina Milech (Ernestine) and Alexis Scott (the Anger in Ernestine), set up production company Vacant House Theatre six-months ago and this is their inaugural “site-specific” piece.

Joining forces with Patrick Kelly (Ernest), Nicholas Wade Fournier (The Anger in Ernest) and director David Whiteley the actors fairly glide through the 90minute production in cramped constraints. The cast transport the audience in to the claustrophobia of their poky apartment, through their interior desperation and denial and across the city from bars to bird watching with an ease and professionalism completely at odds with the venue.

Ernest and Ernestine 4

Scott, Kelly, Fournier and Milech

Milech, Scott, Kelly and Fournier are equally successful in their roles and the relationships they bring the “stage”. From Milech & Scott’s frenzied make-up to Kelly & Fournier’s meticulous broom dance all four work harmoniously together neither upstaging nor drafting. These players are relentlessly committed to their character in an environment that leaves no room for error. As close as they are to their audience without margin for a missed beat or drop in energy they embody their roles with relish throughout with strong timing, subtle inflections and wonderfully choreographed intervals.

I’m sold on this site-specific team. Catch this inaugural show and you’ll agree so long as the future performances equal the quality of Ernest & Ernestine than Vacant House is a whole lot more than a “location” gimmick.

The Anger in Ernest & Ernestine  – Vacant House Theatre
24-26 April 8PM
27 April 2PM
The Ottawa Backpackers Inn, 203 York St.

Trois: 3 Productions create a satisfying ménage a trois

This article was also published by Apt613

troisArts Court is hosting a trio of theatre productions for the next two nights. “Trois (Three)” brings three 30min productions from fringe favourites MayCan theatre, Dead Unicorn Ink and GrimProv. To sweeten the deal theatre lobby is set up nightclub-style complete with a well priced bar. Playing on the name there is even a 3-beers- for-10-bucks offer getting you a cold one for each production.

The GrimProv trio MC the night creating a vibrant welcome despite forgetting the name of the MayCan’s “What about Horses?” on opening night. Cory Thibert and Tony Adams co-wrote and perform this two-hander with ease and believability spiralling from roommates arguing over rent checks to coke-addled madmen believers.  Enjoy this fresh and energetic romp that highlights the creative visionary writing of these two standout Ottawa talents and mind the disappearing “rabbit” act if you’re sat left of stage!

Next up “The Acceptable Appearance Theory” transformed the venue into a revival cult meeting complete with actors stashed in the audience. Mark (Aaron Lajeunesse) brings Dana to “temple” to meet his eerily ever-youthful mother Ms Cadence (Victoria Elizabeth Luloff). A zeal for “cleansing” tattoos soon takes a menacing turn – it’s not just tattoos this group wants control over. Luloff is particularly riveting while LaJeunesse transitions playfully from mama’s boy to Dana’s man.  Despite a rather drawn out narrative, hilarious turns by the ensemble cast including bilingual Daniel, scientific Peggy and ex-hooker Laura keep the pace brisk while the cult attempts to survive, dominate and keep secrets from glowing in the dark.

GrimProv closed the night yet despite high-energy the improv was a let-down following the earlier high-quality performances. The adept threesome used props creatively but a reliance on extended fight-sequences proved tiresome and sophomoric especially when their quick-fire repartee is so sharp.  The closing act, by its nature, changes so expect a unique nightly performance to cap off this successful night-out at the theatre.

Trois (Three)
27-29 February
Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Ave.

Kim’s Convenience: Pitch Perfect Performances at the NAC

My only regret about seeing Kim’s Convenience at the NAC last night was that I didn’t go earlier in the run and have greater opportunity to plug this SoulPepper Theatre production by Ins Choi.

Soulpepper's Kim's ConvenienceInitially a vignette Choi was encouraged to grow Kim’s Convenience to a full length play which went on to win the Fringe Festival New Play 2011 and is now on a National tour. Set in a Toronto convenience store the story of what will become of the family business as Mr Kim (the remarkable Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) nears retirement goes deeper exploring generational and personal expectations and the power of acceptance. Kim, his wife (Jean Yoon) and daughter Janet (Grace-Lynn Kung) reveal distinctly personal desires despite living in the close confines above the small shop creating resonant characters that ground the production from the outset.

The writing and directing are crisp transitioning the audience smoothly from Kim’s banter with Janet, his hilarious lessons in shop management and customer interactions to a breathtakingly tender moment when prodigal son Jung (Choi) joins his mother “Umma” (Yoon) in song. While several plot developments unfold at unrealistic speed the overall needs of the straight-forward narrative make this an acceptable weakness.

The ensemble cast including the outstanding Lee (Best Actor in a Play 2012 – Toronto Theatre Critics Award) maintain a rhythmic balance between drama and comedy that captures the audience and brings a polished delivery to the simple production.  Lee and Hung are wonderfully cast as father-daughter and their delivery is a complex dance of love and conflict.  Andre Sills takes on multiple characters convincingly while Yoon is memorable in her small yet poignantly touching role. Together the cast shine in a simple yet universal play on difficult family dynamics, love, sacrifice and a transforming urban landscape.

This production is a captivating example of the power and accessibility of live theatre when well timed comedic writing is encompassed within compelling story-telling & supported by pitch perfect performances.

There are 3 performances left. Don’t miss this one. “Ok see you.”

Kim’s Convenience @ NAC until Feb 8th

Theatre Review: Grain of Salt

This review was also published on Apt613.ca
It isn’t often a play staged in a bar takes on the role of Christianity in modern culture. Thus, on the coldest of nights, we settled eagerly into The Mercury Lounge with a glass of wine and the day’s headlines of the Rev. Joe Leclair affair uppermost in our minds to see how the production would address the controversial role of organised religion.

9thH_GrainofSalt-18x24The narrative loosely follows Megan (Megan Piercey Monafu) a young Christian conflicted by her faith. Megan’s concern about the exclusion of homosexuals is further challenged by the punitive behaviour of the Church when she expresses her doubts via social media. Megan tries to establish if an apology from the Church is possible or even meaningful. Alongside this very loose storyline “snapshot” experiences with the church are interjected throughout. Dialogue for Grain of Salt is based on interviews with individuals on the role of Christianity in their lives that were woven together and re-contextualised to create the storyline on stage. This may explain the chaotic nature of many scenes but does nothing to change that this detracts from the possibility of any coherent central theme.

With its hectic staging Grain of Salt fails to tackle the rich topic of theology in a meaningful or cohesive fashion. The production never fully or significantly engages with controversies restrained by a sophomoric approach to Christianity as Good vs Evil. The contradiction between the church’s message and its action, tackling the worst offences or even exploring the grey area of declining church membership in the face of the growth markets in “alternative spirituality” are never embarked upon – it’s a missed opportunity. When controversial topics such as child-abuse, wars and abortion arise they are covered in a checklist-like manner to make Megan’s personal struggle pale in comparison.

Several scenes stand-out as successful – the metro ride enactment , the coffee shop and the game-show “You’re not getting in” demonstrate sparks of unique talent as well as highlight the need for this production to sharply edit itself down to the scenes that work. The play would be stronger as a streamlined two-hander with Megan and her friend(Mitchel Rose)  taking on the multiple “snapshots” roles; especially with the long pauses, communion scenes, prayer circles and songs edited out.

A great topic, some entertaining moments but a production that despite efforts left us, much like the weather outside, cold.

Jan 22 The Mercury Lounge 56 Byward Market 7:30PM
Jan 23rd Pressed 750 Gladstone 8PM
Jan 24 & 25 Avalon Studios, 738a Bank St 8PM
Jan 26 Avalon Studios, 738a Bank St 6PM
Jan 28, 29, 30, 31 Lunenburg Pub, 14 Waller St 7:30PM
Tickets 16$+fee online 20$ at door

Preview: You Should Have Stayed Home – A G20 Romp

An edited version of this preview was published by Apt613
“I wasn’t an activist before G20, but G20 made me an activist…”

DSCF2183You Should have Stayed Home covers the explosive events in the summer of 2010 when protesters and police clashed violently at Toronto’s G20. Based on a Facebook note detailing the arrest and detention of first time rally attendee Tommy Taylor it’s the story of bystanders and observers caught up in the chaos as police and the government cross the line and Canadian civil rights are attacked.  I spoke with Taylor as the Praxis Theatre production arrived in Ottawa to wrap up its 3year tour.

Toronto’s G20 events are often dismissed and downplayed in the press to such an extent that many Canadians, as Taylor puts it, “are familiar with the story of what happened to things – windows smashed, cop cars set alight – but not with the story of what happened to people that weekend”. The play is based, not on mainstream media accounts, but, on the 11000 word social media note penned by Taylor following his “kettling”, arrest and detention.

You Should Have Stayed HomeThe comical title springs from the absurdity of the situation and a rather shocking “piece of advice that a lot of people gave me afterwards”, says Taylor.  That a Canadian could be detained for attending a public event never entered Taylor’s mind even as he found himself penned in on Toronto’s streets for hours watching others dragged off. Peaceful protestors, passer-bys and kids as young as 15 were swept up and held, 40 to a cage, without water, food or medical attention over the course of 48hours and a lot of the public surmised this was something they’d brought upon themselves. “It’s a bit ironic and an invitation to people that would say this to come and see the show.” It showcases that it’s an entertaining evening and an access point to starting a conversation and raising questions about civil liberties.  Despite the gravity of the topic Taylor promises an evening punctuated with laughter as he puts it “some things are just so ridiculous that the only option left to us is to laugh”.

The show recruits volunteers in each city. Taylor explains, “There is a 10min scene where people join me on stage to recreate the detention centre. We’ve had 200 participants, from as young 14 to as old as 91, across Canada… coming out of their homes and getting in to handcuffs on stage. It’s a powerful tour”.

Arriving in Ottawa on the 20th, Praxis Theatre has secured the participation of several MPs and Taylor invites locals to get involved themselves or encourage their MP to get handcuffed and caged. He’s excited to close the production in the Capital where government and lawmakers have the power to enact real change.

Criss-crossing the country Taylor met Canadians from all walks of life who shared similar stories.  “G20 isn’t this crazy isolated incident. It’s crazy but not all that isolated. In some communities – talking to many Aboriginal people – it can be G20 every day and telling the story in Ottawa at the former courthouse – Arts Court – is a fitting end to the tour.”  He’s heartened by not only the interest of political participants but also by the Parliament Hill reception on opening day; an ideal place to discuss Canadian civil liberties and move toward significant changes.

In the end Taylor hopes the play will raise Canadian awareness of the need to protect civil rights here at home whether for “a straight white guy” in Toronto or a minority rural community. In the face of an assault that goes to the very heart of Canadian freedoms “staying home” is ultimately not an option.

To participate & see the show for free send an email to: participate@praxistheatre.com

You Should Have Stayed Home
Written & Performed by Tommy Taylor Praxis Theatre
20-23 November 8pm
Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Ave, Ottawa

Eye Spy: Hamlet’s Sandy Hill Connection

Photo Credit: Andrew Kenneth Martin

Photo Credit: Andrew Kenneth Martin

Sandy Hill is at the NAC! Or at least one of our denizens, award winning actor Raoul Bhaneja, is treading the boards in the acclaimed “Hamlet (Solo)“.  Sharon O’Sullivan tells us, “You haven’t seen Hamlet until you’ve seen it performed by a Sandy Hill actor”.

Raoul Bhaneja who grew up on Wilbrod St, and many may know as a founding member of “A Company of Fools” as well as for his extensive theatre, TV and Movie credentials, has transformed Shakespeare’s play creating a one-man tour de force in which he takes on all 17 roles. A success in New York and the UK “Hamlet (solo)” also won Montreal’s English Critic’s Circle Award for the Best Visiting Production.

Until 23 Nov, 8pm
National Arts Centre (NAC)
Hamlet (Solo) at the NAC