ARCHIVES – PLAYS THAT OPENED IN JANUARY.2014

(5 Star Rating System)

LondonRoadCanadian Stage. LONDON ROAD (4 ½ stars). Run don’t walk to see one of the most unusual shows in town that is soon to close. The serial killer of five prostitutes in Ipswich, England, had a flat on London Road. Verbatim playwright Alecky Blythe interviewed residents of the street to capture what they went through during the investigation, arrest and trial. These conversations were then set to music by composer Adam Cork. The resulting sung monologues/dialogues are astonishing in their reality. The cast is unbelievable (all kinds of Stratford/Shaw types), gilded by director Jackie Maxwell and her Shaw Festival music director Reza Jacobs. The costumes and the set are terrific. I’m deducting marks for some impenetrable accents. Nonetheless, once again, CanStage scores big with a North American premiere. (Written by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork, directed by Jackie Maxwell, Closes Feb. 9, Bluma Appel Theatre, www.canadianstage.com.)

Tarragon Theatre. FLESH AND OTHER FRAGMENTS OF LOVE (3 stars). Evelyne de la Chenelière is one of Quebec’s foremost playwrights, but she falters on this latest offering. The play is inspired by a novel by French writer Marie Cardinal, and dabbles in magic realism. A troubled French couple (Blair Williams and Maria del Mar) is on vacation in a remote part of Ireland, when the husband finds a dead body washed ashore on the beach. The corpse is Mary (Nicole Underhay), a medical student and single mother. Pierre and Simone begin to make up a back story for Mary influenced by their own negative experiences, while Mary herself speaks about her own life and that of Pierre and Simone. Karyn McCallum’s set and costumes are arresting, but the text itself runs out of steam. Richard Rose’s direction seems a tad on the slow side. (Written by Evelyne de la Chenelière, directed by Richard Rose, Tarragon Theatre, Jan. 7 to Feb. 16, 2014, www.tarragontheatre.com.)

Soulpepper. IDIOT’S DELIGHT (2 ½ stars). This is another one of Soulpepper’s irritating productions – good intentions that fizzle out. The very successful play, written in 1936, by Robert Sherwood, actually anticipated World War 2, and which side various countries would end up on. Sherwood also adapted his play for the MGM all-star movie featuring Clark Gable and Norma Schearer, directed by Clarence Brown. Director Albert Schultz’s version doesn’t come even close. The Soulpepper production is beset by uneven acting and insipid direction. More to the point, Raquel Duffy, in the key role of Irene cannot be heard. Doesn’t anyone at Soulpepper actually do a voice check in the theatre? Some like Dan Chameroy, and particularly Evan Buliung, rise above the fray, but there is no sense of an ensemble. The play is one where a group of people end up being marooned together (in this case, an alpine resort on the northern Italian border), and collisions of ideas happen. The recipe is here for intense interaction, but this whole production is paint by numbers. And then there is Lorenzo Savoini’s set that looks like a giant tiled washroom. Soulpepper gets a plus mark for putting this rarity on the stage, but not for the production. (Written by Robert E. Sherwood, directed by Albert Schultz, Jan. 30 to Mar. 1, 2014, www.soulpepper.ca.)

Tarragon/Theatre Smash. THE UGLY ONE (4 stars). This revival from 2011 retains the original cast and creative team, all to good advantage. German playwright Marius von Mayenburg has written a fable that deals with important issues like image, identity and perception. The plot begins with an inventor who works for a large corporation. His boss will not let him present his discovery at a convention because he’s too ugly. And so begins von Mayenburg’s twists and turns which also take on the whole obsession with plastic surgery. The acting is superb, while Ashlie Corcoran directs with both passion and humour. The play is short, sweet, and packs a wallop. (Written by Marius von Mayenburg, directed by Ashlie Corcoran, Jan. 7 to Feb. 16, 2014, www.tarragontheatre.com.

Nightwood Theatre. FREE OUTGOING (3 ½ stars). The over the top melodrama of Bollywood movies carries over into this play whose premise is that a teenage girl’s sexual encounter ends up on youtube. Indian writer Anupama Chandrasekher has set the play in the conservative city of Chennai (where she is based), and the action is relentless as the fallout spirals out of control. From the neighbours who want the family kicked out of the apartment building, to the hungry media and their feeding frenzy, the consequences are extreme for everyone involved. Anusree Roy as the mother gives another of her sterling performances. (Written by Anupama Chandrasekhar, directed by Kelly Thornton, Factory Theatre, Jan. 28 to Feb. 16, 2014, www.nightwoodtheatre.net.)

Paula’s Picks and Pans – Dec 11th 2013

THEATRE – NOW PLAYING (5 STAR RATING SYSTEM)

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Theatre Review – Soulpepper/David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow

American playwright David Mamet is all about language and rhythm. Characters like to hear themselves talk. They go off on riffs. Just a word from someone else can trigger the verbal diarrhoea. Other people can barely get a word in edge-wise. When something akin to dialogue happens, the words are fragments of thoughts which makes for the staccato rhythm of the Mametian cadence. Pacing is everything.

The good news about Soulpepper’s production of Speed-The-Plow is that director David Storch puts Mamet’s style in your face. It is artifice writ large. The audience is acutely aware that the characters live in an expressionism Mametian existence where reality has been placed on hold. Their fragmented sentences rage supreme. The emphasis on Mamet’s style may not be to all tastes, it being mostly loud and abrasive, but Storch has certainly paid homage to the playwright.

The title is taken from a 14th century olde English saying “God speed the plough”, which means “May you have prosperity”, which in itself is ironic as the 1988 play takes place in Los Angeles, and is about the movie business. Bobby Gould (Ari Cohen) has just been made head of production for a major movie studio. In Dana Osborne’s set, his new office is still under renovation. Bobby’s associate Charlie Fox (Jordan Pettle) brings him news that Douglas Brown, a huge star, likes the prison script that Charlie gave him, and will make the picture with their studio (and not the one across the street). Bobby immediately arranges a meeting with Richard Ross, the head of the studio.

Enter Karen, Bobby’s secretary temp. Charlie bets Bobby $100 that Bobby can’t bed her. In taking up the challenge, Bobby gives Karen a “courtesy read” – an important book that could never become a popular movie. It’s a weighty tome about radiation and the apocalypse. She’s to bring her notes about the book to his home that evening (whose large   picture window has the de rigueur, spectacular night time view of the Los Angeles cityscape). And so things are in place for the great crisis to happen that will affect the hopes and ambitions of all three people. The rest of the play is a veritable dance of death.

Cohen and Pettle are electric, shooting out their high voltage personas at incendiary speed. They are both mean, lean and hungry. The play, after all, is a satire about the movie business, and Mamet’s caustic touch, according to director Storch and his cast, has to be obvious. Sarah Wilson as Karen has the more difficult role. She is initially passive, but comes alive in the second act when she justifies the movie potential of the radiation book. Wilson pulls off this difficult feat with aplomb – an enthusiastic, almost naïve overtone, with a strong sexual subtext.

The play runs all three acts together, but the 100 minutes fly by on the wings of Mamet’s corrosive language and the cast’s acute delivery.

Speed-The-Plow by David Mamet, (starring Ari Cohen, Jordan Pettle and Sarah Wilson, directed by David Storch), Soulpepper, Young Centre, Jul. 5 to Sept. 22, 2012

 

 

 

 

Theatre Review – David Storey’s Home

David Storey is problematic. There are many scholars who regard him as a great playwright, one who really understands the tenor of his times. And then there are others who find him limited. The one truism is that Storey is not easy.

Home, which he wrote in 1970, is a metaphor for post-war England. His country had won the war, but lost the peace. The sun had set on the empire and generations were being born who would never have jobs. The Draconian era of Maggie Thatcher, with the benefit of hindsight, is looming in the future.

While it takes awhile to reveal itself, we understand that we’re in a mental institution of some sort. We first meet two middle class men (Oliver Dennis and Michael Hanrahan). They speak in clipped sentences with a stiff upper lip in clear evidence, about school, the army and work. This scene is followed by two lower class women (Brenda Robins and Maria Vacratsis) who deal with more vulgar topics. The four ultimately have an encounter. There is also Alfred (Andre Sills), a sporty, muscle-bound type who comes and goes.

In retrospect, everything they talk about, individually or collectively, can refer to the broader picture of post-war England. Storey’s real troubling message is that sometimes it’s better to be inside, than out.

Director Albert Schultz has kept things simple to match the play’s language. He lets Storey speak for himself. Ditto Ken MacKenzie’s garden set design equipped with moving clouds. MacKenzie’s excellent costumes also speak to class differences. The actors really understand the importance of ensemble. They are all seasoned pros who serve the play.

My one problem is the accents that obscure words. Those with a natural gruffness in their voice, such as Robins and Hanrahan, particularly Robins, at times sound like they are speaking mush.

Storey is intriguing, difficult and puzzling. If you like a standard well-made play, Storey is not for you. The audience has to work.

Home by David Storey, (starring Oliver Dennis, Michael Hanrahan, Brenda Robins, Maria Vacratsis and Andre Sills, directed by Albert Schultz), Soulpepper, Young Centre, May 8 to Jun. 10, 2012

 

 

Theatre Review –Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You

As a writing team, George F. Kaufman and Moss Hart really understood the tenor of the times. In 1936, deep in the Great Depression, they opened You Can’t Take It With You as a balm for hard times. At the heart is the seemingly eccentric Sycamore family who live by Grandpa’s motto of only doing what makes you happy. It’s a screwball comedy with heart. The moral is that we don’t need money, and, perhaps the more subliminal anti-capitalism message is that the stock market collapse, viz money, caused the current miseries.

The only one who actually leads a normal life – meaning, she has a job – is Alice Sycamore (Krystin Pellerin). When she falls in love with the upscale Tony Kirby (Gregory Prest), a collision course is bound to happen. Tony’s high society parents (John Jarvis and Brenda Robbins) and their encounter with the Sycamore clan and their acolytes, is going to be big trouble. Alice feels she can’t marry Tony because she is embarrassed by her family.

Grandpa keeps snakes and won’t pay income tax. Father (Derek Boyes) makes fire works. Mother (Nancy Palk) writes stories and paints pictures badly. Sister Essie (Patricia Fagan) is a ballerina wannabe who makes candy which is distributed by her amateur printer husband (Mike Ross). And then there are the hangers-on including Essie’s pontificating dance teacher (Diego Matamoros) and the iceman who came on a delivery and never went home (Michael Simpson).

Peterson was born to play Grandpa. He has the best lines in the play and he makes the most of them. He is a great actor when it comes to delivering sharp one-liners. The rest of the cast is just fine. The one problem is Pellerin. In other performances, she has shown her considerable talent but in this play, she seems to be playing catch up. She never is in the moment. If anything, she’s too bland. As a result, there is little chemistry with Prest. Perhaps an actress with more fire in the belly would have served better.

Director Joseph Ziegler once again proves he can marshal huge numbers around the stage and keep things lively. Christina Poddubiuk’s period set and costumes gild the lily. You Can’t Take It With You is a fun evening of theatre. It’s a silly play, but in our hearts, we’d all like to be part of the Sycamore anarchy.

You Can’t Take It With You, written by George F. Kaufman and Moss Hart, (starring Eric Peterson, Krystin Pellerin and Gregory Prest, directed by Joseph Ziegler) Soulpepper, Young Centre for the Arts, Apr. 19 to Jun. 21, 2012