Paula’s Picks and Pans – Dec 11th 2013


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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

Soulpepper – Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience

Talk about inspired programming. Soulpepper artistic director Albert Schultz saw a hit show at the Toronto Fringe Festival and put it on his mainstage season along with Henrik Ibsen and Arthur Miller. The play is such a hit that it’s coming back for a repeat run, May 17 to Jun. 9.

Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience is set in a Korean-run corner store in the Regent Park neighbourhood. Mention must be made here of Ken MacKenzie’s astonishing set which is so true to life that I gasped when I came into the theatre. Not surprisingly, Kraft Canada Confectionary gets credit in the program.

The slight plot focuses on the owner’s interaction with his customers and family. The latter includes his wife, daughter and estranged son. Choi does try to walk the fine line between laugh out loud humour and sentimentality. He does write very funny dialogue, but there is treacle in the storyline, including the reconciliation with his son, and his daughter’s romance with a black policeman. Nonetheless, one can forgive the sticky sweetness because of the strongly drawn characters. Kudos to director Weyni Mengesha for deftly balancing the light with the heavy, and for putting real life on stage.

The surly, combative and opinionated Appa (father), played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, is one of those characters born to charm audiences. Like Archie Bunker, he’s politically incorrect, but also very funny. For example, his anti-Japanese sentiments are so virulent, that he calls 911 because a Japanese car is parked in a no parking zone outside his store. I personally found Lee’s accent to be a trifle heavy. I know that’s one of the delights of the character, but I wanted to savour every word. Choi has built in repeats, as when other people don’t understand Appa, but I still missed a lot of his words. At any rate, Lee does a wonderful job in the role. His Appa is absolutely believable.

Esther Jun’s Janet, Kim’s daughter, and Jean Yoon’s Umma (mother) exist to be foils for Appa. Janet is a 30-year-old photographer and a graduate of OCAD, old enough to be reminded by Appa that her biological clocking is ticking, and Jun certainly gives a spirited performance. Umma is a more placid character, but her scene with her son, where they meet in secret, is quite affecting. Choi himself plays the son Jung. It’s an interesting character because in a high-achieving culture, he considers himself a failure. He works for a car rental agency while his boyhood friends have gone on to professional careers. Choi, an actor as well as a playwright, gives Jung a suitably resigned and defeated air.

Clé Bennett has great fun performing the four black characters – two customers, a rich businessman, and the policeman. One of the single most funny moments in the show is the halting conversation between Bennett, with a heavy West Indian accent, and Appa, where communication is practically at a standstill.

You don’t have to be Korean to enjoy the show. Anyone who comes from an immigrant background can relate. The Kim family and its generational conflict could be Italian or Jewish. The strength of the play is its realistic recreation of a slice of Toronto life. This is a play about us.

Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience, starring Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Esther Jun, Jean Yoon, Clé Bennett and Ins Choi, directed by Weyni Mengesha, Young Centre, Jan. 12 to Feb. 10, 2012, returning May 17 to Jun. 9, 2012