Wednesday, August 4, 2010


2010 Shaw Festival Season Reviews

By David Grapes

Productions are listed in order of preference


Harvey (Royal George Theatre) ****
• Strong focused direction by Joseph Zeigler
• Outstanding cast lead by Mary Haney, Peter Krantz and Norman Browning
• Ensemble acting work was excellent right down to Peter Millard as the Cab Driver
• Beautiful period set that was easily transformed between Dowd’s library and Chumley’s Rest. Credit Sue LaPage with just the right mix of period correctness and whimsy.
• Another strong outing from actor turned director Joseph Ziegler. To his credit he plays it straight and never allows the production to fall into campy or become a parody of itself. Harvey is still a very very funny play and Ziegler’s take on it feels just right.
• Entire production had class and style
• SRO house that really enjoyed the whimsy and humor of the play
• I wish Zarrin Darnell-Martin as Mrytle Mae had infused her character with more comic life. Given her genetic heritage she just seemed dull and way too normal. She was the one weak link in an otherwise stellar cast.
• Harvey gave a great turn as himself
• The production was SRO when I attended and has already be extended. Don’t miss it, even if you have to scalp a ticket.

The Doctor’s Dilemma (Festival Theatre) *** 1/2
• Shaw’s rarely performed comic gem about doctors, their egos and their ethics
• Outstanding ensemble work by the male acting company. The only noticeable weakness in the production was Krista Colosimo, who was badly miscast as Jennifer Dubedat. She lacked the charisma and sexual fire that is necessary to drive the action of the play. Worst of all there was no romantic spark between her and Patrick Galligan (Dr. Colenso Ridgeon). Thus Ridgeon’s obsession with her character, which is the core of the play’s plot falls flat. Still those scenes with the doctors were magic. And how nice it was to see Michael Ball in a role that showcased his talents as one of the world's greatest Shavian actors. I mean how many butlers must he play before he gets a role that he can really sink his teeth into as an actor.
• I liked the “conceptual” set by Ken MacDonald
• While first published in 1911, this witty and insightful commentary on medical ethics and health care issues is still remarkably relevant. A thought provoking evening on the physical, psychological and monetary price that must be paid for living as well as dying
• Well staged and beautifully paced by Morris Paynch
• Not sure that I enjoyed the musical score by The Rolling Stones, however, I will admit the choices were clever and make me laugh out loud

John Bull’s Other Island (Court House Theatre) ***
• Shaw’s talky play about the “Irish question” is not easy to produce or to watch. However, in the capable hands of actors like Benedict Campbell, Graeme Somerville, Jim Mezon and Severn Thompson it is not only watchable but a very entertaining evening of theatre indeed.
• Thought-provoking lines delivered by many of Canada’s finest actors.
• Excellent supporting cast featuring Guy Bannerman, Mary Haney, Thom Marriott and Patrick McManus.
• Clever set design that worked well in the limitations of the Court House space.
• Solid and straight forward direction by Christopher Newton. His direction of Shaw just seems to get better and better. He has just the right instincts to know when to pull the in the reins or let his actors command the stage.

Half An Hour (Royal George Theatre) ***
• A wonderful little gem of a one act by J.M. Barrie
• Romantic, funny and clever all at the same time
• Effective directorial touches by Gina Wilkinson
• Imaginative use of the George stage to create the two required settings
• Lovely performance by Diana Donnelly. She is ably supported by Peter Krantz, Michael Ball, Gord Rand, Norman Browning, Peter Millard and Laurie Patton
• A romantic and sweet production that has an unexpected and powerful emotional twist at its conclusion.
• A marvelous way to spend your lunchtime.

An Ideal Husband (Festival Theatre)
One Touch of Venus (Royal George Theatre)

The Women (Court House Theatre)

The Cherry Orchard (Court House Theatre)
The Age of Arousal (Court House Theatre)
Serious Money (Studio Theatre)

2010 Stratford Shakespeare Festival Season Reviews

By David Grapes

Productions are listed in order of preference


As You Like It (Festival Theatre) ****
• Glorious and highly memorable production – Best production to date from Des MacAnuff
• The most inventive direction of the 2010 summer season
• Marvelous acting and singing throughout the entire large cast
• Wonderful chemistry between Rosalind and Orlando (Andrea Runge, Paul Nolan) A real star turn for Runge, who also dazzled us last year in The Importance of Being Earnest and has already been announced as Viola and Ann Page for the 2011 season
• Stunning visuals from the entire design team. The production reminded me of the best deign work of the John Hirsch years. Kudos to Debra Hanson (Scenery), Dana Osborne (Costumes) and Michael Walton (Lighting)
• Fantastic original songs and jazz score by Justin Ellington and Michael Roth
• Outstanding on stage orchestra that was augmented at times by cast members
• Nice use of an onstage piano
• The scenes in the Forest of Arden are full of energy, passion and life and seem to almost explode off the stage
• Strong ensemble work from the large and talented cast. Some wonderful moments from Brent Carver (Jaques), Ben Carlson (Touchstone) and Lucy Peacock (Audrey)
• The sound design and mix was stunning
• If you can see just one production in the 2010 season then this is the show to see. Do not miss it!

The Tempest (Festival Theatre) ***1/2
• Worth the price of admission just to hear Christopher Plummer speak Shakespeare’s amazing poetry
• Some of the visuals involving Prospero and Arial will take your breath away
• Director Des MacAnuff doesn’t quite get to the level of brilliance that he demonstrated in As You Like It, however, this is a very fine production that is well anchored by Plummer. I do wish that we had had a few less things appearing and disappearing into the floor. I found that a distraction rather than an enhancement. There is always beauty in simplicity.
• Plummer is touching and vulnerable as Prospero and gives a very nuanched performance
• There have certainly been some memorable Arials and Calibans at Stratford but the two I will remember both come from this production. Julyana Soelistyo is her own one woman Blue Man Group. From her first enterance where she drops underwater to retrieve Prospero’s book to her final good bye with her master, you can’t take your eyes off of her. Her performance blends grace, acrobatics and a child like innocence in a way that is unlike any Ariel that has come before her. Unlike Lindstrom the chemistry between her and Plummer is palpable. Much the same can be said for Dion Johnstone’s caliban. He is funny, fierce and at moments quite vulnerable. His scenes with Trinculo (Bruce Dow) and Stephano (Geraint Wyn Davies) are a delight and provide the play with some much needed comic relief after tedious scenes with the men of the court.
• The Tempest drew the largest crowd that I saw this summer in the Festival Theatre. The production that I attended was nearly sold out. The same could no be said for Kiss Me Kate.
• I felt strongly that Trish Lindstrom was too old for Miranda. She looks and acts every bit of 30+ (Shakespeare indicates that she is 15 years old when the play begins). I also thought that she had no filial chemistry with Plummer and no sexual chemistry with Gareth Potter, who played Ferdinand. Her understudy Amanda Lisman would have been a better choice.
• However, the weakest links in the cast were the men of the court. I thought that they were pedestrian to the point of being almost unnecessary to this production. The only danger that the King Alonso (Peter Hutt) faced was being bored to death by this gaggle of duds.

The Winter’s Tale (Tom Patterson Theatre) ***
• Solid production of one of the Bard’s most challenging plays
• Intelligent actor centered direction from the always resourceful Marti Maradon
• Simple yet effective scenic design concept in the Patterson. However, I felt that the costumes were uniformly ugly. In particular, the costumes in Bohemia looked as if they had been constructed for a Saturday Night Live skit. I know that designer John Pennoyer was trying to help us separate the two worlds of Siccilia and Bohemia but these garments called attention to themselves as costumes rather than looking like the clothes that might be worn by a real person from this time and place.
• An excellent racially diverse cast lead by Ben Carlson, Yanna McIntosh and Cara Ricketts
• Nicely understated performance by the ever radiant Seana McKenna as Paulina. Her “plea” monologue in the first act court room scene was remarkable.
• Fantastic first act that was full of fire and fury
• I sure wish that director Maraden had had the guts to cut twenty minutes out of the opening of Act two. While I am certain that Shakespeare’s audiences were fascinated by the antics of the sheep shearing fair and dance I was not. For my money we could have lost most of this text and simply concentrated on the love story between Florizel and Perdita and then come back to wrap up the play in Paulina’s garden.
• The text was well spoken and easily understood
• The scene in which Hermione comes back to life brought many in the audience to tears

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (Tom Patterson Theatre) **1/2
• An interesting but wildly uneven production of this rarely produced musical revue
• The band and the two male leads make this production work. The musicians in particular are amazing. They play multiple instruments in multiple musical styles and even act as performers in some numbers. I thought that they were worth the price of admission even if a note had never been sung.
• Brent Carver and Mike Nadajewski seem to be in one production and the two women in another. And of course it’s their production that we want to see. I disliked both Jewelle Blackman and Nathalie Nadon both of whom were overwrought and under talented. How you can get on the Stratford stage with a major speech problem (intrusive s) amazes me. I just could not take either one of them seriously as a vocalist, especially when they sang ensemble numbers with the men.
• Then there was Brent Carver, who was obviously in his element. One of the world’s foremost cabaret performers, he knows how to deliver a song. His renditions of My Childhood in act one was at once provocative and haunting
• The musical staging and blocking by director Stafford Arima was repetitive and amateurish. It was obvious after the first five minutes that he was a proscenium director and had no idea how to make musical numbers work on the Patterson’s long thrust stage. Numerous visual opportunities went unexplored.
• Solid musical direction (Rick Fox) however, the inclusion or exclusion of some famous songs felt arbitrary. Too many songs sounded alike and were delivered in similar tempos.
• Precise and effective sound design and live mix work
• Worth a recommendation on the strength of Carver’s performance

Peter Pan (Avon Theatre)
Do Not Go Gently (Studio Theatre)
Kiss Me Kate (Festival Theatre)

King of Thieves (Studio Theatre)
Evita (Avon Theatre)


Dangerous Liaisons (Festival Theatre)
For The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again (Tom Patterson Theatre)
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Studio Theatre)

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