A Theatre Buff Reviews On A First Name Basis

An older friend of mine once declared that, “If at the end of your days you can count true friends on the fingers of one hand, you are a lucky man.” David Kilbride, the author/employer in On A First Name Basis doesn’t have such luck. He pays his ‘friends’; they’re on his payroll…his agent, his publisher, his lawyer and his business manager. The one employee he sees every day, his housekeeper, doesn’t make that list. David doesn’t even know her first name after twenty-eight years of service.

OAFNB4

Norm Foster and Lally Cadeau in On A First Name Basis. Photo by BankoMedia.

Her name is Lucy, by the way: Lucy Hopperstaad (Lally Cadeau). David learns this detail after he has insisted that she stay one evening as she prepares to leave. Through a humorously uncomfortable, witty, and insightful conversation, David and Lucy explore the themes of relationships and death…over several glasses of single malts and Chablis.

Because my husband volunteers as a set builder, we both take note of the set as we settle in before a play begins. This one represents the gracious, well-appointed home of a wealthy man. The ceilings are sixteen feet high; the wood panelling is smooth and dark; mill work abounds; the wing-back chairs  are tufted leather. But I wondered, as I ‘watched’ the play through two sets of sunglasses and often with closed eyes if it was all necessary (I’m managing another concussion!). Like Ravi Jain’s interpretation of David French’s play, Saltwater Moon, that is just wrapping up in Toronto, this play has a captivating back and forth dialogue. A beautiful set may be superfluous.

I saw the play opening night. The leading man, due to illness, was replaced by no other than the playwright Norm Foster. It had to have been very satisfying for Mr. Foster to volley lines with the leading lady, (to whom he had given the best ones!). On A First Name Basis is a fine play; it entertains as it niggles at one’s conscience.

On A First Name Basis is playing at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton until November 11, 2017.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to families and friends who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love. 

A Theatre Buff Reviews Salt-Water Moon

Salt-Water Moon is a play that both entertains and educates. It’s the story of an interrupted relationship between two teenagers, Jacob Mercer (Kawa Ada) and Mary Snow (Mayko Nguyen) that began in the summer of 1925, and is on the crux of being re-kindled almost a year later. Much has changed for each of them in the intervening months. Righteous indignation has become compromise; fear has transformed into pursuit. Absence has made their perspectives sharper.

Saltwater Moon

Kawa Ada – Jacob Mercer and Mayko Nguyen – Mary Snow. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

The year in which the play is set is critical to the story. It’s close enough in time for the memories  of Beaumont Hamel to be raw, and for the consequences of that slaughter to still be felt by fatherless families up and down the coasts of Newfoundland.  And 1926 is close enough in time for islanders to recognize that men who were heroes of WWI are being treated with brutal injustice by owners of fishing boats/fleets. The youth have been changed by their parents’ experiences.

In 1994, I saw Salt-Water Moon at Theatre Aquarius.  The actors were in costume and the set simulated an outport. This production, by contrast is stripped down. A singer/ narrator (Ania Soul) describes the set which we then imagine, and provides stage direction to which the actors are oblivious. If this sounds bizarre, it’s not. The play immerses the audience in a powerful rhythmic give -and-take of dialogue on starlit night by the sea.

Salt-Water Moon is a satisfying play that is exquisitely performed and directed (Ravi Jain). I loved the regional accent, identified with the shame of poverty,  and understood the rage against oppressive labour practices. It’s a play that brings Canadian history to life, much like 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt.

Salt-Water Moon is playing at Toronto’s Panasonic theatre until October 29th. If you need any more encouragement to see this play here’s Kelly Nestruck’s review from 2016

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 

 

A Theatre Buff Comments On The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Strobe lights and loud noises will keep me away from opening week of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Yes. I’m concussed again. (Insert a choice string of expletives here!!) In November 2015, eleven months after the first concussion, I saw the show on Broadway. Even in my somewhat addled state, and despite flinching from the light and sound, I loved this production.

2017-poster_curious-show

The play is based upon the best selling novel of the same name. I had read the book some years before and was curious about how it might be produced. Let me just say it’s creative and edgy. Both are told through the eyes and ears of a teenage lad with an Aspergers-like syndrome who is trying to make sense of the violent death of a neighborhood dog. The Broadway production demonstrated the magic of theatre where the whole is more than the sum of its parts (script, direction, acting, set, lighting, sound). I expect the Mirvish production to be a match for the one I saw two years ago.

Call a friend and book tickets to see The Curious Incident Of The Dog in the Night-time, then tell me how you liked it. I’ve given up my tickets for opening week and will see it later in November.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 

 

A Theatre Buff Reviews A Few Good Men

Last week I commented on a stage performance (North by Northwest) that began life as a screenplay. Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men however first featured on Broadway before it became a film. I’ve never seen the movie. As a result of Theatre Aquarius’ production of A Few Good Men, it’s now on my Must See list.

TAH-AFGM-0917_1107

Ruby Joy, Benjamin Sutherland, Lovell Adams-Gray and Mike Shara in A Few Good Men. Photo credit: BankoMedia

A Few Good Men at its core is a fast-paced convoluted tale of two conspiracies within the U.S. Marines: a charge of murder against two junior marines, and the attempt to keep the charge from coming to trial. It’s bracketed by a sub-plot of confrontations: ideals vs. pragmatism; privilege vs. duty; female vs. male; seasoned vs. junior. The dialogue is intense and it’s riveting. The lead actors are compelling in their delivery.

As a result of seeing over thirty plays a year, and being a volunteer with amateur productions, I’ve paid more attention of late to how a production comes together. Yes, the actors are critical, but without the teamwork behind the scenes, the audience would see a variation of script reading. What struck me in this performance was the military precision of the fly system, the introduction and removal of set pieces (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fly_system). At Theatre Aquarius this system is operated manually. I’m impressed.

As summer theatre at Shaw and Stratford comes to a close, the fall and winter theatre season elsewhere begins. I look forward this year to the lineup at our regional theatre, Theatre Aquarius. It’s varied and it’s professional. And yes, there is a musical—Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. This is a production I’ve wanted to see since it came to Toronto in 1992. At that time, the combination of babe in arms, a toddler at my feet, and a busy career meant that the only theatre I could see was within a thirty minute radius. Thank you for being there Theatre Aquarius!

A Few Good Men is playing at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton until October 7, 2017.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to friends and family who want to prepare themselves to help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love. 

A Theatre Buff Reviews The Madness of George III

The Madness of George III is a masterpiece of storytelling. It covers a short period—the summer of 1788 to the winter of 1789. As George III developed a host of agonizing bodily ailments and took leave of his senses, the Prince of Wales, courtiers and parliamentarians all tried to take advantage of the unstable political situation.

5.Madness.WebGallery

Chick Reid and Tom McCamus with Cameron Grant, Patrick McCamus, and Ryan Cunningham. Photo by David Cooper

Tom McCamus as George III captures the physical torment, the mania, and the horror of being treated by physicians whose methods were primitive at best and brutal at worst. Machiavelli could have written the script for the conduct of the entourage that sought to benefit at the King’s expense.

It’s an intense play, with moments of humour and endearment. The humour stems from the ministrations,  musings, and examinations by the physicians.  The endearment is present between “Mr. and Mrs. King”, Queen Charlotte and King George III, who first met on their wedding day. They developed an enduring love that produced fifteen children. Unlike the regents before him, George III was known to be a faithful husband.

The Madness of George III is one of four Shaw plays that will linger in my memory. The other three are: Saint Joan, Middletown, and 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt. With only one more play to see, I can declare it’s been a fine season. Thank you Shaw Festival.

The Madness of George III is playing at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake until October 15, 2017.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to friends and family who want to prepare themselves to help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love. 

A Theatre Buff Reviews North By Northwest

Campy special effects are not usual associations with stories of cold-war intrigue and mistaken identities; however Mirvish has found a way to combine both in its current production of North By Northwest. The result is laughter throughout and, at opening night, a standing ovation.

hero_slide_North-by-North-West-095

Olivia Fines and Jonathan Watton in North by North West – Theatre Royal Bath. Credit: Nobby Clark

The play is an adaptation of the movie and while it seems ‘true’ to the movie, something I learned after seeing three very different productions of Agnes of God is that there is never ‘one right way’ of producing an art piece. There is no end to human creativity when given the same words and directions. Playwright Carolyn Burns has risen to the challenge of transforming an action-suspense script to the stage.

The play is set in the sixties during the cold-war. The plot line is simple—a case of mistaken identity set inside international espionage. There are good guys, bad guys, a sexy dame, and FBI/CIA agents. With a 1940’s sense to the cadence of dialogue and conduct my sense is that the playwright’s intention was to create a mash-up of these two periods to allow for the use of particular special effects.  (Now I have to re-watch the movie to see how it was produced!)

Anyone who comes to this play with distant recollections of scenes from the movie (the drunken ride, the crop duster airplane and the climb down Mount Rushmore) will wonder how they might be recreated on stage. Superb choreography in combination with AV technologies and sound effects make them happen. The choreography is first evident when a set piece that looks like a leather two-seater couch is ‘transformed’ into a taxi. Actors in behind the piece move it in time with the projected street scene and sound. It’s simple and it works because it’s live theatre and the audience’s imagination and willingness to suspend belief are essential to the magic of every performance. But what is really interesting is the use of the overhead projector. The audience’s first introduction to it is a ‘zoom-in’ of an address on a rolled cardboard tube. After that, this old technology is used to great and somewhat campy effect to create the scenes I had recollected from the movie as well as many more.

North By Northwest is an excellent example of the amazing team work that goes into every production. It’s playing at The Royal Alex in Toronto until October 29, 2017.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to friends and family who want to prepare themselves to help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love. 

 

A Theatre Buff Reviews Three Plays

This summer feels like the season of too many plays and too few minutes at the keyboard. This is not a complaint, except for the bit about time because there are theatrical productions I have not commented on in a timely manner.

When I established this blog my commitment was to comment only on the plays that I enjoyed and to remain silent on the ones that did not move my needle toward “Enthusiastic.” Unfortunately, I’ve been silent on far too many productions for the only reason that distractions and obligations have abounded. I will attempt to make amends by first noting observations that I suspect are the result of seeing over thirty plays per year. Then I will provide impressions of three plays seen over the past month: 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt; Middletown; The Madwoman of Chaillot.

I’ve been struck this year by the power of theatrical ensembles. Perhaps it’s because I’m in my third year of having season’s tickets to The Shaw Festival that I am observing the ensemble performing a full range…from musicals-to dramas-to comedies. I’ve heard actors changing accents as easily as they switch costumes, and I’ve watched them easily inhabit a role playing a different gender.  As my basketball playing husband would put it, “The ensemble is an incredibly gifted team. Each player can move easily and skilfully between offence and defense, and any one of them is capable of being a star player. Shaw has a strong bench this year.” Point taken!

The other feature that has struck me is the power of a small stage embraced by the audience on three to four sides (At the Shaw: 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt, Middletown, Androcles and the Lion. At Stratford: The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Virgin Trial [see A Theatre Buff Reviews The Virgin Trial]). For my husband and me it’s a riveting experience. The staging connects us to the storytelling and the performance in a way that is quite different from observing a play on a proscenium stage.

With these observations out of the way I can move on to impressions of three plays. If you can catch only one play at Shaw this year, and you are a Canadian,  then make it 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt.  

2.Farmers_DC_0459

Travis Seetoo, Ric Reid and Donna Belleville. Photo by David Cooper.

(The Americans who make up a large part of the Shaw audience, are staying away in droves I understand…their loss.) Rick Salutin is the playwright; the story addresses the Upper Canada Rebellion. It’s history that I certainly did not learn in elementary school probably because that history was written by the victors, the ‘ruling class’ who in this portrayal are “thieves, rogues and villains”. The staging is superb. There’s a rhythmicity to the performance that is like a heartbeat throughout the production. The strength of the ensemble is extraordinary.

Middletown at The Shaw is a play that asks if anyone can really know what goes on in the heart and mind of another. Middletown profiles life in a small town where inhabitants have histories that others will not let them forget or they’re newcomers seeking to develop friendships and roots in a place where others have lived for generations. The staging is intimate. That quiet space makes it possible for one character to observe that he “wants to calmly know love on earth and to feel beautiful” and for another to note that we’re “born with questions and the world is the answer”. Unlike 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt there are leading actors, Moya O’Connell and Gray Powell. Their performances are outstanding and they are superbly supported by their peers. It’s been some weeks since I saw this performance and I can still return to the last few scenes in my mind’s eye. Middletown raises questions that that are part of living an examined life.

The last play to comment on is The Madwoman of Chaillot.

The Madwoman of Chaillot, Stratford Festival 2017

Seana McKenna as Aurélie, The Madwoman of Chaillot. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I saw this production over a month ago and sadly, did  not keep my notes. It’s a well crafted play, creatively staged, that explores the literal and figurative  underground of  Vichy France. There’s an element of fantasy that would have been a welcome solution had the Resistance had access to it, but that was not the case. In a curious instance of synchronicity about the time I saw this play I was reading a novel about the period, and also came across the obituary of Simone Veil .Vichy France was a grim period of what is still recent history. Thank goodness for people who inspired the development of characters like the Madwoman of Chaillot and her friends, and for real life survivors like Mme Veil.

With all the theatre I see, there is more than my happy quotient of musicals. In a fit of pique last season, I actually cancelled our Mirvish subscription and thereby missed out on Come From Away! (We have renewed for this year and have been granted a second chance to see this award winning production). Given my contention that not every story lends itself well to a musical I did see two superb productions this season: Guys and Dolls at Stratford and Me And My Girl at Shaw.  Go see them for the sheer joy of watching the dancers perform.

1837: The Farmers’ Revolt  is playing at the Shaw Festival until October 8, 2017.

Middletown was playing at the Shaw Festival this summer. The last production was September 10, 2017.

The Madwoman of Chaillot is playing at the Stratford Festival until October 3, 2017.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend.