A Theatre Buff Reviews The Lorax

What more could you ask for from a play like The Lorax that entertains, engages and educates? Perhaps it’s the presence of a wee one to whom you’ve read the Dr. Seuss story fifty times or more. Perhaps it’s even the presence of someone who was once a youngster and who knew much of the story by heart after multiple bed-time readings.

I’ve never felt the need to see a favourite book or story be turned into a movie or play. In fact I’ve often worried when I’ve heard that it is about to happen because my own images have always been vivid. Curiosity usually prevails and I succumb,  So it was with some trepidation that I went to see The Lorax. It’s a story that has been much loved in our tree hugging family. (We planted two-hundred and thirty-six trees and berry-bearing bushes twenty eight years ago and are now surrounded by a forest.)

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(Left to Right) Laura Caldow, David Ricardo-Pearce, Ben Thompson and Simon Paisley Day. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The play, which has come to Toronto straight from London’s Old Vic, is a satisfying and visually rich production. The creators have taken some licence with the fable and created a back-story, a new middle, and revised the ending. I was not disappointed by these changes. (As I type, I have the original beside me to check out the differences!) For those readers who are not familiar with the story it’s about an enterprising young man, the Once-ler, who comes across a forest of  brightly colored Truffulo trees which he describes: “The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk. And they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” For want of a ladder to harvest the tufts he chops down a tree so he can produce a Thneed. When he finishes, a strange sort of man with a “sawdusty sneeze” pops out of the stump and declares “Mister! I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” And so the battle between capitalism and environmental protection begins.

The Once-ler is perfectly embodied by a string-bean of an actor (Simon Paisley Day). He is joined by a cast of characters who are not in the original story, but who fit the play perfectly. It’s possible though that the puppets upstage the actors! The Lorox’s three handlers are brilliant: the little “beaverish guy” absolutely pleases on every level. The Swomee-Swans swoop gracefully over the audience and the Humming-Fish leap in and out of pails and ponds. The Bar-ba-loots (actors in costume) give audio effects to illustrate the experience of  “getting the crummies.” The set and props satisfyingly re-create the “far end of town where the crickle grass grows,” the “Whisper-ma-Phone” and the glorious feeling of Truffulo trees “[m]ile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.”

The Lorax is playing at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre until Sunday January 21, 2018. My recommendation? Re-read the story to someone you love and then take them with you to see the production. I think you’ll be happy you did.

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. 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Carpenter From Montreal

Who knew that the original 4G network was a nexus of gamblers, girls, guns and gangsters, and that the Canadian hotspot was Montreal?  Until I began George Fetherling’s latest novel, The Carpenter From Montreal, I did not know that Montreal was a Babylon of the North during the 1920’s and 1930’s .

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Fetherling spins his taut tale of two lads from immigrant families who Americanize their Lebanese names to Jim Joseph and Pete Sells. Through a combination of wits and good fortune, the two men become successful bootleggers and purveyors of games of chance in a “town” somewhere south of Canada. (My bet is on Brooklyn.) It’s Jim who encounters the French carpenter on one of his early bootlegging runs. A mentoring relationship of sorts begins. Unlike the expectations one would have of someone called “The Carpenter,” this character never touches tools traditionally associated with the craft. He’s more of a fixer—behind the scenes. From him, Jim learns about moving goods across borders and keeping the wheels of justice greased. And he acquires the carpenter’s habits of elegant attire, lavish surroundings and bodyguards.

The story-telling in The Carpenter From Montreal is unconventional but compelling. Three characters—a ghost, a newspaperman, and a lawyer—recount the rise and fall of Jim and Pete against a rich backdrop of characters, conversations, and street-life. There were times when I marveled at how Fetherling, who was born after this epoch, had captured in almost cinematographic detail the corruption and swagger of the time. I was fully immersed in the period.

The Carpenter From Montreal is an engaging and entertaining examination of a period and a lifestyle from an author who is a master craftsman. (See a recent article in The Globe and Mail for an update on Montreal’s red-light district).

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.