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. 

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.

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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.  

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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.

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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. 

A Theatre Buff Reviews An Octoroon

If you can get past two men in jockey shorts, revealing more buttocks then you might care to see, then you will likely enjoy, and appreciate, An Octoroon. It’s a nineteenth century melodrama (The Octoroon) embedded in a twenty-first century play (An Octoroon). Had I read my program notes before the play began, I might have understood this fact and been more relaxed about the actors revealing their glutei maximi on stage, and then applying white face and red face make-up as they prepared for the melodrama.

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Ryan Cunningham Starr Domingue, and André Sills. Photo by David Cooper.

An Octoroon explores racism from the perspective of both centuries. As we watch the performances of a black actor in white face and white actors in black face and red face, “We cannot not see race while watching this play. We cannot declare ourselves colour blind and get away with it.”1. It’s a disruptive theatrical technique that is profoundly effective.

At its simplest, An Octoroon is the entwined story of the sudden foreclosure of a southern plantation and the consequences for a  young woman, Zoe (Vanessa Sears), of mixed race who thought she had been assured her freedom by the legal papers her recently deceased father (the plantation owner) had signed some years before. But where there are issues of rights, freedom, property, and love, nothing is simple.

The performances by the ‘slaves’ (Lisa Berry, Kiera Sangster, Starr Domingue, and Ryan Cunningham) are compelling in part because the playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has liberated the actors’ voices by his stage directions: “I don’t know what a slave sounded like. And neither do you.” He might have also added, and I don’t know how they acted either. The result is an effective mash-up of language and conduct with the language moving between southern cadences/pronunciations and modern street-talk, and the conduct ranging from obsequious to cheeky. André Sills who plays three roles portrays the playwright, BJJ, with anger and resignation, and draws clean distinctions between the kind but ineffective heir, George, and the scheming plantation owner, M’Closky.  Patrick McManus is in character at the outset as the verbose and drunken Irish playwright of The Octoroon and then for the remainder in red face as he plays a reserved and faithful Indian. Diana Donnelly (Dora) plays the white heiress who, if only George would marry her, could join two plantations together. We’re left with the distinct impression that were that to happen she would not be bothered with the details of day to day operations.

There are two scenes in this play within a play—the slave auction and the knife fight—that for different reasons are seared in my mind. The auction is foreshadowed by a bill of sale that is handed out with each program. I thought that reading The Book of Negroes might prepare me for that experience. It did not. The knife fight is extraordinary acting. It’s performed by André Sills who plays George/M’Closky, and is literally the struggle between good and evil.

If you plan to attend be sure to look up Br’er Rabbit (Samantha Walkes) on Wikipedia. Understanding the folk lore will help you to understand the timing of the appearances of this character who has Nanabush qualities.

An Octoroon makes for superb, if somewhat discomfiting theatre. It’s well worth your time. Catch it before it leaves the Shaw Festival (Niagara-On-The-Lake) after the October 13th performance.

  1. Program notes by Jennifer Buckley

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 The Virgin Trial

Playwright Kate Hennig demonstrated her grip on an audience with The Last Wife at Stratford in 2015. This year, she’s doing it again with The Virgin Trial.

The Virgin Trial, Stratford Festival 2017

Brad Hodder as Thom and Bahia Watson as Bess. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The play covers the life of the young Princess Elizabeth (Bahia Watson) between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. It’s an unstable time for the throne.  Two brothers, Lord Somerset (Nigel Bennett) and the Lord High Admiral Thomas Seymour (Brad Hodder) are jockeying for position at the court of the young King Edward (heir to Henry VIII).  Thom has proposed to each of the Princesses (Mary and Elizabeth) and been refused by the court. He settles for Catherine Parr, the dowager queen and the last wife of Henry VIII, and by so doing he becomes Bes’ stepfather. It’s the combination of Thom’s illicit rallying of troops, sexualized tickling and teasing of Bes, and attempted break-in of the young King’s apartments that puts the future queen in peril. The pivotal question posed by the regency council (Yanna McIntosh) is whether the future queen knowingly conspired with Thomas Seymour to depose her step-brother, King Edward VI .

Could a teenage girl reasonably be implicated in treason? This one could be. She’s smart. She’s strategic. And when she realizes the significance of the charges that have not yet been made against her, she makes every effort to protect her governess, Kat Ashley (Laura Condlin), and comptroller Thomas Parry (André Morin). When Ashley and Parry are sent to the Tower of London, Bes does what any motherless teenage girl would do: She seeks the counsel of her older sister, Princess Mary (Sara Farb). Interestingly, these latter exchanges offer the only break from the tension that reigns on the stage.

The dialogue in The Virgin Queen is taut. The acting is impeccable. The set is sparse. And the costumes are modern. If you plan to attend, be prepared to sit on the edge of your seat.

The Virgin Trial is playing at the Stratford Festival until September 30, 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 someone they love.