Wednesday, April 30, 2008


- Le Devoir runs its interview with Wajdi Mouawad today, in which the NAC French theatre's artistic director announces his intention to a) produce all seven of Sophocles' plays during his four years there and b) give up theatre in 2012! Holee!

(I love the part of this article where Le Devoir’s Michel Bélair expresses his bafflement that Mouawad is presenting two important shows exclusively in Ottawa. "You mean, I have to get on the 417 and go to Ontario *twice* next year!?")

- An interview with a British actor I admire almost as much for his name as his performances: Benedict Cumberbatch. He's back at the Royal Court - where I saw him in Rhinoceros and The Arsonists last year - in Martin Crimp’s new play, The City. (4/5 stars from Michael Billington.)
Stan and Tina's divorce...

It's not often you get to write the words "picking at and eating his own scabs" in a theatre review. There's all that and more in today's write-up of Cranked, Green Thumb's touring hip-hop musical for teens about an MC named Stan's descent into crystal meth addiction. The play certainly scared me straight. Well, straighter.

On the other hand: Cranked gets 3/4 stars from me. Christopher Hoile in Eye gave it 4/5, while The Star's Richard Ouzounian gave it 3.5/4 - and "mad props".

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Montreal's Wajdi Mouawad announced his first season as artistic director of the NAC's French-language theatre yesterday. The most interesting aspect? For the first time in it's 40-year history, the French theatre will present a play in a different language than French. This is a real statement, since the federally funded NAC is in fact politically mandated to produce French-language theatre.

I interviewed the intense but quiet Mouawad for a good hour and a half while in Ottawa this weekend. Here's my Globe piece about my chat with this true visionary ("Polish can be French too, if we want," he says), but there was a lot I couldn't fit in... (Here are reports in Citizen, Le Droit.)

For instance, I enjoyed Mouawad's astute insights into watching his abstract, poetic plays in English translation. "The francophone theatre is a theatre that is very comfortable with the abstract," he said (in French, this is my translation). "But I know that the Anglo-Saxon theatre world is a lot more attached to realism. So what's fascinated me is on the level of production [of Scorched, the translation of Incendies], how the director [Richard Rose] went as far in the direction of abstraction as he could, but he was still obliged to illustrate some of it. I understand. He was right to do it. But my culture shock, I felt it there. Not in the language, but in the theatre culture."

"The Quebec authors who translate well into Anglo-Saxon are those writers who are very anchored in reality, whether Michel Tremblay or Francois Archambault or Carole Frechette - though Frechette has a degree of abstractness."

Of course, this is also why English-language writers like Sarah Kane are so much popular in French than English...

That said, Wajdi isn't doing half-bad in English. Scorched is going on a pan-Canadian tour in the fall, and he just had his British debut at the Soho theatre in London.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Reviews you can use.

If you live in Toronto or Ottawa, anyway. Here's my take on Damascus, Scottish playwright David Greig's comedy visiting T-dot in a production by Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre. Three stars! And here's my review of Alison Lawrence's And All For Love at the NAC in the 'Twa. Two stars!(No, it's not a Bryan Adams jukebox musical. Still waiting...) I use the first review to highlight the special theatrical relationship between Scotland and Canada, and the second to bemoan how much theatre is about theatre.

Plus, six actors I'm looking forward to seeing at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival this summer. One of them was originally Anika Noni Rose, but the Tony winner dropped out of Caesar and Cleopatra this week (for completely reasonable reasons).

And now where am I? In Montreal, which always gets four stars in the Spring when the Habs are in the playoffs...

On the other hand: Damascus gets two stars from The Star's Richard Ouzounian and a lukewarm reaction from Cushman in the Post. And All For Love is damned with faint praise - "a worthwhile night out" - by Patrick Langston in the Ottawa Citizen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Peter Hinton's quest for world domination.

The artistic director of the National Arts Centre English theatre unveiled his "international" season tonight. (Here's my report from tomorrow's paper, online already.) Highlights include: the new Robert Lepage, The Blue Dragon, which had its French-language premiere in Châlons-en-Champagne this week; a new Ronnie Burkett puppet show; Tim Supple's Indian A Midsummer Night's Dream (which will have its Canadian premiere at Luminato in June); Tshepang, a South African play inspired by the true story of the rape of a nine-month-old baby, and apparently recommended to Hinton by ex-Centaur Theatre head Maurice Podbrey; and Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, starring Tanja Jacobs.

Plus, there's Shepard's Buried Child, the Shaw production of Ann-Marie MacDonald's Belle Moral and a revival of George Ryga's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, a play that is in all the Canadian theatre textbooks but which rarely appears on stage.

Plenty to make critics salivate, but will the "skeptical" locals get on board? Already we've got a commenter on the Globe article writing: "Well cancel my season's tickets... Really, I don't know what the guy is thinking."

In other news, as much as I'm glad the Habs will face the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals was robbed. Poor Huet...

UPDATE: Funny piece in La Presse about the French premiere of "work-in-progress" The Blue Dragon, the pack of Quebec journalists who follow Lepage around ("Ah! The usual suspects!") and former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's dramaturgical notes (essentially, he inquires as to why the play did not end in a menage a trois).
Boris, Ken and Brian debate.

[Yes, another silly video. From London-Shite.]

Monday, April 21, 2008

Charlie Rose by Samuel Beckett

I love this. I love this so much. Though one could argue it's more Pinteresque than Beckettian... (Hat tip to Alex Shimo-Barry.)

Other things I love: People with the last name Kostitsyn! My playoff Bard is clearly working...
Hell is full of musical amateurs

The Shaw Festival reaches out to the kids. (OK, the Jackson Triggs line is pretty awesome.)
Two and a half star day.

People are cynical about democracy these days. This is one of the terrible side effects of the War on Terror. The US's attempts to spread democracy by force have made it easy for dictators and their apologists to claim democratisation is some sort of Western imperialist plot. Worse, the war has made resurgent the racist belief that certain countries or certain peoples are just resistant to democracy.

There was a more optimistic time. It kicked off with the non-violent People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1986, which resulted in the ouster of Marcos. Three years later, the Berlin Wall came down piece by piece and the Soviet republics fell like dominoes.

People Power at Theatre Passe Muraille takes us back to 1986; it's nice to see some optimism about democracy on stage (even if we know the Philippines needed a second People Power Revolution in 2001 and is still plagued by vote-rigging scandals and states of emergency). I give the show 2.5/4 stars in today's Globe.

Meanwhile, at Buddies in Bad Times, Sky Gilbert's Happy: A Very Gay Little Musical is a lousy musical, but an interesting play. I'll take a flawed, but stimulating show over a better-crafted, but dull one any day. I give it 2.5 stars, despite the fact that I compare it to a baby being smothered with bubble wrap.

On the other hand: Robert Cushman rips into People Power ("For the second time in a row, the main stage at Theatre Passe Muraille is given over to a show that doesn't deserve to be there"), while The Sun's John Coulbourn gives it 3/5 stars and Eye (someone other than Hoile) gives it 4/5. Was there no Star review?

As for Happy, Richard Ouzounian gives it a single star as does Eye Weekly's Christopher Hoile. The Sun's John Coulbourn is slightly more generous: 2/5.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

So, where are the Canadian plays about Afghanistan?

Asks I in today's Globe, while writing about Ravi Jain's recent night of "reality" theatre about Iraq, Winter Soldiers.

One commenter suggests I should listen to CBC Radio One's Afghanada, which employs such playwrights as Andrew Moodie, Greg Nelson, Adam Pettle, Jason Sherman, Hannah Moscovitch, Emil Sher and Bobby Theodore.

Elsewhere in themed essays written by critics land (it's been a slower period for Toronto theatre), the Star's Richard Ouzounian ponders why Colleen Murphy is being so insistent that her December Man characters are not based on the Blais family.

Elsewhere elsewhere, I see Sébastien Tellier's Eurovision entry on behalf of France is in peril because the lyrics are in English. I am very disappointed that no articles about this controversy have used "Gallictronica" to describe his music. My latest failed attempt to coin a word.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Boozy et les justes.

OK, I didn't want to become that guy who comes back from a couple years abroad and then begins every sentence with "In London..." But, well, in London, I was initially surprised and then absolutely delighted to discover that at the theatre you can take your drink (alcoholic or otherwise) to your seat with you. Instead of chugging your wine or leaving behind half-empty bottles of beer at intermission, you can slowly sip your drink through the second act. How civilized!

I came back to Canada ready to fulminate about the theatre culture here, where in-seat drinking only takes place at Fringe theatres or cabaret spaces, only to find that: lo and behold, the times they are a changin'. At the epic Nicholas Nickleby at the Princess of Wales in Toronto, I was delighted to be able to bring my Coke back to my seat with me. (No rum, I was on the job.) Then, I discovered at a performance of the musical Fire, the refreshment policy had been refreshed at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, too. I happily ate my ice cream at the start of Act Two.

Anyway, I started to call around and found that while I was away, a couple of major Calgary theatres had started allowing patrons to bring their drinks to their seats as well. I write about this revolution and why it is happening now in today's Globe. (I'm glad to see most of the commenters are on my side - feel free to join the debate here or there.) Part of it is the law of unintended consequences: As the average length of a play shrinks to 90 minutes, theatres that rely on bar sales are trying to find ways of getting back some of the concession sales lost when you lose the intermission.

(By the way, for those of you unfamiliar with the work of Canadian theatre pioneer Gratien Gélinas, the title of this post is a reference to this play.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The December Man reviewed.

Three stars for Colleen Murphy's drama about the aftermath of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre. It's a tight production and thought-provoking, even if I'm not entirely sold on the script. I started writing the review and found I could have kept going for a couple thousand more words; the post-show chatter with friends was more heated than normal too. Maybe that's all we can really ask of a night out at the theatre - that it be fuel for fiery discussion. (Maybe I'll put some of the review outtakes here when Bell finally installs my high-speed internet in my new apartment...)

On the other hand: The Star's Richard Ouzounian gives out three stars as well, but he likes what I don't and vice versa. A third three stars from Eye's Christopher Hoile, but that's out of five not four and he gives them for the production not the play. Meanwhile, Robert Cushman believes we've moved beyond Beyond Mozambique.

In happier Montreal news, my play-off Bard is working wonders so far. Kovalev!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Deep thoughts and shallow puns.

Georgia Strait theatre critic Colin Thomas is interviewed by The Next Stage. Thought this was of interest:
Vancouver has too many cheerleading critics, which is one of the reasons that the level of public discussion about theatre is low.

Incidentally, I think that theatre artists have a responsibility here, too. Part of that responsibility is learning how to differentiate between themselves and their work. We’ve got to be able to talk honestly, respectfully — and frankly — about the art form we all love.

What’s the difference between a theatregoer and a hockey fan? When the home team loses, a hockey fan isn’t afraid to pick apart the team’s performance to see what worked and what didn’t. Sports fans aren’t afraid of offending the players, for God’s sake; they want them to get better and to win.
Speaking of hockey, I’ll be checking the Montreal-Boston score at intermission tonight. I’ve dressed a little statue of Shakespeare in a Habs scarf and will keep him dressed like that until the Canadiens are eliminated or bring home the Stanley Cup.

What? Have you never heard of the tradition of the play-off Bard?
Four stars in today's Globe!

Unfortunately, they're divided between two shows. Two go to Rough House in Toronto:
Mime is a four-letter word - anyone who can count will agree. Children are unable to count, however (right?), so Andy Massingham's physical-theatre piece Rough House had them rolling in the aisles the other day at Toronto's Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. One child was literally rolling until his mother restrained him, thank god.
And the other two go to The Mystery of Maddy Heisler at the Centaur in Montreal:
The Mystery of Maddy Heisler introduces Montrealers to director Roy Surette, who was appointed head of the Centaur Theatre last summer, though he had never worked in the theatre or the city. By placing much of the action of this Nova Scotia play in a pool of water centre stage, Surette clearly hopes to make a splash in his first outing here. Unfortunately, the result is a bit of a washout.
On the other hand: Robert Crew gives Rough House three stars in the Tororonto Star (sic). Or, rather, Crew gave the show three stars three years ago - they've reprinted his review from then.

Meanwhile, The Montreal Gazette's Pat Donnelly gets the knives out for Maddy Heisler and new Centaur A-D Surette: "Although The Mystery of Maddy Heisler does not mark an auspicious directorial debut at Centaur for Surette, it must be remembered that he did not choose the play (former artistic director Gordon McCall did). But it does raise questions about his dramaturgical skills and his ability to provoke exciting performances from actors who have proven more than capable elsewhere." Yikes! (I previously blogged about Surette here.)

Elsewhere, some excellent news: Slings and Arrows, my fave Canadian TV series of all time (and third favourite TV series regardless of national origin), is being remade in Brazil by City of God director Fernando Meirelles. Meirelles is also directing Blindness, the upcoming adaptation of José Saramago's novel of the same name by Don McKellar, who starred in Slings and Arrows. How much am I looking forward to that movie? Much!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

It’s Quebec theatre day...

Over at The Globe and Mail, anyway. First Elizabeth Renzetti reports on the English-language premiere of Olivier Choinière's play Bliss. No, not at the Tarragon in Toronto translated by Linda Gaboriau, but at the Royal Court in London translated by none other than Caryl Churchill.

In The Guardian, Michael Billington calls Bliss "a small bombshell" and gives it 4/5 stars, while Charles Spencer in the Telegraph says he would have rather spent a night listening to Celine Dion. (That's not a gratuitous Celine joke - she plays a large role in the play, albeit off-stage.) Benedict Nightingale sits firmly on the fence and gives it 3/5 stars.

Meanwhile, I took a little trip to Montreal this weekend and caught a show called Construction by Pier-Luc Lasalle, who is just out of National Theatre School and already getting produced at the Théâtre du Rideau Vert. I give it 3/4 stars and particularly enjoyed Hélène Bourgeois Leclerc's performance, she of the excellent Les Bougon (which is kind of like a Quebecois Shameless or, well not quite, Trailer Park Boys).

On the other hand: Le Devoir's Marie Labrecque's review is mostly positive (and mostly behind the firewall), La Presse's Luc Boulanger reaction is mixed and Voir's Christian Saint-Pierre gives it two stars.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Remembering Nick.

Ten years ago today, Nick Auf der Maur died at the much-too-young age of 56. In memory of Montreal’s butt-pinching boulevardier, The Montreal Gazette has an interview with his daughter Melissa, she of Hole and Smashing Pumpkins fame, and several of his columns about her pre- and post-stardom.

For those of you unfamiliar with Nick - or only familiar with the alley named after him on Crescent St - Jamie O'Meara has a column in this week’s Hour about him:
Nick Auf der Maur's love of Montreal was boundless, and it's almost as though the city itself wove the bizarre and often complicated plots that he would star in and later write about. From feeling up Rudolf Nureyev's derrière to fisticuffs with Jack Kerouac at a downtown restaurant ("He was drunk as a newt"), to crashing a gay bar with Conrad Black to drunkenly storming the Rialto theatre premiere of a movie he took exception to, Nick lived a life unlike any other, and he was almost compulsively inclined to share it through his writing.
I didn’t know Nick personally, only as a reader. But he did play a pivotal role in my life. When I was just a young lad of 15, I wrote him a long letter about Donald Duck comic books - he was a notorious Duck fan. One day – I’m guessing he was hungover and didn’t want to write - he decided to print the entire thing in his column, which was on page A2 of the Gazette at the time. That was it for me: I was hooked on newspapers and still am.

There’s a party in Nick’s honour tonight at Ziggy's Pub (1470 Crescent St) starting at 6 pm. I’ve got to hit the road before then, but here’s to Nick! Thanks for the push in the right direction.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Beyond Mozambique and beyond

My review of Ken Gass's revival of George F. Walker's 1974 play is here. In numbers: 30 years since last revival; 1/2 of the cast give good performances; 75% less gore than Evil Dead: The Musical; 2.5 stars out of 4.

On the other hand: Richard Ouzounian, back from Evil Dead's Splatter Zone in South Korea, gives BM 3/4 stars, the Sun's John Coulbourn hands out 4/5 stars, and Robert Cushman (operating on Cushman Savings Time) gives CanStage's Fire a mostly postive review: it's "a tale of sound and fury, signifyin' somethin'."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Who is Roy Surette?

Well, he’s the new artistic director at the Centaur Theatre, an institution near and dear to my heart and the hearts of most anglo Montrealers. When he was appointed to head the biggest English-language theatre in Quebec last June, the only opinions that reached me overseas about his appointment were negative - see this article by Matt Radz in The Gazette. The main points of contention:

- He’s not from Quebec!
- He doesn’t speak French!
- He’s never worked or lived in Montreal!
- We’ve never heard of him!
- He’s not Guy Sprung! And they didn’t even interview Vittorio Rossi!

So I found it interesting to come across this article in Le Devoir praising Surette’s appointment. Why does Michel Bélair think a unilingual ROChead is a good choice? Well:

- He introduced Michel Marc Bouchard’s The Coronation Voyage (Le Voyage du couronnement) to English Canada, thus introduced Bouchard to English Canada.
- While A-D at the Belfry in Victoria, BC, he programmed the English translations of Michel Tremblay’s Bonjour là! Bonjour!, Sacré Manon, damnée Sandra, À toi, pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou, Les Belles-soeurs and others.
- He’s opening his first season with Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched (Incendies).

Admittedly, I too would have liked to see a Montrealer or someone connected to Montreal appointed to the position - and I would have thought bilingualism was a prerequisite to run the Centaur - but if Le Devoir can give Surette the benefit of the doubt, then I can too. Then again, I thought Surette’s predecessor Gordon McCall was, overall, a good artistic director, whereas it was rare that I heard him spoken of positively in English theatre circles in Montreal. Maybe anglo Montrealers are just negative about whoever runs the Centaur?

Here’s Surette’s first full season, which starts in September, and you can see his mise en scene in action right now on the Centaur stage with The Mystery of Maddy Heisler.

Elsewhere in Montreal - the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde has announced its 2008-2009 season.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jian Ghomeshi on Stratford Festival.

This is what the discussion really needed: less oh-so-clev refences to Julius Caesar, and more references to Hall & Oates.

In other news, having grown accustomed to waking up to Radio 4 in the UK, I was dreading returning to CBC Radio 1 and having my slumber broken by that terribly unfunny deep-voiced man who introduces The Current and then later on enduring the blather that is Sounds Like Canada. But now I get up earlier and am really enjoying Andy Barrie in the morn, Jian's Q in the afternoon when I hear it, and last night I was listening to As It Happens and I almost weeped as I remembered what a first-class program that is. (The Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith was on last night talking about Afghanistan and his incredible Talking to the Taliban series.)
My first four-star review: L'Homme invisible/The Invisible Man

L'Homme invisible/The Invisible Man

It's nice to be able to give out the full marks today for Ottawa's Théâtre de la Vieille 17's stage adaptation of Franco-Ontarian Patrice Desbiens's 1981 poem L'Homme invisible/The Invisible Man:
Dressed entirely in white, the Invisible Man and l'Homme invisible - two halves of one Franco-Ontarian - stand halfway up stepladders, side by side, never touching. Suspended in air, they are the two solitudes trapped in a single body, talking to each other and past each other in English and French, trying to figure out who they are...

This monologue for two actors is like a Canadian Waiting for Godot, but with Vladimir and Estragon waiting for themselves to show up.
On the other hand: Well, Eye's Christopher Hoile seems to be the only other critic from the English press to have shown up, and he likes it too, giving 4/5 stars: "Few works in recent memory have interrelated spoken word, live music, light and projections in such minute detail and to such great effect."

You'll lose a little bit if you don't speak French, but I think it will be a rewarding experience nonetheless. Heck, even if you spoke only Portuguese I'd recommend you go, because it's so beautiful to look at.