Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stratford: Cabaret

This one's a bit of a divider. Amanda Dehnert's revival gets 2.5/4 stars from me:
[O]n the whole, there's just too much busyness going off in all directions. A silent-film motif (with video projection by Sean Nieuwenhuis) often takes away from the production numbers, and there are too many ill-advised attempts to get the audience involved, including a failed gambit to get people dancing in the aisles. I understand Dehnert wants us to feel implicated, but it just makes us feel uncomfortable.
The Star's Richie O goes up a half star to 3, while The Sun's John Coulbourn goes with 4.5/5 despite calling Trish Lindström "an unfortunate choice" for Sally Bowles.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Stratford Festival: The Music Man

My review is up and, yes!, I pull out the ol' Four Stars for only the second time in my tenure at the Globe:
Well, I'm sold! Sure, I fancy myself a sophistimacated fella from the big city, immune to cotton-headed sentimental fluffery. But I gotta tell you folks that you'd be missing out big time if you didn't head on down to the Stratford Festival of Shakespearean Splendours and catch their light-as-a-feather, family-friendly revival of The Music Man.

It's pure candy floss for the soul, I tell you, guaranteed to rotate any frown by 180 degrees and put more spring in your step than a Swiss watchsmith turned shoe maker. [Read on.]
If you think I got a little bit carried away trying to emulate Harold Hill's patter there, you should have read it before the copy editors got their wise hands on it. Though I will forever mourn the loss of my reference to Samuel Tilden...

On the other hand: The Star gives a full 4/4 as well, while The Sun goes for 4/5.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Let the Danes begin!

The Straw and Shatford reviews continue to flow. First up, Ben Carlson's Hamlet directed by Adrian Noble - which gets 3.5/4 stars from me:
When Ben Carlson's Hamlet picks up Yorick's skull in that much-parodied graveside scene, he doesn't look the old jester straight in the eye sockets as is usual. Instead, he holds the cranium high above his head as if he is remembering being a small child below and contemplating the long, sad passage of time that separates that time of ignorant innocence from now.

There are dozens of magically melancholy moments like that in Adrian Noble's new production, where crisp direction and compelling acting combine to make Shakespeare's greatest play seem fresh even in its most familiar scenes. [Read on]
In the Star, Richard O. goes for the same number of stars and calls Carlson's "the kind of performance that comes along once in a lifetime," while John Coulbourn goes for 4.5/5 and shifts the focus to Noble.

Next, back to Niagara-on-the-Lake and to Leonard Bernstein's Wonderful Town, which gets 3/4 stars for me:
New York, New York - it's a wonderful town. Actually, first it was "a helluva town," but in the film version of Leonard Bernstein's On the Town the lyric was softened.

And it was after that revised lyric that Bernstein's next musical, Wonderful Town, was titled. The least well-known of the composer's New York trilogy (the third being West Side Story), this 1953 Tony winner is getting an entertaining revival at the Shaw Festival that has its wonderful moments, but is not quite the helluva show it could be. [Read on.]
The Star's R.O. is half a star more enthused, while The Sun's Johnny C goes for 4/5.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stratford Festival: Romeo and Juliet

Read it online before it hits the paper tomorrow. Two and a half stars out of four for Des McAnuff's first Stratford production since 1983:
In the thrilling opening to his new production, a pregnant woman and her baby get caught in the crossfire of rival gangs of Capulets and Montagues, who duel with switchblades, pistols and Vespas until the Prince breaks them up with his Uzi. The following flashy scenes set in modern-day Italy include iPod-toting Lolitas and a barista making espressos right on stage. ...
After the spectacular opening, McAnuff has a few more tricks up the humungous sleeves of Paul Tazewell's colourful costumes. None, however, are clever enough to paper over the production's gaping hole: a Romeo and a Juliet who are both out of their depth. [Read the whole thing.]
It's not all set in modern-day Italy, by the way. I think it's quite clever what McAnuff has done, read the review to find out more, he wrote coyly and hoping to keep his review atop the "Most Viewed" list.

On the other hand: Richard Ouzounian's the only other one with a review up so far. He has many of the same things to say in The Star: 2.5/4 stars. (Those of you who are fond of the Ooze's "cool dad" moments, will enjoy his incorporation of the phrase, "Don't be hatin'.")

Has a Stratford show ever ended with a Cure song before? Something tells me no...

Shaw Festival: The Little Foxes

Not nasty enough, according to my 2.5/4 star review in today's Globe:
While [Eda]Holmes's production tells the story competently enough, it is simply too polite.

For example, Regina's line about being either "a coloured or a millionaire" is in fact Holmes's bowdlerized version of Hellman's original line; the script uses the terrible word "nigger" there and throughout the script, but she or the Shaw has cut them all. I'm sure there were good intentions behind this anachronistic alteration, but my question is: If you're going to put on The Little Foxes but don't want to disturb or unsettle the audience, why put it on at all? [Read the whole thing.]
(I think, by the way, you could justify taking the N-word out of the show; it's just that here it's representative of an overall toning down of the production.)

Having just watched Des McAnuff's unostentatiously post-racial production of Romeo and Juliet last night (Juliet, Montague, Tybalt and Capulet's Wife being among those played by actors of colour) at Stratford, I'm particularly glad I highlighted the lack of colour-blind casting at Shaw so far this season in this review.* If I were a visible minority up at the Shaw, I think I would find it a little bit depressing that the only roles available to people who looked like me outside of the musical in the first round of openings were maids and servants... Little Foxes has a specific racial dynamic in its plot, but none of the other shows would have been hurt.

On the other hand: The Star's Richard Ouzounian gives The Little Foxes 2/4 stars, while The Sun's John Coulbourn goes for 3.5/5. John Law in the Niagara Falls Review, however, gives 4/5 and raves: "It's hard to imagine the Shaw operating at a higher level."

(NOTE: This post has been edited after I received an email informing me that Shaw's later openings will feature more colour-blind casting.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Shaw Festival: The Stepmother

Finally some disagreement among the critics. I found the public premiere of Githa Sowerby's The Stepmother, discovered sitting for 80 years in a box in the basement of Samuel French's in London, quite exciting. It gets 3.5/4 stars from me:
When Githa Sowerby's Rutherford and Son premiered in 1912, most male journalists were, frankly, baffled. "Tall, fair, with a pretty face and a very pleasant voice, you might suspect her of eating chocolates and talking nonsense in the shade, but you would never dream that she could be the author of a play with all the grim force of a Pinero in the story and the sureness of a Galsworthy in the characterization," author Keble Howard wrote after an interview with her.

New York Times critic Adolph Klauber reviewed Sowerby's debut positively, but noted: "Even with Miss Sowerby as a shining example, we do not feel that the playwriting instinct in young ladies calls for immediate or emphatic encouragement."

My intention in quoting these eminent predecessors of mine is not merely to show what idiots critics can be, but that you see for yourself what Sowerby was up against in her playwriting career, and understand how The Stepmother, a 1924 unpolished gem getting its public premiere only now at the Shaw Festival, might have been left unproduced for so long for reasons other than inferior quality... Read on.
Others have not been so receptive. The Star's Richard Ouzounian gave it 2/4 stars, while the Sun's John Coulbourn awards it 3.5/5 stars. But wait, there are more critics: Lori Littleton in the St Catherines Standard is on my side, while John Law of the Niagara Falls Review is not.

UPDATE: Cushman's up and the words "soap opera" are nowhere to be found in his very positive review.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Interviewer: Richard Burton, we know that movies are something that you see on the screen and plays are something you see live on the stage. What is "theatrofilm with Electronovision"?

Richard Burton: Well, I don't know exactly what the process is. I'm no scientist. I can't explain exactly what happens, but...

[via Playgoer]

Bill C-10 and the mystery of the unprocessed film delayed by the Canada Border Services Agency.

I've been busy at Shaw, but I see the much-more-prolific-than-me Denis McGrath has returned to the subject. (Click through for McGrath's balanced summary of our debate to date.)

My problem with his reasoning is that it's a little bit along the lines of: The Bush administration rushed to war in Iraq, botched the occupation, created Guantanamo Bay, oversaw torture at Abu Ghraib... so is it really such a stretch to believe that they also toppled the Twin Towers in a controlled demolition? I exaggerate, but I'm sorry - I'm a proof kinda guy. Heck, I even believe Shakespeare wrote his own plays.

Josh Errett has more in Now magazine.
In the gutter seeing Stars.

Two Shaw Festival reviews up on the Globe site, three more to come. First is An Inspector Calls, which gets two stars:
A decade and a half ago, An Inspector Calls had a critical resurrection, transformed from chestnut to classic thanks mainly to a daring and expressionistic production by director Stephen Daldry at Britain's National Theatre.

The Shaw Festival's unexciting new revival, however, seems to have as its goal restoring the play's old reputation - that of a didactic and dated piece of theatre.
On the other hand... there is no other hand. Richard Ouzounian gives it 2/4 stars in The Star, while John Coulbourn gives it 2.5/5 in The Sun. Oh, Robert Cushman liked it well enough.

Secondly, we have Shaw's Getting Married, to which I gave three stars.
When Getting Married first opened in 1908, Bernard Shaw pre-empted criticism by cheekily interviewing himself beforehand for The Daily Telegraph and declaring that his new play was "revenge on the critics."

"There will nothing but talk, talk, talk, talk, talk - Shaw talk," he revealed exclusively to himself in the article. "The characters will seem to the wretched critics to be simply a row of Shaws, all arguing with one another on totally uninteresting subjects."

That is indeed what the wretches said, and they were right, but here we are a century later and Getting Married is back up on the stage at the Shaw Festival for the fourth time, while the play's first critics are dead and buried in unmarked graves. So, resistance is futile - there's no point but just to go along with the Shavian lunacy.
On the other hand, the Ouze gives it 3/4 as well, goshdarnit, while the Coulb gives it 4.5/5. UPDATE: Cushman says: "Shaw fan though I usually am, I ended feeling that, like the play’s less regenerate characters, I still draw the line at Getting Married."

Speaking of stars, guess who DJ-ed the cast party at the Shaw last night? Torquil Campbell, he of the theatrical band Stars. In fact, Torque's been here all week. His half-brother Benedict (who happens to be Shaw fest A-D Jackie Maxwell's ex) plays the Inspector in An Inspector Calls opposite his wife Moya O'Connell, who plays Sheila. His sister Beatrice is stage manager on Getting Married. (Torquil, Benedict and Beatrice's father is the Stratford Festival founding member Douglas Campbell.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

'Night Mother round-up

Greetings from Shaw Festival where I'm immersed in a busy week of five performances... So, just a quick link to my 'Night Mother review in the Globe. Three stars out of four for Megan "Anne Of Green Gables" Follows and her ma Dawn Greenhalgh:
As the simple but sturdy Thelma, Greenhalgh gives a desperate performance, flustered and flailing as she searches for something to say or do that will save her daughter. She tries flattery and insults, truth and lies, but it's of no use.

Lower on the dial, Follows plays Jessie as cool and calm - with a shocking little smile that intermittently appears on her face. Yet there's something a bit too sophisticated and urbane in her portrayal of this awkward, Southern loner. An epileptic, Jessie has lost her husband, her son's a junkie and her beloved father is gone - but Follows's untempered eloquence and grace make it seem unlikely that her only option is to kill herself.
The Toronto Sun's John Coulbourn agrees Follows is miscast in his 3.5/5 star review, while Richard Ouzounian gives full marks in the Star. UPDATE: Cushman agrees - mother trumps daughter. And Christopher Hoile in Eye goes with 3/5 stars.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Body & Soul, The Eco Show, The Drawer Boy and The Birthday Party

Catching up on a few things this morning, after a theatre-free weekend on a houseboat tooling around the 1000 Islands...

Last week, I went to see Body & Soul, the Judith Thompson creation about aging women that was commissioned by Dove. I don't really have a problem with soap companies commissioning plays, though I did recoil at bit at the invitation that arrived on my desk inviting me to "a new play by dove pro-age". The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like continuity rather than change:
There's a real hunger for empowering plays about women's lives, as the success of Trey Anthony's Da Kink in My Hair demonstrated. That play originated at a Fringe festival; Body & Soul was created by a multinational corporation.

Canada's funded theatres, I suppose, think it's beneath them to commission uplifting plays that simply and directly address the concerns of women.

But, then again, the task of entertaining women has long fallen to soap manufacturers. Along with Proctor and Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, Lever Brothers (which merged with Margarine Unie in 1930 to form Unilever) was one of the original companies that sponsored the radio serials aimed at housewives that became known as "soap operas."

Unilever's involvement in Body & Soul - so crudely proclaimed in the invitation that arrived in my mail box - is still much subtler than the frequent mentions of Spry shortening that accompanied their long-running serial Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories (1937-1956).
Read the rest.

Daniel Brooks' The Eco Show opened last week, too, and it gets three stars from me:
While Brooks has an excellent track record as co-writer alongside the likes of Daniel MacIvor, Guillermo Verdecchia and Rick Miller, he has had less success flying solo as a playwright. His default mode of writing is the lecture, and he hammers his themes home relentlessly at the expense of characters and relationships. "That was terribly overstated and at the same time oblique," says Hamm after one of his eco-maniacal rants. You get the feeling that's Brooks's succinct diagnosis of The Eco Show's shortcomings.

Brooks remains English Canada's foremost director, however, and his production of The Eco Show is a masterpiece of apocalyptic atmosphere.
On the other hand, Robert Crew gives it 100% of his star lovve in the Toronto Star, while Christopher Hoile gives just 60% in Eye. The Sun's John Coulbourn splits the difference and comes up with an intriguing possible reading:
[J]ust as possible, it might be set in some post-modern version of Olympus, where a once-mighty god, now crippled, hides out with a long-suffering Mother Nature, raising their illegitimate progeny and hoping against hope for some sort of future redemption, despite the fact that their children are already infected by their parents with the humanity that is already destroying them.
Elsewhere, catching up, Robert Cushman has some positive things to say about Misery at CanStage, as does Glenn Sumi in Now, which makes me feel a little less like a heretic for my three-star review.

Overseas: I wrote about the special relationship between Scottish and Canadian theatre recently when Traverse Theatre's production of Damascus visited Toronto. Today, I learn that the new A-D of Tron Theatre in Glasgow, Andy Arnold, has started his first season there with Michael Healey's The Drawer Boy. The production gets 4/5 stars and a joke about Canadian beer from the Guardian.

Also in the Guardian, The Birthday Party by Pinter celebrates its 50th birthday.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Noh sex please, we're Japanese.

My review of two shows at Factory Theatre's Performance Spring is in today's Globe. Sexual Practices of the Japanese gets 2.5/4 stars, while Two Stroke Roll gets 1/4:
Without a relationship or central idea to anchor it, Sexual Practices of the Japanese floats from bleak moment to funny moment until its sudden and unearned climax. It does, however, include an onstage demonstration of "the world's first virtual wireless intercourse enabler," reason enough to take in this original, but unfocused piece.

Original is a double-edged sword of a word that can equally be applied to David King. Also part of the Performance Spring is Two Stroke Roll, two one-acters written and performed by this Western Canadian playwright. ... King's monotonous, rhythmic delivery is hypnotic, which may be a polite way of saying that it was hard to stay awake.
On the other hand: Sexual Practices... has been getting really strong reviews elsewhere. The Star's R.O. gives it 3.5/4 stars and an extended sashimi metaphor, Robert Cushman has some kind words in the National Post, and Gord McLaughlin whips out 4/5 stars in Eye. Blog TO and Torontoist have weighed in favourably as well. Jon Kaplan in Now goes with 3/5.

In the Star, Two Stroke Roll gets 2/4 stars from Bob Crew and the unfortunate headline "Two Stroke Roll a grim evening of theatre".

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Do accurate accents matter in theatre?

Zoe Strimpel took British actors to task for bad American accents in the Times of London last week. I empathise with her on the Guardian's arts blog today, but also point out that sometimes the wrong accent is the right choice for a play:
Last year, the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton revived a long-forgotten play by JB Priestley called The Glass Cage, which is set in Toronto in 1906. In his review, Michael Billington wrote that cast member Robin Bowerman "displays the most flawless Canadian accent I have heard from an English actor".

Many of the play's characters, however, had they actually lived in Toronto in 1906, would have been first- or second-generation immigrants and had residual Scottish or Irish accents. In the Northampton production, however, they spoke in an approximation of a modern central Canadian accent. "Sometimes for the sake of clarity, you have to make choices that aren't necessarily the most authentic choices," the director Laurie Sansom told me at the time. "You have to try to create a world that makes sense to the audience."
Read the rest here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What I really wish CanStage had programmed to close the season.

Someday some visionary will revive Carrie: The Musical and it will run forever.
Fair enough.

The Toronto Centre for the Arts reopened last week to big ol' musicals with the National Theatre's touring production of My Fair Lady. Three stars for the show from me:
The best reason to recommend this My Fair Lady is the ethereal Lisa O'Hare, who has played Mary Poppins on the West End and is as good an Eliza Doolittle as you are likely to find anywhere today. She's as funny and beautiful as Audrey Hepburn - even resembles her in figure and heart-shaped face - but she also has a crystal-clear singing voice that makes I Could Have Danced All Night and Wouldn't It Be Loverly? delightful.

Hepburn, of course, didn't sing her own songs in the film of My Fair Lady. They were overdubbed by Marni Nixon, who did the same for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. In a fan-pleasing touch, Nixon appears in this production as Mrs. Higgins, impressing with her crisp acting rather than her voice (a bit of a pity she doesn't have a song).
On the other hand: The Star's R.O. gives it 2.5 stars out of 4 and John Coulbourn gives it 4/5. Ditto on the 4/5 for Eye's Christopher Hoile.

Found this last week on YouTube: It's what Hepburn sounded like in the number Show Me before Nixon's voice was overdubbed.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Well, hello there Mr. Wolf.

I recently shipped a box of books from London to Toronto. It was tied up at the border for two weeks. One of the books was called Moby-Dick. Normal border procedure or...

The chilling effect of Bill C-10?

The other day I went to my local video shop to rent a DVD. They didn't have a single copy of The Sweet Hereafter. Understocked store or...

The chilling effect of Bill C-10?

Driving down the 401 at 125 km/h recently, I was pulled over by the police and issued a ticket. I was listening to a Tegan and Sara CD at the time. A Tegan and Sara song featured in a 2005 episode of Grey's Anatomy that guest-starred actor Callum Blue. Callum Blue appears in the upcoming Canadian movie Young People Fucking. Coincidence or...

The chilling effect of Bill C-10?

The point is that we don't know.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Misery, Dance of the Red Skirts, Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th, Judith Thompson, Damascus and Glory Days: A big, long sprawling theatre post

Two reviews of Toronto shows in today's Globe.

First is Misery, CanStage's production of Simon Moore's adaptation of the Stephen King novel. It gets 3 stars out of 4 and a defence of genre theatre from me:
When King won the National Book Foundation's award for lifetime achievement in 2003 - an award that had previously gone to John Updike, Arthur Miller, Philip Roth and Toni Morrison - literary critic Harold Bloom accused the jury of having "stooped terribly low." Many people may think the same thing of [Canadian Stage Company artistic director] Bragg for having programmed [Misery]. But relax, don't expect a masterpiece, and Misery is far from a miserable night out at the theatre.
Other critics were not so thrilled and chilled - The Star's Richard Ouzounian pulls out another one-star review, while The Sun's John Coulbourn goes for 2.5/5. In Eye, Christopher Hoile gives 2/5 stars and - shades of Bloom - calls the play's inclusion on the CanStage schedule "a sure sign of lowered artistic goals".

On Wednesday, there were two opening nights in Toronto: Theatre Columbus's Dance of the Red Skirts and, over at Factory Theatre's Performance Spring, Sexual Practices of the Japanese. First come, first served, so I went to Dance of the Red Skirts at the Tarragon Extra Space - a Theatre Columbus creative collection based on a painting by Paul Klee. Two stars from me:
While there are countless plays based on books, films or other plays, the list of plays based on paintings is short.

But it's impressive. Several of August Wilson's works, including his Pulitzer-winning The Piano Lesson, were inspired by Romare Bearden's collages, while A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by the French pointillist Georges Seurat was the source of Stephen Sondheim's musical Sunday in the Park with George. Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, currently being revived on Broadway, is not based on a painting, but it does include a character called Dull Gret who has charged out of a Pieter Brueghel painting that depicts Dulle Griet leading an army of peasant women through hell.

Theatre Columbus's meandering new play, Dance of the Red Skirts, is a new addition to this genre...
On the other hand, Susan Walker gives it 3/4 stars in The Star and some unbylined writer gives it 3/5 stars in Eye.

Completing my hat-trick of bylines in today's paper: A brief article about the Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th anniversary homecoming weekend. I have great affection for MTC, which was the first regional theatre in Canada and the template for all that came after:
While the sheen has come off many of the regional theatres that were established [a decade after MTC] during Canada's centennial celebrations, the Manitoba Theatre Centre continues to thrive. Though located in the seventh biggest city in Canada, it is the third most-attended theatre in the country (after Shaw and Stratford). And while other theatres complain about a decline in subscription sales, MTC just clocked its biggest number of subscribers in its history.

"If the past is the best predictor of the future, then MTC's in for 50 great years ahead," says Steven Schipper, who has been artistic director at the Manitoba Theatre Centre since 1989.
So many of Canada's theatre greats have passed through MTC's doors - some while I was holding them open. I worked there for a season as doorman and part of the Front of House staff back when I did my Grade 12 in Winnipeg. Part of my job involved climbing the ladder to change the title of the show on the marquee, letter by letter. Yes, even during a Winnipeg February - so I'm glad that they have gone with an electronic marquee since.

But wait, there's more!

There's a lot of theatre stuff that happened this week that I didn't get a chance to blog about. So, in brief:

- Damascus, the Traverse Theatre production that had to postpone its opening night in Toronto, had to postpone its first preview in New York. What is it with cursed Scottish plays?

- James Bradshaw had a good, balanced article on Judith Thompson's new play written with "with a cast of 13 real women" in Toronto - commissioned and produced by Dove. I usually roll my eyes at the whole contrived debate over artists "selling out", but I must admit I felt a bit queasy when an invitation to "a new play by Dove" arrived on my desk. I'm sure it will be an affirming night at the theatre for its target market and I wouldn't discourage anyone from going (everyone involved seems quite sincere), but I'm not certain I should be reviewing ad campaigns, so I'm staying away.

- I love flop musicals. One of my most theatrical cherished memories is seeing Behind the Iron Mask on the West End:

GYPSY: He's the man with the mask!

MASK MAN: Don't ask! Don't ask!

Anyway, this week Glory Days - which apparently is a more noble flop - opened and closed on Broadway on the same night. As Mark Shenton notes, it "now has the rather dubious distinction of becoming the first new musical to shutter on its first night since Dance a Little Closer, Alan Jay Lerner’s final show, in 1983, that was quickly redubbed Close a Little Faster."

By coincidence, I was reading about Dance a Little Closer on Monday while researching my piece on the Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th. That's because, Len Cariou - Winnipeg's one and only Tony winner and former artistic director of MTC - was the star of Dance a Little Closer, which happened to coincide with MTC's 25th anniversary. Last October, the Winnipeg Free Press's Kevin Prokosh wrote an article reviewing the story (sorry, no link):
[Then artistic director] Richard Ouzounian had built MTC's 25th season around Cariou playing the title role of Shakespeare's brokeback king Richard III. It was a big deal that a bit of Broadway was coming to Winnipeg in the form of Cariou, who had won a 1979 best actor Tony for his portrayal of the demon barber in the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd.

The only caveat standing in the way was if Broadway came calling again. It did, and Cariou bailed to head the cast of Alan Jay Lerner's Dance a Little Closer, which opened May 11, 1983. It closed May 11, 1983.

It was one and done.

"Obviously, I should have come here and one Richard III," Cariou [says now]. "I still haven't done Richard III."
Yes, that's right. For those of you keeping track of this now epic blog post, the Toronto Star's current critic was once artistic director of MTC. And the critic of The Globe and Mail, me, was once the doorman. I kind of like that.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Producers.

Just days after Garth Drabinsky finally got his day in court, Aubrey Dan has launched a lawsuit against rival impresario David Mirvish:
Claiming conspiracy, fraud, a breach of the Competition Act and irreparable harm, Toronto theatre impresario Aubrey Dan is seeking an injunction to block the sale of the Canon and Panasonic Theatres to his downtown rival, David Mirvish.

The application, filed Monday in Ontario's Superior Court, alleges that the sale, if consummated, would violate Mr. Dan's prior agreements with John Gore's New York-based Key Brand Entertainment, which bought the two theatres from Live Nation in January.

“Going to court is like going to the bathroom,” Mr. Dan said Wednesday. “It's necessary, you gotta do it. It doesn't scare me one bit. I have the resources.”
If only for Dan's colourful quotations, I hope he doesn't get squeezed out of the Toronto market.

Of course, the Mirvishes have their own theatrical style as well. David M. fired back this afternoon by having a press conference, where he:

A) Said that Dan's lawsuit was without merit;
B) Announced he wasn't closing We Will Rock You after all, but moving it into the Panasonic Theatre; and
C) Brought the cast of We Will Rock You on to sing Queen's We Are the Champions ("No time for losers, cuz we are the champions... of the world.").

Does Dan have a case? If Mirvish does own the Panasonic, the Canon, the Princess of Wales and the Royal Alex, they will have a virtual monopoly on downtown theatres... But does that violate the Competition Act? I really don't know.

It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out, but I do believe that Dan is right when he says that competition is good for the consumer. (We've seen that already in Mirvish's upped-ante 2008-2009 season.) Toronto deserves more than one big commercial producer - it just remains to be seen if this town is big enough for the two of them.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Why the Fringe benefits everybody

Come one, come all to a panel discussion on this topic Friday:
Happy 20th Birthday Toronto Fringe: how living on the fringe can be a truly rewarding enterprise. Trey Anthony (Da Kink in My Hair), Sky Gilbert (novelist, poet, fillmaker, director, actor, professor) and Toronto Fringe Festival's Executive Director Gideon Arthurs, talk about 20 years of festival madness and success. Moderated by (J) Kelly Nestruck (Globe and Mail theatre critic) Friday, May 9, 6:30 p.m. Free. Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St. 416-393-7131
I have long been a strong supporter of the Canadian Fringe movement - the cross-country circuit is unique in the world. In fact, well before I got free tickets as a critic, I got volunteering at Fringes in Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto in order to get into shows for free.

And, yes, I have been a Fringe performer as well, thanks for remembering. What? Symposium: The Musical, of course. In which I played Socrates in a toga? How could that great show have slipped your memory?
From Sweeney Todd to Tricky Dick

Len Cariou, most famous for being Broadways' original Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is going to play Richard Nixon in the Canadian premiere of Frost/Nixon in Vancouver and Toronto. This should be good! Manitoba's one and only Tony winner has the jowls down already.

David Storch as David Frost though? We'll see how it works out - Michael Sheen's great performance (and hair) in the role will be hard to wipe from my mind. (Frank Langella was the critically lauded award-winner in the West End/Broadway productions of Frost/Nixon, but Sheen was perfect. He's just always overshadowed by the actors playing iconic figures - by Langella as Nixon, by Helen Mirren's Lizzie in The Queen... He's too good an actor to upstage them and win awards.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"Canadian becomes first child soldier since Nuremberg to stand trial for war crimes."

Not the kind of headline Canadians like to see out in the world, is it? Michael Savage gets the monstrous story of Omar Khadr into the British press in the Independent:
Lt-Cdr [William] Kuebler [the head of Omar Khadr's defence team] now believes Mr Khadr's only hope of receiving a fair trial is through the Canadian courts, but the Canadian government has refused to intervene in the case, despite growing international pressure. The UK's five leading legal associations have raised concerns with the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, urging him to repatriate Mr Khadr home. The former attorney general Lord Goldsmith, who masterminded the return of the British nationals from Guantanamo, is also calling for Mr Khadr to be tried in his home country.
The whole world is rightfully appalled at the story of Elisabeth Fritzl, imprisoned for 24 years from the age of 18 in a dungeon by her father. Well, Omar Khadr was brainwashed by his family until age 15, then shot, captured and kept in Guantanamo Bay for six years by the American military. Another botched life.

The difference is we didn't know what was happening to Fritzl, but we have had some idea what has happened Khadr. And the Canadian government won't even try to intervene? Shame. This is exactly the sort of place where it is our business to say to our friend and ally, the US, that they've gone too far.

Plus, wouldn't the US have loved it if we sought extradition of Khadr (as Amnesty International, UNICEF and the Canadian Bar Association urged) long ago? They'd have had a good excuse to drop the show trial, which is currently making them look so very bad (see above headline). The Canadian government would have earned points at home for "standing up" to the Americans. Win-win. Instead, we've got this lose-lose situation that makes everyone in North American look bad except the Mexicans.

UPDATE: Teens march against Khadr detention. That's a more cheering headline. From the article:
On Monday, the president of the Canadian Bar Association addressed the House subcommittee on international human rights, which is studying the Khadr case.

"Our commitment to justice is challenged where the individual is unpopular and accused of terrible crimes," Bernard Amyot said. "While the charges Khadr faces are serious, this is no reason to continue to subject him to an illegal process before a U.S. military court."

Like the Liberal government before them, the Conservatives have so far refused to interfere in Mr. Khadr's case.
Of course, now the Liberal, the NDP and the Bloc have all called for his release from Guantanamo Bay.
Curious lede of the week.

From the Official London Theatre Guide: “West End musical Dirty Dancing is going to be even more fruity than usual this summer as it holds a quirky new competition to celebrate National Watermelon Day.”

Pardon me? Does “fruity” have a different meaning in England? Also, will Toronto's production of Dirty Dancing also be celebrating Watermelon Day? Inquiring minds want to know.
World o' theatre news round-up.

- Theatre producer Garth Drabinsky's trial has finally begun, just as his 1727-seat "Folly" in Toronto prepares to host its first musical in over eight years. If the allegations of "large-scale accounting fraud" at Livent are proven, then Drabinsky really put the imp in impresario. (Guess Conrad Black won't be of much help this time.)

- Schiller skullduggery: Neither of the German playwright's purported skulls actually belong to him. Maybe they belong to Edward de Vere.

- In the New York Times, Charles Isherwood explains the difference between Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Not dead yet.

From the LA Times' Money and Co blog post about the success of Iron Man (the movie, not the song): "Somewhere, Ozzy [Osbourne] must be smiling."

Uh, might that somewhere be California? Isn't that expression strictly reserved for people who are dead (not just their braindead)?
Godot? Oh, God.

Waiting for Godot is not Samuel Beckett's best play, but it is his most influential. We have it to thank for inspiring Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Pinter's The Caretaker and many, many more plays, the latest being Brendan Gall's Alias Godot at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto.

In Alias Godot, Godot is the main character - and he really wants to get to Vladimir and Estragon, but has been arrested along the way. In post-9/11 New York. Here's my 2.5/4 star review:
Beckett went to his grave without ever explaining who Godot was, meaning that multiple interpretations of the character continue to be debated. Gall is considerably less coy, but no more clear about his Godot. Like the unseen character from Beckett's play, he's a French farmer with two boys in his employ. Like Beckett himself, he was once stabbed by a pimp and has vivid memories of being in the womb. (Yes, Beckett was an odd one.) This Godot also rides a magical horse called Patches. That, I assume, is Gall's original contribution.
Gall isn't the first and he certainly won't be the last to write a play where Godot finally shows - something that seems to entirely miss the point, in my view. The first was probably Serbian playwright Miodrag Bulatović's 1966 sequel Godot Arrived, or He Has Arrived. Apparently, Beckett was aware of that production and is even blurbed on the published edition, saying: "I think that all that has nothing to do with me." Ditto, I'm sure, for Alias Godot, which nonetheless manages to be quite entertaining.

And speaking of Tom Stoppard (oh, a few paragraphs back), he offers some advice to young playwrights in today's Guardian: "I just lock myself up in solitary - once I'm into something, I'm working all the time to get out of jail."

ON THE OTHER HAND: The Star's Richard Ouzounian gives Alias Godot 2/4 stars, The Sun's John Coulbourn gives it 4/5 and BlogTO's Graeme pontificates.

UPDATE: And Robert Cushman calls it "the most scintillating debut we've had this season."

Friday, May 02, 2008

Alias Godot: What the fuck is this weird-fest about?

Gotta love some of actor Paul Braunstein's honest answers in this Praxis Theatre interview about Alias Godot:
4) What was your first reaction after reading Gall’s script?
My first reaction to his play was:

1. hope I get to be in it
2. hilarious.
3. what the fuck is it about?

5) How would you describe Richard Rose’s approach to directing this project?
Richard’s approach to this was let’s get into the truth of the relationships, otherwise it will just be a weird-fest, that’s my interpretation anyway.
Elsewhere in the blogosphere, I'm pleased to see my recent article about the lack of Canadian plays about Afghanistan has stirred up a bit of discussion.

- The Wrecking Ball blames our tradition of timidity, but also notes that Afghanistan is just a hard issue to write about: "Reading Outside the Wire, (first-hand accounts of Canadians in Afghanistan) or Sarah Chayes’ brilliant book The Punishment of Virtue or watching her talk about the situation recently on PBS, it’s clear how muddy it all is. Are we an occupation force? Are we fighting a nebulous American-led War on Terror? Are we peace-keeping? Nation-building? Are we preventing human rights atrocities? Or are we committing them? What is our mission anyway? But of course theatre doesn’t have to answer those questions, it has to pose them. It has to dramatize those questions."

Praxis Theatre tried to get a discussion going over on their Theatre is Territory blog, then, over at the Guardian blog, Chris Wilkinson kept it alive in his latest Noises Off.