Monday, December 24, 2012

Top ten theatre productions of 2012: A personal list

This end-of-year list-making season, for the Globe and Mail, I put together an idiosyncratic top ten - strangest circus act, biggest Broadway bust, etc - and an article about the theatre newsmakers of 2012 (boards behaving badly). 

But a few folks have asked me: OK, but what were your favourite shows of the year?  So, here, on my semi-defunct personal blog, is my personal list - which includes shows I saw while off duty.

NB: In 2012, I saw theatre in Chicago, New York, Avignon, London, Montreal, Ottawa, Stratford, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Gananoque, Winnipeg, Calgary and Fredericton - but I spent most of my year in Toronto, so that's why it's so Torontocentric.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blast from the past: Quebec anglos - 'Divided we stand'

Long before I worked at the Globe, Tu Thanh Ha interviewed me about being a young Montreal anglophone for the newspaper. Given that anglo angst is back in the news of late, I thought I'd post the article he wrote from July 2, 1999. My politics have changed vastly in 13 years, but I still feel this way: "A separatist is not a scum - but someone with a different political opinion."

Montreal -- On a sticky, toasty afternoon, people gathered amid the flower beds at Westmount Park on Thursday of last week for an event unprecedented in the history of their posh, mostly English-speaking enclave.

With Mayor Peter Trent holding court in top hat and 19th-century tailcoat, the Westmounters held a picnic and lit a bonfire as their city marked St. Jean Baptiste Day -- the provincial holiday that has become a controversial showcase of francophone nationalism.
"Westmount is such a symbol of anglo-felicity," Mr. Trent later said. "I knew it would create some stir. I wanted that to happen. It's a positive message to send. It allows people to see that even the staunch bastion of Westmount feels part of Quebec."

St. Jean Baptiste Day used to epitomize Quebec as the home of two solitudes -- the French speakers celebrated while the English speakers kept a low profile.

This year, both solitudes could be found within the anglophone community alone.

Across town, another crowd assembled at La Maison du Egg Roll, the famed federalist gathering place. They had paid $35 each to tuck into spare ribs, chicken balls and fried rice at a fundraiser organized by the English-rights group Alliance Quebec.

Alex Mocella had no doubt that he was better off at the fundraiser. "I'd rather spend time on much more valuable situations," said the 49-year-old machine-oil sales representative.

Traditional fault lines among anglophones have widened since the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty -- especially since journalist William Johnson became head of Alliance Quebec last year.

His leadership has been marked by exceptional rancour pitting his supporters, often dubbed radical hard-liners, against the more conciliatory activists they derisively describe as "the lamb lobby."

The feuding has led to defections from the 17-year-old Alliance Quebec and shattered the idea that any one person can speak for the anglo community.

"I've always been a proud member of the lamb lobby," Westmount's Mr. Trent said. "The in-your-face attitude that Alliance Quebec has adopted is representative of part of the community, but not all of it. . . . Name calling won't get us anywhere."

One Westmounter who supported his mayor's initiative is Morton Brownstein, who runs a well-known chain of shoe stores.

"I think what Mr. Trent did was a very sophisticated and strategic way to show francophones that we want to live in Quebec, in a compatible manner with the French, but with self-respect for the English," he said.

Mr. Brownstein, an Alliance Quebec founder, has a key place in the history of Quebec English-rights activists. In 1984, he was among a handful of business people who challenged the Quebec law that banned English commercial signs. They fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and won, forcing the province to invoke the notwithstanding clause to override the ruling.

Oddly, however, Mr. Brownstein has been attacked recently by members of his own community. Radio host and anglo activist Howard Galganov recently tried to place an advertisement in the local English-language daily that read: "SHAME ON YOU! Morton Brownstein."

Why? Because now his stores are accused of not displaying enough English signs. (The Montreal Gazette refused the ad because it singled out a person rather than a group or company.)

Mr. Brownstein denies the allegation, and described the failed ad as "bizarre -- I don't think that served a purpose."

His case isn't isolated. As their discourse has grown more muscular, some English-rights activists have taken fellow anglophones to task as readily as they do their traditional foes among francophone nationalists.

When the Black Watch Scottish Regiment's pipe band agreed to take part in the St. Jean Baptiste Parade last week, Mr. Johnson said that to avoid becoming a separatist propaganda tool, the pipers should fly the Canadian flag. They declined.

David McAusland, president of the Metropolitan Montreal Board of Trade, told Mr. Johnson in a private conversation that he did not want to make a public stand on the issue of the rule of law in the separation debate.

A few days later, Mr. Johnson repeated his comments in a public speech, and then remarked on "the silence of the lambs." He later objected to a newspaper that said he had singled out Mr. McAusland.

When John Trent, a University of Ottawa professor, ran against Mr. Johnson for the Alliance Quebec presidency, Johnson supporters booed him at a public meeting, called him "liar" and "brown-noser," and laughed as someone bleated like a sheep in the background.

When Mr. Johnson held a news conference this spring to comment on the mass resignation of half of the alliance's board of directors, who accused him of being too confrontational, one of his supporters displayed a packet of lamb meat to mock them.

Then, when the former directors met the media, they asked all reporters to show their credentials, mindful that Johnson supporters had crashed Mr. Trent's news conferences to jeer at him. As the meeting began, there was a commotion at the door and organizers were told that a Johnson supporter had materialized. The session went ahead to the accompaniment of loud arguing outside.

Mr. Johnson, meanwhile, said he has not engaged in a public display of ill will, and can't understand why people are so hard on him. "I've never broken any laws in my life. I'm a dignified senior citizen of 68," he said. "It's easy to demonize someone."

The hard feelings and controversies stem from two pillars of Mr. Johnson's philosophy:

First, federalists should present a united front and be better prepared and more unyielding in resisting the separatist threat.

Second, they must challenge what he considers a francophone nationalist orthodoxy that expects too many axioms about language and politics to be taken at face value.

Despite what he calls his drive to rebuild and consolidate Alliance Quebec, his approach has sparked nasty infighting.

At the Maison du Egg Roll fundraiser, he told the crowd that "we have to talk to the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens." But almost in the same breath, he slipped into hyperbole, saying English-speaking Quebeckers are being "treated like pariahs, like a contamination," and have, because of Quebec's langauge laws, "been sacrificed to the false god of the French state."

Earlier, he had told reporters that St. Jean Baptiste Day has become "a symptom of a nationalist sickness that infects Quebec."

Such language may explain why Mr. Johnson's views are too hard to swallow for the fence-sitting francophones he says he wants to win over. That, and the fact he is lumped in with such controversial, unbending federalists as Mr. Galganov, lawyer Guy Bertrand or former Equality Party candidates Brent Tyler and Don Donderi, is why many francophones seem to have a visceral distrust of him.

Many anglos are also turned off by his tactics. Mr. Johnson often cites a poll showing that most in the community share his belief that access to English schools should be widened.

The poll does not, however, reveal whether people believe it's worth launching a messy legal fight -- the reason Alliance Quebec was holding the fundraiser.

Perhaps the organization's greatest weakness is its diminished appeal to younger anglophones -- joining Alliance Quebec is not exactly hip.

The young have fewer memories of a time when English took pride of place in Quebec. They are more likely to be fluently bilingual -- and to have empathy with the other side. They do not want to revisit old battlefields.

The increasingly vociferous rhetoric is one reason that Kelly Nestruck never renewed the $5 Alliance Quebec membership he took out as a high-school student in 1995.

"Listening to them, you'd think we are completely repressed, undergoing some sort of ethnic cleansing," he said. "They don't listen to young anglophones. The average young anglophone is not bothered if the sign that says '3 per cent discount' is written in either language. It's all the same for us."

Mr. Nestruck, 18, moved back to Montreal from Winnipeg this spring so he could attend McGill University. He could have enrolled elsewhere, but chose Montreal because he enjoys the French presence in his city of birth.

He and his friends are at ease in French, have francophone friends and find that the English-rights activists' doomsaying has little bearing on their lives.

Furthermore, his mother recently remarried, which means that he now lives with a francophone stepfather -- and a separatist stepbrother. [Note: My mother actually remarried about seven years before this article.]

The brothers don't agree on politics, but their nascent friendship has allowed each to put a human face on the other's community.

Now, when Mr. Nestruck hears someone like Mr. Galganov, the radio host, dismiss separatists as "bastards," he is irked. "A separatist is not a scum -- but someone with a different political opinion."

All the acrimony among rival anglophone groups comes just when they have to sit down together and talk about money.

As a linguistic minority, they receive financing under the federal Official Languages Act. The Heritage Department agrees to a global figure for the 15 main anglophone groups, which negotiate under a common umbrella, the Quebec Community Groups Network. The network then is asked to advise Ottawa on what criteria should be used to divide that lump sum among themselves.

This year, however, the process has become a diplomatic minefield. Several groups in that umbrella network -- including anglophone associations from the Eastern Townships and Quebec City -- are among those who severed ties with Alliance Quebec because they didn't agree with William Johnson's views or leadership style.

In addition, Coalition Quebec, the splinter movement started by foes of Mr. Johnson, is also hoping for a share of the pie. "We want fair treatment," said its acting chairman, Harold Chorney.

Asking competitors to divide money among themselves is touchy, and one federal official conceded that "it's awkward for us."

Nonetheless, the competing groups are trying to keep a polite face in their behind-the-scene jostling and vying, in the fear that public bickering will turn off their federal benefactors, who are not eager to have to play King Solomon.

Mr. Johnson's group used to get the bulk of the funding, with more than $922,000 a year. That funding makes up the major share of Alliance Quebec's budget and has become even more crucial because other revenue sources have shrivelled.

This year, corporate and private donations dropped to $130,000 from a high of $165,000. The decrease would have been more acute but for a first-time donation of $50,000 from one of the companies owned by media magnate Conrad Black, according to former treasurer Lynn de Grace.

The number of donors also shrank to five from 15, with the loss of some donors who had been giving for 10 years, she said.

A face-saving solution would be for Ottawa to increase the overall budget for Quebec groups so that it could hand out more money to Mr. Johnson's rivals without having to lop Alliance Quebec's share.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Statement from the Toronto Theatre Critics Association on Stratford and Lynn Slotkin

"The Toronto Theatre Critics Association deplores the recent decision by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to revoke media ticket privileges to critic Lynn Slotkin for the remainder of the 2012 season. The TTCA believes critics should not be penalized for expressing opinions that might not please a theatre's management."

Robert Cushman, The National Post
Martin Morrow, The Grid
J. Kelly Nestruck, The Globe and Mail
Richard Ouzounian, The Toronto Star
Glenn Sumi, NOW Magazine

UPDATE 5:51PM: The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has emailed Lynn Slotkin to reinstate her media tickets. Writes Ann Swerdfager, publicity director:

"Please accept our regrets for any over-hasty action on our part regarding your media tickets for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Upon reflection, we realise that critical debate is an essential part of any vibrant theatrical culture and that we should continue to provide you with reviewer's tickets."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Nina Kaye

Play at a Glance: A mash-up of numerous beach party films from the 1960s, Tiki Bikini Beach Party is a vitamin-D infused flashback that's a perfect remedy for the winter blahs. The musical is a self-referential recreation of 1960s beach party flicks, with pop culture references to Scooby Doo, Gilligan's Island and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer to bring it up to date. Jeanette Funicello, her steady, Freddy, and the gang all want to throw a beach party to mark the end of the summer. Unfortunately, the local leather-clad bully, The Big Tuna, is hogging the best part of the beach. The only solution: a surfboard contest with lots of hotdogging, shimmying, hula dancing, grass skirts... and of course bikinis!

First Impressions: Tiki Bikini Beach Party, in a remount at the Next Stage Festival, circumvents the Fringe-imposed lighting and set restrictions by relying on inventive costumes, live music, exposition, strong visual choreography and a sense of humour. The musical numbers were well-rehearsed and executed, if not particularly original, consisting mostly of covers such as "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini". The costuming was excellent, as it was visually pleasing and established the beach setting. The five-piece band was talented, never missing a beat. The actors were great, they cheerfully hammed up their roles and were always fully present onstage.

The Highlights: When technical complications led to a too-early black-out, The Big Tuna (Evan Dowling) and his sidekick, Mini Minnow (Stephen Dickson) saved the day with a quick witted improvisation in which they shared a comic confession about their fear of the dark.

The Nitpicks: Unfortunately, the gentle parody and good humour of Tiki Bikini wasn't enough to transcend the misogyny, stereotyping, and bizarre repressive/exploitative sexuality of the 1960s source material. Additionally, while intentionally bad jokes and puns accurately reflect the Archie comics humour found in the Beach Party movies, it does quickly grow stale. Still, running for 60 minutes, the show cut itself off before it became tiresome.

Audience reaction: The audience, ranging from children to seniors, all seemed to love the show, laughing and applauding after each dance number. The show's sunshine seemed a vacation from the cold winter weather.

Reviewers reaction: 4/5

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Kyle Turner

Play at a Glance:
What do you get when you mix a little bit of 60s surf icons Frankie and Annette, a dash of the wacky mystery-solving team led by Scooby Doo, and a pinch of Gilligan’s Island? A pretty nifty afternoon at the theatre, I’d say. The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! spins a fun, upbeat web of song, dance and carefree beach antics as a group of young Hawaiian surfers and their girlfriends’ plans for an end of summer beach party is met with opposition from the leather-clad ‘tough-guy’, The Big Tuna, and his sidekick, Mini Minnow.

First Impressions: Freddie Babbleon, played by Thomas Duplessie and Jeannette Bowlajello performed by Sarah Kuzio were a lively duo mingling with a cast of cheerful and often absent-minded young adults in the throes of youthful innocence and humourous naiveté. Strong performances were also given by Nick Nasrallah as the lovable and audaciously eccentric Slim Melvin and his summer crush, the Widget, played by Amelia Sirianni.

Highlights: The Von Drats musical accompaniment and the cheerful dance numbers accentuated the bubbly atmosphere at the festival matinee performance. The colourful costuming reminiscent of the 1960s surfer culture and an era redolent of youthful bliss on a white, sandy beach captures and exploits the very visually-engaging aspects of the dance numbers and, of course, finds humour in a bygone era’s obsession with those characters who lived, perpetually, under the sun. The performances were strong and engaging – definitely a warm welcome on this cold Toronto afternoon.

Nitpicks: For those of us in the front row, the songs and visual aspects were clearly audible and visible, but for some further back, the fast-paced nature of the party-themed music seemed a bit strained and unavoidably incoherent. The professor’s role, played by Stan MacDonald, also seemed to be superfluous, and although the part was strongly acted, seemed to be an aside that the main plot could do without.

Audience’s Instant Reaction
: All in all, the production received a healthy applause, if not for the glimmer of summer it presented on this cold January day, then for the cheerful collection of song, dance and fun for audiences of all ages.

Critics Review: 3/4

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Kelly Lynn Kirk

Play at a glance: This musical is about teenage love and the ultimate beach party. Bikini Beach is the place with the ‘choice’ waves, but the Big Tuna (Evan Dowling) controls the beach and will ‘pound’ those who step foot on it. Freddie (Thomas Duplessie) challenges the Big Tuna to a surf off so his crew can hold the Tiki-tastic party on Bikini Beach.

First Impression: The play is entertaining, but it is overkill on the "woody" jokes – we get it already, it is a surf board. Solos were hard to hear, especially by Freddie, Sugar (Rory Bray) and Jeanette (Sarah Kuzio). Even the speaking voices had me missing lines. The cast was great at keeping up the energy in those fast and peppy dances. While the play is upbeat and energetic, the writing has holes that need to be looked at. The band is absolutely fabulous and does not overshadow the action onstage. I just wish the actors could project their voices over the music.

Highlights: The dances are probably the best part of the play. The cast is great with the upbeat and bouncy moves. Lovely chemistry exists between the Big Tuna and Mini Minnow (Stephan Dickson). Some beautiful little moments occur between these two, especially at the end of the play.

Nit picks: Besides the quiet voices and the overkill of the woody jokes, the cameo of Alvin the Chipmunk is pointless and amateur. There is no point for it, just cheap laughs.

Audience instant reactions: The audience seemed to enjoy the entertainment of the play. Applause at the end was gracious, but not deserving of the second curtain call.

Critic instant reaction: I give it 2 out of 4.

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: Tomasso's Party at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Mark Rochford

Play at a glance: A stunted bedroom exchange between the restless, bath-robed Hugo (Simon Bracken), searching for the last word in a book title, and half-asleep Madeleine (Leah Doz) whose back faces the audience for the entire hour. The birthday party for Madeleine's boss looms, and the couple apparently have a lot to work out before they venture to the event. If Hugo decides to go.

First impressions: An attempted examination of relationship dynamics that throws some winning lines out there, yet gets mired in Hugo's incessant whining and grumbling. Madeleine makes much of her perceived lack of sex appeal, yet displays a comely figure and vocal vivaciousness, and any commentary implied by this disconnect fails to land. After Madeleine makes a rather significant admission, the play ends disappointingly with the two seemingly in much the same place as at the start.

Highlights: Leah Doz does admirable work making her character feel fully fleshed even though we never see her front, her voice conveying an endearing combination of self-deprecation and sensuality; she makes good use of her one free arm without resorting to overdone gesticulations. Hugo's recounting of an afternoon watching the work of an adult film star and the tipsy first meeting between the pair provide some welcome laughs.

The Nitpicks: Lewis works his sniveling nebbish as hard as he can, yet the script leaves him few options to make Hugo palatable or relatable. The askew string-hung window suggests a surrealistic quality that seems unsuitable for the bed-clothed antagonism on display.

Audience's instant reaction: Enthusiastic roars from a consistently amused group around me, yet reserved overall.

Critic's instant reaction: 2/4

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Allison Leadley

Play at a Glance: In an homage to the musical teen comedies of the 1960s, Freddie (Thomas Duplessie) and his “Pineapple Princess”, Jeanette (Sarah Kuzio) want to throw one-last summer shin-dig before returning to school in the fall. Their dreams of a Tiki Bikini Beach party are derailed when the local beach bully Big Tuna (Evan Dowling) refuses to surrender his stronghold - prime beach party real estate with the best waves. The dueling teens end up battling for the beach in a surfing showdown where Big Tuna and Freddie face-off not only for the beach, but for Jeanette’s heart.

First Impressions: The typical television tropes and stereotypes are all present and accounted for (from the muscle head to the geek) as they sing about surfing, parties and summer flings in campy send-up of the beach-party genre. It’s a fun piece that plays up its own stereotypes. While there is only so much dramatic potential one could mine from surfing and bikinis, the script is fully aware of the limitations of their dramatic inspiration mocking the vapid stereotypes of the beach bimbo or wacky professor in a campy homage. While certainly not the most cerebral or challenging theatre I have seen, it’s a fun hour that evoked my nostalgia for the Saturday syndicated television re-run.

Highlights: The lover’s duet “I Think You Think” was certainly the highlight of the show. A sweet ditty between Duplessie and Kuzio, their chemistry was palpable and despite their cheeky take on the trope (narrowly missing death as they cuddle in the car) the moment was surprisingly endearing.

Nit Picks: There were significant projection issues that made it difficult to hear. Furthermore, the “woody” jokes were starting to run a little thin by the end of the hour.

Audience’s Instant Reaction: Judging from the laughs, the audience seemed to be having fun; however, there was no standing ovation or a second curtain call. A definite highlight for audience members was the live band the von Drats who received a significant swell of applause and a shout out from a fan sitting nearby.

Critic’s Instant Reaction (out of four stars): 2.5/4

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Johanna Lawrie

Play at a Glance: In Allison Beula’s “The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party A-Go-Go,” beachwear, sun and the surf are re-imagined retro-style, accompanied by a “Sixties Surfer to English Dictionary” in the program to “better help you understand [their] whacked-out lingo Hodads!” To celebrate the end of summer, Jeannette Bowlajello (Sarah Kuzio), Freddie Babbleon (Thomas Duplessie), and the whole gang want to throw the party to end all parties...a-go-go! Unfortunately, they must win a surfing competition against Big Tuna (Evan Dowling) to score the ultimate beach location. With catchy songs and energetic choreography, this show brings summer fun to the dark, cold winter days.

First Impression: Though the jokes and characters were well delivered, the humour gets a little old at times. Buela’s staging and choreography are imaginative and keep the audience entertained during this hour-long performance. This may not be the next Tony-award winner, but the playful show is a lot of fun; a great way to pass the afternoon with some friends.

Highlights: The tight cast maintain their exaggerated characters through the show, drawing jokes out of the cheesy script and their over-the-top stereotypes. Jeffrey Straker’s music is well incorporated, performed live by The von Drats. The ‘keenest’ performance was definitely Kuzio’s Jeannette, demonstrating vocal chops and a charming character. The energy and catchy tunes are contagious, providing a nice relief to the drab winter.

The Nit-Picks: The inclusion of some pointless and repetitive jokes certainly slows down this fast-paced show. The performances are strong but even with the ‘cheesy sixties’ vibe, the script was a little repetitive and predictable. Of course, this is part of the charm of the show, but the painfully large smiles and obvious jokes were at times just that: painful and obvious.

Audience Instant Reactions: Everyone seemed to enjoy being out of the blistering cold, humming and laughing along with this energetic, summer party.

Critic’s Instant Reaction:
3 stars out of 4

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party is A-Go-Go! at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Spencer Smith

Play at a glance: Freddie, Jeanette and the gang sing and surf under the sun and try to throw a copesetic end-of-summer beach party before bearish bully Big Tuna and his loyal henchman Mini Minnow can stomp all over their sand castle.

First Impression: Allison Beula's Director's Notes frankly admit that the Beach Party movies of the 1960s - which this musical attempts to mimic - were terrible excuses to show off bikini-clad teens dancing to the latest tunes and, if that is the case, Beula hits the mark. The show delivers exactly what it sets out to: simple, skimpy, heterosexual fun. The gender stereotypes are ten-fold, but a product of the time, I suppose. With its catchy songs, kitschy dancing and corny dialogue, the aimless plot and 'shmacking' are actually refreshing because the actors so clearly do not take themselves seriously.

Highlights: Nicky Basrallah's show-stealing square, Slim Melvin, and his dedication to over-acting every minute emotion that passed through his tiny frame.

Nitpicks: Lack of perspective. The subversive possibilities were endless.

Audience Reaction: Hoots, hollers, and whistles.

Critic Reaction: Four stars

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: Tomasso's Party at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Peter McLaren

Play At A Glance: Hugo (Simon Bracken), a self-loathing, weak man in a bathrobe pathetically demands answers out of his lover, Madeleine (Leah Doz), who reveals a collection of admissions he'd rather not hear.

First Impression: A puzzling, unsettling, meandering dialogue between a man and a woman's back. Lewis draws out the play with a collection of clever, reiterative sentences peppered with a handful of witty lines. Doz, holding all the power, gets as much play out her back, left arm and hand as she possibly can, never revealing her face until the curtain. All the while, Bracken wanders, barks and whines through his teeth, like a mistreated, sorry puppy.

Highlights: Doublessly, the highlight of the play is Doz, who straddles the line between blatant eroticism and playful charm. The play picks up the pace towards the end, the focus shifting towards Doz's oppressive, controlling sensuality, a welcome relief from the histrionics of Bracken's Hugo.

Nitpicks: Unfortunately, the play ends as soon as this new tone has been obtained. It all seems rather unfair for Mr. Bracken, who is clearly trying as hard as he can, but Hugo's insufferable fixations on his own inadequacies get old quickly.

Audience Instant-Reaction: The audience politely giggled at the Lewis's smart, well-executed jokes, but seemed distracted by the stomping feet coming from upstairs (which is absolutely not the fault of the production). Appreciative.

Critics Instant Reaction:
2 Stars

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.
First Impression review: The Tiki Bikini Beach Paradise Party is A-Go-Go!

Critic: Rolla Bahsous

Play at a glance: Going up against the tough, leather-wearing Big Tuna, a group of bikini-clad teens decide to have a bees-knees beach party to end the summer in Hawaii in this musical set in the 1960s!

First Impression: Like the actual 1960s beach movies with no real plots, this musical also lacks a significant plot. Breaking out in random songs about pine-apple dances, blue muu-muu's (bikini covers), and partying, this show is exactly what it promises: a simple, fun show parodying the beach party movie genre of the 1960s, including the nifty lingo and wordplay.

Highlights: The cast, especially Kuzio as Jeanette and Duplessie as Freddie were a delight to watch. The lingo breakdown in the opening and closing song was a great way to kick off the party. The choral singing of the girls dressed as trees during the "The Tiki Man" number and the guys' choreography in "Hawaiiannette" was also visually appealing to watch.

Nitpicks: It was a little bit difficult to make out the words in most of the numbers where the accompanying background music drowned out some of the lyrics. The "woody" joke was also way too overdone!

Audience's Instant Reaction: Though there was no standing ovation, the continuous laughter among the audience and the cheers and applause after each song suggests that they enjoyed the party!

Critic's Star Reaction: Though not as sophisticated in plot (as it shouldn't be if it's supposed to mimic a 1960s beach movie), I enjoyed the show and would recommend it for a feel-good, fun night out. I give this production 3 hoola-hoops out of 4!

Note from Nestruck: This review was filed as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.