Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Three very different plays currently running in repertory at Soulpepper offer up diverse theatre experiences ranging from corrupt real estate agents to war widows and faith healers. John Murrell’s classic Canadian drama Waiting For the Parade sports an all female cast that creates a superb ensemble of characters warring with themselves and each other as they try to support their men overseas. Led by Nancy Palk as the very stern no nonsense Margaret, all five women deliver superb performances. Palk’s performance never falters as she moves toward her dramatic resolution with great dignity and style. Krystin Pellerin, of current television fame (Republic of Doyle), gives a delightfully lighthearted performance tinged with sadness and indecision as Eve, while Deborah Drakeford’s Janet provides a strong organizational force that the others simultaneously follow and resist. Fiona Byrne’s Marta, as the lone German/Canadian citizen, stands out as a strong, resourceful woman struggling to fit into a decidedly hostile and war torn national landscape, while Michelle Monteith’s Catherine shines as the restless young bride finding it difficult to resist the opportunities that her temporary status as a single woman offers her. The whole cast shines in frequent musical moments, and Fiona Byrne’s German songs are beautifully rendered, heartfelt citations to Marta’s national origins. Murrell’s play examines Canada’s contribution to the second world war with a sharp eye for the material realities women had to face, and endures as Canadian classic after more than thirty years.

David Mamet’s Glengarry Ross is a fast paced all male narrative that is brought to life by a powerful ensemble led by Soulpepper Artistic Director Albert Schultz. His swaggering and sexy take on the character of Richard Roma is an impressive outpouring of run on dialogue that Shcultz peals off with great finesse. The rest of the cast is equally at ease with Mamet’s densely detailed script. Ken MacDonald’s set is particularly effective as it moves from a crowded Chinese restaurant, replete with chalkboard menu items and prices looming over the banquettes in act one, followed by a seamless movement into the real estate office that utilizes a similar décor in order to establish specific realtor data.

Perhaps the most unusual of the three plays currently running at Soulpepper is Brian Friel’s four-tiered monologic play for three actors. Stuart Hughes as the faith healer presents a believable, slightly sleazy, always energetic title character, with Brenda Robins as his altruistic paramour who takes on the second monologue of the evening with great physical endurance and passion. Diego Matamoros as the manager of this dubious form of ‘entertainment’ - faith healing - delivers an impeccable performance as he opens act two with Friels incredibly quirky monologue that ranges from the truly campy section on talking to pigeons and managing whippets and poodles, to profoundly disturbing sections regarding the relationship between Teddy (Hughes) and Grace (Robins). Ken MacDonald’s set is a beautiful sculptural mélange of piled chairs and wood slat walls that is pleasing at the outset but becomes a little static early into the proceedings. This dense, monologue ridden work could stand with a little more movement and energy in the set pieces in order to liberate the actors from a very heavy-handed text. Nevertheless, the strong performances, and the mystery narrative that unravels throughout, makes for an extremely intriguing evening of theatre.

all three plays are running in repertory at the Young Centre (Distillery District)

Faith Healer until June 4th

Glengarry Glen Ross -to June 5th

Waiting For the Parade - to May 29th




First produced in London and LA in 1998, with a Toronto production at Factory Theatre later the same year, Featuring Loretta is a delightfully bizarre little romp through the sordid lives of a few rather desperate young heterosexuals trying to sort out their respective traumas within the confines of a motel room. Written by Geroge F. Walker, one of Canada’s pre-eminent playwrights, the play was conceived as part of a six part series entitled Suburban Motel (1997).

With hundreds of productions worldwide and extensive translations of his work, Walker has blazed a formidable trail in Canadian theatre history. The current production of Featuring Loretta, at first glance, appears to be a bit of a red herring in the context of Walker’s fast paced comic oeuvre. Considered by some to be the weakest of the six part series, there is in fact something deceptively pleasing about this simple tale of a woman’s struggle to maintain her identity among manipulative boyfriends, philandering dead husbands who have been eaten by bears, and a booking agent who wants to exploit Loretta’s body.

Ken Gass’s direction sustains rollicking breakneck pacing as the actors deliver physically charged performances, moving furniture around in a very creative, at times fourth wall-breaking manner. Lesley Faulkner’s Loretta is sexy and assertive, providing subtle layers for what could have lapsed into a ditsy bewildered stereotype. But Faulkner’s Loretta never falters in her quest to create strong boundaries between herself and disruptive forces ranging from family members to absent KGB agents. In short, she is on the threshold of a life-changing event and is making one final stab at creating a secure environment for herself and the responsibilities she faces - without the interference of well-meaning morons.

Kevin Hanchard as the booking agent creates a subtle sleaziness with fine comic delivery that provides a sympathetic edge to his character. Similarly, Brandon McGibbon’s Dave, the present boyfriend, creates an appropriately goofy charm that simultaneously disarms, annoys, and engages in a skilful and believable manner. And when McGibbon and Hanchard engage in physical struggle over Loretta it takes on a refreshing homoerotic tone that subverts the dominant heterosexual narrative and proves to be utterly enchanting. The surrounding players are all there in order to feature Loretta, and as an ensemble they do this in a multi-layered manner that has a couple of titillating underwear scenes that raise the stakes and move this bedroom farce of into an evening of diverse comic entertainment.

Monica Dottor’s Sophie could have easily portrayed the Russian maid with stereotypical fervor, so common these days on television in prime time spots such as Desperate Housewives. And yet she skilfully manages to make the character both comic and sympathetic, without teetering into a disturbing caricature in any way. When the booking agent displays interest in her as a stripper/porn star one can actually imagine his intentions as something distantly akin to romance, and not simply a pornographic voyeuristic act.

Featuring Loretta is a timely and somewhat retrospective critique of misogyny, and the ways in which women have been commodified by particular forms of representation and entertainment. The final moments of this ‘light’ comedy possess a harrowing tone through the expertise of Jeremy Mimnagh’s video and sound design, Marian Wihak’s set, Kimberly Purtell’s lighting, and David Boechler’s costumes - providing powerful punctuation for a very simple and direct statement about one woman’s route towards independence.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

review of Catalyst Theatre's Frankenstein



Catalyst theatre’s gorgeous production of Frankenstein, currently running at the Bluma Appel theatre, is worth seeing for the set and costumes alone. And once they iron out some of the technical problems that seemed to plague opening night, it may become an admirable and visually exciting spectacle to behold, for the first few minutes. Unfortunately the lighting expertise that should have catapulted Bretta Garecke’s breathtaking paper sets and costumes into a world of chaotic shadow and muted colours is understated in a disappointing and rather lifeless way, while Jonathan Christenson’s score takes a similar turn, and punctuates too many rhyming couplets with a monotonous often techno sounding beat that appears ghoulish and ominous at the beginning but becomes irritating early into the first act. Skilled singers are unable to rise above the dull manufactured sounds that punctuate the beginnings and ends of lines and whole stanzas, weighing down what might have been a collection of diverse musical tableaus and producing a shallow cornucopia of somewhat bland recitative.


Reminiscent of the engaging and darkly humourous tales of Edward Gorey, and the more recent trash operas of the Tiger Lillies (Shockheaded Peter and The Gorey End), this lavish production has some fine moments, but lags due to repetition and some weak performances. A cast of eight very competent performers taking on multiple roles is impressive at the outset. However, over time their voices become strained and unmemorable as they blur into a rather bland mélange of sung storytelling that forsakes characterization for the sake of too much unnecessary description. Herein lies the problem with the script. Although Mary Shelley’s original story shines through in all its allegorical layers, the Catalyst production spends too much time telling the linear, familial details of the tale rather than enacting them. At least fifteen to twenty minutes could be cut from the first act followed by a much shorter second act.


There are some standout performances such as the gorgeous, at times tremolo inflected voices of the lead female performers - Tracy Penner as Lucy and Nancy Mcalear as Justine are engaging and intricately drawn in their roles. Dov Mickelson also has some wonderful moments as Young William as he takes possession of a very odd character and makes him a truly ghoulish and sympathetic misfit. But the choral moments never quite gel and the frequent bursts of repetitive spoken word chanting render the overall production a bit of an eclectic, overly ambitious hodgepdoge of theatrical mishaps.


Despite the production’s many problems Catalyst should be commended for taking on such an ambitious project and rendering it in an exciting and unique style. The current production, for all intents and purposes, looks like a very good early workshop production of a promising new spectacle.



running at the Bluma Appel Theatre until May 29th