From the first sound of crashing
waves that were to signal the opening of each act, we knew that
Lips Together Teeth Apart would be a gripping experience.
----Two couples, Sam and Sally Truman, and John and Chloe Haddock, are spending the Fourth of July weekend at Sallys beach house on Fire Island, an affluent gay resort off Long Island. Sally has just inherited the million-dollar property at the death of her younger brother, from AIDS. Whether she and Sam can be comfortable keeping it is just one of the problems to surface in this weekend of passion and distance. Its a beautifully written play by Terrence McNally, whose latest hit Love! Valor! Compassion! has just picked off all the top awards in New York.
----There is one star, one supernova of a star, in the cast against whom the other three characters have no choice but to pale. If I werent already an ardent fan of Fiona Reid¸ her performance this week would have cinched it. Her Chloe, her irritatingly hilarious Chloe, deserves a spin-off sitcom. I could watch her, and laugh at her, for hours. Yet Chloe is concealing a deep and terrifying realization, and perhaps is the only one who really understands the dynamics of the scene unfolding around her. A difficult role, superbly carried out, by one of Canadas premier talents.
----At the other end is Nancy Beatty, as Sally. Nancy, whom I have often accused of speaking with "lips together, teeth apart," manages to mangle by mumbling and monotony every decent line her admittedly disturbed character is given. I first watched her spoil Blyths Bouncing Back by munching through the entire performance. Then, she muttered down The Wooden Hill. Now this emotionless, multiple Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning, actress is back again. Who does she know?
----Sharing the middle path is Layne Coleman as John, Chloes husband, with leanings both in character and professional style, to Nancy/Sally. He does manage a little emotion, in a provoked attack on Sam, but his subsequent mechanical remorse quickly returns him to the world of insincerity and boredom he has been carefully cultivating on stage. You might have caught Layne as the professor in Canadian Stages Oleanna last year? Fortunately, I got there soon enough to see R. H. Thompson.
----Sam, Sallys husband and Chloes brother, is engagingly portrayed by Ron White, as the unabashed bigot of the group, mortally afraid to even touch the water in the swimming pool the previous owner might have enjoyed.
----The other characters are equally uncomfortable, with themselves, and with each other, as they paint, tinker, do crossword puzzles, or anything to keep the appearance of normalcy. Afraid to talk to each other, their most revealing comments are asides in private monologue. Eventually, the fears, and the tension, rise to the surface and explode (or in Nancys case, burp). And then Chloe returns with a buttered bagel and cheery French platitudes that no one wants to eat or hear.
----A rather static and unimaginative set by Leslie Commins is helped with a real pool, real hamburgers sizzling on the barbecue, and a bug zapper that zzzts on cue, but I guess they havent learned how to do on-stage fireworks à la Tommy?
----In the end, it is a good play, for "a good play," as defined by director Jim Guedo, "leaves you with more questions than answers." He aptly compares it to a musical quartet of four voices, moving the audience to new places: "You dont always feel comfortable in those places, not unlike the characters discomfort with their stay on Fire Island, but there is a great sense of hopefulness as well."
----Lips Together Teeth Apart is playing at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Toronto, until December 16. For tickets ($22 to $48), call 416-368-3110.
The hilarious romantic comedy,
Later Life, is back. It is not often that we get to (or would
even want to) see the same play separated by just a few months,
but A. R. Gurneys delightful comedy of second chances is
back again. After a stint at The Grand in London, it is now being
presented by Torontos Canadian Stage Company at St Lawrence
Centre, and well worth the trip.
----I wont dwell on comparisons of the productions; both were excellent, and both were sufficiently different in set, pace, and subtle expression that even in such short time, the second viewing was just as entertaining, and comes as highly recommended.
----Playwright Gurney, one of contemporary Americas most prolific and talented (The Dining Room, The Cocktail Hour, Love Letters to name a few that have recently been in the area), usually writes of upper-middle class WASPs, trapped in their own moral attitudes. His plays have a gentle warmth, despite the inevitable balloon-pricks, that treat all characters, even the most outrageous, with compassion. Later Life is no exception.
----Beautifully set on a balcony overlooking Boston Harbor, the plays central figures are Austin and Ruth. Austin (played by Robert Haley) is a distinguished, middle-aged, divorced native of proper Boston; Ruth (Sheila Moore) is a guest from out of town who remembers meeting (and more ) Austin, many years ago. Their host, Sally (played by Nicola Cavendish of Shirley Valentine fame) ushers them from the apartment onto the balcony to rekindle that moment, but they are constantly interrupted by a stream of za characters, all played by Cavendish and Tom Wood.
----The scene backstage must be nearly as exciting as the developments up front, as Cavendish and Wood have from 2 to 7 minutes between complete costume and persona changes, including one complete sex change! Body padding on and off, full makeup cleanses and remakes, carefully tailored costumes that are really jumpsuits with an invisible zipper up the back you can imagine a last-second shiver in the wings as they shed one character and become the next, and walk back on at just the right moment to shatter the intimacy that is otherwise developing.
----Through it all, Austin is always polite to the intruders, and finally remembers their original encounter. Coquettish Ruth surrenders to his charms once again, allowing herself to be swept from an unsettled and unhappy life into the sure and constant security he can offer. Until well, I wont spoil it for you. There is still the ending.
----Canadian Stages artistic director, Bob Baker, is the director of this production, with set and lighting by Phillip Silver and those challenging costumes by Phillip Clarkson. Later Life runs evenings until Saturday, February 3 at the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front St E, Toronto. Matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tickets are $22 to $48 (incl. GST) with discounts for seniors, students and groups. Call 416-368-3110.
Celebrating his unrivaled
knack for treating the most disturbing subjects with absurdly
wicked humour is Elliott Hayes last play, Hard Hearts.
The plot seems to have sprung from two real-life but incredible
incidents: the first, the grinding demise of an escalator passenger
as the step gave way beneath him; and the second, the apparent
choking death of playwright Tennessee Williams from swallowing
the cap off a nasal decongestant spray. Of such things madcap
comedies are born!
----Hard Hearts is a night in the life of David, a professor of comic drama whose wife has recently left him. He returns home from a bar with a new drinking buddy whose name he has yet to learn. The Man soon realizes he has misunderstood Davids invitation, but he stays anyway. They talk and exchange stories of their failed relationships (including The Mans ex-lover, Ted, from whose "escalated" funeral The Man has just returned).
----Just as The Man exits stage right to the washroom to borrow Davids nasal decongestant, Davids ex-mother-in-law, Agatha, (in her Catholic naiveté unaware of her daughter and Davids divorce) appears looking for daughter Anne, and finding instead a Man in Davids bathroom, who, at this moment reappears and does the Tennessee cap trick.
----Agatha, however, is less concerned about the implications of a man dying in her son-in-laws arms than she is about a grisly crime she has just committed upon her philandering husband, parts of whom are at this moment being posted around the city. In response to Davids call for the police appear Dick the officious dick, with new gal and Davids ex, Anne, at his side. Chaos ensues as the four struggle to sort out the hilarious and horrific events that have brought them together.
----This production by the Canadian Stage Company assembles a Stratford-weighted cast to honour their late friend and playwright Elliott Hayes in what has been called in their media releases "a labour of love." Marti Maraden directs husband and wife team of Lorne Kennedy and Goldie Semple as David and Annie, Jennifer Phipps, now a legend at the Shaw Festival, as mother Agatha, and Michael McMurtry and Kent Staines as The Man and Dick. As ever, it is a privilege to see this team at work. Kennedy can say more with one arched eyebrow than Keanu Reeves can deliver in a soliloquy, and Phipps muttering determination is sheer delight. The only complaint, voiced by my wife as we were leaving: "It should have been longer." High praise indeed. And also an apt epitaph for its author's too-short life, cut down at age 43 by an accident near his Stratford farm less than two years ago.
----Hard Hearts is a play that defies categorization. Director Maraden describes it best as a "melange of situation comedy, black comedy, mystery and farce with just a soupçon of melancholy thrown in the mix." Whatever it is, its a wonderful evening of entertainment at the intimate 26 Berkeley Street Theatre (5 blocks east of Jarvis, south of Front) in Toronto, until February 10. For tickets ($2025) call 416-368-3110. Convenient $3 parking lot right outside the theatre.
As Ricki Lakes guests
would say, "Dont even go there." Thats good
advice for the current Canadian Stage embarrassment now
curing insomnia at the St Lawrence Centre in Toronto. Its
James W Nichols adaptation-with-an-agenda of the Robert
Louis Stevenson 1886 tale of horror and psychological drama, Dr
Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Commissioned by a consortium of four theatres
in Calgary, Manitoba, Vancouver and Toronto ("too many cooks
spoil the plot"?), Nichol has felt compelled to update the
plot, adding sexual depravity and incest, making a brothel the
opening and central set, and changing the title to Dr Jekyll
& Mr HydeA Love Story. Did he do that
so he will never have to say "Im sorry"?
----Stalking about on stage with all the energy and enthusiasm of a bread line was a cast of no-doubt otherwise talented professionals, keeping their voices low and their movements subtle, lest anyone might notice them, remember them, and curtail their careers. By exception, David Storch was occasionally overcome with bursts of genius as Mr Hyde, and Colin Miller, as the befuddled butler, caused a short peel of laughter once.
----The real action was confined to the Cameron Porteous whirling set. Porteous is concurrently head of design at the Shaw Festival, his latest accomplishment being the set of Calvacade. Turntables-R-Him and I expected the French Revolution to revolve forth at any moment.
----If the action was confined to the set, the bright spots emanated solely from the work of Kevin Lamotte. His painfully blinding magnesium-intensity lighting, escaping from the doctors cabinets, was a welcome distraction. Thank you, Kevin. I may in time forget the offence of this play, but I shall never forget the affront to my eyes. And this after all the glowing words I shared with you about his magnificent work on Shaw Festivals Petrified Forest last season. I know its not your fault, Kevin; the Mr Hyde in you made you do it.
----I hear prodding in the background: "Cmon Jim, dont be so subtle. Tell them how you really feel." It really was...bad. I have enjoyed bad plays played well. I have enjoyed good plays played badly. But never, on the professional stage, and especially one with as fine a reputation as Canadian Stage Company, have I seen the worst of both.
Powerful, gripping, compelling.
Are there adjectives adequate to relate the stunning emotional
impact of Canadian Stage's production of Keely and Du currently
running at their 26 Berkeley Street theatre in Toronto? If you
saw Death and the Maiden or Oleana you may have
some sense of the lasting wallop, the continuing shudder, that
a truly brilliant play can evoke.
----Keely and Du by Jane Martin is a story of abortion, of captivity, of conflicting morals, human kindness, desperation and sacrifice. Written in 1993, it is the current rage of regional theatres, with thirty or forty concurrent productions right now across North America. This one, directed by Janet Wright, must surely be the best, as I could find no room for improvement.
----Keely has been raped by her estranged husband, and kidnapped from an abortion clinic by members of the Christian religious right, to be held handcuffed to a hospital bed in a hidden basement until she comes full term, to ensure the birth, rather than murder, of the child within. She is attended by Du, a devoutly religious and loving registered nurse, sure of her cause, if not perhaps the extreme lengths to which those in power have taken it.
----Their convictions will never change. Keely knows that the child would forever represent the rapist, that its birth would bring him violently back into her life, and that he, as the father and her husband, would never allow its adoption. Du knows the child is not the rape, that it is a living, innocent, sensitive creature blessed by God and sacred beyond all of the horrible circumstances of its conception. Both are captives to their beliefs, with the basement cell and handcuffs the visual evidence of their futility.
----Kelli Fox is Keely, in a performance of a lifetime. Awakening from the anesthetic and discovering the cuffs, she goes mad, a caged animal. Even in desperate silence her performance is real and terrifying. How could this happen?
----Patricia Hamilton is Du, gentle and caring, yet strong, determined, willing to wait, coaxing and comforting.
----Other excellent performances come from Garrison Chrisjohn as Walter, the fundamentalist liaison between the captives and the outside world, and David Lovgren as Cole, the rapist-husband, repentant and ashamed.
----To say more would spoil the series of unexpected turns that make this play so overwhelming. However, not to mention the aching power in two hands about to touch would be to pass over one of the strongest moments I've ever seen on stage.
----The play is wonderfully written, and despite its bizarre circumstance (could we ever really go that far?), immediately envelops the audience into the ugly reality of the situation. It doesn't promote one position over another, nor answer any questions or try to change any attitudes. Instead, it asks, with all the power that can be released in the final word of dialogue, "Why?"
----Keely and Du plays until April 6. Whatever your beliefs, this is one play you should not miss. Call 416-368-1110 for tickets ($17 to $25).
It isnt often one
gets to, or even wants to, see exactly the same production twice
in one month, but even this jaded reviewer made an exception for
Stephen Sondheims A Little Night Music last
week. This co-production of The Grand Theatre in London and the
Canadian Stage Company in Toronto has just completed its London
engagement and now is recreating exactly the same sophisticated
magic at the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts on Front Street in
Toronto. You saw my review then. And Im just as excited
the second time around.
----A Little Night Music is based on the Ingmar Bergman film, Smiles Of A Summer Night, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Its 1973 Broadway première garnered six Tonys, all richly deserved.
----A Little Night Music is a light-hearted story of love and infidelity set in the turn of the century in Sweden. The majority of the score is in waltz tempo, with brilliant choreography by director Michael Shamata and musical direction by Don Horsburgh. Using a turntable set design by John Ferguson and John Thompson, and a five-person chorus of dancers and singers, the scenes change effortlessly and beautifully in three-quarter time.
----In addition to the one instantly recognizable hit, Send In The Clowns, the play is richly threaded with a dozen delightfully intricate songs all wonderfully interpreted by a superbly talented cast. Patricia Collins is the glamorous actress, Desirée Armfeldt, Benedict Campbell is her old flame, Fredrik, now married to 18-year old Anne (Kristin Gauthier), herself no older than her stepson Henrik (John Ullyatt). This love quadrangle is complicated by the jealous Count Carl-Magnus (Bruce Clayton) who persuades his wife Charlotte (Mary Ellen Mahoney) to tell her girlfriend Anne that the Count has discovered Annes husband in a compromising position with the Counts lover, Desirée. And with that, the farce begins in the play billed as part Mozart, part farce and all romance.
----Also featured are Marion Gilsenan as Madame Armfeldt, whose featured song, Liaisons, could have been the subtitle of the play, and Trish OBrien as Annes maid, Petra. Each cast member had an opportunity to shine in the solo spotlight, and OBriens lusty interpretation of The Millers Son received the most enthusiastic ovation of the evening.
----The play runs in Toronto until May 11. Tickets are $22 to $48, and you will never find a more stunning production of this enchanting play any price. Call 416-368-3110.
Disclaimer: Nothing here is "official." Everything is a composite of media releases, information supplied by or procured from the theatres by direct or devious means, or downright personal opinion. If you don't like what you see, blame us, not the fine folks in the theatres of Southwestern Ontario.