Anticipation and excitement accompanied us as we attended the new Canadian Stage Company production of the award-winning Tony Kushner epic Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto, and we were not disappointed. This brilliant work succeeds on every artistic level -- writing, acting, direction and design -- creating an exhilarating and astonishing theatrical experience.
Subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," the story is now famous. Two couples, one gay and one nominally straight, embody Kushner's incisive and all-encompassing script covering religion, sexuality, AIDS, politics, love, loss, greed, power and ambition in Reagan's America. Kushner presents demonic negativity and excess in the personality of right-wing McCarthyite and closet homosexual lawyer, Roy Cohn. Disparate plot lines are magically woven as the characters embark on a historical and fantastical journey in reality and imagination to New York, Salt Lake City, Antarctica and beyond. It is a sprawling, intellectual and heady mix.
Director and CSC artistic director Bob Baker in association with the artistic team has painted a rich canvas of images and sound. The spellbinding three-hour-plus play moves quickly with the script, lightning set changes and special effects overwhelming the senses.
The acting ensemble is uniformly splendid. The talented Patricia Hamilton opens the play as Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz, in one of several roles she carries in both genders, including Cohn's doctor and the ghost of American spy, Ethel Rosenberg, whose death sentence Cohn considered his greatest achievement. Tom Wood gives us a fire and brimstone portrait of an offensive and spiteful character in his portrayal of Roy Cohn.
The central character of the play is Prior Walter, played by Steve Cumyn, as the AIDS-afflicted unwitting Prophet. His faithless lover, Louis Ironson (Alex Poch-Goldin) self-described as "the lowest of the low," cannot face the challenge of his partners illness and is discovered in tears by Joe Pitt (David Storch), who, by his tender concern, Louis senses to be gay. Joe, a devout Mormon and right-wing Republican, is shocked by this "mistake"and then realizes he is. Not, however, as shocked as his Valium-popping wife, Harper (Karen Hines), who escapes to a dream world with the help of an imaginary travel agent (Cassel Miles). Miles also shines in the role of Belize, a female impersonator/philosopher friend of Prior and Louis. The remaining cast member is Linda Prystawska, playing an assortment of characters including The Angel.
Director Bob Baker is hailed for his bold use of sound and minimalist set, employing three of Canada's foremost designers, Leslie Frankish with set and costumes, Kevin Lamotte's lighting, and David Patridge's sound. Their combined talents produce some of the most brilliant stage effects ever seen, from the subtle reducing spot on a retreating characters face at a scene change, to the explosively dazzling Antarctica sequence, to the overwhelming entrance of The Angel in the final scene, which can only be described as the first we have ever seen that actually brought the house down!
Angels has been called the most important play of our
generation, venerated by scholars and audiences alike. It embraces
so many concepts and touches so many personal issues that you
will be thinking and talking about it for a long time. Don't miss
the most important theatrical event to hit Toronto in a decade
or more. Canadian Stage Company has arranged for Angels, Part
One to play an indefinite run, with tickets now on sale up
to March 30. Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika opens
November 6, and continues the story from the revelation of The
Prophet. The marathon dates (Part One matinées and
Part Two evenings, a full seven hours of power) are nearly
sold out, but good seats are still available for the individual
performances, at $28 to $45. Call the box office at 416-368-3110.
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Tony Kushner's epic masterpiece, Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, has arrived at the Canadian Stage Company s superb Berkeley Street Theatre for an indefinite run. This intellectual work continues the fantastical and realistic journey of the eclectic group of characters introduced in Part One: Millennium Approaches. It too, like its illustrious predecessor, succeeds on every artistic level, but its funnier, scarier, and more philosophical, creating a thrilling conclusion to Part One.
Perestroika (or restructuring), is the unification of Kushner's thesis that the approaching millennium offers us new hope following a century of war, disasters, and plague. The AIDS epidemic is given far greater emphasis as Kushner examines themes of life, loss with grace, and that God may have deserted us. Boldly theatrical, philosophical, all-encompassing, literary and wonderfully written, Perestroika is so large in scope one may forget its also a story of love and loyalty. We care deeply about these characters and want to see a resolution to their stories.
Set in five acts with two intermissions, the 3½ hour play moves along quickly with the same seamless set changes as in Part One. The story opens in January 1986 at the Kremlin with a monologue from the oldest living Bolshevik addressing whether we are all doomed, or if the past will release us. Returning to Prior Walters bedroom, the Angel, in a flashback of the final scene of Part One, informs our reluctant prophet of his tasks and the journey ahead. This profound scene showcases the authors coupling of great writing and theatre with the acting and effects leaving the audience enthralled.
Director Bob Baker has successfully pulled off a hugely ambitious project and crafted scene after wondrous scene. His superlative company of actors are totally committed to their roles and the play. Patricia Hamilton, as in Part One, creates several memorable roles of both genders. Firstly as Bolshevik Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov she delivers a powerhouse speech enrapturing the audience. As Joe's Mormon mother Hannah Pitt, and as Ethel Rosenberg, she offers some of the funniest lines in the play, timed precisely to break otherwise unbearably sad moments.
Steve Cumyn, as Prior Walter, continues his heavenly odyssey into the acting stratosphere. Wonderfully played, this role is sure to propel Cumyn to greatness in Canadian theatre. Alex Poch-Goldin, as Priors ex-lover Louis Ironson, also shines, especially in a technically difficult scene shared with Patricia Hamilton as they recite the Jewish Kadish prayer (in Hebrew) over the dead body of Roy Cohn played by Tom Wood. Wood is completely believable as the hateful, racist, tightly closeted gay lawyer, successfully transporting his hectoring role from Part One to Two. Cohn's crony Joe Pitt, the Mormon, Republican, and gay court clerk is effectively played (with several other roles) by David Storch, while his newly clear-eyed and independent wife Harpers expanded role is portrayed by Karen Hines. Hines has one of Kushner's most memorable and gorgeous speeches, interpreting dead souls ascending through the ozone layer like skydivers in reverse, "longing for what we've left behind and dreaming ahead."
Two other cast members have considerably augmented roles in Perestroika. Cassel Miles flamboyant nurse and bellwether moralist Belize is memorable in many scenes, especially when in verbal counterpoint with racist Roy Cohn. Linda Prystawska plays several parts but its her luminous Angel that steals the show. Prystawska has said "the Angel is a vehicle of enlightenment and hope." Her wondrous performance had a similar effect on us.
Bakers technical A-team has repeated their success from Millennium Approaches. Leslie Frankish's devastated set is a wonder, with every scene offering something fresh and different. But its the alluring lighting of award winning Kevin Lamotte that technically steals the show. Entertaining, and wonderfully luminous, Lamotte has created a brilliant extravaganza coming from all angles, when coupled with David Patridge's eerie sound effects, overwhelms the senses. Music director and composer Don Horsburgh created the marvelous incidental music. Of note at the curtain call is the presence of the stage hands who take a well-deserved bow.
Perestroika resonates with power and intellect and is
a play about love, freedom, and responsibility. Twinned with Millennium
Approaches, it redefines the essence of great theatre. Don't
miss what has been hailed as "the most important piece of
theatre in the second half of this century," and the greatest
theatrical event to ever hit Toronto. See them both. Playing indefinitely,
with tickets from $28. Call the Box Office at 416/368-3110.
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The Canadian Stage Company bills Tom Stoppard's Arcadia as "an intoxicating whirl of romance, mystery and landscape gardening." Its an apt description of a play that combines mathematical theorems and love, weaving these concepts together in two time frames, resulting in an uproarious, while somewhat unsettling, comedy.
Its a complex play, with two major stories, supported by several subplots, that eventually all collide. The play opens in 1809 at Sidley Park country house in Derbyshire, with 13-year-old math prodigy, Thomasina Coverly, asking her tutor, Septimus, what is meant by "carnal embrace." Septimus deflects the question, replying, "Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing ones arms around a side of beef." However, the carnal embrace of which Thomasina had overheard was one of many taking place at the estate in this Arcadia's tangle of love and intrigue, including one fling between Septimus and the wife of hack-poet Ezra Charter. Thomasina's mother is meanwhile absorbed by plans to renovate the estates gardens, and in the sketch book of landscape architect Noakes. Thomasina capriciously adds the figure of a hermit to the architects drawings as the scene closes.
The second scene fast-forwards to the present day, same set, with only the costumes to suggest a change of time. Academic Hannah Jarvis is researching the curious presence of a hermit in one of the drawings of the estates gardens from the early 1800s, when she is joined by Bernard Nightingale, a don from Sussex University, with whom she is also doing some research on Ezra Charter.
The scenes alternate between the generations, and soon we are enveloped in a murder mystery involving genuine-poet Lord Byron, also a guest in the Coverly home and the subject of amorous attention by Thomasina's mother, and of whom history debates to this day the reason for his quick and unexplained self-exile in 1809. Duels of sword and wit cross the time barrier as Bernard is determined to present his spurious evidence to the Lord Byron Society, despite Hanna's heckling.
Leading players are the wonderfully talented R. H. Thomson (Oleana, Death and the Maiden) as Bernard Nightingale and the luminous Fiona Reid (Hay Fever, Six Degrees of Separation) as Hannah, with Jonathan Crombie, Shawn Mathieson, and Victoria Adilman as the present-day Coverly siblings. The earlier family and guests are played by Waneta Storms as Thomasina and Alan Van Sprang as her tutor. Robert Persichini is Ezra Charter, Graham Harley plays Mr. Noakes, Nancy Palk is Thomasina's mother, Peter Krantz her uncle, and Barrie Baldaro is the butler. The ensemble is very polished and the two vastly different eras are well acted by the cast.
Arcadia, a co-production with The Manitoba Theatre Centre, is directed by Richard Rose. Graeme Thomson has designed the set, with costumes by Charlotte Dean, lighting by Kevin Fraser and music by Don Horsburgh.
A definition of Arcadia is a region offering rural simplicity
and contentment. There is little rural and nothing simple about
Stoppard's version, but it is sure to provide contentment. Arcadia
plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for
the Arts, on Front Street in Toronto until November 2, 1996. For
tickets ($23 to $52), call 416-368-3110.
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Private Lives, sharp and sexy
The new Canadian Stage Company (Toronto) / The Grand Theatre (London) co-production of Noël Cowards witty and urbane Private Lives has arrived at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Unsettling, sharp and sexy, this story of passionate love contains some of Cowards most entertaining lines and forms an enduring love story.
The sparkling script concerns a divorced couple with a love-hate relationship who accidentally meet at a hotel in the south of France, albeit honeymooning with new spouses. The play begins in adjoining hotel suites, the newly married Elyot and Sibyl arriving first. She is obsessed about her new husbands first wife, Amanda. From the second suite, Amanda and her new husband, Victor, enter. He too is fascinated to hear about Amanda's first husband, Elyot. Soon, Elyot and Amanda find themselves on the terrace and begin to reminisce. They are quick to discover that while their marriage was both heaven and hell, they long to be together again. They recklessly plan their escape to Amanda's apartment in Paris. Act Two takes place several days later and finds the happy couple enjoying a blissful time together with little regret and even less worry for Victor and Sibyl. However, their reminiscences about past affairs becomes more and more angry until they are fighting with renewed passion. Victor and Sibyl enter just as the fight reaches its climax in a spectacular display of verbal fireworks!
Director Glynis Leyshon has assembled a top flight cast and created a wonderful production full of life and effervescence. Leyshon has said "Coward fails when played coolly. What's needed to lift the words off the page is acting that reveals the magnetic passion between the pair." She has succeeded in this by casting Albert Schultz as a wonderfully debonair Elyot Chase, and Brenda Robins as tart, passionate and erudite Amanda Prynne. These two actors create one of the theatres most engaging couples. Patrick Galligan plays Amanda's new husband, while Lindsay Leese is Elyot's delightfully outrageous new young wife.
Set and costume design is by Pam Johnson, with lighting
by Luc Prairie. The Toronto appearance runs until December
14 and comes highly recommended for an evening of high-spirited
wit and crackling repartee. Tickets (from ($23 to $52) may be
obtained by calling the box office at 416/368-3110.
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Passion-lite comes to Canadian Stage
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Passion made its greatly anticipated Canadian debut at The Bluma Appel Theatre presented by The Canadian Stage Company, Eclectic Theatre and Tapestry Music Theatre. Following last season's spectacular A Little Night Music (a Stage Door Award recipient in co-production with London's The Grand Theatre), expectations were high for this Tony Award-winning musical. Challenging the traditional form of musical theatre, Passion is a blend of lyrics, music and dialogue that is both compelling and provoking. CSC's production gets mixed results and tilts on the positive side of a fine line between merely good and brilliant.
Sondheim's view of passion within this love story is something quite different...intense, all-consuming, "a love that would cripple us all." Arguably the greatest writer/lyricist in today's musical theatre, he has married the themes of obsession and love, and fallout. The largely autobiographical story is based on the romantic novel Passione d'Amore (1981) by Ettore Scola that he based on Fosca written in 1869 by Iginio Tarchetti. Passion is a love story set in the newly united Italy of 1863 . Our hero Giorgio is a military captain transferred from the sophistication of Milan, to Parma, a small provincial outpost. With little do except drink and play cards, the men are stuck in a void. The story's two women, Clara and Fosca, live in a strictly regimented society where it was legal for a man to abandon an unfaithful wife, but she could not abandon her husband. If she did the woman always lost custody of any progeny to her husband. Women's roles graduated from daughter, to wife, then to mother. Unmarried women remained dutiful daughters until their father's death, after which another male relative would become the surrogate. In Passion, the regimental commander is Fosca's surrogate father. It is the meeting between Giorgio and Fosca and the cataclysmic aftermath that is the basis of Sondheim's play.
A magnificent red trompe l'oeil curtain is partially raised to reveal a bed, and on it, Giorgio making love to Clara. CSC's production, as did New York's, has the lovers naked during their tryst, but do Toronto sensibilities really need a warning posted in the lobby that there will be nudity in the play? It's hardly the stuff of Playboy Channel. Following their passion, Giorgio announces his transfer to the frontier outpost and must soon leave. The curtain is pulled all the way up, spreading into the ceiling of the theatre dramatically creating a bivouac effect as Giorgio arrives at the garrison. Dining at the Colonel's table he soon hears the blood-curdling screams of the reclusive and terminally ill Fosca. She has seen the handsome Giorgio from her window and, following his show of kindness toward her, follows a path of obsessive behaviour to win his love. He is repulsed by her single-minded advances towards him, but pities her, and continually writes to Clara about the bizarre woman who desires him. Sondheim's thesis is how "the force of someone's feelings for you can crack you open", and, "how it is the life force in a deadened world." Fosca's love transforms and cracks Giorgio's feelings wide open and forces him to question his definition of true love and feelings for Clara. "Love without mercy, love without pride or shame, love so consuming, it doesn't have room for kindness, or manners, or caution, or blame...." This is heady stuff.
Sondheim forges a different musical approach in Passion than in lighter hits such as A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, and Company. Widely described as a "difficult" score, it challenges the listener with the absence of song titles, and lush orchestrations that seldom translate to the sung parts. Sondheim pushes the limits of musical theatre with a score more Ravelian than typical Sondheim. Like all great music, it may take more than a first hearing to tune in the audience. Sondheim refuses to be pigeonholed as Passion's score goes for the quiet emotional punch rather than blast its message home. The final moments of Passion are intended to provoke quiet reflection and don't pack the formula wallop that translates into "buy our CD in the lobby."
Director Jordan Mercer has assembled top-flight singers to mount this exceptionally difficult musical cum operetta. Unfortunately, he does not galvanize his artists to act with much emotion (a passion-lite Passion?), which leaves the audience grasping for signs of life during the singing.
Foremost in the terrific trio of singers is Mary Ann McDonald, who plays Fosca. Her death-warmed-over looks are enlivened by a fabulous mezzo voice, strong and deep at one moment, light and lyrical the next. Giorgio is played by operatically trained Curtis Sullivan, delighting the audience with his strong baritone voice, suitably toned down from his recent triumph in Don Giovanni. On the third side of this triangle is Glynis Ranney's Clara, whose lyric soprano voice blends well with Sullivan.
The cast is complemented with several cavalry officers and Fosca's deceased parents, characters whose primary purpose was to sew the scenes together and provide background to Fosca's sad history. Dennis Robert Dubbin (Major Rizzolli), Ron Hastings (Doctor Tambourri), Steven Horst (Sergeant Lombardi), Scott Lancastle (Lieutenant Torasso), Fred Love (Ludovic), Chantal Quesnel (Mistress), Barry Stilwell (Colonel Ricci), Allison Grant (Fosca's Mother) and Scott Walker (Lieutenant Barri, Fosca's Father).
Fresh from her success with Tarragon's Glass Menagerie, Astrid Janson designed the set and costumes. Her five columns, alternately translucent and solid, transformed the stage into a garrison, a ruined castle, a forest, and a boudoir, convincingly and with ease. Add Paul Mathiesen's lighting, and the effect is magical.
Passion is not for everyone. Its music demands a keen ear, patience and a love of Sondheim. However, given a chance, it may grow on you, as it has on us. Performances run until May 10, 1997, at The Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto. For tickets ($23.00 to 52.00 - or pay-what-you-can on Mondays) call the Canadian Stage Company box office at 416-368-3110 or Ticket Master at 416-872-1111.
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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.