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| Major Barbara |  The Autumn Garden | Give My Regards to Broadway | All\s Well that Ends Well |

Some Stage Door reviews of 2005

Lots more reviews of 2005 here, here, here and here!

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

All's Well that Ends Well

by William Shakespeare, directed by Rod Ceballos
Shakespeare in the Square production, Brampton, till August 8
Stage Door Guest Review by James Wegg
Your comments and reviews are always welcome

All's Well an outside success

Shakespeare in the Square’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well is a wonderful example of how the human spirit can weather all odds and deliver knowing insight, invention and intrigue to theatre lovers of all stripes.  Outdoor art is, necessarily, a far different beast than the more predictable (at least logistically) confines of our over-air conditioned, light-rich, bum-friendly venues where untoward encounters with wind are more frequently from the digestive track rather than Mother Nature. 

And so to Brampton where the open air was awash with howling microphones that would have been perfect for Macbeth, a cacophony of car horns, and sirens which echoed An American in Paris, and a foolhardy patron who was drummed out of the dress circle as she began her own cell-phone aside, which very nearly produced a murder that no judge would convict. 

All of these distractions were endured with characteristic Canadian resolve, for the stage was abuzz with a level of drama, humour and artistry that kept the crowd engaged in every scene. 

Theatre veteran Rod Ceballos drew on his considerable experience on both sides of the footlights and especial understanding of the human experience and challenged his talented crew to keep up with his vision and pace.  In large measure they succeeded.

Using a near-contemporary time setting (mid 20th Century) solved both the period wardrobe dilemma and provided the audience—particularly its younger members or elder neophytes—with a visual point-of-reference that brought the tale of a matriarch’s love for her children (despite their shameful actions of treachery and deceit) closer to their own sphere of understanding. 

The sparse set and minimal props (Paroles’ murderous sword as dime-store pen knife a clever touch) kept the troupe on their toes.  Ceballos used every bit of real estate on offer having Lavatch (Terry Wells, first rate in his logical banter) tip toe through the fountain, the foreign-tongue soldiers take cover in the shrubs and, in a hilarious moment that could be marketed to makers of Viagra, the King of France (Peter Van Wart, appropriately regal but too loud by half) swing around the civic flag pole to demonstrate the end of his illness and impotence:  what fun that the rainbow pride flag was, apparently, the royal emblem. 

Hands were considerably at play.  The Countess of Roussillon (Lynne Griffin) spent much of the early scenes with her lovesick-for-her-son orphan-maid Helen (Anna Hardwick, who brought such wailing and moaning to her poor fate, that relief rather pity was felt at speech’s end) framing the distraught face with her aging hands; same too for her wayward son and heir Bertram (Jeff Gruich, looking the part but just a crown short of believable selfishness).  So much maternal contact robbed the Countess of the court-wise stoicism that would contrast the better with the impetuous youth that surround her. 

The unrelenting grip of Lafeu (Dan Karpenchuk) on the cowardly conniver Paroles (slapstick-superb, pathos-lite David Mackett) was a great gag that, happily, was not over-echoed later.  But the hand sign of the evening, the unwilling Bertram forced by the King to clutch the hand of the miracle worker, Helen, is pure brilliance.  In a play-defining metaphor, the pair were joined but neither no eyes connected:  love is blind indeed. 

Mike Gauthier’s music was a most welcome addition, but All’s Well That’s Sung Well, Diana’s (Claire Reid) torch song should be stripped of its pitch; her otherwise strong depiction of the sultry maid will then be much improved. 

A constant delight were the Brothers Dumaine (Kyle McDonald, Tim MacLean).  Secure, savvy and strong, they helped propel the action forward and should be promoted in seasons ahead. 

Braving the elements has seldom produced such a remarkable result.  And, with free admission, the Ken Whillans Square lawn should be jammed for every future performance.  A few lines may be lost in the outdoor adventure, but there’s far more to be gained witnessing the combined skill of all concerned. 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Give My Regards to Broadway

Revue by David Rogers
cu
rrently on tour in Southwestern Ontario, including
The Red Barn Theatre (Jackson's Point) Aug 16-20, 2005
Living Arts Centre (Missisauga) July 2005
Stage Door Guest Review of Grand Bend production by Mary Alderson

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

 

One-Man Show has Show-Stopping Tunes

 

When I first heard that Give My Regards to Broadway was going to be a one-man show, I was feeling vaguely disappointed.  How could just one person do justice to a Broadway revue?  As it turns out, what makes this show amazing is the fact that it’s a one-man show. David Rogers’ energy never wavers and his voice never fails as he carries the entire show, currently on stage in Grand Bend. [Stage Door readers may remember David Rogers as the 1997 Stage Door Johnny Award winner for Best Actor in Romance/Romance.]

 

In this current production, he is playing a plethora of Broadway’s leading men, singing old and new show tunes.  Occasionally he adapts his wardrobe to the song, pulling costume pieces from the various trunks and suitcases scattered on the stage. 

 

Rogers is backed up by a full 9-piece orchestra, which shares the stage with him.  Act one opens with a nostalgia trip down Broadway, featuring old favourites like Lullaby of Broadway, Luck Be A Lady, and They Call the Wind Maria.  The second act begins with a salute to Rodgers & Hammerstein,  featuring Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, and The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.  He also included a trick song of Danny Kaye’s called Russian Composers – where a list of Russians with the most difficult names to pronounce is sung in less than 38 seconds. The real audience pleaser is when Rogers sings a selection of songs to leading ladies.  He finds “volunteers” in the audience to join him on stage, so that he can serenade them.  The impromptu cast includes the roles of Maria, Gigi, Rose Marie, Mame, Marion the Librarian, Once in Love with Amy, Anne of Green Gables, Mona Lisa, and Whatever Lola Wants.  These somewhat reluctant stage stars bring the house down as the audience reacts with gales of laughter. 

 

Rogers even finds a most unusual volunteer to take on the role of Dolly, as he sings Hello, Dolly.  He points out that now no one needs to travel to Stratford to see the Festival’s version.Each song is a show-stopper in its own show – here you have a string of hits, one after the other.  The opening night audience, as usual, was very appreciative, extending the standing ovation until Rogers returned for his encore, The Impossible Dream. 

-30-

 Mary Alderson, a resident of Strathroy, offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis.   As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who currently teaches business plan writing.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Major Barbara

by Bernard Shaw, directed by Joseph Ziegler
Shaw Festival, till Oct 29, 2005
Stage Door review by James Wegg

Major brilliance

The road to salvation currently winds its way to Niagara-on-the Lake where the Shaw Festival’s production of Major Barbara resonates as deeply today as at the 1905 première. 

Before a line is spoken, Allen Cole’s score—with its booming bass drum; the magnificently subliminal aural image of bombs hitting their targets—deftly reinforces the themes of right vs. wrong and power vs. servitude. 

Christina Poddubiuk’s spectacular sets (particularly Act II’s Salvation Army shelter with its belching trio of industrial smokestacks lurking in the background) paint a convincing portrait of London at the turn-of-the-century.  Yet newcomers to Shaw might well be forgiven if the playwright’s notion “that society … is powerless in the face of the Anarchist who is prepared to sacrifice his own life in the battle ….” appears to be as current as the daily news reports from Iraq. 

Major Barbara (Diana Donnelly, prim and proper as required, but lacking the “fire-in-the-belly” delivery when pushed) is in the business of salvaging souls while her father Andrew Undershaft (Benedict Campbell, who finds the perfect mix of guile, greed and a pinch of gratitude) makes millions manufacturing weapons of ever-improving destruction.  Absent for a couple of decades, his first-act homecoming produces some of the play’s finest moments.  

His financially dependent, socially superior wife Lady Britomart Undershaft (veteran Mary Haney) has invited her spouse back to the family roost to sort out their children’s futures.  Barbara’s fiancé, Adolphus Cusins (Ben Carlson, the pride of the younger set), is a Greek scholar who drums up his relationship by joining the Salvation Army’s band (whose wee march-off on “original” instruments is spot on, where the Act III a capella rendition of “Jerusalem” is not blessed with heavenly intonation).  Sister Sarah (Charlotte Gowdy) is expected to marry the court jester Charles Lomax (Evan Buliung, who leans too far towards buffoonery rather than innocent naiveté) whose inheritance will be substantial if only he can survive the decade before it comes due.  The baby of the family is Stephen (David Leyshon), intent on being his own man, unsure what that might be, then totally succumbs to missile envy even as he accepts the fact that he can never be the heir to the family fortune. 

The pace of the opening act’s introduction to dysfunctional-family-‘R-us is never recaptured, not in small part due to the drilling down into the mechanics of being “saved” as we meet the poor and watch how they interact with the do-gooders’ ministrations. 

Shaw pulls out all of his considerable moral stops in the first half of Act II.  Snobby Price (Andrew Bunker) and Rummy Kitchens (Sherry Felt—superb in her understatement) have a frank discussion about the strategy of exaggerating their sins to help raise capital and moral righteousness for their saviours.  Suddenly, the atmosphere darkens with the appearance of Bill Walker (Patrick Galligan, first-rate throughout).  He has come to reclaim “maw girl” from the dispensers of charity and ends up assaulting Rummy and Salvation Army volunteer Jenny Hill (Jenny Wright) in the process.  Astonishing here was the laughter that this theatrical bullying drew from a few members of the opening night crowd:  little wonder nothing ever really changes. 

The next moral dilemma explored is the “conscience money” that large corporations are prepared to offer charities in return for their own salvation.  The Army, through the personage of Mrs. Baines (Patty Jamieson), holds its nose and accepts thousands from a distiller of “bad whisky,” which, like many government programs today, is matched by the munitions Czar:  “Who would have thought any good could come out of war and drink,” says Baines.  Major Barbara resigns her commission on the spot.  Paradoxically, Bill Walker’s offer to give a pound as recompense for his sins is refused. 

The final scene takes place in Undershaft’s factory.  Like many industrial utopias, it is presented as squeaky clean and, aside from the occasional unplanned explosion—but no more dangerous than a mine collapse—the enterprise is soon embraced by the entire family.  Its status as a perpetual cash cow provides comfort to Adolphus, who risks his marriage chances with Barbara by agreeing to work there.  But Barbara has had a change of heart of her own:  she eschews providing “bread and treacle” to save the poor in favour of working amongst the more pampered “middle class” sinners at the factory. 

Yet, like obesity, the incidence of HIV/AIDS, and recent increase in drinking-under-the-influence statistics, she, too, misses Shaw’s point:  you cannot convert human nature.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

The Autumn Garden

by Lillian Hellman, directed by Martha Henry
Shaw Festival, Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake
June 25-October 8, 2005
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door
(James Wegg's review follows)

"Chekhov on the Gulf"

Lillian Hellman’s “The Autumn Garden” was last seen in Canada in a touring production that stopped in Toronto in 1952. The Shaw Festival’s production is thus the first-ever Canadian production of the play and likely only the second time the play has been staged in Canada. This revival of unjustly neglected works is one of the Festival’s greatest services to our literary consciousness and sense of continuity. Those who know Hellman only from such brutal works as “The Children’s Hour” or “The Little Foxes” will be surprised to discover a more elegiac side to this famous writer.

The play is set in a guest house, once a large family home, in a summer resort on the Gulf of Mexico about a hundred miles from New Orleans in early September 1949. The play is like a cross between Tennessee Williams and Chekhov as faded Southern belles and drunken beaus gather to lament the passing of time and the waste of their lives.

Constance Tuckerman runs the guest house to earn her living. Her brother went off to war but stayed in France. Constance has brought his daughter Sophie to live with her and serve in her staff, hoping to give Sophie the advantages she never had. Other regular guests are the wealthy Mrs. Mary Ellis, her daughter Carrie and her son Frederick. Constance and Carrie are especially looking forward to the marriage of Frederick and Sophie. No one except Sophie is quite willing to face the implications of the fact that Frederick does not love Sophie and wants to travel to Europe with a notorious homosexual author.

Edward “Ned” Crossman stays at Constance’s guest house for two weeks every year. They were once in love but Constance refused to marry Ned. Her ideal has always been the famous painter Nicholas Denery, whom she loved before Ned. Now Nick and his rich New York wife Nina are coming stay. Nick wants to pick up a portrait of Constance he did 20 years ago, the last time they saw each other, and to paint a companion portrait of Constance for an upcoming exhibition. As a parallel to the marriage plot is a side plot about General Benjamin Griggs, who wants to divorce his flirtatious wife Rose, despite her opposition. As in Chekhov disillusionment lies in wait for every character except Sophie, who, perhaps because she is a foreigner and outsider, can see through the lies that others want to believe.

The cast is a “Who’s Who” of the Shaw’s favourite actors. Sharry Flett gives a luminous, heart-breaking performance as Constance, a beautiful woman clinging onto an ideal long after it is clear Nick is not and never was a good man. Flett registers Constance’s increasingly hopeless struggle to keep her past image of Nick alive until an awkward event causes her to see him for what he always was and to recognize how her decision not to marry Ned has blighted both her life and Ned’s. Her final scene with Ned, played with great compassion by Jim Mezon, resonates with the melancholy realization of truths faced too late.

As Nick, Peter Hutt gives one of his most powerful performances. Nick begins as a rude, brash, interfering lecher who only gets worse the more he drinks. Hutt not only finely gradates Nick’s descending levels of drunkenness and abuse but still lets us see that this wreck of a man could once have been a great artist. Laurie Paton brings off the difficult role as Nick’s sophisticated wife, someone thoroughly disgusted with Nick’s serial betrayals but who still knows she loves him despite everything.

Patricia Hamilton is forceful as the matriarch of the Ellis family whose domineering nature is by turns comic and deadly serious. Goldie Semple plays her daughter Carrie, who would like to seem strong but is left helpless between the demands of her mother and the actions of her son. As her son Frederick, Mike Shara does nothing overt to suggest Frederick is homosexual since Frederick himself doesn’t seem to realize his actions point in that direction. He has a brotherly friendship with Sophie but whether the idea of marriage was forced on them or planned by Frederick as a cover is not clear. Charlotte Gowdy’s character Sophie turns out to be the one person who links all the various strands of the plot. Her demure behaviour and French accent make her seem deceptively weak. Indeed, it would help if Gowdy showed more of the thwarted fire that burns within Sophie to make her change from innocent to mercenary seem more in character.

As General and Mrs. Griggs, David Schurmann and Wendy Thatcher would seem to be the most comic characters of the story. Griggs’s total indifference to his wife and Rose’s mindless flirting with anything in pants despite her age do begin as a humorous counterpoint to the increasingly darkening storyline, but Schurmann and Thatcher expertly show that even these characters act as they do out of desperation.

The production would be recommendable just as a chance to see so many of the Shaw’s finest actors on stage together in the intimate Court House Theatre. William Schmuck’s design for the guest house’s inviting main room and for the numerous gowns for the women is very attractive. Louise Guinand enhances his autumnal palette with the warmth of her lighting that suddenly turns cold when the action reaches its crisis. The production would be even more recommendable if director Martha Henry has managed to infuse the action with a greater sense of urgency and tension. Even the main crisis seems muted. The play proceeds as one detailed scene after another but without a sense of the play’s overarching structure or the interplay of the various strands of the plot. Only at the very end do these become clear, but Henry should have helped us to see the work’s trajectory long before this.

Nevertheless, the vigour of the company’s expert ensemble acting and the intensity of its characterizations make up for the lethargy of Henry’s pacing. Hellman thought this her finest play. The Shaw company goes a long way to showing us why.

©Christopher Hoile

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

The Autumn Garden

by Lillian Hellman, directed by Martha Henry
Shaw Festival, till October 8, 2005
Stage Door Review by S. James Wegg

The Harvest Will Come

In theatre, if timing is everything then tone can’t be far behind.  For what’s the use of utilizing pulse, rhythm and pause if the timbre is off or the accents too strident:  the meaning is found but the subtext is lost. 

And that’s the problem with The Autumn Garden—it looks better than it sounds and reads deeper than it translates to the stage. 

Director Martha Henry has assembled a generally able cast (Patricia Hamilton, the cream of the crop, is the worldly dowager Mary Ellis “… one should have power or give it over.”) and more than competent production staff (William Schmuck’s Louisiana guest-house exudes tasteful hospitality even if the wicker-chair placement battle fails to draw the late-inning laugh) and Lillian Hellman’s script—regardless of how many “Dashes” (Dashiell Hammett was her decades’ long companion and sometime editor) of assistance it contains is savvy and smart.  But the production never quite lifts off, failing to reach the collective skill-sets and abilities of those engaged in sharing the playwright’s astute read of the human experience:  As the lecherous portrait-painter Nick (Peter Hutt, more of an ugly drunk than a forgivable one) opines to his frequently betrayed wife Nina (Laurie Paton, appropriately steady under fire) “If you didn’t see through me so fast, you wouldn’t dislike yourself so much.” 

Disappointingly, the soundscape and the scripted musical interventions did little to help the cause.  The Dixieland and Blues act openings and scene padding were most welcome—how better to reinforce the time and place.  Unfortunately, a good part of the proceedings were accompanied by a cricket convention gone amuck and a “related-hits” soundtrack that either reduced the success rate of hearing the lines or collided with the actual 78s that were called for.  Then the Act Two “Is it Mozart or Haydn?” duel between the long-ago lover Nick and the still unmarried Constance (Sharry Flett) might have well as been by Salieri for the point it lost rather than the effect that should have had more than the critics twittering. 

The rest of the men seemed more puzzled than perplexed with their lot in life.  As General Benjamin Griggs, David Schurmann delivered his lines more like a matinée tenor than a battle-weary bass-baritone who knows how to give orders or carry a secret to the grave.  Consequently, his relationship to his wife Rose (Wendy Thatcher, not quite far enough over the cuckoo’s nest) and their pending divorce (“… all professional soldiers marry Rose.”) seems more of a relief than a calamity. 

Mary Ellis’ grandson, Frederick, provides contrast to the standard relationships around him in the close-quarters of country living.  For he puts the editing of his never-seen companion’s third novel (the first two beginning in the remainder bin) ahead of the needs and wants of his stoic fiancée Sophie (Charlotte Gowdy whose French accent grates, detracting from her considerable acting prowess).  Tellingly, the “love that dare not speak its name,” remains mute, but not before everyone—including the confused lad—realizes that the failed author’s primary attraction to Frederick is his bank book (size envy of a different sort).  To console himself, Frederick decides to cruise anyway, but this time on a ship with Mommy Dearest (Goldie Semple).  Unfazed, Sophie turns a trick of her own and gets the cash to return home to Europe. 

Like Haydn’s “Farewell Symphony,” the players retire one by one from their week in the country leaving only Constance and her alcoholic admirer Edward Crossman (Jim Mezon proves the exception to the rule by imbibing his role with vigour, brilliant understatement and the epitome of purposeful self-destruction that peppers the script).  But unlike Papa Haydn who penned his notes to convince the Prince that a holiday was long overdo, Hellmann’s last phrases speak a truth that few want to ever acknowledge, much less act upon.

Still, a trip to The Autumn Garden is recommended.  Quibbling aside, this production—like the countryside around it—can’t help but grow over the summer and yield a magnificent emotional harvest by fall.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

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