Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Poster for Other Guys production of HOCKEY MOM, HOCKEY DAD at Belfry Studio [Call 385-6815 for tickets].

1. This play by Maritimer Michael Melski has played across Canada, in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon as well as in Nova Scotia. What's the secret to its success?

Just think about the title! You've got a ready-made demographic audience there...anyone who has ever spent time in an ice rink before dawn is already going to be on board with a show about hockey parents watching their kids practice and play. And even if you have never experienced this directly, no Canadian worth his salt can resist the mythology of hockey that so serves to identify us...our national sport. So a combination of the alluring and populist setting and a quick, cleverly written two-hander about two single parents trying to connect and it looks like a win-win game for all involved. In the play, here performed as a one-act in about 70 minutes, we see Donna and Teddy engaged in the courtship game while cheering their 8 year old children on as they get whupped yet again. It's a charming formula that mostly works, although Melski does tend to hammer home his points, rather than take a slightly more subtle approach in his dialogue. While some scenes have a real ring of truth to them -- and I especially liked the scenes where the mom and dad are caught between their own conversation and the action of their sons' game -- at times the dialogue slips into movie-of-the-week and we lose some of the freshness that is present elsewhere. That said, there are a couple of unexpected twists along the way that will keep you wondering about what happens next, and if these two lonely people will ever make it together.

2. And what about this Victoria-based Other Guys Theatre production, featuring local actors and real-life married parents Brian Linds and Jan Wood?

This is the real treat of seeing this show....a rare chance to see Belfry favorite Brian Linds and his wife Jan Woods onstage together. And they are both terrific in their roles, offering us characters who are fighting for their lives in very different ways. Brian Linds is an immensely likable actor who radiates warmth and his challenge here is to make Teddy charming, but also to some extent risky, as Donna becomes less certain about his typical hockey-loving (that is, bench-clearing and brawling) ways. I think Linds can find more danger in Teddy than is there as of the preview I saw: he needs to scare Donna enough at one point to scare her away and Linds seems so much in love with her, so remorseful about his behavior that I found it difficult to believe Donna's rejection...he's just so darn nice! Jan Wood's Donna, on the other hand, suppresses her warmth with good reason...she has left a terrible and damaging marriage, she has no money and little work, and she only wants to protect her son. Not a great prospect for a relationship, but Teddy makes up his mind to woo her right off the bat, and I loved watching Wood thaw very slowly and in a very careful and thoughtful way, until she begins to let Teddy into her life a little. Wood is a terrific actor and her physical and emotional work here is a testament to her popularity as an acting professor in the theatre department at UVic, and to her long professional career. The way she reacts when Teddy touches her, the hands flying up to protect herself from anyone or anything getting to her, are wonderful to watch.

3. What about the Canadian hockey culture that is the background of the it celebrated or slammed?

I'd have to say it's a bit of both. We laugh along with these characters as they watch their young children play badly, and we can even relate to Teddy's dreams of the NHL for his son Todd. And we cheer along with them when the Langford Leafs score an occasional goal. But the violence that has become such a prevalent aspect of hockey is shown when a fight breaks out on the ice and Donna is shocked by Teddy's behaviour. Personally speaking, I don't watch hockey, partly because of the violence, so I understand Donna's negative reaction, especially given her context and situation. But, on the other hand, if you're hanging out at a hockey rink and your kid is playing the game, I figure you've got to be aware at some level about the nature of the 2007. Unfortunately, I found Donna's concerns about fighting understandable but still a bit naïve. I'd suggest she put her child into a different sports activity if she really wants to prevent him from being exposed to violent behaviour. Again, speaking personally, I like baseball. Rarely a two-team pile-up in ball...the only real danger is getting smoked by the ball or crashing into the fence.

4. And did you believe you were really in a kids hockey rink?

The set designed by Bill Adams, who has done many fine sets in town over the years, often at Langham Court, is simple but effective...the bleachers and grey brick back wall of a rundown Langford hockey rink. Director Ross Desprez, assisted by Brian Linds' fun and sometimes rabble-rousing sound design and Keith Houghton's effective lighting, has the two actors move effectively between and within scenes so as to make maximum use of the small space. The couple of times they actually climb over the boards and onto the ice, it is a strong effect. And the use of the buzzer marking periods in games also takes us into the rink, as does a Zamboni that seems to cross the ice right behind us.

5. Any reservations about this production, or with the play itself?

This is not a great Canadian play, but I understand and think it deserves its popularity. I agree with a Vancouver reviewer's opinion that it is a bit tired seeing the man pursue the woman and basically metaphorically beat her into submission with his sheer relentlessness. What does Teddy really see in Donna (as she asks him herself at one point, to her credit)? He seems more interested in having a partner, being a family man, than in being with this particular woman, as much as says he finds her beautiful (and I'm sure he does). And the play is (at least in part) yet another female victim story, of which I am so very, very tired. Also, it is a love story that seems to entirely lack sex, and as Romeo and Juliet taught us, that is the spice of life in love stories. Why do these two never get it on for as long as we know them? I don't know about you, but this is frustrating not just for the characters! But this production gives us a strong version of this hit show that gives us the chance to see two fine local actors working together outside of their home. Although I might daydream about seeing them together as Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, or in Eugene O'Neill's Moon for the Misbegotten, it's a treat to see them in Melski's bleacher romance, nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Critics' Choice Awards 2007


Critics: Adrian Chamberlain (Times-Colonist); David Lennam (CBC); Monica Prendergast (CBC); John Threlfall (Monday Magazine)

set design

Leslie Frankish (Manon Lescault - POV)

John Ferguson (Don Giovanni - POV)

Ian Rye (Urinetown - Belfry)

Misha Koslovsky (Beauty and the Beast - VOS)

Christian Barry (Revisited)

Laurin Kelsey, (Crackpot – UVic)

WINNER: Ian Rye (Urinetown)

costume design

Mary Kerr (Richard III - UVic)

John Ferguson (Don Giovanni - POV)

David Hardwick (Beauty and the Beast - VOS)

Susan Ferguson (Waiting in the Wings – Langham)

WINNER: David Hardwick (Beauty and the Beast - VOS)

sound design

Richard Feren (Revisited – Halifax 2b Theatre)

Ian Case (Macbeth – WHOs)

Tobin Stokes (I Am My Own Wife – Belfry)

John Mills-Cockell (Honour – Belfry)

Meg Roe/Alessandro Juliani (Skydive) WON A JESSIE

WINNER: Richard Feren (Revisited)

lighting design

Christian Barry (Revisited)

Tim Herron (Richard III - UVic)

Gerald King (Urinetown - Belfry)

Adrian Muir (Skydive – Belfry)

WINNER: Tim Herron (Richard III)


Roy Surette (Urinetown)

Giles Hogya (Richard III)

Graham McDonald (The Caretaker – Theatre Inconnu)

Christian Barry (Revisited)

Linda Hardy (Tartuffe – UVic)

Barbara Poggemiller (Romeo and Juliet – Victoria Shakespeare Society)

WINNER: Giles Hogya (Richard III)

performance in a community production

Trevor Hinton (Richard III)

Fran Patterson (Romeo and Juliet)

Michael Shewchuck + Jason Stevens (The Caretaker)

Ming Hudson + Laura Harris (as the maid, Dorine) (Tartuffe)

David McPherson (The Butcher’s Apron)

WINNER: Trevor Hinton (Richard III)

performance in a professional production

Meg Roe & John Payne (Urinetown)

Alan Morgan (I Am My Own Wife)

Rick Miller (Bigger Than Jesus)

Elizabeth Shepherd (Honour)

Cast of two: Michelle Monteith and Steven McCarthy (Revisited)

WINNER: Alan Morgan (I Am My Own Wife)

musical production

Urinetown (Belfry)

Anything Goes (Chemainus)

Beauty and the Beast (VOS)

Canadian College of Performing Arts Showcase

WINNER: Urinetown (Belfry)

best new play

Grimm Tales (Itsazoo)

Prior Engagement (Out of the Box Productions)

Skydive (Real Wheels/Belfry)

WINNER: Grimm Tales (Itsazoo)

overall production (community)

Richard III (Phoenix UVic)

The Caretaker (Theatre Inconnu)

Macbeth (WHOs)

Beauty and the Beast (VOS)

Romeo and Juliet (Vic Shakespeare Soc.)

Grimm Tales (Itsazoo)

Waiting in the Wings (Langham)


Richard III (Phoenix UVic)

The Caretaker (Theatre Inconnu)

overall production (professional)

Urinetown (Belfry)


Bigger Than Jesus (Rick Miller)

Manon Lescaut (POV)

An Oak Tree (UK, News from Nowhere)

WINNER: Revisited (Christian Barry, Halifax 2b Theatre)

best fringe production

Giant Invisible Robot (Jayson MacDonald)

Jake’s Gift (Julia Mackey)

Versus vs Versus (Pajama Men)

Dishpig (TJ Dawe and Greg Landucci)

Singing at the Edge of the World (Randy Rutherford)

Pitch Blonde (Laura Harris)

WINNER: Pitch Blonde (Laura Harris)

lifetime achievement

Ned Vukovic (UVic)

thank god they were comps

A Bedroom Farce (Langham Court)

Cross This Bridge at a Walk (Belfry, Incubator))

Charlotte’s Web (Kaleidoscope)

Street of Crocodiles (UVic)

Honour (Belfry)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Photos: Top, Portrait of a Grotesque Old Woman by Quentin Matsys (c. 1525-1530), National Gallery, London. Middle, poster for IDOMENEO []. Bottom, Paul Terry as Margaret Maultasch []. Photo by Bruce Stotesbury.

Today's reviews are of Janet Munsil's THE UGLY DUCHESS at UVic's Phoenix Theatre and Pacific Opera's production of Mozart's IDOMENEO (EE-dom-en-AY-o).

Before we begin talking about these two shows, I believe you have some Victoria theatre news to share?

The Belfry has announced the appointment of new Artistic Director Michael Shamata. Shamata is a very well-known Canadian director who has worked from coast to coast and was Artistic Director of Theatre New Brunswick and London's Grand Theatre. In recent years he has been a freelance director and has staged award-winning productions in Toronto and Vancouver, among many others. He will be directing the musical OLIVER at Vancouver's Playhouse Theatre in November and his strengths as a musical theatre director may mean we'll see more musicals onstage at the Belfry. Whatever happens, the Belfry has selected a very experienced Artistic Director in Shamata, who will no doubt continue the theatre's enviable record of success.

Now let's move on to THE UGLY DUCHESS up at UVic. This one-man show has been performed locally, nationally and internationally, is that right?

This is the Phoenix's annual alumni production, featuring graduates of the theatre program. UGLY DUCHESS is written by local playwright Janet Munsil, performed by her husband Paul Terry and directed by Britt Small, alumni all. It was first performed in 1993 and has been seen in Victoria, San Francisco, Winnipeg, Toronto, Edmonton, Czechoslovakia and Ireland. Quite a resumé! The one-act play tells the partly-true and partly-imaginary story of princess Margaret of Bohemia, who briefly ruled the European nation of Tyrol in the 1300s. She lived through the Black Plague and was reputed to be a very homely woman, nicknamed 'Maultasch' or 'Pocket-mouth'. Paul Terry plays Margaret with incredible sensitivity such that you never doubt his authenticity as a woman...the fact that he is in drag never once becomes an issue, so truthful is his portrayal. She tells us her life story while slowly getting dressed at her dressing table, occasionally bringing to life other characters, but mostly directly addressing the audience. The play was inspired by a portrait Munsil saw in London's National Gallery called Portrait of a Grotesque Old Woman and is a remarkable dramatization of this historical figure, simply but effectively directed by Britt Small.

What did you think about this version, playing in a proscenium theatre as compared to all the Fringe venues it has appeared in previously?

The Bishop Theatre in the Phoenix building at UVic is a lovely 200-seat theatre, but lacks the intimacy of the much-smaller Fringe theatre spaces where this play has most often been seen. I first saw UGLY DUCHESS shortly after moving to Victoria in 1999 at Open Space, where the audience was only a few feet away from Margaret at her dressing table. This time, seated near the back of the theatre, I missed this close contact with the character and therefore felt a little more removed from her and her story. While the show looks fine, with nice costuming by Roberta Doylend and lighting by Phoenix student Nathan Brown, I still wanted to be more up-close and personal with this unique dramatic creation from the fertile mind of Janet Munsil.

Mozart's early opera, based on the Greek myth of the King of Crete and his adventures following the end of the Trojan war, premiered in 1781. What can you tell us about this Pacific Opera production?

Mozart was only 24 years old when this opera premiered in Munich and in it we can see and hear the roots of the great operas he would compose later in his career, including THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, COSI FAN TUTTE and DON GIOVANNI, produced by Pacific Opera just last season. While hampered by a less-than-stellar librettist in Giambattista Varesco, the opera contains beautiful music and strong characters and plot in the story of the King of Crete, Idomoneo, who accidentally condemns his son Idamante to death by sacrifice, and the two women who love the prince, Trojan princess Illia and Greek princess Elettra. All these roles are well-performed and acted, and I especially enjoyed the female love rivals Emmanuelle Coutu as Illia and Joslin Romphf as Elletra. Interestingly, prince Idamante was written for a castrato, and is often played by a mezzo-soprano, as in this production by Mia Lennox-Williams, who plays the role with boyish sincerity. So we have two cross-dressing shows in the same week! This version of IDOMENEO features a lovely set design by POV regular and UBC theatre professor Alison Green that features a barren Cretan shoreline that becomes other locations throughout with the use of backdrops that are flown in and out, to great effect. Costume designer Christine Reimer makes her POV debut and her costumes for the main characters are generally effective, although I thought her somewhat garish flamenco-dancer-looking dress and long Morticia Adams hair for the insanely jealous Elletra was a bit over the top. Lighting by another POV regular Robert Thomson is uniformly strong.

How did you feel about Ann Hodges' stage direction and Mario Bernardi's musical direction of the opera?

Ann Hodges is another first-timer at POV and a welcome one, with a lot of theatre and opera directing experience. She is particularly strong at creating a chorus that has something to do, rather than just troop on and off as is so often the case in opera. In this way, she succeeds in making the chorus an integral part of the opera, and her use of tableaux, slow motion, repetition and other dramatic actions all work very well. Renowned conductor Mario Bernardi is also debuting at the POV and it certainly is an honour to have him here in Victoria. The former conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra has a stellar international career and conducts IDOMONEO with great sensitivity and understanding. His curtain call on Saturday night upstaged everyone else onstage, demonstrating what a treat is is to have a conductor of his calibre working with Pacific Opera.

PLUG: THE UGLY DUCHESS continues at the Phoenix Theatre until October 20th. Tickets are available at 721-8000. IDOMONEO continues until the 20th as well. Tickets are available at 386-6121.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

COMPANY by Stephen Sondheim at the Arts Club

Photos: Left, poster for Arts Club production of COMPANY []; Right, Dean Jones [Bobby] and Elaine Stritch [Joanne] in the original Broadway COMPANY of 1970 []
Let's get this straight - Stephen Sondheim is a genius of the musical theatre. I grew up in the 80s to his musicals, a total re-education from the Andrew Lloyd Webbers and That's Entertainment clips of classic American musical movies I was weaned on. Sondheim is thinking person's musical theatre, at times almost raised to philosophical worth. After all, not many composers of musicals earn Pulitzer prizes, as Sondheim and his later collaborator James Lapine did for Sunday in the Park with George in 1987. Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is his 1979 masterwork, and is to open this Christmas in a film version by Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman. I have never seen Sweeney onstage, but treasure the original soundtrack LP I own, with Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury...fantastic from first to last note. So when Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre produces this early Sondheim, his first musical hit (he had been a lyricist for huge musicals like Gypsy and West Side Story, but this was his first composer/lyricist show), I am nothing if not there.
The Bill Millerd-directed production, for the most part, does not disappoint. Matt Palmer plays a strong Bobby, the 35 year old bachelor protagonist surrounded by his loving and meddling married friends, with solid acting and singing throughout. This is a role where he is hardly ever offstage, so is a big challenge. Palmer delivers, giving rousing renditions of songs like Marry Me a Little, I'm Ready and the show-closing Being Alive. Palmer is well-supported with a large cast populated by top Vancouver musical theatre talent. Standouts for me were many of the women, to whom Sondheim gives the choicest songs aside from Bobby's: Another Hundred People, I'm Not Getting Married Today and the vicious Ladies Who Lunch were all sung with gusto and panache by their respective performers. Orchestrations were tight; the set recalled the Hal Prince original production evoking a stark urban space, with set pieces defining locations moving smoothly on and off as needed. Costumes were a bit monochromatically black for me, but livened up in Act Two. Choreography was the weak spot in the production and was serviceable at best; at worst, a solo dance sequence that is best forgotten.
That said, Company remains a powerful forerunner to the masterpieces that were to come, and I delighted in hearing echoes of melody lines that will develop into Sondheim's signature sound. There are Sondheim songs I can barely listen to, so much do they kick me in the emotional gut, and now I have Being Alive to add to that list (including Nothing's Gonna Harm You and Pretty Women from Sweeney, Move On from Sunday, Not Alone and Children Will Listen from Into the Woods, Loving You from Passion). Sondheim's stories and characters can go to dark emotional places, and there is a powerful kind of satisfaction/comfort you can get from art that pushes you and pleases you in the beautiful musical/lyrical tension that marks his work. Check out the soundtrack for the Broadway remount show, directed by John Doyle, in 2006, with a terrific performance by Raul Esparza as Bobby.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Photo: Poster of New Vic Theatre production, 2006 []

1. I believe this play is an adaptation of a novel...what can you tell us about its history?

This 1968 play is based on the 1961 novel by Muriel Spark, that was first published in the New Yorker. It was made into a movie starring Dame Maggie Smith in 1969. Spark based her portrayal of the eccentric, unforgettable, charismatic yet misguided Scottish private girls' schoolteacher on a teacher she had herself while growing up in 1930s Edinburgh. She described the impact of this teacher in this way: “What filled our minds with wonder and made [her] so memorable was the personal drama and poetry within which everything in her classroom happened” and certainly this is the Jean Brodie she creates in the novel, and in Jay Presson Allen's adaptation for the stage: Jean Brodie is devoted to her small group of selected young girls and her mission to make them “La crème de la creme”, to shape their very destinies. What eventually happens involves scandal, betrayal and disaster as Brodie becomes attracted to fascism and meddles in her students' lives in a way that we would now consider to be emotionally abusive and is clearly destructive, even with the best of intentions.

2. Most of us have seen Maggie Smith's Oscar-winning performance as Jean Brodie in the 1969 does this production's Jean Brodie compare to that well-known portrayal?

Director Wendy Merk has cast Lorene Cammiade (who has appeared in a number of previous Langham Court productions) in this hugely challenging role. I felt that Cammiade's performance was somewhat mixed, faring better in some scenes than others. She manages to capture Brodie's severity and single-mindedness quite well, and her ability to control and manipulate everything and everyone around her. But in Act Two, when everything starts to collapse, Cammiade keeps her stiff upper lip in place to the bitter end, and I wish she was able to show more of Brodie's vulnerability and the toll of the multiple betrayals that befall her. Also, Brodie is meant to be a scandalous free-thinker around premarital sex who has affairs with her teacher colleagues; unfortunately, this Jean Brodie felt very prim and proper to me, and I found it hard to believe that her sexuality drove some of her less-than-wise decisions. This is a Jean Brodie who is more Mary Poppins, I'm afraid, than the Cleopatra whom the character so admires.

3. What about the supporting do they do?

Another big challenge in this play are the many roles taken on by young girls, especially the key role of Sandy, Jean Brodie's ultimate betrayer and the narrator of the story. Here we have some nice performances from a group of young actors who play their roles with great conviction. However, I have to hope their performances soften a bit over the run, as I felt all of them tending toward overacting and pushing their emotions a bit too much. The whole cast is a bit guilty of face-front acting, where conversations are played facing out to the audience a bit too much, and I hope they can find their way into a more natural and connected place in the next two weeks. The male roles fare somewhat better in the show, with a nice performance especially from Christopher Harris as art teacher and Brodie's married lover, Teddy Lloyd. I also enjoyed Pippa Catling's portrayal of the head teacher and Brodie's antagonist Miss McKay, although I think there could be more fire between the two than is currently the case.

4. Langham Court often offers lovely set designs...what about this time?

Unfortunately, the set design by Tony Hubner was a bit of a disappointment. We are shown bare grey walls and an almost empty stage, save for the school desks on one side. This means there is a lot of trooping furniture on and off stage during blackouts between scenes, and this drags the pace of the show down quite a bit. For instance, the headmistress' desk was brought on and off a total of four times by my count; surely, Jean Brodie's desk on the other side of the stage could serve double-duty as Miss McKay's...audiences are quite capable of making this switch. Overall, the production would pick up pace with a lot more of beginning one scene immediately following another, even if we have to see actors and furniture moving on or off stage. In my view, this approach always beats looking at a dark stage and waiting for the lights to come up over and over again.

5. Any final thoughts about this play?

This play deserves its popularity in its portrayal of a dedicated yet deluded protagonist. As an educator myself, it is a cautionary tale about the powerful influences, both positive and negative, that teachers can have on their students. Also, given the dangers of fundamentalist thinking that continue to plague us today, Jean Brodie's attraction to fascism and its tragic consequences in the death of a student who tries to go to Spain and fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War, are an uncomfortable reminder of the dangers in the viral spread of oppressive ideals. The play shows us the prime of Miss Jean Brodie and her fall from that self-defined prime that leaves her jobless and alone. A cautionary tale about self-delusions indeed.