The Lion, the Witch, the Wardrobe—and some very good acting

Pacific Theatre is presenting Ron Reed's adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at Pacific Theatre.

John Both and Rebecca DeBoer in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lighting by John Webber. (Photo by Ron Reed)

When you watch an actor transform from one character to another, it’s like watching an excellent magic trick. It’s alchemical: they were one thing and now they’re another. And there are many such transformations in Pacific Theatre’s skilled, innocent production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. [Read more…]

The Wolves: they shoot, they score, they stupefy

This is a guest review by David Johnston *

The Wolves by Sara DeLappe is currently playing at Pacific Theatre.

The Wolves cluster in a densely-concentrated ball of soccer skills and acting talent. (Photo by Ron Reed)

It begins by throwing the audience to the wolves.

We are thrust unceremoniously into a gaggle of chattering teenage girls in identical soccer jerseys. They’re stretching for a match, but that’s only discernable from context clues, as is everything in Pacific Theatre’s clever production.

They don’t get names — just jersey numbers. And the girls never line up and introduce themselves. This is extreme show-don’t-tell storytelling, full of cross-talk and freewheeling banter on everything from high school dating to the political situation in Cambodia.

It’s disorienting to newcomers. We know this because one of the girls is a newcomer, thus creating the first discernible group dynamic. At the outset, #46 (Paige Louter) becomes a quasi-protagonist as the others literally revolve around her. (This also gives Louter a chance to conduct a clinic in physical comedy with her silent attempts to follow the stretches.)

But gradually, as the pregame practices wear on, #46 — and, by extension, the audience — gets to know the team, and our initial conceptions about the squad members are challenged repeatedly. The Wolves demands that we become hyper-keen detectives: picking up on subtle costume differences, scanning for micro-expressions that are rarely spotlit. [Read more…]

Kim’s Convenience: shop here

Lee Shorten and James Yi are in Kim's Convenience at Pacific Theatre.

Director Kaitlin Williams’s blocking helps to make the relationships in Kim’s Convenience resonant. (Photo by Jalen Saip)

Ah, the appeal of an almost-racist joke! In Kim’s Convenience, the play that spawned the TV series, writer Ins Choi finds the sweet spot as he tickles the edges of transgression.

Appa (Dad) and Umma (Mom) run a convenience store in Regent’s Park, Toronto. Appa regards the store as his legacy and he wants his 30-year-old daughter Janet to take it over when he retires, but Janet considers herself a photographer. Appa hit Janet’s bother Jung so hard when he was 16 that Jung was hospitalized for several days. He left home and hasn’t spoken to Appa since, although he still sneaks conversations with Umma at their church. [Read more…]

Tolkien: less than mythic

Tolkien explores the friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Ian Farthing plays C.S. Lewis in Ron Reed’s new script, Tolkien.

Tolkien feels like academic Christian fanfiction. If that’s your thing, by all means go for it—all three acts and almost three hours of it.

In his new script, playwright Ron Reed explores the friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings) and C.S. Lewis (the Narnia fantasies).

Tolkien starts off promisingly. When they meet, both men are lonely. Lewis is a new faculty member at Oxford, where Tolkien is teaching linguistics, and Tolkien is still grieving the loss of his comrades in WWI several years earlier. As Reid frames it, Tolkien is known on the campus as an eccentric and a bore but, when Tolkien recites a portion of Beowulfto Lewis in the original Icelandic, Lewis is smitten. The men discover in one another a common passion for heroic myths and for the numinous beauty with which those tales tremble. The shared excitement and vulnerability of the two men are touching.

But Reed seems to have fallen in love with his research so, rather than going deeply into one aspect of their relationship, his play ranges widely—while maintaining a kind of journalistic neutrality—and never fully satisfies. [Read more…]

In Bar Mitzvah Boy, faith sneaks up on you

Playing Rabbi Michael, actor Gina Chiarelli stands at a synagogue lecturn in Mar Mitzvah Boy.

Playing Rabbi Michael, Gina Chiarelli radiates faith in Bar Mitzvah Boy—some of the time. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Emotionally, Bar Mitzvah Boy is a sweetly stealthy play.

It takes a while for the script to find its feet. In the set-up, we find out that Joey, a successful divorce lawyer, wants to be bar mitzvahed before his grandson is. Somehow, Joey missed out on the ceremony when he was a youth. When the female rabbi, Michael, refuses to let Joey buy himself a quickie ritual, he insists on private classes with her and, for some reason—perhaps because she senses that there is something unspoken at stake—she agrees. [Read more…]

An Almost Holy Picture should come with trigger warnings about bad parenting

Pacific Theatre is presenting An Almost Holy Picture.

Actor David Snider brings simplicity to An Almost Holy Picture. The script doesn’t always return the favour.

In An Almost Holy Picture, Samuel Gentle delivers a monologue about his relationship with his daughter Ariel. Samuel is such a bad parent that I wanted to stab him. To make matters worse, he is a bad parent in a very obvious way. The moral of the story and the action that Samuel needs to take were painfully clear to me soon after the intermission—but it took Samuel another long, meandering, homespun act to catch up. It’s not a good idea to let your audience get that far ahead of you. [Read more…]

Almost, Maine is almost enough

Pacific Theatre is producing John Cariani's Almost, Maine

Kim Larson and Peter Carlone in the visually stylish world of Almost, Maine

Almost, Maine is like the world’s best greeting card: it’s very, very clever, charming, and thin.

In the nine scenes of John Cariani’s script, we meet as many sets of lovers, would-be lovers, and former lovers. Aside from the couple who appear in the framing device, none of the characters show up more than once, so each of the scenes is a self-contained story.

In an ongoing joke—and it’s a good one—the script literalizes the language of love. A woman whose heart is broken carries the pieces around in a paper bag. And, in a truly hilarious sequence, when two characters fall in love, they stagger, stumble, and keel over. [Read more…]

The Christians: for an atheist, whether or not hell exists is not a burning question

Pacific Theatre is presenting The Christians.

Playwright Lucas Heath has excellent hair, and, in The Christians, quirky theatrical instincts.

The Christians: if you’re not Christian, what’s in this play for you? Not a lot in terms of moral complexity. But a fair bit in terms of theatricality.

In Lucas Hnath’s script, Pastor Paul is the leader of a gigantic evangelical congregation: his church has thousands of seats and “a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool.” But, delivering a sermon near the top of the play, he drops a theological bomb on his flock: “We are no longer a congregation that believes in hell.” [Read more…]

Outside Mullingar is food for the soul

Pacific Theatre produced John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar

Rebecca DeBoer plays an assertive woman and John Emmet Tracy a tender man in Outside Mullingar.

Watching playwright John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar opens your heart and makes you giddy. The experience is kind of like falling in love. It’s as if you can smell the spring leaves more keenly on your way home from the theatre. You’re more hopeful and awake. And you want to kiss somebody.

In the story, we meet 42-year-old Anthony and his harsh, widowed father, Tony. They’re farmers. They live next door to Aoife Muldoon and her daughter Rose, and they’ve just returned to their kitchen after the funeral of Aoife’s husband, Chris: in this romantic comedy, death’s shadow is never far from the door, reminding the characters—and us—to get on with it. [Read more…]

Holy Mo! There might actually be a point here

Holy Mo! A Christmas show is playing at Pacific Theatre

Playwright Lucia Frangione burdens Holy Mo! A Christmas Show with references that mean much more to her than they do to me

I wrote a whole other version of this review before I realized that Holy Mo! A Christmas Show actually has a point. I suspect that’s because playwright Lucia Frangione is speaking an almost private language.

In her new script, Frangione retells the story of the birth of Christ using clown characters. The playwright herself plays Follie, the leader of a little troupe that also includes the depressive Guff, and Buffoona, an innocent who really wants to believe in Santa. [Read more…]

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