Oz: Not so wonderful or wizardly

publicity photo for Oz, Carousel Theatre

Megan Zong and Stephen Thakkar (Photo by Sarah Race)

“Is it going to be over soon?” is not what you want to hear when you take a kid to the theatre, but that’s what my partner was getting from his eight-year-old grandson during this production of Oz. I don’t blame the boy. I was wondering the same thing.

Patrick Shanahan’s script is basically an excuse to do a three-person version of the best-known Wizard of Oz story. L. Frank Baum, who wrote the series, is struggling with his manuscript for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when a sooty urchin named Dot breaks into his study. Soon, Dot, Baum, and Baum’s housekeeper Bridgey are acting out the incomplete novel, filling in its holes and inventing an ending.

But why? In the press release for this production, director Jennica Grienke says, Oz transports us to a new place – not just a magical land with witches and wizards and talking scarecrows, but to a place of endless possibility – our own imaginations.” 

Well … sometimes it does. To tell their story, the narrators must use found objects in Baum’s study, so a mop (predictably) becomes the Cowardly Lion’s mane, and, more engagingly, flapping umbrellas turn into flying monkeys and the gramophone’s horn supplies the Wicked Witch of the West with a fantastical hat.

But the talkiness of Shanahan’s script defeats it. The framing story about Dot is laboured and its resolution unsatisfying. And there’s way too much description. I was interested in the Tin Man’s backstory from the vantage point of literary study, for instance, but theatrically it slowed things right down.

Of the three players, Megan Zong is the standout as Dot. She’s got energy, focus, emotional vulnerability, and a nice sense of period tough-kid style. Playing Baum, Stephen Thakkar could use some of that energy and focus. When he’s playing Baum, his work is lacklustre but, as he moves into more outrageous characters, notably the Guardian of the Gate in the Emerald City, he starts to have fun. Playing Bridgey, Melanie Yeats sometimes makes such a meal of her lines that she slackens the pace but, when she gets in a groove — as the Wicked Witch, for instance — she’s a pleasure to watch.

The bottom line, though, is that Oz is a programming mistake. It’s advertised as being for all ages but, if you’re little and you don’t know the story, it won’t make any sense. And, if you’re older and familiar with other versions, you’ll know they’re better.

OZ by Patrick Shanahan. Directed by Jennica Grienke. Coproduced by Carousel Theatre for Young People and Kaleidoscope Theatre. At the Waterfront Theatre on Saturday, March 11. Running at the Waterfront until March 26, with a described performance for the blind and those with low vision on March 18 at 2 p.m. and an ASL-interpreted performance on March 26 at 2 p.m. Here’s where to get tickets for the Vancouver run. This production will then run at Victoria’s Langham Court Theatre from March 30 to April 9. Here’s where to get tickets for the Victoria run.

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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