The Sound of Music: decorative Nazis, delirious music

The Arts Club is presenting The Sound of Music at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre

Houston, we have lift-off!
Maria (Synthia Yusuf) and the von Trapp children sing “Do-Re-Mi”.
(Photo by Emily Cooper)

Going into the Arts Club’s production of The Sound of Music I could hardly have been more resistant. I doubt you could find a more conventional, less adventuresome Christmas show. And the politics of The Sound of Music are weird: it tells the story of the Nazi invasion of Austria — without so much as an oblique reference to the persecution of Jews or any of the other groups the Nazis were rounding up and terrorizing at the time. The Sound of Music examines the Anschluss from the point of view of the Baron von Trapp, a nobleman of extraordinary inherited wealth who seems to object to the Nazi presence primarily on the basis of territoriality — and the Nazis’ rudeness.

So, you know, I was grumpy.

But I’ll be damned if director Ashlie Corcoran’s production didn’t win me over. [Read more…]

The Matchmaker: when it all lines up, it’s fantastic

In The Matchmaker, Nicola Lipman’s wig sets the tone for the evening. (Photo of Lipman and Ric Reid by David Cooper)

I went from thinking, “This is going to be a very long night,” to laughing uncontrollably. That is an excellent trajectory. [Read more…]

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Send your regrets.

The Arts Club Theatre is producing Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

In Christmas at Pemberley, you see this moment coming from miles away. Leagues. Light years. (Photo of Kate Dion-Richard and Matthew MacDonald-Bain by David Cooper)

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is going to do very well at the box office—but not because it’s good.

Co-written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, the play is a sequel to Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. With her husband, the dashing Darcy, Lizzy now presides over a grand estate called Pemberley. But the script focuses on Mary, the middle of the five Bennet sisters. As the siblings—minus Kitty, who is written out—gather for Christmas at Pemberley, the bookish Mary moans, “I shall never find a husband!”, so we know immediately that she will. And, when Darcy mentions that his cousin Arthur has just come into a huge inheritance, it’s clear exactly who her groom will be. (In stories like this, money is always a central player.)

The predictability is relentless. Mary has been going on about how she lives in her mind and how she loves to take imaginary journeys through the atlas. When Arthur finally arrives, he goes straight for that book of maps. “Much like you,” he tells Mary, “I travel on paper and in ink.”

Then the play tries to pretend that their marriage isn’t inevitable. [Read more…]

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: curiously, it both works and doesn’t work

The Arts Club Theatre is producing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Daniel Doheny’s thorough performance centres The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Because its heart is simple but pure, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is both boring and moving.

Based on Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel, Simon Stephens’s play follows Christopher, a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, as he tries to figure out who killed Wellington, his neighbour’s standard poodle, with a pitchfork. Christopher’s dad, Ed, who is raising his son on his own, tries to discourage him, but Christopher persists and his sleuthing leads him to taking a solo journey by train from Swindon to London, which is a heroic quest for somebody so prone to sensory overload.

The relationship between Ed and Christopher is complicated. Ed loves his challenging boy furiously—sometimes too furiously: at one point, he smacks him in the face. And there are other transgressions. The scene in which Ed begs Christopher to trust him again is heartbreaking. Much of the rest of the story is disappointingly straightforward, however; you can see its conclusions coming from light years away. [Read more…]

Mamma Mia! is LOUD (with good bits)

In Mamma Mia! the groom and his friends perform a can-can while wearing swimming flippers.

The swim-flipper can-can these dudes do is one of the highlights of Mamma Mia! (Photo by Davi Cooper)

This production of Mamma Mia! is selling the show so hard you’d think it was the last used car on the lot.

Mamma Mia! is a ridiculous—but extremely amiable—jukebox musical. Catherine Johnson, who wrote the book, has strung a bunch of hit songs by ABBA into an unlikely story. A young woman named Sophie lives on a Greek island with her mom, an ex-pat American named Donna, who runs a taverna. Sophie’s getting married and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle, but she doesn’t know who her dad is, so she invites to her wedding the three most likely suspects: Harry, Bill, and Sam, who all had sex with Donna at about the time of Sophie’s conception. Sophie figures she’ll know her dad when she sees him. She doesn’t.

The ABBA songs never quite fit the storyline, but, if the musical is treated with a light hand—as a lark—nobody really cares. It’s just fun—like a bunch of kids putting on a show in their backyard, but with a large budget. Under Valerie Easton’s direction, however, the first act of this Arts Club production comes out punching. It’s loud. A lot of the acting is broad. And Easton and her players lard scenes with so much comic business that they groan under the weight. [Read more…]

Me and You is charming, gorgeous, and a little wobbly

Playing Liz, Patti Allan embraces her younger sister, Lou (Lois Anderson) in Melody Anderson's Me and You.

Patti Allan’s Liz protects Lois Anderson’s Lou in Me and You—or is that a stranglehold? (Photo by David Cooper)

Melody Anderson’s new play Me and You is sweetly soulful. And it could be better built.

In Me and You, Anderson logs exemplary moments in the lifelong relationship between sisters Liz and Lou. The first time we see them, Liz, who is four years older, is outraged when she realizes that Lou has coloured the elephant in one of their picture books blue. “Mom!” And that sets the dynamic: Liz is literal, controlling, and scientific, and Lou is a free-spirited artist. They also love one another. [Read more…]

Misery: more like a bad cold

Playing Annie, Lucia Frangione attacks Andrew McNee's Paul with a sledgehammer in Misery.

Despite internally consistent performances from Andrew McNee and Lucia Frangione, the Arts Club’s production of Misery fails to hit home(Photo by David Cooper)

The Arts Club’s production of Misery is a journey straight to heck and back.

It’s not scary, which is a flaw in a thriller.

William Goldman, who wrote the play, also penned the screenplay for the1990 movie. Both are based on a book by Stephen King. In the story, a romance novelist named Paul Sheldon has just finished a more artistically ambitious—possibly pretentious—manuscript, when his car careens off the side of a mountain during a Colorado snowstorm. Suffering a dislocated shoulder and severely broken legs, he is rescued by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, who takes him back to her house in the woods, tends to his injuries, and declares herself his number-one fan.

Annie promises to get Paul to a hospital the moment the roads clear, but it soon becomes apparent that she’s obsessed and she plans to keep him captive. When Annie discovers that Paul has killed off her favourite character, she becomes enraged—and psychotically sadistic. A whole lot of the “entertainment” in Misery derives from the suffering that she inflicts on Paul. [Read more…]

Forget About Tomorrow: Get to the point

Tom (Craig Erickson) sings a song of love—on video—in Forget About Tomorrow. (Photo by David Cooper)

When I was returning to my seat after intermission, I had virtually no interest in what was going to happen next. That’s not a good sign.

In Forget About Tomorrow, playwright Jill Daum tells the story of Jane, whose husband Tom develops early-onset Alzheimer’s. The main problem with the play is that most of Act 1 is redundant. Virtually everyone entering the theatre will know that the script is about Alzheimer’s disease, but, for almost its entire length, the first act avoids the inevitable central drama. [Read more…]

Fun Home: talent galore—and lesbians centre stage

The Arts Club is producing Fun Home, the musical.

Alison times three: Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Jamie MacLean, and Kelli Ogmundson play the same character at different ages in Fun Home. (Photo by David Cooper)

It’s subtle, which is great. It’s queer, which is welcome. It’s also narratively unsurprising. But it’s still the best show in town.

The musical Fun Home is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. In both, Bechdel, who is lesbian, struggles to understand her relationship with her gay father Bruce, who committed suicide.

The musical is a memory play and, as in memory, several realities coexist. Alison is 43, the same age her dad was when he killed himself. She watches ten-year-old Small Alison as Bruce bullies her into being more girly and wearing her barrette. And she stands guard over Medium Alison as she goes away to college, comes out, and falls in love with a woman named Joan. [Read more…]

Jitters begs the question, “Why bother?”

The Arts Club is presenting Jitters, by David French, at the Stanley Theatre.

Robert Moloney (Patrick) and Megan Leitch (Jessica) have a wig-off in Jitters. (Photo by David Cooper)

There are a whole lot of skilled artists at work here and there are a couple of good laughs in the script. Mostly, though, David French’s Jitters is a waste of precious theatre time.

Jitters is a backstage comedy, a show about putting on a show. In it, a Toronto company rehearses a new script called The Care and Treatment of Roses, goes through opening night, and deals with the aftermath of reviews.

In the play proper, Jessica Logan is a Canadian actor who has had some success on Broadway. She wants to get back to the Great White Way and, based on her presence in The Care and Treatment of Roses, a Broadway producer has been enticed to attend the premiere. All of this terrifies Jessica’s co-star Patrick Flanagan, who fears that, if the show does go to New York, he will be exposed as the minor talent he thinks he is. Of course, because they are at one another’s throats in real life, Jessica and Patrick play lovers in the play they’re rehearsing.  [Read more…]

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!