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…]

“A Good Way Out” is a good start

 

Evelyn Chew plays biker chick to Carl Kennedy's gang guy in "A Good Way Out"

Evelyn Chew plays biker chick to Carl Kennedy’s gang guy in “A Good Way Out”

Emerging playwright Cara Norrish has done a find job of crafting some of the basics in A Good Way Out, but there’s not enough there yet. It’s like she’s got the frame up, but there’s no cladding.

In A Good Way Out, Joey is ensnared in gang life. Although kingpin Larry talks a good line about the gang “family”, he exploits Joey, who works as a motorcycle mechanic in a gang-controlled shop: Larry refuses to pay Joey for work done, then threatens to evict him for not coming up with the rent.

Norrish establishes some potentially interesting relationships. Joey’s girlfriend Carla, a stripper turned healthcare worker, challenges Larry, for instance, even though she’s half his size in this production. And Joey butts heads with his sister Lynette after she honestly answers questions about his kids, questions posed by the folks from Child Protection Services.

But the play’s trajectory is entirely predictable and the characters have little depth; everything they say is on the nose. When Carla challenges Larry, for example, he spits out a tidy speech about the terrors he suffered as a child. Apparently aware of how obvious this is, the playwright has Carla joke about being Larry’s psychiatrist.

Still, there are a couple of darkly funny exchanges. When Joey challenges Sean for visiting Lynette, he says, “Are you trying to get my kids taken away?” Sean replies, “She’s got a hot tub.”

And, under Anthony F. Ingram’s direction, the performances in this production are strong. It’s a particular pleasure to watch Carl Kennedy (Joey) playing scenes with Corina Akeson (Lynette); both are such honest, responsive actors. And, in his scenes with Carla (the very able Evelyn Chew), Kennedy turns on the sexy like he’s turning on a tap. One oddity: although Joey and Lynette are brother and sister, Joey speaks with an American accent while Lynette’s speech is standard-issue Canadian.

A consummate pro, Andrew Wheeler wrings every drop of potential menace out of Larry.

Pacific Theatre, which is producing A Good Way Out, is a Christian company, so presenting this script, which includes a fair bit of profane language as well as overt—sometimes degrading—sexuality is a bold move. And good for PT for developing new plays.

I also applaud the compassion that’s at the base of this project. In its present form, the play is so direct that it looks naïve; real life is less predictable, and real people more complicated. As Norrish grows as a playwright, it might be important for her to loosen her control and to allow her characters and situations to lead her into a more complicated story and more surprising revelations.

A GOOD WAY OUT By Cara Norrish. Directed by Anthony F. Ingram. A Pacific Theatre production at Pacific Theatre on Friday, September 23. Continues until October 15.