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Don Giovanni

It’s hard not to draw parallels between Don Giovanni and real life on a day when an(other) alleged serial sex offender is named to the United States Supreme Court. Then again, it would have been hard not to draw parallels at any time in the last several years since #MeToo became part of the vernacular, or at any time in the last three-hundred-odd years since the opera was first performed.

To that end, Little London Community Opera has updated the setting to a modern-day legal firm, with Giovanni a sloppy, pill-popping stain of a human …

Prom Queen

Students Show the Pros How It’s Done with a Near-Flawless Prom Queen

Prom Queen: The Musical, presented by The Grand Theatre’s High School Project, is a near-impossible production to review. Due to last year’s controversy, where the local public and Catholic school boards pulled funding, then [the former –ed.] acquiesced to public outcry—outcry accompanied by a significant crowd-funding effort—Prom Queen became more than a production.

It became a movement.

How do you review a movement? And, I’ll be honest, my concern since Prom Queen was announced as a go was how do the students ever live up to the expectations set by a show that became so much more?

Fortunately, talent reigned …

Within the Glass

As Within the Glass opens, Darah and Michael have a problem. Linda and Scott do too, although one of them doesn’t know it yet. A simple mistake has made all of their lives… interesting, as the (apocryphally Chinese) curse goes.

[Disclaimer: The reviewer was involved with Troubadour Theatre’s first two productions; this is their third.]

Anna Chatterton’s play presents two very opposite yet very similar couples. Darah (Niki Landau) and Michael (Jeff Culbert) are quite well off financially—she’s a project manager at a Digital Extremes/Big Blue Bubble/Tiny Titan-style game developer, he’s a banker—but childless. Linda (Francesca Ranalli) and Scott (Tyler Lionel Parr) are both successful artists with a child of their own, but there’s some …

dogfight

Dogfight

Youthful Talent, Exuberance Save a Play That is Showing its Age

There’s a lot to like about Dogfight – not the least of which are its two dynamic leads, a well-performed soundtrack complemented by a live stage band, and some clever and subtle interplay between secondary characters. And these positives more than make up for some fundamental challenges with a play that’s showing signs of age, especially thematically.

We’ll get the fraying elephant out of the room. Dogfight is a story that’s more than had its day, especially in a modern environment that embraces sexual and gender equality. Women are objects and possessions in Dogfight. The nature of the titular “game” is based on …

Point of Honour

While Point is Not Razor Sharp, it is Certainly Not Dull

Point of Honour holds itself to lofty ideals, reuniting two long-time fencing rivals to face off again—this time, not on the world’s greatest athletic stage, but rather a living room in a Slovenian apartment—in a struggle over honour, or at least its perception and definition. And while it doesn’t reach the razor-sharp levels of dialogue to which it aspires, it creates a piece of art that is akin to a silver-medal performance—slightly off the mark, but still entertaining to watch.

This production strives to explore the relationship that man has to a world without a defined set of rules. It’s a world where concepts of honour and the structures of religion are fluid and, for …

Penguin Blues

Bad Habits, Superlative Performances

Sometimes an aborted “Stella!!!!” can result in something stellar. That’s the case with Penguin Blues, a production that lets its two-person cast shine in a moving presentation of addiction, denial, hope, and despair—all packed tightly into a 40-minute play.

Phil Cal, who plays Gordon, and Sherine Thomas-Holder, in the role of Sister Angelita, previously worked on a production of A Streetcar Named Desire with Speagle and Rivet. (That production was never mounted.) However, Speagle felt that the quality of the actors and their natural chemistry deserved to see the light of day.

And that’s where this production of Penguin Blues was born.

Cal and Thomas-Holder play off each other extremely well and you can see there’s a genuine affection …

Chariots of Fire

A Gold-Medal Effort on an Olympic-Sized Production that Ends in a Podium Finish

Chariots of Fire is production at an Olympian level. It may be a play about gold medals, but it’s one that feels like it’s reaching for a brass ring. And while it may not be a record-setting performance, it is one that crosses the finish line with its arms upraised in victory.

In many ways, this season at The Grand Theatre feels like it has been building up to this production. This year has been about bigger, bolder, and louder. Each show has seen efforts to increase interactivity and present content in a new way.

And Chariots of Fire brings …

The Glass Menagerie

A Menagerie of Performances Combining to an Ultimately Satisfying Whole

The term menagerie has two meanings. For the purposes of Tennessee Williams’ play, the conventional interpretation of a collection of captive animals is the intent of the term. However, there’s an alternative meaning where menagerie can be used to describe a strange or diverse collection of people or things. And that’s the definition that best sums up the Grand Theatre’s production of The Glass Menagerie—a collection of divergent performances and experiences, which manage to coalesce, thanks to an outstanding second act, into an ultimately satisfying performance.

From two pairings of actors interacting in two vastly different styles, to one actor having two styles of delivery based on his role (with one being …

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Largely Splendid Performance with the Intensity of a Thousand Suns

It’s fitting that a story focusing on the resiliency of women in the face of what is, for us Westerners, unfathomable and inhumane living conditions, is carried by its two female leads. And though some of its other representations don’t measure up to the standard set by Mirian Katrib and Deena Aziz, A Thousand Splendid Suns is an often-intense production that does the topic justice.

The play largely takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan, during a particularly tumultuous time in that country’s history. It opens during the post-Soviet invasion in-fighting by the Mujahideen and continues through the advent of …

Black Water

As the black water filled her lungs…

The events that occurred on July 18, 1969, on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, may no longer be common knowledge to those of a couple of recent generations. Even for those slightly older, the details may be murky—appropriately, perhaps, as many thought them questionable at the time. For some, the fictional story of Kelly Kelleher’s drowning death after a Fourth of July party may bring to mind another celebrity-involved death that’s returned to recent news, Natalie Wood’s death off of Santa Catalina Island in November, 1981. For most, it will generate a faint echo of incidents that have happened to friends, relatives, or in their own lives, particularly in and around the Great Lakes.

The …

Next to Normal

Next to Normal is the fourth production from London’s year-and-a-bit-old Calithumpian Theatre Company. It’s a rock musical that focuses on a person with a mental illness, as well as (per Wikipedia) “address[ing] the issues of grief, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry and the underbelly of suburban life.”

I qualify the additional aspects because for the most part, while they’re included, they’re hardly addressed. Which is fine—a play should be about what it’s about—but they’re little more than colour.1 The piece is about Diana and her “invisible girl” Natalie, who may or may not be following her distant mother’s inadvertent and unwitting example. (Some parallels to Carrie Fisher’s later life …

Blind Date

By Rebecca Northan
A Spontaneous Theatre Production
Starring Rebecca Northan, Kristian Reimer, and David Benjamin Tomlinson, and a new “co-star” each show
Spriet Stage, The Grand Theatre
February 13–March 3, 2018

Spontaneous Theatre that is Structured to Allow Magic to Happen

I’ll admit it. My experience with improvisational theatre and comedy has not been a good one over the years. Companies doing short scenes that may elicit a chuckle, at best, or seem forced, at worst—that has been my frame of reference. But to watch Rebecca Northan on stage in the Grand Theatre’s current production of Blind Date is to watch a master of the craft who shows you that while improv can be bad, when it’s good—and performed by supremely talented artists—it can be magical.

The overall concept of Blind Date is Northan as Mimi, a French woman from …

What A Young Wife Ought to Know

A Challenging Production that You Ought to See

What a Young Wife Ought to Know is based, in part, on letters sent to 1920s-era British birth control advocate Dr. Marie Stopes. But to call it a play about birth control is almost trivial. In truth, it’s a play about the unimaginable decisions and the resultant soul-crushing burdens that some women had to bear all in the name of persevering—and, in some cases, preventing the expansion of—the family unit.

The play may be set in Ottawa during the Roaring Twenties, but for the characters that roar is not one of prosperity, but rather the cacophony of internal strife and conflict between what a family is expected to be and what the reality of poverty …

Silence: Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell

The Sound of a Good, but Not Great, Story of an Overshadowed Mabel Bell

The sound of Silence, written by Trina Davies, is that of an underrepresented woman from history finally having her story heard. It’s an ambitious story whose reach often exceeds its grasp in terms of use of storytelling elements, pacing, and melodrama, but is ultimately entertains as it informs.

Silence tells the tale of Mabel Gardiner Bell (née Hubbard), who first encounters Alexander Graham Bell as a 17-year-old girl, when her parents bring her to Bell to assist her with her speech patterns. Mabel is deaf thanks to a bout of scarlet fever, and Bell is continuing his father’s work in visible speech pathology.
At its heart, Silence is a love story, examining the …

My Name Is Spaceman

Oh, my stars: My Name Is Spaceman explores the depths of a family in crisis

Most of us have been touched, in one way or another, by cancer.

It’s one of the universe’s cruellest ironies that, despite this fact, the experience of it is a very solitary pain. Intellectually we know we’re not alone, yet we feel as if no one could ever know what we’re going through. Like we’re the only soul in the universe to come face-to-face against such suffering.

That deep, abiding fear is very much like being lost in space—vast nothingness and endless black that makes us feel insignificant.

Playwright and director Erin J. Walker has harnessed that parallel in a most creative way in the new Tinkerspace Theatre production of My Name

A Christmas Carol

A Gifted Retelling of a Holiday Classic

Originally published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a holiday classic, shared and enjoyed by generations of readers, theatregoers, radio listeners, and movie attendees. It’s a story that is so familiar that the greatest responsibility of one mounting the story is to not screw it up.

With The Grand’s production of the Dickens classic, artistic director Dennis Garnhum, in his inaugural production on the Spriet Stage, not only doesn’t “screw it up,” but he adds enough elements of creativity to make this a fresh interpretation of the story — and one that will be thoroughly enjoyed by a modern audience.

A Christmas Carol is not a story that lends itself to subtlety or explorations …

Red

A few years ago I talked to John Gerry about a play I was planning to produce, and he asked me two pertinent questions: “Why this play, and why now?” In his director’s note for Red, he answers the former with a personal story of a trip to New York City with his artist father, who introduced the then-seven-year-old to Mark Rothko.

Which leaves the question of “Why now?” From a purely pragmatic point of view, it’s obvious: John Logan’s play was only written in 2009, and Calithumpian Theatre has only been around for about a year. (It’s interesting to note that Gerry’s previous company, Fountainhead Theatreworks, produced Yasmina Reza’s Art, which focused on a single colour field painting, just after Red opened—and closed—on Broadway.) It’s also enough time …

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

For their anniversary production, Passionfool artistic directors Eva Blahut and Justin Quesnelle have revisited A Midsummer Night’s Dream, their debut show a decade ago, and rebuilt it in a form that pulls from their ten-year catalogue of unique presentations. It’s not entirely successful, but it’s still more than worthy of the Passionfool banner. [Note: this review is based on Thursday’s preview performance.]

Dream is among the most-produced plays in history; this site currently has a record of at least ten productions since 2007 in London alone, including two in the same month (April 2012)—and that doesn’t include adaptations, modernizations, and spinoffs under different titles. Three years ago the Stratford Festival produced two versions in the same season, a traditional presentation at the Festival Theatre (one of the funniest I’ve seen) and an outré “chamber” adaptation …

The Daisy Theatre

A Marionette Show that Overflows with Heart and Humour

You can get away with saying pretty much when it comes out of the mouth of a puppet. Puppetry is freeing because it allows you to suspend disbelief and animate your stories in a way that separates them from humanity. And that’s where many puppeteers stop.

What sets Ronnie Burkett apart is that, while he fully takes advantage of the freedom that his marionettes provide, he imbues them with a humanity and depth of character that exceeds the range of many flesh-and-blood actors.

The Daisy Theatre is largely a one-man production — with the odd assist from the crowd and his stage manager. But that one man is able to populate an entire variety show with multiple characters, …

Once

How Many Times Should You See Once? Twice — Three Times (is) a Maybe

You’ve heard them. You know them. There are people out there who will say, “I don’t like musicals.” And while that blanket statement may be unfair, it’s also often well earned. Many musicals are like fondue — large chunks slathered in cheese that leave you with the feeling that you’ve had an experience — but one that just doesn’t sit right in the pit of your stomach.

In many ways, Once is a musical for people who don’t like musicals. There’s a …

Evita

Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed and Choreographed by Jan Alexandra Smith
Spriet Stage, The Grand Theatre
September 19–30, 2017

An Unqualified Success? An Unqualified Yes

At one point in Evita, Juan Peron and the ever-present critic Che debate whether Eva Peron’s Rainbow Tour was a qualified or unqualified success. It’s an apt moment for a musical that is presented with its own qualification — a High School Project amateur production.

The thing is, Evita stands alone as an unqualified success — and one of the most well-structured, performed, and entertaining stage presentations to appear on the Grand’s Spriet Stage in a long time — professional or qualified with a “high school” designation.

It hits you almost immediately. The mourning chorus lifting its voices, singing in sublime harmony with power and beauty, as Eva Peron’s coffin adorns the stage. And then Keith Ssemugenyi strides onto …

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night features all of the hallmarks of a Shakespeare comedy: mistaken identities, clever wordplay, the interplay between nobility, servants, and commoners, breaking the fourth wall, and a raft of others. It’s one of the most-produced plays in London and area—this year alone there’s already been a high school production, and it’s on at Stratford too. So why should you see LCP’s production if you’ve already seen the play?

In short, because it’s fantastic.

Director Kaitlyn Rietdyk has created a millennia-spanning pan-Balkan musical mashup that essentially one-ups Shakespeare at every turn. She’s integrated a Greek chorus into the play, which is traditionally set on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. She and composer Matthew J. Stewart have taken the songs in Shakespeare’s text and expanded the …

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens: Unabashed, Unashamed, Unquestioned—and Sexy—Fun Set to a Disco Beat

What do you get when you combine the interplanetary funksmanship of Parliament, the fluid and overt sexuality of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the bell-bottom-infused passion for disco of Saturday Night Fever? You get the over two hours of ribald revelry and energetic entertainment of Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens.

Listen, this isn’t Shakespeare. It’s not high art. But it’s unabashed, unashamed, and unquestioned fun. It’s a musical that will have you moving to the beat and—for a select few—even dancing up out of your seat.

The story? Saucy

Frights of Spring IV

After two incarnations at The ARTS Project, Jason Rip’s Frights of Spring anthology has returned to its original Grosvenor Lodge home for a fourth outing. Featuring five new plays by six playwrights—two new to the Frights of Spring stable of writers—it’s a mostly-satisfying evening of new takes on classic horror tropes.

The familiar stories include the abused woman whose partner has mysteriously disappeared; the bad seed; the tortured blind man; the person flung out of time; and even a sorority seance. These are all Richard Matheson/Val Lewton-style creeping terrors, and to their credit there are few cheap “jumping out of the closet” scares. Four of the plays are solidly in Night Gallery territory, with the fifth (which I found to be the most satisfying, …

Colours in the Storm

Colours in the Storm: Vibrant Individual Elements Result in a Production Whose Parts are Greater than its Sum

Colours in the Storm features many fine elements and some outstanding techniques, but it fails to come together into a cohesive and satisfying whole. Combined with a paint-by-numbers second act, you have a production that’s generally pleasant to look at, but falls far short of being a masterpiece.

The play dramatizes the final years of legendary Canadian artist Tom Thomson’s life, from his first arrival in Algonquin Park in 1912, through his embrace of the natural landscape and his attempts to satisfy his internal vision through painting, to his eventual—and controversial—death in 1917.

Colours in the Storm features a number of outstanding moments that are a joy to …

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

Nothing Unrequited Here – Love for a “Rock”-Solid Production

With all due respects to Mr. Telford—who did an admirable job back in the day in my gifted history program—if only all Canadian history was this dynamic and entertaining, we’d have a nation that truly appreciates the richness, diversity, and—yes—intrigue of our national past. Fortunately, we have productions like Artistic Fraud’s The Colony of Unrequited Dreams to bring our past—both real and imagined—to vivid and entertaining life.

Ostensibly, the play is the story of Joseph Smallwood, the self-proclaimed Last Father of Confederation who is best remembered as the person who spearheaded the drive to bring Newfoundland into Canadian confederation in 1949. Colony is not …

Art

Art: From a Blank Canvas Springs a Multi-Hued, Multi-Layered Delight

Art is, on the surface, the story of a trio of friends who are forced to re-evaluate their beliefs, their actions, and the very foundation of their friendship, precipitated by one character’s purchase of a white-on-white painting. But despite the monochromatic nature of the catalyst, the play is one imbued with rich hues of colour and texture, thanks to a combination of flawless performances, and deft direction and lighting.

The stage itself is minimalist by design. The three actors interact on a starkly adorned set: a couple of grey couches, a pair of movable drops (which are manipulated by the actors with skill and alacrity to mark location transitions), and a black …

Cherry Docs

Ninety minutes is not a lot of time to unpack the motivations behind racism, the challenges of balancing social responsibility with personal beliefs, and exploring personal growth and understanding. And though the Procunier Hall venue should serve as an ideal setting for such a study of intimate emotions, Cherry Docs suffers from a superficiality that’s magnified by acting, directorial, and set-related challenges.

Cherry Docs is the story of Danny (Kyle Stewart), a liberal Jewish lawyer assigned to be the legal aid representation of skinhead Mike (Derek Barr) who has confessed to the murder of an Asian restaurant employee. The production centres around the interaction between the two as they deal with their individual demons and try to …

Jenny’s House of Joy

Prostitution may be the world’s oldest profession, but it’s also one with its own ideas of propriety, ambition and politics. This play is an enjoyable exploration of that kind of life, a comic tale with a refreshingly non-judgmental tone laced with a genuine humanity.

In the Old West, Jenny (Colleen McGeough) runs a successful brothel with the naively socially ambitious Anita (Bronwyn Wilson) and the hard bitten Frances (Charlene McNabb) as her employees. Suddenly, the refined and desperate Natalie (Kaitlyn Rietdyk) comes pleading for a job and proves, after some adjustment, to be surprisingly talented at the profession. However, Frances suspects there will be trouble ahead with this addition, and it does come, both from within and without.

Considering that …

The Secret Garden

Modern adaptations of classics of children’s literature can be a minefield, with sometimes jarring cultural attitudes or a numbing preciousness that has nothing to relate to. Thankfully, this does not apply to this play, which is tuneful and even moving story about a girl learning the power that can come from empathy and personal faith in an ideal guided with a little perspective.

After being orphaned in an cholera epidemic …

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me

Being a prisoner in too many countries can involve extreme privation for an agonizingly long and indefinite time. To cope, you might have only your own mind and what it can provide for some kind of way to maintain your humanity. This play is a creative, if rather slow, psychological drama of a trio of such prisoners trying to do just that.

In the early 1990s, two prisoners in Beirut—American Adam Canning (Jeremy Hewitson) and Irishman Edward Sheridan (John Reid)—have been confined for some time with little hope of release. Now, they have a companion, Briton Michael Watters (Stephen Flindall) who is now in the same situation. With nothing else to do, the trio use their imaginations to the utmost as they find some solace in …

La Ronde

Love is an emotion often rife with impulse, pretensions and deceptions depending who is both expressing it and reacting to it. This play is a passably entertaining linked anthology of characters in various romantic situations even when the material struggles to make an emotional connection.

In 1914 London, Ontario, romance is in the air for all sorts of people. To illustrate that, there is a series of episodes where romantic assignations occur throughout the city with the newcomer of the previous story meeting someone in their own encounter. In each, there are plenty of the same elements including flowers, sweets, and promises they don’t intend to keep …

Joni Mitchell: River

Appreciating Joni’s Lyrics and Music

The show Joni Mitchell: River is the season opener on stage at London’s Grand Theatre. Before I can tell you about it, I need to tell you what it’s not.

It’s not the story of Joni’s life; there are no words spoken, nor any account acted. It’s not an impersonation or impression of Joni; each singer is himself or herself. It’s not a re-creation of Joni’s songs; none of the songs actually sound like Joni. It’s not a musical; it’s a concert.

Now, here’s what Joni Mitchell: River is—it is an enchanting evening, presenting a fascinating interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s songs. It is three powerful singers who draw you into the lyrics. It is four impressive musicians interpreting the compositions.

If you grew up listening to Joni on pop radio in the 1970s, you might not recognize the songs in this show—there are several I’m …

The History Boys

The History Boys Shows London’s Theatrical Future is in Good Hands

If anything, Calithumpian Theatre Co.’s inaugural production, The History Boys, shows that the future of local theatre is promising, courtesy of a well-paced, entertaining production of the Alan Bennett play.

Some outstanding youthful casting, complemented by a pair of key performances from more veteran actors and deft direction by John Gerry, ensured that the two-hour-and-40-minute-long preview performance of the play thoroughly entertained.

The History Boys is a play about the contrast between learning and education, set in a British grammar school. A supply teacher is brought in by an aggressive, results-seeking headmaster to complement the teachings of an eccentric English teacher. It pits the headmaster’s desire to …

Prelude to a Kiss

For the happiest of couples, the time when one doesn’t seem like themselves to the other can be the most sustained traumatic time to test any love. This play is a powerful fantasy about one such couple facing a bizarrely premature version of that situation, one told with emotional heft and special insight.

After a young man named Peter (Matt Green) meets and falls in love with the eccentric cynical woman Rita (Charlotte Weeks), they agree to be married. However at the wedding, an elderly stranger (Alan Legg) requests a kiss from the bride and something strange happens. Suddenly, Rita acts nothing like …

Sleuth – A One-Man Play with Two Actors

Sleuth’s tag line is “think of the perfect crime… then go one step further.” And while not necessarily a crime in the purest sense, John L. Moore’s performance stole the show, overwhelming his co-star, in a play about love, revenge, and the games we play.

Moore’s performance and the story itself are the two defining elements of this entertaining, but flawed, production. The story, centered around two men who have a relationship with one woman—a woman never seen or heard from—deals with the meeting and aftermath of the meeting between the two principals: Andrew Wyke (Moore), a mystery writer and the man seemingly gleefully divorcing the woman in question; and Milo Tindale (Shawn Dyson), the younger paramour who is planning a future with Wyke’s …

Les Misérables

The Grand Theatre is celebrating 20 years of High School Projects with the opening of Les Misérables, which includes a cast of 47, plus 17 crew members and three student musicians. And this year, the ensemble shines, raising the roof and filling the house with the rich anthems that make Les Mis memorable.

Les Mis is the epic story of convict Jean Valjean (Dean Holbrough) who serves his time for a minor crime and becomes mayor under a new name. Although he is aided by a kindly Bishop (Peter Nye), he is hunted by Inspector Javert (Preston Cooper-Winder) for breaking parole. When a worker in Valjean’s factory, Fantine (Keirsten Overton), dies leaving young Cosette (Amber Sellars) an orphan, Valjean raises her as his own. He …

The Porno Play

While some kinds of entertainment have the social warrant to bring out the best in people, pornography in Western society is too often cornered into bringing out the worst. This play is an amusing look at the grimiest of popular entertainments and the people who have to work in it.

In a porno peep show establishment, work has its own set of routines, which Rich (Nick Regan) has had nearly enough of. Unfortunately, his job and his co-workers face more than their share of irritations like bothersome customers, weirdos and an overly sentimental boss making the situation worse. Meanwhile, those customers have their own concerns with group …

Skylight

The intimate third floor space at The ARTS Project with its exposed yellow brick, floor-to-ceiling windows, and old wooden floors provides an exquisite backdrop for David Hare’s Olivier and Tony Award winning play Skylight. Set and Props Designer Alina Subrt has done an exceptional job of creating the shabby Northwest London flat of Kyra Hollis (Francesca Ranalli), a 30-something East Ham schoolteacher.

Tom Sergeant (Jeff Miller), a successful restaurateur and hotelier is shocked and disapproving of Kyra’s minimalist life when he unexpectedly appears at her door one evening in the dead of winter. He cannot understand why she would forsake the life of luxury she had when she lived with him, his wife, Alice, and their two children, to live in cold discomfort …

A Minor Midcareer Retrospective

The less a performer has in stagecraft, costume or makeup to perform a story, the more the talent he has must show through.

For this one-man show, James Judd has that talent in spades as he tells a variety of hilarious tales of his very full life with boisterous thespian enthusiasm. Furthermore, to do that with only some careful lighting and a single prop is a supreme artistic confidence Judd obviously has as he spins wild and wacky tales of his life that straddle the line of the real and preposterous.

While he performs that balancing act, you will be laughing too hard to care as you savor a master storyteller turning memories in glorious comedy.…

London Fringe 17: First week reviews

Theatre in London’s team of volunteer reviewers is ready to see and review every show in the 2016 London Fringe before the end of the opening weekend. (By Sunday morning, in fact.) Reviews will initially be posted to each show’s comments section on the Fringe website, and they’ll all be archived here after the festival ends. They’ll also be in this week’s edition of The London Yodeller, along with their own coverage. Keep an eye on @theatreinlondon and the #ldnfringe hashtag on social media for updates during the festival.…

1-900-DEE-LITE

Life and love have a way of repeating with different variations on a theme. This play is an intermittently entertaining way of illustrating that with a story of mature love entwined with a story of young love which does not wholly work.

Life is reasonably good for Dee (Deborah Mitchell), a widow quietly working as a sex phone caller, even if she shares her home with her emotionally immature son and aspiring children’s writer, Scott (Kevin Cope). However, her burgeoning romance with the retired English teacher turned church volunteer, Tom (John Palmer), is threatened to be spoiled by her secret occupation. Meanwhile, Scott’s own ambiguity about his childhood friend, Jennifer (Heather Rivet), seems to be posing its own quandaries.

Romance stories of the mature …

Present Laughter

Noel Coward is considered of the great British comedians for several reasons and this play is a good one. Here, we see the epitome of the sophisticated drawing room comedy he was famous for with cutting wit and memorable characters well played by a good cast.

Garry Essendine (Todd Baubie) is a successful matinee theatrical star who is dealing with a mid-life crisis being in his late 40s, only to find that is the least of his life’s complications. That is because Garry is inundated with fans, relatives and partners of either questionable motives or sanity even as he prepares for a tour abroad. Amidst this, Garry has to …

I Take Your Hand in Mine

Unless you are willing to look beyond the superficial, the great artists of the past can seem untouchable and unrelatable. However, this play is a welcome defiance of that prejudice with two great actors bringing the all too short romance of the playwright Anton Chekhov and the actress Olga Knipper to vibrant life.

While I usually do not care for dedicated self-contained romance stories, this story has an enthralling passion with master actors performing those luminaries’ correspondence. With that voluminous resource—about 400 letters from a passionate six year relationship—the romance of these greats of Russian theatre takes on a depth of personality and emotional content as few other historical relationships have ever granted to posterity.

Beyond that is an intriguing look …

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

The Day the Music Died

The story is heart-breaking, but the music is energizing on the Grand’s stage: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is always a crowd-pleaser and this production is no exception.

The story tells of the very short career of Buddy Holly. In 1957, he appears on local radio as a country & western singer with his two bandmates, The Crickets. One night he plays a rock ‘n’ roll song he’s written, and the local disc jockey tells him his music has a “coloured feel to it”, which upsets advertisers. …

August: Osage County

Oscar Wilde said that each unhappy family is like that in their own way. This play is a moving drama about one such family being unhappy in a myriad of ways, but having one common denominator who has her own price to pay.

In the country of Beverly (Deighton Thomas) and Violet Weston (Dinah Watts), the ailing couple hires a live-in maid called Johanna (Niyiri Karakas) before the whole family visits. However, Beverly disappears just before the gathering and the answer to that mystery will be the spark to tear the family apart.

Family dramas are older than Oedipus Rex, but they still can reflect their times …

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Modern Take on Classic Story Fails

I loved Rick Miller’s Boom, which played at the Grand Theatre last year. He cleverly wove together a history of culture, politics and news for baby boomers, playing all roles and using amazing projections. So I was looking forward to his Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea coming to the Grand.

Unfortunately, it is disappointing by comparison. Following the classic Jules Verne novel, this play tells the story of the ship that goes out to find the horrible sea creature that others have reported. On the ship are the narrator Jules (Andrew Shaver), Professor Aronnax (Marie-Eve Perron) and Ned Land (Eric Leblanc). They find that the creature is actually a sci-fi submarine, the Nautilus, under the …

The Mountaintop

The Lorraine Motel 1968

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his renowned “Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968. “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” King said, foreshadowing his imminent assassination. He had received many death threats, yet he said in that speech “I’m not fearing any man.”

The play, The Mountaintop, currently on stage at the Grand Theatre, tells the fictionalized account of what happened in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel where King was staying. The next day, he was killed, at age 39, standing on the balcony of the motel.

A two-hander, this play is about the interaction between two characters: Dr. Martin …

To Ashes

Debts and confusion about them is never a happy combination for anyone, and it’s considerably worse for those who don’t have the maturity to handle either. This play is a powerful testament to that potentially nightmarish pitfall of life as we see two surprisingly similar losers clash over that problem.

In a city, a short tempered clock factory worker, Tom Ash (Jeff Werkmeister) is being harassed by a bill collector who has confused him with his house’s previous owner, an unemployed recluse, Thomas Ash (Tyler Parr). Infuriated by this misapprehension on top of his hopeless child custody problem, Tom Ash repeatedly confronts Thomas Ash and intimidates him into calling the collection agency. However, the emotionally disabled Thomas will not let the frightening incident go and plans his revenge even as …

The Catering Queen

If there is a job that can be more aggravating depending on the customer than the retail trade, the hospitality industry qualifies. This play is an amusing look at a group of people working in that trade, even as their personal lives intrude, with delightful character play and wit.

At the Smythe residence, Melanie (Alida Liberman) heads a group of caterers working a Christmas party. As she attempts at some kind of efficiency despite Timothy’s (Sam Didi) misgivings with one familiar guest and Cynthia’s (Aleen Kelledjian) grousing about the job, her own personal life intrudes. Eventually, there is more work and resolutions to come under the most unlikely circumstances.

Inside looks into the occasionally thankless jobs that make our happier times possible …