The Merry Wives of Windsor

merry_wives_of_windsor_-_lynne_griffin_sean_sullivan_-_photo_by_madison_golshani_daniel_pascaleThroughout Shakespeare BASH’d’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which plays at the Victory Cafe as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, I was continually struck, loudly, by one nagging question: Why are they yelling?

The cast of this production yell all their lines (fluctuating from between an 8/10 in volume to an 11/10) for the entire 90 minute play. There is nothing that robs an actor of the ability to create nuance, character development and realism like having them yell all their lines. There is nothing that robs a play of its sense of stakes and pacing like having the actors yell all their lines. There is nothing that makes an audience tune out as swiftly as a play where the actors yell all their lines. I have been wondering what James Wallis and Catherine Rainville’s concept was here. Are they yelling because Shakespeare’s own players may have yelled (because they performed in giant theatres, mostly outside, for rowdy lower class Elizabethan audiences who were allowed and encouraged to eat, drink, sword fight, talk, copulate, relieve themselves, leave and enter the theatre at will, and heckle and throw rotten food at the actors while the play was in progress)? Or were they yelling to show that most of the characters in this play are idiotic misogynists and that by yelling it makes it easier for the audience to tune them out?

It seems like Shakespeare BASH’d doesn’t trust that Shakespeare’s play is clear enough to resonate with the Toronto Fringe audience. The Merry Wives of Windsor is a farce that pokes fun at men for not trusting their wives, for flirting with married women, for trying to force their will on their daughters tyrannically, and gives the women in the play (who would have been originally played by men) the agency to take revenge. Wallis and Rainville work SO HARD here to make the men look moronic, when Shakespeare has already done a commendable job of it. If you don’t trust that Shakespeare can speak, on his own merit, to a contemporary audience, why would you create a theatre company that performs Shakespeare? 

What is most frustrating is that there is perfect proof in this production that in the hands of the right person Shakespeare’s words are crystal clear. For some reason Rainville and Willis allow Lynne Griffin to play Mistress Quickly with depth, intensity and the basic emotional range one would expect from any character in a play that has subsisted for over four hundred years. I don’t know whether this was part of the concept, that the character who is the smartest and arguably the most progressive, gets to be played as though she is a human being or if Griffin is just getting away with good acting here on a fluke? I don’t know.

I wish the concept here was clearer or, if there isn’t one, perhaps this company should change their name to Shakespeare SCREAM’d.



Shakespeare BASH’d’s The Merry Wives of Windsor plays at the Victory Cafe (581 Markham Street) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the following times:

show times
July 10 at 07:00 PM  buy tickets
July 11 at 07:00 PM  buy tickets
July 12 at 05:00 PM  buy tickets

Hamlet… A Puppet Epic


zip & shakes

There IS something awesome in the state of Denmark and that is Shakey Shake and Friends’ Hamlet… A Puppet Epic, which plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre through July 8th, 2015 as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival and Fringe Kids. This is Shakey Shake and Friends’ fifth anniversary of presenting hilarious and child-friendly puppet shows based on William Shakespeare’s plays.

We are first introduced to Len, the Sesame Street equivalent of Avenue Q’s Princeton and his girlfriend Lucy, the Sesame Street equivalent to Avenue Q’s Kate, who are supposed to be going to see Hamlet at the Stratford Festival, but Len gets sidetracked by wanting to play Super Mario, so Lucy decides the best way to prove to Len that Hamlet is even more awesome than video games is to give him the chance to play the part. They are joined by a Guy Smiley- type Christopher Marlowe, who plays the evil Claudius, Shakes himself plays Polonius, child-friendly Trekkie Monster types play Rosencrantz and Laertes and we are introduced to the brilliant Guildentrunk, who is a muppet made from a trunk.

Tom McGee’s adaptation remains true to the plot of Hamlet, and uses short snippets of Shakespeare’s most famous, and beloved, lines, but largely the story is told in contemporary language, for the benefit of a young audience’s comprehension. While the children delight in the physical antics of the puppets, a running gag regarding ghost sheets and mermaids and curtains, a pie pun, and silly songs, most of the jokes in McGee’s adaptation are aimed at adults, especially those with a close affiliation with Hamlet. It explores Gertrude’s refusal to confront the truth about her marriage, even when the truth is staring her straight in the face. It highlights the absurdity of Polonius’ need to meddle in his daughter’s love life. It turns Claudius into a Super Villain and pokes fun at Hamlet, who is “sad about stuff” and Ophelia, who is trying to be a feminist about things but still ends up at the bottom of the lake. The play is narrated, largely by a Scooter-type character named Zip, who plays the sweetest Horatio you will ever see, and it is through Zip’s eyes that the children are being taught how to see, understand and think about Shakespeare, while being thoroughly entertained, which is much more than can be said about most other attempts to introduce young people to these plays.

Whether you are five years old or a hundred and five years old, whether you consider yourself a Shakespeare connoisseur, a Muppet connoisseur or a Sesame Street connoisseur, as long as you’re not Sam Eagle, I think you will love this play.

TWISI FRINGE RATING: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_starsHamlet… A Puppet Epic plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place) at the following times: 

show times
July 05 at 10:00 AM  buy tickets
July 07 at 10:00 AM  buy tickets
July 08 at 03:15 PM  buy tickets
July 09 at 10:00 AM  buy tickets
July 10 at 10:00 AM  buy tickets
July 12 at 11:00 AM  buy tickets

More Comedy Than Errors in Neptune’s Season Opener

COE lobby 3

david leyshon, genevieve steele, stephen gartner, jonathan wilson & jeff schwager

Neptune Theatre’s 51st Season Opener, William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, boasts of having a cast featuring predominately local based actors, which makes it a promising beginning to Halifax’s theatrical year. George Pothitos’ production, which is set in 1974 Greece, is silly and full of fun and sure to bring merriment to an audience wishing to be transported to a warmer climate and a groovier time.

On the surface this early and shortest play of Shakespeare masquerades as being a frothy and farcical romp centering on the mistaken identities of two pairs of identical twins, separated shortly after birth and raised in different cities, who find themselves at the same place at the same time and inadvertently wreck havoc on a small town.

Stephen Gartner plays Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant’s name is Dromio, played by Jeff Schwager. Their lives are turned upside down when their twin brothers, Antipholus of Syracuse (David Leyshon) and Dromio of Syracuse (Jonathan Wilson) come to Ephesus. Gartner’s Antipholus is brash and womanizing, much to the chagrin of his wife, Adriana. Leyshon’s Antipholus is gentler, more of a laid back daydreamer whose sights become set on Adriana’s sister, Luciana. This also infuriates the much-vexed Adriana, who continually mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband.

This cast has beautiful command of Shakespeare’s language, which in this play is filled with delightful word play and colourful insults. Thanks to the deft comic prowess of these actors Shakespeare’s jests still resonate easily and directly to the funny bone for a contemporary audience. Pothitos makes good use of Jeremy Webb and Simon Henderson’s Vaudevillian-esque comic chemistry, although I was secretly hoping for them to break the fourth wall and begin an improvised shtick of their own. There are some beautifully nuanced performances from Andrew Gillies and Mauralea Austin. Schwager and Wilson are endearingly hilarious as the two supremely awkward and much-abused Dromios and Marty Burt has a wordless cross as a crazed monk that brought down the entire house on Opening Night.

Overall, George Pothitos has a lot of fantastic elements in this production of The Comedy of Errors, but the play would benefit from them being tightened up. The comic elements could be pushed even further, especially the chase scene. Pothitos’ concept for staging the play in 1974 Greece is explained in the programme notes, but for those unfamiliar with 20th Century history of Greece and Turkey it is difficult to understand the political elements that are being drawn from the 1970s and those inherent in Shakespeare’s text and then even more challenging to connect how these two combined are relevant to us, the contemporary Canadian audience, today.

The Comedy of Errors is a challenging play in that its farcical plot loses its humour if the audience feels too much emotional investment in Genevieve Steele’s Adriana, whose husband treats her terribly, yet her reunion with him at the end is presented as the comedy’s solution and the characters living “happily ever after.” Even still, I wanted Steele to be able to give Adriana more depth, as I know Steele is more than capable of doing, especially because there is such compelling complexity in Adriana’s sister, played by Jody Stevens. Rather than gloss over the complexity and contradictory nature of Shakespeare’s problematic solution to the play’s machinations, it would have been a more interesting and a stronger choice for Pothitos to delve into it and explore it in a way that had resonance for the contemporary world.

The Comedy of Errors’ biggest strength is its silliness and the clarity with which the actors bring Shakespeare’s story to vivid life and how delightful it is to see a wide array of Halifax’s most talented actors sharing the Fountain Hall stage with their contemporaries from elsewhere in the country. That deserves an ardent celebration that is long overdue.

The Comedy of Errors plays at Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall Mainstage (1593 Argyle Street) until October 13th 2013. Showtimes are: 7:30pm Tuesdays to Fridays and Sundays, 4:00pm and 8:30pm on Saturday and 2:00pm on Sundays. Tickets are $25.00-$55.00 depending on Seating. For tickets please call the box office at 902.429.7070, visit in person at 1593 Argyle Street or go online. Also, ask about their Rush Tickets policy. 

Young Hearts Run Free

Young Hearts Run Free

photo of stewart legere & kim harris by krista davis

For a great many of those who were coming of age around 1996 there was something iconic and alluring about Baz Luhrmann’s filmic adaption of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the star-crossed lovers. It was the stuff of sleepovers, teenage angst and zealous crushes. Yet, unlike many Shakespearean adaptations aimed at young people, Luhrmann’s film was quite faithful to the original text, which gave it a distinct theatrical quality and proved, in a way that seemed both seamless and definitive, that there is no reason this four hundred year old story should not be able to resonate in its own language to contemporary teenagers.

What is often lost in theatre productions of Romeo and Juliet is the fact that it is a story about two teenagers and the intensity and rashness of their emotions and their hormones, which govern every aspect of their lives. The spirit of the play is beautifully captured in the soundtrack to Luhrmann’s film, which now also proves a nostalgic portrait of the musical stylings of the mid 1990s for the same generation who once revered the film. On Saturday evening at The Company House Halifax-based musicians Kim Harris and Stewart Legere recreated the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack in concert for a large and utterly transfixed crowd. It was a beautifully evocative evening of music, showcasing Harris and Legere’s multi-talents in contending with a variety of different musical genres, but also it was a fascinating exploration of storytelling. Can the soundtrack of a Hollywood film adapted from a Shakespearean tragedy relay the famous story? What was so interesting is that the arc of the emotional journey of Romeo and of Juliet was there in a strangely, wonderful, esoteric, dramatic and captivating way.

From the sensual anguish of the Opening number “#1 Crush” by Garbage to the rapping in One Inch Punch’s “Pretty Piece of Flesh” there were so many rock star moments crammed into this evening it often seemed that Legere and Harris were flying. Stewart Legere had a particularly incredible rendition of Quindon Tarver’s “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)”, where he showed off his gorgeous boy band voice- kind of a mixture of Whitney Houston and a long lost Backstreet Boy. Guest stars Margot Durling, Heather Green and Melanie Stone were featured on several songs, but their harmonies with Harris on Tarver’s song was the most haunting and lovely. Jason Michael MacIsaac helped Legere and Harris put their own unique stamp on Mundy’s “To You I Bestow,” giving it a more folk rock flavor. Stina Nordenstam’s “Little Star” was also a beautiful highlight. Harris and Legere’s voices blend organically together and their adorable chemistry and sheepish laughter between songs ensured that the entire room feel madly in love with the both of them.

The eleven clock number came early in the set list when Kim Harris sang the guts out of the gorgeous, lush ballad “Kissing You,” which, fittingly, is the theme for the film. Her smooth, long notes and phrasing were laden with so much soulful emotion that the Company House was rendered entirely breathless even after she finished singing. In that moment Harris was Juliet floating on a cloud of love at first sight and we were all right there with her.

If Halifax is interested in forging its own Cabaret scene, a place for music and theatre to converge in a myriad of new and interesting ways, Kim Harris and Stewart Legere could become Halifax Cabaret stars. The Company House is the perfect venue for this type of endeavor- a common stomping ground for both the city’s music and theatre communities. The exuberant audience on Saturday night would have happily sat and watched Harris and Legere sing through the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack a second time. They could certainly turn this concept of theirs into a series. I, for one, am hoping for a Moulin Rouge soundtrack recreation next. Whatever these two choose to do, it is clear that both their stars are on the rise and Halifax is deeply enamoured already.

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