Kiss me, Kate Aug. 2010

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My one regret: I absolutely ADORE the movie with screen icon Liz Taylor and welsh great Richard Burton and it took me a while to get their images out of my head when watching this performance of Kiss me, Kate. Which is regretful, because the show is amazing!

Costumes and set props are brilliant, the colors dazzling, flashy to the point of being garish – which is a good thing, believe me! – and the actors seem to have a blast while on stage which immediately transfers to the audience. An audience which is actually sometimes involved in the show – for instance when Kate picks a man in the first couple of rows to sing all his weaknesses to him (I hate men). Absolutely hilarious, maybe a little less for the poor chap who’s being berated by her, but still all in good fun.

Lilli Vanessi (Monique Lund) and Fred Graham (Juan Chioran) share enough sparks to make their constant battles and their deep love for each other believable and the General represents enough of a military man to not fall just into the category of stereotypical dumb soldiery.

There are also the two Muscles who are hired to collect the “little debt” from Bill Calhoun – their parts were initially thought as small one offs, but evolved while Sam and Bella Spewack wrote the play until they now have the brilliant Brush up your Shakespeare as a signature number that they milk for all it’s worth.

But the true scene stealers are without a doubt Bill Calhoun (the incredibly good looking and talented Mike Jackson – hey, I’ve always been a sucker for good looking men with talent) and his mistress Lois Lane (Chilina Kennedy, who obviously enjoys the part of the very blonde tart she is supposed to be). Whenever those two are on stage, there’s sparks everywhere, and the scenes seem to work with a weightless precision that is admirable. I truly adore their interaction with each other and the rest of the cast – the flirt scene Lois has with the General is absolutely brilliant.

I was not that enchanted with Monique Lund, I’m afraid – she has a great voice with a full range but I didn’t like the rather soft Wunderbar. It was not until she delved into her comic side more (with I hate men) that I really started enjoying her singing.

All in all I really had a great afternoon at the theatre  with a fun show and actors who seemed to enjoy themselves too (something that was sadly missing from King of Thieves, by the way) that brought the audience to their feet in a standing ovation at the end.

King of Thieves Aug. 2010

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King of Thieves is a new play, commissioned by the Stratford Festival, written by the same author, George F. Walker, who also wrote Zastrozzi, which I saw last year. Zastrozzi was a strange little story about revenge and what is left of oneself after acting on that revenge. I liked it.

So I was rather looking forward to seeing Walker’s latest baby  – even more so as Nigel Bennett has a part in it as an FBI agent. (Nigel Bennett of course I had seen a few years back in Retreat from Moscow in his native Halifax and he was absolutely brilliant as the man who finally after almost a lifetime faces the consequences of his dead marriage and acts upon them.)

The story itself is loosely derived from the Threepenny Opera, with Peachum and his wife still fencing goods but keeping up the front of being legal now, and Mac being a rather successful thief, married to Peachum’s daughter Polly. Very up-to-date “The Bankers” are the bad guys, thriving in wealth while the rest of the world drowns in poverty. The premise is very promising, the setting (in a not so quiet little speak-easy most of the time) also appealing, transferring the audience immediately into the 1920ies thanks to a really brilliant jazz band playing along live in the back of the stage.

Vinnie, the owner of the speak-easy (Sean Cullen) is helping the story along, connecting the scenes of theft and jealousy and police investigating and murder and betrayal and the songs fitted into the storyline. And that is also the one great weakness of the play. The songs (great music, by the way, written by John Roby) never really fit it, even worse, they take away from the tension the play needs to capture the audience. Add to that Sean Cullen who does not live up to his usual brilliance and Evan Bullung as Mac who seriously lacks charm and charisma and it is understandable why the show drags along a bit lifelessly. Which is sad because the rest of the cast, first and foremost Myrna (Nora McLellan), hilarious and raunchy as Peachum’s wife, and Peachum himself (Jay Brazeau) are trying their best to drive the story along. Bennett’s FBI supervisor is rightfully stern and trying his utmost to get “The Bankers” convicted against all odds.

And yet, even after numerous violent deaths and quite a few gunshots and slashings, the show is finally over and one is glad to make it home before ten for a change. The play has potential, but it fails to make good on it. Up until now it has been the weakest of the shows I’ve seen in Stratford.

For the pleasure of seeing her again Aug.2010

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This play is about normal people – a normal mother with a bit of a theatrical streak to her character with which she guilts her sons into doing what’s best for them. A normal mother, just like mine.

It’s also about her son, who writes the play in order to have the pleasure of seeing her again, of hearing her again after she died a cruel and too early death.

And both Lucy Peacock and Tom Rooney are fantastic in it. Rooney fills the thankless job of feeding “Nana”  cues, replying to her diatribes and of clueing the audience in to yet another couple of years that have passed with soul and understanding while he changes from the 10 year old boy to the 22 year old man who all of a sudden sees the roles exchanged. Now he has to be Nana’s rock while she is embarking on her last journey. Lucy Peacock is outstanding – her monologues resonate through the hearts of the audience, first in a very comical, later in a tragic, lost way of dealing with the daily “stuff” of children, sisters in law, neighbours, television stars and life in general, all the while making up stories to better cope with the sometimes bleak realities of life.

Nana herself is born for the stage – or is portrayed that way by her son Michel Tremblay – but will never have the opportunity to realise her underlying ambitions. It is very telling that she confides in her son that for her actors only exist as long they are on television. For her it is impossible to picture them driving home, cleaning the kitchen or fixing lunch. They lead a life so much more magical than hers will ever be. (And it is her son that for the first time brings plays on stage with people who “speak like people” – ironic, that his mother never saw his success she had a major part in sparking off.

Because as much this play is about life and death it is also about the situation of women in the late 50ies in Quebec – a life still very much dominated by the church and the belief that a woman was supposed to get married, stay married and have children; a life very much lacking the exaggerated events Nana makes up to illustrate her fears and insecurities, her emptiness and her sadness. It is finally when she is already in very much pain from a never disclosed cancer that she stops making up “scenes” to cope. It is then she actually speaks in plain language and it is also then her son takes over to adopt her theatrics and brings her back to her childhood memories to ease her into a different birth – the birth of death.

Lucy Peacock – according to the wonderful Dr Kim Solga who interviewed the actress shortly before she did a lecture on the play in Stratford – she likened the work on and with a play with giving birth to a child – as much as Nana likens the  cancer eating at her and the pain it causes with the pains of childbirth. Peacock herself explained that the labour of developing a play and then performing it is very much the same as childbirth as during all this one is prone to say: WHY am I doing this to me??? while afterwards one admits: But it was so worth it!

And worth it is – he play is absolutely brilliant on the minimalistic stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre, both Peacock and Rooney deserve the standing ovation and the audience is well advised to bring hankies as the play ends on a very intense high note.