Professor Bernhardi Oct. 4th, ’18

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Professor Bernhardi is one of the best known plays written by the Viennese dramatist, short story writer and novelist Arthur Schnitzler. It was first performed in Berlin at the Kleines Theater in 1912, but banned in Austria until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a result of World War I.

The story makes it clear why it was so controversial: jewish Professor Bernhardi bans a priest from the death bed of a young girl who had a botched – illegal – abortion, and has no idea that she’s dying of sepsis. She’s happy and thinks she’ll go home in a few hours. She dies when a nurse tells her that a priest wants to apply last rites.

Because of Bernhardi’s faith (even though he’s not an observant jew) and because he’s the director of the clinicum where a christian nationalist doctor is vying for his job the case is made public and politicised until the mostly jewish staff of the clinicum resigned in protest and Bernhardi is sentenced to two months in jail because the nurse gave false witness by claiming Bernhardi pushed the priest and even said priest spoke in favour of Bernhardi.

Two months later  Bernhardi is free and his students are in the streets, celebrating. His opponents are in power, both in parliament and in his clinicum, and he has stopped writing a book about his ordeal. The nurse has come forward and confessed to lying in court because her confessor told her so. Bernhardi lost his licence to practice.

The play is indeed as bleak as it sounds and was on point and very much in tune of the times in 1911 and – unfortunately – in 2018 as well. Antisemitism, xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise again and it seems we haven’t learned a thing from our recent history. Sigh

Now to the actors. It’s an all male cast except for the nurse, but the actress is only on for minutes in the first act and didn’t stay on for curtains. Probably because the play  is 3 hrs plus, partly because herbert föttinger (bernhardi) indulges in pregnant stares and equally pregnant pauses that were mostly annoying. Brilliant and brilliantly disgusting florian teichtmeister as Bernhardi’s nemesis who wins everything he fought for by using politics. Awful. Disgusting. Brilliant. Bernhard schir is the politician who turns to whoever, whatever suits him best. He’s one of Austria’s best actors and rightfully so. I recognised several politicians in his portrayal and his characterisations are flawless.

Two more mentions because they were good and good looking (yes, I’m shallow): oliver rosskopf as the Dr med whose patient died and nikolaus barton as Bernhardi’s son.

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Napoli Milionari Sept.21st, ’18

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Years ago that was a staged reading, with Geraint Wyn Davies doing the directing and the father of the family that tries to survive in war torn Italy. This time it’s three vignettes that portrait the struggles of anyone involved in the black market in order to not starve. It’s fun, the cast is great, I love Tom McCamus and I loved the way the whole cast is involved in the rebuilding of the stage and set design during each of the 2 intermissions. But it’s loooong. So looong… lol

The first vignette has the mother runnung her black market shop from her bed. The mattress is filled with coffee, cheese, beans… when the carabiniere come around, Papa has to play dead on said bed to protect the goods. Wouldn’t have worked, but an air raid alarm ends the investigation.

The second shows how mom makes more money by still working the black market, and the daughter now has an american boyfriend, while the brother , too young to have fought, is starting to become a thief.

The third part has the father back at home, but nobody wants to hear his story. The daughter is pregnant, her boyfriend back in the US and the youngest sister is gravely ill, with no chance of getting a hold of penicillin. It’s the one neighbour of all people mom had freed of jewellery and apartments so that he could feed his 3 kids who brings the medication … without even wanting something in return. This crisis bri gs the family back together.

Beautiful s1et design, great cast. But oh so long. 😉

Paradise lost Sept. 20th, ’18

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I never read John Milton’s poem Paradise lost. I never was that enthralled by the personified battle between good and evil in order to actually spend time on it. It was Lucy Peacock cast as Satan that made me want to see the play without even knowing what to expect. Plus I really like Avon’s Studio space. I am very glad I did go. Because how can you take a religious tract and not just transform it into a play but also into something that isn’t rank with pathos and sickly religious diatribe.

Well, ask  Jackie Maxwell. She took the bland concept of good vs evil and gave it new life, calling it jealousy because God chose Jesus as his heir and not her, thus leading to her wish to destroy God’s new toy, humankind. It is when Adam and Eve get bored that the wish to eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge is born – with a little help from the snake 😉 . Knowledge in this case is awareness, and sexual awakening and the punishment an all knowing entity who knew what would happen from the beginning doles out seems irrational and over the top (…and then we’re creating a new people that which will be identified by removal of their foreskin… Adam: Excuse me, WHAT????) and so Adam and Eve leave the garden of eden with very little hope other than prayer to live lives in peril and pain and small mindedness, and Satan goes back to rule over hell and leaves them there as a constant reminder to God that they don’t worship him enough to follow his one rule… not to acquire knowledge….

“And here you are, with your fistful of seeds.” Satan’s last words in “Paradise lost”. A curse in itself. But maybe also a promise?

And damn but I’d follow Lucy Peacock wherever she would lead. She is a charismatic, fascinating, cunning and brilliant leader, when she runs circles around the angels who have developed distinctly cult like behaviour over time, who follow God’s word and worship him with empty phrases and gestures, still dumb, still unaware, so different from Satan and from the two humans that have been given free will…

 

 

Rocky Horror Show Sept.20th, ’18

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A riot. A brilliant, fun, awesome riot just as it should be. They sell “paricipation bags” with “secret” content, so I won’t spoil it right here, but suffice to say I bought one and glow sticked and waved and used the newspaper and the gloves and I still have the lip shaped lollipop. Was seated front row next to a bunch of enthusiastic school girls (very well behaved!) and an elderly couple, so when a raunchy heckler (part of the show) called out “doesn’t anyone swallow any more?!” I was the only one laughing out loud in my row. Frank ‘N Furter had no problem locating me. The look of “she does, not you, she!” set me off again and was just making my day! He waved away other contenders for swallowing and pointed directly at me!!! Thank you for including me in this brilliant show!

So as you can see, it’s an amazing show, thanks to Donna Feore’s direction and the fabulous cast, including Dan Chameroy as Frank N. Furter, Jennifer Rider-Shaw as Janet, Sayer Roberts as Brad, Robert Markus as Riff Raff, Erica Peck as  Magenta/Usherette , Steve Ross as the hilarious Narrator and George Krissa as Rocky.

It’s a shame I won’t have the chance to see it twice. Truly a must see experience!

 

Julius Caesar Sept.19th, ’18

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Gender is not important. Only talent counts. They have women playing male parts and it truly doesn’t matter. When Seana McKenna plays Julius Caesar and Michelle Giroux as Mark Antony says Brutus (Jonathan Goad) is an honourable man, all is right in the world and I’d join the Roman people to riot in the streets in a heartbeat. Goad is an amazing Brutus, torn between his friendship to Caesar and his love for the republic he sees in danger by Caesar’s aspirations. He makes the assassination look like an act of love, like the gentle gesture with which a man would bed a woman. And is conflicted about what he did until he falls into his own dagger when he can’t cope with what he’s done any longer. Marvellous.

I also love the costumes in this one. Elizabethan dresses with ruffs, but the senators wear their white pallium as well, and Caesar wears his red. It’s a beautiful hint at both the time it happened and the time it was written. To dress the mourning crowd in muted colours is yet another hint at the clever colour schemes used in this and other festival productions. I’d love to talk with the costume designers some day.

The Tempest Sept.19th, ’18

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Another gender swap ( it’s the time for it apparently) with Martha Henry playing Prospero. Now aside from the fact that Ms Henry is an extraordinary talent and can play pretty much everything she damn well wants,  the story does make even more sense when it’s a woman who was overthrown by a man and sent away with her offspring (another female), and then turns into mother nature to govern the island she was given.

Also basically the whole cast of Coriolanus was on board the ship in peril after the tempest that was caused by Prospero, so that was fun too. (And it’s just one more thing I like about Stratford’s repertory tradition: to see the actors pop up in different parts aside from their leading roles. Yes, I am that nerdy!)

The stage is a thing of beauty though. From time to time there are glowing planets hanging from the ceiling, colourful balls just because they’re pretty. There are fairy lights on the floor and in the trees, and mystical creatures emerge, like the huge raven (?) or the blood hounds with their red eyes.

Also: Martha Henry. As Prospero. I have now seen her and Christopher Plummer in the part and it truly doesn’t get better than this. 😊😊😊❤❤❤

Coriolanus Sept.18th, ’18

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Andre Sills as Coriolanus, Graham Abbey as Tullus. ’nuff said

 

Well, not enough, of course. This play about power and the resentment against those in power, about allegiances and allegiances being broken, about a moral code that respects bravery and transcends man made borders and how this in the end is not enough in the name of love is amazingly easily transponded into our time with its snapchat, twitter and social media presence in everybody’s lives. (There’s even a snapchat scene between a Roman and a Volscian complete with smiley faces. Hilarious!) To see Roman nobles gathering around a round table, discussing politics, or meeting in “a public place” – a bar – is the most normal thing in the world.  Add to that the genial way whole worlds are projected, movie like, onto a blank screen, and you have a feast for the senses, complete with clips where the actor is in the sidelines, but talks to a tiny moving robot camera and is thus present in front of us on the main stage, as if it was a war correspondent sending material from the frontlines. It’s riveting. “Just once I’d like to see it from the audience’s point of view. Because we can’t see the projections”, says Graham Abbey wistfully, which makes the performance even more awe inspiring, knowing that the actors only react to clues on the blank wall. Tech rehearsals must’ve been awful.

Martius is a great warrior. In the continuous battles against the Volscians he proves time and again just how great a soldier he is. His match is Tullus Aufidius, the Volscian, another “lion on the battlefield” who gains his respect. In Corioli Martius more or less single handedly destroys the enemy and thus gains the name Coriolanus. He also gains a headwound, a deep gash in his shoulder and a post traumatic stress syndrome that follows him home. (The scene right after the battle, where they wash off their blood is textbook PTSD: Martius doesn’t recognise his friends any more, recoils in a corner, eyes vacant, empty. So well played. At the same time Tullus is getting treated for another injury in his leg, one caused by Martius who stopped their fight to let him go get medical help. Mutual appreciation of bravery and skill starts here…)

Home with his wife and son, Martius is pestered by his mother to pursue a career in the Senate. Reluctantly he does, but even though he’s coached by senator Menenius and pushed by mommie dearest, his rash temper gets the better of him when he’s questioned by his adversaries. This of course does not end well. He is not only refused the title, two of his enemies also make sure he’s banished from Rome. There’s nothing left for him. He chooses the only place where he is accepted as the hero that he is… the Volscian camp. He quite literally offers his throat to Tullus Aufidius, (small aside: had he shown that kind of humility to the people and senate of Rome, they most likely would’ve granted him the post of Konsul that he – his mother – coveted).

Aufidius though has no intention of killing his adversary. All too glad that Coriolanus has come to join him, he welcomes the former enemy with open arms, embracing him as the worthy counterpart that he is. He offers him half his pay and admits he wasn’t that excited about something since he welcomed his bride to his home. The love he shows Martius is a physical being, real and tender and running so much deeper than just admiration for an equal. Brothers in arms, they walk away, while Tullus’ young Lieutenant quietly clears away the shards of a broken bottle…

With Tullus Aufidius and Coriolanus united, the Volscians win battle after battle, fight after fight, till they’re at the gates of Rome. By now though, a lot of the excitement has worn off – Martius’ temper and his tendency to take command don’t sit too well with Tullus who finds himself sidelined by this berserk. At least Coriolanus sends Menenius packing when he tries to talk him into a peace treaty.  Rome must be theirs , after all.

But then Martius’ wife, child and mother turn up and even though he sends them away, too, years of indoctrination by mommie dearest (who humiliates him quite fiercely in front of his lov… fellow soldiers) take their toll. Coriolanus signs a treaty with the senate of Rome to leave the city undestroyed, his revenge unfulfilled. With this he broke the unspoken bond of trust and so much more with Tullus. Tullus, who knows exactly which buttons to push to bring Coriolanus to explode, Tullus ,who hid a gun in one of the drawers, only  known to his Lieutenant. So when the time comes and Martius attacks Tullus Aufidius, pinning him to the bed in a ferocious attempt to choke him to death, the young Lieutenant knows where to find it and shoots Coriolanus to save Tullus. It is a hollow victory, though, because now that Martius is dead, grief is all that’s left for Aufidius who clings to the cold hand of his companion, crying.

Yes, I am deeply impressed and moved by how Graham Abbey and Andre Sills are playing off each other, adding layer upon layer to their characters and to the lines Shakespeare has given them. How mutual respect and admiration turn into friendship and a deeper feeling that shows Aufidius’ vulnerability in this his world of fights and battles is just amazing to watch. It’s only when Martius also shows his soft spot – not for the man, but for his family – thus betraying what he had with his brother in arms, that something in Tullus finally snaps leading to Coriolanus’ death. It’s a beautiful love story that has no future and should be mourned as such. Because in the end there is no win, just loss and sorrow.

Lucy Peacock is mommie dearest. Drool. Johnathan Sousa is the young Lieutenant,  Tom McCamus is Menenius, Stephen Ouimette and Tom Rooney are the adversaries. The cast is therefore great. Robert Lepage directed and designed the set. The man’s a <expletive, expletive, expletive> genius.

Stage door: thank you Graham and Andre for the chats! 😊