T H E A T E R R E V I E W P A G E
The following reviews are from various newspaper articles and online sources for stage performances.
GLASS MENAGERIE 1997, Tarragon Theatre
EYE review 3-20-97
EYE, MARCH 20, 1997
Featuring Martha Henry, Michael McManus, Kristina Nicoll, Patrick Galligan.
Written by Tennessee Williams.
Directed by Diana Leblanc.
Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman. To April 13. $19-$24, 531-1827.
Say what you're going to do. Do it. Then tell 'em
what you did. These are, apparently, the marks of effective people. And, in the
case of The Glass Menagerie, of an effective playwright.
The play opens with a direct address by the
character Tom, a repressed writer (Tennessee Williams in narrator's drag) who
announces that the evening will consist of a memory play, "dimly lit, with
music," and warns the writing will be "obsessed with symbols."
Then they do it.
Frail, crippled, and terminally shy Laura
expresses herself through a collection of little glass animals, and plays her
absent father's 78s on an old Victrola. Her mother, Amanda, lives through her
children, making horrendous psychological and emotional demands while
rhapsodizing about her debutante days in Mississippi, surrounded by
"gentleman callers" and vases full of jonquils.
Tom drinks, lies and yearns to escape the
shitwork of the warehouse and the sewer of the family home, but is locked in a
power struggle with Amanda and wracked by guilt at the thought of abandoning
Laura. Jim, the next-generation of "gentleman caller" invited into the
home at Amanda's urging, studies radio engineering as his entrée into the Brave
It's a great play. A classic of the genre.
Under Diana Leblanc's studied direction, the cast makes bold, fearless choices
and then sticks them out. It's got a slow build, but a worthy payoff.
Martha Henry's Amanda is a force, as needs be.
Henry is a major leaguer. Whatever choices she made in a rehearsal setting that
might now border on the histrionic will be refined in front of an audience.
Kristina Nicoll's Laura is tremendously achieved in terms of its fragility.
Nicoll, while not playing Laura overtly crippled, has nonetheless denuded the
character of any physical power. She too, will find new moments -- and animate
Laura beyond this astounding reserve.
Galligan, as Jim, is the upbeat embodiment of
everything the family is not, and executes this foil well. McManus, as Tom, is
both narrator and protagonist, and handles the latter assignment best. His
treatment of Tom's monologues, however, is rushed and strangely reportorial.
There is poetry in the writing, not yet indulged. -- CHRISTOPHER WINSOR
STAGE DOOR REVEIW-ROGER KERSHAW 4-13-97
by Tennessee Williams
Tarragon Theatre, Toronto
Playing in The Mainspace from March 4 to April 13, 1997
A Stage Door
Review by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
Magical Martha in shattering Glass Menagerie
Tennessee Williams' masterpiece, The
Glass Menagerie, is certainly receiving its share of deserved attention
this season. No less than three major productions have been planned or mounted,
the Grand Theatre's interpretation being first, and now the first of two Toronto
versions at the Tarragon Theatre. The
final staging will be later this month at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Last
night we witnessed the Tarragon's benchmark production with the transcendent Martha
Henry as long-suffering matriarch Amanda Wingfield, in what has been billed
as the performance to beat this season. La Henry surpasses all expectations
while sending a message to Shirley Douglas and her son, Keifer Sutherland, who
will have to pull out all the stops to remotely approach Henry and Company's
stratospheric "dream team" efforts.
-----The Glass Menagerie is autobiographical in nature and has been described as the quintessential memory play. In a cramped, low-rent St. Louis apartment, out of which fire-escapes offer the only relief or solitude, the Wingfield family struggles to improve their lives: mother Amanda, a single parent, determined, often desperate for change; son Tom, rebellious, longing to flee; and daughter Laura, withdrawn and disabled. Tom seeks release and adventure at the movies and midnight wanderings. Amanda has her memories of a Southern girlhood, hoping to connect past and present by finding a "gentleman caller" for her own daughter. And Laura retreats into her private world of music and a collection of glass figures (the "glass menagerie"), which represent for the playwright "all the softest emotions that belong to the recollection of things past...all the small and tender things that relieve the austere pattern of life." Another character, the absentee father, "worked for the telephone company and fell in love with long distance." His image is softly projected onto two oversized mirrors at each mention of his name.
-----Director Diana Leblanc (Stage Door Award winner <http://www.stage-door.org/johnnies.html>) has assembled a quartet of actors whose stellar efforts, while on Tarragon's intimate Mainspace stage, have to be experienced to be believed. Sitting in the front row we were dazzled, dumbstruck, and awash in the intense, searing emotional highs and lows, augmented by our proximity to the actors.
-----Martha Henry's Amanda is profound and deeply emotional without dissolving into melodrama, simultaneously exploring the character's emotional and physical claustrophobia. Several wrenching scenes with each child serve to illustrate Henry's unsurpassed technical wizardry. A turbulent argument with son Tom over his drinking leaves the audience breathless and embarrassed, so violently real is the acting. Conversely, in a tender moment, she takes daughter Laura outside on the porch to have her make a wish on the "slip of a moon."
-----Son Tom (and narrator, i.e., Williams) is convincingly acted by the talented Michael McManus. The aspiring poet anti-hero is played to perfection as a man completely immersed in himself and his lot in life. The sensitive side of this façade manifests itself in his poetry, and concern about his "crippled" sister. She (sister Laura) is magnificently portrayed by Stratford Festival veteran Kristina Nicoll, recently cross-dressing in As You Like It. What a difference a play makes. Reflecting her fragile glass menagerie, Laura is a waif-like, innocent and troubled woman-child, a role that Nicoll devours with relish. The final moments of the play see Laura blow out candles and collapse in an emotional heap. This demeanour continued through an emotionally spent Nicoll well into the third raucous curtain call.
-----The Gentleman Caller's role is played with optimistic and unbridled abandon by Tarragon newcomer Patrick Galligan. A student of public speaking to cover crippling self-doubt, Galligan's Jim O'Conner comes across like a motivational orator and seeks to help the vacuous Laura and then inadvertently destroys her. Their final scene together is towering achievement and Leblanc has to be given full credit for allowing her ensemble to act as that, in unison, rather than simply allow a star turn for Ms Henry.
-----The cohesiveness of this production is supported by a wonderful design team. Astrid Janson's set and costumes are richly evocative of the Depression era, yet full of life, colour, and accurate down to Amanda's stocking seams. The set, with its Escheresque fire escapes, frames, mirrors and transparent curtains, makes good use of Tarragon's intimate Mainspace. The set is lit by Tarragon veteran Louise Guinand. She uses realistic candle-lit and subdued lighting resources to perfection, especially in the scenes following the power failure.
-----This new triumph at the Tarragon Theatre will certainly live in our memory for a long time. This dream team's collective effort is doubtless the production to see this season. Get tickets as quickly as you can for this sure sellout. Tickets ($19 to 24...is this possible for such talent?) are available by calling the box office at 416/531-1827.
DOOR - CHRISTOPHER HOILE
by Tennessee Williams, directed by Chris Abraham
CanStage, Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto
January 13-February 26, 2005
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door
Menagerie to Forget
I have always thought CanStage should add a classic play to its
annual mix. The revival of Tennessee William’s “The Glass Menagerie” for
its 60th anniversary would seem to be a good idea, especially with a fine cast
led by an innovative director like Chris Abraham. Sadly, Abraham has outsmarted
himself here and turned a play that is simple and affecting to one that is
overly complex and affected. The production originated at the Saidye Bronfman
Montreal in 2002. Who knows what possessed the people at CanStage
to bring so misguided a projection to Toronto.
One main problem is evident when you walk into the auditorium of the downstairs Berkeley Street Theatre. All “The Glass Menagerie” needs for a set is a single room that doubles as a parlour and dining-room and the landing of a outdoor stairway. Instead of this, set designers Guido Tondino and Victoria Zimski have used every inch of the long Berkeley Street Theatre stage. We see not only the Wingfield’s parlour, but a separate dining-room with sideboard behind it, Amanda’s bedroom upstage right with a worktable downstage right, a kitchen upstage left with the landing downstage left, a large table covered with shoes (representing, I suppose Tom’s place of work), and the metal stairs (part of the building itself) where Jim, the Gentleman Caller sits throughout the first act.
Thus, we have an atmosphere of spaciousness not claustrophobia. The Wingfield residence is so big that the physical and psychological need to escape whether to the movies as Tom does or into a private world as Laura does is undermined. Rather than concentrating the action and its impact, the set dissipates it. Abraham has obviously attempted to institute some of Brecht’s alienation techniques by taking the set all the way to the actual brick back and side and side walls of the building, but in so doing he has not reckoned with the acoustics of the hall. Without the walls of a set to reflect the sound at Berkeley Street
, it floats straight upward. In particular, virtually none of the
scenes played near the upstage back wall, like Amanda’s attempts to sell
subscriptions or the various dining scenes, can be understood due to interfering
echo patterns. When Amanda and Tom have their major dust-up in Act 1, all we can
tell is that they’re angry--we can’t actually hear the words they are
saying. Add to this the fact that the volume level of the recordings played on
the gramophone are too high and that Abraham has violinist Rick Hyslop play
during numerous speeches and much of the text goes missing.
This would be bad enough, but Abraham has also misdirected the central characters. “The play is memory”, says Tom Wingfield, who narrates and acts as a character in the play. Well, not here. Abrahams has directed Damien Atkins as Tom to be not someone who is a neutral stage manager and set dresser, which he does all too slowly, but as someone destroyed by the memory of what he has done to his family. This makes sense given the play’s ending, but it does not make sense that Tom should remain in the same soul-destroyed mood in the scenes of the past he is recalling. Abraham has Atkins play Tom’s present self all throughout the play. Not only does this eliminate the contrast between Tom our narrator and Tom as he was before, but it flattens the tone of the whole work, destroying the comedy that should exist in the early scenes by infusing them with Tom’s later dread and anxiety. Atkins does maintain Tom’s overwrought state, though not his Southern accent, for the length of the play, but I’m sure he would appreciate the chance to display more variety. He is very good at suggesting that Tom’s frequent “movie-going” hides much more that he could ever admit in the 1930s.
By suppressing the warmth and love that should be present in the Wingfield home, Abraham makes it hard to understand why Tom so regrets leaving it behind. Since Abraham, contrary to the text, is presenting Tom’s memories suffused with sentiment, he shows us Tom’s mother and sister in a critical rather than a sympathetic light. Rosemary Dunsmore, who would otherwise make an wonderful Amanda, is here very much like the screeching witch Tom calls her in anger. None of the tragicomedy comes out of a Southern belle trying to act according to an antique code of behaviour that her present world cares about.
Laura, Tom’s sister, fares even worse. She is crippled and pathologically shy, but to that Abraham adds another impediment. He has Michelle Monteith speak all her lines in a grating monotonous if Laura also has a mental deficit that affects her speech. This does make Laura an even more pathetic creature than usual, but it also makes Amanda’s hopes for her and, worse, Jim’s speeches to her about self-confidence, seem deluded. It naturally also prevent Monteith from giving any nuance to her character. Only Seann Gallagher as Jim escapes Abraham’s revisionism and gives a fine, compassionate, multilayered performance.
Barbara Rowe’s costumes capture the period flavour of the piece and her Southern gown for Amanda clearly shows a woman at least a generation behind the times. Abraham demands both naturalistic and non-naturalist lighting, at both of which Luc Prairie is adept, often separating characters in squares of bright white light. Rick Hyslop’s mournful live music is pleasant enough, but is largely unnecessary, especially when it overlaps the recorded music.
It’s sad to see talented actors trapped in so ill-conceived a production and playing in a venue where half their words go unheard. Where is the quality control at CanStage? Why did no one step in and at least solve the sound problems before the show opened? “The Glass Menagerie” is a much-loved memory play, but this is a unlovable production most people will want to forget.
VARSITY-MICHAEL COLLINS 3-17-97
posted on Web posted on Monday, March 17, 1997
Kief, here’s a tough act to follow
Collins, Varsity Staff
Toronto will see not
one, but two stagings of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie this year. A
production starring Kiefer Sutherland and his mother, Shirley Douglas, runs
later this month, but first out of the blocks is one staged by the Tarragon
Tennessee Williams takes us to St. Louis, where we meet the Wingfield family. There we meet Tom (Michael McManus), a dreamer who wants to escape the confines of the small flat he shares with his semi-senile mother, Amanda (Martha Henry), and his house-bound crippled sister Laura (Kristina Nicoll). In the hopes of marrying off Laura, his mother entreats Tom to bring home one of his co-workers, Jim O'Connor (Patrick Galligan), for dinner. The dose of reality the 'gentleman caller' brings to the family is too much to bear, and tears their fabricated world down. Martha Henry is simply marvelous in her role as the aged Southern belle. She plays a strong woman, who despite being abandoned by her husband, still clings to the hope that her children may have some hope in the future. As in the scene where she is waiting on an apology by Tom, she manages to convey to the audience Amanda's stubborn sense of pride coupled with real vulnerability. McManus plays Tom with subdued flair. At times he appears unemotionally removed and callous, at others he shows the tantrum of someone stuck in one place too long-his only escape from the apartment comes after every time he delivers the line, "I'm going to the movies." The interpretation of Laura is a little puzzling at times. For parts of the play, Nicoll is trudging around the apartment, favouring one side, suggesting the crippled leg. At others, the semi-limp is foregone in favour of shuffling or simple walking. It may be done to suggest that nothing is visibly 'wrong' with her, but Nicoll seems indiscriminate with her use of this device-if indeed it is one at all. Overall the Tarragon staging is a strong one, and Kiefer and his mom shouldn't get their hopes that all the 'gentlemen callers' will show up to their production. The Glass Menagerie continues at the Tarragon Theatre until Apr. 13. Call the Box Office for further information at (416) 531-1827. The Sunday 2:30 p.m. performances are Pay What You Can.
HOME IS MY ROAD-FACTORY THEATRE , APRIL-MAY 2003
Fagan grapples with identity in Florence Gibson's new play
IS MY ROAD Featuring
Patricia Fagan, Arsinée Khanjian, Sean Dixon, Brandon McGibbon. Written by
Florence Gibson. Directed by Ken Gass. Previews Apr 11-16, runs Apr 17-May 11.
Tue-Sat 8pm, Sun 2 pm. Special times May 10, 2 pm & Apr 13, 7 pm. $22-$30.
Previews $10. Sun PWYC or $22 in advance. Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst.
416-504-9971. BY CONRAD McCALLUM
BY ESTHER CHOI
Patricia Fagan needs to have an identity crisis but hasn't quite
figured out how. Three weeks into rehearsals of Home Is My Road, the new play by Florence Gibson that previews this
week at Factory Theatre, Fagan has yet to fully grasp her character. She plays
Esme, a young Canadian woman who travels to Romania to find her birth mother and
is staggered by the revelation that she is Roma (Gypsy).
"It stops her dead in her tracks," says Fagan, explaining
that 20-year-old Esme only knows of the Roma through the stereotypes and slurs
that dog this maligned group. "She seems to be getting into thicker mud the
more she finds out," says Fagan, dissecting her character, "and with
every revelation it becomes a question of 'Should I keep going or should I just
get on a plane and go back home where ignorance is bliss?'"
Having played a young cancer patient in Therac 25 and the unmarried mother of Leonardo da Vinci in Vinci,
Fagan is no stranger to roles that take her outside of her own circumstances.
It's something else, however, to have the very precepts of a character's
identity fundamentally reshaped, and nothing in the Sault Ste. Marie-born
actor's 26 years has prepared her for that.
But standing in the wings is Gibson. "Florence is a really
great resource," says Fagan, even though the 51-year-old playwright also
lacks first-hand knowledge of adoption and isn't Roma. But as the theatre world
discovered when the former physician's first-ever play, Belle, about a black woman in post-emancipation America, became the
surprise hit of Factory's 2000 season, Gibson is a master of identity. "For
me, that's the job of the writer," she says. "You have to put yourself
in other people's shoes or you can't write about anything. You can't write about
yourself because you don't know yourself reflected in other people."
In writing this play, Gibson pondered deeply what it means to lose
a child or to lose a mother. She says practically everyone knows an adoption
story or a birth-mother story, and therefore audiences will be able to relate to
the pain in her characters.
Gibson, who handles interview questions with generous detail and
enthusiasm, says she hasn't moved all that far from her Chalmers-winning
breakthrough. "I was in about draft three or four [of Home Is My Road] when I realized I had huge thematic similarities
with Belle," says. "I wanted
to look again at female racism in a contemporary setting, I wanted to look at
that cross-cultural divide and see the roles that everybody plays, where are we
complicit, where do we work against ourselves, where are we divided amongst
ourselves and within ourselves? All of that, for me, is just huge fertile ground
From that ground, Gibson has cultivated three lead characters, all
of them strong but vulnerable women. Trinquet (Arsinée Khanjian) is a Roma
mother on the verge of losing her child to a baby broker (Michael McManus);
Grace (Brenda Robins) is a Canadian seeking to adopt who finds herself sickened
by Romania's squalid orphanages; and finally, there's Esme, charmed by
Trinquet's brother (Brandon McGibbon) and drawn into a family struggling to make
a home in the face of persecution.
When Belle debuted to
rave reviews, it was often asked how a white, middle-aged woman captured so
convincingly the period voice of a Southern black woman; sometimes the subtext
was an accusation of cultural appropriation, a tag that makes Gibson bristle.
"I think what bothers me about the cultural appropriation thing is that
it's a denial of female culture," she says, "as well as a
Machiavellian approach of keeping us all in our little boxes, where we don't
communicate and we don't know others."
Gibson is deeply invested in writing; the current script was four
years in the making. But as she sits in on rehearsals, Fagan reports, she's
never too prescriptive, deferring to the instincts of her cast and director Ken
Gass. "Whatever themes Florence puts into the play," says Fagan,
"she kind of lets us figure out for ourselves how to make it personal and
specific to the character we're creating."
Gibson has the insight gleaned from motherhood and 30-plus years of
marriage, not to mention a career in medicine that has taken her to Vietnam and
Kenya, inside refugee camps and children's clinics, to the Northwest Territories
and finally, Cobourg, Ont. There she continued to practice and raised two
children before taking up writing full-time and moving with her husband to
A piece about the Roma had been in the works for years, but it
wasn't until she read up on the post-Communist black market for Romanian babies
that an adoption story seemed a crucial tie-in.
"I just think that only a mother that's been so broken in some way, either culturally or in a family or something, would give up a child," Gibson says. "And I think we have to look at how we break women and force them to give up babies."
Is My Road by Florence Gibson April 11 - May 11, 2003 Factory Theatre, 125
Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario Tickets $10.00 - $30.00 (416) 504-9971 Cast
Sean Dixon, Patricia Fagan, Arsinee Khanjian, Brandon McGibbon, Michael McManus,
Monique Mojica, Brenda Robins, and Dragoslav Tanaskovic Director Ken Gass Set
and Costumes Shawn Kerwin Lighting Bonnie Beecher Sound Design Dragoslav
Tanaskovic Assistant Director Rebecca Picherak Stage Manager Fiona Jones
Director's Creed Write it off as a
trivial coincidence but there is a recognizable pattern taking shape at Factory
Theatre. For a second consecutive year the 2002/2003 season concludes with a Florence
Gibson world premiere. Although the cast has changed, the director has not. Ken Gass, honoured with a Capital
Critics Circle Award for his work on Belle
at The National Arts Centre in Ottawa last year, returns to direct Home
Is My Road, a drama tracing the parallel routes of two Canadian women in
Romania after the fall of communism. The Factory Theatre Artistic Director has
mounted more than 30 productions throughout his career and knows a thing or two
about staging a play. Students at University of Toronto attest to this as Ken
Gass makes the hike North each week from his Bathurst Street theatre company
to instruct students on the discipline and focus required to perfect the acting
KINGSTON SUMMER FESTIVAL- GRAND THEATRE AUG-SEPT 1997
Mad Boy Chronicles
Sir John, Eh?
Eye Article 3-29-1997
MARCH 29, 1997
Hwy. 401 to Kingston. The Grand Theatre is at 218 Princess. Tickets $15 $20 at (613) 530-2050
FOOL FOR LOVE by Sam Shepard, July 8-Aug. 10. Sam Shepard's psychosexual cowboy drama, complete with lassos and pickup trucks. Yee haw.
MAD BOY CHRONICLE by Michael O'Brien, Aug. 14-Sept. 13. Viking lore meets Hamlet as Christianity sweeps across Europe. A medieval farce that makes the dangerous promise of being "Monty Python-esque."
SIR JOHN, EH? by Jim Garrard &Grant Heckman, Aug. 15-31. The ghost of our first prime minister wanders the bars of modern Canada, keeping track of current events, but threatened by a young punk rocker. Music and hilarity ensue.
THE CONVICT LOVER PROJECT by Merilyn Simonds, July 17-Aug. 11. A work-in-progress based on letters between a girl in '20s Kingston and her convict penpal.
The Toronto Star, August 25, 1997, Final
Ontario Theatre Kingston Summer Festival
Kingston theatre to close early
The Kingston Summer Festival is closing its theatre season
two weeks early as a result of an irreconcilable dispute with a
member of the company.
Productions of Sir John
Eh? and Mad Boy Chronicle, written about
extensively in Saturday's Star by drama critic Geoff Chapman, were
to continue at the Grand Theatre until Sept. 14 and Sept. 12
respectively. Now they'll shut down at the end of this month.
The dispute is with actor Michael McManus, who plays the key role
of the ``mad boy'' Horvendal in Mad Boy Chronicle (a variation of
the Hamlet tragedy) and five parts in Sir John Eh? (a musical about
the life of Canada's first prime minister) McManus has appeared on
stages across Canada and in Britain.
``The actor insists on pulling out Aug. 31. We have made every
effort to seek a replacement
actor and have tried to find other
solutions, but it hasn't been possible,'' said festival executive
producer Nancy Helwig.
Copyright The Toronto Star 1997 All Rights Reserved.
GLOBE AND MAIL 8-23-97
KINGSTON FESTIVAL TO WRAP EARLY PT 2
Globe and Mail, August 23 1997 pC4
Kingston festival to wrap up early:
organizers cite actor's
resignation. James Adams.
The sudden resignation of a main performer
at this year's Kingston Summer Festival
has forced the event to wrap up two weeks
ahead of schedule, organizers say.
However, the actor in question, Toronto's
Michael McManus, says he shouldn't have
to bear the brunt of the blame.
McManus resigned from the festival's
repertory company late on the evening of Aug.
15, saying he would be leaving his key
roles in the plays Sir John Eh?and Mad Boy
Chronicleat the end of the month. The
festival's artistic director, Jim Garrard, and
executive director Nancy Helwig tried last
weekend to dissuade McManus from
leaving but were unsuccessful. According
Garrard, "no clear reason" was given for
McManus's sudden departure.
Festival organizers announced this week
that a season that was supposed to end Sept.
14 will now be concluding Aug. 30. Helwig
said McManus is virtually irreplaceable in
that he plays "four or five singing and
dancing parts" in Sir John and is the co-star of
Mad Boy Chronicle. Because the repertory
company consists of only nine performers,
there is no real understudy for his parts.
Helwig said McManus's abrupt departure
likely cost the festival, now in its fifth
year, $50,000 in gross revenue, including
$20,000 in refunds to patrons, and result in
layoffs of 30 performers, stage hands and
other support staff.
McManus said yesterday it is within his
contractual rights as a member of Actors
Equity to give two weeks notice. Moreover,
he argued "it would be easy to replace
me; that's the nature of the business
What prompted his departure, he said,
shortly after his arrival in Kingston when
"I found out that I would have to move out
of my rental accommodations Sept. 1 to
make way" for students returning to
He and other members of the company said
they asked festival organizers for help in
finding new accommodations and parking,
their response "wasn't very helpful."
Earlier, the organizers had suggested that
the company should spend its last weeks in
the Alexander Henry, an icebreaker that
been converted to a bed and breakfast.
McManus declined because he said the
Alexander Henry had restrictive hours and
prohibitions against smoking and pets,
among other "hassles."
McManus added that he felt the real reason
for the cancellation of the festival's last
weeks had more to do with poor attendance
at the 485-seat Grand Theatre than his
departure. In fact, at least one other
member of the company had announced he was
leaving before McManus without
precipitating a crisis.
Helwig acknowledged yesterday that
attendance has not been especially high at this
year's festival, which began July 1 with
productions of Fool for Love and The Comic
Lover. "We definitely needed more people
than we got."
On several occasions, the theatre was
filled to only 10 per cent of capacity. However,
the final two weeks of the scheduled
promised to be the most profitable as
students and staff would return to Queen's
from holidays and at least two corporate
nights had been organized. Performances of
Sir John for 3,000 Kingston-area school
children had also been organized.
Helwig agreed that finding decent
accommodation for actors "is a perennial problem."
However, "they knew that before they came
to Kingston. . . . We also did give them a
list of places, with addresses and prices,
that were available for two weeks and asked
them to look at them themselves."
She indicated that the Kingston festival
will return next year for a sixth season, but it
will be on a "restructured basis."~FLE
OCTOBER-TARRAGON THEATRE, NOV 8-DEC 18, 1988
October written and directed by John Murrell starring: Donald
Adams, Martha Burns, Clare Coulter, Michael McManus, Dennis O'Connor set &
costume design: Astrid Janson & John Thomson lighting design: Harry Frehner
stage manager: Barry Peters November 8 - December 18, 1988
Copyright © Tarragon Theatre, 2001
by James Polk
directed by Andy McKim
starring: Diana Belshaw, Geoffrey Bowes, John Gilbert, Judy Marshak, Jackie May, Michael McManus
THE PAINTING-FACTORY STUDIO THEATER 1995
TORONTO SUN, 9-28-1995
September 28, 1995
Stand-Up Comedy Short On Laughs
By JOHN COULBOURN
Despite the fact that
playwright Sean Dixon sees it as the granddaddy of stand-up comedy, priapism
proves a pretty limp hook on which to hang an entire evening of entertaiment.
Medically defined as
"persistent, usually painful erection of the penis," the lighter side
of priapism emerges as the focal point of Dixon's latest work, titled The
Painting. A hot entry in this year's Summerworks Festival, the play has popped
up again on the stage of the Factory Theatre Studio Cafe, where it opened
Directed by Tanja
Jacobs and presented by Invisible City in association with Factory Theatre,
Painting stars Diane Flacks and Michael McManus in a grab-bag of roles. She's
cast as a clerk in a cheese market, an art lover, a mother and a libidinous
connoisseur of erections.
He's cast as the
martyred Saint Sebastian, a spurned boyfriend, a cheesy co-worker and a lifelong
victim of the irrepressible member from puberty.
She tackles her parts
with an understated comic verve appropriate to the essential skittishness of the
piece. He turns in a universally sheepish, self-conscious performance that in
other circumstances could best be described as stiff and wooden.
Both are victims of
Dixon's pen as he struggles to stroke sophomoric giggles into something of
substance, drawing flaccid connections between priapism, fine art and death.
Scant wonder that Jacob's direction seems to lack either focus or direction.
Long on humor but
desperately short on wit, The Painting could no doubt be rethought as a
10-minute skit. Stretching it over 50 minutes, however, is little more than
flogging a dead horse.
SUN RATING: 2 OUT OF 5
ZASTROZZI-FACTORY THEATRE, 1987-1988
CHRIS JOHNSON 1988
9 No. 2 (Fall 1988)
F WALKER DIRECTS GEORGE F WALKER
article is based on the observation of rehearsals for the 1987 Factory Theatre
production of George F. Walker's Zastrozzi: The
Master of Discipline, directed by Walker.
Walker's casting choices and rehearsal techniques are examined to delineate his
'language of the stage' as a complement to the language of his script, and to
determine his current interpretation of the play.
article se porte sur mes observations pendant la période de répétition en
1987 de la pièce de George F Walker Zastrozzi: The
Master of Discipline, dirigée par Walker
lui-même au Factory Theatre. Son choix de distribution et ses techniques de
répétition sont examinés afin de délinéer la façon don't son langage
théâtral en effet complémente son langage dramatique et aussi afin de
déterminer son interprétation actuelle de la pièce.
George F. Walker hates directing George F. Walker, or so he says.
He may well simply hate directing, but as he has never directed a play by anyone
else, he is not certain. Walker says he may have to do that sometime, just to
determine whether it is directing per se he
dislikes so much. Directing, says Walker, is socially embarrassing. The director
is continually put in the position of having to say something whether he has
something to say or not, and whether or not the actors are listening, an
experience Walker likens to talking to an empty parking lot: often they do not
listen because they are too busy doing their own work inside. Furthermore, in
Walker's case, directing is socially embarrassing because it involves talking
about oneself. That is what made the prospect of sitting in on Walker's
rehearsals for the tenth anniversary productions of Zastrozzi:
The Master of Discipline at the Factory Theatre in Toronto in April and May
of 1987 particularly attractive to me.
the ninth of the eighteen Walker stage plays produced thus far, opened at the
Toronto Free Theatre on 2 November 1977. Along with the first of the Power
plays, Gossip, given its premiere
earlier the same year, Zastrozzi is
credited with establishing Walker's popularity, and remains one of the most
widely produced of his plays, having been staged in the United States, England,
New Zealand, Australia, and Germany, as well as in theatres across Canada.
(Tongue-in-cheek, Walker ascribes the play's popularity to its numerous sword
fights, more seriously to its appeal to various fantasies concerning
conscienceless villains and their Gypsy lovers.)
Set in Europe in the 1890s, based on a description of Shelley's
novel of the same title and, according to Walker, inspired by Piranesi's prison
drawings, Zastrozzi is Gothic
melodrama/black comedy: the eponym, 'the master criminal of all Europe,' stalks
Verezzi the artiste ostensibly to
avenge his mother's murder but more importantly because Zastrozzi is the 'master
of discipline' with a mission to make all 'answerable' to their own dark sides.
Zastrozzi is aided by Bernardo, a thug who aspires to take Zastrozzi's place,
and Matilda, 'the most accomplished seductress in Europe.' Verezzi is defended
byVictor, a failed priest who honours a promise to Verezzi's father to look
after the holy fool, pitting common sense, common decency, and a sense of humour
against both Zastrozzi's absolute discipline and Verezzi's absolute aspiration.
Matters are complicated by the serendipitous appearance of Julia, the
quintessential virgin, who wins the love of Verezzi and, perhaps, Zastrozzi.
Like many of Walker's plays, Zastrozzi is a confrontation between good and evil, compelling the
audience to consider the issues through clever manipulation and division of
I secured permission to sit in on rehearsals for the Factory Zastrozzi
in the hope of learning something about Walker's working relationship with his
actors, of finding out to what extent he sees himself as an authority on his own
work and to what extent he sees himself as a facilitator, a director who does
not go into the rehearsal process with a comprehensive, predetermined vision of
the production, but who arrives at a completed vision through active
collaboration with his cast, encouraging and guiding the actors' response to the
script, developing a production from that response. Further, I wanted to know
whether this relationship was influenced by past experience, whether Walker's
theatrical language for actors experienced in the Walker style is different from
that which he uses for actors without that experience. I wanted to know if there
would be rewrites, line alterations to accommodate any changes of mind Walker
may have had concerning the script. (I quickly discovered that there were no
such changes: a word was added here, deleted there, all in the service of
business associated with this particular production, but there were no changes
of substance.) I wanted to examine Walker's theatrical statements as a director,
and to examine ways in which this production illuminates the text, with
particular attention to the manipulation of empathy and to the balance between
serious and comic elements of the play.
The material for this article came from three interviews with
Walker; less formal conversations with actors and audience members; notes taken
by Cathy Smith, my fellow observer, who is preparing a thesis on Walker for the
Graduate Centre for Study of Drama at the University of Toronto; and my own
notes based on the observation of rehearsals. There is a gap in the latter two
sources; Walker asked Ms Smith and me to stay away for four days during the
second week of the three and a half week rehearsal period, as he was worried
that in the presence of observers some of his actors were jumping forward to
performance level too soon, with consequences destructive for reasons that I
hope will be made clear by the following discussion of Walker's working methods.
For Walker the director, casting was one of the most important
means of realizing his 1987 concept of the play. In pre-show publicity, Walker
is quoted as describing the Factory players as his 'ideal cast'. Flackery
aside, it is clear that Walker's directorial objectives were furthered by the
make-up of the 1987 cast: Michael Hogan as Zastrozzi, Michael McManus as Verezzi,
Peter Blais as Victor, Robert Bockstael as Bernardo, Susan Hogan as Matilda, and
Nicky Guadagni as Julia. One of the most frequently employed rehearsal tactics
was Walker's reminding the actors why they had been cast, with reference to
those qualities which they had already demonstrated and which Walker needed as
ingredients for the 1987 production.
Zastrozzi himself is, as usual, the key. Walker specifically wanted
Michael Hogan for the role, and Hogan's availability was a determining factor in
Walker's decision to propose and direct the production. What Walker wanted was
'a middle-aged, passionate actor.' That 'passion' is necessary to a
successful production of Walker's work is now an accepted critical assumption,
but the reverberations created by the fact that Hogan's Zastrozzi was definitely
fortyish were unexpected by many people who had seen the original production in
1977, and who regarded as merely odd Walker's departure from the 'muscle and
leather' casting of Zastrozzi of that production. The implications of the
middle-aged Zastrozzi were anticipated, welcomed, and exploited by Walker.
Stephen Markle's 1977 Zastrozzi was described by Bryan Johnson,
then writing for the Globe and Mail, as 'an impossible character, a mythical
devil,' and 'a fascinating, extraordinary evil dynamo.' Of Hogan's
Zastrozzi, Robert Crew in the Toronto Star
speaks of a performance 'full of power and touches of humor but lacking a
certain seductively evil suavity and charisma. This Zastrozzi shows signs of age
and vulnerability.' Exactly. Hogan's Zastrozzi did show signs of
vulnerability and age, but that is what Walker wanted, in 1987, without losing
the character's persistent and perverse passion. Zastrozzi's vulnerability is
integral to the script - his mind may be so powerful that he can have nightmares
and observe himself having nightmares simultaneously, but he cannot prevent
himself from having nightmares. A forty-year-old's nightmares are not as easily
dispelled as a child's, or even a thirty-year-old's. When Zastrozzi sees in
nightmares glimpses of another self, he sees the possibility of good; and in
Hogan's Zastrozzi, the commitment to evil was sometimes qualified in his waking
actions: in the kinship with and compassion for Victor, clear at points
throughout the innkeeper scene and at Victor's death; in the somewhat fatherly
rough-housing with Bernardo; in the pedagogical quality Hogan gave to
Zastrozzi's approach to all the other characters in the play, especially Verezzi.
Denis Johnston, historian of the Toronto alternative theatre and author of the
article, 'George F. Walker: Liberal Idealism and the "Power Plays"',
has pointed out that this was a Zastrozzi whose mind took precedence over his
body. Ask questions first, stab later.
When Michael McManus auditioned for the part, he showed Walker a
new way to play Verezzi, or so Walker says. McManus is a relatively
inexperienced actor, but Walker saw in his energy and intensity the possibility
for a Verezzi whose passion is a match for Zastrozzi's. Bryan Johnson describes
Geoffrey Bowes' 1977 Verezzi as a 'whining, silly, weakling' and complains that
this characterization renders insignificant the 'deadly bond' between Verezzi
and Zastrozzi. In his 1979 Scene
Cbanges interview with Chris Hallgren, Walker seemed not altogether pleased
with audience reaction to Verezzi in early productions: 'There's been a tendency
for people to think of him as moronic. I think that's just a reflection of our
own age. We cannot accept God, obsession or goodliness, when, in fact, a Verezzi
has his own power.' </Texts/TRIC/bin/get.cgi?directory=vol9_2/&filename=/Johnson_Notes.html>
Walker used McManus to give the 1987 Verezzi more substance and
weight, and to attempt to redress what he sees as an imbalance in the Verezzi/Zastrozzi
confrontation. The attempt was not an unqualified success. There is some truth
to the view that part of the difficulty lies in the script itself. Furthermore,
there were times in rehearsal when it seemed to me that Walker worked against
the larger strategy for the sake of a particularly effective and funny moment -
Verezzi sight-gags are almost irresistible: McManus's balletic fussiness was
sometimes overdone, and his frequently upturned eyes seemed too close to the
conventional portrait of the ostentatious religious fanatic, undercutting the
impression of sometimes deluded but always sincerely held conviction which
elsewhere Walker seemed to be trying to achieve. Sometimes McManus could not
take the stronger Verezzi where Walker wanted him to go. In rehearsal, at the
end of the play, McManus snatched up Victor's sword when made aware that
Zastrozzi does exist and is present, but dropped the weapon on the line, 'I'm
immune. I am in touch with Him. Protected by Him,' putting himself wholly
in the hands of God. A foolish man, certainly, but one whose faith is extremely
strong. By the time the show opened, the moment had been abandoned - instead,
Verezzi slashed desperately at Zastrozzi, and was instantly disarmed and flung
to the floor for his final interrogation. Walker worried that his initial
staging was a moment from his 1984 direction of Zastrozzi
for the Nimrod Theatre in Sydney, Australia, which he was imposing on the
Factory production and which was inappropriate for the actors involved. The
moment itself was strong as it stood in rehearsals, but it seemed to Walker to
provide insufficient impetus to take McManus into the final lesson on the nature
of reality. While the change forfeited an excellent opportunity to express
Verezzi's obsessive goodliness and inner strength, and, in my opinion, placed
his transformation a few seconds too early in the scene, Walker's directorial
decision to tailor the sequence to the needs and capacities of the actors
involved is typical of his approach as a director. Elsewhere, Walker and McManus
between them did give us a Verezzi deluded but strong, substantial enough to
convincingly motivate Zastrozzi's antagonism. Because Hogan's Zastrozzi diluted
elements of the 'mythical devil' with characteristics of an ordinary, cynical
forty-year-old, the contest was further balanced; to the melodramatic opposition
of good and evil, Walker, Hogan, and McManus added the homely attributes of
conflict based on a generation gap. The historical shift in values central to
the text took on a human dimension.
Critical comment on Zastrozzi:
The Master of Discipline has often noted that Verezzi and Zastrozzi are both
artists. Less emphasized is the fact that Victor and Zastrozzi are both
teachers. In rehearsals, while helping Hogan define Zastrozzi's attitude to the
other characters, Walker used the analogy of the grade-school teacher.
Zastrozzi's teaching methods are somewhat extreme: his favourite pedagogical
tactic is to empty the victim/student's mind in order to replace a previously
held belief with new thoughts of Zastrozzi's own choosing. Both Victor and
Zastrozzi attempt to convince Verezzi that their vision/version of 'reality' is
the correct one. Because McManus was a stronger than usual Verezzi in the 1987
Factory production, both Victor and Zastrozzi had to work harder on their lesson
plans. In one of Walker's favourite phrases, 'the stakes are raised.'
Victor, of course, is already the most complex character in the
play, making it up as he goes along, a modern man whose pragmatic relationship
with God compels him to reinvent moral values as the situation alters; in this,
Victor is in sharp contrast to those two dogmatic anachronisms, Zastrozzi and
Verezzi. Peter Blais added some complications of his own by taking and playing
seriously Victor's very ordinariness. At the opening night party, Susan Purdy
remarked that Blais' was the most genuinely ordinary Victor she had seen -
often, the tendency for an actor playing Victor is to play a character of
superior intellect (like the actor!) pretending to be ordinary. By being
ordinary, Blais was free to do the unexpected, for instance, to be momentarily
swayed by Zastrozzi's arguments. I believe Walker cast Blais knowing that Blais
would be his most active collaborator in the re-exploration of the text.
Walker apparently wanted to play against stereotype with all the
characters, to temper the dominant note with 'realistic' inconsistency. Hence,
Robert Bockstael's Bernardo was not the simple-minded, hulking henchman; to
begin with, he is physically too small for the stereotype, much smaller than
George Buza who played the part in the original production. In Walker's words,
'Bernardo is not stupid, but lives in a narrow corridor -if he goes beyond that,
he's lost.' When Julia suggests in the prison scene that she and Bernardo, start
again, 'develop a respectful attitude to each other. Eventually fall in love on
just the right terms,' Bockstael's Bernardo considered the possibility for
a moment, before violently rejecting it, terrified by the foreign impulse in
himself. (This moment was an example of a minor line change, Walker the
playwright adding a 'No' to help Bockstael achieve the moment Walker the
Matilda was not the archetypal seductress. Susan Hogan gave a
rather domestic quality to her scenes with Zastrozzi, and I do not think I am
merely projecting biography onto production here. Walker is evasive when asked
whether he had this effect in mind when casting the Hogans (who are married),
but concedes that he is pleased that this Zastrozzi was compelled to deal with
this Matilda, that Matilda was to Hogan's Zastrozzi a real woman, a long-time
partner, rather than the ghost of something he had already left far behind him.
Walker wanted Nicky Guadagni to be more than 'virginal', instead an
iron-willed individual determined to make the world conform to her 'rosy
coloured' vision; virginity is a symptom, not a cause. When, for example,
Bernardo threw Julia into the prison, Julia exclaimed, under Walker's direction,
'What is this place? I've never been here, ' 10 rather as one would
comment on a smart little restaurant that has inexplicably escaped one's
attention until now, instinctively reclassifying experience so that it fits
comfortably within her 'rosy vision.' It seems to me that Guadagni had some
difficulty transcending the stereotyped innocent, a parody of Little Nell, and I
agree with Ray Conlogue when he says of her first night performance that she was
'acting her heart out but not quite hitting the right tone.' Still, it
should be pointed out that as the run progressed, there were performances in
which Guadagni played the moments more and relied less on a preconceived notion
of the part, demonstrating why Walker cast her.
Discussing Walker's casting has taken rather more space than I had
anticipated, but as rehearsals progressed, I became more and more aware of how
important that element was for this production. It has often been said that
eighty percent of a production is in shrewd casting, and George F. Walker once
said that a director's primary goal should be to mediate between actor and
script, and to facilitate the actor's making full use of his own creative
powers. Walker was clearly in an enviable position with regard to the script,
and having chosen his actors very shrewdly, was in a position to undertake some
very profitable mediation.
It became very clear very early in rehearsals that there is indeed
a language for the Walker veterans, with Peter Blais at that end of the scale,
and another for the Walker virgins, with Michael McManus and Nicky Guadagni at
that end. Michael Hogan, who originated the role of Tom in Better Living, Susan Hogan, who has played Susan Scott in Filthy
Rich, and Robert Bockstael, who had acted in three Walker plays in Ottawa,
fall somewhere in between.
When Blais went into rehearsals for the Factory Zastrozzi,
he had played eight Walker roles in the previous twelve years, creating four
of those roles: the King in Rumours of Our
Death, Factory, 1980; Hank the American soldier in Theatre
of the Film Noir, Factory, 1981; William in Criminals in Love, Factory, 1984; and Jack the Priest in Better
Living, CentreStage, 1986. Blais and Walker barely talked to each other at
all. They smiled at one another occasionally. Most of their work together
concerned blocking and timing. In the first scene between Victor and Verezzi,
Walker and Blais were concerned with the focus on the painting: it was important
that the conversation be not entirely confined to the painting, nor that it
proceed immediately to abstraction. The conflict over the nature of reality must
be precipitated by Verezzi's fury that Victor does not see how wonderful his
painting is. When, then, is the precise moment when the argument should be about
Blais' approach to the role of Victor in the Factory production is
summed up in an interview published in Now
magazine, appropriately titled 'Playing Walker's Zastrozzi with passion and maturity.' (Walker likes the piece so
much he calls it 'a little guide to acting in a Walker play' and recommends
photo-copying it and handing it out to prospective cast members in future Walker
productions.) In part, Blais says:
As in any theatre
piece, humour comes from conflict of interest. Once the reality and truth of a
scene are established, the most remarkable things can happen. Without that
reality, the humour can be slapstick, gratuitous or in poor taste. The best
humour comes from character. Walker's writing is remarkably funny and lucid,
though in rehearsal the actor has to find a heightened sense of truth in it.
There's no joke to be built, constructed, or honed; if you build the character,
the jokes will take care of themselves.
Blais and Walker obviously did not need to talk about what Walker wanted, so the work Walker did with the neophytes was much more helpful to an observer as an indication of the kind of world in which Walker's plays can live. A good deal of the early rehearsal time was devoted to finding the 'heightened sense of truth' Blais speaks of. Because the situations in Walker plays are so grotesque, and because the characters themselves are often in the grip of monstrous obsessions, there is a tendency for actors to go immediately to a larger than life, operatic style, and that is what some of the 1987 Factory cast did. Walker had to take them back. That size, that heightening, is necessary, but does not work unless the reality of the scene is there first, becoming part of that which is heightened. Early in rehearsals, Michael McManus asked if one of his moments of revelation was too big, was over the top. Walker replied, 'Go over the top. If you believe it.'
The reality of the scenes was established through rather
conventional, detailed script work. Walker seldom gave a meaning for a line,
although he often paraphrased, more often to clarify the line's action or tone
than to define meaning. Sometimes, he would paraphrase the situation in a scene
to uncover the homely reality beneath the grotesque circumstances; hence,
Bernardo and Julia's prison scene was a 'first date.' Occasionally, Walker would
direct a line against its apparent meaning. Verezzi's reaction to Julia's
telling him she will not marry him, 'I'm depressed,' is not necessarily a
depressed line. It could simply be a reaction to an interesting state of
affairs; to Verezzi, all sensations are good. Again, immediately before Bernardo
and Zastrozzi fight to the death, Bernardo says, 'Oh sir, let me go', 14 but
Walker blocked the moment so that Bernardo had a clear route for escape and
directed Bockstael to deliver the line with elation: at last Bernardo is given
his chance to supplant Zastrozzi.
At times, then, Walker is clearly the authority on the script,
although his jocular style in the rehearsal hall usually undercuts any
authoritarian tone. He is not at all a sit-behind-the-desk director, as he
frequently plunges into the playing space, never to demonstrate how he wants
something done, but often to create a force against which the actor can work,
sometimes just to gesticulate encouragingly. But being a 'facilitating' director
does not preclude adding one's vision of the play to that being developed by the
actors, and Walker's sense of the script as he saw it was clear - curiously a
bit distanced from this play in 1987: he points out that it is almost as though Zastrozzi
were written by someone else, that in a sense the play was written by someone
else. While we are noting the implications of Michael Hogan and Peter Blais'
being forty, it is worth remembering that George Walker was about to turn forty
when he was directing the Factory Zastrozzi.
Walker guides his actors to the 'truth of the scene' and the
director's vision of that truth through establishing what he calls 'marks', the
dominant quality or issue of a sequence, or a particular moment, or even thing,
that seems to Walker crucial or catalytic. The dislocation and abrupt changes in
direction essential to a production of a Walker play are created by shifting the
'mark.' Around these points, Walker allows the actors a great deal of creative
room, and confines his direction to finding the means of increasing that room,
suggesting, for instance, a 'productive state of mind' for the character at a
particular point. Early in rehearsals, Guadagni began the first meeting with
Verezzi in a state of indignation; Walker suggested that she try astonishment
instead, not because it was necessarily preferable in its own right, but because
it left the actress more places to go in the rest of the scene. Yes, Walker does
call for emotional states in a way theoretically forbidden to directors working
within 'the Method.'
Walker frequently accepts the opinions, preferably the instincts,
of his actors. Many observers have noted the breakneck pace of the Factory
production. Actually, Walker wanted it faster still; in Walker's dramaturgy,
dislocation should also occur in the minds of the audience, and extreme pace is
one way of achieving that effect. But the actors resisted, and Walker felt that
they doubtless had good reasons for doing so. Walker will sometimes sacrifice
technical polish in order to give his cast the room he believes they need: even
a week into performance, actors were still throwing away the ends of lines.
While for obvious reasons Walker would have preferred having his lines
completed, he suspected that the performers might have been concentrating on
something more important to them, and was prepared to let them continue to work
on developing the production unhindered, while of course still hoping that
completing the lines would eventually become a priority too. For a
playwright-director, Walker gives a great deal of weight to the actors'
priorities while mediating between them and the script.
Once the 'truth' of a scene was established, Walker would
immediately 'raise the stakes,' intensifying that truth, sharpening the
conflict, putting on additional pressure from within the dramatic situation, to
get Walkeresque exaggeration and size. 'We can build slowly. Or throw ourselves
into it. Carefully.' Scene seven, Matilda's seduction of Verezzi and Victor's
subsequent attempt to convince Verezzi to flee, had never, in Walker's opinion,
been taken far enough in earlier productions, had remained a declaration of
ideas distanced from the audience. He used the act of seduction as the 'mark', a
concreteness to anchor the scene as he had used the painting in scene two. When
McManus declaimed, Susan Hogan, with a little urging from Walker, re-established
the mark, took it further, and 'raised the stakes.' It is difficult to indulge
in an abstraction such as declamation when the mark is seduction, and an actress
as beautiful and intense as Susan Hogan is raising the stakes by insisting on
the concreteness of the mark.
By the end of the week, Blais was indeed emerging as Walker's most
active collaborator, not so much through anything he said to his fellow
performers or through conversations with Walker, but by putting into practice
what he has learned about how a Walker play works. He started small, worked
doggedly at establishing the truth of the scene, and by doing so, compelled any
actor who might be tempted to go for scale too quickly to play the scene at a
level where the truth was not strained. Then he raised the stakes, moving into
the extreme close range Walker favours and jumping Victor's anxiety level
astonishingly. Blais' work is contagious in a rehearsal hall.
Walker's directorial wit does not express itself in constructing
jokes. He did engineer some exquisite comic business (the Byzantine complexity
of Matilda's strangulation at the hands of a completely unwitting Julia was
hilarious) but he made no attempt at all to time lines for a laugh, punch laugh
lines, or build to a laugh. In Blais' words, 'there's no joke to be built; if
you build the characters, the jokes will take care of themselves.'
Walker did give a good deal of attention to the characters'
relationship with the audience, the next step in the rehearsal process. Only
Zastrozzi was given direct address, only he played scenes with the audience, but
all the other characters came close, must appear to be capable of doing so. When
Blais achieved the correct balance in rehearsal, Walker gave the approving note,
'He never speaks directly to the audience, but you always think he's going to.'
Walker, the director, was elaborating on the manipulation of empathy called for
in the script. He wanted the audience to 'share the responsibility with
Zastrozzi; if you laugh at his jokes, you can't dissociate yourself from his
During the first week, Walker was clearly having a good time, and
later Walker conceded that this part of rehearsal period is an exception to his
hatred of direction, 'getting his licks in,' working closely with actors and
Then I was banished for four days. I understand that during this
period, Walker concentrated on close, one-on-one work with individual actors.
When I returned, the cast had moved from rehearsal hall to stage. George was no
longer having a good time. Initial run-throughs were quite discouraging, even
more than is usually the case because of the extreme physical demands of the
show. Walker was especially worried about retaining scene focus established in
the rehearsal hall now that scenes were juxtaposed with the real fights. The
fights in the Factory production were very intricate, and, incidentally, quite
marvelous: they were not always perfectly executed, but fight director Robert
Lindsay gave them fascinating dramatic content. They were conversations between
characters rather than mere flashy business. In the second week of rehearsals,
however, the fights worried the actors so much that their concentration on
scenes immediately preceding fights suffered: one could see them starting to
worry about the impending problems.
Reginald Bronskill's set was extremely effective and rather
dangerous, as much of the action occurred on a platform ten feet in the air and
on two curving staircases, one with a reverse curve part way down. John Roby's
music not only bridged scenes, but underscored most of the fights and a number
of speeches, creating precise timing demands.
Through all this, Walker allowed the show to rediscover the shape
constructed during the first week, for it was during that initial stage that the
production's underpinnings had been established. Most of his work with actors as
previews approached consisted of re-establishing and reinforcing basics: calling
an actor's attention to a lapse in character, or to an untruthful straining for
effect; conducting a run through at conversational volume to re-establish
truthful contact between characters; running a scene with no pauses, then
running it again while letting pauses re-appear where they seemed truthfully
necessary, not where they seemed theatrically effective.
Exploration continued. The final confrontation between Verezzi and
Zastrozzi, the nightmare sequences between Zastrozzi and Matilda, were played in
many, many variations right up to preview, with Walker allowing the actors to
choose what was right for them. A few moments were changed when Walker
apparently decided they could not work as they were, or were not worth the risk,
either to truth, as in the case of Verezzi's abandoning his sword, or to the
audience's safety: Zastrozzi, stage left, tossed a sword spectacularly to
Matilda, stage right, until first preview, when the fumbled sword flew into the
audience; the next night, Matilda entered stage left and was handed the sword,
flamboyantly but safely. But mostly in the last week, Walker followed through on
the choices he and his actors had made during the first week.
Response to the production was for the most part positive and very
enthusiastic, and the show attracted large and evidently happy audiences during
its run 13 May to 28 June 1987 - the production was not held over only because
some members of the cast had contractual obligations which made an extended run
impossible. Toronto's two major newspaper reviewers were favourable. (The Toronto
Sun was hostile, but that newspaper is invariably hostile to Walker's work.)
Robert Crew found the production 'a rich and satisfying evening that manages to
be both entertaining and thought-provoking,' while Ray Conlogue spoke of
its 'elegance and high humor' and made particular mention of the balance struck
between the comic and the serious: '[Zastrozzi]
is a spoof, yes, but it is also an obsessional play. It balances these two
antagonistic qualities with impossible precision, never letting the one
overwhelm the other.' In Conlogue's opinion, at least, Walker had
succeeded in achieving the delicate equilibrium to which much rehearsal time had
been devoted, and which has eluded many directors of earlier productions of the
play, most notably, in Walker's view, Andrei Serban's for the Public Theatre in
New York in 1982. 'Parody' is anathema to Walker as a description of his work,
and in his directing, parody was never, in itself, sufficient reason to play a
moment or speak a line in a particular way.
Unfortunately, not all members of the cast remembered that during
all performances of the run: for some, particularly Guadagni and McManus it
seems to me, the temptations offered by large crowds evidently in a mood to
laugh led to some 'camping'. Furthermore, I am not completely convinced that the
extremely high energy and fast pace favoured by Walker the director are always
the best presentational style for the work of Walker the playwright, a suspicion
seconded by some of the less enthusiastic audience-members and since deepened by
my subsequent direction of a Walker play: realistic subtleties and the slyer,
quieter humour can be lost in the shouting and the arm-waving, when the
'heightened sense of truth of the scene' is not apparent to the audience. (That
Walker the director has in the past 'betrayed' Walker the playwright was also
suggested by James Harrison in his review of the Factory production of Criminals
in Love. ) What may have been miscalculation on Walker's part was
compounded by some of the actors succumbing to the same sort of pressures which
led Guadagni and McManus to 'camping', resorting to size with little apparent
substance, in effect repeating in performance some of the problems apparent in
early rehearsals. In a few of the several performances I saw, this flaw marred
the work of Michael Hogan and, much to my surprise, Peter Blais, actors whose
work I otherwise unreservedly admired. On those occasions, sheer and unvarying
volume overwhelmed the 'truths' which are there in the text and which had been
there in later rehearsals.
Nonetheless, I can report that most of the time Walker's directorial methods appear to achieve the results he wants, and that the Factory production was evidently on most occasions and in most respects a faithful reproduction of his 1987 vision of the play, whether one likes Walker's concept of his own play or not. While he admires much of the original production, and while he unhesitatingly identifies William Lane as his favourite director, Walker found the 1977 Toronto Free Theatre production 'a little too cerebral, a little too antiseptic.' Walker's Factory production was visceral and quite nasty, human and playful. Not a little threatening. In the final moment of the production, Zastrozzi stepped down stage, isolated in light, directly facing the audience, and looked right at us to say, 'I like it here.' He did not mean in the prison, or in the world of the play. He meant out here in the auditorium with us, in our world. That, I think, is what Walker intended us to be left with from the 1987, Factory Zastrozzi.
LOVE'S LABOURS LOST
Labours Lost worthwhile
Theatre's production of Love's Labours Lost leaves one wondering why, until
recently, this play has been overlooked by so many acting companies.
play's strength lies not in plot or in character, but rather in comic dialogue
Shakespeare's early comedies, this play tells of three young lords who swear to
deprive themselves of worldly pleasures (including women) for three years
upon entering Ferdinand, the King of Navarre's Academy.
moment the vow is taken, they are faced with three beautiful women, attendants
to the Princess of France, who together with their mistress come to stay at the
each lord falls hopelessly in love with one of the attendants. To make matters
worse the King, also sworn to celibacy, can't resist the charms of the Princess.
point of the play occurs when the men disguise themselves as Cossacks and
attempt to seduce the ladies who retaliate by masking themselves and confusing
their hopeful suitors.
lack of depth in some of the characters, the actors' interpretations are
convincing and well-defined.
special mentions are Jeff Haslam as the oily Berowne and Gordon Portman who
portrays the "fantastical Spaniard", Don Adriano de Armado as an
extremely self-possessed lunatic. Michael Davis gives a strong performance as
the King although at times he speaks too quickly to be entirely understood. Jeff
Haslam and James MacDonald as Berowne and Langeville are charming as eager young
men who fall so easily from their promises.
in this play are willful, devious, even cynical; but at the same time, very
likeable. They are flattered by the favours bestowed on them by the men, but if
anything see less sincerity in them than is actually present, therefore, they
plot to embarass them: "So shall we stay, mocking intended game,/ And they,
well mocked, depart away with shame." Although these women are well-played,
especially by Davina Stewart as the Princess and Pat Darbasie as Rosaline, their
voices are occasionally shrill and there is a need for greater development of
direction is given by Bernard Hopkins, making the potentially confusing play
distinct and the plot clear. Each scene stands well on its own as a unit which,
if taken out of its context, would retain almost the same dramatic value. The
puns were well-timed and raised appreciative laughs from the audience.
choice of costumes and scenery is unusual, reflecting early twentieth century
styles, but succeeds even adding, at times, to the humour of the play. The
atmosphere was enhanced by the classical music chosen to accompany some scenes,
and the lighting was consistent so as not to be a distraction.
CBC RADIO PLAY, HOW TO MAKE LOVE TO AN ACTOR 3-5-1996
March 5, 1996
ABC RADIO online
8.00 BOB MAYNARD
How to Make Love to an Actor
By George F Walker
George F Walker is perhaps Canada's most successful contemporary playwright, with over 20 stage plays produced. He combines a sharp sense of humour with an angry social consciousness and in How to Make Love to an Actor, his first play for radio, he targets actors and film producers with his snappy satirical lines.
The play revolves around two actors Jess and Sandy, and their acting teacher Willie. Jess works in alternative theatre and is very serious about her art, whereas Sandy just wants to get paid. Jess' ideals rub off on Sandy and the two refuse to audition for a B movie role as a prostitute who is a victim of a serial killer. Then they find out that their teacher Willie is considering auditioning for the role of the serial killer.
Jess: Brenda Robbins
Sandy: Lenore Zann
Ross: Michael McManus
Willie: Graham Greene
Sound effects by Joe Hill
Technical production by Greg De Clute
Produced and directed by James Roy
Recorded by the CBC