Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Urban Bard: Toronto's Coolest Classical Company

Urban Bard is unlike any company I've ever seen. It is exactly what its name suggests, urban bard, nothing more or less. This season's contrasting productions of the uber popular Twelfth Night and the sadly obscure Two Noble Kinsmen are innovative to the point where I was literally giggling in delight at every scene change.

The set up of both plays (alternating performance nights throughout the run) is brilliant but somehow simple. Both productions begin at the giant fountain in College Park in Toronto. A slightly confused group of patrons gravitates towards 2 ushers passing around a donations box (pay what you can- the inclusive policy of the everyman theatre company). Some have brought picnics, others lawn chairs, they will soon realize that neither of these were a very good idea. When the play is set to begin, audience members take a seat around the edge of the fountain, or stand a little out of the way, unsure of where they should go. A dramatic splashing is heard, the audience snaps to attention and the production is off to the races.

In Twelfth Night (a remount of last year's production) the play has been reordered so we begin with the captain's rescue of Viola from drowning at sea. Doran Damon Okkema, a lively and surprisingly memorable captain, frantically trudges his way across the epic fountain, Lindsey Alston as Viola flung unceremoniously over his strong shoulder. Finally reaching the shore, he lays the unconscious Viola at the audience's feet and urgently begins CPR. Coughing up water, a dazed Viola awakes and asks the production's opening question: "what country is this?". The captain has no sooner taken Viola to fetch a male disguise than Sebastian (Ned Petrie) and Antonio (Casey Hudecki) appear from a subterranean stairwell already mid conversation. The audience wheels around to observe the new scene before them (completely out of the original order) and the excitement builds as understanding dawns of what kind of production we're now a part of.

After the initial scenes at the fountain (Kinsmen begins on the opposite shore with soldiers charging through the water to find the unconscious Arcite and Palamon ready for capture, a less effective but still enticing beginning), the audience is led through College Park by the ushers, now carrying large red flags to help shepherd the herd from scene to scene and serve as boundary lines not to be crossed.

Twelfth Night's audience descends immediately into the courtyard where the rest of the play is to take place, led by a most remarkable Feste (Christopher Mott) who's "follow me"-ish song is the "food of love" music Orsino speaks of when we arrive at his palace. The fact that it seems palatial is one of the most remarkable things about Urban Bard's approach. Orsino (Gordon Noel) is actually lazing about on a simple bench in a mostly concrete courtyard outside a mall. He has a couple attendants: Curio, Valentine, Viola (already planted as "Cesario") and the captain (either cleverly playing the role of Viola's confidant and co-conspirator or double cast as a palace guard, I'm choosing to believe it was intentionally the former, a distinctly interesting choice), but no other trappings of royalty furnish Orsino's court. Noel, a giddy and oddly optimistic Orsino, sells the locale with his air of entitlement and comfort.

Helen Juvonen brings a similar decadence to Olivia's home on the opposite side of the concrete expanse. A compellingly cold but sometimes irritatingly shrill Olivia, Juvonen's best moment is her first entrance, descending a dramatic staircase into the courtyard dressed in full Eva Peron-ish mourning diva apparel. The entire production plays out in the various locations about the courtyard. Balconies, staircases, benches, picnic tables, flower beds, any and all possible uses of the single simple courtyard were taken advantage of in most ingenious ways. A particularly memorable sequence finds the audience gazing up at the second floor balcony of the College Park Mall to watch Sir Andrew (Tyler Seguin) and Viola's pathetic fight only to have their attention diverted as a swashbuckling Antonio storms in at ground level, interrupting with a spectacular show of stage combat swordsmanship.

It's as if the island of Illyria crash landed in central Toronto, paying no mind to the anachronisms of unavoidable modern interruptions. Cell phones sound, a group of stoners playing poker at a nearby picnic table laugh interruptingly, and at more than one point a toddler wonders sweetly into a scene, or an actor, or a set piece. But the play goes on, the actors adjusting, incorporating or improvising around the complications. Illyria disrupts Toronto about as much as Toronto disrupts Illyria. Startled passerby gawk at the strangely-dressed people speaking in iambic pentameter; chatting locals stare from their evening perches in the courtyard; the aforementioned stoners roll their eyes at the thespians intruding on their usually quiet poker space. But as the strangeness wears off, the courtyard's regular inhabitants begin to settle in to watch the story play out. A wandering hippie joins the crowd, a pair of conservative Muslim families usher their kids over to the action, a casual drag queen meanders into the group and the stoners start to pay attention. By the time the players reach curtain call, their audience has more than doubled from the modest group that began with them at the fountain. It's truly a remarkable thing to see.

Much of the play was remarkable in many ways. Both of them were really. From Twelfth Night's brilliantly blocked letter-reading scene to the single greatest Antonio I've ever encountered (absolutely hilarious- and female to boot!), the whole thing bled innovation. The wonderful Feste is at once a consummate performance artist, a playful buffoon, a wise man and a loyal bro. A strong willed and at times righteously angry Viola lacks the character's beautiful melancholy but paired with a sympathetic Sebastian, the two actually seem like they could be mistaken for one another (a rare thing for most companies).

Two Noble Kinsmen uses a similar approach and is similarly triumphant. Taking advantage of a grate and nearby flower bed as the prison and the garden outside its window, Kinsmen spends more time above ground before descending into Twelfth Night's courtyard. Once there, it is used to similar effect, though somewhat more dependent on the balcony effect created by playing scenes on the ground level with the audience looking up.

The least-produced of all of Shakespeare's works, Two Noble Kinsmen (co-written by John Fletcher) resonates interestingly in a modern context, something Urban Bard effectively brings to the forefront in their production. The story of Arcite and Palamon, as played by Erick Fournier and Christopher Sironi, is essentially that of a bromance and the girl who gets in the way (Tammy Everett). It is a wonderful story, based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, that brought about tears and laughter from its audience.

The most (read: only) intriguing female part belongs to the remarkable Adrianna Prosser as the unnamed "jailer's daughter", the spiraling unrequited lover who owns the story's subplot. The kingdom of Athens is held down by a forgettable Hippolyta (Tori Elliott) and a possibly miscast Theseus (Luke Marty, one of the youngest cast members taking on the singular authoritative role of the play. Though Marty is greatly matured from the promising grade nine I witnessed playing Nicely Nicely in Guys and Dolls). The ingenue role of Emilia belongs to Tammy Everett, who was significantly more successful here than as an overly self-congratulating Maria in Twelfth Night.

The key roles of Arcite and Palamon are captured proficiently but not spectacularly by Fournier and Sironi. Fournier, a disappointingly cowardly Tybalt in last year's Canopy Theatre Romeo and Juliet, brings his remarkable stage combat skills to a less intimidating role and Sironi makes the remarkable jump from Twelfth Night's typically priggish Malvolio to a not-quite-dashing-enough-but-still-decently-dashing Palamon. The two able but flawed actors truly soar in their final moments together. The best friends' final embrace before their duel is heartwrenching and Arcite's final speech truly touching. Urban Bard's capable cast made me fall in love with Two Noble Kinsmen in my very first experience with the play.

Ultimately, it's director (and Urban Bard Artistic Director) Scott Moyle who should be credited for the remarkably unique experience of Urban Bard's summer 2010 productions. His ingenious use of space, excellent sense of character and altogether clever direction is what sets these 2 productions apart from the masses of independently produced Shakespeare out there. The program for Twelfth Night and Two Noble Kinsmen says that Urban Bard was "born out of a love for the city of Toronto". Nothing is more obvious in these productions than respect for the landscape they exist in. Urban Bard is a feature this Torontonian hopes never disappears from said landscape.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Next Season in Stratford

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has just announced their 2011 roster. Here are the highlights (and lowlights):

Richard III: it's a great play, fascinating really. But it is 99.9% dependent on a truly solid leading man. It needs someone who will bring something new to the part and keep the audience interested pretty much single handedly. So let's talk innovation- Stratford's handed the remarkable role to one of their greatest leading LADIES, Seana McKenna. I simply cannot wait to see what she does with it. I'm all for the festival opening up parts to women. Let's cast based on who tackles it best, not on anatomy! Richard III will go up in the Tom Patterson Theatre, a perfect space for an innovative Richard.

The flagship production of the season will be the grossly over-performed Twelfth Night. It will be, as most predictably popular things seem to be, directed by Artistic Director Des McAnuff and will feature American film star (and Tony award winner) Brian Dennehy as Sir Toby. Stratford regular Stephen Ouimette will play Sir Andrew. Considering I associate the role with Michael Therriault circa 2001, Ouimette seems like an odd chronological choice but whatever. If I seem unexcited about this (PREDICTABLE) production, my boredom will be cured by the usually formulaic Malvolio. One of my absolute favourite Stratford performers, Tom Rooney, will be taking on the role and hopefully will bring his signature chameleon unpredictability with him. Another highlight is sure to be Ben Carlson as Feste. Carlson (an erstwhile blah Hamlet) is at his best in comedic parts and is sure to be a delight.

Rooney will also appear as Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor at the festival theatre. Merry Wives, a nice obscure surprise opposite Twelfth Night, will be directed by Frank Galati, an import with impressive credentials. I'd like to take this moment to point out my frustration at all the importing of "names" instead of developing talent, but that is neither here nor there. The most exciting thing about Merry Wives is the casting of uber-talent Geraint Wyn Davies in the iconic role of Falstaff. Please let this be an early indication that maybe the festival will take on the Henriad soon! Wyn Davies would be superb as Falstaff throughout the entire canon (and don't you think Prince Hal is a role Dion Johnstone is screamingly ready for? or maybe Gareth Potter, pushing beyond his supposed romantic lead limits?).

And speaking of pushing limits, the fourth Shakespeare slated for next season is the grotesquely challenging Titus Andronicus. Plagued with issues of race, rape and insurmountable violence, Titus can be sensational or sensationally bad. The press release contained absolutely no details on the production save for it's location (The Tom Patterson, which will make for an eerily intimate experience), no director, no cast, no nothing. It's truly the wild card of the season.

For musicals, first up is Jesus Christ Superstar. Despite it's catchy and sometimes affecting writing, I'm pretty sure I will hate Jesus Christ Superstar at Stratford. Firstly, I barely made it through the monstrosity of Des McAnuff's A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum last season, which does not bode well for his musical direction style (yes, I know he's won Tonys, but not for actually good musicals). Secondly, something has to be done about the Stratford musical casting. I cannot possibly be the only person not enchanted by Chilina Kennedy; I find her one-note, affected and blankly sweet. Maria was passable but far from the highlight of last season's wonderful West Side Story so casting her right out of the gate as one of JCS's leads just seems like a mistake. Overall, this does not sound promising. Paul Nolan (last season's Tony and a classical player this season as Orlando in As You Like It) held his own significantly better in West Side and may prove a surprisingly adept Jesus. Time will tell on this one.

The other musical planned for 2011 is in the exact opposite position. While JSC is a pretty good musical, Camelot is mediocre at best. But while the festival is attempting new territory (and bad casting) with JSC, Camelot already has a successful Stratford history. It was one of the first productions I ever saw at the festival and starred some of the biggest names (Cynthia Dale) and biggest talent (Michael Therriault) Stratford's ever seen. Next year's Camelot will star Geraint Wyn Davies, one of the finest performers currently working, who is sure to bring enough charisma to the role of King Arthur that the audience will give the libretto a free pass for its mediocrity.

Stratford vet Brian Bedford will once again take on the impractical task of directing himself, this time in The Misanthrope at the festival theatre. Hit and miss superstar Ben Carlson will play Alceste. The season will also see General Director Antoni Cimolino take on The Grapes of Wrath starring Chilina Kennedy and Janet Wright, and Jennifer Tarver's interpretation of The Homecoming starring Brian Dennehy and Stephen Ouimette. The studio theatre will see Hosanna by French-Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay and a new play commissioned by the festival in 2008 called The Little Years (by John Mighton).

The festival also announced a new commission, a musical from Bob Martin, Don McKellar, Lisa Lamert and Greg Morrison (aka the Drowsy Chaperone people). May I point out that that is the kind of musical Stratford should be doing- small, original and Canadian. It's not classical, but it is promising. We'll see in a couple of years when it makes it to the stage.

Highlights (female Richard, great roles for Tom Rooney and Geraint Wyn Davies), Wildcards (Titus, an original play, the obscure Merry Wives in the hard-to-sell-out festival theatre) and Bad Ideas (Chilina Kennedy? Really?), next season at Stratford should be interesting.
Reviews of all 12 current Stratford productions will be posted throughout the summer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Mad World of the RLD

The Red Light District Theatre Company is just a little bit crazy. As the tagline for their most recent production, Woyzeck, says, the company stands "just over the little dash between yes and no". From their bum fight-inspired Titus to "the play about dancing robots and communists" to this run of Woyzeck, The RLD is constantly striving for innovation. A quote from their website seems to sum up the introspective artistic intellectualism that seems to embody the company, "what are we afraid of? the answer, in theatre as in life, is invariably ourselves. And so from the ashes of revelation we must rouse, and we must rise, and we must, absolutely, revolt." What are we afraid of? RLD springs from a question and in their attempts to answer it they only strive to ask even more.

I asked director (and RLD artistic director) Ted Witzel what it was he wanted the audience to take away from Woyzeck. His reply? "I hope they're asking 'what the fuck is wrong with the world?'." Witzel knew he wanted to tackle Woyzeck because he was sure that German playwrite Georg Buchner had a lot more to say than any English translation ever let on. "Most people take it to a place of domestic tragedy" said Witzel, but he was determined to convey the many forces pressing down on Woyzeck, driving him mad. In conjunction with his mentor, German director Johanna Schall, Witzel set about creating his own translation of the unfinished play.

The product was a meticulous translation that gave in English what Witzel believed was the genius of the original German: "I had this idea that there was something more going on in the original. Buchner is really clever in the ways he plays with grammar and syntax. He invented this fake dialect to do a case study of the poor people in Germany at the time. Having to develop a new syntax for each character in the play was a really interesting challenge". While brilliant details such as the waltz rhythm of Woyzeck's obssessively repeated line "ever so" may slip by unnoticed by anyone not granted personal insight into Witzel's intellectually stunning interpretation, the distinct syntax of each character was unmistakable.

With both his translation and his directorial work, Witzel also succeeded in tapping into what he emphasized as an integral aspect of Woyzeck as an artistic examination. The world Witzel created around Woyzeck was indeed a mad one. The character's life played out as a literal and metaphorical circus. The oppressive forces that tortured Woyzeck froze omnipresently in grotesque tableau when they left the stage, their existence haunting Woyzeck from the very walls that surrounded him. Marie's affair played out as a cage match between lion and tamer, the Doctor's experiments as a sideshow act. The interactions between the Captain and the Doctor seemed to exist in a time warp as the two went through the motions of their little dance time and time again. In this circus world where time is immeasurable and the lines between person, place and thing are invisible, madness seems the only option. Witzel's Woyzeck is far from the simplified domestic tragedy he spoke of; it's a tragedy of one man's entire world.

My conversation with director Ted Witzel served as an invaluable tool in my processing of the complexly strange production. Inexperienced with the Brechtian tradition of experimental theatre, there was simply no hope of my connecting with Woyzeck save for Witzel's insight. His joy at recounting RLD's earliest productions and the slyly guilty way he confessed to having not actually read Woyzeck when it was assigned to him in University allowed me to take RLD's intimidatingly artistic trappings in stride. For every polarizingly "alternative" sentence on the website, Witzel had a correspondingly down-to-earth counterpoint: as much as the company may stand for high minded boundary-pushing, it was realistically founded so that a bunch of inspired people could put on a show that no one else would back. RLD's production of Woyzeck was much like Witzel himself: it had a distinct point of view, a definite style and an intimidating turn of phrase but was ultimately as understandable as anything.

In a superb cast filled with incomparable energy and 110% commitment, Eve Wylden stood out as an actress of astronomical talent. Her off-kilter interpretation of the doctor was startling, upsetting and altogether mesmerizing. The creepy way she smiled just a little too big and moved her head just a little too much gave her doctor a tangible element of dangerous joy. As for the rest, I took an immediate dislike to Lauren Gillis as Marie, which was, I believe, the point. Fearless actress Gillis took to the untrustworthy character and was unrelenting as she irked me for the remainder of the evening. Whitney Ross-Barris, in multiple roles amalgamated into one singing bearded lady, was an omnipresent multitalent, giving volume to a world of voices in Woyzeck's head as well as many outside of it. Julian Dezotti delivered the night's clearest performance as the clown who seemed somehow the sanest at the circus. His grand speeches touched even the most cynical of audience members and his presence held all the command of a classically trained actor. Mike Mackinnon, Marcel Dragonieri and Brandon Hackett rounded out the cast nicely as distinct contributors to Woyzeck's mad world. Woyzeck himself, Reid Linforth, handled the part aptly, conveying a constant sense of unease and bringing the audience right along with him on his experience of insanity. With easily the most poetically troublesome syntax, Linforth was remarkable in his ability to convey meaning and intention behind layers of muddled words and seeming madness. He created pathos for a murderer, which speaks for itself.

Before the performance, Witzel spoke of the importance of institutionalization. It was almost alarming the ease with which he rattled off the names of gruesome murderers from recent history. But it was the quote "no one stabs someone in the head 40 times in his right mind" that somehow drove home the essence of what Witzel was getting at with Woyzeck. As a society are we mad for ignoring those showing signs of madness? Witzel points out that almost everyone at some point cries for help, as he believes Woyzeck does, and it is the world's responsibility to take them in and help. Instead, those crying are usually ostracized and pushed further down the rabbit hole, often with psychopathic consequences. The madness never gets a chance to heal in a world intolerant of madness. So Witzel, through Woyzeck, wants his audience to ask: "What the fuck is wrong with the world?".

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Observations from the Tonys

I participated in a conference call with host Sean Hayes earlier this week and was not impressed. The man had never been to the Tonys before and had only seen one of the nominated productions (Red). Top that off with the occasional rude comment, his repetition of the fact that he has no hosting ambitions and his absolute refusal to answer any questions at all in response to the controversial Newsweek article that had everything to do with him and I held little hope for his hosting job. But all things considered, he did okay.

More Observations:
  • Boy that piano solo that opened the show was impressive. Great idea actually, way to show off his talents specifically instead of the typical song and dance number that would elicit comparisons to his predecessors.
  • Sherie Renee Scott! I wish I could see her show, she's my favourite Broadway performer.
  • Daniel Radcliffe is VERY short. And Katie Holmes has become a zombie since her charming Joey Potter days.
  • ScarJo (Featured Actress in a Play: View From the Bridge) got to talk for an hour but was wearing a pretty dress and thanked "her Canadian" (my love/her husband Ryan Reynolds) so it was okay.
  • Featured Actor in a Play Eddie Redmayne (Red) is an unbelievably eloquent dude and now I really want to see Red.
  • Actually, after watching the introductions to the nominated original plays I want to see all of them.
  • This thing is terribly directed. So many technical problems and embarrassing incidents.
  • Frasier and Niles together! That's amazing, they were adorable. And they both belong on the Tony stage (unlike many of the screen stars there).
  • Katie Finneran (Featured Actress in a Musical: Promises, Promises) is adorable.
  • Why is a NY Jet presenting? WEIRD.
  • Okay, none of the musicals really look that good (and I love musicals), except maybe Memphis, that was kinda fun. No, scratch that, Ragtime, now that's musical theatre people!
  • This whole ordeal is obnoxiously Hollywood. Why are there more movie stars than stage stars? I mean theatre people, not screen people who dabble in theatre.
  • I'm just going to put this out there: I find Kristen Chenoweth annoying of late. I used to love her but she's just too much sometimes.
  • Michael from Camp is nominated for a Tony! Awesome.
  • After seeing the performances on this show so far I agree wholeheartedly with Levi Kreis' win for Million Dollar Quartet (Featured Actor in a Musical).
  • Holy Mumbler Batman! I couldn't hear a word Catherine Zeta Jones was singing: would you people please learn to enunciate! She was altogether unimpressive I thought.
  • Idina Menzel- way to remind me of the true greatness that Broadway can achieve... (interrupted thought) holy crap that Ragtime lady can sing!
  • Viola Davis (Lead Actress in a Play: Fences) may be crying but she looks like she could pack a serious punch, I'm distracted by her biceps.
  • Where is Jude Law (Hamlet)? He obviously wasn't going to win but it's a jerk move not to show up.
  • Denzel? I was sure Alfred Molina had it. I never seem to agree when Denzel wins anything.
  • Hey Will Smith, I love you. I have for years and always will.
  • Michael Douglas reminds me that Avenue Q beat out Wicked for Best Musical in 2004, as much as I love Avenue Q, that will always remains a complete travesty.
  • Great dress Paula!
  • Oh, the choreography performances were great. Excellent sitting Sean, really impressive! That first comment was sincere, the second not so much.
  • Not so sure I agree with Bill T Jones for Best Choreography for Fela! I also didn't think he should have won for the stomping and jumping in Spring Awakening but alas he did.
  • The fact that the crowd seemed to recognize few people more than I did made me sad. Someone there should have known those casting directors and writers. I was also ashamed that I was only now finding out about the death of Dixie Carter (stage actress and one of my favourite stars of Designing Women), that was very sad.
  • Red wins best play, I have a feeling that's exactly appropriate. Writer John Logan gives a lovely speech, producer lady reads a prepared one- boo.
  • Was the Glee cast really necessary? They're both such talented theatre people but the overexposure is making it progressively harder to separate Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison from the annoying Rachel Berry and Mr. Schue. Michele can really wail and I do love her "Don't Rain on My Parade" but the girl is getting too big for her britches, that was way over the top. But way to chum it up with bff Jonathan Groff and innocently flirt with Jay Z, that was charming.
  • Julie Taymor's directing Spider Man the musical? That sounds horrible. Not the Taymor part, the Spider Man part.
  • Wow, I hate Raquel Welch. Must she wiggle "seductively" as she attempts to read a piece of paper?
  • I haven't made it to Broadway this season (sadly) but I'm going to guess that Ragtime should have had Best Revival instead of La Cage Aux Folles.
  • I'm thinking they should have picked an American Idiot song that didn't need as much censorship for network TV but that show looks pretty darn cool. Weird but cool. Maybe even awesome.
  • In what world does Catherine Zeta Jones beat out Sherie Renee Scott? I mean she is a bigger star, in a bigger show with a bigger cast and more money and blah blah blah but it's musical theatre and when it comes to acting and singing there's one correct answer, and it's not Zeta Jones. Also, what a strange acceptance speech, clearly her head was not totally on.
  • Memphis wins best musical, which I totally didn't see coming. But I'm glad a jukebox musical didn't win (at least I don't think it's a jukebox musical, even if it was written by the guy from Bon Jovi). It means good things for the industry to acknowledge original works, no matter how cool American Idiot may be.
Overall a pretty enjoyable evening on the grand scale of awards shows. I want to go to Broadway so badly, I have to see Red, Next Fall, American Idiot, Memphis and (sadly already closed) Ragtime, among others.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cawrk Productions Impresses Me

Perhaps the greatest thing about the production of The Glass Menagerie that I saw last week was the company behind the production. Cawrk Theatrical Productions, founded by Catherine Bernardi and Matthew Yipchuck, was invented as a creative outlet during the transitioning years while the young artistic directors left behind Cawthra Park Secondary School and moved on to study at York University (Cawthra+ York= Cawrk... get it?). The company, now 5 productions old, is a low-key testament to youthful initiative. All over the GTA young performers, directors and writers are scrounging for parts, for jobs, for creative outlets. They're working their way up ladders, fetching coffee for the assistant to the assistant director and biding their time in the chorus. But these kids, they decided to work from the top of the company down, directing their own shows and casting as they saw fit. Now aren't those the sort of people who's work you want to watch?

And their work certainly proved worthy of such go-getter creative minds. Tennesee Williams' The Glass Menagerie played June 2-5 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace in Toronto's super hip Queen West district. The space itself was lovely (an intimate blackbox with a brilliantly utilized side balcony) and suited the production perfectly. Director Matthew Yipchuck emphasized the "memory play" aspect of the piece, giving it surreal qualities to remind the audience that they are seeing the story not as it was but as poetic Tom Wingfield chooses to recall it. This proved incredibly effective both as an artistic choice and an innovative way for a young company to keep their costs down. The actors mimed the use of most props (including plates of food, doors and the glass animals in Laura's titular menagerie). Costuming was simple yet suggestive. The lighting design by Shannon Fewster was inspired, beautifully augmenting the action and the directorial dream-like concept. Film clips and slideshow elements were projected to the back of the stage at designated points during the production. This choice sometimes distracted from the live action but also effectively emphasized Tom's obsession with the movies and how that influenced his retelling of the tale. Beautiful film-like score was provided at crucial moments by an omnipresent pianist (Tom Kerr) situated in the balcony and lit theatrically with a single red light. This was perhaps my favourite directorial choice of the production as it was incredibly effective in creating the ambiance of memory while adding to the action, never detracting. The use of space was impressive, using suggestive furniture and room partitions to allow flow from scene to scene without interruption. Overall, the direction was innovative and incredibly effective.

The actors were similarly successful, if not as consistent. As the key character of Laura Wingfield, Catherine Bernardi was charming, sometimes overly so. The handicapped and socially inept Laura was portrayed healthily and with great sympathy, a choice that bothered me at first but later grew on me. Jim's lines tell the audience that Laura is far less crippled (physically and socially) than she considers herself and since the play exists in Tom's memory it is possible that he would see his sister in her best possible incarnation, making Bernardi's portrayal spot-on. The pathos inspired by Bernardi's pretty, mournful eyes was remarkable, even when she was at times a little off kilter in the complexly layered role. The audience was fully on her side throughout, a great achievement with such a cloistered character.

In contrast, Josh Dolphin's portrayal of storyteller Tom was not as charming as I would have liked. The weakest among a generally very strong cast, Dolphin held his own but lacked the ease of a seasoned narrator guiding the audience through his experiences. He forged a nice connection with Bernardi's Laura but lost the audiences affections easily in Tom's shiftier moments and generally struggled with enunciation, a debilitating flaw in even the most talented of performers. Ingrid Wirsig's matriarch Amanda Wingfield suffered under a similar problem: a necessary but limiting southern accent. The southern belle's drawl was well executed but so penetrating that it often drew attention away from the content of her speech. Hopscotching the line between affected and affecting, Wirsig soared splendidly at points and fell to caricature in others.

The cast member who most hit home with me was Eze Angius as Jim O'Connor. Angius lit up the stage as the all-too-recognizable fallen highschool hero. Jim's incredible kindness to Laura rang truthfully and Angius' chemistry with Bernardi was palpable. Playing the well-intentioned "gentleman caller" with dangerous charm, Angius raised our hopes and dashed our hearts right alongside Laura's, making him the most striking actor in an easily under-appreciated role.

Cawrk Theatrical Productions can celebrate a great achievement in The Glass Menagerie. With innovative direction and a strong cast executing Tennessee Williams' classic with precision and ease, the production was an overall success.