Tag Archives: theatre

Mary’s Wedding is comfortable but has classic elegance

13 Aug

marysweddingBy Diva Heather Boa

BLYTH – If the secret to a successful play is for the audience to see a bit of themselves reflected in the characters, then Mary’s Wedding at the Blyth Festival should be a box office hit.

Every senior citizen – that age demographic that is predicted to soon comprise the majority of the population in Huron County – will surely be able to see themselves, or at least wish it for themselves, in the two young lovers whose sweet romance is interrupted by the start of World War I. And certainly, the audience for the matinee performance on Tuesday was a sea of grey-topped heads that hummed and tapped along to familiar-to-them wartime songs that played while they waited for the performance to begin.

The story itself is pretty standard stuff. Girl meets boy of lower social status. They have an adventure and fall in love. They get separated by life’s circumstances, yet continue to try to get back to one another. And yet, playwright Stephen Massicotte has taken this simple story and given it classic elegance, with a crisp script, clever handling of timeline, and repetition of phrases about fear and regret in the dialogue that serve to drive home its messages.

Sophia Walker, as the high-spirited new girl in town, Mary, is an incredible force on stage. She is entirely and equally believable as a precocious young woman who sees every bit of life as a great adventure or as a gruff and compassionate military sergeant. Eli Ham, as the dirty farm boy with a sense of duty to country, Charlie, is a competent actor who’s strong enough to share the stage with Walker, but gets less opportunity in his role to really shine. There are a number of lovely scenes where the two actors seem to be completely in synch with each other, as Mary reads from his letters while Charlie lives war experiences like being shot in a skirmish and riding full throttle into a line of Germans.

Director Gil Garrett has fully and effectively carried the audience through a story in which they could easily become lost if it weren’t well executed.

There are also a few really creative elements on the set, including a unique horse that you’ll have to see for yourself.

The setting for Mary’s Wedding spills far beyond those pieces of polished wood where the drama of this wartime romance unfolds. Although the acting is restricted to the stage only, it’s complemented by the building that is home to the Blyth Festival, a structure called Memorial Hall that was built by the will and spirit of the community to commemorate its fallen during the First World War, and by the nearby small white building that serves as the social centre for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 420 and its ladies’ auxiliary, both of which are sponsors of this theatrical production. This is a play with relevance to the community.

If you want to see a play this summer that allows you dream, then Mary’s Wedding is it.

Mary’s Wedding runs until Sept. 12. Tickets are $30 & $34 for adults and $15 for youth. Tickets may be purchased at the online box office; by phone at 519.523.9300 or 1.877.862.5984 during box office hours: non-performance days 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., evening performance days 9 a.m. -9 p.m.; in person at 423 Queen St., Blyth; or by mail with cheque or credit card information and including a $4 service fee to Blyth Festival, Box 10, Blyth ON, N0M 1H0.

Fury: Life, love and loss on stage in Blyth

2 Aug


Fury at the Blyth Festival.

Fury at the Blyth Festival.

By Diva Shari Parsons

BLYTH – Though waves may crash, this play doesn’t.

Having never before attended any production of the Blyth Festival, I looked forward to the opening night performance of Fury, along with a girlfriend who had also never attended.

The Blyth Festival is summer theatre that celebrates original Canadian theatre. The professional productions are held in the cozy and comfortable theatre housed in the historic red brick Blyth Memorial Hall.

Fury is a thought-provoking and, in the end, heart-wrenching look at the effect of The Great Storm of 1913 on the lives of five different people from various walks of life in the Port of Goderich.

I found that the script, written by playwright Peter Smith, was intelligent, sensitive, witty and even humorous at times.

Jeff Irving did an excellent job playing the boyishly handsome Michael Grey, a young farmer from Carlow with a mischievous grin, a twinkle in his eye and a devil-may-care attitude.

Michael’s love interest, the slightly repressed yet opinionated Margaret Mackey, niece and ward of Judge Cassidy was given what I felt was a somewhat wooden performance by Rachel Cairns.

Comedic relief and camaraderie was wonderfully provided by Keith Barker in the character of somewhat simple-minded and kind-hearted Bernard Smoke, the offspring of an Aboriginal mother and a Scottish father. Bernard may seem simple, but his “mind roads” can lead him to some profound places.

David Fox was a very convincing autocratic Judge Cassidy. His speech and mannerisms exemplified the character of a crotchety old man who was more concerned about public appearance and his standing in the community than he was about his niece’s happiness. But he is hiding a painful past and his frosty reserve thaws slightly in the end.

The young and up-coming lawyer, David Cooper, was well portrayed by Jason Chesworth. David, who comes across as slightly, annoyingly, obsequious and ingratiating has struck a bargain with the Judge that will give David career advancement and increased standing in the community. Margaret is the unwilling pawn in this agreement.

The stage setting, designed by Ronnie Burkett, was simple but very effective. There were four separate sections constructed to resemble a wooden pier. These sections were moved around to create the various settings, including what I thought was an ingenious rowboat. A large structure in the background served as both the stone balcony of the Judge’s house and the bow of the ship, the Wexford. The effective use of lighting and sound created the necessary changes in atmosphere and mood. The storm scene upon the Wexford was particularly well done.

Fury literally explodes upon the scene, pops up unexpectedly in the audience, makes you think, makes you laugh and if you are sentimental like me, may even bring a tear to your eye. My girlfriend and I both really enjoyed it.

Fury runs until Sept. 12 at the Blyth Memorial Hall. Tickets are $30 & $34 for adults and $15 for youth. Tickets for preview performances are $22 & $26. Tickets may be purchased at the online box office; by phone at 519.523.9300 or 1.877.862.5984 during box office hours: non-performance days 9am-5pm, evening performance days 9am-9pm; in person at 423 Queen St., Blyth; or by mail with cheque or credit card information and including a $4 service fee to Blyth Festival, Box 10, Blyth ON, N0M 1H0

Snow White: The Panto – Happily ever after in Huron County

1 Aug
Jamie McKnight and Sarah Higgins in Snow White: The Panto in the 2015 Season. Photo by John Sharp.

Jamie McKnight and Sarah Higgins in Snow White: The Panto in the 2015 Season at Playhouse II. Photo by John Sharp.

By Diva Shari Parsons

GRAND BEND – If you like corn on the cob slathered with butter, then you will like this play – Corny with a capital “C” and slathered with silliness.

Having never attended a “panto” I did some research before setting off to see this production. Unlike the name may suggest, a panto is not made up of actors in white face going through strange silent routines. It is, in fact, a very British tradition of winter musical comedy theatre based (somewhat loosely) on well-known fairy-tales and children’s stories. A panto is filled with slapstick, Vaudeville routines, risqué innuendos, contemporary wise-cracks and, of course, lots of music, singing and dancing. It is also famous for its noisy and cheerful audience participation.

The opening night performance of Snow White: The Panto at Huron Country Playhouse fulfilled every one of those British panto traditions.

The scenery was painted to look like those wonderful illustrations in my childhood fairy-tale books. The staging, though simple with just painted backdrops and a prop or two, created the necessary atmosphere but also allowed for the maximum amount of movement – of which there is a lot!

As a person who enjoys history, fashion and fabrics, I greatly appreciated the design and detail of the costumes as well as the designer, Rachel Berchtold’s, decision to create costumes that are reminiscent of all those wonderful illustrations in our favourite childhood stories, but with the occasional modern flavour, such as glittery shirts for the dwarfs or maids uniforms reminiscent of early Hollywood musicals. I must confess to being somewhat envious of Queen Diabolica’s wardrobe – sassy and sexy  with form-fitting designs created using luxurious fabrics and lots of bling, although I don’t think it would look quite the same on me!

I was very interested to learn that the musical accompaniment was performed by a live band. The four musicians and Music Director Scott Christian  did a wonderful job performing a wide variety of musical styles from hip-hop, to Broadway, to R&B.

No musical would be complete without dance numbers and this play did not disappoint. Routines included tap dance, ballet, ballroom, jazz and hip-hop. Choreographer Gino Berti put together an absolutely brilliant routine that required precision timing on the part of the dancers or some serious whacking of heads and thwacking of shins would have taken place. A nice touch to a number of the dance routines was the inclusion of a troupe of 14 children   of various ages and sizes (extremely cute in animal pyjamas.)

The characters in the play were exaggerated versions of many of those we know and love. Snow White, played by Sarah Higgins was predictably sickeningly sweet while Prince Justin of Timberlake portrayed by Jamie McKnight was youthfully handsome, in a pale vampire kind of way.  Sexy Queen Diabolica, portrayed by Jackie Mustakas (who has great legs by the way), reminded me a bit of Bette Midler dressed for the Oscars. Cutie pa-tootie Tim Porter played the Queen’s hapless woodsman, Woody, with an almost perpetual grin on his face (made my cheeks ache) and restless energy in his movements. The portrayal of the dwarfs was both surprising and amazing. Stephanie Pitsiladis stood out as Grumpy, complete with Bronx accent, attitude and a voice that could fill a stadium.  Another favourite of mine, performed by two members of the Ensemble, was Prince Charming’s white horse , Avalanche, who had attitude, could tap dance and wouldn’t let anybody ride him.

While all the actors did a great job, hubby and my favourite character had to be buxom and flirty Nurse Tickle, who was brilliantly portrayed by Justin Bott. This continues one of the old British theatre traditions of having male actors play female parts.

While I am not sure that panto is exactly my cup of theatre tea, I did enjoy many aspects of the production and my hubby thoroughly enjoyed the entire production.

When you go to see this performance, be sure to bring your best booing, hissing, and cheering voices along with your waving, clapping hands because they are sure to be busy.

Snow White: The Panto runs to Aug. 29 at the Huron Country Playhouse II.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

I am telling my friends: Go cut Footloose!

27 Jul
Colin Sheen and Company in Footloose, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

Colin Sheen and Company in Footloose, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

By Diva Caroline Thuss

I am feeling a flashback after enjoying another stellar musical at the Huron Country Playhouse near Grand Bend yesterday.

From the neon coloured clothing, teased hair with scrunchies, acid washed jeans and large wads of chewing gum, the cast of Footloose: The Dance Musical in Sunday’s opening performance had me looking through old photos from my childhood and reminiscing about what growing up in the 1980s was like (even though I was very young when the original Footloose movie was released).

Having the pleasure of taking in several of the offerings so far this Drayton Entertainment season, I was excited at the opportunity to see another hit.  This time I was up in the balcony and I was pleasantly surprised by how good the view was. The rows were staggered so that even if the person in front of me shifted a lot in his seat it would not affect my view of the stage. Definitely worth considering getting tickets up there the next time.

As soon as the curtains open, the audience starts to feed off the high energy of the ensemble of “Footloose” and it allows us to get the feel for Colin Sheen as the defiant outsider, Ren McCormack. Sheen oozes talent (who can rollerskate like that anymore?) with his vocal talents, dance moves and looks the role of the teen heartthrob. I enjoyed Sheen as Gilbert and Danielle Wade as Anne in Anne of Green Gables earlier this season. The chemistry between Sheen and Danielle Wade, who plays Ariel, is evident in the pair’s rendition of “Almost Paradise” although my theatre companion thought it was a bit corny…that was the traditional love ballad of the ‘80s! Wade is able to portray the multiple sides of Ariel with ease and belts out one of my favourite tunes “Holding Out for a Hero” with passion.

I found that as good as Sheen and Wade are in their leading roles – and they are both excellent – my favourite scenes are the ones with Nick Settimi as Ren’s dancing challenged friend, Willard and Jade Repeta as Ariel’s friend, Rusty. The number of one-liners that Settimi delivers has the audience cheering for him and Repeta’s rendition of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” had me dancing (and very quietly singing) along in my seat.

Director and choreographer Timothy French has put together a solid cast filled with amazing talent and backed by a great orchestra led by the incredibly talented Craig Fair. The ensemble was great as well with some very talented dancers. It was easy to hate David Cotton’s character of Chuck Cranston, Ariel’s abusive boyfriend. I was hoping that Ren would knock him out at several points.

Victor A. Young delivers a very moving performance as the Reverend Shaw Moore. In his song near the end of the show, “Heaven Help Me,” Young wrings every ounce of emotion out of it he can. Susan Gilmore as the Reverend’s wife, Vi, Rebecca Poff as Ren’s single mother, Ethel, and Wade come together beautifully for “Learning to be Silent”.

Once the cast kicks off their Sunday shoes for the finale, the audience was all up, clapping and dancing along with the ensemble. I can almost guarantee that you will leave the theatre dancing and singing too!

Footloose: The Dance Musical runs until August 8.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

Theatre so silly you have to roll with it

12 Jul
Lisa Justine Hood as, um, the balcony, Ben Van Osch as Juliet and Shawn Van Osch as Romeo. Photo courtesy of Devin Sturgeon.

Lisa Justine Hood as, um, the balcony, Ben Van Osch as Juliet and Shawn Van Osch as Romeo. Photo courtesy of Devin Sturgeon.

By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – If you’re looking for high-brow culture in summer theatre, then The Livery Theatre is probably not where you want to be.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for some well-over-the-top rollicking fun, then this is precisely the place to be, in order to catch a showing of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), directed by David Armour.

Relying on a script that gives the impression of being written by a pre-pubescent male for all its cheap sexual innuendos, cross-dressing and fixation on bodily functions (specifically, puking), the trio of actors – Lisa Justine Hood, Shawn Van Osch and Ben Van Osch – take to the stage with all the gusto of neighbourhood kids playing make-belief long into a summer’s evening.

I’ll tell you straight out that this play is uproariously funny if, and only if, you give in to its persistent silliness.

It might seem a little weird that Ben Van Osch really relishes his roles as Ophelia and Juliet, with massive wigs and long dresses, but then again, there was a time when women’s parts were exclusively played by men. And this is the season of community reunions where more than a few men will inevitably dress in skimpy women’s lingerie and plaster on makeup for shirt-tail parades. So best to just roll with it.

When you accept that its entirely appropriate for Ken and Barbie dolls, an inflatable dinosaur, a few lines from The Time Warp, and the Van Osch brothers’ mother to be woven into the production, then you’ll have a grand time.

In this play, the 37 or so tragedies, comedies and histories spun out during Shakespeare’s prolific career are turned into a series of quickies strung together over two hours. They are irreverent, raunchy and sometimes swollen with bad puns. Oh yeah, and definitely not appropriate for a young audience.

Last night, it was a very friendly audience. Perhaps a quarter of the people were related to the Van Osch brothers, and a number of producers and directors from other plays staged at The Livery were there.

You can still catch a performance of this play on July 16, 17 or 18, starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are available online or by calling 519-524-6262 on Thursday or Friday, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 (adults), $22.50 (seniors) or $15 (youth). Livery Members: $20 (adults), $18 (seniors) or $15 (youth). Seating is by general admission.

The Wilberforce Hotel: History made relevant, accessible in world premiere

12 Jul
Sophia Walker as Milly Steward and Marcel Stewart as Austin Steward in Wilberforce Hotel. Photo by Terry Manzo for the Blyth Festival

Sophia Walker as Milly Steward and Marcel Stewart as Austin Steward in Wilberforce Hotel. Photo by Terry Manzo for the Blyth Festival

By Diva Danica Rush

The sounds of The Wilberforce Hotel are foreign to Blyth Festival audiences of today. Musical bones, shackle keys and clapping rocks harmonize with raw and spirited voices to create soul-aching melodies that never had a chance to root themselves into Ontario’s landscape.

A sense of familiar backdrops the little known story of the Wilberforce Hotel, a play wonderfully executed in its world premiere last week at the Blyth Festival.

You don’t need to know anything about the Wilberforce Colony to enjoy this production. From the moment it starts, the story is easily placed within Huron County’s history. The set and props are local textures – wooden tables, clay jugs, farming hoes – these are items that share heritage with the audience. Places discussed in this play are our soils – Birr, London, Lake Huron – we know these lands. The Wilberforce Hotel unites our local senses to a historical time period that we seldom see as connected to rural Ontario. And I have to say, seeing this play during a week where the American confederate flag was under scrutiny made me realize that no time or place is immune to political seasons, not even Huron County in the 1800s.

Playwriter Sean Dixon and Director Philip Akin excel in their work by bringing the autobiographical tale of Austin Steward to the stage to make this historical story accessible and relevant to local audiences. The characters of this play are identifiable yet complex. I image several couples went home from the play with different perspectives on the characters and stayed up late discussing them.

Austin Steward is the play’s moral compass, whose unwavering values can be frustrating at times. His wife, Milly, the only female character, is a strong woman whose love for her husband does not blind her to his flaws. For me as a woman and a partner, I felt Milly’s pain as she stood by her husband knowing she would draw a line in the sand at some point. Austin is a man whose struggles with purpose and pressures and is committed to faith and family. He’s so good that he simply can’t see the bad in others. The other major characters are easy to identify with too. Henry Hill, the wet blanket who doesn’t understand how he gets in or out of tense situations, and Robert Cole, a man of “leisure and corruption” whose hotel high jinx and brushes with the law would probably tire out any horse or woman he came across. Austin’s goodness is matched up against a fraud by the name of Israel Lewis, a toothy-grinning narcissist who dresses himself in popular fashion and politics. The actors should be commended for their ability to stay true to the many accents they take on during the show. At no point did a cartoon impersonation come out as they transitioned smoothly between Southern and European speech of that time period. Strong actors have the ability to show their characters’ nature and reflections beyond the script and this cast brings body to the characters’ words. A puffing of the chest, a toiling back, a memory flickers on someone’s face… you feel as if you are sitting at a table at the Wilberforce Hotel pretending not to be listening to the men.

The audience laughed alongside Milly and men’s banter, and grew silent during darker speeches. The standing ovation at the end was well deserved. As soon as I got home I did Internet searches on the Wilberforce Colony, as I just needed to know and understand more about this piece of local history.

The Wilberforce Hotel will definitely entertain you. This play lingers with you in the corner of your mind for days afterwards, as you slowly realize that those familiar textures and lands hold stories that haven’t been given breath yet. If you open yourself up to truths that lie between histories and art this play will, to paraphrase Austin Steward, show us to ourselves.


The Wilberforce Hotel runs until Aug. 8.

Blyth Festival Box Office

Location: 423 Queen St., Blyth

Phone: 519-523-9600

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on show nights)

Website: www.blythfestival.com

Tickets: Adults: regular $30, preferred $34; Preview: regular $22, preferred $26; Youth: regular $15, preferred $15.

Theatre in a uniquely beautiful setting

3 Jul

By Diva Jennifer Mossop

According to NASA, Jupiter and Venus are a “jaw dropping few degrees apart” right now and clearly visible at sunset in the Western Sky. Venus is all about love and beauty. Jupiter is the planet of the abstract mind, ruling higher learning, and bestowing a yen for exploring ideas, both intellectually and spiritually. A perfect analogy for the experience that awaits you on the shores of Lake Huron, at the Huron Country Playhouse on the outskirts of Grand Bend.

There is something quite precious and picturesque about an evening at the Huron Country Playhouse.   The farmers’ fields are very green now, and filled with promise. The sky is big, blue and endless. And nestled in the midst of all this natural delight, is a seat of culture – an iconic member of the Drayton Entertainment family. For over 40 years, generations have been coming to this renovated barn to be treated to the entertaining, mind expanding, soul searching and soul satisfying delights of live theatre.

We drove along the B line from Highway 21, feeling the lush summer country landscape engulf us. My daughter sat beside me – 12 years old now, and dressed in crisp white shirt, black pants and a scrubbed clean look ready for her first “real job”. At age 12, children in the surrounding area are invited to usher at the Playhouse. Ushering is now ranked as a tradition and an honour, shared by generations in the Grand Bend area. These are the eager young faces that meet you as you arrive. Eager to serve and eager for the chance to watch professional live theatre!

Photo Credit: Kevin Kruchkywich and Daniela Vlaskalic in Last Chance Romance, 2015 Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke

Photo Credit: Kevin Kruchkywich and Daniela Vlaskalic in Last Chance Romance, 2015
Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke

There are two theatre options, with the main productions housed in the old barn and the smaller Playhouse II accommodating lighter fare.   Last year, Les Miserables met with ecstatic reviews, as did a pantomime version of Peter Pan. This year, Anne of Green Gables has already stolen many hearts, and now Chicago is just ramping up. This was the production my daughter took in as she helped hand out programs in the main theatre. I, on the other hand, had tickets for the Playhouse II, for the comedy, Last Chance Romance.

Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season.  Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season.
Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Sets and costumes are always creatively, meaningfully and well done, and the calibre of performer and performance continually meets with approval from seasoned theatre-goers and critics, alike.

Intermission brings the chance to step out into the fresh country air, and gaze at the magnificent sky, ablaze in setting sun glory. Collecting a refreshment, we ventured out on to the lawn to see the new gazebo and met up with the Chicago goers, gushing about the production next door. Note to self, buy tickets now.

At end of the evening, we collected our daughter, her eyes wide and shining with the new experience. Climbing into the car, we looked over the fields at the rising full moon to the East, and enormous Venus and Jupiter in the Western Sky. Natural beauty and human experience in a satisfying balance. If you haven’t been to the Playhouse yet, or yet this season, don’t miss the chance. Check its website here.


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