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

THE 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." (And how.)

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 New World.

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




The Glass Menagerie
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.



The Glass Menagerie

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


A 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 Centre in

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.

©Christopher Hoile



Web posted on Web posted on Monday, March 17, 1997 


Hey Kief, here’s a tough act to follow

 By Michael 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 Theatre.


 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.





Patricia Fagan grapples with identity in Florence Gibson's new play

HOME 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


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 for theatre."

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 Toronto.

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."



Home 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 craft.




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.


Toronto Star-3-25-97


                Toronto Star


                The Toronto Star, August 25, 1997, Final


                Ontario Theatre Kingston Summer Festival


                Publication Date




                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, 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

               we’re in."


                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 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




Vanity Press
by James Polk
directed by Andy McKim
starring: Diana Belshaw, Geoffrey Bowes, John Gilbert, Judy Marshak, Jackie May, Michael McManus

set & costume design: William Chesney
lighting design: Kevin Fraser
stage manager: Beth Bruck
March 11 - April 5, 1987
* produced in the Extra Space




TORONTO SUN, 9-28-1995

September 28, 1995

Stand-Up Comedy Short On Laughs



Toronto Sun

 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 Tuesday night.

 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.






Vol. 9 No. 2 (Fall 1988)


Chris Johnson

This 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.

Cet 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.

Zastrozzi, 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 empathy.

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 director wanted.)

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 something else?

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 actions.'

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 script.

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 worthwhile


    Love's Labours Lost

    Studio Theatre

    til Feb. 8th


    review by Rosa Jackson


    Studio Theatre's production of Love's Labours Lost leaves one wondering why, until recently, this play has been overlooked by so many acting companies.

    This play's strength lies not in plot or in character, but rather in comic dialogue and situation.

    One of 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.

    The 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 palace.

    Predictably, 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.

    The high 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.

    Despite a lack of depth in some of the characters, the actors' interpretations are convincing and well-defined.

    Deserving 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.

    The women 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 their characters.

    Sound 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.

    The 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.





March 5, 1996

ABC RADIO online

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