Tuesday, April 26, 2016


What if ...

It's a question we often ask ourselves. We decided to this, what would have happened if we had decided to that? We ask that question a lot during our lives and it can range from the mundane (maybe I should have the chicken salad instead of the double bacon poutine) to the prosaic (if I had taken that other job I would have my own company car) to the life altering (that guy/girl back in college, what if I had chosen them)

The conundrum is best expressed by the great British philosopher Jo Strummer: Should I stay or should I go

These are the kinds of questions posed in the musical If/Then currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. In the play we are introduced to Elizabeth, a young woman returning to New York City after a failed marriage in Denver Colorado ("I wasn't living in a city all these years, I was living in Denver") and searching for restart to her life. She is in Madison Square Park, awaiting an old college friend of hers and she meets a handsome young soldier and doctor returning from the war. Does she turn down the soldier's advances or does she go with them ... The musical shows us both possible outcomes as the story goes on

In the first act playwright Brian Yorkey's book is clever and quite funny. We follow Elizabeth through the two possibilities of her life, there are characters who exit in both worlds. All of her decisions, in both streams, stem from what she feels have bee wasted years in her life, in a marriage that was hollow in a place that lacked the vibrancy of her native NYC

It's a challenging play for all the actors. Everyone is essentially playing two characters, one in each stream of Elizabeth's life and accordingly each actor does double duty in the singing. All of the actors are up to the task; as Lucas, Elizabeth's best friends and maybe lover, Anthony Rapp does not possess the most technical of voices but he more than makes up for it in his understanding of what the songs are about, and his character should best express them

But really, if I'm talking about this production, the main talking point is Jackie Burns. While many of the actors do double duty on the songs, as Elizabeth, the character around whom the entire story revolves, Burns does double lead duty

As the play starts off, when it is more jovial and satirical, her voice is efficient and effective. But as the story progresses it becomes increasingly dramatic, as Beth's life goes on her decisions become more important and what were once intellectual concerns, become life changing.

And Jackie's voice changes. It becomes big and powerful and filled with emotion while never lose pitch or tone. It is a jaw dropping performance. When I hear of these manufactured pop divas who need to lip sync during their "live" performances because it's just too darn challenging to sing while dancing I would love to drop them in Miss Burn's world. Not only does she sing two lead roles, she dances and she acts and she has to move to keep up with a very fluid stage design.

The story is a good one, sharp and witty and never afraid to show the darker side of life. The entire cast is strong. But Jackie Burns is the star of If/Then on every level. I was not aware of her before this performance but she could now get me into a seat regardless of the play in which she was performing

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Love conquers all, or so goes the platitude. Well, like most platitudes, it's pretty much full of shit.

OK, maybe love can conquer but it can also destroy. Not just the love of another, but the kind of love shared between the two. Or so it stands in David Hare's play The Judas Kiss, currently running at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

Judas Kiss tells the story of Irish poet and playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde. Probably best known for his only novel The Portrait of Dorian Grey and for plays such as The Importance of Being Ernest. Also known for being a general wit, scholar and raconteur of a very high level. And also known for being gay in and time and place where that was, incredibly, illegal

As the play opens, Wilde is deep into the second of three famous trials. In the first trial, Wilde sues the Marquis of Queensbury (yeh, the boxing rules guy) for slander, after the powerful British lord accused the playwright of being a "sodamite" Wilde loses that case and it opens him to being charged with "gross indecency. Yeh, basically accused of being gay. A very serious charge in that time and in that place. If convicted, Wilde would go to prison and his life as an artist and public person would be over

The trial is not going well. In a hotel room in London, Robbie, a former lover of Wilde's and his most honest friend, has arranged for the playwright to leave London, leave England, to go into exile in order to avoid prison. It is a dire situation, with reporters outside and police on the way. Robbie has arranged everything, he fears that if Wilde returns to the courtroom, his next stop would be prison

There is another person in that hotel room though and he does not want Wilde to leave. He wants him to stay, to return to court, to fight. It is important, he says, that Wilde stand his ground and help turn the tide of prejudice against homosexuals

This person is a beautiful young man called Bosie. He is Wilde's current lover. And oh yeh, he is the nephew of the Marquis of Queensbury. A callow wannabe poet, it is suggested that Bosie is using this situation  to thumb his nose at his powerful family ... while staying in it

The play opens with a pair of naked bodies in that hotel room, having sex. They are not Wilde and Bosie, they are not even Wilde and Robbie. They are two of the three hotel employees who serve the men in the first act of the play. Sex plays a part in the story, the lure of the flesh, the need to release but really, this is a story about love

Oscar Wilde is a brilliant man. He is a keen observer of society and an eloquent satirist. Much of his dialogue in the play, if not direct quotes, are close enough. He is hilarious, with that kind of wit we admire but wish never to be directed to us

But Wilde is weak. His weakness is love. He cannot see Bosie for who and what he really is. Robbie can but he cannot sway his friend to that point of view. And thus begins Wilde's downfall. His love for Bosie leads him back to the trial and eventually to prison for three years

The second act takes place shortly after Wilde is released from prison, essentially in exile in Italy. He is penniless. His wife is threatening divorce and to cut him off from his income and his children. Robbie has come to bear the bad news. But the actual bad news is that Wilde is once again with Bosie. And once again, Bosie breaks Wilde's heart

The Judas Kiss is a sad story. Sad that Wilde is the architect, in some respect, of his own demise. Somewhere inside he must understand that Bosie is poison but he can't tear himself away. Sad that who we choose to love is not only not accepted by society, but can put our lives in danger. That applied to homosexuals in the Victorian age and it applies to homosexual men now, in several countries across the globe

For all its sadness though, the play illicit much laughter. Wilde was a great wit and Hare does a perfect job of capturing that wit. From the profane to the bawdy to the eloquent, there is an awful lot of humour in a play that should be considered a tragedy

There is also and awful lot of high quality acting. Charlie Row  as Bosie has the always difficult job of playing a villain who maintains our interest. He is quite riveting in the role, you really can't take your eyes off him. Cal MacAnnich as Robbie beautifully expresses himself through a wide range of emotions as he desperately fights to save the man he loves, even though that man has given himself to another

Rupert Everett is an actor with a reasonable string of TV and movie credits but I can't say he's ever been on my radar. The Judas Kiss has changed that. He is absolutely magnificent as Wilde. Wilde was a man of words and Everett surrenders to that, for most of the play he is just sitting in a chair. But his voice, his timing and his body control even while seated, takes us through a wide range of emotions. It really is a pretty spectacular performance

Everett gives us an incredibly bright, incredibly funny man trapped in a time and circumstance that seemed to set him up for tragedy. He knows his fate, if he lets himself love who needs to love and be the person that he wants to be. But he goes there. In some ways Wilde was a foolish man. But he was also a very brave one. At one point Bosie, a self declared poet, tells Wilde that he must leave him so that he, Bosie, can give the world his gift. Rosie's gift seems to be childishness and curliness. It's Wilde gift that lives on. And Rupert Everett's gift that we are able to open it
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