Arts and Style
By Alan Hustak on February 7, 2017
Nicola Cavendish tears up the stage as Maude Gutman, the coarse, vulgar but far from stupid trailer park tootsie in Stephen Sach’s two-hander, Bakersfield Mist at the Centaur until February 26. The thought-provoking play spins on a simple premise: Maude has paid $3.00 for a large discarded canvas at a garage sale which may or may not be a Jackson Pollock drip painting worth millions.
Noises Off, Michael Frayn’s acclaimed sex farce at the Segal until Feb 19th, isn’t the easiest of plays to pull off. It’s actually a play-with-in-a-play.
By Alan Hustak on November 12, 2016
"You don’t know me from the wind/you never will, you never did,” Leonard Cohen wrote on the title track of his album, The Future, But that hasn’t stopped people who love his words and his mordant sense of humour from mourning the, poet, author and prince of mordant melancholy who died Monday Nov. 7 at the age of 82, three weeks after the release of his final album, You Want it Darker. His death was not made public until after the U.S. election was over.
Variously praised as “ the finest songwriter in America;” “the Lord Byron of rock'n'roll” , and as a mystic: "one of a tiny visionary company, the handful of rock or blues or folk singers who attempt to sort out the sense of the world with which they started."
By Robert K. Stephen on November 12, 2016
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) is perhaps one of America’s most iconic photographers. This first Mapplethorpe retrospective opened at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on September 10th and runs until January 22, 2017.
You’ll walk away either somewhat disgusted with some of his kinkier nude or semi-nude photographs or view them as an innovative photographic attempt at sculpture. Or you may be in awe at some of his incredible photographs of flowers. As Mapplethorpe said, “I am looking for perfection in form. I do that with portraits. I do it with flowers.”Unlike the equally iconic American photographer Diane Arbus, Mapplethorpe preferred the studio portrait instead of the outdoor “realistic” method favored by Arbus. Does this make Mapplethorpe a traditionalist despite the progressive and innovative crown granted by the artistic community to Mapplethorpe?
By P.A. Sévigny on November 1, 2016
Although there’s always a good crowd at the Atwater Library’s regular Lunchtime Series events, it’s always a special day when Margaret Atwood drops by to offer up her own opinion about what Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote ‘The Tempest’: his play about a play that talks about what a grind it is to put on a play.
“Shakespeare’s Ariel wasn’t a magician,” said Atwood. “He’s a director and the (play’s) director is always the man who makes things happen!”
By Alan Hustak on October 7, 2016
Constellations, the Centaur’s season opener running until October 30th is an existential exercise that is almost as inaccessible as the theatre on St. Francois Xavier itself these days. The narrow street in front of the Centaur, like almost every other street in the city, has been ripped up. You have to make your way around barricades across planks and around heavy machinery to get through the front doors of the playhouse.
But the effort is worth it.
By Beryl Wajsman on August 8, 2016
Ok, confession time. I haven't seen Céline Dion live in twenty years. But when a lady named Brigitte tells you she got the tickets and asks, "So Wajsman, you going?" Well, you go. Now, at least half of you will be saying to yourselves, "Who cares Wajsman! Get back to the problems we all have!" You would be wrong. As I tell a lot of activist friends, if tomorrow, all the problems of the world were solved, we would still need art and music and poetry and passion. Céline Dion delivered all that and more. It wasn't just a concert. It was a mesmerizing, seductive, singularly unique outpouring of talent laced with the maturity and authenticity that is only born out of pain. This is not just a "Queen of pop" as she is too often flippantly labeled.
By Robert K. Stephen on July 31, 2016
Yes you have heard the name Pompeii countless times but the exhibit really highlights a point in time of history with artifacts and a description of everyday life in Pompeii. Personally, it conveys the message that a natural disaster is never far away whether it be a massive ice storm, a tsunami or earthquake. Everything is normal and kaboom it’s all over for thousands of people. How can those people in Los Angeles sleep knowing they’ll be sliding into the sea as the San Andreas Fault heaves?
We can move right to the disaster. The early warning sign was in 62 A.D. when Pompeii was reduced to rubble by a strong earthquake.
By Alan Hustak on April 23, 2016
Last Night at the Gayety, George Bowser and Rick Blue’s rousing musical at the Centaur is a full- throttled if somewhat aimless exercise in nostalgia about how television put an end to Vaudeville in the 1950s.
Through the “magic of dramatic license” the plot centres on burlesque queen Lily St. Cyr’s now legendary appearance at the Gayety playhouse and the attempts by the city’s morality squad, led by crime busting lawyer Pacifique “Pax” Plante, (Daniel Brochu) and the Roman Catholic church to rid Montreal of widespread vice and corruption. Inspired by William Weintraub’s classic, City Unique, the show is a return to the days when Montreal “came by its dishonesty honestly.” It is told in flashback, narrated by Tommy, (Trayne McCarthy) the Gayety’s master of ceremonies.
By Alan Hustak on March 7, 2016
If you ever wonder about some of the people you share public transit with Bus Stops at the Centaur until March 27 is a smart and energetic excursion into our deepest fears and sometimes prejudices.
Originally staged in French as Lignedebus, Marilyn Perreault’s innovative multidisciplinary drama is a ride like no other. The versatile and bilingual cast is identical to the one Theatre I.N.K. mounted two years ago. The play, translated by Nadine Desrochers, has nothing to do with the chirpy Hollies tune, The Bus Stop song. On stage as you take your seats is the charred shell of a Montreal transit bus, a grim set designed by Patrice Charbibbeau-Brunelle.
By Alan Hustak on September 27, 2015
The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at the Centaur until October 18 is a riveting, highly theatrical excursion into the mysteries of life and death and the healing power of a faith community. At its core is the age old conundrum: How can a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?
Djanet Sears, who wrote, developed and directs her own work engages us in a three hour fantasy of her making. Sears is a born story teller who has combined West African tradition with the fervor of an old time American gospel revival meeting to come up with an extravagant, vivid, and occasionally taxing, theatrical experience. The play explores the Black experience in Southern Ontario - present and future, and is rooted in the light of the past all the way back to the War of 1812, when Captain Runchy’s Company of Coloured Men fought for the British.
The hypocritical criticism of Magic Mike XXL "It's reverse sexism,"says Andie MacDowell. "Women are in Charge!"
By Beryl Wajsman on July 13, 2015
"We want our streets teeming with sensual echoes framed in smoky blue-grey hazes fueled by intoxicating spirits. We crave to hear the sweet murmurs of pleasure. We yearn for those breathless encounters on the precipice of peril and menace. Without all this, life would be nothing but a vast treadmill from birth to grave. Let's all be kids in a sandbox and act like 'boys and girls together' to borrow William Goldman's phrase, and suck the marrow out of the bones of this thing called life!"
I don't usually write about movies. But the criticism of Magic Mike XXL has reached the crescendo of a public issue. And, save for a few brave female commentators who admit liking the pure fun of watching male hunks and some great dancing, the general condemnation is breathtaking in its hypocrisy.
By Alan Hustak on June 12, 2015
Comparisons are odious. Books are not movies. Movies are not stage plays and Broadway musicals are something else altogether. The Segal Centre’s production The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the musical, which had its run extended into July even before it opened, stands on its own as a fearless, reimagined version of Richler’s classic novel. Even Richler’s widow, Florence and eldest son, Daniel who were at the opening approved. But it is a show with limitations, not so much a musical as a play with music. You keep waiting for a signature show tune, an anthem to hum as you leave the theatre, but there isn’t one. Eight songs into the first act, a song and dance routine, Art and Commerce, encapsulates the spirit of the evening and finally kick starts the show.
By Alan Hustak on April 26, 2015
A wonderful confection of cock-eyed characters are at the heart of Marianne Ackerman’s dark hearted comedy, Triplex Nervosa that’s playing at the Centaur until May 17. Written on her kitchen table on a weekend, Ackerman’s play involves the trials and tribulations of a Mile End landlord, Tass Nazor (Holly Gauthier Frankel) who owns a heavily mortgaged triplex in Montreal’s trendy crunchy granola neighbourhood. She is in dire straights and needs to rid herself of a rather forlorn tenant, Max Fishbone (Howard Rosenstein), who has moved into his son’s apartment and won’t move out. The action begins with Tass suggesting to her rather sinister Slavic handyman Rakie Ur, (Karl Graboshas), that he take care of her problem by subjecting Max to some sort of “invisible damage.”
By Alan Hustak on April 23, 2015
Travesties, Tom Stoppard’s intellectual exercise about the literary and political co-ordinates of art and Oscar Wilde playing at the Segal Centre until May 3 Is a polished, but exhausting three hour excursion into the surreal.. Unless you are familiar with the origins of Dadaism and the cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, know something of the precious personality of James Joyce and have studied Vladimir Lenin’s revolutionary ideas, this scholarly, highbrow drawing room comedy isn’t always easily accessible.
There is much, much more going on in on in this chaotic production as well. It is overloaded with talk, much of it too clever by half, and demands a familiarity not only with Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest, but with Shakespeare, Gilbert and Sullivan and early 20th century European history.
By Alan Hustak on March 28, 2015
Not only do you have to care, but you have to care passionately about the way movies in English-speaking Canada are made to appreciate The Envelope, Vittorio Rossi’s “gibber about the Canadian film industry,” playing at the Centaur Theatre until April 19.
It’s a fascinating glimpse into the world of moviemaking but one which may leave many outside the theatre community a little bewildered. The Envelope is essentially a play about idealism, greed and artistic integrity - in Rossi’s rant, it is about “an industry that kills talent.”
By Alan Hustak on March 8, 2015
The publishing industry being what it is these days you won’t find a copy of Dave Flavell’s oral history of Griffintown, Point St. Charles and Goose Village in any Montreal bookstore. Newspapers in town have taken no notice of it. But for anyone interested in the social history of Montreal’s storied English-speaking tenement neighbourhoods, his book, Community and the Human Spirit is well worth ordering on line. Like Patricia Burns’ Shamrock and The Shield Which was published ten years ago, Flavell captures a chorus of voices to chronicle a time and place that no longer exists – not just the Irish.
By Alan Hustak on February 28, 2015
There are home invasions and then there are home invasions.
The Good Night Bird, at The Centaur until March 22 is a preposterous, heterosexual twist on James Kirkwood’s gay comedy, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. (Yes, there is a role for a dead cat in this show too.) In Colleen Murphy’s screwball version of the Kirkwood tale a mentally unstable, filthy vagrant bent on killing himself hits the balcony of a high rise and winds up, instead, in the bedroom of an emotionally alienated married couple where he breathes new life into their sedentary relationship.
By Alan Hustak on February 7, 2015
Forever Plaid at the Segal Centre until February 22 is a happy-go-lucky musical museum piece, mounted with obvious affection and encased in clean-cut nostalgia. If the Four Aces, the Four Lads, Johnny Ray, (“The Cry Guy”), Topo Gigo, Senor Wences and Caribbean calypso rhythms mean anything to you, this local production is a faithful, full-fledged hi-fidelty hit.
Stuart Ross’ Forever Plaid made its debut off Broadway 25 years ago, and it remains a crowd pleasure with a certain generation. especially the baby boomers who grew up in an era of 45 r.p.m juke box tunes.
By Alan Hustak on December 6, 2014
At first glance, The Book of Mormon which arrived at Place des Arts last week thanks to Evenko promotions is a send-up of a home grown, American made religion. But it is more than that. It is a refreshingly irreverent Broadway musical inspired by the gospel of South Park and at the same time it is also a subliminal meditation on faith and the awareness of the life of any lived religion. Behind the laughter it provokes is the nagging question:, what is faith and why do the faithful of any religion believe what they believe? The show addresses the hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism and lampoons the ability of people to cherry pick their beliefs. It is offensive as you might suspect.
By Stephanie Azran on November 18, 2014
Margaret Atwood knows how to work a room- so long as the room is in darkness and the spotlight is on her. That's just what she did at a recent reading in Hudson, leaving the audience enthralled with her performance of the first few paragraphs from one of her short stories.
Atwood recently appeared at Greenwood's StoryFest, a literary festival celebrating Canadian authours. The grand dame of Canadian literature was a major score for the Greenwood folk, who have also welcomed Michael Ondaatje, Romeo Dallaire and Atwood's husband Graeme Gibson.
By Alan Hustak on November 9, 2014
Social Studies, Tricia Cooper’s intriguing play at the Centaur until Nov. 30. is an ultimately sad and fragmented socio-political comedy about a young Sudanese boy who has been transplanted from war torn Africa to a comfortable suburban Winnipeg neighbourhood. Most of the laughs in the play, however, derive from cultural misunderstandings rather than genuine comic dialogue. The evening opens with a self-centered character, Jackie, (Eleanor Noble) running back home to her mother after a failed marriage, only to be told by her younger sister, Sarah (Emily Tognet) that her old room is taken.
By Alan Hustak on October 30, 2014
It was St. Therese of Avila who said that more tears are shed over answered prayers than there are over unanswered ones. That’s pretty much the point behind Michel Tremblay’s classic play Les Belles Soeurs, The play focuses on Quebec housewife, Germaine Lauzon who wins a million trading stamps then invites her friends and neighbours over to share her good fortune with devastating consequences.
Tremblay has seen his play done so many times and so many ways he appears to have distanced himself from the work. But he was around for the opening at the Segal Centre of the English language premiere of the musical based on the original.
By Alan Hustak on October 19, 2014
Venus in Fur, the emotionally sordid, sadomasochistic romp at the Centaur until Nov 9 is not only harrowingly funny, but it keeps us on our toes. The subject is sexual tension - sexual confusion and erotic role playing - it delves into the darkest recesses of sexual fulfillment. It helps to know that the play by David Ives is based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1869 novel of the same name. (He lent his name to the term masochism).
It’s a wholly theatrical play, a two hander which explores fetishes and fantasies and depends on raunchy actorly artifice.
By Alan Hustak on September 10, 2014
As Mrs. Robinson, the predatory cougar in the Segal Centre’s coarse, hard-edged and erratic stage adaptation of The Graduate running until Sept. 21, Brigitte Robinson glows like tip of her smoldering, ever- present cigarette. The overall production of the 1967 cinema classic, however, has lost something in the transformation from the screen to the stage. The play has all of the substance and none of the charm of the original. It gets off to a promising start as Mrs. Robinson seduces Benjamin Braddock, the 20-year old misfit hero (Luke Humphrey.) within the first ten minutes.
By Alan Hustak on April 2, 2014
Thank God for understanding grandmothers.
And thank our lucky stars for director Roy Surette’s solid, production of Amy Herzog’s intergenerational play, 4000 miles at the Centaur until April 20. Essentially, the play is about blood ties, about the relationship between Vera, a 91-year old non-judgmental grandmother (Clare Coulter) and her 21-year old grandson, Leo. (Nathan Barrett.)
Grandma, as it happens is an independent left-wing idealist who cut her teeth during the McCarthy era. She’s losing her hearing, she’s frail and a bit forgetful, but still mentally tough and perceptive,..
By Alan Hustak on March 24, 2014
It takes a special cast to pull off a David Mamet play, and Paul Flicker has assembled a superlative team of actors who can indeed handle the playwright’s spare, scalding idiomatic dialogue with his directorial debut of Glen Garry Glen Ross at the Segal until March 30. The 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning work about a group of cut-throat Chicago salesmen selling worthless Florida real-estate to gullible victims is a riveting exercise in Flicker’s hands, made even more topical following the bust in the corrupt U.S. housing market six years ago.
By Alan Hustak on March 3, 2014
“The War of the Worlds, not the one from outer space happened right here,” Lillabit Bradley reminds us in David Fennario’s Motherhouse, a 90-minute monologue staged at the Centaur Theatre until March 23 to commemorate the centennial of the Great War.
Motherhouse is not so much a play as an arresting diatribe in search of one. As the protagonist, Bradley, who worked at the British Munitions Factory in Verdun when her brother went off to fight the war, Holly Gauthier-Frankel has her work cut out for her.
By Alan Hustak on February 17, 2014
Lucinda Davis is God in the Centaur Theatre’s existential drama The Book of Bob, and she’s divine.
The premiere of Arthur Holden’s updated interpretation of the strained Old Testament parable, The Book of Job, running until March 2, is a toute de force for Davis who is an astonishing presence throughout the 90 minute show. If, as scripture insists, we are created in the image of God, Davis seizes the conceit and infuses ten different characters with her phenomenal talent.
By Alan Hustak on February 8, 2014
In director Peter Hinton’s coherent and highly entertaining adaptation of The Seagull at the Segal until Feb 19, Chekhov’s enigmatic psychodrama has been transplanted from a Russian dacha to a chalet somewhere in the Canadian wilderness. The script has been updated and is as full of contemprary references as a pop-culture magazine. It is a three-and a half –hour excursion into the tragi-comic relationships of dysfunctional family that has gathered together in the claustrophobic confines of the lakeshore cottage.
All of them are self-absorbed characters, who talk about art, philosophy and their individual struggles in an attempt to relate to one other another.
By Alan Hustak on December 12, 2013
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has launched a million dollar fund-raising campaign to acquire the monumental Chihuly glass sculpture entitled The Sun, which enchanted thousands of people this summer when it was mounted on the steps of the museum’s Hornstein pavilion. The work has been moved inside to the atrium of the Jean-Noel Desmarais pavilion across the street. The dazzling sculpture is more than 4 metres in diameter, with 1,200 shimmering rays of yellow tendrils accented with elements of blue and red. The sculpture takes four days to assemble. It was the focal point of last summer’s Chihuly exhibition, Utterly Breathtaking.
By Alan Hustak on November 29, 2013
As children, Jacob Richler and his siblings weren’t allowed into their famous father’s upstairs study when Mordecai Richler was pounding away at his typewriter writing his books or his satirical essays. So when Jacob dedicated the Mordecai Richler Reading Room at Concordia University last week the occasion brought back “happy memories of my father.”
The room on the sixth floor of the McConnell Building is not, as some have suggested a replica or a re-creation of Richler’s office in the family cottage at Lake Memphremagog.
By Louise V. Labrecque on November 29, 2013
Dali moderne, – postmoderne avant son temps-, se situe réellement dans ce continuum moderne, en marche sur un fil d’acier, – dire en équilibre serait exagéré, mais il tenta par son œuvre à libérer sa puissance créatrice de son narcissisme- en recherche incessante de points culminants s’imposant d’eux-mêmes. En ce sens, Dali ouvre la porte à tous les possibles, construit et déconstruit le genre avec son célèbre : « le surréalisme, c’est moi! »
By Alan Hustak on November 27, 2013
A word or two before you head out to see the Segal Centre’s production of Othello running until Dec. 1. It is only the third time the Segal has done Shakespeare, so one wonders why it decided to tackle what is arguably the most difficult play in the canon. It is certainly a stretch to suggest, as artistic producer Paul Flicker does in the program that Othello is a work that might foster intercultural understanding. Nor does it have anything to do with the Charter of Quebec values. Othello is a sexual tragedy, a story of twisted relationships that encompasses inter-racial marriage, prejudice, jealousy, calumny, insecurity and murder.
By Alan Hustak on November 2, 2013
Who would have thought a play about canola, corn, soybeans and wheat could be so, uhm, damned entertaining and thought provoking. Seeds, AnnabelSoutar's docudrama at the Centaur until Nov. 24 is all about the perceived evils of Monsanto Inc., the international bio-tech seed monopoly, and the meaning of life.
It is a complex, fast paced, three-hour experience which examines the “unintended consequences of genetically modified seeds.”
By P.A. Sévigny on October 8, 2013
While the pictures are worth a thousand words, Montreal journalist Alan Hustak’s Montreal Then and Now also does a lot to remind its readers that you never really know what you’ve lost till it’s gone. During a recent event in the Dorval Library, attendants had to bring in more chairs in order to accommodate the SRO (Standing Room Only) crowd after which the veteran journalist used a power-point presentation to illustrate his own search for the city’s lost time.