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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Runaway Train: John Neumeier’s Anna Karenina

Svetlana Lunkina as Anna Karenina in John Neumeier’s Anna Karenina. (Photo: Kiran West)

John Neumeier’s Anna Karenina, at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until Sunday, is a classic novel turned into a train wreck of a ballet. Running over three hours in length and said to have cost $1.9 million to produce, this meandering two-act narrative dance – the first co-production of the National Ballet of Canada, the Bolshoi and the Hamburg Ballet – is not just overlong but overdone. Superfluous scenes, anachronistic details, misplaced humour, histrionics and a surfeit of clich├ęs not only try the patience; they threaten to kill empathy for one of the greatest female characters created in the whole of art.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

How I Felt toward This Film about Halfway Through: Hostile (2017)

Brittany Ashworth in Hostile (2017).

Writer-director Mathieu Turi’s debut is a zombie post-apocalypse thriller cum meditation on a romantic relationship, brazenly tied together. Despite heartfelt acting and high production values (on a low budget, no less!), the melodramatic direction, tone-deaf dialogue, predictable plot, and overly intellectual transitions caused me to check out, mentally if not physically, about a fourth of the way into this under-ninety-minute effort. Elevated horror Hostile (2017) is not.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Unlikely Musicals: Girl from the North Country and Allelujah!

Kimber Sprawl and Sydney James Harcourt in Girl from the North Country. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The mood of sorrow in Conor McPherson’s beautiful new play Girl from the North Country, reaching down as deep as the deepest well, is both aching and piercing, and when you walk out of the Public Theatre at the end (where it’s about to end its sold-out run) it hobbles you: my step was slower, my mind a little befogged, and I had the impression that I was carrying something heavy and unresolvable with me. Yet the evening is often joyous. The seventeen-member ensemble, each performing at capacity, sings the Bob Dylan songs in Simon Hale’s exquisite arrangements – there are twenty in all – with brio and with full hearts. The music decorates the air and makes the show swing, even when it comments on lost love, even when the narrative context of the lyrics turns them ironic. And though the overarching theme is loneliness, the music also imbues what we see on the stage with an unmistakable feeling of community, in the sense of a common humanity. I found myself thinking of Our Town – with Robert Joy, as the narrator, Dr. Walker, almost taking on the role of the omniscient Stage Manager in the last minutes – and of Spoon River Anthology, as well as of Pennies from Heaven, because of the Depression-era setting and because Girl from the North Country is a Brechtian jukebox musical.