THE VIRGIN TRIAL

By Kate Hennig
Directed by Alan Dilworth
At the Studio Theatre. Till September 30, 2017

Bahia Watson as Bess (photo: Lynda Churilla)

Where Kate Hennig’s The Last Wife presented Katherine Parr as a feminist heroine, her sequel, The Virgin Trial, has no heroine of comparable gravitas. Set in 1549, the sequel sometimes plays like English History for Dummies. It isn’t that Hennig is a bad playwright; it is simply that she over-estimates the power and scope of vulgarizing English history in the cause of popular understanding. Hennig is a wonderful actress; as playwright, she shows a keen theatrical sense but a shallow sense of drama and characterization. The Virgin Trial starts with offstage drama: Thom (Brad Hodder, in black beard and leather as Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour) has invaded the bed-chamber of boy-king Edward VI, possibly because of resentment of the power and authority of his brother Ted (Edward, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector). The only historical fatality is the royal spaniel, but things get very dicey, indeed, for Thom, who is also suspected of carnal relations with young Bess (the future Elizabeth I). He is led to the executioner’s block, while Bess herself faces interrogation because she is suspected of motivating and aiding his treason. The bulk of the play consists of flashbacks to earlier events, and much is made of young Bess’s skill in dealing with her antagonists. She is supposed to be a real heroine, but in Bahia Watson’s trite performance, she never grows beyond shrill teenage petulance and verbal bravado, despite the character’s bold declaration that she is fire and radiation.

Apart from the death of the royal spaniel, there is another fatality: the grain and texture of the script itself. Colloquial and demotic in the extreme, Hennig’s characters commit anachronisms with casual abandon. There are references to Belgian chocolates, bank statements, waterboarding, and electric shock torture—none of which helps illuminate the action. Young Bess’s half-sister Mary (Sara Farb, as Elizabethan Goth as all get out) anticipates the novels of John Braine with nice modern irony in an exchange with Bess: “Welcome to life at the top.” She also cautions Bess: “Don’t fuck it up!” sounding like an English forerunner of Trump henchman Anthony Scaramucci. In a later scene, Bloody Mary observes with remarkable (21st century) perspicacity: “People do weird shit.” Indeed, but not, it seems, as weird as the shit of some theatre professionals.

Alan Dilworth has tried to make the action taut and thrilling with a staccato dramatic rhythm, and there are moments of genuine tension and suspense. His designers (Yannik Larivee for set, Kimberly Purtell for lighting) achieve some remarkable effects with tall plastic sheets and top lighting, while Alexander MacSween’s sound design is also effective. The criss-crossing of past and present sometimes robs the drama of coherence, and the characterizations are not full-scale. Yet, there are some vivid character sketches. Yanna McIntosh’s Eleanor is a venomous henchwoman for Ted, while he (in Nigel Bennett’s performance) is a cool, subtle, and authoritative. Also good (in more limited ways) are Laura Condlln as Ashley and Andre Morin as Parry, Bess’s loyalists and victims of the Lord Protector. But having a Bess who is little more than an average 21st century teenager with no tangible connection to English royal history is a real drag, to echo Mary.

THE CHANGELING

By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley
Directed by Jackie Maxwell
At the Tom Patterson. Till September 23, 2017

Mikaela Davies (Beatrice-Joanna) and Ben Carlson (De Flores) (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Thomas Middleton (with an important assist from his collaborator William Rowley) was never one to turn away from psychological extremes or deviant behaviour. He was not famous for cascading poetry of mighty lines, yet his dramas caused immense anxiety for censor and public because the violence and psycho-sexual darkness were too bold, too raw. He dramatized incest, prostitution, male impotence, gender-bending.  The Changeling was probably his greatest play, coming into much greater favour in our present century, perhaps because its sordid, macabre grain is closer to our age of candid pornography and mendacity. The main fable of a woman (Beatrice-Joanna) in love with a man (Alsemero) but betrothed to another spirals into chaos when the stakes turn deadly. She becomes trapped in a web of lust and deceit after she is seduced by the very murderer (De Flores) she has hired to kill her unwanted fiancé, and the horrible sequence of events (including a sub-plot where a male servant feigns madness to seduce an asylum-keeper’s wife) is stuffed with horror and enough moral darkness to elicit chills and revulsion. It is too easy to turn this drama into a banquet of mad depravity and murder, but it is more difficult to confront its black passions head-on though without losing scale or credibility. It is no exaggeration to state that Jackie Maxwell’s version (updated to Spain, 1938, towards the end of the Spanish Civil War) succeeds on almost every count.

Her production is strong on naturalism, but this naturalism (like Middleton’s) reveals characters at the mercy of their feelings and instincts. Middleton’s text has ironic black comedy layered over something truly ugly. In other words, the surface ripples with dark, disturbing undercurrents. Camellia Koo’s set design is clever yet simple: a row of Moorish arches, their tops of painted plaster and rock, their trunks turned to see-through skeleton metal. In addition to being able to frame various settings (church, asylum, garden, or ghastly cellar), and providing freedom to Bonnie Beecher’s lighting (with candles, torches, and moonlight) to filter through and achieve some stunning chiaroscuro or dramatic effects, the design becomes a visual emblem of Middleton’s skill in x-raying perverse human relationships: what you see at first is only a fragment of what lies beneath first sight. Composer and sound designer Debashis Sinha adds to the dramatic allure, but it is Maxwell’s direction and her cast’s general excellence that shines forth.

Members of the company in ‘The Changeling’ (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Without over-exploiting the Spanish Civil War setting, Maxwell knows how to use the politics for dramatic colour and scale. A giant puppet Franco wanders around the stage like a grotesque reminder of tyranny, and the rogues, vagabonds, and mad inmates of the asylum are mainly heard offstage rather than allowed to litter the stage with exaggerated lunacy. Keeping the movement fluent but freezing the ensemble when a key character has a monologue or aside, Maxwell’s assured direction elicits sharp performances, especially from Gareth Potter as Antonio (the duplicitous servant who lusts after Jessica B. Hill’s Isabella), Ijeoma Emesowum’s Diaphanta, Cyrus Lane’s Alsemero (dashing but vulnerable), and Tim Campbell’s Lollio (huskily intimidating). As for the two central characters, Mikaela Davies is beautifully silken in appearance as Beatrice-Joanna and it is easy to see how she could be a magnet for several men. She also suggests the woman’s hypocrisy and conflicted feelings towards the man who becomes the agent of her doom. However, her performance does not have enough weight or depth to go beyond the surface, and her pain and suffering in her death scene her sounds seem unmoored to any real devastation. She seems shallow beside Ben Carlson’s outstanding De Flores, his face disfigured, his soul inflamed, his wary suspicion evolving into an ecstasy of expectation and then into sheer psychosexual bravado and ugliness, especially in his exchanges with Beatrice, “the deed’s creature” whose illicit love has turned her coldly evil. Carlson’s De Flores is more chilling, however, in his ironic tones, but also in his silences. It is a vivid portrait at the centre of Maxwell’s well-wrought production, one that shows our present turbulent, rancid era facets of its own grimace.

BAKKHAI

By Euripedes
New Version by Anne Carson
Directed by Jillian Keiley
At the Tom Patterson Theatre. Till September 23, 2017

Lucy Peacock as Agave (photo: Lynda Churilla)

Mac Fyfe’s Dionysos (also called Bromios, Bakkhos, and Lydian Stranger) is slim, sinuous, long-haired, bare-footed, and androgynous. “I set all Asia dancing,” he announces proudly, adding that he has come to Thebes to thrill the people. His words are addressed to the Bakkhai or maenads (madwomen), his female acolytes who have more than just a streak of radical feminism. On a blood-red floor with a red vine-leaf at centre (designed by Shawn Kerwin and expressively lit by Cimerron Meyer), they wear dressed rippling white robes with red stains spreading upwards from the hem like wine or blood stains, they carry pine-cone tipped thyrsi that they wield like spears, portending violence. They dance to music composed by Veda Hille, and though there is at first an unmistakable note of eerie strangeness, the sounds devolve into a disconcertingly cabaret mode, with lyrics that would do Celine Dion proud. Of course, this is a modern version, and, of course, Carson’s text, rife with contemporary colloquialisms, phrases, and references, is intended to revitalize an ancient classic for modern audiences. Also modern but apt in this theatrical re-versioning are the Kadmos of Nigel Bennett and the Teiresias of Graham Abbey, both finely nuanced and both capable of sounding contemporary without sacrificing links to their Greek source.

Bakkhai Dance (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

This production, as director Jillian Keiley explains in her program notes, is offered as “a public dream: sometimes illogical, sometimes erotic, sometimes operating under the constraint of linear time, sometimes not.” At the Patterson, it is a dream in the round, where the background context is strikingly and antagonistically patriarchal. Pentheus, arrogant yet childish, rational yet gullible, exerts his political power with vengeance against all women who dare to threaten traditional order. Hence the feminist bakkhai and their wild, orgiastic behaviour—though the pre-show warning about “explicit scenes of eroticism” is hardly necessary, because apart from mimed lesbian cunnilingus and couplings, and a scene where Dionysus fondles and assaults a transvestite Pentheus, there is little sexual matter to shock even boy scouts of today. Gordon S. Miller’s Pentheus is a little uncertain in high heels and woman’s dress, but he is good in the scenes where his domineering masculinity comes to the fore.

From Left: Gordon S. Miller (Pentheus), Laura Condlln (member of the Bakkhai), Mac Fyfe (Dionysos), and Brad Hodder (Guard) (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

What is particularly good about Keiley’s staging is the reminder that Greek tragedy is short, taut, and bloody. It is also a reminder of essential dichotomies in the ancient genre: calamity (grand and mundane) as a product of domestic antagonism. Family problems, intermixed with religious blasphemies, are at the root of all the conflicts. Dionysos plots against Theban ruler Pentheus (to whom he is related by blood-lines) for casting doubt that he is, in fact, the son of Zeus and for banning all public worship of his cult. How Dionysos achieves his bloody revenge is the stuff of a drama, whose gory climax arrives when Pentheus’s mother, Agave, and the maenads (drunk and mad) tear Pentheus to pieces, whom they mistake for a lion. Most of the spectacular supernatural upheavals and bloody actions occur offstage, yet the sight of Lucy Peacock’s mad Agave carrying the head of her son like a trophy is thrillingly grisly and powerful. A sight that becomes toweringly awesome when Agave realizes that she has unwittingly killed her own son. Peacock gives Dionysos’s acolytes their strongest bond with the primitive, the raw, and the psychically deranged, almost single-handedly rescuing them from kitsch.

 

TREASURE ISLAND

By Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapted by Nicolas Billon
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
At the Avon Theatre. Till October 22, 2017

Juan Chioran (Long John Silver) and Thomas Mitchell Barnet (James/Jim Hawkins) (photo: Lynda Churilla)

The pity of it all. Despite excellent scenic design by Douglas Paraschuk, costumes by Charlotte Dean, atmospheric lighting by Kevin Fraser (especially for the wild areas of an island), and some zestful acting, this production can’t quite settle on a consistent style. Nicolas Billon’s adaptation has occasional flashes of rudimentary word-play (“Gold’s not for you, Silver”) and broad jocular allusions to Hamlet and Lord of the Flies (that may elude many in the audience), and there are robust, colourful character sketches by Bruce Hunter as hard-drinking, paranoid Billy Bones, Sarah Dodd as gender-bending Dr. Livesey, and Juan Chioran in his dual roles as Jim’s father and peg-legged Silver. There is also a very broad sketch by Gordon Patrick White as Black Dog and a more dignified one by Randy Hughson as Squire Trelawny. Thomas Mitchell Barnet gives an open-hearted performance as the boy James who turns into Jim Hawkins, caught in a growth-spurt, though the actor’s physique is far too tall to be visually convincing as a boy.

The much-bruited father-son theme gets very little clarity or justification, apart from Jim’s father metamorphosing into Silver, and even at that, how is a one-legged, well-spoken con man a model for an adventurous boy? The radical tampering with Stevenson is entertaining for many moments, with the cast eagerly engaging in interaction with the kids in the audience by asking directions to buried treasure or the ship, or where a large paper parrot in flight serves as Silver’s GPS device. Stevenson’s adventure story generated by the imagination of young Jim Hawkins (who sees and hears things that adults do not) begins, in Billon’s curious adaptation, with a lot of buckle and some swash at first, evolves into a dazzling circus aerial act by Katelyn McCulloch as the unlikeliest Ben Gunn imaginable (gender-changed and turned into a sort of rhyming Puck, with hardly any contact with Stevenson’s story), and when the show tries to become a musical with very few songs (hardly any memorable), the cast is caught with their pantos down. Ross Petty Productions do it much better.

PERMANENCE

By Cyd Casados
Directed by Hannah Price
A Libby Brodie Production at the Tarragon Extraspace
July 21-August 6, 2017

Ludovic Hughes (Steve) and Samantha Michelle (Rebecca) (photo: Lyon Smith)

The opening is literally a heavy-breathing sex act with frontal nudity for the bearded male in very tight quarters—a cramped studio apartment that is designed with palpable authenticity by Echo Zhou who is also responsible for costumes, though, to tell the truth, there’s very little need of clothing in what becomes a sequence of foreplay, intercourse, and aftermath. The coupling duo are Rebecca, an unabashedly carnal young doctor, and Steve, a painter. After the orgasm, things don’t go the usual route. “You smell like a girl,” she remarks, and what makes it worse is that she doesn’t know his name yet. Her carnality and the sex increase scene by scene, with her apparent amusement that she could be his nursing muse, despite having a relationship with another man. She is very much in the modern mode—or is it post-post-modern because she doesn’t regard sex as particularly complicated? He, however, is judgmental about her sexuality, especially when they become chronic lovers. She doesn’t really care, asserting that she likes sex when it comes with no expectations of anything else. “What do you want from me, anyway?” she asks. “I want to know more about you,” he declares, demanding that she be real with him. There is clearly a disconnect along the way because each one seems to be in a different zone of reality.

Cyd Casados’s ironically entitled 65-minute two-hander has a grainy, edgy texture and raw sexuality, and the short scenes give the play a sense of almost cinematic cuts. But all the gropings and undressings don’t ultimately yield much beyond a trite story of a relationship that goes wrong. Her text sometimes shows snappy wit (especially from Rebecca) but it moves into very familiar television territory, with sudden sensational complications (one involving Rebecca’s fucking a young patient with severe psychological problems), and an emotional fall-out that leaves Steve wracked with doubt, Rebecca without her job, and an ultimate conclusion that has her walking out of the relationship and Steve annihilating her painting of a butterfly with emblematic connotations.

Ludovic Hughes (Steve) and Samantha Michelle (Rebecca) (photo: Hannah Price)

Chris Malkowski’s lighting design relies on harsh top lighting to increase the rawness, just as Lyon Smith’s sound design makes bold connections with contemporary pop music. Hannah Price’s direction maintains a staccato rhythm but the acting sometimes suffers from a lack of subtlety or measured layering. Ludovic Hughes makes Steve credibly conflicted, and his acting seems to have more vocal and emotional range than Samantha Michelle’s as Rebecca, who sometimes appears to be on rhetorical and emotional auto-pilot.

BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL

By Douglas McGrath
Directed by Marc Bruni
A David Mirvish Production at the Ed Mirvish Theatre
July 5-September 3, 2017

Chilina Kennedy as Carole King  (photo by Joan Marcus)

Glancing at all the song titles in the house program (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” etc.) causes you to believe that this is going to be yet another formulaic jukebox musical masquerading as a musical biography, and you wonder if it could ever top Jersey Boys in this regard. Well, you would be right in some ways, and dead wrong in others. For one thing, the subject is a woman, not a male singing group; for another, she marks the start of a new era in the pop music world (the so-called Brill Building era of records aimed at youth); and for a third, her hit songs are legendary, with more than 400 of her compositions recorded by over 1,000 artists, resulting in 100 hit singles and six Grammys. Top this, Frankie Valli, if you could!

There are other reasons why Beautiful is not just another Jersey Boys in sum total. Des McAnuff used enough showbiz Vaseline to turn a paper-thin libretto into a hit Broadway show but audiences got only the barest hint of biography about the Four Seasons. Here, Marc Bruni’s dazzling production (with colourful scenic design by Derek McLane, era-defining costumes by Alejo Vietti, mood-appropriate lighting by Peter Maczorowski, and absolutely pointed choreography by Josh Prince) offers far more quality than Jersey Boys did. McAnuff’s show was slick enough for its content; Beautiful’s slickness is married to greater matter and craft. Douglas McGrath’s libretto has a witty gloss applied to what is thicker paper. Sure, it is easy to make bullet point details in his Carole King story. The libretto begins in her teenage years in a Brooklyn household dominated by her mother, a playwright manqué with a strong bias against show biz, who wants young Carole to become a teacher. The story shows how the girl always had a gift for composition, and the sequences showing her in the act of creation also establish her as her very own conductor who knows exactly what tone, register, tempo, and musical instrumentation is required for a particular lyric. McGrath’s book encompasses King’s eager romance with young, handsome Gerry Goffin, a chemist turned lyricist well above the usual cut of pop songwriters, their doomed marriage (because of his adulteries and neurotic mood swings), their collaboration and friendly competition with the song-writing team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and the swift evolution of King’s awesome success, starting with the records produced by savvy Don Kirshner. It ends, as do most bio-musicals these days, with a triumphant concert (this one is at Carnegie Hall).

But throughout the fluff and predictable plot points, McGrath’s wit flashes forth, sometimes in Carole King’s feminist self-confidence after a very naïve but endearing innocence, sometimes in Kirshner’s acid realism, and usually, thankfully, in the almost throwaway satire by Mann and Weil, a sort of jukebox Comden and Green. When brilliant Chilina Kennedy observes: “I have the right amount of body. It’s just not arranged well,” she underscores King’s sweet ordinariness and gauche innocence. When Erika Olson’s sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued Cynthia Weil hears the unfurling catalogue of questions in “Who Put the Bomp,” she is quick to comment: “It’s certainly inquisitive.” And, most witty of all, is Ben Frankenhauser’s Barry Mann, the one responsible for that catalogue that goes: “Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp/who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong.” But if this lyric of his is on automatic inanity, Mann has other moments of neurotic wit that verge on Woody Allen’s mode of humour, as when he says with a straight face: “If I’m going to be miserable, I might as well have sex to go with it.”

Bruni’s show biz skill comes to the fore in the production numbers that begin in a studio with the original composers scratching out their drafts, which burst into vivid life by professional groups such as The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers, et cetera, although Neil Sedaka  gets sent up a few times by John Michael Dias, who does triple duty, playing L.A. record producer Lou Adler as well as a member of The Righteous Brothers. Although the transitions are formulaic, they cleverly make connections between genesis and incarnation, as they follow the grain and temper of a passing era, and mark the growth of their title character’s confidence and skill. But this virtue would not have the weight it does without Chilina Kennedy, a most gifted singer/actress, whom Broadway has embraced as one of its own, and whom Canadians can applaud on her much-anticipated return home. The greatest West Side Story Maria and Jesus Christ Superstar Mary Magdalene, a wonderfully poignant Evita, and an expressively comic Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Kennedy has achieved well-deserved stardom. She shows no ego as a performer, or only what is dictated by a script, and her acting is beyond reproach—unlike that of her counterpart, fellow Canadian, tall, handsome Liam Tobin whose singing as Goffin is stentorian and whose acting is in need of a straitjacket. Her Carole King is initially a shy, insecure, and self-effacing teenager, Jewish in a lowkey, casual way, and has music in every bone and fibre of her being. Truth to tell, Kennedy probably sings better than King, but a tad short on throatiness, though overflowing with genuine feeling for a lyric and yearning for meaning in the tumult of life. Like all great singer performers, she knows just how to phrase a lyric so that it vibrates in memory. Kennedy can turn an intimate, soul-unburdening lyric into a genuine cri de Coeur, so her portrayal has emotional depth and truth. As the musical charts the passage of time and incident, her costumes and wigs change, and so does her innate emotional weather. She’s just great—and nostalgia for the great Carole King has nothing to do with it.

ODYSSEO

 

Created by Normand Latourelle.
Directed and Choreographed by Wayne Fowkes.
A Cavalia Production at 5399 Rose Cherry Place,
Mississauga. Till July 23, 2017

 

The VIP Gold Experience is probably the best way to get full enjoyment of this horse and circus extravaganza. What looks expensive on paper turns out to be reasonably affordable, given the perks that come with it. Rose Cherry Place was hitherto a well-kept secret to me because though I have lived in Mississauga for over 30 years, I did not realize how accessible the site is for all who live in the suburbs and Toronto. The location is close to the Hershey Centre, and there is a huge outdoor parking lot, where the parking fee of $15 is less than what Torontonians pay for the privilege of convenient parking in the entertainment district around the Royal Alex, Roy Thomson Hall, and the Princess of Wales. And you can book online. Just show your parking receipt when you enter and exit, and you can enjoy a long, pleasant experience under the big white tops that are truly a magnificent example of engineering and technical prowess. You simply park, and cross the street to the VIP Rendez-vous site outside the first tent.

 

 

You are greeted by a host or hostess, given a colour-coded beribboned identity card to wear around your neck, a complimentary full-colour souvenir program ($20 value), and then line up for the 6.30 pm entrance to the gourmet buffet and open bar tent that can seat over 400 guests at tables or banquettes. This tent also has merchandise boutiques (a large plush stuffed horse toy is the most popular buy) and art gallery exhibits of horses rendered in various media to while away the ample 90-minute dining period—not that you need to rush things. An open bar, staffed by young bartenders (mine was most congenial Hannah), serves up your choice of beverage. Wine-lovers may select from Jackson Triggs Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon or may settle on a cool, effervescent Cooks Brut (a sparkling Californian). Beer guzzlers can decide on a selection ranging from Molson Canadian, and Coors Light to Steam Whistle. Or if you wish to be daring and mix your drinks, you can do so. For those who wish to be alcohol-free there are assorted pops, orange juice, and bottled water. Coffee and tea are also available but from a different bar in the tent. The good thing about the service is that it is all by young Mississaugans, one of whom (who looked barely into his adolescence) served kids and their parents at a special kids’ corner, where popcorn in bags could be buttered, pizza slices served on paper plates, or where hamburgers could be all dressed on heated buns.

 

The buffet is not really gourmet quality, but it suffices nicely, with an ample selection of salads (including kale, red lentil, pasta, Israeli couscous, and stuffed vine leaves), smoked salmon platters, top sirloin, curried chicken, king-sized shrimp, and cheese trays with fruit. Dessert is served after the sixty-minute first act that begins around 8 pm. An array of sliced cheesecakes, pies, fancy cookies, chocolate cakes, fruit, and cheeses are guaranteed to add to your avoirdupois.

VIP Gold ticket-holders get choice centre aisle seats in a 125-foot tent that seats a couple of thousand in the manner of a Big Top. All the tents are hand washed by a team of 10 climbers. The White Big Top spans 58,000 square feet, with the stage area covering 17,500 square feet, and includes a technical grid that weighs 70 tons. A 250-ton crane is needed during the first installation and such an installation can take several days. Moving the show from city to city requires 120 vehicles. There is a pleasurable warm-up quiz projected on the filmy front curtain, in which you learn that there are 65 horses of various breeds (including Appaloosa, Hanoverian, Holsteiner, French Saddle, Lusitano, Percheron, etc) in the show, with 16 stallions, 49 geldings, but no mares for obvious reasons. Stallions are more difficult to train that geldings or mares because they have a fighting side that can sometimes take precedence over their playful sides. It takes between 2-6 years to train the horses, their average ages being 9, with the oldest being 14 and the youngest 6. The expert riders (numbering 57 and drawn, like the horses, from various parts of the globe, though based in Quebec) train the horses, and the animals take an appreciable amount of time to be prepared for the show and to be cooled down after their performances. One of the highlights of the VIP experience is the backstage tour of the arena and the stables, where you visit the warm-up ring (mind the dung), climb the steep rise that brings several exotically costumed riders into view during one of the many spectacular sequences.

 

 

 

 

 

Michel Hamel and the late Georges Levesque were responsible for the costumes of riders and horses. The costumes and accessories are of faux fur, linen, leather, cotton, and silk in vibrant colours, decorated with ornaments ranging from gold sequins to turquoise stones and metallic ribbons. No fewer

than 365 costumes are used during a performance, and there are many duplicates, even some triplicates because the wear and tear can be extensive under the hot top lights and the rigours of performance.

The actual show (in two acts) runs two hours, beginning with a wonderfully tender pastoral scene in which a single Arabian steed enters tranquilly to graze, followed in turn by other horses. From the very outset, the décor (enhanced by expertly harmonized videography from 7 projectors on a giant backdrop the size of three cinema screens) and lighting (by Alain Lortie) create a marvellous environment, with changeable geography of woods, plain, mountain, snowy peaks, and waterfalls by video projection from 7 projectors on a giant backdrop the size of three large cinema screens. The seasons change, and video yields to reality where, most climactically, a shallow lake created before our eyes by concealed pumps that flood the sandy soil with 40 thousand gallons. The sequences are spectacular in their tonal and performance ranges, ranging from cool, synchronized bareback riding by females atop two horses, a village fete involving hurdles and athletic male blade runners out-leaping the horses, equine nomads, lots of trick or stunt riding, and a romantic carousel number with beautiful carved white horses and gymnasts performing on rotating metal poles. There are, however, sequences that, despite their evident excellence in music, dance, and gymnastics, don’t quite fit the equestrian theme. One, for example involves splendid males from Guinea, who execute amazing backflips, leaps, and somersaults at amazing speeds. Their drumming, singing, dancing, and gymnastics culminate in an anti-war message, which is admirable but which seems beside the unifying point of the show. Other such sequences are really circus acts on high Roman rings or on long, flowing cloth harnesses (the Angels sequence)—all excellent in themselves but not quite fitting Odysseo.

But overall, this is a minor complaint and every show needs some special distraction or embellishment to allow time for scene changes, and the show never drags—one reason being the music (there are five musicians) and solo singing. The music conspires perfectly with the videography, lighting, costuming, and horses to effect the sense of a dreamy ode to man and horse. What an enviable distinction for Mississauga to have this acclaimed touring production in its very midst. The VIP experience multiplies the pleasure.