East of Berlin on the West Coast.

I sometimes grumble that the critics in Vancouver are harder on playwrights than anywhere else in Canada. Hard to really know if this is true, or more accurately how could we possibly measure it?  

I did find it interesting to read Colin Thomas’ review in today’s Georgia Straight. For the most part he loves it, but then:

‘There were things that bugged me, though, including Brendan Gall’s performance as Rudi. The guy is obviously gifted. He stutters and stammers and twists instantly from sorrow to flippancy. That’s great for a while, but it’s all he does, and it starts to feel like he can’t stop plucking the same four high-pitched notes on a violin

 This problem is rooted in the script. All three of Moscovitch’s characters speak in essentially the same pattern: none of them can complete a sentence. Paul Dunn displays wonderfully droll comic timing as Hermann. There’s emotional depth there too. But Dunn’s delivery is so much like Gall’s that their scenes together feel mannered.”

I looked around a bit at other reviews, most are all out raves.


Now Magazine. 

Toronto Sun.

And so on. I can’t find any other reviewer who has this same issue with the script.

On a related note, Kelly Nestruck of the Globe and Mail has an interesting comparison of the Tarragon (this is the one that is touring) and ATP productions.

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writer / director

7 thoughts on “East of Berlin on the West Coast.”

  1. Hey Amiel:

    I’m with Alex Ferguson and Andrew Templeton on this one too. That play had me feeling a bit annoyed and deflated…. It was style over substance for the most part. Funny dialogue though.

  2. Hi Amiel,

    Surely the point should be whether or not my observation is valid, not whether or not the possible uniqueness of my observation supports your perception that Vancouver critics are meanies. Let’s take the discussion of criticism out of the personal and focus it on the art.


  3. Colin, my hope, by bringing other reviews into the discussion was exactly that – to keep it out of the personal – as opposed to my grumblings over drinks about bias against playwrights, which may or may not be true.

    I don’t think Vancouver critics are meanies. I’m grateful that you’re doing the extremely difficult job of providing public responses to the work. (I’m also scared at present that the Province has seen fit to let Jerry Wasserman go. These are the kinds of decisions that I think has newspapers in peril). But I do have the feeling that scripts are criticized more here in Vancouver than in most other places, so comparing your reviews of the exact same script, seems to me to be a way to examine that.

  4. I love what you’ve done here Ami, and I love what all the contributors to this thread have said. It adds to the growing plurality of sources for talking about theatre. Hopefully, we are contributing to the discussion in a rigorous manner.

    In my Plank review I did what I normally don’t do: I focused on the script. I did this because I found the intent behind East of Berlin offensive. Normally I like to consider a performance as a whole; after all it is performance that takes place on stage and not script (although of course script can be a major element). Literary analysis is valid, it’s just not the type of analysis I usually prefer when it comes to a live event.

    But in defense of local critics, strong writing, conventional or otherwise, has been lacking in Vancouver’s image-based theatre productions, as well as in more conventional theatre productions. As a lover of contemporary dance and dance-theatre, I don’t necessarily need text, but if you’re going to use a lot of it in a performance it should be as strong as the other elements.

    I think there are very few dedicated playwrights out there in our city (Bushkowsky above being an obvious exception). And I think artist-producers of plays in Van are either not primarily writers, so the writing suffers, or in the large and medium-sized companies, the theatre aesthetic is just too tame to get behind truly exciting scripts.

    Adding to your concern regarding Jerry Wasserman being cut from the Province. This is very troubling. Colin can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he may have been cut back at the Straight as well; and I think Peter Birnie may be in the same boat. I don’t know about Jo Ledingham. The Globe is almost non-existent in Van. This is not the direction we want to be going in. We want to expand coverage, not reduce it. Also, it is very short sighted on the part of these publications, it shows their lack of understanding of how the arts contribute to society, both in a community sense and in a fiscal sense. It’s just date thinking.

  5. I was, perhaps, the only Toronto theatre critic to tell the truth about this play. I hated it and explained exactly why in my review for my website. Of course, young Kelly N. hasn’t discovered my site yet, being in his salad years. Found Gall’s performance totally unconvincing and the writing programmed but in an unconvincing way as well. Alas, because of its Jewish theme, characters, and playwright, the show got fawning adulation from the critics, especially from Cushman who is usually good on textual analysis. But who reads critics when you can get pablum in the daily press, one thumb up, another down, or consumer stars?

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