Scroogissimo, our seasonal treat, is back Dec 1-15, 2018

December 1 to 15, 2018. Artword Theatre’s delightful Christmas comedy Scroogissimo returns for a fourth time to Artword Artbar. Hamilton’s North End meets Charles Dickens in a wacky script by Ryan Sero and Charly Chiarelli, directed by Ronald Weihs – and the original cast!
Charly Chiarelli as Ebenezu Scroogie
Pamela Gardner as Christmas Past
Paula Grove as Christmas Present
Valeri Kay as Christmas Future, Mrs. Cratchit
Jon-Gordon Odegaard as Bob Cratchit
Jay Shand as Marley’s Ghost and nephew Fred
Musical support by Alex Tomowich on piano.

Bob Cratchit (Jon-Gordon Odegaard) and Scroogie: (Charly Chiarelli)

A sell-out hit in 2013, 2014 and 2016, Scroogissimo features Charly as “Ebenezu Scroogie”, a Christmas-hating old Hamiltonian from Racalmuto, Sicily, who finds himself haunted by three ghosts of the Past, Present and Future.

Show Times and Prices: Wed to Sat at 8:00 pm, Sun matinées Dec 2 and Dec 9 at 3:00 pm. Tickets: Adults $25,  Child 14 and under $10.


Scroogissimo is performed by the Artword Ensemble, an acting company that has been working in Hamilton under Weihs’s direction since 2008. The company includes Charly Chiarelli, Pamela Gardner, Paula Grove, Valeri Kay, Jon-Gordon Odegaard, and Jeremy Shand, all experienced practitioners of the Artword Ensemble style. Musical support for Scroogissimo in the 2018 remount is provided by Alex Tomowich, an accomplished pianist currently in the Mohawk College Jazz Program. Previous musicians were Jennifer Lockman (2013) and Tim Nijenhuis (2014 and 2016). In 2016 we added the backdrop projections and the aerial rig for Christmas Past, and took the piano off the stage.

The original idea for Scroogissimo came from Charly in 2013, in a conversation with Weihs and Judith Sandiford, Artword’s producer and designer. Charly told them how he used to play his harmonica in an annual production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in Kingston. “I only had one line, but after sixteen years, I knew all the lines.”

Ron said to Charly, “Why not do our own version in Hamilton? A North End version.” (Hamilton’s North End, where Charly grew up, was largely inhabited by Sicilian immigrants.) Charly did some of Scrooge’s lines North-End style, and Ron and Judith were soon aching with laughter.

So Charly got to work. He “translated”, from the original Dickens story, all Scrooge’s speeches into North-End Sicilian English. He dictated them over the phone to Judith, who tried to figure out how to spell words like “umbaggo” (humbug). Meanwhile, Ron had casually suggested to Ryan Sero, that Ryan might write the script. Ryan replied, “Be careful what you wish for.” Ryan is well known in Hamilton for his over-the-top comedy productions, including the Fringe hit Romeo and Juliet: An Escapist Comedy.

Ryan took the “Scroogie” speeches, and the original Dickens story and put them through his own zany comedic mind. The result is great fun. There are the ghosts of course (Christmas Present is a pasta-loving lady named Natalia), the parties, the revelations, all with a dash of Marx Brothers, and a touch of the Dickens social criticism.

Ron and Judith have worked with Charly on all his one-man shows about Hamilton. Ron directed, and Judith designed, the first productions of Cu’Fu? and Mangiacake at Artword Theatre in Toronto – productions which were later filmed for Bravo Television. They also brought Charly’s third play in the Hamilton trilogy Sunamabeach to the stage in 2009. In 2017 Artword remounted Cu’Fu? and developed a new play called Charly’s Piano.

Our favourite review, from the first production in 2013: “Artword Theatre is cramming a whack of seasonal fun into their tiny package of a space. Mixing local Sicilian-Canadian storyteller Charly Chiarelli and “Charly” Dickens makes a Christmas-cracker exploding with musical and comedic goodies that will make an addition to your festive season you will never forget….” Robin Pittis for View Magazine.   (The show is even more fun, as we add new goodies with each remount.)

Gary Smith’s review of the 2018 production in The Hamilton Spectator, December 10, 2018:

Scroogie at Fezziwiggi’s party

Scroogissimo! is delightful and charming

It’s the best Scrooge I’ve seen all year.

With apologies to Charles Dickens, this Hamilton version of the transformation of a crusty old skinflint to a giving and caring benefactor of humanity, will make you believe in something more than ersatz holiday entertainment.

We’re in Hamilton, where Bob Cratchit (Jon-Gordon Odegaard) and his family live at 487 Barton St. Cratchit scratches out a living in the office chambers of Ebenezer Scrooge a wily old Sicilian played of course by the irrepressible Charly Chiarelli.

As in Dickens, you’ll go with those three spirits of Christmas, Past, Present and Future (Pamela Gardner, Paula Grove and Valeri Kay) as they force the grumpy old miser to confront the waste of his life. For the purposes of Ryan Sero and Charly Chiarelli’s sometimes hilarious, always touching script, this Scrooge is known as Scroogie.

Marley’s Ghost (Jay Shand) and Scroogie

Dickens, of course, might well roll in his grave if he saw the antics these characters, based on his originals in “A Christmas Carol,” get up to. The thing is though, the story has been given a modern context, a Hamilton location and at least one character that resembles Harpo Marx without harming its heartfelt intent. It all works, you see, in reclaiming an old reprobate and in fostering the same message of kindness, love and generosity at Christmas Dickens, intended.

Charly Chiarelli gives his usual broad, somewhat off the wall performance he is famous for. He has an interesting capacity for not letting us know how much of the text he’s actually speaking and how much of the evening is supported with comic ad-libs and zingers. It doesn’t really matter because whatever he does it works and it would be difficult to imagine this “Scroogissimo!” without his exuberant presence.

The rest of this fine Artword Theatre cast is up to speed, providing ingratiating, charming and artfully comic performances that adhere to Dickens’ original notions, even if they are flying off in other, less Victorian directions.

Christmas Past (Pamela Gardiner) and Scroogie

And fly these character do. Especially Pamela Gardner’s frisky Christmas Past. She takes to the overhead silks in that Cirque de Soleil way and scares the bejeebers out of poor Scroogie before she even confronts him with all those pathetic moments from his past. She has a terrific presence on stage and highlights everything she does with a warm smile that would heat you up on a cold Hamilton night.

Valerie Kay is the horn-tooting Harpo Marx based Spirit of the Future. She shuffles her way along to a little bit of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” (let’s not call it dancing) and she helps rehabilitate the old miser Scrooge with a shake of her exotic gold wig and her relentless honking of a kid’s bicycle horn.

Scroogie and Christmas Present (Paula Grove)

Then there’s the wonderful Paula Grove. Singing a snatch of “Mambo Italiano” she insinuates herself on stage in a mulberry sparkle dress, with ample peeks at her bold cleavage. All decked out in golden Christmas balls, with a poinsettia firmly plopped in her mane of black hair, she’s the bold and brassy Natalia, The Spirit of Christmas Present. And what a present she is. Her turn is the highlight of a show filled with delirious highlights. Don’t miss her.

Jay Shand as Marley’s Ghost has a delightful laid-back quality about him and he fills the stage with a number of characters that give this “Scroogissimo!” a modern and quirky tweet.

Mrs. Cratchit (Valeri Kay) and Bob Cratchit (Jon-Gordon Odegaard)

Jon-Gordon Odegaard is a remarkable actor who brings such humanity to Bob Cratchit. Every time you see him in an Artword Theatre show he’s totally different. Now that’s a consummate actor.

Judith Sandiford’s projections and Ron Weihs’ direction of this neat little show are completely charming. Things are never forced and the innate warmth and sweetness of the piece never fights with the humour, they just coexist.

Major joy of the evening too, is the piano accompaniment of Alex Tomowich, a tall handsome pianist, who looks like he’s having as much fun as the actors on stage. We get snatches of “Theme from The Godfather,” “Over The Rainbow” and a host of Christmas songs and carols interpolated into the proceedings. Look to hear from this guy in the future because he is a real artist on those black and white keys.

“Scroogissimo!” doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a delightful evening of holiday entertainment. It works splendidly in the intimate space at the Artbar and you’d have to be a Scrooge yourself not to be captivated by its endearing charm.

Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 35 years.

The Man in the Vault by Ronald Weihs, Fringe, July 19-28, 2018

July 19 to 28, 2018. Hamilton Fringe Festival. The Man in the Vault (an Artword Theatre production). Written and directed by Ronald Weihs. Produced and designed by Judith Sandiford. Performed by Mariam Bekhet, Jordan Campbell, Jason Thompson. 

A Russian spy defects with information about Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. James Angleton, the CIA’s legendary head of counterintelligence, is convinced he is a disinformation agent sent by the KGB.

The Man in the Vault: Mariam Bekhet, Jordan Campbell,

The defector is kept in a concrete vault in a secret location while interrogators try to extract the truth from the man in the vault. Based on true events in the 1960s that resonate with today’s headlines.

Part of the Hamilton Fringe Theatre Festival. Running Time: 60 minutes. Tickets: $10 (Fringe Backer Button required)
Show Times: Thurs July 19 @ 9pm, Fri July 20 @ 4:30pm, Sat July 21 @ 7pm, Sun July 22 @ 8pm, Tues, July 24 @ 9pm, Wed July 25 @ 7pm, Thurs July 26 @ 9pm, Fri July 27 @ 5pm, Sat July 28 @ 6pm  (Final show)

The Man in the Vault: Jason Thompson as James Angleton

The Man in the Vault, written and directed by Ronald Weihs, is a true story about James Angleton, the legendary head of CIA counterintelligence, who described the spy business as “a wilderness of mirrors”. In 1963, a Russian spy defects with information about Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. Angleton is convinced that he is a disinformation agent sent by the KGB. The defector is kept in a concrete vault in a secret location while interrogators try to extract the truth. Based on events that resonate today, when headlines are dominated by disinformation, collusion and Russian spycraft. 

PRESS RELEASE: For immediate release: July 6, 2018

Artword Theatre production: The Man in the Vault
written and directed by Ronald Weihs

Shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a Russian KGB officer defected to the CIA. His name was Yuri Nosenko, and he said he knew the answer to the most incendiary question of the time: was Oswald a Russian agent? Nosenko’s answer: no, he wasn’t.

James Angleton, the CIA’s legendary head of counterintelligence, was convinced that Nosenko was a disinformation agent sent by the KGB. Angleton was busy tearing the CIA apart looking for a mole, acting on information from another defector, Anatoli Golitsyn. He believed that Nosenko had been sent to discredit Golitsyn, with the Kennedy information as bait.

Nosenko was locked a concrete vault in a secret location for over three years, while interrogators tried to break his story. The Man in the Vault imagines a last-ditch attempt by Angleton to determine the truth.

Playwright Ronald Weihs became fascinated with this story about the famous CIA spyhunter, James Angleton. He began a major research effort, filling a large bookcase as he found himself spiraling deeper and deeper into the dark world of spies, disinformation and the assassination of President Kennedy. As complexities multiplied and theories and conspiracies proliferated, he found himself lost in the world that Angleton called “a wilderness of mirrors”. After many false starts on a script, he put it all away in a drawer. Anyway, he thought, that Russia/US spy stuff is all outdated.

Now suddenly, with Trump in the White House, it’s all back again: intelligence, counterintelligence, disinformation. With the encouragement of his partner Judith Sandiford, Ron found all his old notes and fragments and stitched them into a script. Last April, some actor friends helped with a staged reading at Artword Artbar. To his surprise, it hit home with actors and audiences! So he sat down and started rewriting. He trimmed the cast from five to three, and focused and tightened the narrative. And every day he watches MSNBC, marvelling how, in James Angleton’s phrase, “the past telescopes into the present”.

Artword Theatre is the creative vehicle of Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford. They built and operated a major theatre at Bathurst and King in Torontofor seven years, until the landlord sold the building to a condo developer. The pair moved to Hamilton in 2007, and in 2009 they bought asports bar just off James Street North and turned it into Artword Artbar.Since coming to Hamilton, Artword Theatre has produced 16 original works, including four BYOV productions, all acclaimed by reviewers: Trumpet Romance with Stuart Laughton (“an extraordinary experience, not to be missed”); Transformation, by Learie McNicolls (“a masterpiece of poetic theatre”); Once I Lived in the Box, choreographed by Learie McNicolls (“may also be the best thing you see at the Fringe this year”); Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy (“should be touring the country”).

Review: WhatsOn Jul 24, 2018 by Lori Littleton, Special to The Hamilton Spectator

The Man in the Vault at Artword Artbar

Last Fringe, Ronald Weihs staged a play about Langston Hughes, an American poet and social activist who was called to testify before U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. This year, he’s back with another historical exploration.

It’s the early 1960s and a Russian KGB officer has defected to the CIA. James Jesus Angleton — expertly played by Jason Thompson with poise and authority — is the legendary CIA head of counter-intelligence. He’s convinced Yuri Nosenko (Jordan Campbell) is lying and that Lee Harvey Oswald was a KGB officer.

Campbell’s Russian accent is spot on and he’s so convincing, we don’t doubt his denials for a second. Angleton sends Christine (the excellent Mariam Bekhet) to grill Nosenko toward the end of his three-year solitary stint in a concrete vault.

Five years ago, an audience might have watched this play and thought, well, isn’t that interesting? Today, it’s compelling. Weihs examines what is truth and what are facts and lies and we mentally halt when Angleton tells Christine that “it’s all part of a long-term plan — disinformation.”

With news stories abounding about Russian spies, indictments from Robert Mueller and Russian collusion and election meddling, you can’t help but wonder if history is repeating itself. Possibly in an effort to stay within a one-hour time frame, the action jumps quickly from a final interrogation scene to Nosenko appearing before a committee.

Rather than feel satisfied that the play’s wrapping up, you’ll want more.

The Man in the Vault review by Mark Fenton
Published July 23, 2018

Perhaps it’s because I was born six days after the Kennedy Assassination, but I have a voracious appetite for novels, journalism, movies, and plays about JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald. (Frames from the Zapruder film are frequently up on my desktop background.)

This is a necessary disclosure, as it might make “The Man in the Vault” more compelling to me than to the average Fringe-goer. I knew there were communist conspiracy theories around Oswald’s time in Russia, but to my shame I knew nothing of James Jesus Angleton and Yuri Nosenko. So I’m like a boy on Christmas morning who’s just gotten some new action figures to augment his tableau.

James Jesus Angleton, chief of CIA Counterintelligence (there’s a delightful sidebar in the production about how he got his middle name) sends a young woman in the intelligence agency to interrogate Yuri Nosenko, a Soviet defector.

As the play opens, Yuri has been held in solitary confinement for almost a year. The young woman is to pose as a disinterested psychologist examining Nosenko’s mental state so that he’ll let his guard down. “By indirections find directions out.”

Nosenko had a low-level intelligence job in the Soviet Union when Oswald was in Russia. Angleton believes that Nosenko can give information proving the Kennedy Assassination was a Soviet plot, and that Oswald was their agent.

Dramatically, the situation provides an effective distancing between Angleton and Nosenko. They never meet during their cold war stalemate. For Nosenko, the inability to confront his adversary amplifies the menace of unknowable persecutors.

For an increasingly inebriated Angleton, his physical distance from Nosenko is its own prison as Angleton struggles in a web of good information, concealed information, and willfully false information.

This complexity is countered by the bare simplicity of the staging, to the point that the projected images of Washington, Oswald, and newspaper clippings about the assassination feel redundant and diminish the claustrophobia and isolation of working on a classified case. But this is a small criticism for a play that had me on the edge of my seat, like an unproduced Twilight Zone episode scripted by a young John Le Carré.


The Decision by David Dawson, Hamilton Fringe, July 19-28, 2018

July 19 to 28, 2018. Hamilton Fringe Festival. The Decision, a play by David Laing Dawson.
Amsterdam, May 16, 1940: Two young officers in the Royal Netherlands Army meet secretly. Their orders are to report to Gestapo Headquarters the next morning. 

Directed by Ronald Weihs. Performed by Jordan Campbell and Jason Thompson.

David Dawson’s powerful drama, The Decision, is set in Holland on May 16, 1940, after the Nazis have occupied The Netherlands.

Jason Thompson as Victor

Jordan Campbell as Pieter

Two young Dutch army officers meet to decide whether to report to Nazi headquarters as ordered, or to resist. It is a life-and-death decision, but how do you know which is which? David Dawson based his play on real people in his wife’s family, who faced that decision on that date. If we are faced with such a decision today, how will we choose?

Produced by Marlaise Dawson. Gallery on the Bay and Artword Theatre. Design and lighting by Judith Sandiford.

Tickets: $12 Adults, $5 Children. (Fringe Backer Button required),  Thurs July 19 @ 7 pm, Fri July 20 @ 7 pm, Sat July 21 @ 9 pm, Sun July 22 @ 6 pm, Tues July 24 @ 7 pm, Wed July 25 @ 5 pm, Thur July 26 @ 7 pm, Fri July 27 @ 7 pm, Sat July 28 @ 4 pm

Statement by David Laing Dawson, July 2018

For many years I knew of the story of Pieter, one day to become Marlaise’s father after the war, and Victor, one day to become Marlaise’s uncle, as two young men getting together one evening after the Dutch surrendered, to decide to report to German headquarters as ordered, or to refuse and resist. I imagined them meeting on a barge in an Amsterdam canal beneath an ominous sky in a now deathly quiet city, though in reality it was probably a kitchen in a small house near Nijmegan.

I know the outcome of that meeting, as do the history books and the thorough German records. And from the start that meeting begged to be turned into a play, re-imagined as a play. Imagine the issues they must have faced that night: small and personal, historical and geopolitical, the very nature and meaning of human behaviour.

However, that play would not written by me, for my life has never included any moment remotely like that. In fact, my generation of Canadians has lived within the longest period of peace and prosperity the world has ever known.

But then Donald Trump was elected. Our long period of peace and increasing inclusion, our widening of community to include the entire planet, began to falter.

And I sat down to write “The Decision”.

The Decision, review by Mark Fenton, published July 20, 2018, in Raise the Hammer.

The premise is a simple one. Two men, Pieter and Victor, living in Nazi-occupied Holland, are faced with a choice. They can report to the headquarters of the new regime and fight for Hitler, or they can join the resistance.

Pieter leans towards Hitler, and Victor towards the resistance. Pieter is an idealist who believes the leaders can’t be as bad as their worst rhetoric. His friend Victor is a cynic who expects the worst of leaders.

The play is fueled by the consumption of Dutch Beer, which reminds us a) that each man loves his country and would have been much happier if the Germans hadn’t shown up, and b) that alcohol blurs the line between polemic and emotion.

A dialectic drama in which two men in a room argue politics and ethics requires actors who can increase the tension slowly and steadily, and maintain our visual interest with nuanced physicality. Campbell and Thomson are excellent in demonstrating how important our choices are to immediate problems and, as we’ll learn, as an example to future generations.

I want to avoid spoilers, but I’ll just say there’s a mid-performance twist that’s stunning in its simplicity and effectiveness.

David Dawson based his play on the histories of his father-in-law and his father-in-law’s friend. The story is clearly personal for Dawson. But I don’t think he means us to condemn either man. I think he means us to admire the struggle of each man to live by his individual convictions.

Our collective attitude to Hitler’s Germany has been simplified by hindsight. The larger injustices, as the play makes emphatically clear, are still with us.