Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Climate change plays at Toronto Cold Reads

I have been out late a few nights in a row now, and I am just catching up on the blog.  Last Sunday, I went out to Toronto Cold Reads.  I mostly go out of curiosity, since I don't have a piece coming up for a while,* and I have not had much luck winning the writer's challenge (only once so far).  The music guests have remained quite good, however.  And I usually am inspired to get a page or two of dialog down in a notebook while waiting for the action to start, so that's a good thing.  (I also seem to write well in jazz clubs, so I may start going on a more routine basis to The Rex, but maybe at this point waiting until the spring...)

I think I mentioned that I sort of got roped into reading a small part on the previous outing.  This time I didn't even sign up, but then they handed me a small part anyway.  Kind of odd.  I can guarantee you that I am not going to get stage-struck and start wanting to be an actor.  I've never had that particular ambition.  I didn't like the piece so much on the read-through, but it actually worked considerably better in front of the audience.  That is actually a useful lesson.  There was one other really strong piece (or at least strongly-acted piece) about a director kind of stuck in limbo (directing children's theatre) while his "discovery" is on the fast-track to success.

At the reading, I also met Brianna, who was on Team Tango with me for the 3Fest pieces, so that was neat meeting up with her.  I'm not sure she saw the full pieces either (I was out of town for the readings at Jarrett's place).  Anyway, it will be quite a surprise when they go up, probably in 3 weeks or so.  After the Cold Reads event ended, there was a sneak preview of the Seven Sibling's Future Fest.  I hadn't really planned on staying, but David Straus was there to do a short scene from his piece (written by Genevieve Adam), so I stuck it out.  Brianna (who is obviously a SF fan), David, Genevieve and I ended up on the same SF trivia team.  We did quite well on the books (no thanks to me) but not very well on the true/false questions.  I definitely cost us a point on the movie trivia, though others cost us more points on the true/false.  We lost by one point to another team, which is unfortunate, as Brianna and I would have scored tickets to the Future Fest.  At any rate, I haven't decided if I will see Genevieve's piece or not.  It actually starts this Friday and there are 5 or 6 shows over the next two weeks, so I have a bit more time to decide.  After this preview event wrapped, I finally made my way home and got a bit of sleep, trying to get ready for Monday.

At any rate, I thought I would mention that next Sunday (Oct 22) looks particularly intriguing, especially for those that aren't part of the inner circle.  There will be 5 shortish plays about different aspects of climate change, written by some fairly heavy hitters of the Toronto scene, including Jordan Tannahill, Anita Manjumar (author/star of the Fish Eyes Trilogy) and Marcia Johnson.  All are supposed to be in attendance, which would be incredibly awesome.  Also, there will be Jarrett Rusnak's TV pilot Humanity.  I'm very curious to see what this is about.  Finally, David Healey, who has a wicked sense of humour, will present his writer's challenge piece.  This looks like an absolutely can't-miss night.  Some additional details here.


* I am nearly finished with my short homage to Waiting for Godot, but I just don't think it would work at Toronto Cold Reads.  I think I will wait and submit it to the December SFYS, since I can't make the November one.  What I might do in the meantime is send off the opening scene of Straying South, which is in pretty good shape.  I also sort of "owe" the writing group a much tightened version of Dharma Donuts, but I just haven't had any time to really think about it lately.  After I do that, I can decide whether to work more on Final Exam or The Study Group.  I think it would be useful to see if they thought there was enough dramatic tension going on or the stakes are simply too low for too long (I guess I kind of already know the answer if I am asking the question...).  Anyway, plenty of things to work on when I can find the time.

Summer 2018

It's getting to be that time of the year when Shaw and Stratford announce their summer seasons and begin to try to bring in the subscribers.  Shaw had made an announcement quite a while back, whereas I only recently learned the Stratford line-up.  Actually, this Toronto Star article has more information about the casting at Stratford, so it might be worth checking out.

I have to admit, it is a bit amusing to see Shakespeare being performed at the Shaw (Henry V).  It's sort of an interesting experiment if their audiences will go for it.  I'm not terribly interested in the Shaw plays they are putting on, nor do I want to see Ruhl's Stage Kiss.  I might have made the trek down to Niagara-on-the-Lake for In the Next Room, though probably not.  I assume it will eventually turn back up in Toronto (it was at Tarragon in 2011).  No question the big, hot ticket will be Mythos: A Trilogy — Gods. Heroes. Men, written by (or perhaps rather adapted by) Stephen Fry, and he will playing some of the major parts.  I'm not particularly star struck by him, but this seems like an opportunity not to be missed (even if it might transfer to a Toronto stage at some point).  So I expect I will be on the Shaw bus once this summer, though if there are no matinees of the Mythos piece then that will become a much more difficult decision.  Anyway, I'll cross that bridge when the full season schedule comes out.

Stratford has a few plays of interest or potentially of interest.  At first glance, I wasn't too interested in Eduardo De Filippo’s Napoli Milionaria!, despite it being billed a "comic masterpiece."  However, I read a bit more about the play, and it sounds quite clever.  No question I would be happier if George Brown did it, but I'm likely to try to see this, assuming I can find tickets that aren't in the eye-popping range.  I'm also fairly likely to try to catch Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, directed by Robert Lepage.  I don't know whether he will tone down the spectacle or not.  This may not be the absolute best way to watch Coriolianus for the first time, but I'm not really that likely to watch a conventional version of the play anyway.

So that might be sufficient for my Stratford needs (to go down for a really long day).  However, I am at least willing to consider The Tempest, directed by Cimolino, with Martha Henry as Prospero.  I'm really feeling the gender-flipped thing is a played out trend that frankly bores me, but the cast is really strong.  I don't know if there will be one weekend where I could catch all 3 plays, but if so, I might try to do that.  I don't think there is anything else at Stratford next season that really grips me.  I'm sure that they will do a great job with Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but I saw a very solid production in Chicago, and I'm just not likely to go again.  (Maybe if towards the end of the run, they offer some steeply discounted tickets I would consider it, but I'm not expecting to go.  Again, I retain the right to change my mind after the reviews come in.)  I'm actually more likely to get my O'Neill fix by seeing Denzel Washington on Broadway in The Iceman Cometh (this is a limited run in March/April 2018).  I haven't entirely decided whether to go, but I am seriously considering it.  Anyway, I find it helpful to look ahead to these summer events as we slide into the cooler months of the calendar.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 8th review - The Fish Eyes Trilogy

This is another one of those hybrid reviews where I review the published version of a play and the play in performance.  In this case, The Fish Eyes Trilogy by Anita Majumdar is still playing at Factory Theatre.  Only for one more day (Oct. 15), however, so sorry about that, though I did promote the show a couple of weeks ago.  The 3 pieces all sort of fit together, with most events happening over a roughly 2 year span (summer + the last year of high school and one year beyond) in the lives of three young women from Port Moody, BC.  However, there is one high school assembly and one high school dance that are particularly critical.  Once you have seen one play, then you have some sense of what happens in the other two, though each of the women has a different perspective on the events.  I'm really not going to be able to discuss these plays (beyond noting that they deal with cliques, bullying, betrayal and cultural appropriation) without going into some detail about the plot, so turn away now if you don't like SPOILERS.

SPOILERS, like seriously...

The plays are an interesting fusion of theatre and Indian dance (generally performed expertly but in one case a non-Indian performs the dances quite crudely).  The book itself is quite interesting as it has quite a few illustrations, many of which attempt to capture the key dance moves (though they do look a bit odd when frozen) but others focusing on props or other characters to provide a bit more context to the words.  I'm not sure it was entirely necessary to include them, but on the other hand, I did see the plays performed by the author.

Majumdar recently decided to close out the evening with Fish Eyes (it is actually the first one written and the first in the book).  I don't have a perfect memory, but it seems to me that for this current incarnation of the trilogy at Factory, I believe she cut out just a few lines from Fish Eyes where the Aunty figure is somewhat disgustedly preparing for Halloween and calls a trick-or-treater a hermaphrodite and hands over some uncooked rice.  I think this was softened just a bit, but I could be wrong.  I am certain, however, that one plot point in Boys with Cars was dropped where Gustakhi, the adult guardian, is talking about her life back in Punjab where she felt her daughter had besmirched the family name, and convinced her son to kill his sister (her daughter), but he was so weak-willed that he killed himself afterwards.  I guarantee you that I would have remembered that.  I think it was pared out since there is a limit to how much a character can antagonize an audience and then still be used as a "wise elder."  Plus, it may have just seemed like too much mirroring after Naz's parents also abandoned her, as well as Majumdar may just have felt there was already enough talk about honour killings by Indians in the news and she didn't need to add to it.  I didn't notice any cuts in Let Me Borrow That Top, but it was already the shortest piece and the last one written.  I may have missed it while reading, but I think a line or two about how Candice hadn't personally attacked Naz was added in performance to Let Me Borrow That Top (or perhaps this was just something that was discussed during the talk-back).

I'll try to squeeze the events of the trilogy into a bite-sized package.  Again SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS:
Naznin (from Boys with Cars) is dancing at a festival, when she catches the attention of Lucky (one of the very few South Asians to be considered cool and to have white friends, such as Buddy). While Naz is normally self-conscious (when not dancing), she defends herself (verbally) when Lucky teases her, which briefly earns her some respect from the cool crowd and, more importantly, impressed Lucky to the point that he asks her out and they become a couple.  While they are spending time with each other, Meena is having to help out her PE group choreograph a dance sequence drawing on Indian dance moves (as she is also a classically trained dancer). Her group, which includes Buddy's girlfriend Candice, is going to perform a dance to "Survivor"* by Destiny's Child at a school assembly.  When the day of the assembly arrives, Lucky has travelled to Calgary to try to get onto Bhangra Idol.  Naz goes up into the bleachers and sits next to Buddy.  During the dance sequence, he grabs her hand and forces her to give him a handjob of sorts.  She is frozen and blames herself for not doing more to pull her hand away.  After the assembly, Buddy sneaks away with Candice and they have sex in his car, but she has bigger ambitions (to study Indian dance in England) and they break up very shortly afterwards.  (Meena, who has been harbouring a huge crush on Buddy (to the point she turns down an opportunity to enter a dance competition in India) sees them break up, and she tries to swoop in and get him on the rebound, but finds out that he really is a drip.  Fortunately, it isn't too late for her to still go to the competition.)  After the assembly, rumours about Naz start swirling around, and Candice's friends start attacking Naz (verbally and physically).  Then Lucky breaks up with her and skips town.  The adults are worse than useless.  The principal suggests that Naz stay home to not distract the other students during finals, and Naz's parents are so shamed that they sell their house and move to Dubai, leaving her to fend for herself.  Naz moves in with Gustakhi and makes a living doing Indian dances for white people's weddings.  She gets a gig to perform at Candice and Buddy's shot-gun wedding, and apparently agrees to go 1) to see if Lucky turns up and 2) to kidnap Buddy and burn his hand while Candice is forced to watch.  (Even as she outlines this plot, it is clear she is only half-serious and realizes she has been watching too many Bollywood movies.)  She does not see Lucky.  She briefly talks with Buddy, who wants her to understand he didn't have anything to do with how she was shunned.  And she sees that Candice is 9 months pregnant.  She fiercely dances her dance, then leaves the building, stealing a mountain bike (and abandoning her watch over Lucky's abandoned car).  The stage directions say that she is leaving Port Moody, though this wasn't completely clear in the moment.

So that's a lot to unpack.  There is no question that these young women make bad choices, generally in an attempt to win or hang onto boyfriends.  In Naz's case, her entire future seems wrecked due to sexual abuse from a boy and then the inability of adults to place the blame correctly, let alone to protect the victim.  She is doubly or indeed triply victimized, and it seems like she might well have been able to move on sooner if 1) her boyfriend had at least listened to her once and 2) her parents hadn't completely over-reacted.  One interesting fact that Majumdar had mentioned during the talk-back was that there were so few South Asian children in Port Moody that they actually found it better to scatter and not hang out together, and it is particularly odd that Meena seems to have no idea who Naz is, given that they both are so steeped in Indian dance.  Indeed Naz says that Gustakhi isn't a dance teacher, so she must have learned from someone, but apparently not Kalyani Aunty, Meena's teacher.

At any rate, if there were so few Indian families in Port Moody was there so much face to be lost that the parents had to move to Dubai?  And I realize that social services can't be everywhere, but can a family just up and leave their teenaged daughter on the streets of Port Moody and no one finds out about it?  Dramatically, Naz is far more upset over Lucky's betrayal (whereas as an outsider, I can understand his actions, which are consistent with being a teenage chucklehead -- and feel perhaps he is somewhat unjustly vilified for not being as strong/noble as he might have been), but I find her family truly horrifying.  While Meena has much better closure (though much less trauma to overcome), it does seem that at the end of Boys with Cars, Naz is finally prepared to stop blaming herself for what happened and is starting to move forward with her life.  Not that this will be an easy road at all.  (I was saddened but not especially surprised to learn that the author experienced sexual trauma herself and this is certainly the main motivating force behind Boys with Cars.  She states that she has moved on, and thus Naz may as well, though Naz has a much weaker support structure in place.  If Majumdar ever does write a sequel, I would hope that Naz somehow gets it together to get into Langara and then eventually to reclaim her place at UBC.)

I didn't have as many reservations about Boys with Cars as did this reviewer, though I do think it is fairly unlikely that Naz would be performing at Buddy and Candice's wedding.  Even if she did agree to take the job (hoping to see Lucky), how likely would Candice want to see Naz dancing when her own dreams of going to the Coventry School of Bhangra were dashed (and I'll come back to this in a bit)?  She does come to the realization that she should have been mad at Buddy and not Naz, but I still can't imagine she really wants to see her.  Also, Buddy mentions in passing that his parents are punishing him for getting Candice "in trouble."  While this is a fairly pathetic wedding, held in a school gym, just how likely are the parents to hire an Indian dancer, even one as cheap as Naz surely is?  This may have been necessary as a plot-device, but it does seem improbable.

I largely do agree with the reviewer's reservations about Let Me Borrow That Top.  It was interesting getting to hear Candice's perspective.  She is sort of a clumsy version of a Kardashian, and Majumdar did like the fact she is one of the boldest and least apologetic characters in the whole trilogy.  The fact that she has no talent and is just a "stealer" is not really that important.  I also liked the vlog conceit, but I agree it was a little hard to understand why there would be flashbacks, even if she moved away from the laptop to signal that the action was now happening in a different time/space.  Maybe those bits could be rewritten so that the entire piece takes place "in real time" on the vlog.  One thing that wasn't really clear is just how well off Candice was.  She apparently lives with her mom and a bunch of sisters, and the father has cleared out (but is perhaps financially supporting the family).  Her mom is largely out of the picture, and Candice is basically raising herself.  Clearly, one of the biggest questions in this part of the trilogy is did she really get into the Coventry School of Bhangra.  No question she believed she got in.  I wonder if the answer is that this school is just not actually that good (certainly Lucky is portrayed as a mediocre performer), though it may be one step up from a diploma mill.  Mr. Sharma may have been willing to overlook Candice's shortcomings as a dancer if she paid full fees and perhaps the fact that she has a few thousand followers didn't hurt either.  (It's a whole different question whether this school had sufficient accreditation to allow Candice to get a student visa to the UK, but this takes place a few years back before the UK really started to crack down on immigration policy.)  I guess the fact that Candice could just fly off to England and plan to put this kind of money down means that while she talks like an airhead, she must have reasonable financial backing (which sort of undercuts the fact that she and Buddy seem to have nothing in Boys with Cars).

I do hesitate to raise the last point, but Candice seems so determined to learn Indian dance and is even a bit ruthless in breaking up with Buddy that I am surprised that it doesn't seem to even cross her mind to have an abortion when she finds out she is pregnant.  In Canada, it wouldn't even matter if her parents were against it, as her privacy rights and the fact that abortions are covered by MSP in BC would prevail.  Of course, she might have religious objections, but that is a whole piece of her back story that we didn't get.  It just doesn't quite hold together with the other things we know about Candice.  It would obviously change Boys with Cars a lot if she didn't reunite with Buddy, but it does seem like a bit of a missed opportunity not to at least raise the subject.

Anyway, this review has really focused on the heavier and somewhat darker aspects of the plays, but there are quite a few hilarious moments that partially balance the drama, particularly when Naz gets caught up in talking about her favourite Bollywood actresses or when Kalyani Aunty says something outrageous like how she wants to keep the mangoes away from white people.  (Gustakhi is nowhere near as fun and plays a much smaller role in Boys with Cars, particularly when the business about her children dying is cut.)  Meena talks quite a bit about how she wishes she could just have a normal life, but dance is integrated into all aspects of her life, so she brushes her teeth as a kind of dance.  Also, when she imagines Buddy falling in love with her, it is a scene out of Bollywood.  Naz has an amusing moment when she says that watching the CW channel doesn't prepare you for your first kiss.  Even Lucky has an funny line when he says that Miley Cyrus licking a hammer is art, but when he does it, everyone just thinks he's drunk.  On the whole, The Fish Eyes Trilogy is a significant and rewarding achievement, though definitely it is better to see the plays (and the excellent dancing) rather than just reading them on the page.

* It does seem quite cruel that Naz has bad flashbacks of the assembly whenever she hears "Survivor," so it isn't at all an empowering anthem for her.  Her dance routine is set to Chris Brown's "Kiss Kiss" or a remix of it, and indeed, she spends a fair bit of time defending him, saying that "both sides" of the story needed to be told.  Again, sort of another interesting wrinkle if one wanted to follow that thread.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Off-track this weekend

I wonder if I am still trying to recover mentally from the sustained push we had at work to get this huge report out.  There is still some remaining business (like an extensive appendix) for which I am responsible, and yet I am not feeling motivated to begin.  Or rather I start working on it and then am called away on a number of other tasks.  I threatened to work from home for several days to avoid distractions, but that wasn't actually feasible, since I was also needed at public meetings and hearings and there were many small but urgent tasks I was called in on (making new slides and reviewing other documents).  Also, the other senior advisor did work from home several times, and that left me to supervise the juniors.  All that said, I do need to buckle down and take this seriously, though I don't know if I will start this weekend.

I actually feel completely off-kilter right now.  It's the afternoon but I am just wrapping up breakfast, and I need to get to the store and probably to the library before it closes.  That doesn't really give me any time to take my daughter swimming, which I promised to do.  Or to go to the gym (this past week was truly terrible in terms of how late I had to work and also not being able to bike to work).  But there is no point in beating myself up over it.

I think today I will do a quick shopping trip and bike up to the library.  That still should hopefully give me time to take my daughter swimming.  Then I may be able to go to the gym in the evening and hit the other grocery store for the special bread that she likes.*  What I won't do is try to watch Blade Runner or Life After.  That would just be too much, but they should still be around next weekend, which is also when we will get around to putting up Halloween decorations.

I assume I will be a bit more on the ball tomorrow.  The main problem is that it is likely to rain and even storm tomorrow.  What I am thinking about doing is heading downtown (despite the rain) and check out the Ryerson Image Centre and ideally the AGO, since I need to renew my membership.  The rest of the time I could spend at work and then towards the evening, I would go off to Toronto Cold Reads.  At least that is a tentative plan that makes some kind of sense to me, especially if I carry out all the transit using a TTC Day Pass.  (And then looking ahead on Monday, we get to see The Psychedelic Furs, which should be great.)

Why did I get up so late, aside from general malaise?  Last night, I really wanted to push through and finish reading Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel.  This is an odd novel that takes the main characters and structure of the Mahabharata and applies it to Indian/Pakistani politics from roughly 1917-1984.  It's quite clever, but I had to turn to Wikipedia to unravel who the various characters were supposed to represent, since I didn't really know much about Indian politics beyond Gandhi, Nehru and Indiri Gandhi (and even that mostly comes from the movie Gandhi and Rushdie's Midnight's Children!).  But it is also on the long side (400+ pages), and this is following right on the heels of reading Philip Roth's 400 page novel about baseball and politics, The Great American Novel.  I'm quite glad that the next few novels are in the 200-300 page range, just so I can feel I am accomplishing something.  Anyway, nobody forced me to read these books, but I did feel strangely obligated to get through them and onto the next thing.  Now I am paying the price.  With that, I really do have to get going.


* I did manage to square the circle, but only by sending my son off to the library in my stead.  (It is so great that he is finally able to do these sorts of tasks, and he is fairly good-natured about doing so.)  Then I was able to escort my daughter around the neighbourhood, selling raffle tickets.  It's fairly impressive that she can overcome her natural shyness when she really wants something.  She sold far more than I expected (largely because my neighbours are really nice, though of course I will be obligated to reciprocate down the line...).  Then we went swimming and were able to get a few more groceries on the way home.  Ideally after I eat dinner and relax a bit (and digest), I should go back over the bridge to the gym, but I may pass.  Then tomorrow I have a fairly busy but not overwhelming day.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The perfect Hedwig soundtrack

I have to admit, I have become a bit obsessed with the songs from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  This will eventually pass.  At one point, I was totally obsessed with the soundtrack to Zero Patience (a fairly obscure AIDS-related movie from 1993) and more recently with The Book of Mormon cast recording.  At any rate, I can't believe I nearly missed out on the chance to see Hedwig at Hart House.

While it is possible that the movie version really does reverse the order of the Wicked Little Town songs (starting with the Tommy Gnosis version and ending with the Hedwig version), this doesn't make a lot of sense dramatically.  So I would have resequenced the film soundtrack anyway, but then I got to thinking that Neal Patrick Harris sounds a bit more convincing as Tommy than John Cameron Mitchell, so I decided I would pull together songs from the official soundtrack plus the recent Broadway revival.  And then I went and found that most of the songs from a benefit CD called Wig in a Box are on Youtube (a good thing, since the original CD goes for over $200 on Amazon.ca, though a bit closer to $25 on Amazon.com).  While not all of the covers on Wig in a Box work, I did like Cyndi Lauper doing "Midnight Radio" and They Might Be Giants doing "The Long Grift," plus a couple of original songs were interesting.

Anyway, trying to reorder all the various songs into something closer to the Broadway version, I arrived at this sequence (drawing on the film soundtrack unless otherwise specified):
  1. "Random Number Generation" Lena Hall with Tits of Clay (live)
  2. "America the Beautiful" NPH in 2014 revival
  3. "Tear Me Down"
  4. "The Origin of Love"
  5. "Deutschlandlied" NPH
  6. "Sugar Daddy" NPH
  7. "When Love Explodes (Love Theme from The Hurt Locker)" NPH
  8. "City of Women" Robyn Hitchcock from Wig in a Box
  9. "Angry Inch"
  10. "Nailed" 
  11. "Wig in a Box"
  12. "In Your Arms Tonight"
  13. "Wicked Little Town (Hedwig version)"
  14. "The Long Grift" They Might Be Giants from Wig in a Box
  15. "Hedwig's Lament"
  16. "Freaks"
  17. "Exquisite Corpse"
  18. "Wicked Little Town (Reprise - Tommy Gnosis version)" NPH
  19. "Milford Lake" Stephen Trask from Wig in a Box
  20. "Midnight Radio" NPH*

* Really both the original and the 2014 revival version are very good, but I gave the nod to the revival, partly because I preferred NPH in the male voice and Lena Hall's backing vocals are pretty incredible.  I also liked the Cyndi Lauper version, but not quite enough to put in on my ideal mix.  I also think Alan Cumming does a solid version of Wig in a Box where he interspersed parts of Wicked Little Town, but that was just too much of a good thing.  I'm actually a bit surprised that no one has done much remixing of these songs.  It appears there is a EP with club and dub remixes of "Angry Inch" and also a remix of "Wig in a Box," but that's it as far as I can tell.  Maybe I should have ended with one of these remixes (the way Zero Patience does), but I came across them too late.

Wet Week

What a difference a day makes.  On Sat., I had been looking ahead to next week, and it looked completely clear.  I then heard on the news that Tropical Storm Nate had turned, barely sparing New Orleans (which is certainly a good thing) but that it will pass through Toronto, dumping a fair bit of rain on us Monday.  That's certainly unfortunate, as I had been considering going off to the movies (I'm curious about Blade Runner 2049).  I mean I can use tomorrow to watch the original (it's been a couple of years since I've seen it), but I'd rather not get stuck inside all day.

It is a bit more upsetting that Wed-Fri now look like they will have some rain, so I'll have to decide if I really will try to bike (I generally have to go to a number of public hearings on most evenings next week, so I probably wasn't going to be biking a lot anyway*).

It wasn't a super productive weekend, though I did find and file away some CDs and cleaned up the desk just a bit.  I also cooked and did the shopping.  The biggest event was hanging around and getting our internet upgraded.  I was kind of skeptical, but the speeds really are 3 times what we had and there seem to be fewer interruptions (knock wood).

I haven't really decided what I will do tomorrow if I don't watch Blade Runner (the original or the new one).  I probably should write more of my report and maybe do some creative writing.  I may also take the time to finish up the sock monkey, just so mentally I can move onto the next sewing task.

I am in just a bit of a lull in terms of theatre.  In a few weeks I'll be seeing a new George Walker play.  I've kind of decided to pass on Seven Siblings Future Fest, but maybe I'll have a change of heart.  I think the biggest question mark is whether I go see Life After, the new musical at Berkeley St. Theatre.  I generally pass on musicals (though I did finally get nosebleed tickets to Come From Away!), but the reviews have been very strong.  The only other thing on the immediate horizon is Bakersfield Mist, playing for a weekend in early Nov. (I believe at the Box).  I have some issues with the script (to say nothing of the Box!), but I know the lead actor and he's worth watching.  It may be that I end up seeing more concerts and holding off on theatre until Jan-March 2018, where things kind of explode (A Delicate Balance, The Humans, Jerusalem, Come from Away, etc.).  Anyway, lots to look forward to, and maybe, just maybe I'll buckle down to do my own writing.  I guess that is something good that might come out from a wet week.


* I'll have to step it up at the gym.  I am still going weekly, but I have cut back when I am biking to work a lot.  I'll definitely have to get back into the habit now that it is starting to get a bit chilly and dark in the evenings.  If I decide it's just too much of a bother to go, I will end up right where I was last spring, feeling gross about having gaining too much weight over the winter.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Quilt Completed!

I mentioned a few weeks back that I had completed the quilt top and I dropped it off to someone in Mississauga that specialized in longarm quilting.  It arrived a few days ago.  I was so excited, but due to attending a bunch of theatre events, I hadn't had a chance to look it over.  I only had a snapshot of what it looked like on the frame.


I talked to my daughter, and her preference was to wait until Christmas!  (I think she gets some of this tolerance for delayed gratification from me.)  Anyway, I thought I really had better take a look at it just to make sure there were no obvious problems.  She reluctantly agreed, and we opened the box today.  Here she is sort of hiding under the quilt. (You can see the pattern much better on the backing, which is the solid blue area to the right.)


While I do see a very few places I'll have to trim some threads and perhaps tie off a few more knots, it does look quite nice.  I did expect it to be a bit fluffier.  I'm sure it will be reasonably warm, but it would just supplement and not replace a blanket in the winter time.  Anyway, I can't even imagine how long it would have taken me to attempt to quilt the entire thing.

I have a few other tasks to do (aside from straightening out my music collection), such as finishing this sock monkey from a kit that my daughter won a few weeks back.  I'm closing in on it, but I haven't been feeling too inspired lately.  (Also, she kind of lost interest in it.  For a while, she was doing a big chunk of the sewing, but now it is all back to me...)


When this is done, maybe then I will cut out the fabrics for my son's quilt and see if it will go just a bit faster (than the first one).  Still I told him there was no guarantee it would be ready by Christmas.  Fortunately, he is understanding and can be patient as well.

Drowning in music

I suppose of all the ways to go, drowning in music wouldn't be so terrible.  It's a similar problem to having too many books (as discussed in this somewhat overlong post), though it seems somewhat easier to catch up by binge-listening to music than to try to read all the books on all the shelves!  But at its root, it is the same issue, trying to cover too much ground, be too cultured and to experience ALL the best of music, of art, of cinema, of literature, etc.  It simply can't be done in one lifetime.

But it is part of the sickness (of acquisitiveness) that that doesn't really matter.  I have a few box sets I have never opened, and yet if the right deal comes along, I will buy a new one.  And sometimes I am not even aware of already owning the music (so I have to check my old Amazon account and email trails to make sure I don't own something!).  I'll then go on a jag (which I am in the middle of at the moment) where I try to organize things better (the more I am aware of where CDs are stored, the more likely I am to listen to them) -- and even to sell off the music which no longer seems to hold my interest (though it must be said it is much harder than it used to be to sell off used CDs).  Currently, I seem to be missing a Sibelius set and a Tuby Hayes set from Proper,* and I don't think I will rest easy until I track them down.

One thing that has made things slightly better is that the Toronto library provides access to Hoopla (8 titles a month) and Naxos on-line (not sure if there is a monthly limit).  Usually if I can listen to a piece once, that is sufficient for me to check it off my internal mental list and I no longer have to own a copy.  I found it was possible to piece together the Klemperer Sacred Music box set through Naxos and Hoopla, so I was able to remove the actual CD set from my Amazon basket.  (I suppose it also helps a bit that shipping to Canada usually costs enough that I have to think a bit harder before impulse buying.)  I don't think I'll ever completely escape these obsessions, but I think (hope) I can keep it enough under control that I will not end up literally buried under a pile of CDs and LPs.

* I found them both after an hour of searching (neither where they were supposed to be naturally), but now I realized I am missing a Pierre Fournier set from EMI, but it is too late to look any more tonight.  I have also pulled together a fairly long stack of CDs I will try to sell off.  If can actually clear these out of the office (say by next week) I will definitely feel I accomplished something over the long weekend.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Stellar fall season

I've discussed The Aliens (at Coal Mine) at some length and briefly talked about The Fish Eyes Trilogy at Factory.  I suspect I will come back around to a more in-depth post on Fish Eyes later this weekend.  I thought Waiting for Godot was worth seeing, even though it wasn't the best production I've seen.  There is apparently a spin-off play at Theatre Passe Muraille called Let's Go: A G_dot Prequel which runs through this weekend.  I may go, though I am a bit exhausted from all the theatre.  I would definitely recommend both The Aliens and The Fish Eyes Trilogy, though I suppose if you could only go to one, I would plump for The Aliens, though it closes this weekend!  So many great choices this season!

Another quite amazing show (which I almost passed on) is Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Hart House.  There's a show tonight at 8 (which admittedly would be hard to get to) and one on Sat. at 8.  There may also be a 2 pm show on Sat.  I thought they did a fantastic job.  When Hedwig is singing in her female persona, the performer seemed to me just as good as the one on the cast album, and when singing as Tommy (and/or Hansel) the performer was actually better.  It is an edgy show and definitely not for everyone.  One of the more amusing (and a bit disturbing) moments is when Hedwig comes all the way out to row L or M and says, "You didn't think I'd make it back this far, did you?"  I think it's unlikely that Hart House recorded this (professionally at least), but I'd be willing to splurge on a Bandcamp release (hint hint).  I would say that overall, it probably makes the most sense to watch the show live (the best choice!) or the DVD rather than the album, as most of the plot, such as it is, is conveyed in between song patter that isn't on any of the soundtracks.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fish Eyes

I'm running quite short of time this morning, so I'll keep this short.  I am just back from seeing The Fish Eyes Trilogy at Factory Theatre.  It's a very strong piece that fuses classical Indian dance (as well as Indian dance set to pop music) and theatre.  The three pieces focuses on 3 different students in Port Moody, BC (two of South Asian heritage and one Caucasian).  They interact in different ways (generally somewhat negatively), but generally it is the boys that really set them up against each other.  The pieces were written by and performed by Anita Majumdar, who takes on all the roles, effortlessly shifting from the girls to their boyfriends and then to the Aunty characters who are teaching the Indian girls to dance.  There is a lot going on in the pieces and I'll probably be thinking about this for a while.  I would encourage anyone who is even a bit curious about them to go check it out.  This is the first opportunity to see all pieces in one evening and in this particular order (in previous outings Fish Eyes had gone first).  I think this code will work for a discount for tonight's (Thurs Oct. 5) performance but not sure: MEENA20.

I didn't realize it, but there was a talk back, and Anita came out afterwards and talked a bit about different issues.  One thing that was interesting was that Port Moody (where she grew up) was so white that the ethnic students felt it was safer to assimilate rather than offer up a single target to the haters.  This was very different from Surrey, for example, where the schools were largely Asian and it was more of a personal choice whether to hang in predominantly white or Asian or mixed cliques.  I am not sure there will be more talk backs through the course of the run or not, but I wouldn't let that stop you from checking out the show.  The only drawback was that it was a long evening (particularly with the talk back) and I am tired, but I still have to run to get to work.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Recharging (& Cold Read Weekend)

I don't know that I truly successfully recharged this weekend, but I did get some rest.  I decided fairly early on that I was going to skip Nuit Blanche, as I just haven't been that interested in the art since the first one I saw a few years back.  I may still end up taking my son along for a few hours either next year or the one after, but I just wasn't feeling it this time around.

I actually had a few tedious chores this weekend, including trying to change the bulb on an obsolete ceiling light/fan.  I finally managed it, though I needed the internet to step in where the original company failed me.  I also had to dispose of a dead bird on my sidewalk.  Blech.

Anyway, Sunday was the first night of the restarted Toronto Cold Reads series.  Turnout was surprisingly low (and the main hosts weren't even in attendance).  Ultimately, I was gang-pressed into taking a part, which I don't normally do.  The main reason to go was 3Fest, where they did 3 of the plays (each written by 3 authors).  I suspect mine will be up in 3 weeks' time, so I'll have to block out that spot on the calendar.

Another neat feature of Toronto Cold Reads is that they have added a musical guest each time around, and they have been quite amazing.  This time it was Sabrina Soares, an Australian who has picked up and moved to Toronto, trying to make it into the entertainment business.  She has a lovely voice and pretty good stage presence for someone so young, so I suspect she'll do well.

My favorite musicians from last season were Skye Wallace (and sadly her Toronto stop on her current tour competes with another TCR reading, so I'll have to skip that) and Abigail Lapell, but all of them were very entertaining.

While Monday evening isn't technically part of the weekend, in my mind it all sort of flowed together.  I knew that they were going to put on Night Out, which was a short piece about modern cell phone usage.  It's a bit of a cliche to moan about jerks on cell phones in restaurants, but I tried to mix it up a bit and to keep the piece very short (it runs 5 minutes or so).  It went over really well.

I had been asked to submit another piece and I just finished up Mascots in time, but I never heard whether it was going to be on the line-up.  I might have tried a bit harder to get people to turn out had I known it was on the line-up.  At any event, I turned up and it had been added, which was super cool.  The actors really sold the piece, even some of the corny jokes.  So it was a pretty awesome evening to get two pieces on the line-up (plus there was some cake, since this was the 10th anniversary of the SFYS concept).  The crowd slowly trickled in, though we still seem down from the glory days over at Storefront.

While SFYS doesn't have musical guests, they do have a mentalist who turns up.  He's quite good, and this time around was particularly mind-blowing.  He had these big books, and the audience wrote down numbers and put them in a box.  Then there was some back and forth, shuffling the books.  Then a volunteer wrote down a number from 1 to 4, which then selected one of the books.  And the volunteer chose a number from the box, and opened the book to that page.  It had been torn out, and then ended up in the hat he was wearing.  This was perhaps the most impressive stunt yet, so I started to think how the mentalist could do it.

These are more theoretical SPOILERS than anything, but don't read if you don't want to ruin the magic.

I'm fairly sure that when drawing the number, it is fairly easy for a trained mentalist to distinguish a number between 1 through 4 that the volunteer/mark draws.  Similarly, the mentalist can just keep going with the shuffling of the books (and subtly urge the audience to pick the numbers that bring the book into the correct position).  So it shouldn't be that hard to pick the correct book.  Getting the correct page number is much harder.  Obviously, the single simplest way is to corrupt the mark and tell him or her which number to read.  But assuming that isn't what happened, the second simplest way to rig the game is to mess with the box so that every slip of paper in there had the correct page number.  (Generally, most of these mentalist things are a bit of misdirection, and no one really was paying any attention to the box of slips at that point.)  I don't think the mentalist touched the slips after handing over the box (so the tampering would have happened earlier), but sometimes there is a bit of sleight-of-hand where the mentalist intercepts the random slip that the volunteer picked and substituted the correct slip before it gets opened.  As I said, I'm fairly sure that didn't happen in this case.  If it isn't one of those three options, then I admit I am baffled.  At any rate, it was an impressive feat last night, and overall one of the more amusing SFYS I have attended.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Regrets (concerts)

I do try not to have too many regrets, though it is surely impossible to go through life without having any.  I am fortunate that I do have enough time and usually enough funds to see all the theatre that interests me in Toronto (though I did skip Burn This as the tickets just seemed too high to me).  That might not be the case if I was still in Chicago (not having enough time) or New York (where even the off-Broadway ticket prices have become ridiculous).  Concerts are a bit of a different story, as they have gone up (in my view at least) much beyond the rate of inflation and the scalperbots have gotten so good that it may be very difficult to actually get tickets at all, and then you have to decide about buying them secondhand (in addition to costing more the odds are reasonably high that you'll get scammed).  So I do a lot more picking and choosing.

Anyway, all through high school I didn't live anywhere near a major metro area and didn't see any rock concerts at all.  I was probably taken to a few classical and jazz concerts, but nothing that really sticks out in memory.  (I do remember one boy in band managed to convince his older cousin or someone to take him to a U2 concert,* but that was quite the exception.)  In university, I was close enough to Detroit (and it hadn't quite fallen on hard times to the degree it has today), so for major acts, we would go, though I still don't think I went to more than 6 or so concerts in Detroit (David Bowie, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Hornsby, 10,000 Maniacs and maybe one or two more).  I liked music, but I just wasn't that much of a concert-goer.  Maybe it would have been different had I grown up in a big city where all the big acts were passing through.

I won't go too much into all the concerts I didn't go to,** but just focus on a few where I had considered, but for one reason or another, decided not to, and then (too late!) had second thoughts.

Probably #1 is when Paul Simon played a small venue on Belmont, not that far from where I lived in Chicago.  Definitely still kicking myself about that one.

Right around that time, I skipped the chance to see Toad the Wet Sprocket playing in the Lincoln Park Zoo.  I think for both of these, I mostly didn't go because I was trying to adjust to having two small children and just wasn't sleeping all that well.

I think there was a Bauhaus reunion tour that passed through Chicago, and maybe I should have gone.  I heard it was actually pretty good.

On a recent visit to Chicago, I could have see Jackson Browne playing an event.  He was only backed by one slide guitar player, and I guess I just thought he would sound better with a full band.  While I probably still should have gone, this won't be something I take to my grave regretting...

Similarly, I've been pretty interested in trying to catch Bruce Cockburn, but the last few times he's come through Toronto, it's been a solo show.  I'd really prefer to see him playing with a band.

I wasn't a huge, huge Leonard Cohen fan, but I still should have tried to catch his final tour.  Ah well.

Also, Prince kept hinting he was going to have a secret show in Toronto, and then he actually did a show (I believe he played piano only) and then less than a month later he passed away.  For sure, that's one I would have liked to have attended.

More recently, my wife asked if I wanted to see Hall & Oates in Toronto.  We saw them in Chicago, and they were quite good, but I wasn't sure I really needed to go again.  What I didn't realize was that they were sharing the bill with Tears for Fears.  Had I clued into that, I'm sure we would have gone.

I didn't like either of the venues that Collective Soul chose when they came to Toronto (and they came twice in 2016!).  They aren't coming in 2017, but they have a new album coming out and perhaps they will come back in 2018 (and I'll make more of an effort the next time around).

I'm sure there are dozens if not hundreds of concerts that I would have liked to see, but these are the ones that kind of stuck with me.  That's probably not so bad (not so many regrets) in the grand scheme of things.


* I still haven't found any U2 tickets that were any good on any of their later tours, so I may never end up seeing them.  That's unfortunate.

** I don't really want to add jazz to the mix, though I was supposed to see David Fathead Newman in Chicago (taking my father-in-law) but he got sick and actually died just a few weeks after the cancelled concert.  (And I probably should have gone to seen Elvin Jones at the Chicago Jazz Fest when it was pretty clear it was one of his last tours.)  In terms of pure regrets, looking at the walls of the Jazz Showcase and just trying to imagine how amazing it would have been living in Chicago in the 1960s-80s (as an adult) makes me wish I had been a generation older.  Life would have been a lot easier in a lot of ways (assuming I avoided the draft...), though on the whole I didn't mind growing up in the 80s.



College productions 2017-18

I realized that we have gone a few weeks into the fall semester, and I haven't heard much about the various UT drama clubs.  I am aware of what is going on at Hart House, though that doesn't precisely count as Hart House has a lot of student actors in their productions, but isn't truly a student company.  That said, I am starting to lean towards going to Hedwig and the Angry Inch this Thurs. (on alumni discount night) and probably The Crucible with my son later in the season.

At any rate, I was going to update this post, and I realized that the Theatre Coalition hadn't updated their events page.  And more than that, most of the individual websites are just not updating properly.  You have to poke around on Twitter and especially on Facebook to find anything out.  Not only do I think this is a lazy and incredibly discouraging trend (and one that ultimately profits corporations that already have too much sway), it really means these companies are moving further and further inward and are not that interested in connecting to the broader (non-Facebook enabled) public.  Maybe that doesn't matter for the student theatre companies, but even the UT Drama Centre has not publicized its events very well.

At any rate, it doesn't look like there is much of interest for me at UT this season.  One of the companies is doing Twelfth Night, which I've seen too many times.  VCDS is doing the Drowsy Chaperone, which is quite strange as WINDS did it last season.  (Sadly, WINDS has gone defunct, due to "internal conflicts.")  In the spring, UC Follies should be doing Stoppard's Arcadia, and while I've seen it several times before, I'm fairly likely to go again.  That's probably the only thing I will catch (not counting Hart House productions), unless the UT Drama Centre adds a really interesting alumni show in the spring, though it doesn't seem promising at the moment.

I mentioned briefly that for George Brown, I will see the shows in the spring repertory season -- The Provoked Wife and Brecht's Fear and Misery in the Third Reich.  I'm still undecided if I want to see the update to Candide, but it is usually still best (for me) to subscribe for the 3-show package, so I'll probably do that.

Friday, September 29, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 7th review - Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

I've been reading through Mordecai Richler's fiction in a very bizarre order.  I read The Incomparable Atuk first and then Barney's Version.  Duddy Kravitz makes a short cameo in Barney's Version, but he seems a much tamer version of his younger self, though still a bit of a hustler.  Both Duddy and Barney seem determined to stick out and be fairly difficult (if not to say obnoxious) Jews who refuse to be assimilated into Montreal society (neither the Anglophone nor the Francophone culture).  Anyway, I decided I really ought to just buckle down and read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.  I'll follow up very shortly with The Street.  I haven't decided when to tackle St. Urbain's Horseman, which is centred on one of Duddy's schoolmates, Hersh (though I wouldn't be surprised if Duddy doesn't at least make an appearance, though maybe just in flashback form), but I will get around to it one of these days.  At any rate, it is peculiar that I have held off from reading his best known work until now.

I think there is no question I would have liked the novel a bit more had I read it while I was younger, though it's possible that because I was a school teacher so early in my career, there wouldn't have been a time after I left university that I would have really been receptive to Duddy Kravitz, who terrorizes his teachers, particularly Mr. MacPherson.  I myself was harassed by a number of students, all of whom loved exploiting weaknesses and weren't interested in teachers "taking an interest" in them and certainly had no interest in anything being offered up at school.  Given this background, I didn't even enjoy the movie Ferris Bueller particularly much, and I think those negative feelings would have been even stronger had I encountered Duddy Kravitz and his ilk back then.  Now I am simply too old to have much interest in juvenile delinquent antics.  (I have to admit I didn't care much for Narayan's Swami and Friends either.)

I am actually more intrigued by some of the secondary characters in the novel, such as the alcoholic Mr. MacPherson and moreso Duddy's father, Max.  While Max reveres his smart son, Lennie, who is studying to become a doctor, he is even more drawn to the antics of the Boy Wonder, Jerry Dingleman, who worked his way up from nothing to become a rich hoodlum.  There seem to be two role models that urban Jews could look up to, either the bookish types who go on to become doctors and lawyers or the slick operators, who live the fast life.  Duddy would surely have been tempted by the flashy, seemingly easy life on his own account, but the fact that his father also validated it pushed him further down this path.

I did find the novel more interesting after Duddy graduates (towards the bottom of his class) and starts scheming almost immediately.  As a side note, the goings on at the Jewish resort, where he worked right after school, reminded me just a bit of Will Eisner's A Contract with God.  Even Dingleman is somewhat impressed and perhaps a bit concerned at how frantic Duddy is to make money (actually in order to buy up real estate!).

What is interesting is that Duddy often but doesn't always come out on top in his interactions with other schemers.  Montreal is a big place, with lots of con men around in the circles that he begins to frequent. Duddy hasn't been around the block as many times as they have, but he has pluck and determination and a willingness to get right back up after he has been knocked down.  This does make him more appealing than the student who fairly pointlessly undermined his teachers, and perhaps I am rooting for him a bit (certainly far more than I would have thought at the start of the book).  All that said, I still wouldn't want to have to deal with Duddy in real life, just as I would have studiously avoided Barney.  I'm still undecided if I will watch the film that made a star of Richard Dreyfuss (or the film version of Barney's Version for that matter), but maybe I'll get around to it one of these days.  A lot depends on how much of the humour of the book is captured.  One of the funniest passages is when Duddy finally gets to screen the film of the bar mitzva that he had filmed (as an early money-making venture).  It sounds like an absolute riot but one that satisfied the boy's father (shades of The Music Man perhaps?), and I'm just wondering if that made its way into the movie.  I guess there's only one way to find out...


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cold Reading Rebirth

Maybe the title is just a tad bit melodramatic, but this weekend is an exciting one (even if I am not in Vancouver taking in Beckett's Happy Days).  Toronto Cold Reads is back (details here)!  I'll try to make it to most of them this season, especially because I participated in 3Fest this time around.  My contributions are not being read this week, however.  I'm not quite sure when they will go up.

In addition, Sing-for-Your-Supper had two months it was on hiatus (and an extremely poorly attended summer show), but it is back next Monday at the Tarragon Theatre Workspace (actors show up at 7 and the shindig starts at 8).  I have one piece for sure on the line-up (Night Out, which was one of the pieces at my lightly attended reading, so you've got one more chance to see it), and I am waiting to hear back about a piece I wrote about college mascots.  I'll probably post the script for that later.  

Anyway, I am looking forward to the evening and generally think this time around I will feel a little more at home at both, as I finally know a fair number of the participants.  Hope you can join us.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Baker's Aliens

Coal Mine's season has opened strong with Annie Baker's The Aliens.  This play was supposed to be produced by a different company and then the Toronto rights sort of bounced around and now here we are.  I liked it quite a lot, and in fact I think overall I enjoyed it more than John (which certainly had its moments -- and an awesome set!) and definitely more than The Flick (which really dragged in parts).  This play has the realistic dialogue and the long reaction shots and silences that mark Baker's work, but it is compressed into 2 hours.

One thing that was a little odd (off?) is that the main characters are supposed to be 30+ and just hanging around, on pretty much a daily basis, at the back of a coffee shop in Vermont.  I don't know the age of the actors but they looked a lot closer to mid to late 20s, which then made it a bit more palatable that they were still lost and that they were so hapless that they decide to befriend the 17 year old trainee at the coffee shop.  That surely wasn't Baker's intent, however, and maybe they should have recruited two actors that looked older.  This is only a relatively minor miscue, however.

An avenue that is somewhat unexplored is whether one of these lost souls, Jasper, really has writing talent.  I thought the section that he read was not bad, though whether it would hold up at novel length is another story.  Certainly, he could use a more discriminating audience to get to the next level, and he isn't likely to get that hanging out at the back of the coffee shop.  (While it has a very different set-up, George Walker's recent play The Damage Done has one of his struggling characters decide to become a playwright and perhaps is actually not too bad at it, but again it's hard to judge since the audience (his ex-girlfriend) is a biased one.)  Back to The Aliens, it's tragic one way if he is just deluding himself about his talent, but it is tragic in a different way if he has talent but will never find a proper audience, since he has no connections or any ideas of how to get out of the small town hell he is trapped in.  Of course, they are only a 3 hour drive from Boston (as the 17 year old points out at some point), but that can sometimes feel like the Continental Divide for people whose horizons have shrunk.  Anyway, I will try to sit down and read the play, but I'm glad I saw it live first.  I wouldn't have wanted to know the ending going in.  It is playing for two more weeks, and the reviews are coming in strong,* so don't dawdle.  This may be one of those cases where being right up next to the action (along the walls) is better than being in the standard seating arrangement at the end.  It is worth noting, however, that lots and lots of herbal cigarettes are smoked, so if this is going to be a major irritant, you should take a pass and go see something else instead.

Speaking of upcoming events, I see that Walker has another play (probably a premiere) called The Chance opening in mid-October.  The cast is stunning (including Fiona Reid and Claire Burns), so maybe I don't want to promote it too much until I have my own tickets...  I've also more or less decided to try to catch Will Eno's Title and Deed up at Tarragon, and I also have to book my ticket for The Fish Eyes Trilogy at Factory.  So quite a bit of theatre in Sept. and Oct. (after a short lull), and of course Toronto Cold Read and SFYS are starting back up again as well.  So a lot to look forward to and to figure out how to fit into my calendar.

* I don't want to list all the reviews, but I thought Slotkin's review and the Stage Door review were particularly insightful.

Waiting, waiting, waiting for Godot

I had a chance to catch the current production of Waiting for Godot at Soulpepper.  I decided that, since I had seen this play in two earlier productions, I just didn't feel like paying $60+ dollars, so I went the rush ticket route.  I had planned on going last Thursday, but work got in the way yet again.  So I thought I would try for Friday, even though I had relatively low expectations of getting in.  Nonetheless, there were quite a few available seats (and not only in the first two rows!), so I plunked my money down.

I should admit up front that I was not in the very best of moods and not completely receptive to the play, just because I was tired out from a long week.  I kind of was going out of a sense of obligation, which does dampen things a bit.  And this Beckett play is sort of a bleak masterpiece, but is fairly inert for long stretches.  I caught myself nearly nodding off at a couple of points, at least until Pozzo and Lucky show up.  What is somewhat different about this production is that somewhere around the midway point of the first act and through most of the second act, the two leads tried to amplify the situation, so for instance anytime that Vladimir says they can't go since they are waiting for Godot, Estragon shouts wildly rather than groans, which is the "approved" approach in the stage directions.  There was also a fair bit of physical interaction between the two -- perhaps out of character for two completely world-weary characters.  I was also a bit taken aback at just how roughly they treated the boy at the end of Act I (and was somewhat glad that I hadn't taken my son after all).  I was also a bit worried for the actor playing Lucky, as Pozzo really was yanking his rope fairly hard, even if he did move with the rope, anticipating the blows as it were.  In general, the play has a lot more shouting going on in Act II than I recall from other productions, which personally I thought was a mistake.  This means there is less distance between Pozzo (who does shout a lot) and the other characters. 

On the other hand, when Lucky goes into his long thinking speech, the production also departs from the stage directions, so it was slower and far more intelligible than other productions.  I thought this was actually a good thing, and this is probably the best Lucky I have seen, or at least the most memorable.  Pozzo was quite good, though I think I still preferred Brian Dennehy in the Goodman production (that then transferred to Stratford in 2013, where/when I caught it).  Still, as an overall piece, the best production I have seen was in Chicago (Remy Bumppo) all the way back in 1998.  (I probably have mentioned more than once that I was supposed to see Godot in Vancouver at The Cultch, but the lousy directions on their website caused me to get lost, so I just went home.  Now that I think about it, that might make a good short piece.)  Somehow I just wasn't as gripped by the main duo and their fate, however, though I should say this is likely partly due to my general exhaustion.  When all four characters were on stage, the play really came alive, but I just wasn't as interested when it dropped back to Vladimir and Estragon.*

Overall, I thought this was a good, but not stellar, production, so I am a bit surprised at the raves it is getting from critics in the industry (aside from the Globe and Mail, which was surprisingly negative**).  I would certainly recommend going if one hasn't seen the play live, but it may not live up to one's expectations if one has already seen it.  (And maybe the rush ticket route is the way to go.)  I suspect this is my last time round with this play (diminishing returns and all that), but never say never.


* To be completely frank, it felt to me Diego Matamoros and Oliver Dennis (or the director) were a bit bored with these characters and tried to change things up and push the boundaries so they aren't such static parts, but I thought that was a mistake.

** I just came across another highly critical review of the Soulpepper production, and while I don't agree with everything said here, I do agree that the production felt interminable and that there was something off between the main duo.  I also had already noted that Pozzo was fairly intriguing and that this was the most distinctive (and memorable) approach to Lucky I have seen.  I can well understand why Soulpepper doesn't link to this review.

The play that I am really trying to see (Beckett's Happy Days) just is not in standard rotation at all.  Endgame, which itself only has rare sightings, is still produced more often.  The only production of Happy Days this entire season was out in Vancouver at UBC.  I came very close to flying out to see that and do a few other things, but the flight prices just never came down to the point it was a reasonable decision.  I guess I'll just have to keep hoping it turns up somewhere nearby next season.  While it isn't as "deep" as Godot, it is a bit more amusing, so I am also hoping to see Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead again.  It looks like Soulpepper put it on one year before I moved to Toronto (drat), but then I somehow missed a production at the Annex Theatre in 2015.  So that's on me to try not to miss it the next time it turns up.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Underground reading

The reading of my short plays is over.  I'm not going to lie -- I have very mixed feelings.  The reading itself went quite well, but I couldn't round up an audience at all.  Of the 12 or so people who said they thought they could make it, only 2 showed up (one from work and one other actor I know but none from my block).  This is going to be a sore spot for me for a while, and I think I'll just refuse to discuss it with the people who bailed (regardless of how valid their excuses were).

Fortunately, the actors brought a few friends, and my family was there.  I guess we had twice as many people in the audience as actors, but still, it was a huge disappointment, given the number of people I had started counting on.  (If 5 or so more had made it, it would have really helped to fill up the theatre.)  I realize Tuesdays are a tough sell, but essentially every other date would have had some conflicts.  Thank goodness I didn't try to go the full production route!

Of the people who actually turned up, two older couples left at the intermission, presumably because they thought it was a full production, rather than a semi-staged reading.*  But otherwise, people were very complimentary, including liking the music that we picked to start the show.  Even the manager of The Red Sandcastle thought the pieces were quirky, written with a unique voice.  And one of the actors asked if she could keep the scripts to work up a monologue for future auditions.  I probably should have tried to record the pieces, but it would have taken away from my overall enjoyment of the reading (and I did think the pieces went over well despite the poor turnout).  I did attempt an audio recording of the last rehearsal, and I'll see how well that came out.


We were able to get all the pieces done in 90 minutes, including the intermission. Then I hung out for just a while afterwards with the actors.  Good thing too, since we were sort of hustled out and I had forgotten my laptop in the rush.  The manager tracked me down outside and handed it over.  That would have been quite a disaster had I left it there.

The actors and I talked a little bit whether I would take the pieces to the next level, and the answer is probably not, though they did think that The Re-Up could be expanded, perhaps with the AIs conspiring to keep their respective owners together.  That's not such a bad idea, and I could work it up a bit more.  If Seven Siblings does another SF-based festival, I might submit to that.  But I think I learned my lesson to not attempt to produce a piece on my own, since I clearly do not have enough of a fan base.  I'll only do something in collaboration with another company or through the Fringe.  And now, I think I'm done talking about these pieces, and I'll move on to the next thing.

* On further reflection, they might also have thought that Eric Peterson (the Billy Bishop actor) was involved one way or another.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A full weekend

This weekend was just as exhausting as a typical workweek!  To some degree it started on Friday where many of us were on a learning tour of the east side, where we walked the entire route of the future Downtown Relief Line, i.e. from Pape station down to the Unilever site and then across the Don and finally to Union.  We found out about the city's plans for various stations along the way.  Very interesting, but it was a particularly warm day, so we had to stop and hydrate several times, including at Kim's Convenience (I guess they still do the exterior shots here).


Probably the weirdest and saddest thing was that as we cut through a neighbourhood, this squirrel started darting out and sniffing people's legs and shoes, and then started chasing after us.  I was trying very hard not to get bit, as it probably was quite sick, since this is not normal squirrel behaviour!


Anyway, it followed us to Queen and it then ran out into the street and was run over by a streetcar.  That cast a bit of a gloom on the tail end of the tour.  Some calculated and we did something like 12,000 steps on the tour, though I walked up to Pape Station before the tour.

I did manage to get a few things done at work, though I left off from starting the big evaluation report that is due soon.  In general, we are still somewhat basking in the glow of getting a long, detailed report approved by the Board, and it will be posted to the public website next week.  It has been a lot of effort getting this ready.

I did take a bit of a break when I got home, but had to find some time in the late evening to put the last side of the border on the quilt, since I had set a time to drop off the quilt on Sunday.  Saturday really wasn't an option, since there was a massive street party that lasted all day.  In any event, I did finish it.  You can see about 2/3rds of it here, with the bottom part sort of tucked under.


Sat. morning we got up and swept the sidewalks and the street and waited for the bouncy castles to arrive.


It was a long, long day.  There were all kinds of games, including a few for adults, though I didn't play any of them.  I took a few turns watching the bouncy castles and had some food.  I didn't really chat that much with people I didn't know, which I guess is part of the point of a street party.


But it was a good event, if somewhat overwhelming.  What other street party has a master chef and a DJ right out in the front yards?


I'm fairly sure both of our kids had a good time, perhaps despite themselves.  This year I actually hung out for a while at the after party, which is just for the core families on the street.

However, I did have to wake up early on Sunday and press the quilt one last time.  Then I went and got the ZipCar for the drive out to Mississauga (not Etobicoke as I had thought).  The drive really wasn't that bad, but it still was more driving than I am used to at that hour.  I went over the various options with the long-arm quilter.  She thinks it will be done in about 3 weeks, and best of all, she will mail it back to me, so I don't have to make another trip.

I did the grocery shopping, and I helped the kids with homework.  I did a bit more prep work for the play reading coming up this Tuesday.  I probably should have gone to the gym, but instead, I crashed for a fairly long nap in the afternoon.  I'm actually still tired, but I guess I'm ready to face the week.  As ready as I'm going to be, I suppose.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Nostalgia trip

On Sat. I went to the Danforth Music Hall for the first time.  It was pretty good, though I am somewhat surprised how far back the balcony area is from the stage.  I guess it's better than Lee's Palace, however, which maybe sorta has upstairs seating but not with a clear view of the stage.  In terms of distance to the stage, it is definitely worse than Metro (in Chicago) where the balcony wasn't that far away, but the seats are vastly better.  (At Metro you usually ended up standing up all night in the balcony, which sort of defeated the purpose.)  I guess because everyone that expects to stand up and dance is on the main floor most people in the balcony stayed in their seats until the end of the concert.  In fact one guy who was more than a little obnoxious about trying to get people dancing in their seats was finally escorted out!

Anyway, after missing out on a couple of previous mini-tours, I managed to catch The Lowest of the Low at the Danforth Music Hall.  It was actually a sold out show, so there is definitely pent-up demand to see this group, now that they have reformed and been touring (basically only Ontario and Buffalo, though they are supporting 54-40 in Vancouver -- more on that later).


The crowd was definitely older -- mostly 45+.  In other words, people who had been around for the band's first incarnation in the late 80s into the early 90s.  As it happens, I didn't go see a lot of live music when I was in Toronto in the early 90s, though I did manage to see The Waltons and then one memorable Christmas concert, Sara McLachlan and the Barenaked Ladies (and a bunch of other acts I don't recall).  I didn't venture over to Lee's Palace or The Horseshoe or any of those other venues, which was certainly my loss.

I wouldn't say I am making up for lost time exactly, but I am occasionally trying to get over to some of these venues when there is a band I'm somewhat interested in seeing, so I have made it to Lee's Palace twice now (once for a very good Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker concert).  I see that 54-40 is going to be at the Horseshoe Tavern, so I think I'll go catch them.  Ron Hawkins (leader of The Lowest of the Low) said that they would be playing the Horseshoe soon, but there wasn't anything on the website.  I suspect since they are opening for 54-40 in Vancouver, they will also be opening for them at the Horseshoe (though perhaps not for the entire string of shows).  It's a "gamble," but I think I'll take it.

It's sort of weird having nostalgia for something that didn't happen to you.  The Lowest of the Low in particular is such a Toronto-based band, with many songs derived directly from Toronto places, particularly in the east end.  There is actually a piece in Now on this very topic.  So I have a bit of nostalgia for hearing them on the radio, but it wasn't like I grew up here and did all the things that kids growing up in the city did (sneaking in to bars with loose carding policies etc.).  One of my co-workers did all that (and my wife did a fair bit of that in Chicago though it was more clubbing than bar hopping).  I kind of missed out on that, though I did check out the bar scene in Ann Arbor when I got to university.

Anyway, what makes this slightly less sad and desperate is that The Lowest of the Low have a new album out -- Do the Right Now.  (Granted 2 or 3 songs are dusted off from their glory days and rerecorded, but actually several of the new songs are quite good.  "Powerlines" is really growing on me.  Here is a link to the video, and I also liked "California Gothic," which closes the album.)  It turns out this was the CD release party.  I didn't get the CD, but it was amusing hearing Hawkins ask the crowd who still liked CDs and vinyl and who wanted their music on a USB stick.  Given the collective age of the audience, CDs and vinyl were the big winners, but that wouldn't be the case if you asked a bunch of 20 something club kids...

I didn't make a true set list, but this is what I can recall.

From Do the Right Now, they played "Powerlines," "Gerona Train,"  "Do the Right Now," "Something to Believe In," "Immortal" and "California Gothic."

From Shakespeare My Butt, they played "So Long Bernie," "Salesmen, Cheats and Liars," "Rosy and Grey," "For the Hand of Magdelena," "Bleed a Little While Tonight," and "Gossip Talkin' Blues."  I've fairly sure they played "Subversives" as the first song in the encore.  I'm relatively sure they played "Just About 'The Only' Blues" and "Eternal Fatalist" and they may have played "4 O'Clock Stop," but I'm not completely sure.  Some of the songs sound different live, and I am clearly not a hard-core fan like most of the crowd, who could sing long stretches of the songs, not just the choruses.  Anyway, it was a bit of a surprise that they didn't play "Under the Carlaw Bridge," given that they were on the east end, nor did they play "Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes," which I think was their biggest radio hit.

From Hallucigenia, they played "City Full of Cowards" and "Gamble." I think they played "That Song About Trees & Kites," but am not entirely sure.  I sort of expected them to play "Pistol," but they didn't.  (This may not ever have been part of their live set.)

There is a relatively unknown Lowest of the Low album called Sordid Fiction, and they played "The Last Recidivist" off of that.  Hoopla has this album, so I'll try to listen to it soon.

I honestly am not sure whether they played "The Kids are All Wrong," which was a single they were pushing a couple of years ago.  It does have a fair bit of harmonica on it, and one guy in the band did play harmonica from time to time, so perhaps they did play this one.  I wasn't tuned in enough to this song to recognize it during the show.

It was a good show, even if it did make me feel a bit old (understandably so).  I won't be chasing The Lowest of the Low around the city or around Ontario (or Buffalo, where they also have a bit of a following), but I'd go and see them again under the right circumstances.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Staged Reading - Sept 19

As I alluded to in the previous post, I am having a staged reading of 6 short plays (nearly all of which were performed at Sing-for-Your-Supper over the past 2 years) coming up soon.  Even more exciting is that many of the stars of SFYS will be reading the various parts: Jamie Johnson, David Straus, Jane E. Smythe, Chris Peterson, Carina Cojeen and Elizabeth Rose Morriss.

This will be Tues. Sept. 19 at Red Sandcastle, starting at 7:00 pm.  One night only!  The event is briefly mentioned on the Red Sandcastle website.

The postcard is below.


See you there!

Fall has arrived

We had felt a bit of chill a week or so ago, and I having generally been wearing fleece when biking to work, at least in the morning, but yesterday evening was quite nippy. I was at a meeting about the upcoming street party, and most people had to keep going back inside to get more layers on!

The kids seem to be adjusting fairly well to school.  It was probably a wise idea to keep drilling them a bit on math and a bit of French here and there.  I wonder about putting my son in STEM camp next summer.  I'll have to look into it more seriously next spring.

Work has been quite overwhelming, though I didn't have it as bad as the two guys that were laying out the transportation plan in In Design.  They stayed past midnight.  I had a fair bit of work (and perhaps next week will be worse for me), which in turn made it hard for me to focus on finishing the last edits for the reading.  It is official now -- it will be Tues. Sept. 19 at Red Sandcastle!  Some details here, and I'll post separately about this.  I also missed the deadline to get something in for Sing-for-Your-Supper, though to be fair, some of the delay was due to not having a particularly good ending for my skit about college mascots.

News wasn't all bad, however.  It appears that, while almost 1/3 of Americans were involved in the Equifax data theft, we weren't impacted.  (This is going to be a huge fiasco and will be so painful for those impacted -- I just wish the federal government was functioning properly so some kind of response could be managed, like reissuing SINs en masse, but that won't happen in today's climate.)  Probably we lucked out because we haven't tried to buy a house in the U.S. in over 10 years, and also I had some kind of credit watch on my file, which made it hard to get credit cards issued in my name.  Also, there was another big data theft recently (I think just emails and passwords), and I avoided that one.  Though I did have my credit card skimmed recently, so a new one had to be reissued and it was enough of a pain, but I didn't have to rebuild my life.  Actually, some people are saying the move to biometrics is deeply misguided, since if it gets hacked and/or the data stolen, then you will never be able to recover.

Also, I made a lot of progress on the quilt, and in fact the top is finished!  Or rather I still need to put on a border and press the quilt, but it will be done after that.  I might be done as soon as Monday/Tuesday, though I do need to spend more time on my writing.  I did reach out to someone in Etobicoke who finishes quilts, and I probably can drop it off next weekend.  So exciting!  I haven't decided if I will start right in on the one for my son (or take a long break).  Overall, I think it will go faster, but some of the squares will need to be turned, so there is actually a fair bit of seam ripping involved, and it won't be quite as fast as I had hoped.  The quilt is really a bit too large to display in one piece, so I "stitched" together two photos and, even then, the last corner square (of snowmen) got cut off.


This is an approximation of what it will look like with the border attached.  I've read up on mitred corners and will try that for the next quilt.  I would just prefer to get this one done at this point.


Overall, it came together well, though there are always some quirky details when pieces are joined up.  Here is a deer looking like something out of the Magical Mystery Tour.


And here are some creepy hands reaching out of the quilt, maybe a Stephen King homage?


Thinking ahead to fall projects, I will defer some of them to next year, but others I will start working on soon.  I should trim up the bushes and probably reseed the grass, since it is looking terrible.  I should also try to schedule an appointment with the roofers, though I have been waiting on my tax refund (it seems very late this year!).  I probably will hold off until next year on sanding and restaining the bottom deck and hitting the fence with some anti-mildew stain.  I haven't decided about replacing a few parts of the fence where the wood has split.  I really ought to do it this year, but I am feeling lazy (certainly this weekend).  Perhaps in the end I will get it done before it gets really cold.

I have to run now, but I'll post more details about the reading later today.