Been a bit quiet on my blogging front lately, but not for any major reason. Just that things have been a bit off—just off enough to prevent me from focusing on a blog post.
Not mine, of course—Jean’s. He was away for two weeks in the northwest Ontario wilderness. No wifi. No cell service. Just a brief, one-way, satellite-delivered daily message giving location and brief status update.
Away from it all at Wabakimi Park
By a combination of organization and happenstance, I had enough activities booked at that time to keep me busy and stave off loneliness: barbecue with dance friends, dinner and lunch with other friends, an outing to Stratford with my sister and brother-in-law to see To Kill a Mockingbird, blood donation appointment, Canada Day fireworks, even an unusual number of meetings at work, including some over lunch and dinner.
But it was still all out of the ordinary: Jean being not only away but basically out of touch (I think “out of touch” is just harder to deal with in these days, when we expect everyone to always be in cell range), combined with so many other social activities.
I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!
When the Stratford Festival decided to include Molière’s Tartuffe in their line-up of 2017 plays, they had no way of knowing how the US presidential election would turn out. But they were not about to miss the dramatic opportunities this afforded them.
Tartuffe was a comedic satire written in 1664, and was immediately controversial for speaking truth to power. It was banned after its first performances, but Molière fought for it, and five years, it was revived to great acclaim.
Stratford’s English-language production is set squarely in the present, with the characters listening to modern pop (much of it French), making lattes, and being distracted by their cell phones. The main nod to the age of the script is that all the dialog rhymes—which strikes me as an amazing feat of translation (by Ranjit Bolt).
In Tartuffe, the (white) father of the household—and his mother—are in the thrall of a recent house guest, the apparently pious Tartuffe. Everyone else—his wife, children, brother-in-law, and housekeeper—are appalled. Can’t the father see that Tartuffe is nothing but hypocrite and con man who cares for no one but himself? Doesn’t he care that Tartuffe’s rules are making their lives miserable? (That everyone other than the stepmother are played by people of colour is a clever bit of casting: so we have women, people of colour, and younger people in complete disbelief that the older white characters cannot see Tartuffe for what he is.)
For most of the play, none of the current political subtext is made particularly explicit. It’s only in the climatic final scene that a certain orange President is specifically alluded to.
The production was hilarious, and it was great to see this situation played out in purely comedic fashion. And that it all worked out in the end. If only real life were so simple.
About ten years ago around this time of year, I was scrambling to get myself to get myself to Centre in the Square. Jean was away—canoeing, I assume—and I’d made a last-minute decision to get tickets to the introductory concert of the KW Symphony’s new conductor, Edwin Outwater.
It was busier than I expected—symphony concerts just hadn’t been very well-attended that year—so I had to park further away than expected and made it to my seat just moments before the show started. Which was all very awkward, because my seat was front row centre.
So my first look at the young, handsome conductor from California was a close-up one. He was very personable in talking to the audience. I believe they played Beethoven’s Fifth, and he dared us to be rebels and applaud between movements if we felt like it.
We originally didn’t have tickets to the final performance of Edwin Outwater as KW Symphony principal conductor last weekend, but it seems apropos that we did attend in the end. The symphony was not in a good place, artistically or financially, when he took over. It’s been great to watch the crowds grow over the past 10 years in response to his efforts to present classical music in innovative ways that still respect the tradition.
But if we hadn’t jumped on tickets for the final show immediately, it’s because it was definitely Outwater-ian: Not just a set of classical music’s greatest hits, but something that would challenge the ears.
We made it to (most of) the concert prelude that explained what we were about to hear, which is always helpful. The first piece was a very short number composed for (and about) Edwin Outwater by Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire. That was followed by a longer choral piece by John Adams called Harmonium, featuring two full choirs singing music inspired by poetry.
It was very strange-sounding. At intermission, one Jean’s friends we ran into commented that some of the harmonies hurt her eyes. But from the prelude, we had some appreciation of how hard it was to sing. And I just found it riveting to listen to (though I wouldn’t buy the CD).
We were kind of worried about retaining focus through a 53-minute Mahler Symphony in the second half, but we needn’t have. Mahler writes beautiful and lively music. We agreed with the prelude commentary that the third movement was the most interesting, a mournful one built around the melody of … “Frère Jacques”, and interrupted by other bursts of whimsical sound that undercut the tragedy with comedy. Then the fourth movement is full of grandiosity.
There was rather a resounding ovation at the end.
As a teenager, I was really taken with the story of Terry Fox, the young man who tried to run across the country on one leg to raise money for cancer research, only to be stopped when the cancer returned. I followed the story on the news. I kept a scrapbook . I read books about him. I saw The Terry Fox Movie.
So when I heard they wrote a musical based on his life, I wanted to go. I missed the initial run in Waterloo, but we managed to get to the shorter one in Cambridge.
It was quite well done. Admittedly, the songs aren’t the sort you’re going to be humming for days—this is no Hamilton or West Side Story. But the story is just so compelling, and they found an effective way to fit it into a two-hour stage narrative. I don’t feel that any other medium, really, as well gave the sense of just what it meant to do so much running daily under the physical challenges he faced.
I read about the movie years before I actually saw it. In my small, Northern Ontario town back in the day, there were no late-night (or any time) showings, but I read about them in the rock magazines. I recall being quite taken by the photos of Tim Curry in his fishnets. (I later learned that many women found themselves surprised by how much they were taken by Tim Curry in his fishnets.)
Attending the film itself had to wait until I went to university in Montreal. The McGill Film Society showed it and my friends and I were there, armed with newspapers and rice, but not in costume. The audience was a mix of newbies and, fortunately, some veterans who knew what you were supposed to shout at the screen when. I wasn’t entirely sure if the movie was good (so campy!), but I found the whole experience fun.
Not the performance I was at–back then we didn’t take pictures of everything…
I never did become a regular screening attendee, but I’ve certainly seen the movie a number of times since then. Our local repertory cinema still plays it every year at Halloween. Jean and I attended with friends at least once. We hadn’t planned for enough ahead to get fully costumed as any character, but I did aim for a sort of Goth look. (And I believe that Jean eccentrically went as a clown.)
Since then, I’ve seen Rocky Horror on network TV, purchased and devoured the DVD–including all extras–saw a very fun live performance of it courtesy of the University of Waterloo drama department (being a performance for alumni and faculty, that was a different audience than previous), and even checked out the TMN parody (more nudity, but much less gay).
So when I read that JM Drama Productions had another local version on this past weekend, it was an easy to decision to go.
Most appropriately, we had to run through heavy rain to get to the theatre, where we were confronted by a number of scantily clad Goth types. Rocky Horror is always a sexy beast, but this production really laid that on thick, aided by the many very attractive young actors cast. For instance, Janet starting panting the minute she saw Dr. Frank (and who can blame her), and the choreography ensured that you didn’t miss any of the double entendres in the lyrics.
The JM Drama cast; picture from The Waterloo Region Record
JM Drama is community theatre, so their budgets were small. But their costumes and makeup were top-notch, and they were very creative about the props and sets. The vocals weren’t always great; but then, that’s not as important for this particular musical. (It’s hardly Les Miz.) Fortunately, some of the best singing was done by lead Dr. Frank, who gave an excellent, charismatic performance.
Appropriately, there was some gender-bending within the casting. Both the narrator and Dr. Scott were played by women, and why not? It even allowed for some fun Frank / Dr. Scott flirtation. And Magenta was played by the absolutely fabulous David Cho.
Overall, the whole thing was a hoot (to quote Jean’s post-show assessment). Of course, with a live production, the audience couildn’t (and didn’t) yell back or throw any projectiles. But, they did invite everyone on stage at the end for a reprise of “The Time Warp.” Jean promptly sat back in his chair, but I went for it! And yay me, as I got to dance near the two hunkiest members of the cast, Rocky immediately to my right and Frank directly in front. (Which is why Jean didn’t manage to get a picture; the actor playing Frank was very tall.)
This isn’t the kind of play that’s meant to be contemplated on too deeply, but this production gave rise to some thoughts:
They weren’t nearly as clear on the difference between transsexuals, transvestites, and bisexuals back when this was written as we are now, eh?
All that stuff we used to yell at the screen? “Slut!” “The f word for gay!” That would just be uncomfortable now.
Is there supposed to be some sort of lesson here, and if so, what is it? Frank is very cool but really the villain, and he doesn’t win in the end. But what of Brad and Janet? Is it good for them that they let loose? They were so uptight at first, but seem so traumatized at the end.
Eh. Too serious. It’s just a jump to the left. And a step to the right.
See you back here after I watch Fox’s Rocky Horror reboot on TV, coming up in October.
The play opens with a chorus of children whose doting, self-esteem-boosting parents lead them to be believe they are special little princes and princesses. “It seems that there are millions of these one-in-a-millions these days / Specialness seems de rigueur.” By contrast, Matilda really is remarkable—a genius. Her thick parents don’t know what to make of her love of books and stories; they can barely stand to have her around.
In her big number, Matilda’s mother explains that “People don’t like smarty-pants / What go round claiming / That they know stuff / We don’t know / Content, has never been less important… You’ve just got to be loud.” (This is truly a musical of our time.)
School should be an oasis for such a child, but Matilda’s school is run by the authoritarian Miss Trunchbull. Played by a large man (Dan Chameroy), she cuts a ridiculous-looking figure, but is a terrifying adversary nonetheless—a bully who brooks no dissent, who cares little about fainess (once she decides you’re guilty, you’re guilty), and who favours cruel punishments.
Besides the town librarian (delightfully played by Keisha T. Fraser), the only one on Matilda’s side is her teacher, Miss Honey, who calls herself pathetic for not being more effective at standing up to Miss Trunchbull and Matilda’s parents. Matilda, endowed with a sense of justice as deep as her intelligence, realizes that this is a battle she must fight for herself. (With a little help from her schoolmates.)
But nobody else is gonna put it right for me
Nobody but me is gonna change my story
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.
Three young girls alternate the role of Matilda in the Toronto production. We got Hannah Levinson, who was dang amazing, delivering each line with such clarity and perfect timing that you never doubted her sharp, mature mind. She also had a lovely singing voice.
With intermission, the play runs just over 2.5 hours. It moves along well, with none of the numbers seeming to drag—proving that Tim Minchin can write songs advocating intelligence, self-determination, justice, and education, without expletives in them. Much like the rest of his oeuvre, Matilda is often thought-provoking and moving—but still kind of fun!
What I remember of Footloose the movie is that a preacher in a small town has banned dancing. Kevin Bacon moves to that town, takes up with the minister’s daughter, and dances his way into convincing the town to lift the ban.
Footloose the Musical, which we saw at the St. Jacob’s Playhouse, was very well-done, but the sadness running through the whole piece was a surprise to me. If also in the movie, I had forgotten about the abandoning father, the dead son and brother, the silenced women. Those people really needed to dance!
Jean was mostly sad that a piece that we first saw as contemporary is now an item of nostalgia.
A 100-mile feast with 7000 km theme
It’s somewhat confusing that 100-mile dinner of local food has a theme of A Tour of Italy, a country 7169 km away (says Google). But that’s what the Waterloo Inn had an offer, as sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and in benefit of local physician recruitment.
It was the place to be if you wanted to network. We were there for the food, but gathered up various business cards nonetheless. We were encouraged to Tweet during dinner, and so I did, and as a real rarity, also acted as food “photographer.” (I did all five courses, but will stick to three here.)
The Importance of Being Earnest: Reliably entertaining
I’ve seen the play before, I’ve seen the movie, yet I didn’t hesitate when invited to the University of Waterloo production of this Oscar Wilde play—and not only because the tickets were free (for me, because I’m special :-). I never remember the story that well; just that I really enjoyed watching it play out! This production, in the newly renovated Humanities Theatre, was no exception.
More people need to go to Marisol
We dined there before the Swing concert, and it was lovely as always, but alarmingly quiet for a Friday night. More people need to find this place! We can’t keep losing the area’s best restaurants.
Some companies still have these. If yours doesn’t, I recommend marrying into one that does. It’s worked out for me.
Writers on music: Like dancing about architecture?
That’s the saying, eh, that writing is about music is like dancing about architecture. Well, the KW Symphony begs to differ, and recently had a concert featuring novelists Miriam Toews and Wayne Grady, whose recent books (All My Puny Sorrows and Emancipation Day) have musicians as main characters.
Each novelist got half of the program, in which they read from their work, had the symphony play a piece related to what they read, discussed music and writing with the conductor, then listened to a modern work by the symphony and read a response to that.
it was a fascinating evening. The symphony were “forced” into genres they don’t typically tackle—jazz and piano concertos (featuring a lovely soloist from Wilfrid Laurier), and I’m sure the novelists hadn’t been previously familiar with the work they commented on.