And When is This Free Thursday

Last Thursday I saw Vancouver Opera‘s free production of Stickboy tailored to high school students but performed for adults (under 35) at a wine reception. Jillian Christmas opened with a spoken word performance featuring two poems I’d heard at Vancouver Writers Fest.

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Wine and cheese: the lavender-streaked cheese that tasted of berries was best. (What was it?)

But first, I have updates on the hellish adventure that is VO customer service. As you may recall, the story began when a rep we shall call Doreen tried to get me to resubscribe to VO by being a bit of a thug. I complained at the next opera; someone told me to email; my email was ignored. In the next chapter, someone at VO saw that blog post and told me to contact them again; my email was ignored again.

Chapter 3: Someone at VO called to solicit donations. I summed up the above as refusal. She transferred me to her manager, who declared she’d look into this and get back to me for closure. Still no word a month later.

If there was any doubt about my tone here or on the phone, let me clarify that I find all this unprofessional and infuriating. I’m glad there’s nothing left in the season but a musical and the Orientalistastic Madama Butterfly, because screw VO.

 

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The stage

As for Stickboy, the music often weakens where it should affirm the words, and at times the piece is less opera than musical. The version we saw has a particularly small cast, which inspires clever stage setup and character changes, but again does not help the sound. The writer (Shane Koyczan) manages to portray the bullying experience among boys in a realistic and moving way, however. The most effective scenes are those that speak more universally of love, e.g. when the Boy and his grandmother pass each other notes under the door, and when the Boy graduates.

So, screw VO, but read about the good things they’re doing with Stickboy in schools.

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Hello, 2016?

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B-cat at the ballet

B-cat and I started 2016 doing what we didn’t do last New Year’s: heading out to sea. For some reason, the surrounding park closes at 5, so I probably shouldn’t discuss trespassing… We did have a scenic walk alongside a sewage pipe, or at least it would’ve been scenic if it weren’t too dark to even see our breaths in the freezing air. Didn’t make it to the pier by midnight, either, but the picnic by the water was lovely. We even counted down on an analog clock this time!

And the sewage smell was somewhat filtered out by our layers of scarves and mucous, too, thanks to the Christmas cold from B-cat’s little nephew and the flu from the waiter coughing on everything at Edo-Ya Sushi in Delta.

Other than that, I’ve only dragged myself outdoors a few times, like for the previously mentioned Ballet BC/Ballet Alberta Nutcracker. (I promise I didn’t cough on anything.) The tickets B-cats gave me for my birthday were for the best seats I’ve ever had at the ballet. I was right in front of the centre stage marker, close enough to see the lace detail on costumes, and just far enough to admire the dancer formations as a whole.

S, who met up with us there last-minute, thought the production was lacklustre. I think the stage looked bare with hardly more than two dancers on at a time, and part of the choreography made no sense (Drosselmeyer rode off in the Snow Queen’s sleigh, leaving her to walk alone to her palace, where they met up to drive back for Clara??), but the costumes were tasteful, the dancers had solid technique, and no one made mistakes as in Goh Ballet’s last production.

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We brought cough drops

B-cat’s family made this the best holiday season I’ve had, and this ballet evening out with B-cat still managed to be the best day of the season.

Now if I can get my beloved 10-year-old laptop repaired, I could be equally optimistic about the upcoming year!

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2006 Asus, shimmery white with silver edging, my love

My brother gave me this laptop after two years of use (and numerous drops, I might add), and I’ve been typing at high speeds, playing MMORPGs, Photoshopping ads for work, watching movies, and simply Internetting for long hours over the past eight years. This was the last of the Taiwanese-made Asus laptops. I suspect manufacturers who say laptops break down after two or three years are making excuses for their Chinese-made wares, but either way…

It’s the end of an era.

******

Ballet BC’s next performance is in March, by the way. March!

Fun Times with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (at UBC)

My programme and copy of the novel
My programme and copy of the novel

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is not a comedy — let’s just get that out of the way. UBC Theatre & Film’s production of the heavy Anne Bronte novel about truth, morality, and a woman’s place is extremely light-hearted. So light-hearted that some audience members are laughing during the dramatic, even tragic, scenes.

Adapted by Jacqueline Firkins and directed by Sarah Rodgers, this production at least surpasses Hollywood efforts by not dumbing the material down to a period romance. Though gone is Arthur’s actual, not just threatened, corruption of his son. Gone, too, are the pushiness and coarse temper that turned me off Gilbert Markham (and Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff); Francis Winter‘s Markham is charming as hell and the perfect country gentleman for a Victorian romance, if this were to be one.

Truer to the source material is Meegin Pye‘s Helen Graham, who has both the bearing of a martyr and the vulnerable air of a woman hesitant to accept a suitor. Her “winter rose” speech at the end made my eyes moisten and sent tears coursing down B-cat’s face.

With the exception of Mariam Barry’s Mrs. Markham, who sometimes speaks as if she knew she were in an English period piece but knew not what she was saying, the acting is excellent. And I’m saying this as someone who doesn’t like any of the characters in the novel.¬†Elizabeth Willow brings the shrill, petty Eliza Millward to life. I especially like Parmiss Sehat‘s portrayal of both weak, sympathetic Jane Wilson and cruel, lively Anabella. (She could do without the wig and we’d still easily tell the two women apart.) Matt Kennedy makes Helen’s brother a far more fleshed-out and likeable character than the original, too.

The stage
The stage

The scene changes look — aptly — like Victorian silhouette portraits against the simple, beautiful backdrop, beneath which a sloped platform neatly divides the indoors and the outside world. The set, like the lovely costumes, are Firkins’s design.

Tenant is an incredibly beautiful, well-acted play that’s probably more fun than it should be. It will be on until Oct .17.

At Least the Audience isn’t Fickle: Rigoletto with Vancouver Opera

Having told a polite rep at Vancouver Opera who is definitely not the hound from hell we shall call Lauraine that I’d see at least Rigoletto this season, I went. But I made sure to get cheap seats.

Photo op at the end of Rigoletto
Photo op at the end of Rigoletto

I was reading about Manon beforehand and of course confused Rigoletto with the five-act opera. (Hopefully, the nice people beside us didn’t hear me misleading B-cat…) It didn’t help that there was a looong pause in Act I, between the Duke’s party and Rigoletto’s (Gordon Hawkin) meeting with Sparafucile, for the set change.

The set does look more traditional and cumbersome than usual — it makes the stage look cramped but more interesting than a half-hearted modernisation, so I’m not complaining. Except about the tacky projection of red streaks on the walls as Rigoletto vows revenge.

Bruce Sledge as the Duke offers up the most beautiful sounds of the evening. Yes, “La donna e mobile” is first amusing and then devastating, but Sledge’s duet with Simone Osborne‘s Gilda, his brief lament at the opening of Act II, and his exchange with the couriers are wonderful, too.

Hi, nosebleeds!
Hi, nosebleeds!

No one shines in much of the first act, though Sledge warms up and Cameron McPhail’s Monterone is quite good when the orchestra isn’t playing over him. Osborne’s gesticulating doesn’t make her convincing as a cloistered young girl fearful of yet happy about first love, but she makes up for it in the painful scene before the stabbing. Oh, and she sings beautifully.

Similarly, Hawkins’s taunting has no bite and his “struggle” with the courtiers is the most awkward choreography ever. B-cat didn’t feel emotionally vested in the character the whole evening. Still, Hawkins’s shuffle in jester attire and shaky, half-controlled movements betraying worry for his daughter are a heartbreaking sight.

Rigoletto at Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Rigoletto at Queen Elizabeth Theatre

With the exception of Carolyn Sproule’s disturbing Maddalena, who looks more attracted to her brother than to the Duke — no sister would slide her hand up a brother’s inner thigh that way, ma’am — VO’s Rigoletto is a good piece of tragedy.

You’ve missed this one, but Vancouver Opera’s Dark Sisters begins Nov. 26, 2015.

An Accent for All Seasons

A Man of All Seasons set
A Man of All Seasons set

Friday was the opening night of United Players‘ production of A Man for All Seasons, the first of the season. B-cat and I easily found street parking and even front row seats, which made up for the long motorcycle ride to Jericho Arts Centre.

[spoiler/storytime]

A Man for All Seasons is a play about the power struggles and fall of Sir Thomas More in the reign of King Henry VIII. Holding godliness as the core of his being, Sir Thomas refuses — first with words, later silence — to support the monarch in acquiring a divorce, establishing a Church of England to do so, and then pronouncing Anne Boleyn queen. With his refusal, More clashes with a number of important men and, to a lesser extent, the women in his household.

[s/s]

The play is directed by William B. Davis, who plays Cancer Man on The X-Files, a fact which comes up twice in the programme and once before the performance. Personally I’m not into celebrities, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he’s Canadian.

Moving on.

Graham Bullen‘s More is believable as a learned man, loyal subject, and loving father, with all the charm of Sam Neill(‘s roles) and none of the sinister undertones. Towards the end, as his reasoning for remaining steadfast wears down to no more than his religious beliefs, it becomes hard not to feel a little irritated, to wish he would demonstrate a little more of this intelligence everyone including himself attributes to him.

But my issue is with the script, not the acting. All but one member of the cast deliver their lines in a perfectly natural, fluid way. Davis notes in the programme:

If we were to do this play as the English spoke in 1530 it would be unintelligible to a modern audience. I have elected to encourage the actors to speak with their own voices, be they English, South African or Canadian.

It sounds like most of them are going for English accents, whether the default stereotypical “posh” drawl of period pieces or Sarah Arnold’s (as Alice More) vaguely Cockney tongue. Their voices, clear and harmonious, never more like reciting than speaking, come together well.

The programme
The programme

The only exception is Angela Shaw’s Margaret More. Really, I love that she is a strong, educated woman. I in no way want women (or LGBT people, or ethnic minorities, or any persecuted group) to be quiet and take up less space. But loud and proud doesn’t really make sense for a young woman in Tudor England, and with a Canadian accent and loose bangs (?!) on top of it all, Shaw is a walking anachronism.

Still, I love her interaction with her father in All Seasons. I love James Gill’s Cromwell in spite… no, because of the twinge of plotting court eunuch he gives the character (think¬†Glenn Shadix in Demolition Man and Beetlejuice). And I love Keith Martin Gordey’s Duke of Norfolk with his gentle eyes and determined gait. When the background music, sweet yet frail, picked up during Norfolk’s scenes with More, egads if tears weren’t dripping off my wobbling chin.

I was ready to dislike Douglas Abel (More’s servant, a ferryman, Cardinal Wolsey, Narrator, etc.); I hate when the audience is expected to enjoy having a Fool-type character, usually an older man of course, hideously winking and grinning at them through the fourth wall. Abel proves to be unobtrusive, however, as he takes on not only multiple roles (with two distinguishable accents, tops) but rapid scene changes as well. More skillful at transitioning between roles is Chris Walters as both King Henry VIII and the morally weak, upwardly mobile Richard Rich. Who could help finding excuses for poor Rich, selfish as he is… as we all are?

The play is compact, intelligent (unlike the couple in the second row who laughed out loud at Shaw’s “You’re very gay”), and gripping without having to be a cheap modern remake. B-cat ranks Orphans higher, but I say this is the best play I’ve seen this year.

See A Man for All Seasons for the history. See it for the bromance. ‘Til Sept. 27.

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Oh, and the day before, I went to see MonkJunkie open for The Perms at Studio Records, a new venue downtown. More on that in a later post.