Yukon Trail

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Near Takhini River

You have died of dysentry.

I’ve just gotten back from the Yukon. My mother took me and my cousin J up to see the Aurora Borealis, and B-cat came along, too, for a distraction from being injured and cooped up with me in a basement.

I enjoyed going north in 2010 and am grateful to revisit the museums, huskies, outdoors, etc., but this has been a terribly stressful trip. The group dynamic is as follows:

  • My mother stops speaking English or eating meals whenever we go on trips (all three of which, excluding childhood ones, took place this year). She tries to dissuade me and J from eating, saying we’re too fat;
  • J is not fat. He is shy? grumpy? and only speaks to my mother when she speaks first and to me when the others aren’t around. He rarely talks to English speakers;
  • B-cat is an English speaker who makes occasional remarks to J and my mother, but mainly wants to chat up strangers;
  • I am the worst travel buddy.

 

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J and a Little Free Library by the half-frozen Yukon River

We do end up eating real food, but don’t see much of the Northern Lights through the clouds. During this time I’m still receiving rejection letters, an integral and awful part of writing fiction, and sending demand letters to Torquere Press, a publisher whose owners — Kristi Boulware-Talbot and Joanna Talbot — have now decided neither to pay its authors nor to return the rights to their work.

Then Trump talks to the president of Taiwan, and suddenly both pro-Trump and anti-Trump Americans are spouting strong opinions about Taiwan, whose very name confuses them because they’ve only skimmed through the Wiki:history article.

But I did see two red foxes, a dozen red squirrels, and a lot of nice people, so I guess this is just one of those trips that improve upon ending. If you like small, snowy towns, visit the Yukon — besides the lights, I recommend Mount McIntyre for the vigorous hike to the peak.

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J, me, and B-cat
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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.

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.

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.

Double Feature: Private Lives (Vancouver, BC) and Orphans (Spokane, WA)

I’ve been going to a good number of plays this year and I don’t know why. Theatre has always been my least favourite of the performing arts: it just seems like opera without the beautiful music, or ballet without the beautiful dancing.

It doesn’t help that Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach is so smug as “Western Canada’s largest annual Shakespeare festival” that it doesn’t mind putting on dull productions full of overactors set in time periods just “modern” enough to reduce costs for wardrobes and sets, summer after summer…

But I’m rambling.

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The stage, photographed from our private “balcony” seats

On St. Valentine’s Day, I took B-cat to see United Players of Vancouver‘s production of Private Lives. Written by Noel Coward, this comedy was touted to be “witty” and “wicked” and full of love and lust in the fairly low-budget ads, one of which was placed in the Bacchae 2.1 programme.

I chose this play over two others on Valentine’s evening for the charming retro illustration in the promo:

private_insetAmanda and Elyot, formerly wife and husband, run into each other while honeymooning in France with their respective new spouses. The two try to flee the hotel with said new spouses, but then, quickly overcoming initial ill will, flee with each other instead. The abandoned newlyweds pair up to pursue A and E, and… shenanigans ensue!

Although Amanda (Caitlin Clugston) delivers all her lines in a sing-song, over-the-top nasal way that grates on the ears at times, she and her Elyot (Ted Cole) make a believable and highly charming couple. Oh so sweet together they are, whether they’re so right or so wrong for each other — B-cat and I don’t agree on that last point and thus feel differently about the ending.

The story is also a bit thin, but the dialogue makes up for it, and the play is fast-paced and funny over all. Private Lives is the theatre equivalent of champagne (or sparkling cider if that’s your thing), and Valentine’s is the perfect time for it, even for tragedy lovers like me.

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A week after that, B-cat took me to Spokane, Washington (our first vacation in a foreign country, haha), where we caught Orphans at Spokane Civic Theatre.

It’s to the theatre’s credit that Orphans was the highlight of our trip, even if the border guard was loudly incredulous that anyone would visit such a small town (though I shouldn’t give much credit to the opinion of someone who works at the border yet cannot pronounce “spo-KAN”)… Wait, is this even a compliment anymore?

The theatre is divided into what appear to be a more professional side and a more “junior” (?) side, with the latter literally accessible by a small side door. The front lobby featured no signage for Orphans, but after much running about, we did manage to get on the waiting list and, an hour later, the pair of tickets we really should’ve purchased in advance — the play is more popular than I expected.

It is, without exaggeration, the best B-cat and I have seen together to date. Written by Lyle Kessler, it centres around two grown (physically but not emotionally) orphan brothers, Treat and Phillip, who are baited and jostled out of their sad, stagnated existences by Harold, a shady businessman and former orphan. The staging is small and intimate, making the acrobatics more impressive and the violence more startling.

My programme (and the most delicious lobby snacks)
My programme (and the most delicious lobby snacks)

Maxim Chumov plays Phillip, the trusting younger brother with the underdeveloped yet curious mind, so well that he is painful to watch. Jamie Flanery’s Harold is the father I wish I had (figuratively)… once I realised his sinister undertones didn’t hint at pedophilia. (Hey, B-cat suspected the same thing.) Billy Hultquist makes a great amateur thug and overprotective big brother as Treat, but doesn’t pull off a convincing enough transformation at the end.

At times I cringed at the sappiness, and wondered if the play, with its unflinching sentimentality, would’ve made it to Vancouver at all, let alone produce a roomful of tear-streaked faces. But then I reminded myself how tedious it could get when everything had to be experimental and ironic and hipstertastic, and I cried for the orphans with everyone else.

One of the actors told us they will be bringing Orphans on tour for a national competition after trimming it down to an hour in length. I couldn’t find further information, but if they happen to visit a city near you, and if you’re not too much of a hipster, do go see them.