Review: Berlin Waltz (Vancouver Fringe)

I loved Devon More’s preview to her one-woman show, Berlin Waltz, at the Fringe Opening Night, so I decided to see it.

I enjoyed many aspects of this work: the archival film playing in the background (particularly when I saw familiar frames), the xylophone, More’s energy, the sock puppets. Some parts were fascinating, like the conversations with Angelica, a native of the old East Germany, as reported and interpreted by More, who became a bartender when she went to Berlin a few years ago.

More conveys her fascination with the city, but most of the play is essentially a documentary about the Wall, and her bicycle trip along its old path. I’ve been to Berlin a couple times, have read lots about this subject, and was alive when the Wall came down, so not much of the documentary was new to me. On the other hand, speaking to a younger person, she was unaware of much of the history of the Wall, and she did learn from the play, but would have actually preferred a straight documentary rather than this impressionistic version.

Berlin itself as a decadent, dangerous, and intoxicating character is well-known from works like Cabaret, although that long precedes the Wall. More describes her fascination and intoxication with Berlin, which is what I would have liked to hear more about, rather than about the Wall itself.

It isn’t fair, but I couldn’t help but think about what wasn’t mentioned. For example, the Berlin airlifts when the Soviet Union blockaded the city, and David Bowie’s 1987 concert a the Wall. But there’s no way to mention everything about this complex subject. The attempts to link the Wall to contemporary current events were brief and facile; another play might be built with a more careful examination of that subject.

If you haven’t been to Berlin, maybe this play will encourage you to go.

Until September 18, at the Cultch Historic Theatre:

Review: Space Hippo (Vancouver Fringe)

I love the trend towards shadow puppetry. When combined with actual human actors, as is the case here, I like it all the more.

In Space Hippo, by the Mochinosha & The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company, the charming Daniel Wishes and Seri Yanai are narrators, characters, and puppet masters. Yanai speaks only in Japanese, but don’t worry–you’ll understand everything you need to know. I have a soft spot for multilingual theatre. Very few of us live in a monolingual world where we understand everything we hear around us, so it only makes sense that theatre might duplicate that experience.

The premise of the play is, as is par for the Fringe, whimsical and absurd, and I’ll let you learn it when you see it. But let’s assume for now that a hippo has been shot into space, and that the hippo has numerous adventures, and the hippo is highly significant and symbolic vis-a-vis life on earth.

This might be seen as a children’s production, but in fact is is 14+ due to violence.  The play has plenty to keep adults interested. The absurdity and cuteness might be too much for you, but I found it perfect for a Fringe production. Enjoying a 45-minute play that is radically different from any you have seen before is always worthwhile.

Until September 18:

Review: The Ballad of Frank Allen

The Fringe, whatever city you are in, is exactly the place to bring theatre productions that are wacky, zany, and perhaps incomprehensible. If you can make them witty and funny, all the better.

The Ballad of Frank Allen, by Weeping Spoon Productions, features two Australians, and although I have not worked out the equation, I have found that the odds of a production being wacky rise exponentially when the performers originate from the Antipodes. If you have seen “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, or read about Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels, then you might see some parallels to the story of an unfortunately and involuntarily shrunk janitor who now spends his life entangled in the beard of an erratically employed young man who loves to drink. Lots of comedic dialogue, physical comedy, and musical performances enliven the action.

Some plays can start to seem all the same. This will never be the case with The Ballad of Frank Allen. Never will you confuse it with another play. I admit that in the last third or so of the play, I started to lose track of what was happening. There’s a viral video, some science gone wrong, some threats. Pay closer attention than I did.

Until September 18:

Review– Widow: A Comedy

Many Fringe productions, understandably hampered by a low budget as well as the need to have an easily packable traveling kit, often skimp on the sets. I noticed immediately that Widow: A Comedy, by Instant Theatre Productions, has a reasonably convincing bar set up, complete with neon sign (Owen’s), and this setup adds significantly to the ambiance of the play.

Have you ever told a really stupid lie, and not known how to get out of it? Have you done anything embarrassingly wrong, and gotten caught? Even if you haven’t, you undoubtedly know someone who has. This play really gets to the inherent awkwardness of human relationships, and how easily they can go wrong.

The play relies on the old standard of a neighborhood bar full of regulars, a watchful and observant owner who doubles as bartender, and an intriguing visit from a stranger. The characters have good chemistry, and you can both cheer for them and wince at the same time.

Describing the plot would be too much of a spoiler, so just see for yourself, at the Havana.

Until September 18:

Want a teaser? Watch this YouTube video:

Review: Nerdf***er (Vancouver Fringe)

Cameryn Moore has a bold reputation as a Fringe artist. Five years ago, she brought Phone Whore to the Vancouver Fringe, and I’m still recovering from that.

Cameryn Moore is bold, large, and seems fearless. The other works I have seen from her, Phone Whore and Slut Revolution, seemed significantly autobiographical, so I was expecting Nerdf***er to be also. In the preview during Fringe opening night, she did an excerpt describing her love for nerdy or geeky boys which had started back in 7th grade, with a boy who enjoyed listening to Rush, reading Ayn Rand, and discussing that God was dead.

But Nerdf***er is not particularly a celebration of nerdy men, nor is it autobiographical in the same sense as Moore’s other works. When the play opens, her character is preparing to be a human chessboard, in anticipation of a game where two world-ranked players will move their pieces on a board painted on to her broad back.

Ultimately, this one-woman show is about how women are crushed both by the outside world and by their acquiescence to disrespectful and abusive behavior. Teenage girls have to give up on chess at the park when players start making crude sexual remarks. Women of a certain size are encouraged to be pathetically grateful for sexual attention, despite the unpleasant strings attached. Women are encouraged to support men who are creating, and doing, and orchestrating, but their abilities and talents are underrated and discarded.

I appreciate that Moore has moved into a vulnerable space with this work, compared to her others. I think women in particular will find it extremely relatable, and I hope others who attend will find it instructional and empathy-inducing.

Yes, there is nudity, so keep in mind the age limits.

At the Fringe until September 17:

Review: Charlatan! (at Vancouver Fringe until Sept. 18)

I heard one audience member say to another: “I’m going to attend this again as many times as I can”. She has the right idea.

This show plays with the idea of cold reading and mediumship. “I sense there’s someone in this room who has …” “I’m getting impressions of …”. Many intelligent, generally skeptical people are hooked by mediums and cold readers who claim to have psychic intuition or a direct connection to the dead. In this performance (it’s not a play), Travis Bernhardt leads the audience through a game. He is just as clever as any performer doing this “for real”, but even though he keeps the audience in on the game he’s playing, it’s still almost easy to start to fall for it. He uses techniques of suggestion and even hypnotism to make us susceptible.

Bernhardt has done many shows at the Fringe that rely on traditional magic techniques. He is also an accordionist (although I’ve never seen magic and accordion in the same show). This show is about neither. It’s a fascinating exploration into the mind of a potential charlatan, and into your own ability to fool yourself and respond to suggestions.

Until September 18:!/events

Vancouver Fringe Festival is happening! (Sept. 8-18)

I will be reviewing the plays I’ve seen so far in a short while. But let me just encourage you to start attending.

On September 8, I attended the very fun opening evening where several dozen lucky winners get to provide the audience a 2-minute preview of their shows. The pressure is on to be entertaining, poignant, dynamic, and beautiful. These actors succeeded handily.

My reviews for the shows that I have seen so far:

Now for shows I have not seen ….

It should go without saying that you must see any show featuring Jacques Lalonde. This year, he is doing the clearly original Trump: the Musical! And when he’s not performing, you can see the always affable Jacques running around Fringe venues, wearing a very distinctive wig. Jacques often sells out, so consider booking ahead.

Are you overwhelmed by the choices? That’s understandable. Consider not making any choices at all, except by location. For example, go hang out on Commercial Drive, and decide to hit the plays that work out most conveniently, at The Cultch or Havana or the Portuguese Club. Or head to the Firehall Arts Centre. Or, of course, head to Granville Island for a stunning set of choices. Speaking of the Portuguese Club, Festa! allows you to partake of the club’s excellent food while you are watching the performance. Portuguese buns are delicious, as is the wine, the cheese, the … everything.

You have many, many options. Be sure to peruse them at


Deja Vous concert, June 18, at Gold Saucer Studio

Gold Saucer Studio is a wonderful venue for musical endeavors. Situated in the historic Dominion Building, it is a collective space for independent musicians across Vancouver to gather and give performances. The performance room had a quaint, classic feeling, much like being invited into a drawing room of an older apartment, the experience having moreso of a feel by us sitting back on a spacious sofa, almost in darkness but for a few spot lamps focusing our attention to the duo at the front.

Dominion Building - 1908

(Photo credit: Bob_2006, Flickr)

Said duo were Cathy Fern Lewis, a soprano, and Marina Hasselberg on cello. Cathy is a teacher at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and a prolific musician, having produced and performed in shows across Canada for chamber music, dance, performance art and opera. Marina, hailing from Portugal, has played with a number of ensembles including being the Artistic Director of NOVO Ensemble. She is an avid enthusiast for new and baroque music.

The breadth of knowledge these performers brought to the performance was quite evident. Beginning with an adaptation Purcell’s Music For a While, the austere strains of cello rang out, in a solemn yet slightly melancholic manner, akin to the strains of a harpsichord. Such an approach was well-complimented by the ornamentation and slightly wistful, almost operatic intonation brought by voice.

Following this was Canto by Mark Hand, a Canadian composer living on Saltspring Island. Using a diminishing double echo loop for the cello, the quick passages played by the instrument gave the impression of reverberation around a cave, in an almost communicative manner. The voice, with its more straightforward delivery, was complimented and contrasted by the strings, giving at once a familiar feeling that was tempered by a strong natural sentiment.

The main feature of the evening’s offerings was Rudolf Komorous’ Cold Mountain Songs. Komorous, a Czech-born Canadian composer, was quite taken with the work of the Chinese poet Hanshan, a classicist who visited the eponymous mountains. Hanshan had three poetic periods, the most noteworthy being his transcendental, philosophical meditations composed during his sojourn at Cold Mountain. This expansive view of the world was captured in vignettes depicting small life events followed with self-reflection, which was captured in Komorous’ lyrics. Additionally, the cello takes on a number of quarter-tones and other unique uses of both the bow and of pizzicato, which adds a mystical quality to the music, almost like Scriabin at his most inscrutable. Such a set of pieces is very tricky to pull off, and Marina and Cathy performed this difficult portfolio with effortlessness, as well as the sensitivity to give a very private impression, almost as if the listener was the air travelling around the poet when he made his pilgrimage.

Another highlight of the evening was the premiere of Messages By Hand: A Collection of Postcards by Christopher Reiche. A suite of short pieces inspired by five vintage postcards he had acquired at a flea market, Cathy was to sing the messages on the postcards whilst Marina provided his musical interpretation of the setting. Short and sweet, the pieces conveyed drama, comedy, and even a locomotive feeling when it seemed that one had been writing her message from a train. Beautifully composed, it ended on a beautiful portrayal of Vancouver City Hall, which was of course, left blank on the back.

Sappho Fragments then followed. Composed of unused prose composed by Linda C. Smith, an arrangement was prepared by Marina and Cathy to suit cello and voice. The prose, initially intended to be set to music for a concert of contemporary pieces by women composers, combined beautifully with the musical setting. Rich and lush, voice and cello combined to invoke vivid imagery, giving an impression of the gardens that were originally intended to be construed in the performed concert.

From there followed a true garden piece, Garden Elegy by Jocelyn Pook. Perhaps best known for composing the soundtrack to Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut, Pook composed this piece during her earlier days. Inspired by The Kingis Quair, a poem written by James I of Scotland during his 18-year imprisonment, it is an intense reflection of the narrator who is trapped between philosophy and longing for a distant woman he spies outside his window. In this, Cathy and Marina bring the classical music strains to a united whole – with a more baroque bent, homage is paid to the early pieces of the concert. Vivid imagery is reflected upon in philosophical, somewhat distanced measure, much as it was through the main portion. And again, the performers bring the music and voice to life, drawing us in with a skillful, guiding hand, yet leaving us to reflect on the meaning each of us derived from such work.

The concert was brought to a close with a performance of Nature Boy arranged by Marina. Cathy’s rich voice, brought out in the long, meandering melodic passages, was well accented by the vitality of Marina’s playing. Almost with a mischievous feel, when the last strains played out, the thoughtfulness of the song seemed to fade, seemingly awakening us from the spell previously cast.

And to that, we sincerely hope to feel the magic another time!

Public Salon, May 4 (Global Civic Policy Society)

Sam Sullivan and his partner Lynn Zanatta continue to hold these public salons quarterly, and every time, they manage to find a new set of interesting British Columbians to feature.

The program for the May 4, 2016 one is listed here.

As I entered the auditorium, I was immediately drawn to the fusion music of Zimbabwean musician Kurai Blessing Mubaiwan and an Indian musician from the Bhangra Performers. The salons are always preceded by local musicians before the formal evening begins. It was an amazing combination of African and Indian music that worked terrifically well together.

Sam Sullivan introduced the program as always, pointing out that he does not ever set out to project a theme. But often themes emerge. He also mentioned his ongoing cause, revitalizing the trade language Chinook Jargon (also known as Chinook Wawa). British Columbia is a place with incredible linguistic diversity, but many Aboriginal languages face extinction. This is not just a BC problem, of course, as globalization is aimed straight at indigenous cultures. Write to to find out more. It’s always a pleasure to hear Sam talk about this linguistic passion–he truly cares about BC heritage and culture.



Among the talks I particularly enjoyed was one by Jocelyn Morlock, an increasingly well-known composer. In Western music, we are taught to think in terms of octaves and the chromatic scale. But with the lumiphone, there are 32 tones to an octave. This is a concept well-known in Indian music (here’s the serendipitous theme emerging). The lumiphone is a beautiful instrument, and I enjoyed the performance by Brian Nesselroad and Colin Van de Reep, playing a composition by Benton Roark.

Mo Dhaliwal combines an accomplished career as a tech entrepreneur with a sideline in performing bhangra. He promotes culture and opposes homogeneity. The striking colors, rhythm, and music of bhangra are inspiring.



Former nun Chris Morrissey left her religious vocation when she felt she could no longer deny her sexual orientation. But she has not given up her desire to serve others, as she has formed the Rainbow Refugee Committee to assist people who are living in oppressive environments who want the freedom to build a life with their same-gender partners, or who are simply suffering oppression due to their sexual orientation, their HIV status, or their gender identity.

As always at a Global Policy Civic Society salon, topics veered from humanitarian to cultural to scientific. Let’s hope Sam Sullivan and Lynn Zanatta continue this dinner party tradition writ large for a long time to come.

Review: Huff, Firehall Arts Centre until Feb. 6

First, buy your tickets now, as Huff has been selling out. This is another excellent PuSH Festival production.

Huff is about young boys dealing with solvent abuse, parental alcoholism, and various forms of abuse, on what seems to be an isolated northern reserve. Huff is visceral and raw and real. The audience participates, wittingly or not.

The playwright, and actor of this one-man show, Cliff Cardinal was born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, but his Canadian First Nations mother is Tantoo Cardinal, an acclaimed actor whom I saw several years ago in a Firehall production of God and the Indian. He stated in a CBC interview that he considers himself neither Canadian nor American, but “Indian”. Although I thought of this show in the context of the stories of the reserve at Davis Inlet, the place could also be Pine Ridge or any of a number of Canadian or American First Nations communities. Cardinal specifically decided to be generic with the placement.

cc(Cliff Cardinal in Huff – photo credit akipari)

In interviews, Cardinal is cagey about how much of the play represents personal experiences, or those of his friends or relatives. But the story and the characters ring true. In this story, you witness the death of youthful innocence. How can such terrible things happen? Why is life so difficult for so many? How can children be at once playful and joyful, but also recipients of so much torment? How can there be so much tragedy, but yet the play has so many humorous moments? Is Trickster evil? Cardinal is a youthful 30, but has written a play with incredible depth and nuance. Cardinal skillfully cycles through an incredible emotional range and 10 characters, with rapid switches between them.

The saddest aspect of this show was thinking about the news stories I have read (like this one about Davis Inlet) and the shows that I have seen which feature the suicides of young Aboriginal people. A couple years ago, I saw Night, another PuSH festival production, about a young Inuit girl’s suicide in the Arctic. I feel like I cannot bear to see another show on this subject without doing something about it.

In the truest sense of the word, the play’s main character, Wind, is a survivor. The play could have taken an utterly nihilistic approach, but hope remains.

Public Salon returns in 2016 (review from Jan. 27)

Sam Sullivan and his partner Lynn Zanatta keep hitting home runs with their public salons. They bring together a group of interesting people, each of whom is given 7 minutes to speak. The Jan. 27, 2016 edition (#24 in this continuing series) maintained the same standard that I have come to expect from these evenings.

Each salon begins with a musical group playing as people find their seats. This edition was fully booked, a credit to the interesting speakers and the networking possibilities available afterwards. This time the group was The Straight Jackets.

sj(Photo credit: John Gurcharan Nijjar)

Sam Sullivan as host is always good-humored and upbeat. He talked a bit about learning an indigenous language (the trade language Chinook Wawa), gave us a sample of what he has learned (the words rolled off his tongue quite fluently) and urged us to participate also.

The evening began with Brett Finlay, a microbiologist talking about how excessive hygiene may be causing the high incidence of allergies, asthma, and other disorders in current Western populations. If infants have certain bacteria in their microbiome at three months, they are unlikely to get asthma. But many factors, including Cesarean births and formula feeding (both of which can clearly be life-saving interventions), can hinder the growth of an ideal microbiome.

ed2(Photo credit: John Gurcharan Nijjar)

Next up was Kedrick James, who does what I call “stochastic poetry”. He uses randomness and remixes to create his poetry. From a data science and mathematical and computing point of view, I find the experiment to be fascinating. From a literary perspective, I longed for Keats and T.S. Eliot, or even David Bowie (who did indeed use Brian Eno’s suggestions to introduce randomness into his lyrics).

I guessed that Farzana Jaffer Jeraj might be related to Senator Jaffer, and I was right (the senator is her mother, and her mother was proudly tweeting during the session). Farzana is an author and coach, and as described by tweeter @drshimikang, “#lifehappens & what matters is how we manage it.”

Scott C. Jones talked about recovery from a stroke, and his delight when he could finally manage to read sentences again. He spoke of his appreciation for the bookstores around Pender and Richards, with which I wholeheartedly concur.

Everyone knows Bill Richardson from CBC. He talked of purchasing a house in tiny Holman, Manitoba, and the pleasures he is getting from country living. He was as witty and insightful as always.

Trevor Stokes spoke about his students in the alternative Streetfront program at Britannia Secondary School. Many of his students have taken up marathoning, with incredible results, and some of them attended the salon that night too. It is always a very special thing to see a teacher who is extremely proud of his students.

Eran Sudds was struck with postpartum depression after the birth of her son. She got the help she needed, and seeks to encourage other women to do the same.

Robert Sung operates Wok Around Chinatown food tours. He spoke with pride of his father, who helped build Canada while still not being allowed citizenship. As Chinatown is my neighborhood of choice, I am certain that his clients have no shortage of great places to visit.

Once again, Sam and Lynn brought together a group of eight local people with fascinating stories. Keep your eye out for the next one happening in a few months!



Review: The MotherF**ker with the Hat, Firehall until Jan. 30

Starting with the title, this play is upfront, immediate, and in your face. It’s very much a play about New Yorkers, several of them Puerto Ricans. It’s not about Wall Street, but about a small-time drug dealer, Jackie, who has just gotten out of prison and is trying to stay sober, get a job, and get on with his girlfriend.

Buy tickets:

The care and attention paid to the set really enhanced the show. Off to the side, a drummer plays. Drums are central to Puerto Rican music and dance (catch local musician and musicologist Sal Ferraras if you possibly can sometime) and this extra touch really enhances the feel of the play.

My fellow attendee and I were trying to figure out the time period in which the play is set. The musical references are 1970s, but the hair is 1980s. This was a time before rampant gentrification in New York for sure. The graffiti on the set reminded me of street art I saw in Bushwick last summer.


An almost offhand reference to Tony Orlando’s music dredged up a memory from the past. I remembered his heartwarming song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”, from my childhood, so I looked it up. Somehow as a child, I had missed the fact that the song is about someone returning to his girlfriend after being in prison three years, a storyline that echoes the play, as Jackie is returning home after being in prison for 26 months upstate.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon

Jackie starts the play with a triumph, as he has just landed a job, and brings gifts to Veronica to celebrate. Things quickly sour when he sees an unknown man’s hat on the table. Matters escalate from there.

The play, to a large extent, is about Alcoholics Anonymous. Ralph is Jackie’s sleazy sponsor, who has years of sobriety but uses his clarity of mind to hurt others. Jackie loves his sponsor as a personal hero. In a clip I found online, though, playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is clear that he is not attacking AA itself, which he believes to have saved the lives of many.

The play is breathtakingly funny thoughout, even if you feel a bit guilty for laughing at times.  Campy cousin Julio is alternately wise and ridiculous. Jackie’s girlfriend Veronica has striking moments of clearness while struggling with addiction. Ralph’s wife Victoria is beaten down, but remembers who she should be. Jackie is impulsive, but he has a clear sense of moral direction despite the life he has led. Ralph is the type of sleazy guy who can command loyalty and always surprises outsiders when they see that.

Stephen Lobo and Francisco Trujillo, credit Emily Cooper.jpg

(Stephen Logo as Jackie, and Francisco Trujillo as Julio. Photo credit: Emily Cooper)

All of the characters are struggling with addiction and how to make a life apart from addiction. Hope never dies, although the future may not look too rosy.

This play is described as a “verbal cage match”, and the pace never flags. It’s an intense 100 minutes. But I expect this might be the most riveting play I see this year, and it’s only January.

(Cover image photo credit: Dan Rizzuto)

Firehall Arts Centre 2016 begins with some harsh realities – The MotherF**ker with a Hat, and Huff

The Firehall has had some hard-hitting drama productions in the past few years. The recent “Social Studies” looked at the impact of bringing a war refugee in to live with a Canadian family. “God and the Indian” was an unsparing look at Aboriginal trauma resulting from residential schools, and the well-positioned people who created and enabled this trauma. Firehall is located in the midst of the Downtown East Side, and I’ve always appreciated how Firehall works with this milieu to reflect community concerns and realities (another example was “maladjusted”, which was packed by locals when I attended a few years ago).

So it’s fitting that the first two productions of 2016 continue this realistic approach. “The MotherF**ker with the Hat” looks at what happens to a recovering addict after he leaves prison, and it will not pull any punches. I’m looking forward to seeing this show next week. “The MotherF**ker with the Hat” starts with previews on January 16, 17, 19, and a matinee on January 20, before the opening on January 20 at 8 PM and continuing until January 30. You can see the cast in the picture below. Read more and buy tickets!


(Photo credit: Dan Rizzuto)

“Huff”, which is coming up at Firehall February 2-6, is a story of “solvent sniffing, suicide and sex abuse” (as described by CBC). Written by the Cree playwright Cliff Cardinal, it looks at the bleakness faced by children after their mother’s suicide. Find out more on the Firehall site.



Canada International Film and Television Festival Awards opening ceremony

A couple weeks ago on November 6, I was lucky enough to attend the opening ceremony for the 2nd annual Canada International Film and Television Festival, held November 6 to November 8, 2015. This was a kickoff for a couple days of deliberation, which culminated in the final awards ceremony.

Canadian Senator Yonah Martin attended, and presented one of the prizes. You can see more on her website. The winners are listed here. You can see the truly international aspect of the festival from winners such as the actor Mr. Debebe Retta, whom I believe to be Ethiopian.

This posh event, held at the Marriott hotel in Richmond, was a pleasant and elegant reprieve on that very wet, dark night. After the opening remarks (mostly in English, but also in Mandarin) from several distinguished participants, including the mayor of Richmond and several internationally known members of the film industry, we partook of the delicious and well-presented hors d’oeuvres (not to mention wine).

Actor Jill Jaress was one of the speakers, and she talked about how she had maintained a career for herself as she became older and was called less often. She took on directing, producing, and scriptwriting. Her largest production is 1 Nighter, a romantic comedy for which she directed, produced, wrote, and acted (co-starring with her real-life boyfriend and Golden Globe nominee Timothy Bottoms).

(Jill Jaress speaking at CIFTA. Photo credit Raymond Chou)

I cannot find a press release for the 2015 version of this event, but this one for the 2014 event is accurate in its description. “One of the main goals of this Festival is to establish an interactive platform for film enthusiasts from both Eastern and Western cultures, and to promote the advantages of the Vancouver film industry.”

Let’s step back a bit and think about films (and television shows too, but I did feel there was an emphasis on films at this presentation). In Vancouver, and in most vibrant, multicultural cities, hearing a mix of languages in a typical day is unremarkable. If you are not multilingual (I struggle to be bilingual myself), just ask someone you know from Malaysia, India, or the Netherlands how many languages he or she speaks–I’ll bet a minimum of four. But even given the reality of a mixed linguistic landscape, many times films try to be all one language or culture (which admittedly is appropriate in some cases, but definitely not all).  The mandate of this festival, which looks at films from all around the world, is to encourage multiculturalism in film. Multicultural does not have to mean multilingual, but in many cases it will. Indeed, I have seen that a number of films at the Vancouver International Film Festival do use several languages, as that is what makes sense when the story moves through different locations and cultures.

I’m looking forward to Year 3! Here are a couple more pictures (photo credit Raymond Chou).


Review: Agnes of God, PAL Theatre until Nov. 29

“Agnes of God” opens with a backdrop that clearly suggests a religious and austere setting, with a beauty and light that are quite striking.

Play information

The three women in this play are attired in contrasting clothing: Mother Miriam Ruth in a standard black nun’s garb, the psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone in a brown pants suit that exemplifies 1980s power-dressing, and the young novice Agnes, dressed in white robes that suggest her purity and innocence. The clean lines of the set and the wardrobe color palette are some details that really enhance the play.


Although I knew the play featured Agnes and the mysterious birth and death of a newborn, I did not know the details of the plot. You may have seen the 1980s-era film featuring Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda, and Meg Tilly, but I have not.

Agnes is a 21-year-old novice (meaning she is a relatively new resident who lives a nun’s life but has not yet taken her vows) with a mysterious past.

A ghastly scene involving Agnes on the ground, passed out from lack of blood, with a baby in the wastepaper basket under the bed, is described. Livingstone is the court-appointed psychiatrist with her own history of loss and trauma, who is far from a disinterested observer. Mother Miriam Ruth is not too interested in getting at the truth, and seeks desperately to stop the inquiries, but is she doing this to protect Agnes, or for some other reason?

As I was watching the play, I could not help but wonder what would happen now if a Mother Superior insisted on attending her novice’s psychiatric sessions, and if the psychiatrist freely shared what she had learned from Agnes with the Mother Superior. Rules were looser during the time the play was set in the 1980s, but I doubt this play should be taken as a legal guide in any event. According to Wikipedia, the play was inspired by a real-life case involving a 36-year-old nun with a somewhat similar story of concealed pregnancy.

All three women in the play have different experiences of femininity and womanhood, but all relate to womanhood through the prism of their Catholic upbringings, even when this has been discarded, as with Livingstone.

It’s hard to say much without spoilers, so I will stop here. But I will say that Annie Arbuckle, who plays Agnes, has a wonderfully lovely voice singing Latin songs. In contemplative orders, to which the nuns belong in this play, nuns often had choirs where their voices could be heard only from behind a screen. That may even still be true in a few places.

Whether or not you are a Catholic (I am not), the themes of this play are universal for anyone concerned with the plight of girls and women. The acting is compelling, and I was more drawn into the mystery than I expected.


A night at the salon: Global Civic Policy Salon, October 28

I liken the Global Civic Policy Salons to a tasting menu at a high-quality, innovative restaurant. Each course is well-prepared, and some are exactly to your taste, but the other courses are still intriguing and fun.

The salon follows a format of seven minutes per speaker. It is always astonishing how much can be said in that time with a well-prepared speaker.

At the October 28 salon, I was particularly taken by Alexander Weimann on the harpsichord. In seven minutes, he not only explained how and why he had moved to Canada, and eventually Vancouver, in his dual roles with Early Music Vancouver and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, but performed a couple of beautiful pieces on a lovely harpsichord. I am constantly encouraging people to take advantage of the great cultural opportunities Vancouver offers, rather than pining and complaining about what it does not. The music that Weimann brings to Vancouver is top-quality, and we are very lucky to have his talent in our city. I strongly recommend you look up the Early Music Vancouver schedule and attend a concert.

2015-10 Public Salon-10

Sam Sullivan, who with his partner Lynn Zanatta, pioneered this salon format which originated from personal dinner parties they gave, said that he specifically tries to avoid themes when selecting speakers, but that themes always emerge. That phenomenon was clear when we heard both from Judy Graves, a tireless and well-spoken advocate for the homeless in Vancouver, and from Bob Rennie, better known as “the condo king”. Graves reminded us how the homeless crisis has mushroomed, how we never used to see homeless people hanging around downtown, because just about everyone, save for a very few, could somehow find some room somewhere. Things have changed fundamentally, for various reasons. She urged us to consider the plight of a homeless person stuck in the rain, with wet socks and shoes. The average homeless person loses 20-30 years of life expectancy. Graves often tried to find shelter spots for homeless people, and did not always succeed. For such a complex subject in seven minutes, Graves masterfully led us through the current situation, how it got this way, and what the consequences are.


In a way, I thought Bob Rennie was brave to speak after Graves, knowing that many people blame him for the current high prices of real estate in Vancouver, and see him as an evil force of gentrification, which I consider to be a gross oversimplification. But Rennie did not mention that, nor talk about condos. Rennie was there to talk about the art he has collected, including some explosive American photographic images that make very serious points about gun violence. Rennie has a public art gallery in the Wing Sang building (which he has renovated), and is Chair of the Tate North American Acquisitions Committee (have you ever been to the Tate Modern in London — if not, go!).

Another speaker, Daniel Kalla, focused on how to have a dual career, in his case as an emergency-room physician and as a fiction author (it’s interesting that Rennie also has a dual career of sorts as an art collector and condo developer). The key, as one might expect, is not to waste time on frivolous pursuits. Kalla claims to be lazy, but his literary output suggests otherwise. It is true that emergency room physicians do have the benefit of strictly defined shifts, but that just means they have what approximates to a 40-hour work week. I am always trying to balance my cultural pursuits with my need to stay current in my technical field (which I also really enjoy), so I can relate somewhat.

Corey Ashworth talked about his campaign to help LGBT seniors who have been forced by circumstances to go back into the closet. How can this be, in 2015? Sometimes they have to rely on people who are not accepting of who they are. Take a look at Ashworth’s March Sweater Project:

Nicole Bridger spoke about the importance of fashion with a conscience, and the sadness of recently closing her Vancouver factory, although she hopes to develop some other approaches to this problem. Kevin Chong sounds like a very interesting author, and Dale McClanaghan offered us the promise of a Granville Island with a lot more creative spaces, once Emily Carr University makes the move to east Vancouver.

For the $20 ticket price, you will rarely find such a stimulating and diverse set of ideas in one evening. Not to mention, the evening started with the folk duo “No Mothers” playing some fun music. Sign up so you can be sure of finding out about the next salon in a few months time.

Review: The Incomplete Folksinger (Firehall Theatre, until November 14)

A skilled actor can sustain an illusion, and make us believe. That’s what I found compelling about Mark Hellman’s one-man show where he plays Pete Seeger, complete with banjo and guitar and his own voice. When Hellman came back on the stage for a Q&A after the show, it was clear just how well he had sustained the illusion. I could hear and see Seeger in Hellman’s performance (I have seen many Seeger performances on YouTube and elsewhere), but with Hellman on the stage as himself, it was clear just how remarkable a transformation it was.

Event information

The show takes us through Seeger narrating his life, using material from Seeger’s 1972 600-page biography, The Incompleat Folksinger.  Seeger died in 2014 at the age of 94, so this book is still far from the complete story of Seeger’s life.

As a huge Pete Seeger and folk music fan, I loved this show. But my companion, whose tastes are somewhat different, still enjoyed the show as well. The play is not just about Pete Seeger, but about politics, folk music preservation, fascinating events in American history, and finding the courage to constantly be fighting for what you think is right.

Seeger started his career as a would-be journalist during the Great Depression, and could not help but notice all of the suffering. Soon he met Guthrie, perhaps his most influential collaborator. It was Guthrie who got Seeger out to explore the width and breadth of America, starting with a car Guthrie had not yet paid for, and continuing with riding the freight trains. In the aftermath of a 1949 concert with African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson, Seeger and his family were the victims of an orchestrated Ku Klux Klan attack where stones were hurled at his vehicle as they attempted to drive away.

Seeger was threatened many times for his political activism. He was in Mississippi when the bodies of three civil-rights workers were found in 1963. He was continually being prevented from appearing on television, although sometimes succeeding too. The infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) tried to force Seeger to incriminate his friends. He waged a difficult legal battle, and fought criminal charges for refusing to speak, but ultimately prevailed. What Hellman did not dwell on, and what might be Seeger’s greatest error, was his initial support of Stalin, which lasted over a period of years, and was eventually admitted by Seeger to be an error.

All through this, Hellman would take up the banjo or guitar as appropriate, and sing another Pete Seeger song, or a song that Seeger had popularized. One of my favorites is “Lonesome Valley” (which a little online research indicates is a gospel song that predated both Seeger and Guthrie), but was popularized by both. I don’t have a video of Hellman, but here is Seeger singing it with Woody Guthrie’s son, Arlo:

The Q&A was fun. Hellman discussed the difficult process of winnowing down the 600-page autobiography to a single night’s performance. Hellman said there was more than enough material for another show. An audience member pointed out that Bob Dylan was omitted, as well as the notorious electric guitar controversy at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, but as Hellman pointed out, the book only discussed Dylan as a songwriter, and thus, to winnow the material down, the decision was made to exclude him.

I asked about when Seeger started singing Spanish-language songs. Seeger is well-known for his Guantanamera and De Colores covers, but I was unaware that Seeger’s love for Spanish-language music included a love of Spanish Civil War songs. I researched a bit, and found a 1940s-era album featuring Seeger and other folk singers, titled Songs of the Spanish Civil War: Volume 1.

Here is Pete Seeger singing one of these songs in 1993 (with translations provided by his singer grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who I have been fortunate enough to see perform in both New York and the Vancouver Folk Festival):

Pete Seeger did not seek out fame or fortune. He lived modestly, in a home he had built himself. Even into his 90s, he continued his political activism, through song and otherwise. Among the things I find interesting about Pete Seeger is how he combined his own creative genius with those of so many who came before and after him, and how he worked with others on the causes he found so important, including cleaning up the Hudson River.

“Getting Under Their Skins”, lecture by Sarah Dunant, Vancouver Writers Festival (October 25)

I had heard Sarah Dunant speak as part of a panel at a Vancouver Writers Festival event a year or so ago. I always harbor hopes (I know I need an actual plan) of writing a historical novel, so I was particularly intrigued by the description of this session, which promised to tell about how Dunant had done her research for her novels based in Renaissance Italy.

I was unprepared for how wonderful a lecture this was. This article describes what is undoubtedly a very similar version given in 2014.

The moderator introduced Dunant as someone who strives to make complex information understandable. What a perfect description of a communicator, and every technical writer (like me) can recognize that concept. Dunant’s career arc began with a history degree at Cambridge, followed by a brief career as a BBC producer, before she later started writing crime novels and then historical fiction (so far based in Renaissance Italy).

The lecture began with Dunant’s 2000 visit to Florence with two preteen daughters in tow. Her efforts to excite her daughters, not necessarily enamored with Renaissance history, led her to look for the women. With the aid of numerous images of magnificent Renaissance art, we see how men, as living human beings, are brought to the forefront of religious scenes, which are imbued with the character of Renaissance Florence. Medici family members appear in a painting of the adoration of the Magi. Religious scenes occur in Florentian palazzos. But what about women? First we see Madonnas, beautiful, increasingly more realistic, but still dreamy, ethereal, and disengaged from the viewer. The increased acceptance of secularism leads to magnificent paintings of mythological figures, but Botticelli’s Venus is as dreamy and disengaged as any preceding Madonna.

But consider The Venus of Urbino, by Titian, a famed Venetian painter, in 1538. This woman looks at the viewer directly. Stepping outside the lecture for the rest of the paragraph: Note that the Khan Academy exposition claims the woman is unknown, while Wikipedia claims it is the courtesan Angela del Moro. The Uffizi website (the painting is on display at the Uffizi in Florence) does not state who she might be, but describes the painting as meant to be an instructive gift from the Duke of Urbino to the Duke’s new and very young bride.

Tiziano - Venere di Urbino - Google Art Project.jpg
Tiziano – Venere di Urbino – Google Art Project” by TitianbQGS8pnP5vr2Jg at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

In any event, Sarah Dunant saw this woman, believed to be Titian’s courtesan companion by at least some experts, as the inspiration for her novel In the Company of the Courtesan. Dunant expounded on the economics and power structures of Venice, and how the oligarchic power structure meant that at least half the “well-bred” women in Venice had no choice but to accept being sequestered in convents, as there would be too many descendants and claimants to power otherwise, and dowries had become very expensive. But this also meant that there needed to be a class of women to satisfy the unmarried upper-middle-class gentry and upper-class noblemen. These courtesans were expected to be beautiful and educated, and often kept their own houses with exotic pets (including parrots who could swear in Latin). Among some courtesans’ accessories were dwarfs, who served as jesters. Dunant saw the image of a clearly perceptive dwarf in one of the paintings of Renaissance Venice, and was inspired to make him the narrator for “In the Company of the Courtesan”. If the courtesan herself had been the narrator, she would inevitably have been quite unsympathetic.

So back to the young women who were led to convents, for one reason or another, including disfigurement by smallpox or other deformities, a desire to preserve a larger dowry for another sister, or simple inconvenience caused to their families. These women are the subject of Dunant’s novel Sacred Hearts. Any upper-class or upper-middle-class woman would lead a sequestered life, whether she was confined in her home, or confined in a convent. Was the convent necessarily worse? Certainly there was violence and drama and suicide. But there was learning and art and perhaps safety. Nuns were playwrights, and enacted theatrical works for each other. Their works were distributed clandestinely among convents. They were painters and musicians and scholars.

I have skipped over the Borgia portion of the lecture, although it was no less well-done. Dunant pointed out several times that history does not need to be the progression of kings, wars, and treaties that those of us over 40 undoubtedly learned in school. History is a reflection of the questions we ask of the past. If we seek historical sources like the wills of courtesans, the ledgers of convents, and so forth, we can learn more than we expect.


Attending this lecture today was coincidental to the news that a wonderful history professor Lisa Jardine has died today, and her publisher has made her latest work, “Temptations in the Archives”, freely available. This book focuses on Dutch culture from the late 1500s, but I wanted to point out the book link nonetheless. “Temptation in the Archives is a collection of essays by Lisa Jardine, that takes readers on a journey through the Dutch Golden Age.”

Dance Centre brings you the world through dance, and Unwrapping Culture October 15-17

First, take a look at the BC Dance Calendar. Start with “Gravity and Other Myths”, from Australia and playing at the York Theatre starting tomorrow (October 13). There’s Karen Flamenco, Dances for a Small Stage, and many more.

For classes and workshops at the Dance Centre, take a look here.

One production that I am particularly looking forward to is Unwrapping Culture, October 15-17 at the Dance Centre, presented by Co. Erasga (Vancouver) | Pichet Klunchun Dance Company (Thailand). In July, I saw Filipino-Canadian dancer Alvin Erasga Tolentino performing at Dancing on the Edge Festival, and that alone makes me want to attend. As described:

Unwrapping Culture brings together two exceptional male artists: Filipino-Canadian Alvin Erasga Tolentino, whose sophisticated works reflect on personal and cultural identity, and Pichet Klunchun, an outstanding exponent of the Thai classical dance style of Khon, who is known internationally for contemporizing this ancient form. Their first collaboration combines the technique, theatricality and storytelling elements of Khon with the paraphernalia of today’s rampant materialism to create a devastating critique of the corruption of authentic Thai culture by the forces of commercialization, in a passionate and bitingly funny piece which immerses us in the conflict between traditional and modern.

I have certainly heard from visitors to Thailand about the forces of commercialization. I’ll be there Thursday and I’m eagerly anticipating it.

Review: Annapurna (until October 10, PAL Studio Theatre)

Buy tickets for Annapurna

Annapurna grabs your attention from the moment you sit down and look at the set, a ramshackle 1970s-era trailer, although the play is set in the present. My attention did not waver. The play’s crackling tension keeps you engaged throughout.

We can all relate to wanting, even fantasizing about, a conclusive conversation that puts to rest all sorts of ugly, lingering,unresolved matters with an ex-partner. That is the reality that Ulysses, an ex-professor on disability with emphysema and living in rural Colorado, and Emma, his ex-wife who ran from their marriage with their son in tow, enact when Emma pops in without warning to Ulysses’s disorderly trailer living room. The way that they converse with each other and act towards each other is fascinating to me. Twenty years can pass, and some things do not change, even if everything else does.

Annapurna PAL Studio Theatre, Christy Webb, Director, September 2015 (photo credit Anne Marie Slater)

Annapurna PAL Studio Theatre, Christy Webb, Director, September 2015 (photo credit Anne Marie Slater)

Annapurna is both a beautiful and deadly mountain (actually a set of mountains), and a Hindu mother goddess of the harvest. Looking at the Wikipedia page in advance might enhance your appreciation of the title and its significance in this play.

Emma wants to make everything appear nice and good. She remains insistent that their son should never know the truth. Although Emma is eminently easy to sympathize with, and has made some difficult choices to improve her life and that of her son, ultimately she represents co-dependence, although such a characterization is insufficiently complex, What does it mean to forgive–a question I frequently ponder?

We all live with the inherent tension that someone we love can be both horrible and lovable, sometimes a monster but more often not. Any number of human beings demonstrate daily that you can be a masterful poet, artist, musician, or philanthropist, and yet abusive to one’s family. The good and evil do not cancel out, and denying either is not helpful. It’s hard to accept this complex conundrum.

This play is a splendid combination of a great set (I often overlook sets, but it’s so important here), terrific acting by two mature actors ( Daryl Shuttleworth and Lucia Frangione), and a demanding, nuanced script (this is one that particularly depends on the quality of the acting to reveal the internal drama of the characters). Despite the deadly seriousness, though, the play has many funny moments. Tragedy coexists with humor in real life, and it does in this play also.

Review: The Inventor of All Things (Revue Stage, until September 20) – Vancouver Fringe

Tickets here

For those who don’t know me, I am somewhat geeky (a few might use an adverb other than “somewhat”). So when I read about this play, about the physicist Leo Szilard, and saw that it was going to be performed by veteran spoken-word artist and storyteller Jem Rolls, I was particularly excited.

What can I say? I was thrilled by this show. It cannot be called a play, but more like the most exciting lecture you’ve ever had. Except that “lecture” does not convey the sense of suspense, drama, fear, and delight that will result from attending.

I have read the biographies of various physicists, including of course Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, but Leo Szilard barely registered to me. I certainly did not know that he was the first person to envision how a nuclear bomb could work. I had heard of Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt, but I did not know that Szilard drafted it.

Are you worried that the physics discussions will go over your head? No equation enters the play at any point. This play is a model of clear communication for laypeople. Plus, there is a lot more than physics to this work–politics (both international and internecine), personal antipathies, and romance are all part of the story too. Jem Rolls did a huge amount of research (I was jealous when he talked of visiting the Bodleian Library in Oxford) to make this all come together, and it does, magnificently.

This performance is hard to describe without summarizing it, and the best way to find out what it’s about is to see it. Jem Rolls frequently has sell-out performances at the Fringe, so buy your tickets quickly.

Want to learn more about Szilard and his cohort of Hungarians who changed the face of modern science? Wikipedia has a lot, but this book looks really good: The Martians of Science.

Clustering Vancouver Fringe shows by theme

Vancouver Fringe shows

My organizational self keeps wanting to group Vancouver Fringe plays, although generally they are completely unrelated. Because Fringe plays are chosen by lottery, any overarching themes are coincidental. But that does not stop me.

The Inventor of All Things and The Exclusion Zone both feature nuclear physics. The Inventor of All Things is about the quirky and unbelievably brilliant Leo Szilard, who should be as well-known as Einstein, but somehow isn’t. Featuring noted performer Jem Rolls, I expect this will sell out soon. The Exclusion Zone is about the Chernobyl disaster, and features Fringe favorite Martin Dockery. Starstuff: Per Aspera Ad Astra has physics embedded in it too, but not specifically nuclear physics.

Spilling Family Secrets and Fire in the Meth Lab are about exposing the secrets of one’s family–and about oneself. Self-revelation and self-exploration is a common Fringe theme–a huge percentage have some aspect of this, in part because the Fringe setup is perfectly suited to one-person shows. Going On and Brain are two examples of plays that explore and reveal the self.

Magic, dance, vaudeville add fun and are a nice break from serious dramas. The New Conformity uses juggling and dance and martial arts, and Vaudevillain uses magic and vaudeville. Bear Dreams features dance and music.

These are just a few examples of some pervasive themes. I know there are many more. Have fun reading the catalogue (available at Blenz and at each venue, or just read the listings on your phone.

Review: Fire in the Meth Lab (Waterfront Theatre, until September 20)


Saturday night, I had time to see a show around 9:45 on Granville Island, and I had a pick of three. I texted the names to a friend, who told me (knowing nothing other than the titles) to pick “Fire in the Meth Lab”. Well, it had been a long day, and it turned out Waterfront Theatre was also the closest. So away I went.

I ended up being stunned by the humor, pathos, tragedy, and possibly redemption in this true family story of the impacts of addiction and bullying. Jon Bennett, the performer, is very engaging and interactive in this one-man show, which went about 75 minutes when I attended (a bit longer than the average Fringe show). He is Australian, and of course a good part of the humor arises from Australia-based jokes.

It’s a truism that many actors work out traumas by performing, and there’s no doubt that Jon Bennett does achieve some catharsis with this play. Bennett’s family, although very religious, is not portrayed as abusive, but the behavior of one son, out of four brothers, casts a huge shadow.

Bennett’s brother, given the name of “Tim” in this show (a disclaimer says the stories are true, but names are changed), comes across as inherently malevolent. Although no one wants to think this can be true of children, Bennett’s stories certainly suggest someone who was evil from the time he could reason–except for a couple of things.

Bennett throws in Australian cultural references, like 80s heart-throb Jason Donovan (it seems North America missed hearing about him), and to the Australian version of highly religious child Bible camps. It’s easy to fall into the misconception that Australia is pretty much like Canada, but hotter, but I think not.

Heavy and funny and both at once, go see Fire in the Meth Lab.

Review: Starstuff: Per Aspera Ad Astra (at the Cultch until September 20)

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“Per Aspera Ad Astra” means “Through hardships to the stars”. What I did not realize is that this phrase references a 1981 Soviet science fiction film (although while I was watching I kept on thinking that this play reminded me of the Russian science fiction that I had read) .

This play moves and weaves among multiple storylines, with an astronaut communicating with Ground Control, a pregnant couple, an adolescent hanging out in his room not responding to his mother.

When Ground Control (played by Pedro Chamale) says “Ground Control to Tom Molinsky”, I felt pretty sure that this is an allusion to David Bowie’s Space Oddity (“Ground Control to Major Tom”), which for me is an incredibly compelling song (and I will take this excuse to reference it).

Fringe constraints necessarily tend to produce sparse sets. In this case, the sparse set is fully evocative. The would-be parents hold a sheet of plywood between them to make a convincing table in a diner.

Like many current plays, this one incorporates a screen with text behind the characters. I was perhaps a bit too distracted at times, but information like the names of the people who died in various space disasters was oddly compelling, as I thought back about who I did and did not remember.

As I watched the show, I had what may be an atypical response, as I kept wanting to remember how to calculate escape velocity (I could remember learning about it, but not how to do it), and with that and the screen information I was a bit distracted at times. In order to escape the orbit of the earth, the rocket must reach a velocity that prevents earth’s gravity from pulling it back. You don’t need to know, but Wikipedia did tell me. If you need an excuse to read up on space exploration, this show provides it. But pay attention during the show.

The most lovely part of the play is the parallels drawn between space exploration and the astronaut in the comfort of his space capsule,and the fetus in the womb, and the adolescent struggling to become an adult free of his parents. All must leave their comfortable if cramped environments, and these environments can become unsafe at any moment. Life is perilous, and precious and never to be taken for granted.

The play has many cross-references and allusions, and I suspect I would get even more out of it with another viewing. But go and pay close attention. With the group I attended, we all saw different details and learned a lot from discussing it.

Review: Spilling Family Secrets (Havana, until September 20) Vancouver Fringe

I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that Susan Freedman’s Spilling Family Secrets is not a dark tale of horrific family dysfunction. It’s quite the opposite. There are lots of secrets, hardships, and triumphs, and huge amounts of love and character.

The preview that I saw at Fringe-For-All, a show at the start of Vancouver Fringe where actors from dozens of shows get two minutes to persuade the audience to see their work, hooked me. Susan and her friend Anita Ruth find a treasure trove of love letters between Susan’s parents, written from 1927-1937. Their giggly fun is quickly and harshly interrupted by Susan’s mother, and the secrets hidden in those letters remain hidden from the children for another 40 years or so.

Ultimately, Susan’s mother bestows the letters on Susan, and 2.5 years after her mother’s death, Susan finally begins to read them with her mother’s blessing and no fear of interruption. The parents’ relationship was exceptionally long, and almost devoid of fighting or tension. How is it that some couples are able to manage marriage so well? Susan does not answer that question, but she was frank in discussing how this expectation did not work out for her. Every thing that Sam and Brownie (Susan’s parents) experienced, such as poverty and family opposition, is common to many couples, and many relationships crumble under those intense stresses. Susan does point out the wisdom of her mother (somewhat forced by circumstances) in ensuring that her would-be husband did indeed truly care about her, because it was so many years, during the Great Depression, before they were able to finally establish themselves as a family.

The immigrant narratives of Susan’s parents and extended family are very interesting as well. Do we still live in a country where the son of a rag-and-junk man can become the Chief Justice of the Manitoba Court of Appeals (like Samuel Freedman, Susan’s father, did)? Can you envision the excitement of a honeymoon trip to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota?

Susan crafts a compelling narrative from the letters, while giving the audience an interesting portrayal of her own life in the shadow of her parents’ perfect marriage. If relationships interest you, if you like gossip, if you enjoy memoir–go!

Review: The Traveller (at Havana Restaurant Theatre until September 20)

Ulysses, the Ancient Mariner, and many other figures in literature represent the wise, grizzled traveller who returns and reports the terrible, the fantastical, and the unimaginable. A young protegé lacking in experience listens to the old traveller, but ultimately must make these discoveries for himself–and that is the story of the Traveller, playing at the Havana Theatre as part of Vancouver Fringe. Jung uncovered the archetypes of the Traveller (like Ulysses who returns) and the Eternal Wanderer (the one who cannot return, like Cain).

These classical archetypes pervade the Traveller. Imagine a story, partly sung and partly narrated, accompanied by The Traveller intermittently playing his guitar and mouth organ. Max Kashetsky plays the role of The Traveller who has been advised by an elder traveller, only to find himself gaining experience and knowledge he had not bargained for nor wished for. As travellers, want to see new things, exciting things, things that shake us out of our humdrum existences–but what happens when we do?

For me, the play brought up some questions and considerations. Do we shed our identities when we travel, like The Traveller says we do? I’m inclined to say that in the past, perhaps we did. But now, that is much harder to do in a hyper-connected universe. I am not someone with a blank slate when I meet someone when I travel–he or she can look me up on Facebook or Google in a moment (and we do–connections made while traveling need not be ephemeral anymore, and often they are not). There’s a perhaps related phenomenon where long-distance travel can feel just like I took a somewhat inconvenient bus trip–literally it can be just as fast for me to fly to Mexico City as it is to get to Hope without a car, and I would actually feel more at ease in Mexico City, because of familiarity. What feels like home and what feels like a neighborhood is not anchored in physical space.

I am drawn to this play for a multitude of reasons, being a frequent traveler, someone who loves visiting Latin America, and having a strong interest in the philosophy of what it means to travel or be at home. We navigate vast distances and endure numerous hardships, but ultimately living with the results can be the most challenging of all.

Review: Going On (with Elizabeth Richardson, at Studio 1398 until September 20)

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I love theatre wherever I see it. I love seeing elementary-school kids and high-school students, community theatre productions, old plays, new plays, all of it. But, I have to admit, when I see theatre in London I certainly enjoy the polished talent and perfect productions at places like Royal National Theatre and Donmar Warehouse. So it is really a treat to see Elizabeth Richardson, a Canadian actor with London training and experience who matches precisely what I expect from a London stage actor, performing at Studio 1398 on Granville Island. We are lucky!


(photo credit Kat Wahamaa)

Richardson is telling a story about her life that she is very keen to tell. She draws from her early acting experiences and from recent heartwrenching personal and family dramas that are all too real.

With a Fringe show, Richardson has the power to create her own world, her own script, and choose her own director,a privilege often denied to women in theatre and performing arts, particularly women over a certain age.

I wondered about Richardson’s decision to enter a Buddhist retreat for a lengthy stay, where the general theme was monasticism. Richardson does not beat us over the head with an explanation, but conversationally explains her choices.


(photo credit Kat Wahamaa)

Richardson manages the chronology nicely, moving back and forth between her young-adult self and her current self, between her mother, herself, and other characters. Richardson is a good impersonator–go and see for yourself!

I found Richardson’s story compelling, and could hardly believe the showtime had elapsed when the lights came up. If you have ever had a life crisis, dealt with an ailing parent, wondered what to do with your life, or wanted to get away from it all, you will find this work very relatable.

Two Vancouver Fringe selections: The Traveller, Going On

Vancouver Fringe is just about here (September 10-20). Come out and get to some shows–it is really one of the most fun festivals you can go to in Vancouver. If you are unsure what to attend, start with the very fun Georgia Straight Fringe-For-All where various Fringe performers give a two-minute preview. Try to hit the 1/2-price shows if you are worried about committing the full ticket price. Buy a 10-ticket Frequent Fringer pass if you still can. If both of the shows here sound too serious, there’s always Quack Quack Penis and many, many others.

Both The Traveller and Going On have intriguing storylines and themes of travel and self-discovery as well. As someone who loves to travel incessantly, I am drawn to both of them.

The Traveller is a one-man show featuring Vancouver actor and musician Max Kashetsky, at The Havana (which is a great venue, and may be easier to get to than Granville Island for a lot of people).

The Traveller show times:

Be careful what you look for, you just might find it. The Traveller is a stark, gripping, poetic morality tale about the dark side of travel, one young man’s memories of Central America and how far he went to find something real. Written by avid backpacker/playwright Daniel Morton and directed by film industry veteran Cecilia Davis.

Daniel Morton wrote El Centro which was featured in the Fringe last year. I have been told that there are some echoes of El Centro in The Traveller, but they are two very different works. I am really looking forward to seeing this.

Going On is acclaimed actor Elizabeth Richardson’s memoir, and she presents it as a one-woman show. Show times at Studio 1398 at Granville Island:

Drawing from her own life, Richardson counterpoints her adventures as a young actress on a famous theatre tour with Peter O’Toole in Toronto, Chicago and Washington with her later challenges as a Buddhist on a three-year meditation retreat in Nova Scotia. All is seen through the eyes of a dozen characters played by Richardson, including Peter O’Toole and classic characters from Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Noel Coward’s Present Laughter. Richardson navigates the razor edge of funny and poignant, in this compelling, raw and hilarious account of the paradoxical life of a Buddhist actress.

Annapurna, Sept. 26 – Oct. 10, PAL Theatre + previews Sept. 24/25

I love theatre that features only one, two, or three characters–it really allows me to focus on the psychological drama that is occurring. That’s what we’ll get in Annapurna. To quote Huffington Post:

“…at the heart of each character, is a lyricism that simply can’t be suffocated. Sharr White has created two fine and ferociously damaged people caught in the emotional whirlpool of not being able to live with or without each other.”

Read the full summary here:!about/c10fk

(Photo credit: Anne Marie Slater)

This Canadian premiere features veteran actors Daryl Shuttleworth (Ulysses) and Lucia Frangione (Emma) who scale this “visceral and profound meditation on love and loss.”

Annapurna runs September 26 – October 10, 2015 at the PAL Studio Theatre, 581 Cardero Street in Vancouver. Tickets are $25 Adult/ $18 Student/Senior and go one sale August 24 at Tickets Tonight, by phone at 1-877-840-0457

Blue Tango Project, with Maria Volonte, September 17 (Orpheum Annex)

I have visited Argentina and Buenos Aires, and was thrilled with the art, music, and tango scene there. In a country where a painful past continues to reverberate into the present, I felt such a sense of energy and élan. If you go, and are at all interested in the arts, please visit Clásica y Moderna. At your computer right now? Look up Mercedes Sosa, Leon Gieco, and Jorge Cafrune on YouTube.

I am glad that we are going to get that Buenos Aires spirit, in particular that of La Boca (a colorful and gritty district), here in Vancouver. Here’s a typical La Boca street (photo credit Railtown Cultural Eclective).laboca Tango did not start off with any aristocratic pretensions. A commonly accepted history is that tango originated in the brothels frequented by working men in the district, but some see its history as somewhat more complex. In any event, in the music of tango, one can easily hear an affinity to flamenco, to fado, to the blues. This is art borne out of hardship.

With the Blue Tango Project, acclaimed Argentinian singer and songwriter Maria Volonte will be partnering with the blues artist Kevin Carrel Footer, who have together pioneered a fusion of tango and the blues.

The Railtown Cultural Eclective’s Trier Series provides a showcase for the amazing talents of both Vancouver and international artists. The support of City of Vancouver Theatre Rental Grant Program has made it possible to present this occasional series at Vancouver’s intimate performance venue, the Orpheum Annex.

Blue Tango Project appears Thursday, September 17 at 8pm, doors open at 7pm, Orpheum Annex, 823 Seymour Street. Tickets are $20 and available at For more information email or call 604-836-9943.

The Pipeline Project staged reading – my impressions (July 25, The Cultch)

The pipeline, or more accurately, the pipelines. Americans are worried about Keystone XL, which may or may not be a done deal. In British Columbia, the Northern Gateway pipeline terrifies many. But although those are the two best-known ones, that’s not the full extent of it. But take a look on your own for that.

The Vancouver Observer has been reporting on the Northern Gateway Pipeline and other energy-related projects for several years. See More specifically, see, which serves as the basis for the Savage Society/Neworld Theatre/ITSAZOO play The Pipeline Project (currently in development, for a premiere in 2016).

I attended a staged reading of this play at The Cultch on July 25, followed by a fantastic salmon feast.

The play builds on verbatim excerpts from the Vancouver Observer’s Extract: The Pipeline Wars (mentioned above) to form a structure for the play, interspersed with personal anecdotes from and conversations with Sebastian Archibald (an actor and playwright who identifies as a heterosexual white guy), Kevin Loring (an Aboriginal actor and playwright born in Lytton, and a father of two), and Quelemia Sparrow (an actor and writer from a prominent Musqueam family). These identity “tags” are important in the play, so I am mentioning them even though it feels a bit weird to be that specific and limited in defining full-spectrum human beings. And a puppet appears too, in a very natural way, but I won’t give that part of the story away.

Sometimes novels are about writing a novel. Similarly, this play is somewhat meta too, as it is largely a play about developing a play. However, as this is still very much a workshopped production, I won’t get too specific about the details, as I’m sure everything is subject to change. However, I can say that I greatly enjoyed hearing about the family lives and traditions of the two First Nations actors, and why and how the pipelines have the potential to destroy a way of life thousands of years old. The production is multimedia, showing excerpts of the gorgeous Fraser Canyon, showing the struggling salmon in a very visceral way, all without sounding a continual drum of gloom and doom (which can be a hazard with some environmental productions, as that just results in complete hopelessness). Quelemia talked about thanking the water, about giving medicine to the water, about modes other than just fighting.

One of the strongest arguments for the pipelines is that train transport has the potential to be extremely dangerous, possibly more so than the pipeline. So just saying no to the pipelines may not be enough. The play explores how difficult it is to live without oil dependence, without any sense of snarky judgment (other than what the actors do to themselves).

I am interested in user interfaces to technology professionally, so it was particularly interesting to hear the excerpts from the disastrous Kalamazoo River spill (in Michigan), which happened in an Enbridge pipeline in 2010. We keep hearing the same stories over and over again, although the technology differs. Nuclear reactor accidents typically have a similar-sounding backstory, as do plane crashes, or the Titanic or the Exxon Valdez. Yes, there are always humans doing something stupid behind the scenes when these things happen, but we have to expect that. Is it fair to put the entire BC salmon fishery for decades to come in the hands of one or a few pipeline operators who might just happen to be tired, drunk, or stupid that day? This is a more general problem than for pipelines or nuclear reactors–we know, for example, that sheer luck has prevented the world from accidental nuclear war so far.

How about those who work on the pipelines, or fracking, or on the oilsands project? A strength of the play, as currently conceived, is that it does not demonize anyone, as easy as it would be to do so.

I am very excited and curious to see what happens to this play. If you support the pipelines, think about ways to ensure that we avoid a situation where the corporations (Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, etc.) get the profits, but somehow socialize the losses (the uncalculated damage that is sure to occur eventually, given the fallible nature of humans). The concept of “externalities” is what has allowed corporations to profit mightily while polluting their environs. There is nothing uncapitalistic about requiring that future externalities, which can be approximated with mathematical models, be paid for upfront by the party responsible. Of course, such a requirement would likely ensure that no such pipeline project happened.

Reviews from Dancing on the Edge Performances (concluded July 11)

Throughout the various performances I saw over several days, one constant stood out. The musical scores were always intriguing, varied, and unexpected. These types of performances are ephemeral, and it’s hard to capture in words why they gave these impressions. But if you have the chance, attend Dancing on the Edge (or other contemporary dance performances) for the sound as much as for the dance.

I have focused on a few pieces that left a strong impression, but all of the pieces were worth seeing and hearing.

Edge Up, Sunday, July 5


I have seen several of Hong Kong Exile’s performances. These works are typically multi-disciplinary, and NineEight is no exception. The company members mostly all have strong personal connections to Hong Kong. Intrinsic to such connections, is an undercurrent of fear and menace not just from mainland China, but also that Cantonese culture in general, including in Vancouver, is being lost. Their recent “Centre A” art gallery presentation, transgression/cantosphere, in Vancouver’s Chinatown focused on the Cantonese culture that is slipping away on a daily basis.

So my political and cultural expectations were set from my personal knowledge, which may influence my interpretation (as it always does). Not to mention I visited Hong Kong last year and saw the brave participants of the Umbrella Revolution up close. I struggle to describe the work, but I was left with impressions of media and manipulation, of tradition and modernity, of being pulled in numerous directions. I felt engaged with this piece, both in terms of movement and sound, throughout.

I was happy to read that this production of NineEight is just the beginning for this work. It will be staged in an open rehearsal at Gateway Theatre on September 11-12, 2015. So I recommend you attend that, even if you caught it this time around.

this hallow space has a corridor

For this piece, which was intriguing but difficult to recount, I was particularly struck by the initial sounds, which reminded me of a Van de Graaf generator in a rainstorm.

Edge 2, Tuesday, July 7


Analyzing a piece when you aren’t sure of its meaning is risky for the critic. But given how the dancers in this festival repeatedly pushed the boundaries, I will try to be slightly brave. Here’s what I saw and felt in this piece.

The actor engages with a large piece of patterned fabric indigenous to the Philippines. He is first entangled and almost strangled by it. He finally succeeds in removing it. He tries leaving it completely alone. He tries wrapping the rectangle up small and using it in different ways (for example, as a hat). Ultimately, he dons the fabric again, but this time in a dress form. He suggestively sashays in a stereotypically feminine way. Perhaps the dancer, Alvin Erasga Tolentino, can best incorporate his indigenous culture into his life when he recognizes the feminine aspects of himself.

Regardless of the accuracy of this interpretation, this was one of the most engaging solo pieces I saw at Dancing on the Edge.

Edge 3, Tuesday, July 7


What I took from this piece was a riff on Creation stories, particularly feeling the influence of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, with a touch of Frankenstein. I do not see any of that in the official description, but that is what I got from it. The lighting (as was typical for DOTE) was excellent in focusing our attention. The dancer, Billy Marchenski, was nearly nude, giving the performance a primeval feel. I strongly felt the creativity and energy of the dancer.

Final note

Every time I attend a contemporary dance performance, I tell myself I have to learn more. Time is always precious, but I wonder if a free course like this might be useful to those of us who seek to improve our knowledge:

Creating Site-Specific Dance and Performance Works (from Coursera)

Review: 15X at Night (Dancing on the Edge Festival)

My first hurdle with any site-specific performance, particularly on Granville Island for some reason, is finding the spot. I’ve noticed a general tendency among people to not allow enough time to navigate Granville Island, and I’m guilty myself. I figured out the right place to be seconds before the dance started.

Walk to Edibles Canada, turn right along Johnson Street, and look for an empty courtyard right next to Ocean Concrete. If you see the colorful silos (which you should see anyway, for Vancouver Bienniale), you’re just a bit too far. But most importantly, leave plenty of time, and enjoy a nice stroll or have a drink before the show starts at 10 PM every night until the end of the festival.

You’ll be sitting in this courtyard, looking at the giftshop you can see in the photo.

I took this photo just after the show ended. SImon Courchel, the dancer, is at the left.

I took this photo just after the show ended. Simon Courchel, the dancer, is at the left.

Paul-André Fortier is the choreographer for this show, and for Misfit Blues. Although the two pieces vary a lot, both use spare, sharp, geometric angularity. There’s no fan in 15X at Night, as there is in Misfit Blues, but I wondered if Courchel might be evoking similar mechanical movement at times. Courchel’s lithe physicality is a joy to watch. There is no sound track, other than the natural sounds you hear on Granville Island at night. As you watch, you can look upward to see the steel trusses of the Granville Street Bridge.

As I watched, I was reminded once again how dance is really another language. How could Courchel remember this precise 30-minute sequence of movements if he does not see meaning and syntax in them? I have some half-formed ideas of the “meaning” of this piece, but I will instead focus on how I was entranced for the entire show, which passed so very quickly.

This is a free show, one of several that Dancing on the Edge puts on, along with various ticketed performances. Take a look:

Reviews: Misfit Blues and Weaver Woman (Dancing on the Edge Festival, until July 11)

Dancing on the Edge Festival focuses on varied and innovative dance performances. You are sure to see something challenging and different, no matter which of the many shows you pick.

Misfit Blues and Weaver Woman could not be more different, but they both demonstrated excellent performances.

Misfit Blues, developed by Paul-Andre Fortier, is minimalist. It includes theatrical elements that reminded me of a Samuel Beckett play. The movements are geometric, angular, and spare. The color palette is also minimal, solid colors in neutral tones. Often there is no soundtrack, but when there is, it’s an electronic drone. The man and woman dancers, enact various phases of a relationship, have a universal quality

Credit Xavier Curnillon

Weaver Woman, based on a traditional folktale found throughout Asia and presented with Chinese and Japanese and Korean elements, is a visual and aural extravaganza, combining traditional Chinese and Western instruments, beautiful costumes, and projected visuals. “A woman in a window, some stars, the rain and a man crossing a river…” The storyline is clearly spoken. An abstract sculpture hangs from the ceiling, and as the evening progresses, various colors and abstract Asian-language characters are projected on it. The music is soulful and evocative.

Credit Trevan Wong

These are just two of the many performances in this year’s festival. The programme is broad and exciting. Take a look!

Review: The School for Scandal (until July 5 at CBC 700)


With Bard on the Beach, Vancouverites are accustomed to seeing Shakespeare plays cast in a new place and time that Shakespeare himself could not have imagined. Why shouldn’t the same be done with other plays?

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 play, The School for Scandal, has been adapted for a new time and place by playwright Matthew Willis, keeping the vast majority of the dialogue (lightly updated) and almost all of the storylines. The place is Vancouver, and the time is approximately now. The production is by NOW! Theatre and the Quimera Theatre Collective.

Miss Sneerwell is now the proprietor of a Yaletown yoga studio, which, at her encouragement, is filled with treacherous gossips. They, like many people today, are consumed with the pursuit of money and self-indulgence. I had read this play aeons ago in school, but you might like to read the Wikipedia synopsis in advance, despite the spoilers, so you can better follow the action.

These events are no less real than a “Real Housewives of Vancouver” episode (my guess, as I’ve never seen one).

In discussion with a fellow attendee, we talked about how current production standards oriented to a short attention span tend to work against any sort of elaborate setup. We want things to happen–now. Spending more than an hour introducing the characters and the basic intrigues may feel too laborious to some, although absolutely expected in 1777. But the action picks up in the second half, as the spun intrigues start to unravel.

The use of possibly feigned love (romantic or familial) as a means to obtain fortune is a long-enduring theme probably older than Homo sapiens. Gossip and backbiting are scarcely new either. In that sense, the juxtaposition of an 18th-century story with contemporary staging works. The part that did not feel quite at ease about this transition was that 18th-century upper-class English society involved significantly more formality than typical Vancouverites demonstrate.

Truthfully, few Vancouverites are as funny as this group, either. The portrayals of hipster poets transfer very well. The yoga and yoga instruction is done terrifically well, and is almost like a dance performance. There are some disguises that seem outlandish, but this play was never meant to be starkly realistic, even in 1777.

Perhaps we all have some anxiety about humor. As stated by Verjuice Sneerwell, “It is impossible to be witty without a little ill-nature.” There’s not a single character who can be seen as honorable in general, although there are a few honorable moments.

With simple sets, the different locales in the play are portrayed very well. The fashion choices are perfect. Come to this play prepared to enjoy a drink and allow the tale to unfold at its leisurely pace.

Review: Glengarry Glen Ross, by Classic Chic Productions (until June 27 at Beaumont Stage)

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“A man’s his job …” – Shelly “The Machine” Levene

What a great opening, for both this all-women production of Glengarry Glen Ross by Classic Chic Productions, and the Beaumont Stage space (be sure to check out Beaumont Studio some time too, which has some very interesting artists in house).

The cast of Glengarry Glen Ross (credit, Megan Verhey Photography)

The cast of Glengarry Glen Ross (credit, Megan Verhey Photography)

Many attendees might know the 1992 film, which is legendary for its powerful all-star cast. David Mamet wrote both the 1984 Pulitzer-Prize-winning play (which was a sensation on Broadway) and then the screenplay, and the play is by necessity more abbreviated. But if you know the film, you’ll undoubtedly recognize many of the legendary scenes.

Glengarry Glen Ross is something of a period piece. There are no cellphones, which would have changed the plot a fair bit. Online databases might be easier to steal than paper ones, but require different strategies. Has the essential psychology of boiler-room scam sales changed, though? I suspect not. David Mamet based the play on his experience as an officer manager in a similar real estate office in 1969. As grim as it is, there’s nothing implausible about it. The office set looks just like you would expect an early 1980s real estate office specializing in Florida swampland to look. The actors have to dress the part of old-style salesmen, and the costume design hits the mark. To see these transformations, just take a look for some of the actors’ standard publicity photos compared to how they appear in this play–the combined effort of all the theatrical staff to make these characters look and act the way they do is stunning.

Left to right: Michelle Martin (playing Ricky Roma), Colleen Winton (Shelly Levene), Corina Akeson (Moss) Credit - Megan Verhey Photography

Left to right: Michelle Martin (Ricky Roma), Colleen Winton (Shelly Levene), Corina Akeson (Moss) Credit – Megan Verhey Photography

When I think of Mamet’s theatrical works, I tend to think of almost unremitting grimness. That is certainly true of Glengarry Glen Ross, but this production sparkles throughout regardless, and the texture and tempo of the grimness changes constantly. The actors skillfully extracted numerous laughs from the audience.

Is it ironic that such a stereotypically masculine play is being acted by a troupe of women? I think you will find that you forget the gender of the actors when you watch this play, as they fully embody their roles. I have seen this happen before in other plays (including when Classic Chic Productions did The Winter’s Tale last year), but I am always stunned in retrospect about the power of the characters and the power of the actors to create an alternate reality.

Classic female status-seeking and oneupmanship (an ironic term in the context) can be seen in films like Mean Girls (admittedly that is about teenagers, not the middle-aged). In Glengarry Glen Ross, seeing women vie for status as men would do calls attention to gender stereotypes about these cruel behaviors.

I found this New Westminster Record article (and interview with Colleen Winton, who plays the washed-up Shelly Levene) humorous and informative. Some of the actors are mothers of young children who have to rehearse these profanity-laced lines (continual profanity is a characteristic feature of Mamet plays)

As with other Mamet plays, the way each actor physically embodies the character and lives his reality is extremely important as to whether the play resonates. Each of the actors demonstrates natural body language that reflects the character. Ricky Roma, vying for #1 spot and a Cadillac, throws open his legs and puts his feet on his desk in a completely easy fashion. Of course, being masculine does not just mean being an alpha power-seeker. James Linghk is mousy, subject to flattery, and attempts to shrink away rather than offend the sociopath who sold him Florida swamp land, but the character is indubitably masculine nonetheless. Shelly Levene demonstrates the art of keeping a calm, impenetrable surface over raging doubts and insecurities. Williamson, as office manager, is denigrated constantly by the salesmen who see themselves as superior, only to be fawned on occasionally when they desperately want a favor, and the actor’s facial expressions are masterful at conveying Williamson’s internal satisfaction in seeing through the facades of his fellow employees.

Although I have seen various productions of Glengarry Glen Ross over the years, and there could not be any plot surprises, I was amazed at how the dramatic tension still held me. Mamet is a master at drawing out suspense, and the actors work well with it.

The play is about grinding degradation and competition in pursuit of material goods and status. I found myself thinking of Michael Lewis’s 1989 book, Liar’s Poker, which is based on Lewis’s experience as a Wall Street salesman of poor-quality bonds in the 1980s, in an environment which may have been higher class, but scarcely more reputable.

Shelly Levene, in particular, reminds me of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

One major reason this play resonates is because we (the audience) know that we are subject to continual cons all the time, whether it be marketing for harmful or unnecessary products, or the latest political shenanigans and scandals. By making the con so stereotypically obvious (Florida swampland), we can better focus on the mechanisms of the con.

Pianist Sergei Saratovsky at Müzewest Fundraising concert, May 22

In an era of constant budget cuts, music and art education and experiences are cut, despite their very real contributions to children’s lives. Children being able to play in a band or get music lessons does not happen by magic (even Louis Armstrong learned to play the trumpet as part of a school program). Organizations like Müzewest and St. James Academy bring music to children in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. I was invited to attend the Müzewest May 22 fundraising concert, which was a pleasure to do. Apart from the piano concert, founder Jennifer West called up some of the other volunteers in Müzewest for recognition, and it’s clear this is a group that really is passionate about musical outreach. Sergei Saratovsky started his programme with Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 in A-flat major. This piece seems simple enough that I have even tried it myself, but like Liszt’s works in general, it takes a great deal of virtuosity and delicacy to make it work properly, which Saratovsky adeptly demonstrated. Liszt starts with a languid expression of love (this is a Dream of Love after all), which reaches a passionate crescendo. I was fortunate to have an excellent seat where I could see Saratovsky playing. Students think in terms of “mastering” a piece, which is itself an enormous challenge with works like the Chopin and Rachmainoff pieces that Saratovsky performed (.Frédéric Chopin – Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 and Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) – Lilacs, Op. 21 No. 5 and Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninoff – Lullaby). But what I see in Saratovsky goes beyond mastery; he is collaborating with the music, channeling the music, emanating the music. Small venues like for this concert allow a much more personal experience. I was really taken by the last work of the evening–Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) – Three Movements from the Ballet “Petrouchka”. Rachmaninoff, of course, demands a lot of his pianists, but Stravinsky’s demands here are at least equal. As I was listening, I could swear I heard ragtime influences. Could this be? I did some research and found that Stravinsky was indeed influenced by ragtime, although admittedly I have not specifically seen a study of ragtime in Petrouchka. I also found that Stravinsky had originally arranged this piano version for Arthur Rubinstein.  I have not listened to the Rubenstein version (given that Rubinstein never recorded it), but Saratovsky did Stravinsky justice. Here’s a description of the work that explains its challenges: petrouchka It might seem trite to say so, but with modern classical music in particular, it must be performed very well for the audience to be able to appreciate it. Saratovsky rose to this challenge admirably. I want to hear Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka again, sooner rather than later. You can see Saratovsky’s YouTube channel here: His website is here: Sergei Saratovsky This week, May 30 at 7:30, Müzewest has another concert that looks terrific as well. Attend, enjoy, and donate and know that you are helping propagate music by doing so. Take a look:


Review: God and the Indian, Firehall Arts Centre, until May 30

I had seen God and the Indian two years ago at the Firehall, so I was looking forward to this remount. Briefly, you should go.


On the way to the Firehall, my fellow attendee asked me about the play and about residential schools. I started to answer from my reading and what I have heard. One seat over on the Skytrain, a Saskatchewan Cree residential school survivor interjected, and he started telling us about his experiences at the last school in Saskatchewan to close, which did not shut its doors until the late 1990s. He told us about the horrific impact the 10+ years he spent in that torturous place has had on him. I could hardly believe the coincidence. But keep in mind that Duncan Campbell Scott, a Canadian bureaucrat and founder of this genocidal policy, sought to make residential school compulsory for every Native child, starting in 1920 (although residential schools have an even longer history in Canada, dating back to the 1600s in Quebec). So it’s hard to fathom how many children and families have been devastated by this policy.

I am avoiding spoilers, but that means I cannot give you a complete sense of the play. So, please go and see it even if my explanation falls short. A Cree woman who calls herself Johnny happens to spot a teacher from her residential school years as he comes out of a Tim Horton’s. Assistant Bishop George King has climbed the church hierarchy, and has a comfortable life, enjoyable job, and a beautiful family. As for Johnny, life has been different. Lisa C. Ravensbergen does an excellent job of playing Johnny as a woman who has suffered immensely, but is very much alive and funny and sharp, even as she describes horrors. Thomas Hauff, playing George King (might this be a play on King George?), is a patrician Anglican minister whom Johnny accuses of horrific actions. Who do you identify with, Johnny or King? Can you identify with both?

The humour might make you feel a bit guilty. But humour’s role as a survival tactic is well-known. Sit with the discomfort.

One slight criticism of the play is that King’s rhetoric sounds a bit too fundamentalist and Biblically literal for the typical Anglican minister, at least the urban contemporary Vancouver West End version that I know about. However, given that King was a teacher perhaps 40 years ago previous, and a huge part of the residential school experience was to “Christianize” the children (whether the school was United Church, Anglican, or Roman Catholic), this rhetoric is understandable. And King’s dialogue is clearly meant to introduce and explain historical events rather than necessarily following natural conversation (whatever that would be in the circumstances of the play).

Before the play started, Firehall general manager Donna Spencer noted that some audience members might be triggered by the content, and that counsellors were available in the lobby. Before the play, I noted some elders burning sage. This is a tough play, one that playwright Drew Hayden Taylor was challenged to write when someone asked him to write something serious.

There’s also an exhibit in the lobby about the residential school system in Canada, and it’s worth coming a bit early to look through that. Do some research too. It’s easy to forget details like the Canadian government starvation experiments done in residential schools (how can that be, but it was done officially).

I read that this play is loosely based on Death and the Maiden, by Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman. I found that interesting, because I had previously seen the play Cativo in Vancouver, which is also loosely based on Death and the Maiden, but I did not make the connection among all three plays. Various countries have had to deal with how to handle perpetrators of horrible crimes, but whose rule has now been overturned. One thing is clear, though–despite the fears of the wrongdoers, personal vengeance is really rare. Very few of the enforcers and maintainers of Canada’s residential school system ever suffered any official punishment for their actions, and I suspect close to zero have ever faced personal retribution. What, if anything, do the perpetrators feel about what they did?

Again, no spoilers here, but I urge you to pay attention to the last couple minutes of the play. Although this was the second time I had seen this work, I missed something important, and my fellow attendee told me about it afterwards.

Review: Miss Shakespeare and J. Caesar, two plays in repertory by The Escape Artists

Until May 17 at Performance Works and May 21-29 at Kay Meek Centre


In general, women (and men) are looking at theatre and noticing two problems: plays are typically written so that the characters with the largest roles are male. Yes, there are exceptions, but there’s no disputing statistical prevalence. Women actors are not going to be pleased with playing a supporting role (literally) forever. So that leaves two complementary solutions: 1) Write and perform plays with lead female characters, and 2) Fill traditionally male roles with women. You may have noticed in the last few James Bond films, that the role of “M” is played by a woman, Judi Dench. Clearly, Ian Fleming did not write the Bond books that way. But this change in no way harms the story–few James Bond fans will care that “M” is now a woman.

“Miss Shakespeare” is a new Canadian musical, by Tracey Powers, which takes the first approach. All of the characters are female (although the ghost of William Shakespeare makes an appearance and is played by a woman), and to add some “meta-ness” to the play, the lead character is Judyth Shakespare, a daughter of William. Women’s early theatrical history is hidden, because after all they were not allowed to perform publicly (although the exact legal status of this act is controversial). But we do have some evidence that women performed theatre in private settings. “Miss Shakespeare” is about a group of women who get together to form a troupe, to perform a play that Judyth Shakespeare has written. I loved the music, and I loved the ideas. My literal mind bristled a bit at some possible improbabilities in women’s conduct during that period, but I was not there after all. Lingering in the back of my mind always is Virginia Woolf’s famous essay “A Room of One’s Own”. Woolf famously imagines the difficulties that a hypothetical sister of Shakespeare (and wouldn’t you know it, this hypothetical woman is named Judith!) would have had should she have sought to become a theatrical and literary genius like her brother. Everything from the lack of education that her brother had, to the impossibility of women performing in public theatre, to unwed pregnancy, would have kept Judith from achieving her goals. What “Miss Shakespeare” conveys, beyond the historical interest, is how creating a work of theatrical art is liberating and thrilling for the performers. It’s clear Powers loves the process of creating theatre, and that comes through very clearly in “Miss Shakespeare”.


(Miss Shakespeare, credit Bold Rezolution Studio)

J. Caesar, in contrast, takes the second approach. We are accustomed to Shakespeare plays being re-imagined. Romeo and Juliet appear as gang-identified New Yorkers, to name one famous case. With J.Caesar, in another fantasy world, there are only women. Some notes I read suggest that a plague has wiped out the men. If so, I missed that. I just saw another world, with no clear time or place, where women were jockeying for power. Antony becomes Antonia, Julius Caesar becomes Julia Caesar, and so on. I found it interesting to note my discomfort when some famous Shakespearean lines came up and were adapted to the characters, “There is a tide in the affairs of women, which taken at the flood …”. Wait, why does that involuntarily distress me? We are so accustomed to the male being universal, and the female being somewhat of the exception. (As a side note, I think that some French- and Spanish-speaking feminists are bending the traditional rules we always learned, where this phenomenon is even more obvious than it is in English.)


(Note the timeless, plain costumes of the actors in J. Caesar. Credit Emily Cooper.)

I did find the complete lack of time or place in this re-envisioned J. Caesar to be a bit of a distraction. Although I know Shakespeare does not aim for historical accuracy, ever, I still can easily picture Julius Caesar, Brutus, and Cassius walking around Rome. With these characters, I could not. But the actors gave excellent performances, and it is enlightening to see women vying for political power and committing political intrigues of huge significance. There’s no question of passing the Bechdel test in this work!

It was fun to see these plays on consecutive nights, and see both approaches to creating theatre that brings women front and center.

More innovative women-only productions in May and June: Miss Shakespeare, J. Caesar, and Glengarry Glen Ross

Lisa Wolpe as director, and Classic Chic Productions, brought a terrific women-only interpretation of “The Winter’s Tale” to Vancouver last year.

Women-only theatre productions can be done in two ways: either typically male characters are made female, or women play male characters. Both can work very well.

This year, we have two innovative Shakespeare-inspired productions: the musical “Miss Shakespeare” with Music TheatreWorks and “J, Caesar” (a futuristic) adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar), both by Chelsea Hotel co-creator Tracey Power. I strongly suspect that Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own”, which details the impossible obstacles and tribulations that a hypothetical sister of Shakespeare would face should she have tried making her career in the theatrical world, is a strong influence. In Miss Shakespeare, Judyth Shakespeare, an imagined daughter of Shakespeare, These productions bring female characters played by women to the fore.

As a separate production, Classic Chic Productions is bringing acclaimed playwright David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” to Beaumont Studios in June. David Mamet’s works always send shivers through me and set my teeth on edge, because they so perfectly depict horror in everyday situations. Can women actors convincingly portray Levene, George, and others? I have no doubt, and I want to see them do it. Glengarry Glen Ross is a theatrical staple, and I am really looking forward to this innovative presentation. In this case, the women play male characters. Based on how Classic Chic Productions did last year with “A Winter’s Tale”, I expect exceptional performances. You will forget the gender of the actor, as the character comes fully to the fore. Jason Reitman tried this idea a couple years ago as a reading with superstar women actors, to great acclaim:

Miss Shakespeare and J. Caesar play in repertory at, Performance Works, May 5-18. and at the Kay Meek Centre from May 21-29. Make sure to check what play is playing which night.

Glengarry Glen Ross, Beaumont Studios, June 5 – 27


Review: Serge Bennathan’s Monsieur Auburtin, at The Dance Centre until March 28

I didn’t know what to expect going into this work. Serge Bennathan’s Monsieur Auburtin is unlike any other dance work you are likely to have seen. It evocatively combines storytelling, original composition and musical performance, and dance into a seamless whole. I went with a couple of friends who are not necessarily warm to contemporary dance, and they also loved it. While profound, the piece is also very accessible and comprehensible.


(photo credit Michael Slobodian)

The piece is, among other things, an extended homage to both his teachers and classical dance virtuosos like Nijinsky, Nureyev, and Baryshnikov, as well as many others whose names I do not know so well. The love and appreciation and admiration that Bennathan expresses is indeed heart-warming.

Bennathan’s first dance teacher, Monsieur Auburtin in Metz, France, introduced him to Nijinsky via pictures of the impresario dancing in Giselle. The effect is life-changing and incredibly profound.

Wiki Commons picture of Nijinsky in Giselle.

Perhaps French elegance, if presented coldly, can be offputting. That is a classic stereotype, but Bennathan presents elegance with a warm face. The sound of his voice is a true pleasure to hear. The track his life is taken is one of coincidences and chances grabbed. But make no mistake, Bennathan is passionate and earnest about art and about artistic expression.

Throughout the evening, the composer Bertrand Chénier played on electric guitar and piano, and at one point one of the dancers played the violin. The music was a natural component of this work.

What made the night even more special was after the show, when Howard Jang, of the Canada Council for the Arts, awarded Serge Bennathan the prestigious Jacqueline Lemieux Prize, for his work in dance in Canada. Having seen the work, I am not at all surprised of Bennathan’s reputation as a teacher and mentor and choreographer. Bennathan expressed a clear love and appreciation for Canada as a country, a place, like Marseilles, where he feels he truly belongs. So much artistic development and innovation is driven by immigrants who have made a conscious decision to bring their talents to Canada. Bennathan founded the dance company Les Productions Figlio.

Review: Virtual Solitaire, at Studio 1398 on Granville Island (until March 29)

Buy tickets:

Virtual Solitaire, staged by Vancouver Fringe, looks at a technological dystopia where virtual reality scrambles a hapless worker’s brain.

When watching this play, I thought often of the sci-fi writer William Gibson. With the disclaimer that I have not finished that book, his latest novel “The Peripheral” is also about the boundaries between “real life” and virtual reality in a dystopian future. The concerns that Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have about artificial intelligence are well-known.

When those in charge of the game make permanent and destructive brain-altering decisions, without the informed consent of their employee, you might be tempted to think of the Nazis and Mengele. But a closer analogy in time and place is Dr. Ewen Cameron, who used LSD, paralytic drugs, electroshock, and long-playing audio devices to “reprogram” his psychiatric patients in Weyburn, Saskatchewan in the 1960s.

In this one-man show, Dawson Nichols moves seamlessly and effectively from character to character, playing a wide range of roles. He’s the confused patient and the overseer, the detective and the asylum dweller, among others. This aspect of the performance was excellent.

Both my friend and I felt that this play would benefit from some editing to tighten up the narrative and pacing. That said, the dramatic tension was generally good throughout. I was frequently confused as to what was happening, although that is probably part of the plot.

I saw David Mamet referenced in a review, and just as watching a Mamet play can frequently be uncomfortable, the same is true here. What is happening to the main character Nathan is not pleasant to consider. But like Mamet’s work, this is theatre that stimulates deeper considerations.

Review: ribcage: this wide passage, at Firehall Arts Centre


The most powerful image of this multimedia work, combining theatre, live viola, dance, and video, is when Heather Hermant, playing Esther Brandeau, sits down to bind her breasts so she can dress and live as a young man, Jacques, in 18th-century Quebec. With this severe constriction comes the freedom of being able to live and work and support herself and travel freely. Hermant is a spoken-word artist, so often this work does seem more like a recitation than traditional theatre.

I have participated only lightly in researching family history, but it is indeed thrilling to find an undiscovered connection (and I have the privilege of having relatives who have done a lot of work on this subject). Hermant started researching her own family line, and found that Esther was a collateral ancestor, a young woman who disguised herself as a young man and got work on a ship to New France (Quebec). On a historical note, in pre-Revolution France, Jews were banned from immigrating to French North America (some got around this, particularly in New Orleans, but Esther is thought to be the first Jew in Canadian New France). Thus, Esther faced two significant hurdles in getting to North America: religion and gender. Esther found a way to explore and escape her life, for whatever reasons she had for doing this. Hermant also touches on the dispersion of Portuguese Jews in Europe (who were also subject to the Inquisition and deported from their homeland).

It’s tempting to put modern constructions on centuries-old behavior. Was Esther transgender? Was she just taking the only means she could figure out to escape the life she had (for whatever reasons she wanted to escape it)? Hermant sees her work as a “queer story about displacement and identity”, although we know nothing about Esther’s self-construction and self-identity other than what we can guess from the scant historical records. The work belongs to the artist, and it becomes about more than Esther, so I understand Hermant’s casting of this work as “queer”.

When Esther is deported back to France, after being discovered for her religion and gender, nothing more is ever heard of her. What might have happened? I tend towards pessimism, but perhaps Esther lived a full and interesting life, maybe even crossing the boundary again to live as a man.

The music and video enhanced the often spooky, mysterious feeling I felt as I watched and listened to this work. On a technical note, the Hermant’s words were often difficult to hear above the music. For me, this was particularly noticeable with the French passages, as my lack of fluency makes me desperate to hear everything very clearly. However, I was thrilled to see another example of multilingual theatre–which I can’t help but feel is the future of theatre as we manage multiple hybrid identities in a multilingual world as part of everyday experience.

The constricted ribcage, the wideness of the open ocean. This work is full of imagery and I enjoyed seeing its debut.

The Firehall has brought two premieres of one-woman shows to the stage in the past month: The Village and ribcage: this wide passage. Both have fascinating themes and innovative use of music and film.

Images of My Territory: Rama and Kriol, at Lost N’ Found Cafe, March 11, 7:30 (free)

Get a full description here:

Facebook event here:

Images of My Territory: Ramas and Kriols

I am looking forward to seeing this film, particularly as I am going to Nicaragua in April. Nicaragua represents a blend of cultures, and this film will explore that. I’m looking forward to the post-film discussion for more insight.

Fado Camané at VanCity Theatre: A great film and evening

Fado Camané official trailer: 

First, remember that VanCity Theatre has Music Mondays. Keep an eye on their schedule. Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Joan Baez, and numerous other luminaries have featured in documentaries. Last night’s film was $7, including the complimentary food and wine described below, although you will have to get an annual $2 membership if you don’t have one.

When I saw that VanCity Theatre was showing Fado Camané, I had to see it. As you might guess, Camané is a Portuguese singer who performs fado. The film focuses on the process of making an album. It’s about collaboration, and the creativity of technicians, the singer, supporting musicians, the poet/songwriter, the producer all juxtaposed in a state of pleasant tension as they work through artistic dilemmas. Much has been written how the work of the individual “genius” is highlighted above all others, when in fact almost any innovation or invention  you can think of has been a collaboration, even if hidden. This film demonstrates that creative fact very well.

Before the film, the Portuguese consulate generously provided us with cod fritters, shrimp dumplings, and egg tarts, all delicious and enjoyable. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the port, the red wine, the white wine all from Portugal either. This reception provided a lovely start to the evening.

Listen to Camané for yourself!

Review: Made in China, at the Firehall Arts Centre (Wen Wei Dance)

I saw this piece in an open rehearsal in January, before the troupe took the work to Banff and their premiere performance.

I really liked what I saw in the rehearsal, so I was definitely anticipating the full production with lighting and visuals and costumes.

The lighting and visuals added a lot to this work. I couldn’t believe the intricate shadow work, and how mesmerizing it was. I was often torn between watching the dancer and watching his or her shadows. Sammy Chien did an excellent job on managing the lighting and visuals and the dancers did a fantastic job matching their dance to the projected screen behind them. I often felt like I was seeing a live and animated classical Chinese painting, in terms of how the perspective worked. It’s sort of shadow puppetry, except there are no puppets.

I hadn’t realized that the informal discussion that the dance troupe has at the start, where they describe their artistic paths and their relationships to China and Canada, was part of the work. During the rehearsal I thought they were just chatting with us. I was glad they included this explanatory and introductory part in the work. It’s not “pure” dance, but the juxtaposition of dance, theatre, music, and shadows add up to much more than the sum of their parts.

As for the music, I am biased as I love traditional Chinese music, but Qiu Xia He’s mastery of numerous instruments is amazing. She developed this specialty at her mother’s urging so that she could escape the Cultural Revolution.

The different parts of the work were perhaps not quite so clear to me as they were at the rehearsal, where, to my recollection, we had labels (such as “Birth”). But you will still get a strong emotional sense. I interpreted some of the dance to refer both to an infant learning language, and a new immigrant learning the new language. Other dance seemed that it might refer to hunger and suffering (perhaps during the Cultural Revolution?).

This troupe plays with the stereotype that Chinese are not artistic, but do everything “the same” (and they specifically refer to this at the start). If you watch this work, you will see for yourself how fallacious that stereotype is. Everything about this work is unique, but the best part for me is how all the different elements are combined in such a harmonious way. It was slightly frustrating for me not to understand the Chinese language parts, but given that the projected screen was fully utilized with the visuals, I doubt that surtitles would be a great choice here. I think you will understand the work pretty well, and most of it is in English anyway.

Wen Wei Wang expresses what he means by “Made in China”. I recommend seeing this (alas, it may be too late in Vancouver!).

620 Main Street

I frequently walk by Tosi’s. Go and see him if you haven’t. Reblogging from Changing Vancouver.

Changing Vancouver

620 Main St

Our 1978 image and today’s view of the building are almost identical. Anyone who has looked into the window of Tosi’s Italian food store might conclude that the window display hasn’t changed over the decades either. According to the Assessment Authority the build dates from 1930, which is the year the street directory tells us Tosi and Co moved here. If you look on the company website you’ll see that the building was once part of Woodward’s – that’s not actually true. Woodward’s first store was indeed built on this block, and numbered as 622 Westminster Avenue (which became Main Street in 1910). However, around 1903 there was a renumbering of this block, and the original 622 was several building to the south, on the corner of East Georgia (which was then called Harris).

There were buildings here before 1930, and we’re not sure how much the remodeling in 1930 incorporated those structures…

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Review: Valley Song, Gateway Theatre until February 21

Until February 21, at Gateway Theatre:

In Valley Song, old Buks (nicknamed Buks, with a full name of Abraam Jonkers) tells the prospective new landowner as he gifts him with a cartful of luscious vegetables and fruit, something like, “The earth is a woman, and us old men, we know how to keep her happy.” At church, the verse is quoted:”The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” The play opens with the narrator bringing us into the world of the South African Karoo, so we can feel the rain and see the flowers and smell the earth.

Like “Mies Julie”, which I reviewed last year, Valley Song is about human attachment and connection to land, in both plays, South Africa’s Karoo region. What does it mean for people to be attached to land? I’ve had several people tell me of their intense longing to their home of New Orleans–how if they leave, they absolutely have to come back. I know from my relatives how attached they are to the ancestral family farm. And, of course, the intrinsic attachment of Aboriginal people to their land is undeniable. Think of the Christian creation story–Adam is formed from the soil. Some Aboriginal creation stories involve creation of humans from mud. This intensity of connection is not something that I feel myself, rootless as I might be, but I have certainly heard enough people express it. The connection that Buks has is all the more poignant because he cannot dream of legal ownership, as he simply lacks the funds, even if the end of apartheid has made land ownership by anyone of any race legally possible. A white man with some spare cash can come from a city far away and buy the land and kick off its current inhabitants, including a family that has been there for hundreds of years. Buks is desperate to prevent that displacement from the land he loves.

But this connection to land is in tension with another undeniable human feeling, which is the need to explore, to move onwards, to progress. As the grandfather, Buks is thus in conflict with his granddaughter Veronica, who cannot bear the thought of being a servant to white people like all of her ancestors in living memory, and who wants to explore a singing career and achieve wealth and fame in Johannesburg.

David Adams, with some changes in clothing and lighting and accent, plays several male characters, both white and “coloured” (“coloured” being the term used in pre-apartheid and apartheid South Africa for people of acknowledged multi-racial ancestry, and the term that the Jonkers characters refer to themselves by). Sereana Malani is lovely, with a wonderful voice, and plays the role of Veronica adroitly and empathetically.

There’s no solution to this tension between rootedness and aspiration. Grandfather and granddaughter must seek to bridge the gap however they can. I am very interested in multilingual theatre and I enjoyed how this play brought Afrikaans terminology (explained in the program) and Afrikaans songs into the performance. While Buks is a loving, gentle soul, the play also explores how he also has some traits of a classic repressive Afrikaaner patriarch (although himself oppressed, he’s taken on some cultural traits of the oppressor).* Veronica is not only a sweet innocent, but someone who schemes and plans to get herself a better life. The playwright Athol Fugard, born in 1932, demonstrates his deep feeling for his homeland and its peoples with this play.

* This is seen in Buks’ insistence that he is the one who controls the household and his word rules. Google will tell you more sadly real stories of the results of Afrikaaner patriarchy within families.

South Africa is happening in Vancouver: dance, theatre, film!

Vincent Mantsoe, an acclaimed South African dance artist, is performing at Firehall Arts Centre until February 14. The show is called NTU/SKWATTA.

Valley Song is on now at Gateway Theatre until February 21. This is a play about land ownership and connection to the land and dealing with the aftermath of state-entrenched apartheid.

Cadre is coming to the Cultch, starting February 24. This play is about the new South Africa.

And the Vancouver South African Film Festival returns to Vancouver April 10.

We are always lucky in Vancouver to have such excellent multicultural offerings, and I really look forward to seeing as many  of these as I can.

TEDx Stanley Park returns May 28

TedX events are not sponsored nor organized by the official TED Foundation, but in exchange for the use of the name, the events must follow strict rules as laid out by TED in order to ensure a high-quality event. In and around Vancouver, there are several TedX events every year—some examples are TEDx Gastown, TEDx SFU, Tedx Vancouver, and of particular significance to this post, TEDx Stanley Park.  Among the TED rules are to name the event after a known location.

TEDx allows chosen speakers the opportunity to disseminate their ideas, and allows the attendees a chance to spend a day in a great venue, meet other participants, and learn from the talks. Oh, and keep in mind that lunch and goodies are provided too.

When you watch a TED talk, you have noticed how practiced and polished the speakers are. Their words and gestures flow with ease. But although these speakers make it look easy, what you see is the result of many, many hours of practice. TEDx events are also expected to invest heavily in ensuring that their speakers manage all aspects of their talk with skill, organization, and fluidity. The speakers are assigned coaches, they submit multiple drafts of their talks, and they practice and practice and practice. I want to improve my public speaking ability, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking good speakers are that way effortlessly because they look so natural.

On February 13, members of YVR Bloggers, organized by Ricky Shetty, set out to meet the speakers and interview them in preparation for the May 28 TEDx Stanley Park event. We met up in the functional and pleasant co-working space Kickstart Community Ventures, which is focused on entrepreneurs. The founder and organizer of TEDx Stanley Park, Roger Killen, said he got all of the speakers from ToastMasters, and I noticed that one chapter of ToastMasters meets in this space.

View the list of speakers for TEDx Stanley Park (it looks incomplete at the moment, but should soon be updated). Here are some of the talks that particularly interest me:

  • Karn Manhas on bedbug control, and his natural, extremely effective solution
  • Jules Ku-Lea on slavery in the food chain. What’s really happening with that shrimp from Thailand or that produce from 100 miles away?
  • Maureen McGrath fearlessly discusses sex and how to make it better for people. She’s not embarrassed by anything.
  • Iman Aghay had two deathbed experiences and is still under 40. It was interesting to hear the changes he’s made as a result.

Although reading is an excellent way to learn, there’s a lot to be said for learning directly from the source in the company of your peers. Peruse the TEDx Stanley Park website, and consider going.

This is a first for me, but I am offering a promo code if you buy a ticket. Use the password “lois”. Have fun!