Review: reasons to be pretty (a play by Neil LaBute), Havana Restaurant

reasons to be pretty (a play by Neil LaBute), Havana Restaurant

Beyond YVR neglected to review this play last week, but luckily there are two more performances left.

My experience of Neil LaBute’s work is that although the plays take rather ordinary individuals in mundane situations, the drama and dialogue make them very interesting to watch. “reasons to be pretty” features four working-class characters in stalled and problematic relationships. Three of them work in a factory of some sort, and much of the dialogue occurs at meal breaks.

Greg is an ordinary, “aw shucks” type of guy, who is friends with a would-be Casanova type, Kent, a stereotypical good-looking jock who vacuously moves through life manipulating women. Kent (played by James Paladino) could be seen as a caricature, but most women can likely attest that is not necessarily the case. The two women characters, Steph (Greg’s girlfriend) and Carly (Kent’s wife), are close friends, and it is Carly’s report of what she heard Greg saying to Kent that sparks the initial confrontation. Kent sees Carly as a beautiful possession, and not surprisingly, holds rather conventional and exploitative attitudes towards women.

Is Greg just tolerating Steph, who perhaps is on the plain side compared to the unseen Crystal, a young, hot girl that has just joined the shipping department? But, as is often the case, Steph’s and Greg’s initial argument is not just about Greg saying 10 or 15 words. Steph feels alone, unappreciated, and stuck.

The drama proceeds, and nothing that happens is particularly surprising. The end of the play is not much of a cliffhanger, but that’s intentional.

I’d love to see the sequel, “reasons to be happy”, that revisits these characters four years later. But for now, “reasons to be pretty” is enjoyable and thought-provoking. It is produced by Fighting Chance Productions.

Dine Out Vancouver – Review of SoL Sun Belt Cookery (January 30, 2014)

BeyondYVR does Dine Out once again! In celebration of our webmistress’s birthday, we went out to SoL Sun Belt Cookery to partake in some Moroccan food. What can be as good as hot, spicy, saucy treats on a wet, windy and freezing Thursday evening?

(for a description of Dine Out Vancouver, refer to the first paragraphs in another of our posts, at http://ow.ly/tax65)

We’re both familiar with the seawall but have never stopped into SoL before. The food is the work of Abdel Elatouabi, who has cooked for the Crown Prince of Morocco as well as ran Le Marrakech in Vancouver. Situated on the north side of Denman, one gets a beautiful view of Coal Harbour while basking in the soft lighting and clean, comfortable furnishings of the restaurant.

SoL Sun Belt Cookery

SoL Sun Belt Cookery

As both of us were present for tonight’s meal, we each took three different courses from the Dine Out menu. Thus, enjoy our two-for-one review of this restaurant!

First came the appetizers, of which we had:

Vegetarian antipasto featuring hummus, falafel and grilled eggplant – the standard mezzes one seeks from a Middle Eastern establishment. Having that Moroccan twist, all three were mildly spiced, with a good texture. The complimentary flavors worked well together, and this dish definitely met our expectations.

Antipasto - (L-R) hummus, falafel, flatbread, grilled eggplant

Antipasto – (L-R) hummus, falafel, flatbread, grilled eggplant

Grilled house merguez sausage – with a crispy exterior and tender meat, the sausage was well-prepared and matched with the lightly marinated vegetables that topped them. That being said, the meat was a little too indiscernible amongst the textures, the harissa being a little overpowering on the dish. In this case, the harissa was finely ground but as a result a touch dusty, and in this case a little less may have perhaps been more. Presentation-wise, the arrangement on the plate left space which felt empty and gave an incomplete impression.

Grilled house merguez sausage with flatbread

Grilled house merguez sausage with flatbread

The mains we chose were:

Grilled mackerel with Moroccan spice and potato latkes – seasoned with chermoula, a citrus and cumin based marinade, the fillet served was surprisingly large. Perfectl done, the texture was flaky but not dry; oily with that savoury mackerel aroma, with the citrus from the chermoula and tomato-based sauce on the side helping to balance out the potential heaviness of the meat. However, the latkes were not particularly memorable accompaniments – instead of the tender, slightly crunchy texture where one can feel the separate slivers of potatoes in the mouth, these nuggets were compacted and deep-fried, making them individual pockets of flavor that did not interact with the rest of the dish.

In a sense, it seemed like having an amazing piece of fish with a McDonald’s hashbrown on the side. A well-prepared, not too heavy hashbrown, but a hashbrown nonetheless.

Grilled mackerel with potato latke

Grilled mackerel with potato latke

Duck leg confit – served with wild mushroom risotto cake, fennel orange salad, and cranberry citrus sauce, the duck was intensely flavorful, causing us to succumb to the temptation (and social faux pas) of picking up the bones to gnaw at them. The orange in the fennel did not stand out, but the fennel had a milder flavor which worked well with the duck. Cranberry citrus sauce is a general favorite of ours, and this variation was one we could have happily eaten a bowlful of. However, there was only a discreet swirl, like a coulis, which, while we cursed the paucity of, have to admit they did the right thing from a presentation point of view.

Duck Confit with fennel, orange and cranberry sauce

Duck confit with fennel, orange and cranberry sauce

So far, so good! And, after a lovely time chatting, dessert came, which were:

Moroccan beignets with dark chocolate and roasted almonds – truthfully, chocolate or almond flavors did not really come to play in this dish. Though the base garnish underneath must have had these ingredients from the coloring, the beignets were rather thick and quite chewy, giving the dish a very dense feel whose flavor seemed to be monopolized by the icing sugar that felt caked on as a result. By contrast, had the beignets been light and fluffy like those in New Orleans, the expansive mouthfeel from the pastry may have helped to space out the sweet sugar flavor, allowing the other components to shine through.

Moroccan beignets, dark chocolate and powdered almonds

Moroccan beignets, dark chocolate and powdered almonds

Apple and chocolate tart, with cinnamon sorbet – again, we were quite disappointed with this dish. The apple was fine, although a bit unsubstantial, and the chocolate was an interesting contrast. The ice cream just did not feel quite right – the tart being room temperature when served, the contrast the chef may have intended did not come out as vividly. Cream would have been preferred in this case. The cinnamon sorbet also failed to contribute anything to the dish – it was a watery, slushy sugar syrup, without much of a cinnamon flavor, and we did not continue past the first spoonful.

Apple and chocolate tart, cinnamon sorbet

Apple and chocolate tart, cinnamon sorbet

Service was very polite, very relaxed and let us sit back and enjoy a leisurely three-hour meal. However, there were interminable gaps between setting out the next dish, and instead of presenting us with the bill we had to inquire after twenty minutes of sitting around, talking. It’s a fine line with these establishments and their discretion was appreciated, but having your guests wait a half hour between each dish is a bit excessive.

One of SoL’s mottos is to feed your soul. With the first two dishes, it seemed like that they would completely satisfy that objective, but dessert seemed like an afterthought when compared to how tasty and varied the substantive parts of our dinners were. Presentation and service seem to be refined, however, and at $28 per meal, we had a very reasonable meal that was, overall, a nice experience.

SoL Sun Belt Cookery can be found at http://www.solsunbelt.com/.

Details on Dine Out Vancouver can be found at http://www.dineoutvancouver.com/.

Dine Out Vancouver at Chicha, (January 28, 2014)

Chicha, a Peruvian restaurant located at 136 East Broadway, has rapidly gained a good reputation in Mount Pleasant. Beyond YVR went there for a solo dinner this week to try the $28 Dine Out Vancouver option (for more information about Dine Out, see my friend’s post here).

I had tried to make a reservation by email, but I had not heard back, so I decided to go and try my luck. After a brief wait, I got a seat at the bar. Although I generally dislike sitting on high stools, it was reasonably comfortable. The staff was friendly, and I took a look at the options provided. You can choose an appetizer, two tapa-type dishes for the entrée, and one of two desserts.

I began with the “Palitas de Yuca” (described as “Cassava root, huancaina sauce”), which use the same cassava plant (also called yuca or manioc) that is used for the flour in Brazilian cheese breads, and which is also processed as tapioca powder. Cassava is fascinating in terms of its significance as a food source in the developing world. In short, it is fairly nutritious, but is very high in carbohydrates with a very low protein content, so a population that relies too exclusively on cassava will be undernourished. Wikipedia will give you a start. But geopolitical considerations of population nutrition were not immediately relevant. These palitas were fried chunks of tasty starch. I completely enjoyed them and would far prefer them to even gourmet potato chips. The serving size was reasonable, even if I would happily have eaten much more.

My two choices for the entrée were Verduras causa (described as “Beetroot whipped potato topped with lima bean puree, pickled beets, chili yams chips”) and Lomo saltado (“Flat iron steak, kennebec fries, red onion, peppers, tomato wok fried with soy sauce, garlic, and aji amarillo chili”). The steak arrived first, and I truly enjoyed the combination of vegetables, spices, and meat. My other dish arrived later, and had a beautiful presentation (sadly, the light was too low and my phone too dead to take pictures). But this whipped combination of beets and potatoes was rather chilly. Fortuitously, I was distracted by some reading material, and left it on the counter for a bit. It warmed up, and I enjoyed it much more after that.

I chose the “Lucuma, white chocolate, and lime frozen torte with passion fruit and raspberry sauce” for dessert. This was tasty, no doubt about it, and I happily consumed it. But I would have preferred more fruit and less sweetness. My limited experience with Dine Out suggests that restaurants should consider an option for a very simple fruit-based dessert, rather than adding another complex option on top of an interesting meal. Lucuma, by the way, is an Andean fruit I had never experienced before.

I enjoyed my meal here, and would happily return, although I might try to time a visit for a less-crowded time, and bring a friend so we can share multiple tapas plates.

Frank Theatre Company Presents Ga Ting (Family)

The Frank Theatre Company (formerly Screaming Weenie) has taken the lead in presenting complex, multicultural productions that explore intersections of gender, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity. Chris Gatchalian’s Falling In Time, which examined the ongoing trauma wrought by the Korean War in the lives of its participants and victims, was one example that I appreciated seeing.

Now The Frank Theatre Company is bringing “Ga Ting” (Family) to Richmond Gateway Theatre in March.

An immigrant Chinese couple attempts to come to terms with their son’s death, and who he truly was, by inviting his Caucasian boyfriend over for dinner.

Performed in English and Cantonese with English and Chinese surtitles ASL interpretation for 2 performances

A world premiere Produced by the frank theatre company and Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre,  in partnership with The City of Richmond

Minh Ly Written by Minh Ly, Directed by Rick Tae, Featuring Michael Antonakos, BC Lee and Alanna Ong

 

March 22-30, 2014 Richmond Arts Centre 7700 Minoru Gate, Richmond

Beyond YVR has a strong interest in multicultural, multilingual theatre and is looking forward to this production.

Dine Out Vancouver – Review of Wildebeest Restaurant (January 29, 2014)

Currently, Dine Out Vancouver is on.  Running until Feb. 2, it is a great time to experiment at a new restaurant. Participating restaurants have prix fixe menus set an $18, $28 or $38 price point, and most menus are three courses – the appetizer, main and dessert. These prices are often fairly good value to the customer, and restaurants get new people to walk through the doors. Since its inception in 2002, menus have gotten more ambitious and the scope of participants has expanded, making it a nice event to spice up January, a time when people want to be economical.

Tonight BeyondYVR went to Wildebeest restaurant. One of the hotter restaurants on the edge of Gastown, Wildebeest has become known for its adventurous combinations, winning the 2013 Vancouver Magazine award for Best New Restaurant. A restaurant mostly intended for the discerning carnivore, unique cuts of meat are presented in novel ways to entertain the palate. A large range of alcohols is also available including a comprehensive beer menu.

Upon entrance, we were seated at a large picnic-style table, two of which adorn the back of Wildebeest. An open kitchen was situated to our left so we could see the chefs as they cooked. Interesting touches were the dark lighting, décor fashioned from a wide range of woods and the rustic feel, offering simply nails in the wall to let people hang up their coats.

A view of the kitchen

A view of the kitchen

A table

A table

From the setting and the menu, it was pretty clear that Wildebeest was trying its best to tap into the Portland gastropub motif. The question was, would it succeed?

My appetizer was a lamb tartare that I thought was done very well. Lamb’s fattiness balanced well with the added horseradish and mustard seed, with that fat being key to mellowing out the wild taste of the meat. My friend’s cured confit trout salad was also very nice – light and refreshing, the trout having a slight smokiness and the restrained use of salt allowing the fish to shine through.

Appetizers - Cured Trout Salad (L) and Lamb Tartare (R)

Appetizers – Cured Trout Salad (L) and Lamb Tartare (R)

Next came a roasted ‘chicketta’, which was pork wrapped in chicken breast, pan seared, and served with roasted squash. The meat was very tender with the pork salted just perfectly for the whole piece, with the squash adding a beautiful sweetness. Any heaviness was balanced by the black garlic and vinegar sauce. I also added some butter-roasted veal sweetbreads at $9, which added a unique fluffy textural counterpart to the firm chicken and pork. My friend’s hanger steak was a lovely medium-rare, allowing one to enjoy the succulence of the meat and its balance with the sweetness of the pan-seared potatoes on the side.

Roasted 'Chicketta' with black garlic jus and roasted squash

Roasted ‘Chicketta’ with black garlic jus and roasted squash

Hangar steak, potato Lyonnaise, and butter-roasted sweet breads

Hangar steak, potato Lyonnaise, and butter-roasted sweet breads

Dessert was not as well-received as the other dishes. My cheesecake mousse, was a touch too salty with a goat component, and the lightness they intended thus lost because of the heavy taste. Garnished crumble confused my palate because the mousse itself was too light in texture to really stand up to the crunchiness. The added blood orange sorbet was too cold, off-setting the overall temperature of the dish, and did not balance out any of the issues. My friend’s chocolate sorbet with pear mousse and solid pears was nicer, but it was a very standard dessert.

Cheesecake mousse with blood orange sorbet and crumble

Cheesecake mousse with blood orange sorbet and crumble

Chocolate sorbet with pear crisps and poached pear

Chocolate sorbet with pear crisps and poached pear

At $38 for the base menu, I feel that Wildebeest was a nice adventure but I don’t think it was as good as others have made it out to be. The portion sizes are rather small, and the presentation seemed somewhat lacking. Dessert was a miss overall but the rest of dinner was great. Our server was also good – being quite timely with water, presenting us with food quite quickly and being friendly in conversation, but not overly intrusive.

I did like it, so next time I will go for just a light meal, without dessert!

Wildebeest can be found at http://wildebeest.ca/

Details on Dine Out Vancouver can be found at http://www.dineoutvancouver.com/

Review of “One” (PuSH Festival) at The Cultch (January 29, 2014)

I was a bit apprehensive about how I would like this one-man show, as I have experienced some autobiographical one-person shows that seemed tedious and self-absorbed. It’s a hazard of the genre. But I had no need to worry about this play, written and acted by Mani Soleymanlou. His perspective is outward-facing, and his self-examination is informed and questioning, I recommend seeing it if you are interested in cultural mixing, the formation of identity, or just simply in Iran.

Here’s the trailer, although in my opinion the actual performance is better.

Mani Soleymanlou, born in Iran in 1982, has lived in Paris, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. He is a francophone who is not of French ethnic descent, but this is more typical than not. He attended a French-language high school in Toronto with 350 students from 82 countries.

Like most immigrant and many non-immigrant Canadians, Mani maintained strong ties to his country of birth. His family went to Iran every summer for over 2 months. He described how his mother, just before she would board the plane to Iran, would go and change, coming out with a grim expression, and her body covered in a shapeless black coat, with a black headdress that covered her hair. He delighted in the love and affection of his extended family in Iran, but he also experienced scary moments like missiles hitting Tehran. But after age 15, Mani did not visit again, as he would not have been allowed to leave the country from age 16, and he would have been conscripted at age 18.

The play really starts to come alive as Mani describes his experience of the Iranian Green Revolution of 2009, which he observed through watching hundreds of videos on the Internet. Given the bloodshed of the Iran/Iraq war during the 1980s, during which many child soldiers were conscripted and quickly died, the government had urged a high birth rate. Thus, Iran has a population of which 70% is under age 34 (given Ayatollah Khomeini came back in 1979 and led the Islamic Revolution that has held Iran in its grip ever since). Mani gave a brief overview of how the Shah was installed in 1953 by the CIA and MI6 because the current ruler had been thinking of nationalizing the oil industry (my note: this is remarkably similar to Guatemala’s story in 1954, except no oil was involved in that country). The Shah’s harsh rule and the growing poverty of the country made him very unpopular, paving the way for the Ayatollah, with false promises of modernity, to install an Islamist regime.

Mani described some iconic cases, such as the woman who was shot in the heart while standing next to her father: Neda Agha-Soltan. Mani said repeatedly that given his separation from the country, he felt he could no longer call himself Iranian. After all, he was not personally experiencing this revolution. I felt that he clearly alluded to the idea that if he’s not Iranian, what exactly is he? Mani seems comfortable as a Canadian as a Quebecois, but the play originated from a Quebec television show, where every Monday a Quebec artiste from a “diverse” cultural background is featured. Mani was featured, and the play arose from that.

In the play, Mani alluded to one of his first, and continuing, friends in Canada, a Jewish girl named Rebecca. He alluded to her again when mentioning Ahmadinejad (whose fraudulent “election” sparked the revolution of 2009), who has famously denied the Holocaust. The point, as Mani stated in the talkback, is that Ahmadinejad’s harmful influence extended beyond Iran, and hurt his friend.

The set consists of freestanding chairs, like you might see in a meeting room. I counted 42. Mani moves from chair to chair, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing. He is funny (parts of this play could be stand-up comedy), but of course also intense and serious.

Talkback

Mani was forthright in the talkback, and gave thoughtful answers to all the questions, even ones that seemed like “gotcha” requests for explication of complex geopolitical and social issues. He described the experience of doing this play in French (not surprisingly, it is called “Un”), and how it differs from doing the play in English. He wants a secular state (his parents fled an Islamic state because they didn’t want their children to grow up in such a society), but he feels the Quebec charter has been wrongly presented. (I’m sure this is an insufficient summary of his nuanced response.)  

What’s happening around town? Some tips to find out

If you live in Vancouver, you can find interesting events and gatherings any day of the week. If you are on a shoestring budget, you can frequently find free and low-cost events. Art openings, wine tastings, theatre productions, concerts in any genre you can think of, readings, multimedia mashups, films, lectures, comedy; very quickly you will realize you need extensive multi-presence abilities to take in a fraction of what Vancouver has on offer.

Yes, keeping up in any meaningful sense can be overwhelming, because there is so much happening. So don’t try. Rest assured you will indeed miss dozens of high-quality, life-changing events because you forgot to look at Twitter one day. Luckily, though, the pipeline of upcoming events is crammed, so you’ll soon have the opportunity for more even if you just missed the best thing ever.

I recommend these methods for keeping up, or at least getting a sense of what’s happening.

Twitter

Vancouver has many social media bloggers who focus on keeping up with events, and they tweet a lot too. Use their work. I follow numerous Vancouver people, places, and companies on my @Beyond_YVR Twitter account. Just click on “Following” (I can’t link directly), and start following the ones that interest you. For starters, take a look at @Miss604, @VancouverScape, and @VIAwesome.

Georgia Straight

This weekly newspaper is a tried-and-true lister of events. Although some events don’t make it here, some huge percentage do. You will never run out of things to do if you limit yourself to @GeorgiaStraight. I prefer reading the paper copy (anachronistic, I know), but you can find music, arts, theatre, literary, and other events online too. Oh, and I usually like the articles too.

Some great web sites

These overlap with the Twitter accounts, but both provide good information. I’m sure to forget some, and there’s no way to make an exhaustive list. But do not neglect these.

It goes without saying that all of these sites, plus many more, have Facebook pages too. So Like those pages.

I attempted to use Facebook to make a list of interesting Vancouver-related Facebook pages. However, I fell behind a couple hundred pages ago. But take a look: Vancouver Culture, Food, Fun.

Don’t get tied up in knots about making the optimal choice on any given night. You can never know for sure. Just do something!

Ryeberg Live at Club PuSH (Jan. 26, Performance Works)

What is Ryeberg? In short, Ryeberg is a Canadian-based collection of essays that follow standard essay formats, except that a curated selection of YouTube videos accompany every essay. So Ryeberg Live, clearly, is the same thing, except that the essay author delivers the essay live, juxtaposed with a curated selection of YouTube videos that provide illustration and amusement. Club PuSH is advertised as a festival within the larger PuSH Festival, and Club PuSH tends even more to the avant-garde than the main stage productions. This show was not nearly so eccentric as some I have seen–I seem to remember a bizarre cowboy show at last year’s Club PuSH.

In the past few years, I have heard, in different cities, of these events where people present YouTube videos, but I’d never managed to make it to one. A new multimedia genre is developing before us. In this case the execution was excellent, due mainly to the fact that each of the presenters is a highly talented, original thinker.

Erik Rutherford, creator and editor of Ryeberg, introduced the speakers. They were prominent BC authors Lee Henderson and Zsuzsi Gardner, visual artist Vjeko Sager, and experimental dance/music artist Sammy Chien. I described the evening as progressing from the relatively conventional (Lee Henderson began with an exposition on money laundering) to Sammy Chien’s unfinished exploration of diverse spiritualities, reincarnation, Internet censorship in China, and mental illness.

Lee Henderson

I enjoyed the careful thought and research, along with the well-selected clips, that explained the mechanisms and scope of international money laundering.

Zsuzsi Gartner

Zsuzsi Gartner’s devoted exploration of the typewriter, particularly the game-changing 1961 IBM Selectric, ranged from Nietzsche’s pioneering typed work to Rodney Graham’s 2003 film Typewriter With Flour.

Vjeko Sager

Vjeko Sager worked onstage in charcoal, completing 11 different sketches, as he played videos by conceptual artists, including one of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger from Burger King. The significance of the 11 works became clear when he called for 11 volunteers from the audience. Rearranged and rotated, the works spelled out “LONG LiVE ART”.

Sammy Chien

Sammy Chien’s work was painful and the most unfinished, as he described his struggle with panic attacks and his exploration of different philosophies and techniques and medications to calm them. He switched from listening to electronic music that can perhaps best be described as ping-y to a droning, slow, ambient sound. He described his experience in China where YouTube is banned, although with a lot of effort and the right VPN, you can overcome it. He brought the work of the Beijing Modern Dance Company (which clearly is amazingly innovative from the short clips he played) to rural peasants who were completely off the grid, and had no knowledge of the Internet.

In all, a fun and worthwhile evening. Thanks again to Miss 604 and Club PuSH for the tickets, which I won in a Twitter contest.

What’s next at the Firehall Arts Centre?

What’s next at the Firehall Arts Centre?

The Firehall, as you might guess, is a former firehall that’s been renovated into a performance and art gallery space. For me, its location at 280 East Cordova (at Gore) makes it my favorite local neighborhood venue. They often have productions, such as the currently playing Medicine and last year’s “maladjusted”, that deal directly with issues that affect many of the residents of the Downtown East Side.

The Firehall has various exciting productions that are coming up shortly. Two of these are “The Drummer Girl”, about the pioneering female drummer Lauri Lyster (Feb 12-22), and “Hirsch”, about the Hungarian-Canadian theatre artist John Hirsch (Feb. 25-March 1). As is typically the case with Firehall productions, there are always a few shows that have reduced-price or pay-what-you-can tickets, a particularly sensitive move considering the Firehall’s environs.


The Drummer Girl

VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver musician Lauri Lyster brings together some of the city’s finest musicians in The Drummer Girl, an eclectic cabaret chronicling her adventures as a professional musician over the last 30 years, on at the Firehall Arts Centre from February 12 – 22, 2014.

From the acclaimed Winter Harp to landmark jazz/blues ensemble Mother of Pearl, this autobiographical show about this multi-talented percussionist’s career draws you into the inside world of the music industry. Lovers of blues, jazz, world, and classical music will be tapping their toes to Lyster’s catchy songs and charmed by her endearingly funny stories of blazing a trail as a female drummer in Vancouver.

Hirsch

VANCOUVER, BC – Toronto’s Alon Nashman is touring his Stratford Festival smash hit Hirsch, co-created with Paul Thompson, to the Firehall Arts Centre, Feb 25 – March 1 as part of Chutzpah! Festival. The Vancouver première of this beautifully compelling play about the life of the Hungarian-born Canadian theatre legend John Hirsch, is presented by the Chutzpah! Festival, Touchstone Theatre and the Firehall Arts Centre.

Hirsch was orphaned by the Holocaust at age thirteen and found refuge in Canada, where his talent and temperament made him an unforgettable force in our national theatre until his death from AIDS in 1989.

Nashman and Thompson’s play refracts Hirsch’s life through the prism of the stage productions which made him famous and which held particular personal significance for him. Hirsch “demonstrates how the director’s life infused his art: The way the memory of seeing his grandfather shot in front of him influenced his Mother Courage and Her Children; how the guilt of being a survivor altered his interpretation of The Tempest; and, perhaps, most importantly, how his eccentric, bourgeois upbringing gives him unusual insight into the works of Chekhov. (Hirsch’s 1976 Stratford production of Three Sisters with Marti Maraden, Martha Henry and Maggie Smith is his most legendary work.)” – The Globe & Mail

Saturday Soirée (Jan. 25, 2014) – Feat. Laura Reznek, Emily Allan and the Tim & Rosie Duo

Saturday Soirées are back at Cocoa Nymph! A few years ago, Cocoa Nymph had a gig on the last Saturday of each month for independent artists. Featuring performers such as Matt Epp, Ann Vriend and the Sidewalk Cellist, the series was a nice, intimate way to get to know a (usually) local artist better.

A/N: It’s kind of funny that this is coming right after my partner-in-crime just posted about the Hot Chocolate Festival, but I do vouch for their drinking chocolate as well! More on this may come down the pipe.

The series had gone dormant for a little while, but now they’re back on track, which is great because West Point Grey will be starved for live music once the Cellar closes down. Commencing at 8:00 PM, one can walk from one of the nearby restaurants and sit in – a kind of dinner and a show. The best part is that this takes place in a chocolate shop, so you can satisfy your sweet tooth with their array of bon bons, hot chocolates, or other delectable confections. For these shows, coffee, tea, and a range of beers and wine are also available.

Starting off the show was Laura Reznek. Playing the piano as she sings, she has a bit of an old-school vibe to her. Her voice is airy and smooth, with a distinct edge that she lets come out once in a while, giving her a throwback quality, almost like a classic blues singer. Her songs are often nostalgic and at times funny, sad or both at the same time. Then that rasp comes off, and I feel like she’s winking at us behind her façade, a touch of sarcastic humor that lifts us, lifts herself out of whatever trance she may lay onto us. This is apparent from the final song she sang for us, a charming little ditty titled Panther which, in her words, is called that because someone at one of her concerts told her that’s what the song’s name was. And I guess the customer, in this case the listener, is always right!

As there was a wide variety of drinks, I think the cabernet merlot on offer was a perfect accent to Laura – powerful, peppery with the slightest hint of sweetness, carrying a long, smooth finish. Here’s a sample of her:

 

Following Laura were the guitar and vocal stylings of Emily Allan. From Bowen Island, Emily had a lighter touch to her performance. Her voice is clean, warm and absorbing; it enveloped me in an aural embrace. Listening to her songs, I hear stories, but nothing with too serious a bent. For example, one she performed for us basically was a guide about how to hide from someone in the ocean. Her voice carried perfectly in the coziness of Cocoa Nymph – even though I was in a small crowd of people, I felt as if I was lying across from her with a campfire between us, her guitar in her hands, singing me gently to sleep with stories.

While Laura and red wine matched up perfectly, Emily was my choice to cozy up with a nice cup of hot drinking chocolate – I would say Cocoa Nymph’s hazelnut, with salted caramel marshmallows would do the trick. I could only find this sample of her (she’s the one on the left):

 

Rounding off the night was the Tim & Rosie Duo. It’s not uncommon to hear instrumental duets, but it was the first time I’ve heard piano and baritone saxophone (which in itself is quite rare to see since the instrument is darned heavy) without a drum to tie it all together.

Tim Sars and Roisin Adams really create a unique sound together. Rattling off a bunch of pieces with a jazz rhythm, it was a treat to hear them meld the groove with all sorts of things, be it Latin and Baltic beats, a soul vibe, and even a clownish circus feel. His sax has a deep, gravelly quality tinged with a breathiness and wild abandon. Her piano has a solid character; a funkiness and liveliness which feels like she was a character lifted off the pages of Charlie Brown. Also singing at times, their voices carried a unique harmony – he being cheerful, direct and loud, and her being hazy, dreamy and edgy. It felt like I was hearing a Cuban band leader combine with a chanson singer on vinyl, yet somehow working even though on paper it shouldn’t. Weaving their way through the multitude of songs, I was charmed, entertained and intrigued, all at once.

I’m not sure what this duo would be in terms of a drink. Maybe it’s not something that I would’ve found that night. If I had to pick something, though, it would be a cocktail – a Sazerac. Smoky, powerful, a touch sweet, and cloaked in mystery.

There’s no video of the two performing together, but here are samples of Tim (sax and voice) and Roisin (piano, on the left) separately:

 

 

I really enjoyed everyone tonight and I hope to see their performances in the future. Thanks to them and to Cocoa Nymph for putting on the concert!