Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

That is all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Leonard Cohen takes #1, #2 spots on British charts.

With Hallelujah, covered by Alexandra Burke and Jeff Buckley. How awesome is that?
Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" made British chart history Sunday when it became both number one and number two in the Christmas singles charts -- although both versions were covers...

The last time [the same song was in first and second place on the charts] was in January 1957, when Tommy Steele and Guy Mitchell held the top two places with Singin' The Blues.

In another twist, Cohen's own version of the song -- which he first released on an album in 1984 -- entered the charts as a new entry at number 36.
Go Christmas, go!

David Mitchell on being pro-Christmas without having to sacrifice on the fun misanthropy that comes from being anti-Christmas:
This is a time when we all come together to disagree about how Christmas is supposed to be done. It's not so much "love thy neighbour" as "mock the neon Santa on thy neighbour's roof". I think these divisions might be what saves my pro-Christmas policy because I love asserting my way of celebrating it over everyone else's. In another life, I could have been a great witchfinder general, paranoid anti-communist or warrior ant. I will root out people who slightly differ from me in their Christmas traditions and blow them away with the twin barrels of my British disdain gun, which are, of course, snobbery and inverse snobbery.

To test your suitability for this fight, consider your reaction to the phrase: "We actually had goose this year." It's not the nature of your reaction that's important, but its strength. I'm hoping for a strong one. Either: "Yes of course, goose is a much tastier meat and an older tradition. I can't believe those turkey-eating scum are suffered to live. They should be locked up in the same hell sheds where the bland objects of their culinary affection are chemically spawned." Or, and this is the one I favour: "Fuck off back to Borough Market with your talk of goose deliciousness. We're supposed to eat turkey - that's now the tradition. Stop pretending you're Victorian, drop this obsession with flavour and get defrosting a Bernard Matthews."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

This is embarrassing.

I think this lack of video just killed the coalition.

Will Harper still go prorogue?

UPDATE: This is the best description of the evening's events I've come across so far: "Harper looked like a rapist on trial and Dion looked like he was using Skype from his basement."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Badly devised Jeopardy categories

Last night, on the teen tournament, there was a category called, "An 'F' in History". All of contestants shortened the category slightly when they asked for it. So, this is what it sounded like:

Overconfident Boy #1: Let's go with effin' History, Alex.

Overconfident Boy #2: I'll take effin' History for 400.

Quietly confident Girl, who eventually trounced the boys: Let's try effin' History for 1000, please.

I think to get more kids to take history as an elective in high school, they should change the course title to something like this. ("What you got next period, dude?" "Effin' History." "Awesome!")

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Two words: Omar Khadr.

Good column by Rick Salutin.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tune on, drop in, turnout...

I hate all these contextless statistics being bandied in attempts to prove various tenuous points about the American election.

In particular, I find turnout percentage stats not very useful, given that they don't accurately reflect what I would consider to be turnout.

That's because the state-by-state turnout stats are based on the number of registered voters, not on the population of eligible voters.

Look at Virginia, for instance. 3,223,156 voted in 2004 and 3,474,202 voted in 2008. That's approximately an 8% increase in turnout, right?

Well, no, because registered voters increased from 4.5m to 5m between 2004 and 2008.

So even though 250,000 more people voted in 2008 than 2004 in Virginia, officially voter turnout went down from 71.3% to 69%.

(These numbers are all from Virginia State Board of Elections.)

As for making sweeping statements about racial division based on exit polls - exit polls, people - in a single state like Alabama, that's even less useful. I think the most telling stat that I've heard is that a higher percentage of whites across the country voted for Obama than any Democratic candidate since Carter.

Saying that racial division persists in the USA is a truism. But saying that race played a negative or positive role in this election - difficult to prove.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What BBC coverage lacked in holograms, it made up for in crazy Gore Vidals.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"We need new idioms, we need to stop talking like beatniks."

Love that Alice Glass, who tops NME's dumb-fun Cool List this year.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Lost in translation.

From the BBC: "When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed.

"Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated".

"So that was what went up under the English version which barred lorries from a road near a supermarket."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lysiane Gagnon tells you what you thought.

"During the election campaign, many wondered how the Liberal Party would have fared if it had been led by Michael Ignatieff. My guess — and everybody else's — is the party would have been a formidable rival to the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois."

Gagnon's column is brought to you by Steve Murphy's new set of English-language Bescherelles.

Speaking of Dion, here's a column from Rick Salutin that sorta snapped me out of my spell:
What impressed many was Stéphane Dion's idealism and "vision." Yet, the 20th century was littered with the damage done by idealistic visionaries who implemented their visions even if the people didn't get it, on the assumption they'd fall in line. Of course, that isn't Stéphane Dion; he accepts the voters' verdict. But his exclusive reliance on his noble vision is still troubling.

Politics basically divides between those for whom it's about ideas, about their notion of what's best for everyone, and those for whom it's about working with others to formulate a vision, or program, on the premise that people have the right and ability to determine their own fate. This distinction is muddied by the cult of leadership, or "strong" leadership, which exists among us in its way, as it did in those 20th-century political disasters. Does it ever occur to anyone that you can have leadership without a vision? Or that a leader could cheerily accept rejection of his vision and continue to lead - in a different direction chosen democratically?

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Just realised Stephane Dion is the first leader of the Liberal party since Edward Blake to not spend any time as Prime Minister. (Aside from the interim leaders, of course.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Post-election thought: What is a working family, anyway?

Are we talking one of those families where everyone pitches in on the farm or at the convenience store? Do the babies have to work too for a family to qualify?

Are dysfunctional families excluded? Who will stand up for dysfunctional families? Next election, I want to vote for a party that stands up for really dysfunctional families and for a leader who will put TV-tray priorities ahead of the put-your-tray-in-the-upright-position- please-mr-oil-drinking-baby-eating-corporate-welfare-bum priorities.

And I want a leader who can focus on the real important things, like distinguishing between sweater vests and sweaters and other woolly garments, and who can make real cutting remarks about these items of clothing. Like maybe, "Is that a hidden agenda under your cardigan, or are you just happy to see your oilmen friends throw the tar sands up on that pinball machine over there?"

And I want a new kind of strong. A really new kind of strong, not just a strapping or a sinewy or a stalwart. I want, like, a weak strong. Yeah. That'd be much better than the old strong strong. The old strong was just a little too strong for me really.
Royal West Academy grads make, uh, good?

Next week, I'm going back to Montreal for my high school reunion, so it's interesting to see a couple of my fellow fomer Royal Westers in the news this week.

- Jacob Tierney, who was two years ahead of me, is making a film called The Trotsky, actually set at my high school (back when it was called Montreal West High School) and starring Jay Baruchel, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Colm Feore and Jessica Pare.

- Natalie McLennan, who was one year ahead of me, has a new book out called The Price: My Rise and Fall as Natalia, New York's #1 Escort.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Every vote is a strategic vote, no?

If not, what is it?

In very exciting news, I won my office election pool today. I am now $280 richer. Well, $80 richer, as I've decided to give $200 to charity.

Here's my question for you: What charity should I give it to? I'd like to give it something that offsets the cuts to arts... But I may just go with the Actors' Fund of Canada.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mr. Dion, when did you stop beating the economy?

Does no one else think this is a terribly phrased question: "If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper hasn't done?"

If I were Stephane Dion, I would have also asked for clarification.

Surely, it should be "If you were prime minister now, what would you be doing about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper hasn't been doing?" or "If you had been elected prime minister two years ago, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper hasn't done?"

Dion's response to the question as phrased - "If I had been prime minister 2½ years ago?" - actually shows that he has a better understanding of English grammar than CTV Halifax's Steve Murphy.

I can't believe this is what is being debated four days before the vote.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On an infinitely less serious note...


I think this blog posted the cat back when I changed the title from "On the Fence" to "Off the Fence", but if it hadn't then this would be the clincher.

[Thanks to Matthew Hayday for sending this my way.]
Repatriate Omar Khadr now.

So say Lawyers Without Borders, the Canadian Bar Association, the Quebec Bar and many other legal organisations: "This is a clear case of disrespect for the rule of law." It is, it is, and I'm angered and ashamed by my country's leaders' timid inaction on this issue.

The Coalition to Repatriate Omar Khadr is currently holding a week of protests to draw attention to Khadr's continuing detention in Guantánamo Bay. Here's their statement of unity:
Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is the only Western national left in Guantánamo Bay. Khadr and fellow detainee Mohammed Jawad are believed to be the first child combatants ever to face prosecution of alleged "war crimes". Khadr was only 15 years old when he was captured by US forces in Afghanistan and later transported to the infamous US detention centre where he has now spent more than a quarter of his life. Khadr faces trial by US military commission. The military commissions fall so far short of international human rights standards that it is impossible for Khadr to receive a fair trial at Guantánamo.

Recently disclosed documents provide further details about the mistreatment that Khadr has experienced in Guantánamo Bay, where the US has been accused of systematically torturing and ill-treating detainees. Reports show that Khadr was subjected to extreme forms of sleep deprivation, a form of torture, including a practice known as the "frequent flyer program" in which he was woken every three hours and moved to a different cell for 24 hours a day over a three-week period. Khadr was also placed in solitary confinement for extended lengths of time.

Court documents also reveal that the Canadian government was aware of the abuse suffered by Khadr at the hands of US authorities, yet continued to assure the Canadian public that US assurances that he was being humanely treated were reliable.

We, the undersigned, ask that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Government of Canada:
• Protect the rights of all Canadian citizens detained abroad, including Omar Khadr.
• Respect Canadian and international law that guarantees the presumption of innocence, due process and protection against torture and other cruel treatment.
• Request the repatriation of Omar Khadr from Guantánamo Bay, and work with US authorities to return him to Canada without further delay.
• Guarantee that Omar Khadr be fairly tried in an open civilian court, should admissible evidence warrant prosecution.
• Provide the necessary resources for Omar Khadr's rehabilitation and reintegration into Canadian society.
Nothing really to add, except I was glad to see my local MP, Olivia Chow, out at the protest at the US Consulate today.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Election art 4

Stephane Dion
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge
Pop Montreal and The Dears piggyback on the election. Artist Jack Dylan explains his decision to Obamafy Stephane Dion on his blog:

"Are we about to enter into four years of a Conservative Canada because A: Stephen Dion looks like a “dork”. And B: Because We’re all too busy dreaming about Barack to care? The cause to make Dion dynamic, sexy, Obama-esque may be hopeless. But isn’t he our only hope? The “Canadian Political Thriller” is an oxymoron perhaps, but maybe its time for us to look beyond image, and start thinking about what’s best for our country, regardless of how boring the answer may seem."

Election art 3

Jack and Stephen
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge
Pop Montreal piggybacks on the election.

Election art 2

Googly Thomas Mulcair
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge
Thomas Mulcair gets the Googly treatment.

Election art 1

Googly Marcela Valdivia
Originally uploaded by uncascrooge
Marcela Valdivia gets Googly eyes.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Whoa... I have the option of voting for Chester Brown?


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Things I don't care about.

Puffin poop.

Gerry Ritz's stupid jokes.

Ripped-off speeches.

Julie Couilliard. Especially Julie Couillard.

I suspect many other Canadians feel like I do, so you'd better not focus on these inconsequential trivialities tonight, Party Leaders Who Are Not Harper Especially the Liberal One. I can't believe, PLWANHETLO, that you have me managed to make me feel sympathy for the Conservatives!

Please, what a waste of time when there are important issues to debate like:

1. The economy. On the whole, I'm interested in a party that is fiscally responsible. There are many ways to be fiscally irresponsible - one of the most popular ways so-called conservative parties do it is to cut taxes while increasing spending as the possibility of a global recession looms.

2. Respect for all Canadians. We can disagree about which government programs are wasteful and which are important. But cynically pitting some Canadians against other Canadians for electoral gain - that's not leadership I can get behind.

3. Omar Khadr. How can we stand up for Canada if we don't stand up for Canadians, especially those who are not yet adults? (Or, rather, who weren't yet adults.) Yes, even those who belong to families we may not be particularly fond of.

These are what I want to hear the leaders talk about tonight. These are the issues that have led me to decide not to vote Conservative in this election. My vote is otherwise up for grabs. I don't vote strategically and neither do the majority of Canadians.
Tell your boyfriend hold your jar...

... and dance wiv me.

Diggin' it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You can't spell polarising without Polaris.

Or can you? My take on Caribou's win is on the Guardian music blog. And here's juror Frank's...
Great, it's a meme now.

From CBC's coverage of its own create-a-new-hockey-theme-song competition:
"We have an opportunity to help five regular Canadians achieve a dream of having their composition associated with Hockey Night in Canada," said Scott Moore, executive director of CBC Sports.
What do you mean "regular Canadians", Mr. Moore? Does that mean non-professional musicians? If so, where'd you get the idea that professional musicians aren't regular, or let's say "ordinary", Canadians? From our Prime Minister, perhaps?
Shut up, racoons!

Stop fighting with each other outside my window!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Stephen Harper in Saskatoon today:
You know, I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the tv and see a gala of a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala, all subsidized by the taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough when they know the subsidies have actually gone up, I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people. Ordinary people understand we have to live within a budget. We have increased culture. We haven’t increased anybody’s budget without limit, so we’re not going to do this. I think this is a niche issue for some, but that’s my view...
"Rich galas"... Jesus H. I hate this kind of politics, pitting groups against each other. Making artists out to be spoiled brats when in fact cultural workers earn less than the rest of the work force.

If the Conservatives want to cut arts programs because they have other priorities, fine. But to do it out of spite, out of ideological hatred, and to insult artists while they do it, that's low. Actors, musicians, directors are "ordinary working people"; I know, I was raised in part by one, who bought powdered milk to save money. Most of the galas most artists attend are the ones they're hired to perform at... often in front of politicians.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The cross on Mount Royal: now available in Rainbow!

Ooh! Montreal's famous pope-o-metre is getting upgraded to polychromatic bulbs. In addition to making it more energy-efficient, this will finally allow the cross to change colours at the flick of a switch. So now when the Pope dies, we'll know like *that*. I fear, however, that this may also lead to a nightly light show a la CN Tower...

(The changes will not however make the cross Death Magnetic... Glad to see Metallica still rocks battleground Quebec...)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

New Kids on the Bloc

They're back and they've got a new hit single (sung by Matt Laurent, now apparently lead singer of La Chicane). Listen to the mp3, then sing along to the karaoke version.

Avec cœur et avec force
Pour une cause à défendre
Sans peur et sans reproche
Avec cœur et avec force
Allons nous faire entendre
Le Bloc répond Présent!
Le Bloc répond Présent!

Awesome! Maybe the Conservatives can get JD Fortune to sing a song for them?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Conservatives eat their political opponents for breakfast!

Also, apparently, granola! Who saw that coming? I thought the Tories were all cereal monogamists.

Thank you, thank you!

Loose translation for English-only speakers:

Lawrence Cannon: Hey guys, remember how we promised we were going to change things, but for reals this time?

Stephen Harper: Yeah, and then we solved the fiscal imbalance and my pituitary problem.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn: So true. Also we recognized Quebec as a nation and that previously silent oppressed collectivity now finally has a voice.

Josee Verner: Oh, speaking of accomplishments, don't forget that beer-and-popcorn allowance for new families and that we reduced the GST to 5%.

Christian Paradis: I'M IN THE CABINET!?!?!

Michel Fortier: And we've got a 1000-year plan to reduce greenhouse gases without any new taxes. Question: Are we drinking grapefruit juice or really watery orange juice?

Stephen Harper: We were responsible, and we made good decisions, and we ate all our vegetables!

Lawrence Cannon: Unlike the Liberals, who made promises and then didn't keep them.

Christian Paradis: Yeah, and unlike the Bloc, who OMG GUYS, I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M HAVING BREAKFAST WITH ALL OF YOU!!!

Josee Verner: Finally, a government that keeps its promises. Us, I mean. With the exception of *cough* 125,000 new childcare spaces *cough* and patient wait time guarantees and *cough* stuff. Hey, is that long-gun registry still around or what?

Michel Fortier: Whatever. We are so friggin' awesome that I'm going to use an anglicisme.

Stephen Harper: The more I nod, the more it makes me look like I understand what you're saying and by extension what the Quebec nation is saying.

Voice-over: In a world where everyone's trying to keep Quebec down, the Conservatives are moving Quebec forward. Le Quebec Prend Des Farces, sorry, Forces.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Frank McKenna: Man of the Future!

From McKenna's foreword to the Canadian Internet Handbook, 1995 edition, now in my recycling bin:
To celebrate the launching of the New Brunswick task force on the information highway, I was asked to send an e-mail message over the Internet to federal Industry Minister John Manley. I learned to type in high school, but was quite unfamiliar with the functioning of electronic mail, or for that matter with many of the other features of the info-highway. It was, however, clear in my mind that to increase the use of info-highway technology in business and government I had to send a strong message.

I had to show New Brunswickers that I was personally committed to taming the new technology. The event went extremely well and my message was successfully sent to Mr. Manley. And the gamble is still paying dividends.

Friday, August 29, 2008

This is Toronto.

Oh, what a funny city:
"It is plausible that when police are no longer here that people will cross when the red hand is flashing, but that is a concern at every intersection across the city," said Toronto Police Constable Mig Roberts, a spokesman for the traffic services unit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


How come Radiohead never covers Neil Young at its Canadian dates!?!? (Here's a good video of it. The song is Tell Me Why, by the by.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Charlie Brooker is my hero.

Reason number a million. (Is anyone else finding it disturbing how often 9/11 conspiracy theorists pop up in your day-to-day life?)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Keep on bloggin' in the free world...

Those of you who followed the link a few posts ago may have noticed that I am now blogging about theatre over on the Globe and Mail website at the unambiguously titled Nestruck on Theatre blog. (NOT, for short.)

Though I have been blogging for five years in this little corner of the Internet and have got used to the occasional skirmish, I must admit I was a wee bit shocked to suddenly find a prominent playwright and director I admire in the comments telling me that my reviews are "quickly dashed off, ill considered, poorly thought out, and completely subjective knee jerk reaction[s] to a painstakingly constructed, carefully considered, well thought out piece of theatre". Yoicks. I guess this is why Terry Teachout doesn't allow comments on his blog...

But, you know, if I can dish it out, as it were, then I should be able to take it. And I am quite excited to be trying something relatively new for a critic, foolhardy though it may be.

The question salient to you folks who come here, of course, is what am I do to with Off the Fence (formerly On the Fence until I had a loss of faithlessness in England). Obviously, I must dedicate myself to my new home for a bit, but I feel that there will always be important non-theatre issues that will draw me back here.

For instance, here is my question about Katy Perry's song I Kissed a Girl, which I love and hate myself for loving. Is the way that she sings the word "it" over two syllables the most annoying moment in popular song in the past five years - or is it pure mothereffing genius?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oh come on...

It's a funny cover.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I love MGMT.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Work in progress...

Check it out.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

His own personal Jesus.

Father Raymond J de Souza writes the most ludicrous paragraph I've read in months, re: the failed appeal of his former boss Conrad Black:
The courts have spoken, and definitively so. The legal process is over. The great man has been jailed. The sadness is deep, but not complete, for from Florida the caged bird still sings.
OK, even Black's defenders must find that embarrassing... What a Maya Angeloulou!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reviewing the reviewer: I have no heart.

Celia McBride responds to my review of So Many Doors in a letter to the Globe:
I have to admit I was awestruck by reviewer J. Kelly Nestruck's lack of emotional reaction to my play So Many Doors (All The Right Stuff, Yet So Unmoving - Review, June 14). We've met audience members unable to speak after the show, sobs still caught in throat, eyes puffy from crying - truly moved. [Read on.]
I know many playwrights/directors/actors are hesitant to respond to reviews, fearful that it makes them look unprofessional or touchy, but I'm in favour of dialogue about theatre in general...

Speaking of, Marty Bragg's response to my review of My Name is Rachel Corrie - in which I called him "faint-hearted" for backtracking on producing the play - is here.

Double speaking of: Anthony Neilson responds to Michael Billington's one-star review of his new play Relocated:
This is the great danger of the play-as-thesis. It assumes that the play is an expression of the playwright's character. And, since playwrights desire approval as much as the next person, it leads to dishonest and complacent work. A play should reflect life as the playwright sees it - not as they, or anyone else, wishes it to be. If one sees a world in which there are no permanent truths, it is dishonest to fabricate them for the sake of approbation. Worse, it is a dereliction of duty. A play-as-thesis is by nature reductive, an attempt to bring order to the unruliness of existence. But bringing order is the business of the state, not the artist.
More hard-hitting journalism from Le Journal de Montreal

Yesterday, Le Journal sent a staffer pretending to be a unilingual anglophone out to Montreal's St-Jean Baptiste parade in a Canada T-shirt. Absolutely nothing happened.

Everyday, more and more, it seems like Le Journal is taking its editorial direction from Just for Laughs: Gags...

(Bonne belated St-Jean à tous!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Master of Ceremonies Hammer

The Columbia Journalism Review has a great little article about the New York Times' difficulty finding a consistent style for rappers. Why does RZA get referred to as Robert Diggs and then Mr Diggs on second reference, while a pop star like Elton John is rarely outed as Reginald Dwight?
Even more confusing are articles that seem to follow no logic whatsoever: a December 3, 2006, Times profile on celebrity Sirius Radio hosts refers to rap personality Ludacris as Christopher Bridges (and as “Mr. Bridges” in subsequent references), but allows Eminem (Marshall Mathers), Snoop Dogg (Calvin Broadus), and Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman) to use their stage names. On second reference, though, Bob Dylan is “Mr. Dylan,” while Eminem remains Eminem; Snoop is only mentioned once, but judging by former Times treatments he would have been called “Snoop” or “Snoop Dogg” had his name come up again.

“If you look in our archives, which we famously refer to as our compendium of past errors, you’ll see plenty of examples of us looking ridiculous,” Sifton says. “One of the difficulties that the Times has in addressing contemporary culture, and certainly hip-hop culture, is that we risk looking stupid all the time.” [Via Optimus Crime]
Canadian Theatre in New York Day.

Look, it's a somewhat-difficult-to-figure-out-if-it's-positive-or-negative review in the New York Times of Bash'd!, the gay hip-hopera by Nathan Cuckow and Chris Craddock:
The production confers a kind of sainthood on [main characters] Dillon and Jack — taking a supernatural turn at one point, it appropriates the heavenly wings of “Angels in America” — but then “Bash’d!” isn’t drama; it’s fabulist agitprop. Yet it comes down to earth at the right times, and is blunt where it needs to be, in its vigorous defense of gay marriage and in a haunting recitation of names of people murdered in homophobic hysteria, beginning with Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena. And going on. And on. And on. In such moments “Bash’d!” shows its rage, its grief and its driven, heartfelt determination.
Here's the unabash'dly positive review from AP. I love the headline in particular: "‘Bash’d’ champions gay civil rights — in rap." That's kind of like: "Old people in documentary sing about aging - in rock'n'roll!" or "Woman makes way to market - on bicycle!"

(I'm allowed to make jokes about copy editors, because some of my best friends are copy editors.)
Judith Thompson narrowly misses first tier of adjectives.

Her play Palace of the End, which opened off-Broadway last night, nearly gets a great review in the New York Times:
Three scalding monologues make up Judith Thompson’s “Palace of the End” at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, and three pitch-perfect performers deliver them. Which, a couple of years ago, would have made for courageous, electrifying theater, since Ms. Thompson’s subject is the travesties associated with the war in Iraq.

Now, though, this production by the Epic Theater Ensemble has to settle for the second tier of adjectives — “absorbing,” “thought-provoking” — because the territory has been pretty thoroughly worked over in plays, documentaries, books and articles of all sorts. That’s not to say that examining the war and its effects is no longer important; just to warn that this intense hour and 40 minutes may, to American viewers who have already taken in a lot of such stuff, start to feel like self-flagellation (or perhaps like being flogged by a neighbor; Ms. Thompson is Canadian).
Variety, meanwhile, is not impressed.
Down with the J!

Oh crap. This isn't going to make crossing the border any easier for me...

Monday, June 23, 2008

You go away for a couple of weeks...

And Marty Bragg resigns as artistic producer of CanStage aka Canadian Stage. My guess is that soon after he is gone, Toronto theatre will miss having ol' Bragg to kick around. That's been a popular sport at least since he moved George F Walker's Heaven from the Bluma to the smaller Berkeley in 2000. (Coincidentally or not, Walker hasn't written a new work for the stage since...)

Other playwrights who have beefed with him publicly recently include Joanna McClelland Glass, Colleen Murphy and Brad Fraser. The critics have had it out for him since Hair with at least one calling for his resignation. Then there was the My Name is Rachel Corrie debacle and then the mistake of hiring David Storch as "artistic director" but not letting him artistically direct... It's been piling up.

You can't really call seventeen years with an organisation a capitulation, however. Bragg is one of charismatic presences in Toronto theatre and a real survivor. Perhaps later on we'll think more fondly of his successes... My main desire is that CanStage go (back?) to the more traditional arrangement of general manager and artistic director. Artistic producer has always like seemed like an oxymoron to me.

ANIMUS UPDATE: Looks like we can transfer any kicks towards the very alive horse Luminato. Mike Wheeler has an entertaining and incisive rant going after the festival run by the politically well-connected here: "[T]his is bad strategy. It’s the same kind of Lastman-era flawed logic that got us a basketball team named The Raptors and the notion that somehow we can buy a world class city instead of building one." Word, though I am grateful to any festival that brings us the likes of Black Watch and Tim Supple's A Midsummer Night's Dream...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Feckless journalism.

The Guardian, a newspaper written by adults for adults, recently ran an article about the explosion of bands that have the word "fuck" in their name. Wrote Alexis Petridis:
[Fuck] might just have still retained some of its capacity to shock in the punk era, but its omnipresence in hip-hop, the most popular music in the world, did for that. Three years ago a pop record called Fuck It was knocked off the top of the charts by a pop record called Fuck You Right Back and not an eyebrow was raised. And perhaps that's the real reason why so many bands have "fuck" in their name: it's just an everyday word.
Well, in the UK perhaps. Meanwhile over in the States, The New York Times, a newspaper run by inadvertently comic self-censors masquerading as adults, couldn't even bring itself to print the name of the band Fucked Up in a review of one of said band's concerts - not even with asterisks; readers were helpfully pointed to a blog URL where they could learn the name of the band the NYT thought worthy of a review. But this is a newspaper that couldn't even bring itself to print the title of Owen Pallett's (admittedly stupidly titled) album He Poos Clouds.

I know I complained about the New York Times' policy just a couple weeks ago, but there's something about this that just really sticks in my craw...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hive2 gets Stars3

I'm on holiday in Montreal until Thursday, but some of the Magnetic North reviews are still appearing.

UPDATE: And here's the 2.5/4 star review for So Many Doors by Celia McBride.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Well, OK, the weather isn't Vanastic at all in Vancouver. But the Magnetic North theatre festival ain't half bad. Though there have been a couple of hitches - here's my report from today's Globe:
Do disasters always strike in three? The Magnetic North Theatre Festival's recent run of lousy luck is testing the principle out.

First, Calgary playwright Sharon Pollock's house burned down.

Then, Newfoundland director Lois Brown was hit by a car and is in hospital with broken legs.

Finally, on Monday night, the RMS Titanic sank. [Read on.]
And a few new reviews: Loft from The 7 Fingers (Les 7 doigts de la main) gets four stars; Kevin Loring's debut play Where the Blood Mixes gets two and a half stars; and Tim Supple's A Midsummer Night's Dream gets 3.5 stars (this one's at Luminato in Toronto).

I have also seen April 14, 1912, Theatre Rusticle's dance-theatre piece about the Titanic (which previously got four stars in the Globe from Paula Citron); Hive2 (the review will appear in a day or two); and Townsville, the Mag North student production which was all about, er, the concerns of theatre students, but was well-performed, had a great design and featured Crystal Castles' Air War, which is basically all you need to win me over.

And I've seen all this while battling labyrinthitis, which explains the lack of bloggery and also explains why I am so looking forward to taking a week off starting Friday.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Review round-up: Black Watch, Rachel Corrie, Love's Labour's Lost

Busy time for theatre critics. Shaw and Stratford have segued into Luminato in Toronto... Then I'm off to Vancouver for Magnetic North tomorrow morning. Here are some reviews I haven't had a chance to post over the last few days:

- Love's Labour's Lost at Stratford - 2/4 stars.

- The National Theatre of Scotland's visiting production of Black Watch gets 3.5/4 stars. (You'll find a couple of versions of this review up on the Globe's website from different editions - it was my first opportunity to file an overnight review for the Globe.)

- And the contentious My Name Is Rachel Corrie gets 3/4 stars:
[I]s the play itself as one-sided as its critics say?

Absolutely, though it never pretends to be more than the personal writings of one individual who identified with the Palestinian cause.

We might want Corrie to view the conflict through a wider lens, to not excuse suicide bombings the way she does, but we're stuck with her the way she actually was.

To a certain extent, anyway. Rickman and Viner have watered down Corrie's views to make her more palatable, a questionable decision that seems politically rather than artistically motivated. The references to "chronic, insidious genocide" that appear in her published letters, for instance, are omitted in the passages quoted here. The decision not to present Corrie with all her warts (some do remain) is problematic, verging on the propagandistic. [Read the whole thing]
What I'm referring to here is a line that appears in her letters as: "Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I'm witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I'm really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature."

It ends up in the play as: "Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I'm really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature."

What do you think? Attempt to whitewash or judicious editing?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Shrew oughta know.

OK, the puns are getting weak as we approach the end of Shaw/Stratford opening madness. Today, Peter Hinton's The Taming of the Shrew gets three stars from me in the Globe:
The play opens with a rendition of My Husband's Got No Courage in Him (one of many popular songs from Shakespeare's time interspersed through the show to provide the "shrewish" perspective). Hinton immediately cuts to a pub scene where a wife is tied to a "ducking stool" and dunked underwater. This early form of waterboarding was a typical punishment, according to the program, for "a woman deemed to be a common scold"; the Elizabethans had ways of making you not talk.

This contextualization allows us to understand why Irene Poole's limping Katherina might be tetchy. If it was hard being a woman at the time, it must have been tougher still for a disabled one. [Read on.]
The Toronto Star's Richard Ouzounian is not so impressed, gives only 2/4 stars, while The Sun's John Coulbourn goes for 3.5/5.

For the fractionally challenged, I wonder if I should start rounding these reviews up with a common denominator? That'd be 15/20 from me, 14/20 from the Sun and 10/20 from The Star. Or should I do it in percentages? 75% from me, 70% from the Sun and 50% from The Star?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Euripides pants? Eumenides now!

Stratford Festival's The Trojan Women gets three stars from me. Great cast, low-budget sci-fi design:
If the Stratford Shakespeare Festival should ever find itself under attack by ancient Greeks, never fear: The theatre's female company members could easily repel them. The Trojan Women shows just how ferociously strong four of them - Martha Henry, Kelli Fox, Seana McKenna and Yanna McIntosh - can be. [Read on.]
I'm sorry Marti Maraden had to bear the brunt of that little where-are-the-exciting-Canadian-directors rant at the end of the review. It could have been dropped in to many a review...

On the other hand, TTW gets a full 5/5 rave from John Coulbourn in the Sun, 3.5/4 from The Star's Richard Ouzounian and a rave from the Waterloo Record too

Sunday, June 01, 2008

You have to be pooing me.

From The New York Times magazine's recent article The Return of the One-Man Band:
[Owen] Pallett’s decision to limit his options seems motivated not by a desire to do less with his songs, in a minimalist sense, but by the hope of avoiding those things that most bands do too much of. The sleeve of Final Fantasy’s most recent album (the title is at once innocent and vulgar, and can’t be printed here) lists violin, trombone, concertina, accordion, harpsichord, a string quartet, shouting and a monologue among its instruments, but guitar is nowhere to be found; neither, for that matter, is a drum kit.
The New York Times can't print He Poos Clouds? That's just ridiculous.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stratford: Cabaret

This one's a bit of a divider. Amanda Dehnert's revival gets 2.5/4 stars from me:
[O]n the whole, there's just too much busyness going off in all directions. A silent-film motif (with video projection by Sean Nieuwenhuis) often takes away from the production numbers, and there are too many ill-advised attempts to get the audience involved, including a failed gambit to get people dancing in the aisles. I understand Dehnert wants us to feel implicated, but it just makes us feel uncomfortable.
The Star's Richie O goes up a half star to 3, while The Sun's John Coulbourn goes with 4.5/5 despite calling Trish Lindström "an unfortunate choice" for Sally Bowles.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Stratford Festival: The Music Man

My review is up and, yes!, I pull out the ol' Four Stars for only the second time in my tenure at the Globe:
Well, I'm sold! Sure, I fancy myself a sophistimacated fella from the big city, immune to cotton-headed sentimental fluffery. But I gotta tell you folks that you'd be missing out big time if you didn't head on down to the Stratford Festival of Shakespearean Splendours and catch their light-as-a-feather, family-friendly revival of The Music Man.

It's pure candy floss for the soul, I tell you, guaranteed to rotate any frown by 180 degrees and put more spring in your step than a Swiss watchsmith turned shoe maker. [Read on.]
If you think I got a little bit carried away trying to emulate Harold Hill's patter there, you should have read it before the copy editors got their wise hands on it. Though I will forever mourn the loss of my reference to Samuel Tilden...

On the other hand: The Star gives a full 4/4 as well, while The Sun goes for 4/5.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Let the Danes begin!

The Straw and Shatford reviews continue to flow. First up, Ben Carlson's Hamlet directed by Adrian Noble - which gets 3.5/4 stars from me:
When Ben Carlson's Hamlet picks up Yorick's skull in that much-parodied graveside scene, he doesn't look the old jester straight in the eye sockets as is usual. Instead, he holds the cranium high above his head as if he is remembering being a small child below and contemplating the long, sad passage of time that separates that time of ignorant innocence from now.

There are dozens of magically melancholy moments like that in Adrian Noble's new production, where crisp direction and compelling acting combine to make Shakespeare's greatest play seem fresh even in its most familiar scenes. [Read on]
In the Star, Richard O. goes for the same number of stars and calls Carlson's "the kind of performance that comes along once in a lifetime," while John Coulbourn goes for 4.5/5 and shifts the focus to Noble.

Next, back to Niagara-on-the-Lake and to Leonard Bernstein's Wonderful Town, which gets 3/4 stars for me:
New York, New York - it's a wonderful town. Actually, first it was "a helluva town," but in the film version of Leonard Bernstein's On the Town the lyric was softened.

And it was after that revised lyric that Bernstein's next musical, Wonderful Town, was titled. The least well-known of the composer's New York trilogy (the third being West Side Story), this 1953 Tony winner is getting an entertaining revival at the Shaw Festival that has its wonderful moments, but is not quite the helluva show it could be. [Read on.]
The Star's R.O. is half a star more enthused, while The Sun's Johnny C goes for 4/5.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stratford Festival: Romeo and Juliet

Read it online before it hits the paper tomorrow. Two and a half stars out of four for Des McAnuff's first Stratford production since 1983:
In the thrilling opening to his new production, a pregnant woman and her baby get caught in the crossfire of rival gangs of Capulets and Montagues, who duel with switchblades, pistols and Vespas until the Prince breaks them up with his Uzi. The following flashy scenes set in modern-day Italy include iPod-toting Lolitas and a barista making espressos right on stage. ...
After the spectacular opening, McAnuff has a few more tricks up the humungous sleeves of Paul Tazewell's colourful costumes. None, however, are clever enough to paper over the production's gaping hole: a Romeo and a Juliet who are both out of their depth. [Read the whole thing.]
It's not all set in modern-day Italy, by the way. I think it's quite clever what McAnuff has done, read the review to find out more, he wrote coyly and hoping to keep his review atop the "Most Viewed" list.

On the other hand: Richard Ouzounian's the only other one with a review up so far. He has many of the same things to say in The Star: 2.5/4 stars. (Those of you who are fond of the Ooze's "cool dad" moments, will enjoy his incorporation of the phrase, "Don't be hatin'.")

Has a Stratford show ever ended with a Cure song before? Something tells me no...

Shaw Festival: The Little Foxes

Not nasty enough, according to my 2.5/4 star review in today's Globe:
While [Eda]Holmes's production tells the story competently enough, it is simply too polite.

For example, Regina's line about being either "a coloured or a millionaire" is in fact Holmes's bowdlerized version of Hellman's original line; the script uses the terrible word "nigger" there and throughout the script, but she or the Shaw has cut them all. I'm sure there were good intentions behind this anachronistic alteration, but my question is: If you're going to put on The Little Foxes but don't want to disturb or unsettle the audience, why put it on at all? [Read the whole thing.]
(I think, by the way, you could justify taking the N-word out of the show; it's just that here it's representative of an overall toning down of the production.)

Having just watched Des McAnuff's unostentatiously post-racial production of Romeo and Juliet last night (Juliet, Montague, Tybalt and Capulet's Wife being among those played by actors of colour) at Stratford, I'm particularly glad I highlighted the lack of colour-blind casting at Shaw so far this season in this review.* If I were a visible minority up at the Shaw, I think I would find it a little bit depressing that the only roles available to people who looked like me outside of the musical in the first round of openings were maids and servants... Little Foxes has a specific racial dynamic in its plot, but none of the other shows would have been hurt.

On the other hand: The Star's Richard Ouzounian gives The Little Foxes 2/4 stars, while The Sun's John Coulbourn goes for 3.5/5. John Law in the Niagara Falls Review, however, gives 4/5 and raves: "It's hard to imagine the Shaw operating at a higher level."

(NOTE: This post has been edited after I received an email informing me that Shaw's later openings will feature more colour-blind casting.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Shaw Festival: The Stepmother

Finally some disagreement among the critics. I found the public premiere of Githa Sowerby's The Stepmother, discovered sitting for 80 years in a box in the basement of Samuel French's in London, quite exciting. It gets 3.5/4 stars from me:
When Githa Sowerby's Rutherford and Son premiered in 1912, most male journalists were, frankly, baffled. "Tall, fair, with a pretty face and a very pleasant voice, you might suspect her of eating chocolates and talking nonsense in the shade, but you would never dream that she could be the author of a play with all the grim force of a Pinero in the story and the sureness of a Galsworthy in the characterization," author Keble Howard wrote after an interview with her.

New York Times critic Adolph Klauber reviewed Sowerby's debut positively, but noted: "Even with Miss Sowerby as a shining example, we do not feel that the playwriting instinct in young ladies calls for immediate or emphatic encouragement."

My intention in quoting these eminent predecessors of mine is not merely to show what idiots critics can be, but that you see for yourself what Sowerby was up against in her playwriting career, and understand how The Stepmother, a 1924 unpolished gem getting its public premiere only now at the Shaw Festival, might have been left unproduced for so long for reasons other than inferior quality... Read on.
Others have not been so receptive. The Star's Richard Ouzounian gave it 2/4 stars, while the Sun's John Coulbourn awards it 3.5/5 stars. But wait, there are more critics: Lori Littleton in the St Catherines Standard is on my side, while John Law of the Niagara Falls Review is not.

UPDATE: Cushman's up and the words "soap opera" are nowhere to be found in his very positive review.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Interviewer: Richard Burton, we know that movies are something that you see on the screen and plays are something you see live on the stage. What is "theatrofilm with Electronovision"?

Richard Burton: Well, I don't know exactly what the process is. I'm no scientist. I can't explain exactly what happens, but...

[via Playgoer]

Bill C-10 and the mystery of the unprocessed film delayed by the Canada Border Services Agency.

I've been busy at Shaw, but I see the much-more-prolific-than-me Denis McGrath has returned to the subject. (Click through for McGrath's balanced summary of our debate to date.)

My problem with his reasoning is that it's a little bit along the lines of: The Bush administration rushed to war in Iraq, botched the occupation, created Guantanamo Bay, oversaw torture at Abu Ghraib... so is it really such a stretch to believe that they also toppled the Twin Towers in a controlled demolition? I exaggerate, but I'm sorry - I'm a proof kinda guy. Heck, I even believe Shakespeare wrote his own plays.

Josh Errett has more in Now magazine.
In the gutter seeing Stars.

Two Shaw Festival reviews up on the Globe site, three more to come. First is An Inspector Calls, which gets two stars:
A decade and a half ago, An Inspector Calls had a critical resurrection, transformed from chestnut to classic thanks mainly to a daring and expressionistic production by director Stephen Daldry at Britain's National Theatre.

The Shaw Festival's unexciting new revival, however, seems to have as its goal restoring the play's old reputation - that of a didactic and dated piece of theatre.
On the other hand... there is no other hand. Richard Ouzounian gives it 2/4 stars in The Star, while John Coulbourn gives it 2.5/5 in The Sun. Oh, Robert Cushman liked it well enough.

Secondly, we have Shaw's Getting Married, to which I gave three stars.
When Getting Married first opened in 1908, Bernard Shaw pre-empted criticism by cheekily interviewing himself beforehand for The Daily Telegraph and declaring that his new play was "revenge on the critics."

"There will nothing but talk, talk, talk, talk, talk - Shaw talk," he revealed exclusively to himself in the article. "The characters will seem to the wretched critics to be simply a row of Shaws, all arguing with one another on totally uninteresting subjects."

That is indeed what the wretches said, and they were right, but here we are a century later and Getting Married is back up on the stage at the Shaw Festival for the fourth time, while the play's first critics are dead and buried in unmarked graves. So, resistance is futile - there's no point but just to go along with the Shavian lunacy.
On the other hand, the Ouze gives it 3/4 as well, goshdarnit, while the Coulb gives it 4.5/5. UPDATE: Cushman says: "Shaw fan though I usually am, I ended feeling that, like the play’s less regenerate characters, I still draw the line at Getting Married."

Speaking of stars, guess who DJ-ed the cast party at the Shaw last night? Torquil Campbell, he of the theatrical band Stars. In fact, Torque's been here all week. His half-brother Benedict (who happens to be Shaw fest A-D Jackie Maxwell's ex) plays the Inspector in An Inspector Calls opposite his wife Moya O'Connell, who plays Sheila. His sister Beatrice is stage manager on Getting Married. (Torquil, Benedict and Beatrice's father is the Stratford Festival founding member Douglas Campbell.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

'Night Mother round-up

Greetings from Shaw Festival where I'm immersed in a busy week of five performances... So, just a quick link to my 'Night Mother review in the Globe. Three stars out of four for Megan "Anne Of Green Gables" Follows and her ma Dawn Greenhalgh:
As the simple but sturdy Thelma, Greenhalgh gives a desperate performance, flustered and flailing as she searches for something to say or do that will save her daughter. She tries flattery and insults, truth and lies, but it's of no use.

Lower on the dial, Follows plays Jessie as cool and calm - with a shocking little smile that intermittently appears on her face. Yet there's something a bit too sophisticated and urbane in her portrayal of this awkward, Southern loner. An epileptic, Jessie has lost her husband, her son's a junkie and her beloved father is gone - but Follows's untempered eloquence and grace make it seem unlikely that her only option is to kill herself.
The Toronto Sun's John Coulbourn agrees Follows is miscast in his 3.5/5 star review, while Richard Ouzounian gives full marks in the Star. UPDATE: Cushman agrees - mother trumps daughter. And Christopher Hoile in Eye goes with 3/5 stars.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Body & Soul, The Eco Show, The Drawer Boy and The Birthday Party

Catching up on a few things this morning, after a theatre-free weekend on a houseboat tooling around the 1000 Islands...

Last week, I went to see Body & Soul, the Judith Thompson creation about aging women that was commissioned by Dove. I don't really have a problem with soap companies commissioning plays, though I did recoil at bit at the invitation that arrived on my desk inviting me to "a new play by dove pro-age". The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like continuity rather than change:
There's a real hunger for empowering plays about women's lives, as the success of Trey Anthony's Da Kink in My Hair demonstrated. That play originated at a Fringe festival; Body & Soul was created by a multinational corporation.

Canada's funded theatres, I suppose, think it's beneath them to commission uplifting plays that simply and directly address the concerns of women.

But, then again, the task of entertaining women has long fallen to soap manufacturers. Along with Proctor and Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, Lever Brothers (which merged with Margarine Unie in 1930 to form Unilever) was one of the original companies that sponsored the radio serials aimed at housewives that became known as "soap operas."

Unilever's involvement in Body & Soul - so crudely proclaimed in the invitation that arrived in my mail box - is still much subtler than the frequent mentions of Spry shortening that accompanied their long-running serial Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories (1937-1956).
Read the rest.

Daniel Brooks' The Eco Show opened last week, too, and it gets three stars from me:
While Brooks has an excellent track record as co-writer alongside the likes of Daniel MacIvor, Guillermo Verdecchia and Rick Miller, he has had less success flying solo as a playwright. His default mode of writing is the lecture, and he hammers his themes home relentlessly at the expense of characters and relationships. "That was terribly overstated and at the same time oblique," says Hamm after one of his eco-maniacal rants. You get the feeling that's Brooks's succinct diagnosis of The Eco Show's shortcomings.

Brooks remains English Canada's foremost director, however, and his production of The Eco Show is a masterpiece of apocalyptic atmosphere.
On the other hand, Robert Crew gives it 100% of his star lovve in the Toronto Star, while Christopher Hoile gives just 60% in Eye. The Sun's John Coulbourn splits the difference and comes up with an intriguing possible reading:
[J]ust as possible, it might be set in some post-modern version of Olympus, where a once-mighty god, now crippled, hides out with a long-suffering Mother Nature, raising their illegitimate progeny and hoping against hope for some sort of future redemption, despite the fact that their children are already infected by their parents with the humanity that is already destroying them.
Elsewhere, catching up, Robert Cushman has some positive things to say about Misery at CanStage, as does Glenn Sumi in Now, which makes me feel a little less like a heretic for my three-star review.

Overseas: I wrote about the special relationship between Scottish and Canadian theatre recently when Traverse Theatre's production of Damascus visited Toronto. Today, I learn that the new A-D of Tron Theatre in Glasgow, Andy Arnold, has started his first season there with Michael Healey's The Drawer Boy. The production gets 4/5 stars and a joke about Canadian beer from the Guardian.

Also in the Guardian, The Birthday Party by Pinter celebrates its 50th birthday.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Noh sex please, we're Japanese.

My review of two shows at Factory Theatre's Performance Spring is in today's Globe. Sexual Practices of the Japanese gets 2.5/4 stars, while Two Stroke Roll gets 1/4:
Without a relationship or central idea to anchor it, Sexual Practices of the Japanese floats from bleak moment to funny moment until its sudden and unearned climax. It does, however, include an onstage demonstration of "the world's first virtual wireless intercourse enabler," reason enough to take in this original, but unfocused piece.

Original is a double-edged sword of a word that can equally be applied to David King. Also part of the Performance Spring is Two Stroke Roll, two one-acters written and performed by this Western Canadian playwright. ... King's monotonous, rhythmic delivery is hypnotic, which may be a polite way of saying that it was hard to stay awake.
On the other hand: Sexual Practices... has been getting really strong reviews elsewhere. The Star's R.O. gives it 3.5/4 stars and an extended sashimi metaphor, Robert Cushman has some kind words in the National Post, and Gord McLaughlin whips out 4/5 stars in Eye. Blog TO and Torontoist have weighed in favourably as well. Jon Kaplan in Now goes with 3/5.

In the Star, Two Stroke Roll gets 2/4 stars from Bob Crew and the unfortunate headline "Two Stroke Roll a grim evening of theatre".

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Do accurate accents matter in theatre?

Zoe Strimpel took British actors to task for bad American accents in the Times of London last week. I empathise with her on the Guardian's arts blog today, but also point out that sometimes the wrong accent is the right choice for a play:
Last year, the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton revived a long-forgotten play by JB Priestley called The Glass Cage, which is set in Toronto in 1906. In his review, Michael Billington wrote that cast member Robin Bowerman "displays the most flawless Canadian accent I have heard from an English actor".

Many of the play's characters, however, had they actually lived in Toronto in 1906, would have been first- or second-generation immigrants and had residual Scottish or Irish accents. In the Northampton production, however, they spoke in an approximation of a modern central Canadian accent. "Sometimes for the sake of clarity, you have to make choices that aren't necessarily the most authentic choices," the director Laurie Sansom told me at the time. "You have to try to create a world that makes sense to the audience."
Read the rest here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What I really wish CanStage had programmed to close the season.

Someday some visionary will revive Carrie: The Musical and it will run forever.
Fair enough.

The Toronto Centre for the Arts reopened last week to big ol' musicals with the National Theatre's touring production of My Fair Lady. Three stars for the show from me:
The best reason to recommend this My Fair Lady is the ethereal Lisa O'Hare, who has played Mary Poppins on the West End and is as good an Eliza Doolittle as you are likely to find anywhere today. She's as funny and beautiful as Audrey Hepburn - even resembles her in figure and heart-shaped face - but she also has a crystal-clear singing voice that makes I Could Have Danced All Night and Wouldn't It Be Loverly? delightful.

Hepburn, of course, didn't sing her own songs in the film of My Fair Lady. They were overdubbed by Marni Nixon, who did the same for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. In a fan-pleasing touch, Nixon appears in this production as Mrs. Higgins, impressing with her crisp acting rather than her voice (a bit of a pity she doesn't have a song).
On the other hand: The Star's R.O. gives it 2.5 stars out of 4 and John Coulbourn gives it 4/5. Ditto on the 4/5 for Eye's Christopher Hoile.

Found this last week on YouTube: It's what Hepburn sounded like in the number Show Me before Nixon's voice was overdubbed.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Well, hello there Mr. Wolf.

I recently shipped a box of books from London to Toronto. It was tied up at the border for two weeks. One of the books was called Moby-Dick. Normal border procedure or...

The chilling effect of Bill C-10?

The other day I went to my local video shop to rent a DVD. They didn't have a single copy of The Sweet Hereafter. Understocked store or...

The chilling effect of Bill C-10?

Driving down the 401 at 125 km/h recently, I was pulled over by the police and issued a ticket. I was listening to a Tegan and Sara CD at the time. A Tegan and Sara song featured in a 2005 episode of Grey's Anatomy that guest-starred actor Callum Blue. Callum Blue appears in the upcoming Canadian movie Young People Fucking. Coincidence or...

The chilling effect of Bill C-10?

The point is that we don't know.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Misery, Dance of the Red Skirts, Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th, Judith Thompson, Damascus and Glory Days: A big, long sprawling theatre post

Two reviews of Toronto shows in today's Globe.

First is Misery, CanStage's production of Simon Moore's adaptation of the Stephen King novel. It gets 3 stars out of 4 and a defence of genre theatre from me:
When King won the National Book Foundation's award for lifetime achievement in 2003 - an award that had previously gone to John Updike, Arthur Miller, Philip Roth and Toni Morrison - literary critic Harold Bloom accused the jury of having "stooped terribly low." Many people may think the same thing of [Canadian Stage Company artistic director] Bragg for having programmed [Misery]. But relax, don't expect a masterpiece, and Misery is far from a miserable night out at the theatre.
Other critics were not so thrilled and chilled - The Star's Richard Ouzounian pulls out another one-star review, while The Sun's John Coulbourn goes for 2.5/5. In Eye, Christopher Hoile gives 2/5 stars and - shades of Bloom - calls the play's inclusion on the CanStage schedule "a sure sign of lowered artistic goals".

On Wednesday, there were two opening nights in Toronto: Theatre Columbus's Dance of the Red Skirts and, over at Factory Theatre's Performance Spring, Sexual Practices of the Japanese. First come, first served, so I went to Dance of the Red Skirts at the Tarragon Extra Space - a Theatre Columbus creative collection based on a painting by Paul Klee. Two stars from me:
While there are countless plays based on books, films or other plays, the list of plays based on paintings is short.

But it's impressive. Several of August Wilson's works, including his Pulitzer-winning The Piano Lesson, were inspired by Romare Bearden's collages, while A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by the French pointillist Georges Seurat was the source of Stephen Sondheim's musical Sunday in the Park with George. Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, currently being revived on Broadway, is not based on a painting, but it does include a character called Dull Gret who has charged out of a Pieter Brueghel painting that depicts Dulle Griet leading an army of peasant women through hell.

Theatre Columbus's meandering new play, Dance of the Red Skirts, is a new addition to this genre...
On the other hand, Susan Walker gives it 3/4 stars in The Star and some unbylined writer gives it 3/5 stars in Eye.

Completing my hat-trick of bylines in today's paper: A brief article about the Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th anniversary homecoming weekend. I have great affection for MTC, which was the first regional theatre in Canada and the template for all that came after:
While the sheen has come off many of the regional theatres that were established [a decade after MTC] during Canada's centennial celebrations, the Manitoba Theatre Centre continues to thrive. Though located in the seventh biggest city in Canada, it is the third most-attended theatre in the country (after Shaw and Stratford). And while other theatres complain about a decline in subscription sales, MTC just clocked its biggest number of subscribers in its history.

"If the past is the best predictor of the future, then MTC's in for 50 great years ahead," says Steven Schipper, who has been artistic director at the Manitoba Theatre Centre since 1989.
So many of Canada's theatre greats have passed through MTC's doors - some while I was holding them open. I worked there for a season as doorman and part of the Front of House staff back when I did my Grade 12 in Winnipeg. Part of my job involved climbing the ladder to change the title of the show on the marquee, letter by letter. Yes, even during a Winnipeg February - so I'm glad that they have gone with an electronic marquee since.

But wait, there's more!

There's a lot of theatre stuff that happened this week that I didn't get a chance to blog about. So, in brief:

- Damascus, the Traverse Theatre production that had to postpone its opening night in Toronto, had to postpone its first preview in New York. What is it with cursed Scottish plays?

- James Bradshaw had a good, balanced article on Judith Thompson's new play written with "with a cast of 13 real women" in Toronto - commissioned and produced by Dove. I usually roll my eyes at the whole contrived debate over artists "selling out", but I must admit I felt a bit queasy when an invitation to "a new play by Dove" arrived on my desk. I'm sure it will be an affirming night at the theatre for its target market and I wouldn't discourage anyone from going (everyone involved seems quite sincere), but I'm not certain I should be reviewing ad campaigns, so I'm staying away.

- I love flop musicals. One of my most theatrical cherished memories is seeing Behind the Iron Mask on the West End:

GYPSY: He's the man with the mask!

MASK MAN: Don't ask! Don't ask!

Anyway, this week Glory Days - which apparently is a more noble flop - opened and closed on Broadway on the same night. As Mark Shenton notes, it "now has the rather dubious distinction of becoming the first new musical to shutter on its first night since Dance a Little Closer, Alan Jay Lerner’s final show, in 1983, that was quickly redubbed Close a Little Faster."

By coincidence, I was reading about Dance a Little Closer on Monday while researching my piece on the Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th. That's because, Len Cariou - Winnipeg's one and only Tony winner and former artistic director of MTC - was the star of Dance a Little Closer, which happened to coincide with MTC's 25th anniversary. Last October, the Winnipeg Free Press's Kevin Prokosh wrote an article reviewing the story (sorry, no link):
[Then artistic director] Richard Ouzounian had built MTC's 25th season around Cariou playing the title role of Shakespeare's brokeback king Richard III. It was a big deal that a bit of Broadway was coming to Winnipeg in the form of Cariou, who had won a 1979 best actor Tony for his portrayal of the demon barber in the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd.

The only caveat standing in the way was if Broadway came calling again. It did, and Cariou bailed to head the cast of Alan Jay Lerner's Dance a Little Closer, which opened May 11, 1983. It closed May 11, 1983.

It was one and done.

"Obviously, I should have come here and one Richard III," Cariou [says now]. "I still haven't done Richard III."
Yes, that's right. For those of you keeping track of this now epic blog post, the Toronto Star's current critic was once artistic director of MTC. And the critic of The Globe and Mail, me, was once the doorman. I kind of like that.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Producers.

Just days after Garth Drabinsky finally got his day in court, Aubrey Dan has launched a lawsuit against rival impresario David Mirvish:
Claiming conspiracy, fraud, a breach of the Competition Act and irreparable harm, Toronto theatre impresario Aubrey Dan is seeking an injunction to block the sale of the Canon and Panasonic Theatres to his downtown rival, David Mirvish.

The application, filed Monday in Ontario's Superior Court, alleges that the sale, if consummated, would violate Mr. Dan's prior agreements with John Gore's New York-based Key Brand Entertainment, which bought the two theatres from Live Nation in January.

“Going to court is like going to the bathroom,” Mr. Dan said Wednesday. “It's necessary, you gotta do it. It doesn't scare me one bit. I have the resources.”
If only for Dan's colourful quotations, I hope he doesn't get squeezed out of the Toronto market.

Of course, the Mirvishes have their own theatrical style as well. David M. fired back this afternoon by having a press conference, where he:

A) Said that Dan's lawsuit was without merit;
B) Announced he wasn't closing We Will Rock You after all, but moving it into the Panasonic Theatre; and
C) Brought the cast of We Will Rock You on to sing Queen's We Are the Champions ("No time for losers, cuz we are the champions... of the world.").

Does Dan have a case? If Mirvish does own the Panasonic, the Canon, the Princess of Wales and the Royal Alex, they will have a virtual monopoly on downtown theatres... But does that violate the Competition Act? I really don't know.

It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out, but I do believe that Dan is right when he says that competition is good for the consumer. (We've seen that already in Mirvish's upped-ante 2008-2009 season.) Toronto deserves more than one big commercial producer - it just remains to be seen if this town is big enough for the two of them.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Why the Fringe benefits everybody

Come one, come all to a panel discussion on this topic Friday:
Happy 20th Birthday Toronto Fringe: how living on the fringe can be a truly rewarding enterprise. Trey Anthony (Da Kink in My Hair), Sky Gilbert (novelist, poet, fillmaker, director, actor, professor) and Toronto Fringe Festival's Executive Director Gideon Arthurs, talk about 20 years of festival madness and success. Moderated by (J) Kelly Nestruck (Globe and Mail theatre critic) Friday, May 9, 6:30 p.m. Free. Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St. 416-393-7131
I have long been a strong supporter of the Canadian Fringe movement - the cross-country circuit is unique in the world. In fact, well before I got free tickets as a critic, I got volunteering at Fringes in Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto in order to get into shows for free.

And, yes, I have been a Fringe performer as well, thanks for remembering. What? Symposium: The Musical, of course. In which I played Socrates in a toga? How could that great show have slipped your memory?
From Sweeney Todd to Tricky Dick

Len Cariou, most famous for being Broadways' original Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is going to play Richard Nixon in the Canadian premiere of Frost/Nixon in Vancouver and Toronto. This should be good! Manitoba's one and only Tony winner has the jowls down already.

David Storch as David Frost though? We'll see how it works out - Michael Sheen's great performance (and hair) in the role will be hard to wipe from my mind. (Frank Langella was the critically lauded award-winner in the West End/Broadway productions of Frost/Nixon, but Sheen was perfect. He's just always overshadowed by the actors playing iconic figures - by Langella as Nixon, by Helen Mirren's Lizzie in The Queen... He's too good an actor to upstage them and win awards.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"Canadian becomes first child soldier since Nuremberg to stand trial for war crimes."

Not the kind of headline Canadians like to see out in the world, is it? Michael Savage gets the monstrous story of Omar Khadr into the British press in the Independent:
Lt-Cdr [William] Kuebler [the head of Omar Khadr's defence team] now believes Mr Khadr's only hope of receiving a fair trial is through the Canadian courts, but the Canadian government has refused to intervene in the case, despite growing international pressure. The UK's five leading legal associations have raised concerns with the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, urging him to repatriate Mr Khadr home. The former attorney general Lord Goldsmith, who masterminded the return of the British nationals from Guantanamo, is also calling for Mr Khadr to be tried in his home country.
The whole world is rightfully appalled at the story of Elisabeth Fritzl, imprisoned for 24 years from the age of 18 in a dungeon by her father. Well, Omar Khadr was brainwashed by his family until age 15, then shot, captured and kept in Guantanamo Bay for six years by the American military. Another botched life.

The difference is we didn't know what was happening to Fritzl, but we have had some idea what has happened Khadr. And the Canadian government won't even try to intervene? Shame. This is exactly the sort of place where it is our business to say to our friend and ally, the US, that they've gone too far.

Plus, wouldn't the US have loved it if we sought extradition of Khadr (as Amnesty International, UNICEF and the Canadian Bar Association urged) long ago? They'd have had a good excuse to drop the show trial, which is currently making them look so very bad (see above headline). The Canadian government would have earned points at home for "standing up" to the Americans. Win-win. Instead, we've got this lose-lose situation that makes everyone in North American look bad except the Mexicans.

UPDATE: Teens march against Khadr detention. That's a more cheering headline. From the article:
On Monday, the president of the Canadian Bar Association addressed the House subcommittee on international human rights, which is studying the Khadr case.

"Our commitment to justice is challenged where the individual is unpopular and accused of terrible crimes," Bernard Amyot said. "While the charges Khadr faces are serious, this is no reason to continue to subject him to an illegal process before a U.S. military court."

Like the Liberal government before them, the Conservatives have so far refused to interfere in Mr. Khadr's case.
Of course, now the Liberal, the NDP and the Bloc have all called for his release from Guantanamo Bay.