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.