Monthly Archives: September 2012

A Few Good Men

Last weekend I saw Aaron Sorkin’s play A Few Good Men at the Citadel Theatre. Maybe I should have bought a season subscription, but I was more excited about some of the offerings than others, and I couldn’t buy a subscription on line or see the prices by the time I thought about it. So I got one really fabulous seat for the first performance, instead. (Row C, centre).

I never saw the movie, so I didn’t know more than the basics of the story beforehand. I thought it was really good. The thing that impressed me the most was that although everyone was in uniform with the bearing of military personnel and the expressionless faces of enlisted Marines, the actors managed to convey a lot of information about the characters just in small changes in stance or facial movement. And because we knew that they weren’t going to make those things obvious, the audience (or at least me) was working hard at paying attention.

The set was not elaborate but it set the mood and it made it easy to tell which scenes happened in which location. It made use of a rotating thing in the middle of the stage to bring different bits to the front.

The story had a satisfying resolution, but it also brought up a bunch of more complicated questions about right and wrong. And I liked it that the one female character (Lora Brovold), her story didn’t turn into a romance.

Since then, I’ve also watched the 1992 movie, which is full of famous actors. It was good, and very similar, but I actually preferred watching the play. Because instead of letting me find out from scratch who the characters were, it felt like the Jack Nicholson character was just loudly Jack Nicholson, and so on. Again, I was hugely relieved that although the Demi Moore and Tom Cruise characters come to respect each other, they didn’t end up romantically engaged.

The tragedy of Fanny Gabor, and theatrical asides

I saw the musical Spring Awakening at the Fringe, and I liked it but found it depressing. Parts were compelling and parts sort of dragged. I also really liked some of the music. Since then I’ve been listening to the Broadway-version soundtrack and the music’s really grown on me, and I’ve been hearing a lot about the show from an actor friend who is very fond of it. So I guess I’ve changed my mind about not wanting to see it again.

Grant McEwan is going to be performing Spring Awakening at the end of October and first weekend of November. I’m going to go see it on the first Saturday in November.

Also, I’m going to see Next To Normal the weekend after that – that’s the musical about the effects of mental illness on a family, which a friend in California recommended last year.


In Spring Awakening, in the song “And Then There Were None”, the despairing teenage character Moritz has written to his best friend’s mother, asking her for help, specifically money to flee to America which he thinks is the only solution to his problems. The friend’s mother, Fanny Gabor, responds to him in a spoken-word monologue, and he sings his anger and frustration about her answer, now seeing no way out except suicide.

The play is about the teenagers and their troubles. It’s not about Fanny Gabor. But I keep thinking about her. She’s only in a few scenes of the play, but you can see that she’s a kind person who pays attention to her son and his friend, who respects them and wants the best for them. She won’t give Moritz the money to escape, partly because she doesn’t have it and partly because she doesn’t think it’s a good idea. She reassures him that she likes and respects him, she offers to intervene with his angry parents, she points out that lots of successful men had trouble in school, and she directly addresses his veiled hints of suicidal plans. She does exactly what I’d hope to do in that situation.

As far as I’m concerned, Fanny Gabor does everything right.

It’s not enough.

And because the play isn’t about her, we don’t see any more about that, except that she’s one of the people putting a flower on Moritz’ grave in the next song. She goes on to worry about her own son, who’s got himself in a different kind of mess, and nobody in the play has an unequivocally happy ending because it’s not that kind of play.

The more I listen to the recording, the more Fanny Gabor reminds me of me, though. I like supporting and appreciating young people and like Fanny Gabor I’m flattered when they consider me a friend. And when they’re in trouble, I worry about them and I do what I can to help them, and I try to make choices for that help that are balanced and appropriate.

Some of my friendships are more balanced and reciprocal than others. Some of the help I’ve provided has been rewarding for me. And sometimes I’ve been sad and angry to discover that the person is unwilling or unable to take my advice, or that the help provided isn’t sufficient to enable the person to rescue himself or herself in the way I’d envisioned.

Fanny Gabor’s story reminds me that those are the costs of being a compassionate person and an amateur helper. And her story also reminds me that maybe I’ve been lucky so far. I haven’t yet encountered a situation where my help wasn’t enough to deter someone from suicide. But I might. No matter how good I am at saying and doing the right things, that’s not going to be within my control. And that would really suck.

All I can do is to be thoughtful about who I reach out to and what I do and say, to have realistic expectations of how I might make a difference for my friends, to let them know how I want them to treat me, and to take care of myself.

Five musicals at the Fringe

In 2012 I saw five musicals at the Fringe theatre festival.

Middleton a folk musical.  This was of uneven quality. The accompanying recorded music was sometimes amplified too loud to be able to hear the lyrics. It didn’t quite work for me and I’m not sure why not. There were some comic/heartwarming characters typical of a musical, there were some big issues and some funny bits, there was one very good song about being a victim of domestic violence, but I ended up restless and disappointed. Middleton is the town in the Annapolis Valley where I bought my brown apple-applique quilt on my bike trip.

Spring Awakening: a musical, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson:  Both of these had large casts of local young people. Both of them had professional microphones and amplification used properly, and the music was by live small orchestras, all of which was an improvement over Middleton, which I saw the first  weekend of the festival.

Both of them had musical scores that I would call alt-rock or punk, which at first seemed bizarrely anachronistic in the period pieces, but then I realised that any other kind of “show tunes” would be equally anachronistic. And I liked the music a lot in both shows. Spring Awakening had more songs that I could see buying and listening to again though.

Both of them had extremely partisan crowds of young friends who were very responsive. In Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, there was a bunch of appropriate heckling from the back that I couldn’t tell if it was scripted or spontaneous.

If you look up Spring Awakening on Wikipedia, you can see that it was originally a scandalous stage play of the late 19th century, made into a Broadway musical about six years ago. I can see why it was scandalous, if it was anything near as explicit about sexual issues of adolescents and their consequences as the musical is. It was mostly not a happy story, and it couldn’t have been with integrity. I thought it was a good show well done, and I might buy some of the music, but I don’t really want to see it again.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson had a very different mood, that I don’t know how to describe. Way beyond tongue in cheek to making fun of everything. There were a few serious points, like the problems of direct democracy and the disconnect between a Washington elite and the needs of the frontier people, and it was clear that the main objection to Jackson that the scriptwriter and performers had was his role in the Trail of Tears and earlier ruin of Indian nations.

I’m curious about the economics of Fringe shows. I’m assuming that they only reason these two companies can afford to put on these large-cast shows is that the actors don’t need to make enough money to put food on the table etc, and that their producers might also be getting donations for costumes and stuff – and also, they must have a waiver or subsidy of royalties. Spring Awakening was done by a company of recent alumni from Strathcona High School, with a director and music-director who teach and run student theatre there. The production felt more polished and disciplined than Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Fiorello! – I missed this in the regular Fringe time, but it was an unofficial holdover at the Varscona Theatre. It’s a musical about Fiorello LaGuardia, the anti-corruption New York politician in the 1920s and 1930s. I enjoyed it. It had some cutesy-stereotype-y stuff but the pace was good. The number where he was campaigning on street corners in different neighbourhoods, in English in one verse, then in Italian in the next and in Yiddish after that, was great. Donovan Workun, a local improv guy, played the title role.

Reefer Madness – In the holdovers weekend I went back to the Westbury for Reefer Madness, the 1998 musical. I didn’t see any programs, but I was more caught up in it than for many other shows. It was really funny. Some of the music was catchy and some wasn’t my thing. There were 6 actors each playing 1-2 main characters and some other attributes and chorus. There was a hilarious blasphemous bit with Jesus in gold lamé shorts. I kept thinking about the similarities with Rocky Horror Picture Show – the innocent young couple subverted and seduced in a den of depravity, the didactic lecturer telling the story, the other characters in the reefer house and their interactions with the boss, etc. At one point the actor playing the didactic lecturer was then playing Franklin D Roosevelt, in a push wheelchair with a lap blanket, so that made me think even more of the guy in Rocky Horror. I guess Rocky Horror Picture Show (1977) was playing on the tropes of the original 1936 scare-tactics movie and others of that genre – but since I’d never seen it, I didn’t realise it until now.

One of the reviews, I think in the Vue, alluded to how the dramatic warnings about marijuana are now known to be so ridiculous that it’s easy to laugh at, but that it’s disturbing to be realising that if you substituted heroin or crack, they are or might be true. Which was creepy, for me too.

Fringe holdovers

Reluctant to let go of having fun at the Fringe festival and get on with the next things, I remembered that every year they pick a few shows to hold over in the bigger venues the weekend after the festival ends. Always before I’d been ready to move on to other pursuits, but this year I went through the lists of holdovers and bought four tickets.

Fiorello! –  reviewed in the next post.

LOON – this non-speaking mask show had been well spoken of by reviewers and by my actor friend, and it played to a near-full house Thursday night at Westbury, the big auditorium in the Arts Barn. It’s still not my preferred genre but it was fun to watch. The program notes said that the company had benefited from a Kickstarter, so that was neat.

The Minor Keys – I hadn’t really been inclined to see it during the Fringe, and I just added it to my list of holdover shows in a sort of what-the-heck thought of filling up my Friday night. It was playing in the downstairs arts space of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in the neighbourhood just east of the railway tracks. I didn’t like it much. It was … it was the kind of show that’s like a staple of summer-theatre, just a set of not-too-nuanced funny characters revolving around each other. The setting was a run-down jazz club in the late 1960s. There wasn’t very much music in it. The actor playing the professor, Tom Edwards, sounded and looked really familiar but I don’t think I’ve seen any of the shows mentioned on his resume in the program. The actor playing the young accountant was Kendra Connor, whom I’d seen a few nights earlier as Marie in Fiorello! David Belke wrote it. With an intermission it was almost 2 hours long, which was draggy after the faster-paced shows of the Fringe.

Reefer Madness – also reviewed in the next post.

Holdover shows cost more – $18 with the Fringe capital fee. And in some ways it’s not as much fun, just showing up for one or two shows in an evening without a surrounding carnival; it’s more like an ordinary theatregoing experience. There are three shows playing tonight, for the last night of holdovers, but they’re all shows I’ve already seen. So I guess that’s it for me for Fringe 2012 – 31 performances during the festival and 4 afterwards, for a total of 35.