Monthly Archives: November 2012

David Mamet’s Race – Which could have been Sex. Or Rape. Or Power.

Race, by David Mamet, Mitch and Murray Productions, Studio 16 in Vancouver.  Runs til December 1st.

On my recent trip to Vancouver, I took one evening away from family celebrations to see a play.  The one I chose was the Mitch and Murray production of David Mamet’s 2009 play Race, directed by David Mackay.  The actors are Kwesi Ameyaw, Craig Erickson, Aaron Craven, and Marsha Regis.  An interesting change for me, coming from reading theatre programs in Edmonton, was that all these actors have resumés full of Vancouver-filmed-television credits (Supernatural, Fringe, the Da Vinci and Stargate series, etc).

Race is set in the conference room of a law office, in a city in the USA.  I don’t think the city is specified, but I imagined Chicago and that worked.  The new client, a rich 40ish white man, has been charged with sexually assaulting a younger black woman.  The lawyers are a white man and a black man, partners in the law firm, and their younger associate (or possibly articling student), a black woman.

The story was more about the interactions among the lawyers than about the case or the accused, or at least the interesting parts were.  And of course it wasn’t just about race and the American conversations about race, it was about race and gender and power and the interplay among them.  I could easily see how it was part of the same oeuvre as Oleanna.  It’s also very much about the factors other than objective facts which are relevant in a legal case.

I didn’t feel like anything got resolved in the story, but I don’t think I was supposed to.  The director’s notes in the program acknowledge his discomfort as a privileged white Canadian directing a play by a conservative white American about race relations.  But I would have liked to also see some acknowledgement that as men they might be finding it equally difficult to be telling a story about a woman’s rape.  The one female character on stage, Susan, was the younger black lawyer working for the two male partners in the firm.  Although the rape victim was not a character on stage in the play, watching the other characters interact with Susan showed important glimpses into their treatment of gender, race, and power differentials.  Given this awareness, I found myself conscious of and uncomfortable with the way Susan was dressed.  Her employers are wearing comfortable-looking men’s business clothes, one with a buttoned vest and the other with a suit jacket on.  But she is wearing a very snug collared blouse and skirt, bare legs, and heels, which draw attention to her body shape.  I can’t say that any of that would be inappropriate for a young woman lawyer on a day she’s not going to court – all I know about women lawyers in the USA is from The Good Wife and Damages – but it sure shows that women’s choices get subjected to a different kind of scrutiny than men do.

I don’t think I would like David Mamet as a person, or most of his characters whom I’ve seen in plays and movies.  But I really enjoy the dialogue in his work.  It’s so snappy and snarky and clever and at the same time the disjointed interrupted repetitions sound credible.

The play ran about 80 minutes.  It had three acts or scenes, marked by sudden complete darkening of the stage.  I don’t think there was any music.  The set was an appealing simple representation of a conference room in a small unpretentious law firm, with files, a water service, yellow pads and pencils set out on a glass table, hanging panels creating the sense of walls, and one piece of art hanging on the wall which kept distracting me into trying to figure out how it was illuminated.

The theatre, Studio 16, is in a Francophone community centre just south of Granville Island on the way to Kitsilano.  It had about 90 seats on low risers along two sides of the performance space.

I’m left feeling like the play didn’t really tell me things I hadn’t known before; it just made me think about them.  And it didn’t actually make me as uncomfortable as it could have.  I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad, because as an evening’s entertainment I don’t have complaints.

Normand’s at the Citadel

Normand’s Bistro is a new addition to the Citadel theatre complex.  It’s connected with Normand’s, the restaurant in Oliver, an upscale place with interesting wild game on the menu.  Oddly, the new location doesn’t seem to have a website and there’s nothing about it on the website at Normand’s, so I can’t refresh my memory about the menu.  I guess I need to get in the habit of taking more notes.

I stopped in the other night on the way to an improv-theatre workshop run by Rapid Fire Theatre.  The Citadel lobby was surprisingly busy for that lull between end-of-work and evening, because there was a Justin Trudeau rally on the mezzanine, with red and white balloons, loud recorded music, badly-amplified voices, and cheering fangirls.  This was not the best background for a pleasant early dinner, as the restaurant is open to above.

The people who seated me, took my order, and provided other service were competent and welcoming.  It was a little odd that a different worker came by, told me that although he hadn’t seated me or taken my order he was my server, and stopped by again with the bill.  So I really hope they share tips fairly.

The menu is smaller than at Normand’s, but there seems to be some overlap.  The wine list had between 10 and 15 kinds of red wine by the glass, and I had a glass of Men of Gotham Shiraz, which was enjoyable and full-bodied.  Instead of picking an entrée, I ordered things off the appetizer menu.  A spinach salad with goat cheese, slivers of red pepper, and dried cranberries was both tangier and oilier than the similar dish at the Keg.  Candied lamb sliders were delicious savoury patties of ground lamb topped with caramelized onion (no buns).  Bison carpaccio was served with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a slivered gherkin, and a few olives and greens.  It disappointed me, because the edges of the thin slices were dry and chewy (almost like prosciutto) and it did not have a lot of flavour.  It went well with the vinegar and garnishes though.  Next time I’d probably try the salmon carpaccio instead.

It wasn’t cheap ($47 plus tip) but it was still a treat.  The menu also mentions a three-course special suitable for before/after theatregoing, and they also serve breakfast.  I’ll go back.

Changes in my Edmonton

One of the ways a new city starts to feel like home is noticing all the ways it’s changed since I arrived.  When I lived in Kingston, a small city in eastern Ontario, a lot of people in our downtown and old-society social circles used to give directions by the traffic circle (that’s Upper-Canadian dialect for roundabout) that hadn’t existed since the 1970s, and used to call restaurants by names that weren’t on the sign.  It felt exclusive to those of us who weren’t “old stones” (people whose roots were elsewhere), but after several years I found myself also talking about the traffic circle, the place where the beer store used to be, and so on..

And now I find myself doing the same thing in Edmonton.  I’ve lived in one place for four years, and spent most of my time in the Strathcona/University neighbourhoods.  So I’ve been here long enough to see some changes.

Transit When I arrived there were eleven LRT stops and now there are fifteen.  The opening of South Campus station rearranged some bus routes, so that I used to take the #6 downtown and now I take the #7.  Although lately I’ve gotten so annoyed with watching three #8s go by first that to go home from downtown I don’t wait at the Telus plaza for a bus; I take the LRT to the university and home from there instead.  (MasterMaq discussed this problem in a recent blog entry.) The LRT extension north by the Kingsway seems to be really happening, and the next lines have gotten as far as having station names.

Restaurants  Pad Thai is gone. ouSia opened and I still haven’t gotten around to going there.  A crepe place popped up on Whyte Avenue and went away again.  Langano Skies closed for renovations after the building fire, but is back.  A noodles place across the road changed hands and is now NaanaliciousFour cupcakes places opened in Strathcona/Garneau. Death by Chocolate closed and eventually a Dairy Queen opened.  A Funky Pickle outlet near U of A campus closed, but a Papa John’s opened.  Cargo and James tea disappeared.  Chili’s became O2.  Bars come and go, often too fast for me to visit.  The Savoy became the Gin Mill became Tilted Kilt, and I hadn’t been to any of them.  The Iron Horse sat empty for ages, but didn’t wait for me to become a billionaire philanthropist and buy it to run a passenger- train line to Calgary – it became MKT.  I think there was a live-music bar on the north side of Whyte Avenue which is now some kind of billiards-themed place.  On 124 Street, d’Lish opened and closed, and now there’s something new there but I haven’t gotten there yet.  Downtown, I can’t remember what’s new since I arrived and what I was just slow to discover because I barely crossed the river my first couple of winters here – Zinc opened since I got here, and Underground is new.  La Poutine opened in the Garneau Cinema block – oh, and that reminds me.

Entertainment The Garneau Cinema is now the Metro cinema.  I haven’t been there yet.  I think the Metro cinema used to be in Ziegler Hall at the Citadel, but now Rapid Fire/Theatresports is there.  It used to be at the Varscona Theatre.  The Muttart Conservatory was closed for renovations when I got here, and I think the Art Gallery of Alberta was being rebuilt then too.  The Oilers still play at Rexall Place, except that they’re not playing.  The baseball team that played in Rossdale folded and there might be a new one.

Driving I was here before the big construction project that had 99 Street closed all last summer, I figured out how to work around that, and then it all opened again.  I don’t drive often enough to be confident on road directions farther away, but it seems like every time I drive to IKEA, the route changes, the exit to 23rd Avenue looks different, and the sprawl of South Edmonton Common shopping district has gotten bigger.  I also think that Fox Drive and nearby routes have been under construction the whole time I’ve lived here.

Stores  Two record stores have closed on Whyte Avenue, Southside Sound and the big one I forget the name of, and Permanent Records opened on Gateway.  Alternative Video Spot moved and became Videodrome.  Urban Knitter opened on Whyte Avenue, moved to Gateway, and closed.  Ewe Asked for It and Knit and Purl closed.  River City Yarns opened a second location and moved its first location.  Greenwoods Books moved back to Whyte Avenue (it’s the one store I knew about from before I moved here), and then closed.  Earth’s General Store moved from a central upstairs location on the busy part of Whyte Avenue to a bigger place with parking farther away from the crowds.  Lucid Lifestyle moved from a storefront to a pop-up kiosk to a different storefront.  Blush Lane Organic Market and other interesting outlets opened in a new building where Pad Thai’s parking lot used to be.  A Shell gas station closed on Whyte Avenue.  It looks like some progress was made on remediating the other gas-station site on Whyte by 106.  A Vespa-scooter dealer with bar closed.  I think Blockbuster Video closed, but I haven’t checked.  The Shoppers Drug Mart at Whyte and 109 moved across the road to a bigger two-story space, and the old space sits mostly empty.  Home Depot just south of Strathcona doesn’t have a Harvey’s in its lobby any more; just more things to buy.  Scottish Imports moved from Whyte Avenue to 124 Street just when I was becoming aware of 124 Street as a destination.  My hairdresser (Mousy Brown’s), on 124 Street, opened a second location in Old Strathcona.  And now I’m one of those people who call things by their old names, because I just learned about Treestone Bakery around the time it was changing hands and becoming Boulangerie Bonjour.

While some of these specific changes make me sad, I love living in a city that’s prosperous enough that I can look forward to new ventures, and that’s big enough that I still have lots and lots to explore beyond the fifteen blocks of Whyte Avenue I’ve gotten to know.

What Edmonton changes make you happy?  Which ones make you sad?

Mad Forest

Mad Forest, by Caryl Churchill (1990), University of Alberta Abbedam Productions, Timms Centre for the Arts Second Playing Space, last performance Sunday Nov 18th 7:30 pm.  $12 adults.

This play was set around the time of the revolution in Romania in late 1989.   There are extensive program notes about the events of the revolution and about Nicolae Ceauşescu, but I still spent most of the intermission reading Wikipedia on my phone, because somehow this chapter of history didn’t really get into my long-term memory the way Tiananmen Square and the removal of the Berlin Wall did that year.

The play had three parts (three acts?).  In the first and third acts, small segmented scenes told the stories of two families in a time just before the revolution and shortly afterwards.  Many of the scenes were introduced by a performer walking across the stage pronouncing a language-study sentence in Romanian (I assume) and in English.  The sentences sounded innocuous and typical of a language-study book “We are buying meat”.”We visit our grandparents on a sunny day.” “The dog is hungry” but they all described the subsequent scenes.
It wasn’t clear to me whether the characters from the first-third act narrative were in the second act, which was quite different in style.  A large number of performers were recounting the events of the week of the revolution, in a documentary-like manner.  Unlike the dialogue of the other narrative, in this act many of the speeches were delivered in idiomatic and accented English, which added to the impression that the playwright was reproducing stories told to her on her research trip to Romania right after the revolution.

The intermission happened right after the narrative of the revolution, so I was curious about what was still to come.  What came next, apparently, was that things got more complicated.  We found out more about the characters in Act 1, and about how the revolution and their involvements changed things for them.  We became aware of resentments and prejudices about Hungarians, about gypsies, about people who might have been Party members or informers before the revolution, working class or professionals, orphans in orphanages and families who adopted them.  We saw festive young people acting out the final moments of the dictator Ceauşescu and his wife.  We heard a lot of speculation and gnawing persistence about the events of the critical few days, particularly what it meant that the power to the TV station had not been cut off, and it was my impression that none of those questions was answered.

There was also an odd interleaved scene between a vampire (come out of the mountains because of the blood of revolution) and an abandoned dog.  I couldn’t decide whether it was funny, spooky, or poignant.

After seeing various conversations and interactions among the characters feeling their ways into life after the revolution, all the characters were on stage for a wedding-reception scene at the end, but this didn’t mean that their animosities had been resolved.  There were fights, disclosure of secrets, and insults, until the mother of the bride called for dancing and everyone danced.

This was a student-run production with a large cast and crew, directed by Elana Bizovie.  The Second Playing Space is a plain room (a black-box performance space), set up for this show with seats on risers on four sides.   Most scenes were played either on a large central platform or near one of the corner entrances, with the Revolution narrative all in the centre with people running in and out and around.

For once I’ve managed to write up a show before the end of the run, so if this sounds interesting you can catch it Sunday night.

Next to Normal

I knew I wanted to see Next to Normal as soon as a friend in California recommended it last year.  So when I saw that it was part of the Citadel Theatre’s 2012-13 season I bought a pair of tickets right away, thinking that for this show I’d probably want company.  Unfortunately a cascade of complications overcame all my would-be companions, and I ended up going by myself to the last show of the run.  I thought it was great.  I’d been listening to the Broadway recording for a few months, before the show.  When it looked like I wasn’t going to have company, I decided to protect my emotions by reading the plot summary on Wikipedia.  I don’t know whether I regret that choice.

My general impression of the set was shiny.  Shiny, and the opposite of cozy.  The play was set in Seattle, so sometimes there were shimmery metallic representations of rainfall seen out the windows.  Most of the scenes were in and around a two-story house designed by an architect, and the rest were in medical settings, so it made sense that the framework was all shiny metal trusses (probably they were polished aluminum and lit to look like chromium) and the furniture was all glass, chrome, and black leather.  When I noticed the lighting, it was on the blue side.  There was a shock-therapy scene emphasised by flashing lights which didn’t seem at all out of place in the rest of the set and lighting.   What we saw before the play started was magical – it appeared to be a lighted house far away in a field of stars, and then somehow it looked like that faraway house became the stage set.

I was prepared for the story to be powerful and disturbing.  But it was also much funnier than I expected.  The protagonist Diana, played by Kathryn Akin, was witty, angry, and very likeable.  The actor’s timing and body language showed the character in a wide range of mental, biochemical, and emotional states.  Her daughter Natalie was also easy to identify with, while the Henry character was mostly a humorous contrast and distraction.  I found the husband more self-serving than sympathetic, which certainly made the story more interesting than if he had fitted that stereotype of patient spouse.

The narrative moved quickly, with very short songs and lots of echoes and reprises, and not much dialogue between them.  The voices and orchestra were good and well-balanced.

The performance at the Citadel Theatre was a co-production with Theatre Calgary, directed by Ron Jenkins.

Dinner by twitter

On Sunday night I was hungry and I had transportation, so I decided to go to the Next Act Pub, where I don’t go very often.  By the time I found a parking space in Old Strathcona, it was fashionably late and the pub was almost full, so I sat at the bar.

I asked the bartender to recommend some hoppy ale, and he served me an Alley Kat Orange Dragon Double IPA.  I would definitely drink this one again.  It was moderately hopped and had a sort of orange-peel citrus taste to it.

Then when I was reading the menu and contemplating dinner, the bartender reported that the Cameo Burger (the Next Act’s name for burger/sandwich special) was the Paul Reubens, their take on a Reuben sandwich.  Before he was finished reciting the ingredients, I realised that reading the bar’s twitter-feed description of that sandwich was what had put the Next Act in my head in the first place, so I waited til he finished, told him so, and ordered the sandwich along with fries.

The official description of the Paul Reubens is “the amazing Paul Reubens cameo!! Corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, pickle and homemade sauce on marble rye.”  It was a really good version of a Reuben sandwich, with lots of meat but not enough that it fell apart, and savoury fresh marble-rye bread lightly grilled with – I don’t know if it was butter or oil, but the grilling added to the satisfying mouthfeel.  The fries were thin and crisp and not too salty.

Also, from my seat at the bar I could read the show posters on the wall, and I saw signs for at least two interesting plays closing that day that I hadn’t known about before.  Which is another good reason to go to the Next Act more often.

Spring Awakening: two local productions

This year I’ve seen two local productions of  Spring Awakening, the Duncan Sheik/Steven Sater Broadway musical based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 stage play.  I know there was a Citadel Young Company production last year, but I didn’t see that. I haven’t seen or read the original play, but I’m going to get the script from our library and read it.  I saw the Strathcona Alumni Company production at the Fringe festival, and then the Grant MacEwan Theatre Arts production in early November directed by Jim Guedo.

It’s interesting, seeing two productions so close together and comparing them.  The sets, staging, and dance moves were very similar.  One thing that’s bothered me since encountering the play for the first time at the Fringe was how much the story seemed focused on the two main male characters, Melchior and Moritz, rather than the main female character, Wendla.  But after seeing the MacEwan production, I had a more balanced impression.  I don’t know if it was because the actor playing Wendla in the MacEwan production, Kayla Nickel, was stronger, or whether there were some directorial choices involved, but I was more comfortable with that aspect of the MacEwan production.

When I first saw the Fringe production, not knowing the story ahead of time, I felt like parts of it dragged a bit.  This second viewing was at an advantage for me, then, because this time around it felt like a stark compelling series of events rushing to some awful conclusions.  And I was better able to take in some nuances, because I wasn’t quite as busy being shocked.  For example, in the scene about disclosure of child abuse I hadn’t noticed before that the abuse-victim and the abuse-survivor finish the song together in a way that feels like support and solidarity, the only possible way to make that bit at least somewhat hopeful.

I didn’t find the Moritz character quite as likeable in the MacEwan production as I did in the Strathcona Alumni one, but I don’t know why.