Monthly Archives: December 2012

Two theatre adventures in Old Strathcona

The big ticket for my week was opening night of Martin Crimp’s adaptation of Molière’s The Misanthrope, at the Walterdale Playhouse, directed by Janine Waddell Hodder.

It was going to be my first encounter with Molière, so I picked up a copy of an English translation of the text in a used book store to prepare, and I used Wikipedia to learn that Molière was a 17th century writer of comedy, so working about a century later than Shakespeare and Cervantes.  I looked at the cast of characters, started reading, and was dismayed to realise a few pages in that it was not only written in poetry lines like Shakespeare but it rhymed.  Application to internet resources confirmed that it rhymed in the original too.  I don’t know why this annoyed me, since I am fond of rhyme in a stage-musical context.  But it did.  Anyway, I read the first couple of acts before going to see the play.

This was my first time attending anything at the Walterdale other than Fringe shows.  It has comfortable seats on risers on two sides of a biggish thrust stage, and good acoustics.

I thought the play was very funny, and it probably would have been funnier for someone with a more intimate knowledge of the source text.  For one thing, the dialogue (some of it possibly a different Molière translation than I’d read, and some of it completely modern) was in the same kind of rhyme and metre used in the source text.  The actors – especially Brennan MacGregor who played Alceste – did a great job phrasing the long speeches for sense rather than emphasising the metre.  In the first scene, Alceste and his sidekick John (Zachary Parsons-Lozinski) were talking very quickly, which was part of the humour but it took a bit more effort to follow.  Some of the rhymes were gratuitous enough to be inherently funny:  boring and Andy Warhol drawing, for example, which works as a rhyme in the sort of Estuary English that character was using.  The characters had a variety of English and American accents consistent with their origins (with a little bit of French and a minor character something else – maybe Northern Irish?), and I thought the accents were well done, enhancing the story rather than detracting from it.

In the Molière story, the main character Alceste (the eponymous misanthrope) insists he prefers blunt direct speech, but he is in love with a woman named Célimène, who says cutting things to everyone but only behind their backs.  One early scene illustrating Alceste’s character has him and his sidekick Philinte listening to a bad poem someone else has written about Célimène, and then Alceste telling the writer how crap it is.

In the version I saw, Alceste is a modern-day playwright in London, and the catty woman he’s in love with is Jennifer (Afton Rentz), an American movie star.  The equivalent critique scene involves a drama critic (Bill Roberts) who begs Alceste to listen to a play he has written – well, more like a draft, a scene, notes for a scene.  It’s awful, of course.  Bill Roberts’ delivery is painfully good, and Alceste and John’s different ways of responding are very funny.  Jennifer’s naïve repetition of good lines at her friends’ expense goes bad in the way a more media-savvy person would expect, and wacky hijinks ensue.

One of the funniest things about this play was the way that every now and then there would be some allusion to Molière or the 17th century, culminating in everyone except Alceste showing up at the end in period costume for a party, while delivering the lines that worked equally well in the movie start’s hotel suite and in the French court.

It was also thought-provoking for me because I’m definitely not a person like Alceste who enjoys delivering blunt critique directly, and I don’t like receiving it either.  I’m more like John, preferring a world where people are kind to each other first. This probably makes me not a very interesting reviewer, especially since I admire people who take creative risks in public so much that I just want to be a fangirl.  Is it possible to be kind in person without being cutting in private?  Sometimes sharing the good lines is hard to resist, so does that make me like Jennifer?   Food for thought.

As you can see from my example, you don’t need to know very much about the original play to enjoy the adaptation and pick up on some of the inside jokes.  The Misanthrope is playing at the Walterdale Playhouse until December 15th, tickets at Tix on the Square.  Also, the program says it’s 3 hours long – that’s a typo; it’s about 2 hours with intermission.

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My other new theatregoing experience this week was that I went to Die-Nasty for the first time.  Die-Nasty is a very-long-form improv show at the Varscona Theatre: a season-long soap-opera with an installment every Monday night.  This year it’s a Tennessee-Williams’-flavoured story of the lives of interconnected families in the Deep South, which leads itself easily to parody.  Most of the audience seemed to be regulars, familiar with the characters and the routine of the show, and many of them had season passes with reserved seats.  There was a brief summary of story-to-date in the program, and each character got a brief monologue to introduce himself or herself before the action got going.  And there were lots of odd characters, similar to stock characters of that setting but with enough specifics to be original.  There was one line with a possible interpretation in poor enough taste to disturb me (calibration – this rarely happens for me at improv performances), but in general it was just silly.  I couldn’t work out how much of it was planned ahead of time – the narrator would introduce each scene or vignette like “meanwhile, back at the Beaumont plantation, the lawyer has some bad news”, and then the actors would do that scene.

A bonus for Edmonton theatregoers is the number of familiar faces on the stage, including Peter Brown of the CBC, Donovan Workun, Leona Brausen, Mark Meer, Matt Alden, and others.  Die-Nasty tickets are also available at Tix on the Square, with performances every Monday (except Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve).

Aactor Aaron Craven (er, actor) describes some unexpected happenings on closing night of the play I saw in Vancouver last week.

EVERYONE HAS THE MICROPHONE

Half hour to curtain. We actors were finishing off our vocal warmups on the theatre floor.  A sold out house was streaming into the lobby, the pre-show wine and conversation buzzing. This was to be  the closing night performance of David Mamet’s RACE, my theatre company’s play that had sold out several times during its run in Vancouver and been so well received by local theatre critics and audiences.  The collective energy in the building was crackling and the cast and crew were hyped for one final go at this sublime piece of theatre.

raceequityweb

I guess the show was just a bit too hot.

7:35pm.  The fire alarm starts to ring.  Our first thought, of course: false alarm.  Then, the technical director notes smoke at the back of the building.  The cast exits into the back alley, the audience is cleared onto the front sidewalk as fire engines stream in.

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Dessert plate: bananas, folded crepe, cinnamon ice cream, a few blackberries

Madison’s Grill – good food, done well

Last night a gathering of friends met up for a celebration at Madison’s Grill in the Old Bank Hotel on Jasper Avenue, having discovered that many Edmonton fine-dining establishments aren’t open Sunday evenings. I was glad of the excuse to try somewhere new to me, and I enjoyed a good meal with friends. Our server told us that they could do wine pairings, drinks chosen to suit three courses, for $35, so I said I’d do that. I never did get around to looking at the rest of the wine list, and although I was shown the labels of everything I drank I didn’t write down enough information to order them again.

My appetizer was beef carpaccio, along with some light but interesting Beaujolais Villages. It was served with some very lightly dressed arugula greens and shaved hard cheese (Grana Padano). The meat was so thinly sliced and tender that I couldn’t pick up a whole slice with my fork, and the delicate flavour made it seem to melt in my mouth. And the garnishes were subtle enough that they didn’t distract. My absolutely favourite carpaccios have a little more of the savoury meat mouthfeel, but I would definitely have this one again.

For a main course, I had the sea bass, moist and simple with a lightly-crisped skin. Alongside it were some seasoned rice and grilled seasonal vegetables, again nothing dramatic or unusual but not overcooked or overseasoned. The wine was a cold Gewurtztraminer from Alsace, with that bright-shiny appearance, a crisp smell reminiscent of flowers (hibiscus?), apple juice, and spice. It worked well with the meal. The portions were just the right size for me, enough to please my palate and make me comfortably full with room for dessert.

There were lots of things I would have liked to try on the dessert menu and on the “holiday” additions page, but I settled on the banana-rum crepe with inn-made cinnamon ice cream, and it was also very good, especially the ice cream. To drink with it, I had some Ratafia dessert wine from Peninsula Ridge winery in Beamsville, Ontario, very close to where I grew up. It was not too sweet, and combined very well with the texture of the ripe bananas.

The menu at Madison’s Grill is simply written, without a lot of extraneous geographical name-dropping or adjectives. Snooping at my friends’ plates and asking them about their dinners gave me the impression that everything was actually more interesting than I could picture it from the menu, and everyone seemed to like what they had. The restaurant was not full on a snowy Sunday evening, and the service was attentive. One patron at a table behind me had a carrying voice with distracting snippets of stories, but the atmosphere was otherwise very pleasant and comfortable. There is a big gas fireplace, padded chairs that are not too tall for me, room between the tables, and some dining tables set beside couches. Including my share of the 18% tip written in for large parties, and the three glasses of wine, my meal cost about $100. So I wouldn’t go there often, but I was glad I went.  You can look here for the menu, and elsewhere on the Inn’s website for information about parking (transit is easy, because it’s right by Central LRT station and a block away from the big bus transfer point at Telus Plaza), but be warned that the website plays music on every page as a default.

  sea bass at madisons Beef carpaccio appetizer, Madison's grill Dessert plate:  bananas, folded crepe, cinnamon ice cream, a few blackberries

The Prairie Bowl – a different kind of tournament!

I’ve played in, watched, and volunteered at lots of hockey tournaments, so I know the routine.  You see the list of teams coming from other towns and you’re excited about seeing new talent, while wondering whether the home-town kids are really as good as you thought.  You might get there early on the first night and see the organizers setting up the charts on the wall where they will update the standings throughout the weekend.  You wonder whether the winter weather might be slowing down some of the out-of-town competitors, so it’s a relief to see each new cluster of unfamiliar and bewildered faces get welcomed by the organizers.

The lobby fills up, because lots of fans want to be part of this inaugural event.  You pick up a program and find out that the visitors are from Winnipeg, Calgary, and Red Deer.  A second Calgary team starts play Saturday night, and like any partisan hockey parent you wonder whether that’s fair.  You line up at the concession stand and stock up on red licorice – but you notice that they don’t serve burnt percolator coffee, and they do have beer.  That’s a clue that this is a different kind of tournament.

After they tear your ticket and let you into the auditorium, you get more clues.  It’s warm!  And the seats in Zeidler Hall are comfortable!  The MC introduces a panel of judges who will hold up scorecards, but you’re used to that from watching figure skating in the Olympics.

The first game is between Red Deer and Winnipeg.  The team captains, Serge from Red Deer and RobYn from Winnipeg, shake hands, and the action starts.  And the audience starts to laugh.  Because what you’re watching is the first-ever Prairie Bowl of Theatresports, the somewhat-competitive loosely-codified short-form improvisational-theatre scheme invented in 1981 in Calgary by Keith Johnstone and nurtured locally by Rapid Fire Theatre.

If you’re a frequent Rapid Fire attendee, you’ll love seeing the best of the Rapid Fire company mixing it up with less familiar performers from the other teams, all on top of their game.  On the first night of play, there were lots of jokes with good-natured local colour – the Donut Mill in Red Deer, the Calgary-Edmonton hockey rivalry, crime in Winnipeg, and the lack of tournament representation from Saskatchewan. Apparently there is improv in Saskatoon and Regina but they couldn’t make the schedule work this time.  There was singing (spontaneous musical numbers about dishwashing), dancing (expressive movement in a Chinese restaurant), and physical comedy (the garbageman with a sore back finding a dead body over and over again, the four-bodied drummer showing his/their moves).  Joel Crichton provided musical cues and atmosphere on the keyboard, last night’s MCs were locals Kory Mathewson and Joe Vanderhelm, and members of all teams took turns as judges and as opening-act free-improv players.

I don’t know if this is the kind of tournament where they give Most Valuable Player awards, but RobYn Slade of Outside Joke (Winnipeg) and Ryan Hildebrandt of the Improv Guild (Calgary) are both delightfully expressive.  It was also reassuring to see the judges assess a penalty (sitting out one round while wearing the Ring of Shame) to a visiting player who used a rape metaphor, and to see clear acceptance from everyone on stage that the penalty was appropriate and the rape analogy inappropriate, establishing the boundaries of respect and good taste in a genre without many boundaries.

If you enjoy watching improv theatre, or if you’re curious about what this phenomenon is all about, this is a good weekend to come check it out.  There are two shows Saturday night, at 7:30pm and 10:00 pm, and the playoffs are on Sunday night starting at 7:30 pm, all in Ziedler Hall at the Citadel Theatre.  Tickets are available at the door for $12, or you can order over the phone or on-line here.  There is convenient indoor parking in the Library Parkade (which seems to run underneath everything on the east side of downtown) for $5 cash.  You can also get to the Citadel from the Churchill LRT station without going outdoors.  Outside Joke from Winnipeg are in the early lead after two rounds of play, but the scores have been very close and all teams are still in the running.