Monthly Archives: March 2013

When That I Was

The Shadow Theatre production of When That I Was played earlier this month at the Varscona Theatre.    I hadn’t been paying much attention to the various temptations of local theatre websites lately, so the first I heard of this one was on a LivingSocial discount ad.  But it sounded interesting, so I bought a ticket with the LivingSocial voucher.

Like The Kite Runner, the program for When That I Was had lots to read ahead of time, with a page-long glossary of terms and definitions and a couple of pages of historical timeline.  If you’re a Shakespeare fan, you might have recognised the title more readily than I did – it’s the first line from the song in Twelfth Night, “When that I was and a little tiny boy, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain”.

When That I Was was is a one man show (Christopher Hunt) about a character who has spent his life as an actor in Shakespeare’s company.  It was written by John Mortimer and Edward Atienza, around 1981.  It’s the same John Mortimer who wrote Rumpole of the Bailey. The show is mostly the character telling stories about Shakespeare, and acting bits of them out.  He’s speaking from a perspective of being old and impoverished, hiding from the Puritans who had closed all the theatres, but when he’s telling a story from his youth his whole bearing and voice change so you can see him as a small boy, an ambitious young actor playing women’s roles, or an older man recounting events later in his life and in Shakespeare’s life.

As far as I know, the stories in the play are consistent with known canon.   So the part about Hamnet was sad but not a surprise.  I thought the treatment of Shakespeare’s relationship with  Henry, the Earl of Southampton, was particularly deft, with the narrator explaining that he didn’t know for sure whether or not their love had been expressed physically but that he thought so himself.   That left it open for the audience members to accept the possibility they preferred, and not to feel distracted by a story that didn’t fit the canon or their own previous ideas.

The narrator’s costume comprised various layers of ragged beige and brown garments, as well as hose which were in noticeably better shape.  A more realistic creation might have included holes in the heels that were big enough to be visible above his slippers.  He also must have had really impressive poacher’s pockets, since he kept pulling things out of a flimsy-looking worn jacket without ever losing anything or clinking anything.  At one point I decided that the whole set was like a sort of Chekov’s mantelpiece, since it appeared to just be a mood-creating frame of dusty grey and beige abandoned space with the occasional red cloth, but I think that the character picked up and used almost every property during the play, mostly things that I hadn’t even noticed before he touched them.

The run of When That I Was is now over.  The next Shadow Theatre production at the Varscona is Flight of the Viscount, a David Belke comedy which starts May 1st.

The Kite Runner

The current offering in the Citadel season is The Kite Runner, adapted by Matthew Spangler from Khaled Hosseini’s novel.  I hadn’t read the novel or seen the movie, so the story had me biting my nails in worry and taking my glasses off to wipe off tears.

The story unfolds in mostly short scenes introduced and narrated by the present-day Amir (Anousha Alamian).  The setting moves from Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1970s, to San Francisco, and then to present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The different locations and moods are quickly and effectively evoked by lighting and simple props, and by music.  Salar Nader performs original percussion music before and during the play.  I wonder if it was difficult to adapt this storytelling format for the stage, making decisions about how many scenes and settings and characters were necessary and figuring out how to keep both the observer and the immediacy.

The play program has several pages of notes on the cultures, languages, and history illustrated in the play, showing the westernised or permissive times of the 1970s in Kabul and the discrimination against the Hazara people by the ethnic majority Pashtun, contrasting with the modern-day Taliban regime and its brutalities.  The kite runner referred to in the title means someone who runs to salvage a prize kite after its string has been cut in a kite-fighting tournament – specifically in this story, the Hazara servant boy Ali (Parnelli Parnes) who grows up with the narrator Amir, son of a wealthy Pashtun merchant (Michael Peng).

But the crux of the story is universal.  There’s a situation where Amir betrays Ali out of fear, and then Amir feels horribly guilty about it and does worse things to push him away.  There was a heart-wrenching inevitability to that part of the story that had the audience gasping.  Much later, there is a promise of redemption, and a dramatically-satisfying return to Kabul, but it is not a story with an easy happy ending.

The story is also about the awkward relationship between Amir, a boy who loves storytelling and kite-flying but is clumsy at soccer and fearful of bullies, and his confident intimidating father.  Amir continues to feel like a disappointment to his father as he grows up in San Francisco and studies creative writing, but the closeness between the two of them gradually becomes more apparent as his father becomes old and ill.  Amir’s love interest, Soraya (Dalal Badr), is a smaller part of the story, but we see enough of her to see that she’s a complex character with backstory of her own.

The Kite Runner is playing at the Shoctor Theatre until March 31st.  I won’t write my thoughts about the later parts of the story and the outcome of the plot, because if you don’t already know it, you might want to see it without spoilers.

Ephemeral gets mobile

I haven’t been posting on Ephemeral Pleasures lately because the household of ephemeral pleasure has been preoccupied with buying a car, and then a large portion of the budget for ephemeral pleasures has been temporarily diverted to the costs associated with buying and operating a car.  Fortunately, I had cleverly invested in a lot of theatre tickets beforehand, so there are still events to look forward to without second-guessing the expense, including the rest of the Citadel season.   And I still have a small backlog of entertainment and adventures to report on, which I will get on with soon.

It’s been a long time since I’d owned a car.  When I moved to Edmonton, people in my previous hometown as well as here said “well, you can’t live in Edmonton without a car…” and that sounded like a challenge, so I said “Just watch me.”  I’ve lived a mostly-comfortable life in Edmonton for almost five years without a car, thanks to Edmonton Bike Commuters, Edmonton Public Transit, Yellow Cab, Budget Rent-a-Car Southside, and my friends who have given me many rides.    I even played a season of hockey, after finding a teammate who was willing to pick me up and take me home.

But having a car is like … You know the video game Civilization, where the grid map is concealed in shadows until you explore each tile?  And then it opens up, so that you have the feeling that the geography was always there, just never seen, and it changes your whole perspective?  It’s like that.  My mental map of Edmonton is opening up more and more from my initial tiles of Whyte Avenue and Downtown.   All kinds of explorations suddenly become feasible, or at least feasible in the right weather.  I’m even starting to get to know other parts of Central Alberta – I’ve explored Fort Saskatchewan and Vegreville and some of the villages on Highway 14, and I can see lots more nearby places on the map that I’m looking forward to checking out.

That is, after it stops snowing.