Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

Women, ambition and the chorus

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Saw Richard III at Stratford this weekend. The “hook” on this production, of course, is that Stratford long-timer Seana McKenna plays the lead. Truth is, though, that you forget about 30 seconds in that he’s a she (except for a few small gestures which I’ll talk about later).

Director Miles Potter went for a very spare set, which is usually a good idea at Tom Patterson, since the audience is pretty much on the stage. A small detail, but one used to great effect, was the clanging of curtain hangers used to punctuate the end of key scenes as various characters disappeared to backstage.

One of the reasons we were interested in this one was the unusual opportunity to see some female powerhouses sharing the stage with McKenna: Martha Henry, Roberta Maxwell and Yanna McIntosh. All of whom I’ve seen many times now.

I didn’t love the play, but it was good. At a runtime of almost 3 hours, it moved at a fast clip and the body count alone is enough to rival any summer blockbuster. Actually, as I was watching it, I was having little moments of insight between this kind of thing and, say, Game of Thrones. If you don’t know much about the play, it’s one of Shakespeare’s earliest, and chronicles the killing spree, ascension and eventual death of Richard III–a man whose obvious deformity was thought to be a manifestation of his inner monster in his own time, and in Shakespeare’s.

McKenna definitely does justice to the role. At times wheedling, always entertaining, her physical delivery (crucial to pulling off the role) is very good and understated for the most part. As I mentioned, there were two little times when my brain went, “It’s a girl, ” not that I was looking to catch her up. One was when she wipes away some tears, and something about the placement of her hand was very feminine. The other was when she smiled, for some reason it seemed very girly.

McIntosh was an overwrought Queen Elizabeth. She seemed more stilted than what I’m used to seeing from her, but I’d say also that the writing is none to subtle in this play, and that possibly had an effect. When Henry first arrived on the stage, the whole audience sat straighter and waiting for her to speak. And since she got to lay a curse on a whole bunch of people straight off, it was quite fun to watch her invective.

Other than Richard, what’s interesting is that most of the men are kind of interchangeable. They plot. They pretend friendship. They call war and jostle for position. Nigel Bennet stood out, as did Sean Arbuckle, whose permanent smirk in service of Richard was probably the most evil part of the play.

Then there’s the ghosts. Again, not sure you can have spoilers on Shakespeare, but basically Richard goes too far and a civil war ensues under Richmond (later Henry Tudor VII). On the eve of the battle, the ghosts of the many people he killed to get the throne (including the “two princes”, sons of his brother the former king) come back to haunt him in his sleep, and aid the other side to kill Richard the next morning.

The battle scene was done in slo-mo, which some critics liked and some didn’t. But I think from a staging perspective, it had to be done that way for the chorus of ghosts to be seen to interact and to make their ghostly emanations. It was short enough to be effective, I thought, but if it went on longer I think it would have lost its impact.

Overall: pretty good.

Whiskey

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Our second Straightup KW event – the Great Canadian Whiskey Tasting was a most excellent night. We had it at the Clay & Glass Gallery this time around and the theme was Canadian Whiskey (duh).

Gord Tanner was our tasting host, and his enthusiasm for the subject matter was evident. He opened with a kind of “shout it out” poll on our favs – quite a few 40 Creek fans, one or two Chivas guys, but no one with the guts to mention CC (though we did refer jauntily to our collective experience with replacing pilfered CC with tea during the teen years). Gord talked about mashes and coopers and oaks and such. He was entertaining and passionate about his subject.

Of the four whiskeys, my favourite was the 40 Creek Confederation Oak (one of a very few whiskeys done with Canadian Oak), but the Alberta Premium 30 year-old was probably the darling of the night — my second choice, but first for many of the people there. The Alberta Premium is a 100% rye mash, which is actually very unusual, for a drink that is regularly called “rye”.

Wiser’s Legacy was the first one we had, and it really set the tone for “old school Canadian whiskey”. Gord says it’s made from an original recipe. It definitely was voted “most likely to go well with mix”, not because it was bad, but because it had that mixy kinda taste.

The last whiskey we tasted was the Crown Royal Cask 16, which is a special release from the new master blender over there. The Cask 16 has a cognac finish on it, and though it was the most expensive one of the bunch, it definitely wasn’t the most popular one. …Until people got hold of the apricot puff pastries with whiskey glaze that Steph from Little Mushroom Catering served as an accompaniment.  Then all of a sudden the world made sense.

In fact, the food was delicious. Splendid cheese selection, cheese-wrapped meatballs in a 40 Creek glaze, really yummy-spicy chicken skewers with avocado puree, this smoked salmon & wasabi cream thing that people attacked AND grilled asparagus with proscuitto & mango. Bonus points awarded for Steph’s inspired choice to put some Hickory Sticks out, cuz, really, could it be more Canadian rec room?

The gallery exhibit was a look at Mother Nature, and her complete disinterest in the arc of human existence. Seems a weighty subject to approach with glass art, but there were some interesting pieces. Several of us got a bit mesmerized by the changing rings of colour and fire in the “round room” (and it wasn’t the drink).

Plans are afoot for another event in the Fall. Bourbon, anyone?

40 Creek Confederation Oak

40 Creek Confederation Oak

This is a picture I did not take…

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

of a grey-haired grandma in her Sunday best, trying to convince her husband to join her in a bit of booty-shaking to Turkish folk music in Uptown Square.

Thank you

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

After a nice BBQ with friends, I came home. It was dark out, and I saw a flash of something out back. My yard is against a school field and some guys had professional grade fireworks that they were setting off in the field.

So I sat in the backyard with a front row seat to some decent fireworks, and random people shouting “Happy Canada Day” from apartment balconies, the field, and the street.

Once all the pyrotechnics were done (and they were awesome), it was very dark, and there was a chorus of thank-you’s from random voices all around the neighbourhood. The last one a very loud, “Thanks for the fireworks, eh?”

How very Canadian.