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February 21, 2013

On my amateur theatre-going and literary criticism

craigslist_cantataEven though we would have much preferred to go bed at 7pm, Stuart and I dragged ourselves out the door on Friday night to see Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata at the Factory Theatre. And we’re so glad we did, because basically the show was 80 continual minutes of us laughing. Stuart and I aren’t the most sophisticated theatre-goers, not least because Stuart and I aren’t the most sophisticated anything. We’re always a little bit disappointed by any play that does not contain song and dance, and the highest compliment we could think to pay to Do You Want What I Have Got? was, “It was a lot like Alligator Pie!” (Which is a high compliment. Really.) Really, our immediate response to most theatre experiences is a gleeful exclamation of, “We are at a play!!” Definitely not an outing to be taken for granted.

Anyway, we loved Do You Want What I Got?, which was funny, smart and really well-executed. And it wasn’t just whimsy–there was meaning behind it too, that eternal story of the human condition, looking for connection in a crazy world. The show runs until March 3, and I’d urge anyone who can to check it out in the meantime.

There is a point beyond this, however, and it is what I take away from all of this in my position as literary critic/book reviewer. Now, Do You Want What Have Got? has received excellent reviews, but I’m always amazed by the criticisms that manage to turn up whenever I read a review of a play I loved. “How could the critic have noticed that?” I wonder. “Of all the things to focus on…” I think that criticism is really important, essential even, but part of me that feels that critics miss out on the unified experience, that they never get the pleasure of fidgeting in a seat and thinking, “We are at a play!!” It takes so much more to wow a critic, and that’s the critic’s loss.

But not entirely, of course. Being ill-informed and therefore wowed by mediocrity is really nothing to be proud of, and it’s probably better to be eternally dissatisfied. But still. I think critics have to strike a balance, to understand how the common reader/theatre-goer will be greeting the experience, what that impact will be. And I think the critic has to hold on to that wonder, that sense of, “Holy cow! This is art! I am lucky to be here.”

December 3, 2012

Talented Friends

This busy weekend featured a couple of my talented friends, and not for having written books even! On Saturday night, we attended the very exciting Toronto premiere of the short film “How to Keep Your Day Job”, based on the short story of the same name by Rebecca Rosenblum. It was so wonderful to be there in a room full of people, all of us collectively laughing at the humour and gasping at the otherwise. The film was so well done, underlining the goodness of its foundation. The film has already been shown in Calgary, and if you hear of it coming about somewhere near you, definitely go and see it.

And then last night I went to the theatre! I saw Strolling Player at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Leslieville, written by Heidi Reimer and her husband Richard Willis, and starring Richard, a 90 minute one-man show about his life in theatre that begins with his birth (on purpose) at Stratford-Upon-Avon. A life in 90 minutes that takes up from a summer theatre in Guernsey, to stages in London’s West End, marriages wrought to ruin by tabloid journalism, exhausting tours across America, and a most unlikely true love discovered in the wilds of West Virginia. It was by turns funny, sad, and always excellent. I was so thrilled to be there, and very excited to learn that the show will be staged this summer as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. Do not miss this one…

November 11, 2012

We go to the theatre: Soulpepper's Alligator Pie!

Yesterday was a monumental day, as we took Harriet to see her very first play. It was Alligator Pie, an original Soulpepper production based on the works of Dennis Lee. We’d been seriously preparing for the experience by reading the book entire, which is beloved by our whole family. It’s just as wonderful as Dennis Lee knew it would be to “discover the imagination playing on things [we] live with every day”, but I suppose it’s not just about the here and now because I really love that with Dennis Lee books, Harriet is enjoying the books that were mine as a child. But yes, I love that we get to read about the streets where we live: “Yonge Street, Bloor Street,/ Queen Street, King: Catch an itchy monkey/With a piece of string.” Walking around the city, we get to see our books brought to life, and that’s an extraordinary experience, the very best way to love literature.

Seeing Alligator Pie on stage took it to a whole new level though. In spite of our prep, much of the show was new to us, based on Dennis Lee poems not just from the books we know (which are Alligator Pie, Garbage Delight and Jelly Belly). And even those pieces we recognized had become otherworldly by being translated into song– “Psychapoo” as a doo-wop ballad, “Tricking” as a rap. The show was loud, and fun–I noted beaming faces in the audience all the around the theatre throughout that were mirroring my own. Its emphasis was on friendship and also on play, not one of the many props on stage ever used for a single purpose of the one you’d imagine it was intended for. The actors (who were also the show’s creators) were full of energy, charisma and talent, and did justice to their material, even made it something new.

The show was an hour long, which was the perfect length of time for any audience members who were 3. It was only in the last few minutes when Harriet announced (in a rare moment of silence in the room, of course): “I don’t want to watch this show anymore.” Which was fine, because by then it was over. We got to walk out to the theatre by stomping on a huge sheet of bubble wrap, and all of us were very satisfied with Harriet’s first theatre experience.

We’d even do it again!

February 24, 2009

Out in the world– a concert and a play

Various events this winter are conspiring to keep me from becoming hermetic, and also providing me with opportunities I won’t see again for a long time once The Baby is born. For example, a concert– Dar Williams, live at the Mod Club this Saturday!! I am very excited, as I’ve not seen her since 2003 (live in Sheffield), being too poor for tickets when she was in Toronto in ’05. And then a play! My very favourite play, no less- Arcadia, performed at Hart House Theatre in March. By Tom Stoppard– have you read it? I’ve done so many times over the past ten years, and can’t wait to delight in it again on stage.

January 10, 2009

Bear With Me: Live!

At year ago I read actor/comedian Diane Flacks‘ book Bear With Me: What They Don’t Tell Your About Pregnancy and New Motherhood, and knew I was ready to have a baby because I’d read the whole book and still wanted one. Flacks’ book was hilarious, entertaining, well written and full of really practical advice that I’ve found useful already. My husband has since read (and enjoyed) the book, and I’ve recommended (and lent) it to friends. So how overjoyed was I to see that Bear With Me is now a play currently being performed (by Flacks) in Toronto? I’m looking forward to seeing it this month. Check out Flacks’ piece on her show in The Toronto Star.

July 6, 2008

Nobody loves abortion

Yesterday I went to see How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Abortion at the Toronto Fringe Festival. I’ve mentioned before what I see as the reason for writers not exploring the theme of abortion in interesting ways: “Abortion makes for such boring narrative. Or at least everyone I’ve ever known to have had one has just gone on happily with the rest of her life.”

And so as a person who appreciates story, I thought the show seemed important, perhaps offering an alternative narrative to those ones all-too familiar: a) woman gets pregnant, decides on abortion, has a miscarriage and then is sad b) woman never considers abortion for aforementioned “boring” reason c) woman who gets abortion is rendered barren, and regrets her decision forevermore (and then goes to hell). Also to move pro-choice open debate beyond the rather limiting, “But what about victims of incest and rape?”

Writer Erin Fleck has done so, offering a show that is funny, poignant, surprising, and very well done. Didn’t do anything too easy. I was laughing hysterically at some parts, the ending left me on the verge of tears, and the story went in unexpected directions, absolutely shocking me at one point (with a twist, not with disgust, I must say), which I thought was sort of impressive.

Fleck writes on her blog (which also covers her difficulties promoting her show), “It frustrates me that the abortion question does seem to be the white elephant of debates…it just sort of sits there in the room and no one really wants to talk about it, for fear of angering a whole lot of people. And while everyone is so busy not talking about it…bills and laws are attempting to be passed to restrict it.”

Congratulations to her for being brave, getting people talking and even laughing. The show runs until next weekend.

Mitzi Bytes

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