Saturday, August 19, 2017

Back to Toronto

I am back from a week-long trip to the States, where I retrieved the family in Chicago.  I spent 3 and a half very packed days in Chicago, then we travelled to Greensboro, NC to visit my family.  What a contrast!  We pretty much hung out and enjoyed the country lifestyle for 2 and a half days, then flew home yesterday.

I'll just give a brief outline of the activities I got up to in Chicago, but will go into more detail in a couple of follow-up posts.  I was perhaps halfway done with Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury on Friday and decided it would be best to bring it along and finish it up on the trip, rather than leaving it for a whole week.  Between waiting for my flight at Billy Bishop, the flight to Chicago and then the ride downtown on the Orange Line, I was down to the last 25 pages, so I finished it in the hotel and then went to bed.

I read The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye on my various CTA trips on Saturday.  It's a curious book, essentially Kafka's The Castle transplanted to Africa (and indeed Laye did seem to be aware of Kafka).  It even has two dancer/acrobats who take the place of the two bumbling assistants!  In general, my experience on the CTA this trip was very poor (almost always having to wait over 10 minutes for the subway) and it added to my general impression that Chicago (aside from its art scene) is in a slow, terminal decline.  On the other hand, I ended up with a lot of time reading on the train...

I went first to the MCA and checked out the Takashi Murakami exhibit The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg.

 

It is basically like wandering around inside a Gorillaz video.  It was cool though.  It runs through the end of September.  I took a lot of photos, and I'll post more tonight or tomorrow.  Because I am an AGO member, I always get in for free.

There was an installation going into the major exhibits of the past 50 years, since this is the MCA's 50th anniversary.  I still remember when it was sort of a scrappy, small gallery a few blocks south of its current location.  I'll try to write a bit more about my thoughts on the MCA shortly.  I did like the Amanda Williams exhibit, which was very much centered around gold.

Amanda Williams, Tuxes Next to the Precedent, I'm Present, 2011-12

Then I went over to LUMA (the Loyola Art Museum).  All summer and early fall, the museum is free, so that was nice.  There is an exhibit on Joan of Arc and a very interesting (but quite depressing) exhibit of photos by Jeffrey Wolin of a housing project known as Pigeon Hill in Indiana.  In this case, the subjects' stories are written onto the photos, much like outsider artist Howard Finster (the guy that did the Talking Heads Little Creatures LP cover)


After that, I walked south.  I stumbled across the new American Writers' Museum, but didn't feel like paying the cover.  I then picked up a ticket for School for Lies at Artistic House (for Sunday) and dropped in at the Chicago Cultural Center, though there was basically nothing on display.  Had I know how the rest of the weekend would unfold, I probably should have just continued on to MOCP at Columbia.

In any event, I went down to my mother-in-law's for a reunion and barbecue.  It took quite a while for people to turn up, and I actually left a bit early.  As it happened there was music at Millennium Park (though it wasn't as interesting as the following week when they were going to be doing Beethoven's Symphony 9 -- drat), but Benny Golson was playing at the Jazz Showcase.  Since the hotel was fairly close, I walked over and managed to get a seat towards the back.  It was a fun show, though Benny's embouchure seems to be slipping.  He actually sounded better on the one up-tempo piece they played (Coltrane's Mr. P.C.), but generally he wanted to tell stories about his own standards.  I'd say he talked at least 60% of the set and they only played 3 classic Golson tunes: "Horizon Ahead," "Whisper Not" and "I Remember Clifford."  It was still worth seeing one of the last living jazz masters (especially as Sonny Rollins seems to have completely retired).

Sunday I went and saw The School of Lies, which is a reworking of Moliere's The Misanthrope.  I thought I had seen this before, but I must have seen a different play previously, as the plot sort of starts out similarly but goes in a completely different direction.  In any case, it was a lot of fun, and it makes me more likely to go see his adaptation of Corneille's The Liar in early 2018, even though I have not been terribly impressed by the Village Players.

I came back to the hotel (where the family was resting) and we went and got dinner (pizza -- naturally).  Sunday was a bit of a low-key day.  I did a bit of writing, but can't recall too much else I got up to.

Monday, I had to get up quite early to meet a former colleague for coffee before work (8 am!).  I had enough time to stop in at another office where I had worked while in Chicago, then met the kids on the steps of the Art Institute.  We spent a bit over 2 hours inside, then came south to the hotel where we had lunch.  We then set off for the Adler Planetarium.  It was a relatively short visit, though it was neat that they were giving away eclipse glasses.  We won't be able to see too much in Toronto (maybe 50%), but perhaps the kids will give it a go.  When I was 9 or so, Michigan had a complete eclipse, and I saw it through one of those cardboard box viewers.  I just wish the Adler wasn't quite so far from everything.  We got back to the hotel at 4:30.  If we had even another 15 minutes, I would have tried to make it to MOCP, but it just would have been cutting it too close. 

Tuesday we set off for Midway.  I finished another book on the trip (Akiyuki Nosaka's The Pornographers, mostly known because it inspired Imamura's film of the same name).  We didn't have too much trouble getting to Greensboro, though the ride to my father's house seemed to take forever.  In general, it takes a very long time to get anywhere from their house, and we did cut a few trips just to avoid going too many places by car (as my daughter generally gets car sick easily).  We did go into Greensboro proper once and saw the Woolworth's that was the setting of one of the first sit-ins, though we didn't actually go in.

Basically, we kind of lazed around in the heat and just chatted about life.  I was reunited with a bunch of packages I had shipped to the States (some things simply cannot be bought in Canada or not without absurd shipping charges).  However, none of our laptops had CD drives, so I ended up waiting until today to actually listen to any of the music.  I guess a few more days of deferred gratification didn't really matter.

I almost forgot that my dad had an entire box of my old things from storage.  This wasn't exactly welcome news.  The box was largely filled with old notebooks from my undergrad years, but also things like the program from my high school graduation and some other missing theatre programs from 1987-89!  I managed to get it all down to about two inches of paper, but this was one more thing that I had to bring back to Toronto.

We were able to pack everything into the carry-on bags, but mine was very heavy due to several books I picked up (even after shedding a couple of books along the way).  Interestingly, Delta warned me that there was a major rain storm about to hit NYC (we were transferring through LaGuardia).  The on-line alternative options were ridiculous, so I stayed on hold for close to 45 minutes but finally talked to an agent who very helpfully switched our connection to Detroit.  We actually ended up getting in an hour earlier than our original flight (and who knows if we would have made it at all that evening, as several flights were being delayed and cancelled).  Best of all, when we got into Detroit, we only had to walk a few gates down to our connecting flight (as opposed to Tuesday when we were on opposite sides of the airport).

Getting through Pearson was a drag as always, but the UP Express was smooth and then the cab ride home was short.  I did a bit of unpacking and then later in the evening I got back to the quilt.  I am down to the last 2+ rows to stitch together (and all the pieces cut out!) and then the whole thing needs to be stitched length-wise plus a border added.  I should be done by mid September or even earlier. 


Overall, we are more or less back to normal, and in fact, I now have to run off to get groceries.  I am certainly glad I have a couple of days off before I have to go back to work.  Thus, it was wise to cut things a bit short, even though the kids wanted another day or two in North Carolina.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Household maintenance & chores

Last summer while the rest of the family was away in Chicago, I managed to get quite a bit done on the deck, though I remember by the time I actually stained it, I had the kids help a bit (so they had come back by then).  This summer, I probably should have tried to strip the bottom deck and stained it again, but there have been so few weeks with 4 or 5 days in a row that were dry and hot enough.  And to be honest I felt pretty lazy.  I think it will have to wait for next summer.

I gave myself slightly fewer discrete tasks this time around.  I wanted to put up a porch light, partly for those times I do want to be out back after dark, but also to get one with a motion detector to see if I can deter the raccoons at all.  I also tentatively agreed to put up a shelf in my daughter's room, partly because she is short-changed on storage space.  Though I didn't feel as obligated on this task.

Anyway, I managed to get the materials from Home Depot on Monday, but it was raining, so I couldn't work outdoors, and then it quickly got too late to put up the shelf.  (Since all the houses are so close together, even working on one's home tends to disturb the neighbours.)  So Tuesday, I tackled the porch light.  It ended up becoming an epic job.  First, one of the screws was rusted in place.  Even WD40 didn't do any good.  In the end, I actually tore off the cover plate (I guess the frustration gave me Hulk-like powers) and then finally was able to get enough leverage with the needle-nose pliers to get the screw out.  This took about 45 minutes altogether!

The culprit

Then it turned out that the new screws that they included with the light were just too long and wouldn't support the faceplate.  Since I had torn the cover plate off, I really had no choice but to finish the job, so I ran off to Home Depot and crossed my fingers that the new screws I bought would do the trick.  They seemed to work.  It was getting dark by this point, so I really rushed through the wiring and did that in about five minutes.  Then I struggled to mount the light, though I finally got it up.  What an ordeal!  It does look fairly nice though, and the motion detector appears to work.


That was definitely enough for one evening, and I crashed after that.  The following night I was at Factory Theatre for Summer Works, and I didn't get home in time to do any more construction.

Today I left work a bit late and then had to run to the library.  That didn't leave me a lot of time to put up the shelf.  However, I was fairly efficient in my drilling.  I'd say the whole thing went up in about 30 minutes.  The level is there to show that indeed the shelf is level, though the wood is very slightly warped.


That is definitely it for the home improvement this week.  I actually don't have a whole lot left to do, since garbage day was this morning and I've just finished the laundry, though I do need to make sure I get through the dishes and wash the pots tonight.  That's not so bad...

If I have any energy left I will either read another chunk of The Sound and the Fury or work on the quilt.  It is coming together nicely, and in fact, tonight I cut out the very last pieces (aside from the border), so it is just a matter of piecing it all together.  I think it will end up looking quite nice.

11th Canadian Challenge - 4th review - Cloud Physics

I only just learned that Karen Enns has published two poetry collections since That Other Beauty.  Ordinary Hours came out in 2014 and Cloud Physics has just been published (2017).  I actually own That Other Beauty but for some reason haven't reviewed it.  I'll try to reread it relatively soon and decide if I do want to review it, and at that point I'll borrow Ordinary Hours from the library and read it as well.


Only a few poems in Cloud Physics have much of anything to do with science, but the majority are about things ending in one way or another (and I suppose when compared to the timescale of the universe, all human endeavors are as transitory as clouds seem to us).  The first grouping are about the world, or indeed the universe, ending.  One or two seem kind of cocky, while some of the others are a bit more thoughtful.  Incidentally, I just missed the CBC special on Don McKellar's Last Night, but it looks like his interview can be viewed here, and I think the movie itself can be seen on CBC, though I am not sure for how much longer.  I'll come back to this first batch later.

Other poems are about the death of a man who worked at the local mall, who Enns saw frequently, and there is an entire 12 poem sequence where Enns is responding to the death of her father.  (It's not the same feel at all, but I was somewhat reminded of the poetic exercises that Bowering captured in My Darling Nellie Grey.)  A few poems are less fraught, such as "Empty Nest," which could be taken as the death of the nuclear family, but is generally viewed as a natural and largely desirable outcome after one has prepared one's offspring for the world.  That doesn't mean that there are flashes of desolation.  Enns (or her narrator) does feel bereft and perhaps a bit adrift without anyone in the house (either a partner is absent or doesn't count): "I need cut and paste collage, / bedlam in the basement, geraniums gone wild. / I need a bottle washed up on the beach / with a message from a clown."

The collection isn't actually quite as melancholy as it sounds but isn't particularly humorous or joyful either.  I'll just focus on a few of the poems that grabbed me.

"The Planets are Moving In" is from the first grouping about the end of the world.  In this case, it appears to be brought about by some change in gravity that is leading to a collision between the planets (though I would have to assume tidal forces would tear the Earth apart first).  As in the movie Last Night, knowledge of impending doom is widespread, and humans are dealing/coping with it in a variety of ways.  "The planets are moving in with their cold, elegant sheens. / ... / A fog hangs over the surface of the earth / as we wait ... / Some of us drive inland. Some of us / take to deep river valleys and prayer. / Some of us seek out the warmth of barns, / the smell of hay and tools, old wood."  While indeed many would turn to religion (and this desperate longing for life beyond this existence is of course the main motivator for religion), I can also imagine many trying to reconnect and commune with nature as a kind of solace.

A similar impulse but on an individual scale comes up in "A Son's Story," where the narrator is driving his dying father around. "I want to hear the meadowlark one more time, he said. / And so my father put his cane against the rotting fence / and sat down heavy on a stone. / A meadowlark landed on another one / and sang. ..."  With the wish granted, they "drove back to the city" with the father more or less ready to die.

In "People of the Suburbs, Sleep" the narrator is awake while the suburbanites sleep.  While not overly proud of her wakefulness, she still sees a gulf between herself and the others: "Wrapped in blankets and duvets, you're surrounded / by a mesh of dream and incredulity ... / ... / Roll over on your other sides. / ... / There's at least an hour before your coffee makers, / programmed for a better life, bleep green, / your dogs bark hopefully."  If the poem were a bit longer, Enns would have to be more clear about the narrator's view of life.  Is it foolish to be hopeful along with the suburban dwellers?  Does she have some burning secret that keeps her up at night?  The reader does not know.

Enns includes a 12-part suite called Twelve Months, which is dedicated to her father Peter Enns who died in 2015.  It seems Peter was a farmer from the Niagara Region, which could explain Enns' metaphoric use of the earth and soil as a shelter or comforting home.  It isn't entirely clear to me whether Enns is reflecting on her father's death in the 12 months following his death (somewhat akin to Bowering's poetic sequences) or if she is putting the poems into his voice for the year preceding his death.  I would lean towards the latter interpretation.  Leaving aside whether there was a specific diagnosis, this awareness of the advancing stages of death generally fits better into the overall scheme of the book, and the narrator does seem to be particularly aware of the natural world, as if each view of a bird or even snow melting off of boots might be the last opportunity for such a sight.  In a way, it is unbearable -- how could one truly live as if every moment would be one's last.  This knowledge has to be pushed aside to allow the average person (like the slumbering suburbanites) to get through the day.

Here are some of the moments that have been captured in these poems.  In "July": "But here the crickets are making such a din, / reminding me of what is blasting through the present, driving us ... / ... / What is lovely with burden."  In "August": "I am built of dust. You will see how this can be. / ... / My eyelids are flaked with goldenrod and ragweed chaff, / and the shimmer off the bales is something I can almost taste. / ... / But you remain. You haven't moved. You're standing in the light / of small things: ricochets of dandelion seeds."  In "November": "You wouldn't believe it if you saw it yourself. / A blast of starlings, hundreds of them, / going hell for leather towards the inarticulate light. / ... / Leaves on the vines have darkened and curled. / The ruts made by the tractor have hardened so we know / where we've been."  And finally death comes for the farmer in "April": "I can hear the birds this day that I am dying, / Voices in the distance carry wild cravings and wind away from me. / There is silence in the walls and along the floorboards. / So this is how it ends."  This last poem in particular reminds me of T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" though Enns's narrator (presumably her father) is not as "pinched" and has a less crabbed vision than Eliot has here or in "Journey of the Magi").

This is definitely a collection that requires a second or third reading, and I've already found more of interest on the second time through.  I hope I've conveyed enough of the preoccupation with death and other endings to allow you to decide if you want to take it on.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 3rd review - Seth's Dominion

This is a curious artifact put out by Drawn and Quarterly.  It is primarily a fancy slipcase for a DVD of the film Seth's Dominion by Luc Chamberland (from the National Film Board).  The movie is sort of a documentary about the Canadian cartoonist Seth, but it also includes animations of some of his work, as well as shots of the model town of Dominion that Seth has constructed over the years.  The DVD also includes as a bonus feature two short animations of Seth's work -- The Death of Kao-Kuk and The Great Machine -- and an hour-long talk Seth gave in Montreal at a Drawn and Quarterly store.  The copy I borrowed from the library had scratches on the DVD, so I could only watch the short features (and bits of the longer features before the DVD went on the fritz).  I'll have to see if I can borrow another copy, though I don't think I'll update this review, which is more about the book aspects of Seth's Dominion.  The front of the slipcase has several pages of photos of Seth, his family and his cartooning buddies.  I was not aware that he worked with Dean Motter on Mr. X (I have nearly a complete set of this comic book series), but I am not clear on what Seth actually did (perhaps the lettering), since the style seems quite different from his normal style, which draws a bit from Peanuts as well as Chris Ware's work.

The second part of the slipcase has about 40 pages of Seth's cartoon work, including a few pages from his books It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken, George Sprott, Wimbledon Green and The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. It's effectively a sampler of his work.

Like many modern cartoonists who are producing graphic novels, Seth's work has strong autobiographical components, although Seth also seems to be someone who isn't much interested in modern culture much past 1955, so sometimes he seems to be projecting himself back into an imagined past.  I have to be honest that his style is a bit too simple to really keep my attention, but based on the sampler, I'll probably read The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists* and possibly Wimbledon Green.  One interesting feature of Wimbledon Green is that Seth can make up comics and then have his collector (W. Green) go on about them without really having to create more than a short excerpt.  Stanislaw Lem went ahead and reviewed dozens of imaginary books (in A Perfect Vacuum and One Human Minute), and of course Borges played similar games.  I'm not sure what else Seth gets up to in this portrait of a committed comic book collector, but it's probably worth reading once.

As promised, I'll add a few of my own shots of Seth's town of Dominion (currently on display at the AGO):
 







It's definitely a strange and interesting world.   I'm still not sure if this city makes its way into any of his major works, though most likely Palookaville, so I'll probably check out one or two of those volumes (fortunately the library has a fairly complete set of Seth's works). This book/DVD combo is a fairly good introduction to Seth and his work, so it is worth checking out if you are at all curious about him.

* Kao-Kuk is an Inuit astronaut, apparently introduced in The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists.  It is fairly amusing seeing most of the space crew as First Nations in the short film.  I'd have to read the rest of the book to see what Seth does with this concept.  I'm not sure if cartoonists fly sufficiently under the radar to avoid the appropriation debate, but Seth may be attempting to sidestep the issue by claiming that the Kao-Kuk story was actually written by Bartley Munn, a mythical Canadian cartoonist.  Here is a solid review that unpacks what is real and what is imaginary in this collection. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Resurrection buffet

I pushed it just a bit and went to an Indian buffet yesterday.  I should have held off another day at least. The food was excellent.  I did go back for seconds, though I didn't fill the entire plate and I basically skipped dessert (only one gulab jamun!).  But it was too much for my stomach, still dealing with the red meat from Friday.  I was kind of knocked out the rest of the afternoon and skipped dinner altogether.  I'd still go back, but probably not for another few weeks.

Anyway, I was seated next to two middle aged women who started off by talking about how Trump supporters viewed him as a kind of god, who would do for them what they couldn't do for themselves, but this was all a lie of course.  While I didn't really want to think about Trump over lunch, I was completely astonished where the conversation went next.  They started talking about the gnostic beliefs including how hell was just basically another purgatory (i.e. not truly eternal damnation) where one's sins were burned away.  They weren't sure about the gnostics, but they were both convinced that the soul was indeed immortal and that one returned to earth many times to take on an earthly body (in between times when one cavorted in the extra-dimensional ether) and chip away at the ego.  It was a bit strange to say the least, since they had just finished talking about Trump supporters as such dupes.

Coincidentally, I recently wrote a piece (the last that will be going up in my staged reading) about two members of a Scientology-like cult (the Sisterhood of Cosmic Understanding, Last Testament) and what happens when they try to find converts at the Last Chance Saloon.  (This was partly based on my temptation many, many years ago to try to corrupt a very cute Jehovah's Witness who came to the door (alone!) in Ann Arbor.  I decided that it wasn't really worth it, no matter how cute she was.)  Also, outside Union Station, there are Seventh Day Adventists or something, and I cross paths with them most days and wonder what might happen if their beliefs were truly challenged.  Hence this piece.

While my piece is probably already long enough, perhaps I should give the Sisters just a bit more time to explain their theology, perhaps inspired by what I heard over lunch yesterday.  That might balance the piece a bit more.  After I make the tweaks, I'll post a link.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Long Weekend (& July updates)

Due to my unfortunate lunch experience yesterday, I kind of crashed when I got home.  My stomach is a little better, but I don't think I should try anything too complex for the next few days.  It's most unfortunate, since I had wanted to head off to an Indian place for the buffet, but that is definitely out.  Maybe next week.

I then woke up after a few hours and finished my playlet for the 3Fest.  I was about to send it off when I realized they wanted it in a different format, which stretched the length from 4 to 6 pages!  (The limit was 4 pages.)  So I cut and cut, even some material I thought should have stayed in.  I guess it is good experience, given that I need to tighten some other scripts, but boy, it was annoying.  I sent it off to beat the deadline and went to bed, then woke up a bit late this morning.  I'm still sort of sluggish, but I think I'll head off to the Toronto Reference Library (it just stopped raining, so I can probably bike it) and probably catch Baby Driver after that.  I was thinking of seeing the Valerian movie, but the leads just seem so wooden that maybe I would be better off watching it on video whenever it does come out.

I don't have anything that I absolutely have to do, but I would like to get to the grocery store before it closes and probably get to the gym (I have been very bad about that this week), though if I bike downtown there is slightly less urgency to getting to the gym.  I recently found out that the cardio is paying off and my heart rate is in pretty good shape.  (I didn't check blood pressure, but it's probably normal.)  I'm still having trouble climbing lots of stairs and jogging is a problem, so maybe I will try to work that into the gym routine, but one thing at a time.

Before the family all took off for Chicago I was able to finish up the pajamas.  Even after I took in the waist more, they are still a bit baggy.


I should have cut out even more and shortened the elastic, but I didn't know.  Also, the length is just ridiculous, with probably six inches hemmed up inside each leg.  I guess maybe I'll be able to adjust and they'll fit my son in a couple of years.  It's probably not all that terrible for a first attempt, but I don't think I'll really get into the clothing line.  It's just too much work overall.

The quilt, on the other hand, is coming along fairly well.  I've actually cut out nearly all the pieces I need for the entire thing, and I have 11 rows pieced together, and then 6 of those stitched together lengthwise.  There's a reasonable chance I'll have all the rows (17 total) pieced by the end of August, and then the whole quilt top plus border by Sept.  So I'm definitely on track.  More pictures later when there is more progress.

I did get back to the AGO and took a few photos of the contemporary art exhibit on the 4th floor.  I was glad to see that the room was fairly packed, granted it was the free day at the AGO.

Camal Pirbhai and Camille Turner, Bell, 2017


The first photo was inspired by advertisements in Canadian newspapers looking for runaway slaves, in this case for a "Mulatto wench" named Bell.  The next exhibit was quite popular.  The first part was a ballroom gown/basketball jersey, which speaks to Esmaa's desire not to be forced into a particular gender category.  In the background, you can see the concrete basketballs of her installation Heavy Heavy (Hoop Dreams), which comments on the fact that so many Black youth spend their time chasing unrealistic dreams of making it in the NBA, when the odds are so heavily stacked against them.

Esmaa Mohamoud, One of the Boys, 2017

Seth, Dominion

The last part of the exhibit was a huge model city built by the cartoonist Seth.  I actually just missed out on seeing this in Regina, so it was cool to see it in Toronto.  He built this set to inspire him to work on a graphic novel, but the set sort of took on a life of its own.  I'm not even sure he finished the other project.  I'll be reviewing a book/DVD about the Dominion project shortly, and I'll include more photos in that post.

As promised, I did take a picture of the Rita Letendre paintings not in the catalogue.  Unfortunately, this picture is still quite off-centre, so I'll try again on the next visit.

Rita Letendre, Hurl into Space, 1998

There was another large painting (November Night Rain) outside the exhibit proper.  I'm not 100% sure it was there on my last trip.  Unfortunately, while I took three pictures, absolutely none of them turned out!  So again, next time.

I tried to take a few close-ups of Victoire, my favourite of the bunch, to show the way the paint does not lie flat on the canvas.

Rita Letendre, Victoire, 1968

Those are the main updates.  I'm still reading a fair number of classics this summer (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Voyage in the Dark, The Sound and the Fury, The Vatican Cellars, The Good Soldier, A Month in the Country) and never getting quite enough other writing* done, though I expect I'll be more productive Monday when nearly everything is closed.  At any rate, I should run now.

Coda: I did make it to the library and managed to get done 3 of 4 things I wanted to accomplish, but one of the books was not on the shelf.  Supposedly a copy is coming to me off the hold shelf, but I don't know how long that will take.  I didn't plan on it, but I picked up a few books at the used book store, including Ali Smith's Public Library and Other Stories (how appropriate!) and Engel's Lunatic Villas, which has been added to my to-read list.  I got to the movie theatre and ended up one person away from the cashier, when I realized that I wasn't happy that they had added a few extra dollars for a "prime" movie experience.  It's weird how that was the tipping point, and I decided I would just be better off at home either reading, writing or going to the gym.  So I split, and now I am home again.


* Big news.  It looks like I have landed a date in mid September for the staged reading, but until a contract is signed I don't want to get too excited or actually put out the date, but hopefully early next week all the details will be worked out.

Bad lunch

I was totally at my wit's end for lunch.  I just did not want the stuff in the food court, and I'd already had Thai a couple of times this week.  I really wish that 1) the Chinese place closest to me was better and 2) the Chinese place in Metro Hall didn't keep getting busted for health code violations.  That place was probably the best food court Chinese I've ever had.  Ultimately, I decided that I wanted something like mac and cheese, but the place I thought would have it didn't, and I was pretty far from work at that point.

I kept on and came to a Rabba's that I used to frequent before I changed jobs.  The falafel looked pretty good and they had vegetable samosas.  All I can really say is I wish I had looked over some reviews.  The falafel was truly foul, quite dry.  Then I realized after a couple of bites that the vegetable samosa had ground beef in it, so I had to throw it away.  (This same switcheroo happened to me at Robarts Library, and it still pisses me off.)  Not only did it taste disgusting, but I can't digest red meat any longer, and I will spend most of the evening not far from the toilet.  I stuck it out for another hour or so at work, but ended up leaving early.

What an unpleasant start to the long weekend.  All I can say is never again to Rabba's.  And I should really think more seriously about bringing my lunch to work, since I am so generally unhappy about the options near me.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Baker's Aliens and other fleeting visits

It snuck up on me, but Coal Mine has finally announced their season.  To be honest, it doesn't hold much attraction for me, aside from the lead-off play -- Annie Baker's The Aliens.  I'll likely end up going to the preview night in Sept., though I need some flexibility in terms of scheduling my own night of theatre.  In terms of the rest of their season, it's starting to look like Soulpepper East with a concert show where they recreate Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.  Not exactly cutting edge...

I'm a bit torn about Hart House's new season.  I don't really care for Miller's The Crucible, but I probably should take my son.  I'm not all that interested in Hedwig and the Angry Inch either, but it might be interesting to see what Hart House does with it.  I can pass on the rest, particularly Titus Andronicus, which I've never rated very highly (just too bloody and kind of shapeless).

George Brown has just announced its season.  I'm sure I'll see the shows in rep (Brecht's Fear and Misery of the Third Reich and Vanburgh's The Provoked Wife).  I haven't seen either of them.*  I would say it is an odd pairing.  In the past season, they paired a comedy (A Flea in Her Ear) with a dramatic piece (The Penelopiad), but there are moments of humour in Atwood's piece.  My understanding is that the Brecht is pretty grim.  I'm likely to go see the updated version of Candide by Mark Ravenhill, particularly because getting 3 tickets means it's a subscription, and then you can switch tickets if necessary.  That reminds me that while there isn't a lot going on in Chicago on my upcoming trip, I'll probably go see Ives's The School for Lies, which is an update of Moliere's Misanthrope.  I don't know that I've ever seen the original Candide.  I'm fairly sure that I saw The Misanthrope in Chicago a few years ago.

Somewhat unfortunate for me, the late fall looks very good for theatre in Chicago with the most interesting plays being Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw, Ayad Akhtar's The Invisible Hand and Wallace Shawn's Evening at the Talk House all playing.  While it is unlikely I would travel just to see these plays, if I have to be in Chicago for some other reason...  Actually, I poked around, and The Invisible Hand is playing in Hamilton next March, so I'll try to go (and perhaps even round up a few actors/friends to see if they want to go down on the bus).

I still have a long running list of plays I want to see, and I am sad to say that there still are no productions of American Hero or Yankee Tavern on the horizon anywhere near me.  I'll just have to keep my eyes peeled.

* Actually I saw half of Erin Shields's The Millennial Malcontent, which was based off of The Provoked Wife, but I hated what the author had done and left at intermission.  I expect that I'll enjoy the original more.

Monday, July 31, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 2nd review - The Tattooed Woman

This collection of short stories was the last work that Marian Engel completed.  She was deeply involved in the selection of the stories, though she passed away before its publication. (Timothy Findley describes her working on The Tattooed Woman from her hospital bed.)  For those that track last works (and in particular unfinished last works), that honor goes to Engel’s Elizabeth and the Golden City, a fragment of a novel she was working on that was finally published in 2010 in Marian and the Major, edited by Christl Verduyn.  I have to be honest, Elizabeth and the Golden City appears to be so embryonic that it is more of a curiosity than something one would truly read for pleasure.  Thus, I can safely recommend The Tattooed Woman as the last thing Engel sent out into the world.  (I have to admit that I really have not delved deeply into Engel's work much beyond Bear.  Reading these short stories was a start, and I will try to get to The Honeyman Festival and Lunatic Villas in 2018 or so.)

The Tattooed Woman contains Engel's selection of her stories published between 1975 and 1985.  A few of them were actually written for radio (the CBC program called Anthology).  This is actually Engel's second short story collection.  Inside the Easter Egg came out in 1975 and collected her first stories.

Many of the stories on the same wavelength as Atwood's The Edible Woman, i.e. giving voice to women's interests and inner thoughts, even if those woman were "troublesome" or slightly off-kilter.  And Engel doesn't completely romanticize women's interactions with each other.  Mothers and daughters still have fraught relationships, and she also paints a picture of a dreary, selfish "friend" in "Share and Share Alike." What's interesting to me is that roughly the first half of the stories are slightly eerie (perhaps even channeling a bit of Angela Carter), but the second half tended to be more on the realist side.  Occasionally, there seem to be echoes of Carol Shields, though it is more likely that Engel served as an inspiration to Shields.  I don't think I am imaging the strong connection between Engel's "Could I Have Found a Better Love Than You?" and The Stone Diaries, for instance.  There were a few interesting stories in the first half, but on the whole, I preferred the second half of the collection.

I won't be able to go into all the stories at a great level of detail, but I'll highlight a few I found particularly worthy.  There may be minor SPOILERS hereafter.

"The Tattooed Woman" is a fairly sad tale, about a woman who starts cutting herself as a coping mechanism when her husband takes up with a young employee.  She does seem to making steps towards recovery by the end.  While I may never actually finish my novel, it has a character who scars herself as a sort of notching of the bedpost but on her own body (I suppose to try to cope with the whole madonna/whore thing that plays out in Western culture).  It's not the same motivation at all, but anyway, I just want to note that I had thought up this character well over a decade before I read this short story.

"Madame Hortensia, Equilibriste" is sort of creepy, precisely because Engel is so vague about the narrator's disability.  From the context, it seems as if she had no legs and eventually became a circus freak, then got married a few times (to admirers who fetishized her) and had a brood of children.  It's more of a character study than a full-fledged story.

"The Life of Bernard Orge" was fairly amusing.  It's about a woman who creates an entire alter ego after donning a pair of novelty glasses.  And indeed her life is mundane and unfulfilling, so almost any change is good.  Perhaps there are slight hints of Gogol (in reverse) in this story.

Interestingly, there are a few stories about middle-aged love (and second-chances) actually working out, such as "Feet," "The Confession Tree," "Could I Have Found a Better Love Than You?" and "Share and Share Alike," though it should be noted this isn't the main thrust of the last three stories, as there are other things going on.  There is a certain generosity of spirit in these stories, though it should be said that the only time couples seem happy is when men and women of approximately the same age pair up.  The man going through a middle-aged crisis and shacking up with a younger woman doesn't end up all that happy in Engel's world.

One of the last stories -- "Two Rosemary Road, Toronto" -- is an interesting and somewhat sad piece.  The story is structured as a letter that a widower is writing to someone he knew from his early adulthood.  She had apparently written a letter of condolences that mingled in some statements that he felt were unfair, and he is taking the chance to set the record straight about his wife's death from cancer.  He explicitly writes that if she is angling to catch him as her second husband, she should think again.  However, he doesn't send the letter, and tears it apart in the morning, apparently changing his mind and thinking that maybe life goes on after all, and it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to be the pursued one for once.  (Perhaps some slight echo of Benedick here: "The world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married." Though of course the letter writer already was married and it is highly unlikely that this second union, if it even comes about, would lead to children.)  Still, it's a bit of a downer to imagine being in Engel's shoes, writing about the necessity for the world to go on, even when she was aware that cancer was catching up to her.

On the whole I enjoyed this collection.  It will satisfy readers who are admirers of Atwood's early novels as well as Carol Shields' devotees.  There was variety in the stories (even a ghost story) and even a few happy endings sprinkled here and there and only one or two duds.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Busy Weekend with whale

I already riffed on the video for In the Belly of the Whale, so I'll forebear from using it a second time.  However, we did get to the ROM on Sat. to see the blue whale exhibit.  The skeleton is indeed quite impressive, and they also had some booths showing you how many people (of your weight) would it take to make up a blue whale or how much blood a whale has in comparison to a human.  Perhaps the whale brain was the most impressive, though if the whales have the intelligence of humans (clearly debatable), I think they would have found a way to communicate with us better.  Probably the centerpiece of the exhibit is the blue whale heart, as the ROM is the only museum in the world (apparently) with an intact, preserved whale heart.


We wandered around the museum and had lunch, though we were in a bit of a rush, since we needed to get back and stop by the library.  Also, my daughter really wanted to check out an open house on the street.  So this time around, we actually skipped the dinosaurs (though in the exhibit there were some ancestors of the whales that looked a lot like water-based dinosaurs).

Ambelocetus

We also skipped over the gem room.  I wasn't entirely sure it was open, since they are preparing to reopen the Queen's Park entrance.  I told the kids that the next time we visited (probably on the next AGO-ROM membership swap), that entrance should be open.  Best of all, we skipped the gift shop, since I didn't really want to be telling them no to everything...

I had actually intended to go off to work and pick up something, but it wasn't ready, so we went back home, with a stop at the library first.  The open house showed that they had done a lot of work on the place and it looked nice, but the footprint was still small.  We have quite a bit more space than that house offers, though I did wish we had the deeper basement.

After the kids were settled, I worked a bit in the backyard, trimming back the plants so that it was possible to get to the back deck.  It actually looked pretty nice for once.



Then I still had to go back to work (though I took the opportunity to bike it).  I made it back by 6:30, and by 7, I went over to Withrow Park with my son to catch Othello.  It would have been better had we made it a bit earlier, since the best spaces were already gone -- and they had run out of chairs to rent.  We were nowhere near as cramped and uncomfortable as at High Park, but still, sometimes we had raise ourselves off of the blanket to see anything.  I do wish they had thought a bit more about the sight lines, since quite a bit of the time the actors were on the floor, making it all but impossible to see.  It was a good performance, though I would have preferred to see it indoors in a setting with proper seats.  I haven't really changed my mind that things go far too well for Iago, and in particular Emilia could intervene much sooner in the matter of the handkerchief.  I find the play really falls apart in that moment, since she has no problem ratting out her husband later on.  My son was fairly blown away by it, so I'm glad I exposed him to it.  I'm sure in the next few years I should be able to take him to Macbeth and Hamlet.  I'll probably hold off a bit longer with Lear.

Today was also a fairly cramped day.  I spent the morning cleaning the study (at least getting the clutter off of the floor).  Then I took my daughter to the Ontario Science Centre and we explored for about two hours.  I've gotten most of the items crossed off the list for the summer, though I would still like to take them canoeing on the Humber and ideally take them to Ottawa so that they can see the Parliament Buildings.  Now it seems like the main Parliament Building (Centre Block) will be open for tours at least through the end of the year (before it shuts down for a long rehabilitation period), the East Block is only open through early Sept.  That timing may not work to squeeze in a trip, but I'll see what I can do.  I'm also starting to think seriously about a trip to Quebec City, but I don't think there is any specific time restriction on that, and it might be nicer to visit in the late fall or even early winter, assuming it isn't too cold.

I got back in plenty of time for the actors for the table read.  I think it went quite well, though it was interesting that the pieces I thought were more or less settled needed a bit more conflict and they didn't see any real reason to chance the Meeting Mr. Mouse, whereas I had heard from another reviewer that one needed quite an overhaul.  At any rate, they seemed pretty enthusiastic and really liked a couple of them, so I just need to get a date settled for Sept. and then we'll do one more table read to make sure they are ready.  I almost wish we went back to the original plan for a full staging, but honestly, this will be better, and I can then focus on my more serious pieces.

I had thought pretty seriously about catching Burn This tonight, but in the end, I decided I was done leaving the neighbourhood for the time being.  As you can imagine, it was a very busy weekend, and I could use some rest (and perhaps work just a bit more on the quilt).

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Follow up from tough day

In my last post, I discussed some of the more frustrating events of the weekend, along with the oasis of spending time with the actors from Hogtown.  I also said that the negatives might be ameliorated and in time I would dwell on them less.  I can report back that I was able to get my mobile phone service turned back on, though it meant going to the Eaton Centre and then getting on the phone with a service rep for almost half an hour before finally succeeding.  I'm more than a little worried the same thing will happen next month (I say it is better than 50%), and, if so, I am switching phone companies, but for now I am back in business.

I didn't want to go to the gym, as it was grey out and even a little damp, but I did push myself and I went for a shortish workout.  Those are the important times to go, where you really make it a habit (and not give in to temptation to take it easy).  I'll be doing more biking and maybe even some swimming this week, but I should still try to make it over a couple more times.  It will be a while before I see any positive results, but my core strength seems to be better.

And in fact yesterday ended on a positive note, as I managed to recruit the last of the actors I need for the staged reading, so I am in business.  I've got a lot of writing I need to do over the next few weeks, some technical and some creative, so I should probably wrap this up.  I do have a few too many distractions, so I'll probably have to cut back on the blog for the time being.

Coda: Probably it's just as well that I didn't open the mail over the weekend, since I just found out that my bank is summarily cancelling my Mastercard and switching me to Visa in a few months.  This is completely unacceptable, since several stores in the neighbourhood are Mastercard only.  So I'll be going through updating my credit card and monthly payment options one way or another (and probably struggle with the mobile company yet again).  I'll probably be switching banks as well.  I was actually leaning towards Tangerine, but it seems there is no way to actually deposit a foreign currency cheque with them, so that probably rules them out.  Just in general, I am fairly annoyed at the banking options available -- and don't get me started on the usurious charges that credit cards are now allowed to charge.  It is truly shocking that in my lifetime they have gone from under 10% (which at the time was astonishing) to hovering around 20%.  I think this probably is better regulated in Europe (with the notable exception of the UK), but perhaps not.  Anyway, just thinking about how few decent banking and credit card options are available to me always puts me in a funk.

To top it all off, I went from work to the Regents Park Aquatic Centre.  I don't think I'll ever time it as perfectly as today.  I got there at 6:25 (the lane swim starts at 6:30).  I changed and was one of two people ready to get in some laps.  And my goggles had snapped in half.  I tried to swim without them, but it was a complete non-starter, so I went into the whirlpool for a short time and then went home.  So frustrating.  Basically, all my good intentions were for naught, and I'm in an even worse mood now.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Frustrating day with bright spots

Yesterday was definitely a difficult day for me, though the afternoon was not a complete waste.

It started out with taking the kids to the Humane Society.  I've been thinking more and more seriously about getting a kitten or even a youngish cat (under 5 years), and the kids were interested in tagging along.  The cat that I was most interested in had quite a few behavioral problems that were not listed on the website, so it felt a bit like a bait and switch.  After pondering things a bit longer, I decided to wait until the fall when all the vacations were over, and I would have a chance to decide if I really could clean up the house enough to find room for a couple of litter boxes.  It's possible I'm not really ready to upend my life to fit a pet in.

Coming back we had quite a bit of trouble getting home, waiting on the King streetcar (only to find out that it was a Cherry streetcar -- and then missing 2 Queen buses before we could get back to the other stop).  I was generally pretty stressed, as I needed to get back downtown in time to volunteer at Hogtown.

Indeed, the TTC had totally upended transit from the east side, so the Gerrard/College streetcar only went to Parliament and then you had to transfer.  I just think this was a bad decision, since they also had shut down the 2 subway.  In the end, I made it with 15 minutes to spare, but it was still annoying and I was stressed almost the whole trip.

The show itself was very fun, and I saw a few different things on this performance, though I still missed some of the scenes.  I have a pretty good idea of the main events, but I think you need to see it 3 or perhaps 4 times to truly see everything.  I also got to hang out with the actors after the show at their post-show gathering.  They were a nice bunch, and that (and volunteering at the show itself) was definitely the bright spot of the day.  Then it was back to reality.

I went to work briefly and tried to deal with my cell phone company.  While I absolutely updated my credit card info, the information didn't "take," which actually happened before.  Their on-line systems are quite poor in my opinion.  This led them to completely suspending the account (without warning mind you).  After calling customer service, they said I would have to visit a store with ID in hand before they would even think about restoring service.  I gave them a few choice words and hung up, though I don't really have a choice.  I'll have to deal with it tomorrow over lunch.  But if this auto-payment thing fails again next month, I am through with them and will migrate to a different mobile company.

Then the TTC screwed me again on the way home, and I barely got back in time to get to the grocery store before it closed.  I was too upset (and tired) to go to the gym, which then put me even further in a bad mood, since it doesn't take too many missed trips to the gym before you fall out of the habit.  I'll just have to make the effort to go tonight.  The rest of the week I should be biking again, so it won't feel quite so urgent.

So that was my day of highs and lows.  On the whole, the bad outweighed the good, but maybe I won't feel the same tomorrow if I get the phone working again and I do make it to the gym.  Then it will be more of a bad (but passing) dream.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Outdoor Entertainment

It has been pretty difficult this summer to predict what will work out or not, given that it has been raining or threatened to rain most of July.  I already mentioned how I went to the Music Garden by the Waterfront but they cancelled the concert without telling anyone.  Shabby.  I still don't understand why they don't relocate the concerts to the covered stage near The Power Plant, particularly if it is only going to sprinkle (I can see this wouldn't work in a thunderstorm).  About the only thing I got out of it was a few photos of the Music Garden.



The following week, I ran up to Casa Loma with my daughter to see the Toronto Concert Orchestra playing Haydn.  She had wanted to see the castle again, so I thought it was a good enough reason to go.






But she started to get fairly antsy as we sat down and waited for the music to start.  I was actually feeling a bit cramped myself and there was still 45 minutes to go before the concert started.  And the piece I really wanted to hear was placed after the intermission.  I knew there was no way we would make it, so we just left, even though we had pretty good seats.  I am doubtful I will try this again next season, but never say never.

I have probably gone to my last Shakespeare in High Park, however.  The reviews for Twelfth Night were generally quite good (here and here and here).  I had wanted to take my son, since Twelfth Night is definitely one of Shakespeare's best comedies.  I hadn't expected the weather to clear up, as the forecast had called for rain up until the day before, but it did.  I was then really surprised there were still a few reserved seats left, but I snagged a couple.  I was kind of worn out from work and dealing with the last day of my daughter's camp, so we started off 15 minutes late.  Also, I had wanted to show my son how cool it was that there was a streetcar stop literally in a park (well, just on the edge).
 


However, the streetcar was quite slow (at least 10-15 minutes slower than taking the subway over would have been).  We had maybe 12 minutes before they were going to release our reserved seats!  While I have been doing a fair bit of exercise, I don't jog anymore, so running was quite difficult for me.  We got to the gate, quite sweaty in my case, at 7:46, but they took pity on us and took us to the reserved seats.

We were able to get two together, but we were pinched on both sides by people who had brought their oversized cushions.  So we had no choice but to huddle together in a very uncomfortable position.  I think perhaps years ago, everyone sat on the steps and let their legs hang down, but that isn't possible anymore.  I think the only way to do it now is to reserve 4 or 5 spaces, and bring a blanket and then you can get a bit more comfortable.  But I was in agony at about the hour mark.  It's really a shame, as there were some very lovely scenes, particularly Orsino and Viola/Cesario dancing, and this was one of the better Sir Toby's I have seen.  I was so glad when we finally hit 85 minutes (since these shows only run 90 minutes), but wait -- there were still several key plots that had to be resolved.  It actually clocked in at 105 minutes!  I really had stopped paying attention at that point (though I did note it was a little strange how quickly Sebastian moved on from Antonio, despite how they were emphasizing gender fluidity a fair bit at the end), as I was just too uncomfortable.*  It took me quite a while before I could roll to my side and then to my knees to get back up.  I think if they can't get it back to the proper run time any other way, they need to cut out the musical interlude at the beginning and then probably cut the bit where they get someone from the audience to play the priest.  On the whole, I am glad my son saw the play and enjoyed it (it was a solid production), but I think this is the last time I go, just based on my discomfort and getting old.  I was still in a bit of pain the next morning.

It's a little hard to tell, but it does appear that we'll have clear skies on July 29th, so I can plan to see Othello in Withrow Park.  Driftwood does a nice job, but just as importantly, they have lawn chairs, so seeing the show isn't such a challenge.  I'll most likely take my son to this as well.

I haven't decided about She Stoops to Conquer out in Scarborough, though this review is positive.  I really have to look into the set-up more, including what the transit options are.  However, the fact that they don't have weekend matinees (only Wed. matinees!) and the fact that it takes at least an hour to get there by transit makes it somewhat unlikely I will actually go.  I guess in general, I am getting pickier and more set in my ways as I get older, but there is still quite a bit to do outside in the summer.  Now if the weather would just cooperate a bit more...


* I think it is largely due to the actor playing Malvolio kind of stringing out his scenes.  He just had a recent health scare, and I'm glad he is back in the play, but he is not the best Malvolio I've seen.  He's probably the 4th best, or actually the worst.  He starts out so disdainful and angry, and he doesn't have a lot of room to go from there.  Now partly I am just upset that the show ran long, but Shakespeare Bash'D had the best Malvolio earlier this year.  That show ran over 2 hours and could have used a few cuts, but at least I wasn't in pain throughout!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The end of summer camp

This year, we put the kids into 2 different camps, but staggering the weeks they went to maximize peace in the house.  However, this year, the camps were both downtown, not far from my work, so I ended up taking the kids to camp for the past 3 weeks (and not being able to bike to work at all obviously).  But it all worked out, not to say that there weren't some stressful moments, particularly once when I was running late and just barely signed out my daughter before the end of the after care period.

What was a bit surprising is that my son didn't feel that he got too much out of the stop-motion animation, partly because there was too wide an age range in the class and too much of the time was just filler (playing outdoor games rather than building the clay sets). 

On the other hand, he did get some good experience in navigating the city.  He was allowed to sign himself out of camp after the first day and walk over to my workplace.  On the second week, he was allow to take the subway home by himself twice.

My daughter was not happy about getting up early, but I think she got more out of the camp activities, and ultimately enjoyed it more.  She wanted to take everything she made home.  On the last day, I left work early to see the show and tell period.  Then we walked over and tried to see inside Osgoode Hall, but apparently the tours are far more limited than what is described on the internet.  We clearly weren't going to be able to see anything, and then she decided she wasn't that interested in seeing the building when she realized it just housed lawyers and their law library.  We stopped in at Campbell House, and they showed us just a bit, though it is in some disarray due to Hogtown.  I'll take her back some weekend in Oct. when it is back to normal.  It was just as well we left slightly before the peak of the peak, since I was carrying so much stuff from the camp, including this model of a hotel room made inside a cardboard box.



All in all, it was a decent camp experience, though I am glad I am not going to be responsible for getting them to and from camp on time for the rest of the summer. I actually am hoping that the older one go off to "away camp" next summer; I was doing that a lot by the time I was 12 or so, but that may be a step too far.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Wrapping up the Fringe

It was kind of a strange day.  It threatened to rain, and perhaps it did rain a bit on the east side of the city, but I managed not to get rained on, which was great since I was in line outside of Tarragon for quite a while.  We got over to Tarragon about half an hour early for About Time, which was a series of humorous sketches about different eras (the repressed Victorians, the groovy 60s, the 90s, i.e. the dawn of the internet age).  It was fun, and it was over in an hour, which was good.  Sometimes good ideas do drag on a bit too long.

I grabbed a postcard for Lanford Wilson's Burn This, and it turns out it isn't part of the Fringe at all, but will be playing the two weeks after Fringe.  Apparently, this is one of those plays where the acting pretty much makes or breaks the play.  I was kind of leaning towards going, but it doesn't look like there are any tickets less than $40, and that is a bit steep for a play I probably won't fully enjoy.  I have been trying to impose just a bit of fiscal discipline on my entertainment spending, so unless I find a discount code, I'll probably pass.

We went to a vegan place right past the Dupont subway station for lunch after the performance.  I have to admit, the food was a lot better on a previous visit.  I didn't like my entree much at all.  And I particularly disliked that we were asked to move to make space for a completely obnoxious family.  I watched as both parents submerged themselves into texting on their phones and their two children started squabbling (mostly the fault of the little one, who then started walking on the table).  My mood was completely spoiled, and I shan't be going back.  I made a very clear point of not taking my children to restaurants if they couldn't behave, and so I don't have any tolerance for the selfish, self-absorbed parents you see everywhere today.

I had quite a bit of time to kill, since I had another show at Tarragon at 5:45.  If I had had a bit more cash on me, I probably would have caught one more show at the Tarragon, but instead I went down to the AGO to check out some art.  It was probably the right choice.

I went into the O'Keeffe exhibit.  It was more crowded than it had been on the last visit, since people are waking up to the fact that it will only be around for another 2 weeks.  It was good seeing some of the paintings again.  This will probably be the last time I drop in.

I was mostly there to see the new contemporary exhibit on the 4th floor (Every Now Then), and also Rita Letendre.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera or even a phone on me, so I'll have to go back and take pictures later in the summer.

The Letendre exhibit was really quite interesting, though it seems as though I prefer her early work to her later work, with some exceptions.  My favorite piece was Victoire, which is actually in the AGO collection, though I don't recall ever seeing it before.  It reminded me a fair bit of Norman Lewis, though when you get close up, the surface is far more built up (than Lewis's flat, controlled surfaces) with paint almost erupting from the canvas.

Rita Letendre, Victoire, 1961

Perhaps after the exhibit closes, they will put this back into regular circulation.  Interestingly, in the main Canadian section there are two Letendre's (added fairly recently, if memory serves me).  One is quite nice, so I'll put up a picture of that soon.  Neither of these are in the catalogue.

I wasn't sure I was going to buy the catalogue, but the second half is quite intriguing, as it shows different murals that Letendre did around Toronto, with basically all of them out of commission now.  However, Letendre did have a piece of art in the Glencairn TTC subway station.  It looked like this, but was removed over a decade ago.


The good news is that the subway art is being refurbished and replaced.  I'll try to make a visit when it is back in place.  The show may come a bit too late for Letendre, as she is suffering from macular degeneration, and she is largely blind now, though she was still pleased that they had put together a good overview of her work.  Sadly, my grandmother also suffered from macular degeneration, and it is something I worry about getting one day, though perhaps there will be better treatment in another 15-20 years.

Even after a fairly thorough visit to the AGO, I still had some time to kill, so I sat down and read for a while before finally heading back up to Tarragon.  The second time around the wait in line wasn't quite so long.  I was a bit surprised that there were no artists trying to sell me on the merits of seeing their show, but it was the last day and pretty much all the shows were over.  I didn't have the time to try to see any of the Patron choice awards, also that same evening.  (I think the last two years, some of the best of the Fringe migrated up to North York, but it isn't clear to me if that is happening or not.  While I was poking around, I saw that in early November, one of the Jewish theatre companies is doing Arthur Miller's Broken Glass.  This is fairly heavy and also got mixed reviews on Broadway (but better reviews in London), so I'm a bit more likely to go to Broken Glass than Burn This (even though I still am looking for a better deal on tickets).)

Anyway, I was there to see George Walker's Adult Entertainment, which is one of the Suburban Motel plays, produced by Triple Bypass.  It has his trademark mix of caustic wit, violence, darkness and nervous laughter.  Very little turns out quite right for Walker's characters, particularly in this cycle of plays.  I thought it was quite well done, particularly the cynicism on display when one person objects to a kid being called scum and everyone else (including a criminal defense attorney) says, no he is just scum.  I will say that this one and Problem Child are a bit more plausible than Risk Everything where aspects of the plot are a bit too cartoon-ish.  At this point, I've seen 3 of the 6.  Somehow I missed Triple Bypass doing The End of Civilization in 2015, which is a bit annoying.  I probably need to get on their mailing list.  It looks like Factory Theatre did the whole cycle in 1997-98.  I was already gone from Toronto at that point.  Perhaps had I gotten into the doctoral program at UT, I would have been in town and plugged in enough to see them at that point.  I passed up a really great opportunity to see the whole cycle in Vancouver in an actual motel room, but the timing was bad and I was very stressed at that point.  It will just have to remain a decision I regret, although perhaps if Triple Bypass gets big enough they will stage the whole series at some point.  On the whole, it was a good Fringe for me, but I didn't indulge quite as much as I might have.  Maybe next year...

Canadian History Plays at Soulpepper

It is definitely Canadian history month at Soulpepper.  In addition to the 2-part Confederation plays by Video Cabaret, there is another remount of Eric Peterson in Billy Bishop Goes to War and then another play about WWI - Vimy.  I'm not planning on seeing Vimy (and the reviews have been middling at best), but the other three were quite good.

I've consistently been blown away with the Video Cabaret plays.  Depending on how they split them up and mount them, it looks I have 8 to go.  If they only put on one or at most two a year, it will certainly be a while until they finish the cycle, and there is no guarantee they will get back around to the War of 1812 for instance.  (I'm a bit more concerned about their longevity than my own.)  I'm most disappointed that they haven't been able to come up with the funding to film the series, since this is something that deserves to be properly recorded.  Mac Fyfe was quite brilliant as Pierre Elliott Trudeau.  I would have to say that the biggest stand-out this time around was Michaela Washburn as Louis Riel, though the others were quite good as well.

Billy Bishop Goes to War has been kicking around for quite some time, and, indeed, around 2011 John Gray and Eric Peterson revised the script to make it more of a memory play, i.e. Billy Bishop is an old man, thinking over his youthful exploits.  Oddly, the Toronto Library only has the original edition, not the revised edition.  I'm not quite sure how different the two versions are, but I will try to get ahold of the revised edition (Pratt Library has a copy but they are on restricted summer hours) and then I'll do a comparison (and publish a more comprehensive review at that time).  There is also a DVD from 2013, so it captures the revised version, and preserves Eric Peterson in one of the roles of a lifetime.  This actually makes the 3rd time I've seen Peterson.  While I was impressed with him in The Model Apartment, he takes it to another level with Billy Bishop, since he has to impersonate a Scot, several upper-class Englishmen (and a wealthy English heiress) and even a cabaret singer!  Interestingly, this review suggests that in the first act he is bumbling a bit but he was totally sharp in the second act, and that it may have been an intentional strategy.  I'm not really sure if either Peterson was just much better this afternoon or if they decided to tweak the show and rein in any bumbling or indeed if I am just more forgiving, but I didn't notice anything like Peterson forgetting his lines or running out of breath.  That said, there are only a few more times that they can remount this show (with the show's creators that is), so I am very glad I had this opportunity to see it.  I was a little surprised that they didn't go into any of Bishop's adventures and misadventures after he returned to Canada and married Margaret, the girl back home.  Not only did he go back to the front and win well over 20 more air battles (far surpassing England's Albert Ball), but then he had a long career promoting Canadian aviation, and he was pressed into service as a kind of cheerleader during WWII.  I don't know if the first version of the show touched on this more or not.  I think some of the critics who aren't as thrilled with the show, probably would have wanted to hear about Bishop's ambivalence (if any) of promoting another war after having lived through the hell of war himself.  Anyway, here is a general article about his life.

I would recommend all three shows, though Billy Bishop is essentially a simpler show, not capturing quite as many sides to history as the Video Cabaret Confederacy plays do.  On the other hand, it is a prime showcase for a very special actor worth celebrating.