Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fringe 2017 and slightly further afield

The Toronto Fringe 2017 schedule has just gone up.  I know or have a passing acquaintance with folks in a few shows, like Snap! and Welcome to the Bunker!  I haven't entirely decided about those.  The only shows that are must-sees for me are Love and Information and Adult Entertainment.  There actually do not appear to be all that many productions of established playwrights (with these two main exceptions*).  Most of the shows are wacky one- or two-person shows or sketch comedy.  There's nothing wrong with that, but I do tend to seek out slightly meatier fare.  Of all the sketch comedy, the one that seems the most interesting is About Time, but I may catch a few others.  Anyway, Fringe season is always fun, and I'll probably end up seeing a few more things.

One thing that is clear, however, is that a large number of actors and directors and stage managers are all tied up throughout a big chunk of the summer.  So even if I had wanted to put on a show in Sept. or early Oct., it might be hard to line up any talent to rehearse, since they would all be doing Fringe.

Or alternatively, they might be cast in Hogtown, which is coming back to the Campbell House Museum with a cast of about 30.  I skipped it last year, but I might go this summer.

As I have been hinting, I have decided to go ahead with Second Chance Shorts (it is sort of tempting to call it Second-Hand Shorts, though that would give completely the wrong impression...).  On the one hand, I am resurrecting some shorts that only had one chance at life at Sing-for-Your-Supper. In addition, most of the playlets involve someone attempting to get a second or even third chance (to salvage a relationship or a business deal).  I think it is a slightly more dignified title than Super Fun! Super Sexy! Shorts, which was my working title until a few days ago (I was going to go for a J-Pop aesthetic in the ads).  This will run Nov. 2-5, so there should be plenty of time to get in enough rehearsals and do everything that needs to be done (including finding a director and a light/sound technician).  I have reached out to 5 actors -- one is a definite yes, one is a strong probability to sign on, and I am waiting on the others.  It seems enough to get that critical mass and move ahead.  I'll definitely be posting more as the time draws near and there will probably be a contest for free tickets as well in late Oct., so watch this space!

* Actually, there are a few adaptations.  I'm puzzled how they could squeeze Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear down to 90 minutes, but not enough to see it (since I saw George Brown do a full length version).  Then there is a burlesque version of Aristophanes' Lysistrata.  While that sounds sort of interesting, I'd have to be convinced that they have kept most of the plot rather than just use it as an excuse to do pole dancing or something.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New Seasons (2017-18)

It's still a bit too early for most companies to announce their upcoming seasons, though I suppose the bigger ones have started to roll out the announcements.  Tarragon announced a while ago, and I have to admit I really wasn't crazy about the line-up.  There isn't much I want to see.  Canadian Stage has one must-see (The Humans) and a few others that might be of interest, but I think I would probably be better off not going the subscription route. I also see the Hart House season came out. It doesn't interest me that much unfortunately, though perhaps I'll go to Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  There's a small chance I would take my son to The Crucible to get him ready for high school English, but I'm not too interested in the play on its own merits.  It is such a clunky, over-wrought thing.

I did just see that Shakespeare Bash'd has a new season announced.  It seems a bit unusual for them in that they are doing a tragedy (Richard III) and a problem comedy (Measure for Measure).  I'm used to them doing comedies.  In the past, they kept their shows to 90 minutes, but lately they have gone for longer shows.  I'm not sure I will go see the shows, particularly Measure for Measure, since I saw that recently.  Also, I don't care that much for Volpone (I much prefer The Alchemist).  There's a small chance I'll go see the staged reading of Gorboduc by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville on July 30, since that is a genuine curiosity (indeed I've never even heard of it before).  Anyway, I'll try to keep an open mind.

I'm just back from Office Hours at East Side Players, which was entertaining though a tad predictable (and the acting was all over the map, generally good but a couple of very weak performances).  At any rate, they had a flyer about their next season, and I have to say it looks very grim with the closest thing to a comedy being Reza's God of Carnage (which I have vowed never to watch).  So I guess I'll be passing on seeing East Side Players for at least another year.

Coal Mine has yet to announce their season, though it looks like they will be doing Annie Baker's The Aliens in the fall, so I expect to go see that.  Not sure yet what else they are up to.

The big news is that Soulpepper just announced the next batch of shows (they sort of do a rolling season).  More details here.  This summer looks very promising with two shows from Video Cabaret and then Eric Peterson in Billy Bishop Goes to War.  However, I have tickets to those shows already.  In terms of the shows beyond this, they are doing Waiting for Godot.  I might go, though I've seen two really good productions already (including at Stratford with Brian Dennehy).  I'm not at all interested in Albee's The Goat, but they are also doing Albee's A Fine Balance, and I do want to see that.  I'm not sure about Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval.*  I don't know much about it, though it looks amusing.  I know even less about Idomeneus by Roland Schimmelpfennig, though the Guardian thought it was a clever take on Greek drama.  If I don't go to Godot (or only do rush tickets), that is only 3 shows, so I'd have to add a fourth show to get subscriber benefits (the most important being the ability to exchange tickets!).  I might go to August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.  I've generally not seen that many plays by Wilson (hoping vainly to see them in the right order), but maybe I should start going and see how far I get.  Anyway, I'll probably mostly fill out my 2018 calendar with storefront theatre offerings, but I'm glad that Soulpepper is doing at least some meaty plays this season (and not just doing Christmas shows and musical reviews, even though I suspect those do better business).

* It's a little unclear but this seems to have replaced Ayckbourn's House and Garden, which may be plugged in later in 2018.  It's hard to tell from the Samuel French page.

10th Canadian Challenge - 30th Review - Watch That Ends the Night

It was an interesting experience rereading Hugh MacLennan's The Watch That Ends the Night.  I did read it quite long ago, and occasionally reading some passage would trigger a faint memory, but I really didn't remember the overall plot.  I suspect I simply was reading too much in my mid-twenties and books just didn't stick with me that much.  (I recently found evidence that I previously read DeLillo's The Names, but I have no recollection of reading that at all!)  In some cases, this is not such a bad thing, since many novels are just read as a form of escapism, but The Watch That Ends the Night is a very solid novel, and I am a bit sorry that I didn't recall more about it.  I guess I can set the record straight now.  It did seem particularly appropriate that I read a significant portion of the novel on the train from Montreal to Toronto, as the novel is mostly set in Montreal (with a short side trip to Ottawa by train).  However, perhaps I should have started the novel a few months back, as it starts in the winter and moves to the spring (with perhaps a bit of an Indian summer at the end).

I have no idea how many contemporary readers come to The Watch That Ends the Night due to the fact that the Tragically Hip song "Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)" from Fully Completely is a paean to the novel and actually includes an extended quote from the novel.  However, since the song title only is a tip of the hat to MacLennan, and CD booklet doesn't say which book inspired Gord, casual fans probably will not make the connection.  In my case, I probably did pick up the CD and the book at about the same time, though I wasn't aware of the connection (and I surely listened to the CD long before I read the novel).  In any case, this post does a good job explaining the story behind the song and contains a good overview of the novel as well.  For me, the song has even more resonance now that Gord Downie is suffering from terminal brain cancer.

The main plot of the novel is fairly simple involving three people in a love triangle, though one that is less sordid than usual.  I'll get to that in a moment.  However, this all plays out against the backdrop of the Depression and WWII and its aftermath.  MacLennan is interested in setting up contrasts between the mass movements and sweeping political changes that more or less ground down the individual (personal choices about how to live one's life became unsustainable during the Depression and then the war mobilization, often with the State overruling personal autonomy) and then insisting that the personal still matters, particularly when one is facing one's own mortality or that of loved ones.  MacLennan comes back around to elevating the fact that the individual still matters.  And indeed, the novel can definitely be read as a kind of instruction manual for coming back to religious faith for the masses that had shed their religion.  While it certainly isn't as complex or as dogmatic, the ending does seem at least a bit reminiscent of The Brothers Karamazov.*

The set-up is that George is married to his childhood sweetheart, when he learns that his wife's first husband, Jerome, has seemingly returned from the dead (he had gone to fight the fascists in Spain and never came back).  Unlike some novels, this is revealed within a few pages (and is on the cover of the paperback!).  His wife, Catherine, has a very weak heart, having already survived 2 embolisms, and there is a big question whether seeing Jerome will trigger another health crisis.  It is a foregone conclusion that she will see him again, of course.  While I shouldn't give too much away, the last part of the novel is basically a meditation on mortality and how one should attempt to live while under a death watch as it were.  While all humans are fated to die, relatively few find sufficient grace to continue living well when their expiry date is so much shorter than the average person's (again, one of the reasons I thought of Gord Downie and his recent struggles).

The novel delves into a number of flashbacks and we find out more about George and Catherine's childhood and why they didn't marry in the first place.  Then we learn Jerome's back story, which is fairly harrowing.  There are also several sections that go over the events that led to Jerome heading off to Spain (and some of these events are a bit more on the sordid side).  There are quite a few secondary characters introduced (a few of them on the eccentric side), and this part of the book reminds me just a bit of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time.  The novel then returns to the present and the necessity of dealing with Catherine's fragile health.  While the set-up is different and the tone vastly different, I think there is a strong connection to another classic novel, Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier, which also deals with a woman's "tricky heart."  I think both novels are very good, though perhaps pairing them (in a class or in a paper) might be a mistake.  At any rate, I expect to reread The Good Soldier by summer's end or early fall.

MacLennan is mostly considering how a generation of people who had been left empty when their political ideals proved to be inadequate or even dangerous (he is mostly talking about Socialists or Communists) should cope with a cold, demanding world.  His answer seems to be to encourage a return to religious faith, though perhaps to a personal god and/or an individual faith rather than to organized religion.  I'm not interested in promoting that.  At the end of the day, people do have to find something to keep them going.  My issue with religion is that once people have found their way, they seem to insist on trying to impose their truth, values and behaviours onto others.  That is the fatal flaw with belief systems that claim universal truth.

MacLennan mixes the personal story with the political background more than one would generally see in a contemporary book, specifically because he saw how the personal was subsumed into mass political movements for most of the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s.  It's possible that the political is making a return in the 2010s (much to the surprise of folks like Fukuyama, who felt in the late 1980s that we had reached an end-state with liberal capitalism dominating the Western world).  In a broader sense, it is more than a little discouraging that we seem to be coming back to a period in time where political systems are gearing up for a major conflict, but the level of political thought is so low and incoherent nowadays.  Trumpism, for lack of a better word, is basically just an aggressive, uninformed, anti-elistist (ha!) pose that lashes out at the establishment (and basically all democratic norms) but doesn't offer an actual solution (other than a fantasy that we can retreat to the 1950s when everything was so much better).  For all the faults and shortcomings, political thinkers of the 1930s of all stripes were at least making coherent attempts to move society onto a different footing.  This review points out some of the shortcomings of turning away from politics (both in fiction and in real life), but points out that MacLennan found his own answer in how to more forward rather than stay steeped in despair.

I've mentioned a few other heavy hitters in this review (Ford and Dostoevsky), and The Watch That Ends the Night is a serious novel that stands up pretty well in their company.  To my mind, it is MacLennan's masterpiece (though I still have to read The Return of the Sphinx).  I can't guarantee you will find as much of value in the novel, but I thought it was an interesting read (or rather reread) and is one of the best novels I tackled this year.

* Dostoevsky comes up with this clever quote -- related second-hand by Father Zosima, who is repeating what a doctor told him once: "But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity."  For much of my life I basically embodied this quote, perhaps the motto of the technocrat, though lately I have drifted into a more anti-humanistic position where I think of humanity as a virus that will ultimately choke off most other life on the planet.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Done with Freud (for now)

I finally finished up Three Cases Studies, so I have gone through all of Freud's main studies of hysteria.  I have to admit, I found it a weird combination of clever insights and times when Freud imposed all kinds of assumptions onto a situation.  In particular in the Wolf Man case, he kept going back to this assumption that the patient had seen his parents having sex when he was 1 1/2 and this more or less scarred him for life.  Freud kept investing more and more into this presumed event -- that it must have happened at 5 pm, since there were 5 wolves in this drawing the patient did, etc.  Freud also seemed completely fascinated by words and basically puns, and large stretches of his analyses are propulsed by nothing more than wordplay.  One other reviewer said that Freud was hellbent on getting from A to B and would make any possible leap to get there -- reversals, dream logic, linguistic analysis, etc.  I find it a bit troubling how much rests upon such uncertain foundations, though most psychiatry has moved beyond Freud.

I was wondering if a modern day Freud would focus more on the visual aspect of dreams, since I think it is indisputable that Western society has gotten more and more visual and relies far less upon the printed word.  (Also, English is a largely ungendered language compared to French, Spanish and German, which means many of Freud's connections don't really work...)  I also wondered if more and more, patients would just go ahead and dream directly about their sexual hang-ups, since we've been told so often that sex is at the root of most mental activity anyway.  I think this is somewhat likely.

At any rate, I finally had a chance to launch into D.M. Thomas's The White Hotel, which sort of launched this whole detour into Freud in the first place.  What is interesting and yet disappointing is that it basically starts off with Freud passing along a long dream recounted by a patient in poem form.  However, it is deeply pornographic.  I think that sort of misses the point that Freud's patients would never have thought so directly about sex -- it would have all been displaced into dreams of trains or horses falling down or what have you.  If you start off by dreaming about wild sex and indeed rape, where do you go from there?  I'm really not sure, though I guess I'll find out this week.

I'll eventually come back around to reading more Freud, but I've read enough for the time being.

Cold Reads Wrap-up

It was a good time at the Toronto Cold Reads.  It was basically a party to mark the fact they are going away all summer (at least in part because people are so busy with the Toronto Fringe.)  There was a pretty decent spread, though it definitely tended towards chips and cookies (and I was trying to be good).  Most, though not all, of the lentil/couscous dish I made was eaten.  I thought it was a bit garlicy, but a few people liked it.  I actually saved some for lunch tomorrow.  I was hoping I would have my name picked for the writer's challenge, but it was not to be.

I did hear about a number of interesting fringe shows coming up.  The only one that I will surely try to see is George Walker's Adult Entertainment (part of the Suburban Motel series, which I was supposed to see at Ryerson but then didn't), but I'll try to squeeze a few others in, as well as Love and Information, which I definitely plan to see.

I was hoping to hear back from one actor, but she is deep in the throes of a master class, so she said she would respond in a couple of weeks.  I wanted to talk to another, but he was in a fairly big funk, so I'll try later.  (To some extent, it is kind of ridiculous to try to lock in people now for an event in November, but really things are that tight and booked that far in advance.  But what happens is that at least a few people end up getting better paying gigs and then someone else flakes out on you.)

Another actor said that he was in a show in October (this was one of the festivals that I applied for).  So I held back.  I thought about it for a while, and then approached him again to see if he was interested if there was some flexibility.  He said he would definitely consider it, so I'll send him a package in a few days.  I was most hesitant to ask Marcia, since she is sort of the elder statesperson for the group, but in the end, I decided to risk it, so I'll see if I can interest her.

I think there is no question I could take my writing further, but I have to prioritize it a bit more, and to try to take more risks and just put myself out there.  I think it is also time to join the TCR Writers' Group, which apparently means joining Facebook, which I so do not want to do.  I'll send the organizer the script for Dharma Donuts and ask them to see what they think.  Maybe with a bit more encouragement and making some connections, I can start making some headway.

Anyway, I give myself partial marks for finally getting up some courage and generally being a bit more social than I have in the last few weeks.  Hopefully, it will lead somewhere.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Another busy weekend

I'm only at the halfway mark, but it feels like a very busy weekend.

On Friday, my wife and I went to the symphony.  It was an overstuffed concert with Grieg's Piano Concerto and Beethoven's 7th Symphony.  Sir Andrew Davis was conducting.  Somewhat surprisingly he is one of those overly physical conductors who sways all over the place with the music.  He often looked like a drunken sailor, and perhaps he ought to rein that in a bit more.  I have to admit, we were both pretty exhausted by the time we got to the final movement of Beethoven's 7th, and it just seemed like the musical equivalent of Lord of the Rings, where there was fake finale after fake finale (and indeed the true ending is just a bit anti-climatic).  I have to wonder if Davis made them take more repeats than is standard, since I listen to a recording of the 4th movement today and it didn't seem to drag on so.  It was a nice concert, but just too long.

I was actually asked to come in to work today to help prepare for next week.  I biked in and worked from roughly 9:30-12:30.  However, I had a few tasks I really had to do, so I didn't stay all afternoon.  I then rode over to Spadina.  Unfortunately, there was an afternoon Jays game, so the traffic on Front St. was just terrible.  After getting my shopping done at Dollarama, I went to Kensington Hall to see Wolf Manor's stripped-down version of Caesar.  They used to do a 90 minute version, though this version is 2 hours.  It still featured 5 actors playing 30 or so characters.  It wasn't quite as confusing as it sounds, though it still feels a bit gimicky.  Maybe 6 or 7 actors would have seemed a bit more natural.  I'm not sure how I feel about it.  Julius Caesar is quite low on my list of Shakespeare tragedies (though certainly above The Merchant of Venice).  I did like this better than the version in High Park 2 or 3 summers ago.  This production certainly doesn't "redeem" the play or make me think about it in a radically different way.  I would say that Brutus was a fool (to let Marc Anthony live) and then worse, to walk away before Marc Anthony finished his funeral oratory (particularly after being warned against such behavior on several occasions by Cassius).  I believe there is one more performance this Sunday; it is worth watching if you are a Shakespeare buff.  (Of all their productions, I was blown away by Three Sisters, so I'll keep following them for the time being.)

I also used the time to scope out Kensington Hall a bit more and to think if it would be suitable for staging my short plays and how the set(s) might be arranged.  I currently have a hold on the first week of November, but I haven't actually put any money down to hold the dates (so someone could still scoop me).  I am hoping to hear back from two actors I have recruited and go from there.  However, I will also ask around at Toronto Cold Reads tomorrow to see if there is some interest (and availability) and at that point, I will put some money down to make this happen.  I've basically decided this would be the best place to stage The Study Group, so I want to do a bit of a dry run first to see just how it all goes before I try to put on a play that I really care about.  (I just happened to read that there is a potluck at Toronto Cold Reads, so I may have to make some dish, which I wasn't planning on doing, but I suppose it will be fun.  Anyway, it looks like I should go tomorrow and make some stronger connections.)

I also stopped into Best Buy at the Eaton Centre and found it horrible.  Not only is it half-empty, but they were pumping music very loudly everywhere.  It feels like all responsible adults have abandoned ship.  I won't be at all surprised when I read that Best Buy Canada goes bankrupt...

I got home just a bit after 5, and then my son and I turned around and went out to a concert at 6:45.  We could walk, however, which was nice.  The concert actually started at 7:30, but by the time we arrived, it was already difficult to find seats.  The show was almost sold out.  The first half was a variety of short pieces but also a solo set by TorQ.  The second half was Orff's Carmina Burana.  It's kind of overwhelming to hear it in relatively close setting.  The weirdest thing was one of the soloists (in The Dead Swan song) wore a white feather boa and turned around while he was singing, just as if he was on a spit.  Orff probably would have approved.  I thought TorQ was great and the rendition of Carmina Burana was very impressive.  So it was another good concert, though again a bit long.  Ironically, I am supposed to see TSO doing Carmina Burana in about 3 weeks, though they are doing the full orchestral version.  I suppose if I am completely exhausted from work that day, I'll just stay through the first half, since I have just heard the piece live.

I'd like to sleep in at least a little bit tomorrow, though I suspect I need to get groceries and do a few other chores.  If there is nothing else planned, I will probably go with my son in the afternoon to the bike store and drop his bike off for a tune-up and buy a replacement bike pump for myself.  Then I need to stop by the library on the way back.  And I already mentioned that I plan on going to Toronto Cold Reads in the evening.  So it will be a fairly packed weekend, especially if I have to deal with any more work emails tomorrow.

I just recalled that it is Doors Open Toronto this weekend, and there are a few interesting buildings open near me (the most interesting probably being the old Don Jail on Gerrard right near the river), but I don't really think we'll be going, since we have a visitor from out of town with some mobility limitations.  Well, perhaps next year...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Overcoming (minor) disappointments

I have had to deal with quite a few annoyances over the last 2-3 weeks.  Probably the most serious is that there has been quite a rash of scammers on  They build up just enough positive reviews to be taken serious, sell some things (at low but not ridiculously low prices) and then abscond.  When you contact them about the issues with the tracking number or "where is my stuff?," Amazon announces mournfully that the seller has left their platform.  So then you have to file a claim.  Eventually you get your funds back, but it is still a hassle, and the scammer basically gets away scot-free.  At some point, Amazon will have to figure out a better way to deal with these losers.  What made it particularly annoying is that I had ordered a special book on coding as a present for my son.  The other thing I got scammed on was a box set of Leonard Cohen albums.  After poking around for a bit, I found both of them at fair, though slightly higher, prices on the site, but now I have to deal with the whole issue of shipping to Canada, which has gotten quite outrageous.  Still that has been my way of dealing with that particular annoyance.  It could have been much worse, since I don't really end up out any money.

The second is that I have not really seen much improvement in my weight, despite exercising more and eating slightly better than I did a few months ago.  I have stuck to cutting diet soda (and really all soda unless I am at Toronto Cold Reads, where you sort of have to order something from the bar) out of my life, and I have recently stopped buying crackers, which was a minor vice.  I'm eating much more fruit, though I need to be more radical in cutting out processed sugar.  I'm not quite there yet...  I guess I see a little bit of progress, but I am impatient.  I did manage to convince myself to cycle in this morning, even though I didn't want to.  I probably need to add one more form of exercise, either jogging or swimming, so I am trying to summon the willpower for that.  And I really need to do a better job of staying more active next winter, since it is really the winters that undermine all my good intentions.

A slightly related frustration is that I seem to have lost a critical part of my bike pump.  I already feel that I should pump up the tires a bit, but I will have to go to the bike shop and buy a new pump (I really don't think the part is sold separately).  I must have dropped the part on the ground instead of inside the pannier the last time I added air, which would have been while waiting to see For colored girls... at Soulpepper.  It's certainly not the end of the world, but I should try to deal with it now, rather than a few weeks from now when the tires are really flat.  (And I really ought to also take my son's bike in for a tune-up, since he hardly used it at all last year, but that may have to wait for another time.)

I have mentioned that I recently got serious about the curtain project after a several month break.  I finally got the last panels pinned, which certainly takes a while for 60 inch long curtains!  I was buzzing along and ran out of thread in the bobbin twice!  But that wasn't the problem.  I had noticed a squeal that was quite annoying, but pretty much all the on-line help said it was probably the bobbin catcher that needed oil.  I was dubious but pressed on.  Anyway, I had about three inches to go on the last long seam on the final panel when the sewing machine completely seized up on me.  I couldn't even move the balance wheel manually as everything was jammed.  I dug a bit deeper into the on-line help and basically someone said that all the parts should be oiled.  So I took about an hour and disassembled the machine and oiled liberally.  It was still jammed up, and it seemed like the motor might actually have burned out.  It felt so unfair, since I probably only needed 30 minutes more at most.  I more or less gave up and went to look on Craigslist for used machines (though they often have their own issues).

I spent another hour or so straightening up the study.  Somewhat on a whim, I plugged the sewing machine back in and it worked!  (A minor miracle.)  I suspect it was a combination of the oil and the moving parts like the shaft just cooling down.  I was able to finish the seam and then hem the top and bottom of the curtains.  I have to say, they came out pretty well, definitely a bit better than the other pair.

But I think this is very much a temporary state of grace, and this post would have had a much different feel if the machine was still broken, since the options weren't great.  I don't think I could have hand-sewn the bottom and top hems.  Even now, I don't know that I trust the machine enough to undertake another major sewing project.  Small stuffed animals and perhaps a pillow cover might be ok, but I don't want to attempt a quilt, for example.  I really need to track down a sewing machine technician and have it serviced.  Maybe the cost won't be so bad now that I know I don't actually have to replace the motor or any major parts.  Anyway, that's what I should do, and I'll try to make a few phone calls next week to see what my options are as far as repairmen in the city. 

The last thing is a bit more speculative in that it has been fairly difficult to keep a group of actors all moving in one direction, since many of them are a bit flaky.  I then found out that Red Sandcastle is completely booked through the fall and early winter, which was a bit of a set-back.  However, today I found out that Kensington Hall does have availability and seems to be in the same general price range, so I think I will make sure at least two or three actors are interested and then book Kensington Hall.  This would be the perfect place for The Study Group and it should work pretty well for my evening of shorts, so I think booking it for the shorts this fall and working towards The Study Group next spring makes sense (at least as much sense as anything in the arts ever does...).  Anyway, I imagine if I go forward there will be lots of weird things and some disappointments, but I think the payoff will probably be worth it.  Mostly I would get my name out there and gain some experience in producing here in Toronto.  I have a tendency to move on (to other projects) when blocked, and I think to actually make headway, I need to show more persistence in overcoming disappointments and obstacles, so that will be my goal for the next few months.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Montreal (2017)

My main reason for going to Montreal was to see the Chagall exhibit, so I pretty much left it up to the kids to decide on the rest of the sites.  We had a bit more time on this visit than two years ago, since we flew in and took the train back.  I'm not entirely sure we'll do that again next time.  The airport is quite far from the downtown, and there was a lot of construction and traffic on the way in.  My daughter still struggles with car sickness, particularly when there are traffic hold-ups and also when there are strong scents in the car.  She basically just made it to the hotel but then she succumbed, so it was not a pleasant start to the trip for sure.

After some discussion, we decided to skip the Architecture Museum and no one really wanted to walk up Mont Royal.  We took the Green Line out to Viau, which is where the Biodome (one of the few leftovers from Expo '67) and the sports arena are.  I was not impressed by the Green Line.  The cars are far too small (maybe even narrower than CTA cars) and several of the stations were left completely unattended.  I've mostly been on the Orange Line on previous visits, and it is a much better experience.  Anyway, my daughter wasn't all that interested in the Biodome, but she wanted to check out the Botanical Gardens, particularly the Japanese Garden.

On the way in, we found out there was also an insectarium.  My wife wasn't at all interested, but the kids wanted to see it, so we went in.  I'd say it was 75% mounted moths and butterflies, but there were some glass cases with living insects inside.  It was relatively educational.

My wife somehow had twisted her ankle, which slowed down our progress through the gardens, though we finally found the Japanese Gardens, which were nice.

I was a bit disappointed to find out that the roses were not blooming, so we just left.  (I was even more disappointed to find out that Habitat 67 wasn't anywhere in the vicinity.)  At that point, my daughter now wanted to see the Biodome, but my wife wasn't up to it, so we took a crowded Green Line back to the hotel and found something to eat.  I took the time to finish up Ursula Le Guin's Changing Planes, which is a bit like a SF version of Gulliver's Travels.

Fortunately, after resting the rest of the evening, my wife was able to get around on Sunday.  We checked out and walked over to the old city.  There was apparently some festival where a bunch of people dressed up like the original inhabitants of Montreal.

This was fairly amusing, though we didn't stay all that long to watch.  We were headed to the Montreal Science Centre.  I realized that while I wasn't going to be able to get next to Habitat 67, I could probably see it from the port (and indeed from inside the Science Centre).  So it wasn't a total loss after all...

Actually, the kids quite enjoyed the Science Centre and probably would have stayed another hour or two, though I was getting kind of weary of it.  We walked through Victoria Square (appropriate, given the upcoming holiday) and then tried to find food at the Gare Central.  I remember this was a problem on the last trip as well where roughly half of the restaurants in the station are not open on Sundays, which just seems ridiculous to me.  We had about an hour to kill and finally boarded our train.

It was an uneventful but long train ride.  I was glad that the rain held off until we were actually on the train (whereas it rained most of Sunday in Toronto).  The kids did start getting restless with 90 minutes to go, but at the same time I think trying to fly back would have its own issues.  I spent most of the train ride back reading MacLennan's The Watch That Ends the Night and got 200 pages into it.  All in all, a fairly good trip.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Montreal and Chagall

I mentioned once or twice that there is a massive Chagall exhibit running at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  It runs through June 11, so there is still a fair bit of time to view it, though the last weekend or two are likely to be very crowded.  It was overwhelming in pretty much every way, both in the amount of material on display and the fact that it was a very popular exhibit.  We turned up at about 11 am, and unfortunately had to pass through two guided tours that were clogging up the galleries.  I'm still glad I went, but it probably would have been better to experience on my own, since I would have fought the crowds to try to see some paintings a second or third time.

The exhibition has Chagall's focus on music and works he created for ballet's (costumes and backdrops).  Here are some of the costumes for a production of Mozart's The Enchanted Flute.

Given how many of Chagall's paintings include a fiddler or an angelic harp, there was a lot of material to choose from, and it doesn't feel like too much was sacrificed to make this exhibit come together.  The catalogue is pretty exhausting, and going through the exhibit in person is even more so, particularly with the crowds.  I was somewhat surprised that most of the paintings could be photographed, though a few were off-limits.  I didn't take too many photos, but here are a few.

Marc Chagall, The Yellow Room, 1911

Chagall, Dusk aka Couple Between Darkness and Light, 1938-43

Marc Chagall, The Wedding, 1944

It wasn't particularly surprising that some of the paintings in the catalogue were not on display, but what was a bit more surprising is that apparently some of the paintings in Montreal weren't actually in the catalogue.  I'm fairly sure that The Yellow Room isn't in the catalogue.  I'm somewhat less sure about Birth (from the Art Institute of Chicago -- not pictured here) and Dusk, but I don't think they are included.

I was glad that there was a room of Chagall's stained glass pieces, though they didn't photograph particularly well.  As I said, it was a pretty overwhelming amount of Chagall and really too much to take in in a single visit, but I won't be able to go back unfortunately.

On our last visit to Montreal, we spent far more time on the Quebec artist installations housed in the building across the street.  This time around we just went to a couple of floors and focused mostly on the Beaver Hall artists.  I liked these two paintings quite a bit.
Philip Surrey, Night, 1938

Adrien Hébert, Corner Peel and Sainte-Catherine, 1948

After this, we took a quick look at the gift shop.  I was somewhat surprised to learn that the museum owned some modern art by European artists, as I don't think I managed to see that on the previous trip either.  So I left my wife and daughter on a bench, and my son and I went in for a lightning strike visit.  I would have liked to spend more time obviously, but I did see the Picasso and Matisse and other modern paintings.

My favorites were these three.

Henri Matisse - Seated Woman, Back Turned to the Open Window, 1922

Lyonel Feininger, Yellow Street II, 1918

Philip Guston, Rain Cloud, 1973

As this post is long enough, I will discuss the rest of what we got up to in Montreal in a follow-up post.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hidden theatrical gems

I thought I would mention a couple of shows that are still a bit (or a lot) under the radar.

Tarragon is doing Ntozake Shange's for colored girls.  It is a powerful production, though as many have noted it isn't a traditional drama but different monologues about Black women's experience.  It has gotten a fair number of reviews, but there still doesn't seem to be a lot of buzz around it.  This is a slightly updated version with a poem about HIV/AIDs (and partners being on the DL -- down low) and then an abusive partner gone crazy largely due to his service during the Iraq Wars.  So it has somewhat blurred the original timeframe of the 70s, but some things seem to be timeless.  Anyway, I think it is worth seeing, though I will admit I went and scored rush tickets...  (Details here.)

Much more underground is The Best Dad in the World and other Sad Characters, which is an interesting piece with 3 actors who do short character sketches set in Toronto (I think).  Each one is performed as a stand-alone piece, though the characters all kind of interact in one way or another.  So there is a young cancer patient, whose step-father showed up at the hospice ward and played God.  On one of his visits, he attached a therapeutic clown.  The clown then shows up later, very anxious to meet his drug connection.  We find out that his girlfriend left him after he quit or was fired from his hospital gig.  We also see the man who is now dating his ex, and who was suckered into buying a Botticelli painting at an art cafe!  So it is a fairly intricate kind of sketch comedy, based on character studies.  It might have been interesting to have the characters interact, particularly for the final sketch or two.  In addition to the art cafe sketch, where the menu contained some outrageous puns on artists' names, the sketch about the trans-woman who came from the town of Whimsy was truly peculiar and funny.  This show is at Red Sandcastle through the end of the week.  (Tickets here.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Grab bag (with curtains)

Now that it is nice out again, I've been exploring the neighbourhood a bit.  I went back to the bookstore at Pape and Dingwall and picked up the hardback edition of The Watch That Ends the Night.  (I'll be visiting Montreal soon, and I wanted to make sure I had a copy to read on the train.)

I think this is the first time I cut across Dingwall (to then cut through the projects to get to Jones).  I saw one of the Little Free Library boxes.  These are so cute, even though I probably won't ever use it.  I think the other one I saw was in the Annex, but there are several around Toronto.

Anyway, I was off to check out this pizza place that supposedly does deep-dish Chicago style pizza.  It's called Double D's.  It's actually quite close to Gerrard Square, which is fairly convenient for us.

It's pretty good.  Nowhere near as good as Giordano's or even Pizzeria Uno's, but probably the best equivalent we'll find in Toronto, and it is close as I said.

I've been fairly good about the biking, and I'll bike at least three times and perhaps four times this week.  Drivers are only slowly getting used to cyclists being out.  I haven't had that many close calls myself, though I've been cut off a bunch of times or blocked from the bike lane by a car (or the 144 bus!) where it isn't really supposed to be.

On the way home I saw the aftermath of a major accident at Queen and Sherbourne, where somehow a car and a van collided in the intersection and then the van smashed into a telephone pole.  So glad I wasn't in the area when that happened (maybe 15-20 minutes before).  Indeed, I had worked late today, so it isn't inconceivable that I could have been right in the middle of it had I left on time.  While the damage to the van looked quite bad, I don't believe there were any serious injuries or at least there wasn't an ambulance anywhere in the vicinity.  (Oops, my bad.  Looking at the photo again, there is an ambulance, but no one was put on a stretcher or anything like that.)

On a completely different note, it's been quite interesting checking out the weather report for the Toronto Islands.  The rain has really socked it to the Islands, and the lake level is also higher than it has been for years.  Consequently, large parts of the island are flooded and tourists aren't going to be allowed on the Islands until the end of June at the earliest!  I think my office had a picnic excursion planned, so now it will have to be July, but everyone will be wanting to get out there then, so perhaps a rethink is in order.  (I had kind of wanted to take my family, but maybe this should be something we try to do next summer.  On the flip side, it might be a lot easier to canoe the Humber River compared to last year when the river was so low...)

Finally, I thought I would talk about a few things that are paying off.  I tried to plant grass seed, and I think some of it is coming up, though one corner of the yard is so beaten down it probably needs a soil transplant!

Also, we planted flowers (from seeds) in the flower boxes, and I think these are coming up as well, though it looks like we should have tried to spread them out a bit more.  I should know soon if these flowers are going to bloom this year or not. 

And I have finally made significant progress on the curtain project.  The sewing machine is still squeaking a bit, but I am able to run off roughly one curtain per night now.  (There are far fewer problems with the bobbin with this material, thank goodness!)  I really ought to pin the next one, but I am fairly tired.  I wish they looked a bit more professional, but this isn't too bad for 100% home-made curtains (we'll probably tie them back anyway), and the final set ought to come out just a bit better.

I have roughly one more week to finish the second set and finish straightening the study and the basement.  At that point, I will have to decide just how serious I am about making a stuffed fish for a friend's child and then starting in on a quilting project.  I kind of promised I would do it, so I think I will at least attempt the quilt (the top at least) and see how it goes (though I am open to paying for a long-arm quilter to put the whole thing together).  Maybe it will be relaxing once I really get the hang of it.  Or at least that's what I can tell myself now...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Most quoted authors

I wonder if there has ever been a comprehensive study of which authors get cited or quoted in other authors work.  This does exist for academic works (most of the articles I contributed to have been cited fewer than 20 times, but four have been cited 80+ times and then two of those have hit the 100+ mark).  I'm not aware of anything nearly as systematic for fictional works, not least because you don't list one's references at the back of a novel (and only in the copyright page if you quote extensively from other works).  I suspect if Google really wanted to find this out, they probably could do a study, given that they have scanned most books that are still in print, but I don't think they consider it worth their time, at least not now, since it is hard to image a revenue stream that would emerge.

Now when I mean quoted or cited, I mean it in a fairly general sense, so it might mean an epigraph or sentence being quoted in another work, but it might just be a riff, like saying someone is stingy like Scrooge or even a situation is Kafkaesque.

From my recent scan of literature, I would say that a fair number of British authors, particularly from the Victorian era through 1950 or so, tend to cite Roman authors, like Horace, Virgil, Ovid or Juvenal.  I'd say that has died down a bit lately, however.  American writers always were a bit more likely to reference the Greeks (particularly Homer) but that also seems to have declined a bit and Greek and Roman literature (and even Chaucer and Dante) is not really part of the curriculum any longer.

I suspect Shakespeare remains in the top position, even among American writers.

Lewis Carroll is probably not that far behind, since so many authors want to explore dreamlike states, and Alice is a convenient shorthand reference.

I'm not sure what the list looks like after that, but I'll offer up some thoughts.

I suspect Kafka is the single most influential and/or cited "foreign" author among writers working in English.  I could certainly be wrong, of course.

I suspect that Dostoevsky far outpaces Tolstoy, Turgenev and Chekhov as far as Russian influence in English literature.  In terms of specific Dostoevsky works, it is probably Crime and Punishment in the lead, then the Brothers Karamazov with The Double and Notes from Underground fairly far behind.  I don't think Demons is particularly influential anymore, which is a shame, as it is a bit of neglected masterpiece.

Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita seems to be gaining in influence, which is well deserved.

It's kind of interesting that when Hemingway is invoked, it is sort of for the whole of his oeuvre as well as his macho image, whereas when Fitzgerald is referenced it is virtually always in regards to The Great Gatsby.

While Dickens has certainly generated quite a lot of interest in a wide range of his characters, the ones from A Christmas Carol do sort of eclipse all the rest.  The same could be said for Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

At least people do read their other works, for Mary Shelley and Charlotte and Emily Bronte, they are all defined by just one novel each, which is a bit unfortunate no matter how great those novels are.  (I suppose it is still better to be a one-hit wonder than to not have that level of success in the first place...)  Orwell is more of a two-hit wonder with 1984 and Animal Farm being quite influential, but with his other novels and essays being generally neglected.

I would say Faulkner may be at a low point now, as I certainly haven't seen too many other novels reference his characters (though perhaps I do remember coming across a reference to epic stubbornness that was actually a reference to As I Lie Dying).  (Other long and fairly complicated novels such as Moby Dick* and Ulysses have somewhat fallen out of fashion these days.)

I really don't think I could hazard a guess at which poets are still cited, though I do see T.S. Eliot (especially The Waste Land) pop up from time to time, as well as Walt Whitman.

Anyway, this is what I have come across in my relatively recent reading.  I am happy to make corrections based on submitted comments.

* Melville's character Bartleby the Scrivener does have legs, however.

The Stupid Baby Play

I am sorry to report back that last night was another example of a really solid cast in what I consider an unworthy script: Albee's The Play About the Baby.  Now most critics consider this a black comedy or more precisely a black, absurdist comedy, minor but still intriguing.  I basically feel this is a case where they can't bring themselves to say that the Emperor has no clothes.  I think Albee has written a pretentious, post-modern wank-fest that is only a pale shadow of his other plays, particularly Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.  There isn't a single moment where the perfectly reasonable questions of "Who are you?", "What are you doing here?"* and "What have you done with the baby?" are answered directly.  I suppose the last one is answered indirectly.  (SPOILERS coming.)  But there is no motivation established, and instead the older man keeps going off on a variety of tangents whenever asked a direct question.  Some of these aside are amusing (or at least amused the majority of the audience, though I found them too self-indulgent and theatrical), but they are certainly evasive.  I suppose this is the same sort of thing that he and Pinter have done for years, but I just didn't think that the dialogue is interesting enough to carry the evening (again, at least not for me -- many people in the audience enjoyed it).


Since the role of the older couple is never explained, my mind tries to impose meaning on the vacuum.  The most likely explanation is that these are mental projections of the young couple as much older and wiser people, which only partially explains why the older man says that the young man touched him in the groin (as he would obviously have done if the two are the same person), but then this no longer makes sense when the older man says that he was in the hospital giving birth (rather than the young woman).  It just fails to cohere in any way that makes sense, and when things don't cohere, I have absolutely no interest in them.  Again, trying to impose some sense on this, I generally came around to the idea that the woman either had a miscarriage or lost the baby very early due to SIDS, and then this play is them coming around to accepting trauma in the Now (rather than Later when they are older and more used to pain, as the young man tries to bargain at several points).  And yet, if this is so, why is the older man so gratuitously cruel to his younger self?

The whole thing was treated like a joke by the older man, who also breaks the fourth wall quite frequently.  At one point he says he has six children: two Black, two white, one green and one is not described.  Then he says he had the Black children when he was Black.  Then he catches himself and says that he had one Black child, two white ones and a light green one (which he gave birth to incidentally).  What is one supposed to do with such ramblings, aside from turn the older man into a trickster character like Coyote or even Loki, who is a more malevolent trickster?  It just means that nothing we see is real and can be inverted or reversed at any moment.  I have no interest in plays that refuse to have ground rules, and it is very rare indeed that I like absurdist plays.

There are definitely interesting moments along the way, and I'll touch on just a few, although for me the destination wasn't worth it. In one of his monologues designed to distract attention from what is going on (and now that I think about it, it is quite pointless that the older couple spend a lot of time talking to the audience without the younger couple around and yet they do...), the older man talks about going into the Royal Academy Museum in London and experiencing a sculpture exhibit for the blind by closing his eyes tight and having a guide show him to the pieces.

The older woman talks a bit about trying to interview creative types and not getting very far, particularly when a writer says he would rather die than let her watch him write (or as she puts it, translate his ideas into words).  She gets really quite indignant about this rejection, but of course why should she have any right to impose upon the artist, particularly when she seems to want something from him in exchange for nothing?  (I assume this was Albee's dig at a bunch of reporters who must have always been pestering him about his craft.)  Just coincidentally, I read a follow up piece on this comic/performance artist who is trying to goad Jason Segel into responding to his videos where he eats Segel's photo every day.  He sounds like a total knob when he complains that he is being ignored and assumes that he has a right to make his name off of Segel.  I mean he has a bit of fame already, but the more he complains, the more he comes across as an entitled jerk.  (This is one of the rare cases where I wish The Star had comments turned on, since I thought they would be illuminating, though there are comments here at an earlier point in this guy's quest for fame.)  I guess Albee helpfully(?) points out that entitled jerks were around 20+ years ago, even if there do seem to be more of them today in the era of social media.

I'm sure I started the evening in the wrong frame of mind, wanting to be proved wrong that this play was not worth my time, but, despite fine acting, I still felt it was a waste of my time.  I can't judge whether others would feel the same.  Most people in the audience did seem to be digging the play, more engaged in the discursions than I was.

* While it is sort of hinted at, I don't think the younger couple ever asks "How did you get in?," but I may have just overlooked that.  The fact that the older couple can apparently just sort of walk through walls just adds to the unreality of the play and the fact it has no ground rules.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sidewalk Sale

I am not particularly organized when it comes to putting on big events, but fortunately there are others in the neighbourhood that are.  They usually put on a sidewalk/yard sale every year, and I just tag along and try to get rid of some stuff.

Over the past few months, we thinned out the kids' toys and put them in a box in the basement.  I had tried to thin out the books as well, but there was no movement on that front.  I wasn't quite ready to part with some of the childrens' DVDs, though they haven't watched them in years, so I'll plan to put more of them out next year.  I did consider putting out a bunch of jazz and classical CDs, but right now CD generally do not sell.  LPs, even lousy ones, do better in the yard sale context.  I'll try to take them back to the one local shop that still pays for used jazz and classical CDs.

The main thing that I managed to sell was a bunch of Lego sets.  I tried to put them together and decided that 95% of the core pieces were there, plus all the instruction books, so it was ok to sell them as individual sets.  The more interesting sets were the Harry Potter Knight Bus and an Alien Invasion set.  The kids never were really that into Lego, at least in part because 1) my son felt bad about mixing up the pieces from different sets, so that limited his creativity and 2) my wife made a fuss if they strayed from the play area and eventually no one wanted to bother.  It was so different from my experience growing up.

I sold the whole bunch to one woman and threw in a free pair of bunny ears.  I did warn her that there were a few missing pieces, but that the core pieces were all there.  I even turned up all the dinosaur teeth for another set.

It looked like rain, but actually the rain held off all afternoon, and it is just starting now (unfortunately I need to head back out).  Some folks down the street managed to put out tables and tables of stuff.  I was actually quite good and only picked up a single book from a neighbour (apparently he and his wife had been at an event and John Irving signed one of his new novels and they were willing to part with it -- of even more interest is that John Irving has moved to Toronto -- I had no idea).  Thus, I got rid of more than I brought home, which is really the primary goal of these sales.

Fairly shortly after I sold off the Lego sets, I just put out a free sign for the rest and then walked away.  Most things were gone when I strolled back.  (Others held out longer, but eventually started giving away a lot of stuff.)

My son and I then left for TCAF at the Toronto Reference Library (where I did manage to spend on comics what little cash the sidewalk sale had brought in, mostly on the Toronto Comics Anthology).  TCAF is on tomorrow for those interested.  I know I won't be able to go back this year.  All in all, a pretty good day.

Friday, May 12, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 29th Review - Queen Rat

Lynn Crosbie's Queen Rat is actually the third poetry book in a row with a connection to House of Anansi Press.  Queen Rat originally came out in 1998 and was reprinted as part of Anansi's A List series in 2014.  At the time it was a bit of a hybrid, with about 2/3rds of the poems from Crosbie's first three collections, but then three new groups of poems.

The first new material is a series dedicated to Fredo Pentangeli from The Godfather 2.  I have to admit, these poems didn't do much for me, as I never got around to watching The Godfather or The Godfather 2.  I realize that is an unforgivable omission, but I just haven't found the time.  The two movies have permeated the culture to the point that it feels like I have seen them, however.

The second grouping, Presley, focuses on a news story about a child who was so disturbed by the death of her dog that she put it in the freezer.  This is fairly creepy, and not that far off from Faulkner's Emily, though the child apparently nothing to do with the dog's death.  To sort of add to the overall effect, there are photos of a child, a dog and a refrigerator, almost as if this was a true-life story and not a bunch of poems.  To be honest, I thought this series was too manipulative.  Plus, I don't like dogs, not even a little bit, so these poems didn't do anything for me.

I did like Alphabet City, however, as Crosbie sort of memorializes a bunch of bars, taverns and booze cans that she spent time in after her arrival in Toronto circa 1982 (after growing up in Montreal).  While most of the poems are based on her memories of the mid to late 80s, a few reach into the mid 1990s.  It's fairly unlikely that our paths would have crossed, since the pubs I went to were all near UT and I hung with a fairly sedate crowd.  As one reads about Lynn's various adventures, she started to come across like a Canadian version of Jim Carroll.  Many of the misadventures are her own, but she was surrounded by other drug users and documented their struggles as well.  From "Western Hospital": "Some things I remember I would like to forget: / blood soaks the inside of his thighs 3 A.M., the way the street / always looks at this hour on this ride; / the arc of Bathurst opening into emergency; / inert ambulance, waiting to sleep; / then he is staggering through the corridor while I confiscate / syringe, tie, and spoon...".

I would say in general, in her early career she did buy into the notion that outsider artists like Jim Carroll and William Burroughs and Rimbaud (who practically started this all) make better art, and therefore one ought to live on the wild side and perhaps even do drugs to enhance one's artistic powers.  She seems to have come through this, though she is still fascinated by dark and/or tragic characters as seen in her book Paul's Case (a very controversial novel about Paul Bernardo) and Where Did You Sleep Last Night, which envisions the reincarnation of Kurt Cobain into a teenager (but still no happy ending).  

Her experience in Toronto, as related in Alphabet City, is not all bad, and she describes being part of the literary scene and going to and giving poetry readings.  She falls in love from time to time, though typically with other drug users.  She records a trip to Niagara Falls.  For me one of the technically most interesting poems is "Union Station," which seems inspired partly by Robert Lowell, but then somewhat by Anne Sexton.*  "Green and white boxcar heading west past / moulting ferris wheel pasture rows of houses each alike... / ... / the conductor calls; / paterson Johnson tynkaluk adlai hazen cuddy dent trudi nixon lauzon / ... / stops I miss, static, sleep, / train I ride half-dead / objects falling back, smaller, in perfect miniature: the line / of little cats' teeth, bridging sharp incisors, that comb the body, / drawing out tangles in long tined tracks."

Several of the poems drawn from Miss Pamela's Mercy and VillainElle are about murderers or murder victims ("The Black Dahlia" and "Poems for Jack the Ripper").  There are also poems more focused on S & M and power relations more generally.  For instance, "Strange Fits of Passion" ends as follows: "He was quiet also, and I whipped him, / I ground my heels in his chest / until he begged for mercy."

I'm not entirely sure where "Carrie Leigh's Hugh Hefner Haiku" fits in here, as Carrie Leigh is still alive and never accused Hugh of any physical abuse.  (There is a slight connection between Leigh and Crosbie in that Leigh is Canadian and she and Crosbie are the same age.)  I do think it is an interesting exercise in writing a long poem, formed by a number of Haiku (and I had completed writing Double Sabbatical with its Haiku before I read this poem).  I would say that in one critical way they fail the test of classical Haiku in that the poems are supposed to be self-contained and these clearly are not.  They are still amusing, however.  The poem opens: "Hef brings me flowers / tiger lilies, ochre veined / downcast, sleek black cups // small shadows, are the puckers in his pyjamas / where his skin caves in // tired profligate, I / sigh and pour the oil along / your circular sheets".

Of the three books that Crosbie drew upon for Queen Rat, Pearl was the last published (1996) and seems the most assured.  Most of the poems appear to be titled after movies ("Have Gun, Will Travel," "Superfly," "The Snake Pit," etc.).  At some point, I will go ahead and track down Pearl to see what I thought of the poems not collected in Queen Rat.  There are several spots on the internet that claim that Pearl is all about Crosbie's relationship with Tony Burgess, but there are also some sites that claim she and Burgess are (still) married, which does not seem to be the case.  It's probably not terribly relevant to know the truth behind these poems, other than they are about a male partner struggling with drug addiction.

"The Snake Pit" is indeed dedicated "To Tony": "He is often tired this fall, his eyes -- purple shadows, / narcotic flowers. Glassine bags, black envelopes, ill-concealed secrets / I discover, sunflower dust, faint streaks of powder. / ... / At night, he combs the winter streets for / heroin, and sinks deeper / into the glacial corners of his sheets."

The poems named after Blaxploitation flicks seem to be an imagined rendering of this relationship as it would be in a B-movie.  From "Have Gun, Will Travel": "How pleased he will be when I surprise him with the cool barrel, / when it arouses his neck, his temple. / Its sight lowers to the silver zipper, its cold teeth clenched, / closed to me / ... / I want to excite him this way."  Speaking from experience, it is best to leave the gun fantasies on the screen and not bring them into one's life as a marital aid...

Ambrosia seems to be a cautionary tale of trying to hold onto love too long, particularly when one partner wants to be out of the relationship.  "He became restless: the guy wanted to leave and I didn't want him to leave. / A heart-shaped box, the candies are moss green; I have held on to this / too long. Anger hot / enough to incinerate each scalloped chocolate...".  (Note the shout-out to Kurt Cobain.)  It isn't clear if Crosbie is talking about her fraying relationship (with Tony) or a previous one, but in any case, it isn't healthy: "I crush his throat with a metal paddle (stolen / from the factory, sweetness is only mine to steal), / wrap his confectionary body into plastic bags, and then retrieve it. / To kiss the rigid wrists and neck that belong to me...".  Again, the poem has strong connections to A Rose for Emily, which also featured in Presley, a slightly later work.  It's possible that Crosbie goes a bit too far and overplays her hand when she adds "As a child, I would preserve insects in formaldehyde," since the concept has been well established.  I can certainly understand how someone reading this poem would be a bit hesitant to let the poet into his (or her) life, but it is pretty effective.

I'll close with a short meditation on "After Illness."  This poem is a bit more cryptic than some of the other ones.  It isn't entirely clear whether the illness is a literal sickness (like a very bad winter cold), drug addiction or being addicted to love, i.e. staying in this unhealthy relationship.  It might be some combination of all three, though the poem doesn't suggest she is actually out of the relationship with Tony.  "February returns -- a ribbon of pink, a paper wand sealed in ice. Blue / star, a girl in violet tulle and diamante glitter brocades her little bodice. / ... / I have been desperately tired, / and he irons this sickness from me in smooth circles."  Almost all the imagery in this poem relates to winter: chilly, blue, pearl, diamond, etc.  It may be a more effective poem precisely because I am not entirely sure what is going on at the end and what will happen when she emerges completely from her illness, so there is an air of mystery about it.

I liked quite a few of the poems in Queen Rat, particularly those in Pearl and the Alphabet City series, though I do feel Crosbie got swept up into the cliched role of outsider poet throughout the 90s.  It is basically impossible to imagine separating the poems in Queen Rat from this pose (and the actual drug use and the sketchy situations she got herself into during this period).  For some readers, this literary slumming is quite exciting and perhaps a few will be glad that Crosbie did the "hard time" and brought back these poems along the way, while others will be less sympathetic (not that I imagine Crosbie would care either way).

* One of the most interesting facts about Lynn Crosbie is that she completed a PhD on Anne Sexton in 1996, so I might have theoretically crossed paths with her in the U of T English department, but the students taking courses and those that were ABD didn't typically interact. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Play-writing progress

While the audience at Sing-for-Your-Supper was quite small (and at one point almost the entire audience was cast in one play!), I think Double Sabbatical went quite well.  People particularly liked the revenge haikus.  (I would say for my part, I feel I am getting the hang of establishing a mood and a basic plot in under 10 minutes.  In general, this helps me from writing pieces that are too flabby.) There were two other pieces that I enjoyed -- one about a household where everything was locked up or password protected, and then another one where it turned out that Jesus turned Lazarus into the first zombie.  This play was particularly notable for one character twittering on and on while the zombies threatened to get in.  It wasn't quite Abbott and Costello, but sort of along those lines.

I have to admit, I may start passing on Sing-for-Your-Supper until either 1) they get a permanent home or at least improve their notification system or 2) I decide for certain whether I am going to stage some shorts in the fall.  I am starting to lean that way, and if so, I will need to recruit actors who will work for a small honorarium and a cut of the profits if any.  (While the evening is probably already overstuffed, I wonder if I should include "Double Sabbatical."  It's probably a stronger piece than "Blue Grass Mash" or whatever I am calling it these days.)

Toronto Cold Reads was fun, though I don't think the scripts stood out as much as on other evenings.  There was one piece about a shyster and the somewhat mentally slow man he is trying to scam.  It had funny bits, but overall felt a bit too predictable.  My piece, with the X-Files vibe, went over pretty well.  Again, trying to get so much to happen in 10 pages is a huge challenge.  The musical guest was very good, though I was feeling kind of broke, so I didn't buy any of his CDs.

Toronto Cold Reads is becoming my favored cold reads event, though they only have a few more shows before taking the summer off.  I probably can't make the event on the 21st, since I'll be coming back from Montreal that afternoon.  What I really need to do is to join up with the writers' group, particularly if they are going to be meeting periodically through the summer.

I spent what little time I had on making revisions to Corporate Codes of Conduct.  I'm getting close on the first act.  I must have chopped 15 minutes.  It probably would still be better losing another 5-10, though I probably do need to see it read "live" to see what can be cut.  I think the key is what do I want to come back in the second act (the WWII references?, more about Li's unresolved issues with her father?, etc.) before I can really decide what to cut.  (Also, I added a bit where there is verbal ping-pong between two dyads on stage, and I don't know if that works or not.)  The second act needs to be completely redone, and I have some ideas on where to go, but it will take a while.  I was working towards a deadline (of yesterday!) but I finally decided that while this did feature a strong female lead character (particularly with the edits I was going to implement in the second act), it is still largely just a work romance story (and one where the male lead saves her bacon), so it just didn't feel very "feminist," so I ultimately did not submit it.  Nonetheless, this has kick-started me into taking another look.  I think over the next few weeks, I will try to fix the second act and then try to convince the TC Writers' Group to workshop it.

After this, I probably just want to finish Straying South, and then start editing Dharma Donuts.  And then finally I need to decide whether to work on Final Exam or The Study Group.  Some hard choices to make down the line, but at least a glimmer of a payoff here and there (like the last two evenings where the audience liked my work).  So there is a point to it all, I suppose.  Ciao for now.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Midsummer in Edinburgh (Tarragon)

We are just back from Midsummer at Tarragon.  It's light entertainment and predictable but still entertaining for all that.  Given that the play talks about the constant rain over the Midsummer weekend in Edinburgh, it felt quite appropriate, given the massive rainfall we've had over the past 4 days. However, I thought the play could be tightened (maybe losing 10-15 minutes, particularly the number of times songs were "reprised").  My wife thought it should lose 30 minutes.  Perhaps the single most amusing line was the message reading on the car park ticket machine saying "Change is possible."  I never saw that when I was in Edinburgh, though I also never drove anywhere.

One thing that she found really puzzling was that the play seemed to be set in 2016 (or at least in 2009 when it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe), given how much emoticons were used in text messages (and the phone noises seemed fairly contemporary).  However, if the main characters really were just turning 35 in 2009, then they would have been 9 in 1983 (probably a bit too young to sneak in and see The Jesus and Mary Chain).  Perhaps this was more of a passing reference to when the band formed, but Bob definitely said he had seen them in 1987, which would have still left him at 13 or so (and 5ish if we are to assume the play is set now).  I didn't let this bother me too much, but she felt it was a pretty big inconsistency.  (So some theatre goers do sweat the small details.  I've recently decided that Corporate Codes will be set in 1999, so I need to make sure all the internal references square up with that.)  If they had said the play took place in 2000, then the internal chronology would make much more sense, but they would have to have ancient phones that only texted and basically no emoticons.

On further reflection, I have to say 35 is a pretty weird age to suddenly discover that it is worth ditching everything and making that long delayed ferry ride to the Continent to busk.  I'd say 28 or 29 is about the latest it would really not seem "too late" to change one's life.  (It's also a little hard to believe 35 year olds would hang with the goth teenagers even for just a wild night.)  On the other hand, if Bob and Helena were in their mid-40s, then there might be more comic potential in watching them try to reclaim their glory years.

The program included this amusing map, which only has a few tourist attractions, favoring the Ikea just out of town as well as the industrial estate.  I suppose if one lives in a place long enough, then one probably does navigate by more personal landmarks rather than the big touristic ones.  (If you've never read Kevin Lynch's The Image of the City, it's certainly worth a look.)

I went ahead and dug out a few of my photos of Edinburgh.  Just looking through them, I am exhausted, since I seem to have criss-crossed the city three times in two days.  I'll just post some ones that remind me of the trip, but I won't be able to label them or anything.  It was a nice trip (I also visited Glasgow on the same trip) and I wouldn't mind going back, though I think it is somewhat unlikely at this point.