Saturday, October 13, 2018

Grumpy-time News

Not to be confused with Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies...  I suppose it is inevitable that the gratitude of not having any major broken bones is wearing off.  Part of the problem is that my hands are still in quite a bit of pain.  Some things, such as typing, aren't too bad, but writing, opening doors and even peeling oranges is extremely painful.  I went back to the clinic and they said that the healing seemed to be going fairly well, but I should wait another two weeks to let my hands heal more completely.  That definitely means no cycling (and almost nothing I can actually do at the gym).  Also I'll have to put my other wood-working project (to build a Little Free Library) off until next spring.  The doctor did say I could try heat compresses, so I picked up one of those at the mall today.

Still, this kind of casts a pall over this weekend, not that I had huge plans, other than to go to the symphony tomorrow.  I did try to get rush tickets at Coal Mine last night.  Even though I was first in line, they were completely sold out.  I then stopped and asked myself if I really wanted to spend the time (next week) to try to see a piece of feel-bad theatre that will just bring me down (basically the plot of The Nether involves an internet salon where pedophiles can act out their impulses).  And I told myself no -- life is tough enough already and it's going to be getting much worse in my lifetime as climate change really kicks in.  I don't need to wallow in something that is just going to make me feel even worse about the world (and all the shitty people in it).  I've decided that Hand to God (their third production this season) is also just going to be a huge downer, so I'm going to take a total pass on Coal Mine this year.  I've seen a few provocative plays there, but really the only one that was unmissable (and didn't actually leave me more depressed than when I started) was Annie Baker's The Aliens.

I have been very slowly making my way through von Rezzori's The Death of My Brother Abel.  I am very sorry to report that I don't like it at all; it's so pretentious and boring (all about a failed novelist who goes on and on and on about why he can't write his novel).  A few months I would absolutely have jumped at the chance to get the NYRB edition of Abel and Cain that adds Kain to My Brother Abel.  Well, it finally turned up as an Amazon pre-order.  However, it's pretty clear I would have to force myself to get through it (and I have no interest in reading Abel a second time!).  Sadly, I can't be 100% sure that any library here will pick this up, but I'll just have to rely on ILL and save my money for books that I at least have a chance of enjoying (such as the feel-good epic Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman...).

I could go on, but I'd just wind myself up even more.  Now is as good a time as any for a nap...

Friday, October 12, 2018

12th Canadian Challenge - 8th Review - Adjacentland

While I do admire Rabindranath Maharaj for trying something completely different from his books about the Canadian immigrant experience, I found Adjacentland to be frustrating and ultimately not worth the time it took me to read it.  The set-up is intriguing in that the narrator wakes up in a more or less abandoned compound with no memory of his past.  He tries to piece together his past from letters and drawings.  Much is made of the fact that all the books in the library have been scrambled.  He does encounter a few people who quiz him and ask him all manner of leading questions (and he tries to play it cool, not letting on how little he knows).  Much is also made of the fact that his memory seems to reset every 3 months.  The setting changes in various strange ways at each Stage of the book.

For better or worse, I feel Adjacentland shares with Cronenberg's eXistenZ the inability to commit to any ultimate ground truth.  I personally felt what we find out at the end is very thin gruel, not worth the 300+ page running length of this novel, but other readers are a bit more supportive.  Still, if I could go back a week in time, I would tell my younger self to pass on this book.

Beckett news

There is some breaking news that I neglected to include in my preview post.  I neglected to mention that Video Cabaret is remounting Krapp's Last Tape.  This runs through Oct. 21.  Tickets available here.

While Video Cab is recovering from their last foray into the History plays, they probably will return to them in a year or two.  Can hardly wait for that.

They will also do a rewrite of The Changeling, removing it from its insane asylum setting.  Not sure I would go to that much trouble, and I'll be skipping this (I saw the full play at Stratford last season), but it might be of interest to some.

What really caught my eye is that in Nov. they are going to be doing a studio version of Happy Days.  I assume they mean a staged reading, but hard to say.  I'll fill in more details as they become available, but this was pretty exciting news.

Monday, October 8, 2018

12th Canadian Challenge - 7th Review - The Outer Harbour

This is the first short story collection by Wayde Compton, who is more established as a cultural critic and occasional poet.  (I reviewed his earlier work here.)   These stories are set in Vancouver (or on a new island that appears at the mouth of the Burrard Inlet).  They range in time from 2001 to the very near future.  Many, though not all, are interconnected.  The overall approach is reminiscent of Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, though the scheme is not quite as rigorous.

To be honest, I probably did miss some of the connections, so I'm not sure I can exactly SPOIL the collection, but I will certainly be going into the over-aching theme of the collection, so be warned.  Overall, I thought this was an interesting collection, but one that also riled me up and portrayed Vancouver in an unnecessarily unflattering light.


In the first story, we are introduced to a performance artist who refuses to self-identify as Asian or Indigenous or any other racial category.  Her motivations aren't that clear, though she seems to want to undermine the idea that Canadians currently living in Canada have any kind of claim on the territory and/or can keep others out.  Clearly, this is mostly wishful thinking on the part of the author.

In the next story, "The Lost Island," we see the State reacting, and grossly over-reacting, to a different sort of challenge.  A small volcanic island has emerged in the mouth of the Burrard Inlet.  The government attempts to keep everyone away, but a small group of activists decide to claim the island in the name of Native Rights.  One of the activists spells out in the soil that they are armed, and shortly after this, an armed force "reconquers" the island, killing one of the activists.  It would be pointless arguing that this doesn't happen in Canada, but I think it is also true that in the post-social media era, the federal government has gotten much better at simply waiting out activists and squatters (as for example happened on Parliament Hill).  In this sense, I feel Compton is emphasizing the worst that could happen, as opposed to what would more likely happen.

There is a very droll follow-up story, "The Boom," told entirely through posters.  First, there are protests around the fallen social justice warrior.  Then the island is turned into luxury condos with a special water taxi to connect to downtown.  The final images are the different apartment layouts.

I've forgotten why the developer went bankrupt, but eventually the BC government takes the island back and uses it as a holding pen for people who have some spacial-shifting ability (this is where SF implausibility comes into focus, though not for the last time, since Compton has ghosts running about the island in the final story!).   I wouldn't say this thread is entirely satisfactory, but maybe 1/3 of the stories in the collection sort of deal with the real estate angle.

There is another major thread of two twins, who were conjoined at the head.  They apparently learned to play instruments and were in a band.  Then a rich jazz fan (who knew about their father) paid for an operation to separate the two.  (This is recounted in "The Instrument.")  One of the twins wants to become a film-maker, but the other one wants nothing to do with this project.

The artistic twin sets off on his own, getting involved with a quasi-cult-like group that re-enacts Medieval combat ("The Secret Commonwealth").  The payoff for this thread is discussed in "The Outer Harbour," though I wasn't sold on it.

There are a couple of odd pieces that don't entirely fit into the rest of the book.  One of them ("The Front") actually includes an interview with the author, Wayde Compton.  Basically, this lays out the idea that there are art installations that are designed to look like abandoned storefronts, but that will play music if one knows the key(s).  There was also a piece ("Final Report") that was reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem, where the report was about all kinds of different grants could win, including some where the applicant did nothing but would be contacted if s/he was the winner.  "Final Report" was amusing but did go on a few pages too long.

Clearly, this is definitely not a conventional short story collection.  It is mostly aimed at people who are fairly invested in cultural theory and are more interested in ideas than in characters or plot per se.  Whether this collection appeals to you is going to depend on how much you like experimental fiction.  I'm not sorry I read Compton's The Outer Harbour, but it also isn't going to be part of my top 10 or 20 books of the year.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Frustrating (Theatre) Misses

I know it isn't possible to keep track of all theatre events, and even less possible to go to all of them.  That said, I find it annoying when I find out (later) about productions that I missed out on by moving to Toronto just a few months too late, or, even worse, simply wasn't plugged in and missed them, even though I was already here.

I came quite close to being able to catch Soulpepper doing Angels in America when I came to Toronto to look for housing in 2014.  Now I have actually seen this twice (once on Broadway right before the original run closed and then in an intimate Chicago performance), but I would have probably gone anyway.  Strangely enough, I had the dates all wrong in my memory.  I didn't come to Toronto until late summer 2014 (and then wasn't really settled enough to go to theatre until the fall).  So there are definitely a few shows that ran in 2012 or 2013, but I wouldn't have been in any position to see them.  This includes Acykbourn's The Norman Conquests at Soulpepper (and no chance they will be reprising this), Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana at Hart House and then Yellowface also at Hart House but in 2011.  

Beckett's Happy Days hasn't been on here for some time.  Apparently, it was last seen at Theatre Passe Muraille in 2010 (when I wasn't even in BC), though this wasn't a great performance apparently.  Likewise, I did not manage to catch a UBC production of Happy Days, or rather I wasn't willing to pay the inflated air fare back to Vancouver...  I'm not sure why this is produced so rarely (nowhere in the world in 2018-19 according to Samuel French.)  But wait...

In terms of shows I just missed, I should have been able to catch Unit 102's Lobby Hero in late 2014.  This one is fairly annoying, but I'll probably eventually see it.  I do recall a few years ago, I thought I would see American Hero in Detroit, but that fell through when it became obvious my daughter wasn't up for such a long car ride...  I think I already moaned about missing out on several of Walker's Suburban Motel plays, both in Vancouver and then here at Ryerson (when they screwed up my reservation) but I also missed out on Moss Park and Tough in 2013 (at Theatre Passe Muraille?).  Perhaps the single most annoying failed connection is Wajdi Mouawad's Dreams/(Reves) in 2016.  That last one was just due to poor publicity on their part, as I found out about it far too late.

Nerve Damage?

In general, my recovery is going along ok.  I had my stitches out on Sat., and the last really ugly crust came off of my face.  Most of the scars look like they'll heal up ok, aside from a deep cut on the bridge of my nose.  Some days I still sleep pretty late, but I don't think I am in a perpetual fog or anything like that.

What I am concerned about is the general weakness in my hands.  My tendons seem to have been damaged and, who knows, there might be some deeper nerve damage.  I knew I couldn't do very much at the gym, aside from my leg squats and some stationary biking.  But even trying to press the buttons to change the weight settings was painful and just too much.  That seems like a bad sign...  I think I'll hold off another week or so and then go back to the clinic for further advice if things aren't improving.

I was a bit surprised that I had actually lost weight (another 5 pounds), though some of it might be muscle mass that I don't want to be losing.  Anyway, I'll just have to try to take it easy and see how I feel in another couple of weeks.  I can type at any rate, so I guess all is not lost...

Fall 2018 (and Beyond) Preview - Easing Back In

I'm definitely scaling back on my cultural outings since the accident.

I decided that The Children at Canadian Stage was just not something that interested me, despite some relatively strong reviews.  I was slightly more interested in Heathers at Hart House, though I have to admit, I am usually not a fan of musicals, particularly when they have been based on movies (and didn't originate as musicals).   Hart House is actually doing yet another musical this season (Hair), and I might make it to that, but I haven't really decided.

I was closest to going to Gertrude and Alice at Buddies at Bad Times, but, for better or worse, I dug up some of Gertrude Stein's writings.  I then remembered how much I dislike her writing (and her somewhat ludicrous contention that she was one of the only unrecognized female geniuses of her day).  I can't remember now if I was thinking about this particular production when I introduced a terrible Cubist playwright into one of my SFYS scripts.  Nonetheless, I am quite sure I would not actually enjoy the play and getting more rest is a better use of my Sunday.  (Interestingly, there is now quite a swirling controversy over Stein and her politics.  She was resolutely anti-New Deal and close friends with key officials in the Vichy regime.  Whether this actually makes her a fascist sympathizer or simply someone with bad taste in friends is open for debate.  It does make me even less interested in spending a couple of hours in her company...)

In terms of art exhibits, the photojournalistic show Anthropocene has opened.  I'll probably go tomorrow.  This runs through Jan., so there is no rush.

I believe this makes the third year in a row that I missed Nuit Blanche.  Well, I had a pretty good excuse this year.  I'll consider going next year more seriously.

There is a pretty interesting exhibit at Ryerson on Gordon Parks and Flavio, a young boy he befriended in Rio, and the impact Parks had on the boy's life.  It's a bit too complex to convey in just a paragraph.  I may come back to this later on.  Anyway, this exhibit runs through early Dec.

I just found out that a David Milne exhibit has opened up at the McMichael Gallery. I don't love Milne's work, but I'll think about swinging by.  It turns out that the McMichael art bus runs three more Sundays, though that would still mean missing the Stephen Andrews exhibit, which opens in Nov.  It's a bit of a tough call, but not having to make the drive is certainly appealing... 

I'll mostly be discussing theatre openings in the rest of this post.

The Nether is opening at Coal Mine this weekend.  I think this is pretty dark (about virtual child pornography) and I haven't really decided if I will go.  I'm also not sure about Hand to God, which they are doing in April.  In general, Coal Mine is putting on shows that are just a bit too challenging to my taste.

I believe next weekend, The Wolves opens at Crows Nest.  I expect to go see that.

Middletown by Will Eno will be at Crows Nest in November, but I will skip that.  I already saw this at Steppenwolf in Chicago, and I thought it was ok but not great.

Late Oct./early Nov. East Side Players is putting on 4 shorts by Christopher Durang, including The Actor's Nightmare.  I'm pretty disappointed that they aren't doing Goodnight Desdemona later in the season (substituting in Shelagh Stephenson's The Memory of Water).  I may still subscribe for the season, though this will be my only subscription this year.  I just don't see enough of interest elsewhere, so I'll be doing rush tickets and one-offs.*

I'm leaning towards seeing the Toronto Irish Players do Dancing at Lughnasa in late October, even though I already did see this in Chicago.

York University is not doing a short run of Rivera's Marisol in mid to late Nov., despite booking the rights.  That's unfortunate.  I'm not sure it is has played often in Toronto.  There was a full production at Theatre Passe Muraille all the way back in 1997(!) and then Seven Siblings did a staged reading last year, but that may be it.  I've seen this several times, but get something different out of it each time.  I might go yet again the next time it actually turns up.  I also found that Cloud Tectonics has only made it here as a Fringe show.  Anyway, the college productions can be kind of flaky.  UC Follies or Trinity was supposed to do Arcadia last year but bailed, which left me pretty sad.  However, there is supposedly a production of Hwang's Yellow Face at Victoria College, but it's a bit under the radar.  I can now confirm that they held auditions, and supposedly the show will go up November 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the Cat’s Eye Student Pub.

As a side note, a few promising companies have all but disappeared.  I haven't seen anything about Wolf Manor.  Shakespeare Bash'D and Seven Siblings have retrenched a bit but still are doing a few things this season and next.  I'm on the fence for the staged reading of Duchess of Malfi, but I'll probably check out Othello in Feb.

At Canadian Stage there is a small chance I will see Every Brilliant Thing in early Dec., and then I may check out their wordless play, Bigre, in April.  But as is fairly typical, I usually don't see much that interests me at Canadian Stage.

Since the shake-up at Soulpepper, I generally am less interested in their offerings.  They've decided to turn their back on Acykbourn for instance and are pursuing a lot more politically informed works, most of which leave me cold.  I will check out Caryl Churchill's Escaped Alone in late October, and maybe the evening of Pinter shorts in Feb.  I will probably skip Frayn's Copenhagen in April, though I'll decide closer to the time.  I will definitely be skipping Tracy Letts's August: Osage County and Tarell McCraney's The Brothers Size. Nothing wrong with either of these plays, but I already saw the definitive performances in Chicago.

Supposedly there will be a production of Posner's Stupid F*cking Bird at the University of Waterloo in early Nov., but this is a bit far for me to go, even though it is an interesting play.

Even a bit further afield, there is a one day only staged reading of Steven Dietz's Bloomsday in Kitchener.  That's way too far to go (and I think it's Wednesday evening).  Remy Bumppo is doing a professional production in Chicago next year, but not at a time I think I could go. 

Depending on how the US midterms go, I might be willing to travel a bit further afield.  I've been trying to see Dietz's Yankee Tavern for some time.  It will be playing in Rochester, NY, next Feb., and I might be willing to bus it for that.

In 2019, Studio 180 Theatre is doing Oslo.  I might go.  I have to see how I am feeling and if I am up for a political play.

The single most interesting 2019 production to date is someone will put on Kiss of the Spider Woman in the Don Jail.  I just have to check that out.


Then in terms of really advance notice, Lynn Nottage's Sweat had its performance at Hamilton's Theatre Aquarius delayed by an entire year!  Now it will go up in Feb. 2020.  Finally, Studio 180 is doing Paula Vogel's Indecent in March-April 2020, though if I am really itching to see this, it will be playing in Montreal in 2019.

All in all, I'd say I am scaling back.  I don't feel obligated to go to the theatre to support companies if I don't like the plays they are putting on, and I am clearly less interested in what is uppermost on most theatre companies' minds these days (i.e. fairly dreary dissections of intersectional politics).  Of course, I am in a pretty poor frame of mind these days, and I may feel better (and maybe even more open minded) as my body heals up.



* I'm going to be blunt.  There is nothing at all of interest for me at Tarragon, and there wasn't last season either.  It is completely slipping off my radar.  Several of the other established companies like Factory and Theatre Passe Muraille are inundated with "woke" plays that turn me off as well.  Maybe it's just as well that I save my money and reserve my time for other things I enjoy more.