Saturday, August 24, 2013

Read recently, speed-typing version: typhoid, HeLa, ice storms, suicidal poetesses, Nigerian immigrants, and Montreal bagelshop sisters

More time for reading recently, given that I have taken a running break, am sitting on the balcony more, and took a bit of a staycation!
  • Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz: a wonderfully rich first novel from a fellow Ottawan/Montrealer about the fantastically complicated bond between two sisters growing up in Montreal in the 80s and 90s.
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far, although the fake blog posts by the main character (entitled "Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black" the blog made me apologise to my husband at least twice and that's all I am going to say about that) may be the most memorable pieces of this stunning novel by the talented Adichie. Longer, more thoughtful review here by the lovely Kerry.
  • Hold Fast by Blue Balliett: a treasure of a book for kids and all ages about a family that finds themselves unexpectedly homeless in modern-day Chicago. Paired with Ocean (below), another modern-day fairy tale, with grittier subject matter but no less charm.
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: yes, Hosseini does it again. Heartstrings are tugged, etc.
  • Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather by Pierre Szalowski: made me nostalgic for the Ice Storm, which is no small feat given the horrors of it at the time. Great book, terrible translation.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: all the praise for this book is well-deserved. It is richly compelling and heart-breaking. When Zakariyya thanks Christoph Lengauer for the image of his mother's cell line, I swear I wept profusely over the pages of this book.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (aka he who hugged my best friend recently): A little gem of a book, a fantasy for the non-fantasy reader, a fairy tale for grown-ups.
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce: funny, moving. A sweet tale of a stagnant marriage's fresh blooming.
  • American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson: limited new material and a tautological thesis statement in my opinion, but how could I not read it?
  • Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight: a great summer read, by which I DO NOT mean it's fluff, just that it is plot-driven and engrossing! Would make a great Law and Order episode, and I say that as a L&O fan.
  • Fever by Mary Beth Keane: a fascinating novel based on the story of Typhoid Mary.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Warring queens, a novice nun, dancing doctors and a small boy in a garbage can: celebrating my 10th season at the Stratford Festival

 Roses for the Bard

Hi, my lovelies. Sorry again for the long silence. I could tell you I was busy, but would that even mean anything anymore? Suffice it to say that I have not been whiling away enough time at the beach (only thrice) or on my own balcony. Although, just to balance it out, I am writing this post in my pajamas at 1:44 pm, so don't feel too badly for me.

I had to check the production history to determine that I think this was my 10th season (in almost 20 years, but hey, who's counting?) at Stratford. My mother has been going (off and on, with a large gap when she had a small child in the house!) for many more years than me, but we began going together in 1994 (memorable event that year: a pirate striking up conversation with us, in our seats, during The Pirates of Penzance). Other memorable moments have included: Amadeus in 1995, two Lears (Hutt and Plummer), Waxman's Willy Loman, Merchant in pre-WW2 Italy, nearly losing our lunch (someone else did, in the lobby, at intermission - no joke! And I'm not saying it wasn't a good production....) during/after Titus Andronicus in 2000, Hunchback in 2004 (also, um, graphic, but entertaining!), and To Kill a Mockingbird in 2007 (students kicking the back of my chair be damned!).

I confess Stratford made me feel old this year: John Callan has retired (which is maybe just as well for my credit card, as I feel compelled to buy from each of the independents in town), the museum has moved (and young shop employees looked at us blankly when we tried to explain where it used to be; mercifully, one of the Friends of the Festival, Marjorie maybe?, pointed us in the right direction with great care), our beloved hotel is now a seniors' residence (!!!), and there seems to be only one cat left at Watson's. Life marches on.

On the other hand, this year we discovered one new delicious restaurant, thoroughly enjoyed the Festival Exhibition, found a potential hotel replacement, and stumbled upon both the Shakespearean Gardens (how did we miss this before?) and a depressingly fascinating old cemetery at the Anglican church (few people seemed to make it past their early 20s; all listed their English birthplaces). We also saw Stephen Lewis and one of my lovely OPL colleagues, celebrated a birthday four months late at Fellini's, and were serenaded by the kitchen staff at Features.

I can hear you hollering, "what did we see?" Relax already:
  • An electrifying production of Mary Stuart (Globe review here), with the inestimable Seana McKenna (she of the ill-fated production of Antony and Cleopatra at Centaur in the '90s - you're just going to have to ask me about that but Seana, if you ever see this, we are still sorry for the actions of others and we think you are amazing). There wasn't a weak actor in this bunch, but Seana McKenna absolutely burned up the stage.
  • An ear-bleedingly loud (in a good way) and visually stunning production of Tommy, with especially good performances from Captain Walker and the children playing young Tommy (we hope he had a helmet and padded sides to the garbage can in which he was rolled around). The dancing doctors filled me with inexplicable glee.
  • A thoughtful production of Measure for Measure (Globe review here), my favourite Shakespeare, with a cross-dressing Duke (the Globe compares to Hoover), a be-habited Isabella, and a black Mariana - all somewhat "cheap shots" but nonetheless adding new depths to this troubled play (does the Duke's proposal mean he just wants to play dress-up again, observes the Globe review?), as does a magnificent portrayal of Antonio by Tom Rooney. An oft-ignored Bernardine certainly is memorable in this production, even if for sound effects and the sheer intimidation factor more than any possible comparisons to other saved prisoners in scripture or literature. I was very pleased with how they presented the open ending, and curious to see the audience's reaction to the Duke's proposals (they laughed at both of them: this moment is a bit of a litmus test for each generation of theatre-goers in my opinion). The Globe says of the actress playing Isabella that "she’s a zealot who burns bright with belief, but is otherwise none too bright," but I found Carmen Grant did especially well in the final scene, when she struggles greatly with the question of whether to plead with Mariana for Antonio's life. I found myself more moved than I had expected to be by this scene. I prepared / refreshed my memory by reading N. W. Bawcutt's excellent introduction to the Oxford edition of the play. Tragically, the Festival Store doesn't yet have any M4M merch, although it is apparently coming. I would suggest a magnet with "Crafty --- and that's not good!," (as stated by Angelo about Isabella) or a pin with "There's something about Isabella" (a play on the Cameron Diaz movie - perhaps difficult from a copyright perspective?) Both lame in-jokes, at which a total consumer base of approximately four people would laugh, probably.
We had a fantastic time: here's hoping it's not another six years before we are back. I leave you with this interesting examination of the themes of the season.

Requisite swan photo