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A Theatre Buff Reviews Coriolanus

This is a difficult confession to make public: I don’t love Shakespeare. I select which Shakespearean plays to see at Stratford based upon the the lead actors not the script. This year’s casting of André Sills in the role of Coriolanus is inspired. Over the past few years I have observed Sills at the Shaw Festival (Master Harold and the Boys; An Octoroon; Adventures of the Black Girl In Her Search for God). His ability to inhabit his characters is remarkable. And that’s a good thing because the Coriolanus character has a complex emotional profile; there’s the soldier, the politician, the husband and father, the son, and the friend. Sills honours each role.

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André Sills (left) as Coriolanus and Michael Blake as Cominius. Photography by David Hou.

In short, Coriolanus is the tragic story of a Roman general who becomes a senator, who when he takes a stand against populism, is banished from Rome. In exile he joins a former adversary to wage war against the city of Rome. But the play is about much more than sentinel historic and political events. It’s about family and friendship too. Coriolanus’ mother (Lucy Peacock) has been the force behind the man. She has forged his values, encouraged him to run for the senate, and entreats him to compromise with his fellow politicians. However, he is still her little boy. She treats him so, and he responds accordingly. With his  friend, Menenius Agrippa (Tom McCamus), Coriolanus is able to speak his mind. Menenius is a patrician who takes a more tolerant stance on Roman political affairs than does Coriolanus, and is faithful through the arc of their friendship. The dramatic events, in juxtaposition with domestic scenes and collegial conversations, had this audience member in rapt attention from beginning to end.

The play, directed by Robert Lepage, has been staged in a modern manner while maintaining Shakespearean dialogue. I found the use of soundscapes and projected images to be effective. This Shakespearean play stands up extraordinarily well to a contemporary interpretation. For playgoers who are fans of the author, and for those who are indifferent, Coriolanus is an extraordinary performance by a cast of fine actors. It’s a ‘must see’ at Stratford this year.

Coriolanus is playing at the Avon Theatre in Stratford until October 20, 2018.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 

A Theatre Buff Reviews The Orchard (After Chekhov)

The talented Serena Parmar whom you may have seen on stage at The Shaw Festival last year, is performing this season in a play she has written, The Orchard (After Chekhov). It’s a refreshing and truly Canadian adaptation of The Cherry Orchard.

5AA04158-AC87-40DD-BDE2-556C2CFC104FThe play addresses a period between May and August, 1975, in the Basran family home in the Okanagon Valley. It’s a time fraught with both celebration and anxiety. The matriarch of the family, Loveleen (Pamela Sinha) has just come home from an extended stay in India. (She fled there, abruptly, after the deaths of her husband and son five years before.). Her absence was a source of distress on several levels. Not only did her daughters, Barminder (Krystal Kiran) and Annie (Serena Parmar), her brother Gurjit (Sanjay Talwar) and her father, Kesur (David Adams) mourn her disappearance, the orchard business suffered while she was away. Loveleen had been the family member with the most astute operations head. As the play opens, Loveleen has just returned and the orchard is under threat of foreclosure. Michael (Jeff Meadows), the son of one of their former fruit pickers, has been encouraging the family to cut down the cherry trees and turn the space into an agricultural RV park. He has even offered to purchase the property.

There are powerful themes that emerge throughout the play: assimilation, racism, resentment, and nativism. They are poignantly explored. A love triangle (with actors Rong Fu, Andrew Lawrie, and Kelly Wong) adds humour as does the commentary from the cowgirl (Jani Luzon). The potential of an engagement between Barminder and Michael adds gentle suspense. The family’s interactions with a neighbour, Paul Anderson (Neil Barclay) and Barminder’s efforts to socailize with her Presbyterian friends illustrate the nuances of ‘the other’.

The Orchard (After Chekhov) is a moving and enganging production. I left the Studio Theatre wanting to become a more understanding and compassionate Canadian citizen. I’m hoping Ms. Parmar is pleased with the impact on her audience.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 

New Binbrook Library Welcomes Author of Autumn’s Grace 

I was thrilled to be the first visiting author to speak at the brand new Binbrook branch of the Hamilton Public Library. It’s a welcoming, open, and modern space that pays tribute to the agricultural heritage of the community with large sepia toned photo murals on several walls. Toward the back of the building, tucked in behind some stacks, is a place I would make my own if I was a Binbrook library patron. That’s because there’s a fireplace with some comfortable reading chairs.

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Librarians Laura Palumbo and Denise Besic flanking the author with the closed eyes.

Rather than curl up to read, I followed librarian Denise Besic into the events room. Floor to ceiling windows look out to the main street with electronic blinds managing the amount of sunlight. The chairs  are modern red pops of colour, and the space for the guest author is the most inviting I have encountered to date.

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An inviting setup

Binbrook Library was the perfect venue for a talk that combined the back story on how the novel Autumn’s Grace came about, with readings, and discussion. I loved the sensitivity and maturity of the audience; palliative care is a complex subject. I hope they had as fine an afternoon as I had.

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Volunteer, Kylie Miron, with author.

The Joy and Pain of the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival

The effects of an outstanding conference can be hard to capture. I can get close by observing that The San Miguel Writer’s Conference left me feeling grateful that my writing muscles had been massaged by expert and loving hands. Fibres were stretched and knots resolved. The experience, as anyone who has had a deep massage knows, comes with considerable pain.  Wincing, yelping and groaning from the client on the table are the sounds that let the masseuse know she has found the problem. The physical effects from this conference were not dissimilar: my head hurt for four days. But It wasn’t a headache that a pill would treat. Instead it was the sense that neurons were being kneaded, boundaries were exploding, and new synapses were growing. And while all of that and more was happening above my clavicles, my heart was bursting with joy as I engaged with a tribe of fine thinkers/questioners/writers.

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Merilyn Simonds

The San Miguel Writers’ Conference is a celebratory tri-cultural event (Canada, Mexico, USA). We Canadians were well represented: steering committee and faculty member, Merilyn Simonds; keynote speakers (Joseph Boyden and John Vaillant); and faculty members (Myrl Coulter, Laurie Gough, Sandra Gulland and Leanne Dunic ).

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Joseph Boyden and his harmonica.

Emma Donoghue who was a keynote for Sunday was a last minute cancellation. We missed her, but her family in Ireland needed her more than we did; Emma’s mother died early in the week. Benjamin Alire Sáenz filled in for her and spoke as only a gay Mexican-American can about the wounds inflicted by the dominant culture. For a writer who spent his teaching career being marginalized by his department, his current success as a bestselling author of young adult fiction is perhaps the best revenge. He, I suspect, would be too modest to acknowledge that reality.  It was that level of intimate sharing about writing lives that made each of the keynotes a rousing and affirming experience.

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Myrl Coulter

It’s with some pride that I note that cultural affairs departments for both Canada and Mexico were significant supporters of the conference, along with corporate sponsors. That support helped to defray the cost of the conference which was $590 USD for the basic fee.  For Canadian writers who are suffering under our current federal copyright challenges that’s a sack full of loonies.

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Leanne Dunic

Was the conference worth the financial cost and the psychic pain? Yes, absolutely. I overcame self-censure and terror sufficiently that I participated twice in Open Mic and once in a creative writing workshop. My confidence was inspired by the welcome and generosity of poet, Judyth Hill, and writer, Tawni Waters.

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Laurie Gough

If that were not enough, I was gobsmacked by one faculty member’s suggestion that I may have material for a one woman play. I leave San Miguel de Allende and its fine weather, feeling more capable, more attentive, and ready to take risks.  Will I return? As a writing colleague has noted on her licence plate—UBETCHA!

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who wish to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 

Five times…really?

Advice in a publication that reaches thousands of households has sent me to the keyboard. It was this: The single most effective way to prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands with soap and water at least five times per day.

“Five times per day?” I read aloud. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

My husband, in the midst of a winter cold harrumphed, “Fifty’s more like it!”

Tell five times per day to a mom with two children under the age of four who has wiped two noses and two bums before she has sipped her first morning coffee. “That’s ridiculous!” she’ll say. “We’d all be sick, all the time!”

Wash your hands at least five times per day? Really?

I’d suggest that if you’re preparing food, wash your hands

About to eat? Wash your hands.

Blown your nose? Wash your hands.

Wiped your bum? Wash your hands.

Wiped someone else’s nose or bum? Wash your hands.

For a single, healthy individual who eats three squares a day and who toilets five times per day that’s eleven handwashings.  If we give this person a winter cold which necessitates nose blowing every half-hour then add thirty handwashings. That brings us to a low estimate of eleven handwashings or  six more than the recommended “at least five,” and a high of forty-one, or just nine handwashings shy of my ailing husband’s estimate.  Which just goes to show that any number as a recommendation for hand-washing frequency is meaningless.

Let the situation be your guide. So at the very least…wash your hands BEFORE preparing and eating food, and wash your hands AFTER wiping any nose or bum.*
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And if you still want to talk numbers, then count out twenty seconds the next time you wash your hands. That’s about how long it should take you to hum the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end, TWICE.

* For more indications see When & How to Wash Your Hands.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 

A Theatre Buff Reviews The Lorax

What more could you ask for from a play like The Lorax that entertains, engages and educates? Perhaps it’s the presence of a wee one to whom you’ve read the Dr. Seuss story fifty times or more. Perhaps it’s even the presence of someone who was once a youngster and who knew much of the story by heart after multiple bed-time readings.

I’ve never felt the need to see a favourite book or story be turned into a movie or play. In fact I’ve often worried when I’ve heard that it is about to happen because my own images have always been vivid. Curiosity usually prevails and I succumb,  So it was with some trepidation that I went to see The Lorax. It’s a story that has been much loved in our tree hugging family. (We planted two-hundred and thirty-six trees and berry-bearing bushes twenty eight years ago and are now surrounded by a forest.)

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(Left to Right) Laura Caldow, David Ricardo-Pearce, Ben Thompson and Simon Paisley Day. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The play, which has come to Toronto straight from London’s Old Vic, is a satisfying and visually rich production. The creators have taken some licence with the fable and created a back-story, a new middle, and revised the ending. I was not disappointed by these changes. (As I type, I have the original beside me to check out the differences!) For those readers who are not familiar with the story it’s about an enterprising young man, the Once-ler, who comes across a forest of  brightly colored Truffulo trees which he describes: “The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk. And they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” For want of a ladder to harvest the tufts he chops down a tree so he can produce a Thneed. When he finishes, a strange sort of man with a “sawdusty sneeze” pops out of the stump and declares “Mister! I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” And so the battle between capitalism and environmental protection begins.

The Once-ler is perfectly embodied by a string-bean of an actor (Simon Paisley Day). He is joined by a cast of characters who are not in the original story, but who fit the play perfectly. It’s possible though that the puppets upstage the actors! The Lorox’s three handlers are brilliant: the little “beaverish guy” absolutely pleases on every level. The Swomee-Swans swoop gracefully over the audience and the Humming-Fish leap in and out of pails and ponds. The Bar-ba-loots (actors in costume) give audio effects to illustrate the experience of  “getting the crummies.” The set and props satisfyingly re-create the “far end of town where the crickle grass grows,” the “Whisper-ma-Phone” and the glorious feeling of Truffulo trees “[m]ile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.”

The Lorax is playing at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre until Sunday January 21, 2018. My recommendation? Re-read the story to someone you love and then take them with you to see the production. I think you’ll be happy you did.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 

Book Review: The Carpenter From Montreal

Who knew that the original 4G network was a nexus of gamblers, girls, guns and gangsters, and that the Canadian hotspot was Montreal?  Until I began George Fetherling’s latest novel, The Carpenter From Montreal, I did not know that Montreal was a Babylon of the North during the 1920’s and 1930’s .

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Fetherling spins his taut tale of two lads from immigrant families who Americanize their Lebanese names to Jim Joseph and Pete Sells. Through a combination of wits and good fortune, the two men become successful bootleggers and purveyors of games of chance in a “town” somewhere south of Canada. (My bet is on Brooklyn.) It’s Jim who encounters the French carpenter on one of his early bootlegging runs. A mentoring relationship of sorts begins. Unlike the expectations one would have of someone called “The Carpenter,” this character never touches tools traditionally associated with the craft. He’s more of a fixer—behind the scenes. From him, Jim learns about moving goods across borders and keeping the wheels of justice greased. And he acquires the carpenter’s habits of elegant attire, lavish surroundings and bodyguards.

The story-telling in The Carpenter From Montreal is unconventional but compelling. Three characters—a ghost, a newspaperman, and a lawyer—recount the rise and fall of Jim and Pete against a rich backdrop of characters, conversations, and street-life. There were times when I marveled at how Fetherling, who was born after this epoch, had captured in almost cinematographic detail the corruption and swagger of the time. I was fully immersed in the period.

The Carpenter From Montreal is an engaging and entertaining examination of a period and a lifestyle from an author who is a master craftsman. (See a recent article in The Globe and Mail for an update on Montreal’s red-light district).