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A Theatre Buff Reviews O’Flaherty V.C.

Ben Sanders as O'Flaherty and Patrick McManus as General Sir Pearce Madigan in O'Flaherty V.C. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Ben Sanders and Patrick McManus. Photo by Emily Cooper.

O’Flaherty V.C. is the quintessential Shavian play. The  time period is World War I; the setting is just before tea-time in the courtyard of a general’s manor house. In the space of a forty-five minute one act play, Shaw skewers religion, politics, education, war, and the British class system. O’Flaherty V.C. is fast, funny, and provocative; the actors (Ben Sanders, Patrick McManus, Tara Rosling, and Gabriella Sundar Singh) are superb. Please note however, there are two downsides. The play is only being offered in the 11:30 a.m. slot, and the run ends on October 6th. It was last presented at The Shaw Festival in 1983. If you don’t catch it this year, it may be a long time before it returns!

O’Flaherty V.C. is playing at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-On-The-Lake until October 6, 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 friends and family who want to prepare themselves to help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love. 

 

 

A Theatre Buff Reviews Three Plays from the Shaw Festival – 2018: The Baroness and the Pig, Stage Kiss, and Grand Hotel

Some theatrical productions get inside my mind and are hard to shake out. The Baroness and the Pig is one of those plays. I saw it in early June and thought it was excellent, but couldn’t find time to comment. It’s niggled away ever since.

The Baroness and the Pig is an unusual story about a 19th century French baroness (Yanna McIntosh) who brings a feral child, Emily, (Julia Course) into her home as her maid. Her previous maids had to leave; they were “too pretty”. Emily is far from presentable. Her clothing is tattered and soiled, her hair is stringy and dishevelled, and she is pre-verbal. In fact the sounds she makes are guttural. The baroness begins a formal training process with Emily who is inattentive in the extreme. Exasperation reigns on both sides.

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Julia Course & Yanna McIntosh. Photo by Emily Cooper.

The baron, who is referred to lovingly by his wife, is a presence in the play but never seen by the audience. We hear footsteps and a closing door that we infer to be his. Events that follow these sounds are sinister, yet his wife loves him and speaks well of him. I will not spill more beans than that!

The play ends with Emily being introduced to society by the baroness who is pleased with the results of her training. It was only then that I was hit with a bolt of understanding: all of us, not just the baroness, may be blinded by our passions and special interests to which we devote both our hearts and intellects. I had not seen that coming.

The set is stark; the acting is superb. Yanna McIntosh inhabits a space where she is both stately and anxious; Julia Course assumes the role of a feral child with wonder, surprise and fear. As I said at the outset, it will be some time before I get this play out of my head. It may require a second viewing!

A comedy that manages to be frothy and substantive is one worth seeing. Stage Kiss is  two plays cleverly done within one. The premise is that two former lovers (Fiona Byrne and Martin Happer), both actors, end up working together in a play where a kiss has been written into the script. These two have not kissed in eighteen years and when they do, memories return and feelings ignite. Relationship chaos ensues and therein lays the humour and the substance. I saw Stage Kiss as a preview performance; it’s both an engaging and entertaining examination of enduring love.

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Martin Happer & Fiona Byrne. Photo by David Cooper.

Grand Hotel is a musical with choreography and costumes that will make you want to put on your best duds, polish your dancing shoes and go find a band.

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Kiera Sangster & Matt Nethersole with cast. Photo by David Cooper.

The play is set in post WW1 Berlin in a hotel where the rich and famous come to stay with kindred spirits. There are exceptions and therein lies the story. We have an addicted Colonel Doctor (Steven Sutcliffe), a baron (James Daly) who is being pursued by a loan shark’s goon (Jeff Irving), a ballerina (Deborah Hay) who is doing her eighth farewell tour, a mogul (Jay Turvey) whose financial empire is about to fall apart, a pregnant secretary (Vanessa Sears) who aspires to movie stardom, a dying man (Michael Therriault) who wants to spend his last days in luxury, the ballerina’s companion (Patty Jamieson) who loves her, a concierge (Travis Seetoo) whose wife is in labor, and a predatory hotel manager (Jeremiah Sparks). Add a gun, some thefts, spectacular dance numbers and you may do what the audience I was part of did—give a standing ovation.

The Baroness and the Pig is playing at the Shaw Festival’s Jackie Maxwell Theatre, until October 6, 2018.

Stage Kiss is playing at the Shaw Festival’s Royal George Theatre, until September 1, 2018.

Grand Hotel is playing at the Shaw Festival’s Festival Theatre until October 14, 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 friends and family who want to prepare themselves to help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love. 

Learning Spanish—A Journey Through Mexican Markets and Grandmothers’ Recipes 

Learning another language is stressful at the best of times. Learning it well enough to welcome our son’s Bolivian fiancée into our family at their upcoming wedding was becoming a source of panic attacks. So, my husband and I did the obvious thing: we enrolled in a residential Spanish language immersion program. We chose Anders Languages, one hour south of Mexico City in Cuernavaca. It’s advertised as a discerning school for demanding adults. We are that, but the process cuts two ways. The teaching masters expected students to speak in Spanish from Day One. And that was a challenge when the only phrases we came to Mexico with were ¡Hola senor!, Gracias senora, and Una cerveza por favor.

2017-Mexico-chilesWe selected Anders’ culinary program thinking that if we could not learn the language then at least we would eat well. The first morning’s task was the preparation of Chiaquiles Verdes y Cecina. When there is real work to accomplish, language learning becomes focused. Within an hour we had acquired, and were using, the appropriate verbs and nouns with a beginning sense that competence could be in sight.

The twelve hour days were structured. Classroom time would prepare us for an activity such as going to el mercado with the money and a shopping list for the ingredients to make Mollettes con Frijoles y Queso. We made the purchases and managed the process of receiving change. The experience was both fun and terrifying. More importantly it was culturally exciting. This was a market like I remembered from student days in Toronto. There were vendors prepared to cut off a section of fruit for sampling. There were butchers selling meat quite literally from head-to-hoof-to- tail. The sense of entrepreneurialism and pride from the vendors was compelling. How is it, I wondered, that we have come to settle for supermarket produce?

2017-Mexico-meat marketWith our market money spent and ingredients stored away we settled into our classroom exercises for a review and prepared to learn the next round of vocabulary. The next morning, when the instructors determined that the tortillas on hand were not quite fresh enough, we went to a Molino y Tortilleria to watch the production of tortillas from corn mash through to finished product. We left with a column of warm tortillas.

If the way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach, then I would pose that the path to the brain’s language acquisition areas is through aromas and flavours. Each school day began with a family style breakfast at a long table with our instructors and fellow students. We met again for lunch and dinner, enjoying the delicious dishes prepared in lessons with fellow students and by our cook, Gloria (I wanted to bring Gloria back to Canada with us!).

Each meal was an opportunity to engage socially in Spanish. We watched and listened in awe as one of the students who was on her fifth language fearlessly asked questions. Our competency for the first week was limited. We could respond haltingly to questions which often had to be repeated slowly. Ears, it seems, can be slow to pick up subtleties of pronunciation. Both of us managed better with reading and writing, but that’s not how conversations are generally conducted. By the middle of the second week we could frame questions as our instructors and fellow students patiently waited for us to search out vocabulary in our brains… or on Google Translate when the synapses failed.

The personalized classroom structure was absolutely necessary for us as adult learners. My husband and I were a class; our multi-lingual fellow student was in her own class as was a fourth student who joined us at the dining room table in the second week. Our needs as adults were unique, and we were all in our own ways demanding—learning what we needed to wanted to learn.

2017-Mexico-pozoleBy the end of the two weeks we had ordered and eaten meals at two different mercados (Tepoztlán and Medellin), dined on street food, prepared Pozole with fellow students and a professional chef, prepared a recipe of Chiles en Negrada from one of our teacher’s grandmothers, sipped our way through a tequila tasting, dined at a Relais & Châteaux restaurant, managed a weekend trip to Taxco on our own, and consumed several bottles of red wine from Valle de Guadalupe.

This trip to Mexico was our first experience off the beaten tourist path of sunshine, beaches and ex-pats. On previous trips, renting through VRBO, we had thought that we were experiencing authentic Mexican life. Not so. If language is the key to unlocking a culture then shopping for ingredients and preparing recipes handed down through generations of mothers and grandmothers is the way to absorb it. The test now is to deliver a Spanish welcome to our future daughter-in-law. Undoubtedly, we’ll manage better with a glass of Spanish red.

© 2018 – Bonnie L. Lendrum – All Rights Reserved |

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 friends and family who want to prepare themselves to help fulfill the final wishes of someone they love. 

 

 

 

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.

Coriolanusis 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.