A Theatre Buff Reviews Saint Joan

Sara Topham-photo by Travis Magee

Sara Topham – Photo by Travis Magee

Four hundred and eighty-eight years after she was burned at the stake in Rouen, Joan of Arc was canonized by the Catholic Church. It’s a remarkable distance of time for healing of wounds and righting of wrongs. Equally remarkable to me as a writer, is that in 1923, or three years after her canonization, Bernard Shaw had successfully mounted his play, Saint Joan, in New York. It’s Shaw’s keen observation of political and social tempests, along with his formidable productivity that have made me an admirer. Imagine what his output might have been had he had a word processor and Google!

Tim Carroll’s production of Saint Joan at The Shaw Festival is accomplished. The action takes place on a raked pentagonal stage. It’s a stark set augmented by the introduction of translucent and illuminated cubes and rectangular columns which hide/reveal actors. The performers, with the exception of the clergy are in modern dress. I state these features at the outset because the effect of the staging, lighting, and costumes is critical. It focuses the audience on the dialogue, the subtleties of gestures, and the meaning of words. The performances are compelling. There’s Joan’s (Sara Topham) radiant hope, the Dauphin’s (Wade Bogert-O’Brien) ineptitude and self-absorption, the Earl of Warwick’s (Tom McCamus) pragmatism, and The Inquisitor’s (Jim Mezon) conflict. These actors are supported by a fine cast.

Saint Joan is not an easy play. The dialogue is complex; the political and theological arguments twist and turn. Historians and theatre aficionados will value it and perhaps love it. (I’m in the latter category.) First time theatre goers, however, might want to begin with a more light-hearted play—perhaps a musical. My husband, an engineer, appreciated this production of Saint Joan, although he commented that he would not have enjoyed it forty years ago. (Thirty plays a year for the past several years has made him an astute observer.)

This production has me anticipating Tim Carroll’s work during his tenure as Artistic Director at the Shaw Festival.

Saint Joan is at The Shaw’s Festival Theatre until October 15, 2017.

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: Adventures Of The Black Girl In Her Search For God

Brilliant! That’s my conclusion about Lisa Codrington’s one act-one hour play, Adventures of The Black Girl In Her Search For God. Codrington pulls no punches yet leaves the audience in stitches, unless the theatergoer happens to be an older white male. At least four such men exited within the first twenty minutes of the production I saw yesterday. It was their loss.

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Adventures Of The Black Girl In Her Search For God is an adaptation of a novella written by George Bernard Shaw in 1932. At the time, it was a radical piece for an old white guy to publish. The play is an exploration by a inquisitive, orphaned black girl of theism, colonialism, slavery, racism, atheism, evolution, scientism and feminism. The script is tight; the set is small, yet astonishing; and the acting* is superb.

I’ll not say more. As the calendar has rolled into September I am limiting observations for a Theatre Buff Reviews. Writing time for my current manuscript is taking precedence over promoting plays I have enjoyed.  I would refer you instead to some excellent reviews on Adventures Of The Black Girl In Her Search For Godhttp://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/theatre-reviews/bernard-shaw-short-story-adaptation-is-the-highlight-of-the-shaw-festival/article30673122/     and https://nowtoronto.com/stage/theatre/the-adventures-of-black-girl-search-for-god-review/        

With eight plays ticked off and two more to go, Adventures Of The Black Girl In Her Search For God  and Master Harold and The Boys have been my highlights of the Shaw Festival’s 2016 season.

Adventures Of The Black Girl In Her Search For God has been playing in the lunch-time slot at the Shaw Festival’s Court House Theatre, Niagara-On-The-Lake. It has one more show date and that is  September 11th. If you cannot catch it then, watch for it over the next few years. It’s bound to reappear.

*Actors: Natasha Mumba, Guy Bannerman, Tara Rosling, Ben Sanders,Kiera Sangster, André Sills, Graeme Somerville and Jonathan Tan.

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.

This Marlowe — A Mystery by a Master Storyteller

There are authors and books that make a powerful first impression. When that feeling is sustained through subsequent encounters in person and with their writing, then I know I’m in the presence of someone with a gift. Michelle Butler Hallett is such an author.

This MarloweI met Michelle in the early 2000’s at the Humber School for Writers in Toronto. We were both in Alistair MacLeod’s seminar group and we have each written about that honour. Michelle was a student whose commitment to form and language was articulate and impassioned, yet quietly and respectfully stated. I, who was secretly stumbling about on my keyboard, was in awe that anyone could find the words to speak about writing. Since that time, Michelle has produced five novels and several short stories. Writing is as natural for her as breathing.

Michelle’s most recent novel, This Marlowe, a work of historical fiction is set in the twilight of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It’s a tense spell-binding story of the last year of Christopher Marlowe’s life. Marlowe, the son of a cobbler, was also a graduate of Cambridge. The two facts, an unlikely combination for a poor boy, add fuel to the speculation that Marlowe may have been a spy for the Queen’s Secretary of State, Sir Robert Cecil. Marlowe’s violent death at the age of twenty-nine adds to the mystery and the rumors of espionage.

This Marlowe immerses the reader in the political machinations of an unstable time against the backdrop of Elizabethan England with all its beauty and grit. There were times when I felt like I could see, hear, smell, and touch the surroundings and experiences of Marlowe and his lover Thomas Kyd. The writing is taut, yet eloquent. Michelle has captured her characters, their language, phrasing and cadences in a way that is just shy of magic. She writes vividly about pain and suffering whether it comes from pneumonia, arthritis or torture.That same skill of offering the reader a virtual experience is equally present when she writes about love and compassion.

This Marlowe is one of the few books in my library I will be re-reading, as much for the pleasure of doing so as for the challenge of deciphering how Michelle Butler Hallett created this masterpiece.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope, humor, and knowledge, despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands.

A Theatre Buff Reviews…

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My memory of attending theatre takes me back to the days when my sister and I, two girls from the country, worried that our homemade matching blue velvet dresses and black patent Mary Janes may not be smart enough to wear to an evening performance at the O’Keefe Centre. We were excited and apprehensive.

The performance was South Pacific, and the year would have been in the early ‘60’s. I came away loving the magic of theatre – the acting, singing, costumes, sets and lighting. It was animated, vibrant, engaging, and unpredictable. I was enthralled. And there was music that seemed to stick in my head: I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, Some Enchanted Evening, There Is Nothing Like a Dame, Bali Hai, Younger Than Springtime. As we left the theatre, way past our bedtime, snow was gently falling and the effect with the streetlights and the city-scape was enchanting. With our mother at the wheel and we girls in the back seat, the drive home through a wintry night extended the sense of having been lifted up and out of my ordinary life.

That evening was the beginning of my theatre-going experiences. If musicals were the entrée, drama became the gateway to exploring the stage. At this point, I attend about 30 productions a year with my husband, an engineer, who has by virtue of accompanying me over the years learned to love theatre. We volunteer locally. Kenn helps with sets; I sew, wield a glue gun, apply makeup, and assist with quick changes. Not surprisingly, it has been this behind the scenes perspective that has led to me consider that I might write reviews of plays that I have recently seen.

I come to this decision with no formal background in theatre, and while I read extensively and also write, I have only one university English course. To say I feel some trepidation is an understatement. I am not an expert. I do not read reviews to determine whether I will attend a performance: My decisions are made at the beginning of the season before the reviews have been written. Playwrights or the lead actors will sway me. What I have done this year, when I have not been delighted with a performance, is to read reviews. Each time they have provided sound confirmation for my disappointment.

My reason for writing reviews is simple: I want more people to enjoy live theatre. If my simple reviews can put a few more bums in seats I will be pleased. I will begin with baby steps.  Plays that I have enjoyed will be reviewed on this site. As my confidence builds I may extend the inclusion. But having worked back stage and knowing the effort, creativity, nerves and team work that goes into each production, it may be some time before anyone reads less than a positive review written by me.

See you at the theatre!

Bonnie L. Lendrum

Storytelling In Hamilton – Spring 2015

For decades, Hamilton was characterized as a lunch-bucket town, or worse yet as the arm-pit of the Niagara Escarpment. These days nothing could be further from the truth: Hamilton has become a hotbed of literary activity thanks to gritLIT, LitLive, and independent bookstores.

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gritLIT, Hamilton’s Readers and Writers’ Festival which started in 2004, has blossomed into an event that this year, once pre-festival events are factored in, is being hosted in four venues. Literary festivals celebrate and make public the rather private acts of reading and writing. Not only do festivals expose readers to writers from far afield, they also profile local authors as gritLIT is doing with Hamilton’s own Gary Barwin, Krista Foss, and Denise Roig. The 2015 festival kicked off in early April with three pre-festival events: Battle of the Books, Poetry with the Hamilton Poetry Centre, and LitLive. Thursday April 16th is the beginning of gritLit’s long weekend’s worth of story-telling  and workshops. If you love reading, being read to, or aspire to writing, then  visit www.gritlit.ca and start filling your calendar with this weekend’s literary events.

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Back in January I noted a reading series, Lit Live, in this blog. It has been going strong for the past twenty-one years bringing authors and poets to the stage to share their recent publications, or works in progress. The evenings are lively and entertaining, and occasionally the readings are raucous. Lit Live is hosted at Homegrown Hamilton on the first Sunday of each month from 7:30-9:30. Craft beers, Niagara vintages, and delicious hot drinks add to the coffeehouse experience.

Independent bookstores were once the backbone of the reading-writing life. They are places, which if frequented regularly, staff would know your name. However the combination of large box and on-line retailers, and readers’ tendencies to browse and click, have cut into the meagre profit margins of independent booksellers. The owners of these independents are a tenacious and creative lot who have over the years learned to do much more than sell books. Stores such as Bryan Prince Bookseller in Hamilton have a long history of supporting literary and artistic events, and promoting them through vehicles such as the on-line newsletter Between The Ladders. gritLIT is a recipient this year of support from three Hamilton independent stores: Bryan Prince Bookseller, Epic Books, and J.H. Gordon Books.

Reading and storytelling are traditions to share across the age-span. Add to your literary life by becoming a regular at one of the local independent bookstores, and by making it a habit to hear new authors at LitLive and gritLIT.

The Show Must Go On – Concussed Author Reads at the Lit Live Reading Series

 

 

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John Lennon’s observation that “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans,” was an apt mantra for me during the last 4 weeks. Nobody plans a concussion, but life happens. The holiday schedule had included conducting a family Christmas, hosting a post-Christmas gathering of neighbors at the cottage, celebrating a three day family New Year’s event, and then finishing off with a reading on January 4th at the Hamilton Lit Live Reading Series. Nothing went quite as planned.

My amazing husband and sons stepped in to to make Christmas happen; our sons hosted the neighbors up north on the 27th; and my wonderful family (husband, sons, mother, sister, nieces, and brother) made New Year’s an example of team effort.

With more than a little trepidation, I did manage to read at the Lit Live event in Hamilton. What you will see in the attached photo are the very big, and very red Vuarnet sunglasses (circa 1985). They have been perched on my nose for the past 4 weeks even as I lay in a dark bedroom. It’s not possible to overstate the sensitivity to light that one experiences with a concussion.

The Lit Live Committee has recorded the last two months of readings. Click  Lit Live Reading Series – Sunday January 4th, 2015 for the audio. Do listen to the clips from the poets. Their readings ranged from quirky and funny, to cerebral and spiritual. One of the delights of this series is the exposure to poetry.

What you will hear when you get to my clip is a rather strained voice. I was anxious for the better part of the day about the lighting, and about my ability to stand for 15 minutes. If I had thought about it, I would also have fretted about multi-tasking: holding a binder, reading words, and turning the pages. So… in the clip you will hear me fumbling at the end of the first page as I try to speak, read, hold the notes and turn the page. Fortunately my brain found an ‘e’ word (extemporaneous) before it found the ‘f’ word.

I dedicated the reading to the memory of Eric McGuiness, the Hamilton journalist who reported on environmental issues for the Hamilton Spectator. Eric provided an informed external voice to our community’s fight in north Flamborough. As we battled a quarry, he was fighting cancer. This past October he wrote:

I’m resigned to the fact that it [cancer] will kill me. What worries me most is how I will die.

If I wind up in a hospice rather than a hospital and if the symptoms can be controlled, perhaps a dignified, quick and peaceful death is possible. Or I could be one of the people who die slowly and painfully: unable to care for myself, pleading for an end to my suffering. Some people who are terminally ill see no choice but violent forms of death that are horrific to contemplate.

Eric died in Switzerland this past month where he could be assured of dying “as easily and humanely as a beloved family pet.”

I started writing Autumn’s Grace in the early 2000’s because I was profoundly disturbed by the state of palliative care in Canada. Fifteen years later, not much has happened to ease my worry. We talk about the subject, but I have yet to see substantive systemic change. Until end of life care is considered as important a public health issue as preparation and support for pregnancy and child birth, people will be faced with challenging choices at end of life. 

Photo credit: Gary Barwin

 

 

Be well. Be strong. And Carry on.

Back home, we scoffed at taking 10 days to walk the last 110 kilometres of The Camino de Santiago. However, on Day 9 of our trek, we are not so dismissive. The Camino has its own way of humbling people who might be a tad too full of piss and vinegar.

The walk is strenuous. Our first day out of Sarria had me wondering if I had set off on a fool’s journey. My purpose for this trip was to be the “advance party” for a group of elderly and imaginary women. (They are characters in my current manuscript and while I “know” their back stories and their capabilities, I worried that I had set them an unreasonable quest.) That first day we climbed, not so steadily, upwards of 200 feet. If I was struggling, how would a seventy-five year old manage? The reality is, they manage just fine. Hardship is no stranger to women and men whose families survived The Depression, who lost relatives during the war, and who have watched savings be eroded by inflation.

The Camino follows steep rocky, rutted paths, with equally steep and stony descents. Falling flat on my face is something I have avoided to date, unlike a pilgrim from Australia. And none of us in our party of four have wrenched body parts like the woman from Michigan who felt something begin “to float” in and around her knee one hundred kilometres ago. Her gait is wince-worthy. I do not know what deal she may have made with God. She is upholding her end of the bargain whatever it was.

So what was my deal? There was none. My plan as I noted earlier was to be “the scout”. The trip was to be introspective with thoughts of my imaginary ladies front and foremost of my mind, but the perspective changed before the end of the first day. The Camino is humbling. People have walked The Way of St. James because they have made deals, because they are doing penance, because they are challenging themselves, because it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, because they like to travel, because they want to dis-connect…..There are as many reasons for walking The Camino as there are pilgrims.

I cannot say when the penny dropped for me, but I do know it was beside one of the milestones. There is a tradition at these points of placing a stone on the marker… A way of saying ” I was here.” And perhaps of saying to oneself ” X kilometres behind me, and Y more to go.” When I placed my first stone, my thought was something like “I am so grateful to be on this journey,” which was immediately followed by the realization that I have two friends who are not capable of walking The Camino. Since then I have placed stones along the way, setting each one down, and releasing it only after I have said my friends’ names and a little prayer.

But there has been a problem. Over the trip the list has grown. I have awakened some mornings with names on my mind…reminders that other friends may need whatever intervention my journey can help provide. The practical side of me has had to prevail. Placing ten stones would leave little space for other pilgrims to leave theirs; sweeping away other pilgrims’ stones to make way for mine would invite bad karma; and finally, pausing to send up ten messages every kilometre would slow down my husband and two travelling companions. I have settled for a simple ritual of placing one stone, and releasing it after I have said ” Be well. Be strong. And carry on.” Then I resume The Way and say each friend’s name to myself.

It is not exactly the trip I had expected. True to the original intent,”The ladies” have been with me as I have walked. I have tried to see, hear, and feel the journey through “their” eyes, ears and feet. But there has been something more that this non-church going woman has encountered. The Way of St. James has entered my being and led me to carry other women along the journey. Tomorrow, before we attend mass at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestelo we will be signing off with the pilgrims’ registry. When asked why I have walked The Camino de Santiago, I will be saying, “It was for my women friends who could not make it.” And then I will name each one of you.

My prayer at mass will be simple: “May they be well. May they be strong. And may they carry on.”

Each one of you has helped me to make my way. Thank you!