50/50, Kat’s Graffiti’s gig & Another Africa

I’ve been one busy little artsy fartsy this week, chickens – an exercise made most convenient by the fact that I’m off this week.

One of the things I love about living in Toronto is having the ability to go to matinees on a weekday; I took advantage of that on Monday and again today, with a movie and a trip to the theatre.

Monday I saw 50/50 at the Rainbow Market Square. The movie stars Joseph Gordon Levitt, all grown up from his early days on the sitcom Third Rock from the Sun; joining him are Seth Rogen (as his best friend), Bryce Dallas Howard (his girlfriend), Anna Kendrick (his shrink) and Angelica Huston (his mom). 50/50 is about a young man’s journey with a rare cancer, a tumor on his lower spine, and his relationships with the people in his life as he deals with his treatment. In the end, no one is as they seem – and, also just like life, his story is told with poignancy and humour.

Tuesday night was double good times: I had an early dinner at 7 West Cafe with co-worker/pal Elisabeth, where I introduced her to the restaurant’s tasty and hearty all-day breakfast (and where a nice Cab-Sauv is a good pairing); then it was on to Graffiti’s in Kensington Market, where I was joining my pals Kat Leonard and Lizzie Violet for an evening of music, featuring Kat and a few other singer/songwriters. Ms. Leonard was all kinds of awesome, treating the small but hugely appreciative audience to tunes from her one-woman musical A Depper Kind of Love, the highlight of which was her starting her performance of Asshole in the women’s washroom (a trend that continued for the next act, Lara and Sean, with Lara doing the same with one of her tunes). Kat’s muscial premiered at the Toronto Fringe this past July and will be getting a remount at Red Sandcastle Theatre in November – I’ll give all y’all a heads up when that comes up. An awesome night out with some awesome gal pals.

That brings us to this afternoon, when I headed out to the St. Lawrence Centre Bluma Appel space to see Another Africa, which caught my eye for the cast as much as the subject matter. The CanStage production presents two plays from Volcano Theatre’s Luminato-commissioned project: Shine Your Eye (by Binyavanga Wainaina, dir. by Ross Manson) and Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God (by Roland Schimmelpfennig, dir. by Liesl Tommy); the two one-act plays are introduced, featuring actors from both plays, by The Stranger (prologue) by Deborah Asiimwe and directed by Weyni Mengesha.

These are two markedly different plays linked by the common theme of modern-day Africa: Shine Your Eye (a Nigerian pidgin term meaning be aware, be sharp) presents an African perspective, directed toward Western culture, while Peggy Pickit is a Western perspective of Africa, making the paired plays a dialogue of sorts between Africa and the West.

Both plays feature outstanding casts. Shine Your Eye showcases the talents of Awaovieyi Agie, Milton Barnes, Lucky Onyekachi Ejim, Araya Mengesha, Muoi Nene, Ordena Stephens-Thompson and Dienye Waboso. Beka (Waboso) the young, highly educated daughter of a murdered political activist father must make choices about her life and ultimately her identity: will she remain working for an Internet scam organization, where the boss wants to trade in her name for financial gain, or will she flee to Toronto, to a life with her online/Skype friend Doreen?

Peggy Pickit features Tom Barnett, Maev Beaty, Tony Nappo and Kristen Thomson – these characters are all white Westerners who worked as medical practitioners in Africa, with one couple staying for six years while the other returned to a life back home, with the house, the garage and a kid. Complex relationships come to light during their dinner party together.

The production makes interesting and effective use of technology, showing back-screen projections of the Skype conversations between Beka and her Toronto friend Doreen (Stephens-Thompson) in Shine Your Eye. And a nanny cam of sorts (inside a wooden doll that Beaty and Barnett’s characters bring to their hosts’ home on the evening of their homecoming dinner) – brought into play by the director – provides images shown on a picture frame upstage centre in Peggy Pickit.

During the talkback that followed (where actors Muoi Nene and Kristen Thomson came out to chat), some audience members said they were challenged by two such different plays, utilizing multi-media technology – both of these comments were supplied by seniors, prompting others to wonder if this was a generational issue. There were some younger folks – possibly senior high school or college kids – in the audience, but they didn’t stick around. It would have been interesting to hear what a younger viewer thought,  though it was mentioned that previous young audience members appreciated the use of technology.

A question came up regarding the staging, along with the technology, and what kind of challenge this presented for the actors. Thomson said that the play (Peggy Pickit) was so beautifully written that the power of the text – and its specificity – supported the actors in maintaining the emotion through scene freezes, where it wasn’t just a matter of holding positions  – but living in the moment and digging in further. For Shine Your Eye, the technology incorporated into the script was more complex and posed a bigger challenge to incorporate on a practical level – but the result was amazingly effective on both a visual level and the political/philosophical questions it poses. In this story, technology is used for mass communication (in a sense, creating a level playing field in the global reach it provides) and for criminal intentions (on a political level, sticking it to the man and taking back what’s theirs – in a Robin Hood-like rationalization).

So, I’d highly recommend 50/50 (see movie listings) and Another Africa (which runs at the Bluma Appel until October 22). And if you haven’t seen Kat Leonard’s show A Depper Kind of Love, you’ll have another chance in November – I’ll keep you posted on that.


Friday night love-in

Back to “real life” after the fun and frolicks of a long weekend.

Friday night was especially enjoyable – and definitely the busiest part of the weekend. It could be summed up thusly: love in the dark with strangers. Twice.

No, I was not hanging out at Wicked. Right after work, I went down to the AMC at Yonge/Dundas to see Crazy, Stupid Love. It was crazy, stupid awesome. Stellar cast headed up by Julianne Moore,  Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, with Marissa Tomei and Kevin Bacon, and fine young actors Jonah Bobo and Analeigh Tipton. Hilariously funny and sweetly touching look at variations on the love story: marriage on the rocks, new relationship and teenage crush. This is not a chick flick – so those of you who can’t do those have nothing to worry about. Go see this movie already. You won’t be sorry.

Right after that, and a quick trip to the bank machine, I headed up to the Toronto Arts Centre to meet Kat Leonard and her pal (and now mine) Lizzie for the Best of Fringe 2011 to see Love, Virtually (by Chloe Whitehorn, directed by David Owen). So now you can see where this is going – have I not mentioned that I’m a sucker for romance? A modern look at relationships that makes me wonder if online dating is now the way most people meet. But beyond that, the play looks at loss and the struggle to let go – all with a live, original soundtrack composed and performed by the lovely and talented Cat Ratusny. A nice, easy coffee house atmosphere, and a lovely ensemble cast: Bunmi Adeoye, Krista Barzso, Michael Donnelly, Alan Norman, Nick Stojanovic, Joshua Wiles and Eve Wylden. Another great combo of funny and poignant. You have one more chance to see this if you haven’t already: tonight at 7 p.m. Check out the Love, Virtually website for more details and info: http://lovevirtually.moonfruit.com/#

Friday night finished with a visit to Wise Guys on the Danforth to see Kat’s friend Ann-Marie B. Zammit, the front gal for The Stone Poets. And Kat wasn’t kidding – Ann-Marie’s vocals are very Janis Joplin. Great rockin’ blues tunes. Check out the band’s website for info and upcoming dates: http://www.thestonepoets.com/index.html

I also saw Cowboys and Aliens on the weekend. I can’t believe this mash-up hasn’t been made before. Big extraterrestrial fun and action in the old west – and you gotta love a cast that features Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde.

One last thing before I sign off: I learned this weekend that, in addition to the Alumnae pals I previously mentioned in the Lysistrata – the sex strike cast, is Carolyn Hall (who appeared in Alum’s production of Pride and Prejudice). That continues its run this week Wed – Sat at Philosopher’s Walk, weather permitting: http://canopytheatre.ca/?p=791

What’s up with the ice cream truck music?

Okay, so call me old-fashioned, old school, a dinosaur even. But what the heck is up with the music you hear coming from the ice cream trucks lately?

When I was a kid – and this is going back a while – the ice cream truck in my neighbourhood in Burlington had a bell. And I know I wasn’t the only kid on my street to mix that bell up with that of the knife sharpener’s bell – scrambling out onto the road in search of ice cream only to find an old Italian guy with a hand truck filled with the tools of his trade.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve lived in Toronto – in Parkdale and more recently Little Portugal – and the ice cream truck had that somewhat eerie, carnival-like music box tune going on.

But this summer, the truck in my ‘hood is playing something vaguely pop, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. And in the neighbourhood near my office downtown, I heard a truck playing Für Elise the other day (my nemesis from that stray BlackBerry in the office – see an earlier post: https://lifewithmorecowbell.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/i-like-beethoven-but/).


I like Beethoven, but…

… not when it’s played over and over. And over again.

When I arrived at the office this morning, I heard Für Elise playing. Repeatedly. And quite loudly too. After a bit of hunting around, I discovered it was originating from a BlackBerry that had been left on a desk in the cubicle at the end of my row. I e-mailed our IT guy, to see what I could do about this and proceeded to try and ignore the music. Others began arriving and upon hearing the repetitive strains, one co-worker remarked: “Isn’t this what they do to prisoners at GITMO?”

Anyway, by the time I heard back from the IT guy, the same co-worker had already solved the problem (presumably, by touching any key).

Now I like Für Elise as much as the next Beethoven fan, but that was a bit much.

Here’s an audio clip from YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mVW8tgGY_w

Music saved my Saturday night

First, a bit of back story: So I’d been thinking about getting me a pair of old school roller skates for some time now and finally got a pair at Cardinal Skate Co. on Good Friday (yep, they were open). They’re a low-cut black vinyl boot with light blue outdoor wheels. And, being the safety-conscious gal that I am, I also got a helmet and wrist guards. Check them out, they’re good people: http://www.cardinalskate.com/

Since the weather has not been entirely co-operative since then – and I was out of town during our one day of nice weather on Easter weekend – I wasn’t able to get out and skate till this past Saturday. And, since I haven’t been on roller skates since high school – and then only on indoor wheels – I decided to go easy on the first time out and start off on the asphalt running track in the schoolyard near my house. This turned out to be the best idea I had on this outing: no one to careen into, grass on either side to make for softer landings and relatively little traffic in the park/yard so fewer people to see me make a total ass of myself.

And make a total ass of myself I did. I fell more than skated. The wrist guards saved my hands from getting shredded. On one fall, however, I came down hard on my right hand – so hard that the impact jammed my elbow but good. And that was it for the day. I’d been out about 15 minutes and I was done like dinner. I did, however, manage to actually skate a few feet before that last crash landing, though. So in addition to the achy right palm, elbow, shoulder, neck and side, I also managed to sprain my left index finger (must have done on an earlier touch-down) – the latter I didn’t notice till I was taking some R&R on my loft neighbours’ patio.

Luckily, I had my friend Kerri’s birthday party to attend that night – so I got some rest, did lots of Advil Liqui-gels and headed out to Ten Feet Tall, where jazz singer Ori Dagan was performing an Ella Fitzgerald tribute, with special guests that included pals Shannon Butcher and Shelley Hamilton, and Mark Keiswetter (who I’ve seen playing with my pal Kira Callahan) on keys. It was a great time – and between the excellent company, the music, the beer and the Advil, my achy self was soothed for the evening. Check out Ten Feet Tall -they’re also good people, with a fabulous menu (the menus are inside old record album covers) and a great jazz line-up: http://www.tenfeettall.ca/website/wp/ 

Sunday morning was a different story. No, not hung over – just with the achy-ness.

Oh – and if you’re sick and tired of voting at federal elections – after you cast your ballot, come out to Revival Bar tonight for Shelley Hamilton’s Grace show: http://www.revivalbar.com/

Also playing this week, my pal Kira Callahan and the Big City Big Band at Hollywood this Thurs, May 5:  http://www.hollywoodonthequeensway.com/livemusic.html

Tender Heart Songs

Some more beautiful music to share with y’all today.

Tender Heart Songs is a CD collection of original lullabies written, arranged and sung by my good friend Kira Callahan. I picked up several copies back in the fall, one for myself and a few for friends with little ones at home. And I can tell you these songs are so beautiful and relaxing, you don’t have to be a small child to appreciate them.

I just saw that the website for the CD is up and running, and includes song clips, as well as info on the CD’s genesis and how to purchase it. Check it out: http://tenderheartsongs.com/Home.shtml