The power of words in The Help

Got out to see The Help yesterday – and it is an amazing movie. I haven’t read the book, but pals Tina McCulloch and Victoria Shepherd and I were talking about the movie when we hung out at Into the Woods on Friday night – and I hear it’s a good adaptation.

The Help has a stand-out cast of women, featuring Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone and Cicely Tyson. Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60s, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Stone) sets out on a risky writing project, interviewing the town’s housemaids – all black women who not only do all the housekeeping, cooking and child care for their employers (for below minimum wage), but aren’t allowed to use the washrooms in the homes where they work. Maids Aibileen Clark (Davis) and Minny Jackson (Spencer) are her first two interview subjects, and more maids join the project, sharing their stories (good and bad) in secret with Skeeter, since questioning the rules of engagement between blacks and whites was socially suspect, and bringing up issues of equality was against the law. Meanwhile, Skeeter has her own personal take on the situation, having been raised by her family’s maid Constantine (Tyson) and returning home to find her beloved caregiver gone – and an unconvincing story as to why she left.

Go see this movie. It’s touching, funny – and the courage of these women and the power of words are inspiring. Check out the trailer:

p.s. – Just picked up the book during my lunch break. Some vacation reading for when I go to St. John’s next week.

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Big fun & adventure in the woods

I am a Sondheim virgin no longer. Yes, it’s true. While I was familiar with some of his work – certainly play titles and some of the songs – I had never actually seen any of the plays. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Into the Woods is a big, rollicking fairy tale journey – a musical mash-up of some of your favourite fairy tale characters – full of fun, romance, adventure, but with a dark edge and a cautionary message about the consequences of one’s actions.

StageWorks Toronto’s inaugural production of Into the Woods, helmed by director Lorraine Green-Kimsa and music director Tara Litvack, had a cast that delivered big time on the action and music of this epic tale. Stephen Flett gave a fine performance as the narrator, ushering both the audience and characters through the tale – and even got in on the action (which I won’t comment on any further as it would be a big spoiler). Stand-out performances from the young adult actors playing the kids: Cameron Fox-Revett (as the sweet but somewhat dim-witted and naive Jack) and Esther Vallins (a kick-ass Little Red Riding Hood). Lovely work from Sergio Calderon and Jennifer Dewar (as the Baker and his wife, who must undertake some challenging errands on behalf of the Witch in order to break a family curse and have a baby) – and Michelle Cabral was an excellent Witch (a complex role in both the acting and singing of it). Highly entertaining turns from Oscar Moreno (Rapunzel’s Prince) and Michael Yaneff (Cinderella’s Prince), as well as Cinderella’s step-sisters (Stefne Mercedes and Trish Cleyn). Good work all around from this hard-working ensemble and their miniature live orchestra.

Adding to the fun was bumping into various folks I know from Alumnae and Cabbagetown Theatre, especially Victoria Shepherd and her daughter Viv, and Tina McCulloch, who I sat with in the front row. I (and the audience) laughed a lot and applauded every song – and I will admit to getting teary-eyed during No One is Alone.

There’s still a chance to see this: today’s matinée and evening performance, as well as a matinée tomorrow (the Sunday matinée may be sold out, though).

Check out the StageWorks website for info and preview clips: http://stageworkstoronto.com/

Going Into the Woods tonight

Hey all – as I mentioned in a post last week, StageWorks Toronto is presenting a short run of Into the Woods at the Annex Theatre, featuring actor Steve Flett (who you’ll know from various productions about town at Alumnae Theatre, Amicus, East Side Players, Toronto Fringe, etc.). The show opened last night and closes with a matinée performance on Sunday, so if you want to see this, you’d best nip along smartly: http://stageworkstoronto.com/current-show.html

I’ll be going tonight – solo, but I always manage to find folks I know at these things.

Here’s a preview clip, complete with actors in costumes. Looks magical…

T.V. confession

Okay, so – not to sound like a total freak, but here goes …

If you’ve visited the T.V. page recently, you’ll see that I’ve been watching All My Children.

Okay, so, to clarify – I’ve been watching the Bianca/Marissa (aka Minx) storyline, mostly on YouTube.

I’m not generally a soap fan (well, except for a short period during the 80s when I watched Guiding Light with my mum and sister, then a very short stint with Y&R with fellow housemates in our dorm common room – on at the same time as GL, so since I couldn’t beat the majority, I joined ’em), but when I hear such good things about two characters and their story, I had to check it out.

Anyway, I learned about the Bianca/Marissa thing on http://www.afterellen.com/ – and, even more recently, I learned that this week was going to be particularly special for these two AMC characters. Bianca and Marissa are getting it on! Finally!  Kudos to actors Christina Bennett Lind (Bianca) and Sarah Glendening (Marissa), both straight, for playing these characters with such sensitivity and for keeping it real.

Big thanks to MinxFan for editing all the Minx scenes and posting them on YouTube – it was especially helpful for me to go back in time and catch up on their unfolding relationship. Here’s a crucial clip from yesterday:

I can’t wait to see the afterglow scene. These two are so great together and so very lovely – as actors and as their characters – and I have to say I’m partial to Ms. Bennett Lind.

What’s your guilty T.V. pleasure?

p.s. – Here’s the reaction from afterellen.com: http://www.afterellen.com/TV/all-my-children-lesbian-recap-wow

And, yes, there really is a lesbian bat signal.

Jane Aww-sten

I gotta tell ya, with all this summer theatre going on – not to mention the new network scheduling of new shows at this time of year (Rookie Blue, Combat Hospital and Murdoch Mysteries, to name a few) – it’s been a challenge to find time to read.

So I’ve been trying extra hard this week, now that SummerWorks is over, to get back to a novel that I started reading at the end of June. I know. I’m bad. The book, however, is most decidedly not. Here’s the opening line:

It is a truth most universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

For those of you who are Jane Austen fans, you will recognize this as a re-write of the opening line of Pride and Prejudice – in this case, it is the opening line of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a delightful genre mash-up by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Grahame-Smith also penned the mash-up Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, which I have yet to get my hands on.

At this point, I’m now three-quarters through P&P and Zombies – and thoroughly enjoying it. Before I’ve even finished it, I highly recommend it.

Have you read Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter – what did you think?

p.s. – Very happy to see (on Wikipedia) that both books are being adapted into movies!

Fun in dysfunction

More SummerWorks and outdoor theatre this past weekend, including two closing performances…

Friday night I was back at the Factory Theatre Studio for Freda & Jem’s Best of the Week (by Lois Fine, directed by Judith Thompson). I saw this on their closing night and the place was packed. Thanks to MC Thompson for giving me her extra ticket – with that sold out house, I may not have gotten in otherwise. The title characters are a married lesbian couple (Diane Flacks and Kathryn Haggis) with two teenaged kids (Nick Eddie and Sadie Rose Epstein-Fine), and we take a journey through the history of their relationship via flashback scenes amid scenes of their separation, with Jem moving out to the house next door. The “best of the week” in the play’s title is the weekly family ritual where each person shares the best thing he/she experienced that week. To the kids’ mocking chagrin, both moms always say it’s being there together as a family.

This is a family like any other – just with two moms – and the turmoil and pain of divorce takes pretty much the same course as any marriage would. It struck me as a bittersweet thing that, as society has evolved to include same-sex marriage in Canada we now not only have stories/plays about LGBT folks coming out and getting married – we now also see them splitting up. This play reminds us that, while it’s nice to see the common ground with straight folks in terms of marriage and family dynamic, there’s also the shared downside of infidelity, heartbreak and family thrown into chaos when divorce comes. An excellent cast and the added bonus of a live soundtrack supplied by Lorraine Segato, who sang and accompanied herself on electric guitar. That and an audience full of lesbians, what more could you ask for? Bonus: bumping into Alum/Cabbagetown Theatre pals Tina McCulloch, Elaine Lindo, Gloria Lambert and Bonnie Gray after the show (they were there to see Little Crickets), as well as Foundry Theatre producer Elisabeth Feltaous.

Saturday night, I was off to Withrow Park to see Driftwood Theatre’s production of Macbeth – this after stopping by the Jersey Giant to meet Steve Flett for a pint and buy a ticket for Into the Woods for this Friday. Due to delays with getting the tab and general bad luck with TTC connections, I made it to the park with just enough time to pee and grab a piece of grass before the show started. Bumped into Alum pal Tina McCulloch, who arrived shortly after I did and I sat on the ground beside her. I really need to invest in one of those folding camping chairs.

Director D. Jeremy Smith has assembled a strong group of actors for this production – and a cast of eight meant that several actors were doubling up on parts, including playing the witches, who were fully covered up – cloaked and hooded, with old gas masks covering their faces. Always interesting to see how this play is performed, particularly the two leads – in this case, Peter Van Gestel and Janick Hebert. This Macbeth and Lady Macbeth display a passion and lust for each other that is only equalled by their mutual lust for power – they want so much and what they gain through their bloody actions leaves them with a lot to lose. One of the timeless elements of this production was the casting of Madeleine Donohue as Banquo (she also played Lady M’s doctor), played as a woman and not as a man. And there is a modern edge to Andy Pogson’s Macduff, both in his manner and in his black studded leather jacket. Rounding out this fine cast are Shawn Ahmed, Justin Goodhand, Tim Machin and Lana Sugarman. Weaving the witches’ appearances throughout the action was particularly effective: the sleight of hand keep-away with the dagger during Macbeth’s dagger speech; placing the dead Banquo on the metalwork in preparation for the banquet haunting; and even during Lady M’s sleepwalking scene, with one of the witches operating her like a full-sized puppet.

It’s also always interesting to see what shape the design takes for this play. The military garb was timeless in that it borrowed from a number of times/places, yet kept that army green and grey palette throughout, and the witches’ costuming made them look less human and more monster. The only set piece was a small circular platform in the centre of the stage, encompassed by a short ruined wall of grey bricks and punctuated with a triangular metal framework – the wall and metal structure moved by various cast members at the end of each scene, evoking the passage of time, like a eerie sundial. The recorded soundtrack was a departure from Driftwood’s usual cast-generated vocal soundscape – but this made sense given the play at hand. This is not a happy play – and even Macduff’s vanquishing of Macbeth, freeing Scotland of a tyrant king, is somehow grim in the end.

Sunday was one last SummerWorks show for me – this time at the Lower Ossington Theatre – another closing performance and on the closing day of the festival: Third Floor by Jason Hall, directed by Ashlie Corcoran, and featuring actors Kristian Bruun and Kaitlyn Riordan (or “Kaitlyn Frickin’ Riordan,” as I like to call her). This is a suspenseful, and also darkly funny, look at how the casual relationship between two condo neighbours shifts when a prank on their annoying neighbour in #10 goes horribly wrong. They never see the mysterious neighbour who regularly has bags of garbage outside her door – and neither do we – and the play’s references to Hitchcock leave you wondering if there are body parts in those bags, maybe even said neighbour’s.

Excellent two-handed script and an awesome cast, with backstage assistant Lena Maripuu, who executed #10’s garbage drops. Third Floor will be getting a run in London at Trafalgar Studios between October 11 and November 5.

Whew – I need a day off after all that theatre now. Oh well, back to work.

Later, kids.

Just one more thing…

Not to be too Columbo about this – I normally don’t post twice in one day – but saw this article with video in the Toronto Star re Tommy Taylor’s SummerWorks play You Should Have Stayed Home:

http://www.thestar.com/unassigned/article/1038649–stage-play-takes-you-inside-g20-s-crammed-jail?bn=1

So tonight at midnight would be an excellent time to see this. I recommend getting there early to buy your tix (on sale one hour before show time) – this one will likely sell out. If not, there’s one more performance tomorrow at 10 p.m. – the Theatre Centre (Queen W. and Dovercourt).