Nuit Blanche & After Mrs. Rochester talkback

Wow – what an amazing weekend of art and friends.

After seeing After Mrs. Rochester on Friday night and having a couple of pints with some of the cast and crew at Betty’s, I pondered dropping by the talkback after the matinée on Sunday – and I did!

But, first, Saturday night/Sunday morning’s Nuit Blanche 2011. It was the first Nuit Blanche where I got to roam about and see stuff (the first few, I was working at Alumnae and/or doing a show and last year, I had to bail as I got sick with a cold). This year, I ventured out with my pal Lizzie Violet – and I just read her post about our evening. Since her thoughts pretty much echo mine, and I couldn’t have said it better myself, here’s what she had to say: http://lizzieviolet.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/nuit-blanche/

As for Sunday – well, the rest of Sunday, since it was already Sunday when I went to bed after Nuit Blanche – I met Alum pal Ellen Green for a great brunch and catch-up at 7 West Cafe.

After brunch, I wandered down Yonge Street, doing some errands along the way – by then it had stopped raining but it was chilly – and ended up back at Alumnae Theatre, where Front of House Manager for the day Margaret (aka “The Costumator”) Spence greeted me and told me that the house had just gone in for Act 2, and I could go in if I wanted.

So I did. Act 2 of After Mrs. Rochester is the best part of the play script-wise (Act 1 is a lot of exposition) – it’s the meat and bones of the play. And it gave me another opportunity to see some other pals in action: Tina McCulloch’s excellent performance as Bertha, as well as Tabitha Keast’s very sexy Ford Maddox Ford (damn, she looks good in that brown suit!), who was once of Rhys’s lovers, and Julie Burris as Ford’s lovely wife Stella.

The talkback sessions at Alumnae are always a treat – and it was a good-sized and responsive house on Sunday (whereas Friday was a small but very responsive gang) – and the cast got a standing ovation that lasted through two curtain calls. It also gave me the opportunity to say “hey” to director Laura Roald and tell her how awesome this production is. Oh – and I neglected to mention Laura’s assistant director in my previous post: Taryn Jorgenson.

Joining Laura Roald and the cast onstage were co-producer/sound op PJ Hammond and sound designer Megan Benjafield. The question of the all-female cast came up early on, and Roald talked about circumstantial necessity turned creative decision-making (and re-working most of her pre-production plans for the show) – as they couldn’t find suitable, available male actors. Since the play is about a female author – and characters she either connects with or creates, fictional or otherwise – all the characters in the play are parts of Jean Rhys. So the new vision came out of a happy accident – crisis an opportunity towards a new path. Extremely articulate – and one hell of a smart cookie – Roald also mentioned that, because the male roles were now being played by women, the various sex scenes throughout the play now have less of a shock impact and become moments the audience need to process; and with the various layers of time, space, and characters fictitious and non-fictitious, there is a lot to process. She also remarked how the revised production also “created an incredible company of women” and, indeed, even much of the production crew were women. Yay, estrogen!

Actor Susan Q. Wilson (who plays the older Rhys) talked about gaining insight into character – Rhys being a raging alcoholic at that point, and likely self-medicating an undiagnosed mental illness – and found Rhys’s letters particularly helpful, noting how the tenor and energy of the author’s words changed over time.

Rhys wrote autobiographically, and her childhood in a post-colonial Caribbean had a great impact on her life, particularly regarding her sense of identity – a child of a family from the white ruling class who no longer belonged to that class, who also did not belong among the former indigenous slaves who were now the family’s paid servants. Megan Benjafield described how this loss of identity informed the sound design – the discord of the “spooky” strings that hummed throughout the play during specific moments.

The subject of playwright Polly Teale came up when an audience member asked about the history of the play. Like Rhys, Teale was fascinated by the Brontes – and used text from Jane Eyre and from Rhys’s works in the play, including Wide Sargasso Sea and short stories.

Go see this play. Once you get past the exposition (mostly in Act 1), it is a hauntingly beautiful and brutal look at a creative process: the creation of the novel Wide Sargasso Sea.

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Accents, sex & scrappin’ in After Mrs. Rochester

When cast member Tina McCulloch, also now Alumnae’s bloggergal, mentioned in a post that After Mrs. Rochester featured accents, sex and fight scenes – she had me at “accents.” Well, actually, she had me at “sex” – especially since this is an all-gal cast, with two actors playing an assortment of male characters. And a gal playing a guy is always sexy.

Alumnae’s production, the Canadian premiere of Polly Teale’s play, is directed by Laura Roald (who did double duty as set designer). And Roald wasn’t the only one pulling extra work; “not crying at all” co-producers PJ Hammond (costume design) and Tabitha Keast (actor, playing multiple male roles) also put on other production hats – and PJ was the sound op during last night’s performance.

After Mrs. Rochester features a brilliant all-female cast, which came about when the casting process couldn’t find male actors to fit the bill – and, while I was initially a bit taken aback when I heard of the decision, in practice, this approach works big time. Who better to create characters envisioned by a female author, in a bio play about that author and her connection to the novel Jane Eyre – especially the mysterious and crazy Mrs. Rochester hidden in the attic – than a group of women? Shouts to Kanika Ambrose (a replacement who came on board 12 days before opening – and was awesome!), Julie Burris, Laura Jabalee, Tabitha Keast, Tina McCulloch, Laine Newman, Jessica Rose and Susan Q. Wilson. Keast and Newman did a lovely job playing the various the male parts, and in addition to the multiple costume changes (mostly jackets for each character) wore compression vests to flatten their female chests. McCulloch was excellent as crazy Bertha, a vulnerable, playful and tortured soul – much like author Jean Rhys (known as Ella in her youth), played with tender passion by Wilson (older) and Rose (younger). And Burris, as Rhys’s mother, went beyond the brutal side of the character and found her pain and humanity.

The action of the play shifts in time and reality – the past, present, memory and scenes from Jane Eyre woven before our eyes – and is supported nicely by the design team, which also included Paul Hardy (lights), Lynda Yearwood (props) and Megan Benjafield (sound), as well as a stand-up stage management team, headed by SM Karen McMichael, with Emily Macnaughton.

Always good to bump into pals when I go to Alumnae – last night was my first time out as a subscriber – and it was great to catch up with Razie Brownstone and Stacy Halloran, who were on box office (with Stacy also running lights last night), as well as bar staff Jayne Patterson and Bev Atkinson (who, with Sandy Schneider – who I also saw last night – did the opening night reception spread last week). I ended up sitting with theatre pals Danielle Capretti, Greg Corkum and Nonnie Griffin; and I bumped into a former theatre school teacher of mine (and several others in the gang), Vrenia Ivonoffski.

Here’s another of my favourite pix from the production – from left to right: Julie Burris (Mother), Tabitha Keast (the Gentleman) and Jessica Rose (Ella). Photo by Dahlia Katz: www.dahliakatz.com

Now that’s sexy… I don’t know whether to be appalled by the man groping that young woman – or aroused because it’s a gal playing that man.

After Mrs. Rochester continues until Friday, October 7 (please note: this show closes on a Friday night instead of a Saturday), with performances Wed – Fri nights at 8 p.m.; and there’s a talkback with the director, cast and design team after the matinée tomorrow (Sun, Oct 2). For more info (and pix), please visit the Alumnae website: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1112after.html

Two of my favourite programs

Before I go on my merry way tonight/this weekend, I’d like to give a shout out to two of my favourite programs. One is a radio drama and the other is on t.v.: Afghanada and Lost Girl.

Not much of a radio listener (except for an hour of Nocturne on Classical 96.3 FM for an hour every night as I fall asleep), I learned of Afghanada last fall while I was down in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Shaw Festival and was reading actor Jenny Young’s bio in the Age of Arousal program. I started tuning in last fall and have been hooked ever since. Jenny plays Sgt. Pat (Coach) Kinsella in Afghanada, which also features actors Paul Fauteux and Billy MacLellan, a half-hour radio drama on CBC Radio One about Canadian soldiers in Kandahar; the program airs on Thursdays at 11:30 a.m. (Toronto) and if you miss it, you can always time shift west online. Check out their website: http://www.cbc.ca/afghanada/

Lost Girl (Showcase – Sundays at 9 p.m. and re-run throughout the week) became one of my fave t.v. shows last fall – and I’m enjoying the further adventures of succubus Bo and her gang of “Scoobies” on the show. Excellent cast, featuring Anna Silk, Kris Holden-Ried, Ksenia Solo, K.C. Collins, Richard Howland and Zoie Palmer. Check them out on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1429449/  and on their show site: http://www.showcase.ca/lostgirl/

The love triangle between Bo (Silk), wolf shifter/homicide detective Dyson (Holden-Ried) and human/Light Fae-aligned doctor Lauren (Palmer) has attracted a lot of attention, sparking Team Dyson and Team Lauren camps among fans, and gaining attention on afterellen.com for its portrayal of a bisexual heroine on t.v. I especially loved Dorothy Snarker’s Lost Girl snap-cap this week, especially her marked dismay over the fact that Lauren was nowhere to be seen in the recent episode: http://www.afterellen.com/tv/lost-girl-recap-204 

I have to say, I agree with her – more Lauren, please! Guess it’s no secret what team I’m on. Speaking of the lovely doctor, here she is (played by the equally lovely Zoie Palmer):

See what I mean? That and Lauren and Bo are so darn lovely together – shouts to Zoie and Anna for having fabulous chemistry:

And congrats to Ksenia Solo (who plays Bo’s human pal/roommate/soul sister Kenzi) for taking home the Gemini Award for Supporting Actress in a Drama Series this year!

Speaking of lovely ladies – as I mentioned yesterday, I’m off to see some Alumnae pals in After Mrs. Rochester on the main stage tonight. Back with the scoop on that soon.

Till then, have a great evening/weekend. What’cha got planned?

More t.v. – endings & beginnings

During a mostly busy weekend, when I was hardly home, I watched my PVR recording of the final episode of All My Children. WARNING: Spoiler alert. And I have to say WTF?! There was a gathering of the well-heeled folk of Pine Valley, including folks recently (and miraculously) risen from the dead – and not in a zombie kinda way – a woman who apparently had been blind with her sight now restored, and my gals Bianca and Marissa. Lurking behind some apparently secret panels behind the walls is Marissa’s ex J.R., who is drunk and gripping a hand gun. We didn’t see much of the girls this episode, but I gotta say, I was worried about them. The last thing we see is J.R. focusing on various people from behind an opening in the paneling, including the girls, then taking aim. Erica Kane crosses the gathering and we hear a gunshot with the screen going to black. With nighttime soap Dallas, we asked the question: Who shot J.R.? In the finale of AMC, we’re asking: Who did J.R. shoot? I’m thinking it might be Erica.

I’ll be looking into this some more this week. In the meantime, here’s a clip from the Sept 22 episode, the last time we see the girls in a major way (prior to this, they’ve decided to move in together and have bought a house for their soon to be merged families). Thanks again to MinxFan for editing/posting on YouTube:

In the meantime, I’ve been off sick a couple of days, so a bit tardy getting back into the blogosphere.

I caught the (final season?) premiere of Being Erica (different Erica) on Monday. Erica, now a doctor in training, gets her first patient – and it’s her sister’s goony ex husband. And Erica is put into a situation where she’s forced to find common ground with a guy she can’t stand – with some surprising results. Always a trippy, thought-provoking show to watch – and I love Michael Riley as Dr. Tom (Erica’s doc and mentor).

Continuing to watch Camelot and Downton Abbey, two new shows for me this year – as well as my usual suspects – and I’ll continue to check out Prime Suspect tonight as well. The House premiere is coming up on Monday, October 3 on Global.

And, tomorrow night, I’m heading to Alumnae Theatre to see After Mrs. Rochester, which I hear is excellent. Check out the review from Mooney on Theatre: http://www.mooneyontheatre.com/2011/09/25/review-after-mrs-rochester-alumnae-theatre/

Back soon with more artsy farsty adventures…

Walking, words & positive energy

Sunday was the perfect day for the annual Toronto AIDS walk – temps in the low 20s, relatively clear sky, sunshine and a nice bit of breeze. The walk officially kicked off around 2:15 p.m. (not uncommon, as there are several pre-walk speakers, then a quick warm-up before folks get organized behind the official walk banner). I started with the pack but soon broke out, walking alongside our police cruiser pace car, then finally breaking out full-on to go at my own speed. And Mama likes to walk fast, chickens. As I booted on down Church Street, I waved at and cheered the various groups of volunteer “cheerleaders” (mostly high school students), who were positioned along the route to provide encouragement and directions.

At some point, possibly around St. Mike’s, I came upon a pacing buddy. This happens sometimes when I do the walk – I mostly do it alone – I meet up with someone who moves at a similar pace and we continue on together – along Queen and up Yonge – chatting and weaving around the extraneous pedestrian traffic together. This year, it was a young woman (originally from Nova Scotia) named Brandy. It was her first time doing the walk and she had a blast. The final leg of the route took us through Cawthra Park, where volunteers handed us red carnations, which you could place on the AIDS memorial there. I took a detour to visit my friend Tom, whose name is on the second of the 1989 plaques, and placed the carnation in a space there. When we got back down to Church and Wood, Brandy couldn’t believe we were done already. We said goodbye, and Brandy went off in search of a walk t-shirt and I headed over to Wendy’s for an Oreo Frosty Parfait.

Still had a bit of steam left, so I took the Wellesley bus to Word on the Street – and, frankly, it would have been faster to walk there. Due to street closures for Word, the bus had to detour up Bay to Bloor – and the traffic was crazy. I finally got off at Avenue Road and Bob’s your uncle. Stopped by the Tightrope tent to visit my pal Lizzie, then had a wander to see what was up. I caught the last three of four readings at the This is Not the Shakespeare Stage (a new venue for 2011 featuring a variety of genre, spoken and written word, and young adult authors). This reading was called That’s What She Said (all books by female authors, with female protagonists) and featured: Lesley Anne Cowan (Something Wicked), Alyxandra Harvey (Haunting Violet), Teresa Toten (Beyond Blonde) and Heather J. Wood (Roll With It). I got there in time to catch the end of Harvey’s reading – and these women were awesome; they gave great readings, and were good-humoured and full of positive energy. Speaking of positive energy, after the readings, I caught a Q&A with author Neil Pasricha at the Giller Bestsellers tent, hosted by CBC Radio One Q host Gian Ghomeshi. Pasricha is the author of The Book of Awesome, The Book of Even More Awesome – and coming soon: The Holiday Book of Awesome – fine examples of blogger made good in adapting his writing from one medium to another.

After about an hour, I was beat (I’d walked around for an hour before the walk itself and was carrying a loaded back-pack after getting two blank books at Staples, as well as my walker swag) – so I caught the College car home.

All in all, an amazing and invigorating day – physically, spiritually and mentally. Back soon with more t.v. jazz.

Walkin’ the walk & shoutin’ it out

Hey all – so before heading out later this morning to walk the annual Toronto AIDS Walk, I wanted to send a shout out to the After Mrs. Rochester gang at Alumnae Theatre.  A little birdie named Kat told me you guys rocked on opening night. Good on ya’s!

Have an excellent Sunday, all – do something fun!

Shocked docs & a tough gal dick

So Thursday night, I watched Grey’s Anatomy (CTV – a two-fer night of two episodes) while recording Prime Suspect on the good ‘ole PVR.

Grey’s found our gang in some pretty big turmoil. Meredith was having rough times at both the hospital and at home – due to her fudging Derek’s Alzheimer’s study in order to get the Chief’s wife the real drug, as opposed to the placebo (and destroying the random administration of meds for the study). She and Derek have a visit from the social services lady to see how they’re doing with Zola, the African baby they’re trying to adopt. Who do they think they are anyway – Brangelina? Cristina, on the other hand, does not want a baby and she and Owen are at odds over her impending abortion.

In other hospital goings-on, April, now Chief Resident, is having a tough time getting the docs to mind her – and no wonder, she’s way too soft-spoken and nice. She’s no Miranda Bailey, that’s for sure. Speaking of, Bailey decides to shake the residents up a bit by pulling a “Gunther” on them – putting them on a particularly challenging and complex case together, and seeing who emerges as the leader. Torres is supervising, so they don’t kill the nice lady, a victim of a giant sinkhole that swallowed her, her husband, their car and injured a bunch of other people and property. And she’s had a leg amputated below the knee in the field (and she’s played by King star Amy Price-Francis).

Most of it all works out in the end: the patient is saved, the Chief takes the fall for Derek’s study, and Owen accompanies Cristina to her abortion – and underdog Avery ended up being the Gunther. But not so good for Zola. Derek and Meredith’s situation is too up in the air, so the social services lady has to take the baby.

I watched my recording of Prime Suspect (Global) last night – and it was very good. A lot of ink has been spilt regarding Jane Timoney’s fedora. WTF? If a male character was wearing that hat, no one would bat an eye. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Maria Bello (who was on E.R. back in the day) has some big detective shoes to fill – and she’s very good playing the lone female homicide detective in an extremely misogynistic NYC precinct. The show is an Americanized version of the original, but the same themes and dynamics hold. Timoney is very good at her job, but she’s constantly having to prove herself to the old boys club. Helen Mirren, along with the creators of the Brit series, has given her blessing.

Also starring is Aidan Quinn, as Timoney’s CO and pretty much her only ally.

Both shows are worth a look – and you can catch Prime Suspect again tonight (9 p.m. Global).

I PVRd the final episode of All My Children yesterday – back soon with the wrap on Minx.

What did you see this week?