Ottawa & St. John’s – where I stayed

Hey – Please bear with me; I haven’t been home much this long weekend, so I still haven’t downloaded any pix yet, but I thought I’d start with where I stayed and include the links.

In Ottawa, I stayed at the Lord Elgin Hotel, which has a very handy location downtown, across from Confederation Park and very close to several points of interest in the city. I only stayed there one night, so can’t tell you much other than it’s a lovely hotel and a great piece of Ottawa architecture – and the computer room near the lobby was super handy for checking my St. John’s flight status on Porter (with Hurricane Irene heading to the Maritimes and all): http://www.lordelginhotel.ca/

While in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I stayed at The Bluestone Inn B&B. Located within convenient walking distance of downtown spots and not far from other must-see locations, the Bluestone offers a comfortable, homey place to stay with tasty, hearty breakfasts (it’s like having brunch every day – and with all the walking up and down hill, you’ll need something substantial). Best of all is the host/owner Gerri, assisted this season by her daughter Sarah, who in addition to creating the amazing morning feasts, offers great advice on getting around and places to see. Plus you get to chat with other guests over breakfast (who come from all over), and you may even get a tip or two on cool stuff to do/see. The Bluestone is now officially my home away from home in St. John’s: http://www.thebluestoneinn.com/

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I’m ba-ack…

Back safe and sound early last night from my trip to Ottawa/St. John’s – the former for a wedding and the latter ‘cuz I’d never been.

I’ll be back with details and (hopefully photos) later this week – after I take a day or two to decompress and collect my thoughts.

Till then, happy Labour Day weekend all!

“Dog” is “God” spelled backwards

Religious references abound in Judith Thompson’s play White Biting Dog, which I saw with my pal Tricia Brioux at the Young Centre last night. The Soulpepper production was directed by Nancy Palk, mainly known as an actor and a fine one at that, making her directing debut.

Palk has an impressive ensemble of actors on this show. Mike Ross as the extremely flawed – possibly sociopathic – protagonist Cape, a lawyer on leave and living with his father after he suffers a mental breakdown. Joseph Ziegler is Cape’s terminally ill dad Glidden, his internal organs rotting inside him and covering himself with peat as if to get a head-start on his own burial. Fiona Reid is Glidden’s estranged wife Lomia, oozing sex and singularly pursuing pleasure; she is joined at Glidden’s by her punk boy toy Pascal after their apartment building burns down in an act of arson committed by a so-called drug dealer friend of theirs who they recently kicked out of their apartment. And Michaela Washburn is Pony, the child-like former paramedic who quit her job and now works at fixing things instead of people. Pony connects with Cape in a moment of synchronicity, bonded by Cape’s experience of a talking white dog stopping him from jumping off a bridge with a solution to his problems: save his father to save himself. Pony becomes Cape’s ally, then lover, assisting him with her psychic powers – and in the process, both Pony and Pascal become involved in an incredibly complex and cruel family dynamic.

The design elements are incredibly effective at shaping this world: Christina Poddubiuk’s stark grey set (she also designed the costumes) and Richard Feren’s sound design – sharp, industrial, steely. There is no question that we’re entering a harsh, modern world. There is light, too – in this case, brought to the production by Louise Guinand. We never see the talking dog that Cape speaks with, but a light that shines diagonally downwards from above as the voice echos through it. When I worked on a production of Wit at Alumnae Theatre a few years ago, we had a similar light for the end of the play, for when Vivian walks naked into the light. We called it the “God light.”

And of course, there’s Judith Thompson’s script, full of brutally lyrical language – where everything is said and nothing held back – in this journey to redemption and grace. The background notes for this Soulpepper production quote the playwright: Grace, she says, “happens through penitence, though sight. Through seeing who you are and changing things. You achieve it through humility.”

Check out this Q&A with Michaela Washburn from NOW Magazine: http://www.nowtoronto.com/stage/story.cfm?content=182231

White Biting Dog continues at Soulpepper. For more info and tickets, check out the show’s page on their website (including photos and video): http://www.soulpepper.ca/performances/11_season/white_biting_dog.aspx

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.

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…