Hope & regret in the Village Players’ bittersweet, nostalgic The Glass Menagerie

Jacob Klick, Deena Baltman & Claire MacMaster. Set design by Alexis Chubb. Costume design by Livia Pravato-Fuchs, assisted by Marcella Pravato. Lighting design by Jamie Sample. Photo by John Ordean.

 

The Village Players open their 2019-20 season with Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, directed by Victoria Shepherd and running at the Village Playhouse. A deeply autobiographical play, in memory of a beloved sister, it’s the story of a family’s struggles of identity and survival in a world mired in the Depression with another World War around the corner—bittersweet, nostalgic, and full of hope and regret.

Tom Wingfield (Jacob Klick) is both narrator and participant in this tale as he invites us into the world of the small St. Louis apartment where he lives with his mother Amanda (Deena Baltman) and sister Laura (Claire MacMaster). The Wingfield patriarch has been absent some 16 years—a “telephone man who fell in love with long distance”—his ever watchful, smiling face aglow in a frame on the living room wall. It is 1937, and America has been struggling through the Great Depression, with WWII a couple of years away.

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Deena Baltman & Claire MacMaster. Set design by Alexis Chubb. Costume design by Livia Pravato-Fuchs, assisted by Marcella Pravato. Lighting design by Jamie Sample. Photo by John Ordean.

Profoundly restless and bored with his job in a shoe factory warehouse, Tom finds escape and second-hand adventure in the movies and in books; and squirrels himself away at work during lunch breaks, writing poetry. At home, he snatches brief moments of solitude and reflection as he smokes on the fire escape; and hatches a plan to join the Merchant Marine and get away for some real adventures. Meanwhile, a desperate but hopeful Amanda—ever navigating the challenges of keeping the body and soul of the family together—longs for a successful and happy future for her children, even as she criticizes and directs their actions. Retreating into moments of nostalgic reverie as she recalls her days popularity and hosting numerous beaux in the rural south, she is clearly troubled; a fish out of water—and out of time—in their urban Delta home. And the painfully shy Laura—who would likely be diagnosed with social anxiety today—prefers her rich world of imagination and light. Self-conscious about her limp and anxious about how others see her, she finds sanctuary from an outside world that is too overwhelming to bear as she escapes into her glass collection.

Concerned that her daughter’s fragile, anxious soul is unable to manage a career as a secretary, Amanda shifts focus onto finding Laura a suitable husband, and enlists Tom’s aid to find a beau for Laura. He invites co-worker Jim (John Shubat), a former high school golden boy known to both Tom and Laura, over for dinner. Laura had a crush on Jim in high school, and the hopes and dreams of this gentleman caller are met with a frank and unexpected reality check.

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John Shubat & Claire MacMaster. Set design by Alexis Chubb. Costume design by Livia Pravato-Fuchs, assisted by Marcella Pravato. Lighting design by Jamie Sample. Photo by John Ordean.

Nice work from the cast in this snapshot of familial hope, regret, loss and disappointment; moments of humour and tenderness bring take the edge off the brutal frankness and disillusionment of this world. Klick’s Tom is a study of restless detachment; dutifully bound to ensuring the family’s security as the man of the house, Tom is boiling inside—busting to get out and away, and to a life of his own. Baltman brings a desperate edge of optimism to Amanda, a woman whose life vacillates between memories of better times and the harsh realities of present-day existence. Longing for the gentler, civilized days of her bygone youth—a world that no longer exists—Amanda’s gay, energetic girlishness belies an exhausted, lost middle-aged woman grasping for purchase and hope in world she neither understands nor wants.

MacMaster adds a hint of irreverent spunk to the otherwise fragile, introverted Laura. Losing herself in a world of light and magical creatures, Laura finds a sense of safety and belonging from the world outside their apartment. And Shubat’s Jim is the picture of affable charisma and confidence, tempered by the world weariness of a young man who peaked in high school. Jim has high hopes for the future; aiming for a career on the ground floor of television, he represents hope for the Wingfield family; and a high-energy, forward-thinking future where popularity and showmanship are bound to succeed.

In the end, all of these characters are misfits in his/her own way; lost and searching for a way to be in a changing modern world. And, to varying degrees, each is struggling to keep the pain of disappointment from turning into the paralysis of discouragement. The world seems to be made for the popular and confident, with higher value placed on the traditional markers of status and success than on more imaginative and unique qualities—where unicorns are encouraged to be just like the other horses.

With shouts to the design team for their work on bringing this world of fading memory to glowing life. Alexis Chubb’s homey domestic set, revealed by the opening of sheer curtains, nicely complimented by Jamie Sample’s lighting design; John Stuart Campbell’s sound and music design, incorporating popular music of the time and haunting, crystalline original compositions (featuring Vivien Shepherd on vocals) as it conjures the music hall across the alley and complements the emotional tone; and Livia Pravato-Fuchs’ (assisted by Marcella Pravato) period costumes, transporting us to both 1937 and Amanda’s youth.

The Glass Menagerie continues at the Village Playhouse until September 28. Advance tickets available online or by calling 416-767-7702.

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Interview: Carlin Belof

carlinphotoYou may have seen crochet artist Carlin Belof’s Unravelled Crochet creations on Twitter or Facebook—particularly the dolls: horror, sci-fi, adventure and superhero characters recreated with whimsical accuracy; the sharp attention to detail especially remarkable when you remember that these are created through crochet.

Practicing the craft for 20+ years, Belof starting making and selling hats in the 90s to supplement her income—and Unravelled’s offerings grew from there. She still crochets hats (including everyday hats, specialty hats and helmet covers), and expanded into pillows, clothing and accessories—and of course there’s the dolls; you can check all of these out on her eStore page. She’s also game for custom creations. I asked her about the evolution from hats to dolls; and what it’s like creating the beloved movie and TV characters in crochet.

Thanks for taking the time to chat about Unravelled: Crocheted Items by Carlin and the evolution of your crocheted creations! Not a problem, I’m glad to do it. And thank you for this opportunity!

You started making and selling hats back in the 90s—and then later branched out into clothing, accessories and pillows. How did you come to expand your creative repertoire? It all happened organically. I originally started crocheting in my teen years. I was ridiculously creative back then and, out of curiosity, learned a lot of different artistic mediums. Crocheting was one of them but it didn’t capture my attention because at the time, more than anything else, I was into music, writing and drawing, so the crocheting was put aside.

Then at one point in the late 90s I picked up a set of crochet hooks to make myself a blanket, and learned that yarn could be quite expensive. So when I wanted to make myself a hat, I decided to pull apart an old sweater and use it for yarn. That’s when the crocheting bug “hit.” I started pulling apart more sweaters—hence the name “Unravelled”—and made more hats, and sold them whenever money was tight. I did that for a number of years.

As time went on, I’d think to myself something like, ‘I used to have a poncho when I was a kid, I’d like to have one again,’ then would proceed to make one. Or I’d think, ‘I need a new pillow, I wonder if I can make one.’ That’s basically how most of my creations were inspired: out of desire or necessity. And I always wind up with something that’s one of a kind.

And tell us about how your creations evolved to include dolls. What inspires you to make particular dolls? About eight years ago I started working at an outbound call centre, and the manager was cool with me crocheting to keep my hands busy. I listened to a LOT of phones ringing at that job, so I was able to do a lot of crocheting.

Anyway, shortly after I started working there I was stumped for creative crochet ideas, so I asked my friends what I should make next and specifically asked them for challenging ideas because, when it comes to being creative, I always like a good challenge. One of my friends, Harrison, suggested a guitar. So I made a guitar pillow. It was the size of a ukulele, but it still had all of the elements of a guitar: strings, pegs and everything. That was the first sculptural item I made.

I think the second one was a life-size facehugger from the movie Alien, which is probably my favourite movie. Again, I made it as a challenge to myself, to see if I could do it. Amusingly, many of my co-workers were freaked out by it, but I was totally proud of it because it looked almost real.

After that, I just started making stuffed items that were inspired by some of my favourite movies and TV shows, usually in the sci-fi, fantasy, horror or cult genres because they’re my favourites. Plus those characters are easier to crochet than ones in other genres, or real people, because they wear iconic, recognizable costumes. I also keep a list of characters and things I’d like to crochet, and when inspiration is lacking, I ask friends for suggestions. They always come through with great ideas.

It was when I started making “dolls” that people started noticing my work, commissioning them from me, and suggesting that I sell them at craft shows, which I started doing just a few years ago. I say “dolls” with quotes because while, yes, technically they are dolls, they’re more for adults and teens who are collectors, as opposed to cute plushies that are meant for kids to play with. The people who buy them tend to love the movie or TV show that they were inspired from just as much as I do.

You also do custom made-to-order work. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve been asked to make so far? The most challenging thing? The most interesting thing … hmm … probably the blanket I made for my friend Ellie. She wanted something that looked like it belonged in a gypsy caravan, so I made it using squares with starburst motifs in them and in bright jewel tones with a black border. It wound up being absolutely beautiful, and she loves it which is the most important thing.

And the most challenging things would probably be the life-size Gremlin and Gizmo dolls. Both of their faces were tough to figure out how to make because I don’t use patterns; instead, I figure it out as I go along. They were ordered by a gal in Australia, so it makes me happy to know that my creations have travelled all over the world, even when I haven’t.

What’s been your favourite project to date? Least favourite? Usually after I finish my latest project it becomes my favourite, then whatever is made afterward becomes the favourite. But, if I had to pick, I’d have to say the doll I made of Chef Charles Michel (who is a world-renowned culinary artist). The doll is just so adorable; I don’t think I can part with him.

And the least favourite is the fourth tam I made for an acquaintance. The first one was alright, then he asked me to make another, and then another, and then another. I don’t like making the same things over and over and over again, so by the time I got to the fourth one I was just frustrated with it.

Other than your website’s eStore page, is there anywhere else people find your stuff? Any upcoming shows or events? There’s nowhere else online, just the eStore or directly through me (by email). Because it takes a while to build up stock, I only occasionally apply to craft shows or bazaars. There isn’t anything upcoming yet, but when I do get accepted into a show I post it on my website.

Anything else you want to shout out? Just a big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me over the years: the strangers at the craft shows and bazaars, the customers who’ve ordered over the internet, the social media supporters, my amazing dad and step-mom, and my wonderful friends, especially Lizzie and Philip (aka my biggest fans) and you, Cate, for doing this.

Now, for the fun part of the interview. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire: What’s your favourite word? Wow … tough question. I don’t really have one. There are just so many options to choose from in the English language, in all languages, that it’s hard to pick just one. I mean, I’m intrigued by words that have complex yet specific meanings, like “melancholy” or “schadenfreude,” but I also like simple words that evoke emotional responses, like “home” or “desire,” and some words just feel good in the mouth and roll off the tongue nicely, like “masticate” or “unscrupulous.” Yeah, I can’t choose just one.

What’s your least favourite word? Another tough one. Ummmm … well, lately the word “bespoke” has been bugging me. It’s just harsh sounding, and there are lots of other options that can be used, such as unique, one of a kind, or custom made. It also sounds more than a bit pretentious, and I hate pretense. Oh … and the word “like” when it’s used as filler. As a friend once said, “like, you know, life isn’t like a fucking simile.”

What turns you on? Hah! Well, if I’m being honest … purely physically speaking, tall, slender men with long, slender fingers and long, healthy hair, and beautiful smiles and elegant styles. Guys who are comfortable with their femininity and confident enough with themselves to break the mold and be unique. Humility, compassion, introspection, and being able to admit faults and mistakes are also all highly attractive qualities too.

What turns you off? Beards, arrogance, ignorance, moustaches, excessive drinking, idiotic behaviour, goatees, pretense, mutton chops, stubbornness, unwillingness to learn and grow, stubble, hypermasculinity, facial hair of any kind.

What sound or noise do you love? Any of Franz Liszt’s piano pieces. I completely understand why women swooned when he played; his music is simply beautiful. Most of the music from the Romantic era speaks to me, but Liszt’s does most of all.

What sound or noise do you hate? Anything grating on the nerves, like an alarm clock that someone hasn’t turned off, or teeth on a fork, or an overly nasal singer.

What is your favourite curse word? Lately the phrase “Jesus fuck” has been popping out of my mouth. There is something very satisfying about it.

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Someday I want to open my own café. I already know exactly what I want to do; I just don’t have the resources to make it happen.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in either banking or the corporate sector.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? I don’t know. Um … “All of your musical idols are here. They’re having a jam session and would love it if you’d sing with them.”

Thanks, Carlin! No, thank YOU, Cate! It was fun!

Check out the crochet magic on Carlin’s Unravelled Crochet website; and give her a follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are some snaps I took of Carlin’s amazingly detailed, whimsical dolls at the Addams Family Christmas Bazaar this past December:

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A hero’s epic journey in the magical, multidisciplinary Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic

Qaggiq Collective ensemble—Animal Den scene. Costume design by Looee Arreak. Projection design by Jamie Griffiths. Lighting design by Rebecca Picherack. Photo by Jamie Griffiths.

 

Tarragon Theatre presents The Qaggiq Collective’s magical, multidisciplinary hero’s journey Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic. Written by the Iqaluit, Nunavut-based collective, and inspired by the legends of the Inuit hero Kiviuq, the multimedia performance is based on stories remembered and shared by Inuit elder storytellers Miriam Aglukkaq (from Kugaarjuk), Susan Avingaq (from Igloolik), Madeline Ivalu (from Igloolik) and Qaunaq Mikigak (from Kinngait)—passed on in the oral tradition. Directed by Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Kiviuq Returns is performed entirely in Inuktitut, with no surtitles,* incorporating music, dance, movement, mask and projections—immersing the audience in Inuit culture, community and storytelling.

Starring Natar Ungalaq, Charlotte Qamaniq, Vinnie Karetak (last night, understudy Jerry Laisa stepped in for Karetak), Christine Tootoo, Keenan Carpenter and Avery Keenainak, Kiviuq Returns presents five of the hundreds of stories about the Inuit hero. Three actors share the role of Kiviuq (Ungalaq, Tootoo and Laisa), with role exchanges marked by the passing of Kiviuq’s qajaq (kayak) paddle and headband—representing the sharing of power and knowledge among Inuit communities. The four elders who shared these stories are present via video projection, to round out each of the five tales.

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Qaggiq Collective ensemble—Orphan bullying scene. Costume design by Looee Arreak. Projection design by Jamie Griffiths. Lighting design by Rebecca Picherack. Photo by Jamie Griffiths.

Comedy turns to tragedy in the story of the Orphan (Keenainak), turned into a seal for her protection from repeated abuse from bullies by her angakkuq (shaman) grandmother (Qamaniq), who is heartbroken over having to do this. Only Kiviuq (Ungalaq) is spared from retribution while he’s out hunting in his qajaq with the bullies, as he had tried to intervene and stop the bullying. Lost and adrift, his hero’s journey begins.

From the push/pull dynamic of Kiviuq’s (Tootoo) desire to wed a Fox Woman (Keenainak) who just longs to be free (song written by Avery Keenainak and Abraham Etak), to his hilariously bawdy encounter with a den of lusty animals (Carpenter, Laisa, Qamaniq and Ungalaq), to a brush with death when he’s (Laisa) captured by the fearful Bee Woman (Qamaniq), Kiviuq is present and connected to his environment, and the animals and spirit guides that come to assist him. Nicely bookending the five stories, Ungalaq returns to play Kiviuq once more at the end of his journey, where he must stay behind as his Goose Wife (Keenainak) and goslings (Carpenter, Laisa, Qamaniq and Tootoo) fly south and he transforms out of human form to become part of the landscape.

Woven into the Kiviuq stories are a Woman’s Dance; bringing to mind the serious mental health issues faced by our Indigenous population, the woman struggles with a deep internal conflict, eventually overcoming it. And the beautiful Sea Woman Poem (written in English by Taqralik Partridge and translated into Inuktitut by Looee Arreak), featuring Tootoo leading the ensemble. Expressing deep love and respect for the water, the poem despairs at the careless and dangerous environmental damage done by modern-day industry; the movements accompanying the words rippling through each performer. And there’s a song (sound design by Chris Coleman), repeated during each Kiviuq exchange; hypnotic and relaxing, like a lullaby wrapping you in the comfort and safety of home—it stays with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

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Fox elder story. Projection design by Jamie Griffiths. Photo by Jamie Griffiths.

The storytelling is playful, poignant and engaging—having you laughing one minute and breaking your heart the next. The adventure, the shifting landscapes (projection design by Jamie Griffiths), and cast of human, animal and spirit characters keep you on your toes as you let the Inuktitut language wash over you. It’s that ‘kid at story time’ kind of feeling. And the easy-going atmosphere of the relaxed performance format makes for an intimate, enjoyable experience at the theatre. A story for all ages, it’s a welcoming, open door feeling, acknowledging the young and the elders as crucial members of the community.

Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic is in its final week in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace, closing on January 27; get advance tickets online or contact the box office at 416-531-1827. Last night’s house was packed, so advance booking or extra early arrival at the theatre are strongly recommended.

*The production provides a play guide, available for viewing and download online, and in the printed programs. It is recommended that you review the guide before and after the show, as well as reference it during (lights are brought up during scene changes) to aid in a deeper understanding of the performance.

 

Great holiday panto fun in Camelot with EXCALI-PURR: The Once & Future Cat

Red Sandcastle Theatre’s (RST) Panto Players take us on a wacky fun medieval adventure of knights, wizards, destiny—and, of course, an unusual, feisty pink cat—with their multimedia production EXCALI-PURR: The Once & Future Cat. Co-written by Jane A. Shields and Rosemary Doyle, and directed/choreographed by Jackie English, this is RST’s eighth holiday pantomime.

Young Wart (a plucky, precocious turn from Rosie Callaghan) leaves his home with adopted father Sir ‘Ector (a delightfully silly Taran Beaty) and jealous, whiny brother Kay (Farid Yazdani, with a comical sly, pernicious edge—and who does a darn good Elvis) to seek his destiny with the help of a guitar playing wizard who ages backwards (Beaty, who finally gets to play a good guy this time, as the cheeky, enigmatic Merlin) and the effervescent Twanky of the Lake (played with sassy gusto by Andrew McGillivray, who also acts as our host with the 411 on traditional panto audience responses).

Meanwhile, the evil sorceress Morgan Le Fey (played with delightful, exacting and nasty glee—plus mad trash talking skills—by Linette Doherty) plots to rule the world with a new pink, four-legged associate. Can it be that our favourite pink cat (Jackie English, with lovable sauce and guile) has gone over to the dark side? With the contest for the sword in the stone (aka Excalibur) coming, Le Fey invites Kay into her nefarious plan to secure Excalibur and the throne of England. Throw in the Pokémon-seeking knight Sir Pelinore (a treat of a goofy performance from Matthew Donovan), who challenges Kay in the joust, and we have some riotous panto adventure for kids of all ages. Will Wart find his destiny? Will good prevail?

Of course! With twists and turns, and plenty of goofy good times, laughs and music along the way (including live music performed by the multi-talented cast), EXCALI-PURR combines projected images; revamped pop tunes (from iconic rock, to hip hop and R&B, to show tunes); nods to magic/adventure movies (Harry Potter, Monty Python’s Holy Grail, Back to the Future and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); and audience participation to great effect. All played out on a set that wraps the audience in the story—and held together by multi-tasking stage manager Deborah Ann Frankel (also the General Manager at RST since owner/AD Rosemary Doyle started a new gig as AD/Producer at Theatre Kingston back in August).

EXCALI-PURR: The Once & Future Cat continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen St. East, at Queen/Logan) until January 6, with evening performances at 7pm on Dec 28-30 and Jan 2-5, and matinées at 3pm on Dec 29-31 and Jan 5-6. Tickets ($25 adult, $15 child and family fun pack $60) are available online, by calling the box office at 416-845-9411 or at the door (cash only).

And that, my friends, is officially my final review of 2018. I’ll be back in January for more amazing Toronto theatre. Happy holidays and all good things for 2019!