I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Pamela Williams’ new book Evelyn’s Stories at a reading to a packed room on Sunday at the Tranzac Club. Known mostly for her beautiful, haunting black and white photographs of cemetery sculpture, Williams has assembled a collection of brief stories, as told to her by her mother Evelyn—and some handed down to Evelyn by her mother—in a series of short vignettes. Evelyn’s Stories are literary snapshots of family across time and space, ranging from 1900s Glasgow, to 1930s Thornbury and into the 1970s and beyond.
Told with unflinching candor, sharp detail and wry humour, Evelyn’s Stories is a window on moments of personal history and experience; inviting us for brief peeks (the stories are postcard-sized or slightly longer) inside the world of Williams’ family, as told to her by her mother, and to her mother by her grandmother.
It’s family biography as comedy and drama, with eyebrow-raising tales of marriage and infidelity (“When Hector Married Stella” and “Keep Toby Out, England, 1907”); charming and funny childhood shenanigans and observations (“Bathtub Visitor” and “Divorce”); memories of brutal and sweet elementary school teachers (“Mrs. Pinch” and “Miss Chalk’s Replacement”); tragic loss (“New Spectacles, Glasgow, 1906”); hilarious social interactions (“That’s Why I Asked You” and “At the Cinema”); and harrowing but comical senior driving mishaps (“Two Motorcycles” and “A Ride on the Wild Side”).
As the family tales shift from poignant, to comic, to tragic, to saucy, Evelyn’s Stories captures the heart, lives, loves and experiences of generations of family who crossed the ocean from Glasgow, Scotland to settle in rural/small-town Ontario, Canada.
Check out Williams’ book collection online, including her photography books; order via email.
Clockwise from top: Anand Rajaram, Rachel Cairns, Augusto Bitter & Joelle Peters. Set design by Anahita Dehbonehie. Lighting design by Kaitlin Hickey. Costume design by Jackie Chau. Photo by John Lauener.
Common Boots Theatre, in association with Nightwood Theatre and Theatre Direct, explores the hope, spirit and skepticism on the ground during the 2015 Canadian federal election campaign in The Election, presented by Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) in their Mainspace. Written by Natasha Greenblatt and Yolanda Bonnell, with the company and dramaturgy by Yvette Nolan, and directed by Jennifer Brewin, assisted by Theresa Cutknife, we follow the journeys of a diverse, intersectional group of election staff and volunteers as they work the campaign and grapple with troubling or non-existent party policy. Vital, timely and mercurial, it pops with the ideas, perspectives and experiences of Canadians as they prepare to vote, or not.
What do a young gay Jewish man (Terry: Augusto Bitter), a young Jewish feminist with a poli sci Master’s (Zoe: Rachel Cairns), a young Northern First Nations university grad (Skye: Joelle Peters), a South Asian actor doing research for a production of Coriolanus (Samraj: Anand Rajaram), a Northern First Nations Elder and grandmother (Milly: Rose Stella) and a rambunctious hockey-loving jock (Landon: Courtenay Stevens) have in common? They’re all active participants in the 2015 Canadian federal election campaign, with most working for or volunteering with one of the three major parties.
Presenting a selection of diverse, intersectional characters, representing a broad range of perspectives in rural, suburban and urban environments—including some hilarious and cringe-worthy voters, volunteers and politicians—the outstanding, multi-tasking ensemble sometimes plays outside of their own gender and/or ethnicity, adding an aspect of outreach, understanding and even satire to the proceedings as the campaign teams shout out their respective parties and leaders. All of the characters express a level of political and civic engagement and commitment; and all experience a crisis of faith in their party, struggling with doubts over missing platform planks and controversial policy announcements as they strive for a better Canada. Samraj, who’s volunteering for the Liberals, is a skeptic, believing that all parties make promises and deliver nothing; and Skye pushes back against a broken system that excludes and ignores the country’s Indigenous Peoples.
Incorporating a chorus of Land voices (the entire ensemble), The Election goes beyond the passionate, cerebral, and sometimes academic and ludicrous personal and public debates, to acknowledge and embrace the land on which we vote. The land is in serious trouble—and we all need to do something about it before it’s too late. A live a cappella soundtrack (Alex Samaras composer) of vocals, vocalized responses, ambient sound and integrated live audio description highlights the theme of voices; and brings a visceral immediacy to the exchanges of ideas, thoughts and arguments expressed through dialogue and debate—all in an accessible way.
As important as the acknowledgment of the land are the moments where we see and hear the perspectives that include the lived experiences of the original caretakers and newcomers to this land, a land that settler culture and government came to call Canada—the former poignantly and thoughtfully highlighted through conversations between Indigenous characters Skye (Peters) and her grandmother Milly (Stella). And during a powerful scene between Skye and Zoe (Cairns), who works for the NDP, that highlights the profound disillusionment and disgust at a system that wrought cultural genocide, oppression and neglect of Indigenous Peoples—and has yet to make it right—and earnest hope for, and belief in, further progress. Why participate in a such a broken system? Like Zoe says, it’s a deeply flawed system, but it’s the only one we’ve got—and it can change.
The Election serves up all the highs, lows, doubts and fears, spirit and hope that emerge along the campaign trail—and, most importantly, the myriad voices of the people framing and responding to the issues. And, with the 2019 federal election just a couple of weeks away, whether your colour is Liberal red, Conservative blue, NDP orange or Green green—we are all the caretakers of this country and we need to vote to make it the best we can.
The Election continues in the TPM Mainspace until October 27; advance tickets available online. If you require assistance with your booking, please email email@example.com or phone their office at 416-504-7529.
Carolyn Fe & ensemble. Set design by Nina Lee Aquino & Farnoosh Talebpour. Costume design by Farnoosh Talebpour. Lighting design by Michelle Ramsay. Photo by Lyon Smith.
The Uwi Collective presents a Philippine mythology-inspired adventure in storytelling in the enchanting, playful, poignant Through the Bamboo, running in the Factory Theatre Mainspace. Written by Andrea Mapili and Byron Abalos; directed by Nina Lee Aquino, assisted by Mapili; and with music direction by Maddie Bautista, we follow the reluctant hero’s journey of a young girl as she seeks to free her Lola (grandma) from a strange, faraway land ruled by Three Sisters who have outlawed storytelling.
Philly (Angela Rosete) is sad and angry; her beloved Lola (Carolyn Fe) has died and her family is packing Lola’s things all wrong. When she discovers Lola’s favourite story book Through the Bamboo, she also finds Lola’s malong (a multi-purpose Philippine garment, worn here as a sash) tucked inside. She puts the malong on, and it comes to life, whisking her away to Uwi, ruled by Three Sisters—Isa (Karen Ancheta, who also plays Philly’s mom), Dalawa (Marie Beath Badian) and Tatlo (Joy Castro)—who have banished storytelling from the land.
Upon her arrival, Philly is greeted by the villagers as the one foretold in a prophecy who will free them from their oppression at the hands of the Sisters. All she wants to do is go home, but when she visits Matalino the seer (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia) and learns that Lola is there, she partners with two stalwart allies, Giting (Lana Carillo) and Ipakita (Ericka Leobrera), to find her. Along the way, they are assisted by mythical creatures: the sea creature Koyo (Anthony Perpuse), made mute by the Sisters’ magic; and the trickster forest creature Kapre (Perpuse). And all the while, they are pursued by the Sisters’ spy, the formidable flying Ekek, and the fierce horseman solider General T (both played by John Echano). Will Philly be able to save Lola—and is she really who everyone thinks she is? Will the Sisters maintain their vice-like grip on the land, where even memories—which constitute stories—are forbidden?
It’s a big fun, fantastic ride for all ages as everyday household items and moving boxes transform into a variety of magical creature costumes, props (shouts to props master Farnoosh Talebpour) and places: tennis rackets become Ekek’s wings, a wicker rocking horse transforms into General T, and swimming noodles become bamboo stalks. And lovely, imaginative, high-energy performances from the cast as they shift from our everyday world to the magical world of Uwi.
Rosete brings a feisty fierceness to the strong-willed Philly; hurt and angry, and missing her Lola, her determination and resilience make her a true hero. Fe gives a beautiful, gentle and touching performance as Lola; at first confused and disoriented in her earthly dementia state, Lola’s memory returns, revealing great power and strength. Great comic turns from the Sisters Ancheta, Beath Badian and Castro—reminiscent of the three sisters in the movie Stardust, who age whenever they use their power. Garcia makes for a jolly wise man as Matalino, adding a playful Yoda-like quality to the wisdom. Echano is both comic and intimidating as the flying spy Ekek, bringing to mind the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz; then all menace as the merciless horseback soldier General T. And Perpuse is adorable and puck-like as the mute sea-dwelling Koyo, who must communicate with gestures; and as the mischievous forest-dwelling Kapre, renowned for playing tricks.
A reminder that stories are how we connect, how we remember loved ones we’ve lost—and important tools for working through the grief of that loss. You may find yourself feeling like a kid at story time, and maybe even brushing away a tear or two at the end (I know I did).
Through the Bamboo continues in the Factory Theatre Mainspace for three more performances: July 11 at 2:30, July 13 at 6:15 and July 14 at 12:00; visit the show page to book advance tickets online. Definitely book in advance, as these guys have been selling out.
Drawing from the old tradition of the Gaelic storyteller (the Seanachai), Little Gem’s commentator device uses a Trinitarian approach—in this case, the story is told from the perspectives of three women: a granddaughter, a mother and grandmother from the same family.
Set in present-day Dublin, we open on Amber’s (Billie Jean Shannon) tale of the fateful night of her Debs (a city-wide high school prom), and the complex emotional dance of relationships with her boyfriend Paul and school teach-like bff Jo. Then, there’s her mother Lorraine (Rebecca De La Cour), a single mom, husband Ray long gone to who knows where, who works in a department store. She’s been forced to go on leave and see a shrink after she loses it on an extremely annoying and vindictive regular customer. And there’s Kay, Lorraine’s ma (Barbara Taylor), a breast cancer survivor and 24/7 caregiver to her husband Gem, struggling with an itch of her own.
Lovely, compelling—and endearingly comical—work from these three actors; each bringing her own brand of outspoken cheek, feistiness and strength to these characters. Shannon gives us a youthful, impetuous, and keen sense of social awareness and observation to Amber. Mouthy and full of teen sass and mortification, Amber’s a master at projecting an image of giving zero fucks, but there’s a tender, loving heart there that also longs to be loved. De La Cour brings a desperate housewife, poignant sense of resiliency to Lorraine. An anxious, exhausted member of the sandwich generation, Lorraine struggles to communicate with her distant teenage daughter, and worries about the well-being of her aging mother and seriously ill father; and she finds that she can’t stress clean away her own sense of loneliness and lack of a definitive life of her own. Taylor is a laugh riot and a force to be reckoned with as the family matriarch. Now in the winter years of life, there’s heat in that tired 60-something body yet—and Kay’s stubborn sense of resolve overcomes any sense of pride or shame as she actively, and at times hilariously, seeks solutions to her problems. Eschewing spoilers, I’ll have to leave it at that—and you’ll have to go see for yourself.
Life goes on for these three women; and unexpected events change the course of the day-to-day, forcing challenging decisions, personal growth, and acts of strength and courage. And, in the process, the lives of these three women—living separately together—are brought together into new and closer bonds of family and womanhood.
Nicely staged, on an effective and minimalist set featuring beautifully rendered charcoal family portraits (set by Bernadette Hunt and Sean Treacy), each character has her own playing area, with each storyteller staying within her own space until these inextricably intertwined lives gradually come closer together during the final scenes.
Three generations of women navigate life, love and those feelings “down there” in TIP’s hilarious, poignant, intimate Little Gem.
Little Gem continues on the Alumnae Theatre Mainstage until March 3; advance tickets available online or by calling 416-440-2888. The Irish Players are an extremely popular local community company, so advance booking strongly recommended.
And no worries about thinking this is a “chick play,” the men were laughing as hard as the women. Having said that, it also struck me that, even though Mother’s Day is some months away, this is the perfect girls’ night out for women, their moms and grandmothers.