Category Archives: Theatre

We’ve Got A Long History With Shakespeare in the Ruins

On Friday we are off to see Twelfth Night by the Shakespeare in the Ruins theatre company. Heading out to the Trappist monastery in St. Norbet for a summer evening of Shakespearean drama has been a tradition with us for decades.

I wish I had photos of all the performances we’ve attended. The Shakespeare in the Ruins theatre company began three decades ago and I don’t think we’ve missed many of their shows.

My all-time favourite would probably be the 2001 performance of The Tempest. I have a soft spot in my heart for the play because I got to know my husband when we worked on a group project about The Tempest in a college English class.

In 2012 we took our Australian friends John and Sandy and our American friend Tad to see Henry V. For ten years prior to 2012, Shakespeare in the Ruins’ plays had been performed at other venues while the Trappist Monastery in St. Norbert which was its traditional home, was under repair.

The theatre company chose to stage Henry V for its return to its original stomping grounds. In my review of the play, I offered six reasons why I thought it had been just about perfect!

We really enjoyed the 2017 performance of Romeo and Juliet at the St. Norbert site. That year I went exploring around the grounds and found the beautiful cultural centre and garden that are also part of the property and wrote about them.

Seeing the play reminded me of watching another Shakespeare in the Ruins version of Romeo and Juliet in 2003 in a parking garage in the Exchange District.

Debbie Patterson who starred in Richard III in 2016 did a stunning job of making the British monarch a maniacal, manipulative and ultimately pitiful figure in the Shakespeare in the Ruins production.

However, when I researched the real King Richard’s life after watching the play it was just a little disconcerting to discover that he probably wasn’t anything like the man Shakespeare described and Ms Patterson brought to life so vividly.

Antony and Cleopatra in 2015 was interesting but not my favourite Shakespeare in the Ruins performance.

Setting the play in pre-confederation Canada just didn’t work for me as I explained in my review. And the mosquitoes were horrific the night of the performance we saw!

We took friends from India who we got to know when we lived in Hong Kong to the performance of Comedy of Errors in 2014. They loved it and so did we.

The performance was done in such an entertaining fashion, the humour bawdy and the acting a bit ‘over the top’ in a good way.  

Last year’s play Much Ado About Nothing was a delight from start to finish! The acting was first-rate, and the music composed especially for this rendition of the play was charming.

I liked the way some of the male parts in the original script had been given to women and the way the cast of characters was racially diverse.

I am very appreciative of the Shakespeare in the Ruins company which has been bringing such unique theatre to our city since 1994.

Other posts………

Strolling Through Stratford

My Movie Debut

What A Fun Night!

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Building a Tipi For Story Telling

It was like a dance! Watching a group of five actors construct a huge tipi on the stage was mesmerizing.

Photo by Dylan Hewlett for the Manitoba Theatre Centre

I saw the play The Secret to Good Tea last night. It was just a wonderful night of theatre. At the heart of the narrative is a woman named Maggie who finally decides to talk about what happened to her when she was a child and was forced to attend a residential school.

Maggie who is played to perfection by Tracey Nepinak shares her tragic story around a fire in the towering tipi which the other actors have just constructed. They set up each pole for the tipi individually and then bind them together in a kind of mesmerizing dance.

I was at the play with a friend who is a former drama teacher and she said later it was a risky move for the director to devote such a long period of time in the play to the construction of the tipi. She was so impressed at how it had been done in a way that captured and held the audience’s attention.

We witness the evolution of a new mother-daughter relationship in the play Photo by Dylan Hewlett from the Manitoba Theatre Centre

Although the main part of Maggie’s residential school story is shared in the tipi, bits of it unfold throughout the play as we watch an evolution in the relationship Maggie has with her adult daughter Gwynn played by Kathleen MacLean.

As Gwynn learns more about her mother’s residential school history she gains a new perspective on her Mom and Dad’s relationship and their parenting style. She is able to look back and find good things to remember about the way they parented her and find hope in a different kind of relationship with her widowed Mom going forward.

Gwynn is making a conscious effort to parent her two daughters in a better way than she was parented but is at a crossroads in her own family life and her mother’s story helps lend perspective to that situation.

Humour adds so much to this play. Photo by Dylan Hewlett from the Manitoba Theatre Centre

The Secret to Good Tea deals with a very heavy topic but Rosanna Deerchild the playwright has woven humour throughout the script and she had the audience laughing at many points.

I happened to be sitting in front of a man who guffawed in a very loud way at all the funny bits which certainly contrasted with his total almost breathless silence when Maggie was sharing parts of her troubling story with her daughter, first at her kitchen table, then on a car ride, and finally at the site of her former residential school where a reunion is being held for survivors.

Tracey Nepinak gives a stellar performance as Maggie Mooswa- Photo by Dylan Hewlett Manitoba Theatre Centre

I loved the set for The Secret to Good Tea created by Lauchlin Johnston. There were all these huge dark leaves hanging from the ceiling that moved in graceful and haunting ways at appropriate times in the first act and served as screens where we could view flickering scenes that haunted Maggie in her dreams.

In the second act leaves that are lighter and looked more like wood lined the back of the stage and were embedded in the floor. They reminded us we were out in nature and of the healing power of the earth and all its living things.

We have had season tickets to the John Hirsch stage at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre for decades and have attended many terrific shows there.

I can say without a doubt that The Secret to Good Tea is definitely one of the best! You don’t want to miss it.

Other posts………

5 Things I Liked About The Rez Sisters

A Rollicking Good Time

I Beg to Differ


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What a Strange Name For A Movie Theatre!

As many of my blog readers know Dave and I are movie aficionados and since we were staying in Cape Town for a whole month we wanted to find a theatre to watch films.

Luckily we discovered an incredibly cool little place to do that in a theatre called Labia not far from our apartment.

Labia was such an odd and unusual name for a theatre I needed to know more about it so I went online and discovered that it was named for a member of Italian royalty Princess Ida Labia. She opened the building in 1949. It was to be used as a performance theatre.

Prince and Princess Labia and their two sons

Ida’s husband Count Natale Labia came to South Africa from Italy as a diplomat at the request of the Italian leader Mussolini in the early 1920s.

The count who was later given the title of Prince married a local Cape Town woman named Ida Robinson whose grandparents had immigrated to South Africa from England.

Natale and Ida built a twenty-room mansion called Casa Labia in Muizenberg, South Africa to serve both as their home and also as the official residence of the Italian ambassador to South Africa. The home is now a national monument and is an event venue and a restaurant.

Portrait of Princess Ida Labia

Prince Natale Labia died in 1936 and in 1949 Princess Ida who had remained in South Africa after her husband’s death, made a generous donation to Cape Town to build a performance centre, the current Labia Theatre.

It was her way to thank the South African government for not detaining her two sons during World War II. Her sons were Italian citizens and Italy was a German ally during the war while South Africa was a British ally.

The Labia Theatre has this lovely trellised arch you walk through to enter the theatre grounds

The Labia is the oldest independent theatre in South Africa. It continued to stage the shows of respected South African playwrights until the 1970s when audiences began to dwindle. After a film festival was held there in 1974 it was decided to turn the Labia into a full-time movie house.

Dave heads up to one of the smaller theatres on the second floor

Surprisingly it has remained a viable movie theatre and was bought by Ludi Kraus in 1989. He added three more screens so that there are now four theatres at the Labia. We’ve had a chance to see movies in them all.

An old projector that was used before the theatre went digital was saved and is on display.

The theatre is so beloved by locals that they crowd-funded to raise money for a digital refit of the theatre in 2014.

Check out the retro ticket booth and the cool light fixture above it.

Dave buys our tickets. See the letters LT for Labia Theatre in the mosaic on the floor?
Dave at the concession stand. See the cool clock and the words Nothing -Nicer on the stand?

The Labia Theatre is a charming place as you can see from the photos. We have watched four films there so far.

The Fabelmans – This is the childhood story of movie director Stephen Spielberg. I loved this film although it was sad. There were lots of great and heartwarming parts and the movie really demonstrated that even in dysfunctional families, (and aren’t all families kind of dysfunctional), there can be lots of love.

The Banshees of Innisherran– I didn’t love this movie’s violent parts although I did love the Irish scenery. The film certainly kept me riveted to the screen and certainly brought its message home about how small disputes can turn into epic conflicts if we aren’t careful.

The Menu- I had to keep my eyes covered during parts of this movie but it was a marvellous critique of the high-brow epicurean world and its vanity. It made me want to go out for cheeseburgers after it was over. At least it had one sane character I could cheer for. Anya Taylor Joy who gave such a masterful performance in The Queen’s Gambit plays a savvy outspoken professional escort named Margot Mills.

A Man Called OttoI had read the book A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman and had seen the Swedish movie based on it. I thought both were excellent but so was A Man Called Otto the American version of the story starring Tom Hanks. I would have to say there was not a dry eye in the theatre when the film was over, although Dave said the dampness on his cheeks was the result of getting some sunscreen in his eye.

Other posts……..

Winnipeg’s Palace Theatre

Strolling Through Stratford

Who Loved You Into Being?

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A Rollicking Good Time

Winnipeg Free Press reviewer Jill Wilson said she just couldn’t help using the word ‘swashbuckling’ to describe the performance of The Three Musketeers currently on the John Hirsch mainstage at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

The word that came to mind for me was rollicking. It means exuberantly lively and amusing and the play was certainly that.

I was entertained thoroughly. I don’t think I closed my eyes once, even though I’d put in 12,000 steps of walking in a cold wind before the matinee performance, something that usually sets me up for a nice long winter nap in the afternoon.

I LOVED the costumes and the cool explanations about them in the program by costume designer Michelle Bohn. I learned what a panache, a baldric and a virago were.

Photo from the MTC website by Dylan Hewlett

I thought the set designed by Brian Perchaluk was clever and allowed for so many different scenes to be played out at different heights on the stage.

I admired the way most of the actors took on three or four roles and were convincing in all of them.

The Four Musketeers- Athos played by Rodrigo Beilfuss- Aramis played by Darren Martens- D’Artagnan played by Melissa Langdon and Porthos played by Emilio Vieira – photo by Dylan Hewlett from the MTC website

The four musketeers were funny and had great chemistry and if I would have to quibble with anything it wouldn’t be the way they acted their parts, but with the script itself which portrayed the adventurers as rather shallow in their relationships with women.

D’Artagnan pledges his deep love for his landlord’s daughter Constance and tries to save her when she is arrested. But when she is poisoned by Lady De Winter, D’Arganan despite his dramatic show of sorrow after the death seems to recover just a little too quickly and is ready with a smile on his face and spring in his step for another adventure.

Lady de Winter we find out is the former wife of the musketeer Athos, and although he appears to be devastated about the end of their passionate relationship he manages to twist her neck and kill her when he is afforded the opportunity.

And finally, Porthos who is enamoured with a new widow quickly abandons his vow to marry her when a heroic mission emerges for the Four Musketeers to tackle at the end of the play.

Sharon Bajer as Cardinal Richelieu

This rather shallow treatment of women by the men in the play was balanced for me by the fact that director Christopher Brauer chose to cast women in a number of the major male roles. I thought for example that Sharon Bajer did a great job in her role as Cardinal Richelieu.

If you are interested in a fun couple of hours of rollicking entertainment the current production of The Three Musketeers at the Royal Manitoba Theatre’s John Hirsch Mainstage is for you.

Other posts……….

Ten Reasons Why I Loved Christmas at Pemberly

Why Do We Still Like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

Come From Away- A Musical For Our Time

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Chicago! What A Showstopper!

Walking up to the Festival Theatre in Stratford

Yesterday we were in Stratford Ontario to see the musical Chicago. It was a definite show stopper! Everything from the dazzlingly costumes, eye-popping choreography, jazzy musical numbers, stellar vocalists, multi-levelled set and gritty storyline had me riveted throughout.

Although Chicago is set in the 1920s I kept thinking how relevant it was for our present day. The story revolves around a group of women who are in prison for murdering the men in their lives who were abusive, or lied to them or were unfaithful to them.

Jennifer Rider-Shaw (left) as Velma Kelly and Chelsea Preston as Roxie Hart are two of the women accused of murder. Photo by David Hou from the Stratford website.

A sleazy lawyer is preparing to defend them and he cooks up stories about each woman to make the judge and jury and the press feel sorry for them. Some of the elements of these sob stories are outright lies.

It reminded me of how politicians, evangelists, media influencers, royals, Hollywood stars and sports personalities often spin a kind of fairy tale narrative about their lives to make people like them or support them despite their ethical and moral failings and even sometimes despite their criminal activity.

R. Markus plays the journalist Mary Sunshine who is particularly adept at writing sob stories to generate public sympathy. – Photo by David Hou from the Stratford website

Although there was no Twitter or Facebook or Instagram a century ago to spread these often sensational and less than truthful narratives the press in the roaring twenties was happy to do so.

Sandra Caldwell played the warden at the woman’s prison who certainly wasn’t above being bribed. I just loved her rich, sultry voice. -photo by David Hou

The musical Chicago also leads us to believe that almost everyone in a position of power is corrupt in some way. From prison wardens, to journalists, to judges and lawyers.

And of course there are people who would have us believe that everyone in positions of power today are corrupt too.

The story of Chicago really is a dark and cynical one, but there was one musical number that provided a ray of hope. It was called A Little Bit of Good and some of the lyrics were………

For in this tense and tangled web
Our weary lives may weave
You’re so much better off
If you believe…
That there’s a little bit of good
In everyone

There certainly was lots that was good about the musical Chicago!! I am so glad we went to see it.

Post Chicago dinner with our sister-in-law Julie and Dave’s brother Bill

Other posts………

Come From Away- A Musical For Our Time

Ten Things I Learned About Carole King

Marc Chagall and the Fiddler on the Roof

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Love Them and Love Their Purpose

I have seen a number of plays at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival already but the one that is a definite standout is Chase Padgett- Lucky Break. During sixty thoroughly entertaining and engaging minutes, the veteran fringe performer tells the audience about two experiences that dominated his pandemic years.

One was caring for his mother in Arizona after she breaks her hip and the other is being a contestant on a singing competition reality show called Alter Ego.

Chase and his mother don’t see eye to eye on many things. She is a professional golf instructor and avid Trump supporter who doesn’t really understand her son’s love for the stage and screen. But during the time they spend together as his mother’s hip heals and Chase has a fairly successful run on the Alter Ego show, they come to understand each other better and begin to appreciate and respect one another’s life purpose.

By the end of the play, Chase had me in tears as he talked to the audience about loving ourselves and our purpose in life and learning to love others and their purpose in life as well.

Note: Chase, who is such a talented actor and musician turned to videography during the pandemic and I just watched a beautiful little story he filmed called Grim and Gran.

Other posts………

Oh to Be A Kid At the Fringe Festival

A Personal Winnipeg Alphabet

My Talented Friends

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Much Ado About Something Lovely

Last night we attended the Shakespeare in the Ruins performance of Much Ado About Nothing. It was a delight from start to finish! The acting was first-rate, and the music composed especially for this rendition of the play was charming. I liked the way some of the male parts in the original script had been given to women and the way the cast of characters was racially diverse.

Photo from Shakespeare in the Ruins website

Anyone who thinks a Shakespeare play is hard to understand or its ancient words don’t relate to our modern times would have to think again if they saw this version of the play. The way the actors used their voices and their faces and indeed their whole bodies made the text come alive.

As the audience moved from spot to spot on the scenic grounds of the old Trappist Monastery, each carefully chosen to suit a particular scene of the play, it was as if we became a part of the play ourselves.

Photo from the Shakespeare in the Ruins website

Much Ado About Nothing made me think about the double standard we have when it comes to judging the character and worth of women, the way misinformation can spread so easily and cause such harm and whether it is ethical to tell a lie in order to achieve what we believe is a worthwhile end.

It was such a pleasure to spend a perfect warm summer evening with friends watching great outdoor entertainment. Due to the pandemic, we have not been able to attend a Shakespeare in the Ruins performance for two years.

Perhaps that is why as the final scene played out while the evening sky turned into a stunning tapestry of sunset colours I felt overwhelmed with the feeling that ‘life is good.’

Other posts…….

I Messed Up

There’s More to Shakespeare in the Ruins Than I Thought

Shakespeare in the Ruins Presents Henry V- Just About Perfect

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5 Things I Liked About The Rez Sisters

Yesterday I saw the matinee performance of the current Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production The Rez Sisters by playwright Tomson Highway. Here are five things I liked about it.

1. I thought the set was absolutely stunning. That round orange circle in the back with a prairie grass image in it became a place to showcase various actors and scenes. In one scene a woman hangs her wash on a line strung across the circle. In another, the trickster spirit Nanabush does a haunting silhouetted dance in the circle and in still another, the circle fills with stars to escort a character into the next life.

The cast of The Rez Sisters. Set, Prop & Lighting Designer: Andy Moro, Costume Designer: Jeff Chief. Photo by Dylan Hewlett.

2. The cast of seven main female characters each had such interesting and unique personalities. Whether it was a sense of humour, a palpable vulnerability, an optimistic attitude, a busy- body nature, an appreciation for the little things in life, a quick temper or an acceptance of the inevitable, each woman stood out from the rest and endeared herself to the audience in a different way.

3. My favourite scene was when the women are participating in various fundraising activities to earn money to make a trip to Toronto to play the biggest bingo game in the world. They did a highly choreographed sequence of activities that reminded me of an intricate dance as they made items for bake sales, babysat, took in laundry, carried out a bottle drive, did home repairs, washed windows, picked and sold blueberries and performed music in order to earn the funds they needed. It must have taken endless hours of practice to get that scene to flow so effortlessly and engagingly.

The cast of The Rez Sisters. Set, Prop & Lighting Designer: Andy Moro, Costume Designer: Jeff Chief. Photo by Dylan Hewlett.

4. I really liked the props in the play too. They weren’t real and many were two dimensional. They were so artistically created out of cardboard and other materials. I’d love to learn more about how they were designed and made.

The cast of The Rez Sisters. Set, Prop & Lighting Designer: Andy Moro, Costume Designer: Jeff Chief. Photo by Dylan Hewlett.

5. I liked the way we slowly found out about each woman’s unique personal back story as the play proceeded. Each story was unbearably sad but learning about their pasts helped us to understand each woman better in the present and empathize with her.

I really enjoyed The Rez Sisters as did the friend who attended the performance with me.

Other posts…………

Come From Away- A Musical For Our Time

Three Strong Women

Winnipeg’s Palace Theatre

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Remote and Without Universal Appeal

We are avid Manitoba Theatre Centre fans and have been since our university days nearly half a century ago when we volunteered as ushers at MTC because that was the only way we could afford to see the plays. We’ve had seasons tickets for decades.

MTC is almost right in our backyard

During the pandemic, we donated our season ticket money back to the theatre because it was important to us that MTC survive. The theatre is actually our neighbor. We can see it from the rooftop of our Exchange District condo.

Image from the MTC program

So you can imagine how excited we were to be going back to attend our first play in almost two years last week. But……….. I’m afraid we were quite disappointed. Yes, the current production Orlando is a feast for the eyes, is wonderfully staged, delightfully costumed, and performed by excellent actors. But where was a story to even remotely engage the audience?

Photo by Dylan Hewlett from the media gallery on the MTC website.

The couple who accompanied us to the play was much better prepared than we were. They had waded online through the plot details beforehand but even with all their studying, these two highly-educated friends had a hard time understanding the storyline or explaining it clearly to us. The Free Press reviewer dubbed the plot of the play “remote and without universal appeal.” I would agree.

Photo by Dylan Hewlett from the media gallery on the MTC website.

I understand that the play addresses important current issues but there are plays that concern themselves with important issues and still tell a relatable story or at the very least offer some lines of meaningful and interesting dialogue.

Over our many years of attending MTC, there have been other plays that we didn’t like. As a regular theatre-goer, you know and accept there are times that will happen. But I admit it was hard for me to do that last week.

This is after all the holiday season when we all want so desperately to be happy and forget about the challenging times we are living through. We are feeling nostalgic about the way things were prior to the pandemic. And… this is the first MTC play we have seen in person in nearly two years. So perhaps it wasn’t the best time to stage a drama the Free Press reviewer so aptly called “a strange bird.

I will continue to support MTC and look forward to future productions, but this season’s debut just wasn’t the right play at the right time in my humble opinion.

Other posts……..

Ten Reasons Why I Loved Christmas at Pemberly

Come From Away- A Musical For Our Time

The Godfather of Winnipeg Theatre

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Winnipeg’s Palace Theatre

I took this photo of the theatre in 2013

I go by the Palace Theatre every week when I go down Selkirk Avenue to volunteer at a thrift shop. The theatre building is all boarded up but it looks like it was a grand place once. 

palace theaterI found out the Palace was designed by Max Zev Blankstein a Jewish architect trained in Odessa, Russia who emigrated to Canada in 1904.  He drew up plans for a number of Winnipeg theatres. The theatre was built by Jacob Miles whose family would become one of the biggest movie theatre operators in Manitoba. 

The Palace Theatre in 1930- photo by Jim Fustey from Silver Screens on the Prairie by Russ Gourluck

The Palace Theatre in 1930- photo by Jim Fustey from Silver Screens on the Prairie by Russ Gourluck

The Palace opened in 1912 and was initially a venue for vaudeville performances. According to Russ Gourluck the author of Silver Screens on the Prairie it was also used for meetings of the Ukrainian community as well as the viewing of motion pictures. 

exterior palace theater selkirk avenue

Detailed design on the theatre’s exterior

An addition was built in 1927 adding a balcony and increasing the capacity of the theatre to 800. 

Michael Koster in the Palace Theatre -photo by Raymond Koster- from Silver Screens on the Prairie by Russ Gourluck

Michael Koster in the Palace Theatre -photo by Raymond Koster- from Silver Screens on the Prairie by Russ Gourluck

Michael Koster worked in the projection room and it was sometimes so hot in the room that he wore only underwear, socks, and shoes.

the-green-hornet-serialJack Baturin a North End resident recalls kids attended Saturday shows that began at 10:00 am and many kids sat twice through the cowboy movies, mysteries, serials, and cartoons bringing lunches that consisted of chunks of bread and kubasa sausage from home. The Green Hornet was a favorite serial. 

The theatre was apparently a haunt of the Dew Drop gang who liked to run a variety of scams to avoid paying for their movie tickets. Sidney Katz talks about Winnipeg’s Dew Drop gang in his 1950s Macleans article It’s a Tough Time to Be a Kid. 

Photo of the Palace Theatre I took September 15, 2020

The Palace Theatre closed in 1964 and was, in turn, an auction house, furniture warehouse, and bargain store. Now it stands empty- a reminder of a time when the North End of Winnipeg was a very different place.

Currently, the building is owned by the University of Manitoba and a July CTV news article claims there is interest from the North End Renewal Corporation in buying it and turning it into a community arts performance space.  Perhaps the old Palace Theatre has a chance of coming back to life again. 

Other posts ………

The Beatles As A Sound Track For Life

I’m a Shop Girl and I Love It

5 T0-Do List Alternatives

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