Category Archives: Theatre

I Beg to Differ

Note:  I wrote this review right after we saw the play Morning After Grace on the weekend and had scheduled it to be published this morning but serendipitously Dave called me on his way to the Jets game last night with some additional exciting news.  “Guess who I just met in the elevator of our building?” he asked me. Turns out it was the star of Morning After Grace Fiona Reid .  Dave was able to chat with her and tell her how much we had enjoyed the play!

Free Press reviewer Randall King gave the current Royal Manitoba Theatre production Morning After Grace a less than enthusiastic review.  I enjoyed the play throughly.  And so did the audience.  Many in the Saturday afternoon matinée crowd which I was a part of, gave it a standing ovation. 

Photo by Dylan Hewlett

King described the set design as ‘chilly’.  I was intrigued by it.  I liked the driftwood pieces on the walls, the lovely backyard you could see through the floor to ceiling windows, the interesting light fixtures and the functional but classic kitchen that was the site of several key scenes. 

Photo by Dylan Hewlett

King found the comedy ‘calculated.’  I am not sure what he meant by that.  Good comedy has to be ‘calculated’ the timing impeccable to pull it off.  And I thought the cast did just that.  

King seems to think the pot smoking scene wasn’t necessary and served only to showcase actress Fiona Reid’s prowess at using a bong.  Playwright Carey Crim is based in Michigan but here in Canada where marijuana use is about to become legal in just a couple of months the possibilities that raises are being discussed at social gatherings I attend by people of all ages.  They’ve even had a panel discussion about it at my father’s church.  I think it is a surprisingly relevant scene to have included in a play on a Winnipeg stage. 

Photo by Dylan Hewlett

Morning After Grace was perhaps primarily a situation comedy as King suggests but it also gave us things to think about. Is it best to always tell the whole truth or are their times when it is just better to leave things be?  How much do we really know about the people in our lives?   What is the state of our own relationships?  If a family member died suddenly would we have regrets about the way we have treated them? What is a healthy way to grieve? 

Looking at Randall King’s photo in the Free Press he seems to be a baby boomer like me and the many audience members who loved the play.  But King is writing his reviews for a wider aged audience and perhaps as he considered them he chose to give the play only a decided measure of approval. 

I beg to differ with his evaluation. I loved the play!

Other posts……….

The Godfather of Winnipeg Theatre

Stealing the Play’s A Thing

Why Do We Still Like Dickens A Christmas Carol? 

 

 

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Dysfunctional But Endearing

I’d heard very different reports about the play The Humans at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre before I went to see it last Saturday. One person told me it was depressing and I certainly wouldn’t leave the theater feeling upbeat. Another person wondered whether it had really been worth the price of admission. They said the actors were hard to hear. Another said it had to be a good play because it won four Tony awards and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. 

It’s a sad play, no doubt about that.   As a family gathers for Thanksgiving in the New York apartment of their youngest daughter Brigid and her new boyfriend Richard, we find out Brigid works as a bartender because her hopes of becoming a music composer have been dashed. Her boyfriend struggles with depression.  Brigid’s Dad Erik has just lost his job as a janitor. Deidre, Brigid’s mother has a dead end job and is trying to lose weight for health reasons. Brigid’s older sister Amie, a lawyer, recently broke up with her long time lover and suffers from colitis.   Finally there is Grandma who is in a wheel chair and in the throes of full blown dementia.  Not a very upbeat cast ensemble to be sure but……………as the play progresses you realize despite their many problems these family members care about one another, they love each other, they have traditions they hold dear and they help each other out.  

As I’d been told, sometimes it was hard to hear all the actors’ words.  Of course we don’t understand everything Grandma says because she has dementia and rants and raves often in an unintelligble way. Deidre frequently spouts critical asides, saying things under her breath and we don’t need to know exactly what she is saying just that she has an alternate opinion. I admit sometimes the talking was fast and furious and later reading some reviews I realized there were details I had missed.  But…………. I still think the play was thought provoking and well worth the price of admission. 

And…….. I think I know why the play won so many awards.  It encapsulates in one family dinner all the realities that many Americans are struggling with.  All the main characters are challenged at work, with their health, with their financial situations and as the play progresses we learn the 9/11 tragedy still haunts the family pscyhe. 

I enjoyed The Humans more than I thought I would given what I was told about it ahead of time.  As we walked home I said the family in the play had  been dysfunctional but still endearing.  My husband disagreed.  “Think a bit MaryLou, they weren’t really dysfunctional.”  And my husband was right. In many ways this family was functioning as a family should, supporting, caring and interacting despite having all kinds of challenges and problems and differences, just like most families do.

Other posts……….

Winnipeg’s Palace Theater

Stealing The Play’s A Thing

A Play to Think About

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Winnipeg’s Palace Theatre

palace theater winnipegI go by the Palace Theatre every time I walk down Selkirk Avenue to do my volunteer work at a thrift shop. The theatre building is all boarded up but it looks like it was a grand place once and I wanted to know more about it. 

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 theater’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 a haunt of the Dew Drop gang who liked to run a variety of scams to avoid paying for their movie tickets.

palace theater winnipegThe 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. 

Other posts about the North End………

Gunn’s Bakery

I’m a Shop Girl and I Love It

 

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Filed under History, Theatre, Winnipeg

Why Do We Still Like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

We saw the sumptuous production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre this week.  As I left the theatre I thought about why people are still so attracted to Dickens’ story in 2017.

One reason may be because it gives us hope the world can change.  Just as the rich man Scrooge in the Dickens play becomes more empathetic we like to think the current wealthy and elite one percent of the population can become less selfish and become more empathetic and generous.  This goes against the body of research that shows wealth reduces compassion.  But in a time when the disparity between the haves and have-nots of this world is widening and when our American neighbours are legislating a tax bill to make the rich even richer, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol gives us hope people can change and realize they might actually feel better and happier if they share their wealth and use it to improve the lives of others. 

In A Christmas Carol a very wealthy man learns that all of his wealth can’t make him happy.  It is relationships that provide well-being.  Scrooge is positively giddy with happiness when he starts reaching out to others. In a time when research shows that loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions in our society A Christmas Carol reminds us we need to build relationships with others, care for others and help others if we want to have happier lives. 

A Christmas Carol may have been written nearly 175 years ago but  it speaks to concerns that are still very relevant in 2017. 

Other posts………

Getting Out of Our Holy Huddles

Make New Friends But Keep the Old

Stealing the Play’s A Thing

The Costumes Were Worth the Price of Admission

 

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Filed under Books, Theatre

Stealing The Play’s a Thing

I just saw Shakespeare in Love at the Manitoba Theatre Centre and can highly recommend it as a smartly staged and beautifully costumed drama that will engage your attention completely.  One thing the play depicts very well is how prevalent manuscript stealing was in Shakespeare’s day.  There is one scene during an attempted heist where the manuscript for Romeo and Juliet is tossed back and forth across the stage in a cleverly choreographed frenzy before the thief takes off with it.  We find out later one of the actors has replaced the real manuscript with a fake one so the play robber didn’t actually get away with the theft.  

I used to do a Shakespeare unit with my grade four classes.  We’d learn about William Shakespeare’s life, study different versions of The Tempest and act out the play together.  I also read my students the book The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood. In the novel a young boy named Widge is sent to The Globe Theatre to steal the manuscript for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Both The Shakespeare Stealer and Shakespeare in Love  describe the problems 16th century playwrights faced as they tried to protect their work. 

Copyright protection is a huge concern in our modern-day. Music lyrics, poetry, artwork, novel excerpts and ideas are shared freely on the internet often without giving credit to the actual person who did the creative work.  

It is interesting to realize that the theft of creative work isn’t just a problem we face in the modern technological age.  It was happening already more than 500 years ago in Shakespeare’s time. 

Other posts…………..

My Movie Debut

A Literary Walk

Are You Speaking English?

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A Play to Think About

“How did you enjoy the play,” I asked someone I had seen in the audience at Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange the night before.  “Enjoy isn’t really a word you can use for that play.” he said.  

Last Saturday my cousin Lynne took me to see the play Gracie for my birthday.  It follows a young girl from childhood to her teen years.  She is living with a fundamentalist Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints group in Bountiful British Columbia.  Her mother becomes the 18th wife of the group’s leader and Gracie tells us all about her life in the community.  The play starts when Gracie is eight and ends when she is fifteen and destined to become the wife of a much older man. 

To give the writer Joan MacLeod credit for being balanced we not only learn about the scary and difficult aspects of the community but also discover that Gracie experiences lots of love there and a sense of belonging and security. 

Although Gracie is a fictional character Joan MacLeod visited the Bountiful community to do research and found some normalcy in the young people she encountered. In an interview she said while it might seem unimaginable to us that a mother would  allow her teenaged daughter to become one of the many wives of a much older man it is important to remember that, from the perspective of the fundamentalist mother, such a choice is the only one that will put her daughter on the path of eternal salvation.

According to a Globe and Mail story a man and woman from the Bountiful community were recently sent to jail for taking their thirteen year old daughter to the United States to marry an American man from their sect who is now in prison for assaulting two of his child brides. 

Even though I am a person of faith the play made me wonder as I often do if the world wouldn’t be better off without organized religion. 

Other posts…….

Kill Me Now

Getting to Know Richard II

The Costumes Were Worth the Price of Admission

 

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Filed under Family, Theatre, Winnipeg

Take it Easy But Take It

He had a sign on his guitar that said This Machine Kills Fascists.  He was a writer and a radio personality.  Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and many other great musicians have acknowledged his influence on their music. woody guthrie public domain

Those are some of the new things I learned about Woody Guthrie when I attended the Winnipeg Fringe Festival show Woody Sed. Before hearing the very talented Thomas Jones take on the personas of almost twenty different characters from the music icon’s life I only knew Woody Guthrie was Arlo Guthrie’s father and that he had written the song This Land is Your Land

From the excellent play Woody Sed I learned Woody had a tumultuous life.  He inherited Huntington’s Disease from his mother and passed it on to two of his children.  He lost a sister and a daughter in separate fires and his father was also injured in a fire. Due in part to his disease and his need to wander and try new things none of his three marriages lasted. He fought in World War II. He was often penniless and homeless and spent the last decade of his life in health care institutions. 

woody guthrie albumDespite his troubled personal life Woody is considered one of the most significant figures  in American folk music.  A quote from Woody Guthrie that Thomas Jones repeated numerous times throughout his fringe show was “Take it easy but take it.”  I am not sure in what context Woody said this, perhaps in a song he wrote, but to me it means ‘Don’t give in to fear and anxiety. Live life to the fullest.’ 

Other posts………

The Guess Who on the Wall

Connecting With Burton Cummings

All That Jazz in Kansas City

 

 

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Filed under Music, Theatre