Small Things – PTE

Small Things - Barbara Gordon and Ellen Peterson - interviewPrairie Theatre Exchange kicks off its 2014/15 season with a brand new play by Daniel MacIvor called Small Things. The whole play has a certain familiarity: an aging widow who’s a little cold and a little stuffy moves to the country and hires a woman who has also lost her husband and, in the middle years of her life, has to start working. The two have a clash of personalities as Birdy, the hired help, is the type of person who can’t stand silence and her boss, Patricia, can’t stand Birdy’s endless “prattle.” It wouldn’t be giving anything away to say that these two women find a way to co-exist harmoniously and even learn a thing or two from each other—the structure of the story in its simplicity telegraphs this from the outset.

What sets this play apart from the myriad stories of people of different stripes learning to live in harmony is MacIvor’s eye for distinct characters and his ear for whip-smart dialogue. The play never lags and never lets up. It’s a lean 70 minutes with a 15 minute intermission and the time flies by. The rotating stage at PTE allows for quick scene changes (and there are many) and the whimsical original score composed by Winnipegger Greg Lowe that plays between each changeover keeps the play’s energy at a steady clip.

Barbara Gordon as Patricia is outstanding. She’s an incredible actor and her comic timing is perfect. She’s one Small Things - Barbara Gordon and Ellen Peterson - standingof those actors that can do amazing things with the white space on the page, by which I mean those sections of a script where there is no dialogue—she so embodies the character that she draws you in without saying anything.

There are plenty of genuinely funny moments in the play (Patricia high on marijuana comes immediately to mind) and there are an equal number of genuinely human moments. Both Birdy and Patricia are dealing with life after the loss of their husbands and both do so in unique ways. Patricia hides behind her cold front because she feels guilty at not really missing her husband. Birdy hides behind humour and chatter so as not to have to get at anything real. And Birdy’s daughter Dell uses marijuana as an escape from the bleakness of life.

Small Things - Barbara Gordon and Alissa Watson on couchWhile the main story is taken up with Birdy and Patricia learning to get along, the thing that I find most striking about this play is a subplot that deals with transgender issues. Birdy’s grandson has declared that he wants to be identified as Alice. Every time that Dell tries to talk to her mother about this, Birdy shuts down the conversation. Surprisingly, Dell receives encouragement and advice from Patricia who turns out to be a fairly progressive woman. I am encouraged to see transgender issues addressed on such a familial and realistic level in a play that deals with the difference between being a person and being a human.

Small Things runs from October 15 – November 2/2014 at PTE.

Post by Josh Benoit – Photo by Bruce Monk 

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Josh Benoit - head shotJoshua Benoit is a freelance writer, musician with the local band, Pumas and videographer living in Winnipeg. He is passionate about food, philosophy, travel and Kurt Vonnegut. At one time he thought he wanted to be an optometrist but ultimately found more joy in words than in formulas, just as he derives more pleasure from whiskey than from soda.

His life goals are modest and include owning a dog with an aloof demeanor and a needy cat, publishing no less than eleven novels (some of them trash), and possibly raising children, though he’d settle for a weekly afterschool special in which he could impart his street-wise verbiage to the children of the world.

Joshua studied English and Film at the University of Manitoba and took his sweet time about getting his B.A. He now works for the Department of Education and is continuing his creative writing studies through the University of Toronto. To get in touch with Joshua, write to him at jedwardbenoit@gmail.com


Sarah Zaharia

Sasagiu Rapids

IMG_3017Highway 6 is interminably long and boring.  The drive from Winnipeg to Thompson is straight and sparse.  The oranges and yellows of the leaves near Ashern give way to burnt out forested areas past Grand Rapids – barren charred twigs reach into the sky — until just before Ponton. On a chilly Fall day you might be lucky enough to spot a fox crossing the road with some sort of bird hanging from its mouth.

And on that same chilly Fall day you might just be lucky enough to stop at Sasagiu Rapids Lodge Hotel. It looks like the kind of hearty no frills place that would specialize in chicken fingers and deep fried pickerel.  You know, family dining for campers who have given up cooking on the Coleman stove.

It is certainly NOT where I expected to have the best Tom Yum Kung I have ever had the pleasure of photospooning into my mouth — and let’s be honest — wearing.  The most overused word in writing about Thai food is “fragrant.”  I wish I had a better word but I don’t.  It was fragrant but on an epic scale.  Red bird’s eye chilis swirled around 3 types of turgid-yet-yielding mushrooms and springy pink shrimp.  The thick coconut milk broth was spiked with ripped Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass.  It went down like an umami bomb and I am not ashamed to admit I pretty much drained the pot myself.

So who is responsible for this mind and taste bud-blowing Thai near the 55th parallel?

Thitiworada Grandbois moved to Thompson 4 years ago.  For three long winters she cooked spice-laden Thai dishes – infernos in a bowl — to stoke herself through the unending frigid temperatures.  There are really only so many times a girl can hear that she should open a restaurant from friends before she follows through.

Grandbois set up shop in the Lodge last year after securing a steady supply of ingredients from Winnipeg.  Unsure at first how Northerners would respond she was soon pleasantly surprised.  Thompsonites made religious visits to Sasgiu Rapids — a 40 minute pilgrimage from the mining town.  Word got out about its Saturday buffet and its authentic cold-busting menu.  Soon large groups of skidooers started to descend on the lodge clamouring for Pad Thai as they kicked snow off their boots and pulled off frost-beaded fur mitts.

It’s an impressive menu.  There are hand rolled spring rolls packed with pork and chicken. An oft-ordered Pad Ka Pow (#3) and Thai Fried Vegetables (#15).  And then there is the craziest carrot dish: sweet, spicy, raw, with a hint of coconut milk and a heat that will send you on a mad Kleenex run.  It also goes well on fleece (yes, I spilled some in my zeal to figure out what was in it).

IMG_3034IMG_3014IMG_3031Grandbois’s Thai food packs such a powerful punch it almost makes up for the blandness of Highway 6.  Ok, it TOTALLY does.  And it is a way better way to break up a long drive on Highway 6 than seeing a little fox with a bird in its mouth.

Post by Katie Nicholson 

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IMG_0318Katie fell in love with Winnipeg the moment she arrived (despite the fact it was minus 30 that day).  She loves tasting everything life has to offer which is a nice way of saying she has a tendency to overdo it.  She has worked as a theatre and film critic in Canada and the UK.  She has roadtripped all over the US in search of dynamic regional flavours and the perfect cocktail. She can occasionally be found sabring bottles of bubbly.


Sarah Zaharia

Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Jersey Lily

21504_rmtc_show_images_2014-15_sherlock_holmesTrue confession time: every Fall I hunker down on cold dark evenings and work my way through a paperback copy of the complete Sherlock Holmes.  It’s worn and dog-eared and may have been dropped in the bath once or twice.  To put it succinctly: I’m a fan.

Who knew — that all this time — what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was missing was a little Oscar Wilde?

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily is kind of like fan-fiction for Royal history and literary nerds. It’s a mash-up of fact, fiction and lots of sly humour.  The fictional Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson team up to help the very real Oscar Wilde and Lillie Langtry out of a jam.

The actress with a proclivity for high stakes Royal affairs is being blackmailed.  There are letters and a rather compromising photo that have been stolen from her dressing room.  What follows is a succession of crossing and double-crossing from a rogues gallery of larger-than life characters.

Jay Hindle’s Sherlock is restless, observant and, yet, misses the cues of social niceties like a lady’s _DSC2930outstretched hand.  He often moves about the stage with his spindly limbs like a mischevious spider.  Carson Nattrass’s star-struck Dr. Watson hams it up and milks the audience for big laughs.

Sharon Bajer nails her role as the beguiling, too-smart-for-her-own-good actress and unapologetic Royal  mistress…. But, really, Ryan James Miller’s Oscar Wilde steals the show.  Miller completely embraces his role as the fun and foppish writer: arch, silly, gossipy, and a touch cowardly.   If he were wearing pearls he would be clutching them for 30% of the play.  Wilde injects the Holmes-ian universe with a wit and humour it never knew it needed — and it is the better for it.

Also of note: Sarah Constable’s solid performance as she switches accents like gears on a bicycle.

Yes, the performances are strong but they were all sort of upstaged by the… well… by the stagecraft.  Brian Perchaluk’s sets were lavishly decorated and richly textured: from Holmes’s chemistry set to the phrenology map that hangs in 221B Baker St– the guy has an eagle-eye for detail.

_DSC3280_DSC3203_DSC3044With a seemingly effortless sleight of hand, Scott Henderson’s lighting is astonishingly perfect and perfectly choreographed during scene changes.  In particular, as one indoor set gave way to a foggy London alley, the film noir-esque shadows were a thing of beauty.  I half expected to see Humphrey Bogart round the corner.

Early in the first act, Oscar Wilde speaks the plain truth: “People are either charming or tedious.”   The same could be said of plays.  This Sherlock is fun but feels a little long in places.  That said, is tedium is quotient is small in comparison to its charm quotient.

Post by Katie Nicholson – Photos by Bruce Monk 

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IMG_0318Katie fell in love with Winnipeg the moment she arrived (despite the fact it was minus 30 that day).  She loves tasting everything life has to offer which is a nice way of saying she has a tendency to overdo it.  She has worked as a theatre and film critic in Canada and the UK.  She has roadtripped all over the US in search of dynamic regional flavours and the perfect cocktail. She can occasionally be found sabring bottles of bubbly.

 


Sarah Zaharia

A Haunted History – Going Home Star

“If you believe in yourself, who you are, where you came from, your culture and more importantly your language, it will take you to places you have never even dreamed of.” – Steve Wood, founder of Northern Cree Singers

 RWB Company Dancers in Going Home Star - Truth and Reconciliation - photo by Samanta Katz

For the 75th season, Royal Winnipeg Ballet wanted to open with a ballet that represented Winnipeg in a unique way. The RWB chose to present one of the darkest chapters in Canada’s history: residential schools and the forced assimilation of the indigenous people. Andre Lewis told CBC, “Winnipeg and Manitoba has a large Aboriginal presence, and to include them and be part of the solution for this made total sense.”

Using the arts to connect the non-indigenous and indigenous to illustrate the separation there was between the two was something that I was honoured to be a witness to. Intricate symbolism, contemporary movement, and Aboriginal music was mixed with a traditional European dance, ballet, to tell the story and represent the culture of Aboriginal people beautifully.

Liang Xing and Sophia Lee in Going Home Star - Truth and Reconciliation - photo by Vince PahkalaGoing Home Star tells the story of Annie, a contemporary First Nations woman, living disconnected from her culture, until she meets a homeless man who teaches her about her ancestors and the stories of children in residential schools. Joseph Boyden, the writer of the story, chose to set the story set in the past and the present, showing that the effects of residential schools carry on today.

The medium of dance communicated the dark facts of history in a deeply emotional way. The movements and music were haunting and dark. The story is drawn from testimonies of school survivors that experienced their culture being stripped away, their hair being sheared off, violent beatings, and, some even, sexual abuse. Though I knew these things happened, I felt them in an entirely new way as I watched them expressed through dance.

“[Dance] communicates or transmits pure emotion. For the RWB, this is another way to tell part of the story.” – Andre RWB dancer Yosuke Mino - photo by Samanta KatzLewis.

At the world premiere last night, the audience members consisted a mixed crowd of government officials, residential school survivors, and season ticket holders. Together, we watched and experienced a story that demands to be told over and over. As Andre Lewis said before the red curtain rose, “We are witnesses and agents of change of a story that we can never forget and never repeat.”

 

 

 

 

Post by Meghan Zahari – Photos by Vince Pahkala & Samanta Katz 

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Processed with VSCOcamSince she was little, Meghan has had a love for words and kept her nose firmly stuck in a book. Now, she’s a writer and a wife, with a baby on the way. She spends her days writing all kinds of stories for kids and working at a local stationery shop and a chiropractor’s office. She is also working on opening a donut and coffeeshop with her husband and brother-in-law.


Sarah Zaharia

Harvest Moon

harvest moon cornI almost don’t want to write about this.  I don’t want anyone to know how amazing the Harvest Moon Festival is: small, pastoral, and friendly.  To let others know how wonderful it is would be to open the flood gates to the masses, who would certainly ruin it.

I’m acting like I discovered it.  I have no right to be so covetous of a Festival in its “13th Perennial” year.  And yet … I am.  Small is beautiful, and Harvest Moon seems to know this.

It’s mid-September and there’s a nip in the air, but just enough summer for the brave and fleece-clad to still camp out for this weekend celebration of Manitoba music, farming, and food.  The small population of Clearwater and surrounding communities goes into overdrive to make the Festival happen.  Former Clearwater residents drive home, one volunteer proudly informed me, just to help out.

This Harvest Moon has a big pull — unseen gravitational forces draw some of the province’s musical luminaries from their big city life to a stage surrounded with bales of hay.  Royal Canoe, Les Jupes, DJ Hunnicutt, all work it under the moon and stars for the 1,200 or so who make the annual pilgrimage.

harvest moon at nightOff to the side, there’s a small assortment of Festival merchandise perched on tables with handmade signs exhorting the virtues of buying local.  The staff of Organic Plant, the Wolseley staple, man one of the food kiosks.  Great purple dill-spiked bowls of borscht, pulled pork, and — one table down – piping hot samosas served late into the chilly night.  It’s a music festival so, yes, there’s local beer … and it’s on tap.

Just outside the stage and restaurant enclosure, a tent city has popped up.  Brightly coloured canvases and flags lend a distinct carnival feel.  Sure someone might trip over one of your tent pegs in the middle of the night, and yeah, guitars strum all night, but if you have a problem with that, there’s always the quiet campground.

During the day, children’s entertainers and smaller acts take the stage.  Need to give your eardrums a rest from an evening spent crowd-surfing to Ridley Bent? (Yes, it turns out, you can crowd-surf to country.) Head on down to the fair trade farmer’s market where jewellers, lotion makers, artists and honey producers line the street.

As evening falls and temperatures drop, the musical acts heat up and so do the communal fires. Palettes of wood are hauledjess reimer across the grass and heaved onto the pyre.  Those who aren’t dancing huddle around and chat while the flames cast playful orange glows and dark shadows over our faces.  It’s primal, but with small talk.  No one is voting anyone off the island.

Waking up after a spectacularly cold Friday night, I clutch my oversized mug and wait with bleary eyes and a runny nose in a long line for Mick’s coffee.   So. Worth. It.

Mick takes his time crafting the perfect cup from his blue trailer on a jerry-rigged espresso machine that brews, steams, and foams every cup, one at a time.  His coffee beans are ethically-sourced and roasted in Brandon.   There are no misspelled names on cups by frantic baristas.

“That’ll keep you going for a while,” he drawls.

He’s right.  No naps needed.  Which is just as well, because the sky clears and it turns out to be the perfect day for a hike through a nearby plunging forested trail.  The weather varies wildly for this late summer festival but it is Canada, so dress for it and suck it up.

making guacBy afternoon the sun is out with a vengeance. We spread a blanket in front of the tent and lay out picnic fixings.  It’s late enough in the season that you don’t have to worry about ticks and it’s too cold for mosquitoes.  There are far more pleasant picnic crashers at Harvest Moon: friends you’ve been meaning to meet up with all summer might amble by and spoon a little salsa on a nacho with you.  Strangers might take a seat and offer a comparative analysis of the province’s various summer festivals.

The Harvest Moon stage isn’t just for music. It’s also something of a soapbox for small producers and the farm-to-table movement, and it can get a little political sometimes.  The recent seizure of meat products from Harborside Farms came up. In case you were wondering — the people who run Harvest Moon? — totally not on board with seizures of food from small producers.

Harvest Moon doesn’t dwell too long on politics.  After all, there’s another act ready to take the stage.  There are fires to stoke. katie pic There are burgers spattering on the grill.  There is another fleece to pull on in the keen night air.  There is fun to be had — a lot of it.

lf you’re going to take one last kick at summer, kick it in the country and kick it at Harvest Moon.

I’m going to go again.  It’s really great.  Tell a friend.   Just don’t tell too many friends, ok?

 

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Post by Katie Nicholson, photos by Natalie Reimer Anderson

IMG_0318Katie fell in love with Winnipeg the moment she arrived (despite the fact it was minus 30 that day).  She loves tasting everything life has to offer which is a nice way of saying she has a tendency to overdo it.  She has worked as a theatre and film critic in Canada and the UK.  She has roadtripped all over the US in search of dynamic regional flavours and the perfect cocktail. She can occasionally be found sabring bottles of bubbly.


Sarah Zaharia