Wednesday, August 10

Laugh It Up, Fuzzballs!

While trying to pick and choose, and figure out what sketches to include in this summer's production of Annekenstein & Friends, I came across a folder of papers - scripts and assorted pages of sketches and running orders and notes from various years of the original Annekenstein and Off Stage Theatre.

As I get free time, I plan on transcribing them into a digital format.  Some, like the script below, I may share here.

Some scripts look like they were printed with a dot-matrix printer and are quite faded with time. Others don't even have that technical luxury of being typed, and are only written in longhand.  Scripts like this one:

This is the first page of a monologue (well, most of it's a monologue) I wrote and performed during Annekenstein IV (1994).  That was the summer we were at the Carriage House at Beaconsfield.  The previous year we were at the old Condon's Woolen Mill location on Fitzroy, and the two years before that, it was Off Stage Theatre, where City Cinema now is.

The complete (newly typed) script is below.

I remember that I performed this sketch, but don't really remember much about it.  I'm not even sure if it lasted the entire run of the season because audiences didn't really know how to react to it.  I remember David Moses telling me that his mother asked him if I was okay, after she saw it.  (I think it was David's mother who asked that.)

Here's a Sean McQuaid review of that season's production:

His line "MacDonald remains an endearing comic savant throughout (even during an almost uncomfortably masochistic, self-satirizing monologue)" is actually in reference to this script.

I really enjoy sometimes making audiences uncomfortable and unsure of how they're supposed to react to what's happening on stage.  (Sometimes, in later Sketch-22 years, I think we went a bit too far in that regard.)  I have come to realize that I have little fear of a befuddled audience.

This script is probably the first time I wrote something that made audiences feel that way. I guess it's kind of performance art?
The contempt for the audience is a fabrication, but most of everything else I say is true, but it's not real. If that makes sense.

I'm glad I found it. Re-reading it brought back some good memories.  I'm glad I wrote and performed it.

Rob’s Matthew Monologue

Rob enters the stage, walking as an old man.  He makes his way to center stage, looks at the audience, and contemplates.  He makes a decision and takes off his old man wig or hat.

Rob: Hey everyone, it’s not beloved old Matthew from Anne of Green Gables who stands before you. It’s me. Rob MacDonald.

I’m supposed to be out here now doing a monologue as Matthew Cuthbert, exploring the reasons why he’s as shy as he is, climaxing in him discovering that the basis of his shyness was when, as a child, he saw his father and mother making out.  Ha Ha, good laugh, the show continues.

But I’ve decided to forego that bit of comedy for a rather serious announcement that I’d like to make.

I’ve been in this theatre business now for almost 10 years. The past four years, it’s been my living, supplemented by odd jobs.  The past two of those four years, it’s been my sole source of income.  Needless to say, I’m not a rich man. No, I’m a freelance writer and an actor.  

And I’m sick of it.

Oh, I still love the performing and rehearsing side of my theatre life - the writing, the casting, the acting. But love I less the “moving the theatre once or twice a year” side of theatre life.  Less so the “scared to answer the phone because it may be our King Street landlord of four years ago looking for the rest of his rent money”.  Less so the “here’s a hundred dollar honorarium for your two months of work, I know it’s not much, but maybe someday” side of theatre life.

“Maybe someday”.  The poor actor’s mantra.  

Maybe someday I’ll be rich and famous.  That’s what all actors dream about, you know.  Rich and famous.  I guess I’m getting more famous all the time, but not so the rich.  And the fame is a local fame, a small fame, helped along by the few CBC TV commercials that I do, thanks to David Moses hiring me occasionally.  He works at the CBC now. Yeah. But lately, I’ve been getting real tired of waiting for that “maybe someday when I’m rich and famous”. Now I’d settle for rich, or more to the point - “not so poor”.  So I’m considering giving up theatre as a career. Oh, I’ll still dabble in it, I’m sure. I mean, it’s in my blood now, but I’m gonna try joining the real world - that of the actively unemployed.

Now, in thinking about my theatre career, I like to think that over the years, that maybe, in a small way, I’ve helped some of you.  Maybe at times, some of you weren’t feeling your spunkiest self.  Maybe you, too, were wondering “how in the world do I pay my mortgage this month?” or “my rent”. Or my Mastercard bill which I used last month to pay that mortgage. Or rent.

So, in your blue funk, you decided to come to one of the many Off Stage productions we’ve done. Maybe you’re even here tonight, feeling blue, hoping to see one of my funny faces, or the funny faces of any of my equally talented and comical colleagues. Or hear a funny line or skit. And you momentarily feel better.  For a while you even forget your problems, and you laugh.

In that way, I like to think that I, indeed, helped.  I did my job.  I didn’t solve anything. Oh no.  Troubles don’t just disappear, no matter how hard you wish them away. I know that.

But in a small way, I helped you, maybe. I made you laugh.

Well, I thought about this idea for a while.  The idea that I am a healer through laughter.  That I help you.  That I employ all of my energies to make you feel good for an hour and a half.  And I work damn hard at it. I’m sweatin’ by the end of it.  That’s the kind of guy I am.  Once I commit to something, I give it a hundred and ten percent.  I’m a team player and all that.

But then I got to thinkin’ “Yeah, but what do I get out of all this?”  A sense of accomplishment?  That of a doctor who heals his cancerous patient? Hardly.  

(starts to get worked up, a bit agressive) Oh sure, you may laugh at my mugging.  Yeah, I mug. I make funny faces trying to steal a scene. I admit it. Gladly.  Because I know it’s only to make you laugh.  It’s all to make you laugh.  So YOU will feel better.  Meanwhile, I got a truckload of debts to pay. A baby that Won’t Stop Eating, a house that’s slowly falling apart, a car that’s falling apart a lot faster…. And all you give me is your ten lousy bucks.  Of which I’ll see, maybe, 20 cents.

Well, laugh it up, fuzzballs!  Here’s your friggin’ 20 cents back!!  (tosses two dimes into the audience)  I think you owe me something more than that!!

I want a job.  A real job.  Not a great job. Just a job.  At least five figures though. Maybe 15 thousand a year.  Yeah, that’s all I need.  15 thousand.  Surely there’s someone here tonight who’s got the power, the influence, to get me a job.  Especially when I think of all I do for you!

Now, I’m serious.  I got experience.  Computers. I’ve had desk jobs. Inside jobs. Outside jobs.  Um, I, uh, pumped gas. I’d do that again, if I got 15 thousand.  I’d prefer a nice desk job though.  Something like my friend Dave Stewart has. In an office. Suit and tie sort of thing.

Dave Moses comes out

Dave: Rob. Rob. Robert!!

Rob: Hi, Dave.

Dave: What are you doing?

Rob: Oh, I’m just… I’m… um… finishing up my Matthew monologue (puts on wig) “And  
then I saw them NEEEKED!!”

Dave: No you’re not.  You’re begging for a job.

Rob: No.

Dave: I expressly asked you not to do that.  These people didn’t pay 10 dollars to come  
here just so you could exploit your position.

Rob: Exploit? What exploit? I’m not exploiting.

Dave: Yes. You are.  You’re taking advantage of the fact that they have to sit there, in the dark, facing you, while you talk.  And you’re doing it for personal gain.

Rob: Oh, Heaven forbid I ever do anything for myself on this bloody stage!!

Dave: Well, it’s wrong.

Rob:  No, I’ll tell you what’s wrong!  What’s wrong is me being broke all the time!!

Dave: Come on, let’s go. Sorry about this, folks.

Dave tries to grab Rob’s arm.  Rob pulls away.

Rob: Oh, you’ve changed, Dave. Ever since you got that big CBC job. You used to be like me. Remember? No, all that CBC money is clouding your memory.  And Dave Stewart, he’s the same. Big GST Man now.  Money bags, the both of you.  Remember the three of us?  None with a job. Not really caring.  Just helping each other out.  Well I remember!  I remember the cheap breakfasts at Kelly’s you’d eat, then you say “Say Rob, can you loan me five dollars till my pogey comes in?” And of course I would!  But all that’s past now!  Now it’s stocks and bonds and paint for your house!!

Dave: Are you finished?

Rob: I haven’t even begun!!

Dave: Ed!!

Ed runs out,they take Rob off as he resists.

Rob: Hey you people! I’m serious!  Anybody need a dedicated worker?  PIck me! I’m serious!!  Think of the prestige of having an actual actor working for you!  Leave your name at the door when you leave if you have a position for me!  I’m serious!  I need a job!!

Fade to black

Wednesday, July 27

Would You Rather Be In Guelph, In Your Underwear?

During the summer in Charlottetown, I enjoy sitting for a portion of my lunchtimes on the benches by the fountain at Province House.
Today, as I was sitting there, I saw a man and a boy (maybe 10 years old) walking my way.  They stopped, suddenly, and from the body language, I could tell the man was upset. Tired. Fed up. That piqued my interest.
He grabbed the boy's arm, in a stern "I'm your father and you are going to listen to what I have to say" kind of way. I overheard the man say something to the effect of "come over here. we are going to sit down and have a talk.  Enough of this."  They sat at the bench next to mine, and I could only hear some of the man's portion of the conversation.
I quickly gathered that the man was the father or guardian of the boy. And he was fed up with what he saw as the petulant, selfish, whiny nature of the boy. They were tourists to our fair Isle.

Here are some snippets that I overheard, all from the man:

"Would you rather be home in Guelph, sweating in your living room all day in your underwear?"

"I should call you Captain Crabby.  Do you like being called Captain Crabby? No I didn't think so."

"Go ahead and call her.  Do you think your mother will be on your side?"

"Everything I suggest you just go 'no' 'nuh' 'no' 'don't wanna'. Do you think it's fun trying to come up with things for us to do?"

"You don't have to be Mr. Grumpy. You have a choice, you know."

"Would you rather not spend time with me ever again? Is that what you mean?"

"I CAN speak to you like that. I'm the grownup here."

I felt equally bad for both parties.

Sunday, July 24

1 Thing I Didn't Know About Annekenstein

Last night, before our 4th performance of Annekenstein & Friends, I was told that a lady wanted to meet me and talk after the show, and that she had a book that mentioned Annekenstein in it. I was intrigued but assumed it might be someone who was a bit, I don't know... Kooky. Who mentions Annekenstein in a book, after all. 
Turns out, Don Harron does. The lady in question was Claudette Gareau, who was married to Don Harron for the few years before he passed away. After our show, I met her and she showed me this book, written by Don Harron:
Anne of Green Gables, the musical - 101 Things you didn't know 

I hadn't heard of it.  I started to piece things together and assumed that he must have briefly mentioned Annekenstein in passing in the book. Don Harron had seen one of the original seasons of Annekenstein and was very kind in his endorsement of it. 
Anyway, Claudette told me to turn to page 98, and it further turns out that he had devoted one of his 101 Things to Annekenstein:

I was beyond thrilled, and touched. She was very effusive in her appreciation of the show she just saw, and wanted me to know how much Don Harron enjoyed the show he saw, and how he often would mention it to others. 
I'm really glad he saw it and enjoyed it. Really thrilled that Claudette came to the show and gave me the book, which she signed with a very nice note. 

Thursday, April 14

Rob's Multi-Word Review of ACT's production of "All New People"

I didn't wear a tuxedo to The Guild in Charlottetown, but I did go to the opening night performance of the latest ACT (a community theatre) production, All New People.
Written by Zack Braff (or is it Zach Braff, as IMDB would have us believe), and directed by Keir Malone.

Zack Braff is an actor I don't really care for, was in the TV show Scrubs, which I didn't care for, and wrote and stars in feature films, like Garden State, which I didn't care for.  So I wasn't really too excited to see a play written by him.  After watching it, I'm still not too excited about his writing.

In general, despite the contrived and uninspiring script, I thought it was a pretty enjoyable hour and a half of theater, thanks to solid performances by the entire cast.
However, if I had to use just one word to describe the production, it would be this: Aimless.

The script, in plot and purpose, is rather aimless. It relies too much on sitcom plotting and execution - complete with Jack Tripper-like pratfalls - where emotional moments are forced in between broad saucy, one liner jokes. Too many times, various character emotions and moods only exist long enough to serve the joke-of-the-moment, and then it's back to each character's broad, general, over-arching template moods or affectations.

It's the story of Charlie, a 30 year old who, at the top of the play, is thwarted in an attempt to hang himself. The rest of the play is, basically, a diversion to until we find out why he wants to commit suicide. Three other characters are forced into this scenario, and each of them, likewise, has emotional secrets and baggage that get divulged throughout the story.

The producers made sure that it was known that this was not a typical ACT production, and that it was, in fact, filled with adult themes, strong language, and, enticingly (to me) "extreme content".  Yeah, the warnings were necessary, I suppose, because there is strong language, and simulated drug use. And the topic of suicide is adult in theme (although it's handled pretty immaturely in this script, I would say). But I was sorely disappointed that the "extreme content" warning was a misnomer, at least to my indelicate sensibilities.  There was nothing even approaching extreme content, as far as I'm concerned.  Maybe that was merely a warning to all the grey-haired ladies who like to go to ACT productions, used to seeing Jane Austen plays or Gilbert and Sullivan musicals.

Charlie (Cameron MacDonald - who, by the way, is my son) is suicidal, as the play opens. His attempt to end his life is interrupted by real estate agent Emma (Emily Anne Fullerton), who calls on her friend Myron (Tim Wartman) to come and bring drugs and join the party.  And the quartet becomes complete when prostitute Kim (Ashley Clark) shows up, as a surprise one-night birthday gift for Charlie.

The cast is strong and for the most part, sharp and on point.  Each actor had a number of moments where they shone, both comically or dramatically, and they more than aptly succeeded in keeping me interested and invested in their characters, even through the sometimes-slog of the script, and some directing distractions (which I'll get to later).

Cameron's character was written as the least "showy" of the quartet (and undoubtedly the least enjoyable to play), and kudos to him for not succumbing to the choice of trying to join in with the broadness and quirkiness inherent in the other three characters.  He's the straight man in this comedy, and he plays it well.  He is particularly good in the moments when he explains why he's in such emotional turmoil.  There are a few times, too, however, when he - the actor, not the character - seems a bit lost, blocking-wise, on the stage, unsure as to what to do next. Good direction should nip that in the bud.

Emily Anne Fullerton has a lot of dialogue to get through in this play, and she nails a whole lot of it. Her character is wildly inconsistent though (a challenge of the script, I'd say), and is often forced to make leaps of emotion that would demoralize lesser actors.  That she succeeds so well, and so often, is a testament to her abilities. A strong comedic performance. Less so, with the dramatic stuff though - but again, I think that might be the fault of the script, which is dramatically shallow.

Tim Wartman's Myron is the most interesting character of the four. It's obvious that Tim is having a blast playing this role, and for the most part, he's absolutely on target. There are some pacing issues, at times, where he kind of slows the pacing down. Whether that's nerves of opening night, acting or directing choices, or a fault of the script, it's a fairly minor complaint.  A fun character and performance to watch.

Ashley Clark does lots of good work with a rather unappealing character. Actually, the character is appealing enough - it's the writing her as caricature that I find unappealing. Kim is the most under-written, least fleshed-out character of the four we see on stage. More a misogynistic stereotype than an actual character, Clark nonetheless finds ways to flesh out enough warmth and charm and humanity to make me care about a cartoon.

When speaking about the direction, I keep coming back to that word: "aimless".  Keir Malone does a pretty good job of keeping the action moving forward (although the pacing does bog down a fair bit during the second half), and manages to showcase some really nice performances from the four on-stage actors.

But the whole thing was just a bit... aimless.  Again, a part of that is an uninspiring script, but the direction could have been sharper. There was far too much literal aimlessness, where the characters would seem like they're just walking around the stage without any specific purpose or motivation - Charlie's character, in particular, suffered from "wandering body" syndrome. It just seemed like these characters were moving a lot of the time, just to get them moving.

Many moments throughout the production were also rushed or glossed over, nullifying or diminishing the potential for sharper comedy or deeper dramatics. Normally, I wouldn't be so nit-picky about such things, but when they continually happen, it becomes something worth noting.

As example, two in particular, come at the beginning of the show.

First moment: Charlie is standing on a chair, with noose around his neck. He is about to step off, ending his life. Then he realizes he's holding a lit cigarette, and decides to place it on the coffee table, just out of reach, Charlie now faces a dilemma - does he try to reach for the table, with the noose still around his neck (and risk slipping and falling, thus achieving his initial goal), or does he get down off the chair, thus ending, at least momentarily, this suicide attempt.
There is a lot that should be taking place in that very small moment, and it is ripe for comedy. Yet, it fell flat to me, because it was only done in half-measures.  The idea of that fun dilemma was there, but it was glossed over.  It was more a joke hinted at than actually implemented and performed.

Second moment: When Emma first arrives, she opens a door to see Charlie with a rope around his neck. Rather than taking even a moment to allow the reality of the situation to affect her, she impossibly jumps into her "oh my god, what are you doing" line, before the door even finished opening. She didn't allow any time for her character to comprehend what she was seeing. Maybe it was an acting choice, maybe a directing choice, maybe an acting aberration that only happened that one night - whatever the reason, it takes a viewer (me, at least) out of the reality of the moment.

And then, there's the videos (featuring the on-stage cast plus cameos by Tim Gormley, Ben Hartley and Paul Whelan). I assume this is written into the script, and perhaps there's nothing a director can do about it, but there are a few times where the on-stage action freezes so that we can see back-story on the various characters (hints as to what their emotional turmoil is).
I found this device highly intrusive and awkward, and totally disrupted the flow of the play. And I didn't think the video portions weren't very well produced, edited and/or performed.

I'll just touch on a couple more things that bothered me:

Because of the use of video, and the necessity to have it projected onto the screen behind the action, and because that screen is lighted, and because the noose is on stage the whole time, hanging from the ceiling... there is a shadow on the screen of the noose.  I found that shadow distracting.  Again, so very nit-picky, but, for me, that's something a more diligent director should be aware of and solve.

Speaking of the noose: the cord was so long that if Charlie did step off the chair with the noose around his neck, nothing would have happened, because the noose actually goes down to about his knees. It totally and absolutely takes away any threat or reality of the situation when Charlie is standing on the chair. Because the real reality of it is, there is no danger or threat of suicide. I assume the extra length was for safety concerns, but, again, there needs to be a better solution.

Rob's 7-Word Review of  the ACT (a community Theatre) production of All New People: Strong performances despite script and direction missteps

Wednesday, December 30

Eyes Froze Shut

Years ago, before you were born, my friend Dave Stewart and I wrote a silly little screenplay called "Florid", about a group of street bums who were trying to raise money to get to Florida, to escape the cold of the Prince Edward Island winter. We wrote it to make ourselves laugh. And with the vim and vigor of our youth, we set about filming it, with a budget of zero dollars, and a too-relaxed schedule of a few months (maybe even over a couple of winters?). Dave directed and some of our friends and acquaintances were hand-picked to play all the various roles.

You can watch it here.

It's an imperfect 22 minutes. Lots of terrific little moments, and lines that we still find ourselves quoting during apt moments in our lives. The ending kind of fell apart, as I think the desire to get it finally finished started to outweigh the desire to have the story continue to make sense. As writers, I think we made a few plot-jumps that made sense in our heads but that weren't really there on the screen.

Anyway, it is what it is, and there are lots of things about it that I, and, I believe, Dave, are proud of.

A couple of years ago, we started kicking around this idea: "wouldn't Florid make an awesome musical?"  We even got to the point where we started fleshing out some of the scenes, adding new scene ideas, to make it a longer production, and coming up with ideas for where songs could / would fit into the story.

I even was inspired enough to write and record a very rough draft early version of a song called "Eyes Froze Shut", which sounds nice enough to my ears that I'm sure it must be a rip-off of a song that already exists.
The (incomplete and partial) song was only sung out loud once, so keep that in mind, but You can hear it here.

Alas, after a brief period of inspired energy, but no longer full of the vim and vigor of youth, enthusiasm for the project collapsed and it is currently in a coma, barely clinging to life.
Who knows, if a wealthy benefactor approaches us and throws money at us to get it done, I'm sure we'd happily give Florid the Musical the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation it deserves.

Thursday, December 24

#tam test

via Instagram

Thursday, November 19

Rob's Multi-Word Review of ACT's theatrical production "Of A Certain Age"

I went to The Guild to see the opening night performance of ACT's production "Of A Certain Age", a trio of one-act plays (2 by Tennessee Williams, 1 by David Moses), the conceit of which is that each play features a role for a woman "of a certain age". Further conceits of the evening (we were told) are that almost the entirety of the production (directors, crew, production design elements, and 63% of the cast - I did the math) was comprised of women.  With this production's professed agenda to promote "women of theater" it seems odd to me (and a shame) that they couldn't find suitable works by female playwrights.  Maybe they didn't look?

The Guild was packed full for this opening night performance. Like, every seat taken. Good news for the production, but the reality of this for patrons is that The Guild gets really hot. That, plus the sardinery of thighs touching thighs as we all sit, packed in the dark of the theatre, no doubt factors into one's potential enjoyment of the production one experiences.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and everyone involved in the production should be happy and proud of what was presented.

(I unfortunately misplaced my program so the names of a couple of the other actors from the night have escaped me.)

Tamara Steele starts the evening off in a relaxed, friendly way, by informing us of what I wrote about in the first paragraph.  She then sets the scene for the first play, Williams' Lord Byron's Love Letter, which takes place in New Orleans. As she asks us to imagine New Orleans jazz music floating in the air, the director in me wonders "why not actually have music playing here, rather than her talking about hearing the music", Steele perhaps answers my question by breaking into an a capella song (of the era, I presume?) which further gets us into the mood. It's a nice-enough way to get us into each of the plays.

Lord Byron's Love Letter, directed by Sharon MacDonald, is about an old woman and her daughter (or grand-daughter?) spinster, who try to get people to pay money to see, or hear about, a love letter reputedly written by (or for?) Lord Byron. A married couple come by and are regaled about the existence and history of the letter.
The Old Woman is played by Kate Martin. She is easily the strongest performer in the play, which is even more impressive because of the fact that she says (or yells) almost all her lines from off-stage (as if hiding behind a curtain). It's not really explained why she needs to hide behind a curtain when people come calling, but lets just chalk it up to an eccentricity of the script and not worry any more about it.
Or maybe the comparative strength of her performance is because her character is really the only one who has anything fun to say in this script.
She has a number of funny back-and-forth moments with the spinster, whose task it is to play up the thrill and excitement surrounding the letter to any visitors. The spinster plays it a bit hammy and theatrically for my tastes (a few too many "can you believe what is happening" eye rolls), but perhaps that's the direction given? Or the nature of the dialogue?  I don't know.  But let's not worry any more about it.
The couple that comes to learn about the letter don't have much to do, but Tim Wartman as the drunk, indifferent husband does enough with all of his nothing to do.  It's a role that practically begs for burping, ball-scratching and scene-stealing, and kudos to Tim for being the better man and only occasionally borrowing the scene.
It's an odd little play that had me asking a lot of questions but not caring enough to wonder about any of the answers, so let's not worry any more about it.

Tamara Steele again pleasantly transports us through scene-setting and song, this time to St. Louis, the location of the second play of the evening, Williams' The Pretty Trap.  It's something of a precursor to his huge success The Glass Menagerie, featuring all the same characters, but for the most part, very little of its depth.

I should disclose here that I have been in two different productions of The Glass Menagerie, once as The Gentleman Caller (my first ever role), and once as Tom the brother/son.  So my viewing of this play is undoubtedly skewered somewhat by my familiarity of that play.

This play, briefly:  Faded southern belle matriarch Amanda worries that her delicate, socially inept daughter Laura will never marry.  She gets her indifferent son/brother Tom to bring home gentleman caller Jim for dinner, hoping to ensnare him in The Pretty Trap.
Joscellyne Bordeaux plays Amanda Wingfield, the matriarch, and she is wonderfully fun to watch.  She obviously is having a blast performing this larger-than-life character, and she really nails the performance.  I've never seen her more engaging and comfortable on stage. Funny in all the right places, hints of a tragic inner-life in other places, timing and pacing that keeps the play motoring forward.  Her character is easily the centerpiece and heart of the play. A truth that proves itself when she leaves the stage, and takes most of the energy and interest with her.
The character of Tom is very much underwritten for this play and the actor who plays him (sorry, lost the program) doesn't do a whole lot to bring much life to him.  I can blame the writer here, more than the actor.
The Gentleman Caller is given a bit more to do, and has a bit more of a backstory to him, but I found this performance didn't grab me much either.
The young actress who plays Laura plays her as a strong, defiant character - an odd choice that seems to go against the very nature of the way she seems to be written (and described by Amanda).  I was expecting a shy, frail girl and instead got a somewhat loud, somewhat firmly-petulant teenager instead. Not sure if that's an actor's choice, or director's choice, but regardless, it's a choice that took me by surprise.
And yet, the biggest surprise of all was still to come.
See, there's a part of the play where things are supposed to get quiet and intimate. It's just Laura and Jim left alone on stage, getting to know each other, and Laura tells Jim about her glass animal collection - a menagerie of delicate little glass ornaments. Jim seems interested, and so she goes to get one, to show him. Because of my knowledge of Glass Menagerie, I am expecting her to bring out a tiny, delicate little glass unicorn that easily fits within the palm of one's hand.
What she brings out, though, is the result of perhaps the most audacious directing choice in Prince Edward Island theatre history. And it completely ruined the play for me.

Let me try and paint the picture, though I confess and acknowledge that whatever words I use in my attempts to describe what my eyes were seeing and what my brain was trying to contemplate, I will fail to even come close to the reality of the blinding, brain-numbing absurdity of what actually transpired.
Someone made this decision:  instead of having Laura carry out, cradled in her hands, that delicate little glass unicorn ornament, it was decided to make it a human-sized mockery of a unicorn, sitting in a chair, cumbersomely pulled along on a trolley.
Dressed all in white (in a paper suit?) with what looked to be melted plastic-water-bottles for hands, and a hat (crown? head?) - somehow attached to the chair instead of to the humanicorn - that is also made of warped and ugly plastic, with a glass-dildo shaped horn protruding above it all.  (I wish I could verbally paint a more accurate picture of this bizarre experience)

So here we have this play moving along quite swimmingly, with a strong, standout performance by the lead, who has gone to great lengths and exertions of energy to portray and provide some subtleties of character within a rather broadly-written maternal caricature; supporting actors who admirably attempt to bring life to underwritten characters - and it all gets wiped out by introducing a wild and weird, fantastical piece of absurd nonsense into this decidedly unfantastic world.
I don't know what the intention of this choice was supposed to be, but for me the result was that anything that was said and done from this point onward, for the rest of the play, became absolutely irrelevant, because this white monolith was in the room.

I was also befuddled by the choice to have a portrait of Clark Gable hanging on the wall, when it's supposed to be a picture of Amanda's husband, who ran off years ago.  Do they (the characters) see this as Clark Gable?  Does Amanda have delusions that she was once married to a movie star?  Is he supposed to be the embodiment of "perfect husband"?  It's never explained.

Also, I had issues with figuring out the period in which this play was set - as in, I couldn't figure out what year the play was set.  It was written to be set in, I assume, the late 1930s?  They attempted to update it though, by making references to The Beatles and Rolling Stones as records they'd play on the Victrola.  So, is it now in the 1960s? Why update it to the 60s, specifically? Again, a fairly minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.

Intermission - and time to get more confused about the presence of the humanicorn.

Act Two begins with Tamara Steele again introducing the next (and final) play, The Prompter, by David Moses.  I don't remember if she sang another song, though.

Another disclosure:  I've been friends with Dave since forever, and had seen every performance of the original production of this play.  So again, a skewered perception of this production.

The Prompter, directed by Nancy McLure, is about a seasoned older actress (Barb Rhodenhizer) who comes to a rehearsal expecting to work one-on-one with the director, but ends up running lines with a prompter (Madison Peters).
It's a terrific script, full of great lines.  And it was a real pleasure to see it performed again.
The play, we are told, was written for Mae Ames, a Grand Dame of PEI theatre.  I was curious to see how Barb would fit into this role that was specifically written with Mae's personality and nuances in mind.  Turns out, she did a terrific job - maybe the best I've ever seen her. She did seem to be emulating Ames' line readings at times, and I was occasionally wishing they tried to massage the script to fit Barb's personality, rather than have Barb do a mimicry of Mae, but that's a fairly trifling thing. Maybe the script doesn't easily allow that?

Regardless, Barb was strong, funny, touching - totally on target and shining for pretty much everything the role demanded.
Madison Peters was good as the prompter, if a bit underwhelming.  It is a fairly underwritten character to play, admittedly, so there's not a lot to find within.  And there are a couple of jumps in emotion the character is required to make that the script doesn't effectively pull off.  Again, more of the script's problem than the actor's.  She did a perfectly satisfying job when given her few moments to divulge character, and the rest of the time she was utilitarian in giving the star of the play her room to shine.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre, all around.

Saturday, October 24

#Poot #SongForPoot

#Poot #SongForPoot

from Tumblr

Friday, August 7

Behind The Sketches: Smelt Shack / Seal Video

Yeseterday's post - Stand Up, Canada, Atticus Finch Is Passing By - was about a Sketch-22 sketch that opened the 2nd act of our Season 7 production.

Today's sketch topic - Smelt Shack - closed the first act of that same production, and features characters who are perhaps on the opposite end of the Canadian cultural spectrum to the Atticus Finch panelists.  And features a video that I am still amazed ever happened.

I'm a bit fuzzy as to the timeline of events that caused this sketch and video to come into being.  I do know that I had a few character nicknames floating around in my brain for quite some time - Upchucky, Stalag the German, a couple more - but had never really found the right vehicle to use them. I had decided, I think, that for this summer's show, come hell or high water I'd write a sketch around these characters - mostly so that we all could have fun playing cliche "good ole Island boys" types.  I placed them in a smelt shack setting, and got to writing

Somewhere along the way, during one of our writing-rehearsal / brainstorming sessions / gigglefests, we came upon the idea of melding the smelt shack script with a bit about the seal hunt industry.  I don't know who came up with the idea to have a penis represent the evil seals, but I do know who was totally on-board with being cast in that role.
So, yeah. we thought that a great way - an outlandish way - an "oh my god did I just see what I think I just saw, did they just do that" way to end the smelt shack sketch was to have these characters get excited about making a viral video that would show how (to these guys) the seal hunt is necessary because seals are killers of fish stock.
We'd do up an ultra cheap, poorly filmed video (as if these untalented guys were making it) using little figurines on a white bristol board or something that represented snow.  There'd be a hole in the board,and a seal would pop up and attack the figurine people.
AND the huge, surprise reveal was that the seal would actually be an actual dick, dressed up to look like a seal.
Oh my god. We all laughed so hard until we cried the first time that concept was imagined.  It would be SO funny, SO shocking...  I LOVE that first of all, one of us came up with the idea... I LOVE that we felt like we HAD to follow through on that crazy idea.  And I LOVE that we actually did follow through.  And I absolutely LOVED watching the audience react to that reveal every night of the run.
(the way the stage sketch ended, the lights went down on us and the video immediately started.  Because it was the last sketch of the act, we didn't need to rush off stage to change, so we'd almost always just stay sitting in the smelt shack set, watching the audience watching the video, and wait until the seal-dick reveal. So rewarding to watch the faces of audience members as the moment registered in their brains.)

I don't do it very often, but sometimes it really helps to write character dialogue out phonetically, and with purposefully misspelled (mispronounced) words and phrases.  I wanted these characters to be very low status in terms of grammar and education, and getting into their specific individual patterns of speech really opened it up to come up with some really fun lines - lines that would never have come into being if I had just written it in a more neutral way and asked the actors to "Island it up" during rehearsals.

One of my favourite lines of all time is "Watch of how scared she looks!"

I always had so much fun playing in this sketch. Such great energy  It always seemed to be on the verge of chaos, always daring to spin out of control.  But surprisingly, we kept really close to the script the whole summer.

Here's a censored promotional video that shows a segment of the sketch - Smelt Shack Excerpt

Smelt Shack

Upchucky:  Fuck's sake, boys.  The smelt's ain't bitin'!  What the fuck are we doin' stuck in this shack for on a Sayerdee noight?  Taint, we should be out talin'!!

Taint:  Any pardees goin' on, er wha?  Stalag, you know of any pardees?

Stalag: Nuh uh.  Court order don't let me go to pardees 'til September.

Eggroll:  Me too! Asshole Judge Lantz!!

Boner: I heard sumfin about Donna Laybolt puttin' sumfin on.

Upchucky: Fuckin' Donna Laybolt!!  Fuck her and the stuck-up miniature horse she rode in on!

Stalag:  Are you still squealin' 'bout Donna Laybolt owin' you a blowjob?  I told ya. For the a-millionth time...  Upchucky, she's not gonna blow ya!

Upchucky: Shut up Stalag, ya fuckin' German! She said she'd blow me if I mowed the lawn at her parents motel and I fuckin' mowed the lawn! 

Eggroll:  She wuz jokin'.

Upchucky:  Yer a joke, Eggroll!

Taint: And that wuz loik two summer ago.

Upchucky: So? She said it, so she'll blow me.  If she knows what's good for her.

Boner: Upchucky, Donna Laybolt, she not blowed anyone.

Upchucky:  Shit sakes, Boner, wouldja quit rainin' on my parade!

Taint: Donna Laybolt's lips'r hunnert percent virgin lips.  Tracy Goat tole me.

Stalag:  Both sets a her lips are virgin lips!!

Boner:  Birgin lips all ober her body!

Everyone but Eggroll laughs. He pulls out a couple of small action-figures and absently plays with them.

Eggroll:  I don't get it? What's the joke?  What'd I miss?

Taint: Half your grade nine year, Eggroll.  That's what ya missed ya stunned prick!

Eggroll:  Fuck you Taint!  You got held back a coupla grades too, ya know!

Upchucky:  Eggroll, what the fuck you doin' with them fingerines, anyways?  What are ya, 12?

Eggroll: They're awesome!  Lookit them, they're all scared and shit!

Eggroll passes them around.

Stalag: What the hell are they scared of?  Fuckin' pussies!

Eggroll:  Stoled them off my little brother.  Figured we could melt them later.  Give 'em something to be scared of.

Taint: Holy shit, lookit this one!  Who's it look like?

Boner: Donna Laybolt!

Upchucky:  What?  Lemme see!  (takes it from Taint)  Holy shit, it does look like Donna.

Taint:  Donna's tits're bigger.

Boner:  Watch of how scared she looks!

Upchucky:  She's scared of how fuckin' big my cock is, when she blows me!

Stalag: She's not blowin' ya.  You'd have a better chance of gettin' a blowjob from one of these smelts we ain't catchin'.

Boner:  Hey, Taint.  Am it true dat your pop ain't goin' sealin' dis wintner?

Taint: Hard truth, Boner. Hard truth.  Gonna be a poor winter for sure.  Dad'll have ta sell the big screen prolly!!  I don't wanna go back ta regular def.  I'll tell yas boys, all the popperozzies and Hot Lip Hoolihans have totally fuckin' roont the hunt!

Upchucky:  They're gettin' exactly what they want! Fuckin' popperozzies and skankin' celebrities!!  (mimicking) Oh baby seals are so cute!  It's a sin to kill such a cute fuckin' baby fuckin' seal!  Gimme a fuckin' break!!

Eggroll:  All's they do is they keep showin' how cute the seals are on all the commercials and whatnot that they do.  On the internet and everywhere.

Boner:  It's brame-warshin' am what it is!

Taint:  Baby seals ain't cute.  They're fuckin' monsters, rip the finger right off ya if they could.

Stalag:  I know a guy who got three friggin' fingers bit off.  By a horse.

Upchucky:  Horses are scary fucking man-eatin' sons a bitches!!

Eggroll: It's all propergander!  They cornered the market on makin' people think seals are cute'n'cuddly.

Upchucky:  Someone should corner the market on propergandering that seals are little fuckin' fish-eatin' cocksuckers!

Boner:  We should made are own bideo showin' how ebil baby seals are.  Pud id on youtube.  Dat'd show'm.

Taint: We should! My cousint got a video camera I can borrow.

Upchucky: We can use Eggroll's fingerines. Do it up so that it shows seals attackin' people on fuckin' ice flows an' shit!

Stalag:  Fuckin' awesome!

Taint: What do we use for seals?

Eggroll: Silly putty.  I'll make 'em outta silly putty.

Boner: Dey need to be lookin' scary but.

Taint:  Should be at least one mother-fucking scary as shit huge monster seal!

Upchucky:  Leave that one to me.  I'll take care of the huge monster seal.

Boner:  Holy fuck, boy.  We'll gonna make a moobie.

Taint:  We're gonna turn the seal hunt on its ass!!

Boner:  Let made dat bideo!!!

Thursday, August 6

Behind The Sketches: Stand Up Canada, Atticus Finch Is Passing By

Harper Lee and her fictional character, Atticus Finch, have been in the literary headlines over the past few months.  It made me think back on a Sketch-22 sketch I wrote for our 7th (and final) season - Stand Up, Canada. Atticus Finch Is Passing By.  I had a couple of minutes today, so I went back and re-read it and had a bunch of chuckles and many great memories of performing in it.  It's one of my favourite sketches of mine, partly because it's just such a weird concept.
I figured "why not post it here for anyone who might be interested".

You'd be surprised at how many sketches I've written over the years that have come from (or have incorporated) something said during the many lunch-times spent with Dave Stewart.  We often riff on all kinds of silliness, and this sketch eventually came from something said during one of those lunches.
I forget exactly how it came about, but I distinctly remember where we were when "Stand up Canada, Atticus Finch is passing by" was first uttered.  We were on the corner of Kent and University (by the public phone).  Maybe we were talking about titles for utterly lame Canadian game shows, and this concept popped up.  We laughed at it and that was it.
But the name stuck with me, and so when I was scouring my brain for sketch ideas to write for Sketch-22 Season 7, I decided to try and make that weird concept into an actual sketch.

The goal was to parody those rather stuffy, stiff and often boring (especially to a child) Canadian game show slash current events shows, like Front Page Challenge, that showed up on Canadian television in the 1960s and 70s.

I'm pleased with how it turned out. I like how there really aren't any jokes in it, and how it just kind of presents the weird idea without explaining it.  I like how this fake-example of Canadiana oddly and prominently features an iconic American literary character, again without explanation. I like the formality of it all, the expectation of propriety, and the utter dullness of the topic of discussion.
I expect many audience members were puzzled by what they were watching.  And that always thrills me too.
I love the characters we ended up with, and remember often having a hard time trying to keep from laughing during performances.


Stand Up Canada.  Atticus Finch Is Passing By.

Perry James - Andrew Sprague
Gregson Oxbridge - Lennie MacPherson
Mary Abercrombie-Pettingcock - Graham Putnam
Pierre Cardigan - Rob MacDonald
Robert Clothier (as Atticus Finch) - Dennis Trainor

Music up - a not-very-exciting instrumental piece.

Lights up to reveal:
Perry James, behind a podium
Gregson, Mary & Pierre sitting in a row of chairs
2 small tables, one on either side of the stage, each strewn with various papers.

Music down

Perry James:  Good evening, Canada, and welcome to "Stand Up Canada, Atticus Finch Is Passing By".  I'm your moderator, Perry James, and it truly is a treat to see so many fresh, young faces in the audience tonight.  Hey, let's get right to the discussion by introducing this week's panelists.
He's Philosophy Professor Emeritus at Kings College, and writes a weekly column in The Progressive Magazine, please welcome back Gregson Oxbridge.

Gregson (half-rises, bows and nods):  Indeed.

Perry James:  She's a four-time consecutive winner of the Lady Jane Pleasantries Prize, and political writer for the Guelph Intelligencer , let's appreciate Mary Abercrombie-Pettingcock.

Mary: Pleasures abound, Perry.

Perry James:  And he's a distinguished non-fictionalist and Canadian historian, who's latest book "Appraising The Canadian Arctic" is receiving numerous academic accolades, it's our Resident Panelist, Pierre Cardigan.  Pierre, I think you know more about our country than any man alive.

Pierre:   The more I see of the country, the less I feel I know about it. There is a saying that after five years in the north every man is an expert; after ten years, every man a novice. 

Gregson:  Quite!

Perry James:  We all know how the evening unfolds.  I'll bring up a topic of discussion and our panelists will debate its merits, pausing at the appropriate times when Atticus Finch passes by.  And it's my great honour to announce that this week, Atticus Finch will be portrayed by Robert Clothier, who plays Relic on the CBC television series, The Beachcombers, now in its 9th season.  Robert.

The panelists applaud politely.  Robert Clothier comes out, dressed in a white flannel suit, like Atticus Finch in the movie To Kill A Mockingbird.  Except he still has the toque that Relic always wears.

Robert:  It is indeed a pleasure to be playing the esteemed Atticus Finch.  I welcome the change of pace.  Today, I'll be in search of laws, instead of in search of logs.

They all laugh politely.  Except Gregson, who does not understand the reference, it being pop culture.

Perry James:  Alright, let's get right into this week's discussion.  Robert, if you would, please become Atticus Finch.

Robert Clothier changes his demeanor and *becomes* Atticus Finch.  He begins to sort papers on one of the desks.  The panelists are impressed at his acting.

Perry James:  Panelists, as you know, in May of this year, Canadians went to the polls, resulting in a Joe Clark led Progressive Conservative minority.  Since then, the government has had immense difficulty accomplishing anything of import.  Panelists, the question to you is this:  Is this government doomed to fail?  This will be a 15 minute discussion, and we'll begin, as always, with our Lady of the Panel, Mary Abercrombie-Pettingcock.
Let's play Stand Up Canada, Atticus Finch Is Passing By.  Mary.

Mary:  Quite bluntly, Perry, fellow panelists, audience... yes, this government is doomed to fail.  Mr. Clark, while a promising young politician, does not have a majority, and we know all too well how difficult it is for even a seasoned politician to govern without the great political machine willing to back him up.

Gregson:  I am effusively in agreement with Miss Abercrombie-Pettingcock. The only question  remaining in my mind, is... when.

Atticus Finch finishes sorting papers, and crosses, solemnly to the table on the other side of the stage.  All panelists stop their discussion, stand up and, Perry James included, silently pay their respects to Atticus Finch.
By the time Atticus Finch reaches his other table and resumes sorting papers, the panelists and moderator have noticed that the audience - our audience - hasn't stood up.  They don't know how to respond.  They recover somewhat, sit down and continue the debate.

Perry James: That's okay, panelists. That's fine. Please continue.  Pierre?

Pierre:  In this country, as you all no doubt know, three times has the government been felled by a vote of non-confidence.  Arthur Meighen in 1926, Diefenbaker in '63, and most recently, Trudeau just 5 years ago in 1974.  I prophesy that the lovely Mr. Joe Clark is about to join that not-so-illustrious grouping.

Atticus Finch again crosses the stage.  Again, the discussion is suspended as everyone rises to pay respects.  The panelists give the non-rising audience members looks of indignation. Only after Finch has passed to the other table do they voice their displeasure. 

Mary: The manners of a chickadee!!  Do you not see Atticus Finch is passing by!! 

Gregson: This is indeed a counfoundability!

Pierre: Vacuus Ordo!!

Mary: Perry, mayn't you intercede on decency's behalf?

Perry James (clears his throat):  I might just add at this juncture, ladies and gentlemen of the audience, please be mindful and courteous to Atticus Finch.  Thank you.  Panelists, you may continue the discourse.

Mary:  Thank you, Perry.

The panelists sit back down.

Gregson:  Let me be clear.  Joe Clark has pulled off an astounding feat. He's the only person to ever defeat Pierre Trudeau in an federal election.  No small feat, that!

Pierre:  Come, Gregson, you make it sound like a magic trick!  Truth of the matter is, someone was to eventually defeat Mr. Trudeau.  Joe Clark was simply the fortunate person to be in the right place, right time.

Atticus Finch again crosses.  Again the panelists and Perry pay their respects.  Their outrage at the audience is palpable, though, and can barely contain their fury until Atticus Finch has completed his pass. When he reaches the table, the panelists let loose:

Pierre:  What has become of this society?  Has a mob of buffoons infiltrated the studio tonight?

Gregson: A gaggle of poppinstocks would be more accurate. 

Pierre: It's the way this generation has been raised!  A complete lack of moral compass.

Mary: Well I won't stand for it! Stand up, damn you!!  Stand the hell up and pay your God Damned respects to Atticus Finch!!!  Come on!!  Stand!!  I'm not joking around here!!  

Pierre:  The wild native Esquimaux have more sense about them!

Gregson: These young ones!  It's the beginning of the downfall of Canada!

Perry James: Okay, panelists, let us remain dignified and courteous and respectful to the proceedings.  Let us continue with the debate.

The panelists sit.

Pierre: Despicable wretches!

Mary: They better all stand up next time Atticus Finch passes, that's all I'll say.

Gregson:  Would that I had my shotgun!!

Atticus:  Hush!  Hush now!

Panelists are shocked that Atticus has spoken. Atticus walks to centre stage.  The panelists and Perry all begin to rise.  Atticus motions them to sit.

Atticus:  No!  Do not rise for me.  For I am but a man. A man wont for nothing but decency.  And it saddens me deeply to see decency evaporated through the emotional outbursts of the men and lady of the panel.  The self-same people who demand decency from others.  But not just any decency.  It must be "their" decency.

I am reminded of an episode of Beachcombers from last season.  Nick Adonidas became upset when Jesse introduced some new methods for retrieving logs.  See, Nick was set in his ways. He didn't like the way things were changing.  He couldn't see through his stubborn ways to see the benefits of Jesse's methods.  And in the end, it wasn't Nick and Jesse and the Persephone who got the big log.  It was your's truly.

What are the benefits of not standing when Atticus Finch passes by?  I don't know.  But I suspect they far outweigh the negative ramifications of not standing up for decency.

In conclusion, I say reserve your respect for men who have earned it.  Not fictional characters.  But Real Men.  And, yes, Real Ladies too.

So, I say to you all... Stand up, Canada.  Not because Atticus Finch is passing by.  Rather, stand up for decency. Decency.  Decency.
Good night.

Atticus exits.