Tuesday, January 20, 2015

THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD: CIRQUE DE SHERWOOD

Sometimes it's good to go into something with very few expectations. Such is the case with The Heart of Robin Hood, currently running at the Royal Alexandria Theatre


Now, I am of course familiar with the Hood, from movies, TV, comics, anime etc but I can't recall every seen him strut around the stage. The Hood's previous appearences in media have covered a broad spectrum of presentation, to action to historical drama to comedy. This presentation clearly falls into the last category


The Heart of Robin Hood is hilarious. There are many laugh out loud moments in the production and a lot of the humour edges into Monty Python territory; a few time if I closed my eyes I swear Michael Palin was on stage. What makes it Monty Python is that the humour is mixed in with some rather realistic representations of life in the middle ages; there is torture, murder, death and a bounty put on the head of children. Yet, it all remains really funny

Really


There have been Robin Hood musicals before but this is not a musical .. well it is ... but it's not. There are one of two occasions where the characters sing but most of the music is provided by the fine roots band Parsonfield. They are an active part of the production, appearing on stage. At one point, when a villain is just bent on hanging someone it is suggested "take the band" Very Monty Python

Parsonfield and their music serves as a kind of Greek chorus but the play employs another classical theatre device, the narrator. Christian Lloyed plays Pierre, Lady Marion's music instructor. In more classic theatre devicery (yeh I just typed that, live with it) Pierre (as well as Marion) have to go in disguise and pretend they are other people which leads to much jocularity


Lloyd is very very good as is everyone in the cast. Paul Essienbee is a standout as Guy Gisborne, being incredibly malicious and hilarious at the same time. Izzie Steele plays Marian and infuses the character with strength and is more than up to the physical requirements of playing the classic "woman disguised as male" role


Another important character in this production is the stage, and the staging. The Hear of Robin Hood is presented on a stage with a huge ramp that starts up at the lights and slopes down to the floor. The actors run up and down this ramp, representing moving from one location to another. Openings can appear in the ramp and sections slide out of it, allowing characters to walk out over the stage below. This is particularly effective when representing characters residing in castles or looking down at the populace

The set also included a huge "oak tree" hanging from the ceiling, extending well out into the audience and another tree on stage proper where Robin hangs out and has his morning latte. There is also a "pond" on stage that characters fall in and out of, it has real water in it. There is another opening in the stage, a hole that opens up and which characters are generally tossed in to at their demise. The chant of "into the hole, into the hole" became a common refrain


This is an incredibly physical production. Cirque de Soleil is living in Sherwood Forest. There is ribbon work, there is a hoop and there is an genuinely hilarious scene where a "dead" character is manipulated like a flesh and blood marionette .. and oddly, it isn't Marion ...

I'll give you a minute

There is a lot of stuff happening in this play or, as they say, a lot of "business" Sometimes that makes for an uneven production but it all works here. Mostly it works because the play does not at all take itself seriously. It's a lark and it makes for a great way to pass a couple of hours

So the next time you're in the woods, keep an eye open for gender bending Ladies, archers in the trees and acrobats with serious knife skills












Saturday, January 3, 2015

DR SEUSS: ACTION HERO

There is a movie about to be released called Blackhat. It is directed by Michael Mann (yay) starring Chris Hemsworth (yay) but following Mann's recent annoying trend (it appears to me) of shooting on digital video; the guy who once had some of the most luscious cinematography (Thief, Last of the Mohicans, Heat) in film (boo)

The film looks like an action film. Hemsworth stripped to the waist with a pistol in his hand etc

All I know about this movie is what I've seen in the trailers. And in one of those trailers we here a character speak this line:

"We need a blackhat hacker name Hatthaway"

So, directed by Michael Mann, script (apparently) by Dr Seuss

A blackhat hacker named Hathaway said
You'll not shoot me with a gun, Sam I am,
you'll not shoot me with a bow
you'll not shoot me in my head,
if you load up a cannon
you'll not shoot me in my bed

I'll hack and hack your phone
I'll hack you porn and hack your home
You'll not shoot me with a Sam I Am
or I'll hack you to your bones"


Yay. Can't wait

Friday, January 2, 2015

I THOUGHT THE PANDAS IN TORONTO LIVED AT THE ZOO

I guess it makes sense to write my first post of 2015 around the thing that has been the center of Collette and mine's attention for the past few weeks

This thing, right here


This is Panda. Panda is a nine year old border collie. She came to my attention through a high speed and efficient form of wireless communication ... not Blue Tooth or the interwebs but the DPFN ... the Dog Park Friends Network.


A friend of mine told me the story of this woman who had an elder border collie looking for a new home. We were not actively seeking a new dog but my buddy knows that I won't let any dog, especially a border collie, go to a shelter. He told me that this indeed was the case with Panda. Her owner had to find her a home or it was a shelter


As my buddy informed me "You're the border collie guy, I thought of you first" So I contacted the woman and she told me a story. Panda lived with her dam (mother) who is around 13 at this time. The woman had lost her husband and she was finding it too difficult to manage both dogs. The momma dog is very anti social and can't really be taken to dog parks so Panda was not playing much.

And the woman lived with both dogs in an apt and could not give Panda much attention So Panda taught herself to pee and poop in the shower. Yeh .. I know. That had me cocking my head spaniel style .. "Say what?"


She said the situation was dire. She had to rehome Panda immediately.We weren't sure we wanted an older dog, Terra responds well to younger dogs though she was raised with Hayley who was considerably older.  I did inform the owner about Border Collie Rescue, a terrific organization dedicated to rehoming BC's. They have a foster network who care for the dogs until they find them homes.




I was told that BC Rescue had no foster homes for Panda but may have a home for her in a couple weeks. We agreed to take her in on a temporary basis. She is a sweet little dog. She is very very affectionate. But there were issues right away. She was extremely dominant with Terra. Very very dominant. She was limiting Terra's movement in the house, trying to sequester her out of the living room and away from us. Terra was definitely taking the submissive role. I've taught her not to scrap in parks and walk away from the fight but now the fight was in her own house.


Some of this behaviour I corrected by doing what Terra should have been doing; I was putting Panda down. As soon as she snapped or lunged at Terra I just took her collar and put her down. This seemed to work, it certainly established my dominance and Panda was learning some limitations. The biggest issue though was around food

Terra has been in the homes of other dogs, I've boarded dogs here, usually she will eat some of their food but generally does not freak out if they ate hers. Never really had any problems. But Panda had a different approach. She tried blocking Terra from eating her own food and Panda would frantically eat her own food if Terra even looked in that direction. Food hoarding. I was quickly realizing that I may have not gotten the full story on this dog


Terra's reaction was quite strong and in some instances quite sulky. Except in the park. In the park both dogs were great. They would chase the same ball and never get into disputes over it. One would usually defer to the other and let her pick the ball up. They walked side by side on leash without any issue. So that gave me hope


Over a week or so the work we were doing with Panda, putting her down, separating the food areas, giving Terra precedence by letting her be the first in and out of doors, started to work. Panda was not quite and dominant and Terra began to relax. The food remained an issue and still remains. It's getting better but Panda gets frantic over her food when Terra is nearby. We have separated them at feedings but that's not the way I like to run the house. So having them in the same room but around the corner and feeding them at the same time, that seems to be working


I have been in contact with Border Collie Rescue and the story I was told by Panda's owner does not match theirs. They do not have any homes in mind for Panda and they weren't even posting her for adoption on their website. And they are very puzzled as to why Panada had to be let go with such urgency, as am I. I told them that I don't want Panda to go to another temporary home, that would not be fair to her, she is settling in here and the routine is doing her good.

We want to keep Panda. She is loving and sweet, has good energy. I suspect I know why her owner wanted to dump her. I am hearing a cough from the dog that makes me think she has a heart condition. If that is true it means a lot of expense to deal with it. Well, we've been down that road before. If we can get the food situation under control .. and it's getting better .. Panda will be ours. I agree. Collette agress

Terra may have a different opinion








Monday, December 29, 2014

IF YOU GO INTO THE WOODS THERE MAY BE SINGING

So I'm having this weird kind of affair with Rob Marshall. It's been short yet intense and it has led me to others but neither one of us are upset by that

Yeh, let's clear this up

Rob Marshall is a movie director. I have seen four of his movies. Three of them have been musicals. Two of those musicals were my first exposure to stage musicals, one of which I later saw on stage. The third musical is, I believe, an original movie and it led me nowhere

Rob Marshall's film version of Chicago is one of the best contemporary movie musicals. Yes, even better than the film adaptation of Les Miz. I saw the movie a couple of times, enjoyed both viewings tremendously and last year, finally saw the stage version here in Toronto. I enjoyed the play very much and I still love the movie.

See, I saw Les Miz on stage maybe five times before I saw the movie. I had not seen the stage version for a long time and I enjoyed the movie. We saw the new Toronto staging of Les Miz about a year after seeing the movie. I sort of remember the movie. It's like that

Rob Marshall's movie Nine is a musical version of the Fellini film. I never much cared for Fellini and, with the exception of one or two musical numbers in Nine, didn't much care for that either. If it became a stage production maybe I'd see it but motivation would not be strong

Last night Collette and I went to see Rob Marshall's movie Into The Woods. It's based upon a rather famous Stephen Soundheim musical which I've never seen. I've seen a stage version of A Little Night Music which I enjoyed and stage and movie version of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum both of which I adored

Oh yeh, he also did something called Westside Story. Only ever saw the movie. It works.

But I have never seen the stage version of Into the Woods and knew very little about it. When I saw the trailers for the movie I didn't even realize that it was a musical. Isn't it interesting how they seem to hide that

Collette and I are quite fond of reworking fairy tales and have seen many movies and TV shows (Once Upon A Time, Maleficent, Snow White and the Huntsman to name a few) and enjoy the idiom So off we went, into the woods

I can only speak about the movie version here. I understand that changes were made from the stage play (often there are) but I can't comment to that

What we saw I loved. This movie does more than twist your favorite fairy tales. It's funny, it's dark, it's hilarious, it's harsh, it's at times even moving. It's a rather complicated plot to unravel but all your faves are here: Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunsel. How they come together and fall apart is usually surprising and very entertaining

The score is very strong, the lyrics are clever and insightful and compelling; there are no songs here likely to be made into pop versions but the melodies still work, tying themselves together in some surprising ways

This is more operetta style, with the bulk of the dialogue expressed as song. There are a couple of show stoppers; Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen as a pair of prince brothers pretty much steal the show and there is a lovely and moving foursome with two adults and the two children in the cast

There are some big names in the cast: Johnny Depp as the Wolf does his Johnny Depp thing, being appropriately creepy and displaying a quite serviceable voice. Meryl Streep has a solid voice and has some strong moments but her Wicked Witch character is, a times, a bit muddled. And Tracy Allman is Tracy Allman and that is always good.

Emily Blunt and James Corben, as married bakers whose story is at the heart of the stories are very very good, Corben in particular displays a broad range from comedy to empathy, always remaining steadily in character

For me, the revelation in the cast is Anna Kendrick as Cinderella. She has a voice as good as many stage performers I've seen and her performance is rock solid. Her Cinderella is a transformative character of course but Kendrick uses her skill as an actor, more than her wardrobe, to express these changes

This will not be a film for everyone. It's point is to challenge you and it does so. Soundheim piles his lyrics into his meters and you better pay attention. But it's funny as hell, it's unpredictable and it gives you much to think about

It's dangerous in the woods. And it's also pretty damn entertaining

Monday, December 8, 2014

WISHES FOR FISHES

I have wishes for fishes under the sea,
in clear blue water
into which nobody pees





I have wishes for fishes, any kinds that swim,
the wrigglers and squirmers
and the selfish ones who proclaim "Don't eat me, eat him!"





All of the critters under the sea
the kelp and the jellies and the
cute anemones





I have wishes for fishes
and all of their kin,
wishes for the ocean
into which I'll now jump in

Ripley's Aquarium, Dec 2014 from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.






Sunday, November 30, 2014

ARCADIA: NOT TOO CLEVER BY HALF

Tom Stoppard is a clever playwrite. His play, Arcadia, now showing at the Royal Alexandria Theatre in Toronto, is a very cleaver play

It is a story set in one location, a luxurious country estate in Britain, but told simultaneously in two different time periods, with several characters and the story covers a wide breadth of topics: Math, art, romanticism, humanism, Byron, Newton, love, madness, calculus, Latin, history and the quest for the perfect English garden

The story follows two groups of characters who occupy Sidley Park, one group in the early 1800's and the other group in our time. All of the characters, or at least the majority of them, could be considered intellectuals and as such they love to talk. And talk. And talk

Well, that is what intellectuals do, talk. And write. And the writing is one of the ways that the two time periods become interconnected. A bad book of poetry, a series of letters illustrating inappropriate dalliances (much like those photo's on Facebook some people come to regret) and a Game Book, whose prosaic recording of who shot what on which day leads one contemporary character to ponder if Lord Byron did something very very bad at Sidley Park

Art is a prominent theme in the play, as is science particularly math. Newton is not an active character in the play but his presence is well felt, especially in the Victorian storyline, where a precocious young woman and her tutor debate the aspect of god in Newtonian science, the perfection of a leaf and how that may or may not be expressed.

Some of the characters disdain science and see it as the anathema of art where others (one of the contemporary characters is a physicist) so the art in science. Love and sex is tangled up in all of it and it tangles the progress of both, while it equally inspires it

Yes, there's a lot going on in this play. It is a play of ideals. And sometimes that can be ... one of the greatest insults when appraising art ... interesting. Being clever can be a very temporal thing, you appreciate it at the moment, even admire it, but it can quickly slip away. For me, it does not always make the best art, particularly in the form of theatre

Arcadia is indeed clever but it is much more than that. One of the things that saves the play from being too  precious are the characters. Thomasina, the teenage savant in the 1800's is particularly striking; precocious, brilliant, stubborn, frustrating, there is a wistfulness about her charcter: A young woman, even one of the upper class who can be exposed to intellectual pursuits but who may never find the opportunity to express them. In the contemporary timeline there is Bernard, the pursuer of Byron and a maddeningly smug intellectual with no patience for science or rational thought and who can find all that he needs in the most subtle turn of phrase.

What really saves Arcadia, and lifts it from an enjoyable intellectual exercise to a completely fulfilling experience is the humour. The play is  just flat out funny. From dry and informed references to science and art, to slapstick physical comedy to not all subtle sexual innuendo, I found myself laughing out loud more times than I can recall

Arcadia is an ensemble piece and all of the actors aquit themselves well. Of particular note are Kate Besworth as Thomasina, Patrick McManus as Bernard and Dianna Donneelly as Hanna, often Bernard's foil and a hunter of her own mysteries

The staging is simple, a single room in the manor house through which all the characters pass, often at the same time, regardless of their own individual time periods. At one point, in the contemporary setting, the characters are holding a costume party and it becomes intentionally muddy about which time we are actually watching unfold

Stoppard wants to talk about a lot of big issues here and he has some penchant things to say about them but he is smart enough to understand that this is a story, not a lecture, and a story needs to be compelling. By showing that his intellectuals are equally capable of fucking up their love lives as they are discussing Newtonian ideals, he keeps us compelled.

Arcadia, not too clever by half, but fully watchable





Friday, November 28, 2014

IF I JUST SHIVVED YOU FOR A BARBIE DOLL, IT MUST BE BLACK FRIDAY

Which is worse ...

The fact that thousands of people are ditching work, shirking responsibility, expecting others at their work places to pick up their slack and potentially causing their employers money, just to shop on Black Friday?

Or people lining up for hours, jostling, insulting, sometimes physically assaulting each other, just to shop on Black Friday?

Or that media outlets are making front page, lead story, chopper in the air visuals of people ditching work, assaulting each other, just to shop on Black Friday?

Or perhaps this is worse ...

In Uganda, Africa, every day is Black Friday

Yeh, I went there

Deal with it
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