Sunday, November 30, 2014


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


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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Once we fought wars.

They were not our wars but willingly we went. For another country, for an ideal, for the adventure. We went.

They were great wars. They were fought for reasons we often did not understand. For reasons rarely, if ever, fully explained to us. At the time did we care. Would it have made a difference. There was a war to be fought, there was manhood to prove there was a chance to go away to get away to be Over There

We went.

We went and the reality hit us. So different from the stories and the songs and psalms. Reality was the singular earthy metallic fecund smell of the trenches; the particular shade of black that blood becomes when spattered across a moonlit beach; that last flicker of light, so real yet so ephemeral, that is the life flickering away in the eyes of your best friend

We went.

We cut ourselves on the barbed wire, we crawled across the bodies of our brothers on the beach, we huddled, snot freezing to the point of pain on our faces on the winter reservoir.

We listened to our commanders, often speaking to us in the clipped accent of another country, as they ordered us to charge the guns, the cannons the machine guns, over and over. Over and over. Until we could barely leap over the bodies of the dead and we knew where the guns were because of the redness of the glowing hot barrels.

We stood on the docks of the harbour in Hong Kong as the commanders sailed away with the soldiers of the their own countries, hearing the enemy breaking over the hills, knowing we could do naught but drop our guns and wait for the shackles to fit our wrists

We went.

We fought and we died and we were captured and we marched and we questioned the orders and we pondered the reasons but we moved forward. Always forward. Street to street, house house, trench to trench, ocean to ocean.

We went.

We were taught our place. We were permitted to glimpse a glimmer of the plan to be allowed to feel a part of it. A small part of it. But never asked to really understand. Never expected to do anything but to go forward, to advance, to pour ourselves into the breach, over the berm, across the harbour.

To fight.

And we fought. We always fought. And others knew that we fought, they saw that we did. They gave us names. They shook their heads. They knew that we would fight. They knew we break down the doors, leap up on to the tanks, stand on the decks of the ships and fire. They knew that we would fight.

We went.

Now we do not fight wars. We are involved in actions, in missions, in conflicts. We are asked to do things that police officers should do. We are asked to eradicate the enemy but not be seen to kill them. We are asked not to fight but to complete the mission.

Once we fought wars.

Wars have ended, wars have changed, wars are more clearly the mechanism of politicians.

But still.

We go.

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