Hunchback: my last visit to the Playhouse

Saw Catalyst Theatre‘s Hunchback a couple of weeks ago at the Vancouver Playhouse. (I’m particularly glad I saw it at that venue, since the announcement of the theatre’s immediate closure came out today. The Playhouse has been running for almost 50 years, bringing live theatre to Vancouver since 1962.)

Hunchback was a worthy note on which to close: powerful singing, spectacular costumes and scenery, and eerie lighting. As Rita Star tweeted, “Drunk on spectacle and dark beauty.”

The brightly lit, curved poles of the set combined the shape of Gothic windows with the intense saturation of stained glass. The costumes were a sort of medieval-punk-Samurai-grunge mix, with Quasimodo’s hunchback being a skeletal creature clinging to his back. It’s a dark and harrowing story, and the company did justice to it. The most arresting moment comes near the end when Quasimodo throws Frollo to his death from the top of Notre Dame Cathedral and Frollo’s soundless scream is captured by a beam of light on his face. Now that is an image that will not soon fade.


Entertainment week

A recent week, Saturday: Voices, Sax and Syn by the Laudate Singers, a North Shore choral group conducted by Lars Kaario,  at St. Andrews United on Lower Lonsdale in North Vancouver. The concerts I’ve been to before are polished performances, the venue has an intimate feel,  and at intermission you get the warming, small-town surprise of complimentary cookies baked by choir members.

This concert attracted a younger demographic: there were teenagers in hoodies crowding into the church along with the grey-haired regulars. It was probably Tim Tsang on the synthesizer, so cool in both appearance and performance,  who drew them in, but the overall combination of the voices and the synthesizer, along with the saxophonists’ improvisations, was astonishing whether they were playing new compositions or Palestrina.

Monday: Ronnie Burkett at the Cultch (occasionally known as the Vancouver East Cultural Centre). I hadn’t seen Burkett before. Friends had raved about how he brings puppets to life, creating a miniature world so compelling that you forget he is there, holding the strings. I was looking forward to seeing his next show, but this performance was just a read-through of his next work, Penny Plain — still being workshopped and subject to lots of changes.

I say “just a read-through,” but even without the marionettes and with his frequent editorial comments,  Burkett had the audience captivated. He is one of the born showmen and he blends the tragic or outrageous smoothly into his stories: there is nothing cutesy about his puppets and no censorship of plot or language.

Thursday: Denis Villeneuve’s movie Incendies at the Tinseltown theatre: it’s about a brother and sister trying to find their father after their mother’s death, as specified in her will. It’s a powerful movie, one of last year’s film festival favourites, with large parts of the action set in some unspecified parts of the Middle East. Liam Lacey, in his Globe and Mail review,  describes the ending as flawed but having elements of Greek tragedy, which is about right. Something not mentioned in most reviews, however, is how the movie elevates the role of the notary to something close to superhero. Notaries everywhere should see this movie if they ever need reassurance that they are in a meaningful profession.

Friday: Back to the Cultch for a concert with Mark Berube and the Patriotic Few. Mark Berube is, yes, a Simon Fraser University grad who lived and played music in this part of the world for a while until he moved to Montreal a couple of years ago. The Cultch is the right size for this kind of experience: you feel close enough to touch the musicians. Berube and his crew create the atmosphere of a big party where people have picked up their instruments and started playing together (though Mark’s piano would be a bit of a stretch). As seems to happen with this generation of indie performers, they have guests who come on to join them throughout the evening: this time it was Dan Mangan (the man of the moment), CR Avery, Meredith Bates, and Brendan McLeod.

At the end of this week I got all patriotic myself, thinking about the variety of  Canadian entertainment available any night of the week. It’s at times like this I’m glad I don’t have cable TV to distract me.

Not watching hockey

As a person not born in Canada, I have integrated pretty well, I think. I know the words to the national anthem in French as well as English. I can name the strengths and weaknesses of several politicians at the federal, provincial, and even municipal level. I understand some of the complexities of our love/hate relationship with our cousins, the Americans.

But I have completely failed to understand the national passion for hockey. I don’t get it at all. I am not a sports spectator anyway, though I have of course spent countless hours watching my children’s soccer and softball games — but that’s a parental requirement. Sport as such leaves me cold. And ice hockey is a particularly alien concept: fast, loud, frequently violent, and played in a cold and unfriendly environment.

I know there is something going on right now called the playoffs. Exactly what that is I couldn’t tell you, though I assume it’s some kind of end-of-season championships. But it means that even apparently normal Canadian men and women get caught up in playoff madness: needing to know the score, being elated when their team wins and cast down when it loses, criticizing players and debating endlessly what they should have done differently, and wearing hockey shirts, surely the ugliest garment ever designed, in public.

Pubs and casual restaurants that have big-screen TVs are intolerable locations during playoff time. But even if you avoid them, you are not necessarily safe. I have friends who have downloaded an iPhone app that gives them regular updates on game scores — I am lobbying to have the official list of Deadly Sins increased from seven to eight.

Of course, home is a hockey-free zone. But you have to be careful when going out. During playoff season so far, I have had to hide in artsy venues and the kind of restaurants where food and conversation are the twin priorities. I have:

  • been to a performance of Ruddigore, the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta, performed by the North Shore Light Opera Society at Presentation House Theatre;
  • attended  my daughter’s school play, an episode of Blackadder where she played Baldrick;
  • listened to Marc Destrubé and Alexander Weimann play Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms sonatas, courtesy of Early Music Vancouver, at the Unity Church on Oak;
  • listened to Jeremy Fisher and The Wailin’ Jennys at the Chan Centre;
  • dined at Les Faux Bourgeois, the Avenue Grill, and Osaka Sushi.

And —  success! Not a single televised hockey game at any of those locations.

Were you ready for Street View?


Now that the Google car has been to our neighbourhood, we can — almost — see our house on Google Street View. For some reason, the view switches over half a block when you get to our cross street. But all these little glitches will get worked out eventually.

The whole thing is sort of cool and sort of worrying at the same time. Fortunately, our provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner, David Loukidelis, is on it.

My daughter and her friends have been captured walking down a nearby road,  their faces obscured; our car has been spotted, with the licence plate ditto. But people are clearly identifiable to their friends and families: it takes more than blurring features to make people unrecognizable. I am taking a wait and see approach before I decide whether I like it or hate it.

I know that I really like the sentiments expressed by letter writer Roger Barany in the weekend Vancouver Sun:

How was I supposed to know Google’s sneaky street crew would come unannounced to sweep my block, snap my filthy car sitting outside my residence and post the image on its planet-wide social mapping site? When picture day is coming, can’t they send an advance note, the way my kid’s school does, so I can jazz up my crate a bit? When’s retake day?

Delhi 2 Dublin 2 West Vancouver

West Vancouver hosts the Harmony Arts Festival every summer. This is a ten-day outdoor festival right by the sea, with a craft market, exhibits, interactive sessions of all kinds, and concerts during the day and in the evenings. On the two August weekends it crosses, the place is teeming with both locals and visitors, and the evening concerts, on outdoor stages, are packed.

This year’s lineup of concerts included Delhi 2 Dublin on Tuesday night. Having seen them at the Folk Festival, I was keen to see them again. But when I arrived, I wondered what kind of a reception they would get.  The audience seemed to be composed of a lot of locals — at first glance, it appeared most had grey hair. I assume this was because it was a weekday evening and the retired members of the population had lots of time to reserve their seats close to the front. The younger crowd started to fill in, but they seemed to be in the minority.

I focused on a woman sitting across the aisle, whom I guessed was in her seventies. She was stylishly and expensively dressed, but she had a disapproving face. When the band members came out and started doing sound checks, she looked alarmed and annoyed. The sound system was powerful and the singer (shades and modified mohawk hair), who was shouting instructions to the technicians, looked menacing.

D2D4Delhi 2 Dublin is the perfect multicultural mix. Sanjay, the vocalist, brings it all together with his neo-bhangra sound, his “80s hair metal” and his leaping and dancing around the stage.  Andrew, the Korean, kilt-wearing electric sitar player, is an ideal foil, since he tends to stand still and smile while his hands have a life of their own,  playing at high speed. Ravi plays the dhol. Tarun, the tabla player, is the exemplary mix: half Punjabi, half Irish. Kytami plays the fiddle faster than any I’ve ever heard.

D2D1Their energy is startling; their music is a brilliant fusion of bhangra and Celtic, and their style is infectious. By the second piece, it seemed half the audience was up dancing. Sanjay whirls around the stage and shouts to the audience to all put their hands up in the air. And we do: all of us, including the grandmas and grandpas, the Indian families, and the well-dressed West Van matrons. It’s not long before we are all chanting: long wailing phrases or sharply shouted “hah, hah, hah” sounds,  following Sanjay’s lead. Kytami plays faster and faster and we clap faster and faster.

The woman across the aisle with the disapproving face is up dancing and clapping and making “hah” noises along with the rest of us. She looks over and smiles, just for a moment.

Tinseltown North

tinseltownWent to see a movie at Tinseltown recently. I’d never been to that theatre before, though I rather like the area. At night, there is a magical, alien quality to that no-man’s-land where Chinatown meets downtown on the edge of the downtown east side — especially at twilight when the streets are dark and lit up with neon but the sky is still light. There’s a futuristic feeling to the mix of old buildings, garish new structures like the one housing Tinseltown, and a hard-to-categorize mix of people milling around. It reminds me of the feeling you get from the crowded, Asian-looking streets in Blade Runner.

The Joy of Fall: Soccer Mom Morning

Overnight: one of the first close-to-freezing nights of the season. But the sun is up early, though low in the sky at this time of year, slanting across the field and giving us long shadows. Yellow and red trees dazzle against a blue sky.

The hint of frostiness on the grass is down to a heavy dew by the time we get there. The grass is so wet that for the first while you can see the footprints on it. Sunlight flashes in the corner of my sunglasses.

The soccer moms and dads hang out on the sidelines with their cups of coffee, chatting, as the girls move into position and start playing. The ref is the old English guy, who is very strict and often imposes rules no-one has ever heard of.

The crowd warms up. We start shouting instructions to the team. These instructions often conflict with what the coach is saying, but are probably ignored anyway.

My daughter scores! but this is a bonus. Being out here on this spectacular morning is enough.