52 weeks – 28 October, 2012

Book

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese.  I started out listening to this on CD and ended up by reading the book — it’s always interesting to compare the two experiences. Sunil Malhotra reads with a wonderful Anglo-Indian accent, which provides extra background atmosphere. One oddity of that accent is that the letter P sounds like B and C sounds like G, among other characteristics. So it wasn’t until I finally read the printed page that I realized the twins’ mother was Sister Mary Joseph Praise, not Braise.

Early in the story, the twins’ mother goes into labour at Missing Hospital in Ethiopia, where she works. Nobody had known she was pregnant and the shock and disbelief surrounding this news contribute to fatal delays in treatment. So, despite the belated efforts of the hospital staff, Sister Mary Joseph Praise dies giving birth to the twins, named Marion and Shiva. Their father, the surgeon Thomas Stone, arrives too late to save her and consequently bitterly resents and abandons his sons.

The story thereafter is seen mainly through the eyes of Marion, the first-born twin. The twins are raised by two doctors from the hospital, Hema and Ghosh. Inevitably, both boys show aptitude for medicine and learn from their parents.

The book is rich with the drama of village life and family life, the practice of medicine in a country where conditions are often primitive, and later the politics and bloodshed of Ethiopia during the reign and overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie.

Medical conditions and operations are described in detail, providing an intriguing look at human anatomy, the things that can go wrong with it, and the things that doctors and surgeons can do to repair it. Marion’s early matter-of-fact acceptance of these things and his growing fascination with the medical life unfold through much of the story.

There was only one thing I found less than believable. In this setting it’s inevitable that the topic of female genital mutilation should be raised, but it seemed unlikely that it would have been done to this particular character in this particular circumstance.

Aside from that quibble, I was under the spell of this book, completely enthralled by the writing. Verghese’s understanding of human quirks and human frailty is impressive. He makes you care about the twists in the lives of the twins and those in their circle. You enter their world and don’t want to leave it.

Food

I spent a much-needed few days away at Whistler: walks in the fresh, chilled air, reading and catching up on movies I’d missed, and enjoying lots of good food and drink.

I had this beautiful beet salad at Araxi. If you are in the Whistler area in October next year, check to see if they are doing the special October tasting menu. I am not a fan of huge plates of anything, so I love multi-course tasting menus: lots of different flavours and textures, beautifully presented and the opportunity to try several things instead of having to pick one or two. This was the second course in a dinner of smoked Roma tomato soup, mushroom risotto, ricotta gnocchi, and poached pear.

Play

Cozy Catastrophe by Theatre Melee/Rumble Productions at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre: “a dark comedy about ordinary folks bound together by extraordinary circumstance.”

My companion and I sat down and looked at the program. We were confused. Did we really buy tickets for something described as a zombie-apocalypse play? We bought tickets for the 2012-2013 play season back in spring or summer, so maybe we had just forgotten what we chose. Or maybe we thought it would be suitable for the week before Hallowe’en.

Well, it turned out to be a lot of fun. I agree with Plank Magazine’s “Unabashedly, hilariously gross.” Four strangers sheltering in a warehouse after some global disaster, the flashes and explosions of which continue to echo throughout, are trying to decide what to do. They consider applying the lessons of their lives so far. Make a two-column list of their needs and what they have on hand? Consider eating each other if and when the time comes? Repopulate the earth? Their deadpan demeanour works really well.

We laughed throughout the whole thing. It was a light, fun start to the play season.

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The Last Days of Judas Iscariot


Saw Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot as part of the Tremors Festival at the Cultch. It’s directed by Stephen Drover. The play deserved the wildly enthusiastic audience who saw it on Tuesday night. It is wickedly funny and yet all the timeless themes of love and betrayal, truth and forgiveness are given their due.

Judas Iscariot is on trial for his betrayal of Christ. The action takes place in a courtroom in Purgatory with modern dress and a brilliant, simple set. The actors were almost all outstanding, so it’s a bit silly trying to list all the stellar performances: Kevin McNulty as the judge, Katharine Venour and Marcus Youssef as the lawyers, Dawn Petten as Mother Teresa, Carl Kennedy as Pontius Pilate, and Michael Kopsa as Satan had me laughing so much that I missed some of the words and I vainly tried to remember some of the punchier lines. (The preliminary material says, “Strongest possible language warning.”) Ron Reed has a deceptively simple monologue as a remorseful Butch Honeywell that was note perfect.

The language is the real star in this production; the language of the street and of the courtroom — word meant to heal and words meant to wound. Because the witty script with its deadly verbal duelling keeps you on the edge of your seat, the scene at the end with Jesus and Judas is a bit of an anticlimax. Jesus actually uses the word “verily,” which struck a false note. Drawn-out piety is less appealing than rapid-fire profanity — to this shallow theatre-goer, anyway.