Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

Cine Gael Takes its cues from the Emerald Isle

Cine Gael, Montreal’s Irish film fest and the biggest in the world outside Ireland itself, kicks off its 18th edition Feb. 12.

Opening night features His & Hers, a 90-year-old love story, through the collective voice of 70 women.

Closing night, April 22, highlights The Trotsky, the N.D.G.-set film by Jacob Tierney, who will be in attendance. His producer (and father), Kevin Tierney, is also expected.

George Bernard Shaw once quipped: “A world bereft of both its Irish and its Jews would soon become a tame dull place indeed.”

Apropos, Cine Gael has included the short film Shalom Ireland on its program for February 26. It opens with the son of Robert Briscoe setting the scene. His father, the former Jewish mayor of Dublin, was the only man to have been guest of honour in both New York’s St. Patrick’s Day and Purim parades.

The Boys of St. Columb’s, a co-production with Concordia’s Irish Studies program, shows how the introduction of free secondary education for northern Irish in 1947 led to the development of important cultural figures, including Seamus Heaney, Seamus Deane and John Hume. Admission to this special screening on February 24 is free.

The Cine Gael festival is unique in having its presentations spread out over three months instead of squeezed into a 10-day package.

Showings are at Concordia’s Cinéma de Sève, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

While non-members can attend individual evenings for $7, $10 or $20, depending on the evening, the best deal is to join for the year for $60, which includes all seven screenings as well as special receptions and events throughout the year.

For complete festival programming, please visit cinegaelmontreal.com

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That paper on your doorstep every morning? It's a miracle

Publishing a monthly newspaper like The Senior Times sometimes requires a bit of divine assistance, but putting out a daily newspaper in today’s environment requires The Daily Miracle.

And that is indeed the title of a new play at Infinitheatre’s Bain St. Michel outpost. Written by David Sherman, a former critic and copy editor for the Montreal Gazette, as well as a playwright in residence at the Centaur, it has the ring of truth.

While Citizen Kane and The Front Page portray the newspaper industry for cinema, there are surprisingly few stage efforts with that theme.

The Chinese were the first to print a newspaper in 740 A.D.; the first newspaper in Europe did not appear until 1536, in Venice.

By 1702, England caught up, with the first English paper, The Daily Courant. It still wasn’t until 1783 that the first U.S. daily, The Philadelphia Evening Post, emerged.

So it wasn’t so long ago, only about 200 years, that the daily papers we grew up with and assumed were part of the fixed landscape grew and flourished. Today, with the advent of the Internet, we see many established brands closing or reverting to digital only. Reporters no longer schmooze together at pubs, and don’t always work in the office, sending in their stories by keyboard clicks from home.

The cover story of the Jan. 25 issue of The Nation, “How To Save Journalism,” highlights this problem.

The harried characters in The Daily Miracle have to balance syntax and accuracy with deadlines. The excellent cast includes Ellen David and Arthur Holden. The Daily Miracle runs till Feb. 14. 514-987-1774

***

Jack Kerouac’s On The Road became the literary Bible of a generation. An imaginary meeting in Florida between Quebec playwright superstar Michel Tremblay and Quebec–American Jack forms the basis of George Rideau’s miraculously posited play at the Centaur, Michel & Ti-Jean. Set in 1969, the use of an imaginary trip smacks a bit of What Happened After, Ray Robinson’s award-winning 2008 novel imagining Jack’s aborted trip to his ancestral province. This is a must-see, especially for fellow Kerouac freaks. How can you go wrong with Alain Goulem as Jack in a Sarah Stanley-directed play? A personal plea: Don’t refer to Jack as “king of the beats,” a media term he disliked. Michel & Ti-Jean runs till March 7. 514-288-3161

***

Constructed in 1172, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has miraculously not toppled yet. Nor has its fellow Italian city of Venice sunk into the ocean yet. These construction problems are joined by human relationships gone askid in Geometry in Venice at the Segal. Written 20 years ago and based on a Henry James novella, “The Pupil,” it is an opportunity to see the work of Michael Mackenzie. His Cirque de Soleil show KA is playing in Las Vegas. His The Baroness and the Pig won 2008 MECCA awards. National Theatre School wunderkind Chris Abraham returns from Toronto to direct. Geometry in Venice runs till Feb. 14. 514-739-7944

***

Gods can perform miracles, but cannot escape the ravages of time. That is the conceit behind The Mid-Life Crisis of Dionysus, the latest musical offering at the Mainline. Written by Fringe Theatre Festival managers Jeremy Hechtman and Patrick Goddard, with original music by multitalented Nick Carpenter, this promises to be literally a romp with the gods. Patrick also acts in the play, as does emerging star Paul Van Dyck.

The Mid-Life Crisis of Dionysus plays from Feb. 16 to March 6. 514-849-3378

Ed Note: No divine assistance was required for this edition of The Senior Times.

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Righteous Gentiles honoured at Segal Centre

Byron Toben

December, 2009

In The Human Condition, Masaki Kobayashi’s nine-hour film epic about the Japanese occupation of Manchuria — called by some the greatest film ever made — Kaji, a liberal intellectual drafted into the army to supervise starving Chinese prisoners, meets their leader, an aged spokesman.

The prisoner, sensing a sympathetic soul in Kaji, urges him to help the prisoners. When Kaji queries how he can do that, the leader replies “When good men are confronted with evil, they will find a way to act.” Later, when the brutal Kempei-Tai (Japanese military police) seek to chop heads for fun, Kaji intervenes, at the risk of his own head.

This powerful episode flashed into my head as I attended an event called When Decency Met Heroism during its final Canadian stop at the Segal Centre. The event honoured a group of Righteous Poles and Holocaust survivors.

L to R: Marian Golebiowski, Marianna Krasnodebeska, Ewa Juczyk-Ziomecka, Secretary of State Joanna Sobolewska; chancellery of the president of the Republic of Poland, Tadeusz Zylinski; Consul General, Janina Rozecka Photo: Anna Ronij

In tandem with the construction in Warsaw of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is an archive inspired by the tribute to Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem in Israel to over 6,000 individual Poles who risked their own lives to shelter Jews. It is inspiring to remember that, in addition to famous diplomats who issued escape visas to thousands – Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden and Chiuga Sugihara of Japan, for example there were a myriad of ordinary people who, like Kaji, did the right thing when confronted.

The Polish ambassador to Canada accompanied Marianna Krasnodebeska, 86; Janina Rozecka, 87; and Marian Golebiowski, 90 as they were honoured. In a handsome book issued in 2008 for the tour, which was attended by Barack Obama in Washington last spring, the stories of 65 Righteous are related in detail. An amusing anecdote told how Jews were taught the rosary and the sign of the cross to pose as Catholics. But Magdalena Grodzka, 84, relates, they signed too reverentially and slowly, closing their eyes. “Who’s ever seen such a thing?” she asked. It was a tip-off to the Nazis. She explained, one should “wave your hand around quickly, without touching: one-two-three.”

After the tributes, the joint started swinging with Yiddish songs by the dynamic Theresa Tova, last seen here in concert during the Yiddish Theatre Festival in June. Matt Herskowitz pounded the ivories with the fervor of Oscar Peterson, and Bryna Wasserman led viewers, including the amazingly spry honorees, in a concluding hora-like dance finale.

Visit the Museum of the History of Polish Jews at www.righteous.pl

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Educating Pygmalion time and again

December, 2009

Long ago and far away, Pygmalion of Cyprus, a slave revealed to be of Royal blood and restored as a king, decided what he really wanted to be was a sculptor. And what better inspiration than Galatea, the sea nymph, who, carved from ivory, then came to life.

Like the Cinderella story, this ancient tale has been the template for numerous retellings dressed up in contemporary garb. W.S. Gilbert made a lot of money with his 1871 verse play called Pygmalion and Galatea and that was before he teamed up with Sullivan.

The most famous version, of course, was Shaw’s 1913 play (later movie) called, well, Pygmalion, which was turned into the hit musical (and movie) My Fair Lady. The 1990 movie Pretty Woman continued this theme. In these earlier incarnations, the Pygmalion figure improved the diction or status of the female object. However, the 1980 British play Educating Rita (later, yep, a movie) put a spin on this plot, whereby the jaded Pyggie professor finds that he has a lot to learn from the spunky student, Liverpuddlian hair dresser Rita (nee Susan).

Although not stated in the script, I suspect that Susan/Rita is Irish, like many from Liverpool (the Beatles). Where else did she get that spunk?

You can see this role reversal with witty repartee at the latest in a string of hits at the Segal Theatre Centre. Ric Reid is pitch perfect as the prof and NTS alumna Carly Street as the charming lass, all against an impressive set designed by award winning John Dinning. The director, Marcia Kash, has herself played the role of Rita several times so she had added insight in sculpting this proven comedy drama to our eyes and ears.

Educating Rita continues at the Segal until December 13. Call 514-739-7944

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Cool notes played for Atwater library

Byron Toben

The evening breeze caressed the trees on a fine November night for Atwater Library’s annual fundraising cocktail benefit. Jazz pianist Oliver Jones opened with a medley of classic tunes to entertain the 300 guests.

When Oliver, who grew up near the venerable institution, was not playing, Concordia prof Dave Turner and his trio provided cool notes to the chatter and tinkling. The whole was m.c.’d by the amiable Dennis Trudeau who is busy these days as he also performed such duties at the Cinemania French film fest and the RIDM (Rencontres Internationales de Documentaire de Montreal) film fest.

Westmount mayor Peter Trent and City Councilor Martin Rotrand were among the minglers. A silent auction, including popular Aislin original cartoons, raised $72,000. Atwater Library receives only 10% of its funding from government sources.

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A show worth seeing – again

Byron Toben

In a fall season of many fine plays, three have been outstanding. Haunted, by local wunderkind Paul Van Dyck, closed October 31; Inherit The Wind closes November 8; and Till We Meet Again returns to Montreal from its successful tour of Ontario for three performances November 21 and 22.

Many of us are happily haunted by the golden age of ’40s songs, 30 of which are featured in Till We Meet Again.

This entertaining and lively play is based on a radio show of the fledgling CBC during World War II, broadcast from the Normandy room of the downtown Mount Royal hotel (now a shopping centre and apartment complex) from 1940 to 1946. Besides the songs of the day, the show, dubbed “Music of the Stars,” features the corny commercials of the time, heart-warming stories of men at war and letters from home.

During the play’s stopover in Mississauga, one Ray Lank showed up in the audience. Lank, it turns out, handled the live remote transmission of the prototype of the program from the Normandy room in 1945.

In Ottawa at the National War Museum, veterans of more recent military actions attended, as well as a few survivors from World War II.

In Montreal during the show’s October run, Edna Lee, 90, traipsed in from her Lachine home – at night, against the wishes of her children – to relive the days of tears, humour and hope she had heard on the radio back then.

A suprising number of younger viewers have shown up, revealing that the show is not only coasting on nostalgia, but also on good entertainment value honed by the talented and professional cast.

Conclusion? Don’t wait to see – or see again – Till We Meet Again. Till We Meet Again is on at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall at Concordia University’s Loyola Campus November 21 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and November 22 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available through Admission: 514-790-1245. Inherit the Wind continues until November 8 at the Segal Centre, 5170 Côte Ste. Catherine. Info: 514-739-7944 or segalcentre.org

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November brings chills, thrills and lots of music to stages around town

Three theatre pieces have now opened here, too recent to review, but with great credentials so I don’t hesitate to list them as must-sees.

Swan Song of Maria stars the incredible Ranee Lee exhibiting her acting chops to supplement her well-known singing and dancing skills.

In this show, which marks the 40th anniversary of the Black Theatre Workshop, Lee portrays a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s and memories of love. Actor-teacher Joel Miller is the husband. Dance and music (with a Latin twist) are integrated into the performance. Tyrone Beskin, fresh from his key role in Inherit The Wind, directs this “tragic fairy tale” by the award-winning Carole Cece Anderson.

Swan Song of Maria is at MAI, 3680 Jeanne Mance, until November 22. Info: 514-932-1104, ext. 226. *** Death and the Maiden brings back former Centaur director Gordon McCall in this proven political thriller by Chilean-born Ariel Dorfman. It deals with memories of torture and demons from the past, all told in a tight, gripping manner. Death and the Maiden is at Centaur Theatre, 453 St. François Xavier, until December 6. Info: 514-288-3161. *** Be My Baby deals with teenage girls giving up their babies for adoption in the ’60s. Directed by MECCA winner Gabrielle Soskin, this touching story features music from the period and a cast of six, including the versatile Nadia Verrucci. Be My Baby continues at Monument National, 1182 St. Laurent, until November 14. Info: 514-871-2224.

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