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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Wilde had nothing to declare but genius

This February, Lakeshore Players invite audiences to discover the vital “importance of being earnest” from the man who, upon entering the U.S. in the 19th century, claimed that he had nothing to declare except his genius.

Famed wit Oscar Wilde and director Kevin John Saylor will keep audiences in stitches with the classic comedy of “marriage, moralism, and mistaken identities.”

In this comedy of manners, two bachelors dissatisfied with their respective urban and rural social milieus forge new identities to be able to do as they please and pursue their objects of affection under a name that seems to inspire confidence among all women, only to find that their good-natured deceit has caught up with them – as has the formidable and daunting aristocratic prospective mother-in-law, Lady Bracknell.

The play is downright hilarious. I have seen people roll in the aisles. It’s marvelously witty, with brilliant dialogue, and the breadth of the manipulation of the intricacies of the English language is incredible.

As we appreciate the hilarity of the situations the characters find themselves in, we pick up aspects of the social subversion that would make Wilde an easy target for censorship and imprisonment.

Wilde mocks, and we laugh, at the class system:

“Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?” Current fashion: “The chin a little higher, dear. Style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at present.”

The battle between the sexes: “In married life three is company and two is none.”

The social life: “London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained 35 for years.”

Literary censorship: “Oh! It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read.”

Victorian literary morals: “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily; that is what fiction means.”

Fearsome mothers-in-law insistent upon heredity: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

The play is rife with elegant and laugh-out-loud witticisms; these were just a few. Audiences are invited to watch Oscar Wilde declare nothing but his genius until February 13 at John Rennie Theatre, 501 St. Jean Blvd., Pointe Claire. Tickets: Orchestra $22, balcony $18, students and seniors $16. To reserve: 514-631-8718.

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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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Black Theatre Workshop honors Bertrand Henry

Teacher and mentor Bertrand Henry will be honoured with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award Saturday, January 30 at Black Theatre Workshop’s 24th Annual Vision Gala Awards.

Henry, whose contribution to the arts and English theatre will be celebrated, is one of the original founders of Dawson’s Dome theatre and has been devoted to young people for over 25 years.

Cocktails, dinner and dancing will follow.

Info: 514-932-1104 ext.226 or blacktheatreworkshop.ca

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A haunting exposé of immigration

The Montreal Theatre Ensemble presents A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller’s haunting expose of the havoc compounded by jealousy, self-deception, and distrust upon a closely-knit 1950’s Italian-American community.

Bill Fletcher, who plays the narrator Alfieri, believes the play talks to the timelessness of human situations. “What happens today is what happened 500 years ago and 500 years before that.”

A View from the Bridge runs at Casgrain Theatre January 14-30, Tuesdays to Saturdays, 8 pm, Sundays, 2 pm.

Info: 514-515-9140 or mtlt.com

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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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Geordie presents: Could your grandchild be a Tiny Tim?

Wandering through legions of increasingly desperate shoppers as the holiday season nears is a tradition in most North American cities. Montreal is no exception: you need only to venture out of your door on December 23 to be confronted by the reality that Christmas is an extremely profitable time for shopkeepers. Luckily, there is another proud tradition in Montreal that serves to remind all generations of the true message of compassion and generosity of the holiday celebrations: theatre.

This December Geordie Productions presents Charles Dickens’s classic Victorian tale A Christmas Carol, adapted for the stage by Alexandria Haber, in co-production with Concordia University’s Theatre Department. The story of Scrooge, the cruel miser who is transformed into a caring and compassionate man by his journey through time with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, is one of the most enduring holiday tales of the genuine meaning of Christmas.

“It’s essentially a play about love and the true spirit of Christmas,” says publicist Siu-Min Jim. “We need to be reminded of that as Christmas becomes more and more commercial, and there’s more of a collective tendency towards the selfish desires represented by Scrooge in the play.” According to Jim, this Christmas story appeals to all ages because of the themes of kindness and redemption.

“The story is still the highlight in this adaptation,” Jim says, “we tell it funny but touching. We also have a great team of designers, including Ana Cappelluto, for set and lighting, and James Lavoie for costumes.”

“This production brings out the best of what theatre is,” Jim says. “It gives you just enough so that imagination can take over. Imagination is not limited to children. We need to remember that today and open ourselves to the magic.”

Geordie Productions is also offering a rare opportunity: they are searching for a Tiny Tim, the young, frail, but generous and loving son of Scrooge’s employee Bob Cratchit. The search began November 1, and Geordie invites aspiring young actors of both genders to seize the opportunity to perform in front of up to 400 people! No acting experience is necessary. Tell your children or grandchildren to send in:

· A recent head-to-toe photo

· A letter telling Geordie about the best gift they’ve ever received or given and why?

· A short paragraph about themselves (including their favourite subject at school, extra-curricular activities, hobbies, favourite books or writers.)

· A completed entry form signed by a parent/guardian/grandparent.

One of up to 26 participants will be selected to perform onstage in a single performance of A Christmas Carol. All entries must be received by November 20 at auditions@geordie.ca or Geordie Productions, 4001 Berri, Suite #103, Montréal, QC, H2L 4H2. A Christmas Carol runs December 4 - 13: Fridays at 7pm; Saturdays at 4pm; Sundays at 1pm & 4pm. Single Tickets: $20/ $15 children/ $18 seniors.

All tickets cost $13 if purchased as part of a Season Pass. Info: 514-845-9810 between 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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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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Adaptation of 12 Angry Men touches modern themes

Many people would prefer to avoid jury duty, but even the most politically negligent cannot avoid this civic responsibility that is central to our legal system. With a jury composed of peers, ordinary citizens are the arbiters of justice, and the effectiveness of democracy rests in their taking the trouble to engage in their duty to listen, discuss and decide on guilt or innocence.

While political analysts despair over public apathy, there remains a hope of life mimicking art as in a new production by the Lakeshore Players.

In 12 angry jurors, written by Reginald Rose in 1954 and adapted for the stage by Sherman Sergel, a group of strangers cast off their lassitude to assume their juridical responsibility.

The jurors are summoned to pass judgment on a young Puerto Rican man accused of his father’s murder. When nearly all of them quickly resolve to condemn the boy to death, a lone dissenter votes “not guilty”, obliging the others to discuss the matter further to reach a conclusive verdict. His forcing them not to act for the sake of expediency or bias results in their gradual awakening to the responsibility conferred on them and an examination of the prejudices that would have allowed them to commit a grave injustice.

The play, which has been produced both as a teleplay and as a film, is directed by retired John Abbott theatre professor Murray Napier. This is his second production with Lakeshore, the first being David French’s Silver Dagger from the 2007-2008 season.

Napier says he is impressed with the organization of the Lakeshore Players and the dedication of their volunteers and actors. “I proposed this play because I was struck by their talent,” Napier says, adding that the play “is a showcase for talent. It’s a terrific cast.”

This is Napier’s third time directing 12 angry jurors. The previous productions were at John Abbott. “These actors are the right age,” Napier adds jokingly. “I don’t have to encourage them to be more mature in their portrayals.”

Rose’s teleplay was originally called 12 angry men and later changed to 12 angry jurors.

“I’ve always done it with mixed casts,” Napier says. “It’s interesting to see how the female actors have made the play their own.”

“In theatre departments, you often have to turn men into women,” he adds. While the title of the play might have become more gender-neutral over the decades, the emotion that typifies the characters remains unchanged.

“Anger is the central energy in the play,” Napier says. “There’s the anger of someone who will fight for justice, whose battle is aimed at getting to the truth, and there’s the personal anger of the jurors getting in the way of justice. In the beginning, the anger is directed at this one relentless juror. Then, as they start to ferret out the truth, the anger changes direction.”

Despite the near unjust conviction at the beginning of the play as a result of the jurors’ prejudices, Napier asserts that his play is very supportive of the justice system: It only requires that the role of the individual to ensure justice be taken seriously. “The system is susceptible to mistakes,” Napier admits, “but that comes with a democracy. Democracy is vulnerable, but also a defense against tyranny. You look at recent injustices – Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo – and you realize how that system needs to be preserved. Especially in a time of war, you don’t throw away the values you’re committed to. True values persist,” Napier insists. “The jurors’ hearts are in the right place. It’s exciting to see whether or not they’ll do the right thing.”

According to Napier, the jurors undergo a catharsis, a self-realization only encountered through the renewed pursuit of justice. “You’re moved by the way they deal with the conflict,” Napier says. “What you enjoy is to see that good will survive the onslaught of obstacles, to watch justice and understanding triumph.”

“This play gives a hopeful message,” Napier says. “It gives the audience a sense of the good side of what America wants to be.”

12 angry jurors runs at John Rennie Theatre, 501 St. Jean, Pointe Claire, from November 5-7 and 11-14. To reserve, call 514-631-8718.

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“Oh, had I but followed the arts!”

The lament of Sir Andrew Ague­cheek from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night finds no resonance among the halls of Royal West Academy. There are a variety of ways to get involved in theatre, including the Bardolators, the student Shakespeare group that mounts two of the Bard’s plays every year, a tragedy and a comedy.

This year’s fall production, Shake Up Shake Down, is an assortment of scenes from Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies. While the students normally perform two full-length plays a year, they recognize that the highlighting of choice scenes from different shows gives the cast a chance at larger roles and the opportunity to discover works of Shakespeare that they had not yet encountered.

Doug Floen, the longtime artistic director of many shows at Royal West Academy, is a staunch supporter of the students being exposed to Shakespeare outside the classroom setting.

The Bardolators on their trip to England a year and a half ago, at the London Eye

Sidney Westlake a teacher and Royal West and is the producer and treasurer of the bradolater plays. She agrees with Floen on the point of active student involvement with Shakespeare.

“Teenagers should be exposed to the genius of Shakespeare as he truly understood human nature.” The recognition of Shakespeare’s perpetually relevant insight Mrs. Westlake hoped for seems to have materialized itself in the students.

“Shakespeare’s themes were pertinent then and they’re pertinent now,” said Emma Pask, a fourth-year Bardolator. “You can always relate to what’s happening in his plays.”

Rebecca Kaiser-Reiss, in her last year at Royal West, explains the empathy evoked in students by the Shakespearean characters. “I didn’t notice until recently but lots of Shakespeare’s plays deal with teenagers, and the inner workings of their minds.”

She offers the example of Hamlet, a young man who’s “stressed and depressed.” Not to be overly dramatic, she says, but she can appreciate how he feels. While the students admit to being sometimes overwhelmed by the large workload and number of rehearsals required to put on a show, they are quick to share their favourite thing about being part of the theatre group.

“Being onstage – It’s the greatest feeling ever,” said William Lapin, a grade eight student. Kaiser-Reiss interjected, “Doing Dinner Theatre. Everyone’s been eating and drinking and there’s really good vibes. It’s so much easier to get onstage and just go crazy because the people looking up at you just want it.”

Pask credited acting as being responsible for her boost in confidence when it comes to speaking and writing as well having helped her better express her thoughts to her teachers.

She said there is a great sense of accomplishment when a play closes.

Sidney Westlake, shares Emma’s pride in being involved in such a large production. Floen said one reason for his long commitment to the promotion of theatre at Royal West is, “the joy of watching kids grow and explore characters and parts they wouldn’t normally be able to do in the classroom.” Floen has been amazed by the talent demonstrated by students.

“Some of the most pure and honest acting comes from novices who bring a fresh spirit to it,” he said. Shake Up Shake Down runs November 23-26 at 7pm, Dinner Theatre November 27 at 6pm. Admission: $10, Seniors $7, Students $5. Advance Tickets for Dinner Theatre $25. Tickets can be bought at the door or by calling 514-489-8454 for reservations.

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Theatre yet to come

October, 2009

In October, the season bursts upon us with some fascinating offerings.

Centaur Theatre is guaranteed sell-out nights from October 6 to November 1 with In Piazza San Domenico by Steve Galluccio, a Montreal Fringe baby who has hit the big time with the Centaur’s Mambo Italiano. Piazza is set in Naples in 1952 and promises to be another hit.

Centaur is also launching a darker piece called Rock, Paper, Jackknife in its smaller space from October 6 to 17. It involves stowaways washing up on Quebec’s shores and features several of Montreal’s fine young actors. Info: centaurtheatre.com or 514-288-1229.

Theatre Ste. Catherine is balancing its usual improvs with a dark play by Irish writer Martin McDonagh, called Pillowman about child murders aping a short story series. Running from October 21 to 31, it ties in with the Halloween spirit. Info: Theatrestecatherine.com or 514-284-3939

Paul Van Dyck produces and performs a chilling Poltergeist drama called Haunted from October 21-31, at St. James United Church, with top local actors. Do not confuse our Paul with the rock musician, Paul Van Dyk (no “c”) who has a hit song called The Haunted.

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Song, dance, humour, and a dramatic story line

October, 2009

The original impetus for the play Till We Meet Again by David Langois, opening on October 16 at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, was his love of the music of that era. But as the playwright began to research the play, interviewing former soldiers and civilians who remember those years vividly, he felt that the stories and emotions of that time also needed to be told.

The result is a tremendously popular show, Till We Meet Again, that has been presented five times since it was written in 2002. The play recreates two years of Music of the Stars, a live national radio variety show broadcast by the newly created CBC starting in 1940.

Director, Heather Markgraf-Lowe

“I think the key to the success of this show is that it’s so varied,” says director Heather Markgraf-Lowe. “Not only does it have songs and dance, it has a dramatic story line, the humour of the commercials and the poignancy of the letters.” While the news broadcasts and commercials in the play during the radio show are authentic, the personal letters that figure in the storyline are composites, based on various stories of the time, Markgraf-Lowe said.

The stage is set up like a radio show, complete with cue cards and lights that let the audience know they are on air. The show’s audience is called upon to be more than observers. “The MC tells the audience when to clap or be quiet. ‘When this sign is on, we’re broadcasting all across Canada.’ When the lights are on, it’s like a live show and the audience becomes the radio audience.”

In the process they also get to know the performers in the show. “There is the back story of those who are on the stage. The audience sees them as they begin the radio show and they bring along their stories,” Markgraf-Lowe said. “This didn’t happen overnight. We didn’t have the back story of the actors. As we remounted the show we worked on this. At the end of the show, the audience believes they know these people. They are real because they have a life.”

The costumes and music add to the realistic portrayal of the era. “Without the music it wouldn’t be the show. The music is so important.” The most popular songs of the time are heard, including White Cliffs of Dover, Lili Marlene, We’ll Meet Again, Goodnight Sergeant Major and Sentimental Journey.

Markgraf-Lowe, who founded and ran the Hudson Village Theatre for 11 years before she founded Theatre Panache in 2003, says the show is relevant to today’s troubled times. “We’re fighting in Afghanistan and our boys are going out there and they’re dying. Canadians are very aware of the fact that Afghanistan is not our country, not even our Mother Country. Our boys who are going out there are being killed and maimed and wounded emotionally as well as physically.”

Kathleen McAuliffe in Till we meet again Photo: Maurice Jefferies

It resonates in today’s economy as well, she says. “It was tough times then, and it’s tough today. We’re saving our plastic bags. We’re realizing we can’t just throw stuff away anymore.”

At the same time, Markgraf-Lowe says the show is free of politics, with audiences from all backgrounds responding favourably, including the director’s German parents-in-law, who “loved the piece. Japanese, Italian, German members of the audience all love it – because they sang those songs too.”

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Quebec talent contributes to Hollywood

September, 2009

Many Canadians contributed to the early growth of the U.S. film industry. As the Montreal World Film Festival (August 27 to September 7) winds down, let’s take a look at seven Quebecers, all born before 1930, who were key to big-screen history.

Mack Sennett was born in 1880 in Danville (Eastern Townships) as Michael Sinnott to an Irish family from County Wexford. By 1908, he made his way to New York and became a leading man in the early short films of the legendary D.W. Griffith, who put Sennett in charge of comedy films. In 1912, he launched his own Keystone Studios. In additioni to the well-known Keystone Kops, the studio made the first feature-length comedy, Tillie’s Punctured Romance starring Charlie Chaplin and Ontarian Marie Dressler. The landmark Hollywood sign was originally built by Sennett on the grounds of his mansion in Los Angeles.

Florence La Badie was born in 1893 in Montreal to a well-off family and educated by the Sisters of the Convent at Notre Dame. A prodigy, she spoke English, French and German and sang and played piano well enough to perform with the Philadelphia orchestra. Moving to New York, the talented heiress became a film actress with Thanhauser Studios, particularly with the Million Dollar Mystery, a 23 episode series. She became an ardent peace activist and was obsessed with President Woodrow Wilson, a family friend. In 1914 she took a six month leave after a stay at the White House. Rumours spread that she had had Wilson’s illegitimate child. She died in 1917 after a car crash.

Douglas Shearer was born in 1899 in Montreal and grew up with his sisters in Westmount. One sister, Norma (see below) became one of the all time Hollywood queens. He was never an actor, but was nominated for 25 Academy Awards and won 14 for his contribution to sound. A McGill engineering student, he visited Los Angeles just when Norma’s career was taking off. Hired by Jack Warner (to babysit canine star Rin Tin Tin!), he pioneered, in 1926, his technique of sound synchronization. Working with RCA Victor, he invented sound on film in a single reel. Employed by MGM, he became lighting director as well. Later, he improved film stock quality and began stereo research. During the Second World War, at the request of Winston Churchill, Shearer helped the development of radar. In addition to his 801 films, he created Tarzan’s yell and the MGM lion’s roar.

Norma Shearer was born in 1902 in Montreal. She lived the life of a Westmount debutante until the Depression hit and she had to play piano in a music store window. Her mother had Norma’s crossed eyes cured by the famous Dr. N.H. Bates, whose “Bates Method” is still controversial. This led to a modelling career and a trip to Mayer studios in Hollywood, where she was championed by MGM boy genius Irving Thalberg, whom she eventually married in 1928. This union won the enmity of her rival Joan Crawford. Thalberg produced a string of hits, but died at 37, leading to a fight with Louis B. Mayer over her royalties from the estate. She won. She will be remembered for the fireworks between her and Crawford in The Women as well as her many box office successes in the ’30s.

Glenn Ford was born in Ste. Christine (near Quebec City) as Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford, a “miracle baby,” since his pregnant mother survived a house fire three weeks before his birth. His family moved to Santa Monica, Calif., where he attended high school. His film career began in 1934 and he got his first starring role in The Adventures of Martin Eden, a Jack London story, in 1942. It premiered in Quebec City, where he was lionized by both English and French press. Glenn enlisted in the Marines and was one of the first to liberate Dachau. Back in Hollywood, he starred in Gilda with Rita Hayworth, a role that shot him to the top. Blackboard Jungle is another of his classics. In 1968, at age 52, he went to Vietnam in a combat role. Younger filmgoers may remember him as Jonathon Kent, adoptive father of Superman.

Colleen Dewhurst was born in Montreal in 1924. Her father was a CFL player for the Ottawa Rough Riders and raised her as a tomboy. She took odd jobs in order to study acting in New York, where she debuted in 1946. She met and married acting icon George C. Scott (twice). She became the interpreter par excellence of Eugene O’Neill plays. Her many stage triumphs led to TV and film offers. TV roles included Murphy Brown’s mother and roles in Dr. Kildare, Hitchcock Presents and Love Boat. Canadians will remember her as Marilla in Anne of Green Gables. In film, she was paired with Barbara Stanwyck, Diane Keaton and Sean Connery.

Christopher Plummer was born in 1929 in Montreal on “Black Friday”, the day of the great stock market crash. Acting in Montreal and Ottawa led to roles in New York and England. He portrayed many plum Shakespeare roles at Stratford, UK, (Richard III, King Lear) and Stratford, Ont., (Henry V, Hamlet, MacBeth, Cyrano.) Film beckoned in 1958, leading to the 1965 mega-hit The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews. Forty years later, still active, he had a strong supporting role in George Clooney’s Syriana.

Bruce Yaccato’s wonderful 2006 Screen Legends provided much of the above information.

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Yiddish fest a resounding success

July 2009

One of the concerts at the recent Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival featured the dynamic Toronto singer Theresa Tova. Her song Nacht und Tag, a Yiddish version of Cole Porter’s classic Day and Night, served as a metaphor for the jam-packed program.

Wedding and Divorce - The State Jewish Theatre of Bucharest. Photos: Robi Cohen

The festival, the world’s first, was activated only last January in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Montreal’s Yiddish Theatre, founded by the late Dora Wasserman.

The festival was conceived and run by her daughters, Ella and Bryna Wasserman. Events were held at the Segal Centre, where Bryna is the artistic director. Over 100 volunteers eased the incredible logistics.

The Nacht und Tag program featured lectures, symposia, exhibits, music, cinema and,most notably, theatre.

Theatre groups from six countries – Canada, France, Israel, Poland, Romania and the US – mounted 14 shows for full houses.

For those, like me, who do not speak Yiddish, English and French supertitles were indispensable.

Bonjour Monsieur Chagall - National Jewish Theatre of Warsaw

Israeli troupe Yiddishspiel performed Nobel-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Last Love, a bittersweet comedy about a senior couple grasping at a loving relationship.

Montreal’s Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre ended the week on a high with the boisterous Those Were The Days, a song and dance extravaganza tracing the Yiddishkeit culture from the shtetl to New York.

Twelve cinema documentaries included The Golden Age of 2nd Avenue, about a time when 23 Yiddish theatres graced the New York scene.

Far flung communities from Argentina and Australia were also represented. Mitch Smolkin and Klezmer En Buenos Aires explored 100 years of collaboration between Yiddish and World music.

Alex Dafner and Tomi Kalinski jetted in from Melbourne to do a performance presentation on the history of Yiddish theatre there.

Sabell Bender of California lectured on Jacob Adler, King of the Yiddish theatre, who started as a boxer in Odessa and ended up in New York, where he and playwright Jacob Gordin added serious drama to the tradition of minstrel-like “shun.”

Plentiful klezmer music indoors and in the adjacent park, maintained the Nacht und Tag motif.

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Byron’s picks for this year’s Fringe Festival

June 2009

The 19th edition of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival runs from June 11 to 21 and includes 90 presentations. Most are about an hour long and will be shown six or seven times each.

Chris Gibbes is detective Antoine Feval

Prices range from $4 to $12. The paid events are spread out in 10 theatres and three “off fringe” venues downtown. In addition, there are 43 free events at the Fringe Central outdoor stage, located at St. Laurent and Rachel, along with the beer tent and box office, where you can pick up the essential free program of events. Now for this year’s top picks.

Brazil Nuts marks the fourth appearance in Montreal of the inventive Susan Jeremy. Her 1998 show Was That My 15 Minutes? won the Just for Laughs prize. Brazil Nuts deals with gay and immigrant rights.

How to get your Foot in the Door Without Losing It brings back Derick Lengwenus, a favourite deadpan comic. jem roll will perform his newest routine, Leastest Flops, having recharged his batteries in Laos and Vietnam. This energizer bunny motor mouth is ready to charm us with updated versions of his best work. As well as adding some new pieces, Jem also promises to be more theatrically physical to heighten his comedic, lyrical and always witty repartee.

The cast of Pre/Intervention

Dance Animal, choreographed and directed by Robin Henderson, is our own Montreal version of Hollywood’s Busby Berkely. Featuring 10 well- coached dancers, this extravaganza literally explodes before your eyes.

Pre/Intervention is written by actor Graham Cuthbertson. Six top young Montreal actors portray a family in crisis as the daughter moves into her first apartment. They describe the piece as a “meta-theatrical comedy of errors.”

Penumbra is directed by Montreal favourite Paul Van Dyck, who has performed in Paradise Lost, Sahara Crossing and Dracula. He has been able to corral an all-star cast of four to put on Katherine Dempsey’s play about sex and technology through two couples at different stages of life and love.

Tired Clichés, created by the “King of the Fringe,” T.J. Dawe, will knock your socks off. Although this year marks T.J.’s first absence in Montreal since his first appearance many years ago, he is well represented by a new production of this show, performed by award-winning Alex Eddington, resident artist at Tarragon Theatre of Toronto.

Last year, Jonno Katz of Australia impressed with his direction of the successful show The Sputniks starring Elison Zasko. This year, he wrote and acts in The Accident, a fusion of theatre, comedy and dance involving two brothers and cooking.

Dance Animal is wild

Six life-size puppets and the live, effervescent Lana Schwarz come from Australia in Granpa Sol and Grandma Rosie. Schwarz plays Nurse Jackie at an eldercare facility, who discovers there is far more to aging than getting old. This highly visual show mixes verbatim testimony with endearing comedy.

Antoine Feval is “Victorian England’s most overlooked detective” who emerges from the shadow of Sherlock Holmes as embodied by Chris Gibbes. Clueless deduction meets deceit in 75 deliciously funny minutes.

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is adapted by Neal Corrin into a streamlined 75-minute version.

This group of grads from N.Y.U.’s heralded theatre program have become a favourite of the Edinburgh Fringe. Sportssexdeathporn is described as a dance theatre multimedia work centering on a naïve housewife lured into her husband’s Ponzi scheme.

Don’t overlook the many fine French shows as well, including one by Pablo Picasso (yes, that Pablo!).

For information, call 514-849-FEST or visit www.montrealfringe.ca

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British to Yiddish at the Segal Centre

“This is England, circa 1890, where the British gentry are fair game for Gilbert’s razor sharp wit,” explains the director of Pirates of Penzance, Bryna Wasserman. “The star of the show, before anyone steps on stage is without a doubt, the translator.”

Gab Desmond plays Fayvl and Kerry-Anne Kutz is Malka photo: Randy Cole

Al Grand’s adaptation whimsically transforms the popular standard from British to Yiddish. The original English plot line remains intact with Frederic, an apprentice indentured to pirates until his 21st birthday, wooing Mabel, the Major General’s daughter, only to discover that he was born on a leap year and won’t be free to marry her until 1940.

In the Yiddish version, the Major General becomes the Groyser General, an Orthodox Jew and friend of Benjamin Disraeli. Mabel is Malka, Frederic becomes Fayvl, a Yeshiva student, and Ruth, the hard-of-hearing nursemaid who mistook her master’s instructions to apprentice the boy to a pilot (not pirate), becomes Rivke. To her, the wayfaring pirates brandishing their swords appear as a group of kosher butchers and the mayhem that ensues is pure Gilbert and Sullivan hijinks, replete with tongue-in-cheek satire and the legendary high-speed patter.

“It’s fun to go back and forth between the 19th century British silliness and sarcastic, campy Yiddish remarks – and remarkably smooth,” said an actor backstage.

Pirates of Penzance continues until June 16 at the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre, 5170 Côte Ste. Catherine. Tickets range from $17 to $44.

Call 514-739-7944.

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Local artists await the Empress

May, 2009

Many who have attended theatre performances at Geordie Productions or the Black Theatre Workshop would be surprised to learn that these well-known institutions don’t have permanent homes. After all, the two companies have entertained Montrealers for decades, Geordie Productions since 1980 and BTW since 1971.

The Quebec Community Groups Network describes English-speaking artists as “a minority community which is under-funded and geographically dispersed,” leading to isolation and “ghettoization” with “pockets of people not communicating with each other.” One reason for this is a glaring lack of adequate performance venues for local artists.

But this situation may soon improve. The two theatres, along with the McGill Conservatory’s community outreach program,the City of Montreal and the Borough of CDN/NDG, have joined forces with the board of the Empress Cultural Centre. The intention is to finally get a long-simmering $9 million project off the ground, that of restoring the former CinemaV on Sherbrooke W. to its original vocation and creating a cultural centre for the local arts scene. Most of the rare art-deco building has stood empty since being ravaged by a fire in 1992.

Taking the initiative from the Bourque administration, Montreal leased the building to Empress Cultural Centre Inc. in 1999 for 60 years, with the understanding that a multifunctional performing arts centre would be created.

“It’s been a bit of a saga, but it all came together last year,” said project coordinator Christiane Loiselle, as she described navigating the treacherous path to obtain funding. Several requirements had to be met in order to qualify for provincial and federal grants. Simply wanting a cultural centre didn’t cut it. There had to be artists, programming and a community element as well.

“The Minister of Culture doesn’t give money to a developer, but to artists. The two theatres agreed to formally join the project. When McGill joined, the board acquired a very serious and professional partner. Agreements were written, and signed.”

As well, the city had already invested some money in the project and will invest more pending the response from the other levels of government. The borough was on board as well, and offered some guidance. “The borough was very helpful in structuring the application,” Loiselle said.

Overcoming each obstacle made the team stronger and more credible. “We are an entity, professional artists, with solid consistent programming,” Loiselle said. “In the end it became a better project. The moment the doors open there will be music lessons, performances – the building will be fully lived in.”

All the players are in place, set, just waiting to hear “Go!” When that happens, a 350-seat theatre will be built, with a smaller “blackbox” theatre for experimental and multimedia performances. On the mezzanine a 50-seat cabaret space is planned, as well as an art gallery, and space for studios and an office. The Montreal Chamber Music festival will continue to lease the premises as it does now in the small recently renovated space formerly occupied by the Sesame health food store.

The building will be used primarily – but not exclusively – for English-speaking Montrealers. “If individuals or organizations want to use the space at the Empress in a way compatible with our mission mandate, we would make every effort to accommodate them,” said Dr. Clarence Bayne, who is the founder of the BTW but sits on the board as a representative of NDG.

One of the reasons the project has taken so long is the reshuffling of priorities during the transition from one government to another, Bayne said. “The transition slowed things down. It brought in a new administration that had to find its own vision for the city. But now the future looks good in the sense that we’re getting tremendous support from the city – not just at a personal in-house level but in a public forum. Mayors Tremblay and Applebaum have publicly indicated they support this project.”

Community activist Arnold Bennett is on the board of directors as well. He believes the restoration of the building will benefit everyone. “A cultural centre would revitalize that part of Sherbrooke St. It’s good for the neighbourhood and good for the quality of life of its residents.”

On May 20 and 21 Geordie Productions and the Empress Cultural Centre are holding a joint fundraiser, with proceeds going toward the project. This year’s play will be Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring, directed by Elsa Bolam, founder of Geordie Productions and Empress board member, who came out of retirement for this special occasion. The cast will be made up of a dedicated group of volunteers, with sets and costumes supplied by Geordie. A reception will follow the performance. The event takes place at the DB Clarke Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve W.

For tickets, information or to donate toward the renaissance of the Empress, visit www.geordie.ca or call 514-845-9810 or 514-481-6277.

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Two types of families in our two top theatres

May, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods at the Segal features an inter-generational relationship between grandparents – four of them – and their grandson. It was written by Joe DiPietro, author of such award-winning plays as the wonderfully titled I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.

The title of this play comes from a song based on an 1884 poem by Lydia Maria Child anonymously set to music. The second line “to grandfather’s house we go” was apt for this play, the river being the Hudson and the woods New Jersey. A later stanza inserts a second line “to have a first rate play.” How apropos!

The grand daughter has moved to California. Nick, the grandson (Gianpaulo Venuta), is the only blood relative left in New York and he dutifully visits his grandparents for Sunday dinners.

Conveniently, both the paternal and maternal sets are neighbours so we get a lot of jokes about food and family. The Italian phrase “Tengo familigia” becomes the slogan for old-world blue-collar immigrants who love the neighbourhood they made their life in. They are devastated by Nick’s announcement that he is going to Seattle for a career promotion.

Special plaudits go to the fantastic quartet of grandparents, Frank Savino and Deann Mears (a real-life couple) and Bernie Passeltiner and Winnipeg icon Doreen Brownstone.

To the Segal, whose selection is wonderfully eclectic: We Love You, You’re Perfect, Don’t Change.

Over the River and Through the Woods ends May 10 at the Segal Centre, 5170 Côte Ste. Catherine. Call 514-739-7944.

With Bated Breath at the Centaur features fine acting and direction, but deals with broken families and dysfunctional souls.

Writer/codirector Bryden MacDonald’s play is set largely in Cape Breton. Individual musings range from poetic contemplation about cloud formations to sad reflections on missing parents and infantile play with paper bags. While the play is largely built around homosexual urges and male strippers, with three fine male actors – Centaur regular Neil Napier and newcomers Eloi Archambaudoin and Michael Sutherland-Young – the three ladies almost steal the show. Kiss My Cabaret followers in withdrawal mode should run to see Danette Mackay’s return as the booze-influenced chicken-farm owner. Her comedic talents are matched by those of Felicia Shulman as the mean-spirited neighbour. Sarah C. Carlsen’s dreamy character has to play foil to these two powerhouses and she acquits her role well.

The script cleverly juggles flashbacks and forwards, but does not establish the protagonist as a likable character an audience can empathize with before his inner journey’s ups and downs. Warning for the easily offended: Male nudity is involved.

With Bated Breath ends May 24 at the Centaur, 453 St. François Xavier.

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Lyric theatre brings Gershwin to Montreal

May, 2009

The Lyric Theatre Singers, who interpret Broadway, jazz, and pop choral music are at it again with their newest show paying tribute to composer George Gershwin, directed by Bob Bachelor, at the Oscar Peterson Hall, 7141 Sherbrooke W from June 11 to 13.

George Gershwin was not only a creator of the golden age of American musical theatre but also a successful composer of music for the concert hall. Songs he wrote include The Man I Love, Embreacable you and I Got Rhythm .

These concerts are an opportunity to rediscover Broadway’s best from a wide range of traditional and contemporary composers. Excerpts from hit shows such as the Lion King, Annie Get Your Gun, Spring Awakening, and Young Frankenstein are featured.

The Lyric Theatre has grown from a small group performing an annual production into a company of performers from all areas of the city, rehearsing and performing 10 months out of every year.

Concerts are June 11-12 at 8pm and June 13 at 2pm. Tickets are $14 - $28. To reserve: 514-363-3382.

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Alice Returns to Geordie

Alain Goulem, Deena Aziz and Glenda Braganza from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will appear in Geordie’s upcoming Alice Through the Looking Glass. Photo: David Babcock

Lewis Carroll’s delightful story about a little girl and her magical world, adapted by Harry Standjovski, continues to weave its web of wonder at Geordie Productions. Alice Through the Looking Glass takes up where Geordie’s 2006 production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland left off, reuniting many of the same actors and designers.

This hilarious and elaborate stage production of the classic story features some of Montreal’s best known actors and award-winning designers and promises to bring audiences to an even wilder Wonderland than before.

Alice Through the Looking Glass runs from May 1-10. Info: 514-845-9810

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Back to the future at Centaur

April, 2009

Centaur Theatre has another in a string of hits in this, its 40th year, with the fascinating Age of Arousal. This piece, written by Linda Griffiths of Maggie and Pierre fame, is loosely based on George Gissing’s 1893 novel, The Odd Women. Beneath its exposition of Victorian era hypocrisy and somewhat overshadowed by the bravura performances of five outstanding local women actors (and one more-than-token man) are the age-old building blocks of money and sex. Marx and Freud are friends of theatre.

The production makes frequent use of interior monologues — clued by quick lighting changes — to highlight what the actors think, often the opposite of their spoken text.

Victorian England was a cradle of the women’s suffragette movement and the concept of the “new woman.” George Bernard Shaw’s two plays of 1893 were prohibited from production until 1902, but mirrored Gissing’s themes by discussing the emergence of “manly women and womanly men” in The Philanderer and of the economic causes of women’s plight in Mrs. Warren’s Profession.

In Age, boisterously directed by Sarah Stanley, two women Mary (Clare Coulter, fresh from Buried Child at the Segal) and Rhoda (Alison Darcy, star of A Doll’s House at the Segal) run a secretarial school, funded by Mary’s lectures on women’s rights, and teach down-and-out ladies employable skills. Their business partnership is buttressed by their close personal relationship as odd women (Vicspeak for lesbians).

Fireworks ensue when they take on three sisters, definitely not Chekov’s Trio, who are intimidated by the high tech machines of the day — Remington typewriters!

The amazing Leni Parker, winner of MECCA awards, wins the house with her portrayal of Virginia, the boozy sister. Equally impressive are Diana Fajrajsl as Alice, the suffering sister and Gemma James-Smith as Monica, the naïve sister.

The one male, Julian Casey, plays a bounder, but with redeeming actions. In the play, Rhoda predicts that their goals will be achieved within 30 years — by 1915.

Alas, votes for women in 1893 were allowed only in New Zealand. England and Canada joined the move in 1918.

Age of Arousal continues until April 19. Info: 514-288-3161.

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A tale of what might have been

Precious little is known for sure about Millicent Milroy (1890-1894). But this much is engraved in stone: “Millicent Milroy A.M.M.M. St. Daughter of James and Helen Milroy, 1890 — Wife of Edward V111, 1894.

The tombstone, at Mountain view Cemetery, in Ontario, was engraved by Ms. Milroy herself shortly after the death of the Prince of Wales in 1972. Until she died in 1984, the former school teacher maintained that she had met Edward at the Iroquois Hotel in Galt during one of his visits to North America, and had married him. There are several versions of the story, including the speculation that two boys, Edward and Andrew, were born of the union and had been adopted,with Edward having made secret arrangements.

After playwright Gary Kirkham heard the story on CBC, he visited the gravesite. His imagination went wild and he resolved to dig a little deeper. During his research, the clerk at the library instantly recognized his subject and said “Oh you mean Milli,” and Kirkham’s first full length award-winning play, was conceived.

“You have an irresponsible man and a very down-to-earth woman,” he explains. Kirkham attributes the play’s success to its actors. “In the end, the paper is not the art form. It’s the actors on stage, not the words on the page.” Info: 514-631-8718.

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Three hot tips on April theatre

April, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods

The author of this comedy/drama, Joe Di Pietro, is best known for his musical, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. In this play, popular Off Broadway, he deals with the conflicts of an Italian-American third generation grandson in moving across the continent for job advancement and the grandparents – all four of them – intent on keeping the family together in one place. These concerns will certainly resonate with the large Jewish audience at the Segal.

The whip-smart dialogue – DiPietro was a marketing copywriter before hitting it big in show biz – plus the usual superb production values of the Segal – augur for a well spent evening.

Over The River plays at The Segal April 19 to May 10.

Info: 514-739-7944

Paradise Lost
In George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 masterpiece, Don Juan in Hell, the Devil refers to John Milton’s 1665 epic thusly: “(He) described me as being expelled from Heaven by canons and gunpowder; and to this day every Briton believes that the whole of his silly story is in the Bible. What else he says I do not know; for it is all in a long poem which neither I nor any one else ever succeeded in wading through.”

Finally, local actor Paul Van Dyck has waded through it and created an inventive multimedia show, including puppets of Adam and Eve, for a user friendly version of the classic rap.

Paul may be familiar to readers for his memorable bits in Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom, Dracula, The Real Inspector Hound and Sahara Crossing. Oh, by the way, if you think Shaw was rough on blind Milton, you should see what he had to say about Dante for his 1335 Inferno.

Paradise Lost plays at Theatre Ste. Catherine till April 12. $15 (pay what- you-can on the 5th and 12th)

Info: 514-284-3939

Cherry Docs

The Docs refer not to fruit surgeons (popular stand-up Derick Legwenus nailed that with his memorable Dr. Avocado routine), but to the Doc Marten’s footwear beloved of Skinheads. In David Gow’s much feted drama, a Neo-Nazi is charged with murder. Legal Aid assigns a Jewish lawyer to defend him and the process leads to the lawyer questioning his own liberalism. Montrealer Dan Jeannotte and Winnipeg-born Sean Carney can be counted on to sizzle in this conflict, directed by MECCA winner Gabrielle Soskin.

Cherry Docs plays at Theatre Ste. Catherine April 16 to 26 with 7 evening and 6 matinée shows. $21/$15 students, seniors/$12 on April 22 or 23.

Info: 514-481-1327

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An odd love story at the Segal

March 2009

The Leanor and Alvin Segal centre presents Tryst, a romantic drama featuring a combination of seduction, intrigue, greed, deception and humour.

“I was spellbound when I saw Tryst performed in New York City, so I felt compelled to produce the play,” said Bryna Wasserman, artistic and executive director of the Segal Centre.

Tryst is the story of an aging playboy, George Love, who makes his living by seeking out desperate, love-starved spinsters. Once the marriages are consummated he takes off with their possessions. The play is about his latest conquest, a drab seamstress, who works in a Victorian London hat shop. She falls for his subterfuge at first, but then the plot takes on unexpected emotional twists and turns.

“Tryst is a love story of the oddest sort,” said director Diana Leblanc. “They are both such desperate people.” C. David Johnson, who has played the role of Chuck Tchobanian on the CBC television series Street Legal, will play George Love. Michelle Giroux will play Adelaide.

Tryst is at 5170 Côte Ste. Catherine from March 8 to 29. For information on tickets and times, call 514-790- 1245 or visit www.admission.com

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No doubt about it: three must-see performances

Lina Roessler and Alain Goulem Photo: Yanick Macdonald

March 2009

The Centaur theatre has mounted a dynamite production of Doubt, the Pulitzer and Tony award winning play. Coincidentally, this gripping drama comes to us on the heels of the film version featuring some blockbuster stars.

To get the feel of this Catholic grade school gripper, I attended the movie on Shrove Tuesday and the play on Ash Wednesday. My purpose was to analyze the differences in the live and filmed treatments. Mea culpa, I should have known there would be no difference as the author, John Patrick Shanley, wrote the screenplay and directed the film as well. Thus, the comparison boiled down to the cathartic feel of live theatre vs. the greater sweep and close ups of Meryl Streep’s every grimace. See the stage version before the film so as not to diminish the sparse but clever indoor limitations.

Lucinda Davis Photo: Yanick Macdonald

The Centaur actors were forbidden to see the film first. It is a testament to the power of a well written text that Alain Goulem’s liberal Father Flynn and Brenda Robins’s austere Sister Aloysius capture the same nuances as Hoffman’s and Streep’s antagonists, down to the Bronx accents. Lina Roesssler as the innocent Sister James and Lucinda Davis as the mother of the possibly abused boy were perfect in their pivotal roles. Director Micheline Chevrier added kudos to her 25-year cross-Canada experience, assisted by rising star Robin Henderson.

Another must-see play is The Assumption of Empire, which runs until March 22 at Main Line. Penned by local playwright Ann Lambert, hermost ambitious work spans 30 years in Montreal, from 1978 to 2008, as she mixes a personal drama against the background of momentous world events. Frequent collaborator Laura Mitchell stars, supported by Alice Abracen, Lambert’s real life daughter. Eduardo Pipman, Mitchell’s husband composed original music for the piece. They are joined by two vets from Segal Centre, Bill Croft and Tim Hite. The play closes March 29.

Tickets and info: 514-739-7944

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Plays explore lost worlds at The Segal

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then truth, or one truth, lies in experience. In Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child, now playing at The Segal Centre for Performing Arts, a long lost grandson returns to his grandparents’ home – a rundown farmhouse in Illinois – in search of his past. His family does not recognize him, and the audience is drawn into a web of memory, myth and invention where truth lies in diverging perceptions.

“What’s so interesting in Shepard is the idea of conflicting realities that are equally opposing and both legitimate, rather than “good and bad,” director Peter Hinton says. Describing the work as “Gothic American Midwest drama and part absurdist comedy not unlike (Edward) Albee,” Hinton emphasizes the importance of language in theatre. “Lately we’ve been obsessed with image, on film and television. We have a fascination with images. I’m interested in theatre that returns power to language, that acknowledges myth. I love the idea of keeping your brain really alert and keeping your emotions really engaged. We live in a culture where we’re not asked to be engaged; you can turn off television; but for theatre you have to be really there in the room.”

That Buried Child follows Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a fortunate coincidence, Hinton says.

“Shepard was a writer who flourished in the ’60s and ’70s in the tradition of Arthur Miller, Williams and Eugene O’Neill, chronicling family life in North America. The audience gets to see the progression of American drama; Shepard is of the next generation with similar issues. “Big Daddy” and “Dodge” are related in some way. You get to see how a different generation handled the “American Dream,” the shortfalls of it and some of the cracks in the exterior of that dream.”

Buried Child by Sam Shepard runs until February 22. Info: 514-739-7944.

Also at The Segal later on this month, Haunted House by Endre Farkas will be presented in a world premiere. The work celebrates the life of A.M. Klein, one of the most important modern Canadian poets.

Born in the Ukraine 100 years ago, Abraham Moses Klein came to Canada fleeing the rampant antisemitism in his country. Though there were no pogroms in Montreal, prejudice shadowed him, even in the Plateau, where he had to endure insults such as “Jew Boy.”

In this portrait of Klein, Farkas explores Klein’s poems, fiction, journals and editorials. Interweaving his own text with Klein’s, Farkas recreates the evocative multi-layered world Klein inhabited.

Haunted House plays from February 18 to March 5. Info: 514-848-9696. The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is at 5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine.

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Westmount theatre group lets loose

“It’s often the most unlikely of people that come,” says Lois Dellar, a working actress who teaches theatre classes at Manoir Westmount. “You give them something to say besides their own words and they’re playing a character so suddenly they’re allowed to do anything and the inhibitions drop away.”

But it goes beyond fun. Dellar saw an NBC news feature on two psychologists who have been doing theatre classes with seniors for 14 years. “They’ve proven it helps cognitive skills, problem solving, self-esteem, and socialization.”

Of course amusement is still the primary objective. “For some of them, it’s the highlight of their week,” Dellar says. “We laugh a lot.”

“Fun doesn’t have to stop because you’re past 21,” Yvonne Moody interjects. Moody is a regular at the Friday class. “Everybody works together well, and Lois is always full of brilliant ideas, so we’re never short of entertainment,” she says.

The class always begins with icebreaker games, which lead to plenty of laughter. The objective of these games is “to keep them thinking on their feet to get the brain and body working,” Dellar says. The warm-up includes memory, improvisation and problem solving games.

Dellar explains that it’s important, when teaching seniors, to cater to their diverse needs. Some of the students are not mobile and others don’t have the capabilities to memorize all of their lines.

“It’s like readers theatre,” she says. “They come on for their entrances and they go off for their exits.” They have their scripts with them throughout the performance but the actors are so animated, you forget that they have the script in front of them.

Her own experience spans theatre productions, movies and TV shows. Recently she was in a movie called Taking Lives with Angelina Jolie. Dellar played the part of a store clerk. “I do a lot of small parts with big stars,” she says. She has also been on TV with main roles in Dead Zone, Millenium, 21 Jump Street, Neon Rider, and The Outer Limits.

Dellar graduated from the Dawson College professional theatre program in the 1980s. Her first role outside of school was in a movie called Jack Knife, where she was in a scene alongside Robert De Niro. “I played a waitress. I come and serve his table. He’s there with Cathy Baker.” Dellar managed to score a picture of herself and De Niro,which apparently was nearly impossible to get. In those days, he refused to have his picture taken.

“Right now we’re working on some skits my husband wrote.” Dellar says the great thing about having original scripts is being able to tweak them. “They’ll say, 'Oh that’s funny!' or 'Oh that’s a little too risqué. Maybe we should tone that down a little bit.'” The other up side of having Her husband, James Melvain, writing the scripts, is the flexibility to add a character if a new resident joins the group. Because Melvain takes the time to come to class and get a feel for the personalities of the actors, the parts are tailored to each individual.

Dellar can’t help but brag about her husband’s success. “He’s an up and coming writer and he writes all my stuff!”

Moody also likes Melvain. “Lois’ husband is quite clever. He writes really amusing sketches. He sees us working so he knows our personalities.”

John Byers, one of three men in the group is fond of the characters that he plays. He’s happy that the group only performs comedic plays. “Last play, I was an adventurer. I was trying to address everybody on the ship and somehow I couldn’t because they kept interrupting me. I was so interesting but they wouldn't let me talk!”

Dellar says he had one of the best lines in the play. “And then you decided to go after the woman who was the tennis champion because you figured she had millions in sponsorships. And he said, ‘I think I’d like to million you—I mean marry you!’”

Byers enjoys the residence activities but he does have one complaint about his accommodations. “My problem is that there are 112 women and 13 men. So I’ve got to defend myself. I got a new battery for my pacemaker so that’ll give me the strength to ward them off!”

Dellar says that she loves acting but also has a passion for teaching. She says she laughs all the way home. Moody also laughs throughout the class. She believes this is a chance to break the ice with her fellow residents provide a place where they can let loose. “I suppose we’ve all got a little bit of exhibitionist in us.”

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Rendez-vous a veritable cine-feast

Those who missed the touching love story Adam’s Wall by Michael McKenzie the first time around will get another chance at the 27th edition of the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois. Beginning February 18 and ongoing until the end of the month, many cinematic genres will be showcased, including feature fiction, documentaries, animation, short films and more.

The mission of the Rendez-vous is to promote Quebec film within the province, the country and internationally, creating cultural bridges to audiences while stimulating the local film industry. Of the hundreds of films that will be screened, over 150 will be in English or with English subtitles.

The documentary Black Wave, The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez, chronicles the 1989 massive oil spill and what happened after the media went home.

Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer looks at culture and identity in her film Club Native while Korbett Matthews treats us to beautiful desert images and a hypnotic soundtrack in The Man Who Crossed the Sahara, the story of Canadian filmmaker Frank Cole and his attraction to the sea of sand where he was eventually murdered.

Screenings take place at six venues: the Cinémathèque Québécoise, the NFB Cinema, Cinéma Beaubien, Cinéma du Parc, the Segal Centre for Performing Arts and the Grande Bibliotheque. Whether you go to the movies to learn or to be entertained, this celebration of Quebec cinema, the grandest to date, will not disappoint.

Info: 514-526-9635 or rvcq.com

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Not your father’s Mary Poppins

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

Jane Petrov, playing the Bird Woman in the Montreal School of Performing Arts’ a capella production of Mary Poppins, has been a returning acting student for five years now. “I did a lot of theatre when I was at McGill years ago, then I had a family and became a librarian,” she explains. “Then just before I retired, I decided I’d enjoy going back to theatre, so a friend brought me to MSOPA, and the reception I received was a very warm one. So I started taking classes, and I have no regrets.”

Unfazed upon learning she’d be belting out her numbers solo, she says it’s “not a problem since my mother was a music teacher – we started off early in life having to sing without accompaniment. It was the music of the Bird Woman that attracted me – it’s almost the theme song of Mary Poppins.” And theme is everything in this particular production.

“I think a lot of message got lost in the original musical,” says director Dale Hayes, who adapted the a capella version with an eye to highlighting the theme – which, to her, is about priorities.

“The message is family,” she maintains, citing elements of the story that got lost in the 60s version’s catchy tunes. “Mr. Banks, the children’s father, he’s very much business, business, business. And the kids several times during the opening of the play refer to their father – ‘I wish father had more time for us, I wish he could come and play with us.’ And through a series of events that happen in the play – that actually happened in the movie, but I don’t think people really focused in on that – the father comes to a realization that family is really important, that his children are more important than the almighty dollar, and it takes a tuppence – two pennies – to make him realize that in the end.”

An edgier, more meditative Mary Poppins? “We could have done a really dark version,” says Hayes, “but we weren’t going to go there. We still had to think about the kids, you know. There’s a lot of laughter and the kids are going to enjoy it because there’s what they’re expecting – the fun stuff – but there’s also this family message that’s clear. Of course the kids are going to expect A Spoonful of Sugar, Chim Chim Cher-ee, and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – and those songs are in the play – but it’s all a capella, we didn’t focus on the music. We really focused on the theme and the message, and it’s interesting, because the father, in the first half of the play, he talks about money and how important it is and about the stock market, and I thought, ‘how topical.’”

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

The modern resonance of the theme and the Bird Woman’s place in it held another part of the role’s appeal for Petrov. “It’s through the little boy giving a tuppence to this woman, to feed the birds, that the realization comes that there’s more to life than the stock market going up, up, up or down, down, down.”

But she didn’t simply have the part handed to her based on type. “It’s never done that a person is solicited for a role.” No one gets in without passing the audition – “you always have to in this school.”

“When we first started the school,” says founder Josa Maule, “we weren’t going to do any productions – just train actors.” After a couple of years, she recalls, “we did ‘pay to play.’ If you were in the class, you were in the production. That didn’t work really well – we did three shows, and it was cute and their family and friends came, but it just didn’t do it for us. So then we decided, yeah, we’re going to start auditioning people.”

“We cast within the school, but it’s an audition process just like it is in the real world,” says Hayes. “They have to pass a cold reading, which means that they don’t get any chance at all to go through the script. They can read it beforehand of course, but they don’t get to see the scenes that they’re going to be auditioning. The actors from our very first level right up to our more advanced students, they all have the opportunity to audition for the role. And they know going in that it’s a heck of a commitment. It’s serious stuff. We work for eight weeks, every weekend, some evenings – and as we get closer to the production date, it’s like… grueling, you know? But they live for it, and they’re up to the challenge, and it’s working out. I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made. It’s a professional-caliber production, not like a highschool musical. It’s good stuff.”

Besides the stage chops, students get preparation for the mechanics and etiquette of the trade. “We’re a school first and foremost,” Hayes notes. “It’s important that our actors are well informed about not just how to act, but how to audition, and how to get the role, and how to be in a production, and the protocol when you’re in a production, and all that sort of thing, so it’s a learning experience.”

Some learning curves are longer than others. “A few of our first students,” from 1992, “are still with us today,” reports Maule. “Alan’s one of our ‘oldest’ students (he’s in his fifties). He takes several classes over and over just to be in the game of things and to get everything right. He likes the opportunity of working with new people from time to time… he says I’m not getting rid of him anytime soon.”

Petrov sums up the experience as “going back to something that I really love doing… and what really meant most to me over these last few years is how you have young and old people all working together, to create the magic of theatre.”

“We’re an acting community within an acting community,” Maule says. “Once you come onto our stage it’s like you feel right at home.”

Maule’s school goes out of its way to make theatre accessible for actors and audiences alike, with $10 Friday workshops and regular show seats for $12. “Not everybody can afford $20-30 a person to bring out a family,” she says. “We also do casting mostly for independent and student films, which pay nothing or very little, and we’re doing 11 plays a year called Express O Theatre, where we promote new plays from new playwrights, preferably local.”

MSOPA hosts an open house 2 pm Saturday, January 10. Mary Poppins runs until Sunday, December 14 with shows at 2 pm Saturdays and Sundays and at 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays.

Info: 514-483-5526 or msopa.com

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Theatre legend invites students to bring ideas to the stage

Shannon Tosic-McNally, Victor Knight and Gabriela Saltiel (photo: Scott Philip)

Victor Knight has always had acting on his mind. He has shared that passion with Dawson students for a quarter century. “Victor’s 86. The man’s been around and he knows what he’s talking about,” said Kyle Pelletier, a third year student of Knight’s. He’s one of the older teachers at Dawson who is able to communicate with the younger generation.”

“My family was in show business,” said Knight, a teacher in the professional theatre department since 1974. “I was the eighth child, so my mother certainly was no longer a dancer. My father had been an entertainer in London.”

Knight explained that when his father returned from serving in World War I, he chose to drive a taxi. Knight speculates that his father no longer had the stamina to be an entertainer.

“Very frequently he would get calls from his old friends in the business that would say ‘we need a couple of kids for a film next week,’ I would go trotting off and do extra work, small part stuff.”

Gabriela Saltiel, a second year theatre student, has obviously heard about Knight’s beginnings in the theatre world. “He was born into the business and it shows because it’s so in him.”

Like Knight’s father, his acting career was put on hold due to serving in a world war, but when he returned, he enrolled in the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England. He never completed this program. “After I graduated — well I didn’t graduate, I got kicked out.”

He explained that a lot of his classes got cancelled and he and his classmates were frustrated. “The whole class got mad and they said ‘go and tell them.’ I was fool enough to do that.” He said he was labeled a troublemaker and was asked to leave. “I didn’t make the trouble, they made the trouble.”

This bump along the road didn’t phase Knight one bit. “I immediately got work so it didn’t matter.” It was a job at the Kew Theatre in Kew Gardens, in London. “The week that I got kicked out of school, I got a job there and I worked there for three years.

Victor Knight’s students on the Romeo and Juliet set (photo: Lucas Chartier)

“One day, a friend of my fathers called me up and said ‘Victor, my niece is coming down from Montreal and is interested in the theatre. Can you take her?’” This call altered the course of Knight’s future. “I said I would try to fit her in somewhere and I did. I later followed her to Montreal and we got married and had a child.”

“I wish he had told you the story of how he got engaged,” said Saltiel who had been eavesdropping. “The first play that they saw together was Twelfth Night and when he proposed to her he took this quote from the play and it goes on and on and on about how he could love her and how he would show his love to her. It’s the sweetest thing ever.”

Although Victor and Helen Knight are no longer married, they share grandchildren in England.

When Knight arrived in Montreal, he began working in radio. He worked at a daily soap opera called Laura Limited. “Your mother may know about it, you wouldn’t though,” said Knight, addressing one of his students.

He also worked on a national broadcast every third or fourth Sunday. He explained that the pay was lucrative for the time. For the two gigs, he was making well over a hundred dollars a week doing what he loved.

Knight explained that he did not originally plan on becoming a teacher. He was working on a play at Sir George Williams University that the Chief of Studies was directing. “He was directing the play but I ended up doing a lot of the directing for him because I’d been in the business a little bit longer than he had. At the end he said ‘You’re a born teacher.’ I didn’t believe him and I said ‘I didn’t even finish high school.’” He was assigned two courses.

“What I like about the way he directs is he lets you do what you want first,” said Bineyam Girma, a third year theatre student. The third year students are currently working on Romeo and Juliet. “I had an idea of how Tybalt should be and I brought it to the stage. He doesn’t tell you, ‘play it like this.’”

Knight explained how he came to be at Dawson College. Sister Saint-Laurent was working in theatre at Marianopolis College. “She got into trouble with a play that she was directing. The sexual parts were getting embarrassing so she asked me to finish the play for her.” He did the same thing the following year.

After she joined Dawson College, Knight said she called him up and said, “You’ve got to come here now.”

Knight began his career at Dawson teaching pre-university courses. Shortly after, he was approached by members of the administration to develop a program for professional theatre with the help of Bert Henry, a long-time colleague in the department.

Knight wanted the students to have a venue for their plays. “I was walking along Notre-Dame street and I saw this empty cinema and I called Bert and I said, ‘Come with me, I’ve got to look at this place.’ It was in appalling shape but it was perfect. It had romance written all over it.” This became the original Dome theatre. It was 1974.

“I’m making new friends every year with these students. I tried retiring. I took one semester off. I felt like I was waiting to die and I don’t like waiting to die.”

“I wish he was my grandpa,” said Shannon McNally, one of Knight’s students, as she walked by.

“I’m doing exactly what I want do,” he said. “What possible reason could I have to retire?”

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The Little Prince comes to Geordie

It’s not by chance that Antoine St-Exupéry’s The Little Prince has been translated into 180 languages and sold 80 million copies worldwide.

Written in 1943 and illustrated by the author, the slim little volume is a carte-de-route along the way of life, keeping cynicism at bay and preventing the hardening of the soul. “All grownups were once children – though few of them remember it,” wrote St-Exupéry in his dedication.

From November 28 to December 7, Geordie Productions brings this timeless tale for all ages to life.

For grandchildren, an introduction to the play is well accompanied by a copy of the book as part of the treat, to make the magic of this production last a lifetime.

Info: 514-845-9810

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Explosive Segal production raises the roof

Maggie (Severn Thompson) and Brick (Todd Sandomirsky) photo: Randy Cole

If you’ve seen the film version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and think you know what to expect from The Segal’s production of the same play, think again. Directed by Greg Kramer, the performance on opening night — met with a standing ovation — was a testament to the immediacy and power of live theatre.

The play’s themes of love and loss, hypocrisy and denial, impending mortality — and also truth, transcendence and hope so fragile as to hang by a thread — have been explored by Tolstoy, Chekov and Thomas Mann. It is clear why Williams is considered to be a writer of their stature. His language is musical, performed with breathtaking virtuosity by the close-knit cast. The counterpoint of relationships between the characters is flawless. The final line, echoing a phrase previously uttered by the brutal and domineering character Big Daddy — lustily played by Barry Flatman — gains strength and poignancy when spoken by his son Brick. This character’s pain, communicated by Todd Sandomirsky in every sound and movement, remains devastating and shattering — still palpable long after the last sounds of clapping die away.

The role of Brick’s love-starved wife is one of the great gifts Williams has given to women in theatre. Severn Thompson plays her with a perfect blend of vulnerability and spunk. Her brilliant smile meeting the enthusiastic audience at the end of the performance revealed how far she must have had to travel from her personal sense of self into the darkness that is Maggie.

It is a credit to Sharon Bakker’s mastery that, from the mouth of Big Mama, a now commonplace expletive still shocks.

The children, symbolizing those who unquestioningly believe what is told to them and who in their certainty may be the cruelest of all, were suitably obnoxious beyond the call of duty.

Williams had to revise the play to please earlier audiences. He believed that in time, taboos would become less ironclad and, freed from the outdated censorship code that had prevailed until 1968, the public would become more receptive to the true meaning of the work. “People today are more accustomed to scenes of sex and violence… the real theme of the play — the general mendacity of our society — is more clearly seen,” Williams, who lived until 1983, once told an interviewer.

The play is about the destructive power of lies, but also about the possibility that a lie can be transformed — willed — into truth. Wil­liams’ 1974 ending, less literal than the sanitized movie version, challenges the audience to make the leap of faith that, perhaps, is a pre-requisite to hope. The result is a deeply moving, unforgettable, poetic experience.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs until November 16 at the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre, 5170 Côte Ste-Catherine. Tickets: 514-739-2301, 514-790-1245 or admission.com

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The November theatre scene

The usual post-Fringe paucity of English theatre lasted until mid-October, when the falling leaves heralded November with a bang. Two dynamite shows recently wrapped up at the Centaur – Scorched and Life is a Dream – and at least a dozen promising plays are on tap this month.

A production not to be missed is Dulcinea Langfelder’s dance-drama Dulcinea’s Lament at the D.B. Clarke November 12 to 19.

The amazing Ms. L, last seen at the Centaur in Clinging For Dear Life, where she whirled around stage in a wheelchair, here reverts to foot and horse in an impressionistic version of her namesake, the barmaid from Don Quixote and Man of La Mancha.

Our very own off-Broadway temple, the Main Line, hosts Against Blue. The script, about an ex-con and a beautiful woman (please somebody, write about an average looking heroine!) in trouble with a web of mind games is enhanced by director Carolyn Fe’s original song of the same title and sung by her. Multitalented Patrick Goddard, manager of the venue, is also among the cast.

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Film Fest a unique window to independent film

In 2004, before Chris Landreth’s short film about Montreal animator Ryan Larkin was screened at that year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema, Larkin gave an interview to a local journalist. The profile was headlined “With a little help from his friends, Montreal prodigy turned panhandler Ryan Larkin is ready to get off the streets and back into animation.”

At the time, Larkin, who died in 2007, talked about a new film he was planning with his friend Montreal musician Laurie Gordon, and his hopes of finding a “good creative team of computer graphic animators” to work with. The film was to be about his “happy-go-lucky” life as a street person. Now, Larkin said, he was “panhandling for hundreds of thousands of dollars” for his new film called Spare Change. “It’ll be anything but spare change, I can tell you that!”

Few, except Gordon and others closest to him, believed him at the time, as Larkin was then living at the Old Brewery mission and still dealing with alcoholism.

However, the headline must have been prophetic, because in an eerie coincidence, Spare Change is scheduled to premiere before Adrian Wills’ film about the Beatles, composers of the classic With a Little Help from My Friends, at the 37th edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinema ­October 9. In Larkin’s film, described as “a surrealistic journey through the extraordinary imagination of Ryan Larkin,” Larkin’s unforgettably melodious speaking voice is heard once again, in his alter ego Astral Pan, as he guides the audience through the streets of Montreal and some unlikely places. The film’s whimsical and unexpected images are enhanced by the soundtrack, created by CHIWAWA’s Laurie Gordon and Krassy Halatchev, revealing Larkin as the artist he has always been, his soul irresistibly playful and joyful.

In All Together Now, Adrian Wills chronicles the extraordinary partnership between the Beatles and the Cirque du Soleil which led to LOVE, a sold out run in Las Vegas. The project grew out of a friendship between Beatle George Harrison and Guy Laliberté, founder of Quebec’s most beloved Cirque. Filmed in London, Montreal and Las Vegas, Wills focuses on the human side of the mega-production from the first glimmers of the project to the first night performance. Archival footage and interviews offer a window into the creative processes of artists Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, Olivia Harrison, George Martin, Giles Martin and LOVE director Dominic Champagne. A great celebration, open to the public, will follow the screening of these two films.

The Festival of Nouveau Cinema brings 250 independent never before seen films to Montrealers. Formerly known as the Montreal Festival of New Cinema and New Media, its raison d’être remains steadfast. It is dedicated to fostering and promoting new approaches to film and media and to screen the best and most original new films from around the world. All genres of film figure at the festival, including shorts, feature-length films, documentaries, fiction and animation, from 60 different countries.

The Festival du Nouveau Cinema runs October 8 to 19. The Festival Info Line can be reached at 866-844-2172.

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Exciting season begins at The Segal

Human relationships in all their intensity, laughter and sometimes tragedy take centre stage this season at the Segal.

Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, based on an 18th century French novel about "lust, greed, deception and romance" launches the season this month.

A pair of former lovers attempt to seduce and manipulate others around them. But when virtuous Mme de Tourvel becomes the focus of the Vicompte de Valmont's attentions, predator falls in love with prey, with fatal consequences.

October's offering will be the Tennessee Williams classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Greg Kramer. This is the third production in a series of Williams' plays mounted by The Segal. "One of the key aspects of our theatre's mandate is to produce classics that remain socially relevant today," says Bryna Wasserman, Artistic Director.

The season continues with the February production of the Pulitzer Prize winning drama Buried Child, by Sam Shepherd. A long-lost son, Vincent, and his girlfriend return to meet his Norman Rockwell-esque relatives. But bliss is only on the surface in this painful portrait of a disintegrating and dysfunctional family.

March will bring director Diana Leblanc to The Segal in the production of Tryst, a psychological thriller by Karoline Leach about a homely seamstress consigned to the backroom of a London hat shop in Victorian England. With no future to speak of, she falls into the arms of George Love, seducer and robber of desperate old maids. "This is as entertaining a story as you'll encounter," Wasserman says.

As a change of pace, in April, Manitoba Theatre Centre's Artistic Director Stephen Schipper will return for Joe Dipietro's endearing and warm-hearted comedy Over the River and Through the Woods.

"Dipietro wants to know why each generation makes sacrifices for the next, why no future generation can ever fully appreciate those sacrifices, and how both generations can find a balance between holding on and letting go."

In June the Yiddish Theatre will host the first ever International Festival of Yiddish Theatre.

"My mother founded a Yiddish Theatre in Montreal 50 years ago this year and the festival is an opportunity to celebrate this historic milestone," Wasserman says.

The Segal's Yiddish Theatre contribution will be a unique Yiddish version of The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Info: 514-739-2301or segalcentre.org

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I Musici: good things come in small packages

Pat Gueller

Magician Pat Gueller will be on hand to launch the first concert in I Musici's Piccoli series, The Wizard's Book of Spells. The concert on Sunday, September 14 will be followed by other concerts especially conceived for children throughout the year. Storyteller Suzanne De Serres will welcome artists from various backgrounds, including circus, dance, magic, theatre, mime and art. Before each show a musician in the orchestra will talk about his or her instrument. The music on the program will feature works by Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Respighi and more. Concerts are presented in French at Ogilvy Tudor Hall, 1307 St Catherine W, 5th floor. $12/$8.

Info: 514-982-6038 or imusici.com

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House & garden tour for the Piggery

Thursday, July 17, the Piggery Theatre holds its biggest fundraiser of the year. From 9:30 am - 4:30 pm, wander through six homes and two gardens in and around North Hatley and Ste-Catherine-de-Hatley, chosen for their architecture and prime views. $50.

Info: 819-842-2431 or piggery.com

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The physical stuff, the kids, and relationships at 64… or is it 66?

Talking to Susan Freedman is like talking to an old friend. The last time we spoke was just before the Montreal Fringe five years ago. At the time we spoke about her second play Sixty With More Lies About My Weight, titled after her first play in 1999 entitled Fifty-Seven and Still Lying About My Weight. Now she’s back with less of a vengeance in her third installment, Sixty Four and No More Lies, and as she put it on the phone from her home in Vancouver, she’s “a bit more thoughtful and vulnerable.”

“After my other shows, people would say, ‘she has no problems,’ but after this one, they’re going to say, ‘she has problems.’”

Freedman has just turned 66 but kept the title because she wrote the play two years ago.

Although we are seven years apart, Susan and I share the same worries. “Physical problems are definitely a part of aging – and a part of the show,” she said. And then, there are “the kids” (actually in their 30s) and how they talk to us and “react” to everything – or over-react.

“They can only act like kids with us,” Freedman says. “They do it when they’re 30 or 35 because, in lots of cases, they’re still single and at their age, we were probably married and had a kid. This generation is very different.

“You can’t say a goddamn thing because everything you say is wrong,” she says. “If you say things that upset them, they respond, and everything you say upsets them.”

In her third 45-minute one-woman show coming to the Fringe this June, Freedman will “ruminate on life” in the context of feeling chest pains.

After blood work and X-rays, being angry at her husband and kids about not being there for her, and rationalizing about how the pain must be from something she did at the gym, her character reminisces about her life and makes “strong references to the rocks in the path.”

What does this theatrical expert on aging say about other relationships such as marriage?

“I’m an incorrigible optimist,” she says. “I’ve been married three times. You realize it’s about letting things go. Not reacting to everything.”

Like our kids do.

Sixty Four and No More Lies is at the Fringe June 13 to 22 at Geordie Space, 4001 Berri. Tickets are $9.

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Redemption through foolishness: The Wise Men of Chelm

Long before the rise in popularity of alternative medicine, it was known that laughter is good for the soul. In Jewish culture, humour has been more than therapeutic – in a very real sense it has been a lifesaver. Perhaps the suffering that underlies the humour that makes one laugh from the depth of one’s soul – the kind of laugh that draws tears and provides an incredible feeling of relief and rejuvenation when it’s spent – is also the source of its strength.

In Freud’s Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious he notes: “The occurrence of self-criticism as a determinant may explain how it is that a number of the most apt jokes… have grown up on the soil of the Jewish popular life. They are stories created by Jews and directed against Jewish characteristics… I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character.”

From Wednesday, June 11 to Thursday, July 3, the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre will present The Wise Men of Chelm, a collection of stories culled from Eastern European Jewish Folklore, set to music by Eli Rubinstein and directed by Bryna Wasserman. Chelm is a mythical town populated by foolish people and thought by some to be the home of the famous schlemiel, that stock character of Jewish anecdotes. While the main characters are foolish, they convey the lasting wisdom of being able to laugh at oneself.

Supertitles make the original Yiddish easy to understand for everyone.

Showtimes are Monday to Thursday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 9:30 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm (except Sunday, June 15 at 1:30 pm). $25 - $47 (group rates available).

Info: 514-739-7944 or segalcentre.org

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Train ride to Hudson Village Theatre

Carolyn Flower (Director of Marketing & Promotion), Clint Ward (Director – A Little Music in the Night), Andrew Johnston (Artistic Director), Irene Arseneault (Director – All Grown Up), Rick Blue (Playwright – Campbell’s Sutra), Mary Vuorela (Director – Campbell’s Sutra).

Saturday, June 21, Les Aliments M&M and Hudson Village Theatre offer an express train trip to the premiere of the musical All Grown Up, kicking off the theatre’s 16th Summer Season.

Written by Leslie Mildiner, Lori Valleau, Ellen Kennedy and Bonnie Panych, directed by Irene Arsenault with musical direction by Rob Burns, All Grown Up features songs that tell the story of a generation, weaving in and out of the lives of three very different women.

The express train leaves Montreal Saturday morning, stopping in Beaconsfield and continuing on to Hudson, with a return trip in the evening.

The $50 ticket includes admission to either the 2 pm or 6 pm show, with time for shopping and relaxing, and must be reserved by contacting AMT at 514-287-7866 Monday to Friday from 9 am – 5 pm or escapadesentrain@amt.qc.ca.

For all other Hudson Village Theatre tickets and Flex Passes call 450-458-5361 or visit villagetheatre.ca.

Regular showtimes are Wednesday to Saturday at 8 pm, with matinees Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. 28 Wharf Road, Hudson. $29 - $34.

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Byron’s picks for the 18th Montreal Fringe Festival

This year the festival runs from Thursday, June 12 to Sunday, June 22. Fringe goers can get a free copy of the program to decide which of the 37 free events and 89 paid events they wish to see. It’s best to buy the six-show Gold Card for $50 or the 10-show Platinum Card for $80. Both have a $2 service charge. When the credit on the card runs out, it can be exchanged for a beer at the Fringe Central tent on the corner of St-Laurent and Rachel. The average cost for individual tickets doesn’t typically run higher than $9, plus a $2 service charge.

Fasten your seat belts:

Three Old Bags, featured in this issue, stars accomplished British ex-pats Emma Stephens and Mary Harvey.

T.J. Dawe, a Vancouver based fringe circuit veteran, is involved in three shows this year. He performs a 90-minute monologue about personal mythology in Totem Figures, and also directs Teaching The Fringe, written and performed by Keir Cutler from Westmount. The show, part of his award-winning “teaching series,” depicts a Fringe audience member reporting Cutler to Manitoba authorities. The subject of the play was a teacher harassing a teenage student and the complainant confused the fictional character with the actor. Rather than suppressing the event, Keir made a show out of it. Dishpig, also directed by Dawe, is a one-person show featuring co-writer Greg Landucci. Landucci portrays 15 restaurant employees during a summer spent scrubbing dishes.

Songs of an Immigrant, written and performed by Marni Rice of New York, tells the story of an American woman who moves to Paris with her accordion to perform “old style” chansons. Those in need of an Edith Piaf fix should make a beeline to this act.

The Beekeepers, a Toronto production, brings back some of the people from last year’s popular King of 15 Island, plus hundreds of new but flighty friends. Please, no jokes about Fringe buzz.

Between Takeoff & Landing, written and performed by Michael Walsh of New York, recounts his experience of being stranded with 6000 passengers in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11. His flight was from Dublin, so if you’re stuck for four days, who better to be stuck with than a bunch of Irish folk? Walsh was here last year with the popular show If Tap Shoes Could Talk.

The Tricky Part, a true story of trespass, forgiveness and redemption, comes all the way from South Africa. Running close to 90 minutes, it is one of the longer Fringe performances, so it is a bargain.

Wonderbar, of Winnipeg and Toronto, stars Britain’s one and only Alex Dallas who is fondly remembered here as one of the Sensible Footwear femmes, a hit from the early years at the Montreal Fringe (during a time when the New York show High Heeled Women reigned there.) This show explores the world of glamour and international fraud.

Find Me A Primitive Man, from London, England, has a British beauty tutoring minor members of the Royal Family in a “scintillating cocktail comedy and drama.”

GREED, from Perth, Australia, is the tale of four lives influenced by unbridled big G, in 1987. Sounds like they have been influenced by Gordon Gecko’s creed, ‘Greed is Good.’

Jem Rolls: How I Stopped Worrying And Learnt To Love The Mall has been described as “dynamic” and “innovative.” Jem, of Edinburgh, Scotland, performs his rapid-fire wordsmith performance as he starts his annual trek across the Canadian Fringe Empire. If you haven’t seen his show, you should. If you already have, you’ll want to hear his new material.

Sixty Four and No More Lies brings back Susan Freedman of Vancouver, with her series of shows inspired by advancing years. Remember Sixty and More Lies About My Weight and Fifty Seven And Still Lying About My Weight from previous years? This funny girl has a sinecure here as she marches into her 70s, 80s and, we hope, beyond. She is worth seeing and that’s no lie.

Mating Rituals of the Aging Cougar stars Toronto’s Andrea Thompson, as she takes the art of the spoken word back to its roots. Fans of spoken word may want to see her as a bookend to Jem Rolls.

Barry Smith’s Baby Book will have its premiere at this year’s Fringe. It’s based on Smith’s obsession with documenting every detail of his existence. He presents a multimedia show of his own Fringe hits, Jesus in Montana and American Squatter.

Boom is a one-person show about people and bombs. Andrew Conner, from Seattle, portrays a multitude of characters as a sentimental returning prodigal with a dangerous plan to revive a small town. His voice and body change at a dizzying pace.

Info: 514-849-FEST or montrealfringe.ca

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It's all in the bag at the Fringe

Three old bags (photo: Robert Ménard)

What is there about bags and ladies, especially old ladies, that go together? Three women “of a certain age” explore this theme in their play Three Old Bags, playing at the Fringe Festival this month.

“We all knew each other and we wanted to do something together,” said Gissa Israel, one of the three actors/writers, from her home in Knowlton. Israel and her contemporaries, Pina Macku and Emma Stevens, all in their 60s, performed the play at Theatre Lac-Brome last summer. The characters they play are in their 80s. Could this be because these actors don’t see themselves as “old bags?” Only the director, Mary Harvey, is a “young bag,” Israel said.

“We carry our life in our bags,” Israel said of the double-entendre theme, which includes the notion of bag ladies. But Israel doesn’t see the connotations as negative.

The message is hopeful, she said. “These three characters never give up. Each one has a situation in their lives that would make her want to give up.

“The hope is that there’s a renewed interest in life. It’s about renewal and it’s about friendship.”

Bring your bags to the performances Saturday, June 14 to Sunday, June 22. For the full performance schedule call 514-849-FEST or visit montrealfringe.ca.

Three Old Bags will also be “in the bag” at Piggery Theatre from Wednesday, July 2 to Thursday, August 14. To reserve call 819-842-2431.

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The anatomy of messiness

John Evans and Rod Beattie as Oscar and Felix (photo: Scott Philip)

If one person’s junk is another person’s treasure, then perhaps one person’s disaster is another’s foolproof filing system. Conventional wisdom dictates that neat is better than messy, and certainly no one has ever been ashamed of being too neat — but not everyone agrees. Albert Einstein, whose desk was famous for its precariously balanced stacks of papers, once posed the question: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?”

Neat Freaks and the Hopelessly Disorganized have always been divided in different camps, with those on the neat side stereotyped as needing control and the messy ones as being somewhat “out to lunch.”

In The Odd Couple, now playing at The Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre, playwright Neil Simon draws a hilarious portrait of two people on the opposite sides of the tidy/messy spectrum, living under one roof and attempting to endure each other.

“What drives ‘Francis’ crazy is not just a matter of Felix’s insistence on neatness, orderliness and timeliness but also that he’s being a control freak,” says actor Rod Beattie, who plays the pathetic Felix, thrown out by his long-suffering wife. In his personal life, Beattie says he is worlds away from Felix. “I have a vision of my home environment as being free of debris — but it never happens.”

He suggests that Felix and his nemesis Oscar may march to a different drum, that they have a different “time-set”. “There’s a scene where Oscar comes in for their double date an hour late and he’s not even aware of being late. But Felix has scheduled this date up to the minute, with cocktails at 8 o’clock. When the food is burned and dried out, Felix is furious.”

Beattie cites the great painter Tom Thompson as a real-life example of people being differently “tuned”. “Thompson’s external life was chaotic and disorderly but he had the gift of being able to stop time. At one point he tried to paint the process of spring in Algonquin park, but couldn’t keep up with it. In his case, ‘outer time’ was incompatible with his ‘inner time’.”

Being a slob is not much better, says actor John Evans, who plays Oscar Madison, who could be described as Martha Stewart’s antithesis. “Blanche left him, because he’s such an unmoveable slob who assumes everything revolves around him. He thinks he’s loveable, charming, terrific with the guys, but with his wife he’s like a teenager.”

But there is a darker side to slovenliness, Evans suggests. “With Oscar, it’s more of a case of ‘all right, you don’t care about me so I’m not gonna care about myself’.”

For over 20 years, J.F. Laforte of Creative Visual Concepts has helped design optimal environments, including stage sets, window displays, trade show kiosks, wedding halls, daycare classroom environments and residential spaces. He believes that environment can reveal a lot about the person who lives there. “People have particular styles that describe who they feel they are at that point in time,” Laforte says. Sam Gosling, psychology professor at the University of Texas and author of Snoop: The Secret Language of Stuff, also believes that bedrooms and offices reveal key aspects of your personality. He finds, among other things, that a diverse collection of books and magazines reveals openness and well-lit airy spaces indicate emotional stability.

Marijana Kuljik of Organized! says clutter is a byproduct of our consumer society: “Our houses have become bigger but our possessions take up much more space. We’ve become a society where we just collect so much stuff.”

By the time clients reach out to Kuljik, they are at the end of their rope, overwhelmed and unable to part with their mountain of possessions. “Sometimes there is emotional attachment to objects, memories they feel bad about letting go of. Also, sometimes people come from humble beginnings and are taught to hold on to things.”

She reaches her clients through teaching them systems to gain control of their stuff. “I can help you organize a filing system where you will find anything you’re looking for in 30 seconds or less,” she says.

Laforte says everyone has a little Oscar or Felix in them, that they are different sides of the same coin. He says the upside to mess is that it allows you to relax and be spontaneous while the upside to neat is that it allows you to live freely, averting that feeling of dread when an unexpected visitor shows up. “Comfort level is personal and your home is your sanctuary. But you’re also a social being and need to feel comfortable in your home when friends drop by. Oscar and Felix, we all have them — we just have to learn to manage them so that one doesn’t take over. But we need both.”

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Short Story Long

Wednesday through Sunday until May 17 at 8pm, Mainline Theatre presents Short Story Long, written and directed by Joel Fishbane, about a writer who leaves his money to his wife, but the proceeds of all his writing to the mysterious A.K. $15/$12 seniors. Fridays 2-for-1, Sundays pay-what-you-can (2pm). 3997 St-Laurent. Info: 514-931-5449

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