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Back on the Tack Jack

Just wanted to be random for today. It’s been a long one, 25 hours of it, since I flew from Baltimore to Atlanta to Madison, where I returned to a relatively clean apartment, and more junk mail and happy mail than bills.

And I’ve been making my way through this terribly informative video on Tomson Highway and Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout, which has been growing on me since I read it on Friday…so see for yourself. Warning, it is an hour long.

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Flip the Script Friday: Tomson Highway, Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout

I thought I’d start off 2017 by reviving everyone’s favorite feature, Flip the Script Friday. I’m still in Baltimore until Sunday without access to my script collection, and I only managed to pack one script in my suitcase, so it rather than either pore through online databases or the file of scripts on my computer, I just picked up the book and read it cover to cover. I ended it slightly more confused than when I’d began, despite flipping back and forth several times. I hope that this blog entry can do this quite interesting and offbeat play justice. Heading up north to Canada with Thomson Highway, I delved into Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout. 

Love the title, by the way.

Image result for ernestine shuswap gets her trout

The Basics

Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout premiered at Sagebrush Theatre, Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada on 24 January 2004.

Characters

  • Ernestine Shuswap – Fifty-three years old, “earth mother” type.
  • Isabel Thompson – Forty-three years old, religious, on the snooty side. Older sister of Delilah.
  • Annabelle Okanagan – Thirty-two years old, a down-to-earth foil for Isabel.
  • Delilah Rose Johnson – Twenty-one years old, pregnant, and described by the playwright as “high-strung.” Quite unlike the other three, she is chirpy and chipper to a fault, but there’s something a bit off about her. Younger sister of Isabel.

Setting/Plot

August 1910, Kamloops. Four First Nations women are preparing a banquet, expecting a visit from Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, or as they refer to him, “Lolly-Yay” or “the Great Big Kahuna of Canada.” Delilah is sewing a tablecloth, Annabelle is preparing a boiled beaver, Isabel is baking “624 Saskatoon pies,” and Ernestine is hoping to prepare a rainbow trout. As they perform their tasks, they interact with one another and with the text of “The Laurier Memorial,” a list of grievances about the treatment of their environment – specifically, fishing/grazing/hunting rites – written to Laurier and signed by 14 tribal chiefs. Ultimately, one woman takes her fate into her own hands; one woman reveals a shocking detail about her past; one woman prays and rationalizes her way out of everything, and one woman just wants a damn trout.

My Thoughts

This play is extremely intense, both in its very language-specific dialogue/text and its hard-to-imagine but really cool stage directions. As someone not from the community, I found it hard to connect to the characters at first, until I realized the experimental nature of the piece as a whole. I ended up needing to consult some online sources in order to come to a quicker conclusion for my thoughts, which are still incomplete at this time. But back to the play, I think that it’s highly localized and really gives off a sense of who these four women are and where they come from, with a healthy dose of Canadian folklore and saucy humor about lady-parts. Though the progression can seem confusing, looking at it from more of a performance art perspective rather than a literary perspective gives it a lot more meaning.

Major Themes

You May Call Me…

Even though there are, in hindsight, a ton of themes to talk about, the one that spoke out to me the most was that of identity. Colonialism is front and center in this piece, and the characters are constantly reassuring one another of who they are and where they come from, by rarely ever referring to each other by just their first names despite being close friends, but have a language wherein they refer to each other and themselves by their full name and hometown, which, for all of whom, is “First Name Surname of Kamloops, B.C. Midway through, Annabelle comes in to announce to Ernestine and Delilah that their language has been banned, and instead of being mournful, Ernestine and Delilah take the opportunity to make a joke about periods, a point to which I’ll return in a second. The dialogue between the women is less consequential than their long and frequent monologues, which reveal bits and pieces of their backstories, delivered as if they are racing to preserve them before they become extinct.

George Carlin Would Approve

Despite the play taking place in buttoned-up period in history, the four of them make some pretty dirty jokes, either intentionally or unintentionally, and the sexual innuendos jumped out at me from the page right from the start. For example, Annabelle is preparing beaver, remarking that it’s a meat that the white men consider to be inadequate, Isabel and Annabelle refer to an offstage cow and her udders, and Ernestine talks about tits (the birds). Even though the trout is the item which is prized the most, it’s the beaver that interests me; they all (save for Delilah) have a strong opinion about what it means, and it’s not hard to imagine that it stands for the subjugation of First Nations women and the obstacles that they face in society, including problems such as what Delilah is going through.

Image result for robin sparkles beaver

Strings Attached

One of the most notable discrepancies/oddities that I noticed in the script was the music. Highway subtitles this play as “a string quartet for four female actors,” to which Caroline De Wagter compares the four characters: first violin (Delilah), second violin (Annabelle), viola (Isabel), and cello (Ernestine), in order from youngest to oldest, highest pitched to lowest. Once I read this, it’s easy to see the connections: Delilah has a habit of laughing at random times and having a high-pitched voice; Annabelle often serves as her confidante; Isabel sort of marches to her own beat; and Ernestine’s earthiness is a constant element of everything she does and says. Highway also mentions in stage directions that the underlying music, the “river,” should be the notes of a cello, which to me symbolizes Ernestine Shuswap’s connection to the land, as she has been on Earth the longest of the four. The strains of the cello are heard often, even when Ernestine is not the central focus of the scene, and Highway ends the piece with the sound of Ludwig von Beethoven’s “Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Opus 69.” I thought that this was an odd choice, considering that Beethoven has nothing to do with Canada. After I listened to it on YouTube, it reflected the rhythm of the piece, with frantic zigzags up and down the scale and lack of a distinct pattern, but rather a cycle. Likewise, the four women in the play are seldom in sync, Isabel, for one, seems to go a mile a minute whereas Delilah, for the bulk of the play, is seated in relative quiet.

How I’d Flip It

Given the fact that the stage directions are intense and specific, I didn’t have too much in mind. Originally, my thoughts were more of a black-and-white, simple color scheme, but I saw pictures and video of a production with colorful handmade dresses, which could also be interesting. I think that arena staging would be kind of cool, maybe with the audience waving mini-flashlights or glow sticks for the scene where Ernestine is swimming among the fish in the river. The coolest part of the dramaturgy is in the script itself: a document which Highway instructs should be printed and distributed to the audience members upon leaving. That, in my opinion, takes it full circle and gives the audience the perspective of the women, who spend parts of the play proofreading and editing its contents and have a connection to their land that is palpable, through their daily life and activities.

Works Cited

Mündel, Ingrid. “Troubling Visions.” Canadian Literature 192 (2007): 164-166. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 Jan. 2017.

Percy, Owen D. “Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 38.2 (2006): 211-2. ProQuest. Web. 7 Jan. 2017.

Wagter, Caroline De. “Old Margins, New Centres: (W)righting History in August Wilson’s Radio Golf and Tomson Highway’s Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout” In Maufort, Marc, and Caroline De Wagter, eds., Old Margins and New Centers: The European Literary Heritage in an Age of Globalization L’heritage litteraire europeen dans une ere de globalisation. Brussels, Belgium: P.I.E.-Peter Lang S.A, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 6 January 2017.

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Sister, Sister…Sister, Sister, Sister

I took most of the day off from heavy-duty activity, and actually finished a book today. It wasn’t a particularly riveting book, but it was old, and it introduced me to one of the oddest popular culture phenomena of 21st century Canada – The Dionne Quintuplets. The book? Five Sisters by William E. Blatz.

Five Sisters was written when said quintuplets – Annette, Cecile, Emilie, Marie, and Yvonne Dionne – were still kids, so it contains much speculation about their futures (as of 2016, only 2 are still living), and deals with their birth and babyhood in a scientific (or maybe “scientific”) way. In each in-depth chapter, Blatz goes through the many facets of their existence, from the development of their social skills to their strict schedule. They had quite the schedule – early rising in the morning, breakfast, playing, arts and crafts (and later on, woodworking), lunch, more play, and dinner. And through all of this, the five girls practically supported their father, mother, and siblings with the proceeds from the tourist attraction that their playground became, people coming from around the world just to see five identical little girls with curly hair riding their tricycles around in a circle.

From what I’ve learned from subsequent Internet research, once they hit adolescence and the novelty wore off, their lives crashed down to reality; no more Canada’s sweethearts, they had to go back to the farm and live with their parents and siblings, who were practically strangers to them and treated them poorly, despite most of the family’s money coming from people who came to see their daughters. As adults, three of them got married and children. Just two of them are still alive: Emilie joined a convent and died young of a seizure; Marie died of a blood clot in the 1970s; and Yvonne passed away in 2001 of natural causes.

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Flip the Script Friday: Leanna Brodie, The Book of Esther

It’s been almost a whole month since I’ve posted a Flip the Script Friday, despite having spent the majority of said month researching and writing about theatre. At this year’s ATHE, I did something I usually don’t do, and bought a ton of books from the exhibition hall once they went down to half-price on the last day. Most of them came from Playwrights Canada Press, so get ready to see a lot of Canadian plays hanging out here. Canada has produced some fantastic playwrights and plays, especially in recent years. Also they usually have really pretty cover images. Today’s script is one of them: The Book of Esther, by Leanna Brodie.

Basics

The Book of Esther premiered in 2010 at the Blyth Festival in Blyth, Ontario, Canada, and then in 2011 at Festival Players of Prince Edward County in Picton, Ontario. Interestingly, at the Blyth production, the actor who played Seth (Eric Phillips) also directed, and at the Festival Players production, the playwright herself played the role of Anthea.

Characters

  • Todd Wishart, mid-forties
  • Esther Dalzell, fifteen
  • Anthea Dalzell, early forties
  • A. D., seventeen
  • Seth Dalzell, mid-forties

Setting/Plot

Summer 1981, an apartment (Act I), which shifts into a farmhouse (Act II). Esther, a girl from a farm family, runs away to the big city to get a taste of freedom at the apartment where Todd, a gay rights activist, takes in kids from the street, like A. D. Esther’s religious, evangelical Christian parents Anthea and Seth come looking for her, bringing her back to the farm in Act II, where A. D. and Todd show up, and we begin to see a totally different side of Esther as she’s “back in her element.”

My Thoughts

This play had a lot of cool things going for it, some funny lines and great contrasts. I’m not super into Christianity onstage – it would be interesting to see how it would be pulled off. There are a lot of hidden tangles to the story, once you get into it, from Todd/Anthea/Seth’s pre-story relationship to the issue of the farm and the Dalzell family inheritance.

A. D., Ambiguous Dude

I felt really drawn to A. D. Despite having the least amount of backstory and no real relation with the other four characters, he undergoes a really interesting transformation on the farm. He eventually does reveal his real name, but until then, he’s whatever the situation merits, like “Angel of Death.” Even though it’s not really a comedy, he has the funniest lines.

[Act I Scene 6. A. D. and Anthea are in a coffee shop. A. D. is telling Anthea what he and Esther did the night before.]

A.D.: What, aside from the heroin and turning tricks on Jarvis?

[Beat.]

Wow, they’re not kidding about you Jesus freaks and your sense of humor.

[Beat.]

We consorted at a concert outside City Hall, and dance-ed unto demon rock ‘n roll; we wander-ed down Queen Street and gaze-ed upon graven images; we render-ed unto Pizza Pizza what was due unto Pizza Pizza. Then we watch-ed the sun rise over the lake, and lo, we saw that it was good. Do I get my breakfast now?

(40)

Parallel Lives

Probably the coolest part of the play is its structure. Brodie does a fantastic job of contrasting the various scenes, and patterns begin to form. I wish I knew how to make a table on this site, because that would illustrate it best, but I’ll try it in list form:

  • Act I takes place in an apartment with a mosaic of crushed Red Rose Tea figurines; Act II takes place in a farmhouse full of Red Rose Tea figurines.
  • In Act I, Esther runs away to the city; in Act II, A. D. runs away to the country.
  • In Act I, A. D. jumps into the scene through a window, scaring Esther; in Act II, Esther does the same, scaring A. D. (and even comments “I’ve always wanted to do that”)
  • In Act I, A. D. gives Esther a punk-rock makeover; in Act II, we see A. D. in farm clothes.
  • In Act I, A. D. introduces Esther to samosas and rice; in Act II, Esther introduces A. D. to potato salad.
  • In Act I, Esther and Todd have a father/daughter bond; in Act II, A. D. and Anthea have a strangely quick mother/son bond.
  • Act I opens with Anthea teaching Sunday School before going to Todd’s apartment; Act II opens with Todd at a gay rights meeting before going to the Dalzell farmhouse; the final scene shows Esther at a support group/Bible study meeting.

Canadian Learning Curve

I guess that’s how I’d best describe it. Two of the concepts in the play I needed to look up: Red Rose Tea figurines and Century Farms. So here’s the actor-packet portion of the post:

Fairy Tale Figurines (from redrosetea.com)

  • Red Rose Tea Figurines. Red Rose Tea was founded in 1890 in Saint John’s, New Brunswick, Canada, and was distributed in the USA a few decades later. It seems like they are the “Happy Meals” of tea, issuing trading cards and collectible figurines in each box of teabags. Their website has pictures of the whole collection; they’re really cute and become collector’s items really quickly. Oddly enough, the figurines are now only available on the USA market, not in Canada.
  • Century Farms refer to farms which have been held by the same family for at least 100 years. It’s a big thing in Canada, and it varies by state down here in the USA. I’ve never heard of this term before, but according to Wikipedia, Wisconsin alone has 8,000 of them, and 600 of them are sesquicentennial, or 150 years old.

How I’d Flip It

The set and costume designs seem pretty specific here. It would be interesting to see the transition between the cramped apartment and the large farmhouse. I’m having a hard time imagining all the sets-within-sets, like the coffee shop and the subway station. As far as the acting/casting goes, one of my friends would be a perfect Todd. No stark imagery came to my head, but one of the first scenes ends with the phrase “…somebody I used to know.”

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One Island, Two Musicals

And so it begins…

Not just the semester, but the laziness, the over-tiredness, the slacking on blogging that comes with settling back into the Madison groove.

Before I go back and edit my last Charlottetown travelogue post, here’s a review of the two main-stage shows I saw when I was there.

“It’s your garlic press.” Photo courtesy of https://twitter.com/steffid3

First up, Bittergirl, the story of three women in various stages of relationships – one dating (Marisa MacIntyre), one co-habiting (Steffi DiDomenicantonio – try fitting that on the back of a baseball uniform), and one married (Kathy Auerbach) – with one man (played by Jay Davis) representing all three of their partners. At the beginning, each of their respective partners breaks it off, and together and separately, they go through the motions of how to deal with the breakup through classic girl-group songs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and through it all, come out on top. It was performed cabaret-style, with the actresses sometimes walking around the audience, seated at tables. I saw it on Saturday night at the Mack. For $35, I got lucky enough to be seated front-row center with a lovely family from Boston. Together, we laughed at the jokes and I hummed along to such re-interpreted favorites as “He’s A Rebel,”  “I Hear A Symphony,” “Tell Him,” “Be My Baby,” and the finale number, “Too Many Fish in the Sea,” during which Kathy Auerbach came offstage and gave me a hug while she was singing!

Overall, an evening full of oldies and fun. The only weak spot was probably Jay Davis as The Man. Reasonably attractive, but no match for the three ladies, especially DiDomenicantonio, a combination of Anne Hathaway and Liza Minnelli who arguably was the star of the show. Davis’s vocals weren’t as on point, and I often found myself bored during his songs, but maybe that’s because I was just so entertained by the other three.

Two nights later, at the Confederation Centre for the Arts, it was time for Canada’s longest-running musical, Anne of Green Gables. The house was packed, but $50 got me a reasonably good seat house right, seated with three generations of women from Miramichi, New Brunswick – the town I woke up in without knowing where I was – who’d made this a yearly tradition. Of course, it was well worth it, and well-rehearsed. The strongest actors were those who played Anne, Matthew, Marilla, and Diana; very impressive. The plot followed the books pretty well, but left out a few key points, especially one of my favorite incidents, the one about Anne lying about Marilla’s brooch to make her feel better. The costumes and lighting were spot on, but the sets looked a little on the rickety side. On the downside, the songs were cute but not the most inspired, and the second act kind of veered away from Anne, until the pageant scene. Overall, it’s a show that was magical on Prince Edward Island, but probably would fall a little flat elsewhere.

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Charlottetown, Day 3: Green Gables and Graveyards

I can’t believe that tomorrow marks two full weeks since I experienced Charlottetown. I’m hopeless in my attempts to catch up on all my recollections, but here’s Day 3.

Wonder of wonders, I don’t set my alarm, yet wake up bright and early, actually on time for breakfast. Avery joins the group eventually, and we plan our day. Side note: one of the reasons Avery has come to Prince Edward Island, by car, all the way from Atlanta, is to find the graves of her great-great-great (and possibly great-great-great-great grandparents), who immigrated to PEI from Scotland in the 19th century. The night before, with a little bit of research on my laptop and one of the computers in the living room, we discover that not only is the cemetery where she believes that they’re buried indeed in existence and on PEI (St. Columba), but it’s also in the town of Marshfield, which is only twelve minutes outside of Charlottetown (even though PEI is Canada’s smallest province, it does take about seven hours to get across the island, and it very well could have been a day trip rather than an hour-trip). I suggested we get some crayons at an art shop and some drawing paper so that Avery could take home some rubbings of the gravestones for herself and her family, and she loved the idea. First, we found the cemetery, then we backtracked to Charlottetown for art supplies, and then returned. We saw a lot of McLeod/MacLeod (Avery’s ancestors’ names) gravestones, but were losing hope when none of the first names matched the information Avery had. Of course, the very last gravestone we looked at turned out to be that of John and Mary MacLeod, whose names and dates matched Avery’s records. Even though I had only met Avery less than 24 hours ago and I’m not related to her in any way, I too got emotional when we finally found the elaborate gravestone, which was a remarkably well-kept and beautiful white obelisk with not only their names but poetry. After a big, excited hug, we set to clearing away the few cobwebs, and set up crayons and paper for gravestone rubbings. I had peeled all the crayons in the car, so we were good to go. Even though the indentations in the obelisk were not especially deep, they were enough to make some good impressions on the paper after a few tries, and it was great fun to experiment with different colors and different parts of the gravestone; for example, a carved leaf at the top came our beautifully, but the poem ended up just being blobs. We made several copies of both names and dates in different colors, so Avery could keep a few and give some to her cousins and grandmother as souvenirs. After I left a few rocks at the gravestone, I took a short walk around the cemetery to let Avery have some alone time to communicate with her ancestors. After a few minutes, I came and gathered up our stuff while Avery wrote a letter to her ancestors and stuck it in a crevice in the gravestone.

After a snack break at Tim Hortons (they really are everywhere in Canada!) we returned to CBI to pick up Katherine, a Quebecer who was interested in joining us for the drive to Cavendish and Green Gables. She had gone to the beach with some other people, but that was fine because we met Leanne from Ontario, who had just checked in, and she hopped along for the ride.

The trip to Cavendish took about 35 minutes, and it was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever been on. Much like Iris and I imagined the pioneers hiking in Wyoming, I imagined Anne (well, Lucy Maud Montgomery, really) traveling along these idyllic island roads, which really were as red as her hair. Driving through PEI is like driving through a series of primary color paintings: red roads, blue skies, and yellow or green fields, with the occasional white house. Every turn provided us with a view of either a hill or a flat meadow.

We finally arrived in the town of Cavendish and at the Anne of Green Gables Visitor Center, and even though it was 11 dollars to get in, it was absolutely worth it. First, we explored a mock-up of Green Gables, laid out with rooms for Anne, Matthew, and Marilla, as well as other rooms as described in the novel.  Of course, “Anne” was there for photo ops, in character. We took turns sitting and taking pictures in the horse-drawn carriage, and visited exhibits about Lucy Maud Montgomery’s life there; she never actually lived at Green Gables proper – it was the home of her cousins – but many of the books were written on the property. We walked through the Lovers Lane Trail, which was, again, gorgeous around every corner, and not too overrun with tourists. We found an apple tree and helped ourselves. A Japanese family with selfie sticks (one of many) came up to us quizzically, and once we explained what we were doing, they tried the apples too. After we continued back down the trail, I looked back to see them collecting handfuls for later…heh.

Next, we took a walk through Haunted Woods to the actual location of Green Gables, across a street, stopping in a wheat field for another snack, and then saw the foundation of where Green Gables once was (the house we toured previously was a replica). At the small bookstore, we got to meet Jennie MacNeill, a lovely lady who was actually first cousin once removed to L. M. Montgomery. That was a treat. After visiting Lucy Maud’s grave, we headed back to the car to find out that we had spent three hours there, when they told us at the visitor’s center that it would be around one hour. No regrets though.

Before heading back to Charlottetown, we stopped at Cavendish Beach to walk along the red sand and feel the water on our toes, and then stopped to buy some groceries. By the time we got back to Charlottetown, I had to run to make it to the theatre, but I got there just in time to slide into my front-row seat to Bittergirl. More on that in another entry.

After the show, I came back to the hostel to eat the leftovers from dinner, which included Leanne’s salad and Yurie’s potatoes. I think that also might have been the night where Kaj and I went out for drinks at the Merchantman, which unlike the night before, was packed and loud.

Next up, Sunday-Wednesday in Charlottetown, then a brief Boston recap, and then…back to the random! I guess time does fly when you’re having fun, or at least it wises up and taps its cigar in the ashtray and goes, “Jacob, ya gotta live a little.”

A bientot!