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Flip the Script Friday: Nick Green, Body Politic

That’s So Jacob Presents: Flip the Script Friday

Episode #46: Nick Green, Body Politic

Image Credit: 49thshelf.com

The Basics

Body Politic premiered on 21 May 2016 at Buddies in Bad Time Theatre in Toronto, Canada. It closed on 12 June 2016, hours after the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Characters

  • Phillip – gay man in his 60s. Member of the Body Politic collective in his youth.
  • Deb – young lesbian activist in her 20s. Member of the Body Politic collective.
  • Steven – gay man in his 20s. Original member of the Body Politic collective who leaves quickly.
  • Calvin – gay man in his early 20s. Member of the collective.
  • Victor – gay man in his late 20s. Member of the collective, latecomer who joins with Brian. Played by the same actor who plays Steven.
  • Brian – gay man in his late 20s. Member of the collective, latecomer who joins with Victor.
  • Josh – gay man in his 20s. A barista at the Starbucks where Phillip goes every day, in the present-day storyline.

Setting/Plot

Present day and 1970s, Toronto, Canada. There are two simultaneous storylines. In the present day, Josh goes over to Phillip’s apartment after encountering him on the Grindr app, where they have sex and argue about the differences between gay men in their respective generations before a revelation by Josh. In the 1970s storyline, Phillip, Deb, and the others start a gay-themed newspaper entitled Body Politic, and in their attempts to express their views, they encounter resistance from within and without, leading up to a major raid on Toronto bathhouses and a demonstration which changes everything, including the breakup of Body Politic and the relationships between its former members and allies.


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Flip the Script Friday: Henry Beissel, Inuk

I decided to go back to the library, to the same shelf where I found Bone Cage, to see what other treasures it had in store for me. And a treasure I found, in the form of the fantastic fantasy Inuk by Henry Beissel

That’s So Jacob Presents: Flip the Script Friday

Episode #41: Henry Beissel, Inuk

Image Credit: Amazon.com

The Basics

Inuk premiered on 1 August 1973 at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. It has also been translated into French, for a six-year run in France by the Compagnie Morisse. According to the author’s preface, the script has also been translated into Bengali, Chinese, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish.

Characters

  • Single Characters
    • Inuk, a young hunter.
    • Father
    • Mother
    • Raven, who acts as a narrator.
    • Polar Bear
    • Arctic Fox
    • Sea Monster
    • Spirit of the Caribou
    • Spirit of the Moon (Male)
    • Spirit of the Wind (Male)
    • Spirit of the Dream (Female)
    • Sedna, Goddess of the Sea
    • Spirit of the Ice (Male)
    • Spirit of the Sun (Female)
  • Group Characters (Choruses)
    • Dog Team
    • Musk Oxen
    • Seals
    • Sharks
    • Inuit Villagers

*Note: In the original production, all characters aside from Sedna, the six Spirits, and the group of Inuit Villagers were performed by marionettes.

Setting/Plot

Mythical Inuit Village. It is winter in Inuk’s village, and he and his mother and father are starving. On a hunt, Inuk’s father is killed by a polar bear, giving Inuk the impetus to embark on a quest to find the Spirit of the Sun and bring her back to his village. His quest, tempered by the feuding spirits of the Wind and the Moon, the tricky goddess Sedna, an initially misunderstood Sea Monster, and helped by a silly group of seals, leads him to the Great Hall of the Iceberg, whereupon he meets the spirits of the Ice and the Sun, as well as that of his deceased father. Overall, Inuk learns a lesson about the cycles of the planet and of life.

Major Themes

Men are the Moon, Women are the Sun?

Not so much of a theme, I guess, but an observation, that characters typically seen as female, such as Moon and Wind, are male, and the Sun is female. This interesting subversion is thought-provoking, adding to the mystery of the elements as well as giving them different dimensions. It is also a reminder that this story comes from the indigenous people and, being non-Western, has its own unique backdrop in many ways, including gender roles.

What About the Children?

The back cover quotes Doug Bale of The Free Press, stating “[t]he tale is an admirable blend of fairy tale and poetry that appeals equally to adults and children.” I could easily see this being a children’s play, but one that adults would definitely pay attention to, with the occasional “slightly older” joke in the mix. However, in terms of the main character, Inuk, he is constantly referring to himself as a man, a hunter, while the other characters see him as a boy up until the end. This shows children that even though you may think you are all grown up, you still have some more growing up to do, as do we all. At the end, it is stated that Inuk and the Spirit of the Sun will be “married, but for a short time only,” which makes me feel like Inuk, although not totally grown up, has progressed to a place where he can get married, traditionally a grown-up activity.

Happily Ever After? Not So Fast

This is literally how the play ends, with Sedna, Goddess of the Sea, telling Inuk that he won’t be able to stay married to the Spirit of the Sun forever, and just like everything in life, she will have to return to the Great Hall of the Iceberg every year. Although she is also there at the end, along with Inuk, Sedna’s marriage to the Moon is also in limbo, as the moon and the sea go through changes and phases, just like Inuk and the Sun will. And furthermore, Inuk’s father stays dead, rather than coming back to life. What I like about this is that it shows children a clear message about the life cycle without being disappointing (Inuk’s father leaves him with a message that he is proud of his son, and that he should take care of his mother in his place), but also sparks children’s imagination with further discussion about Inuk, the Sun, Sedna, and the Moon, warranted by their metaphorical marriages, without any scientific information being offered.

My Thoughts

I am so glad I picked Inuk off the shelf. It was an unusual but fun ride, and I do think that it would definitely be a hit with both children and adults. I really like the creativity that it presents – in performance, design, and dramaturgy – and the suggestions that masks or puppets be used as the production sees fit, the more the merrier. Beissel notes that even though it was a mix of marionettes and human actors in the Stratford production, it can be either all puppets or all humans, masks or no masks, and it would still be fine. I like that philosophy; it makes it easier to work with, especially for a low-budget group like a school. I think it could be a pretty killer school play, in fact, rather than the normal, played-out children’s shows like Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood, and all the rest.

How I’d Flip It

Much like the cover of the book, I’m seeing some sort of tree design, maybe with moveable flats in front of a backdrop that looks like the sun in the sky, but is really the eye of an eagle, symbolizing both endangerment of the environment, and the eagle Jamie nurses back to health and releases into the wild. A lot of what I saw in various production photos included wood or faux-wood logs and stumps as furniture. I’m not sure I would make it super “campfire” but I would definitely accent everything in wood.

For costumes/appearance, I’m thinking a lot of earth tones in sepia and tan, and navy blue. Much of the colors are described by Banks in the text, but one thing I would definitely avoid would be camo; just too stereotypical. I picture Clarence and possibly Jamie in plaid; Chicky in typical “woodsy girl” attire with a t-shirt and jeans; and Krista in some kind of short-sleeve baseball tee with cutoffs. For Kevin, I picture a lot of solid navy blue, and for Robby, a slightly more formal outfit in forest green. Lissa is harder to pin down; in various production photos, she was in a dress and pigtails, but I see her in something a little less frilly, like denim overalls and a pink short, with glasses. The women’s hairstyles are really clear in my mind. I see Chicky with a bleached blond, sculptured buzz cut; Krista in long brown curls, with an updo for the wedding scene; and Lissa with a short bob, almost making a mullet at her ears.

For the wedding scene, obviously the men’s outfits and Krista’s wedding dress are what they are. However, I would see a change for the other two women. The playwright indicates that their dresses are fuchsia, but I would incorporate a different style for each. For Lissa, I would give her more of a little girl look, with a flouncy skirt and a little jacket, as if she is playing dress up, and for Chicky, I see her in an uncharacteristically feminine outfit that is an extreme contrast to her normal attire, with a sweetheart neckline and a structured bodice, but a length that is short enough for her to rock some black biker-y boots. Something to accentuate the fact that even though she is rough, she isn’t one of the guys and is feminine in more than a motherly way.

And finally, as I was reading, the song “Gives You Hell” by All-American Rejects was reverberating in my head, possibly for a video teaser or to appear somewhere in the production.

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Flip the Script Friday: Catherine Banks, Bone Cage

Hi there.

So, let me preface this by saying that, yes, last week’s Flip the Script, as well as a few others, are empty/unfinished. Partially due to running out of time on Friday nights, partially due to trying to deal with this awful new WordPress interface, and partially due to being just plain tired. But I actually really love making these, no matter if anyone else reads them or not. Hopefully, they’ll be useful at some point, and until then, it’ll just be a chronicle of plays I’ve read, enjoyed, and had thoughts about.

Earlier today, I went through my entire blog – yes, all six years of it, as of last week, happy blogiversary to me – and looked for every single Flip the Script post. I deleted a few which I wasn’t happy with, or which I was never going to get back to, and made an official count of how many I’ve done so far. The grand total is 39, with all but 12 finished, or at least in a state I’m happy with. At some point – hopefully soon – I’ll fix up the remaining twelve, and make some kind of directory listing the entire series so far. But right now, I just spent about an hour relaxing in bed and reading a play I plucked off the shelves of the library, and though it took a while to get into, it ended up being a very interesting elegy that is definitely worth sharing. It comes from eastern Canada, right here to That’s So Jacob, in…

That’s So Jacob Presents: Flip the Script Friday

Episode #40: Catherine Banks, Bone Cage

Image Credit: Amazon.com

The Basics

Bone Cage premiered on 10 October 2007 at Neptune Studio in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. It was produced by Forerunner Playwrights Co-op and Ship’s Company Theatre.

Characters

  • Jamie – 22 years old, a tree processor in the logging industry
  • Chicky – 25 years old, Jamie’s half-sister through their mother. Works in the sod fields.
  • Krista – 17 years old, Jamie’s fiancee. A high school student.
  • Kevin – 18 years old, Krista’s brother. Works as a chainsaw wielder in the logging industry.
  • Clarence – 52 years old, Jamie’s father. Retired and on disability.
  • Robby – 30 years old, considered “slow.” Employed by Reg, Chicky’s lover, who is an unseen character.
  • Lissa – 14 years old, Robby’s sister. Also considered “slow.”

Setting/Plot

No time indicated (probably present day), in a small town in rural Nova Scotia. Jamie, an introspective, nature-loving young man in the logging industry, finds out from his friend Kevin that their boss intends to move his to a lesser position as a chainsaw operator, a position which will have him killing more trees. He dreams of becoming a pilot and possibly moving to British Columbia to train in the heli-logging industry. Meanwhile, his young fiancée Krista is planning their upcoming wedding and looking forward to becoming an adult despite still being a teenage high school senior. In a second plot, Clarence is still mourning the loss of his son, Travis, half-brother to Jamie and Chicky, while Chicky attempts to take care of things at home, fend off her father’s advances, and deter him from sending Travis’s remains to some “cloning lab” in Scotland. When it is discovered that Travis’s grave has been disturbed, Jamie and Kevin take a break from wedding preparing in order to get back at enemy Merv “the perv” and his gang. After a family photo session where many secrets are revealed, and an offstage “incident” at Jamie and Krista’s wedding, we are left with Jamie confronting his relationships with the past (Clarence and Travis), the future (Krista), and the present (his job and the environment) at the railroad trestle, a spot which has drawn him in since the play’s beginning, where we first meet him.

Major Themes

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

I know that the description was borderline confusing, but the play was borderline confusing. A lot of key details are only referred to and not seen onstage. This includes Kevin being beat up by Merv and his gang and the wedding of Jamie and Krista. I suppose this adds to the element of mystery and is due to the fact that we can’t include literally everything that happens to these characters onstage, but I felt like the details pertaining to who exactly Merv is (other than, as they refer to him once or twice “Merv the perv”) and what his deal is with Jamie and Kevin, why they’re enemies. We also don’t see too much of Chicky’s backstory. She’s a badass who has dealt with a lot, from unwanted advances from basically every male except Jamie, which includes her father, Clarence, and Kevin, who may or may not be related to her, as we find out. Instead, we hear a lot about it, and at times it feels like Chicky’s giving us a lot more than we are seeing, and we have to just hope that she is reliable in what she is saying. The scene between her and Clarence attests to the fact that she is probably telling the truth, but it’s almost as if she reveals too much information as there’s not as much visual context.

Waiting For…

This brings me to my next point, which is the obvious presence of absent characters. Some are ostensibly absent, like Travis, who is dead, and Chicky’s mother, who has abandoned the family. However, we also don’t see Earl, the boss, or the infamous Merv. Most notably, we hear a lot about a certain character who never shows up but clearly has quite an impact on one of the onstage characters; Reg, an older, married man, who employs Robby and has been involved with Chicky ever since her early teens, almost as young as Lissa. Chicky is so headstrong, and despite teasing Jamie, is his mother figure, and is protective of the younger and more vulnerable characters, showing sisterhood to Krista (even when she is being a bridezilla), civility and attention to Robby, and being a safety guard for the young and impressionable Lissa. Chicky can be a smart-aleck but she seems to know more than anyone else, and is the most down-to-earth and practical…yet her dreams and aspirations are viewed as a joke by everyone else. This is exacerbated at the not one, but two scenes where she is waiting for Reg, who of course, does not show up. Her fatal flaw is that she is attracted to a man who, despite what he says about his marriage, is not going to leave his wife and be with her. Unlike all the other characters, she does not know that waiting for him is useless because he will never show up.

I Guess This is Growing Up

My final major theme is that of growing up, or lack thereof. It’s obvious that Chicky has been thrust into the role of parent, basically raising her younger half-brother Jamie, and that Krista, who dreams of being Jamie’s wife, is more into playing at being an adult than actually being one, leaving Jamie somewhere in between. With his desire to clone Travis and somehow eliminate the future “new Travis’s” brain tumor, Clarence is holding on to a memory and acting like the very child he lost and is obsessed with. Lissa, the youngest character in the play, is entranced by adulthood in two ways: by Krista, only three years older than her but already a bride, and by Kevin, who makes romantic advances on her. Even though Kevin stops before he does anything immoral or regretful, getting up off of Lissa and sending her home before they do anything, Lissa is smitten with him, which she shows in the monologue section of the photo session scene, with her monologue that is basically all of her thoughts about sex. When Jamie and Chicky piece together what Clarence has been doing, they confront him, telling him to grow up and act like the father he should be, and on the flip side, Chicky emphasizes to Kevin that Lissa is still a child, and even though she and Reg have had a physical relationship since her early teens, that Lissa, being “slow,” is way more vulnerable than she was, and warns him not to engage with her, at the risk of giving her signals she does not understand which could lead Lissa to a dangerous place.

My Thoughts

As much as parts of it confused me – for instance, the scene where Jamie and Kevin are putting on dresses and makeup for a stag party, and the sexual aspects of Merv and his “gang” – I kept reading just to see how this gritty Gothic tale would turn out. I kept thinking of a combination of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Naomi Wallace’s The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek; the former, because of a main character living in his own world, contemplating moving across the country, and the chopping down of trees, and the latter, with the country aesthetics and father/son relationships, as well as the railroad which dominates the landscape. Also, my current read is John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and though I’m only about a quarter of the way through, I am picturing the gang in that book as similar to the unseen Merv and his gang.

How I’d Flip It

Much like the cover of the book, I’m seeing some sort of tree design, maybe with moveable flats in front of a backdrop that looks like the sun in the sky, but is really the eye of an eagle, symbolizing both endangerment of the environment, and the eagle Jamie nurses back to health and releases into the wild. A lot of what I saw in various production photos included wood or faux-wood logs and stumps as furniture. I’m not sure I would make it super “campfire” but I would definitely accent everything in wood.

For costumes/appearance, I’m thinking a lot of earth tones in sepia and tan, and navy blue. Much of the colors are described by Banks in the text, but one thing I would definitely avoid would be camo; just too stereotypical. I picture Clarence and possibly Jamie in plaid; Chicky in typical “woodsy girl” attire with a t-shirt and jeans; and Krista in some kind of short-sleeve baseball tee with cutoffs. For Kevin, I picture a lot of solid navy blue, and for Robby, a slightly more formal outfit in forest green. Lissa is harder to pin down; in various production photos, she was in a dress and pigtails, but I see her in something a little less frilly, like denim overalls and a pink short, with glasses. The women’s hairstyles are really clear in my mind. I see Chicky with a bleached blond, sculptured buzz cut; Krista in long brown curls, with an updo for the wedding scene; and Lissa with a short bob, almost making a mullet at her ears.

For the wedding scene, obviously the men’s outfits and Krista’s wedding dress are what they are. However, I would see a change for the other two women. The playwright indicates that their dresses are fuchsia, but I would incorporate a different style for each. For Lissa, I would give her more of a little girl look, with a flouncy skirt and a little jacket, as if she is playing dress up, and for Chicky, I see her in an uncharacteristically feminine outfit that is an extreme contrast to her normal attire, with a sweetheart neckline and a structured bodice, but a length that is short enough for her to rock some black biker-y boots. Something to accentuate the fact that even though she is rough, she isn’t one of the guys and is feminine in more than a motherly way.

And finally, as I was reading, the song “Gives You Hell” by All-American Rejects was reverberating in my head, possibly for a video teaser or to appear somewhere in the production.

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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.”