Things have been busy here for the last few weeks, so I haven't had much time to write about the weekend activities. I still don't have much time, so here's a really quick summary. OK, not so quick since I seem to have fleshed out the play descriptions - I was just going to list the titles, but you know...

End of June Shaw Festival Weekend

I took off a long weekend (4 days) from work to go to the Shaw Festival to take in a few plays.

Friday - Driving

I drove up on Friday June 26 1998 to Niagara-on-the-lake (near Niagara Falls) for the Shaw festival. Mom and an aunt came along. Even though it was hot and we didn't have air conditioning, it was bearable. Toronto wasn't too slow - though there were a few nervous moments watching the gas gauge hit empty while stuck in slow traffic (some truck had dropped a bunch of rubber pipes (like radiator hose but several metres long) with orange ribbon wound around them). Anyway, we got there early (7.5 hour trip from Ottawa) and had time to relax before the first play in the evening. Part of the relaxing involved splashing about in the Lakewinds B&B pool, while picking up the first sunburn of the summer.

The Shop at Sly Corner

The first play was The Shop at Sly Corner, a 1940's play written by a British MP about blackmailing and the effect it has on people, ending up in a murder scene and avoiding justice (murderers are justified when it comes to blackmail avoidance?). I liked it. The hero was a stolen goods fence who melted down gold inside a forge hidden inside his quaint British electric fireplace.

The Lakewinds Bed and Breakfast

After the play (at the Royal George - an old converted movie theatre), we walked back in the pleasant evening air (we got lucky with the weather - nice the whole time) to Lakewinds. Inside I had the Algonquin room all to myself - kind of like a railroad baron's hotel room, done up in wood and art-deco style, but with air conditioning :-).

Saturday - Garden Tour

Saturday was the day for just one play, in the afternoon. No splashing around in the morning since there were about 1000 people wandering around the garden in a city wide garden tour of selected houses. Many of them also poked their noses into the veranda where us guests were eating breakfast and reading. Guess that's why they are called nosey. But they did get to see a really nice garden - lots of the vegetables at meals are from it (fresh strawberries, half a dozen lettuce varieties, interesting herbs) plus it has a lot of flowers, assorted walls and trellises in white, small mazes, patches of lawn, secret places with benches and swings.

So, no swimming. Instead I talked with some of the other guests, including one industrialist who had been involved with Hasbro too, but from the invention of screws useable in plastic toys point of view rather than software constructs. Interesting chats.

The Lady's not for Burning

The relatively uncomprehensible The Lady's not for Burning didn't make much of an impression on me (ex-soldier wants to be hung and is rejected by the mayor, while the town wants an innocent woman killed for turning some old man into a female dog, so the soldier says he murdered the old man). There's a bit more but I don't really care about stupidity.

Brotherly Visit

I had hopes that an old friend of mine might make it over for an evening of exploring Niagara Falls (casino and arcades), but that didn't work out. Instead, my brother showed up and we had Saturday supper with another distant relative. Instead of going back to Toronto, my brother hung around chatting for a while, missed the bus back, and ended up staying for the night.

Sunday - Major Barbara

Sunday was a busy day with two plays. Major Barbara was the only play actually by George Bernard Shaw, and it was the best of the lot (makes you think, covers a lot of ideas). The whole thing is about the morals of good and evil, and ends up showing them reversed. Major Barbara is the daughter of an arms manufacturer (think Krupp of World War I) who is in the Salvation Army, and wants nothing to do with her evil father. The arms maker runs a model village for his happy workers while the mission is a place of failed people. My mom was amused by the fund-raising references (the arms maker's money is refused by the local SA people but their bosses are happy to take it, so Barbara quits).

Lady Windermere's Fan

The other play was Lady Windermere's Fan, an Oscar Wilde play. Many people liked it - it has wonderful sets (nice rotating stage with free standing doors at each compass point and people waltzing through them as it rotates) and costumes showing upper class British society. However, I found it a routine story of communications failures between people.

Monday - Driving Back

Monday was an even quicker trip back to Ottawa, but with slower traffic in Toronto (down to 40km/h) and a stop at the Maple <mumble> cheese factory up the road from Bellville, where they have real unpasturised cheddar and squeeky (as in really fresh) cheese curd.

A few worried messages about the Pony game were on the answering machine when I got back. The rest of that week and part of the next was naturally spent on that project, putting out the fire with spit and polish. It was that week or the one after (the Playset video problems were the hot spot after the Pony), I don't remember which, on which I managed to sneak away from work one hot afternoon to see Disney's Mulan.

Later - Mulan

Mulan is this year's Disney cartoon and is one of their better ones, somewhere in the top five, after Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. The writing is good - no dull spots, the action (yes, this seems to be more of an action film, unusual for Disney) moves along quite smoothly. Mind you, the plot is the usual growing up and empowerment stuff, but with a good twist. There is music, but it isn't obnoxious nor is it as catchy as some of the songs in their other films. The drawing style is Chinese, a nice difference from their usual big eyed characters. There's one interesting scene where the soldiers are thinking about women and the calligraphy in an imaginary scroll (no thought balloons here) changes into a stroke line version of the soldier doing what he hopes to do (dancing, eating). Yes, this is one of their more graphically stylish productions. Of course, there is some computer animation too - a big army scene with thousands of troops moving makes good use of their flocking software (used for herds in The Lion King and crowds in The Hunchback of Notredame). I'd be happy to go and see it again.

Fun Day

And finally, over the last few days, I got to see a couple of more plays. But first there was Friday's Fun Day at work (went to Karters Korners for miniputt, go-carting and outdoor games) where I had fun and got sunburned, perhaps had a bit of sunstroke, got a migraine headache on the way back, spent all of Friday evening and night sleeping, woke up on Saturday morning and stumbled to the bathroom, then stumbled a bit more and did a high speed face plant into the carpet - getting a nice bloody rug burn on my forehead and a gorey cut from my glasses (which fortunately only got bent a bit). I gave up on the rest of the day and went back to sleep. Well, until it was time for the Saturday night play.

The Mikado

That was The Mikado, a Gilbert and Sullivan play put on at the NAC opera by a bunch of experienced Stratford renegades. They had lots of topical changes to the script - things like flushing down a chunk of our premiere's brain as a suitable punishment for his school system changes. The other ones were similarly agressive, unlike the last time I saw the same play a decade ago where jokes were more along the line of His Highness Trudeau. The rising star of the performance was the British actor Avery Saltzman playing Ko-ko, the executioner. He looks like a small version of the Yes Minister chief bureaucrat and is very, um, proactive in his acting; putting lots of vigor into his role and doing some things that probably aren't in the original script.

The Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Yesterday was The Accidental Death of an Anarchist at the NAC studio. This was just weird. The main character was an insane actor, pretending to be other people (like a doctor or professor). She fooled the police superintendant into thinking that she was a judge doing an investigation into the fall of an anarchist bombing suspect from a fourth floor window. Showing the abuse of power, she had the police doing all sorts of tricks and demeaning things. Again there were many Canadian references (the bank bombing was an anti-bank-merger statement). Still, it came out like a play by someone free associating, though there was a kind of plot as she forced out an assortment of different scenarios from the police (and got them to believe it too).

- Alex

Copyright © 1998 by Alexander G. M. Smith.