Shaw Festival Week

I've been busy sitting down for most of this week.  Not typing at the computer or reading a book, just sitting down and staring straight ahead.  Occasionally sideways or even backwards.  Sure, there were a few bathroom breaks, but most of it was spent sitting.  Sorry about that; I'm starting to write like Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon, with obtuse descriptions of ordinary events.  In better words, I was at the Shaw Festival this week, watching an assortment of plays.


[Picture of a London Bus, much like the Piccadilly Burger Bus]We went to Niagara-on-the-Lake on Tuesday September 19 2000, doing it via highway 7 to Peterbourough with a lunch stop at the bakery beside the Piccadilly Burger Bus (way better than your usual highway stop - the bakery, not the bus).  I just had way too much to eat at that stop.  It was an unusually hot day for September, after weeks of cold rainy weather, making the second half of the trip unexpectedly hot and sweaty.  The truck traffic boxing us in from Toronto onwards was also annoying, though they moved along at a fair clip.  After 7 hours of driving over 560km, we arrived at 4pm.

[Picture from the sidewalk beside Lakewinds]My passengers went off to rest while I dived into the pool at the Lakewinds Bed and Breakfast run by my cousin's wife.  I swam and splashed around for a couple of hours, with breaks to walk around the new garden, having fun except when I skinned my nose during a close encounter with the pool's bottom.  My aunt went berserk when I refused to have an unnecessary supper, preferring instead to relax and get ready for the 8 o'clock play.

[Scene from The Apple Cart]I got a ride with cousin Jessica down to the Courthouse theatre to an enjoyable evening watching one of the better Shaw plays: The Apple Cart.  It's about monarchy versus democracy, set 40 years from now (the king's secretaries are wearing VR gear) when the almost powerless king has to deal with his prime minister and cabinet grabbing the last of his constitutional veto power.  The amazingly smart king manages to use his weak powers (public speeches provided by the cabinet but read in a way which changes the meaning) to work around the doings of the potential republicans; pointing out that you need someone with a longer term view to counterbalance public choices which can be stupid and short term.  Along the way many still relevant points are made, such as when the big corporate interests interfere (they're the ones with the real power), attempting to globalize everything.  I'll leave the details of an amazing merger as a surprise.  There's even a quite nice scene contrasting Americans and Canadians/Brits.  It ends quite nicely when the king threatens to abdicate in favour of his frivolous brother, and go into politics himself.

[Picture of Florentine Room]We walked back, and I slept in the Florentine room that night.  It's got nice curvey window to fit in with the round tower wall, a blond stained plank floor, and clouds in the ceiling.


My skipping of supper paid off in the morning - I had space for a big breakfast, served at the manor's giant dining table.  I think I had scrambled eggs with a custard sauce, asparagus and hollandaise, fruit salad, several croissants and a few other things.  Gourmet breakfasts are a specialty of the house.

[Picture of a Jacaranda Tree in the Wild]My brother Eric came down from Toronto for a visit, and for the all important jacaranda tree handing over ceremony.  We've had the tree since 1967, grown from seed, cut back many times and moved indoors over winter.

[Queen's Landing Patio]After an expensive, tasty and filling lunch at the Queen's Landing patio, we went to see A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde.  [Scene from A Woman of No Importance]It's about a lot of society women talking about their lives (or what Wilde thinks women talk about), contrasting with an outcast woman who left her husband when he refused to marry her at the time she got pregnant.  Time has passed and now the father wants to get together (he hires the son as his secretary), but the mother is annoyingly inflexible (the mother / son bond is well examined by the play) and rejects the father and tries to keep the parenthood secret from the son.  A lot of the tension in the play is gone today, since society women now accept divorce and even unmarried parents.  As you can guess, I didn't like this play, though the women in the family did.

We had a nice BBQ pork chop supper on the patio at Lakewinds, with the rest of the family, including a guest appearance by removed cousins Sarah and Jessica, taking a break from their jobs.  A few of Sarah's fingers were all bandaged up from a baking accident at Queens Landing; remember to use the dish rag to catch the metal baking sheet!  (What do you call them?  Cookie sheets?  Muffin tins?  I don't know!)  Still, it was nice to see them again.

[Scene from The Doctor's Dilemma]That evening we went to the Festival theatre (the big one) to see The Doctor's Dilemma by Bernard Shaw.  It's about a group of doctors, originally from the same school, now in different areas both medical and economic, and their dilemma of rescuing either an artist or a fellow doctor, using a single dose of an experimental cure for tuberculosis.  Both the artist and doctor are poor.  The doctor is honest and cares for his working class community.  The artist makes drawings admired by the doctors, borrows money and steals small items from everybody, and is married to two women (dumped one of them when she ran out of money).  Which would you choose?  The doctors went back and forth, eventually the one with final say picked his fellow doctor, even though he was in love with one of the wives.  Later he meets the wife at an art exhibition and finds that she hates him for not treating her husband, and that she glorifies her husband, seemingly having forgotten the bad parts.  The final message is that art is more important than the artist, and does better after the artist is dead, while the work of a doctor is more important than the person.  I think that the doctor decided well.

[Jim Mezon the Loud Villain as the Antiphagocyte Doctor][Bernard Behrens as the Wise Old Doctor]The acting was excellent.  In particular each doctor had his own personality and foibles.  The surgeon just wanted to cut out nuciform sacs to stop blood poisoning.  The forceful anti-germ doctor (played by Jim Mezon, my favorite loud mouthed villain) was always talking about stimulating the phagocytes (immune system), though he did kill people by not listening to the scientific doctor's warnings about stimulating at the wrong time.  The best was the humble old doctor, denigrated by the younger ones as being obsolete even though he kept up with medical knowledge and knew what things worked and what didn't.  Bernard Behrens, the actor portraying the old doctor did a really good job.

That night more guests had arrived so I had to sleep in a small room in basement.  Sorry, no pictures :-).


After another delicious breakfast, we went shopping at the Dansk Factory Outlet.  I was looking for a glass, wide enough to clean out, big enough to hold a can of soft drink plus a few ice cubes, made of glass (the nice plastic ones we got last year from Dansk, as seen in Quark's bar on Deep Space Nine, crack up after a while).  In the whole store, I only found one suitable style, but they had a horrid child's painting design (tulips or sunflowers in thick hand painted brush strokes), though it was on sale for half price (I wonder why :-) so I got just one.

[The Steam Ship Pumper]After dashing back with the Dansk purchases, I hiked over to the other side of the town, passing new developments in the harbour area which were just holes in the ground last year, and Kings Point yellow brick Art Deco eye sore condominium blocks this year.  The town style is Regency / Georgian / Early Victorian / Pastel Disney, not Art Deco!  About 20 minutes later I got to Navy Hall, and waited for a ride on the SS Pumper.  After chatting with the ticket agent for half an hour, we got on board.

The weather started out cool, sunny and windy.  Soon it turned for the worse and we were going down the Niagara river under cloudy skies with big waves, making the trip more exciting than usual.  [Fort George Aerial View]The one insight I got from the trip is that the British were smarter building Fort George up the river a bit, away from the large waves from the lake, unlike the French / American Fort Niagara.  I wondered who had made this brilliant decision, and stopped at the Fort George ticket hut to ask, and found out that Navy Hall had been built before the fort.  So it's the sensible navy people, not governor Simcoe who decided where to build.

[Scene from The Matchmaker]After passing by Fort George, we arrived at the Festival theatre just in time to see The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder, the precursor to Hello Dolly. It was a very enjoyable tale about oppressed employees escaping to New York to have fun.  There was lots of romance as the various couples form, and farce from their attempts to hide from the evil employer who happens to be hunting for a wife of his own.  The moral of the story was that you should get out and enjoy life.

We had a nice informal supper back at Lakewinds, this time just freshly barbequed hamburgers.  Sarah was changing the wrappings on her burned fingers and grossed us out (slang translation: made disgusted) with her huge clear blisters.  Jessica was inspired by this to tell some interesting tales, culminating in a gross-out contest between Sarah and Jess, unfortunately halted by Jane before I had a chance to top their stories.  Coincidentally Jane and Sarah also figured out that last night's mysterious toilet overflow in the guest room could have been caused by gauze bandages clogging up the pipes.

[Scene from Six Characters in Search of an Author]In the evening we went to Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello.  This one is a surrealistic play essentially about the difference between reality and theatre.  The setting is a stage during rehearsal, and the real audience is thus part of the set.  The ambiguity between reality and theatre starts before the show starts, with one of the actors acting as a stage hand doing repair work on the stage.  During a rehersal, six characters walk into the aisles and the lead one tries to get the director and his actors to enact their story (apparently their author stopped writing before he finished the play), thus bringing the characters to life.  The story is about the usual bastard children, separated wife and resulting emotional anguish, much like A Woman of No Importance.  The director gets interested, and gives it a shot.  Things proceed awkwardly, as the characters tell their story in a kind of third person, but get annoyed with each other due to their characteristics and histories.

[Screen Shot from The Sims]A few interesting points come out of this.  One is that the characters in a play are immortal, lasting as long as the play is remembered.  Another is that the story gets changed when performed - a character complains that the prop guy is using a yellow hat when it should be blue, or that she was watching the vein in her arm pulse while she was having sex with her father in the brothel, which is hard to represent on stage.  This made me think of my own writing, and the way I change history to make it more interesting when I write up the story of our role playing game adventures.  Another point I though of was that the characters are written by the audience; ones which told uninteresting stories wouldn't be written about thus the audience selects the stories and characters (people must have obsessed a lot about bastard children in the past).  One last point is that the actors are simulating the characters when they perform the play.  With computer simulated characters (The Sims computer game is an early example), this could get closer to reality than actors can do, with the simulation running continuously, not just during an hour or two of the play, and not just following a script.  This leads to God-like problems; can we turn off the simulation or would that be the same as killing the characters?

While watching and thinking, I kept an eye out for stories I could use in a role playing game scenario.  I realized that the play was self contained, all the people are related in a small group, and like a snow filled glass globe the playwright shakes it up and writes about the storms in that small world.  The characters on the stage aren't related to anyone in the audience.  It's all third party stuff.  I couldn't figure out how to get my adventurers involved in such a scenario without retroactively changing their past; they don't have bastard children or hidden wives or husbands.  The best I could do would be to have them encounter a relative with bastard children, or be asked to help find a missing parent, which would be hard to do in an adventure (I'd have to invent villages full of people and their family trees) and probably it wouldn't be fun to play anyways.


After a final great big breakfast, we drove back to Ottawa on the fast highways, saving only 20 minutes and using slightly more gas.  There was a bit of excitement that evening when the hot water heater pressure relief valve suddenly opened up with a shrill whistle and dumped some semi-warm water on the basement floor.  It seems to have been upset by the water heater being turned off, and wasn't really responding to high temperature or pressure - a bit of jiggling got it closed.


I was able to make it to the awards ceremony of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.  Due to horrible scheduling (Shaw trip moved later, OIAF moved earlier to end of September this year), it ran at the same time as the Shaw Festival trip, so I missed several days of cartoons.  At least I got to see the best ones, such as Father and Daughter where bicycle riding father gets off bike and goes off into sunset in a boat, then daughter rides back, coming back several times over her life to look out over the sea, later with her own children, and finally walking through the grass (the sea dried up) as an old woman, and finding the boat, and then her father (I think she had died then).  There were several others shown, all good except for The Chapeau (I found the similar Ring of Fire was much better - it had a bit of a story).


After a nice Lone Star lunch, I picked up my mom's birthday present - a refurbished Dell Latitude XPi CD P150 laptop computer (top of the line in 1997).  I spent the next few days installing Red Hat Linux and figuring it out, getting all the nifty features (sound, suspend to disk mode, graphics, Internet, etc) working.  Now she'll be able to browse the web and get e-mail in colour and more quickly than before.  I've also installed WordPerfect for Linux, just in case she wants to fill up several hundred megabytes of disk space with documents.  There's also Eric's Ultimate Solitaire, a collection of all major solitaire games.


On a related note, I went with mom to see Hedda Gabler at the Great Canadian Theatre Company on Saturday night.  Unlike the expected dark and depressing Henrik Ibsen play, we got a Shaw quality production and script translation by Judith Thompson.  Oddly enough, that script was performed at the Shaw festival a few years ago.  The only thing I can't figure out is the motiviation of the female lead.  She marries a boring professor (OK, perhaps for money), arranges the suicide of her ex-lover and artistic type (jealousy and improving the professor's career), and then commits suicide herself (trapped by another character who blackmails her).  Individually it could happen, but causing that much destruction is a bit much.

- Alex

Copyright © 2000 by Alexander G. M. Smith.