Hasan (Nadeem Phillip) tells Haseena (Risha Nanda) about his dream of playing cricket in Canada. (photo by Emily Cooper)
I have to admit I’ve never seen a cricket match in all the years I’ve lived in Vancouver. I’ve seen games in other countries – but I never knew Stanley Park had a field for cricket going back to the 1890s and a clubhouse that just turned 100.
In fact, the pitch at Brockton Oval is considered rather hallowed ground by some and forms a focal point in The Men in White, the current production at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage.
Playwright Anosh Irani takes the audience from India, where dreamers see Canada as a land of refuge; to Canada, where dreams don’t always turn out the way people hope; to the world of cricket, where even a “duck” doesn’t hurt too badly as long as you don’t have to borrow a “box.”
Based partly on the author’s true experience at a chicken slaughterhouse, the play is set in two different locations – a chicken stand in Bombay and a cricket clubhouse in Vancouver.
In India, 18-year-old Hasan dreams of becoming a famous cricket player and playing in Vancouver with his brother. As he laments his lot in life, he admires a local girl from afar, trying to woo her, despite becoming tongue-tied and awkward whenever she comes by. His adoptive father, who owns the shop, looks after him, trying to impart wisdom about life, albeit in rather unorthodox ways.
In Vancouver, Hasan’s brother, Abdul, has been living and working in a restaurant illegally, after arriving on a tourist visa. He’s embarrassed to tell his brother of his circumstance, and the only thing that keeps his spirits up is to be able to play his favourite sport on a beautiful grass cricket field – a privilege for which he is immensely grateful. He’s particularly impressed because Don Bradman, a renowned cricket player, had said in 1948: “The Brockton Point ground is the prettiest upon which it has been my pleasure to play.”
In the clubhouse, Hasan and his teammates discuss the game, each other’s lives and the issues of the day, but come to blows when racist sentiment arises. A doctor who had emigrated from Bombay takes issue with Abdul. His angry outburst ends with him declaring, “I will not allow Muslims in this country!”
The scene is disturbing in its familiarity, given President Trump’s machinations, but also very touching, as the other team members rally around Abdul in support.
While thought-provoking, the play doesn’t offer up any answers. Its forte is in the writing and directing. The performance is jam-packed with witty repartee, sarcastic barbs and playful insults that are tossed at one another like verbal confetti.
Irani has a skill in wordplay and humour that leaves the audience feeling at once unsettled by some of what’s being said, while appreciating its delivery. With six of the cast members almost talking over one another at times, the outcome could have been rather messy, and the play needed the deft hand of Rachel Ditor at the helm to direct the characters in their split-second timing. The set design by Amir Ofek is minimalist, but in some ways reflects a cricket game. The two locations share one stage and action alternates between the two, as it would in a sporting match. Ofek’s design enables the sets to coexist, while still being visually separated by the few props and use of different lighting.
The Men in White runs at Granville Island Stage until March 11 (artsclub.com). Irani’s work – he is also an author – has gained national and international acclaim and honours. Take the opportunity to see it for yourself.
Baila Lazarusis a freelance writer and media strategist in Vancouver. Her consulting services are at phase2coaching.com.
Jolene Bernardino is among the cast of Deborah Vogt’s Carry On: A Musical. (photo by Landon Shantz, graphics by Braden Neufeld)
How many hours do you think you’ve stood around baggage carousels waiting for your luggage? Were you able to do something productive with your time? Or was it luggage limbo? Waiting for luggage becomes the backdrop of one of several plays with Jewish connections at the Vancouver Fringe Festival this year.
When Deborah Vogt and her team in Smackdown 2015 (a 24-hour musical theatre competition) picked “YVR Baggage Claim” out of a hat last year, the brainwave was immediate.
“I think that we were all inspired by the limbo of baggage claim: the idea that you’ve finished your flight, you’ve gone through customs and you just want to finish your journey, yet you’re stuck and powerless while waiting for your bags,” she told the Independent.
“As emerging artists, this feels unsettlingly close to home. We’re at different stages of our careers, but all somewhere in between school and working full time as artists. Do we commit, with the hope that eventually what we’re waiting for will come true? Or do we acknowledge that maybe our bags are lost and go home? And, more importantly, how do we stop and breathe and enjoy our surroundings in the meantime?”
Thus, Carry On: A Musical was born, in which the audience gets to examine the type of people we encounter in baggage claim areas; their physical and emotional baggage.
“Each of our characters is dealing with one kind of baggage or another – the fun part is watching how different people cope with what is lost, damaged, deep-seated or brand new.”
While this is intended to be a fun, silly show, it also addresses real conflicts that people live with every day, Vogt said.
“An important theme for us is the idea that there is no ‘right’ way to live life. Everyone has baggage, and that’s OK. Just like in an airport, there are many directions to take. It’s OK to make mistakes or accidentally get on the wrong flight, because that’s all part of the journey.”
* * *
Enjoying the journey is a key message in writer/performer Randy Ross’ The Chronic Single’s Handbook. In it, Ross addresses the issues of relationships, examining why he’s single, whether some people are meant to be single and whether we should always hold out hope for that oxytocin-creating state we call love.
Based on a book that he’s been working on for seven years, called God Bless Cambodia, Ross places his quest amid a world tour where he strikes out with women on several continents but gets lucky (in many different ways) in Cambodia.
The play is not without its controversy. Because of its raw sexual exploration, some critics have called the work “misogynistic,” while others sing its praises. (It’s rated 18+.)
“The narrator’s trying to figure out why he’s still single,” Ross explained. “He tells stories of past relationships that failed. One is a domination scenario/date. Another is with a sex tourist in Cambodia who gives him a tour.”
In the end, you won’t please everyone, he said.
“My mother has seen the show – twice. She just says, ‘Boys will be boys,’ and we’re New York Jews, so this is our sense of humor. If you look at the whole Clinton/Lewinsky investigation, you could call most of the United States hypocrites.”
In the end, one key thing Ross discovers is that being single may be who he is. It’s a story of acceptance.
In the 35- to 54-year-old crowd, he said, one out of seven has never been married, so marriage is no barometer of mental health.
“Where I live in Boston, most of my friends are in their 50s and have never been married. And that number was comparable for women. You have 70 good years in your life, get on with your life.”
At the same time, Ross believes we are actually meant to be in some type of relationship – whether it’s marriage or not – and that everyone should experience the effect of the “cuddle drug.”
* * *
Following from her previous Fringe performance Uncouth, San Francisco–based Windy Wynazz (aka Wendi Gross) is back as co-writer, producer and performer in Rich and Famous, co-written and directed by Deanna Fleysher.
“I’ve built on what Uncouth was last year, but I’ve made it more personal,” said Wynazz. “I make a deal with the devil and undergo a transformation through the play. The theme is similar to making it in showbiz.”
Wynazz said she was interested in exploring what success is at different times of our lives.
“I’ve reevaluated what ‘making it’ looks like,” she told the Independent. “It was even reflected in the intense creation period with Deanna. She prods and provokes to bring out the most juiciest and most enjoyable. But, at one point, she said to me, ‘Well, you didn’t make it, Wendi. How does it make you feel?’ I feel tied up in performing, it’s what I love to do. So, that’s success as well. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
While Rich and Famous is more linear and verbal, as well as less raunchy, than Uncouth, the audience might still expect some coarse moments, given that Wynazz describes the character as a mix of Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Lady Gaga.
“People will be dancing with delight when they leave,” said Wynazz. “The idea is that it’s positive and uplifting.”
* * *
Continuing with the theme of self-discovery, Vancouver’s Theatre Terrific jumps into the mix with The Hidden Stories Project.
Inspiration for the play comes from the poem “We are These” from the book In Honor of Our Grandmothers: Imprints of Cultural Survival, authored by Garry Gottfriedson and Reisa Smiley Schneider, with artwork by George Littlechild and Linda Dayan Frimer.
“With Hidden Stories, we used a Cree medicine wheel,” said artistic director Susanna Uchatius. “Each actor is put in a process determining which direction they are connected to. Whenever you start to build something like this, it’s a bit of chaos and a lot of fog. We walk through everyday life and the face we give to the public is actually our mask. Working through the medicine wheel, identifying our animal spirit … and putting on a mask allow the actors to really express who they are.”
Setting this play apart are a number of features.
First, it’s site-specific, taking place outside near the lagoon on Granville Island – rain or shine.
Second, Theatre Terrific includes actors of all abilities. “We have in our group people with autism, cerebral palsy and Downs syndrome,” Uchatius explained. “We bring people together who would normally not come together and unite as ensemble to speak in a common voice.”
It’s also very accessible for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, as there is a lot of imagery but not as much verbal communication.
“What they’re doing refers to hope and fear. It’s a lifecycle: you’re born, you eat, you speak, you love, you dance, you die. Many people will be surprised to identify with what they see. We deal with basic issues that matter to everyone.”
Artwork from a participant in an exhibit by the Society for the Arts in Dementia Care. (photo by Baila Lazarus)
As the population ages, there will be more adult children, caregivers, seniors homes and other centres caring for loved ones or patients whose memories are failing.
For many years, it’s been believed that there is little that can be done to slow such degeneration. We’re told that, if we challenge ourselves with puzzles or other intellectual games, this might have an effect. But, one woman has been investigating a different option – one that started out facing a lot of skepticism by those working in the field but has been slowly gaining acceptance.
Dalia Gottlieb-Tanaka didn’t set out to become an expert in the conditions of dementia, but life brought her onto this path, which she embraces with passion … and compassion.
Born in Israel, Gottlieb-Tanaka actually started out in a drafting career with the Israeli navy and studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, where she met her husband, Mineo, who was from the Okanagan. They came back to Canada in 1975 to study at the University of British Columbia, where she did a master’s degree in architecture. The two are both semi-retired now and share their residency between Vernon and Vancouver.
In 1990, Gottlieb-Tanaka volunteered to spend time with a woman living with dementia and that subsequently led to her present occupation. This was a pivotal turning point in Gottlieb-Tanaka’s career.
“I went there and fell in love with this woman. She was so lovely and we could talk about anything in the world,” said Gottlieb-Tanaka.
Over time, Gottlieb-Tanaka noticed there were situations in which the woman demonstrated a lack of memory and no conception of the consequences of certain actions.
“Then it clicked,” she said. “It’s unpredictable. There are good and bad days.”
She became fascinated and started to immerse herself in the study of what she refers to as a medical condition, not a disease.
She learned that there are 72 different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s affects the largest number of people; that dementia is characterized by confusion and memory loss; and that it can be brought on by stress or depression.
“You can meet people with dementia who are very, very normal, but they might have memory issues,” she explained. “It doesn’t mean they’re mentally ill, and only now people are understanding the difference.”
Eventually, Gottlieb-Tanaka took her studies to UBC, where she completed a PhD in the Institute of Health Promotion Research and the Interdisciplinary Studies Program. In 2011, she completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the department of psychology.
Her goal was to assess the creative abilities – singing, art, flower arrangement, among others – of people with memory loss to determine how those activities were affected, and whether an increase in those activities could make a difference in staving off the development of these medical conditions.
“So what if someone has memory loss?” she said. “Does it mean they don’t like listening to music?”
Despite a steep learning curve, Gottlieb-Tanaka started to make inroads. She eventually developed the Creative Expression Activities Program for seniors with dementia, for which she won an award from the American Society on Aging. She also founded the Society for the Arts in Dementia Care in British Columbia, which just celebrated a 10-year anniversary.
Among the activities of the society are exhibits of artwork by people suffering from dementia. In its first year, the society’s exhibit was held in North Vancouver and 4,000 people came.
“They were amazed by the results,” said Gottlieb-Tanaka.
The society also runs an annual international conference on creativity and aging, which takes place this year in Vernon, Sept. 8-10.
Trying to pursue her research has been an uphill struggle because Gottlieb-Tanaka was constantly breaking new ground. In some cases, people thought she was crazy. Slowly, however, her ideas are gaining acceptance.
Originally, her work focused on bringing the arts to dementia sufferers; now, she’s looking at how such activities might prevent the onset of those conditions, and she’s showing that such memory loss might be delayed by up to two years.
As her research becomes more known, Gottlieb-Tanaka is trying to pass the torch to those working with people with dementia – nurses, art therapists, music therapists, elder-care facilitators and seniors advocates. That’s the goal of the upcoming conference in Vernon, which offers presentations and hands-on workshops and includes a keynote by Isobel Mackenzie, seniors advocate with the B.C. government. It’s been a 25-year battle, but it seems people are finally starting to take notice.
Left to right: Kazz Leskard (Iago), Claire Rice (Desdemona) and Courtney Shields (Constance) in Awkward Productions’ Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet. (photo by Derek Fu)
Have you ever wished you could change the course of a play, making the plot … well … just a little bit different?
What would have happened if someone had told Othello that Iago was tricking him? What if Romeo and Juliet hadn’t died? Would the plays have been successful as comedies and not tragedies?
These are the questions taken on in Awkward Productions’ Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet, part of the first annual Fakespeare Festival.
Written by the award-winning Ann-Marie MacDonald, Goodnight Desdemona is an outlandish and hilarious romp that follows associate professor Constance Ledbelly (Courtney Shields), who is trying to prove a peculiar notion.
Doing her PhD in Shakespearean literature, her thesis revolves around a made-up tome written in code, called the Gustav Manuscript. She believes the work proves that Othello and Romeo and Juliet were originally written by an author who had included a wise fool and that the plays were supposed to be comedies. Shakespeare, she posits, got rid of the fool, turning them into tragedies. If she can only decipher the code, she can find out the identity of the fool and that will lead her to the original playwright.
The theory is laughed at by her colleagues, including a professor for whom she works (and with whom she is in love), who takes advantage of her desire to please him by having her write all his papers. Her work garners him a post at Oxford, which she believes she deserved, and, to top it off, he is running off with another woman, leaving her alone and out of a job.
Disgusted with herself, feeling hurt and betrayed, she begins to trash her office and finds herself transported into the world of Shakespeare, first landing in Othello, when Iago is about to trick Othello into thinking Desdemona has been unfaithful, and next in Romeo and Juliet, as Tybalt is about to kill Mercutio.
Like Alice in Wonderland, Constance is at first bewildered by her surroundings, but, as she is an expert in Shakespeare, she easily comes up with a backstory and picks up the language of the time. She impresses everyone with her knowledge and is accepted as a contemporary, allowing her to proceed on her quest to find the fool that Shakespeare had eliminated and, from there, find the real author.
But, her presence changes the course of events, and the two tragedies become comedies. This is where the play really takes off.
While in Venice, she reveals Iago’s trickery and befriends Desdemona, who, in turn, helps Constance find her own confidence, but also encourages her to revel in killing, which turns Constance’s stomach (being a vegetarian) and causes her to question her usefulness.
“Next to Desdemona, I’m roadkill,” a dejected Constance laments.
In Verona, the turn of events leads to a squabbling marriage between Romeo and Juliet, both of whom fall in love with Constance, leading Romeo to dress in drag, thinking Constance is a lesbian. The thought excites Juliet, who revels in the idea of a girl-on-girl tryst.
The hilarity of these ludicrous set-ups is enhanced by the dazzling wordplay that infuses MacDonald’s script. A “creep” becomes a “base annoysome knave,” for example. Calling herself an academic from Queens, Desdemona believes that Constance is referring to the queen of the Amazons and treats her as one. When Constance appears in Verona, she’s wearing pants and is mistaken for a boy, with uproarious results.
In the end, Constance finds her fool in an unexpected place (alas), and returns home with the confidence to finish her paper, academic derision be damned.
Though the dialogue is lightning-fast and the one-liners are nonstop, Shields carries the weight of the wordy script brilliantly. Jewish community member Zach Wolfman as Mercutio (as well as numerous other characters) calls upon his Shakespeare training to add his own comedic nuance to the production.
It’s not surprising that MacDonald has won several awards for this literary tour de force, including a Governor General’s Award and Canadian Authors Association Award. It is definitely one not to miss.
The Fakespeare Festival features Goodnight Desdemona, as well as Titus Andronicus: The Light and Delightful Musical Comedy of Titus Andronicus. Both plays run at York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr., until Aug. 28. Tickets are available from tickets.thecultch.com or 604-251-1363.
Baila Lazarus is a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work can be seen at phase2coaching.com.
“Lying on top of a building,” by U.K. artist Liam Gillick, wraps around the Pacific Rim Hotel in downtown Vancouver. (photo from Pacific Rim Hotel)
If you happened to have missed Ira Hoffecker’s Berlin Identities exhibit at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver recently, you’re not entirely out of luck. Hoffecker’s work has a seemingly permanent spot on the walls of Sooke Harbor House on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
The stylized maps and cityscapes, similar to those shown in the Zack Gallery, are quite the contrast to the First Nations wall hangings, Group of Seven-inspired landscapes and whimsical nautical- and plant-themed room décor. But gallery manager Sharan Nylander says the collection is meant to reflect a range of B.C. artwork and, as works are sold and replaced, the exhibit is kept fresh and varied.
Indeed, the display in Sooke Harbor House has much more of a gallery feel today than it did when I last visited more than a decade ago. And, while Hoffecker’s work definitely leans in a more modernist direction than other pieces, perhaps there is more of a connection to Harbor House than one might think.
Hoffecker’s work speaks to her past growing up in Germany, and her interest in how society and cities change. Sooke Harbor House is believed to have been the location of a safe house for immigrants, and the book Generation to Generation: A Collection of Jewish Thoughts and Remembrances relates a story where the house was used as refuge for 15 German Jews.
The boutique hotel, just an hour from Victoria, is so committed to showing local artists’ works, it is creating a dedicated art gallery/ meeting space, due to be completed by year end. Until then, visitors can get their fill by wandering the winding corridors, hidden passages and surprise stairways.
Sooke Harbor House is not the only accommodation that makes a point of emphasizing artwork as part of its brand. The Fairmount Pacific Rim in downtown Vancouver has not only devoted space for some exquisite exhibits, but also provides a half-hour walking tour you can download to a smartphone. In all, four Jewish artists are represented on the tour.
If you stand at the corner of Cordova and Burrard streets and look up, you’ll notice strings of words that wrap around the outside of the building. The installation is a poem by U.K. artist Liam Gillick: “Lying on top of a building the clouds looked no nearer than when I was lying on the street.” It’s comprised of two-foot-high letters on floors five through 22, created in 2010 when the hotel opened for the Olympics.
Approaching the building’s entrance, you’ll see “Tree 16.480” by Omer Arbel, creative director of international design firm Bocci. The installation stands more than 18 feet high and is named for its 480 glass leaves. Arbel was born in Jerusalem, but moved to Vancouver as a teenager with his family.
If you’re walking past “Blackwater Ophelia” by Adad Hannah on the main floor and think the photograph blinks at you, you’re not hallucinating. The piece is actually a tableau vivant – a costumed actor poses in what looks like a still life, but is actually a video combined with stills – a little creepy, but stunning. “Ophelia” runs on a 10-minute loop and, if you pause long enough and look closely, you’ll see the subtle movement of her hands in the water, as well as that of her eyes.
Finally, if you’d like to feel you’re actually part of the artwork, take a seat in the dining area on the terrace just off the lobby. Phrases from Bob Dylan lyrics are projected across the tables so that plates, cutlery, napkins – and you – become part of the installation.
Jonathan Kallner, event speaker and managing partner, KPMG, talks with Eli Joseph, senior account manager, business and personal, RBC Royal Bank, at Schara Tzedeck’s LinkYid networking event June 3. (photo by Baila Lazarus)
There is a theory that you are the average of the five people you hang around with the most. Thus, creating and interacting with a successful network of businesspeople should, over time, increase your own level of success.
With this in mind, Jonathan Kallner, managing partner, KPMG Vancouver, opened LinkYid’s first complimentary career networking breakfast with the topic, How to Unleash the Power of Your Network.
LinkYid is a Congregation Schara Tzedeck program that connects immigrants, professionals and entrepreneurs with mentors, employment and business opportunities that match their potential. They held their first event at KPMG on June 3.
“This topic ties into a core pillar in our strategy [at KPMG], which is community,” said Kallner. “We believe in building networks and helping networks succeed.”
Talking about his own experiences in school, in his job and the industry, Kallner admitted that, when he needed to make major decisions, he turned to his contacts.
“If you nurture the networks, they become your supporters,” he said. But, he added, “I didn’t appreciate how important that was until later in my career. I never realized what a difference there could have been in my life.”
Using Blockbuster as an example of failed relationship-building, Kallner pointed out how successful the video rental company had been, with an outlet in every neighborhood and relationships with everyone in the local community.
“If you wanted to watch a movie, you went to Blockbuster and, in four years, they destroyed it,” said Kallner. “Because they did not maintain the relationships with their customers, they allowed someone else to come in and own that relationship.
“It’s no different in our everyday lives,” he said. “The world can change around you but your relationships can stay constant.”
Kallner outlined four key points in building networks and relationships:
1. Know your goals. Each person needs to establish their own personal plan for their business, looking forward one, two and five years. Focus on the skills you have that you can capitalize on and what you need to develop. Use your networking connections to seek advice and consider it.
“When you’re looking at strengths and weaknesses, be very honest,” said Kallner. People looking to hire want to know that candidates have a good understanding of this, he said.
2. Consider getting a coach or mentor. Many of those who have gone before you in the industry will be willing to share their experiences with you, said Kallner. “They can challenge you to think differently and push your boundaries. They can act as a connector, help you develop your personal goals and work with you to define the next steps in your career.” Mentors will also be candid with you to encourage your business and personal growth.
“I still seek the guidance of mentors,” said Kallner, adding that the mentor or coach will also get value out of the relationship.
3. Build and work your network. Any search for business groups on Meetup will yield dozens of groups you can connect with in the Lower Mainland in any given week, but there are more and less effective ways of working your networks. Talk to new people at each event, said Kallner.
Respect their time and don’t be a salesperson, he added, as the key to networking is building relationships. “Don’t overlook how networks build naturally and don’t rush it,” he advised.
4. Take advantage of social media. While online presence is essential, especially when building your digital networks, there are things to look out for, said Kallner. Select the right platform. LinkedIn is considered the best platform for business operators. Others can be beneficial but you have to manage your brand closely, keep active on the site on a regular basis and make sure your profile is professional.
“Facebook can kill a brand if you’re not careful to be professional with your posts,” he said.
The LinkYid networking session drew students, entrepreneurs and professionals seeking work, looking for new hires or simply to start their relationship-building.
Erez Iancu Ben Haim, an MBA student at Sauder School of Business, was there to start building his connections and discuss his goals with people in the room. Eli Joseph, a senior account manager with RBC Royal Bank, wanted to meet some new people and find new businesses that might be looking for government loans.
“Being in the business world, people come to me if they’re looking for connections, as well,” said Joseph.
In closing his talk, Kallner reminded people of two key takeaways:
Follow up after meeting with someone at an event with a personalized invitation to connect.
Networking doesn’t only happen at events. It can happen anywhere.
Nolan Fahey plays the title character in Arts Club’s Billy Elliot. (photo by David Cooper)
There are no big surprises in Billy Elliot, no bizarre twists or jaw-dropping turns of events, no mistaken identities or star-crossed lovers. But what you do get is class struggle, a feel-good story and exceptional singing, dancing and acting all with high-octane energy from start to finish.
Given that the musical is based on the 2000 movie of the same name, most people will already know the story. But even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ll likely figure out beforehand that Billy Elliot traces a coming-of-age-dusting-off-the-dirt-of-this-town tale of a young boy wanting to be a dancer. He sees an audition in London as a way out of the coal-mining misery that has made up the lives of his father and brother.
Living in England’s County Durham, 11-year-old Billy stumbles across a ballet class when he’s supposed to be taking boxing lessons. The 50p his father gives him to learn jabs and upper cuts goes instead to Mrs. Wilkinson to teach him pliés and pirouettes.
Meanwhile, his father, brother and neighbors, part of the National Union of Mine Workers, are struggling to make ends meet as they head out on strike protesting the closure of the coal mines during Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s.
The contrast of the gruff, angry, mob-like miners, the police at the picket lines and the young girls and Billy in their dance outfits illustrates how far apart their worlds are. One of the best dance numbers brings these three groups together to sing “Solidarity,” with the ballet dancers flitting in between the rows of men as they stomp about the stage.
As Billy moves between these two worlds, he has to conceal his desire for dance, for fear of reprisals and embarrassment.
When Billy’s father – played by Jewish community member Warren Kimmel – finds out where his son has been spending his afternoons (and his money), he’s furious. Even though Billy’s teacher thinks her young student has a chance to get into the Royal Ballet School, Billy’s family has other plans.
In the end, Billy’s dad has to choose between earning money as a scab in order to send Billy to his audition, or support his brothers on the picket line.
Throughout the play, the scenes shift between the lighthearted dancing and the sombre mood in Billy’s home and on the picket line. With Kimmel front and centre as Billy’s father, his despondent singing is evocative of his performance of the policeman Javert in Les Misérables last year and, indeed, the storyline – and songs – of class struggle in Billy is reminiscent of the same in Les Mis.
On the dancing side, Billy has touches of the studio work and audition of Flashdance and the off-the-wall anger dancing of Footloose, while tap-dancing men in drag bring a bit of humor to the show.
All in all this play flies by. The level of performance of Nolan Fahey as Billy, Caitriona Murphy as the dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson and Kimmel as the dad, along with a strong cast that can shuffle and slide as well as they croon, makes this a standout production.
Billy Elliot – with music by Elton John and lyrics by Lee Hall – debuted in London’s West End in 2005, garnering critical acclaim, winning four Laurence Olivier Awards in London, followed by 10 Tony Awards in New York.
The work is not John’s first foray into musical theatre. In the 1990s, he and Tim Rice collaborated to produce the soundtrack for The Lion King, for which they won Academy and Tony awards, including best musical. Then, in 2000, they collaborated on Aida, which won them each a Grammy.
Billy Elliot runs at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until July 10. Tickets can be purchased from artsclub.com. Parents wanting to take their kids should note that the show includes a lot of swearing.
Baila Lazarusis a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work can be seen at phase2coaching.com.
At the Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region, Negev Dinner on April 10, left to right, are Ruth Rasnic, dinner honoree Shirley Barnett and B.C. Premier Christy Clark. (photo from JNF Pacific Region)
When many people think of feminism, it’s likely they connect it with the second half of the last century – names like Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan, who garnered followers in the 1970s for their discussion of equality and freedom.
Some will think of the suffrage movement at the beginning of the past century, which struggled to get women the vote.
But feminism for Ruth Rasnic means safety from harm, respect at home.
Rasnic is a much-decorated social activist recognized in her home of Israel for the work she started in the 1970s creating the organization No to Violence Against Women. She was also a founding member of Ratz, a political party that focused on human and civil rights, and, in 2008, she was appointed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert to his advisory council for women’s stature. She was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in 2009, joining the ranks of Golda Meir, Abba Eban and Amos Oz.
Established by Rasnic in 1978, No to Violence Against Women provides emergency housing for victims of physical or psychological abuse. It also runs a 24-hour hotline and advocates for women’s rights.
Rasnic was in Vancouver recently to promote the collaboration between No to Violence Against Women and the Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region (JNF) to raise funds to rebuild a shelter in Rishon Le Zion. The goal is $1.5 million Cdn.
“By building shelters like the Rishon Le Zion shelter, giving women and children a safe haven, support, empowerment, legal aid, we enable them to carve a different future for themselves and their children,” Rasnic said.
The shelters provide victims of domestic violence with a safe environment in which to get a fresh start. They are provided with clothing, access to therapy, employment and assistance in finding new housing. A 24-hour housemother ensures that someone is with the women all the time. To ensure security for the women and their children, they are housed in a shelter that is not within their own city.
“Most women are in shock when they come to the shelter,” said Rasnic. “They have nothing. They may be haggard, malnourished, suffering from PTSD. Within a week, they are physically changed.”
Israel particularly faces challenges servicing victims of domestic violence because many women are new immigrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, and don’t speak common languages. Many have no national status and are not medically insured.
“These are some of the harrowing things we have in the shelters,” she said. “Seven to eight percent of our residents are women, with children often, who are stateless and have no status in Israel. We are now working with the government to ensure that while these women are at the shelter, they can get medical aid.”
Rasnic said that legislation around this problem should be passed after Passover.
Rasnic was a guest of honor at the JNF Negev Dinner on April 10, and the next day visited King David High School to speak to the students. She is adamant that education has to be a key factor in making any difference in abuse toward women.
“No male baby is born a violent man. No female baby is born a victim,” she told the audience at the Negev Dinner. “These are societal norms learned in the home, school and army.”
She has even produced a book, The Shelter is My Home, which is written looking at life in a shelter through a child’s eyes.
“Nobody can take out an insurance policy for their daughters,” Rasnic said. “This is our joint responsibility.”
Beyond the issues for which she’s best known, Rasnic also feels strongly about other social issues in her hometown of Herzliya. She has worked on no-smoking campaigns, which included a free course for those wanting to quit; she has worked to get better access for people with disabilities to public areas in city; and she helped transform a kindergarten space into a drop-in health centre for teens.
At a national level, Rasnic is troubled by laws still on the books that require a woman to get her husband’s signed agreement in the case of abortion or a get (Jewish divorce document).
“Oh, talk about the get,” Rasnic said, her whole body seeming to stiffen at the thought. “Rabbis have to find a solution to the get. They must do it. My own daughter’s husband wouldn’t give her a get for three years.”
While in Vancouver, Rasnic remarked on the federal government’s new cabinet, which comprises 50% women, and Christy Clark being British Columbia’s premier.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I think it will make a better society. I don’t think women are cleverer than men – I think we’re sensitized to different issues that men have simply ignored.”
No to Violence Against Women has three shelters in Israel, in Hadera, Herzliya and Rishon Le Zion. The fundraising efforts spearheaded by Rasnic are to rebuild the shelter in Rishon Le Zion, to be renamed the Vancouver Shelter. The cause was chosen as the beneficiary of the Negev Dinner by this year’s honoree, Shirley Barnett. To donate to the campaign, visit jnf.ca/index.php/vancouver/campaigns/negev-campaign.
Baila Lazarusis a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work can be seen at phase2coaching.com.
Daniel Doheny and Kerry Sandomirsky in The Valley, which tackles the subject of depression. (photo by Emily Cooper)
As The Valley opens, a young man addresses the audience with the words, “Encounters with the police No. 1.”
It’s a stark opening, as the character – Connor – stands in a spotlight on a circular stage, with the three other actors behind him in the shadows. The monologue represents both the beginning and end to the play. It establishes a sense of the past – about what brought the characters to their current situation – as well as the present, when they are revealing themselves in a healing circle. Each of the players eventually gets to speak directly to the audience in turn, and the drama of the performance unfolds between the monologues.
Essentially, the play is about the effect of depression in two different families – a police officer (Dan) and his wife (Janie), who has just given birth and has a history of depression; and a mother (Sharon) and son (Connor), who has an episode when he’s 18. Amazingly, all the action takes place within the circular stage – a relevant choice for the performance.
“The show is a very intimate show, though the Granville Island stage is not considered intimate,” set designer Amir Ofek explained. “We wanted it ‘in your face,’ not hiding behind a proscenium arch.”
When faced with the decision of whether to use a more literal interpretation of the play for the set design, Ofek said he wanted to avoid switching between the staging of homes of each family, the police station, the Skytrain and other locations in order to keep the intensity going.
“As a designer, I have to delve into the play to find a unique way of doing things,” he said, adding that he tried in the design to convey the protagonists’ characteristics of intensity and fragility by having part of the set jut out of the stage, as though it might fall on the audience any minute.
“There’s a sense of brutality in the play, as well,” Ofek said. “It’s reflected in the edginess of the material of the set.”
Intense, brutal and fragile are perfect words to describe the characters. When Connor quits university after wanting to go for so long, his mother Sharon is at a loss. She tries so hard to change his mind – pleading, cajoling, trying logic and guilt. She is helpless against an illness that has yet to even reveal itself. When an “incident at Joyce Station” takes place, her lament to the audience is heartwrenching: “What to expect at 18 years, three months – your child will break in two.”
In the other household, Dan struggles to be supportive of his wife when she is having depressive episodes, but he has his own demons to bear from being a police officer.
“Every holiday you’ve ever looked forward to – they’re all on our s–t list,” he says, referring to the increase in crime and misdemeanors around holiday time. “Hookers, jumpers, pushers, junkies, racers, strippers – hundreds of things you don’t want to hear about.”
Ironically, it was through his work that Dan met his wife, helping get her clean and off the street. Their struggle is particularly disquieting to watch as it’s so clear how much they love each other, but seem to be always living on the edge of a breakdown.
When Dan arrests Connor in the “incident at Joyce Station,” there’s a struggle that sends Connor to the hospital and results in months of being housebound in his depression, unable or unwilling to listen to his mother, who is constantly on him to do something.
Eventually, Dan and Janie get an invitation to a healing circle to help Connor deal with the aftermath of the incident. But, like his refusal to pay attention to his wife’s bouts of depression, Dan refuses to hear anything about a healing circle. Janie goes on her own and is able to connect with Connor because she shares his ailment and understands what he’s going through. Through Janie, Sharon finds out something that allows her to let go of her own anger.
This play is not easy to watch but it’s an important one to see, if only to get a bit more understanding of how people suffer with despair and hopelessness – sometimes for months or years at a time. It’s estimated that 10% of adults in Canada will experience a serious depressive episode in their lifetimes.
The Valley stars Daniel Doheny as Connor, Kerry Sandomirsky as Sharon, Pippa Mackie as Janie and Robert Salvador as Dan. It’s directed by Mindy Parfitt, with lighting by Itai Erdal, and runs at the Arts Club (artsclub.com) Granville Island stage until May 7.
Baila Lazarusis a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work can be seen at phase2coaching.com.
Colleen Wheeler and Scott Bellis in Good People. (photo by Emily Cooper)
It’s always a treat to see Colleen Wheeler on stage, as her performances never disappoint. And she keeps the track record going in Good People at the Arts Club. However, the overall feel I came away with after the play didn’t match the level of enjoyment I had for the acting.
Wheeler plays Margaret, a feisty, mile-a-minute talker who can finagle her way into anything, except work.
Living in South Boston, a dense, lower-class neighborhood, Marg blames her situation on bad luck – growing up without the guidance of parents, not being able to go to a better school or get a better job. She fears she will end up like former classmate Cookie McDermot, an alcoholic living on the street.
As the play opens, Marg is being fired from a cashier’s job at a dollar store after coming late several times. The single mother is often late because she has to tend to a daughter who has mental health issues – a daughter for whom she gets no child support and who may or may not be the child of a former high school flame.
She commiserates about life over McCafés in bingo parlors with her friend Jeanne (Jenn Griffin), former supervisor Stevie (Ben Elliott) and landlord Dottie (Patti Allan), who is supposed to watch Marg’s daughter but often forgets to show up. One day, Jeanne mentions that she ran into Mike, an old boyfriend of Marg’s who has become a doctor, so Marg sets out to talk her way into a job.
Within minutes of walking into Mike’s office, she profanely insults his secretary and comments on her physical appearance. She insults Mike himself, saying he’s not a “Southie” anymore, that he now lives “lace curtain.” And she passive-aggressively follows up every abuse with the disclaimer, “Awww, I’m just bustin’ your balls.”
Despite all of this, her mastery at twisting Mike’s words and actually making him feel guilty for the altercations get her invited to an upcoming party. When Mike calls her later that week to cancel because his daughter is sick, Marg begins to think he doesn’t want her to attend – and goes anyway. It is in this scene where Marg, Mike and his wife, Kate, face one another that the skeletons of the past are unleashed.
It starts out as a respectful interaction, with Kate being the gracious host, despite Marg’s rough demeanor and colorful language.
“How’s the wine?” Kate politely asks.
“How the f–– should I know?” Marg retorts, almost laughing at the ridiculousness of the question.
But the discussion deteriorates, as expected, as Mike tries desperately to get Marg to leave. When details of past affairs and questions of “Who’s the baby’s father?” come up, Marg pulls out the claws and tries to tear strips off Mike, lashing out at him for having had the luck he needed to rise out of the South End, the luck to have parents who pushed him, the luck never to have to really struggle.
In much of the play, we are listening to people arguing, complaining and name-calling, which gets tedious. At one level, Marg is a likeable, even inspirational, character. Consider how often we pretend to be aficionados of art or wine or food, just to be accepted. Marg makes no apologies for not knowing how wine should taste.
But, for most of the play, Marg is insufferable. Her constant stream of talking is exhausting. She resorts to, “I’m just bustin’ your balls,” to cover up insults based on her true feelings. And she is stuck blaming everyone and everything around her for her situation. We should be provoked into asking ourselves, how much does luck actually play in success in life? The problem was, I didn’t care by the end, and I think it’s because I just disliked Marg.
However, I did like the set. Wonderfully thought out and detailed, the modular rooms rotate into, out of and around the stage, with beautiful precision. You could hear the audience’s “oohs” and “aahs” as the curtain rose on the second act.
Good People was written by David Lindsay-Abaire and is directed by Rachel Ditor. It runs until April 24 at the Stanley (artsclub.com).
Baila Lazarusis a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work can be seen at phase2coaching.com.