Onegin

Look around
Look around
Look around
Do you see someone worth dying for?

Onegin

I just got home from a wonderful evening in downtown Edmonton.

No, not at that hockey game.

I just got home from an evening of wonder at Catalyst Theatre‘s presentation of The Vancouver Arts Club production of Onegin, an unqualified marvel of theatre.

But . . .

How was it not a full house?!

From the moment the cast walked out from the voms and mingled with the first few rows of the audience (Nadeem Phillip sat with us for a brief discussion of the Edmonton theatre scene which ended with a hasty “до свидания!”) it was clear this was going to be a warm, inviting, fourth-wall-breaking, audience participation piece.

With vodka.

But the mingling and conversation (and vodka) were just the warm up. The fortunate people who chose theatre over hockey this evening witnessed a tour-de-force of acting, singing, dancing, musicianship, lighting and costume design, and just pure theatre.

I’m embarrassed to admit I’m not up on Pushkin — or Tchaikovsky — so I really didn’t have much of an idea of what the story was going to be except Russian and so probably dark and probably not a happy ending.  But I didn’t need to know anything in advance. I just needed to sit back and enjoy the ride.

The cast is outstanding, many of them in many roles, but I found Alessandro Juliani most remarkable as the title character, the nihilistic, dark, Russian young man with more wealth than empathy who probably won’t have a happy ending.  But everyone in the cast truly shone and endlessly surprised as they each in turn stepped into the background and joined the orchestra (The Ungrateful Dead), picking up instruments and joining right in. The cast doesn’t just break the fourth wall, they break the side walls and the back wall, too.

Special mention must be made of Chris Tsujiuchi, piano and keyboard player and clearly the leader of the band, who completed his one hundredth performance of Onegin this evening.

The voices of Meg Roe (Tatyana), Lauren Jackson (Olga and others), and Caitriona Murphy (Madam Larin and others) were simply angelic while Jackson’s flamencoesque pas de deux with Juliani was more than a little devilish in a very pleasing way. Josh Epstein as Lensky was lyrically charming until he became tragically pigheaded at the end of the first act. All the darkness of Russian literature suddenly possessed this sunny young poet, and the audience just had to head to the lobby for another Black Russian.

Andrew Wheeler and Nadeem Phillip round out the cast performing a multitude of powerful and memorable “minor” characters with major impact.

I found the choreography of lighting and “theatrical fog” particularly noteworthy. Here the fog is not simply an atmospheric device unto itself, rather, it is also a canvas on which the light is projected, made solid by colour and shadow. So effective.

As I mentioned, I’m embarrassingly not up on Pushkin, but I know poetry when I hear it, and there is poetry — not just verse — in Veda Hille and Amiel Gladsone’s lyrics, poetry which, if not directly channelling Puskin, certainly does the Russian poet credit.

Edmonton’s theatre world is an embarrassment of riches; Edmonton theatre goers are amazing, generous audiences; we are very blessed on both sides of the many, many curtains we have in our city. We all benefited from this remarkable community recently when the very remarkable Hadestown had it’s run on the Shocter stage. And our community was noticed.

Tonight that remarkable theatre community was evident again: as Catalyst Theatre’s catchphrase has it, “Edmonton is our home. The world is our stage.” Tonight Vancouver Arts Club Theatre and we, the audience, were at home on our stage. Our theatrical riches keep increasing, and we don’t need to be embarrassed. We should embrace our riches proudly.

Onegin is playing on the Maclab stage at the Citadel until January 28, 2018. Fill the seats, Edmonton! You’ll be moved. You’ll marvel. You’ll maybe be a little heartbroken.

 

But you won’t be sorry.

 

Advertisements

Malachite Theatre’s Epiphany at Holy Trinity Anglican Church

It was a bitterly cold night outside Old Strathcona’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church, but so wonderfully warm and cozy in the Christmas tree (and empty wine bottle)-filled Sanctuary in which the Malachites gave us a laugh-filled and tender gift of a remarkably fresh yet faithful treatment of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Years ago at the Citadel (during the second season of the Shoctor Stage) I saw Twelfth Night with Brent Carver playing Feste and the great John Neville turned out in fairly conventional yellow stockings cross-gartered. As fine as those two long-ago performances were, Colin Matty’s remarkable Feste and Brann Munro’s hilariously unexpected, outside-the-box, and, in the end, heart-rendingly sympathetic Malvolio set a new, very high bar for Twelfth Night.

Merran Carr-Wiggin’s Viola is charming to the point of jerking more than a few tears, Byron Martin’s Orsino is romantically melancholy but not at all lacking in strength, and Danielle LaRose’s Olivia glitters from the eyes to the toes as she transforms from melancholy to love-struck to pragmatically and gently happy. Perry Gratton and William Mitchell are everything Sir Andrew and Sir Toby should be, and Monica Maddaford’s prank-pulling Maria is a perfect, earthy, brainy, trickster string-puller . . . .

Oh, come on: they’re all so good and individual and memorable! Andrew Cormier’s Sebastian, Evan Hall in the dual roles of the Sea Captain and Antonio, Samantha Jeffery in her two roles of Fabian and Valentine, and Phillip Hackborn in his of Curio and the rifle-toting Officer.

And the music! Every single cast member is a singer, many take a turn at Holy Trinity’s grand piano, and Feste even pulls out a harp for one scene. The denizens of the courts of Duke Orsino and Olivia clearly throw themselves into this mid-winter holiday period and, indeed, into life itself. What a raucous romp!

Over a fairly short number of years, Holy Trinity has made itself into a vital part of Edmonton’s arts scene. The wonderful building is host to three venues for the annual Fringe Festival, and it hosts constant literary, dance, visual art, and theatre events.*

Holy Trinity is a phenomenon to be treasured and supported by the whole city.

Just before the play started this evening, Holy Trinity’s Rector (and cast member — he plays the Priest), Father Chris Pappas, started the festivities off with a first small wonderful gift: his hope that Shakespeare by the Malachites in mid-winter will become an annual event at Holy Trinity.

The addition of an annual mid-winter celebration of Shakespeare would be tremendous, but, please, don’t wait: — Twelfth Night continues until January 20th, 2018. Twenty bucks a ticket. Endless fun and tenderness. You won’t find a better entertainment value on any winter evening, cold or otherwise!

_______________________

I’m deeply honoured to have been a part of Holy Trinity’s first ArtSpirit festival in 2013.

Memories of Ruoti

About two years ago I was asked by a young friend in Italy to send her some reminiscences of a summer spent in her home province some years before she had been born:

I spoke to a member of the cultural association of my town , called “Gruppo Folck” , with who I collaborate last year .

This year he is working on the excavation of San Giovanni , and he is seeing for the italian translation of prof. Small’s volumes.
We’d love to know about your experience about the excavation and about the passed time in Ruoti.
Is possible for you to send a little piece of text describing it? We’d love to have a valid opinion of a external person.
Make me know and if you want, I’d like to have more information about your professionale career. Are you still interested in archeology?
Thanks for your attention and your availability.
Maria

My Italian is abysmal, but I replied:

Sarei felice di scrivere un testo su quell’estate. Ho bei ricordi della valle e del Dottore Small. Scriverò qualcosa (in inglese) nei prossimi giorni. E ‘un onore per aiutare con il progetto.

And, in return:

Maria
I wiil enjoy about it.
Thank you very much!

So, I took a day and remembered and composed “a valid opinion of a external person” of the beauty of that Italian summer in the valley beside Ruoti . . .

Ciao Maria

Ho scritto un piccolo libro di memorie di quell’estate a Ruoti. Ho incluso particolari ricordi dei professori S. e. B. e alcune riflessioni su come Ruoti continua a influenzare me tanti anni dopo. Non sono sicuro se è esattamente quello che vuoi. Per favore fatemi sapere se vuoi qualcosa di più o meno lungo o disposti in modo diverso.

Il testo è di seguito in inglese:

Memories of Ruoti
John Richardson

In the summer of 1983, at the age of twenty-one, I arrived in Bagni di San Cataldo as a student in the University of Alberta Classics field class in Roman Archaeology at San Giovanni di Ruoti. I had just finished my B.A. majoring in English and Classics and was about to enter the Master’s program specializing in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Actually getting to “do” archaeology was a childhood dream come true.

I had not met Dr. Alistair Small before I arrived, but Dr. Robert Buck had taught me Latin. In my second undergraduate year, Dr. Buck had taken our class of raw Latin students from reciting “amo, amas . . .” to Book Six of the Aeneid. For driving us so hard, I will forever be grateful to Dr. Buck.

Reading Aeneas’ journey to the underworld in Latin left me fascinated with the very idea of Cumae and the Sybil’s Cave. One day early that summer, as Dr. Small was driving the project’s van with a number of students crammed inside, he called out that we had a free weekend coming up. “Is there anywhere anyone would particularly like to go?”

I immediately shouted out “Cumae!” from the very back seat.

I saw Dr. Small cock his head to the right and then he said “Really? Cumae? We’ll have to see what we can do.”

Dr. Small said to me later that he was glad of my suggestion as, when he had been an undergraduate, a visit to Cumae had been a transformative experience for him. And he did, indeed, arrange a weekend at the American Virgilian Society’s beautiful Villa Virgiliana in Cumae. I floated through the ruins and lounged in the Villa’s library, translating Aeneas’ prayer to Apollo into English verse. I look back on that visit as transformative as well.

I also look back and realize that Dr. Small was a bit of a force of nature, managing the complicated archaeology of San Giovani, wrangling the motley crew of students and teaching them with a quiet but undeniable authority. I was certainly not an outstanding student that summer. I was not a patient or meticulous excavator, but the experience under the tutelage of Drs. Small and Buck and of the dedicated staff is something I will be forever grateful for. It was an honour and a privilege to be a small part of that amazing project. The next year I was further honoured when Dr. Buck sat down across from me as a member of the examining committee which granted me the degree of Master of Arts.

On weekends, excursions were arranged for the students, but our weekdays were spent right there on that slope opposite that beautiful hilltop town, Ruoti. The summer was very hot — I can only remember a day or two with rain. Each day we could look up from our trenches and admire the town. Each evening we could look across the valley of the Fiumara di Avigliano at the lights of Ruoti.

At some point in our studies each of us was sent to Ruoti for a day or two to work in what was called “The Pot House.” This was a simply descriptive name — pot shards were classified there — but we were all amused that in English a “pot house” is a term for a house where one would go to secretly smoke marijuana. I remember the Pot House being a shady, cool relief from the heat of digging.

Our usual days would begin as the sun was rising, with some bread and jam and wonderful strong coffee ladled into cups from a huge cauldron. As each student finished, he or she would set off down to the dig site. We’d be a long straggling line, some walking alone, some in groups of two or three. By the time we reached the site and spread out to our assigned trenches, the temperature began to rise rapidly.

We would scrape and dig and document until about noon when a car would arrive from Ruoti with what I remember to be the finest lunches possible: fresh bread, Crema Bel Paese cheese in foil wrappers, juicy tomatoes and prosciutto. We would make ourselves sandwiches and wash them down with homemade wine from the farmer’s cellar. To young students from Western Canada in 1983 prosciutto was strange and exotic and a few always declined their share. This was to my benefit as I often had an extra helping or two and developed a life long love of prosciutto.

After lunch most of us would slowly make our way back up the hill. On some days some would brave the afternoon sun and earn a little money by staying on to work a few extra hours. Sometimes we’d stop at a restaurant in Zippariello for limonata and enjoy the breeze and the view of Ruoti from a balcony. Afternoons were spent resting, chatting, exploring the woods, and waiting for dinner.

Dinner was always wonderful, and our server, Donata, was a delight. In fact, our hosts — all of our hosts, the people of the valley — were warm and generous. I remember in particular a young boy, Sebastiano, who spent time with a few of us, visiting, smiling a lot, although he spoke no English and we knew vanishingly little Italian.

I carried a little Kodak Pocket Instamatic camera with me all the time, but, in those days of film, I took what now seems a ridiculously small number of photos. Most of them are blurry and grainy, but those photos, after twenty-five years, were the basis of a series of twenty-four paintings which I exhibited a few years ago in Edmonton.

Sometime after returning home I got to know a few old members of the Canadian Army’s Loyal Edmonton Regiment, veterans of the Liberation of Italy in World War Two. In conversation we learned that when they had been my age, forty years earlier, they had passed Ruoti, perhaps walked the same roads I had walked. The connection between Canada and Ruoti runs deeper, it seems, than just the memories of a few Canadian archaeology students.

After that summer, I got my Master’s degree, published articles and a few poems. I painted and spent twenty-one years working in the family business. I started a family of my own. I remain very interested in archaeology, but, unlike some of my colleagues that summer, I never pursued it as a career. Today I paint and write, translate Old English and Latin poetry, and spend a great deal of time visiting friends and neighbours. I think, in many ways my life today is much like those days on the hillside across from Ruoti. I have been shaped by those days. Today I excavate memories, my own and others, rather than Roman stones, but Ruoti still shines for me on its hilltop across that sunny valley.