Category Archives: family and relationships

Theatre Review: “Brimful of Asha” Brings You Home to the Theatre

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in "A Brimful of Asha"

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in “A Brimful of Asha”

Toronto’s Ravi Jain is at home in the theatre, and with A Brimful of Asha, at Soulpepper till Saturday during its national tour, he and his mom, Asha, make everyone feel at home, greeting each audience member with a fresh samosa and a “Thank you for coming!” Are they getting into character or just being themselves? “I’m not an actor,” begins Asha. What they present, with more reality than The Bachelor, is “not a play” but “a dispute” over the attempt to arrange Ravi’s marriage.

Asha and Ravi give contrasting perspectives on what happened when Ravi, at age 27, went to his parents’ homeland India to give an acting workshop in 2007 and they decided to come along to find him a bride. On each side of the generational and cultural divide, the question seems so clear cut whether it is for the parents to choose when and to whom their child will be married. But there are points to be made on both sides. As Apu says on the Simpsons, “Mother, come on, you know that 1 in 25 arranged marriages ends in divorce.”

Asha wears a vibrant fuchsia sari; her son wears a traditional Indian shirt with jeans and sneakers. No costume designer is credited, as the two are surely wearing their own clothes. The simple, homey set is a dining table and two chairs on a rug-covered platform, framed by a curtain in the centre of which is a wide-screen monitor where Jain periodically refers to family photos, maps, and video clips (set designer, Julie Fox; lighting and video designer, Beth Kates).

Ravi Jain is the director of this show he created with his mother primarily through improvisation, and he is an experienced, thoroughly trained actor and award-winning director (2012 Pauline McGibbon Award; founding artistic director of Why Not Theatre; an artist in residence at Soulpepper Theatre Company; inaugural artistic director in residence at The Theatre Centre), but while it is sometimes evident that Ravi is stepping in to keep a scene on track, it is untrained Asha, a self-described “dedicated housewife and abused mother”, who steals scene after scene. This is the role Asha was born to play.

Although the duo has performed this show many times in many cities since its premiere at Tarragon in 2012, it does not feel over-rehearsed, in fact it feels perpetually spontaneous, and it probably is a little different every night. The show is primarily humorous but with an undercurrent of tension always ready to pull you in. There is little by way of overt action and the simple production looks easy, an occasionally heated conversation as mother and son sit at the table drinking tea, but the story they tell is a rollercoaster ride, a contentious and intimate conversation to which they welcome us as witnesses. Asha very much seems to be enjoying being herself, and yet the two of them are going over a lot of emotionally charged memories and it must be a taxing experience to relive such painful and personal conflict in front of a packed audience night after night.

As early as age five, Ravi regularly entertained the “extended family” that was his community by mimicking India’s legendary film actor Amitabh Bachchan. Asha teases that, by pursuing a life in the theatre, Ravi is not allowing himself to move on from the first of life’s four stages, establishing a “real” profession, onto the next stage of finding a wife. The debate is real, but so is the love. At least in the context of the Jain family, the intent of arranged marriage is not to dictate but to ensure a secure and happy future for the child. Fittingly, the name Asha means “hope”.

 

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I’ve Been at the Theatre

Take a look at what I’ve seen so far this month:

Theatre Review: Yukonstyle at Berkeley Street Theatre

The most intensely Canadian play you are likely to see, Yukonstyle is not sentimental or didactic; it is a deep gaze into the soul of Canada. And it’s not just for Canadians. It’s being staged this year not only in Montreal and Toronto, but also in Paris, Brussels, Innsbruck and Heidelberg. Packed with Canadian context but devoid of cliché, Yukonstyle would be compelling fiction, yet much of the content is taken from too-soon-forgotten news reports and too-readily-dismissed police investigations. Over the past two decades, 600 native women in Canada have disappeared or been murdered.

On a cold Yukon night, with the gruesome details of the Robert Pickton trial unfolding on television, a rebellious and entitled white anglo teenage girl hitchhikes into the lives of a Japanese immigrant and her roommate who is tormented by questions about his native mother who disappeared from Vancouver when he was two.

English language premiere runs until October 27th.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-Yukonstyle-at-Berkeley-Street-Theatre/

 

Theatre Review: Venus In Fur

Based on the 1870 erotic novel Venus in Furs by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from whose name is derived the word “masochist”, David Ives’ 2010 play Venus in Fur is a sex-charged gender politics comedy bridging the 19th and 21st centuries. It’s like Oleanna meets Pygmalion meets Dan Savage meets bell hooks. Closing October 27th.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-Venus-In-Fur/

 

Theatre Review: The Best Brothers

Daniel MacIvor’s latest play continues at Tarragon Theatre until October 27th. When a couple of very different brothers learn their mother has died, they have to find a way to deal with each other, and her dog. You can tell it’s a comedy because the death comes at the beginning rather than at the end.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-The-Best-Brothers/

Theatre Review: Les Misérables

Les Misérables! Again? Isn’t that so 25 years ago? And yet, themes from Victor Hugo’s epic story — the Law versus the People, the 99 per cent versus the powers that be — continue to be reflected in the news. Do you see a parallel between the barricade in Les Mis and the G20 barricade? Do you hear the people sing, “Idle No More?” Even if not, the music keeps the audience coming back. Canada’s Iranian-born Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean is worth the price of admission.

This gritty new rendition of the world’s longest-running musical, with physicality in the performances evoking, more than previous productions, the brutality of the epoch and the story, has no gigantic Lazy Susan rotating the set and actors, which was a pivotal feature of the previous productions. Now the performers are the spectacle.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-Les-Misrables-at-Princess-of-Wales-Theatre/

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CBC Radio Interview About My Play Father Hero Traitor Son

Father Hero Traitor Son
“Would you strike your father?” “Would you hang your son?” Photo by Elizabeth Sawatzky
From the CBC website:
“The Fundy Fringe Festival Opened This Week”

Evan Andrew Mackay is a playwright and actor who’s home from Toronto to stage his new play Father Hero, Traitor Son.

http://www.cbc.ca/informationmorningsaintjohn/2013/08/23/the-fundy-fringe-festival-opened-this-week/

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One Final Blog Post About My New Play

Father Hero Traitor Son is opening on Wednesday, so I probably won’t do another blog post before then. By the end of the month, I hope to resume regular blogging on Good Evaning.

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/a-piece-of-history-on-stage/

Father Hero Traitor Son poster by Tim Maloney

 

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My New Play: Father Hero Traitor Son

New play, new blog!

The play and the blog are in progress. Please, read the blog, tolerate the self-promotion, and get ready to see the play at the Fundy Fringe Festival in Saint John, NB, August 21 to 25!

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/about/

Fundy Fringe Festival 2013

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Casting Around for the Fringe

While spending the winter in my hometown Saint John, New Brunswick, I was doing research for my new play, Father Hero Traitor Son. Pondering how and where I might stage this historical drama, I wondered about the possibility of starting a theatre festival in Saint John, maybe even a Fringe festival. I thought, “That’ll never happen, or at least no time soon.” I came back to Toronto and theatre friends asked me if I was going to enter the new Fringe Festival in Saint John. I said, “!???!??!?” And so it was, and so I did. http://www.fundyfringefestival.com

Fundy Fringe Festival 2013

Almost the only thing Father Hero Traitor Son has in common with the play I co-wrote and performed in at Toronto Fringe 2012, Eat, Poo, Love, is that it is based on real people and events.

Eat Poo Love review

Typical review of Eat Poo Love

Father Hero Traitor Son is about a decorated Canadian hero of the First World War, who had immigrated from Japan to British Columbia in 1905, and his son—born and raised in Kamloops—who was in Japan when World War Two broke out. At the end of the war, the son was on trial for war crimes.

This is a play about choices, fate, and identity. What defines a person as a Canadian, a hero, a traitor, a father, a son?

One might say it is audacious for a hakujin such as myself to write a play about complex sensitive issues central to Japanese-Canadian identity. To a certain extent it is an audacious undertaking. However, I am doing so at the suggestion of, and with input from, a direct descendant of the characters depicted, and furthermore, I am a Canadian writing about Canadians, and I am a son writing about father and son. (I did not take my research so far as to have a son.)

Father Hero Traitor Son will go into rehearsal in July. It will premiere in Saint John from August 21 to 25, and I am currently in Toronto. Rehearsals will happen either in Toronto or Saint John, depending where I find actors to play the lead roles:

  • male, 50s, issei (Japanese immigrant to Canada), speaks with Japanese accent
  • male, 31, nissei (Canadian son of Japanese immigrants), native English speaker

As time is short and the land is wide, I am asking auditioners to contact me as soon as possible so we can communicate by Skype or by submitting a video.

Please post your questions, suggestions or comments below, or contact me by email: evanwrites (at) gmail (dot) com

The Fundy Fringe Festival is looking for volunteers. Please help make this inaugural festival a success! http://www.fundyfringefestival.com/volunteers.html

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Who Needs International Women’s Day?

Who needs International Women’s Day? Didn’t Mary Wollstonecraft and Sojourner Truth take care of all that two centuries ago? “Women can vote. What more do they want?” Hmm…

Malala Yousafzai, 14-year-old girl shot for speaking out about her right to education, in 2012

Malala Yousafzai, 14-year-old girl shot for speaking out about her right to education, in 2012. She can’t be stopped; but she can be supported.

If you are unaware of the continuing practices of female genital mutilation, the forbidding of education for females, acid attacks and ironically-named “honour killings”, your ignorance must be blissful.

And if you think these are all problems of faraway places, not here in safe and civilized Canada, you must be avoiding mainstream news even more vigorously than I do.

Perhaps you are unmoved by the frequency with which Canadian Aboriginal women are murdered or go missing, but don’t imagine such crimes are limited to one group or community.

Statistics Canada declares, “violence against women in Canada continues to be a persistent and ongoing problem.”

Who needs International Women’s Day? We all do. Learn the facts, and let women have their day.

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Solitude and Scribbling in My Writing Cave

Snowy stairs up to my writing cave

A Writing Cave in Winter

Weeks have piled up into months since I escaped the necessary evil that is Toronto. Here in New Brunswick, looking down from the window of my second-story writing cave onto the snows and thaws of the tree-walled lawn where I learned to ride a bicycle, indeed where I first learned to mumble, chatter, yell and sing in my mother tongue, I consider that the number of hours I spend each day in writing, reading, corresponding and editing is greater than the number of people I have spoken with in person more than once since I arrived here in mid-December. I have crossed paths with more deer and rodents than bipeds.

View of my snowy acre from the window of my second-story writing cave

My Writing Cave: A Room of One’s Own With a View

This semi-exile is a boon to my productivity (and piano playing), but the menu of stimuli to which I am exposed—though excellent—is sparse. In the neighbourhood I left in Toronto, I could walk in less than 10 minutes to my choice of half a dozen live music venues (including, importantly, first-rate jazz on an almost daily basis); a dozen Japanese or Korean restaurants, three each of Indian, Lebanese, Thai and Vietnamese; three new and used bookstores and a library to which I can have delivered any of a million books, DVDs and CDs; as well as swim in a public pool, go to my favourite repertory cinema, visit the dentist, do all banking, grocery shopping and other errands; and, most significant for me, meet with groups of native speakers of French, Spanish, Portuguese, American Sign Language, Korean or Japanese; or step onto the subway for access to ten times as many possibilities. Taking my New Brunswick writing cave as a point of departure, a 10 hour drive would scarcely bring the majority of such options within reach.

Fortunately, this is an era which enables me to make do with online substitutions for a number of these amenities, such as certain manifestations of language practice and films. However, such substitutions are not the same thing as being there, in that place where there is every day too much to do, where to partake of one golden opportunity causes you to miss out on several others.

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. Hitting huge log with heavy axe

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. (I did split this sucker!)

And yet, my writing cave lets me work with loud music on at 03h00; it lets me leap out of bed before dawn or crawl out at noon, depending on what the muse whispers to me in the morning or demanded of me the night before. The writing cave leaves me space — indoors and out (and psychologically as well as physically) — to start every day by doing my thumpy, jumpy, kicky taekwondo forms, or to contend with insomnia by pounding it out on the heavy bag in the garage below. It shows me the moon and the sun through its skylight; its windows like big-screen TVs show me snowfall, windstorms or chirping birds and meandering deer over a sun-glazed acre of land which is mine to neglect, maintain, or run and roll around on. Below my window, I can chop wood from a wind-felled tree, soak off the wholesome grime in my claw-foot bathtub, and then sit with my father by his fire discussing how the Romans could have saved their empire if only they had listened to us, or learn how to speak toddler-ese when my niece drops by, until a bottle of the world’s finest wine has breathed long enough and we gather to feast on local, organic, fair trade, free-run moose.

The Writer at Work. Splitting a log

The Writer at Work

The world-famous city I was born in vs. the agreeably overlooked town I grew up in. Like moving and resting, waking and sleeping, getting dirty and bathing, an excess of one makes you wish for the other. Plainly, (unless I find a home* some other where), I must divide my months between the polis and the outpost.

*Home is where I hang my hat. Home is where I hang around. Home is where I hang out. Home is where I let it all hang out. Home is where I hang my head. Home is where I hang myself. Home is where I feel that I am myself, and that is not a place, it is a state of mind that comes more frequently and stays longer in some places than in others. “Wherever you go, there you are.”

My Snowy Acre of Tree-Walled Lawn

My Snowy Acre

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What Has Happened?

I see F hastily cutting something with scissors and I say, “Be careful you don’t do what D did.”

What did D do?

“Didn’t he mention it? A few weeks ago I saw he had a bandage covering the tip of his index finger and I asked what happened. He said,

It was the stupidest thing. I was cutting open the top of a plastic milk bag, like this, and I just wasn’t paying attention. Snipped the very tip of my finger off. Couldn’t believe I did it.”

Not long after this memorable chat with F, I was back at D’s place and saw the bandage was gone. “All healed up, then?”

What do you mean?

“The tip of your finger.”

Which finger?

“Your index finger.”

He showed me his right hand. Undamaged. “Must have been your other hand.” Nothing. “Man, you made it sound like you had actually cut the tip of your finger off.”

What are you talking about?

So, knowing that D tends not to retain memories of small significance (and some of larger significance), I repeat to D the conversation I had with him several weeks before in front of his kitchen sink.

Not only does D not remember such a conversation, neither do any of his supposedly amputated fingertips. And D doesn’t reuse milk bags; I do. And the bandage was on his right hand; being right-handed, it would have been a left-hand injury.

At this point I concede, against the protestations of my mind, that the incident could only have occurred in a dream, not in lived experience outside of my imagination. “But,” I say, “I told F about that. And I know I’ve told other people. That was a moment in my life; but it never happened.”

What is this, a Philip K. Dick story? Am I a replicant, or am I struggling to achieve Total Recall?

Believe me, I’m happy for D that he isn’t short a fingerprint; but now this mind of mine has me in a quandary. Next time I’m approached amorously by Daryl Hannah, or Sharon Stone, or Kate Beckinsale , I’ll be hornswoggled: should I take it lying down, or jump out the window and wait for Jessica Biel to show up?

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My Hometown and the Ballad of Johnny Montes

flag of New Brunswick

New Brunswick

On Thursday, I came from cosmopolitan Toronto—where I have lived restlessly for the past decade—back to my quiet east coast hometown, Rothesay, east of Saint John, New Brunswick, which I fled in the 90s in search of adventure. Now, as we flip the great Mayan calendar to the next 5,000+ years, is this the place I want to live?

I have lived, for brief and extended periods, in Asia, Latin America, and even on a fly-in reserve in Manitoba. And all over the world, when you ask someone, “What makes you like this place so much?” the cliché response is always, “Mostly, it’s the people.” But, as I recall, that was part of why I left New Brunswick. Old-fashioned, conservative attitudes, something about this place always made me feel like I had to hold my oddball self back so as not to agitate everyone around me. But isn’t that what I just said about Toronto?

OK, so maybe it’s me. But, for a change, I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about the people of my hometown. Not the ones I know and love; I’m talking about the ones I’ve never met. A strange concept, for a place where it always seems everyone knows everyone, but I’ve been away a long time.

Saturday morning was the first time I’d heard the name Johnny Montes. I was asked to fill in at the last minute to work the door at KV Billiards which was holding a fundraiser that night for Johnny and his family. Last month, Johnny’s car hit some ice and he went off the road. Over recent years, I have been involved in the slow, costly, nerve-wracking process of recuperation of a family member who suffered similar injuries in a similar accident. It is, to say the least, not easy.

#65 Johnny Montes from Bigwave's "Riverglade National" Photo Report http://www.vitalmx.com/forums/Moto-Related,20/Bigwaves-Riverglade-National-Photo-Report,578804

#65 Johnny Montes from
Bigwave’s “Riverglade National” Photo Report http://www.vitalmx.com/forums/Moto-Related,20/Bigwaves-Riverglade-National-Photo-Report,578804

I soon found out Johnny’s a bit of a celebrity in the motocross world, and a very popular guy around here. A few years younger than I am, he grew up in the trailer park near my high school, where he was likely a neighbour to some of my childhood friends. Who knows; I may even have seen him as a toddler when I was visiting friends there three decades ago.

Just before 7:00pm, I met the owner and she sat me down at the door with the donations jar and a stack of pamphlets which explained what the event was about. Some people picked up a pamphlet, but it was obvious that pretty much every one of the hundreds of people who came in that door from 7:00pm to 1:00am knew Johnny. And they don’t just know him; they really care about him. People were stuffing big bills into that jar, more than a few people surely put in more than they earn in a day, a few pausing to confirm, “This is for Johnny?”

It was assumed I knew Johnny and everyone connected with him. “Is Juan here yet?” That’s Johnny’s father. No one made me feel like I was out of the loop. Johnny’s mother introduced herself to me—why? Because she didn’t know me. One stranger after another was quick to fill me in on who everyone was—“That’s his sister”—and it often turned out I did have connections with people. And people with whom I had no connection fell into easy conversation with me. Doesn’t take much to make a connection around here.

Three damn fine local bands donated their time and talents: Bigg Medicine, Chasing Dragons, and Penalty Box, with a DJ in between acts. The song that summed it up for me was a satisfying cover of “I Love Rock’n’Roll”. The place was packed but no one was pushy. Some people came back again and again to drop more money into the donations jar (which had to be emptied frequently to make room for more) or just to see how the doorman was doing. People from ages 19 to 69, a few guys in suits, a lot of guys in baseball caps, several wearing number “Montes” jerseys, and lots of attractive women but none looked like they had gone out of their way to get their outfit and makeup just right. It was, without a doubt, the most human bunch of people I have been around for a long time.

But the most New Brunswick moment I’ve ever had was just before 1:00am when a 30ish guy in a baseball cap came over and offered me a beer. I thanked him but said no. I was still working, after all. “C’mon. You’ve been standin’ at the door here for like five hours. You should have a beer.” He wasn’t on his first, and why would he be. What he said next proved him to be a true New Brunswick gentleman. “Look, I’m not gay or nothin’; I’m not hittin’ on ya. I just figure you could really use a beer.”

You’ll just have to take my word for it; there was not a drop of homophobia in that remark. His tone said, ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’, more sincerely than Seinfeld. This guy was just clarifying the parameters of the offer. They say Canadians are ‘nice’. Well you can’t get much nicer than New Brunswick. And I had to drink to that.

I don’t know Johnny Montes but, the way everyone speaks of him, I want to know him. In the New Year, there is to be an auction in support of Johnny. In the meantime, donations are still being accepted.

Now, someone sing us The Ballad of Johnny Montes. What, nobody’s written it yet? He deserves a song. Someone’s gotta write it. Come on, I’ll race ya!

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