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April 18/05

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Reviewed here: Blood Brothers (Theatre); Botanical Artists of Canada (Art Exhibiton); Look At Me and Looking for Alexander (Movies)

Blood Brothers (Theatre) by Willy Russell, directed by Danny Harvey, A.C.T. Productions, Heritage Theatre, Brampton, Ont. (To April 24)

The main reason for our trekking to Brampton to see this show is that we are closely related to cast member Madeleine Donohue. Playing the love interest, she was "luvly", to use the Liverpool dialect in which the piece was played. But there were other reasons to see the show. All the cast members turned in highly polished, professional performances -- tons of energy and charisma. The music and dancing were great. It would be totally unfair to single out one actor from such a stellar group (apart from the aforementioned Ms. Donohue), but I can’t resist mentioning Patrick Cook, a very accomplished performer who is consistently interesting to watch. Clearly, he belongs on stage.

The critic in me must offer one note to the actors, though. When you're playing little kids, it isn't necessary to act goofy all the time. I have known small children in my time and, the way I remember it, they weren't always dorkey.

This outing expanded my horizons in more ways than one. It introduced me to the marvels of downtown Brampton, a town previously known to me only as the stomping grounds of Bill Davis, a former premier of Ontario. The evening was also my first exposure to a kind of theatre which has, I believe, become very popular. In fact, I found it hard to nail the genre: musical? play with music? rock opera?

In the old days, musicals (Oklahoma, My Fair Lady) were based on good, solid plays where you had characters working out problems. The emphasis was on conflict between the characters, how it was resolved, and what it revealed about them. This piece, however, presents the Dickensian-style tale of twin brothers who are separated just after birth and raised in different households. They become best friends without ever knowing their common origin and thereby lies a whole lotta trouble. So what you have is a story, progressing in a very linear way, with a narrator pulling it all together. Toss in some songs and you've got a show.

Even though I was enjoying the experience a lot, I kept wondering what the point was. The author seemed to want to hit us over the head with the lesson that you've got to pay later in life for your earlier mistakes. Somehow, that didn't really grab me. But the people of Brampton had no such reservations. They roared their approval with vociferous enthusiasm.

 

Botannical Artists of Canada, Aird Gallery, Toronto (to April 22)

My visiting this juried show was like a devout Catholic making a courtesy call on the Presbyterian Church down the street. As a member of the Toronto Watercolour Society, I profess an artistic faith that has a much in common with that of the Botannical Artists: a love of the beauty in the natural world and a wish to express our response in two dimensions on paper through colour and drawing. Members of both groups tend towards light, transparent renderings.

But there are big differences. The TWS is open to a much wider range in terms of style and approach. In a typical TWS show, the work may vary from the meticulously exact to the wild and free, with emphasis on the imaginative and expressive. The botanical artists, on the other hand, are noted for the scientific accuracy of their paintings.

Prepared as I was to be civilly polite and appreciative about the other denomination's work, I was expecting to find these botanical pictures a trifle dull. (One can't help but remember all those dusty botanical prints in great aunts' parlours.) What a shock: the paintings in this show are luminous and gorgeous. The overall quality of the show is very consistent; almost all the pictures are stunning. And the colours are exquisite. As one who takes a slap-dash approach to colour, I've always been skeptical about the many different hues that manufacturers peddle. But I can see how, for these botanical painters, such subtleties are the crux of the matter. For example, compare the various renderings of cyclamens in pictures by different artists.

To be specific about some of the work, if I were giving a first prize, it would go to Margaret Graeb for a picture of a hunk of rough bark with lichen on it. Not only is the subject unexpected, but the technique is mind-boggling. I can't imagine how the artist mastered such detail in the fiendishly difficult medium of watercolour. I was glad to see several beautiful pictures by Celia Godkin, who taught some drawing courses that I took at the ROM years ago. I believe she's an accomplished illustrator of children's books. Dawn Dougall, a fellow member of the TWS, has a charming little picture of a red onion and a shallot in the show.

While I'll probably continue to do my artistic worshipping in the church where the dress code and the rubrics are more relaxed, it was inspiring to see how two such different approaches to conveying natural beauty can each succeed so well in their respective ways.

 

Look At Me/Comme Une Image (Movie)

The opening scene says it all. A young woman in a taxi is listening on earphones to a recording of herself singing lieder. When she takes off the earphones to answer her cell phone, she can't hear the caller because of the din of pop music on the taxi driver's radio.

And so the movie goes, teeming with the cacophony and turmoil of contemporary Paris: arguing with a taxi driver, waiting in line to get into a club, a young drunk falling at your feet, cell phones going off all the time, crowded restaurants, chi-chi cocktail parties.

The best thing about this movie is the feeling of real life. That's also the movie's biggest drawback. Like life, it's messy and a bit incoherent. If you haven’t read reviews beforehand (which I never do), it can be hard to get a handle on all the goings-on. We have an overweight young woman who wants to be a singer. Her father, a wealthy novelist, may or may not be washed up. He has a young wife, plus a bratty new daughter about five years old. Then there's the older daughter's singing teacher. Her middle-aged husband is a novelist on the way up. Various publishers and agents come into the picture, not to mention a couple of putative boyfriends.

All these people look very real, nothing like movie stars (apart from a couple of gorgeous women). But it's hard to tell what exactly you're supposed to focus on. It's probably easier to go with the flow if your French is good enough that you can catch the dialogue on the fly. I was getting pretty nearly every sentence -- just a split second after the subtitle appeared.

The main thing that kept me in my seat was the fact that the young woman was rehearsing a concert with a group of friends. We got to hear snippets of Handel, Mozart, Monteverdi, et al. Her singing was not very promising, although she had dramatic presence on stage, but some of the ensemble singing was glorious. And I'll be eternally grateful for one of the final images of the movie: a fat young woman in a ball gown barrels through the night of the French countryside on a bicycle while Schubert's sublime An Die Musik soars in the background.

Rating: C (i.e."Certainly worth seeing")

Looking For Alexander/Mémoires Affectives (Movie)

I can never remember the name of the Canadian version of the Academy Awards. (Junos? Geminis? Pisces? Grammys?) Anyway, we watched the ceremony this year, a rare exception to my tv-watching policy, because Andrea Martin was hosting and we are great Andrea Martin fans. Back in the days when the tv was on more often, my son would call me to come running whenever Ms. Martin's "Edith Prickly" made an appearance.

While introducing Roy Dupuis at the awards ceremony, Ms. Martin made a great show of sticking her phone number to the microphone on a post-it note. Apparently, she liked his looks and wanted him to call her. At least, I think that’s what it was all about. It's a long time since I was involved in the dating scene; in my day a lady who wanted to send welcoming signals was more likely to drop a hankie or a glove.

Anyway, I put this movie on my must-see list, not so much because Mr. Dupuis won the best actor award, but because I figured any guy that got Edith Prickly’s creator going like that must be some big deal. For the first part of this movie, he's lying in bed, so we're looking up his nostrils, which are kind of crinkly. When he did eventually open his eyes, we got to see that they're sort of greyish and colourless but very clear. He has a great head of hair. On the whole, though, I didn't think he was so hot that it was worth $9.25 to watch him for nearly two hours.

It's not as if this movie offered much else of interest. Mr. Dupuis was playing an amnesiac recovering from a hit-and-run injury. You might think that the amnesia theme had been done to death; it now has. Of course, some mystery from his past was haunting him. There was some tantalizing business about borrowed or inherited memories but that never panned out.

At times you felt you had one foot in Atom Egoyan territory -- all very strange. Lots of views of the wintry Quebec hinterland: frozen lakes and snowy mountains. Apart from that, there wasn't much feel of Quebec. In fact, not much feel of  life as lived anywhere. The sets are very bare. An antiseptic looking hospital room without any clutter -- what planet are we on?

I suppose people have to make movies to try to express their culture. And they could do worse than this. I guess we should all get behind them. But, since you've already supported this one with your tax dollars through the various granting agencies, I don't think you need to feel obliged to pay up at the box office too.

Rating: E (as in "Eh?" i.e. iffy)

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com