Friday, 30 August 2013

World premiere of Evangeline rocks

Usually I don't go out of my way to see musicals. If a friend or relative is in one, I'll make an exception, but there is something about people breaking into song and dance  at the slightest impulse which baffles me - well, unless the musical is about song or dance, then that is different. I enjoyed Billy Elliot (dance ) and 2 Pianos 4 Hands, but goodness, maybe the latter was not actually a musical but piano playing and great lines. Jersey Boys  and Abba had great songs; I enjoyed them.

I do remember seeing the Sound of Music several times when it first came out, mostly, I expect, to savour Christopher Plummer. Having just read Jane Eyre, I was awash in a Mr. Rochester complex.  I  thought the hills really were alive with the sound of music which says more about my taste (musical and otherwise) at 16 than I would like to admit.

However, Greg and I made the hour-long trek into Charlottetown last weekend to catch a matinee performance of Evangeline at the Confederation Centre for the Arts. Several friends had highly recommended it. Ted Dykstra wrote the book, lyrics and music. The program reminded me he had co-created 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, so my expectations were raised. I was not disappointed. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it.


The front page of the program was illustrated by Steve Adams.

The story is based on Longfellow's epic poem of the same name and recounts the expulsion of the Acadians from the Maritimes (specifically from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia in 1755). A century or so later, this region would be coalesced along with Quebec and Ontario into the Dominion of Canada.

From the Enrichment Guide, the painting of the 1755 expulsion  is by Claude Picard.

This is a great production of this little known, but shameful story. Canadians today can get off the hook by noting this happened when the British were running North America and were embattled with the French (and soon the Americans) for control of the continent.

Nevertheless, the themes of displacement, unfairness, prejudice, and callousness ring true on a deep level. We are reminded of other populations and races suffering similar horrors. Families, deported to various destinations in the British colonies to the south and to the French colony of Louisiana, are  separated never to see one another again.

Another painting by Claude Picard is printed in the Guide.
Conditions aboard the ships are  recounted in letters home read by Lt. col. John Winslow, the English commander (played by Laurie Winslow). The decks in the hold are only four feet high and the human cargo is allowed up on deck for fresh air only infrequently. Not surprising the mortality rate is high. The colonel can't understand why they are seen as a threat to the Crown.  Others are not so sanguine and there is a cast of non-Acadian characters who range from indifferent to dangerous.

However, counterbalancing the desolation and loss of home are the universal themes of undying love and the lifelong quest for the lost beloved. Newly married Gabriel Lajeunesse (played by Adam Brazier) and Evangeline Bellefontaine (Chilina Kennedy) are sent on separate ships to different destinations.

Gabriel, believing Evangeline has drowned, becomes a wandering trapper; Evangeline is certain he is alive and the story is her quest for him. I like the idea of a woman on a quest. Usually the hero is male.  She has spunk and determination and compassion (kind of a toned-down Lizbeth Salander or Katniss Everdeen).

Especially poignant are the scenes where Evangeline and Gabriel share the stage but are not aware of one another and sing a duet in which they express their sense of love and loss.  A lot of audience throat-clearing occurred here, and the man beside me was mopping his cheeks with his handkerchief.

Oddly, for what I expect is a largely secular audience, the religious imagery and themes are not played down (reminded me of Les Mis), but the book is true to Longfellow's poem and Acadian life, as well as raising other issues around the advisability of turning the other cheek.

The stage setting is a series of huge images and maps projected behind the actors. It's very effective. A rapidly moving red line shows the path of Evangeline's wanderings over many miles and many years.

An orchestra provides the accompaniment, and the actors aren't overly - or overtly - miked. As a result, the sound quality, as distinct from the songs themselves (which are very good), is not so overpowering that you have to block your ears.

If I had a criticism of the production, it would be that the scenes at the start showing the idyllic life in "Acadie"  go on a bit too long  and the use of a sort of pidgin English when the Acadians were talking to  English speakers is jarring.  These are minor, and not everyone might agree with me.

Apparently Mirvish Productions had to give up on the production in Toronto as it was becoming  too expensive to mount so Dykstra moved it to PEI - a brilliant move for a world premier, which touches the lives of many people here who are descended from the first Acadians.

If you get a chance to go to see this production, do so. Toronto's loss is Charlottetown's gain.

Claude Picard's rendition of life in "Acadie."


Thursday, 1 August 2013

In which I bake bread the Chef Michael Smith way (almost)

Last night we went to the Fortune Community Centre for a fund-raiser in its benefit. Monday night bingo doesn't seem to be profitable enough. Expenses are on the rise. Even last year's boobalicious bingo (!) appears not to have drawn the crowds ...
Anyhow, Chef Michael Smith volunteered to help raise funds. Yes, that Michael Smith of the Food Channel, which is not on our cable subscription at home, so I am not that familiar with him, but he is, I observed last night, both very tall and very talkative, which is good when making a presentation.
You could have some time with him in a small group for $40 each or be part of hoi polio for $25. We chose the latter and got there 10 minutes late. The event  had, to my surprise at any rate, already started. Chef Michael talked about eating properly and that home cooking was not all that hard or time-consuming.
He had a cookbook to prove it, which Greg bought for me:

He also sang the praises of local food, especially PEI delectables. We all received goodies, including mussels steamed in the parking lot, many varieties of chocolate chip cookies made by the ladies of Bay Fortune, and slices of home-made "Country Bread,"  made with Red Fife flour milled in New Brunswick (and available locally at MacPhee's Save-Easy, I was told, when I raised my hand during question period and asked).  This link is very enlightening - likely more so than this blog!
We also received a bag of "Country Bread" ingredients.While we  did a count-down, Chef Michael made up a batch in 60 seconds.
Four ingredients only: water, flour, salt and yeast.  The assembly took no time at all once everything was mise en place. But, why no sugar? The reason is that the dough is left overnight for the yeast to work. This means no preliminary kneading - a step saved. 
I thought I would try this for myself. I must admit I cheated a bit as the bread last night tasted a bit flat to me. So I added  a tbsp. each of molasses and vegetable oil. The molasses was not Crosby's from Newfoundland, which is  about as local as you can get for molasses around here, but was President's Choice from Ecuador. At least it was from this hemisphere.
Like Michael, I used the handle of the wooden spoon (cousin Cynthia gave me mine) to stir it. A spurtle would likely work just as well:

That's all: just cover with Saran wrap (no idea where it was made) and let it sit overnight.

I was up at just after dawn - 5:58 to be as exact as my clock radio. The sun was just up:
Freddie dog was awake too, but barely:

I checked the dough. As promised, it had doubled in size!

It was a bit early to make bread so I went back to bed where I stewed about its over-rising until 7:00 when I got up and made it into loaves.  I did knead it a bit as the recipe suggested and let it rest while I greased the pans:


Then into the pans to rise for 40 minutes and thence the oven - at 380 F, not 425 F as the recipe suggested!

I wish I had put it in at 350F since one loaf rose rather oddly into a hump in the middle - good for Humpday, which my Facebook friends were celebrating yesterday, but two days late for me.

Nevertheless, I sliced it while warm and ate some. Delicious!  I will try this again! It's so easy having it rise overnight!


In which Silver goes to church

A couple of Sundays ago, Greg and I went to St. Alban's in Souris so that Greg could preside at the service that morning. It is such a wee tiny church.
Since we were early, I wandered around the cemetery looking at the gravestones.

Soon I was joined by a small tabby cat.

which seemed to know just here she was going.

Yes, off to church:
Greg was inside setting things up and generally getting ready.
No water for the wine! A human congregation member - the warden, in fact - feeling it would be inappropriate to get a glass of water from the restaurant right across the street went off to "the store"  for a bottle of same. Would that have been the Co-op, the variety store or the Save Easy?
Meanwhile, decisions, decisions: which pew to choose ...

Aha, right at the back - very Anglican -

But before settling in, some more exploration would be fun. If only the organist were here, we could play a duet:

or I could help Greg with the prayers:

It seems I am not needed in the chancel:

This seems to be a comfortable pew:

Nice service, great hymns, thought-provoking sermon, I enjoyed the service. Now home for lunch:


Apparently Silver the cat has been in the habit of attending church for quite a while. At a recent service, she joined the priest at the front, and he picked her up and lead the congregation in singing All things bright and beautiful. I am sure she enjoyed the impromptu serenade.

At this service, she visited each pew during the sermon and of course was patted by everyone.

Alas, her people are moving, so Silver will have to join another congregation soon. She will be missed.

But St. Alban's doors will be always open in case she want to return.