Date Night: La Shish Taouk and “The Soul Collector”

Back in May, we spent a wonderful day in Old Strathcona. After some time perusing the shops along the main strip, we stopped for dinner at La Shish Taouk. Su had raved about their food, but it wasn’t obvious to us until later that this Whyte Avenue location is their third. Funny enough, we used to live within walking distance of their Oliver restaurant…but never once set foot inside.

Taking up a storefront vacated by Crepeworks, the arrangement of a dominant counter and minimal seating up front had been maintained. But pattered wallpaper and a bright red colour scheme did wonders to enhance the narrow space.

La Shish


The quick-serve Lebanese menu primarily offered marinated meat options served in pita form, or on plates alongside side dishes. Given we had re-watched The Avengers not too long ago (featuring a hilarious post-credit scene involving shawarma), we knew we would both be choosing the chicken shawarma ($6.95, combo $12.18).

Made to order, the wrap was hot and visually tempting. Even better, it tasted as good as it looked – the meat was moist, and I liked the added texture from the pickles and zing from the garlic spread. The toasted fresh pita was icing on the cake. We also shared a side of fries, and though a tad on the salty side, the shoestrings were crackling crisp, the best kind of guilty pleasure.

La Shish

Chicken shawarma and fries

We’d never doubt Su’s recommendations, but after this visit, we can see why La Shish Taouk has expanded its presence in the city. Go for the shawarma, but make sure to sneak in some fries.

Satiated, we walked over to the Arts Barns for Catalyst Theatre’s The Soul Collector. Mack and I always look forward to their imaginative productions, a signature being their inclusion of highly stylized costumes and props. As a result, it was really neat that they set-up a Catalyst Theatre photo booth for patrons to dress up in pieces used in previous shows. No question, I took advantage of this opportunity.

Catalyst Theatre

A Catalyst character mash-up

I loved the whimsical stage that divided the seating area in half. Framed with cardboard trees and starkly lit, it effortlessly conveyed the barren northern setting for this tale of longing and tragedy. While the story wasn’t as compelling as some of their previous works, perhaps we were just grappling with the surprisingly optimistic ending, atypical for Catalyst. Still, we were transfixed by Karyn Mott’s turn as the lead Memory McQuaid (Mack immediately recognized her from her scene-stealing role in The Crimson Yak) – we couldn’t help but be pulled headfirst into her anguish, confusion and fear.

It was a great night out – the first of many for us this summer, just across the river!

La Shish Taouk
10352 82 Avenue (2 other locations)
(780) 705-1775
Sunday-Thursday 11am-2am, Friday-Saturday 11am-4am

Catalyst Theatre: “Nevermore: The Imaginary Life & Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”

Mack and I went to see Catalyst Theatre’s Nevermore on Saturday afternoon, one of the most hotly anticipated shows of the season. Jonathan Christenson and Bretta Gerecke, the Sterling Award-winning creators of Frankenstein collaborated again, this time on a tale about the life of writer Edgar Allan Poe. From the website:

Nevermore is a playful and inventive 21st Century exploration of the mind and life of a 19th Century artist whose tormented life and dark imagination inspired him to create characters and stories that have taken on an almost mythical stature in contemporary culture.”

In a word – it was captivating. Nevermore enthralled in the same way Frankenstein did – everything from the lighting design and musical direction to costumes and dialogue were seamlessly integrated together, where each element was inseparable from the rest.

Playing on variants of black, Gerecke’s costumes (several made from paper mache), coupled with gothic makeup, were both playful and dark. Every prop, including the delicate paper tea cups and creaky pop-up books, helped create a dreamlike world around Edgar where it was easy for the audience to see where his conscious world blended with his nightmares. The use of shadow and the semi-transparent screens for narrative scenes and chorus support were brilliant, and demonstrated Christenson’s adeptness in visual storytelling.

All of the actors (except Scott Shpeley who played Edgar) were required to perform multiple roles, each needing to be distinct in voice, stature and movement. I found no weak link in the cast, as all were skilled at the crisp scene changes. Two members did stand out for me – Vanessa Sabourin was particularly haunting as Edgar’s fleeting mother, and Beth Graham’s comic relief as “wee Rosalie” was always a welcome presence.

Nevermore runs until May 17, but has added an additional two shows on May 22 & 23. Go see it! You won’t be disappointed.

Catalyst Theatre: “Frankenstein”

Frankenstein is frightfully good.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system – Frakenstein was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Theatrical in the purest sense of the word (if I can claim such a definition exists), the production demonstrates a remarkable congruence of the script, music, lighting, and design – no one element is out of place or is anything except seamless within the musical as a whole. I am almost certain this is due to the very close collaborative relationship between writer/director/composer Jonathan Christenson and production designer Bretta Gerecke. While I can’t speak to what the typical process is, I gather that it is an apt luxury for the development of a show’s design to take place alongside alterations to the script.

I do believe I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein early on in my university years, but to tell you the truth, I can’t remember much of the story. I thought this would be a disadvantage coming into this production, but was I ever wrong. The tragic tale of Victor and his fall from grace was not only accessible, but perhaps even more rich and powerful with Christenson’s interpretation supported by Gerecke’s design. The text was re-written in ABCB rhyming form, allowing for a less jarring transition to the musical segueways. This version of Frankenstein was also not without some black humor – there were more than a few moments where the audience’s hesitation at whether laughing out loud was acceptable or not was palpable (the “going to Hell in a handbasket” number was one of these instances). My only nitpick with the words chosen was a slight overuse of the term “fate” – I think Victor’s story is more meaningful with less emphasis on destiny and more on the context of his life that led to the unfortunate decisions he made. Sure, “fate” allows for many rhyming options, but it is the monosyllabic equivalent of an easy way out.

The cast was fantastic – I was impressed with Nick Green’s agility as Henry, Tracy Penner’s ethereal presence as Lucy, and Andrew Kushnir’s consistent contortion of his hands, physically manifesting Victor’s twisted internal emotions. George Szilagyi as the Creature, however, deserves to be singled out – not only was he able to sympathetically convey the heartbreaking discovery of his monstrous appearance with a near full-face mask on, but even in his moments of unforgiving revenge, there lay a resonating note of injustice and misunderstanding.

As for the design – I will admit to needing to rely on the program for confirmation that Gerecke used paper to form the backbone of the costumes. I don’t feel too bad, however, as the texture, structures, and appearance she was able to achieve with paper was unique to the point of being magical. The fact that all characters were dressed in white neutralized each of them, allowing the audience to focus more closely on facial expressions and words spoken. Moreover, I am not sure if this was deliberate, but I loved the effect of seeing bits of white material being left behind on the stage as the actors moved about – it formed a literal representation of the impression left by individuals.

Frakenstein is the best candidate I have ever seen to offer a continuous production, Broadway-style, here in Edmonton. It must be a physically and emotionally taxing run for the actors, even for the three weeks in this remount, but I do believe it is too good for locals and tourists alike to miss. It thus goes without saying that Christenson and Gerecke’s next collaboration, Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Improbable Death of Edgar Allan Poe (scheduled for early 2009), will debut with expectations never before seen in the city’s theatre community.