Canoe Festival 2014: The National Elevator Project Part 2

I was invited to be a part of the Canoe Festival’s team of bloggers this year, where in exchange for tickets to a show, I committed to writing a post about the production. This worked out particularly well since I was planning on taking in at least one show anyway!

The tagline of Workshop West’s annual Canoe Festival is “theatre that rocks the boat”. The performances range from the use of multi-disciplinary art forms to unconventional spaces, each show pushing the boundaries of what audiences expect of theatre.

Back in October, Mack and I attended the inaugural National Elevator Project. Eight plays had been commissioned by writers from across the country with the specific intention of being performed in an elevator. Five to eight minutes in length, the plays were brief, situational encounters – eavesdropping mid-conversation, stumbling upon the climax of a long-simmering conflict, or, in some cases, becoming a part of the story ourselves. For such short plays, I didn’t anticipate the intensity that many of the scenes conveyed.

Part of the experience also involved trekking from one building to another, and in the process, seeing a different side of downtown Edmonton. Towers virtually empty at night, I loved that this show repurposed elevators into stages, and encouraged foot traffic in areas that would have otherwise been empty. It’s no secret that I’m passionate about the possibilities of underutilized spaces, and the National Elevator Project is a wonderful example of what can come from ingenuity.

Without a formal stage boundary, some of the plays also included elements of audience involvement. In one, we were vetted by an off-site man via FaceTime and in another, poked and prodded as nameless bodies. To cap off the night, we were invited to drink a “shot” and conga-line with our fellow passengers back into the elevator. The interaction was at times unnerving, but made for very intimate scenes.

Although we had been able to take in all eight plays within the two hour window, it had been a tight program; we literally sprinted and just made the final show. As a result, the National Elevator Project Part 2, part of the Canoe Festival, retooled the format, splitting eight shows between two cycles. Mack and I watched both over the weekend.

It’s challenging to write about these brief plays without giving anything away – they are really best experienced firsthand as the unexpected vignettes that they are. That said, I can say that I was transfixed by the raw, emotional confrontation in Brad Fraser’s First Father, and appreciated the Maritime/Alberta context in which Dear Mr. Keith was written. Ben Gorodetsky’s dual roles also stood out, first as an understated candidate in The Program, and then as a spirited guide of worldly consequences in #Abandonhope. While I can’t say I connected to every piece I watched, this format provides so much variety that every audience member will encounter something that appeals to them.

The Program

A scene from The Program

The byproduct of a more relaxed pace was that we were able to take the time to chat with others attending the shows, instead of dashing off to the next venue. Catching up with people at various points, checking in with their thoughts about what they had seen, was an accidental but welcome element of the new format.

The National Elevator Project Part 2 runs until Sunday, February 2, 2014. I’d encourage you to check it out while you still can! You can buy tickets here.

Sharon Yeo is a food enthusiast who has been blogging for seven years at In 2011, Sharon was named one of Western Living Magazine’s “Top 40 Foodies Under 40”, recognizing the impact of her blog. Sharon is also an active member of Edmonton’s food community, co-founding What the Truck?!, Edmonton’s food truck extravaganza, Blink, a series of pop-up events highlighting the potential of the downtown core, and Eat Alberta, an annual food conference that has brought chefs, farmers and foodies together since 2011.

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

Date Night: Tzin and Theatresports

Mack and I are fortunate to live on a street where there are so many great restaurants, but the truth is, when we’re at home, we typically end up dining in. As a result, we generally don’t eat out at the establishments closest to us, though we walk past them almost every day. So during Downtown Dining Week, we made a conscious decision to make a reservation at Tzin, the charming little wine bar just down the street from our condo, our first stop after work last Friday.

Tzin was packed, as per usual – reservations are a must at this 18-seat restaurant. It is such a warmly designed room, from the autumnal colours to the rich tapestries and throw pillows. Though seating is quite intimate (we were inches away from the next tables), space is cleverly utilized – from the closet slotted in the alcove between the kitchen and the front door, to the purse hooks located on the table posts.

We loved that the $50 3-course prix fixe menu featured several dishes off of Tzin’s regular menu, which provides a better snapshot of what the restaurant can do on a regular basis (as opposed to a special menu designed just for the occasion). It also offered us some choice, as we were able to select from two different appetizers, entrees and desserts. No question both Mack and I were felled by the promise of braised Irvings Farm bacon to start, but deviated for the rest of the meal.

The braised bacon raised the bar high right from the start. The thick-cut pork belly was braised to perfection; the fat just melted away, complemented by a balsamic apple compote and calvados gastrique. We both remarked that we would come back for this dish alone.


Braised bacon

Mack enjoyed his chicken breast supreme well enough. My Four Whistle Farm rack of lamb was cooked to medium rare, but I would have preferred more aggressive spices. Likely, this was done on purpose, to balance with the underlay of harissa couscous, but it ended up meaning the starch provided the dominant flavour.


Chicken supreme


Rack of lamb

Dessert left us wanting more. The flourless chocolate torte, encased in a velvety chocolate ganache was bliss on a plate. Mack, who usually skips dessert, devoured his warm gingerbread cake, drizzled with Kracken rum caramel. The accompanying brown butter ice cream was so good we thought about asking Chef Corey McGuire to start hawking this flavour on the street in warmer climes.


Warm gingerbread cake and flourless chocolate torte

Proprietor Kelsey Danyluk is the consummate host, and always takes care of her diners. Her wine recommendations are always spot on, too! The kitchen was also extremely efficient – we were never left waiting long for the next dish.

I look forward to our next visit to Tzin – we’ll have to make sure to take advantage of its patio when the time comes!

After dinner, Mack and I walked over to the Citadel Theatre to take in Theatresports. Since Rapid Fire Theatre relocated downtown last fall, we’ve been meaning to check out their new home at Zeidler Hall.

The 7:30pm show that night was probably a smaller crowd than usual, but it did give the audience members a better chance that one of their suggestions would be taken up by the improvisers.

Rapid Fire Theatre

Matt Alden welcomes the audience

We watched several teams duke out one another in a series of improv challenges. As each team had to incorporate suggestions from the audience, it guaranteed that no show is the same. We were amazed by how quick-witted the actors were, and how the vignettes ended up in unpredictable, but hilarious places (such as a spontaneous song about Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan).

For $12, we thought that the ticket price was well worth the entertainment. You can look for Theatresports every Friday at 7:30pm and 10pm, while Chimprov, Rapid Fire’s long-form improv show, runs every Saturday at 10pm.

10115 104 Street
(780) 428-8946

Rapid Fire Theatre
Zeidler Hall @ the Citadel Theatre, 9828 101A Ave

Until Next Year: The Village of the Fringed

The 31st annual Edmonton International Fringe Festival came to a close on Sunday, and it smashed records all the way through. After years of stalled ticket sales, something seems to have changed in the market for ticketed shows: 104,142 tickets were sold in 2011 and 112, 006 in 2012. Great weather is only one factor, so I’d be interested to know how the organizers come to understand these breakthroughs. But whatever the explanation, congrats to the Fringe for this amazing feat!


Fringe alley

We headed back to the grounds on the weekend, and thankfully, the food was better on this occasion. The green onion cakes aren’t an annual tradition for us like they are for some other regulars, but we enjoyed them as a quick snack while waiting in line.

Green Onion Cakes

Green onion cakes

We also had a chance to dine at the Little Village Food Truck, tucked behind the beer garden by the tracks. Hopefully, if the Fringe reconfigures the food vendors next year, the trucks can be a little more prominent along the main strip!

Little Village Food Truck

Little Village Food Truck

Anyway, I really enjoyed the roasted lamb over potatoes – tasty, and remarkably easy to eat, and Mack liked his drunken pork sandwich.

Little Village Food Truck

Roasted lamb over potatoes

Little Village Food Truck

Drunken pork sandwich

This was the first year in quite some time that Mack and I missed out on getting a Frequent Fringer pass, but it probably worked out for the better because of time constraints. We did end up making it out to eight shows, however. Three stood out for us the most:

  • Medicine: TJ Dawe’s most personal play I have ever seen focused on his inner demons, and the journey he undertook to understand and exorcise them. As usual, Dawe wowed the crowd with his wit, rhythmic storytelling and the depth of his revelation. I was glad to see that it was held over!
  • The Popular Principles of Hypnosis: written and performed by two recent MacEwan Theatre grads, it may not have been the most polished show or even all that plausible, but it was one of the most earnestly performed, and utterly charming. I look forward to seeing Mathew Bittroff and Jayce Mckenzie at future Fringes!
  • Harold of Galactus: I wasn’t certain that the long and narrow BYOV at the Varscona would work, but the energy of Mark Meer and Chris Craddock carried through the room. It was amazing to see the improv masters build a complete superhero origin story inspired by an audience’s suggestion.

Of the eight shows we took in, we only received programs for three of the shows. Did others find that their productions were paperless as well? Perhaps that was a trend this year, or just a coincidence for us?

Also on the rise this year was the #yegfringe hash tag. It’ll be interesting to see if the Fringe embraces this in the future – I’d love to see a Twitter fall at the Arts Barns! I know the festival shies away from “sanctioning” reviews, but there is precedence – I remember the pre-renovated Arts Barns housing internet cafes (before smart phones became ubiquitous) encouraging patrons to post their reviews on online forums.


Arts Barns

In all, it was a great Fringe! See you all next year!

Fringeopolis: A Banner Year!

The Fringe threw its biggest party in thirty years, and more people than ever before showed up! I’m ecstatic that the festival attracted its largest crowds this August, but more than that, finally blew past the 100,000 ticket barrier (selling a total of 104,142 tickets)! I’m sure some of this had to do with the stellar weather over the ten days, and its anniversary year, but it’s likely also connected to the proliferation of BYOVs (Bring Your Own Venues) across the city.


Several of the shows I took in this year were hosted at BYOVs, but only one that we visited was far-flung from the Old Strathcona stratosphere, at the Stanley Milner Library. Though I do enjoy immersing myself in the festivities of the Fringe grounds, on a weeknight when we only had enough time or energy to take in one show, I really appreciated being able to have dinner at home, walk to the venue, and walk back, without having to transcend the crowds. I had to wonder if those who live in Oliver or on Alberta Avenue felt the same way about their neighbourhood BYOVs. I know it’s a train of thought engendered as a result of where we live, but if this trend of BYOV expansion continues, it’d be neat to see BYOV “districts” spring up, so that patrons wouldn’t necessarily have to leave Old Strathcona for just one or two shows. If they could base an evening or a day in that area, perhaps it would be win-win for everyone.


Sustainival was a new to the Fringe this year, carnival rides powered by used vegetable oil. I’m a sucker for amusements, so I was looking forward to taking this part of the festival in as well. I wasn’t sure how successful it was, as there never seemed to be that many people in line. From his remarks, Sustainival CEO Joey Hundert seemed happy with the response (25,000 rides sold), so perhaps a steady stream was all that could be expected from a sideshow that was new to everyone.


Mack and I rode the Tornado and the Ferris wheel (of course), and we definitely appreciated the lack of line-ups. From up above, however, Sustainival definitely seemed like a world of its own, not yet integrated into the Fringe world.

The Food

I felt like we bought and ate more food on the grounds that we have in past years – and like the plays we watched, some meals were better than others. My favourite was again Zaika – the mango chicken ($10) provided a healthy portion that wasn’t overly spicy or sweet, and a samosa with a crisp-perfect texture.


Mango chicken with rice and a samosa

The Nomad Kitchen was a disappointment, after hearing many good things about it. Service was poor: Jill and I weren’t acknowledged for several minutes, and when we were finally able to order the North African grill ($12), I received an incomplete dish (it wasn’t dressed with bean spouts, cilantro, or their signature sauce).


North African grill with tofu

Mack was similarly disappointed by his banana crepe ($6) from Crepes-Mania. The crepe itself was good, but they used green bananas so hard and tasteless he had to pick them out.


Banana crepe

Mini doughnuts are an annual tradition for us, and did (hurrah!) hit the spot.

Mini Donuts

Mini doughnuts

Some of the best food at the Fringe ended up being at sit-down restaurants. We had time in between performances one night, and trekked over to Route 99 to revel in our usual order of poutine and pizza.

Route 99 PoutineRoute 99 Pizza

Poutine! Pizza!

On another day, we lunched in a gloriously quiet Packrat Louie – a little pricey for a lunch at the Fringe, but a good trade-off for solace.

Spicy HawaiianFish & Chips

Spicy Hawaiian flatbread and Halibut ‘n Chips

The Plays

For the first time in recent memory, the balance of the dozen plays I watched this year tipped on the poor end of the scale. Two in particular I really didn’t care for, while a few others rounded out the middle. As I’ve said in the past, however, that usually makes me appreciate the ones I did enjoy all that much more.

  • Eco-Confessional: Just before walking into Eco-Confessional, Jill was scanning the Journal review of the play which noted how awkward and unrehearsed Mark Leiren-Young was. As such, we braced ourselves for the worst, but were both pleasantly surprised. Sure, Leiren-Young was far from polished (referring to his script now and then, or re-treading lines), even leaning into clumsy (acknowledging coughs and other noises from the audience), but because he weaved in an explanation of why he was the unlikeliest of performers, it all became a little endearing. The message of this show, which illustrated why “perfect is the enemy of the good” in the green movement, really resonated with me, but Leiren-Young also delivered his story with such passion and heart that it was easy to get swept up in his cause.
  • The Slipknot: I look forward to TJ Dawe every year, and he rarely disappoints. The Slipknot was the play that “catapulted” Dawe to fame a decade ago, the one that I never had the chance to see…until this year. Though it didn’t have the depth of Totem Figures, the show was every bit as witty as I expected, with amusing social commentary and observations throughout his tale of dead-end employment. I am always amazed at Dawe’s fast-talking ways, and his masterful ability to weave and connect seemingly parallel stories.
  • Mothership Down: Marty Chan’s Mothership Down, a play about Alberta’s Conservative dynasty and Canada’s political system, was presented in the form of a TED Talk. It was a vehicle I’d never seen used before, and alongside it, PowerPoint that had a hilariously omniscient presence and often, wielded clever punch lines. Frenetic, but at times poignant, it was very much a well-balanced play, with a lot owed to actor Taylor Chadwick, who did a fantastic job. It also featured Mack’s favourite ending of all the shows we watched, involving a pie and a victim we did not at all anticipate.
  • Little Room: The Slip-Knot did for TJ Dawe what Little Room did for Jon Lachlan Stewart – a play that made him a “household name” at the Fringe. It was another play I didn’t see when it debuted seven years ago, so I made sure to seize the opportunity this year. Intense and challenging, the semi-autobiographical show demanded much of Lachlan Stewart, who played different several characters with ease, and with three benches, transformed the stage into everything from a playground to a shopping complex. It was a coming-of-age story, but told with such raw honesty that even now, days later, I’m still haunted by the turn of events.

As a whole, I had a great time at this year’s Fringe, and as always, can’t wait for the next installment. Congratulations to the organizers, artists and volunteers for such a successful festival. Here’s hoping for 30 more years to come!

Day 5 in San Francisco: “Top Chef” Thursday

Things we loved in San Francisco:

Two Buck Chuck (Seriously. Wine for $2 a bottle in North America?)

Bristol Farms

Consumer warning labels in stores (how’s that for awareness?)

Scramble crosswalks (coming soon to Edmonton)

Something else we loved? Sleeping in. We decided to give ourselves the benefit of a late start on day 5, as we felt recovery was in order after two consecutive early mornings.

The day as a whole was a lazy one – without any concrete plans besides a dinner reservation and a late show, it felt freeing to be able to wander without direction. So after grabbing a coffee from Peet’s, we spent the morning shopping at Union Square.

San Francisco

Union Square

It was easy to get used to that kind of shopping experience – stores densely packed together, all accessible from street-level, with crosswalks at every block. Sure, some of the stores we visited have locations in Edmonton also, but only locked inside a mall or car-driven complex.

San Francisco

Pedestrian-friendly shopping

We eventually walked over to the Yerba Buena Gardens, which, on first glance, appeared to be the city’s outdoor bedroom. We lost count of the number of people idling on the grass, enjoying the shade and the soothing sound of the water features.

Yerba Buena

Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena


I had read about there being a century old carousel at the Gardens, and, like my giddy stint at the Musee, I couldn’t pass up a visit.

Zeum Carousel


Mack initially wasn’t as keen on reverting back to his childhood, but even he enjoyed circling the wooden animals to select his steed. And at only $3 for two rides, it was well worth it!

Zeum Carousel


Zeum Carousel

Mack gets in the spirit of things

I knew we were near ‘Witchcraft, one of Tom Collichio’s casual sandwich outposts, and given we were to later dine at another restaurant connected to the Top Chef series, it just seemed fitting to stop there for lunch.



At 2pm, we found the restaurant nearly empty – perhaps we just missed the lunch rush? ‘Witchcraft wasn’t in the most inspiring location (it faces a parkade), but the interior definitely tried to make up for it. We loved the floor-to-ceiling windows, the second floor loft-style seating, and the stylish prints featuring antique kitchen equipment.



From what I had read about the restaurant though, I really thought the menu would grab me. But somehow, the sandwich combinations didn’t excite me at all. I ended up with the grilled cheese sandwich and soup of the day, while Mack chose the BLT. Our lunch for two (with one drink) cost $23.

My grilled cheese was good (solid bread foundation, nice combination of cheeses), but the soup was better (great texture and depth). Mack liked the BLT well enough (especially the bacon), but thought the tomato overpowered everything.


Grilled cheese and soup



The side of Tim’s Chips ended up being our favourite part of the meal – kettle-style, they were just the right thickness to offer both a satisfying crunch and a rounded flavour from the frying oil. Best of all, they didn’t have any additives.


Tim’s Chips

It’s something to be said when the package of chips stands out the most – so all told, ‘Witchcraft was a bit underwhelming for both of us.

A brief sojourn back to the hotel had us ready for our trip’s most anticipated meal. While watching the second season of Top Chef Masters, both Mack and I fell head over heels for Chef Hubert Keller. His personality and modest nature outshone his competitors: where others put ego first, Chef Keller always seemed to let his food speak for itself. So we knew a visit to SF wouldn’t be complete without reservations to Fleur de Lys.

The restaurant was just a ten minute walk from our hotel, allowing us to build up an appetite for the multi-course meal. When we arrived, we were whisked inside a sumptuous room, lined with curtains and complete with a tented ceiling. Most of the tables were arranged like streetside Parisian cafes – facing inwards instead of towards one another. It really felt like we had stepped into another world.

Unlike our experience at Gramercy Tavern in New York a few years back, when I was afraid to even take out my camera, it didn’t seem out of place at Fleur de Lys. Most of the diners were our age, and nearly all of them were snapping pictures of their experience. Also, through the curtains, I spotted a television set tuned to Food Network – of all shows, Top Chef Masters was on!

We chose the $82/person 4 course meal, which of course, with wine, was much more than that. Given that we were provided with several options for each course (starter, seafood, meat, dessert), the price seemed reasonable.

The vegetable ragout with truffle oil was a bit underwhelming to me, though the egg was poached very nicely. Mack enjoyed his Maryland soft shell crab, but had a bit of trouble determining how best to eat it, given the crab had been deep fried whole.

Fleur de lys

Vegetable ragout

Fleur de lys

Maryland soft shell crab

My salmon (sustainably raised, of course) was well cooked, and I loved the accompanying broccolini. The dish also marked my first ever encounter with porcini flan, and I have to say, I quite enjoyed the savoury version. Mack’s dish of prawns ended up being just a singular prawn, albeit one that was pretty tasty, and one that he enjoyed more as it was served alongside pork belly.

Fleur de lys

Sustainably raised salmon

Wild jumbo prawn with brioche crust

The duck, moist as ever, was a play on duck l’orange, served with fresh orange segments. I wasn’t a fan of the spetzle though – they were bland. Mack equally enjoyed his filet mignon, though not surprisingly, he devoured the lobster truffled mac & cheese (stuffed into a brioche bun!) first.

Fleur de lys

Muscovy duck breast, grenadine pickled onions

Seared filet mignon

We both absolutely adored the dessert course. My chocolate souffle was easily worth the additional $6 charge, light and fluffy on top with a satisfying and rich centre. Mack’s plate was a whimsical play on burger, fries and shake, with slices of kiwi standing in for pickles.

Fleur de lys

Chocolate souffle

Fleur de lys


The restaurant saved the best part for last – towards the end of our meal, Chef Keller came out to meet all the diners! I’m pretty sure everyone in the room knew who he was, but he still made sure to introduce himself at each table, “Hello, I’m the chef here”. Mack didn’t want to wash his hands afterwards. #fanboy

Mack, Sharon, Hubert Keller

With Chef Keller

Our dinner at Fleur de Lys was a memorable experience, though only partially because of the food. We were so happy to have met Chef Keller!

We didn’t plan it that way, but the 19th annual San Francisco Fringe Festival happened to be running the same week we were there. Of course, we had to take in at least one show.

The fact that Edmonton is the home of the second largest Fringe Festival in the world is so often bandied about that I think Edmontonians take it for granted. At least, I know I do. So it was a shock to me that San Francisco, an enviable city in so many ways, could not even hold a candle to our fabulous theatre festival.

With just three venues and a total of 42 shows, the scale of the SF Fringe was much, much smaller than Edmonton’s Fringe. Show times were also confined to evenings on weekdays and the venues weren’t clearly marked. It also probably didn’t help that their theatre district was in the shadiest part of the city that we’d come across thus far (the aforementioned neighbourhood that we were warned by hotel staff not to walk through).

The biggest difference, however, was the lack of a festival atmosphere. The festival grounds are one of the biggest reasons Edmonton’s Fringe is the place to be in August. The buskers, the food, the music and the activities are all such an integral part of the Fringe now that it is difficult to consider what it would be like without it.

We chose Star Crossed Love based on the description on the website, and had pre-purchased our tickets online (just in case). There really was no need – granted, it was a 10:30pm show on a Thursday night, but for a supposed “pick of the Fringe”, the dozen people in the audience was disappointing, to say the least.

San Francisco Fringe

Star Crossed Love

The premise of the theatre company is the showcase of badly written scripts. That is to say, all of their productions are culled from rejected Hollywood screenplays, performed on stage verbatim. For example, any time a character nodded, the actors would nod in exaggerated fashion. As you can guess, some of the actions got old fast, but others, including “lovers a long time” (where the couple looked to be bored of one another) were amusing.

The script itself was indeed awful – an over-the-top, implausible, rags-to-riches tale where the heroine ends the show up on stage, accepting an Oscar. But wasn’t as funny as it could have been, and for that reason, wasn’t that entertaining. We did want to commend the actors though – they really committed to the roles, and tried their best to wring every bit of unintentional humour from it.

We made our way back through the Tenderloin and retired to our hotel for the night. On to the next day!

The Citadel Theatre: “The Three Musketeers”

A number of years ago, I remember being drawn to a Fringe show called Klang! Pow! Kersplat! primarily because it was promised that each of the scenes would involve stage fighting. I remember it being very entertaining, and really, I hadn’t seen anything like it before – there’s nothing quite like watching the dance of live, choreographed combat.

When Mack won tickets to The Three Musketeers at the Citadel, I was excited for the promise of stage duelling. We watched it on Sunday, and I am happy to say it didn’t disappoint on the action front. There was so much going on in the first grand fight sequence that it was difficult to keep up with the individual battles – though I suppose that wasn’t really the point. The spectacle of it all was exhilarating, and combined with the lavish costumes and props, definitely a crowd pleaser.

But given the running time of the show was nearly three hours, how the story unfolded became that much more important – the fight scenes couldn’t be the means to the end. I have to say that I wasn’t ultimately that engaged with D’Artagnan’s rise to musketeer status (though Eric Morin did a fine job emanating a nervous energy befitting of the character). My favourite scene was surprisingly one of the quieter moments in the production, when Athos (Kris Joseph) disclosed of his past heartbreak to D’Artagnan. I was actually hoping for more of such exchanges between the would-be musketeer and his mentors – his swift acceptance into the “all for one” trio seemed too expedient.

Tom Wood, who adapted the show, did take liberalities with the ending, understandable because of the production’s family friendly nature. Of his changes, I particularly enjoyed the final confrontation between Athos and Milady de Winter (Melissa MacPherson), which resulted in a much more dramatic, intense end than in Dumas’ original, complete with a resounding flash in the darkness. MacPherson, I should note, was delightfully evil, so much so that I had flashbacks to her equally solid performance as Lady Macbeth at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival last year.

Overall, it was a fun production that lived up to my expectations. The Three Musketeers runs until April 24, 2011.

The Citadel Theatre: “Hunchback”

Catalyst Theatre is one of those companies that makes one proud to be an Edmontonian. Frankenstein and Nevermore, the previous two creations by Jonathan Christenson and Bretta Gerecke, were nothing short of spectacular, so their third production, commissioned by the Citadel Theatre, was highly anticipated with near-daunting expectations. Hunchback, as described on the Citadel’s website:

This darkly romantic musical, set amid the buttresses and shadows of Notre Dame Cathedral, is a surprising new take on Victor Hugo’s famous story. A tormented priest, a beautiful dancer and the deformed bell ringer Quasimodo, are swept up in a vortex of lust, fear and the desire to control destiny that ultimately destroys them all.

It was also the first Catalyst production to host live musicians, which definitely seemed to fit the grand landscape of the epic story.

The set, while seemingly utilitarian at first glance, was a versatile wonder. With the help of deft lighting design, the steel tripods were transformed from the soaring towers of Notre Dame to the cavernous dungeons underneath. I also particularly liked the scene where Quasimodo introduced his ringing charges to La Esmeralda – the two-dimensional drop-downs meant the focus remained on his verbal adoration of the bells, and of course, on their resonance. The costumes were similarly eye-catching – notably, Quasimodo’s skeletal, wired hump and La Esmeralda’s fall from grace epitomized by the trade of her shimmering tulle skirt for a haunting white gown.

Compared to Frankenstein and Nevermore, Hunchback was not based around a central pillar, and in fact, the titular Quasimodo was actually a secondary figure to La Esmeralda and Claude Frollo. For that reason, I was left wanting to learn more about Frollo’s back story – it seemed that  La Esmeralda was likely a catalyst and not the cause of his surfacing flaws.

The two actors that had me transfixed were Jeremy Bauming, as the tale’s narrator, and Ava Jane Markus, as La Esmeralda. Bauming extolled the rhythms of Christenson’s language as if they were song (his effortless delivery of the passing of a “liquid afternoon”  was magical). Markus was taxed with the weight of being a hub of lust for two men, and the saviour of one. She handled it with grace and beauty.

The musical numbers, while bolstered by the live musicians, weren’t as memorable as those in the other two shows; not one of the songs remained with us after curtain. As a result, Mack and I remained true to our favourite Catalyst productions – he to Nevermore and I to Frankenstein.

Still, because of the highly stylized shows that are Christenson and Gerecke’s trademark, Hunchback is worth seeing. I don’t know when it might run again, but if you missed it, be sure to jump at the next opportunity.

2011 California Wine Fair

What event combines three hundred wines, tasty appetizers, one of the most stunning spaces in Edmonton and the ability to support fine theatre? If you answered the California Wine Fair, you’d be correct! A fundraiser thirteen years running, the proceeds from the event go towards the artistic endeavours of the Citadel Theatre.

I was lucky enough to be given two tickets to this year’s fair, which ended up being a blessing of sorts. Due to a prior volunteer commitment, I wasn’t able to meet up with May until the last hour of the event, which, though unfortunate, still meant we could get a taste of what the California Wine Fair was all about.

Walking into Hall D at the Shaw Conference Centre was a bit overwhelming. Sure, there weren’t three hundred vendors (most booths were pouring several different bottles), but the fair still presented a veritable sea of wines to try. The crowd was diverse, but was definitely younger than I expected – a majority consisted of that “next gen” set.

Given our time limitations, May and I opted to be selective with our sampling choices, opting for varieties that we knew we would enjoy – namely, rosés and dessert wines.

California Wine Fair

We love rosés!

We ended up only trying about ten different wines. Our top three: the Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato (no surprise, given the Moscato was our favourite from a wine tasting at Vinomania); the sweet nectar also known as Deviation by Quady; and the Classic Brut from Domaine Chandon. I was particularly tickled to see Domaine Chandon represented – Mack and I had the pleasure of touring their winery in Napa when we were down in San Francisco last fall.

California Wine Fair

Domaine Chandon

We observed that there weren’t as many rosés as we would have expected, though we acknowledged the season and the fact that they are meant for more uncomplicated palates. Also, it was somewhat surprising that some wines being sampled weren’t (yet) available in Edmonton liquor stores. Of course, a room full of wine enthusiasts provides a great opportunity to introduce new patrons to a brand in the hopes they may look for it in the future.

After attending the appetizer tasting and wine preview, it was neat to be able to see which the planning committee ended up choosing. Like me, May enjoyed the goat cheese sphere with caramelized onions marmalade most of all. The cheese plate and the chocolate truffles were much appreciated (in pairing with our wines and preventing the alcohol from going straight to our heads), but a hearty meal would have been the ideal proactive move.

California Wine Fair

The jerk chicken and mango chutney in a tortilla cup and roasted shallot, spinach and feta cheese tartlet were good too!

At the end of the night, May and I agreed that we would attend the California Wine Fair next year. For the food, atmosphere and of course, the wine, it would be well worth the $65 ticket. Especially if one were to be on time.

Thanks again to the Citadel for the chance to check it out! See you in 2012!

Shadow Theatre & Northern Light Theatre: “Meat Puppet”

On Saturday, Mack and I took in a matinee performance of Meat Puppet at the Varscona Theatre, a show put on jointly by Shadow Theatre and Northern Light Theatre (speaking of which, NLT has such striking poster designs this year – the use of dolls is eye-catching and inspired, though I suppose the poster for Pervert may not be embraced by all).

This show will be the introductory production for many to the work of Leif Oleson-Cormack, though he has also written shows for the New Works and Fringe Festivals. That said, Meat Puppet’s dark nature, exploring the motivations behind a fictional television program similar to NBC’s much-maligned series To Catch a Predator, is a departure from his previous two Edmonton shows. Meat Puppet is billed as a comedy, however, so I still expected it to highlight Leif’s wit and penchant for snappy dialogue.

The banter was enjoyable, particularly between the show’s host, Chuck Dalmer (John Hudson) and his plucky producer Deb (April Banigan). On the other hand, the tone of the play was perplexing – it tried to straddle the line between comedy and drama, but probably would have been more successful if it had chosen one or the other. I suppose for me, anyway, shows like To Catch a Predator always seemed to lure viewers with a morbid curiosity, rather than those looking for a cheap laugh – so the downfall of the “predators”  always seemed more tragic than funny.

I did like the connection of this kind of train wreck journalism with the internet sensationalism that continues to gain momentum today, however – it might be even more dangerous than television because of its instantaneity and ease to be shared.

If anything, Meat Puppet was a thought-provoking play, especially in this age of reality programming, where producers and editors can manipulate – and sometimes create – the “truth”.

Meat Puppet runs at the Varscona Theatre until February 6, 2011.