Adventure means many things to many people. For some, the thrill of free-fall bungee jumping is the thing, oscillating above a chasm of nothingness. Others feel a need to ascend and descend the volcanic cones, the equatorial snows of Mount Kilimanjaro, with only speed on their minds, rather than poetry and a sense of the grandeur the place evokes. But to all this I say, “Forget heights, velocity, depths, snapping, hungry crocodile jaws! Visit the theatre! See a movie, hear a concert, read a book! Gather insight into something as simple as the meaning of life! See yourself as a potent atom in the vastness of the universe! View complexity through the insights of others, feel free to express your own vision of reality, and LIVE, sometimes without straying far from home.”
And, indeed, right here, seemingly in the middle of nothing more complicated than a vista of never-ending cornfields, treasures abound – and although these treasures and pleasures are billed as “summer” entertainment, some of these delights remain available for the next several weeks, well into the autumn.
The Stratford Festival this season, as almost every season, provides a mixed bag of interest. This writer saw only three of several plays, each one summoning up a thought or two, each a colorful portrayal of a time or place, each presenting a point of view through the voices of the characters: Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, taking on serious moral concerns (American mid 20th century); Molière’s The Hypochondriac, which skewers the medical profession and those who believe uncritically in it (late 17th century Paris); and Shakespeare in Love, based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, a speculation on a moment in Shakespeare’s own romantic life (1590s Elizabethan England).
At the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, another fistful of plays runs through the fall, although the one I saw, Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov, receives its final performance, almost immediately, on September 11. Run to see this if you can. In his subtle way Chekhov first draws a picture of a frayed, continuously fraying country family, then picks apart the threads that form the larger fabric. Each character is a diminished entity – aged, broken by circumstance, or by place in the family’s birth order, all impoverished by living in the dismal environment of a moribund society. The time is post-serfdom, pre-revolution, customs of the past giving way to new situations. But the facts of human behavior remain constant – connivance, self-interest, conditional love, unconditional love, desperation, resignation – life goes on, and it is both tragic and laughable. A superb cast of actors beautifully communicated the distinctive features of each individual; and a ball of yarn, a samovar, were really the only essential props, for in those were the identifying elements of the Russian setting.
Let us not forget the magic of the silver screen. Woody Allen’s Café Society will undoubtedly remain at the Hyland Cinema for some time to come. Some critics have judged the film a bit harshly – Bobby, the self-absorbed young man attempting to come of age appears perhaps a rambling, narcissistic fellow, but let’s be honest, isn’t that the hallmark of the hero of a roman à clef? Isn’t this a thinly disguised version of Woody Allen himself, even though the story begins with the character as a young man at just the time when, in fact, Allen was a mere baby? Yes, this is a tale of feelings, sensations, love and opportunism, dreams, and more. The beginning of the film is bi-coastal – New York boy wants to find his destiny in the sun-soaked splendour of Hollywood, very, very far from the tedium and tawdriness of the Bronx. And yet, our Bobby cannot truly break free from the crucible of his childhood existence in the City. This is pure Woody Allen – achieving remarkable success in the celluloid dreamland of Los Angeles, while forever harking back to the compelling stimulation of home territory. Fantasy and fancy are ultimately more thoroughly realized in the grimy, intense land of anxious living than in a place where make-believe casts a pastel haze over everyday problems. Bobby runs from the pain of unrequited love back to the mean streets where his mother the yenta sighs while she ladles out the chicken soup, where the poorly regarded father holds forth with some of the only true philosophy in the script; where the low-life brother runs a nightclub and runs bullets through anyone who bothers him; where the earnest sister and her idealistic, nebbish husband unwittingly bring about the downfall of an annoying neighbour. The film conveys something of a valedictory flavor, even though we come away feeling certain that Woody Allen will have more to say about the shades of colour that make up his own life; he will render yet another display of reverence for the Big Apple before he is finished as a film-maker.
While all great art shows us something of the human spirit, while artists make use of a range of scenes and emotional climates, it is inevitable that we each form an attachment to things we relate to. This is a good argument for experiencing a broad education, so that we can “know” many cultural reference points – Shakespeare, for example, becomes a friend and we enter his world – as we come to an appreciation, if not a complete mastery, of the language of his era, and we see not the strangeness of some of his storylines, but rather grasp the psychology that drives the characters forward. But inevitably, we cheer on the author who knows how to encapsulate our own particular, or perhaps petty, life experience. We develop a personal relationship. Woody Allen is a consummate New Yorker who utilizes his “localness” as more than “shtick,” but as a form of “versification” to enrich the telling of his story.
And so, dear readers, avail yourselves of local amenities – and this includes visiting museums and libraries, as well as concert halls and theaters. Summer will cycle back, with opportunities for picnicking and philosophizing, hearing music at festivals and bandshells. But in the meantime, take advantage of the current offerings.
As for upcoming events, be sure to consult the Don Wright Faculty of Music website: email@example.com, for a list of autumn offerings. The New Horizons Adult Band will offer Registration for the Fall Semester on Saturday, September 10. The outstanding Ensemble Made in Canada presents its first program on Thursday, September 15 at 12:30 p.m. in von Kuster Hall. On September 16, the Fridays at 12:30 concert series will begin with a recital by Nathalie Paulin, soprano, Anita Krause, mezzo-soprano, and John Hess, piano.
Check the Aeolian Hall website, www.aeolianhall.ca, for details of forthcoming programs.
And don’t forget to check www.serenatamusic.com for constant updates of our own Serenata Music concerts. We also post a calendar of events going on throughout the city, throughout the season. Our goal is to inform the public of the many wonderful opportunities for participating in the musical life of the city!
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