Sunday, February 27, 2011

Through the Opera Glasses - 73 - The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Taking a break from an incredibly busy month, after putting in some over time at the office last Wednesday I headed across town to catch the evening performance of The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Neptune Theatre.

Because this is Halifax, my cross-town jaunt was a twenty-minute walk, which brought me past the open-air concert by The Stanfields at the Parade Grounds.

Part of the Canada Games mega event which has been taking place here in Halifax since Feb. 11th, and which concluded on the 27th, the open-air concert series has pulled in some big names from the East Coast music scene, including:

Great Big Sea
Joel Plaskett
Hawksley Workman
Grand Derangement
Buck 65
Matt Mays
Rawlins Cross

But I had a theatre seat waiting for me over on Argyle Street. Leaving the happy revellers behind, I made my way to the theatre and settled in for a Fargo-like black comedy set in the West of Ireland.

The audience I was a part of laughed uproariously even while gasping in shock at some of the things the characters said to one another. There's a warning in the program about strong language and adult situations, and there are plenty of both.

Photo courtesy of Sean Mulcahy

As with the best sorts of stories, the very particular nature of the setting - a simple cottage in an economically depressed though visually breathtaking part of Ireland - in fact serves to deliver a universal experience.

Laura de Carteret plays 40-year-old Maureen, forced by a process of elimination to care for her aging mother, as her two sisters have flatly refused to do so. As we get to know her mother, it's not hard to imagine why Maureen's sisters fled, though why Maureen stayed to act as primary caregiver is a riddle.

Mary-Colin Chisholm plays Mag, whose fussy demands for the Ensure-like supplement called Complan, for tea, for porridge, for soup, stand in for several decades of leeching all spirit away from her daughter.

Many women in the audience laughed with recognition at the manipulative phrases used by Mag, as no doubt many people in the audience - like myself - have cared for an elderly family member at some point or another.

Even caring for my gram, who was in no way a difficult personality, could get trying at times when the old person wants her toast a certain way, her television program on at a certain time, and is too frail to do it for herself.

But in this relationship between Maureen and Mag, there is none of the laughter and love that made it all worthwhile for my mom and me as we cared for Gram together. These two women may as well be shackled in irons, their cozy cottage a prison where everyday items take on new and diabolical uses.

A highlight of the evening for me was Ryan Bondy's performance as Ray, younger brother of Maureen's potential love interest. As with the seemingly innocuous household items that become clues, that reveal themselves to be accomplices and mirrors to the truth, Ray begins the play as an apparent go-between but ends the play as a bigger figure than even he suspects.

Providing a welcome breath of hope to Maureen, Hugh Thompson's Pato shakes the women from their ritualized half-life when he returns to Leenane from a job in England. His no-frills working man takes us by surprise when he turns out to have more heart and vulnerability than anyone in this multilayered story.

My hat goes off to Sean Mulcahy for his design of the women's cottage. He very kindly provided the photo of the set, shown above.

I was attracted to it from the first moment the painted scrim with its scene of a soggy Irish road raised to reveal the well-worn interior. What I didn't realize was how integral to the story each ordinary kitchen piece would become: the sink, the cooking stove, the cast iron heating stove, the radio, the rocking chair. Not since Robert LePage's staging of Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung for the Canadian Opera Company have I seen a set that was such an active ingredient of the whole production.

If you are in the Halifax area, the play runs until March 20th.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend Writer's Retreat - 44

Here's the latest installment of Scorpius' boyhood back story.

Scorpius is a character from my dark fantasy work in progress. For the first twelve scenes posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we follow him as a seven-year-old, fetched from the nursery by a falconer to become his apprentice.

The next twelve scenes follow ten-year-old Scorpius as he discovers the dangers of serving the nobles he'd once imagined were family.

The third set of twelve scenes give us a thirteen-year-old Scorpius, who discovers the true extent of his master's attempts to shield him from the cruelties of life outside their falconer's cottage.

We rejoin him at age sixteen.

You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.

Scene 44

She took him by surprise, her slender fingers cupping his face before he could catch his breath.

His eyes widened with shock, only to see her lashes closing before him, too near to focus. He stiffened as she had done, but when her lips covered Scorpius’, he kissed her back.

She’d caught him on his knees, twisting back from securing the replacement perch in one of the hawk mews. When he wrapped his arms around her, she pulled back to gaze down at him.

The look in her eyes left no doubt that she desired him. His confusion must have played over his face, because she traced the line of his eyebrows with delicate concern.

“Alegreza,” he said. But she placed one finger on his mouth, shaking her head solemnly.

A deep shiver of delight ran its way through Scorpius at the way she gazed at him. He could forget all about the way she’d huddled by herself in her ma’s empty room above the clothier’s shop. Her eyes weren’t shadowed by grief, weren’t shimmering with tears which raked across his heart every time they rolled down her face.

Now she radiated command, as though her entire life wasn’t dependent upon whether the falconer’s lover could find a position for her to serve at an estate. It made his heart swell to see her gaze down at him like this.

He was just covering her hands with his own, intending to kiss them, when his master’s voice rang out in the distance. Scorpius made to gain his feet, but Alegreza pressed down hard on his shoulders.

Glancing up in irritation, he wasn’t prepared for the flood of longing that rushed through him at her silent order to keep quiet. She slowly shook her head no, raising bumps all over his skin.

Richolf’s voice grew closer. Scorpius couldn’t stop himself from moving to answer several times, but she held him like a hunter holding back the dog. Eventually his master went searching for him elsewhere.

“What-?” he asked, grabbing her wrist as if to shake her off.

“Isn’t this what you wanted?” she said. “The other day, in the field?”

He nodded, swallowing hard.

“Well, I want it, too.” She slipped her arm from his grasp, once again taking hold of his face, which made his heart thump in anticipation. “And if I’m to go to an estate to serve, I can’t wait for things to happen someday.”

It weighed heavily inside him, the image of her departure haunting his mind’s eye.

When Richolf’s voice called out again, he looked up into the market girl’s eyes and saw her determination to seize this moment while she was still mistress of herself.

He’d never openly disobeyed his master before. If he’d done anything wrong it was because he hadn’t understood something, or had acted in error. But right now, hiding in the mews with Alegreza, Scorpius too felt the need to reach for a little piece of his own joy.

Grabbing her tightly to him, Scorpius kissed her deeply, so deeply she sagged to her knees to join him.


Friday, February 25, 2011

5 on Friday - Set 55

Travis at Trav's Thoughts invites everyone to lay down a short set of music that takes their fancies for his 5 on Friday meme.

Continuing with my series on popular music through the decades, let's dive into the 1960s.

1 - Crazy - Patsy Cline - 1961

Why do I let myself worry?

What in the world did I do?

For thinking that my love
Could hold you

I'm crazy for tryin'
And crazy for cryin'
And I'm crazy
For loving you

- Willie Nelson

2 - Corcovado - Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto - 1962

Quiet nights of quiet stars
Quiet chords from my guitar
Floating on the silence that surrounds us

Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams
Quiet walks by quiet streams
Window looking so to Corcovado

Oh! How lovely

- Antonio Carlos Jobim

3 - Route 66 - The Rolling Stones - written in 1946, released by The Rolling Stones in 1964

If you ever plan
To motor west
Travel my way
Take the highway that is the best

Get your kicks
On Route 66

- Bobby Troup

4 - Tomorrow Never Knows - The Beatles - 1966

Lay down all thought
Surrender to the void

It is shining
It is shining

That you may see
The meaning of within

It is being
It is being

- Lennon / McCartney

5 - Alabama Song (Whisky Bar) - The Doors - written in 1927, released by The Doors in 1967

Show me the way
To the next whisky bar

Oh, don't ask why
Oh, don't ask why

For if we don't find
The next whisky bar
I tell you we must die
I tell you we must die

I tell you
I tell you
I tell you we must die

Oh, moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We've lost our good old mama
Must have whisky, oh, you know why

- Brecht / Weill

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thursday Thirteen - 199 - 13 Ways to Admire Lenny Kravitz

1 ...Lenny...

There's no better way to celebrate African Heritage Month than with the HAWTness known as Lenny Kravitz.

Let's open with one of my favorite songs evah.

CLICK HERE to watch the video for Are You Gonna Go My Way?

2 - Currently promoting his upcoming album Black and White America.

5' 8"

Eyes - Black

Hair - Black

Type - Athletic / Mid 40's

He works as a singer / musician / composer / music producer / actor / interior designer / clothing designer

3 - Rock god Lenny Kravitz grew up in the heart of New York City, then switched coasts at age ten when his mother starred on The Jeffersons. His father was film and television news producer Sy Kravitz. His mother was TV news reporter and actress Roxie Roker.

4 - Lenny's musical leanings began early. He learned to play the drums first, but soon moved on to acquire guitar, bass and keyboard.

5 - He's written and produced songs for other artists, including Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Madonna and French singer-actress Vanessa Paradis.

Next photo is straying into Not Safe For Work territory...

6 - Keeping in tip-top shape carries a price.

On one trip to the gym, Lenny was stopped by Miami police and held as a robbery suspect. This event occurred after his sixth album release and after he'd won four Grammys.

"They told me the assailant's description fit mine," Lenny said. "Green pants, white T-shirt, five o'clock shadow and an afro. I was cuffed and thrown against the car. They wouldn't let me go until the bank teller came and identified me.

And all the time they're f---ing with me, the guy who did it is getting away. Made off with $1,500. That's not to say I wouldn't rob a bank. And let me tell you, I would have gotten a lot more than $1,500 - believe me!"
- 6stringheaven

7 - Lenny currently holds the record for most consecutive Grammy wins in a single category - which for him was Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, four years in a row (1999-2002.)

8 - Lenny runs Kravitz Design, which has a number of interiors to its credit, including private residences and commercial spaces.

"I had the regular kid room your mother makes for you with the nice shelves and everything is nice and matchy," Lenny said. "Then I got into putting lighting behind things. In my environments, lighting is always very important. It's either going to bring out what you've done, or it's going to ruin it.

I'll bump into women on the Upper East Side who might not know me for my music. But they know me for my style."
- New York Times

9 - Lenny is an acknowledged style icon. Aside from his interior design work, Lenny is active in the fashion world, and had a twenty-outfit collaboration with Gucci designer Frida Giannini and his 2008 world tour. Lenny wore her designs for the duration of the tour, cross promoting music and fashion.

10 - Lenny has taken part in a few acting projects, most notably with his role as a male nurse in Precious.

CLICK HERE to watch the clip of Precious

11 - Lenny has a slight reputation as a bit of a ladies' man.

His daughter Zoe Kravitz is currently the only woman in his life - she currently has a role on Californication.

12 - The Lenny we know and love is the culmination of a rich mix of cultural heritages, including Russian Jewish ancestry, Bahamian descent and the Cherokee nation.

13 - You can catch Lenny this summer as the opening act for U2's west coast dates in June:

Seattle - June 4th
Oakland - June 7th
Anaheim - June 17th and 18th

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

5 Degrees of Musical Progression Thread

For everyone playing along with Travis' 5 Degrees of Musical Progression last Friday - and for those who weren't playing but who want to know how my set linked together - here are the connecting elements.

1 - Although there ended up being a clear thematic thread of redemption tying the songs together, which all of you pointed out - smarties! - my actual launching pad for the progression was personnel-oriented.

I began with a Muse track. Muse has worked with producer Rich Costey on two albums, but not on the particular track I included. Since it just won a Grammy, though, I had to post that one.

2 - Rich Costey also mixed 2007's Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace for the Foo Fighters.

Foo Fighters drummer Dave Grohl previously played with Nirvana.

3 - Nirvana's frontman was Kurt Cobain.

He was married to Courtney Love.

4 - Courtney Love recorded Nobody's Daughter with her band Hole, released last year.

Appearing on the track I included was Billy Corgan on guitar.

5 - Billy Corgan is the frontman of The Smashing Pumpkins.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Poetry Train Monday - 183 - The Fairy Glen

This a poem previously posted here at A Piece of My Mind, during my first year of blogging in 2007.

It's an oldie but a goodie, in more ways than one. I wrote it in the late 70s when I was 13 years old, quite obviously mimicking a Victorian poetic form I'd been studying in school. I was more of a free verse poet from the get-go, so following this strict metre and rhyming scheme would have been a challenge for me - one I simply had to take up.

The Fairy Glen

As I was walking down the lane,
Streams of sunlight rare
Because the trees had formed a veil,
Shadowing the country trail,
My head empty of care,
My heart empty of pain,

I chanced to find among the grass
An old and tarnished ring.
I rubbed it clean and saw inscribed
Something written by one which'd imbibed
Too much of an intoxicating thing.
It didn't make sense to me; alas!

However, as I stood beneath
The ancient limbs of a giant oak,
There happened to me a curious thing.
I spoke the words on the little ring,
Its meaning quite clear as soon as I spoke.
Magic hung over me like a wreath,

Colors of red and purple and green
Twining around me in an eerie dance.
The tingling of bells greeted my ears,
Calming my wild and anxious fears.
I opened my eyes; in a single glance
I beheld a thing I'd ne'er before seen.

Brownies and fairies, pixies, too,
Stood in a ring around me, so;
Bewildered, I stared, my thoughts awhirl -
How could this happen to an ordin'ry girl?
I guess my thoughts my face did show -
A pixie, clad in shades of blue

Stepped forward, grinning from ear to ear.
Stretching out a friendly hand,
He welcomed me to the circle, thus;
Everyone made a royal fuss
As if I were something really grand.
I looked at the ring that had brought me here.

It shone with golden beauty bright.
Transfixed, I held it in my palm,
My eyes, from it, I could not tear.
A voice spoke from I knew not where.
It said, its tone so soft and calm,
"Home do you wish to return tonight?

Or would you rather stay among
Us fairy folk in this magic glen?"

I asked, "I cannot return again?
Can't I go home and visit when
I wish to?"
The pixie shook his head. "Then
It's home to stay that I do long."

The blue-clad pixie nodded slow,
His eyes understanding.
When night encased the fairy glen,
Closing day's petals upon the stem,
The pixies and fairies and brownies standing,
Uneven, row by row,

I took a last look and said my goodbyes,
Feeling my tears well up.
Through a misty haze which blurred everything,
I read the words on the magic ring.
Then I was doused in the color cup,
The tingling of bells and the small fireflies,

Made of the sparks that swirled to and fro,
Taking me from the fairy-ring there.
The colors disappeared, and in their place
The lane uncovered its friendly face.
If it weren't for the ring which I did wear,
That the fairies were real I couldn't know.

The ring again dirty, the sun still a-shine,
I didn't know even if I were real.
Home I went and found time had not passed.
Had I dreamt the bit of the fairy blast?
I only knew what was mine to feel:
My adventure, if true, had been one divine.

© Julia Smith, 1978

For more poetry, Ride the Poetry Train!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weekend Writers Retreat - 43

Here's the latest installment of Scorpius' boyhood back story.

Scorpius is a character from my dark fantasy work in progress. For the first twelve scenes posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we follow him as a seven-year-old, fetched from the nursery by a falconer to become his apprentice.

The next twelve scenes follow ten-year-old Scorpius as he discovers the dangers of serving the nobles he'd once imagined were family.

The third set of twelve scenes give us a thirteen-year-old Scorpius, who discovers the true extent of his master's attempts to shield him from the cruelties of life outside their falconer's cottage.

We rejoin him at age sixteen.

You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.

Scene 43

He melted at the look of delight on her face when she saw the tiny bells from her ma’s market stall, now tinkling on the leg of the red-tail. Stretching his arm toward the hawk, Scorpius waited for the bird to mount his gauntleted perch. As much as he wanted to show Alegreza what he did out here at the falconer’s cottage, there was no hurrying a hawk.

The dog trotted happily beside him on one side, Scorpius keenly wishing it could be Alegreza. But she lagged behind, still skittish around animals.

He led the way out to the field and began the hunt, explaining every aspect of it to her, relishing her focused attention, the way she noted everything as though he meant for her to apprentice along with him. For a heady moment, as he watched her follow the trajectory of the hawk as it soared after something in the tall grasses, Scorpius wondered if there had ever been such a thing as a girl for a falconer’s apprentice.

As though someone had taken a swing at him, Scorpius’ head rocked backward as he remembered the screams of the slave girls running naked across this very field, chased down by the lords in the torchlight.

He shook his head to clear the memory, but his hands shook and his breath came in shudders. Distracted by the hunt, Alegreza seemed oblivious to his sudden distress. At least, if she noticed, she didn’t let on.

It struck him hard that the falconer’s cottage was no place for her. Richolf would be glad that he’d come to this bit of truth on his own. But it didn’t stop Scorpius’ heart from weighing heavily in his chest.

When she turned to gaze up at him, a mix of wonder and dismay in her eyes at the skill of the hawk as it took down the game, Scorpius seized inside with too many feelings bursting up from his gut. He dropped his satchel and grabbed Alegreza by the arms. Before he knew what he was doing, his lips covered hers.

She stiffened, so Scorpius pulled away, letting go of her arms to cover his mouth with his hand, as though he could retrieve what had already escaped. Forcing his scrambled mind to snap back into place, he gave the order to the dog to find the downed game. Bending low to pick up his abandoned satchel, he thought ahead to the next part of this demonstration, wishing he hadn’t brought her out here, not wanting to speak, or look at her, or be this close to her.

But she crouched beside him and helped him gather his things. He stopped and gazed at her.

She was still grieving her mother, the loss darkening her eyes. He’d brought her out here because she had no place else to go. She must feel as trapped as he’d felt that day, so many years ago, when Nurse had released him and he’d been forced to follow the falconer to this strange place.

They gathered everything in silence, following the dog to the kill.

When they’d collected a small brace of game, Scorpius led them back to the cottage so they could prepare the meat for roasting. It went so much quicker with Alegreza nearly taking command of the kitchen. His master exchanged amused looks with Scorpius as they worked.

Assuring them that she could finish the meal, Alegreza all but chased them outside while she bustled about inside the cottage. Richolf stepped out into the cool evening, stretching his stiff limbs and turning to Scorpius.

“I know, sir,” Scorpius said first. “I know she can’t stay.”

Nodding, Richolf let that settle for a moment. Then he said, “I’ll send word to Ingerith. She may know of a position for her.”

The crush of worry over Alegreza lightened inside him. Ingerith. Why hadn’t he thought of that?

Nodding to his master, Scorpius settled in to wait for the call to step inside their own cottage by the market girl. The dog pressed against his legs, so he rubbed him absently.

The fact that he had no idea where his master’s lover actually lived, and that all communication between them had to be done in the strictest of confidences, drew a new slither of worry along Scorpius’ spine. Surely Ingerith would never deliver Alegreza into the hands of a master as cruel as the lord who’d organized that terrible hunt.

He thought of the whole crowd of them, cheering one another on as they each took down a slave girl, ladies applauding as well as lords. He had to believe there were some nobles who didn’t murder their brothers on the falconer’s front steps, or rip open a young guard’s back for displaying common humanity.

Somewhere there had to be a noble house where the market girl could serve, have a bed and food and not have to fear being grabbed for a kiss as Scorpius had grabbed and kissed her in the field.

© Julia Smith, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

5 on Friday - Set 54

Travis at Trav's Thoughts invites everyone to lay down a short set of music that takes their fancies for his 5 on Friday meme.

This week we're playing Travis' Musical Progressions Game. The idea here is to compile a set wherein one track leads into another for a reason that may or may not be obvious.

See if you can guess!

1 - Exogenesis Symphony Pt 1: Overture - Muse

*Just in time for this album's Grammy win for Best Rock Album!*


I can't forgive you
And I can't forget

- Matthew Bellamy

2 - Long Road to Ruin - Foo Fighters

One flag was taken down
To raise another in its place

A heavy cross you bear
A stubborn heart remains unchanged
No home, no life, no love
No stranger singing in your name

- Grohl / Hawkins / Mendel / Shiflett

3 - Polly - Nirvana

Polly wants a cracker
Think I should get off her first
I think she wants some water
To put out the blow torch

Isn't me
Have a seed
Let me clip
Your dirty wings

- Cobain / Grohl / Novoselic

4 - Letter to God - Courtney Love

I never wanted to be
The person you see
But thank you

Oh God, please tell me now
Are you disappointed? Are you proud?
Haven't I done everything?

I'm so sorry I'm so weak
And I turned into a freak
But I don't know anything

- Linda Perry

5 - Tonight, Tonight - Smashing Pumpkins

The indescribable moments of your life
The impossible is possible, tonight
Believe in me as I believe in you, tonight

- Billy Corgan

Note: The meanderings of my mind on this musical progression will be posted on Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thursday Thirteen - 198 - 13 Ways the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada Got Connected at Argyle Fine Art in Halifax, Nova Scotia

1 - The week before Valentine's Day was a perfect time for my writers' group to get together at Argyle Fine Art in Halifax for an evening of networking with the Halifax business community.

Photo by Stamos Sotiropoulis

2 - A joint event sponsored by Bconnected, Charlie Mac Productions, Rich Graphics and Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, the evening was an opportunity to get out of the house on a crisp winter's night, meet new people, check out some really stunning artwork while indulging in a little wine, cheese and fruit.

You can see my husband Brad and myself hobnobbing at right.

Photo by Stamos Sotiropoulis

3 - Then it was paparazzi time.

Photo by Stamos Sotiropoulis

4 - From L to R: RWAC president Annette Gallant, Donna Alward, moi, Julianne MacLean, Deborah Hale, Jennie Marsland, Lilly Cain, Kelly Boyce, Taylor Keating and Renee Field

5 - The business crowd was delighted to discover that nestled here on the rocky coast of eastern Canada are writers who - instead of publishing only locally-set Atlantic Canadian stories with Canadian publishers - publish North American commercial romantic fiction through New York publishers.

6 - Renee Field was the first writer to speak to the gathering.

Her latest release, Beastly Passion, is published by Ellora's Cave.

7 - Paula, one half of the writing team known as Taylor Keating,

spoke about her debut novel, Game Over, published by Tor.

8 - Debut author Kelly Boyce

talked about her upcoming April release The Outlaw Bride from Carina Press.

9 - Deborah Hale

gave us a look at her current release, Married: The Virgin Widow as well as a preview of her upcoming Gentlemen of Fortune series from Harlequin Historicals - which includes her 25th release in a career spanning thirteen years.

10 - Next we heard from Donna Alward,

who told us about her 16th Harlequin release, Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle.

11 - Lilly Cain

explained the print-on-demand aspect of publishing, including her third release Building Magic.

12 - My cousin Julianne MacLean

introduced her new St. Martin's Press series which begins with Captured by the Highlander, releasing March 1st - her 16th release since 2000.

13 - Wrapping up the author's segment of the evening, Jennie Marsland

shared her second release, McShannon's Heart, from Bluewood Publishing.