Review | The Josephine Knot, Meg Braem

39789091“Grandmothers will always die and their houses will always be pulled apart like meat from ribs.” So begins Meg Braem’s The Josephine Knot, a compelling play about a woman and her father settling Baba’s (her grandmother’s) estate upon her death. Various relatives have come to the grandmother’s house to lay claim on the belongings they wish to keep, before the rest of the objects in the house are either sold or thrown away. As the eldest son, David has taken charge of the proceedings, and coordinates the movements throughout the house with efficiency. His daughter Samantha is having a visibly harder time coming to terms with her Baba’s death, and hates the thought of her Baba’s belongings going to relatives who barely knew her and who wouldn’t value the objects in the way they deserve.

It’s a moving play, and made even more powerful because the play features only two actors, and the various relatives are played by the same actors who portray Samantha and David. I loved reading stage directions like “The actor playing DAVID shifts physically into playing BABS.” It drives home the point about how interconnected all these characters are, and I can imagine how much emotional nuance it adds to see the same actor depicting such a diverse range of emotions. In one of the latter scenes, the actor playing Samantha shifts into the role of Baba herself, in a conversation with David shortly before she dies. It’s a powerful scene in itself, but I love imagining how having the same actor play both roles blurs the lines between generations, and recalls the emotional tensions between David and both characters at the same time.

The play also shows some very real, visceral glimpses into what it’s like when someone dies. There’s a great scene where Samantha and her cousin Stephie are discussing a pair of plastic deer. Stephie wants them for the front yard of the house she and her fiance Robbie will move into when they get married; Samantha wants them because:

I played with them when I was little. I made us be very still so the hunter couldn’t see us. I love their glass eyes that glow orange. [p. 24]

The catch is that only one of the deer can fit into Samantha’s apartment, and Stephie convinces her they need to be taken as a set. Eventually, Samantha agrees to let Stephie take the deer and, in an aside, Stephie admits she plans to saw off the tops and plant begonias inside.

The Josephine Knot is a moving story about families, and the complex emotions that can arise after a family member dies. It’s compelling in print and I can imagine how moving it is when performed.

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Thank you to Playwrights Canada Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | Gertrude and Alice, Anna Chatterton, Evalyn Parry and Karin Randoja

38712267Fans of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas will enjoy Gertrude and Alice, a play whose script has just been published by Playwrights Canada Press. The play features the couple breaking the fourth wall and regaling the audience with their love story.

The dialogue is fantastic. Chatterton, Parry and Randoja have integrated text written by the real Gertrude and Alice (indicated in italics in the script) into the speeches, and somehow make it all sound natural, so that if I didn’t see the italics in the script, I wouldn’t be able to tell which parts were quotes.

 

The love, affection and attraction between the women also comes through very clearly in the text. There’s a moment where reading a poem together leads to an orgasm, and even a simple dialogue about lunch sounds very sensual:

GERTRUDE

Alice what’s for lunch?

ALICE

A flan of mushrooms a la creme.

GERTRUDE

A flan of mushrooms a la creme. A flan of mushrooms a la creme… a flan of mushrooms a la creme… a flan of mushrooms a la creme… hearts of artichokes?

ALICE

Butter. Everything smothered in butter.

GERTRUDE

Potatoes smothered in butter. Bread smothered in butter. Omelet in an overcoat. [p. 32]

Chatterton, Parry and Randoja have a wonderful ear for language, and even with just seeing the words on the page, I can imagine it coming to life onstage.

The play also gives us a nice glimpse into the lives they led, which all feels somewhat glamorous, and features literary friends like Ernest Hemingway.

The book also includes a beautiful ‘blue cahier’, which details some highlights of the lives and careers of Gertrude and Alice. The characters refer to it throughout as “the program,” and copies are intended to be handed out to audience members at every performance. The reproduction in the published version is beautiful, with glossy pages, black and white photographs and colour decorations (e.g. tape holding the photos to the page). It also includes commentary in two different handwritings, a visual extension of Gertrude and Alice’s conversation.

And if you want to see the play performed, Buddies in Bad Times is putting on a production from September 15 – October 7, 2018. Details and tickets online.

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Thank you to Playwrights Canada Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist, Michelle Morgan

36204505Marilyn Monroe is an icon. We know her for her blond hair, her hourglass figure, and the iconic image of her in the white dress, valiantly holding her skirt in place as a gust of air from a subway grate blasts it straight up. Michelle Morgan’s The Girl presents us with a well-deserved, very much overdue addition to Marilyn Monroe’s legacy: a portrait of the woman as a feminist icon.

The Girl covers Monroe’s career at its peak, detailing how the actor often had to fight against the blond bombshell stereotype in order to assert her right to determine her own career. Morgan paints an image of Monroe too rarely seen in the media — that of a woman who loved to read classic literature and wanted to adapt Dostoyevsky for the screen. She was a feminist, advocating for her right to take on more complex roles even as reviewers patronizingly advised her to focus on just looking pretty. She started her own production company, so she could produce works that she was passionate about, and was a shrewd businessperson in her own right. She even spoke out against sexual harassment, and as we know with the #MeToo movement, that was seen as par for the course until long after Monroe died.

Morgan does a good job of contextualizing Marilyn Monroe’s feminism, by pointing out how the attitudes and barriers she faced were very much the norm, and were espoused even by women. It’s disheartening to see how many of the issues Monroe faced are still being battled by women today, but at the same time also gratifying to see some of these issues being discussed more openly, as with the #MeToo movement.

The Girl is both an entertaining glimpse into 1950s Hollywood and a timely tribute to a woman who was much more than the stereotypes history has accorded her.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.