Vancouver

As an urbanite living in Vancouver’s increasingly  dense downtown core, I have watched with increasing dismay, as housing prices and rents have sky-rocketed and rental vacancies have become rare as unicorns. Traffic congestion is appalling, little used bike lanes impede traffic flow while cyclists ride aggressively in streets one or two further over that do not have designated bike lanes. And we are told that the geniuses at City Hall are still planning to get rid of two of the busiest routes for entry and exit from the downtown core, the Dunsmuir viaduct and the Howe street on-ramp to the Granville bridge. 

I have never been partial to deep crust pizzas or pizzas with a thick doughy crust but thin crust pizza or flatbreads with interesting topping combinations make for a light, quick and easy-to-share meal.

TEDx StanleyPark 2015 is coming up fast. It will be held at the Granville Island Stage, 1585 Johnston St., Granville Island on May 23rd from 10am – 6pm, with an after party 6 – 8pm. About 450 people are expected to attend.

The 2014 Vancouver Fringe Festival opened on Thursday Sept 4th. This event features 91 artists in more than 800 performances of over 80 shows in 11 days on Granville Island in theatre spaces and other odd sites as well as various off-island venues such as The Cultch, Studio 16, Havana and the Firehall.

Vancouver, BC: This production of The Vic is an ambitious undertaking by the young Terminal Theatre company which staged its first production in the summer of 2009. For this, their third production, they might have been better served had they chosen a less convoluted play.

Well I have heard of terms like anti-matter and anti-gravity but I confess that I had not heard of anti-shoes until I walked into a store looking for sandals to replace the ones that kept giving me blisters.   Ballroom dancing is really hard on my feet, especially since I mostly wear quite high heels, so I am always interested in finding out more about different brands.  Julie, my massage therapist - who looks like an angel but finds every pain spot like a devil - suggested that my biomechanical problems - tight IT bands and tight every other muscle, would be better served if I got good flat shoes for walking. I was on a search for  SAS sandals and thanks to my computer, found a store on Granville Stret, downtown, that carries them.

One of my "to-dos" on retirement was to learn a new language. I have managed to acquire a smattering of Italian and a little more Spanish - though it will take a lot more than a beginner course at UBC Robson Square, visits to Mexico and my "Spanish in Ten Minutes A Day" to get me over my reluctance to try out my new vocabulary. But even more than being able to count to hundred in Spanish, new words that have entered the vocabulary of my mother tongue - computer-speak - have begun to assume a major importance in my life.

This is the index of postings to my Travelblogue that documents my ballroom dancing-focused West Coast cruise in the Sapphire Princess from Los Angeles, California to Vancouver, British Columbia. I traveled with a group of ballroom dance enthusiasts led by Wendy from Dancers at Sea. With three hours of dancing every night,a dance workshop, excellent food on board and excursions to wine country en route, it was the perfect trip for a gourmet food and wine-loving , ballroom dance addicted, travel writer.

I was going to see a new play, The Velvet Edge, at a venue that I had not previously been to, the Chapel Arts Centre on Dunlevy and East Cordova,  about two blocks east of the Firehall Theatre. So casting around for somewhere to eat before the show, I decided to enhance my newly acquired Spanish food vocabulary by eating at Cobre Restaurant in Gastown.  Cobre features "Nuevo Latino Cuisine," contemporary cooking  from Latin America.

Spectral Theatre Society boldly declare in their program that they make "theatre for people that hate theatre. " Hmmm...     I have not seen any of their previous productions so I sought further clarification in the program small print. It said  "To breathe new life into the fetid rotting corpse of live theatre by thrilling and chilling audiences with fantastic stories delivered in unpredictable and innovative ways." Well, okay.  I thought  would perhaps ignore the comment on the state of live theatre - and ask if there was a single phrase that could encapsulate Spectral's niche. I got it - "theatre of the macabre." 

In the evening we were heading out to the Telus Studio Theatre on the Point Grey campus of University of British Columbia to see Billy Bishop Goes To War. So I thought we would check out Gastropod for an early supper. Our reservation was for 5:30 and despite heavy traffic, we got there shortly after 5:30. We were warmly greeted and shown to a nice table, that could comfortably seat four. It was in the elevated section so we could look out over the rest of the restaurant. The impression is of a light, airy and open space.

When you are twenty, if you give any thought at all to death, it  is merely something that happens to old people. In the opening song in Billy Bishop Goes to War, newly minted Cavalry Officer, Billy Bishop (Ryan Beil) and Piano Player et al (Zachary Gray) reflect the naive anticipation of  generations of young men who never made it home to die of old age.

For one who likes going to combine seeing plays and eating out, Granville Island is very convenient, as it has at least six indoor theatre spaces alone, that I can think of, as well as a variety of restaurants appealing to different palates and pockets; and all within a few minutes walk of each other.  The Sandbar Restaurant and the small sushi section down below are two places I often visit. I have found that in the summer it is often advisable to call for a reservation,  but this time, on a rainy Thursday night at 6 pm,  we decided to just walk in and take our chances.

It has been ages since I visited Vij's so when my friend suggested we go there for a pre-show meal I agreed eagerly. The restaurant opens at 5:30 and most of the tables are occupied before six pm, leaving the option of waiting in the bar  area or eating next door at Vij's Rangoli diner. While I visited the box office to pick up the tickets, my friend made straight for the restaurant and got one of the last three tables.

Who needs Halloween candy when Solo Collective's local playwrights serve us up such a treat of  three diverse and thought-provoking monologues? On a cold, drizzly evening when most  of the Lower Mainland's female population were streaming into BC Place to watch the world's hottest and fittest 50 year old perform, Todd Thomson, high on acid (My Acid Trip by Dennis Foon, directed by Chamyar Chai) and Jennifer Clement, burning with pseudo-religious fervour (Hope and Caritas by Ian Weir, directed by Rachel Ditor) heated up the Waterfront stage with steaming performances.

In high school, for my third language (English and Afrikaans were compulsory courses), given a choice between Latin and French, I picked French. A smart choice. However the French teacher and I got off to a bad start.  I lost interest in her class and did the minimum work needed to scrape a passing grade.  Ultimately that would have been a huge problem, as I needed top grades in all subjects to be admitted to medical school, but  being young and foolish, I sat at the back of the classroom surreptitiously doing crossword puzzles and reading Crime and Punishment, while she tried to drum French grammar into our adolescent skulls.

Vancouver, BC: I eagerly anticipated that  British playwright, David Hare's "Stuff Happens", about  the road to the  Iraq war,  would be a fascinating and provocative  play. Unfortunately for me it wasn't. During the time that I used to write "Rants, Raves and Reviews" it was not often that I felt compelled to rant. This time I do. Despite some interesting performances I found this play  annoying, superficial and far too long.  It runs three hours and even in the first act  I was wishing that my watch had a luminous dial.  But I will point out that at least after the first 90 minutes as I walked out to the foyer mumbling irritably to myself, several of my friends were quite animated in their enthusiasm for what they had seen so far.

The third annual Prêt-a-Pour Tea in support of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation was held at Seasons in the Park on Tuesday. I had not heard about the previous two events but when a friend told me about this one I just had to go. It was not just that it was in support of  an important cause. How could a word game fanatic not support an event with such a great title?

As we were going to see a new play at the Firehall Arts Centre on East Cordova, I decided this time, that I would chose a restaurant closer to home for pre-show dining, and we would then drive over to the theatre.

Pacific Theatre opens their 25th season with Montreal playwright Emil Sher's powerful little gem of a play, Mourning Dove.  Don't miss it. Sher draws on the tragic Latimer affair to present two interwoven emotive and complex themes; the morality of love and the dichotomy of law and justice. I doubt whether there was a sentient adult in Canada in 1993 who did not have a strong opinion as to the right or wrong of Robert Latimer's motives in ending the life of Tracy, his severely disabled daughter. Some thought him principled and courageous - others labelled him the worst of murderers. We all see things through the lens of our personal life experiences.

Last night I had tickets to see Mourning Dove, the opening play in the season for Pacific Theatre, on 12th just east of Granville. So in continuing my exploration of restaurants close to that venue and to  the Stanley Industral Alliance Stage, I used the convenient Open Table reservation system to learn about CHOW, on Granville near 15th.

In my ongoing pursuit of a healthy mind in a healthy body I signed up for UBC's  continuing studies beginner Spanish course and an intro to Argentine Tango  (instruction in Spanish).  Having two charming, vivacious but determined instructors, I find that I can make it through three and a half  hours of instruction at the end of a long week and still retain some new words. 

At the corner of  Richards and Helmcken stands a small Japanese restaurant with an unusual name, + Alpha.  As they point out, the term means "something extra" in terms of food and service and certainly whenever I walk in there for a bite, the place is  buzzing with activity, the food consistently good and the service is always efficient and friendly.

Living in downtown Vancouver, within walking distance of so many excellent restaurants, I tend to venture further out to eat in other neighbourhoods mainly in conjunction with other activities such as a play, film, exhibition or lecture. For my latest pre-theatre dining experience I decided to try Fuel Restaurant on West 4th between Cypress and Maple. Great choice.

Vancouver, BC:    As the subject for her new play, Vancouver writer and  director, Joan Bryans has chosen to focus on a  femme fatale with an early 20th century  British Columbia connection.  The story  certainly offers great potential for a play, as indeed Terence Rattigan found,  in 1977 writing his final play, Cause Celebre, about the Rattenbury murder trial. 

Vancouver, BC: At first glance it would seem that a story set in early 1980s Northern England, about preparing a class of grammar school boys to write university entrance examinations for Oxford and Cambridge would provide little target for heated debate on the way home. However as I and my companion for this evening, a teacher with a life-time of experience in special education,  have previously had many intense discussions on the pros and cons of standardized tests, school report cards and the politics of education politics, I was anticipating his take on the play with great interest and indeed there was much to discuss.

Vancouver BC: Ahead of the last long weekend of summer, the fall theatre season is kicking into gear: opening night invitations in the inbox, program announcements and subscription tickets in the mailbox. But though you may be thinking ahead to September, do not miss a theatrical treat that is playing for only a few more performances including a matinee on Saturday. The talented actors, musicans and technical team of Another Musical Co-op provide a beautifully paced, high energy production that kept me entranced through both acts.

Vancouver, BC: I first read King Lear as a high school student, more years ago than I care to count. It was my introduction to Shakespeare and the start of an enduring interest in his plays, the tragedies and history plays perhaps more than the comedies. I have seen several productions of Lear, studied the play in an undergraduate course and continue to find it one of his perplexing and interesting plays.

Vancouver, BC: I have been following the evolution of the Walking Fish Festival with interest since the first one was held at the Playwrights Theatre Centre on Granville Island in 2003. The festival is billed as showcasing emerging artists, and the format is three sets, each consisting of 3 or 4 short one-act plays that can be staged with minimal technical needs. Although I usually like to attend on a day when all three sets are performed, this year I was only able to see sets A and C. Several plays were particularly successful in capturing my attention.
 

Vancouver, BC: The Arts Club continues its run of crowd pleasing musicals with The Producers. The version of this musical now playing has had an interesting and unusual evolutionary history. The screenplay for the initial 1968 film The Producers, written and directed by Mel Brooks, garnered Brooks an Academy award for screenplay. It starred Zero Mostel as Max Bialystok and Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom. In a reversal of what usually happens, the film was developed into a Broadway musical, which opened in 2001 with Nathan Lane as Bialystok and Matthew Broderick as Bloom. Lane and Broderick recently reprised their stage roles in the 2005 film version of The Producers. This seems to be a new trend with Hairspray following suit.

Vancouver, BC: Pi Theatre’s world premiere production of The 8th Land, directed by John Wright, is truly stunning. Local playwright, William Maranda, melds Polynesian mythology, and cultural theories on the decline of the early Easter Island population with Aeschylean structural forms to create an eerily poetic sense of “other” place and time. Yet issues in this play will resonate with contemporary audiences: conflict between religious dogma and human needs; use of scarce natural resources; personal glory versus survival of a people.

Vancouver, BC: It is entirely understandable that a work like No Exit with its anti-life sense of alienation and hopelessness would be written at a time when Europe was mired in the hell of war with no obvious end in sight. Sartre’s three thoroughly unlikable characters, doomed to spend eternity together tormenting each other, have not a redeeming feature among them and a lesser production would make for a thoroughly depressing evening. But director Kim Collier and her strong cast dazzled in a technologically spectacular production that compelled attention.

Vancouver, BC: I don’t know who enjoyed The Hobbit more; I or the very young audience members whose occasionally audible comments revealed how completely they were caught up in the adventures on stage.

Vancouver, BC: It seems fitting that the inaugural review on this site should be the English world premiere of a new Canadian play. And what a play; apocalyptic, uncomfortably thought-provoking, weirdly humorous - but enthralling for 90 minutes without intermission.

Being away for nearly a month, I was concerned about keeping up my level of fitness and not putting on weight – what with no gym, no dance classes, and having to try all the new and exciting restaurants in Cape Town . I was also concerned about withdrawal symptoms from my growing dance addiction. So being a trained researcher and all that, I used the Internet back in Vancouver , to find a dance instructor in Cape Town who taught international dancing. I found someone that sounded promising and gave Brin his cell phone number.

Vancouver, BC: I think our enduring fascination with Greek tragedies written around 2500 years ago lies in their fundamental questioning of human behaviour and morality through themes that still resonate with contemporary audiences.  The issues of justice, revenge and free will, of power, honour, guilt and innocence that permeate these plays cry out to us to examine our personal ethics and the moral choices we make in our own lives. Blackbird Theatre's production of Euripide's Hecuba, elegantly and sparely directed by John Wright, spotlights many of these ethical issues with pin point precision.

Vancouver, BC: Saturday, December 1st, was not shaping up to be one of my favorite days. Despite driving in Vancouver for many more years than I drove in Cape Town I still don�t feel comfortable taking my precious little Audi out in snow. I had a ticket to Seussical on Granville Island for the evening so my chionophobic anxiety was high. Drive and risk my car sliding all over the icy roads, or walk to the Aquabus at Hornby, and risk me slipping on icy pavements: good bye dancing!

Vancouver, BC: It is a week since I saw this play and I have had great difficulty in coalescing my reactions into a coherent form.  So armed with the very real excuses of a schedule crowded with deadlines and electronic crises such as crashed computers, I did what I do best - procrastinate.  Ironically, what jolted me into sitting down at my newly repaired computer to finish these thoughts was my going last night to the opening of Seussical: The Musical. Of the Seuss titles, the one I love the best is Oh, the Thinks You Can Think.� Because after all the capacity to think is what distinguishes humans from other species. So here are my "thinks" on Eugene O'Neill's  "A Moon for the Misbegotten," at the JAC. 

Vancouver, BC: In Stephen Greenblatt's introduction to Richard lll in the Norton Shakespeare, he relates a story about Shakespeare and the play, said to have been recorded in 1602 in the diary of a London law student. The gist of it was that a woman was so impressed with Richard Burbage in the title role that she invited him to visit her that very night as Richard lll. Shakespeare contrived to arrive before Burbage. When the announcement came that Richard lll was at the door, WS sent a return message that William the conqueror was before Richard lll.  True or not, as Greenblatt points out, the story illustrates that despite Richard's physical deformities and anti-heroic villainy, this protagonist has exerted a compelling attraction on generations of playgoers.

Vancouver, BC: Not so very long ago, playing strategy games on my computer was my favoured form of procrastination, and SimTower kept me distracted for hours at a time. The game objective was to build a towering skyscraper, with hotel rooms, condominiums, offices and restaurants, increase the resident population and keep the Sim people happy. Still today I keep calm in interminable lineups by remembering the Sims turning pink with frustration and then red with rage, as they waited for elevators to carry them down to their offices or up to their homes. As the hours progressed through days and nights, lights in the building units would switch on and off when the Sims woke or went to bed.  I was reminded of this, watching Tim Matheson's video projection of lights flicking on and off in the high rise buildings behind the new PAL Theatre.

Vancouver, BC: In 1997 I spent a week in war-torn Beirut. It was a mere 7 years after the official end of the civil war between Christians and Muslims that ravaged the city.  Syria was effectively in control of Lebanon and in the south, fighting between Hezbollah and Israeli forces was ongoing.  I was invited to Beirut to lecture and give workshops at a medical conference. When an ex-student of mine, suggested I combine the trip to Lebanon with a visit to Egypt to meet her family, against the advice of family and colleagues I decided to go. I saw the news of Princess Diana's death in a Cairo travel Agency as I was booking a tour to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.  Less than 10 weeks after I had wandered enthralled among the temple ruins, news headlines told of tourists gunned down on that very site. A random conjunction of time, place and terror - and 62 lives lost.