What: Six digital plays on line about the personal effects of being in isolation.

Where: At the Necessary Angel website: https://www.necessaryangel.com/the-resilience-project.

Theatres are busy creating digital productions since we can’t gather together to watch a play in a theatre. The Resilience ProjectShorts is a project of Necessary Angel.

Two definitions of “Resilience” are offered:

  1. “The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.”
  2. “An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”

Alan Dilworth, the Artistic Director of Necessary Angel, commissioned several artists to create short digital works in response to their personal experiences of isolation and change during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The only constraints were that they had to be between one and five minutes long and they needed to be both a personal statement and an offering for others. The results are six fascinating pieces that vary from being deeply thought, whimsical, poetic in repetition and an homage to nature. The artists are a cross-section of ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences.

When Time Wants to Be Seen by Marie Farsi

It’s a meditation of Marie Farsi on her situation. We hear just her voice. She talks of how the closings of theatres have taken away the spaces in which she creates as a director. The loss of that space makes the present come in. She muses on how the world as we know it is coming to an end. Her days become less defined. The change in weather dictates her schedule now. She asks us to accept our fragility and mortality; to reconnect, to listen and to open our eyes. Lovely thoughts and much to think about.

These Days by Azad Imanirad and Sina Gilani.

It’s a film about a man and his partner—his bed. He sleeps fitfully in the bed and wants to get up to make a bagel but the bed seems to keep him there. Until he can no longer ignore the urge and he gets up to toast the bagel in the kitchen. It’s a bit of whimsy with esoteric musings.

As Stillness Hinges Chaos (Light and Truth) is a wonderful dance piece choreographed and performed by Aasim and Tehseen Jaafri.

Directed by Tehseen Jaafri

With Music  by Aasim Jaafri.

A man and a woman sit on the floor of their home, reading. He wears pants and a shirt and his head and face are covered in a patterned scarf. She wears a blue dress and her face and head are also covered in a scarf that is arranged to suggest her hairline. We cannot see their facial features. The action is speeded up so that we see a repeated pattern of the couple quietly reading; then they get up to do various yoga poses; then they both pray, bowing down on what I assume are prayer mats; then then go back to reading; yoga and praying. This is their life during the pandemic, through dance. To the viewer it’s not monotonous, it’s balletic. Fascinating.

Home Day by Erin Brandenburg

It’s a day at home taking care of children, cleaning and sewing. All the time the children call for attention. It’s seen through a distorting lens, as if it’s reflected in one of those mirrors in an arcade in which you can’t really make out the detail or real size of things. A woman cleans up a spill in a toy-filled room. She meticulously cleans the piano.  The music in the background is from keys on the piano being tuned—the repetitious striking of a key to find the right tuning. An adult couple are in the kitchen of the house puttering. A child is there as well.  

In another scene in front of the house a mother quietly talks to her son in which he comments that she is making a movie—one assumes of their day. Later the mother works at a sewing machine making masks I assume, while another young child reads a book and wants attention. In the last moment a child says he has to pee.

Home day, indeed.  I wondered who the adults were in the houses, how they are related and how they are related to the children. Just curious.

The Twisted Road by Alana Bridgewater 

Cast (passengers): Alana Bridgewater

Lyanda Pugliese

Nicola Goldson

 Shelita Walker

Alijicia Gibson

Julie Thompson

Kaiia Gibson

I found this to be the most emotionally sobering of the scenes. Alana Bridgewater has written a poem/song about the hard and twisted road of Black women. Her piece is not just about coping in a pandemic. Her piece is much more than that—it’s about coping as Black women in ‘normal’ times’.

Bridgewater recites it, unseen, in a voice over as the camera focuses on the sombre face of a Black woman, beginning with Alana Bridgewater herself. With every line there is a close-up of a new face. Bridgewater’s voice is clear but conveys the exhaustion of the journey. The words are compelling in describing the hard, twisted road these women are taking on a bus.

“Expectation.

Exasperation.

Pained faces of many shades await their destination.

Some sit. Others are forced to stand.

Some hide. Others cry….

The road this coach has seen explodes in a splendor of dead hopes…”

Bridgewater writes of women who don’t want to go on this journey but have to because “there’s hope in it.”

The resilience to continue, to move forward, is all. I loved the pain of the piece. As with true art, Bridgewater has told a specific story that also has resonance in the larger world.

Only You by Meegwun Fairbrother.

It’s a short film of a moving body of water. There are flips in the surface suggesting either drips are falling into it or something beneath the surface is blowing the water up. The flashes in the water get larger and more frequent as the camera pans the surface.

A guitar strums quietly and gets more urgent. A voice sings plaintively: “why do you turn away? ”The voice segues into what sound like chants or howls. Something appears below the surface then the camera pans away. The image appears—a man quietly rises to the surface of the water, slowly takes a breath and then disappears again under the water.

I loved the grace and mystery of the piece. It is like an homage to nature, the appreciation of it, the thing that calms in this uncertain world. The thing that is always constant. The juxtaposition of the song that suggests a pained situation next to this peaceful swimming was interesting. I’m not sure what the song means in this idyllic situation but found the whole piece interesting.

The Resilience Project – Shorts are on the Necessary Angel website at: https://www.necessaryangel.com/the-resilience-project.

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Written by Susanna Fournier

Directed by ted witzel

Voiced by Kristen Thomson

What Happens to You, Happens to Me plays until August 1 at:

www.csgrid.canadianstage.com

Canadian Stage is presenting a fascinating digital production called What Happens to You, Happens to Meby Susanna Fournier. Susanna Fournier is a celebrated, nimble-minded playwright, educator and theatre creator. Her work is always challenging and bracing as is certainly evident in The Empire, a trilogy of plays that spanned 500 years of imagined history, that played last year, live in theatres.   

In April in the throes of the pandemic, Canadian Stage Artistic Director, Brendan Healy reached out to Fournier to ask what she was thinking about. It was a simple question with complex answers.

Fournier created a piece she entitled What Happens to You, Happens to Me.  She describes it as a message in a bottle full of questions and the audience—the people who find the bottle—engage or not in answering the questions.

From the website: What Happens to You, Happens to Me is a unique participatory storytelling experience that captures responses to how people are feeling after months of isolation. Created by Susanna Fournier, this meditative audio experience is a letter, a questionnaire, a thought-experiment, a mindfulness exercise that takes the listener on a journey through grief and loneliness. Voiced by award-winning actor and playwright Kristen Thomson (and directed by ted witzel) the listener is asked to respond to a set of questions that delve into one’s inner self to examine isolation and our innate need for connection.”

Actually the piece is offered in two forms and the explanation is a beautiful reaching out, to comfort and put people at ease. Here is the explanation: “What Happens to You, Happens to Me was originally conceived as an auditory experience, but for those who want or need to engage in the content visually, we have created a lyric video of the piece. Choose which sense mode works best for you and allows your imagination to wander most freely.”  

I did both options to see how the experience varied. The more satisfying to me was the one voiced by Kristen Thomson. The presentation is full of nuance, subtlety and gives depth to the piece. You get the sense of the collaboration between the actress (Thomson) and the director (witzel). The questions are simple: How are you? Will you close your eyes and envision something?  One trusts the voice to do what it asks.

The ‘video’ version is flat, without nuance except for what the audience puts in while reading quickly.   

Susanna Fournier has divided the piece into nine short chapters, each with questions and themes that cover who, when, what where, why and other ideas that engage the imagination. We were also asked to consider what empathy was; what gives you hope; what of the future.

I also found it interesting that there was a component that suggested there be rules for this new situation, as if one was trying to impose the norms of the “pre-pandemic” onto the new world, perhaps to hold on to something familiar that would give us comfort.

What struck me most about the piece, and certainly as read by Kristen Thomson, is the kindness of the tone, the deep respect the speak had for the listener; the effort not to sound demanding or demeaning. These are unsettling times and the tone of this piece didn’t want to unsettle or upset anyone. And of course, there is a reaching out that while the questions are being asked, it’s hoped that the listener will answer by writing to the private e-mail address with thoughts. In true Susanna Fournier style she plays on the words of the title at the end of her piece and with just the inclusion/exclusion of a word and punctuation the meaning changes. It’s wonderfully engaging.   

Again, Fournier has created a thoughtful piece with huge implications that guides us into this time we have for deeper reflection about the world we now live in.

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Christopher Stanton, the Artistic Director of the Hamilton Fringe Festival, is not letting a pandemic get in the way of producing the Festival this year. While events can’t take place as usual in person in the theatre spaces in Hamilton, Ont. they are taking place virtually on line and on porches in the city.

The whole endeavor is called What the Fest and it runs July 21-26 to see shows when they first appear and then until Aug. 9 for further live-steaming. It’s an eclectic mix of plays, music, songs, stuff for kids and sound scapes. I was pleasantly surprised to see work from people who were of a certain age and not just young theatre creators starting out.

The work I saw was a cross-section that ranged from lightly whimsical, serious in implication, a beautifully written and performed piece that was based on a true story, a play in which a young man has to deal with his father’s disappointment and a sweet reminiscence from a beloved journal.

Strange Bedfellows

By Ray Z Rivers

Directed by Ray Z Rivers

Cast: Ilene Elkaim

Valeri Kay

Ryan Perera

Ray Rivers

Ridhi Kalra

Terry and Beth are returning home to Canada after spending the winter in Florida. Their car breaks down after they have crossed the border, right down the road from Donna and Phil. Terry and Beth knock on Donna and Phil’s door for help. Beth doesn’t feel well—she thinks it might be all that drinking she did last night. Or maybe it was the burger. In any case Donna says that they have to quarantine if they are returning from the States and so Terry and Beth spend the next 14 days with Donna and Phil and their daughter, Malia. Beth gets sicker. Perhaps it’s the flu or a cough or something she ate?

Playwright Ray Z Rivers packs his play with all manner of hot button topics: the musings of Trump supporters, Canada-US relations, climate change, the sarcastic attitude of Malia (a university student) to everything adults say and the various secrets she’s hiding and of course the ever-present virus.

As time passes scenes take place in various rooms in Donna and Phil’s house with various costume changes to suggest the passage of time.

While we, the audience, come to the play with hindsight that perhaps Beth should get tested NOW, I liked that the people in the play were in the middle of it and didn’t have that hindsight, or even common sense until much later. Rivers has created a situation—strangers seeking sanctuary—which is fraught with possibilities, all humourous.

Conspiracy of Michael

Written and performed by Stephen Near

 Directed by Aaron Joel Craig

A man (Stephen Near) sits in a gloomily lit room (it’s a basement we learn later). He speaks with conviction about education and how the government dictates how you should be educated. He speaks about the tyranny of the multiple-choice answers to a question, and who says there is only one right answer? He comments on the tyranny of democracy. He laments that his mother has died and that his sister wants to sell the house, and he’s holed up there (in the basement) not budging.

Initially I wondered who he was talking to. Gradually, as Stephen Near’s play slowly reveals itself through his nicely modulated performance (kudos to director Joel Craig as well), you realize what is going on and who is talking. An interesting piece of writing about a complex situation.

Waiting for Mark

Written by Annie Massey

Directed by Joel Haszard

Cast: Diana DiMauro

Joel Haszard

Annie Massey

Rob Scavone

Harold Tausch  

I’m going to just copy the description of the show from the What the Fest site because it’s wonderfully wild.

Waiting for Mark — an uplifting play about dead people on Facebook. Four strangers meet in a beige half-world. Daisy (a woman of a certain age who knits), Emma-Rae (a flighty actress from Coronation Street), Abel (an older fellah waiting for his own beneficiary cheque) and Devon (a youngish man who is taken with Emma-Rae) are dead, but they don’t know it. All were posting selfies to Facebook at the exact instant of their tragic deaths. Together, they face betrayal, victory, redemption and birthdays. Then comes the mysterious Vladimir – an envoy from the Boss. Mark Zuckerberg is losing billions and dead account holders aren’t buying from his advertisers. Will Vladimir finally delete their Facebook accounts?”

The premise is wild and rather fitting in this techno world that has us all captive to our screens. The people in the half-world don’t know they are dead. They have no sense of time. It’s cold in the room but the thermostat suggests otherwise. Abel has posed as his own beneficiary when he fakes his death and is waiting for his cheque (wild!).

Waiting for Mark can stand a bit of a tightening edit, but I’m just delighted Annie Massey, who plays Daisy with a lovely dead-pan, wrote it!

Sarah/Frank


Playwright: Steven Elliott Jackson
Director: Ryan Graham Hinds

Sound and music by David Kingsmill

Starring Rebecca Perry

Presented as a radio play.

From the program blurb: “In 1800s, when gender roles were clearly defined, Sarah, a young Canadian, becomes Frank, a Civil War soldier; also the only woman to receive a pension. A unique viewpoint from history.”

Sarah was born in New Brunswick. She was an immediate disappointment to her stern father. There were six kids in the family but only one son and he was weak and sickly. When Sarah was born her father wanted a boy, hence his disappointment. Sarah spent her life trying to earn her father’s respect and finally did when she worked hard beside him on the farm and didn’t flinch when the going got tough. She wore pants to work. She felt comfortable in them. While she got her father’s respect it didn’t last long because when she came of age he said that she had to marry and he would arrange it. That was enough for Sarah. She left home. Dressed as a man to disguise herself this allowed her to move freely in society. Sarah became Frank. Frank got a job as a book salesman. He prospered and did business in both Canada and the United States (although that’s not what they were called then). When the American Civil War broke out Frank enlisted and fought. The disguise was convincing.

Sarah/Frank is a wonderful play by Steven Elliott Jackson. (He wrote the equally compelling play, The Seat Next to the King). He has fashioned a play that creates the life of Sarah and Frank that is based on a true story. His language is particularly vibrant because he has captured the formal way of how one might speak in the 1800s when the play takes place, without it seeming stodgy. Sarah’s confliction between being born a woman but feeling more comfortable in her skin as a man is beautifully, sensitively established in Steven Elliott Jackson’s bracing dialogue.

Rebecca Perry (Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl) captures the many layers of Sarah/Frank’s character. As Sarah her voice is light but firm. When Sarah assumes the identity of Frank Rebecca Perry lowers her voice a bit to suggest the masculine voice. And later in life, years after Sarah assumed her feminine identity, her voice has the subtle quiver of a woman in old age. It’s care like this, aided by the fine direction of Ryan Graham Hinds, that make this one of the best plays I’ve ‘heard’ in a long time. Kudos also to David Kingsmill for his effective music and sound effects.

Loved this show.

Prairie Odyssey

Written and directed by Valeri Kay

Costumes by Cast and Valeri Kay

Lighting by Rev. Douglas Moore and Valeri Kay

Performed by: Sondra Learn

Alison Chisholm

Charly Chiarelli

Prairie Odyssey is a story of resilience in the face of grief and hardship in the 1930s. We get the details from the character of Becky on the occasion of the publication of her mother’s journal that chronicled that time.

The family lived happily and in prosperity in the small community of Chesapeake Bay until Bobby, Becky’s young brother died in an accident. The place held so many sad memories that the family moved to Saskatchewan because of the prospect of free land. Becky’s father would take up farming, something he knew nothing about. The play follows the difficulties of that first harsh winter and the drought-filled summer. Through it the family prevailed.

The cast play various characters and nicely differentiate between them by putting on a new hat or a different bit of clothing.

Charly Chiarelli plays various parts and also provides the sound effects and music, all played on a harmonica. At times I thought the music and sound effects overwhelmed the delicate play instead of just leaving the audience to use its imagination to fill in blanks. The amount of music should be rethought.

I appreciated the commitment of the cast.

[inboks/outboks]

Written and performed by Anthony Raymond Yu

Directed by Karen Ancheta

A young man is packing a box with books and other things. He is upset. As he tries to move a box with things on it he loses his balance and the box goes flying. In the mess he finds a letter, reads it, is further upset and crumples it into a ball and tosses it behind him. He then retrieves it, smooths it out and carefully puts it into a box of keepsakes. The doorbell rings. The young man pulls out his cell phone and looks at it for some reason. He puts down the phone and goes to the door (he’s off camera here). He says “Hello” but no one is there. When he comes back into the room music starts to play: Lukas Graham singing “7 Years” (“Once I was seven years old/My mamma told me/Make some friends…”

What followed was a performance/dance piece in which the young man takes an empty frame from the memento box and reacts with joy and love to the photo that might have been there. He also finds a long black scarf that he threads through the frame. The frame and the scarf encase him, bind him, hold and release him. The movement is full of grace, emotion, despair and other feelings as he remembers. The last scene is the man speaking to the camera as if addressing his father, suggesting they have had a falling out and it’s imperative that they come to an understanding.   

I was intrigued by this piece and by the artistry of its creator, Anthony Raymond Yu. There is a mournful elegance to it and lovely symbolism with the frame and the scarf, connecting the two. From the body of the work it’s not clear if it leads to the last line when the man talks to his unseen father. I wanted to know more about the situation and the piece only hints at it.

What was in the letter and who was it from? Am I supposed to assume it was a hurtful letter from his father? I think that must be clarified. Who rang the doorbell? Why did the man look at his cell phone? Perhaps these questions might be answered with further development of the piece.

I was so interested in the story I looked at what the program notes were: “An aging father; an injured son; and a wounded relationship unresolved. Poised between sending and receiving, the memories of a man and his father resurface. Sifting through their history of joy and grief, man measures the nature of his past in relation to his future.” I want to see that show!! I think [inboks/outboks] in its present state is a good beginning. It needs fleshing out so that the performance piece is brought closer to the description of it.

Comment: Anthony Raymond Yu gave an enthusiastic thank you to those who checked in to watch his filmed piece. He welcomed comments if they liked it. He also welcomed comments if a person didn’t like it or had a concern. He said, “I can’t grow if I don’t know how to grow.” How refreshing, an artist who knows and appreciates the value of all feedback both positive and offering suggestions of improvement. Anthony Raymond Yu—I’ll remember that name and look forward to his next show.  

Full festival schedule available at www.hamiltonfringe.ca/schedule.

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What: Monologues from past 4th Line Theater productions.

Where: On the phone.

When: Your chose the time and day(s) when you hear the monologue(s)

Who: A host of excellent actors act out the monologue(s)

Why: Because it’s fun. Because it gives you a taste of the quality of the shows that regularly play at 4th Line Theatre.

Cost: FREE but donations are always welcome.

To select you click the link below:

https://www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca/monologue-series

4th Line Theatre Company in Millbrook, Ont. just south of Peterborough, has been presenting original Canadian plays dealing with the history and true stories of the area since 1992. The performances usually take place on the Winslow Farm that is owned by Robert Winslow the creator and founder of 4th Line Theatre Company.

The audience sits on plastic chairs watching the action take place in the farmyard and in the distant meadows. It’s a beautiful, idyllic spot. I love going there every summer. But alas that’s not possible this summer.

To fill the gap of seeing live theatre, the always creative, inventive Kim Blackwell, 4th Line Theatre’s Managing Artistic Director, has come up with the idea of presenting a series of 27 monologues from many of the company’s past productions. The monologues are delivered by an actor through the intimacy of a telephone call. The ‘audience’ calls the box office and selects the monologue he/she/they wants to hear, when and what time is convenient. All that’s needed is for the patron to answer the phone when it rings and listen and enjoy.

I started with the first four monologues in the provided list:

ATTRITION

By Ryan Kerr

Actor: Tom Keat

A young man talks about how the Great War changed the history of the world forever.

Tom Keat plays a man who remembers the horrors of war, the poignancy of that first marking of November 11 as Remembrance Day and the terrible effect it all had on his family etc. Keat played his character with passion, emotion and sensitivity. Quite moving.

CARMEL

By Ian McLachlan and Robert Winslow

“Ruth”

Actor: Riley Tutert

Ruth is 10 years-old and talks about the challenges of being a child in an adult world. Her mother is sick and the family is struggling to survive.

Riley Tutert plays Ruth with conviction. She conveys Ruth’s consuming worry about her family and her confusion about why her mother is sick with “Infantile Paralysis.” She wonders how an adult can have a disease usually affecting children. I love the genuine urgency of this young character as beautifully played by Riley Tutert.

Crow Hill:  The Telephone Play

By Ian McLachlan and Robert Winslow

“Doc Logie”

Actor: Robert Winslow

The play is about how a local doctor, Doc Logie created a telephone system for his community to keep them and him in contact should there be an emergency. It’s a wonderful play.

In this scene Doc Logie explains how a childhood memory stayed with him and lead him to a life of service in medicine.

It was a thrill to first speak with Robert Winslow who co-wrote the play and starred in the production. He’s personable, socially concerned and responsible, a good neighbour and a welcoming host to his farm when theatre is able to be done there.

As Doc Logie, Robert Winslow conveys the character’s huge heart, his folksy attitude; his concern for his fellow man and his devotion to a life of service. The scene started with a small childhood incident involving a pet. Doc Logie remembered it to such an extent it changed his life. It was also a momentous moment and Winslow gently illuminates just how profound the moment was.

 Crow Hill: The Telephone Play

By Ian McLachlan and Robert Winslow

“Alice”

Actor: Chick Reid

I also chose this scene from Crow Hill: The Telephone Play, this time dealing with Alice who was a young 15 year-old who came to work for Doc Logie as his first telephone operator for his new telephone system. You get the sense of the pluck of that young woman to take on this new challenge from the writing by Ian McLachlan and Robert Winslow and from the sprightly performance of Chick Reid as Alice.

As Alice, Chick Reid is perky, goes off on tangents when telling her story but quickly gets back on track. This is a wonderfully friendly character remembering 30 years as the telephone operator. She is matter of fact and has the confidence of a person who knows everybody’s confidences that she has collected ‘connecting’ their calls. Chick Reid was buoyant, funny and so personable. A lovely performance.  

From these short scenes one gets the flavour of what the plays are like. The characters are well drawn and beautifully acted by actors full of conviction who bring the words to life. Each actor brought a lovely connection in these troubled times; listened and engaged.  And I loved that every single call came at exactly the time that I asked for it. I’ll sign up for more.

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I have written before about theatre people branching out from their usual calling to create in other ways, in these weird times.

I started last month with a post about, Steven McCarthy, a fine actor, musician and screenwriter who decided he would try and recreate the bagels he ate every day in Montreal when he was a student at the National Theatre School.

He made the bagels and sold them to his neighbours and friends in the area. Word got around how good they were. I was able to buy them twice before Steven, his wife Alyx and dog Ben, decided to buy a house and move to Hamilton, Ont. I was sorry to see them go—wonderful bagels.

Then I read a Facebook post from Kim Blackwell, the creative Managing Artistic Director of 4th Line Theatre Company, that Courtenay Stevens was making planters out of repurposed wood skids (I think that last part is right.) She had pictures of the planters she bought. I wanted one.

Courtenay Stevens’ Planter with Autograph

Courtenay Stevens is a terrific actor (his last gig was in the ARC production of OIL) who is very handy with making useful things with wood. He makes planters of various sizes that he lists on Facebook Marketplace. I wanted one of the “regular” ones about 10” long and wide enough and deep enough to plant herbs. I messaged him and yes, I could buy one of the planters. I just got in under the wire as he said he was taking a break from making them because his wife wanted the backyard back and it would give the neighbours a break from the sawing and the hammering.

Am I detecting a theme here: Steve McCarthy sells me his bagels twice and then leaves town; Courtenay Stevens makes wonderful planters and sells me one before he goes on hiatus? Should I be concerned….is the pandemic making me paranoid? No matter. Moving on.

I went to his house to pick up and pay for my planter. There are two neat planters in front of his place in which he is growing flowers, dill and other herbs. He has carefully enclosed the planters in chicken wire so various creatures can’t nibble the herbs.

My planter is in the middle of Courtenay’s living room with a few other planters. They are all sturdy, beautifully made. I liken them to a work of art and so I have Courtenay autograph my planter right on the side for all to see. It’s a thing of beauty and now herbs are growing in it. If Courtenay doesn’t take too long of a hiatus I will seriously consider buying a bigger planter. And of course, have him sign that one too.

Bonnie Beecher is a celebrated, brilliant lighting designer but with all theatre shut down she needed an outlet for her creativity, so she started baking. Bonnie’s Bread Co. was born. A square sticker was designed (by Haui Hinton-Davis) with various loaves of bread on it along with “Bonnie’s Bread Co.” written on it, and a sticker is stuck to every bag of Bonnie’s baking.  

Bonnie’s Bread Co. has a presence on Facebook. Each week there are beautiful postings of the various breads, bagels, scones and now pies that Bonnie is baking and selling. She announces that she is taking orders for the following week etc. and those interested can private message her.

I placed an order. I arranged to pick it up at her house (she does deliver for a small charge). As I was walking up the street near the appointed time, I saw a young man walking towards me with his arms out, as if he was carrying something. He was—two large paper bags were laid across his arms. I saw that the bags said “bread” on them in swirls of blue strokes. He was coming from Bonnie’s house. He looked like The Pieta with his arms out, holding precious treasure and of course he was.

When I got to Bonnie’s I was stopped in my tracks. The front door was open and the fragrance of freshly baked bread wafted onto the street.  The ever-theatrical Bonnie Beecher was setting the scene, illuminating it. I had to smile.

She came down the hallway from the kitchen bearing my treats: a bag with the blue strokes that said “bread” with a challah, a baggie with six bagels and another paper bag with six cherry/blueberry scones, still warm. Each bag had the square Bonnie’s Bread Co. sticker.

It’s interesting that I have never actually met Bonnie before picking up my bread order. I sit in the dark at a theatre; she illuminates it; I go home and write about it without any stops in between to make an acquaintance. That dispenses with any conflict of interest even in a slight way. But a pandemic that shuts every theatre down and has theatre artists segueing into other creative pursuits is another matter.

Bonnie is charming and meticulous—the logo sticker, the paper bags with “bread” written in blue strokes, the care in the baking. She didn’t realize how tired she was working non-stop in the theatre with no time off. Now she bakes bread and sells it and is able to take the weekend off (“Weekend? What’s a weekend?”).

Ahhhh the bread. I ate a scone in the car because they were warm, I couldn’t wait and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I did not eat and drive. I sat there to savour the moment. The scones are in plump long triangular shapes. There is a sprinkling of sugar on top so that when the scone is baked the sugar provides a subtle crunch. The texture of the scone is dense without being heavy. It’s flaky and not too sweet. I bit into a blueberry and it was like a small explosion of tart and sweet at the same time. The same thing happened when I bit into one of the cherry bits. Delicious. No crumbs were left behind.

When I got home I laid out my bounty on the table. The half-dozen bagels were an assortment of poppy seed and sesame seed. They were as substantial as a Montreal-style bagel. They were chewing with a slightly crunchy crust without being tough. They also toast beautifully. The challah is beautifully, evenly browned and each ‘mound’ is shiny. The texture is delicate with a hint of sweetness, and I think I detected a touch of salt. The challah also toasts beautifully. It’s the quality of the baking/breads/etc. that makes you stop and pay close attention to every bite. Delicious. I’ll order more from Ms Beecher’s Bread Co. And so should you.

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Friday, July 17, 2020. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. AMADEUS on National Theatre Live until July 23, 2020. Streaming for free.

This is the script of the recorded review on CIUT.fm July 17.

Good Friday morning, it’s theatre fix time with me, Lynn Slotkin, your theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

I’m reviewing the National Theatre Live streamed production of AMADEUS  by Peter Shaffer.

It played in London, England at the National Theatre a few years ago, and it’s live streaming now as part of their NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE series. It began yesterday (July 16) and runs until Thursday, July 23.

Peter Shaffer’s play is set in Vienna, November 1823 and in flashbacks from 1781-1791.

Antonio Salieri is dying. In his day he was the top composer, music maven in Vienna in the court of Joseph II, the Emperor of Austria. He was celebrated, promoted, honoured and respected.

On this last night of his life, he mumbles for forgiveness of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who died 32 years before. Salieri in his dying crazed mind confesses that he killed Mozart.

Salieri’s reputation is such that everybody is talking and gossiping about this confession.

The play then flashes back to the decade of 1781-1791.

At that time Salieri was a robust, successful man who asked God to make him a composer and to be famous for it. In return Salieri, would serve mankind and devote himself to serving God. Salieri thrived and prospered in the court of the Emperor as the court composer. And then he met this odious, man-child named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his life changed. Salieri realized that for all his piety to serve God with his music etc. next to Mozart, he was a mediocrity.

Mozart, this hideously rude, immature man, effortlessly produced music that was touched by God and Salieri was livid at what he perceived was God’s betrayal of him.   He vowed to take revenge with no less an opponent than God. He would get even by destroying Mozart all the while seemingly to champion him.

Peter Shaffer’s play is a fascinating look at the creative process of making art in the form of music; the politics of the court of an Emperor even in matters of music; the difference between a genius like Mozart who was effortless in his creation of music and the sham of the mediocrity that was Salieri.

Perhaps the play is called Amadeus rather than Mozart, because it’s an unexpected look at a man we usually know as a genius.

It’s also a look at a playwright—Peter Shaffer—who was at the top of his playwriting game in fashioning an imaginary scenario about two real people.

The production is directed by Michael Longhurst and it is both simple and grandly theatrical. Set pieces are rolled on and off the stage with ease and create the suggestion of the grand surroundings. Kudos to designer Chloe Lamford. The furnishings look rich and antique. The costumes are sumptuous brocades and silks. At every turn we get the sense of the rarified world in which Salieri worked as a matter of course. It also was the world that Mozart aspired to and couldn’t quite be accepted into—of course because Salieri thwarted him at every turn.

An inspired addition to this production is the inclusion of a full orchestra that is also part of the action rather than listening to recorded music, which seems the norm in the other productions I’ve seen. Here the musicians are always on the stage, often interacting with the action, swirling around the stage with their instruments, rather than just sitting firmly in chairs providing the music.

When Salieri reads Mozart’s written music, the orchestra is there to realize the brilliance of the work. Salieri understands it’s exquisite beauty and it causes him real pain because he can’t produce that kind of music and he knows it.

Occasionally the orchestra provides the cacophonous sounds that suggest the mental turmoil of either Salieri or Mozart. That orchestra adds a richness to an already sumptuous production.

Antonio Salieri is played by Lucian Msamati with gravitas, sophistication, elegance and a courtliness that royalty would find impressive, certainly the rather simple-minded Emperor.

Mozart is always a tricky part in this play. The character acts like a man-boy, irreverent, often petulant, immature, rude and impish. The fact that he’s a genius adds to the multi-faceted character.

The reason it’s tricky is that too often the actor playing him tends to overplay all the impetuous aspects and just makes him a one-noted spoiled brat. That’s what we have in the performance of Adam Gillen as Mozart. He shouts the whole part. It is one, long annoying rant with little variation.  I could see the vein in his neck bulge every time he bellowed.

This results in little sympathy, and there has to be some sympathy since we know that Salieri sabotaged him every chance he could. I don’t get the sense that director Michael Longhurst reined in Mr. Gillen since Longhurst had Mozart jumping on furniture, racing around the set, and bellowing.

I think that one noted rant is a mistake. After a while the audience stops listening. Not a good thing.

But I recommend you give this a look because the play is so inventive, the production is beautiful, and Lucian Msamati is compelling as Salieri.

Amadeus streams until July 23 on:

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

You can check my blog for my other reviews at www.slotkinletter.com twitter @slotkinletter

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Friday, July 10, 2020. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA the Stratford Festival on Youtube until July 23. This is the radio script.

Good Friday morning. It’s Theatre fix time with me, Lynn Slotkin, your theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

The Stratford Festival might be closed because of the pandemic but they are still making their productions available on line through streaming etc.

One of their filmed productions is Antony and Cleopatra that played on the Stratford stage in 2014 but  streaming on the Stratford Festival youtube channel now until July 23 for free.

It’s a play loaded with political intrigue, hubris, psychological mind-games, one-upmanship, and follows one of the greatest love-stories of all time between Mark Antony, a mighty Roman warrior and Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt.

Both Mark Antony and Cleopatra are consummate politicians.

Mark Antony earned his abilities as the right hand man of Julius Caesar (before Caesar was killed) and being watchful and quiet as he followed the political intrigue of Caesar’s court.

Cleopatra was at once the consort of Julius Caesar as well as the Queen of Egypt.

She too earned her wiliness by being perceptive in the ways of manipulating people.

As a couple, Antony and Cleopatra were in love and lust with each other.

He was more besotted than she seems to be—she tended to play games with him if he displeased her, ignoring him, playing hard to get.

He had his way of playing her game as well.

It was a volatile time for both—war was always imminent.

As a consummate politician Antony knew how to broker deals even if it meant marrying someone other than Cleopatra, which happened when Antony married Octavius Caesar’s sister, Octavia.

This didn’t go down too well with Cleopatra when she found out.

The relationship between then often seemed like a game of cat and mouse, with Antony seeming like the mouse much of the time.

Which is not to say that he could play his games with Cleopatra.

While their love is obvious, their cold-blooded ambition for dominance with others is also fascinating to see.

Gary Griffin directed the stage play at Stratford.

But for our purposes, Barry Avrich directed the filmed version of the live performance.

It’s a terrific result.

In the theatre the audience might or might not see a reaction that is subtle from a character not at the centre of a scene.

In this filmed version Avrich ensures that all that subtext is obvious by focusing the camera on the actor with the reaction.

A grimace or side-long look at something that is being said is caught clearly in a tight closeup.

The stage production was lusty, bawdy, sexual, passionate and very physical.

All that is accentuated in the filmed version with tight close-ups and medium shots that never misses what we are to see.

As Antony, Geraint Wyn Davies is exuberant, emotional, larger than life, smart and cunning but with total charm.

He is equally matched by Yanna McIntosh as Cleopatra.

Her Cleopatra is supremely confident in her sensuality and her royal stature.

This is a character who has been revered for so many things and she takes control of all of it.

It’s fascinating to see how these two lovers circle one another, play one another and play with one another.

As emotional as Marc Antony is, that is as cool as Octavius Caesar is as played by Ben Carlson.

Octavius is methodical, quiet speaking and makes his points as if flinging darts at a bull’s eye.

He is incensed when he realizes that his sister has been humiliated by Antony who married her just for political expediency.

And as soon as Antony could, he ran off to be with Cleopatra.

The cast is uniformly strong.

Charlotte Dean has created a simple, spare set.

Her costumes are beautiful in creating this exotic world of an Egyptian Queen and her court, and the fighting world of Mark Antony and his fellow Roman soldiers.

This is a clean, focused, beautifully rendered filmed version of the Stratford production of Antony and Cleopatra.

For those who missed it then, this is a fine opportunity to check it out and the other Stratford Productions that are streaming on the Stratford youtube channel.

For information go to:https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/AtHome

You can check out my blog for other postings at www.slotkinletter.com

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This is the first time I’m actually home for the whole summer and not spending my vacation in London, England for obvious reasons as every theatre is shut. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have a whole host of on-line, virtual, streamed etc. theatre work to keep us involved and engaged until we are able to go back into a theatre for real.

The following are festivals and theatre events that hold great promise:

The Hamilton Fringe Festival

Christopher Stanton, the Artistic Director of the Hamilton Fringe Festival will be announcing his virtual fringe festival with ticket information on July 7, 2020. We can enjoy the festival from the comfort of our homes. I look forward to reading what he has in store, and of course reviewing it. 

4th Line Theatre hosts a Farmer’s Market every Friday from 8 am to Noon, until August 28.

4th Line Theatre in Millbrook, Ont.  is one of my favourite places to see theatre in the summer. That’s not possible for obvious reasons but that has not deterred Kim Blackwell, the fearless Managing Artistic Director of 4th Line Theatre. She has come up with the idea of a Farmer’s Market spread over the farm offering local farm produce from local Food Ventures. I went on the first Friday. It was wonderful. Look for my review soon. Here are the details of the Farmer’s Market

Nexicom Presents 4th Line Theatre @ the Farm.

779 Zion Line, Millbrook, ON

In the series of Friday morning markets running until Friday, August 28th, local vendors will be spread out around the farm property with guests following a one-way directional track to ensure proper physical distancing.

The Festival Friday Farmer’s Markets will include vendors: Black Honey, Bullbs ‘N Things, Belly of the Beast, Little Leaf Farms, Pastry Peddler, Taste of Russia, Millar Eggs, Beauty Through Taste, Red Hill Maple Syrup, The Berry Patch, Codie and Kelsie’s Vegetable Patch, Summersong Farm, 4th Line Theatre and Doo Doo’s Bakery

READ MORE HERE: https://www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca/so/00NBTsKfH

SummerWorks (Virtual) Festival

Laura Nanni, the creative, inventive Artistic and Managing Director of the SummerWorks (Virtual) Festival will be announcing her truncated festival in a few weeks. The festival will take place in late July and early August. One of the events is the wildly successful Ministry of Mundane Mysteries by the always imaginative Outside the March Company.

summerworks.ca

Here for Now Outdoor Theatre Festival

This is an initiative of actors and directors from Stratford, Ont. to perform one person plays/poems etc. on the back patio of the Bruce Hotel in Stratford Ont. during July and August. One piece will be directed by Jonathan Goad, a stalwart actor of the Stratford Festival, and a fine director in his own right. Jessica B. Hill will be doing a piece as will Roy Lewis. In all there will be six solo shows playing multiple times. I look forward to seeing and reviewing all of them. In keeping with keeping our distance in these weird times, a maximum of 10 people will be allowed on the patio to watch each show.

www.herefornowtheatre.com

More to come soon.

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Streaming from the National Theatre, London, England, until July 9.

Written by Lorraine Hansberry

Adapted by Robert Nemeroff

Restored text directed by Joi Gresham

Directed by Yaël Farber

Designed by Soutra Gilmour

Lighting by Tim Lutkin

Music and sound by Adam Clark

Cast: Sheila Atim

Gary Beadle

Sidney Cole

Elliot Cowan

James Fleet

Clive Francies

Tunji Kasim

Anne Madeley

Roger Jean Nsengiyumva

Siân Phillips

Danny Sapani

Xhanti Mbonzongwana

Anna-Maria Nabirye

Daniel Francis-Swaby

Mark Theodore

Singers: Nofenshala Mvotyo

Nogcinile Yekani Nomaqobiso

Mpahleni (Madosini) Latozi

The play and the production are brilliant, timely and gut-wrenching.

Background: Lorraine Hansberry is best known for her play A Raisin in the Sunabout a Black family who moved into a white neighbourhood in Chicago, and how they coped with racism.

Les Blancs (Les Blancs, French for “The Whites”) was her last play and she had not finished it  when she died in 1965 at the age of 34. Her ex-husband Robert Nemeroff adapted and finished the play. It was first produced in 1970 on Broadway. Hansberry considered it her most important play.

The Story. Les Blancs takes place in a fictional South African country at the turn of the 19th  and 20th century. More specifically it takes place around the hospital/mission school established 40 years before by Reverend Neilsen and his wife Madame Neilsen.  The Revered came to bring Christianity to the natives and has continued to that day.

Working at the hospital are: Dr. Marta Gotterling who has been there for seven years, Dr. Willy Dekoven who is quiet, drinks too much and knows exactly what is going on in that country to those people, Peter an older Black man who is a servant and Eric a younger Black man who is lighter skinned.  

Charlie Morris is an American journalist who has come to the hospital to write about the good work of Reverend Neilsen. There is Major Rice the military presence, the typical overbearing British colonizer who has lived there a long time and believes that country belongs to people who look like him.  There is unrest in the region. There is local resistance to the white presence and that makes Major Rice more demanding about order and curfews.

Returning to the village for the first time since he left seven years before is Tshembe Matoseh. He went to England to be educated and then travelled the world, gained a perspective, married an English woman and they had a son. Tshembe has come home to see his dying father but he’s too late.  During his time away Tshembe worked for Kumalo, a man who was African and was trying to get the Europeans to recognize the rights of the African people of his country.  Tshembe got a first hand look at how Europeans and others treat Blacks with disdain, condescension and with a policy to not educate them enough for them to govern themselves.

Tshembe is reunited with his brothers: the aforementioned Eric, who is Tshembe’s younger brother, and Abioseh Matoseh, Tshembe’s older brother. Abioseh also went to England to be educated as a Roman Catholic priest. Tshembe is saddened to see that his brother has been totally assimilated in the European sensibility and turned his back on his African heritage and traditions He will soon take the Christian name, Father Paul Augustus, which Tshembe describes as the name of  ‘a murdering Roman Emperor.”

As the unrest escalates the rebels put pressure on Tshembe to join them. He longs to go home but is torn in his loyalties.  He sees what is happening to his country because of the hand-fisted way the ‘settlers’ (white colonists) are treating his people.

The Production. The production is beautifully directed by Yaël Farber, using traditional music, the Xhosa language in some cases, dance and symbolism.

The production begins with the thrum of music that is focused when a group of Black women in traditional garb slowly enter singing a throaty song in the Xhosa language. Adam Cork’s music/soundscape is mysterious, plaintive and seductive. The women walk clockwise around the large Olivier stage. They are followed by a larger group of people also walking slowly, wearing worn clothes. Each person holds his/her right hand in a light fist forward out of which falls a steady stream of sand. This larger group represents the Black servants and workers of the mission: Peter (Sidney Cole), Eric (Tunji Kasim), Abioseh (Gary Beadle) and finally, separate from them is Tshembe (Danny Sapani). To me the steady stream of sand is symbolic of their country slipping through their fingers.  

Walking counter-clockwise, even slower and more deliberately is a character referred to only as “The Woman” (Sheila Atim). She is commanding in her presence because she appears to be in an expressionless trance, her head is tilted down a bit and wears a costume that barely covers her.

This silent woman will slowly circle the stage for the whole of the production, always present and representative of that African country. She walks against the flow of the others going the other way… perhaps symbolic of how Africa was considered backward by the ‘settlers’. The Woman is also symbolic of the thing that haunts Tshembe– the memory of his country that he missed so much. The Woman is a presence, a thought, the idea of that place–majestic, graceful but also almost ground down in despair.   `

As these characters circle the space, the stage revolves. The make-shift wood mission comes into view—barely a skeleton of a structure (kudos to Soutra Gilmour for the evocative design). A few steps rise up to the veranda. Three white characters: Major Rice (Clive Frances), Dr. Dekoven (James Fleet) and Dr. Gotterling, (Anna Madeley) climb the steps, spread across the veranda and look ‘down’ on the Black characters in front of the house. In simple, elegant movement, song and symbolism director Yaël Farber has created the segregated, divisive world of that African country and that mission/hospital. Stunning.

Charlie Morris (Elliot Cowan), the journalist from America, arrives and is eager to begin his research for his article. He’s charming to Dr. Gotterling who greets him. There will be slight flirting between the two over the production. Charlie Morris offers Peter (Sidney Cole) one of the servants at the mission, a tip of coins for bringing his suitcase. Peter is excessively grateful, bowing, thanking etc. As Charlie, Elliot Cowan has that jaunty, confident, curious attitude of a man who is never awkward and always feels he’s doing good. He gives Peter a tip when we figure no one else would. As Peter, Sidney Cole has a skittish body language, always at the ready to rush and do the bidding of the people who employ him or the Major. Cole’s head is bowed in obsequious respect, almost never looks in the face of the person talking to him. But then when Peter segues from the servant to the resistance fighter he stands straight, looks a person in the eye and there is not one trace of wanting to please. The voice is strong and hard. You cringe and are embarrassed for him when Peter ‘bows and scrapes. And he’s compelling when he is in full height as the leader of the resistance. It’s a performance of power.

Lorraine Hansberry (and I must also credit Robert Nemeroff who adapted Hansberry’s notes in order to finish the play) had such a delicate way in creating her characters, their stories and how they faced off with other characters.

We soon realize that Madame Neilsen (a wonderful, quietly regal performance by Siân Phillips) did more to bring education and Christianity to the village and its people than her husband did. Madame Neilsen is now an old, blind woman who is waiting for her husband to come home from wherever he went on business. But we find out she befriended Tshembe’s mother, Aquah, years before and learned some of her customs and the language.  Madame in turn taught Aquah English, French and some Norwegian (the Nielsen’s are Norwegan).  Madame taught Tshembe and his brothers geometry and other lessons. She earned their respect.

When Tshembe returns home to see his dying father he also pays a visit to Madame. She is delighted to see him and wants to feel his face to ‘see’ it. When she realizes he’s cut his hair  she says, “You had such a bush!” the word and image stings to hear it in the 21st century. Tshembe laughs and explains that now he’s “a city man. Do you see my part?” He means of course that he was trying to assimilate into a European lifestyle. Lines like this make one suck air. We know that assimilating for a Black man is so fraught then and now. As Tshembe, Danny Sapani gives a beautifully paced, nuanced performance of a man who is obviously conflicted and out of place in both worlds of his African village and the European world. His anger at what is happening to both brothers and his country fills him with ever bubbling rage. And he’s conflicted. He wants to back to England to his wife and son but is compelled to stay and fight for his country’s independence from the colonizers.

While Madame attempted to learn the language and customs of Aquah, Dr. Marta Gotterling has been there seven years and does not seem to have bothered to learn any of the language. She tends to a young boy and gives instructions in English to his father slowly and deliberately as if talking to a simpleton.  That speaks volumes.

Charlie Morris fancies himself an open-minded American but he too has his arrogant blind-sides. He wants to discuss and talk to Tshembe over a cigarette and a drink about the politics of the place for his story, but Tshembe has heard it all before and is sick of talk. Tshembe is the modern man—educated in England but staunchly connected to his country’s traditions and history.  He is the perfect opponent to Morris and lets him have it with wonderful lines like this:

“What is this meaningless nonsense with you Americans for a handshake, a grin and half a glass of whiskey you want 300 years to disappear and in a few minutes….do you really believe that a rape of a continent will dissolve in cigarette smoke?” You get the sense of his frustration at trying to always having to ‘explain’ to well-meaning but thoughtless people, about his country and what it’s like being Black.

Clive Frances plays the racist bully, Major Rice without one trace of pulling a punch. The contempt he has for the Black people of that country makes one squirm. It’s that condescending attitude of how the British (or any conquering people) are overbearing and think they know how to run a place with a fist, a gun, an insult and a need to keep people under his thumb.

The conscience of the play in a sense is Dr. Dekoven, played with a quiet sense of futility by James Fleet. He knows of the subtleties of what is going on there. He drinks a lot to forget. He offers Eric whiskey for the same reason. He knows how the white colonists have taken and ruined the place and the people.

In the end a young man runs around the set holding a lit torch above his head, climbs up the steps to the mission and slams the torch on the floor and runs off. It was Eric. The place goes up in flames and all in it one assumes—the doctors and Madame. The music swells to a compelling loudness. The Woman stops walking as if in a trance and turns around on the spot, her arms raised holding something in both hands—a weapon? Knives? I could not tell. And she looks up for the first time, to the sky, as if in some kind of ceremonial gesture. It’s both unsettling and thrilling.

Yaël Farber even stylizes the curtain call. Rather than doing a full-tilt bow the cast bent their heads down and brought it back. They did not bow at all. The director was saying something here—“we will not bow down again, ever”. Woow

Comment.  In Les Blancs Lorraine Hansberry has written an astonishing, gripping, timely, beautifully unsettling play for our times. It’s about imperialism, racism and colonialism. It is in perfect keeping of the Black Lives Matter movement. I listened to the words written in the 1960s and how I’m hearing them in 2020.When the Major spits out the word “boy” to Peter it stings to hear it. I must confess I sat uncomfortably when Madame said to Tshembe, “Come in, Child.” It’s a term of endearment she probably always called him when he was a kid. Now he’s a man in his 40s but she is still that child she taught.  Today when race and language are so charged, I heard the word “Child” perhaps in a different way even though Madame didn’t mean it that way.

Interestingly we learn that the Reverend considered the people of the village as his children and he kept them subservient and beholding to him as if they were children. They were taught a little—how to turn a dial or press a button–but were basically uneducated. Tshembe’s father was the person who started the resistance, fighting for more independence and at every turn was thwarted by the Reverend.

Hansberry gives the many sides of the story, from the point of view of the well-meaning, to the wilfully ignorant, to the deliberately oppressive and those who are fed up and will not take that treatment anymore.

Her perceptions of the politics and mindset of the colonizer are razor sharp and her dialogue in getting that across is astonishing.

This is a splendid production of a blistering play that every single person should see.

It plays on National Theatre Live until July 9.

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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This week on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm, on Friday, July 3 from 9 am to 10 am, I’m reviewing Les Blanc (The Whites), the last play by Lorraine Hansberry, that is streaming this week until July 9 for free at: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

The play couldn’t be more timely. Here is the description:

“As an African country teeters on the edge of civil war, its society prepares to drive out their colonial present and claim an independent future. Yaël Farber directs a cast featuring Siân Phillips and Danny Sapani.”.

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