Wednesday, August 28, 2019

trip to the country and "Nathan the Wise" at Stratford

Back from a jaunt to southern Ontario, to visit friends and see theatre. Anna and I rented a car and set off Monday - first to the dentist in Mississauga, where Eli had a tooth out and the dentist told him he was braver than most adults. And then on to the very small town of Ingersoll, to visit old friends Lani and Maurice. Maurice survived deadly throat cancer, with his taste buds and some of his jaw gone, but he has recovered magnificently and spends his days in one of his two crowded workshops, carving, inventing, fixing. Like Lani, he has one of the most interesting, quirky minds I've ever met; Eli and he got along wonderfully and soon were out skateboarding, with Lani muttering darkly, trying to get Mau to stop. He also showed Eli new techniques in frisbee throwing and how to make a piercing sound with the top of an acorn. Truly, a most useful, fun friend for a 7-year old boy. As we were pulling away, Eli said from the back seat, "I'll never forget that guy."
We arrived late in Stratford, to spend two nights with more old friends, Anna (known in our family, for obvious reasons, as Big Anna) and Tom - she a film producer and he a painter and sculptor, who moved 3 years ago from downtown Toronto to a fabulous house in Stratford with a big studio at the back for Tom. It's a brave pair that will invite not just a woman and her daughter (whom they've known since childhood) but her two extremely lively grandsons to stay. Luckily, though, they have grandchildren of their own and love kids. Still, my guess is that they were not sad to see the hurricane duo depart today.

The reason for the trip was that I bought a ticket to see Nathan the Wise at the Stratford Festival, and so thought we should make it a family road trip. My great-grandfather did an adaptation in Yiddish of this play written by Gotthold Lessing in 1779, set in Jerusalem during the Third Crusade, and so I thought I should see it. An amazingly topical play about intolerance among Christian and Muslim extremists toward each other and especially toward Jews, it could almost have been written yesterday. An excellent production, well-cast with one notable exception. The lead role of Nathan, a clever, humane Jew and father, was played by the actress Diane Flacks, I guess in a noble attempt to provide more lead roles for women, who knows. Instead, the stunt casting almost ruined the play, as instead of absorbing the play's ideas and ideals, we were distracted by the spectacle of a woman pretending to be a man. Sometimes cross-casting opens up a play and sometimes it defeats it. This was one of the latter times. We need a play like this, about a good, wise man defeating murderous intolerance. I kept trying to imagine what it would be like with a fine actor bringing those rich lines to life, not watching an actress, even a good one like Flacks, struggle to inhabit the part.

But I'm glad I saw it, and I'm glad we all went to the country together. Though yesterday, when it dawned pouring with rain, predicted to last all day, and us with the Wild Bunch - there was despair. How to pass the time and burn off steam in the rain? We went to the Stratford museum which has some interesting stuff including - scream! - the Justin Bieber collection. We went shopping at Giant Tiger, one of Anna's favourite stores, which killed an hour. Anna took them to a train museum in St. Mary's while I was at the play. And finally the sun emerged and the beasts were unleashed. Their energy is almost frightening, especially Ben's, as his is not just physical, it's verbal. He never stops talking at top volume. He's very interested in death these days, and the word 'hate,' testing the word constantly. As we were looking to buy a ball, he said, "I hate balls!" Or even, to me, "I hate you."

It takes some getting used to, but mostly, he is sunshine itself. When we got back, he exclaimed at the top of his lungs to his dad, "You should see their house, Dad. IT HAS STAIRS!"
Bieliebers, not so much. But Justin is a talented young man, no question. We saw video of him drumming and playing the guitar with skill at four.
Throwing stones into a body of water - what makes this such a compelling practice?

And now, back to reality. A few more weeks of summer. What day is this? I'm lost.

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